Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Gaming Shelves

Never one to let a good bandwagon go by unjumped-upon, here's what I look at every day as I sit at my computer. Not my complete gaming collection by a long shot, but that's where my eyes light when I sit at the desk waiting for inspiration:


And here are some close-ups of the individual shelves. You'll notice that in front of most of them there is a happy clutter of miniatures, dice, paint, and the like. First, there are my D&D and AD&D rulebooks (plus my Dragonbone taking a prominent spot):


Greyhawk adventure modules and supplements:


Assorted miscellany, including the AD&D Coloring Book slid in along the top:


Lots of Hackmaster, Castles & Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardy:


Star Trek of various flavors, plus some other goodies (never did play Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though!):


Not a lot of spine titles here, but that's because this shelf is mostly old stuff from the 1970's and 1980's. This is where you'll find Thieves World, Sword's Path Glory, Space Opera, and Haven, amongst others:


Chivalry and Sorcery (still one of my favorite games to read for inspiration), Dark Conspiracy, Shadowrun, etc.:


Hero System, White Wolf stuff:


Ah, Dangerous Journeys. One of my favorites.


And, lastly, this shelf is immediately to my right; my collection of books about games-- Gygax, Tony Bath, and Donald Featherstone, among others. Some of these might not be too familiar to you if you're not into miniatures (and even then; some of them are older than I am):


So there it is. Not sure what this says about where I get my inspiration, but there it is. Hope you enjoyed it!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Beanstalk: An Alternate Setting for Metamorphosis Alpha/Gamma World

Much as I love the venerable Metamorphosis Alpha, I was never too taken by the setting of the Starship Warden. The design of the ship (essentially a bunch of large oval decks stacked atop one another) never really called out to me. It's almost... pedestrian... compared to the promise of the game itself.

The Ark
The starship Ark, from the 1973 tv series The Starlost, on the other hand, struck me very much as a fascinating design, and one which would seem custom-built for a game of this sort. There are dozens of self-sufficient domes, each isolated from the others, in which unique cultures have evolved over the years since the fateful accident that wiped out the command crew and set the ship adrift. That always struck me as a better design for the goals of the game. You can see something akin to it in the design of the Valley Forge in the 1972 film Silent Running.

The Valley Forge (and, presumably
the Berkshire in the background)
Now, the similarities between Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World are both obvious and deliberate. Gamma World owes much to its predecessor in terms of theme and mechanics; a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by intelligent mutated creatures that discover fragments of ancient advanced technology as they explore their "world" (whether that be a ship or an actual planet). As such, they are relatively compatible.

Enter "The Beanstalk".

Me, demonstrating conclusively
that I am not an artist
Imagine a space elevator with the counterweight being an enormous orbital habitat composed of nine interconnected domes. Each dome is several kilometers in diameter; large enough not only to support a relatively large population, but to allow for a diverse habitat within the dome itself. When the holocaust struck the Earth, poisoning the biosphere not only with nuclear fallout but with mutagenic bioweapons, the Beanstalk itself was spared destruction, but the inhabitants of the domes were afflicted by the mutagenic properties of the weapons that wreaked such havoc on the surface.

In an attempt to control the rampant infections, the administrators of the Beanstalk sealed off the domes to prevent cross-contamination. In the process, they ended up isolating each dome from the others, as there was no one left alive in the command center to unseal the domes. Over the years, each has developed not only a unique culture, but also a specific palette of mutations that came to be dominant within that particular dome. This allows for a certain amount of theme within each particular dome, and as the player characters move from one dome to the other, presents an opportunity for a unique "adventure of discovery."

Just some ideas for the domes off the top of my head:
  1. Central dome. Contains the mechanism to control access to the Beanstalk itself and thus to the world below. Over the years, people from the other eight domes have come here, and a semi-civilized city has sprung up in the center of the dome, acting as a trading post and center of worship. Two rival cults actually worship the Beanstalk itself, and are engaged in a murderous yet sub rosa campaign to obliterate one another. Access to this dome is difficult without the correct access codes.
  2. Industrial dome. The floor of this dome is dotted with manufacturing facilities, originally used to transform the asteroid ore from the Arid dome into usable goods. Each factory is run by a self-aware computer, now hopelessly insane, but each with a unique personality that makes them completely unpredictable. One might be akin to a "crazy uncle" with some harmless peccadilloes, while the next might lure living creatures inside to be slain in various inventive ways. 
  3. Pelagic dome. Originally the water in this dome was circulated throughout the domes as a way of maintaining stability by shifting mass, but now it is home to a variety of marine-themed creatures. 
  4. Agricultural dome. The floor of this dome is covered with hectare after hectare of rolling farmland. The inhabitants have a ritual where 90% of the produce of their harvest is given as an offering to their deity N'Tayk. It is said that the world will starve if the ritual is not kept up every year. (In reality, they are providing raw materials for the intake system that provides food for the entire structure of the domes.)
  5. Spaceport dome. Several tall towers reach up from the floor to the dome itself, allowing entrance and egress to space beyond. Various spacecraft might be found in the landing bays, in various states of operability. An alien scout craft has penetrated the Beanstalk here, and its crew are presently assessing the state of affairs. 
  6. Arid dome. Windblown sands mark the predominant feature of the floor of this dome, which was originally used for agriculture. The disaster resulted in grievous damage to the dome's environmental systems. The inhabitants are organized along military lines, and are aware of the existence of the other domes. They see it as their mission to conquer the other domes and unify the whole Beanstalk under their rule. 
  7. Warehouse dome. The floor of this dome is covered with large installations designed for the storage and warehousing of cargo and other supplies. An extensive system of monorails still moves along its pre-determined paths, and the natives have come to use its movement as a system not only for telling time, but also as a tool for determining natal destiny. Think of it as trainspotting meets astrology; "when your son was born, cargo pod C-1457 was traveling hubward while maintenance pod T-77 was in the Depot of Green Windows. That bodes very well for him in a career as a blacksmith. Have a care, though; passenger pod B-228 is stopped on the Siding by the Two Trees. That's a sure sign that evil and chaos are upon us."
  8. Forest dome. Originally an agricultural dome, tall forests have come to dominate the floor here, with only isolated patches of large meadows where they have been carved out and maintained by the inhabitants. Various scientific installations can also be found here, dedicated to various specific studies. 
  9. Prarie dome. The floor of this dome is covered almost completely in wide, flat grasslands sectioned out in vast hexagons, which is home to enormous herds of food animals. Warring tribes of mutants (bovoids, caproids, equinoids, and ovisoids) maintain these herds, but are constantly raiding one anothers' herds to liberate their oppressed non-sentient cousins. Thus the bovoids raid the cattle herds of the caproids, who raid the goat herds of the equinoids, and so on. 
Naturally, the interconnecting tunnels between domes can be done as a "dungeon crawl" style adventure, each with their own unique perils, occupants, and opportunities. Perhaps the connective tunnels allow access to the control system of the Beanstalk itself. Perhaps there the mighty Central A.I. for the whole Beanstalk can be awakened from its slumber; but is that a good thing or a bad thing for the PCs?

Now, this sort of setting can be played in one of two ways. The first is to have the PCs start off atop the Beanstalk in one of the domes. They are spurred on by legends of a golden land below, where marvels and riches await those who can find it. This sets them off on a trek, eventually learning not only the true nature of the domes, but also figuring out how to travel down the Beanstalk, thus entering a new phase of their adventuring careers as they explore the post-apocalypse world below.

The second option is to have the PCs start on the ground, seeking the wondrous Sky Palace where the key to the salvation of the planet can be found. Perhaps one of the research institutions in the Forest dome had discovered an anti-mutagenic compound, but too late to be able to utilize it. The Knights of Genetic Purity would doubtless find such an invention of immense interest. A quest must be mounted at once to penetrate the Beanstalk and recover the antigen (or, conversely, a mission sponsored by a rival Cryptic Alliance to stop the knights from pursuing their mad dream of a world where only humans are sentient).

That brings up an interesting question; just how much contact is there between the world below and the domes atop the Beanstalk? Do some of the Cryptic Alliances have agents in the domes? Is there communication through radio or video ("The sacred sky oracle says there is a hurricane coming our way-- we must prepare!"), but no actual travel? Have the rulers of the domes already had reports from the ground? If so, how will they react? Seal off the Beanstalk entirely, to prevent contamination? That might make things difficult for PCs who want to travel to the new world (whether that "new world" is above or below...).

And, of course, on the planet itself there would be immense creatures fitted out with advanced weaponry in endless battles across the plains, smashing villages and each other as they vie for supremacy. Because a setting like this isn't weird enough without a hundred-foot penguin walking around with mounted missile launchers and an umbrella on its head. Time to break out Gammarauders...

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

In Defense of Level Drain


The always-interesting RPGPundit has a post over at his blog that takes aim at the level-drain mechanic. I was going to reply there, but my reply became so long I figured I'd turn it into a post of its own. While I agree with the main point of his post (that nostalgia for its own sake is not necessarily a good thing), I'll take a stab at defending the level drain mechanic. Specifically, he says:
But let's think about this: is there anyone who actually LIKES level-draining no-save monsters? Really?  I think no one really likes these. Its stupid. Its not a clever mechanic, the kind of risk it creates is not an exciting in-game risk (like poison, or attribute drain, etc), but rather something that steals away your accomplishments.  Its a hassle for GMs too, to put these monsters in the right amounts, knowing that if things go badly one of them can seriously disrupt your campaign... or end up doing fuck all.
I would argue that level drain makes a lot of sense in the type of campaign that was prevalent at the beginning of the hobby, and which has made a comeback in certain corners of the OSR. It's a perfect embodiment of the logistical challenge-type game, where difficulty in the dungeon is assessed (roughly) by how deep one is and succor is available for a (high) price. I speak of course of the megadungeon-with-nearby-settlement game.

For example, a group adventuring on level 7 of a dungeon, which is suddenly decreased in experience level from 8 to 6 by wights, has gone from being slightly overpowered for the level to being slightly underpowered. This represents an unexpected logistical challenge that the PCs will then have to overcome; do they go back to the surface to regroup, move to a higher (= less challenging) level of the dungeon, or do they press on, knowing that they're now somewhat outclassed? In that sense, it does indeed add to risk in the game.

Bear in mind, too, that level drain is no more permanent in such a game than is character death. How is losing a level any more "stealing away accomplishments" than losing an entire character? Level drain is, in such a game, an opportunity to skim large amounts of g.p. from characters (by hiring a cleric to cast the spell restoration), just the same as character death is relatively easily solved by hiring a cleric to cast raise dead or resurrection. Such wealth-draining opportunities are a time-honored tradition of the game.

Now, in a more modern-style game, where encounters are more individually tailored (and which are more often arrayed sequentially to further a particular plot), it may well be that energy level drain becomes a problem, although I might argue that, even then, it becomes yet another challenge to be overcome.

I would say that it presents more of a problem in games where ready access to high-level spell casters willing to be hired to cast spells such as restoration and raise dead is not necessarily a given. But again, how is losing a level any worse than losing a character? In that sense, level drain is a much preferable alternative to death. Does losing a level seriously disrupt a campaign any more than killing a character by poison? In a game where restoration spells are available (even if they are very expensive), the answer is no.

It's one thing to say that level drain doesn't work logistically in a plot-driven game. It's quite another to say that it doesn't work in *any* style of game. It works well as a mechanic in the type of game I run, because it fits in with the other mechanics around it. So yeah, I like level drain, but not for the sake of nostalgia or atavism.

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Happy Thanksgiving

On this Thanksgiving day, let us all give thanks to whatever God, Gods, Goddesses, or anthropomorphized embodiment of fate we believe in for those good things that fill our lives. Best wishes and great fortune to everyone.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter Update

Thanks to everyone who has pledged to support the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual Kickstarter so far!

As of now, roughly 48 hours after launch, the project is 50% funded. Thanks especially to James over at Grognardia, Morrus at ENWorld, and Erik at Tenkar's Tavern, whom Kickstarter tells me have been responsible for a number of pledges. (And of course everyone else who has spread the word, too!)

I realize that the next couple of days are going to be slow in terms of pledges because of the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., but I really want to make sure we maintain some momentum and hit the 100% mark sooner rather than later. The sooner that happens, the sooner I can tell the artists to get cracking-- and that means I can get the book into print all the sooner.

Thanks again, and if you haven't done so already, please consider supporting the campaign. If you have, thanks again, and please consider letting your friends who might be interested about it.

Star Wars Film News Roundup

By now, everyone has probably heard the news that Disney bought Lucasfilm for a cool $4 billion. Also that they immediately announced that a Star Wars Episode VII was in the works with an estimated release date of 2015.

The opportunities for merchandising are obvious and are certain to make Disney many more times their investment, and I'm certain we'll start to see some Star Wars themed attractions popping up in the various Disney theme parks in short order. More recently, however, the media powerhouse announced that there would be additional Star Wars films coming out every two to three years.

Most recently, we got some names to start hanging on the new films; the writers.

Episode VII is to be penned by Michael Arndt. He wrote the script for Little Miss Sunshine (which I had no idea grossed more than $100 million worldwide), Toy Story 3 and for the next Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.

Episode VIII, if sources are to be believed, looks like it'll be written by Lawrence Kasdan. If that name sounds familiar to you Star Wars fans, it should. He wrote the screenplay for Empire Strikes Back. Oh, and also for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi. And the story for the video game Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. So he's definitely got some genre chops. He also wrote the screenplay for Silverado, which is one of the few westerns I actually like, so that brings him up a peg for me, too.

For Episode IX, the same source tells us, Simon Kinberg is being lined up. This is the one I'm not so keen on, as he wrote the screenplays for X-Men: Last Stand and Sherlock Holmes, neither of which I particularly liked. But he's also doing the screenplay for the next X-Men film, Days of Future Past, and I have high hopes for that. Sometimes you can't blame the screen writer for problems with the story.

Now, the fact that they're already laying out the next three films, which should span from 2015 through 2020 or so, is telling. They could-- and this is just my speculation here-- be setting up an Avengers-like thing where multiple parallel stories are going on and will come together in a meta-blockbuster film later on. It could, of course, be simpler than that; Lucas has had the notes for what happens after Jedi since before Star Wars came out (no, I will not call it "A New Hope", and yes, Han will always shoot first in my mind). They could just be getting the writing out of the way early to concentrate on the other aspects of the films.

Still, interesting stuff for those of us who are Star Wars fans and who were disappointed (mildly or moreso) by Episodes I-III. With Lucas out of the writing picture, hopefully we'll get some better films for VII and beyond.

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Rebirth of TSR?

Could this be some sort of early Yuletide gift for us old-school gamers? First we hear of new AD&D material being published by Wizards of the Coast, and now the detectives at ENWorld have uncovered this:

Both of the domains associated with these ventures (http://gygaxmagazine.com and http://tsrgames.com) are little more at this point than a place to sign up with your name and email address to be sent the announcement when the first issue of Gygax Magazine is published in December 2012. Both are owned by the same person, apparently, who posted to the thread at ENWorld, and seems to be legit:
Hi guys, this is Jayson. I'm the editor for Gygax Magazine.
Gygax Magazine is myself, Ernie Gygax, Luke Gygax, Tim Kask, James Carpio, and Jim Wampler. Our first issue is out in December; since it's not finished yet, we've been pretty quiet about things until it's ready.
Just to address some of the questions, I thought it was best that I leave a reply. We do own the trademark for TSR, and have since December of 2011. We are a new company, not the old TSR, as they were purchased by Wizards in the '90s. The trademark was abandoned about nine years ago, and we registered it in 2011. 
We decided the best thing to release first as TSR was a gaming magazine, because we wanted a way to bridge the traditions of the old guard with the awesome new games that are out today. 
I know that Tim Kask is involved with Eldritch Enterprises, similarly formed of a number of the Old Guard from TSR, but that doesn't seem to be connected with this. This TSR Games (note, not TSR Hobbies) is a completely new entity. Details about the magazine are sketchy as of right now, but hopefully more information will be forthcoming soon.

(h/t to Mortellan)

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual Kickstarter NOW LIVE!

It's here, it's finally here! The Kickstarter campaign to fund the Players Manual for my Adventures Dark and Deep™ game launched just a few minutes ago:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/623939691/adventures-dark-and-deep-players-manual

I'm asking for $6,500 to pay for a heap of artwork from a bunch of excellent fantasy artists and professional editing. This is the first of three books; after this will come the Game Masters Toolkit and then the Bestiary. The KS campaign ends on December 19, a mere 30 days from now. This book contains everything a player needs:

  • Complete information on the various character races
  • Complete information on the various character classes and sub-classes, including the bard, jester, mystic, savant, and mountebank
  • The complete combat system
  • Hundreds and hundreds of spells, including tons of new spells for both the new and old character classes
  • Sections on equipment, experience, hit points and healing, and lots more!

So go forth and spread the word far and wide, my friends. The question "what would AD&D have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it" is about to be answered!

Friday, November 16, 2012

You Like Monks, Right?

I mean, who doesn't like monks? Well, fortunately, Wizards of the Coast likes Monks, too. In fact, they very sneakily slipped in a monk class for the D&D Next playtest packet last Tuesday, along with the associated maneuvers to make the class work.

So if you downloaded your playtest packet before Tuesday, you might want to do so again, to get all the good Monkified material.

I have to say, 5E keeps looking better and better to me. The more I see, the more I like. I hope they don't screw it up as they get closer to the real release in 2014.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dreamation Pre-Registration Now Open!

Pre-Registration for the Dreamation convention in Morristown, NJ is now open. The convention runs from Thursday, February 21 through Sunday February 24, and you can pre-register for $50 for the whole weekend. You can pre-register and submit event proposals (for you to GM) here. Along with its companion convention DexCon, Dreamation is a blast. Just about every type of gaming you can imagine is present (board games, RPGs, miniatures, card games, video games, LARPing, computer games), plus there are a lot of neat special events and a great dealers' room.

I've submitted the following events. I'll keep everyone posted when the actual schedule is put up and I've got times and event numbers.
  • Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (AD&D 1st edition)
  • Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (AD&D 1st edition)
  • Hall of the Fire Giant King (AD&D 1st edition)
  • Last Sub Out of Bristol (Ogre Miniatures)
Also, if Steve Jackson has the Deluxe Ogre game out by February (which might be dicey-- heh), I'm sure I'll be in the board game hall most of the time I'm not running something else, helping run endless sessions of Ogre.

Hope to see you there!

WotC To Publish New AD&D Material, Encourage AD&D Campaigns

I'll confess that I've never been a particular fan of the A1-4 series of modules. I fully understand that they've got an excellent reputation among many of my colleagues in the OSR, but they just never did much for me. I don't particularly dislike them; I just don't gush over them.

That said, I found the following to be of extreme interest (in the advertising blurb for the upcoming hardcover version of the Slavers modules, due from Wizards in June 2013):

Against the Slave Lords is a hardcover collection of four classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules that form a series -- A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity, A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade, A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, and A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords -- complete with original black-and-white interior art.
Added to the collection is an all-new fifth adventure -- A0: Danger at Darkshelf Quarry -- that you can use to kick off an AD&D campaign that pits a group of adventurers against the evil Slave Lords! Module A0, designed for levels 1-3, sets the stage for events that unfold throughout the remainder of the "A" series.
While it's neat to see another famous old-school work being republished, what struck me was in the second paragraph:
"you can use to kick off an AD&D campaign"
Wizards of the Coast is not only republishing old material, and is not only publishing new material for a version of the game that is ostensibly out of print, but is actively giving encouragement and assistance to DMs who want to start up a campaign using those out of print rules!

The implications of that simple fact are enormous. I think it signals a shift in their corporate attitude away from "the latest version of the rules is the only one we'll even acknowledge". It also demonstrates their lack of confidence in the ability of 4th Edition to carry the flag until 5th Edition is ready for the public (which is now scheduled for 2014). That means they have all of 2013 to play around with previous  editions, and more than that, continue reaching out to the fan bases of those previous editions.

An official micro-revival of AD&D? Bring it on! And if you should want to play a mountebank or a mystic when you take on the slave lords in Highport, boy have I got a book for you!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oh, Just Roll a 14, Fer Chrissakes!

I'm sure we've all had this happen.

There's a big combat against a large number of lower-level opponents, and the PCs are triumphant (yay!) and there's just mopping up to do.

Trouble is, they just can't seem to do the mopping up. All they need is for one or two of them to roll something higher than a 10 "to hit", and more than a 1 on damage, but they just can't seal the deal. Their dice are laughing their asses off, as they roll an endless supply of 3's and 4's, round after round. Finally, someone mercifully rolls something with double digits, and the last skeleton is finally vanquished.

First of all, it's ridiculous. You can dispatch 12 zombies in two minutes, but that last super-zombie keeps bobbing and weaving for five minutes while four trained warriors keep swishing? Bah.

"Bored now!"
Secondly, it's tedious. Everybody knows the inevitable outcome. Is it really worth going through the aggravation of rolling all those dice over and over just to see if the cleric takes another 3 h.p. of damage before the last orc goes down? FOR THE LOVE OF THOR, JUST ROLL A 14!

When presented with this scenario, I'll just say "you kill it" and move on. But there's another alternative.

It should be possible to come up with a simple table for such (relatively) low-level mooks. Spare us the tedium of rolling over and over just to hit the magic 14; if there's a mook with X hit dice, and the party has Y levels or armor class, someone takes Z damage (some piddling amount, if any) and we move on to greener pastures.

I'd still leave it up to the GM to implement; basically it's a way to justify taking a hit point or three off without the bored "fine, let me roll a d20 yet again" to play it out. The percentages aren't that hard to work out; the basic idea's been around since Chainmail.

But man, I hate when that happens. Just want to finish it without such a blatant "the GM is bored now" finale.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Flanaess as European Analogue

It may seem odd to have to make the case that the Flanaess-- the region of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting-- is an analogue of medieval Europe, but it must be done nevertheless.

Kenneth Hite
At the recent Metatopia convention in Morristown, NJ, I attended a seminar given by Kenneth Hite (who has written a number of GURPS titles as well as many other works including two different Star Trek RPGs). During the seminar, he used the World of Greyhawk as a punching-bag, accusing it of being a mish-mash of disparate cultures stripped out of place and time and slapped down with wild abandon, leaving it suitable only for picaresque adventures (the implication being that real "story-driven adventures" would not be suitable there).

Let us say that I disagree with his assessment.

I see the Flanaess as a fairly straightforward analogue of Medieval and early Renaissance Europe. Obviously, it's not a straight one-to-one comparison, but there are enough strong analogies there, and only a few outright inventions, but ones which serve to secure its place as an original fantasy world based on the model of Europe, rather than attempting to be an alternate history setting.

Most certainly wrong is Mr. Hite's contention that the Flanaess consists of a wild amalgam of disparate Earth cultures. During the seminar he glibly spoke of "the Roman area" and "the Egyptian area" of the Flanaess. I confess in decades of play, study, and writing about the setting I don't recall seeing them. Such places have been hinted at over the years in far-off regions of Oerik (particularly in the Far West, where we see places such as Erypt and the Tharquish Empire), but never actually detailed. To say they're simply crammed into the Flanaess willy-nilly is factually inaccurate.

The Flanaess is "guilty as charged" when it comes to having a "Viking area" (the Thilronian peninsula, where we have the Schnai, Fruzti, and Cruski barbarian nations), but that hardly disqualifies it from having a mostly pseudo-European character. The Vikings, after all, were a feature of early Medieval Europe.

The comparisons between the Flanaess and Medieval/Renaissance Europe go deeper than merely sharing a Viking-esque culture on their respective peripheries. Both have a large and unwieldy empire made up of very strong, quasi-independent states loosely governed by a central authority. In Europe this was the Holy Roman Empire, and in the Flanaess this is the Great Kingdom of Aerdy.

The overwhelming political structure used by states throughout the Flanaess are feudal monarchies. There are, of course, exceptions; the Yeomanry is a sort of "warrior's democracy", while Perrenland is quite obviously closely modeled on Switzerland. The Scarlet Brotherhood is obviously an invention (although there does seem to be just a little bit of the Jesuits peaking through those scarlet robes). While it is true that there are more regions directly ruled by clerical authorities in the Flanaess than there were historically in Europe, this is not at all unusual when one considers its polytheistic nature. With multiple religious authorities, it's only natural that there could be multiple religiously-ruled nations. And, of course, the Papal States in Italy were the model there.

Aside from these (and many other) specific comparisons, there are also more broad thematic similarities. There is the theme of regaining the lost golden age; in Europe, it was the drive to recreate the Roman Empire, while in the Flanaess it's the lost Suel Imperium. There's the imminent threat of a foreign culture on the doorstep; in Europe, the Muslims in Spain, the Mediterranean, and Balkans; in the Flanaess, the Baklunish in Ket and the lands beyond. The Flanaess does seem a bit more insular than Europe, but this may be a function of the fact that none of the lands of Oerth beyond the Flanaess have ever been officially described in any great detail.

As far as the suitability of the Flaness to larger, story-based games as opposed to episodic "capers", thirty years' worth of thousands of gamers playing in the setting give the lie to that. Just a quick look at Canonfire! will show that the Flanaess is able to support games of all types and stripes; from pure dungeon-crawls to sandbox wilderness play with the occasional tentpole location to full-blown epic story arcs spanning decades of in-game time.

The notion that Greyhawk lacks an internal logic, or that it is somehow the result of throwing around Earthly cultures without any regard for how they might have evolved side by side, is simply false. While it does display many original concepts and constructions, the Flanaess owes a lot of its broad strokes to Medieval and Renaissance Europe. To claim that it cannot support anything other than picaresque adventures and dungeon crawls is likewise an untenable position, owing to the fact that GMs have been running epic story-based campaigns in it for many years. I would hope that those who propose to lecture others on game design, and especially RPG settings, would have a bit more familiarity with their subject before making such sweeping and inaccurate remarks. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making Failure an Option

One idea that was floated at the Metatopia convention a week ago was the idea of failure. It came up in the context of a seminar on indie RPGs and their influence on mainstream RPGs. Normally I eschew the "indie RPG scene" because it tends to look down on the OSR (of which I count myself as a proud member), seems  overly involved in self-referential navel-gazing, and is consumed with being new and edgy for the sake of being new and edgy. But I'm certainly not above acknowledging a potentially neat idea when I hear it.

The idea in question was in regards to failing rolls. When a thief has a 20% chance of picking a lock and blows it, or someone has to roll a 14 in order to use their Intimidate skill, or has to make an Intelligence check to do something. Someone on the panel mentioned that some "indie" games don't allow for failure in such instances. The character always performs the task at hand. But if the player fails the roll, Something Bad happens story-wise. It's almost like the player is paying karma back in order to succeed in the mechanical task.

This sort of concept has direct applicability in a game where The Story is paramount. When a character blowing a chance to find a secret door could potentially threaten the ability of the characters to continue with the plot, having such a mechanic in place makes a lot of sense.


Now, picture such a mechanic in an Old School context.


I can see reasons to include such a thing in an Old School type game, where there isn't necessarily a plot that must be followed, so much as there are cool things that the players might otherwise not have the opportunity to discover. Think of it as "the game would be more interesting if he makes the roll." While that runs counter to the ethic of "the dice rule", I think it's a perfectly legitimate attitude to take in some circumstances, inasmuch as it short-circuits the impulse to fudge a dice roll, because failure actually makes the game more interesting all around. I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing (bearing in mind that "the dice rule" can also make the game more interesting, depending on the circumstance).

If the thief misses his pick locks roll, he still manages to open the door, but there's an automatic wandering monster the next round.

If the bard misses his Charisma check, he still talks his way into the Duke's daughter's birthday ball, but one of the courtiers develops a crush on him, and clings to him for the entire evening, making whatever his actual mission is very difficult.

If the savant misses his Scholarship roll, he still knows where to find the book that has the nugget of information he's seeking, but it's in a private library under the care of someone he studied with as an apprentice, who hates his guts and will doubtless throw up all kinds of road blocks to accessing the book.

Etc. etc. etc.

I don't think such a mechanic would work universally in an Old School game, because one of the tropes of our style of play is that you're not a superman and often when you fail that means you need to use your imagination to think of an alternative. But, given the ethos of "fun is better than tedium", I can see a GM employing such a mechanic in specific situations or at his whim, if it's obvious that doing so will open up new opportunities for interesting interactions.

Given that criterion, I'd probably not want to open it up to the players' choice (by earning "story points" or whatever the kids at RPG.net are pushing nowadays), precisely for the reason that they can't know where the best opportunities for such exist in the game. But I do think it's worth considering, and offers a neat mechanical alternative to simply fudging a roll; if you do fudge a roll, it becomes an opportunity to bring in more consternation for the PCs to have to manage.

And, as long as it increases the fun, I'm inclined to like it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Am I A Proper Wargamer?

Apologies for coming late to the party on this one, but we only got power back a few hours ago, 12 days after we were blacked out by Sandy.

Phil, over at The Wargaming Site, came up with a clever little quiz to determine whether or not one is a "Proper Wargamer". It's pretty simple, but bear in mind it's aimed at the miniatures game crowd. (I'm sure some clever wag will soon come up with a similar list for RPGs.) Have I ever...


* Spent at least £500 on figures / tanks - and you get extra kudos for every £500 you've spent

Oh sweet Gods yes.

* Pricked your finger or thumb on a pike block - several times

Pike block, no. Spearmen stand, yes. I'm going to give myself this one.

* Tried at least 10 different rule sets and vowed never to play half of them ever again

Actually not. I've got my comfort zone and I rarely stray too far from it.

* Bought an army off EBay

Yes.

* Sold an army on EBay

No; I can't imagine anyone would actually want anything I painted.

* spent months painting an army - then used it in anger once

Umm... does "used it in anger never" count?

* tried several different periods and genres

Ayup. Napoleonics 15mm Ogre/GEV 6mm, medieval 15mm, renaissance naval 1/2400...

* dropped a box of figures on the floor from a great height

I am sad to say yes. They fared well, however.

* lost a battle on the last throw of the dice

Yes, at this year's DexCon. Damn you lord Percy!!!

* made at least one enemy for life

Well, yes. But I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be about gaming.

* had a proper, stand up argument over a wargamers table

Hehehehehehee... Oh yeah.

* thrown a dice across a room

No, I tend to take my frustrations out against walls and pillars with my fists.

* rebased an army for a different rule set

No, but I certainly foresee it happening.

* inflicted a whopping defeat on an opponent

Oh, yeah. Ogre, anyone?

* suffered an embarrassing defeat due to a stupid tactical decision

Yes, when given the choice of having the table broad or narrow, I chose broad, despite having an overwhelming superiority in cannon. I paid the price for my lack of vision.

* joined a wargamers club

Yes, and eventually became treasurer of the Boston University Simulation Society. Since disbanded.

* bought a ton of lead that remains unpainted

You've been peeking in my office, haven't you?

* been to a wargamers show

I assume this means a convention. Oh, Hel yeah.

* have more dice than is logical or necessary to own - and have used most of them

Yes. You buy them because you "need" them, then use them once, and realize that you prefer your old dice. I've got a pile of dice like this.

* have taken boxes of troops down to a club just to show them off to your mates

I'm going to count the time I had people over to the house and showed off my 1/2400 renaissance ships, despite the fact that they've never actually been used in a game. I'm still looking for proper rules, honest.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Down, But Not Out

Just a quick note-- being a New Jerseyian, our town was hit pretty hard by Sandy, so I'm into my second week without electricity, heat, or, naturally, internet access at home. (The "13 Days of Halloween" posts were pre-scheduled prior to my losing power.)

I'll continue with regular posting once things calm down and I at least can be in my house without seeing my own breath by flashlight. Lots of cool stuff I want to post that I thought of at the Metatopia convention last weekend!