Saturday, September 29, 2012

Next Gen and Me

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. I was a junior in college at the time, at a height of my gaming and fandom endeavors that I wouldn't regain for a long, long time. And now, here was a reincarnation of my beloved Star Trek. I couldn't wait, and collected scraps of information from various television previews (Entertainment Tonight, etc.) on VHS so I could study them. Later on it would become apparent that ST:TNG was a second shot at the series Roddenberry wanted to do in the 1970's, which ended up being turned into Star Trek The Motion Picture.

My girlfriend at the time even went so far to make me a uniform, right after the premier of the pilot episode, that I was able to wear in time for a science fiction convention in November. I didn't win a prize, but I was one of only two people at that particular convention to have a Next Gen uniform, so I was pretty pleased with myself about that.

At the time, I was dazzled by Encounter at Farpoint, although in retrospect I see its flaws and the awkwardness of the whole show in that first season. There were some definite highlights (mostly when they harkened back to the original series, such as episodes like The Neutral Zone and Heart of Glory, and darker episodes such as Conspiracy) and some definite lows (The Naked Now, Justice, and When the Bough Breaks), but on the whole I was hooked and would remain so for its entire run.

Looking back, I think some of my attraction to the first couple of seasons was nostalgia, and I was definitely willing to put up with inferior quality just for the sake of having new Star Trek at all. But some of my current dissatisfaction with the early episodes is tinged by my comparisons with the later episodes. I see something like Too Short a Season or Angel One, both of which had a lot of great potential, and wonder what they might have been had they been done in the fifth season.

The cast definitely grew into their roles, with the exception of Patrick Stewart, who was pretty much on-target from the first. I can't say I was particularly saddened to see Wesley Crusher go, but those episodes where he was treated like a regular member of the crew, rather than some bobble-headed wunderkind, were definitely better treatments of the character. I did prefer Dr. Pulaski to Dr. Crusher, specifically because she was a more abrasive character, and would have given us a unique lens through which to view Klingon culture, as a counterpoint to the various Worf episodes. Q and the Borg were of course terrific villains, as were the later-introduced Cardassians, but the Ferengi, who were originally intended to be the "big bads" of the show, were quickly abandoned as such and only really found traction in the next series, Deep Space 9.

As the series went on, it entered a golden age. The third, fourth, and fifth seasons were excellent (although of course not without their klunkers such as Season 5's The Game), and of course had the series first and best cliffhanger episodes; Best of Both Worlds parts I and II. What makes them so effective is that they work on a variety of levels, dealing more with the characters than the Borg in many cases (the subtext of Riker's concerns about aging and his career advancement were among the character's highlights throughout the entire series).

While it did tend to wind down in the last two seasons, even they had absolutely terrific episodes (True Q, Ship in a Bottle, Gambit Parts I and II, Lower Decks, etc.) and the series finale was a fitting capstone to the whole. On the whole, I probably prefer this series to the original, although Deep Space 9 is still my favorite overall.

For whatever reason, they never really hit their stride in films, never matching the power of a Wrath of Khan or even the joyful romp of The Voyage Home. They did manage to accomplish something I never thought possible, though; they managed to make a Trek movie (Nemesis) that was worse than Star Trek V.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore Print Version Now Live!

At long last, the print version of A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore is now live and available for sale over at the BRW Games store at RPGNow.com. It is available both as a hardcover and softcover, comes in at around 135 pages, and features artwork by the incomparable old-school gaming artist Brian "Glad" Thomas.

This book is a supplement, intended for use with other games such as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc. It contains a lot of the new material developed for Adventures Dark and Deep; the new classes, spells, treasure system, combat system, and more. It's designed to be completely modular, so you can take those elements you want and add them to your existing game.

Adventures Dark and Deep™ attempts to answer the question, "What would AD&D have looked like if Gary Gygax had stayed at TSR in 1985?" Everything is based on his public statements, both in Dragon Magazine prior to his departure and in other forums in the years after, concerning just what changes he was considering making. The full rules will be out in a three-volume set next year, but you can start adding the classes, spells, monsters, etc. to your game right now!

You can order the book (as well as The Witch and The Necromancer supplements --> HERE <--

Monday, September 24, 2012

Myth & Magic Players Guide PDF Now Available

The good guys over at New Haven Games have finally released the pdf version of their Myth & Magic Players Guide. For those who haven't been following it, Myth & Magic isn't quite a 2E clone; they describe it as 2nd edition "revised and updated". I have the pdf (I got in on the kickstarter, and so got an advanced copy) and it's really a neat treatment. As they say, it's not 100% faithful to the original 2E rules, but they know what they're doing, and it really seems to be a labor of love.

If you're a fan of 2E as I am, I'd heartily recommend picking up at least the pdf. Plus, they have more books in the line on the way!

Get it --> HERE <--

Friday, September 21, 2012

Free Resources Links Working Again

Off to the right, you'll see a section labeled "Free Resources". For the past couple of weeks, the links have been dead, since Mediafire decided to respond to an automated letter from some schmuck in France who claimed that all of my files infringed on the copyright for the television show "The Tudors".

My thinking is that the outfit in question simply scanned the whole of the web for blogs that mentioned The Tudors and then automatically flagged any file linked on that page as a possible violation, whether or not it had anything whatever to do with the show (my files were only a small number of the hundreds of files named in the letter, which must have affected scores of people). Naturally, none of my files did, but Mediafire decided to honor the request and has since done nothing to respond to my appeal. So off they go; let's see how well Google Docs works.

You will notice that something is missing, however. Due to the upcoming publication of Castle of the Mad Archmage by Black Blade Publishing, the free pdf version has been taken down and will not be restored. Ditto the maps. Apologies if you weren't one of the thousands who downloaded it prior to it being taken down, but hopefully the wait will be worth it (even for those who do have it, you'll still want to get the revised version, as it will have the surface and storage rooms levels, plus literally thousands of changes and additions throughout, not to mention the art, new maps, etc.).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why Do People Hate The Lord of the Rings?

This is a question that's been rattling around in my head for a couple of years, now. I know in some quarters its the case that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy isn't well-regarded. It's an attitude I can certainly accept, but don't really understand, as I love both the books and the films, and have read and watched both dozens of times each.

With the upcoming release of the first movie in The Hobbit trilogy, the question has come up again, and I thought I'd ask. For those who dislike the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, why?

Be specific. "They suck", or "personal preference" isn't the sort of answer I'm looking for (although the latter is certainly a valid enough reason; it's not in the class of reasons I'm looking for). Was there something specific about the writing, the acting, the film-making in general? Some specific elements of the books that were omitted, or something added, or emphasis changed that renders them unpalatable? I mean, I like Tom Bombadil as well as anyone, but I still love the movies. I'd like to understand the motives of folks who don't. Oh, and if you're just not a fan of Tolkien in general, no need to reply. Your dislike of the films is completely understandable.

Just a special note regarding the comments, as this is the sort of thing that can quickly spiral out of control; no personal digs, please. Keep comments related to the films themselves, and resist the temptation to tell someone "your wrong" unless it's something that is strictly on a factual basis (and please be so kind as to present your gentle correction as such).

New Hobbit Trailer


I am a big fan of the Peter Jackson LotR films, and now I'm starting to really get revved up for the three Hobbit movies. This looks incredibly good. I'm beginning to think he could even turn the Silmarillion into something interesting and watchable! (Although he'd probably turn it into... what? A dozen films?)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Final Proofs are Here!


And don't they look dandy!



I did notice one thing on the hardcover version that will need fixing, and there's been some feedback on the pdf version that I'm incorporating into the print versions, so these aren't final, perfect copies. But, they're good enough to show that the files are working, everything is coming out as it should with no huge errors in formatting, and we're ready to go.

So!

I'll upload the final fixes tomorrow, and if all goes well that means we should see hard copies in the mail next week. Woot! Naturally, those who got the autographed hardcovers will take a little longer to arrive, since they need to come here, and then I need to re-send them myself, but that's just a given. At the same time, updated versions of the pdf will be made available, incorporating the changes from the feedback (downloading the updated versions of pdf's is part of the RPGNow.com service, and shouldn't cost you anything extra).

Also also, for those who purchased a pdf copy of the book before the print copy was available, there will be a special code sent out to allow you to get the print copy minus the price you paid for the pdf. Hopefully, if you liked the pdf, you'll be inclined to buy the print version as well!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seeking Recommendations for Miniatures

I'm considering getting back into using miniatures for my tabletop RPG game, and was wondering if my faithful readers could help with some recommendations. I've found a few manufacturers online, but nothing beats personal experience and first-hand experience. What I'm looking for specifically:

  • 25mm scale (not 28mm)
  • No slotted base; I want the things to stand on their own without a plastic base under it
  • A wide variety of both monsters and adventurer-types
  • Reasonable pricing under US$4 per figure (maybe I'm just spoiled by buying 15mm, or I'm still living in 1984 when it comes to minis prices, but some of the prices I'm seeing online are just incredible)
  • Preferably, but not a requirement, available in bulk sets
I know about Underworld minis (which unfortunately violates my fourth bullet above; they're beautiful but damned expensive), but any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why the Flanaess is Relatively Empty

There has been quite a bit of talk over the last couple of days about the fact that the Flanaess is relatively empty in terms of population density compared to historical norms from Europe. Even when later designers consciously beefed up the populations of both cities and countries, they were still "howling empty" wildernesses compared to 13th century England or Germany.

The answer, I think, is found in the original purpose for the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting. It's a game!

Greyhawk wasn't published as a world-building exercise. It was not intended to be an experiment in scientifically and historically accurate game design. It was designed to accommodate the very specific needs of gamers playing the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1E) game system.

In that game system, there are two tensions at work. The first is the need for the players to have room in which to expand to play the famed "end game" of AD&D; clearing land, building keeps and towers, and eventually attracting settlers and taxing them. This, I think, is the reason that most of the small villages that are portrayed in the game are shown outside of the normal feudal system of government; who was ruling over Hommlet before Burne and Rufus decided to set up their fortress? By having hexes that are mostly empty, there is plenty of space for players to set themselves up as described in the DMG.

The second, I believe, is the need of the DM to not be overwhelmed by needless detail. Why are Hommlet and Nulb the only villages in their respective 30-mile-across hexes?


Because from the standpoint of the DM, that's where all the action is! If there were a historically-accurate density of villages and farms on those hexes, the player characters would be overwhelmed with choice. "Which village with an inn is the one that we should concentrate on? Let's pick this one! I think the name's neat!" That requires the DM to then have exacting detail on all those villages or be willing and able to make up such detail on the fly.

Having a limited number of settlements from which to choose is the wilderness equivalent of a dungeon crawl. By limiting the players' choices, the DM makes his own job infinitely easier.

Also, it is much more difficult to justify wandering wilderness monsters in a thickly settled location. There's a bulette in that valley? Why haven't the inhabitants of the three villages within 5 miles banded together to dispatch the nuisance? That question answers itself when those villages aren't there.

Quite simply, having such isolated settlements might not be historically accurate, but they sure make the DM's job easier.

Never Forget


Monday, September 10, 2012

Artists RFQ

Well, now that the hard copy publication of A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore is almost upon us (just waiting to get the second proof copy, and then off we go!), the time has come to look towards the print publication of the full Adventures Dark and Deep™ rules.

This is going to require an insane amount of art, especially the Bestiary.

The Bestiary alone is going to require over 800 pieces of art (one for each creature; this is going to be (pardon the pun) a work of art, and is going to clock in at around 450 pages when it's done. That doesn't include the 100 or so pieces of art that the Game Masters Toolkit and Players Manual will require (some of the art from A Curious Volume will see its way into all the books, but that only comes to 35 pieces or so).

This will of course be a paid gig (but I have not as of yet won the Powerball). So if you're an aspiring artist, can do b&w line art relatively quickly and cheaply, please send an email to joseph@brwgames.com with the following:

  1. A link to your online portfolio or other samples of your artwork.
  2. A quote per piece, with price-breaks wherever appropriate for bulk orders, for full-page, 1/4-page, and 1/8 page pieces. 
  3. If you are willing to accept a percentage of the sales price in lieu of all or part of a flat-rate fee, please indicate so. This is neither a deal-breaker nor is it binding; just one of several alternatives that's being considered.
  4. A rough approximation of how long it would take you to do 10 pieces of quarter-page art, just so I have a very rough approximation for planning purposes. This is not a binding estimate of time.
  5. Any additional relevant information (including especially large projects to which you are committed between now and June 2013, again for planning purposes).
I am especially looking for art that evokes an "old school" feel. A mix of different styles is fine; I'll be looking for mostly realistic pieces, but some overtly humorous and some cartoony pieces will be required as well. No single artist will be selected; the project will employ a number of different artists. 

Quotes are requested to be submitted before September 30, 2012. Please feel free to forward this RFQ (in its entirety, please) to whomever you might feel would be appropriate. 

Can Fandom Change Society?

I came across this interesting video today from PBS:


On the whole, I found the concept to be pretty good, but their choices of fandoms to focus on made the whole thing seem weirder than it actually is. Bronies? Transformers slash fiction? Really? Did we need to focus on that so much? No mention of the thousands of hours of charity work that Trek fan organizations like Starfleet International do? Nothing about how television shows like Big Bang Theory and the wild success of Comicon have made fandom mainstream? 

I wish they had given a broader picture of fandom rather than pushing a very specific agenda.

(h/t to boingbong)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

46 Years Ago Today

Today marks the forty-sixth anniversary of the debut of the original Star Trek. I've written before of how Trek influenced my formative years; it was my gateway into fandom, and thence to gaming. Whether it was television, movies, books, games, conventions, fan clubs, or action figures, Star Trek was an inextricable part of my life and remains so to this day.


So thank you, Great Bird of the Galaxy, for giving me literally countless hours of enjoyment over the years.

And as a special bonus, here is a link to download the Trek fan-film in which I was a guest star (back when I had even some hair); Tales of the Seventh Fleet, "A Touch of Home". It's certainly cringe-worthy, but it was a lot of fun to do. Extra special super bonus; Steven Buonocore, president of Stronghold Games plays one of my Orion henchmen!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's Here!


The first proof copy of A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore (that's the softcover in the picture; apologies for the flash glare-- it's a hasty picture). One formatting issue needs to be fixed (that's why we do proofs), but the books should be ready for purchase very soon now!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gaming Out of the Rut

At our last Greyhawk game I had something very different lined up for my players. Rather than yet another expedition into the ruins of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, I wanted them to get a little more invested in the setting itself. I had hoped to introduce some of the notable NPCs that make Greyhawk so very special, wedge them out of the rut they'd trodden between the Blue Dragon Inn and the entrances to the castle dungeons.

They had already encountered the halfling Diggwell Biffson ("Biff" as he is known), who is one of the henchmen of the famed wizard Melf of the Green Arrow. The party had been hired to recover a magic necklace stolen from Melf's cousin Silverthorn. They did so, and thus came to be on good terms with Biff and agreed to be occasional agents for Melf; reporting odd happenings, etc.

That was several months ago (in real time) and I thought it would be a good hook to get them to see a little of the Flanaess. So last Friday they were approached by Biff with a very important mission; a pair of spies in the pay of Iuz were known to be leaving the city imminently with an item of great importance. What the tall skinny elf and wizened gnome (who will doubtless be familiar to fans of the "Gord the Rogue" books) carried was unknown, but it was known that the Old One prized it, and that was enough to attempt to deny it to him. The PCs were asked to canvass the inns and taverns of the River Quarter of Greyhawk, to see if they could scare up any information.

Long story short, the party managed to figure out what they were carrying (a scroll of some sort), how they were leaving the city (on a barge crewed by renegade Rhennee), and where they were going (Stoink, in the Bandit Kingdoms). Melf's other operatives were off chasing down other leads, and it was still not certain that they weren't on a wild goose chase themselves, so the party hired a ship of their own and struck off across the Nyr Dyv, catching up with their quarry at Radigast City after the requisite encounter with a sea monster.

I'll let Mollie's awesome-as-always rendition of events tell the rest of the story (click to embiggen), but suffice to say I personally found it a great change of pace, and hopefully the players did as well. Such jaunts won't ever completely replace dungeon crawls beneath the Castle of the Mad Archmage, but I might encourage similar diversions a little more often than I have been, just to give the players more options.




Saturday, September 1, 2012

Historical Themes of the Flanaess

There are several "themes" that run throughout European history. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire arguably created the concept of Europe itself. The multi-century struggle between England and France, which began as early as the Norman Conquest in 1066 and continued through the fall of Napoleon in 1815. The rise of Christianity under the Catholic church, and its eventual disintegration after the Protestant revolution. The struggle between Christianity and Islam.

I would argue that the World of Greyhawk has similar broad themes in its history. The waves of migrations of Suel and Oeridians after the Invoked Devastation and Rain of Colorless Fire and the resultant absorption of the Flan peoples. The rise and fall of the Great Kingdom, which at one point encompassed half the continent, but is now a mere fraction of its former glory (albeit still remaining one of the most powerful nations in the Flanaess as of CY 576). The domination of the North first by the arch-witch Iggwilv and then by her son, the cambion Iuz. The continued marginalization of the humanoid populations.

To give you a sense of what I'm talking about, check out this animation I made (using files originally created by Photobucket user kwintpendick). Focus on the march of the large red area westward, and then its inevitable retreat back to the east. It's also wonderful to see the mutability of national borders expressed so visually; it shows that the upheavals between CY 576 and 591 aren't an anomaly, but the norm.


This sort of "large sweep of history" should, by definition, encompass at least several centuries. That's why I don't count what are, essentially, local or short-term events such as the rise of the Scarlet Brotherhood, the overrunning of the western Sheldomar Valley by giants, etc.

When one looks at history in terms of huge, sweeping arcs, it can add a sense of grandeur and retrospective purpose to the grand sweep of history that mere lists of kings and lists of battles cannot.