Saturday, December 31, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Spearmen and Crossbowmen

We're coming down to the home stretch in terms of the Tamarian starter army! This time up we have a battlegroup of feudal spearmen and a battlegroup of crossbowmen (foot, this time, rather than mounted). First we have a second BG of spearmen:

And here they are side by side with the first BG of spearmen that were painted to kick off the whole Field of Glory armies project in the first place. I can't wait to see the whole army arrayed!
Here's the battlegroup of crossbowmen. Since these are medium infantry, I'm mounting them 3 per base; fortunately they came from Old Glory 15s in such numbers that I could have based 4 per base if I chose; that leaves me with a few spare bases' worth.

In the home stretch-- one more BG of knights, a few commanders, and I'm done!

Administrative Note

Unfortunately a post was accidentally made public last night which was supposed to be kept in "draft" mode; it was placed back into draft as soon as the error was noticed. Apologies to those who commented on it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Call For Submissions

If all goes according to plan, 2012 is going to be a busy, busy year!

First and foremost, BRW Games is looking for adventure modules to publish. Want to see your work in print? Want to earn money from it? This is your chance! Details can be found here:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Dwarven Handgunners

Just wanted to quickly dash this one off; these guys were a bit difficult to paint, with all the bags and the poses they had. (Again, I'm going with not painting the demi-humans in any of the national colors, since they serve as auxiliaries and semi-independent vassals in armies across the continent.) But painted is painted, and I'm on to more spearmen, or maybe the crossbowmen, tomorrow. If I'm lucky, I'll have the whole Tamarian basic army completed before I return to work next week!

Dave and Mike vs. Ocean Marketing


Pen-and-paper RPG companies have nothing on console video game companies when it comes to-- not only bad customer relations, but-- incredibly bad, nay, bad-of-Biblical Proportions public relations.

First, we see the string of emails between "Dave", an innocent customer who pre-ordered some sort of game controller that was intended to be a Christmas present, and Ocean Marketing, whence he was trying to get some idea of when the pre-paid-for controllers would arrive. He got some rude responses, and then Dave sent the emails to Mike Krahulik who, among other things, runs the website Mike intervened and was treated to some choice replies by Ocean Marketing (which is apparently a one-man-show, so no convenient excuses about untrained Russian call center operatives). Read it first and then come back. Really, it's worth reading every... single... word (no worries-- I'll wait).

For those who don't know, penny-arcade gets as many hits in an hour as my blog gets in a couple of years and Mike Krahulik runs a couple of jinormous tech conventions in Boston and someplace out west that isn't Boston that are, pretty much, Ground Zero for console game companies. Well, turns out that the doofus from Ocean Marketing found out that Mike K. was really who he said he was, and sent a smarmy "If I had known who you were, I would never have been so rude to you, so can I please have my life back?" email, which you can read here (again, read it all... I'll wait):

Needless to say, Mike K. ain't biting, and sees a smarmy "I'm sorry I got caught" apology when he sees one, and saw fit to let the rest of the gaming community know about the fracas. And the best part? It's gone viral. It's the game industry's cautionary marketing/PR tale of 2011, just under the wire. Here's what is currently (as of 11:32 PM on 12/27/2011 ET) on the Ocean Marketing website (note the part I've circled in red):

Annnnd, here's just the first few things you get on Google for "Ocean Marketing". The full list is pretty much completely negative, and all about the PR disaster that they engendered through trying to bully and out-bitch Penny Arcade:

And the best part? Someone put together a completely sarcastic video about this whole thing less than 12 hours after the incident became public:

I've got no dog in this race, but I'm completely serious when I say this. If anyone-- ever-- at any time-- gets an email like those from me in response to some customer service inquiry, I want-- nay, demand-- you simply reply with "Joe, you're obviously drunk. Email me tomorrow morning and all is forgiven. Remember Ocean Marketing."

And the name of this PR and customer service genius? Paul Christoforo (who has now earned himself a dedicated Google News feed!) If I ever find out that he works for a company I am contemplating doing business with in any capacity, I will go out of my way NOT to purchase any of their wares. Ever.

How do you like all your "free publicity" now, asshole? 

UPDATE: Looking for more info on this? (And there is a TON!) You can follow the ongoing saga --> here <--; criminal records, shady business dealings, steroid use... This is just priceless, and it just keeps going!  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Knights and Halflings

One of the great things about the holidays is, well, that you don't have to work. And what does one do when one isn't working? Paint! (Well, that and write and write and write...)

This time I got through two battlegroups for my Field of Glory figures for my Erseta campaign. First up is a BG of halfling slingers (in FoG-speak: Superior, Unprotected, Undrilled, Light foot - Sling), which will be useable as auxiliaries in just about any army that takes the field. For these, I didn't go with any particular national color scheme, but a mix of earth tones for all of them. These figures come from the Essex 15mm fantasy line, and are a smidgen taller than they should be, but hell... that makes them easier to paint.

Next was another BG of knights, still going through the three that came with the Feudal French Starter Army I got from Old Glory 15s, which is serving as the bulk of my Tamarian army.

Next up I've got some dwarven handgunners primed, and am off to prime some crossbowmen and some cannons (yes, mine is a gunpowder campaign). Hopefully this will be a productive week painting-wise!

Monday, December 26, 2011

On Human Sacrifice

Over at the BRW Games™ website, I've started a new blog called "From the Designer's Desk" that's going to focus solely on stuff that is or will be published, including Adventures Dark and Deep™, the World of Erseta Fantasy Setting™, etc. Please feel free to add it to your blogrolls, and enjoy the opening salvo, which gives an optional rule for human sacrifice...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Erseta Campaign #9 - 10

Not the second session we've played by a long shot, but my second post. I'm getting better about posting more regularly!

The players have been concentrating on how to get back to the lost dwarven city of Glitterdark. Having finally found the place via a lengthy overland journey, they zipped to the town of Ritterheim through a magical gate found therein only to discover the trip was one-way.

The party decided to have their gnome thief give the alley where the gate deposited them a thorough investigation. In order to avoid discovery, the two clerics engaged in a loud and spirited discussion of theological matters on the cross-street nearby, hoping to divert any attention from the tiny pilferer as he made a thorough study of the walls where the incoming gate had led. Unfortunately, there was nothing at all to be found; no keyholes, secret doors, or the like.

At the same time, investigation by the party's illusionist in the town led to the knowledge that the section of town in which they alley was found was one of the oldest in the town (Glitterdark having been sealed up against the Drowning Death plague 150 years before), and that there was a certain importer of ales, owned by a family of dwarves, on that self-same alley that had been there for several centuries. The bard also uncovered a reference to the "Short Road" that could have some bearing on the means of travel to and from Glitterdark.

Regrouped, the party then called upon the importer of ale, one Korved Ironbeard, a thoroughly dislikable dwarf who was clearly more interested in his ledgers (including one, apparently, where he keeps track of what other people are saying about him) than in recovering the glorious past of Glitterdark. Quite a long session of back-and-forth between the various members of the party and Korved took place, and eventually they gleaned that the means to activate the gate back to Glitterdark was not a key, but rather a magical lantern. Said lantern was no longer in the possession of the importer of ale, but rather was now held by someone named Osterbeck, leader of "The Cleavers". With these key pieces of knowledge gained, the session ended with a solid foundation for next time.

This session took place the Friday before Christmas, and several of the players organized a pot luck beforehand. It was blast, we got to meet one of the wives of the players we hadn't before (who played in the session afterwards, as a matter of fact), and there was much fun to be had before the game as well as during it. And as for my contribution...
Dijon Chicken

2 lbs. boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-2" pieces
2 lbs. red potatoes, cut into 1-2" pieces
dijon mustard
crushed garlic

Put the potatoes and chicken into a ziplock bag with 4 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of mustard, a tablespoon of dill, and a tablespoon of garlic. (You will probably have to split the potatoes and chicken into two portions, depending on the size of the ziplock you're using). Thoroughly mix the ingredients in the bag until the chicken and potatoes are thoroughly coated, then pour into a 9x11 baking dish. Cook at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring halfway through.Check the potatoes for doneness before removing; they should be fork-tender and the coating should be a golden brown.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Tim Minchin Holiday Soon-to-be-Favorite

Woody Allen Jesus, of course!

For a rather infuriating/puzzling explanation of how this song was cut from ITC's "The Graham Norton Show" in Britain recently, read Mr. Minchin's blog, here. Streisand Effect FTW!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New Dark Knight Rises Trailer

Dwarven Heraldry

Heraldry as practiced in courts and kingdoms of humankind features three basic types of tincture; metal, color, and fur. Of metals there are only two; argent (silver/white) and Or (gold/yellow). The basic rule (although there are exceptions known as "arms of enquiry") is that metals should never be placed upon metals in a coat of arms, and colors never be placed upon colors, thus almost all human arms contain either white or yellow.


In dwarven heraldry, on the other hand, these rules and tinctures are quite different. Whereas human heraldry has only two metals, dwarven heraldry has platinum, electrum, silver, gold, copper, bronze, iron, and tin. "Bronze" in this case is a fine diamond-checkered pattern of copper and tin, whereas "electrum" is a similar pattern of silver and gold; they can thus be seen as analogous to the human furs, although dwarven heralds will vehemently resist such comparisons and strenuously defend their classification as metals. Metals are rendered in metallic paints (which are in some cases more expensive than the metals themselves) or in the actual metals.

Dwarven heraldry lacks colors, having gemstones instead; topaz, diamond, sapphire, ruby, amethyst, and emerald. These are, however, generally rendered as yellow, white, blue, red, purple, and green, respectively. Some spectacular renderings of dwarven heraldry will contain the actual gemstones, but these are almost invariably only used for decorative or ritual purposes.

There are no general rules about mixing colors and metals, although there are rules about specific combinations of tinctures; topaz should never be placed atop gold (and vice versa), diamond and platinum should not be mixed, nor should platinum and silver.

Ordinaries, divisions, creatures, and objects are generally the same in both human and dwarven heraldry, although the terms are, naturally, translated into dwarvish. Nautical creatures and objects (anchors, fish, etc.) are never seen on dwarven heraldry, but objects like anvils, hammers, axes, and mine carts abound.

Finally, the standard shape for dwarven arms is the round shield (as opposed to other types common in human heraldry such as the escutcheon or lozenge).

Humans often have difficulty distinguishing between some of the tinctures used in dwarven heraldry; platinum and silver, for example. Dwarven heralds scoff at such complaints, however, pointing out that dwarven heraldic devices were originally designed to appeal to refined dwarven sensibilities and not the eyes of a race that "can't tell pyrite from gold."

(Thanks to Inkwell Ideas' excellent Coat of Arms Visual Designer, which was used to create most of the images above, with modifications to shield shape made in GIMP.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Tamarian Javelins

I had a day off from work, but didn't have the whole day to paint, as I spent my morning finishing up our Christmas shopping. I did, however, manage to belt out a BG of Tamarian javelin-men (light foot) in the time it took to watch two episodes of "The Wild, Wild West" on DVD, so a shade under 2 hours. These guys actually come from the Esquerdalloc region in the southern tip of the country.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Dwarven Axemen

Well, I did say last time I'd have a "little" something different. ;-)

5 hours or so elapsed, and I have labored to produce a complete battle group of dwarven axemen. Obviously, since Field of Glory isn't a fantasy game (yet... they are talking about a fantasy supplement, but nothing has been announced, let alone released), this is a bit of a kluge, but I see these gents as heavy foot, average, drilled, armored, heavy weapon. That puts them at 10 points per base, or 60 for the whole BG (for comparison, I'm shooting for around 600 points for starter armies, and knights clock in at around 23 points per base). Since there's nothing overtly magical about them, dwarves such as this will fit nicely into the standard FoG system.

In my Erseta campaign, there are no independent demi-human realms. Rather, all are vassals of one of the various human rulers (even though they might style themselves as kings or princes, and have various levels of autonomy), and thus it is possible to find demi-human troops of various types augmenting the armies of the various kingdoms. Some rely more heavily on such troops than others, but they're relatively common on the battlefields of Dornia (Dornia being one of the several continents on the world of Erseta).

These figures are from Ral Partha, from their Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line (these particular ones are Dwarf Axemen; I've got Dwarf Regulars that I'm going to be using as medium foot at some point; I figured it made sense that the heavy troops would be wielding axes).

Friday, December 16, 2011

D&D Edition Timeline

In the comments accompanying my previous post about the prospect of 5E being on the horizon, the question of whether or not such a thing would be historically atypical came up. Well, I'm a numbers man, so here are some numbers. I'm deliberately omitting the basic/expert/etc. pathway in the interests of clarity; including them doesn't materially alter the point.
  • 1974: 0E (White box edition)
  • 1977: 1E (Monster Manual first published)
  • 1989: 2E (Core Rulebooks first published)
  • 2000: 3E (Core Rulebooks first published)
  • 2003: 3.5E (Core Rulebooks first published)
  • 2008: 4E (Core Rulebooks first published)
And here's what those dates end up giving us in terms of intervals:
  • 0E - 1E: 3 years
  • 1E - 2E: 12 years
  • 2E - 3E: 11 years
  • 3E - 3.5E: 3 years
  • 3.5E - 4E: 5 years
  • (3E - 4E: 8 years)
  • 4E - now: 3 years
I've got to say, I was pretty shocked by the interval between 3.5 and 4E. I thought it was a LOT longer. 3.5 was only around for 5 years before they came out with 4E? Considering its enormous shadow, that's pretty impressive. First Edition was on top of the heap for the longest period, 12 years, but 2nd edition wasn't too far behind at 11 years.

The average interval between major releases is 6 years or so. A release of 5E in 2012 wouldn't be unheard-of fast*. A 2013 release would be more reasonable, and from a marketing standpoint possibly easier to sell, given that it would tie 3.5's record. That's where I'm placing my bet. Will we see it before Christmas 2014? I think that's a lock.

* Super-duper conspiracy theory: Monte Cook was working on 5E all the time, and was brought on board to polish the design after presenting it to the WotC brass nearly fully-formed, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. Seeing the writing on the wall re: the white elephant that is 4E, they jumped at the chance. Complete speculation on my part. Complete.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thoughts on a 5th Edition of D&D

Conventional wisdom says that WotC is working on 5E. I've done a little digging, and I'm officially agreeing with CW. Here's why.

When Monte Cook returned to WotC back in September, there was a bit of buzz as to why he did. He wasn't talking, and it doesn't seem like he's working on any big 4E related projects. There was even outright speculation that he was brought back specifically to work on 5E. As Mike Mearls said in announcing Cook's return:
"It's now time to focus much more on the future of the game. Monte has an unmatched design pedigree in the RPG field, and for that reason we've brought him on board to work with R&D in making D&D the greatest RPG the world has seen. Over the next few weeks, Monte will use this column to share his thoughts about the game. As we look to chart D&D's future course, this column will continue to be a place where we share our ideas and listen to yours..." (Legends and Lore, 9/20/2011)
"Future of the game," "D&D's future course." Hmmm. It's even more interesting to see what, exactly, Monte Cook's been talking about in his online column at WotC. He's invariably discussing topics relating to basic design philosophy, mechanics that have little or nothing to do with 4E mechanics, and rules organization. Very odd choices for a game whose design philosophy was decided years ago, whose mechanics are pretty solidly established, and whose rules are already published in two different forms. A few examples:
My job is primarily to explore options. It's the "research" part of "Research & Development." The goal I've been given is to make D&D the best game it can possibly be. It is and always has been the premier roleplaying game in the world, and I want to make sure it continues to be. (Legends and Lore, 9/27/2011)
Imagine... If the character's rank was equal to or higher than the rank of the secret door or other hidden thing, he could find it if he took the time, because it was easy for him. No die roll needed. He can just do it because he's very perceptive. If the rank of the hidden thing was higher, though, he could still try to succeed at a die roll.  (Legends and Lore, 9/27/2011)
D&D gamebooks are like no other form of writing. Something like the Player's Handbook needs to be equal parts teaching tool, reference work, and muse. Someone is going to sit down and read that book to learn how to play. They need things explained carefully and often in detail. That same person will refer to that book over and over again while playing. Then they need everything to be straightforward and succinct to keep the game moving. They also need that book to inspire them to create fantasy characters and adventures. In this case, they need imaginative hooks, references, and ideas that send them off on their own flights of fantasy. All three of those aspects usually come in the form of entirely different books. To ask a book to serve all three at once is a real challenge. Fortunately, game designers like a challenge. (Legends and Lore, 11/1/2011)
Believe me, I know what it looks like when someone is musing in order to develop ideas for a new game. And that is what I see there.

WotC also made some pretty radical changes to their release schedule this year, taking out several products that many people saw as major tentpole releases. There have been reports of product shortages among some European distributors. Both of those could be indications that WotC is trying not to be left in a position next year of being stuck with tons of 4E product sitting in warehouses (or worse, on store shelves) when they make the grand announcement about 5E. 

It's also the case that rumors of 5E's imminent announcement have been swirling around select areas of the blogosphere. Margaret Weiss stated flat-out that she's been told (2nd hand) that Monte Cook is working on 5E. Normally, third-hand reports like that wouldn't be given a lot of credence, but when added to some of the other information out there, including the writings of the supposed designer, a picture gradually begins to form.

Obviously, it's far too early to even begin to speculate on what 5E will end up looking like (not that that's stopped everyone). Monte Cook is certainly saying a lot of the right things in his column; he keeps harkening back to 1E (and even 0E) for positive examples in a lot of cases. Unless there's some radical change in direction with 5E (like making online access a requirement for play, or having a collectible card system a la Gamma World), I'll give it a try. Heck, I gave 4E an honest try and ended up dropping it because I didn't like the way it played. I'll certainly give 5E a chance.

I just wish they'd come out and make the announcement already.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another (Sucky) Christmas Tradition

It's time for the annual Christmas Layoffs at Wizards of the Coast!

And this time the cheerful elves at WotC have given coal in the stockings of two guys who should be well-known to the OSR. Steve Winter and Rich Baker.

Steve Winter's been with TSR/WotC for 30 years. His credits include editing Star Frontiers, co-creating Marvel Super Heroes, editing the gold World of Greyhawk boxed set, editing the original Oriental Adventures book, and a slew of other excellent stuff. I'm sure he doesn't remember me, but I met him when I was brought out to TSR in the late 1980's for a job interview (I didn't get the job, obviously).

Rich Baker is another long-timer who was with the company when it was still TSR, and has such credits to his name as co-designer of Alternity and Birthright, developer of the 2E "Player's Option" line of books, a mess of Dark Sun and Forgotten Realms products, and a dozen novels. He also designed Axis & Allies: War at Sea and was a developer on Risk: Godstorm.

I know there's all sorts of things that go into layoff decisions, and in some scenarios seniority is actually a bad thing (because it means you're packing a high salary, which is easy to pick off compared to some newcomers who might be making half what you're making). But damn, this seems like an especially bad choice for Wizards.

I like one fellow's idea over at ENWorld; Paizo should scoop these guys up.

(Sad hat tip to Joethelawyer)

The Meaning of Christmas

(Click to embiggen)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I So Love the Festive Holiday Season

And the best part is, this is post #666 on the blog. Muhahahaha...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Tamarian Archers

Another day, another FoG battlegroup. This time a group of archers, once more in the purple and white livery of the kingdom of Tamaria. The archers are classified as light infantry, which is why they're only two per base. Elapsed time, 2.5 hours.

Next up, a little something different...

Book Review: The Ancient Blades Trilogy

Back in late July, I received a copy of the first book in a new series of fantasy novels called the Ancient Blades Trilogy (which I reviewed here). The author was kind enough to send me the next two books in the series as well, and I just finished the last one today. The author, David Chandler, is a member of the New York Red Box campaign in NYC. It helped that at the time I was looking for a new fantasy series to start, and Chandler's trilogy fit the bill.

The books deal with a petty thief, Malden, who is befriended by a knight, Sir Croy, and the daughter of a witch, Cythera. The first book, Den of Thieves, takes place completely in the free city of Ness, which is a typical but well-rendered fantasy city a la Lankhmar or Greyhawk. There he becomes embroiled in the politics of the city and sinister goings-on that threaten to tear the place apart, both literally and figuratively.

I don't want to give away much of the plot, but the books become progressively more expansive as the trilogy moves on, introducing more characters and showing us more of the fantasy world. The next book, A Thief in the Night, takes the heroes across the kingdom of Skrae and into the bowels of a supposedly-abandoned dwarven city which holds a great secret (or three). The final book, Honor Among Thieves, is the largest in scope, as the kingdom of Skrae finds itself at war, and Malden and Croy are at the forefront of the action.

Although Malden, the central character, certainly changes in terms of his situation and station as the books progress, there isn't really a lot of changes to him as a character; he maintains his central core throughout the action that swirls around him, and the final book ends on a note that suggests we will be seeing more of him and this world in the future.

This isn't Tolkien by any stretch of the imagination, but all three books are a fun read. I found myself actively looking forward to picking up the book and continuing; the chapters are numerous and very short (3-5 pages each), which makes reading them in short bursts very easy to do. Chandler's familiarity with the tropes of fantasy novels and role-playing show through, but not in such a way that the books read like a novelization of someone's campaign.

You can find all three books of the Ancient Blades Trilogy on or at your local bookstore. I give them three and a half stars out of five.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Best Christmas Tree EVAR!

Adventures Dark and Deep Playtest Marks One-Year Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the open playtest for Adventures Dark and Deep.

For those who might not know, Adventures Dark and Deep is my attempt to see what the world's most popular role-playing game might have looked like if its inventor had been allowed to continue developing it, rather than leaving TSR in 1985. I don't have any insider knowledge; there are no secret notebooks in my possession. Rather, the game is based on his series of Dragon Magazine articles detailing his intended direction for the game, his public statements on various online forums, and other works. It contains new classes (the bard, jester, mystic, savant, and mountebank), spells, magic items, and monsters; a streamlined combat system (including new rules for initiative and surprise), and tweaks and changes throughout.

If you liked the direction that Unearthed Arcana was going in, chances are you'll like Adventures Dark and Deep. It's also completely modular; if you want to just add ADD mountebanks to your Labyrinth Lord game, it should work seamlessly.

The open playtest (inspired, by the way, by the open playtest conducted by Paizo Publishing for their own Pathfinder game) is still going strong, and all you need to do to participate is download the three core rulebooks (Players Manual, Bestiary, and Game Masters Toolkit, all in their 1.1 versions and available as free downloads at, play the game with your friends, and join the ADD discussion forums to talk about your experience. The feedback received over this past year has been phenomenally helpful, and is actively being used to shape the game. Your input really does matter, and is helping make the game much better with each passing day. 

The 1.2 versions of each book are in preparation and will be released soon, probably Q1 of 2012. I anticipate the open playtest to run through 2012, aiming for a release date in 2013.

Thanks to everyone who has participated and helped improve and shape Adventures Dark and Deep thusfar. I'm looking forward to getting more great feedback, and coming out with a really great game when the time comes. The one I wanted to buy in 1985, but couldn't.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Knights of Tamaria

Another six hours well spent this afternoon-- a battlegroup of the mounted chivalry of Tamaria. For these figures I went with a different painting scheme than my previous two efforts.
Rather than having them all wear the livery of Tamaria itself, the knights are decorated in their individual coats of arms, and their horses are painted to match.
Those with penants mounted on their lances have those done in the purple of Tamaria, with a few white highlights to designate unit battle standards.
I really like the effect of all the different colors, and the chrome-shiny chainmail looks great.
Again, I don't count myself as even a good miniature painter, but they'll do the job. These figures come from Old Glory 15s. As always, I highly recommend them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Value of Multi-Modal Gaming

Just a quick thought that I'll hopefully be able to expand on later. While preparing some Field of Glory army lists for a few of the nations in my Erseta campaign, I was stuck by just how useful this information was going to be in my ADD campaign, and how I was able to give the lists some color by incorporating some of the material I had worked up for the role-playing game.

As an example of the first, I now know that the Principality of Drachenpost has special troops known as "greatswordsmen"; foot soldiers who fight with two-handed swords. That's a detail I might not have come up with if I was thinking purely in terms of role-playing.

And as an example of the second, when needing to bump up the point value of the starter army for the Barony of Rittergeist, I was able to incorporate the Knights of the Golden Heron, which I had worked up for the role-playing game, as a special force of Superior Drilled knights. It's a little thing, but really adds character and color to otherwise-drab army lists, as well as giving some inspiration for painting the figures when the time comes.

I can see this working in all sorts of ways, with some of the ideas I've got floating around in my noggin. More to come.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Not you, Gentle Readers-- the title of this post is directed at one "fugaros" (who shall hereafter be known as "wise fugaros", for reasons which shall be apparent), who runs a new blog called "How Not to Run a Game Business" which you will find newly ensconced in my "Blogs I Read" list over to the left; I make a point of reading points of view with which I disagree. Keeps me young.

With his wealth of experience running a just-broke-even lemonade espresso stand and a failed weekly newspaper, and armed with his sophomore year textbooks in Business Administration at county college, he has taken it upon his acned shoulders to tell the rest of the gaming hobby/industry YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

And thank the heavens he has, or else the folks at Amarillo Design Bureau, one of his favorite punching bags who have been, apparently by sheerest happenstance in their ignorant bumbling, selling enormously successful and popular products for more than three decades, wouldn't know just how bad bad bad they've been. Now that they have wise fugaros to point them in the proper direction, I'm sure they will actually prosper, as opposed to... well... selling enormously successful and popular products for more than three decades.

What occasioned my notice of wise fugaros (whose blog address has the charmingly endearing URL "") was a post of his entitled "STOP. MAKING. GAMES." Thanks to Stargazer's World for his much-more-temperate-than-my reply, "NEVER.STOP.MAKING.GAMES" for pointing it out, or I would never have found Mr. Marketing Expert wise fugaros's blog, despite being both a gamer and one of the despised self-published-gamers who is, presumably, his intended audience.

Apparently, having a large number of options for a beginner is a Bad Thing:
There are over a hundred products in my local game store that bill themselves as core or introductory. I didn’t even check the clearance/closeout/used shelves. This is a ridiculously dangerous fact.
Dangerous indeed; the unwashed and unprofessional masses are harming the elite few whose wares are actually worthy of customers by putting so many alternatives out on store shelves that the good stuff gets drowned out in the noise. And the internet? That's even worse:
Anyone with a copy of OpenOffice and two fingers can create a game.  

THE HORROR! The hoi polloi, having escaped the well-defined and god-intended boundaries of the 1980's, doing an end run around Professional Editorial Review, dare to inflict their ham-fisted musings on a helpless populace that can't tell the difference between their moose-droppings and the results of Professional Designers. Much like, it seems, anyone with an Internet connection and a gmail account can start a blog about game companies. But I digress...

Wise fugaros has something to say about the OSR as well:
What’s more, we have various “movements” in the hobby causing even further factionalization. These feature hobbyists, players, people who have no goddamned right to be making a game, touting themselves as “designers” and putting out endless iterations of the rules that please them. Storygames vs. anti-storygames, D&D vs. Pathfinder vs. AD&D vs. OSR, you could probably fill a landfill with the shit these people put out.
AD&D vs. OSR?

That's right-- OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, LotFP, Adventures Dark and Deep, etc. etc. is all shit fit for the landfill. Writing games to please ourselves? How DARE we!? We have "no goddamned right to be making a game." There's a special circle of Hell reserved for such miscreants as we. We should, presumably, be writing games to please other people, and those games better be pretty. Because wise fugaros seems to place a high value on glossy paper and pretty pictures. The text itself is, well, boring. It's eye candy that makes a game, damnit; we've got to get people BUYING those euludically-perfect games. And hex maps? Surely you jest.

Because hobbiests-turned-publishers, amateur posers that they are, don't understand that the goal of doing all this isn't to have fun and share their work with fellow travelers, even (especially!) if those travelers are in a niche-of-a-niche and you end up with tiny sales that might cover your pizza bill for a month and a small measure of satisfaction. THOU FOOL! The goal is to have a successful business, and if you are a gamer, you're almost certain to be an inept boob when it comes to the Real Goal of publishing games. After all, Lorraine Williams proved that, right?

I fear nothing more than that I shall ever be a disappointment to wise fugaros. Am I not one of the Fallen? Am I not a gamer with not a whit of business sense, who has fallen into folly and have started my own game company? Worse yet still, I'm not making edgy, cool, "indy" games that are surely the future of not only the hobby by the very race of men itself, but just another "fantasy heartbreaker." More the fool I! Nobody should ever make another fantasy RPG. Ever. It's been done, to perfection (by 4E, no less), so any attempt would be a useless gesture. And the fun I'm having doing it? Scales upon my eyes which have not yet fallen to reveal the utter emptiness of my labors and the destitution of my vision.

Thank goodness I've got wise fugaros to guide me through this rough patch, when I fancy myself a designer, and fool myself into thinking that I could actually have fun doing it, and that that would be enough.

Reminder: Revenge of the Grognards at Dremation 2012

Just wanted to send out a reminder to all my fellow OSR-ifiles that we're planning to storm the gates of the Dreamation 2012 convention in beautiful Morristown, NJ on February 23-26, 2012.

I'll be running Castle of the Mad Archmage, some old-school AH hex-and-counter wargame goodness, Ogre Miniatures, and hosting a discussion about the joys of older games. I will, of course, be pimping these games mercilessly at the con, and am happy to include others' games as well.

If you would like to run an old-school game at Dreamation and have it included in my advertising efforts, when you submit your event registration to the convention --> HERE <-- put "Part of the Revenge of the Grognards" in your description. Please also mention it in the comments below or send me an email and I'll be sure to hump it when the time comes.

See you there!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kicking off a Campaign

I probably just gave my regular players a heart attack with the title of this post, but I'm referring to the general ways and means of starting new campaigns. A new campaign doesn't necessarily have to be in a new campaign world; many's the time I've started a new campaign in Greyhawk, for example.

The question for the GM becomes one of information flow. Just how much knowledge should the players have about their starting locale? Especially in a sandbox style campaign, starting the players with zero or next-to-no information means they are going to be flailing about blindly, with no way to make an informed choice about where to go first. This can be frustrating to both players and the GM; the players because they feel completely helpless, and the GM because they players are more than likely not going to randomly stumble on the neat things he has carefully designed for them to encounter.

Starting the players with little or no information can be difficult to justify in-game as well. If the player characters have grown up in a particular village, why don't they know the layout? The prominent NPCs? The fact that there's a ruined tower just over the ridge to the north? The name of the king?

In the original DMG, Gary Gygax gave some excellent advice on the subject:
As background you inform them (the players) that they are from some nearby place where they were apprentices learning their respective professions, that they met by chance in an inn or tavern and resolved to journey together to seek their fortunes in the dangerous environment, and that, beyond the knowledge common to the area (speech, alignments, races, and the like), they know nothing of the world. Placing these new participants in a small setlement means that you need do only minimal work describing the place and its inhabitants. -- A&D Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 87
This setup neatly solves the problem of the player characters not knowing much detail about their starting point; since they come from a "nearby place" they could very well not know anything about the actual starting village or town.

The question still remains of just how much information should be given, and how. Do you, as the game master, prepare a handout, complete with rumors, maps, and lists of deities from which to choose? Or do you more severely limit the information available to them, dictating that "there was only one temple in the village you grew up in, and so Thor's your deity"?

I don't think that generosity with information concerning some of the broader brush-strokes of the campaign is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I think that the players can find themselves more invested in a setting about which they have some knowledge, rather than the whole being a gray and misty cipher beyond the 10-mile-radius around their immediate starting locale. Does having the World of Greyhawk maps hanging on your wall ruin the mystique of having a campaign set in the Flanaess? If not, then how does handing a continent-scale map of your homebrew campaign do so? I don't ask this with any specific answer in mind, but invite speculation and discussion in the comments.

Personally, I find the campaign really gets going after the third or fourth session, when the players have a good sense of who's who, what a few of the plots are that are happening in the campaign (at least in their little corner of it), and so forth. I'm wondering if there's a way to jump to that point without simply handing the players a list of rumors and NPCs, which feels less than right to me somehow.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Christmas Carol

In the upper-right corner of the blog, from now through Christmas Eve, you'll find a poll inspired by one of my favorite films of all time; "A Christmas Carol". There have been scores of adaptations over the years, and I listed a few which I felt were either influential, popular, or just struck my fancy, but I made sure to leave room for "other" just in case someone just had to share some love for a version I've not included.

Please feel free to share your own thoughts about "A Christmas Carol", including favorite adaptations, actors, and even the book itself (have you ever read it? I have, and it only added to my appreciation for the movies and television adaptations; you can find the original here).

My own personal favorite is the George C. Scott version; Patrick Stewart comes in second or third (Mr. Magoo still holds a special place in my heart-- a product of my age, I suppose), but I don't find him quite as convincing an "evil Scrooge" at the beginning. Scott's transformation is simply brilliant, in my not so humble opinion.

And a bit of Christmas trivia; I always make a point of serving Smoking Bishop at Yule and Christmas, thanks entirely to this work. Try it; it's fantastic on a cold winter's evening when ghosts are about.

I'll be making several Yule and Christmas posts during the season; never forget that I am a true fan of the holiday and the season, even if you might find some conventions overturned and mayhap your own oxen gored.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Tamaria Mounted Crossbowmen

I'm on a roll! Hot on the heels of my battlegroup of feudal spearmen, painted in the livery of the Kingdom of Tamaria from my own campaign, Erseta, comes a battlegroup consisting of four stands of mounted crossbowmen, similarly attired. Fortunately, my lack of expertise in photographing miniatures sort of hides my lack of expertise in painting them, but once again, they're painted, and based (sans flocking), and now I'm ready to move on to some of Tamaria's mounted chivalry.

These are all 15mm figures from Old Glory 15s, by the way. I found the mounted crossbowmen somewhat tricky to paint; there were a lot of places where it wasn't very clear where the saddle ended and the man atop it began. But I muddled through; at least the crossbows were attached; I shudder to think what would have happened if I had had to glue them on.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Looking for a Great Deal on LotFP?

James Raggi is selling pdf versions of a bunch of his stuff for just $1.35 until December 10. Looks like a great deal for those who might be on the fence regarding his products, and who want to dip their toe in and see what's what before committing to the hard copies. That includes the highly acclaimed Vornheim module and the "Grindhouse Edition" of his rules. I'd recommend taking advantage of this while it lasts. Avoid the bundles that are listed at, though; they haven't been re-priced for the sale, and you're much better off getting the individual pieces.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Armies of Erseta: Tamarian Spearmen

The arms of Tamaria:
purpure, a barulet argent,
with a triangle argent, voided
Well, since my home campaign is now set in my homebrew setting of Erseta rather than the World of Greyhawk, my long-languished miniatures painting project has now been rechristened the Armies of Erseta. And what better way to try to jump start things than to belt out an entire battlegroup of spearmen?

As long time readers may remember, I'm intending to use the Field of Glory rules to do some large-scale battle gaming, and to that end I purchased two starter armies from Old Glory 15s; a Feudal German army and Feudal French army. Plus a lot of extra doodads and such, and others have been kind enough to donate their unwanted 15mm figures to the "Greyhawk Grognard's Home for Unwanted 15mm Figures".

Well, I finally got off my duff and started to paint these bad boys. I don't hold myself to be a great (or even good) painter by any means, but I've got color on them, and a little detail, and they're on bases just waiting to be flocked (I figure I'll do that at the very end, as it's a messy process and better to only have to clean up once or twice rather than each time I finish a base). They're not perfect, but they're painted, and that's better than I've done lately. And more to come; I'm going to make an effort to get the whole starter army done in my copious free time (sigh). Elapsed time on this unit: 4 hours, not including priming.

What I've got here is a battlegroup of feudal spearmen from my Feudal French army, now pressed into service as spearmen from Tamaria, one of the major nations of my own campaign. They bear the colors of the national arms (which you can see at the top of the post); given the dominant religion of the region, triangles and other images dominated by the number three are as prevalent as crosses and variants thereof are in European iconography and heraldry, hence the prominence of the triangle on Tamaria's coat of arms. It is representative of Potaras the Father, Motara the Mother, and Koreyos the hermaphroditic daughter-son; the three gods of the High Church of the Holy Tripartite Family.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Poll Results: How Broad a Gamer are You?

Earlier this month I set up a poll asking what different types of games readers played, either ever or within the last year. 219 people responded, and it must be remembered that web polls are not scientific measures. They are made up of what is known in the trade as self-selected respondents, and are good for stimulating discussion but little else. Certainly no firm conclusions can be drawn about RPG players in general, OSR players, or even the readers of this blog.

That said, the results are interesting in their own way:
Game type Ever Last Year
RPG 96% 87%
Eurogame 74% 52%
Miniatures wargame 80% 35%
Hex-and-counter wargame 68% 25%
LARP 33% 3%
Card game 91% 66%

As expected, the vast majority of respondents are RPG players; 96% ever and 87% in the last year. Card games came in second; 91% ever and 66% within the last year. Most of the other types of games named in the poll showed the same pattern; a majority have dipped their toe in the water at some point, but haven't stuck with it over time. My own personal heart-break comes from the fact that although two-thirds of respondents have played hex-and-counter wargames at some point in their life, only a quarter of them have done so recently. Alas and alack!

LARPing does seem to be bringing up the rear; only a third of respondents have ever tried it, and almost none of them have done so recently. That's somewhat surprising to me; is LARPing so different from pen-and-paper RPGs? I would have thought wargaming and miniatures were more different than RPGs, but perhaps that's a function of the audience. Many more of us old-timers came from a heavier wargaming background, so perhaps it's a cultural thing.

Thanks to all who responded, and feel free to discuss the results in the comments.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaGaDeMon: Mission Accompished


I honestly underestimated the amount of work that would go into The Torian War when I first undertook to finish a complete game design in one month-- part of National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon). But here we are and here it is, not in a finished state for public consumption by any means, but a complete playable game; a fact which I proved tonight, just in the nick of time.

The map is printed in grayscale just for the sake of economics; at this size it would have cost a MINT to get it printed in color at the local Staples. That's one of the great things this exercise has allowed me to work through; not only the actual game mechanics (and I learned quite a few things just from this first initial run-through) but also the technical and economic aspects of the project.

I certainly gleaned a lot of information about how to change the game rules themselves; reinforcement rules need tweaking, it's way too easy to stack a hex full of nothing but knights and have an unstoppable killing force, and I'd like to put in some mechanic to make it harder for the Torian (blue) side to launch a counter-invasion. But it seems like the basic concept is sound; the attackers are in a race to snag as many towns and villages before time runs out and/or the defenders manage to tie them up. Some things work exactly as I had hoped; the peasant troops popping up all around the captured villages, for instance, forcing the invaders to maintain garrisons in order to keep their conquests.

There are also some technical snags that this playtest version of the game brought out. My method for making the counters was needlessly complicated; I was just making a lot more work for myself than was necessary. I also need some more practice at getting things in GIMP to scale the way I think they're going to; the map and counters each turned out about larger than I had intended. As it happens, that worked out fine for a playtest version; it just takes up more room, but is completely playable. But for a first effort, it's good to see where the technical kinks lie, so I can focus on making them smoother the next time around.

On the whole, though, this was an extraordinary experience. The Torian War is precisely the sort of thing that probably would have languished as a victim of my "gamer ADD" if I hadn't had the one-month deadline imposed upon me. As a project manager by profession the setting of deadlines is something whose utility I should (and do, intellectually) know, but to have it demonstrated so vividly in a gaming context was quite instructive.

Lots of lessons learned, both on a practical level for this game and for the process as a whole, and I hereby declare my own NaGaDeMon experience a success for 2011!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hero Games Layoffs

I haven't played Champions since high school, but I remember it as a fine game for the genre (in my own case, it got displaced by TSR's Marvel Super Heroes, but that wasn't through any fault of Champions). There's a bit of bad news from Hero Games, publisher of Champions and the Hero system RPG, that they are laying off two of their full-time staff and remaining with  staff of one. Even though I don't count myself as an avid fan, I hate to see this sort of thing befall a stalwart of the hobby/industry, and hope that things turn around for them soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Pilgrimage to Gaming Mecca

I refer to a trip I undertook, braving the crossing of the mighty Hudson River, from New Jersey into the borough of Manhattan, to visit what has been the centerpoint of gaming in the greater New York City area for nigh on three decades or more; the Compleat Strategist.

When I was growing up in the 1970's and early 1980's, the Compleat Strategist was a mind-blowing experience for me. I coaxed and conned my mother into taking me on a regular basis (usually agreeing to also visit the Museum of Natural History in the same trip-- very much of a cheat, since I loved going there as well). I purchased my first real wargame there (Invasion America), and was a steady customer of both wargames and, later, RPGs, at both the main store at 11 East 33rd Street (I still have the address memorized, which is a real feat considering my normally-atrocious memory for such things) and the store in Montclair, NJ. I actually worked in the Boston store after college in the early 1990's. But it was that store, mere steps from the Empire State Building, that always held a soft spot in my heart.

I'd not made the time to visit it in more than a decade myself, and with some time off from work, I and one of my friends from the game I run (as well as one of the more fanatical and enthusiastic Ogre Miniatures players) hopped the train into Manhattan and, after encouraging him to his first true "dirty water dog", brought him to the Strategist. It helped that the temperature, even in late November, was edging towards 70 degrees.

This is less than a quarter of the actual store, tightly
packed but with treasures on every shelf.
This, my friends, is what a real game store should be like. It occupies a narrow NYC storefront, and is quite literally packed from floor to ceiling with games of every type. Not just the newest and hottest stuff; they've accumulated things over the decades that even the staff don't realize is on the shelves (although one of the staff was nearly encyclopedic in his knowledge of what was where, and they were all friendly and helpful in the extreme).

The newest stuff is between knee and slightly-above-eye level. And there is TONS of it. Games, modules, miniatures, paints, magazines, cards, supplements for a hundred games I've never even heard of. There is a wealth of older stuff near the floor and on the top shelves, as well. Stuff from the early 1990's (and some even earlier) that's still in the shrink-wrap because it's been on the shelf since it first came out. I'm talking Starfleet Battles, Advanced Squad Leader, Lost Worlds...

The OSR is more than well represented, too. Castles and Crusades had a very decent piece of shelf space, as did Labyrinth Lord and a number of other products I recognized and was greatly heartened to see. My previous FLGS couldn't even special order this stuff, but the Strategist has it on a shelf at eye level.

Plus they have wargames. Not just what passes for wargames today with either plastic or metal miniatures (although they had those too) but real, honest-to-goodness hex-and-counter wargames. And they carry the version of Strategy & Tactics magazine that actually has the game inside the magazine, unlike the version carried in Barnes & Nobel (which is still good, but sans ludi). It was like being transported back to 1977. Except for the prices of said magazine (ouch!).

I ended up picking up a solo game from a company of which I'd never heard, DVG, called Field Commander: Rommel. My friend picked up a pair of games, Discworld and Ivanhoe. They all look like fun, and I'm particularly looking forward to breaking out Rommel on those long blissful winter afternoons when the wife and daughter are off on some mission or other.

Just about the only thing they're lacking is space to play games, but in this environment, that seems natural. This is a place to browse and peruse and buy. [EDIT: Apparently there is gaming space in the back room and below. All the better!]

We had completely lost track of time, and when we emerged it turned out that we had spent two and a half hours in the store, blissfully unaware of the time, pouring through the old and new stuff on the shelves. We followed up with a long but enjoyable walk to the Strand Bookstore down in Greenwich Village (which boasts 18 miles of bookshelves, and somehow manages to discount even new books), with a brief detour to the comic store Forbidden Planet (which, I am reliably informed, also has a shop in Leeds).

All in all, this was a terrific day, and the terrific selection of the Strategist, combined with the really helpful and knowledgeable staff (even if they hadn't ever heard of "The Emperor Must be Told" by Victory Point Games... ahem...) made this an enormously pleasurable trip I'm eager to repeat.