Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Light Posting Ahead

You're probably going to see a lighter-than-normal posting schedule from me in the next few weeks. I've got three big gaming projects that are all coming due at the same time, and my free time and creative energies are going to be put into them:
  • Adventures Dark and Deep: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore. I'm expecting the rest of the artwork to come in June, and then need to set the final version of the book up for the printer. It's supposed to ship in July, and I should have no problem making that date, as long as the art comes in on time (which it looks to be).
  • Temple of the Old Ones. An adventure module I'm scheduled to run at this year's DexCon in July.
  • The Village of Welthorp. Another adventure module that was promised as the joint Kickstarter stretch goal for my own Forgotten Lore book (see above) and for James M.'s Dwimmermount.
  • Project X. This is something I would dearly love to have ready for DexCon, but I don't think it'll happen. Still, hope springs eternal. If not, then a Dreamation 2013 date wouldn't kill me; it's not promised to anyone except myself.
All three of these are in various stages of completion, but to get them all done and polished by July means June is going to be pretty busy for me. Of course, if something just won't stay bottled up inside me, I'll probably take some time to post it. 'Tis ever thus.

EDIT: And of course, right after posting this I went to the mailbox and what should be there but the remainder of my 1/2400 renaissance fleet packs from Figurehead miniatures, screaming at me with their tiny little voices to be assembled and painted. It never rains, but it pours!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Remember those heroes who have fallen in service to their nation.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Games I Love: Core Worlds

A bit of a departure this time; this is a review of a game that came out this year rather than one that I bought back in the 1970's or 80's, but which has quickly vaulted into the ranks of my favorites.

I had the opportunity this weekend to spend a few pleasant days with old friends playing board games. This is something of a ritual that my college buddy Bob has organized for the past 19 years at his house every Memorial Day weekend, and it's usually the only time I get to see some gaming friends, and some of my own early D&D friends from my High School days, who have somehow become part of the group. All for the better. I went down with my daughter this time, and she had a grand time playing board games, she spent a lot of time with the other children there, and was also engrossed in video games and pinball. I, on the other hand, had a few games with me that I wanted to make sure I played. One of them was the new FFG version of WizWar, which was a hoot. The other was Stronghold Games' Core Worlds.

I bought Core Worlds at this year's Dreamation convention after watching a game of it being played (I had, unfortunately, gotten to the con late that day and missed my spot to play). It is a deck-building game for 2-5 players that revolves around the dissolution of a mighty galactic empire as various barbarian empires from its periphery conquer planets and add various heroes, ships, and tactics to their repertoire to assist their invasions. It's not a "collectible card game"; everything comes in the box, and there's no need to buy boosters or any other "hamster-on-the-treadmill" gimicks. There is a supplement with more cards and rules coming out later this year, but it's not necessary for play at all. The box claims it plays in 100 minutes, but our first outing was more than twice that; two hours seems a reasonable time for five players familiar with the game.

First, a word on the physical components; they are absolutely first-rate. The artwork is terrific and very evocative, by various different artists; the counters are thick and well-done, the cards solid, and the overall impression is that this is a game that could have come out of FFG (which I say as a complement). It retails for $45, and is well worth the price in terms of physical components.

The game play is an interesting twist on the deck-building mechanic that has become popular in recent years. Each player starts with a virtually identical deck of cards, and then is able to add to that deck by spending energy points. Cards in the deck are then spent in conquering planets, which not only add to one's energy production (thus allowing the player to add to his card deck), but some of which grant victory points for the endgame and some special powers. What differentiates this game from others is the fact that each player is limited to the same number of actions each turn, and that direct player-vs.-player confrontation is not a feature.

The fact that each player is limited to the same number of actions means that no matter how awesome one's deck of cards is, you still need to play them intelligently. You can't just endlessly slap down cards until someone runs out; you need to plan ahead and figure out what you're going to do in future turns.

The game is limited to 10 turns. As the game progresses, the units, planets, and other cards that become available become progressively more powerful (and, of course, expensive). A point of advice for those who play the game; don't try to do things out of sequence. The turn sequence really matters, and is well-crafted to support the underpinning mechanics of the game. 

The lack of direct player-on-player action is also something that I (uncharacteristically, for me), liked. There's still an element of rivalry, as each player either recruits cards that are drawn or tries to conquer worlds. If I, for instance, thought that a given unit was particularly useful to another player, I might be tempted to swipe it out from under his nose. The same with planets; if I can see that player X only has 9 fleet points and 8 ground points of units deployed, I might well be inclined to conquer a world with those defenses, just to keep it out of another player's hand. But there's no direct "I'm going to attack your world" sort of action. The conquest is all on the ripe underbelly of the fading Galactic Empire, and I hope the designer resists the temptation to change that as inevitable supplements come out. It's a feature that appeals to a lot of gamers, especially those weaned on Eurogames.

As with games like Magic: The Gathering, the cards are filled with lots of background that don't have a lot of in-game utility, other than giving justification for the numbers on the card. But I have to say that I found the various cards and such very compelling; snub fighters (reminiscent of the original Star Wars film), Supreme Brain (which lets you draw more cards), and so forth really give you a sense for what the game's implied universe is like, if you take the time to read through the text.

If you're looking for a deck-building game that lets you choose from a large number of options, but yields real benefits for planning and strategy (as opposed to just assembling a deck full of the optimal cards and tossing them in rapid succession to overwhelm an opponent who doesn't get lucky enough to draw the right cards), this is a terrific game. I'm going to be playing a lot of it in the coming months. Buy it here.

Full disclosure: I've known Steve Buonocore, president of Stronghold Games, for many years and consider him a friend. That said, I purchased the game on my own, and this review will come as a complete surprise to him.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Executive Summary, Top-Level, First-Impression of DnD Next

Takeaway: If you like 3.x, you're going to like DnD Next.

This game is an incredibly obvious response to the success of Pathfinder, and a repudiation of 4E (not that I think that's necessarily a Bad Thing). I'm not seeing a lot of mechanical throwbacks to 1E (or 0E, for that matter), but the "background" and "theme" things for the characters are evocative of character kits from 2E. There is a goodly amount of OSR "feel" to the books, though, that's hard to put my finger on. With rules sections in the DM book with headings like "Ignoring the Dice", and instructions to the effect that the DM is responsible for setting the DC for most actions, I get a good feeling, at least on that level.

Stat checks with Difficulty Class (DC) are literally the first rule in the playtest rulebook. Skills predominate, and from what I can tell classes and races are simply skill bundles that overlap with one another. Again, not necessarily a Bad Thing, but definitely more 3.x than 1E/2E. (Although people familiar with Dangerous Journeys/Mythus will find the concept quite familiar.)

One thing I'm a little queasy about is the notion that every character can potentially find and remove traps, pick locks, etc. What's a thief left to do, other than hide in shadows and backstab? I like the idea that the thief (ugh... okay... rogue) is a specialist with a specific role in dealing with traps and other barriers, rather than just being a "sneaky fighter". But that, as I understand it, is a 3.x re-interpretation of the rogue. So be it.

You don't die at 0 hit points (yay!). Rather, once you're at 0 or under, you make a saving throw (yes, there are saving throws-- yay again!); failure means you take an additional 1d6 h.p. damage. You reach a negative h.p. total equal to your CON plus your level, you're not only merely dead, you're really most sincerely dead.

There are rules for social interactions, allowing players who aren't quite at home talking in character to roll dice instead. I have no problem with that, and in fact did something similar with ADD.

I don't really see the mechanics that, as promised early on in the design process, allow the "rules heavy" player to play alongside the "rules light" player seamlessly. Perhaps that's just because this is an admittedly rudimentary and fragmentary version of the rules, but for me that was one of the chief design features, and I find myself still keenly wondering how they're going to pull it off. Unless it's been set aside.

One bit of awesomeness: PIG FACED ORCS!

On the whole, I'm not disappointed. It's certainly not the train-wreck that 4E was, from my point of view. I'll look forward to actually taking it for a spin at the table to get a better feel for the thing.

102 Places for Free Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Online

While you're waiting for the Wizards of the Coast servers to recover from their self-inflicted DoS attack, you might want to peruse this list of 102 places for free science fiction and fantasy books online. And they're all legal, apparently. Wowzers!

DnD Next Playtest Begins

I'll have a more in-depth review of the materials once I've had a chance to digest them, but one piece of good news is that there is (explicitly) no NDA. Indeed, the confidentiality portions of the NDA that first-round playtesters had to sign is now rescinded.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: All Together Now!

Well here we are.

The final corrected versions of the maps are now all gathered into a .rar file (link to the right in the "Free Resources" section). It's pretty big-- took me four minutes to upload on a cable connection, but I think it makes more sense than keeping them all out there individually. These final versions of the maps have a few more tweaks than just correcting the colors of the oceans; a few other things here and there jumped out at me while I was putting this beast together, as a final "thank you" for all the support I've gotten over the last nine weeks or so:

That's in the .rar file, too. The seams between the maps aren't 100% perfect, owing to the cropping on the edges of the Hexographer files I did when transferring them to .png format. But hopefully you can get some idea of the scope of the thing; I also included scans of the original Darlene maps in the far upper-right corner, to give a sense of scale and to show how the Flanaess that we all know and love fits into the larger construct of Oerik.

Over the course of this project, a lot of possibilities came to mind as I was reconciling the various sources, some of which were contradictory (or even self-contradictory). Sure, we know that a chute in the bottom of the original Castle Greyhawk took players to China (Suhfang, above), whence they had to make their way back overland. But what I love are the implications that the various sources bring when put all together.

For example, the Empire of Lynn is apparently sitting out the mad scramble for the panoply of the former war god Stratis off in the northwestern corner of Oerik. Why? Surely a powerful city-state such as that wouldn't let such an opportunity go by without some reason. Does it have something to do with the religious situation in Lynn? Are the powers-that-be so squeamish about anything that smacks of polytheism that they choose not to have one of their own strive for apotheosis?

One also has to wonder how Suhfang, one of the largest empires on the planet, would react to the establishment of a gnoll-minotaur-demon realm on their northwestern border. I envision that Naresh has pretty much run out of petty warlords to take over, and that explains (in part, anyway), their turn back westward over the mountains. Perhaps they calculate that Ravilla would be a softer target than Suhfang; maybe they even had their snouts bloodied once or twice to convince them.

The placement of Zindia and Woguo (aka Nippon) actually makes a lot of sense when viewed in context. It gives a rationale for the existence of martial-arts-wielding monks in the Scarlet Brotherhood (within journeying distance of Woguo). I also envision a southern exodus of Suel refugees into Zindia, after the Rain of Colorless Fire, leading to their becoming established as the fair-skinned master caste (much like the Brahmins of historical India).

On a technical note, my original maps were made using Hexographer Pro, and I can't say enough good things about that program from Inkwell Ideas. It's well worth the modest price, very flexible, and intuitive to use. From there I transferred them to GIMP, where I cropped the edges (and also where I put everything together for the continent-wide map you see above). Perhaps someday soon I will go through the exact process for some of the tricks I used in Hexographer; sometimes the coastlines and islands could be tricky, and I think that half the job is finding the right fonts to use.

Anyway, it's been a load of fun, and quite interesting for me as a scholar of Greyhawk lore, to go through this exercise. I hope my fellow Greyhawk fans find the results of my labor useful. Nothing will ever compare to the hand-drawn maps by the incomparable Darlene, of course. Those gorgeous maps still adorn my office wall (the originals, which I had laminated, still looking great after 32 years) and still inspire me to venture to the Flanaess in my mind's eye whenever I cast my gaze upon them. Thank you, Darlene, for such inspiration, and thanks of course to Gary Gygax for creating the original World of Greyhawk. You are missed, Gary.

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: The Ocean of Storms

And here we are, the last map of western Oerik. The new map is in the lower-right corner below; I'm including the surrounding maps so you can see how they all fit together.

As usual, the link to the largest size file is off to the right.

One thing I particularly want to mention is the source of the Great River Ithru; I envision it as an enormous spring gushing out of the mountains, with its origins either in the Elemental Plane of Water or the Underoerth, according to contradictory local myth.

I also envision great religiously-fueled tension between Erypt and those lands to its south. The Eryptians revere the river and have a taboo against living on the west bank, which they associate with death. The very existence of cities along the west bank of the river is an affront to their religious sensibilities, and wars have been fought trying to raise them to the ground in the name of faith. (The Eryptian city of Dahina does not count, as it is in the great delta of the river, and not along the river proper.)

The free city of Urush-Pth I see as a haven for outcasts from Erypt, full of plotting and intrigue against the dynasties of the priest-kings, fueled by the agents of Kesh, Memr, and Buha. Its position also makes it the first civilized port of call for eastward-bound trading vessels from Ishtarland, the Tharqish Empire, and Lynn, so it could be a fascinating place indeed.

While at some point I will probably tackle Fireland and Hepmonaland, my principle aim is now achieved; pulling together the disparate sources that described western Oerik and hopefully making some sense out of sometimes contradictory material. One thing I will be doing in the next day or two is to adjust some of the colors on the oceans; I don't have the color progression quite right from shallow to deepest. Once I've made those adjustments and re-run the maps, I'll bundle them all together into a single compressed file for download, and maybe, just maybe, I'll have another surprise at the same time. We'll have to see.

Until then, enjoy, and thanks for everyone's support while I've been doing this. It's been a lot of fun!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: The Barbarian Seameast

I can't believe that I've come so far so fast with this project. Today I present the eastern half of the Barbarian Seameast, but I also made some adjustments to the three adjacent maps as well (mostly consisting of making the deserts just a tad less empty). The newest map is the one in the lower-right, below:

As always, click to embiggen, and download links for the large-sized files are off to the right in the "Free Downloads" section. Next up, one more map eastwards, covering southern Erypt and the Ocean of Storms, and then the maps of Western Oerik are complete!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jousting Down Under

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: Ishtarland

The circuit of western Oerik is almost complete. My latest map covers the southwestern corner of the great continent; Ishtarland, half of the Barbarian Seameast, and the Red Kingdom. I've also made major revisions to the Drazen's Horde map (the one in the upper-right position, below), based on feedback regarding placement of some of the lands from the Chroniques de la Lune Noire. The Red Kingdom has a unique sort of terrain, to indicate the extent of the red rocks and sand that give the place its name; I don't feel like I'm straying too far from the original feel of the Darlene maps in this, given that the Bright Desert was also a unique terrain type.

The newest map is the one in the lower-right below; I'm including some of the surrounding maps so you can see how they all fit together (click to embiggen):

As always, links to the largest-scale files are off to the right in the "free resources" section. Four maps to go; next up is the rest of the Barbarian Seameast and the southern half of the Blazing Desert, whence came the humanoids of Drazen's Horde. Then finishing off the desert south of Erypt, two maps of Hepmonaland, and this baby is done!

Then I can get on with the gazetteers. ;-)

History of Dice

Sorry for but a brief post today. Brian over at the Awesome Dice Blog has an interesting story on the history of dice, including a neat info-graphic to go along with it. Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Rebel Yell Lives

So you think the "Rebel Yell" of the Civil War was something akin to "yeeee-haaaa!!!"

Think again.

Here's the Museum of the Confederacy explaining how they went about recreating the actual rebel yell:

And here's how that knowledge was applied by modern reenactors:

Both segments take a total of about 10 minutes to watch, and I think it's really worth it (but then again, I am a creature of admittedly eclectic standards). You can purchase the CD mentioned here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mapping Beyond the Flanaess: The Tharquish Empire

At long last, another in my series of Darlene-style maps covering western Oerik. This time, we cover the Tharquish Empire and the remainder of the Tharquish Dominions. I envision the region as a Greco-Roman type place (which is attested to in the Chroniques de la Lune Noire, which shows a decidedly Classical Tharquatis about to get taken out by a tidal wave; but that's okay, because it's no more canonical than Tharizdun destroying Oerth in the Gord the Rogue books), with lots of hilly terrain broken up by smallish woodlands.

I also made a few changes to the Free States map, which I'm posting here so you can see how they fit together. The one on the bottom is the new one. Click to embiggen.

As always, the latest largest-scale versions of the maps are available off to the right in the "Free Resources" section.

You'll also notice a corner of Gonduria off in the extreme southwest corner of the map; I deliberately didn't put anything there, because the focus of this series is Oerik itself, and I'm leaving Gonduria as a blank slate (for the nonce...). Next stop, Ishtarland, the Red Kingdom, and the Barbarian Seameast. Only four maps to go!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thirty Years Ago This Weekend, We Were Told of the Days of High Adventure

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And onto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, came upon the world this weekend, 30 years ago. I know for me it was a seminal moment, not only because I was a huge fan of the Conan stories (albeit the bastardized versions that were the only things then available), but also because this movie, with its serious tone and positively inspiring score by Basil Poledouri, really defined the fantasy genre for a lot of us impressionable young teens growing up in the 1980's.

Yeah, looking back on it the acting isn't that great. And it certainly isn't by any stretch a faithful adaptation of the original REH stories, but it's still a lot of fun. Movies like this, Hawk the Slayer, The Sword and the Sorcerer, and the Ralph Bakshi adaptation of the Lord of the Rings were movie fantasy back then, right at the heyday of the AD&D craze, and I can't help but look back on this movie with fond memories.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Combat in RPGs

A question to the audience.

Do different styles of combat require different combat mechanics? Or is it possible for a single game system to portray widely disparate forms of combat coherently and in a way that make them workable against one another?

Consider the following examples:

The question becomes, can a single combat system handle all those disparate types of combat? Should any single system be expected to be able to handle them adequately, or do different genres (or sub-genres) require unique combat systems? And, of course, the other question is, does the (A)D&D system handle them adequately as-is?

Worthy Cause: Karen Boomgarden, Former TSR Editor, Needs Our Help

Please read this post over at RetroRoleplaying. I realize that times are tough for everyone, but if you have anything you can spare to help out Ms. Boomgarden, even $5 or $10 could help. Plus you'll be helping out the RetroRoleplaying cancer fund, which has been one of the Worthy Causes in the upper-left corner of my own blog for some time, now.

UPDATE: The effort has so far raised a total of $1700 or so out of the $2500 that is needed. Thanks to everyone who has donated, and another imprecation to those who might have $10 or $20 that they can lend to the cause. Let's show what the gaming community can do when it comes together.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Congratulations to Steve Jackson Games

What has 5,512 backers, $923,680 in pledges, and weighs 14+ pounds?

The Ogre Designer's Edition game.

Steve Jackson Games shattered all sorts of records with their ludicrously successful Kickstarter campaign, which concluded mere minutes ago.

Congratulations to the entire team over at Steve Jackson Games. I can't wait to get this baby in my hands.

Cityographer Kickstarter

From the fine folks at Inkwell Ideas who brought us Dungeonographer, Hexographer, and the Coat of Arms Visual Designer comes... Cityographer:
You set some preferences for the city you want (technology level, population size, whether the city has a river, if it is on the coast, etc.) on a setup screen and it will randomly generate an entire village or city for you.  (You can also start with a blank map/city.)

Not only will the program generate the city’s map, but it will generate simple floorplans of the buildings, and each building’s residents and any important belongings.  If the building is a business you’ll also get a list of the staff and a menu or price list of products available.

Further, everything and anything can be fully or individually re-generated or hand edited!  So if you don’t like the whole city, just start over.  But if you simply don’t like the placement of a few buildings, move them or delete them and add new ones.  If you don’t like a particular building just regenerate it or an aspect of it.  For example if the building is an inn, regenerate it or regenerate just the staff or just the price list or hand edit any particular item!

I have had wonderful experiences with Inkwell Ideas' other products, and their Cityographer would cover the last base pretty niftily, it seems. Check out the kickstarter campaign, which has a little more than a month to go, but still has a ways to meet its goal. Joe's a great guy and he makes useful and very easy-to-use software; I'd encourage everyone to support this one.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics Arrived Today

To quote Gurney Halleck from Dune, "Gods, what a monster!"

I gave my first impressions as to the content when I got my hands on the pdf, but now that I have the physical hard copy in my hand, it's... BIG. Has the heft and feel of a high school biology book. The glossy cover doesn't hurt that impression any, either.

I really hope someone is going to run this at Dexcon this July. I'd love to take it for a spin from the player's point of view.

My Kickstarter Experience

As my regular readers will know, I recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign for Adventures Dark and Deep: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore. The book is a version of my ADD game presented as a supplement for other 1E-compatible games. I learned a few things about Kickstarter from the experience, and thought I'd share.

First off, Geek Industrial Complex has a great three-part analysis of crowdsourcing for RPGs, here, here, and here. Excellent stuff, well backed up with hard numbers (it was the result of a study of 150 different projects), and you can download the raw data here.

For my personal experience with the Forgotten Lore KS campaign, I was approached by Tavis Allison, who was managing the Kickstarter campaign for James M.'s Dwimmermount, about possibly doing a cross-promotion between my project, Dwimmermount, and Myth & Magic (a 2E-based game with tweaks and improvements). Tavis had himself been approached by Tom Ryan of New Haven Games, who inquired about synergizing their two KS campaigns. I believe he got the initial idea from Paul Hughes' Random Dungeon Generator Poster kickstarter, which also used this sort of cross-pollination to great effect.

We hashed out the details for most of the afternoon via email, and came up with the notion that Dwimmermount and I would offer a shared stretch goal-- an adventure module that would be linked to Dwimmermount as the locale for a treasure map found therein, and which would be a stand-alone module suitable for use with ADD. I would also give M&M a hearty endorsement (which wasn't contrived at all; I've been excited about their project for a while), and vice versa.

So when I sent out the update announcing the shared stretch goal on April 12, I also told the ADD supporters to go check out Myth & Magic. I also mentioned it all here, to maximize the audience. Both the other two Kickstarter campaigns did likewise, plus James mentioned it on Grognardia on the 11th, and this was the result:

Now, I can't speak for the impact that either Dwimmermount or M&M saw, but it was pretty dramatic coming in my direction. There is a natural bump near the end of the life of a kickstarter campaign, but this exceeded my wildest expectations, and as you can see, once the big jump happened, things leveled out to what looks like a more normal end-of-campaign boost.

I attribute this to a few things.

1. A mention on a blog, even a very widely read one like Grognardia, is like radio advertising. You're going to get a very big imprint, but relatively few sales per listener. Over the life of the project, I did get 12 backers from Grognardia (3.5% of the total money raised), but I got three times as many from those mentions in the Dwimmermount and M&M campaigns (accounting for 17% of the total funds pledged, so they were not only more numerous, but more generous).

2.When the mentions are done on kickstarter as part of a supporter's update, you're hitting an audience that is more inclined to actually open their wallets. When it's sent out to supporters, you're by definition getting a targeted audience of people who have already demonstrated their willingness to support projects.

3. The three projects were very much targeting the same audience. Especially in the case of M&M, which might otherwise have been seen as a competitor to ADD, the modern market is much more of a cooperative venture. Because the OSR is such a niche market, we gain much more by getting the word out to other potentially interested buyers than we do by trying to jealously hoard the customers we have. I can't imagine anyone looked at M&M and said "Boy, that looks a hundred times better than ADD. I'm going to switch my support from the one to the other." (Or vice versa.) It's much more about community building, and given the scale at which we're looking, that has much more of a positive impact than any sort of competitive disadvantage.

3a. I think the mutual benefits between ADD and Dwimmermount were due much more to the fact that people who knew about the one were hearing about the other for the first time, rather than saying "Hey! I'm getting a treasure map location module because I'm supporting ADD; I'd better end up supporting Dwimmermount so I can get the level that has the map in it!" (and, again, vice versa). Again, community building. At the scale we're working on, that has many more advantages than disadvantages.

On a larger scale, we see something like this with the Ogre Designer's Edition kickstarter. One of the stretch goals for Ogre is that they will have a Car Wars kickstarter at some point, so they get fans of both games invested in the other. There has also been talk of "recursive" kickstarter campaigns, were a subset of people can band together to combine their efforts to get a high-priced goal, such as 10 people each putting in $300 so that a $3,000 reward level can be shared among them. That hasn't been formally adopted as a feature by Kickstarter, but apparently they're looking into it.


Especially in a small niche market like OSR roleplaying games, kickstarter is not a zero-sum game, by and large. That is, people who are inclined to support one such project are probably going to be inclined to support another project that meets their interests. Both projects could end up getting support, rather than one taking support from the other.

OSR publishers have little to lose, and much to gain, by forming these sorts of partnerships where other projects are not only endorsed, but are integrated together through stretch goals and the like.

I think there is a potential for burn-out and overkill on such things; every OSR KS campaign endorsing every other OSR KS campaign all the time would quickly lose its effectiveness. But doing so in a targeted manner, where natural synergies exist, seems to be a win-win for all concerned.

UPDATE: The raw data for the crowdfunding survey can now be found here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

More Greyhawk Heraldry

I thought I'd knock out some of the easier ones this time. As before, these were done using the wonderful Coat of Arms Visual Designer by Inkwell Ideas. The images are all in .png format, so they should scale pretty well.

Ice Barbarians:
Frost Barbarians:
Grand Duchy of Geoff:
Great Kingdom of Aerdy:
The Theocracy of the Pale:
Snow Barbarians:
County of Ulek:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are you a "Car Wars" Fan?

Steve Jackson may have just made you very, very happy.

If they hit the $700,000 mark for the Ogre Kickstarter, they'll do one for Car Wars.

I will now go on record and say that I will support a Car Wars kickstarter at exactly the same level that I'm supporting Ogre.

So if you're a Car Wars fan who've been a bit put off by the attention that Ogre's getting, now's your chance! Can Steve Jackson get another $117,000 in 4 days? Perhaps the Car Wars fans will tell.

This was another one of those awesome games that we played endlessly when I was a kid. We'd set up a huge track on our pool table and have at it. I can't wait to see if this comes to fruition.

Getting Past the Holocaust

One of the things I think is lacking in most post-holocaust RPGs is the "fish out of water" element. That is, most such games, like Gamma World, have the player characters come having grown up in the setting, many with mutations, etc. I think such settings are made for a scenario which envisions people from the modern era somehow being thrust into the post-apocalyptic world, and having to explore it and deal with the changes the cataclysm has wrought.

Several means by which someone from 2012 might be catapulted into a post-apocalyptic world (whether it be 100 or 1,000 years in the future) include:
  • Time Travel. The player characters are transported into the future by a time machine. Unexpectedly (or perhaps as part of the plan), it is a one-way trip, and they are now stranded. [The Time Machine, sort of; he chooses to stay, rather than being stranded.]
  • Time Dilation via Space Travel. The player characters are astronauts traveling at near the speed of light. Thanks to the time dilation effect (which is a real thing, btw), time travels much more slowly for them than it does on Earth. When they return, many more years of objective time have passed back home than have passed subjectively on their ship. [Planet of the Apes.]
  • Cyronics (or other means of suspended animation, such as induced hibernation). The player characters are frozen and then revived (via some automated process, or perhaps by their discovery by natives of the future world, who revive them accidentally or purposefully). [Genesis II and Planet Earth.]
  • Isolation. The player characters are the descendents of survivors of the holocaust who took shelter just before the bombs hit (or the plague happened, or whatever the apocalypse happens to be), and who may or may not have maintained their culture as it was at the moment the world ended. Perhaps there are some gaps in the knowledge that has been transmitted-- perhaps the residents don't even realize there is a world outside to explore until something happens to force them out of their sheltered environment. [City of Ember, Logan's Run, and Wall-E.]
They key to the "fish out of water" element is that the player characters haven't witnessed the holocaust first hand. They're not merely survivors, but find themselves in a very different world from the one they knew. If I do a Gamma World game, I'd definitely want to structure it this way.

The Most Awesome Map of Westeros You'll See This Week

Well, probably longer than that. This thing is absolutely GORGEOUS! I'm not going to post a thumbnail because that wouldn't do it justice.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Authorial Voice

I'm not a big fan of "consensus".

I think, especially in creative endeavors, that following a single driving vision is preferable to having something designed by a committee. Some folks are going to like it, some folks aren't, and that's okay. It's the philosophy I followed with Castle of the Mad Archmage and Adventures Dark and Deep. I wrote those for myself, and if folks wanted to read it as well, that was great.

I noticed something the other day when going through some of my Greyhawk materials. In the late 1990's, they stopped having author credits. They had design teams instead. There were exceptions, of course, but on the whole the later materials lacked a certain verve. The prose was mechanical, and the product so homogenized as to be lacking in a certain rough charm that the earlier materials had. Compare, for example, the "gold box" Greyhawk set with the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. Sure, it can be argued, that the LGG is much more comprehensive; there's no denying that. But personally, I find it somewhat soleless, and I think that's because it is lacking in a single authorial voice.

That's not to say that an author's words are inviolate, and shouldn't be touched by an editor or proofreader except in the most egregious of cases. But I do think that having a single author infuses a work with a certain personality that a design team just can't match.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Film Review: The Avengers

With as few spoilers as possible; any spoilers will be hidden through the magic of inviso-text (highlight to read).

The Avengers is probably the most anticipated film of the summer (with all due apologies to Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus). It's going to make an absurd amount of money, and it's garnered something on the order of 85% positive ratings at Rotten Tomatoes. I got to see it on Friday with my family, in 3D (no IMAX).

In a word, it was a great time.

That said, the film is not without its flaws, and I would hesitate to call it (as some have) the best superhero movie of all time.

First the good.

The dialog is absolutely terrific, and it makes the movie. People who bitch and moan about Joss Whedon being some sort of fanboy need to realize that it is precisely his love of the material that make his take on the characters work so well. Tony Stark is flawless with his snappy one-liners, and both Captain America and Thor are completely consistent with their depiction in their respective feature films, as the man-out-of-time boy scout and the former spoiled prince who has finally come into his role as grave and wise heir to the throne of Asgard. Loki is well done as the schemer par excellence, and I found Nick Fury to be well done as the ringmaster (some reviewers found his character lacking, but I thought he was spot-on).

The actors all obviously benefited from this not being their first outing (with the exception of Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but he was great in the role nonetheless; its one of those times when you're casting for the mundane alter-ego, and he's great there). I've got to point out, though, that even though Tony Stark had the lion's share of lines, the best line of the film goes to the Hulk. You'll know it when you hear it.

One thing I particularly liked about Whedon's script is that we saw some real growth in the major characters. Once they get past their natural ego-driven antagonisms (which erupt into a long series of fights between various parings of the characters), they all seem to "get it", and it's a sight to behold once the light bulb goes off over their collective heads that they need to set aside their egos and work as a team. Tony Stark's very understated "Call it, Captain" is pure art, borne of a love for, and understanding of, the characters.

The music was workmanlike, I thought, but it certainly didn't detract from the film like, I thought, it did from Thor. The special effects were, as one might expect, spectacular (with one caveat-- see below). The fact that the Hulk actually looks like Mark Ruffalo is absolutely wonderful. And Black Widow is one of the best characters, male or female, to come out of comic book films in a long time. She is not only completely bad-ass when it comes to fighting, but she's got a fiercely manipulative intelligence that shines in her scenes.

Now the bad.

Don't waste your time on the 3D. Seriously. I can remember only 2 shots when the 3D even mattered, and throughout the movie I found a very distracting double-image where a bright light was placed against a dark background (which happened a whole bunch of times, especially, but not exclusively, in the first half of the film). The 3D (and, I might add, the IMAX) was added in post-production. Save yourself the extra $4.

I'm a huge fan of the idea that strong villains make great films. I already pointed out that Tom Hiddleston's Loki was well-written, and he did a great job of bringing him to life, but... the alien Chitauri were absolutely lacking.

The Chitauri, in fact, are the biggest disappointment of the film. They're supposed to be incredibly bad-ass warriors, but their entire strategy seems to consist of shooting up random buildings. And then they all conveniently drop dead when the big ship a billion light years away is destroyed? It seemed very contrived. Moving up the ship's destruction a bit in the final climactic battle, and then showing some scenes of mopping up would have made a lot more sense to me.

I must say that while I understand the purpose of the parade of Avenger-on-Avenger fight scenes, they got a bit tiresome after a while. Stark vs. Thor, Thor vs. Captain America, Black Widow vs. Hulk, etc. etc. etc. It was like reading through the entire run of Marvel's What If? comics. It got old, but only at the very end.

On the whole, I really, really liked this movie. It's a fitting capstone to the recent series of Marvel superhero films, starting with Iron Man, and it really set up some interesting things both in terms of plot and character for the heroes in their inevitable follow-up movies. I only hope they can maintain this level of quality. Although I've got to say a cameo by Spider Man would have made this movie. Yeah, I know why it couldn't happen, but a geek can dream.

But as far as this being the best superhero movie of all time? I'm afraid I must still award that particular laurel to X-Men: First Class. because Shaw and Magneto are so effective as villains. But this one is definitely up there.

Dave Arneson's Personal Game Collection

This was a great way to start my morning (no sarcasm intended at all). Apparently, Dave Arneson's personal collection of games and notes from his days as a designer were left in a storage unit after his death. Eventually, they were put up for auction, and found their way to The Dragon's Trove, which specializes in auctioning exactly that sort of material. From their website:
In early 2011, The Dragon's Trove had to chance to buy what is arguably one of the two most important collections of gaming materials every offered for sale, the one belonging to the late Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. In my opinion, the only other more important collection would be the one owned by the late Gary Gygax that is currently being sold off by his widow, Gail. When I was contacted by the owner Dave's collection, it was immediately apparent how lucky all gamers were that this collection was not lost forever. Because it purchased at a storage locker auction (that's right, just like on TV) and it was by pure chance that the new owner attempted to find the meaning of some of the boxes of paper rather than deciding that there was no gold or jewelry to be found, and just tossing it all into the nearest dumpster.

Now, after nearly a year of careful cataloging and research by Paul Stormberg of The Collector's Trove, we are proud to offer this once in a lifetime collection to the public. Paul Stormberg is probably the foremost expert of this type of esoteric collection, and will be holding a series of auctions over the coming months to allow the vast assortment of items to find a home. You can follow this on his site here:

The Collector's Trove's Web Site

I'm very pleased that things worked out the way they did, and am looking forward to seeing some of the hitherto-unknown material come to light.

The Collector's Trove will also be auctioning a portion of the collection starting this Sunday:
The auction will include nearly 200 items including several rare wargames, Call of Cthulhu, Empire of the Petal Throne, Blackmoor, Dungeons & Dragons, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Highlights of the auction will include inscribed and autographed copies, editorial and review copies, author's and comp copies, Dave Arneson library copies, and personal play copies! Among many special items are a series of Empire of the Petal Throne books and journals autographed by the late M.A.R. Barker.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Yes, There Will be Miniatures!

Big news coming out of the phenomenally successful Ogre Designer's Edition kickstarter campaign. According to Steve Jackson in Update #17:
The $450,000 goal is . . . Somehow, some way, we WILL bring back the miniatures. Maybe resin, maybe metal. I have already gotten some interesting responses from custom casters.
Well, boys and girls, the count now stands at a staggering $465,779 (of an initial goal of merely $20,000, I might add). So, to quote today's update:
Yes, there will be miniatures!

There's talk of a mystery stretch goal if they hit $500,000, which seems within the realm of possibility, considering they still have a week to go. So if you haven't yet committed to supporting Ogre Designer's Edition, now's your chance!

Happy National Day of Reason!

"What if?" Movie Posters

I came across this site today, and I'm loving it! It's a collection of "What if?" movie posters by Peter Stults; taking films we know and (mostly) love and turning them on their heads with new actors, directors, time periods, and of course wonderfully retro movie posters. Here are just two-- there are tons more on the site, and some of them are available for sale as prints! I might just get the Fritz Lang "2001: Odyssee Im Weltraum" poster if it was available.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Terror on the Planet of the Apes

Way back in the 1970's, Marvel was putting out a magazine called Planet of the Apes. In addition to running comic adaptations of the five Planet of the Apes films (at that time), they ran original stories that were only loosely associated with what at the time was Apes canon. The longest-running and most intriguing of these original stories was a serial called Terror on the Planet of the Apes.

The plot roamed widely, and included quite a few science fiction elements, including mutants, aliens (with winged monkey soldiers), cyborgs, and much more, but at its heart it explored questions of race in the real world through the interaction of apes and humans (including different types of apes, and with different communities of humans, some of which were completely integrated).

The villainous Inheritors, led by their brains-in-jars leaders were "living machine" mutants, bent on destroying all life that wasn't mutant, but not above forming alliances with the gorillas who were, themselves, bent on slaughtering all the humans (in a thinly-veiled KKK analogy, complete with hooded gorillas burning down human houses). It was a wonderfully intricately written storyline, and would make a terrific setting for an RPG.

One of the best things about the series, though, was the artwork by Mike Ploog, Frank Chiaramonte, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, and Virgilio Redondo. It's very trippy in places, and is definitely a child of the 1970's. Boom comics, which is currently publishing several Apes-related titles, had originally announced they were going to be doing a reprint of Terror on the Planet of the Apes, but unfortunately the project was cancelled last March, apparently due to low sales. More's the pity-- I would definitely have snatched them up! Fortunately at least some of the earlier chapters are available online in various places, for those who are interested in this fascinating bit of science fiction.