Sunday, February 27, 2011

Looking for Figures

I know it's a long shot, but does anyone happen to know of any miniatures manufacturers who have a line of pig-faced orcs in 15mm scale?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Convention Booty

My RPG events at this years Dreamation were a bust for a variety of reasons, but I did manage to score some booty from the dealers.
  • A second copy of OGRE Miniatures for $2 (with all the templates intact)
  • A copy of X1 Isle of Dread for $2 (highlighted, but very usable)
  • A copy of HR5 The Glory of Rome for $2 (missing the map, but otherwise in great shape)
  • And SPI's "World War 2", plus Avalon Hill's Gettysburg '77, Submarine, and War at Sea for $25 (mostly well-loved, but all seemingly playable, and Gettysburg turned out to be unpunched!)
On the whole, I am pleased with my acquisitions, although there wasn't anything to match the 15mm Ral Partha hoard that set me on the whole Field of Glory kick. I have visions now of GMing an OGRE/GEV minis game at this July's Dexcon now that I have a second rulebook. Gettysburg is heading off to my wife's school, since she's something of an aficionado of the battle (teacher, went to Gettysburg college, used to lead horseback tours of the battlefield) and will use it to teach her crumb-crunchers something about history (and manage to sneak in some mathematics, probability, and statistics into the bargain).

And as an aside, I have now sunk to a new low, as I had my hat handed to me by a 13 year old girl who managed to win the first game of Red Dragon Inn we played. She drunk us all under the table. Umbriago!

Monday, February 21, 2011

50 Billion Planets

According to scientists working with data collected from the Keppler Space Telescope, the Milky Way galaxy has approximately 50 billion planets, including 500 million in the "habitable zone" around their stars.


Borucki and colleagues figured one of two stars has planets and one of 200 stars has planets in the habitable zone, announcing these ratios Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. And that's a minimum because these stars can have more than one planet and Kepler has yet to get a long enough glimpse to see planets that are further out from the star, like Earth, Borucki said.
The implications for sci-fi games are obvious. I haven't checked any of the games I have at home, but I wonder how close some of them come to those ratios in their own world-building systems. 50% chance for a star to have planets, 0.5% chance for a planet in the habitable zone. Grist for the mill of a scifi RPG design...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greyhawk Session 14

Or, "You go twenty feet and the corridor ends in a T" x 100

Present tonight were Ehrendar Dawngreeter, elf mountebank; Kabliska, human mystic; Abo Thistlestrike, human mage; Ardo, human cleric of Pelor; and Sir Faust Ensign, human Cavalier. This was a bit of an odd session as we started a bit late and the FLGS was closing earlier than usual. There was less banter than usual, and we were in a different part of the store whose acoustics are really terrible, making it hard for folks to hear one another. Nonetheless, we pressed on.

Tonight was another delve into the same area of the Castle, with another suitable gift to keep on the good side of the Flesh Render hobgoblins; this time a brace of pigeons and a fancy hat for their chief. The party continued their explorations of the level, still searching out the hobgoblins' enemies, the Bloody Axe orcs. While last time they lamented that they had only managed to explore 50' of corridor the entire evening, they were certainly able to smash through that particular record!

But what started the evening was an encounter with the fabled Greyhawk Construction Company itself.

Exploring a few featureless corridors, they found a smallish hallway with a stair leading down. Blocking the entrance was a large yellow sign with a black humanoid figure bearing a shovel. Of course, they knew what that meant, and discussed various options, including moving the sign itself. Settling on moving past the sign, they soon encountered a bored-looking orc with an orange vest, yellow helmet, and an octagonal red sign reading (in common) "STOP". He wasn't hostile, but it was plain that they weren't going to be going past him, at least during this jaunt. A quick kiss from the mountebank later, and the party returned to their explorations.

The party had wandered into an area that was mostly corridors. Twenty feet of corridor, and then it ends in a T. And so on, and so on. In several instances, the mapping was messed up, and in other cases the party was clearly getting frustrated, finding nothing but hallways. So they'd turn around, go off in a previously-unexplored direction and find... more hallways. This went on for some time, but they did manage to find a finely-wrought crossbow concealed in a pile of rotting wood, and one room filled with hot pipes, some of which had large wheels. They experimented with the wheels, and sure enough got scalded with hot steam.

More explorations discovered a pit trap in front of a door (near the place where they had battled ghouls one or two sessions ago), which they attempted to spike open so it could not reset itself. While that was going on, however, they were attacked from behind by a minotaur. They pasted it with daggers and magic missiles, quickly driving it off (but not killing it), as it had done almost no damage, but taken quite a bit. Still, the melee seemed to loosen things up, breaking the tedium of corridors and T-shaped intersections...

More explorations brought them to a well-appointed room with two scholars, Frederick and Jasmine. The party presented themselves as officials from the Greyhawk city council undertaking a survey of the waterworks beneath the castle. The two seemed puzzled, but were gracious, and offered to join forces with the party, should they come back to the ruins "when you're off duty, of course."

Time was running short, but they decided to press on a little more, and encountered a band of orcs guarding a stairway leading up. This time, the mountebank used the excuse of working for the Greyhawk Construction Company itself, doing a survey, and managed to defuse the situation before it came to blows. But one of the orcs was dispatched up the stairs (presumably to warn or summon their fellows) and the party left quickly, after finding out the tribe to which the orcs belonged; the Grinning Skulls.

Returning through the territory of the Flesh Render hobgoblins, they informed them of the presence of the orcs, which came as a surprise to the hobgoblins. Apparently the Grinning Skulls were from an upper level, and had previously made incursions on this level, and the hobgoblins were grateful for the information that they had returned.

As I said, this felt a little rushed because of the time constraint, plus the party just happened to be in a section of the dungeon that was lots of passages and a mapping challenge. But still, fun as usual.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Price of Magic

"To summon the demons of darkness has a price. And each time I call upon them, it consumes part of me."

- Prince Koura, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Something that is sometimes forgotten in discussions of the magic system of AD&D 1st edition is the fact that certain spells have consequences. Often, this is lost in the discussion of the "Vancian" fire-and-forget spell system, but I think it's a vital element of the AD&D spellcasting system that deserves some attention.

Specifically, certain spells and a few magic items will magically age the user. For the longest time, I ignored these effects, but I've come to see them as not only an important facet of the magic system as a whole, but may even expand it somewhat in Adventures Dark and Deep.

On page 13 of the DMG, we are told that the following spells will magically age the caster each time they are cast.
  • alter reality - 3 years
  • gate - 5 years
  • limited wish - 1 year
  • restoration - 2 years
  • resurrection - 3 years
  • wish - 3 years
Also, using a potion of speed will age the drinker 1 year, and those upon whom a haste spell is cast will similarly age a year. (As an aside, that would make a really clever and cruel way of murdering someone; just keep casting haste on them until they die of old age.)

One observation-- those spells are high enough level that demi-humans, for whom the strictures of age might not be such a detriment, cannot cast them. That gate spell takes at least a 16th level cleric to cast. You're not going to find any elves able to do that, who can just shrug off 5 years. (Incidentally another point in favor of demi-human level limits, I might add.)

It did get me thinking, though, whether there might be other ways to inflict similar penalties, to give characters pause before casting their mightiest and most maleficent magics. Maybe some of the most powerful spells take away a hit point from the caster. Permanently.

To put it in perspective, a human mage with a maximum lifespan of 94 (average) has about 55 good years in him from the time he begins his adventuring career. Losing 3 years off that is approximately 5% of his total vital years. Playing by the rules, he's going to start losing ability scores eventually. Hell, losing 1 hit point out of his 35 hit points (just taking the average for a 19th level mage with no constitution bonus) is a bargain by comparison. You could also do things like lower a particular statistic either permanently or for 1d6 months.

The idea is to make the casting of that single spell a real dilemma. Is it worth the casting, given what has to be paid?

And here's something else that might bake your noodle... What if there were other spells that one could cast that would allow those penalties to be taken from someone else? Something which an evil magic-user or cleric could cast, whose material component was a human or demi-human? It would allow the caster to then cast a second spell, and have the ill effects be transferred to the victim. Maybe it has a casting time in terms of days, giving an in-game justification for setting a deadline to rescue said victim. Naturally, the very casting of such a spell would be an inherently evil act, but someone driven to desperation might be willing to pay even that price...

Or what if perhaps the spell were more specific; only someone with a charisma of 15 or greater would do? Or someone of Upper Class birth? It would certainly give some motivation for having the evil mage kidnap the princess, thus putting her in need of rescuing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dreamation 2011 Schedule Now Posted!

You can go here to see the entire schedule of events for this year's Dreamation convention, held in beautiful Morristown, New Jersey February 24-27.

I will be running several events:
  • Red Dragon Inn (board game) - Friday, 2:00 PM (B384)
  • White Plume Mountain (AD&D) - Friday, 8:00 PM (R189)
  • Red Dragon Inn (board game) - Saturday, 2:00 PM (B551)
  • White Plume Mountain (AD&D) - Saturday, 8:00 PM (R258)
White Plume Mountain is, of course, the classic AD&D tournament module. I ran Tomb of Horrors at last year's Dexcon, and S1 was such a success that I thought I'd follow up with S2. Red Dragon Inn is a terrific board/card game, completely lighthearted, and a hell of a lot of fun to play. You're a party of adventurers at the inn after the dungeon adventure. The one who stays sober, conscious, and not broke wins!

Space is limited if you want to try to survive my DMing White Plume Mountain. See you there!

EDIT: Seems someone is running a game of Dune on Sunday at 10:00 AM. I am so there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mammoth Cave by Ludwig

I am just flabbergasted by how gorgeous this series of caves, tunnels, pools, etc. is, built by Warren Ludwig over a the LUDstuff blog. If you have any interest in miniatures, terrain, etc. or just want to see something incredibly cool come to life, do yourself a favor and pop over there; he has a six-part series of posts on the blog that detail the entire process from inspiration to finished product, with tons of advice and photos.

See that liiiiitle figure near the bottom of the photo? That'll give you some idea of the scale of this project. Absolutely incredible. Makes me want to start using minis in my regular RPG game again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

D&D Neither Well-Known nor Beloved?

Presented without comment, the following snippet from the Hasbro website:
Hasbro strives to delight its customers through the strategic leveraging of well-known and beloved brands such as TRANSFORMERS, LITTLEST PET SHOP, NERF, PLAYSKOOL, MY LITTLE PONY, G.I. JOE, MAGIC: THE GATHERING and MONOPOLY. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Film Review: Gnomeo and Juliet

When I first saw the previews for this movie I was dreading it. Alas, one of the downsides of having a nine year old daughter is being dragged to every animated film that gets vomited forth from the garage of some wannabe filmmaker with a PC.

I've got to say, I was wrong. This was a really fun film.

To say that Hollywood has the technical side of this sort of film down pat is an understatement. It's visually flawless, a tribute to films that have gone before it such as Toy Story and Shrek. That's one of the things that makes these sorts of movies so tedious; since they're so easy to make from a technical perspective, everyone thinks they can make good movies.

I won't bother with reiterating the plot. If you can't figure it out from the title, well... Garden gnomes come to life only when people aren't looking, and they tend to the gardens in which they are placed. They share their owners' antipathy to one another. And one of the blue gnomes from one garden falls in love with a red gnome from the other garden, and the rest is history. Or at least a good movie.

What sets G+J apart is both the writing and the voice-acting. The writing does what all movies of this sort should do; it works on several levels. I know for a fact that many of the jokes in this film went straight over the heads of the kids in the theater I saw it in; the adults were the only ones laughing. You could easily turn this into a drinking game; "Every time there's a Shakespeare reference, take a drink." The film takes place mostly in the garden of house #2B, with the adjoining house having the same number, but with a circle and a line through it. (Get it?) You'll be sloshed before the end, I promise you. And that's in addition to the more standardly adult-type jokes that are sprinkled in (the gnome with the Borat speedo singing "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts..." for example).

But what really sets this film apart is the voice talent. These aren't Hollywood voiceover hacks-- these are real actors. James MacAvoy is Gnomeo and Emily Blunt is Juliet. But it also has a lot of talent in the secondary characters-- Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Ozzy Ozbourne, Dolly Parton, Patrick Stewart (as the statue of William Shakespeare!), Maggie Smith, and more. They really seem to be having fun with this film, and it shows in their performances.

I should also point out the score by Elton John. Not only does it feature some of the classics you'd expect to see in a film of this sort (Crocodile Rock, Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting), but new songs written especially for the film. Plus the incidental music mostly plays on familiar Elton John themes. I found it extraordinarily apropos.

The audience I saw this film with was mostly composed of younger kids and their parents, and both were laughing (albeit mostly at different times). I would definitely recommend it; it stands out from the crowd of non-Pixar animated films as one of the best. You'll never walk through a garden store the same way again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Realms of Crawling Chaos

Realms of Crawling Chaos ($17.95, 61 pages, Goblinoid Games) is a "Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy" supplement for the D&D retro-clone Labyrinth Lord. It provides rules for introducing Lovecraftian elements into an otherwise standard LL campaign, including monsters, spells, and races.

Physically, it's quite appealing. A large, comfortable font with two columns (with somewhat overly large top and bottom borders to my eye, but that's a quibble), color cover, and b&w art throughout (including most, but not all, of the monster descriptions). It's purely personal preference, but I'm not a fan of the art, although I prefer it to nothing.

The "new magic' section includes 24 new spells and formulae (formulae being a new type of hybrid alchemy/magic) all of which can be added to the standard LL spell lists, and most if not all seem drawn from specific Mythos stories. This brings up a minor point of confusion I found with the rules, which I'm not sure is merely an editing problem; I can't figure out if magic-users are supposed to be included in a RoCC campaign or not. We are told:
These cold realities eliminate clerics, magic-users, and subclasses of these as class options. In this type of campaign there are only three classes that are most appropriate for inclusion from the Labyrinth Lord core rules, the fighter, magic-user, and thief.

So is the magic-user in or out? The passage seems self-contradictory.

There are obvious comparisons between this supplement and both Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium and the AD&D Deities and Demigods section on The Cthulhu Mythos. The monsters section of RoCC includes 41 monsters and singular creatures, clearly more than the Deities and Demigods book included. Again, all or at least most of the creatures are drawn from specific stories from the Mythos. Several of them can be used as player characters, for those who prefer their fighters to have "The Innsmouth Look". Ditto the 13 magic items (plus a section on creating random items, including 100 different nasty effects), and there are also rules for the effects of reading the various tomes which so often play a central role in the stories of the Mythos.

There are also new rules for psionics, and an appendix for including such in a Mutant Future game, which was nice as it makes explicit the notion that the book can be used with either game. The whole is topped off by an appendix of literary sources; I found this sort of the reverse of what I was expecting, as it gives a source for each creature, spell, and item, rather than just a list of Lovecraftian works.

On the whole, this seems to be an enjoyable and useful supplement if you're inclined to include Mythos-type elements in your fantasy campaign. To my mind the chief benefits are the practical ones; monsters, spells, and magic items. I may very well use the "reading eldritch tomes" rules in my own campaign. One rather expects rules covering this material to include mention of insanity, because such is the thrust of Call of Cthulhu and that is the 900 pound gorilla in the Lovecraftian RPG room. The decision not to include such may well have been a conscious one just to avoid that stereotype. It is certainly not a "missed requirement" so much as a "deliberately avoided expectation".

I give it a B+ overall. Definitely worth the money, and worth getting if for no other reason than it expands the medieval fantasy RPG genre in general and the LL sphere in particular. I would very much look forward to other supplements in similar vein; Dying Earth, Sword and Planet, etc.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Twitter Buffs

Get off my lawn you damn kids!
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, WotC gives us Twitter Buffs:

Every week, Dungeons & Dragons Encounters™ brings new adventure. And every hour, D&D's @Wizards_DnD Twitter Channel brings you a new way to interact with your game.

Get your D&D Fortune Cards ready and watch for tweets that will bring the two together.
So now you're at a disadvantage if you don't have an internet connection at the table to make the maximum use of the cards you had to purchase so you weren't at a disadvantage there.

Sure, none of it's mandatory. Just like it's not mandatory for a modern army to use tanks and machine guns.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Advice for Players from... the Players Handbook

There's a whole section in the back of the Players Handbook called "Successful Adventures." I liked to think I was being pretty slick, since I read it over and over, and none of the other people I played with at the time seemed to even realize it existed in the "flyover country" between the spell descriptions and psionics.

What is painfully evident to me now, that didn't really register at the time, was how geared that advice was to a very specific mode of play, and it wasn't mine. To wit; play with a large party (7 or more players) in what we would now call a megadungeon environment. Here are some of the italicized portions from the section:
  • set an objective
  • survival at lower levels is usually dependent upon group action and team spirit
  • A map is very important because it helps assure that the party will be able to return to the surface
  • Avoid unnecessary encounters
  • Do not be sidetracked.
  • If the party becomes lost, the objective must immediately be changed to discovery of a way out.
  • Co-operation assumes mutual trust and confidence

There is a throwaway paragraph about urban and wilderness adventures, basically stating "what was just said for dungeons goes for them, too." So a page and a half about how to conduct a successful dungeon adventure, where the implicit understanding is that the dungeon is large enough that there are multiple possible objectives, the place is large enough that it is easy to become lost, and party members turning on one another is a Bad Thing.

Elsewhere we also see references to a Party Caller, who actually is responsible for guiding the party as a whole, with the implication that with ten or more people, such a role is necessary because otherwise there would be too many people to be able to run the game effectively.

It was certainly a different world in Lake Geneva than the vast majority of us in the late 1970's and early 1980's saw. We usually played with four players including myself, often just one on one, and the dungeons were small and focused. "Being sidetracked" meant exploring two rooms and then getting on with the business at hand.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Quick Detour from ADD: Centers of Power

Something's been kicking around in the back of my head for two years or so, and I've finally gotten it written to the point where I can legitimately not call it vaporware. I call it Centers of Power. I was originally going to include it as a supplement to a campaign setting (which I'm still working on!), but it's gotten to the point where I think it's robust enough to stand on its own.

Centers of Power is a way not only to conduct the famed implied "end game" of A/D&D, but also a way for game masters to game the internal and external political machinations taking place in their own campaigns, and a way to ease player characters into those machinations so that it's not an abrupt "Oh, you're a 9th level fighter now-- you can establish a freehold in the wilderness and start collecting taxes" in a complete vacuum.

You could also play it as a complete game in and of itself, playing the power struggles within a kingdom or three among the various factions within them.

Essentially, CoP takes the various factions that make up any land; clergy, aristocracy, merchants, etc. and treats them as "characters" in the A/D&D sense. Each has attributes; power, wealth, nimbleness, etc. that determine how well the faction functions in any given endeavor, on a 3-18 scale. A small-town thieves' guild might have a power of 4, while the army of a kingdom might have a power of 14. The Golden Horde of Genghis Khan would have a power of 18. That same small-town thieves' guild might have a nimbleness of 15, because there are few people in the decision-making pipeline, while the army might have a nimbleness of 7, because once it starts rolling it's hard to stop. These attributes would change as the fortunes and makeup of the faction wax and wane.

Each type of faction (analogous to character classes) determines what it can and cannot do, analogous to character class on the individual level. An aristocracy faction might be able, for instance, to have "marriage" as an ability, which would increase its influence with another aristocracy faction, and possibly with other factions as well. A merchant faction would be able to start new trade routes as an ability, which would increase its wealth, but which would possibly be interdicted by other merchant factions seeking the same trade route.

In addition there are rules for individual characters to be their own factions (the above-mentioned 9th level fighter) and for player characters influencing the course of factions of which they are members. So a high-level thief would be able to possibly nudge his thieves' guild underworld faction in a certain direction and contribute to its own power and other abilities as he rises in level and accumulates magic items.

The supplement as a whole is not focused on the military, economic, or political, although individual faction types will necessarily be focused on one or another, and will be able to aid or interfere with other factions with their own abilities. Like a noble house using its influence at court to prevent an army from exercising certain strategies, or an underworld "family" blackmailing the head of a clergy faction into taking a certain course.

Faction actions are taken on a larger scale than individual actions, of course; where a player character operates on the scale of segments, rounds and turns, a faction would operate on days, weeks, and months. A faction having control of certain magic items, or more commonly geographic features, has an impact. If a military faction controls a fortress, its power increases when its engaged there. If an underworld faction controls a crystal ball, its awareness increases. You get the idea.

I've played out some very basic stuff on my own, and it looks like it will be a terrific system. Unlike other attempts at doing things on this scale, it "feels" right because it is essentially using the same systems used by individual characters, just on a different scale. Abilities on a 3-18 scale, type abilities like class abilities, etc.

It will not be part of Adventures Dark and Deep; this is something that would be applicable to any A/D&D-like system anywhere (although it will certainly be compatible with Adventures Dark and Deep). All you'd need to do as a game master is stat out the various factions in your campaign (and you can use dice to figure out the faction ability scores; just like it can yield interesting results to figure out why a cleric has a low wisdom and high dexterity, so too might it give fodder for imagination if a military faction has a low power and high awareness).

So I've not stopped work on the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary, but I am taking a short amount of time to work on Centers of Power concurrently. I hope you'll be pleased with the result. I'll keep you posted here!