Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Necromancer Cover

We march ever-closer to the release of the Necromancer character class. I present to you now, for the first time, the cover (click to embiggen):

It's only a half-sized image of the real cover, so if you have trouble reading the text, here 'tis:
"Being an optional character class, the Necromancer, with more than 75 new spells and cantrips for its use. This supplement is suitable for use and fully compatible with other games compatible with the original and advanced editions of the world’s most popular fantasy role-playing game."
The cover art, as well as the main character piece on the interior, is the outstanding work of Jason Sholtis, one of the great artistic talents of the OSR, whose work graces many different OSR works including Fight On! and Knockspell, adventure modules by various publishers, and now my own humble work. I'm just thrilled to bursting with the way it turned out, and so wanted to give my loyal readers a sneak peak.

The Necromancer will be made available in the early part of October, in both print and pdf versions. Keep watching this space!

Friday, September 23, 2011

An Early Look at the Necromancer

One of the playtesters of Darker Paths 1: The Necromancer has posted an "early look" at the class over at his blog. Do check it out, as it gives a pretty good overview of the "feel" of the character class.

http://heromeblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/early-look-at-darker-paths-1.html

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Announcement or Two

Announcement the first...

I wanted to keep this quiet until I was sure that it wasn't vaporware (vaporgame?). Well, it's not; I have a prototype in my hand (sans the final cover art by one of the OSR's premier artists who shall remain nameless for the nonce, but that's on its way), and I feel confident enough to make the announcement.

Coming this October, just in time for the festive Halloween season; the first in a series of RPG supplements suitable for use with any game compatible with the original or Advanced versions of the world's most popular role-playing game. Darker Paths I: The Necromancer.

The Necromancer is an optional character class suitable for either PC or NPC use, or the game master is free to simply take the spells included (more than 75 new spells!) and add them to the spell-lists of his magic-users or mages. The necromancer is a master of death and the undead; his spells are centered on dealing with crypts and tombs, creating and treating with the undead, as well as emulating some of the powers of the undead at higher level.

The Necromancer will be 20 pages of actual content (not including the covers, OGL, etc.) and will be available in pdf format. Pricing is still being determined, but it will be competitive with other, similar, offerings.

Announcement the second...

Along with this announcement, I am also pleased to announce that a new company has entered the game publishing arena; BRW Games. Naturally, the first product that BRW Games will produce is the Necromancer character class. In the future are planned the Adventures Dark and Deep fantasy role-playing game and a full line of games of various sorts (Euro-style games, wargames, and of course RPG supplements) set in the World of Erseta Fantasy Setting.

I'm probably crazy for setting off on this journey of creative endeavor and small-business formation all in the same step, but I've got a vision, and I realized that the best way to see that vision through was to do it my own way. Things might take a little longer this way than they might if I simply sold my stuff to an established publisher, but I think it'll be worth it if the vision pans out.

Here... we... go!

FTL Neutrinos Discovered?

Although I'm a huge science geek, I don't often post science related stories here. However, this one had a few implications for science fiction in general, and sci-fi games in particular, and it's cool as hell to boot.

Apparently, scientists at CERN have discovered that neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light, according to their research. The finding is not verified, but it certainly does have astounding implications for the future of space travel if it's true. "Engage the neutrino drive and set course for Epsilon Eridani V!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard

Not being a subscriber to the website that is now referred to as Dragon, I was unaware of the existence of two articles by a woman named Shelly Mazzanoble until today. In them, she describes her experience as a player of contemporary D&D, attempting to play 1E.

Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

I've got to say they're probably considered very witty in a modern kitchy-is-funny-because-it's-ironic hipster sort of way. However, they seem more like a parody to me:
“Oh, no,” Laura said in a weird, affected, half-
British, half-theater-snob accent. “This is how
Shabulous talks.”
Chuck’s eyes got all wide. “Are you roleplaying?”
“OMG, I think I am!” she said.
At least, I'm going to hope it's parody.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Greg Leeds (WotC CEO) Interview

Avast, ye lubbers! The good folks over at ICv2 have posted a two-part interview with the CEO of Wizards of the Coast, Greg Leeds. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here. There be some pretty interesting stuff there in general, and he had this to say about the possibility of more retro products. Yarrrr.

In terms of being sensitive to what the fans are saying, there are rumors that you are looking at some of your old products even all the way back to 1st edition D&D. Are you looking at bringing back any of those products in a collector format or on any other basis?
We are always on the lookout for what opportunities can come up based on what our fans are interested in from the past. I think the “red box” launch was a good example of trying to take advantage of interest in a retro product. We will always be looking for that, but at this point we have nothing to announce along those lines.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Social Issues in RPGs

Something occurred to me today, and I was hoping to get some feedback from you, my loyal readers. Have you ever played in an RPG (or run one) that made a deliberate effort to include a commentary on some social issue?

By this, I mean raising the issue of something like gay marriage, contemporary politics, abortion, euthanasia, racial equality, questions of religion, etc. It need not be overt; one could, for instance, use elf-human marriage as an analogue for interracial marriage. A society could mandate the death of anyone who reaches a certain age or degree of infirmity. And so on.

I'm curious as to whether anyone here had actually done a game like that and if so, how did it go?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Speak Out with your Geek Out: Star Trek and Me

I'm sure many of my readers are familiar with the Speak Out With your Geek Out campaign currently sweeping selected corners of the blogosphere and beyond. If not, well, http://www.speakoutwithyourgeekout.com will have all the salient information for you.

There are quite a few topics I could write about on this one, as you might imagine. Wargaming, my early love of computers (back in the 1970's, when all I had to work with was a teletype terminal connected to a HP 2000F timeshare machine the size of a room, at our local school board), and of course role-playing. But I'm going to talk about what I think was the first geekiness in my life.

Star Trek.

I was just a bit too young to remember watching Trek when it was in first-run on television (but I was alive then, and it's certainly possible that I was present while the TV was on), but I vividly remember watching it in reruns in New York City, on channel 11 right at dinner time on weeknights (sandwiched around The Odd Couple and Beat the Clock, at least for a time). I don't know what it was about that show that struck a chord with me, but something definitely did, and I tried to never miss an episode. My parents didn't think anything of it, and happily indulged my passion with Star Trek toys, model kits, and action figures (back then we had the big 8" action figures, with uniforms made of real material, not just molded plastic, and removable phasers, communicators, tricorders, etc.). I had almost every one of those things you could get (in some cases more than one, and I would put the uniforms on other figures to beef up my team of red shirts to go down to the planet and get vaporized). I remember getting up extra early to watch the Animated Series once I discovered it, and being bewildered when I couldn't find it any more.

I had the earliest of the books; one of the first book reports I remember doing was on "Spock Must Die!". The old James Blish adaptations of the original Trek scripts were favorites, and I devoured "making of" books like "The Trouble with Tribbles ("the book on how to write for TV!" it claimed in a subtitle), "The World of Star Trek", and "The Making of Star Trek". I got several copies of the Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph, and still have a rather large collection of 1st printings, which I scour used bookstores for when I have the opportunity. I have no idea if they're worth anything, but I like having them, and other things like the original Star Trek Maps, blueprints and so forth.

In the aftermath of Star Wars, Trek became once more a hot property. ST:TMP came out, and with it a slew of new novelizations. From the awfulness that was anything by Diane Duane to the ultimate coolness that was the John Ford Klingons, it was a great time to be a Trek fan. (Trekkie? Trekker? I didn't, and don't to this day, consider one cooler or more derogatory than the other.) Wrath of Khan followed, and things were rolling. A few friends in high school shared my passion, but not to the same extent as me, and it wasn't until college that I actually met others who were into Trek as much as I was. My best friend Bob and I took in our first Trek convention together that year in Boston, and I was in hog heaven. Bob had even written his own Trek novel, set on a ship other than the Enterprise (which at the time was a novelty), and even had insignia made up for the ship (I still have one, Bob, if you're reading this).

Over the years my love of Trek never diminished, and gradually turned into full-blown fandom. Conventions, uniforms, Trek-related gaming (which I've already discussed here previously), fan clubs (I performed a wedding at a Shore Leave convention in Maryland, dressed as a Mirror Universe chaplain; "Let us prey... upon those who are weaker than ourselves..."). In fact, it was while in a Star Trek fan club that I met my wife*, and to this day some of my closest friends stem from those grand days of friendship and fellowship, built around our mutual obsession. Sure, I'm a fan of most if not all science fiction that comes down the pike, and Star Wars holds a place dear in my heart, Dr. Who is mostly great, but to this day I'll watch Star Trek if it's on in any form; whether it be one of the series (yes, I even like Voyager), the movies, or even a special on a channel like Biography. My wife and I currently have our "can't miss together time" around watching ST:DS9 on DVD from start to finish.

So there's my Geek Out. Trek's made a lasting impression on my life, and made me some of the best friends I've had. And I don't think it's any odder than being able to quote baseball statistics or spending hundreds of dollars on football tickets.

__________
* The first year we were married, we both tried to get the other a print of "New Borg City" for Yule. Trouble is, the store only had one, and we were both trying to do it behind the other's back! It was a hoot once we and the guys at the store all realized what was going on.

Arneson Memorial Game Day 2011

Tavis over at The Mule Abides has posted a listing of the folks who will be game mastering at this year's Arneson Memorial Game Day on Saturday October 1 in Brooklyn, NY. This year, your humble scribe will be running some pick-up games of Castle of the Mad Archmage using the Adventures Dark and Deep rules*. Plus there promises to be a bunch of other neat-o torpedo games happening, and then a panel discussion to round out the day.

If your in or around NYC and have a hankering to play some old-school (and a few not-so-old-school) games, it promises to be a blast.

__________
* 9 AM on a Saturday? What was I thinking when I agreed to this madness?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mythic Time

The concept of "mythic time" is a term used in the study of mythology to denote a time outside of history, when the Gods walked on the Earth (or elsewhere), plants and animals could speak, etc. Too often, because of the fantastic nature of FRPGs, we seem to want to bring these mythic events into "real" history in our campaign worlds. After all, in a world where the Gods do walk on the Earth, and some plants and animals do talk, what need of "mythic time"?

I think there's still a place for mythic time even in a fantasy RPG. Such is the time when the Gods created the world and sat upon Their throne; Adam and Eve sported in Eden; a fox steals a lamb from a squabbling lion and bear; Balder the Beautiful was slain by his brother Hoenir at the instigation of Loki (or, alternatively, fought Hoenir for the hand of the fair maid Nanna; who says actions set in mythic time can't be contradictory?); Perseus slew (the original) Medusa; Heward played his fabled organ; Thor battled the Midgard serpent while fishing with the jotun Hymir; and both Atlantis and the Isles of Woe were still above the waves.

By simply making reference to events, beings, and places without deliberately making them "fit" into the history or geography of the campaign world, you are de facto creating mythic time. By doing so, you add a meta-layer of mystery to the setting, implying without saying it outright that time and the world itself are not necessarily a constant.

So don't be afraid to throw a little irrationality into your world's history. Making everything fit into nice, neat timelines and precise hex-overlayed maps might satisfy our modern sense of logic and order, but juggling things up on occasion will help add and maintain a sense of legend and wonder that gives a campaign a certain spark, as well as verisimilitude, since history and legend rarely fit into history neatly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Artist Wanted

I'm looking for a cover artist for an upcoming project which is on the fast track. Your chance for glory! (Unfortunately, not your chance for wealth; I'm on a shoestring with this one.) Details on request, but please folks I am *not* asking for leads on artists you like, or names of artists you like, or the Deviantart site of artists you like. I am only looking to hear from the artists themselves. If you have time to do a cover commission in the next two weeks (6"x6", b&w, first rights), please get in touch with me either in the comments here or at joseph@josephbloch.com. Here's a little something for inspiration, one of my favorite pieces ever from the pages of Dragon magazine.

EDIT (9/16/2011): An artist for the project has been selected. Many thanks to everyone who responded; I will be keeping all your emails on file for the future; there's a lot more where this came from (hopefully).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Even More Medieval Erudition: Universities


It's something of a misnomer to speak of Medieval Europe as somehow benighted, and the so-called "Dark Ages" were only dark in comparison with the Roman Empire that preceded them. They were, in fact, still spreading knowledge and educating students, and in more subjects than simply Aristotle and Canon law.

As early as the 11th century-- before the end of the Viking Age-- what we now call Universities were being founded in places such as Bologna and Oxford. By the 15th century nearly 90 universities were in operation across Europe, and each was open to students from across Europe and was known as a studium generale (differentiated from the studium particulare, which only catered to local students). To put this into an RPG perspective, that would put a university in roughly all of the named towns and cities on the World of Greyhawk map, and some of the largest cities would sport several.

The curriculum in those early universities, and the nature of the universities themselves, varied. Some, such as the great studium in Genoa, was organized by, and under the control of, the students, who paid for everything. In Paris the reverse was true; the teachers ran the show. Others were paid for by the church, and their curriculum would naturally reflect this. Still others were under royal patronage, such as the universities at Oxford and Cambridge.

The curriculum, broadly speaking, consisted of liberal arts, law, theology, or medicine. Students would enroll at the age of 14 or so, and courses would be built around the study of a single book; whether it be a book of law, medicine, etc. The liberal arts were composed of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music theory, grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Students who underwent the complete six-year curriculum were awarded the title of Bachelor. Those who continued their studies in law, medicine, or theology could continue on to the ranks of Master and eventually Doctor. Teachers in one school could teach at any other without examination, and the schools as a whole had a certain degree of autonomy, within the context of their financing and reputation, of course. In one famous case, striking students didn't just leave the university, they left the entire city for several years! So the universities definitely had some political and economic clout.

From an RPG perspective, not only are these universities the logical place to find sages in any one of the various specialties, but also could form a part of a player character's background or even current activities. Adding magical studies (the ars magica) as one of the core curricular subjects would certainly not be out of order in most campaign settings, and might even form the basis for starting off new parties. The rather staid "You all meet in a tavern..." could be replaced with the somewhat more realistic "You all know each other from the university, having progressed in different courses of study, but becoming good friends during that time..."

In the Adventures Dark and Deep game specifically, it would be completely apropos to say that bachelors would perforce have one of the various specialties within the scholarship secondary skill, or perhaps even generalship, alchemy, etc. Different universities might offer different specialties.

It certainly seems that universities could add quite an element of verisimilitude to a campaign set in a quasi-Medieval setting, as well as providing justification for previous relationships and the acquisition of new knowledge. Give it a go!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

On September 11, 2001, terrorists affiliated with Al-Quaeda and inspired by a desire to spread their perverted Islamist ideology brutally murdered over 3,000 Americans by hijacking passenger jets and crashing them into buildings. This unmitigated and unjustifiable act of terrorism must never be forgotten, and we as Americans must never cease our efforts to wipe out those responsible and those who would follow in their footsteps. These were not just "violent extremists", but rather were motivated by a particular ideology, and we ignore that fact at our peril.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NJHMA Expo Moved to October 8

According to the Vintage Castings website, the NJ Historical Miniatures Associates 2011 Expo has been moved from tomorrow to October 8, due to the severe flooding in Wayne, NJ. No mention of this seems to be on the NJHMA website at this time, but I'm not planning on taking any chances. I used to work in Wayne, and I know just how bad the flooding can be there. Hope everything dries out soon! Finally, I'll get a chance to buy some 1:285 trucks...

Looking for a Woodcut

I know I've seen this a thousand times, but for some reason I just can't find it either on Google or in my books.

There's a woodcut that shows two men in Elizabethan garb in a graveyard, inside a magic circle, summoning up a spirit. The spirit is there, with a skull for a head. One of the men has a staff.

Anyone recognize the print I'm talking about, and can point me to it?

EDIT: Ask, and ye shall receive. Here's the image I was looking for:



Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coming Soon from Fantasy Flight Games

I'm all kinds of excited about two board games soon to be forthcoming from Fantasy Flight Games.

The first is a game they're calling Rex, which is set in their Twilight Imperium universe (albeit 3,000 years in the past). It's essentially a reworking of Avalon Hill's game Dune (which was itself based on a Roman-themed game called Tribute), taking out the Frank Herbert IP and replacing it with that of Twilight Imperium. It sounds like the basics have been kept, however; specifically, the notion that each of the factions vying for control of the empire are asymmetrical in terms of their powers. That is, each has a unique power (or powers) that is not on the face of it a direct counter to anyone else's power. That's a bit misleading, however, as in actual play the six factions balance one another perfectly. Dune was one of our standard go-to games back in the day, and I'm glad it's seeing the light of day again, even if it's in another wrapping.

The second is a straight re-issue (with new components) of a terrific little game called Wiz-War. Originally published by Chessex, it's a wonderfully light game of wandering through a dungeon (which is created with various tiles), scooping up magic items, fighting monsters as well as the other wizards, and trying to be the last man standing. It's great fun, played with hundreds of cards to represent the various spells, creatures, and so forth. It's pretty much a quintessential "beer and pretzels" game and another that I'm glad to see in print once more.

I make no bones about not being a particular fan of the "Euro-Games" that have come to dominate much of the board game hobby over the last few years. I personally find them a bit too abstract for my tastes, and the themes that are slapped on seem just that-- completely superfluous to the mechanics of the game itself. I'm both impressed and personally pleased that a major player like FFG is bringing some of these great old games back, and I'm definitely going to be getting both of these. Seeing them with the usual astronomically great FFG graphics and components is going to be a pleasure.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Greece Prepares for Re-Enactment of the Battle of Marathon

From Fox News:
While the U.S. is having lots of Civil War reenactments lately, it's not the only country where avid hobbyists like to refight old battles.

This year Greece is marking the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, an epic clash between the Greeks and Persians that saved Europe from invasion and allowed Greek culture to thrive.

To commemorate the battle, there will be a reenactment on the actual battlefield.

The battle was a desperate attempt to stop the Persian Empire, the major superpower of the day, from invading Greece in 490 BC.

The Greek city-states of Athens and Palataea blocked the passes leading out from the Persian beachhead on the Plain of Marathon. Even though the Greeks were outnumbered two-to-one, they attacked and routed the Persians, ending the invasion.

There's a legend that an Athenian named Pheidippides ran from the battlefield to Athens to announce the victory and died from exhaustion right after he gave the good news.

The distance from Marathon to Athens is, of course, about 26 miles. This actually never happened, but it makes a good story.

From September 9 to 11, hundreds of reenactors from around the world will converge on the battlefield for a day of sham fighting and historical demonstrations.

The Greek side will include many Greeks, while the Persian ranks will have many Iranians. Dozens of other countries will contribute people as well.

Events will be centered on a reconstruction of the Greek military camp and there will be archery demonstrations, ancient music and dancing, and much more.

At least 200 warriors will duke it out on the original battlefield, but there won't be any blood spilled. The Greeks will have dull spears and the Persians will be firing rubber-tipped arrows.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Which are the Innovative Game Companies?

Does anyone out there know any game companies, specifically RPG or wargame producers, that are doing new and innovative things from a business perspective?

By this, I don't mean companies that are putting out new and innovative products, or who are taking graphic design in bold new directions, or anything like that. I'm talking specifically about business decisions. Let me give you an example.

Chris at 6d6 RPG is doing several innovative things with his company. I don't know much about the game itself, but these seem like really interesting experiments from a business perspective.

First off, he is open about the process of coming up with pricing. Even though he's not running a publicly traded company, and therefore isn't required to report things like sales figures or other internal financial numbers, he does so regularly on the company's blog.

Second, 6d6 has what they call a "Living Document Promise". If you purchase a pdf from them or one of their retailers, you'll get free updates for that pdf. For life.

Third, he releases his material under a Creative Commons license. What this means is that folks are free, within certain limits, to share, modify, and adapt their rules and adventures, and even resell them!

Fourth, he's paying his writers 1/3 of the retail price of his books and pdfs. And the fact that he's telling his customers that fact up-front might make them a little more inclined to pay for things, even if they're a tad more expensive, because they know a goodly chunk of the money will actually end up in the pocket of the author.

So there's my question to you. Are there other companies out there making innovations on the business side of the RPG or wargames industries? Please share in the comments, and don't be afraid to tout your own company's innovations in this regard, should you happen to be a game publisher.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nooooo!!!

George Lucas just can't help tinkering with screwing up Star Wars. Here's one sample from the end of the new RotJ Blu-Ray release: