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.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hoola Hoop Chick

From this year's Skepticon (alas, I was unable to attend). I'm sure those pants will soon show up on the cover of a 4E module or somesuch...

Friday, November 25, 2011

NaGaDeMon Update

Well the month is almost at an end, and so is my Torian War game project for National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon). The rules are done, the map is done (in Hexographer; just needs to be exported into GIMP so I can paste in some tables in one out-of-the-way corner), and now the counters are done. Here are some samples:

They'll end up being smaller than that in the final product; 3/4" on side (or 1/2"; I need to do a test-print to see what works best). But I'm on track to get the playtest version done by the end of the month. Woot!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Witch/Necromancer Bundle Reminder

Just wanted to post a reminder that anyone who purchased Darker Paths 1: The Necromancer is entitled to get a copy of Darker Paths 2: The Witch at the same price as if they had purchased the $8 bundle package. If you purchased the Necromancer prior to October 29th and would like to take advantage of this offer, please send an email to and I'll be happy to send you the special link (the discount through the link will only work for people who purchased the Necromancer prior to the Witch being made available). The last thing I want to do is punish people for being early adopters of my stuff!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pathfinder MMO Game Coming

The good folks at Paizo have announced that they have licensed their Pathfinder game to Goblinworks to develop an MMO game. Now, I play neither MMO's nor Pathfinder, but I am a fan of the way Paizo does business, and this is obviously a Big Deal from the standpoint of the gaming industry, given Pathfinder's consistent rankings either just above or just below Dungeons and Dragons in terms of sales estimates.

The game is described on Goblinworks' website as:
a hybrid sandbox/theme park-style MMO roleplaying game where characters explore, develop, and dominate the River Kingdoms, a treacherous no-man's-land of squabbling kingdoms on the edge of wilderness.

I'm no expert on MMOs, but the sandbox/theme park hybrid does seem pretty par for the course. Given some of the other information on the Goblinworks page about the game, I wonder just how much of Pathfinder will actually make it into the game, other than the name (emphasis added):
Players explore, adventure, develop, and dominate their domains by playing fighters, rogues, wizards, or any of Pathfinder's many character types, or they can use the game's archetype system go beyond the standard options to create nearly any sort of character imaginable.

In any event, congratulations to Paizo, and it will be interesting to see how Pathfinder fans react to the news and the game itself, once it goes live.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 2

ICV2 has a 2-minute promo video for the next season of Game of Thrones. I still haven't read the books, but I loved the first season, and I'm a fan of George R.R. Martin's science fiction, so I'm really looking forward to this.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Genius Loci

Here is a preview of one of the new creatures that will be featured in the next version of the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary. I realize that a creature called a genius loci appears in the D&D 3.x SRD, but the version below was written without that in mind, being based solely on the historical example from Roman religion. This is presented under the aegis of the OGL and is not designated Open Gaming Content*.

Genius Loci

Hit Dice
See below
Armor Class
Magic Resistance
No. of Attacks
See below
See below
Tied to one location
Treasure type
Treasure value
See below
Magical treasure
See below
X.P. Value
1,350 + 14/h.p.

General: A genius loci or “place-spirit” is a non-corporeal being that is attached to a particular location or geographic feature and feeds on the emotional attention of others. Some will never be stumbled upon by intelligent creatures, and will simply waste away and eventually starve for attention. Others will be discovered and come to be venerated as nature spirits, receiving offerings in return for minor gifts. A few rare and lucky ones will merge with some living creature that is also tied to the spot (granite men, tree men, dryads, black willows, and occasionally creatures such as nagas, banshees, or dragon turtles. The criteria for merging is that the creature itself should not have more hit dice than the genius loci and should be both alone and not inclined to leave its home.

Once a genius loci merges with a creature, they become one being in all respects, with the personality of the genius loci becoming more and more dominant as time goes on, but always being recognizable as the original creature; a dryad/genius loci, for instance, will still attempt to lure handsome men, and a granite man/genius loci will have a preference for gems and precious stones.

The merged being will have the outward physical form of whatever creature it used to be, and is able to use any of its former powers as well as those of the genius loci. The number of hit dice will be a combination of the original creatures’ and the genius loci; use whichever hit die type is larger (d10 or that belonging to the other creature). It will still not desire (or be able to) leave its home; it is physically unable to go beyond a quarter-mile radius, but those which are more powerful will have agents more than willing to work on its behalf.

The genius loci will attempt to encourage those near its location to venerate and even worship it, making offerings in return for the application of its powers. It is quite needy and grasping in its desire for such attention, and will develop elaborate ruses and go to great lengths to ensure it has a steady supply of tribute. Genius loci pretending to be gods are certainly not uncommon.

Many of the statistics of the genius loci depend on how long it has been able to maintain its attention-cult. Just being present in the location is not enough to strengthen it; indeed, a genius loci that goes for 1d12 years without any sort of offerings or attention will die (if joined to another creature, they will both die). If the strength of the genius loci is not known, roll randomly.

Die roll (d%)
Years Venerated
Treasure value
Magical treasure
1 item (5%)
1 item (10%)
1d2 items (20%)
1d2 items (40%)
1d4 items (70%)
1d6 items (70%)
1d6 items (70%)
1d8 items (75%)

Treasure value and magical treasure is not cumulative. If the genius loci is merged with some creature, add the x.p. value for that creature to the value for slaying the genius loci. Each month that goes by which sees the genius loci not venerated counts as an entire year lost in terms of its powers. Veneration can take many forms; outright gifts of food or precious items, intense prayers and meditation on its name and/or form (in its presence), ritual adultation and supplication, and so forth. It is speculated that if a genius loci is venerated for long enough, it will undergo an actual apotheosis, turning into a genuine deity.

Combat: The genius loci does not attack in a conventional sense, nor is it harmed by weapons of less than +2 enchantment. All illusion/phantasm and enchantment/charm type spells are useless against it. It has hit dice and magic powers as noted below (in all cases, the reverse of the spell effect is within the power of the genius loci, if applicable, and no material components, gestures, or incantations are required):

Years Venerated
Hit Dice
Magic powers
X.P. Value
remove curse
cure disease
cure serious wounds

Appearance: A genius loci is non-corporeal, and even on the ethereal plane will only appear as a shimmering humanoid form. If joined with some other creature, that skin of the creature will itself glow, and its eyes will be solid silver lights. It can use empathy at all times for communication, and can use outright telepathy to communicate once it has been venerated for 10 years or more.
* All of the material being presented during the open playtest of ADD is very deliberately not presented as open gaming content; that designation is planned to change once the final version is published.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How Broad is Your Gaming Experience?

I'm curious as to just how many different types of games folks actually play, or have played.

I'm a gamer. I pride myself that I don't discriminate in the types of games I play. I've played just about every type of game I can think of, from board games to hex-and-counter wargames to RPGs to card games to minis. Hell, I've even LARPed.

I'm curious, though, as to how many different sorts of games my readers have played, either in their lifetimes or within the last year. Please avail yourself of the poll in the upper-right corner of the blog. It will run through the end of the month, and then I'll indulge my "I used-to-be-an-election-pollster" mental muscles to try to figure out what it might mean.

Feel free to share reminisces or other salient information in the comments.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Oddity from the Monster Manual II

Something struck my eye today that I have never noticed in the 29 years I've owned this book.

Starting on page 6, there is a section labeled "Special Entries" which has the following introduction:
"Certain creatures, such as devas, have special abilities or live in unusual places, etc., and these may require the notations explained below."
What follows are explanations for monster stats such as "Plane", "Intelligence as it affects spells", "Constitution", and several others, which look like they were originally intended to be listed in at least some monster listings as standard stats, but it appears as if the idea was dropped and the excision never made to the "How to Use this Book" section at the front. Only the stat on "psionic ability" seems to have been used at all. Even the entry on devas doesn't have a listing for "Plane".

I know things were a bit hectic in 1982/1983 at TSR, but this is an entire page of material that seems to have been included as an oversight. Yikes!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

BRW Games: Now With Clever T-Shirt Goodness!

I am pleased to announce that BRW Games now has a storefront on (not to be confused with the game product store over at where you can get t-shirts and various other articles of clothing. The initial offering is small, but if there's some good response, I'll be sure to add to the selection. Here's the first batch, all available in black on white or white on black.

Show your support for the game, and spread the Good Word when people ask you what it is.

Really rollin' old school. Has the Adventures Dark and Deep URL on the back.

For those who think that magic and psionics shouldn't mix. Also has the URL on the back.

Remember that anything made on this (or any other venture I advertise here, for that matter) gets put into the kitty and goes towards the games. Artwork, editing, layout, convention appearances; none of it comes cheap, and your support is very much appreciated!

Special Bonus! The first person I see wearing an Adventures Dark and Deep t-shirt will get a special secret prize. Stalk me at conventions! (Sorry, members of my regular gaming group are not eligible!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dreamation 2012 Pre-Reg Now Open plus Revenge of the Grognards!

I'm lucky enough to have a bunch of fantastic gaming conventions actually within easy driving distance of my house (alas, not so with sci-fi cons). One of those that I try not to miss is Dreamation in Morristown, NJ. It has the feel of a fan-run sci-fi con (which, if you're not acquainted with science fiction conventions, is a good thing) and covers just about all aspects of gaming; RPGs, board games, miniatures, computer and console video games, LARPS, and card games. The hotel itself is spectacular, and the dining options in Morristown are really superb. Plus free parking! The convention itself is $60 for the weekend, which is quite reasonable for such an excellent convention. This year the convention will run February 23-26, 2012.

As usual, I'll be running a bunch of games there, and will happily once again organize an OSR mini-con-within-the-con; let The Revenge of the Grognards begin! Here's my list of games submitted:
  • Ogre Miniatures (2 games)
  • Adventures Dark and Deep - Castle of the Mad Archmage (1 game)
  • Afrika Korps (the old Avalon Hill hex-and-counter wargame - 1 game)
  • The Joy of Older Games (panel discussion)

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.

NaGaDeMon Update

Since we are now at the halfway mark of November, I thought I'd give a quick update on my progress for National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon).

Of the two games I had considered putting to paper, I decided to go with The Torian War, a simple hex-and-counter wargame intended to help ease RPGers who might not be familiar with such things into the genre. The Torian War is designed for two players; one, the Torians, is trying to fend off an invasion by the other player, the Vostlanders. The Vostlanders begin with an initial superiority in numbers and quality of troops, but the Torians will slowly and steadily increase their forces until they become very hard to beat.

Thusfar, I've completed the first draft of the rules (all 4 pages of them-- this is for beginners after all-- plus 1 page for charts and tables-- it wouldn't be a wargame without charts and tables) and the map. The only thing I need to focus on now are the counters, and then I'll be ready to playtest. I'll consider it a success if I'm able to get through one complete game as a playtest before month's end, and I think that's an eminently doable goal.

If it works out like I'm hoping, I'll eventually turn it into a print-and-play game and loose it on the world. How about you? Anyone else taking the plunge for NaGaDeMon?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On War

Peace is good for business. - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #33

War is good for business. - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #34

Many times discussions of war in role playing games tends to focus on the mechanics of the fighting itself and how to integrate the player characters into it. But I want to touch on an aspect of war that may sometimes be overlooked in an RPG context; the war as background.

In my own Erseta campaign, there are at least five wars, or groups of wars, going on at the moment. Toria is waging a low-level war of independence against the Vostlander invaders that conquered her a generation ago. Vostland and Tamaria despise one another and have been involved in a war that's lasted for centuries, with occasional outbreaks of peace. The various lands of the Free Lords are constantly raiding, counter-raiding, invading, and generally despoiling one another, with occasional outright conquest (but that's relatively rare, as it makes the neighbors of both the conquerer and the conquered very nervous). The Roveno nomads are constantly attacking the Nordros and Sudros Border Marches, which are all that stand between them and the rich kingdom of Kelland. And the wars between the various Erian decharchies are as arcane and intricate as their politics, as each attempts to regain the lost glory of the Erian Empire.

War brings chaos, and chaos is good for gaming, because it yields opportunities for adventure. War breeds espionage; spies trading military secrets, troop strengths, plans for fortifications, and the like. PCs are easily drawn into such plots, and the course of a war can pivot on their actions, without their ever needing to command a squad of troops holding a pivotal bridge.

War also breeds a paradoxical lack of civil authority and a waxing of military authority. PCs operating in a war zone will find that the normal operations of border guards, tax collectors, etc. are greatly curtailed if they still exist at all. However, they will also find themselves at the mercy of generals who hold absolute authority, and might either press-gang a group of adventurers into their ranks, or imprison or execute them as suspected spies.

War is famous for its profiteering and looting as well. A city under siege could well pay a fortune for a simple barge-load of grain; it's just up to the PCs to figure out how to get it there. That same city, once it falls, could be an adventurer's paradise as the ruins are cleared of conquering troops and the PCs can arrive to pick the carcass clean (or, alternatively, save precious relics from the pitiless looters). Similarly, in the aftermath of a war, there could well be ruins abounding, many with rich treasures in need of liberating by the valiant PCs.

So don't avoid wars because you'll then have to figure out how to get the PCs involved. Rather, see wars as opportunities for the PCs to stay out of, directly, in order to find adventure and wealth through their indirect effects.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Campaign Log - That Which Has Gone Before (Erseta #1 - 8)

I started a new campaign to replace the old Greyhawk one about four months ago, but have completely slacked off when it came to posting campaign log entries. Mea culpa. Here is a quick recap of That Which Has Gone Before, so I can start campaign logs after our next session with (hopefully) more regularity. Sorry if this first one turns out to be a bit lengthy. For those who want to skip to the slightly more detailed account of what happened in our most recent game last Friday, it is marked below.

The campaign is set in Erseta, which is a homebrew campaign of my own design that you might just be hearing more about in the future. It's very much a late Medieval/early Renaissance Europe analogue, and I'm quite content with that; I'm not interested in doing "weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird fantasy".

We'll all be rich! Rich as Nazis!
The players started out in the Barony of Rittergeist, having heard tales of the lost dwarven city of Glitterdark and determined to find the place and explore it and become rich.

Initially, they were sent on a mission to recover a certain book from the tower of a famous savant who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. After a few misadventures they discovered what appeared to be the savant himself in the cellar, confined within a magic circle and seemingly unaware of the passage of time. However they cleverly deduced that it was not the savant after all, but a daemon in his guise. They alerted the local High Church officials to the peril, returned the book, and continued on their southeasterly march to Glitterdark.

Upon entering an expanse of forest, they made camp and were approached by a man named Vert, who demanded from them all of their coins in return for being allowed safe passage through "his" forest. The one party member who had been on guard duty, and who had witnessed his transformation from human form to that of a green dragon, convinced the rest to comply, and most did so, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

Upon reaching the village of Tresen, however (the southeasternmost settlement in Rittergeist), they were informed by the locals-- with no small amount of mirth-- that Vert was indeed a green dragon, but one only three years of age, and eagerly accumulating his first hoard of treasure. Somewhat sheepishly, they continued on their way southeast through the forest, encountering a section that seemed preternaturally dark and foreboding. A carnivorous tree attacked them (and they inadvertently killed one of their own party members while trying to free him and hit the tree), they were beset upon by giant weasels and a giant skunk (the latter having sprayed their encampment when one of them shouted "KA-KAW!" upon seeing the creature; the attempt to frighten it succeeded). Fortunately, one of the spell-casters had the "clean" cantrip, which served to assist greatly with the aftermath of the startled skunk's attack.

Turning to a more southwardly direction, they emerged from the forest only to encounter a mounted patrol of Vanarian troops, who closely questioned them on their business in that fair kingdom. More to the point, since the party's two clerics were members of the Dornian Church, and Vanaria adheres to the Reformed Church. (There is general unanimity in religion in the campaign area in theological terms, but the High Church is split by schism into three competing and mutually hostile factions; the Erian Church, the Dornian Church, and the Reformed Church. All worship the same gods and share the same broadly  lawful good alignment, and differences of doctrine stem more from history and organization than anything else. Rittergeist has an official policy of tolerance, but it is more common for one faction to be deemed the "official" one of any particular land.) Fortunately the captain of the Vanarian patrol was himself a follower of the Dornian church, even though his men were Reformed, and he allowed the party to return into the forest, and thus Rittergeist, before his men did something unpleasant to the heretics.

The party had not set out with a lot of provisions, and they were now running low on food. This turned out to be a good opportunity to try out the ADD hunting rules, and for the most part things worked out well. However, one of the hunting groups, which had itself split into single hunters, stumbled upon an aurochs in the forest. One of the hunters attacked and almost killed the creature, but was slain before he could do so. The other hunter then came upon the scene, climbed a tree, and finished off the much-weakened beast, providing pot roast for all for a month.

Now reaching the foothills of the mountains in which Glitterdark was held to be located, the party came upon a crazy-looking dwarven smith. Scattered all about the place were piles of tools, weapons, armor, and the like rusting in the grass around the smithy, with the smith, Klegg Irontooth, gibbering to himself as he worked. The party, through careful coaxing, was able to glean that Klegg had indeed been at Glitterdark when the city was sealed against the plague, and he was obviously suffering from a form of survivor's guilt. When he found that the party was heading into Glitterdark, he became more agitated, but picked up a large key from amongst the various bits and pieces on the ground and handed it to the dwarf in the party. "You'll need this," he said.

Some exploring in the mountains finally yielded the lost dwarven city, whose gatehouse had been partially covered by a rockslide. The gatehouse itself was home to a family of bears (which the party shamelessly killed) and kestrel-men who weren't acting particularly aggressive, but who kept a steady watch on the party. When the party attempted to take them on, however, one of the fighters was quickly slain and the rest backed off.

Upon entering Glitterdark proper, the party discovered a large circular room with six 10' alcoves protected by barred gates. The key handed them by Klegg Irontooth fit one of the locks, and when the gate was opened the alcove filled with a swirling mist, which disappeared when the key was removed. The gnome was sent forth to investigate and discovered that the mist was actually a magical gate of some sort, leading to an alley in a town above ground, whose exact location and name were a mystery. He reported his findings and after a little more experimentation with the gate to figure out just how it worked, the party continued on into Glitterdark.

Most of the area the party explored seemed to be overrun with goblins. Although they were able to slay quite a few themselves, others had escaped and the party, weakened and injured through a half-dozen fights, decided to retreat through the gate and figure out where exactly it led, despite the gate being only one-way, as far as they could ascertain, since there was no obvious lock for the key on the receiving end.

Last Friday's Game

It turned out that the gate led approximately sixty miles away to the town of Ritterheim, capital of Rittergeist. There, although still rather low on funds, they were able to rest and recharge in the Red Swan Inn. While getting the feel for the town, the cleric was informed of the visit of one Lord Klammerhark, who had come to woo the Baron's daughter Siglund. The Dornian church is opposed to any such marriage, because Klammerhark is a Reformed church member. If such a wedding could be short-circuited, the Church would be most happy.

They also approached one of the regulars in the Red Swan, a halfling named Thrivin Mossberg, who says he is in the business of "uniting sellers of rare merchandise with interested buyers (with no questions asked)". It turned out that the halfling was expecting a certain shipment at the docks that very night, which he would pay 100 g.p. to have brought into the city proper without the prying eyes of the guards at the gate looking through it.

Most of the party leaped to the challenge, and an absolutely hilarious episode ensued as the bard attempted to gain access to the top of the city walls by first entertaining the guards in one tower (distracting them so the gnome could get out of the city), and then convincing the guards in another tower that he wanted to go to the top of the wall so his female companion and he could have some private time ("she likes high places") in order to help the gnome get the crates back into the city. It was a hoot as he kept stretching the story, and making critical rolls for his attend and other abilities, until the guards finally demanded the pair leave, and a mad dash ensued to get the last of the crates off the wall before the guards discovered it. A wonderful example of improvisational play gently assisted by social encounter rules, rather than simply saying "make a challenge roll". I think none of us laughed so much in a gaming session in years. 

So that's where the campaign stands at the moment. Still tons of unanswered questions about Glitterdark; what actually happened to the dwarves? Where do those other gates go, and where are the keys to activate them? How do you activate the gate to go into Glitterdark (if it's even possible)? And some plots and mysteries in Ritterheim are starting to take shape as well; the desire of the church to stop a potential wedding, the contents of those crates that the halfling paid to have brought into the town, and few other things taking shape.

More regular after-action reports to come!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Raid on Frederikshavn Playtest 1

This weekend, not only did we play ADD on Friday, but Saturday was our wargame/boardgame day at our new FLGS. While we did play a great game of Red Dragon Inn at the end of the day, the lion's share of our time was spent playtesting a new scenario I've been working on for Ogre Miniatures; the Raid on Frederikshavn.

This was a very early test-run, and we ended up using the "Raid" scenario from the Ogre Miniatures rulebook with a few modifications. I just wanted to see how things worked, in order to be able to do some tuning with actual results to work from. I count the playtest as a rousing success from that standpoint. Lots of excellent data gathered.

The basic scenario is that the PanEuropeans have developed a new space shuttle and are preparing a test-launch from their spaceport in Frederikshavn, Denmark. The Combine has sent one MK-IIIB Ogre across the bottom of the North Sea to rendezvous with a fast attack group of GEVs (including GEVs, Light GEVs, GEV-PCs, and hovertrucks). The attacker got 60 points plus a MK-IIIB, and the defender got a Fencer, 24 squads of infantry grouped into 8 platoons, plus 24 points of other units. Each turn the defender rolls randomly to determine what sort of reinforcement will arrive-- anything from a mobile howitzer to GEVs to infantry. A variety of small buildings (3 structure points/10 victory points) and large (10 structure points/15 victory points) were there, plus the shuttle on the gantry itself (15 structure points/30 victory points). Various town areas were on the board (which measured 4'x4') itself, which could be destroyed piecemeal for victory points as well.

The game begins as the Combine forces (bottom) hit the beach. The main objective-- the PanEuropean shuttle-- is visible at the top of the picture.
The PanEuropeans selected a pair of howitzers as their defense, counting on the Fencer and infantry to hold the fort until the reinforcements arrived. The Combine had a variety of GEVs and Light GEVs, plus one GEV-PC holding a platoon of infantry.

Alas for the invaders, the Combine infantry and supporting GEVs got pasted almost immediately by missile fire from the Fencer (the white smoke plumes in the lower-right corner of the picture above). Although the Combine MK-IIIB did a number on the closest buildings and town areas, gaining some early victory points, almost the entire right flank of the Combine raiding force was taken out by the Fencer. The left flank, as shown above, penetrated deep into the spaceport facility, and made short work of that town area and building. 

The Combine MK-IIIB, code named "Skorzeny" faces off against the Fencer, code named "Pinky". Pinky was able to maintain distance and pummel Skorzeny with missiles while remaining relatively unscathed; it still had one missile rack and both secondary batteries intact at the end of the game.

 Pinky retreats, drawing Skorzeny into range of the howitzers and the defending infantry.

The Combine GEVs on the left flank take out buildings and town areas, wracking up victory points but unable to help Skorzeny as the MK-III takes all kinds of damage.

Badly damaged, Skorzeny still pushes forward, taking out three of Pinky's missile racks and moving towards the large rocket fuel tank, but there's a LOT of infantry to overcome. At the top, PanEuropean reinforcements are sent to slow down and destroy the Combine GEV flank.

Duel of titans. Unfortunately for the Combine, Skorzeny was badly damaged at this point and was reduced to naught but AP weapons. Pinky did an overrun and took out all of Skorzeny's treads, and that was all she wrote for the Combine Ogre. Defeated by a cybernetic tank the size of a mini-mall and painted pink, Skorzeny hung its virtual head in shame.

The Combine GEVs ultimately took out many of the PanEuropean reinforcements and inflicted enough damage to the fuel depot immediately adjacent to the shuttle to eke out a marginal victory on points. But the shuttle itself was unscathed and the PanEuropeans were about to wipe out the raiders when we called the game.

Lessons Learned

I am immensely glad we played this through, and will do so a few more times, prior to rolling it out for Dreamation in February. Some points we came up with:
  • Objective buildings should not be placed on top of town areas
  • The space shuttle itself should be giving much more significance to encourage the attacker going for it rather than going for the "cheap win" by just wrecking the joint
  • Victory points should not be awarded for destroying town areas, only buildings
  • The victory point range might need to be adjusted based on the fact that there is now an Ogre among the defending units
  • Possibly, destruction of the Ogre should not count towards victory points
  • Victory points for buildings should be set so that half (or slightly more than half) need to be destroyed to ensure a Combine victory; as it was, only a third were destroyed and a marginal victory was still achieved
All in all, I had a great time, and once the scenario gets tweaked appropriately, it'll be the talk of Dreamation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan

When I was a kid, PBS ran an incredible series on science and history called "Cosmos". It was a seminal event, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Carl Sagan was one of the best popularizers of science in the twentieth century. He still strikes a chord; here's a snippet from Cosmos.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jeff Dee is Doing Something AWESOME

Veteran AD&D artist Jeff Dee, who did so many illustrations for various TSR publications back in the day, has something absolutely amazing going on over on Kickstarter.

Turns out that the incredibly talented Mr. Dee, whose original drawings that graced the interior of the Deities and Demigods (later renamed Legends and Lore, to the consternation of all of us who abhor Political Correctness, including Gary Gygax himself), laments that those original drawings no longer exist. TSR threw the originals into the dumpster ignominiously decades ago.

So what to do? Why, redo the drawings, of course!

Jeff is running a kickstarter campaign to raise money by redoing all of the drawings he did for the Egyptian Mythos way back then. If the campaign turns out to be a success, more will come.

Personally, I think this is a splendid thing, and really hope the idea takes off. If you want to get a quick idea of what this means in artistic terms using Elric from the Melnibonean Mythos as a sample, behold (click to embiggen, posted with express permission, and the original is here):

So hie thyself over to Kickstarter and pledge a couple of bucks. He's got several nifty rewards, and it's certainly a worthy cause!

Review over at Grognardia

James over at Grognardia has kindly posted a review of Darker Paths 1: The Necromancer, in which he had some very kind things to say about Adventures Dark and Deep in general. Definitely worth reading if you haven't already seen it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Metatopia After Action Report

Metatopia is a must-attend event for aspiring game designers, and is an invaluable resource for established companies in the field.

It's sort of a "reverse convention"; companies are encouraged to bring their new designs and ideas to be both playtested and discussed in depth. For playtesting, the fine folks at Dexposure (who have honed their convention-hosting skills with both Dreamation and Dexcon) will put you together with players (or other designers!) who share certain things in common with your game.

For instance, if you're going to be playtesting a game that deals with Tarot cards, the pre-convention questionnaire will ask how interested you are in Tarot cards on a scale of 1-10, and match up relevant interests. I will certainly be availing myself of it in a big way next time the con comes around.

For players, Metatopia is a unique opportunity not only to get a sneak peak at what some of your favorite game companies are cooking up, but also to have a real chance to influence the design of the game with your feedback. This is an opportunity you don't get every day in many cases, and I know a lot of people jumped at the chance.

The panel and seminar track was for me the high point of the convention. It was like going to a game design and publishing university. Some of the leading lights and rising stars of the gaming industry were there (both RPG and board games; I was particularly delighted by the fact that they didn't focus completely on one or the other). I took dozens of pages of notes on everything from printing options to marketing to playtesting strategies to ways to communicate with a team collaborating over the web to put together a game. also had someone there to give a presentation; an acknowledgement of just how important that crowdfunding website has become in a very short period of time.

This convention was worth every penny and every minute I spent there. Plus given the spectacular location (easy walking distance to scores of excellent restaurants of just about every cuisine imaginable, a very nice hotel, and free parking), it's become an instant must-attend in my very limited schedule of convention-going.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wisdom from Metatopia

From one of the seminars on designing RPGs:

"Dungeons and Dragons is about providing continuity for the characters between battles."


Friday, November 4, 2011

Off to Metatopia

I probably won't be posting much this weekend, as I'm off to the Metatopia 2011 convention in Morristown, NJ. Metatopia is more focused on game designers, with players able to show up and playtest new games. There are a lot of panels on the gaming industry scheduled that I'm particularly looking forward to, for obvious reasons. If anyone is going to be there, let me know and we can try to hook up.