Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Modest Proposal: Batman the Series

I think it's high time we had a new live-action Batman series on television.

With CW's new series Arrow, focusing on the Green Arrow, we're seeing a gritty, realistic, drama about a millionaire who fights crime as a costumed alter ego at night. If they can pitch that, why the hell aren't we seeing a Batman series? With no slight at all intended towards Green Arrow fans, of course. 

Laying aside the rather schlocky superhero shows of the 1970's and 1980's, over the last twenty years, we've had two separate very successful series centered on Superman (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman 1993-1997, and Smallville 2001-2011), but nothing for Batman. 

Now, Batman has seen more than his share of cowl-time in movies and animated shows, I'll grant. We've had no fewer than seven feature films, most of which have been huge commercial successes, and a number of animated series; Batman The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice (in a supporting/cameo role), and Beware the Batman coming next year. In fact, I think it's reasonable to say we've had a glut of Batman in animated form (even if Batman: The Brave and the Bold was something of a palate-cleanser in terms of its lighthearted tone compared to the others). All the more reason to tackle the Batman milieu in live-action form.

I envision a show that's a cross between the first Michael Keaton Batman film and Batman The Animated Series, with a little dash of The Dark Knight. Forgive me for not delving into more detail or drawing more inspiration from the comic books, but I'm much more familiar with the film and television material. 

From Keaton's Batman, take a lot of visual cues; the stylized look of Gotham City, Batman in body armor, and a Gotham City whose criminal element is more mob bosses and petty crooks than a never-ending parade of costumed super villains. From Batman The Animated Series, take more visual cues; the art deco interior decor, the general "film noir" style, the more realistic looking Batmobile (but not so realistic that it becomes something more suited for the streets of Baghdad than Gotham). Take also the idea of introducing Bruce Wayne's background preparing to become Batman in flashbacks; his martial arts training in Japan, his training to become an escape artist under Zatara, etc. From the Dark Knight, take the more realistic portrayal of the equipment in his arsenal and the emphasis on more prosaic crime bosses. For goodness' sake, stay away from the garish colors and campy attitude of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.

I'd do hour long episodes, with season-long (or even multi-season) character and story arcs, but still crafting the individual episodes so they're fairly self-contained. You shouldn't have to watch the entire season to have fun watching a particular episode, even if some of the nuances of character growth and building story lines are lost upon you. Make at least a third of them non-super villain stories. Mob bosses, hoods; ordinary crimes that need solving and ordinary victims that need protecting. 

For a fantasy cast, as I've said before, you don't cast for Batman. You cast for Bruce Wayne. I might give the nod to either Henry Cavill or Sam Worthington. Who would you choose? (Difficulty: it can't be someone who played the role in one of the films, and has to be someone who could do the part today.) For others, I could see Harry Lloyd as the Joker (I would have picked Tim Curry, but he's getting a little old), Jason Momoa as Bane, David Tennant as the Riddler, Patrick Stewart as Mr. Freeze, Jolene Blalock as Poison Ivy, and Toby Jones as the Penguin. Your suggestions are more than encouraged in the comments!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Taking Another Look at Birthright

I wasn't a fan of the Birthright campaign setting when it first came out in 1995. To me, it seemed like just another in a multitude of settings that TSR was cranking out, and although I had a vague notion that it had something to do with starting off as the leader of a realm (or something equivalent), I never really pursued it. It seems I wasn't alone, since the setting was retired without fanfare in 1999. In retrospect, this shouldn't be all that surprising, because while there was a plethora (some might say "glut") of setting accessories, there were only five actual adventures published for it. Especially for a setting with a different emphasis such as this one, published adventures should have been used to demonstrate the possibilities.

Although I still wouldn't call myself a fan of the setting (in the same way that I consider myself a fan of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Wilderlands, and Dragonlance), my stance on Birthright has certainly softened over the years to a place where I can appreciate many of its finer points, and (naturally) seeing how they might be brought into the World of Greyhawk.

If you're not familiar with the setting itself this excellent review by Ross Watson over at Rogue Warden can give you the outline. I've got to say, I'm still not too much of a fan of the actual setting itself. The old gods are dead (but there's no really compelling reason for that, since new gods have taken their places), there are seemingly arbitrary changes to humanoids and demi-humans, and although I get they were going for an epic sweep of history, it just never hit me that way. It just seemed a rather mundane collection of medieval kingdoms with some Really Weird Things thrown in to prove that it's a fantasy setting. I'm also not a fan of the "bloodline" idea (nor did I like the film "Highlander", btw); I'd much rather see a non-magical "regency" mechanic, that anyone could avail themselves of, take its place.

Lest this seem like a hate-fest on Birthright, what I do like about the setting are the domain rules and associated mechanics. In fact, this is what drew me to take another look at the setting, as I was doing research for my upcoming Adventures Great and Glorious project. There is a comprehensive system for four types of "holdings"-- law, guild, temple, and Source (Source holdings are a measure of the magical power inherent in the land). Based on the population of the provinces under a given regent's control, they are then able to do various domain actions; moving armies, constructing settlements and fortifications, etc.

I think there's a lot of potential there for application in other settings. Since the Birthright province is approximately 30-40 miles across, they would seem to map well to the 30 mile hexes on the map of the Flanaess from the World of Greyhawk. If one took out the notion of the regents needing some sort of mystical blood line to access the power of their domains, and replaced it with... something else... I can really see it working for larger-scale Greyhawk games.

Plus the whole notion of "realm spells" is one that's both obvious and overdue. Simply put, they're like ordinary spells, but have a much more far-reaching effect and naturally take much longer to cast. Spells like legion of dead or blight are just too good not to have in a game on that scale, but once again some mechanism would have to be brought in to replace the restriction that only regents with their magical bloodlines can tap into the Source of provinces to cast such spells. I would hesitate to simply remove it, because that would certainly throw an "ordinary" game out of balance should an adventurer somehow gain access to the spell. ("I'm going to take my regiment of zombies into the dungeon...")

Birthright has a system for mass combat, and it looks like it would work fine, but it's a bit abstract for my own personal tastes. For someone who didn't share my predilection for miniatures wargaming, though, I'm sure it would do fine.

So there it is. While I'm still a little "meh" when it comes to the setting of Cerilia itself, there's a lot of good stuff in Birthright that would work in other settings with some tinkering. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Banners on the Cheap 25% off Sale

In honor of the current election cycle, Banners on the Cheap is offering 25% off everything between now and November 1. If you've been intrigued by the various posts (including one of my own) about their services and how they can be used in a gaming context, now's the time to check them out! They're great for large-scale wall maps, fantasy art, battlemats, and probably a lot of things I've not yet thought of.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Castle of the Mad Archmage Update

I know a lot of folks are wondering when Castle of the Mad Archmage is going to see print, and I wanted to give everyone a quick update based on new feedback I've received from Black Blade Publishing.

The latest news is, their print version of Castle of the Mad Archmage (slipcase, poster maps, etc.) won't see print until 2013. Probably Q1, but no later than May. May 2013 is the hard deadline, after which time they lose the right to publish.

Sorry I don't have better news to give, as I had hoped we'd see it this year, but such are the vicissitudes of the publishing game.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first human being to walk on the surface of the moon, died today at the age of 82. He had served in both the Gemini and Apollo space programs, and was an inspiration to an entire generation of young Americans who would be fascinated with the idea of space travel and the colonization of other worlds.


UPDATE: From the family's announcement: "For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Iron League Campaign: Troop Strengths

Continuing on from my previous post about a hypothetical Iron League campaign that would have parallel D&D adventurers and large-scale warfare, I've collated the various accounts from those Dragon magazine articles and come up with the following troop type totals. These are the overall totals for each major participant; in the articles there is a lot of talk of forces being split, dwarves sent to reinforce other armies, etc. I've gone ahead and combined all of the troops mentioned for each side, so all the forces of the dwur-king of the Iron Hills are listed under his banner, whether they were sent to reinforce Idee in CY 578...

The forces of the Great Kingdom:

South Province Medegia TOTAL
Heavy cavalry 3,000 1,500 4,500
Medium cavalry 3,000     - 3,000
Light cavalry 5,000 2,300 7,300
Light cavalry (mercenary)     - 500 500
Regular infantry 3,000 1,900 4,900
Regular infantry (mercenaries) 6,000 3,300 9,300
Levies 15,000 3,700 18,700
Humanoids 5,000 6,200 11,200
TOTAL 40,000 19,400 59,400

And the forces of the Iron League:

Sunndi Irongate Iron Hills Idee Onnwal TOTAL
Heavy cavalry     - 200     - 1,000     - 1,200
Medium cavalry     -     -     - 2,000     - 2,000
Light cavalry 1,500     -     -     -     - 1,500
Light cavalry (mercenary)     -     -     - 1,000     - 1,000
Regular infantry 4,000     -     - 3,000 3,000 10,000
Regular infantry (marines)     - 1,000     -     -     - 1,000
Regular infantry (mercenaries)     -     -     - 2,000     - 2,000
Levies 6,000 2,000     - 2,000 4,000 14,000
Hillmen 1,000 2,000     - 3,000     - 6,000
Woodsmen 1,000     -     -     -     - 1,000
Dwarves 1,000     - 14,000     -     - 15,000
Gnomes 1,000     - 6,000     -     - 7,000
Halflings 1,000     -     -     -     - 1,000
Elves 4,000     -     -     -     - 4,000
TOTAL 20,500 5,200 20,000 14,000 7,000 66,700

Next up, turning those raw numbers into actual army lists...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Phil Reed and Andrew Hackard Talk Ogre and Munchkin

Over at ICV2, Andrew Hackard (head of the Munchkin line for Steve Jackson Games) and Phil Reed (Chief Operating Officer of SJG) were interviewed and gave some tidbits about the upcoming plans for both Ogre and Munchkin. Please do read the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:
We’re trying to make sure we get to [Ogre] Kickstarter backers before Christmas, but it’s really going to depend on how things work out on the manufacturing side because of the complexity of the pieces.  We want to test everything.  We don’t want to ship the game and then have people get it and it be bad.  We’d rather have some delays and get it right. of the end of July we have sold almost as many copies as we sold all of last year of Munchkin.  The past three or four years particularly have been going up further every year.
We just signed the deal with Paizo; we’re going to be doing Munchkin Pathfinder for release next year. 
And early next year we will release Castellan, the castle building game, which is the two-person strategy game that we’ve been showing off for about a year now.  That’s a lot of fun. It was very close to release and then Ogre happened.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Iron League Campaign: Overview

One of the things that always fascinated me about the World of Greyhawk was the series of articles produced by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz back in the early 1980's that detailed events in the Flanaess. Mostly there were details about troop strengths and movements, battles that had taken place on both land and sea, and political machinations. (Which, as an aside, actually fit in beautifully with the events that were later laid out in Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes, despite many fans' deprecation of those works.) There were also other fantastic events sprinkled in there, some of which were picked up with and run with by later authors (the transformation of Lendore Isle in the Spindrift Isles being a prominent example).

But the notion that there were armies constantly on the move, and the states on the beautiful Darlene map weren't static entities but fluid things whose borders were constantly ebbing and flowing, with marriages and wars making real changes to the map, that really stuck with me.

Most specifically, several of the articles detailed the efforts by the Great Kingdom to put down its hostile southern neighbors of the Iron League and re-absorb them into its own polity. We heard how both Herzog Chelor, ruler of South Province, and His Equitable Nemesis of Medegia, Imperial Constable Spidasa, were competing to see which of them could bring the wayward territories of the Iron League-- consisting of the free city of Irongate, Onnwal, Idee, Sunndi, the Lordship of the Isles, and the dwarf-king of the Iron Hills-- under their sway. Both of them, of course, were also under close scrutiny from the Overking in Rauxes because their loyalty had as of late not been all that it could have been. Wonderful stuff. (Bear in mind this takes place around 578 CY, two years after the publication of the Gazetteer.)

As I've said before, I always thought that would make a terrific game; maybe a wargame, or even a board game. There's certainly enough there to keep a regular D&D campaign in swing for years. But especially, I think it would make a terrific setting for a miniatures wargame campaign. Maybe both. The major players would be:

  • Herzog Chelor Herzog of South Province (Aerdy)
  • Holy Censor Spidasa of Medegia (Aerdy)
  • Szek Eward Destron of Onnwal (Iron League)
  • Lord High Mayor Cobb Darg of Irongate (Iron League)
  • King Holgi of the Iron Hills (Iron League)
  • Count Fedorik Eddri of Idee (Iron League)
  • Count Hazendel of Sunndi, Olvensteward of the South (Iron League)
And possibly the following as well:
  • The Marshal of the Southern and Western Provinces of the Great Kingdom (Aerdy)
  • Constable Mayor Drax of the Free City of Rel Astra (Aerdy)
  • Lord High Admiral Sencho Foy of the Sea Barons (Aerdy)
  • Woodsmen and olvenfolk of the Grandwood Forest (Iron League)
  • Prince Latmac Ranold of the Lordship of the Isles (Iron League)  
  • The Councils of Five and Seven of the Spindrift Isles (neutral)
What strikes me is how well balanced the major players are. Both the Iron League and Aerdy sides total approximately 60,000 troops each (broken out into different types, obviously-- order of battle coming soon). 

Now, naturally, something like this would be a serious undertaking. A regular D&D adventure campaign, with everything that entails, run concurrently with a miniatures wargame campaign that included both land and sea battles. With everything integrated. Large-scale battles would be decided by tabletop miniatures wargames, using Field of Glory for land battles and my own homebrew system (based on Avalon Hill's "Trireme") for sea battles. 

So this isn't an official announcement or anything, but merely some musings at this point. Perhaps later they'll turn into a real announcement...

More of Mollie's Musings from My Campaign

Here are another batch of drawings from one of the players in my Greyhawk campaign, chronicling not only what happens in the game, but also the (sometimes risqué) banter that flies back and forth at the table. This was a special "on the road" game, as many of us schlepped down to the Jersey shore to play at the house of one of our players who switched jobs a while ago and hasn't really been able to play since (I relaxed my normal limit of 6 players because it was a special event). As usual, I had a great time; the people really make the game.

They keep bitching and moaning about mapping the dungeons of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. I swear, it all fits together perfectly on my copy. Honest. Of course, I only give them actual distances for relatively short spaces; a lot of the time all they get is "the corridor goes on for quite a long ways..." because for some reason they never want to take the time to measure it out precisely. Just because I start rolling dice and all...

This one might actually want a little explanation.

Several months ago, while exploring the paradoxically very deadly first level of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, the party encountered several giant weasels being used as support by the kobolds who infest the level. One of them latched onto one of the party members and was draining blood, when the illusionist hit on the excellent idea of using the sneeze cantrip to get the weasel to release its victim. The stratagem was a resounding success and not only reinforced my opinion that lower level spell-casters can rely on inventive use of cantrips to participate more, but the incident also gave the party its name; the Sneezing Weasels.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Spell: Past Life Regression

Past Life Regression

Level 3 Cleric/Mystic spell (necromancy)
Requires: Incantation, gestures, holy symbol
Casting Time: 18 seconds (3 segments)

This spell allows the caster to lay hands upon any character and thereby allow the character to remember some specific aspect of his past lives. In practical terms, this allows the player of the character in question to apply "meta-game knowledge" learned from some previous player character who has died in the past. This knowledge can span whatever the previous character knew; the location of traps on the specific level of a dungeon, identity of a traitor, answer to a particular riddle, the location of a secret door leading into the king's bed chamber, etc. Each application of the spell allows the character to remember a single distinct piece of information, but does not extend as far as learning entire skills, class-specific abilities, etc. The character in question must be a primary character of the same player; player A's character cannot learn anything gleaned during the life of a character belonging to player B. It is not the case that the former character has to have died before the birth of the current character; such are the mysteries of the Multiverse, and all must serve the Lords of Necessity.

Published under the auspices of the Open Game Licence and declared to be Open Game Content. Copyright (c) 2012 Joseph Bloch all rights reserved.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Playing at the World: First Impressions

Author Jon Peterson was kind enough to send me a review copy of his new book Playing at the World, which bears the wordy subtitle of "A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role Playing Games".

In a word, if you have any interest in the early history of Dungeons and Dragons, wargaming, Gary Gygax, or role-playing games in general, buy this book now. No, don't wait. Buy it now. I'll wait.

Ordered it? Good.

I'm only partway through the book, so this is only a "first impressions" rather than a full review. The thing is 720 pages and weighs in at more than three pounds. But from what I've read and skimmed through, I am completely confident in saying that this will become the definitive text of the early history of the role-playing hobby for years to come.

I am an historian by training and avocation. I'm used to reading large books filled with footnotes. I like reading large books filled with footnotes. And this book is that. But it reads lightly, and for me, who thought he had a passing familiarity with the subject matter, this book is a revelation. The level of detail is simply astounding, and in uncovering all of the salient facts of the state of gaming in the 1960's and 1970's that led to the advent of Dungeons and Dragons, Jon Peterson does something that warms the cockles of my heart. It's exactly what I do when digging into some obscure piece of lore, whether it be related to the World of Greyhawk or Norse mythology.

He relies on primary sources.

The importance of that fact cannot be understated. One of the great achievements of this book is that it doesn't rely on the memories and reminisces of those people involved. Peterson double-checks every date, every assertion, and every faded memory against the actual text of the myriad of fanzines, club newsletters, magazines, and other primary documents of the period (the tale of how he amassed such a treasure-trove is probably worthy of a story unto itself). He also cross-references this material against other works that claim to give histories of the period and material involved, and often enough points out where they are contradicted by the actual sources.

I'll say it again. This will become the definitive text of the early history of the role-playing hobby for years to come.

Is it perfect? No, but only because it needs two companion volumes. The first would be a Sourcebook. I would love to see the complete text of the original sources to which Peterson refers and quotes only enough to make his point. The second would be a volume that does consist of the reminisces of the persons involved. The pure facts laid out in "Playing at the World" are fascinating, engaging, and an utterly unthinkable amount of work. I would love to see a pure book of interviews, intended to capture the impressions and emotions of those involved, and see it cross-referenced against the facts laid out here.

But those points are not failings of the book itself. It's a phenomenal achievement. If you are interested in the history of RPGs, you must get this book. Buy it now. I'll wait.

The Zero-Sum Game of Campaign Settings

As you might infer from the title of my blog, I am a fan of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting. I have spent literally thousands of hours reading, writing, and dreaming about Greyhawk. Technically, I was a fan of the setting even before it was an official setting; most of my homebrew campaigns prior to 1980, when the first Folio was released, featured a Duchy of Aaqa, or an Empire of Lum, or other places whose names were gleaned from the tiny glimpses we read about in the artifacts and relics sections of Eldritch Wizardry and the DMG, and had gods like St. Cuthbert, similarly sourced. At the risk of being called immodest, I am a Greyhawk "superfan".

However, what you might not know is that I'm also a fan of the Forgotten Realms. I am also a fan of Dragonlance. And the Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign. And have had very enjoyable experiences in Dark Sun and Ravenloft.

For me, enjoyment of a particular campaign setting is not a zero-sum game. That is, I don't have a limited supply of "campaign appreciation points" that must be dolled out between the various campaign settings out there. Sure, I don't have an unlimited amount of time to devote to gaming (not even the many hours I had in my youth, which seems endless now that I look back on it, compared with what I'm able to devote to gaming these days).

Thus, I don't understand the mindset that says, "I'm a Greyhawk fan. Therefore, Forgotten Realms sucks and so does WotC for choosing it as the next setting!"

Now, it's certainly possible to not like a particular setting on its own merits; Planescape annoys me, for example. But I don't have to mention that fact every time that I bring up my love of Greyhawk. Unfortunately, it seems that some folks do. I've seen it in the last 24 hours in various forums, in reaction to the announcement that the Forgotten Realms is going to be the official setting for D&D for the foreseeable future.

Not everybody has to love that announcement (personally, I think it's probably the best choice they could have made, other than perhaps developing an entirely new setting). But I just don't understand the mindset that says that any piece of good news for a setting that's not my primary favorite automatically means I need to trash that setting. Or, as I have also seen, to trash the company that made the decision. Or the rules that are going to be used.

The Realms being the default setting for 5E isn't going to make me any more or less likely to play 5E. That will be based on the rules themselves. Ditto WotC as a company. Stuff they make that I like, I'll buy. Stuff they make that I don't like, I won't buy. Simple.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Future of Dungeons and Dragons

Today (8/16/2012) at 7:00 PM eastern time, Wizards of the Coast will be live streaming the keynote address from GenCon: "The Future of Dungeons and Dragons." Speculation is that they will not only talking about the DnD Next playtest, but might also divulge which campaign setting(s) will be featured.

Hie thyself to this link to see the future of D&D:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Worthy Cause: Braille Polyhedral Dice Kickstarter

I've been deliberately trying to not flood the blog with all of the cool things I see on Kickstarter. But I saw this tonight and decided it was worth letting my readers know about it:

I personally have no use for braille dice. I'm not vision-impaired myself, and don't know anyone who is.

But DAMN this is a terrific idea that will help hundreds if not thousands of people, and it's worth a couple of bucks to me to help out vision-impaired gamers. Regular six-sided "tactile dice" exist and are readily available, but no polyhedral dice to my knowledge. I will probably donate the dice to The Seeing Eye (a terrific charity in its own right based in my home town of Morristown, NJ) or at least ask their advice where the dice could be best utilized. Perhaps alongside a copy of an RPG rulebook, if I can find one printed in braille.

Do support this kickstarter, not necessarily for yourself, but as a Worthy Cause. You'll be helping out gamers you don't even know exist.

UPDATE: The person behind this Kickstarter campaign, one Dana Jorgensen, said that anyone who backed other high-profile gaming Kickstarters rather than hers was "selfish", and then reacted extremely defensively and abusively when offered some constructive criticism (by more than one person) should she do a similar campaign in the future. I still think the idea's a good one, but honestly don't think she has the emotional stability to actually see the project through. I do hope someone else picks up the idea, though; I'd back that. Not her.

Lightsaber Training Class in San Francisco


Monday, August 13, 2012

New DnD Next Playtest Packet Available

Well, well, well. Just in time for GenCon, we have a new DnD Next playtest packet from Wizards of the Coast.

I just downloaded it myself, so I obviously haven't read through any of it yet, but it does seem like there's no adventure module included, so DMs are going to be on their own in that respect. (Which is a plus in my book, btw.) Looks like there are more complete rules for character creation, which is something a bunch of us have been looking for.

All in all, I'm looking forward to seeing the next iteration of the playtest. More when I've had a chance to read through it all.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

More of Mollie's Visual Game Diaries

About a month ago, I posted a few drawings that one of our regular players, Mollie, makes while we game. This time she's done it again (actually, she does it every time, but I don't always post 'em and sometimes they get a little blue), this time chronicling the misadventures of group in my own campaign as they explore beneath the Castle of the Mad Archmage.

What I love about these things is that they don't just capture what happens in the game, but you really get a feeling for the sort of cross-player banter and jokes that permeates our group. Sure, some groups get more actual gaming in (pfft!), but I'd put our amount of fun up against anyone else out there. Enjoy!

(Click to embiggen)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"The world needs another generic fantasy system like it needs udders and a top hat"

Game Knight Reviews has a terrific interview with Mike Nystul about the now-running kickstarter for his new game "Axes and Anvils", which is an all-dwarf RPG. Love the idea, and I've backed it myself. Do check it out; there are four days left!

It does bring up an interesting notion, though. While I firmly agree that we are now supersaturated with generic fantasy games*, are we in a position now where niche fantasy games will start popping up? Why entire niche RPGs rather than supplements for already-existing games?

* I view games like Dragons at Dawn and my own Adventures Dark and Deep™ as niche games, because of their special nature as research/recon projects, even though the games themselves are generic in the same way that D&D is generic.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Of Snailflails and Google Hangouts

I had the opportunity last night to play in an AD&D game run by the  all around great guy Joe "The Lawyer" Dimech (link to his blog firmly ensconced over to the left). This was a first for me, for I had never before played in a game online; the game was part of the "Flailsnails" project, and was run in a Google hangout. The game itself was an expedition into Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works (apparently most of the party had been playing there for quite some time; most were 4th to 6th level, with my poor 1st level mountebank tagging along trying not to get himself killed).

The game itself was a blast, and Joe's a great DM. The group was lively and very accepting of a new face, and the overall experience was very positive from my end. I tried my level best not to spoil the game with my knowledge of the module; I was there more to hang out with Joe (whose work I've followed and enjoyed for quite some time) and to evaluate the potential of the Google hangout system for gaming. I was especially impressed with the way everything worked from a technical point of view; we had eight people in the hangout at one point, and the video and audio feeds seemed to work fine, with the exception of my getting booted right at the very end, but it was the work of about 10 seconds to rejoin the game.

I'm halfway tempted to start up a short-term game myself. Just to shake things up, maybe I'd do Gamma World. Just a half-formed thought at this stage, of course; I could expand my own Greyhawk empire campaign into the Internet, too...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More PDF-anoia

So yesterday Cubicle 7 announced that they are not going to be making pdf copies of their RPG The One Ring available any more:

We are re-examining our pdf programme at this time and will not be offering pdf versions of The One Ring until further notice.
Many apologies for any inconvenience caused. 
What was interesting, however, is a statement that they made over at

Sorry for the frustration with the PDFs, we really appreciate that they are a mainstay of modern gaming and our other games will remain fully supported in PDF.
So, it's not so much a re-examination of their whole pdf program so much as something very specific to The One Ring, which is produced under license from the Tolkien estate. The inference is obvious; if it was Cubicle 7 that was behind the move, they certainly would have done the same with their other product lines. Since it was only The One Ring that is affected, the Tolkien estate must have done something to make them yank the pdfs.

Now, I don't really have a dog in this race. I don't play The One Ring, and I don't particularly care for pdfs. If I am forced to purchase a gaming product as a pdf, I print it out and put it in a binder. But I do recognize that a lot of people do like pdfs for various reasons, and it's certainly become a major segment of the RPG industry in general.

The reasons behind the move, and in all likelihood the move by WotC some time ago to remove all of their pdfs, is to combat piracy. If pdfs are made available by companies, so the theory goes, someone is going to put the files on file-sharing sites and the company will lose sales as a result. But this is an inane argument on a number of levels.

First, if people want to make illegal pdfs of books, not having a company-produced file is not going to stop them. Any 24-year-old with a scanner can make his own pdf in an hour or two. At best, you're going to slow them down; you will never stop them.

Second, if people prefer pdfs, they will resort to illegal pdfs if there is no legal avenue to obtain them. Plus, a lot of people are simply going to pass up a game if they are forced to buy a hard copy these days. A certain segment is just going to wait for someone to put up a torrent of the book, because the company won't allow them to spend $15 to get the file legitimately.

Third, pdf sales are now seen as a means to introduce a product to an audience at a relatively low price-point, which will then encourage the owner to spend money on the hard copy. I know I've done this more than once. I spend a pittance on a pdf, and then take the plunge into the hard copy once I've had a chance to read and use the book.

Now, I am 100% against illegal file sharing and IP theft. Posting a book that someone else took months to write and that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to put together (for art, editing, writing, layout, etc.) is no better than walking into your FLGS and stuffing the book into your backpack. It's not "free" at all; even an electronic-only file costs a lot of money to put together. Believe me; I've done it.

But this no-pdf policy is just insane. It's literally forcing folks who want to play by the rules, but prefer to get electronic copies, to either pass up the book entirely or resort to illegal file-sharing. I'm not saying that making pdfs available will end piracy and IP theft; that'll never happen. But at least companies don't have to shove their customers away, into the arms of bittorrent.

I hope they'll finally get the message someday soon. PDFs are a Good Thing and not a threat to their bottom line.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


As careful readers of the blog will recall, I've been in the process of putting together a fleet of late Medieval / early Renaissance ships. For figures I chose the 1/2400 "Christians and Corsairs" line put out by Figurehead Ships. (They also have Napoleonics, Spanish Armada, and an "Iron and Steam" 19th century line.) I got mine from The Last Square, located in Madison, WI; they have a very nice web-store so ordering online is very easy.

The big negative about these figures is that there aren't many pictures of them available. Hopefully, this post will overcome that oversight.

I went with 1/2400 scale because a) my painting skills aren't that great, and I figure there's not a lot of the sort of detailing work that 1/1200 scale figures would require (rigging? surely you jest), and b) smaller equals more affordable (I got a fleet of 62 ships plus wreckage markers for around $150). The Figurehead ships also come in fleet packs, which makes them even more affordable.

Here are some shots of the figures straight out of the box (click to embiggen):

FR-1: Mediterranean Flagship Galley. Note the unfurled sail piece at the bottom; all of the galleys come with furled sails; you can purchase the unfurled sails separately, which I did for most of mine.

FR-2: Small Mediterranean Galley (x3). You get three of these guys in a package.

FR-4: Mediterranean Galleass.

FR-5: Great Carrack (Knight of St. John): This is one of the sailing ships that come with the "galley fleet logistic support squadron". It's the only one that is even close to the same size as the galleys. You get one per package. 

FR-6: Carrack. You get four of these in a package; each is a two-piece cast (ship and base). The photo below has eight figures because I got two packages in the fleet packs I ordered. 

FR-7: Merchantman Galleass. 

FR-20: 4 (mixed size) caravels. 

FR-21: 4 common pinnaces. Some of them have oars, some do not. Each is about a quarter-inch long, and comes as a two-piece cast; the ship and the base are separate.

And now we come at last to my finished products. These were very easy to paint, owing to the lack of lots of detail (although I'm sure someone with better skills than I possess would be able to do an absolutely marvelous job on these guys). The painting took a total of I believe 5 evenings.

Here are the various sorts of galleys, all collected in one shot. For the small Mediterranean galleys, I went with four separate stripe colors on the sails, combined with an individualized color on the rails, flags, and fore and aft castles. That makes identifying the individual ships relatively easy, and doubly easy to have four separate squadrons for games with more than two players. You can see some of the galleys ended up with furled sails.

Here are the various carracks, caravels, and pinaces. I did a similar color scheme with these; within each ship type, each has a unique color on the flags.

And here are the wreckage markers. These are a combination of FR-8 "Deadly Embrace" and FR-9 "Wreck & Ruin". 

As for rules, I decided to do something home-brewed. I started with the fleet rules for Avalon Hill's old game "Trireme", but the thing got tinkered with to the point where only the "big picture" still resembles the original; the details are all changed. Hopefully I'll get a chance to take the rules and figures for a test-drive at this weekend's wargame day at All-in-One Collectibles in Randolph, NJ. If you're in the area, please do stop by!

My ultimate goal is to use these figures to do some naval wargaming in the World of Greyhawk. The technological era is just right, and there's lots of water on that beautiful Darlene map!

The Tudors: Seasons 5 and 6

I was (and remain) a huge fan of the Showtime historical drama series The Tudors. One of the great disappointments surrounding the series is that it wasn't really about "The Tudors" at all, but only concerned itself with the life of English king Henry VIII. I was really hoping that, after his death in the show, they would go on to the fascinating life of Queen Elizabeth, her struggle with Mary Tudor (aka "Bloody Mary" because of her persecution of Protestants) to ascend to the throne, and her subsequent struggle against Mary, Queen of Scots. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

However, one can sort of reconstruct what two Elizabethan seasons of The Tudors might have been like with some historical dramas that detail aspects of the virgin Queen's life.

First is Elizabeth (1998), starring Cate Blanchett. It starts with an around-the-bend Mary Tudor bringing her half-sister Elizabeth back into the succession and deals with the virgin Queen's efforts to control the clergy in England and with various lovers and attempts to get her married so an heir can be born. Blanchett does an excellent job of portraying Elizabeth, and this is one of the shining examples of the modern costume drama genre.

Second is Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), with Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth and Vanessa Redgrave as Mary. It is a prototypical 1970's film, with lots of excellent costuming and on location shooting. Timothy Dalton plays Mary's eventual husband, Lord Darnley, and Patric McGoohan plays her half-brother, Lord Moray. It's a surprisingly fun film, portraying Elizabeth in particular as a very calculating and manipulative monarch.

Third and last is Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), once again starring Cate Blanchett. This film is centered on the later years of Elizabeth's reign, and in particular deals with the attack of the Spanish Armada. I think it suffers from a lack of enough John Dee and too much speculation about Elizabeth's lovers.

Put 'em together and I think you have the makings of a couple of seasons of pretty good television.

REMINDER: Castle of the Mad Archmage, my homage to Gary Gygax's original megagundeon, is now available for both Old-School RPGs and the Pathfinder Role Playing Game! More than 13 levels and 1,500 rooms. Get your copy today!