Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in Review

It's certainly been a momentous year. Healthcare.gov crashed and burned, and then sortakinda recovered. Catholics got a new, South American, Pope. Miley Cyrus crashed and burned, and then didn't recover. But there were some things closer to home that I'd also like to look back on. Nothing like a self-referential post to end the year!

In terms of this blog, I made 214 posts (including this one), or one every 1.7 days. Not too shabby. The top ten in terms of page views were (with most-viewed at the top):


From this, I gather that folks who read this blog are really interested in D&D Next/5E. They also like reviews (resolution: more reviews in 2014), and are keenly interested in what's going on in the RPG industry (probably vis-a-vis WotC's position therein). Feminism, anti-feminism, and the debate about the appropriateness of sexuality in gaming and at conventions is, predictably, of interest as well. No Greyhawk-specific posts made it into the top ten, but a few were close contenders.

Personally, this has been a great year for me gaming-wise. My game, Adventures Dark and Deep™, made a bit of a splash this year, with all three of the core rulebooks being released in 2013. Two of them, the Players Manual and Bestiary, were funded through Kickstarter, and both were released months ahead of schedule (3 and 5 months, respectively). The Game Masters Toolkit was funded through profits from the Players Manual. The Bestiary in particular is something I'm very proud of, with over 900 monsters and 400 new pieces of art, it was a real challenge to get together, let alone so far ahead of schedule. I was also a full-fledged convention vendor for the first time. So, yay me!

Kickstarter was pretty kind to me this year. Some long-awaited projects finally landed (Ogre Designers Edition, Myth & Magic Players Guide), a lot of other projects came in either on time or within a reasonable amount of time of their deadline, but there is still a depressingly large number of overdue projects (Dwimmermount, Cityographer, Champions of Zed, Star Trek: Renegades, Tavern Cards, Domains at War, Busty Barbarian Bimbos, and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition). Cthulhu Wars is late as of tomorrow.

For gaming as a whole, it was a pretty quiet year. It seems everyone is holding their breath in anticipation of D&D Next/5E landing. 4E is being left to wither on the vine, it seems, and Pathfinder is taking advantage of the editiopause to build its own market share. Some other neat games hit this year; Star Wars X-Wing, with its absolutely gorgeous figures, being chief among them in my house.

Predictions for 2014:

  • D&D Next/5E, when it is released at GenCon, will be very popular, and will ultimately take back 1st place in RPG sales. Mechanically, it will hearken back to the 3.x days, which will make a lot of people happy and peel at least some away from Pathfinder. In terms of feel, it will hearken back to the 1E/2E days, which will make a lot of OSR people happy and at least get them to try it, even if it doesn't become their go-to game.
  • The long-awaited Castle of the Mad Archmage™ will be released early in 2014. This isn't much of a prediction, since I just ordered the proofs, but thought I'd throw in a "safe" prediction to bump up my odds.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy will edge out X-Men: Days of Future Past in terms of box office for the year. Both will beat Spiderman 2, but all will be trumped by The Hobbit: There and Back Again. All those records will be crushed by Avengers 2 and Star Wars Episode VII in 2015.
  • The OSR will see a tilt more towards supplements as opposed to self-contained rules. 
  • The so-called "employer mandate" in Obamacare will be delayed for an additional year, as its effects would be hitting just as the November elections were in full-swing. Despite this, the Republicans will win a 1-seat majority in the Senate, and will gain seats in the House of Representatives. 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will get better. Promise!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Suspense & Decision Magazine #2 Now Available

The second issue of the play-by-mail game magazine, Suspense and Decision, is now available as a free download. It has a ton of articles, reminisces, and even ads for still-running PBM games! Want to get some actual letters in your mailbox that aren't bills or advertisements? Try a play-by-mail game.

I still owe them an article or two on my time playing (and moderating) Starmaster, and my own play-by-mail game, Sail the Solar Winds...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Games vs. Supplements

As I am working on my next project, a blend of Chinese mythology, folklore, history, and wuxia (kung-fu) literature and film, I find myself wondering whether to approach it as a unique game unto itself, or as a supplement for Adventures Dark and Deep™ (and thereby with most OSR-type games as well). There are arguments on both sides.

On the one hand, handling it as a game unto itself has the obvious benefit that it could thereby appeal to fans of the wuxia genre who might not otherwise be interested in the sort of Tolkienesque medieval European fantasy that Adventures Dark and Deep embodies. It would also obviate the need for flipping between two books to find needed information; no need to consult the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual for the description of a spell that happens to be the same for a wu as a cleric.

The downside is that players and fans of the original game would need to wade through a lot of duplicate material (the basic combat system, for instance, will be the same, as will certain character classes like the fighter), and would thus be paying extra for duplicate information.

On the other hand, the concerns are somewhat reversed when the mythic China material is handled as a straight supplement. It would presuppose that players and the GM have some "base" set of rules to use with it, such as Adventures Dark and Deep, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, or even AD&D 1st Edition. Some folks are simply not into "traditional" fantasy RPGs, and they would be, if not cut out, at least dissuaded from partaking. Too, it would require a certain amount of flipping through multiple books to find information, the removal of which is something that the ADD project in general had in mind as a goal. It is somewhat odd to combine elements from six books into one, only to require a second book for play in a different cultural milieu.

The upside of handling such a thing as a straight supplement are likewise the inverse of the above. A supplement by its nature will be shorter, less expensive, and more focused. It also doesn't add to the already crowded field of OSR RPGs, whose even most enthusiastic members must betimes roll their eyes at the announcement of yet another "restatement of Basic D&D with some changes" being published*.

So the question I would put to you is, do you prefer to see new self-contained rules, or supplements intended for use with other, already-extant (or the sort of generic OSR "Basic/1E compatible") rules?

_____
* Yes, I am aware of the irony.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve!


From the Greyhawk Grognard to all of you, Merry Christmas, Glad Jól, and Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Minifigs Greyhawk Picture Gallery Updated

Just a quick note that I'm still systematically updating the Minifigs Greyhawk Picture Gallery that I started back in 2008 (!). A number of new pics have been recently added, so for those who are interested in this often-forgotten bit of Greyhawkiana, enjoy!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Official: D&D Next coming next Summer

Most of us had already assumed this would be the case, but now it's official. D&D Next will be hitting stores in the summer of 2014. Methinks that betides a big GenCon release:
Wizards of the Coast today announced that the highly-anticipated new rules system for Dungeons & Dragons will release in summer 2014.  After nearly two years of an open public playtest and more than 175,000 playtest participants, the rules are complete. Players will be immersed in rich storytelling experiences across multiple gaming platforms as they face off against the most fearsome monster of all time.
"Multiple platforms"??? Rut-ro, Raggy! That makes me a little trepidatious. Yet another attempt to force players to pay for some online subscription model? Did they learn nothing from the 4E fiasco?

I remain cautiously optimistic that this will be a game I can play on the tabletop. With dice. And people. Face-to-face. I am supremely uninterested in "multi-platform experiences."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wizards of the Coast: Encounters to use D&D Next Starting in February

ICv2 is reporting that Wizards of the Coast will be offering the next adventure in its organized play system for D&D Next only, rather than 4E, and that the D&D Next playtest rules (presumably the same as the latest playtest package, which was no longer available for download as of December 15th) will be available for sale on dndclassics.com:
Based on the solicitation material, it also appears that this new adventure will only support the D&D Next rules, which goes in direct contrast to comments made by Wizards’ CEO Greg Leeds, who earlier this year said The Sundering would be playable with 3.5, 4 or Next rules throughout (see "Interview: Greg Leeds on the Game Market and Wizards of the Coast").  As of December 15th, the Next rules are no longer available as a free download, though the solicitation states that the D&D Next rules will be available for download at dndclassics.com.  However, like the adventure, there is no information on what the rules will cost.
However, I'm confused by one thing. In one place they say:
The adventure Scourge of the Sword Coast will only be available from dndclassics.com as a digital download.
And yet later on in the article they say:
The Scourge of the Sword Coast kit will still contain materials for 20 participants: 20-sided dice with the season symbol, player maps, two packs of NPC cards, advertisement poster, poster map, and instruction document.
This seems to be a contradiction, since dndclassics.com is run by OneBookShelf, the same folks who run DriveThruRPG.com and RPGNow.com, and they don't offer things like dice, posters, or poster maps as options (believe me, I've tried!). Does this mean the DM has to buy the adventure, and the other goodies are sent directly to the game store? I haven't participated in the Encounters thing myself, so I'm not sure how that works, but if that's the case it seems a bit cumbersome.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why I do what I do

I had the great fortune to reconnect with some of the folks from my old gaming group last weekend over a game of Ogre (we inaugurated my copy of the Designer's Edition). While the game itself was good, as I knew it would be, and the hanging out with old friends was better, as I had hoped it would be, the best thing to come out of the day was a piece of advice I got.

I brought up the question of my planned Erseta: Lost Eria setting. I asked, not entirely rhetorically, whether the gaming world needed yet another campaign setting. After all, we have all the classics, plus many more new ones besides, both professional efforts and free offerings. And the World of Calidar, of course (which looks really awesome, and everyone should support that Kickstarter). And my friend Rob said (if I may paraphrase):
"I'll tell you the same thing I told you about Adventures Dark and Deep. Do it because you want to, not because you think it's going to be 'a product'."
And that really hit me between the eyes.

Why did I do Adventures Dark and Deep™? Because it was the game I really wanted to play in 1986, but couldn't because it was never written because Gygax left TSR before he could. So I wrote my own based on all the scraps of information I could find and shared it with others who felt the same way.

Why did I do Castle of the Mad Archmage™? Because I really wanted to run my players through Castle Greyhawk, but it looks like that will never be published in final form any time soon. So I wrote my own inspired by the original and shared it with others who felt the same way.

And Erseta? Is that really the setting I've been wanting to play in since 1986? Is that really the setting I've been bursting at the seams to share with the world? I must honestly answer no. It's my world, and I've had a lot of fun running it and writing it (as I have with many other homebrew settings over the years), but anyone who's read this blog knows the setting I truly love and want to play. It's Greyhawk. So over the holidays I will be stepping back and doing some re-evaluating and rethinking of things. If it's not a labor of love, I'm not going to undertake the labor.

Oh, and I'll also be getting Castle of the Mad Archmage™ ready for print. Because I want to share it with folks who feel the way I do about stuff we don't have a chance to play. "It doesn't exist? Let me make one!"

Which I think has been the whole point of RPGs since 1974.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hex crawls in Greyhawk

Today's WotC article on mapping and scales for maps inspired me to take a crack at a topic that is dear and dear to many OSR-folks' hearts; the hex crawl (I should also point out that it inspired Rob Conley to go into lots of detail on the mechanics of hexes and hex grids, which is also well worth reading).

Hex crawls are at their best when they are set in some wilderness area that is relatively unknown to civilization. Usually on a borderland of some sort (ahem), part of the attraction of the hex crawl is the discovery of the unknown, mapping out features of the wild, and expanding the boundaries of civilization.

That's a little harder to do in a place like the Flanaess, where we have an enormous, continent-scale map that shows us what's on the other side of the borderland. Except at the very peripheries such as Hepmonaland, the Amedio Jungle, and the northern reaches past the Bandit Kingdoms, Horned Society, and Iuz, one gets the impression that all is relatively civilized (or, at least claimed by civilization). There are no vast wilderness border regions like Rome had with Germania, or an easy place where one can mark the end of "Christendom" as was seen in Prussia and the Teutonic Knights who protected against, and expanded into, eastern Poland and the then-Pagan kingdoms of Lithuania and Livonia.

Part of the question of hex crawls in Greyhawk revolves around just how big an area is needed for a satisfying hex-crawl. Rob Conley suggests something on the order of 150x200 miles (which, on the map of the Flanaess, would make it some 5x7 hexes, which is almost nation-sized), while the Welsh Piper goes the opposite direction, starting small with but a single 30-mile hex and possibly going up to 4x5 hexes as a region. By Flanaess standards, 4x5 hexes is still pretty big, but possibly workable.

Still, there are places within the Flanaess that are still suitable for hex-crawl play, some even at the larger scales suggested above. Setting aside for the moment the idea that the PCs are the first civilized people to set foot in the place for the last hundred years, there are still plenty of out-of-the-way border regions that could be turned into excellent hex-crawls. Of course, one could put a hex crawl almost anywhere and just declare the region to be wild and abandoned, but certain areas particularly lend themselves to such play.

The southern Dreadwood and eastern Hool Marshes, between Keoland and the Sea Princes, is one such place. Most regular overland travel is going to be way to the west skirting the marshes as much as they can, and the majority of traffic to and from the Sea Princes is going to be by sea in any case. Westkeep, Monmurg, and Gradsul are all nearby to serve as bases for explorers.

The Vast Swamp is an obvious choice, but should still be mentioned, as there could (and doubtless from a gaming standpoint should) be all sorts of ruins and the like littering the landscape between the Hollow Highlands and the Hestmark Highlands. Perhaps there could even be clues to the location of the Tomb of Horrors, but if I were doing a hex crawl here I would probably strive to avoid the obvious tourist-trap destination (ahem). Southern Sunndi is an obvious choice for a base, but I would probably go with Dullstrand, opening up the possibility of moving the campaign east to the Lordship of the Isles and the Spindrift (later Lendore) Isles.

The Flinty Hills are also a possibility, with the humanoids of the Bone March to the east. It's not an entirely uncivilized region - Evaleigh's (Gord's first real love, from Saga of Old City) father is Count Blemu and maintains a large and well-defended castle just over the Harp River to the east, and also owes fealty to the King of Nyrond. We are told it is home to many halflings and gnomes - but the DM could dial down the civilization a bit and dial up the humanoids-have-overrun-everything feel. Bases of operations include Innspa, Womtham, and Knurl.

To the North, we have the Bluff Hills and surrounding region. This does have the most "edge of civilization" feel to it, with the Rovers of the Barrens to the north, lots of monsters and ogre bands in the hills themselves, and the whole is claimed by Fellands and Grosskopf of the bandit kingdoms, which doesn't necessarily mean a well-regulated border region. Rookroost or Nevond Nevnend serve as bases of operations, but there are doubtless smaller towns within the two bandit kingdoms that could also be used.

The northern Vesve Forest and eastern Sepia Uplands could also serve as such a hex-crawl, with lots of potential for infiltration by agents of Iuz, and Wolf Nomads being a constant hazard. There are several mineral deposits within the hills, giving opportunities for lost mines and the like. Traft would be the likely base for PCs.

Finally, I submit that the area east of the city of Greyhawk is also a fine hex-crawl location, despite its fairly civilized status. The Mistmarsh is a trackless waste, and the Cairn Hills get much less civilized as one moves away from the city. Such a crawl could even go as far south as the Abbor Alz and the Bright desert (I've often thought the terrain around the city was deliberately designed for such a campaign, with its huge variety of terrain types). Bases include Greyhawk (obviously) and Hardby, which is a more interesting and less obvious choice.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Upcoming Movie Trailers

A few new trailers came out for movies that are on my radar (or were added once I saw the trailer!). First, the new Godzilla reboot (May 16, 2014), which looks quite badass:



And Jupiter Ascending (July 25, 2014), which looks great for no other reason than it's not a reboot of some previous franchise or story:



And finally 47 Ronin (December 25, 2013) looks really neat. It's a very old story that's been made into numerous films in Japan, but even with Keanu Reeves, it looks pretty neat:


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RIP Colin Wilson

Lost in the hullabaloo of Nelson Mandela's death last Thursday was the death the same day of prolific nonfiction writer, biographer, and novelist Colin Wilson, at the age of 82. Wilson had famously trashed HP Lovecraft as a "bad writer" and said of him:
"The underlying spirit of Lovecraft (is) the revolt against civilisation, the feeling that the material success by which the modern world justifies itself is the shallowest of all standards; like Nietzsche, he felt that democracy is the rise of botchers and bunglers and mediocrities against the superior type of man."
Wilson wrote scores of novels, many in the mystery genre, as well as some Mythos stories of his own, such as The Mind Parasites. One of his novels, The Space Vampires, was turned into the just-plain-awful film Lifeforce (1985), which Wilson himself hated.

Wilson was a prolific student of mysticism and the occult, with one of his seminal nonfiction works being The Occult: A History. He also wrote a biography of Aleister Crowley which was rather critical, and was himself interested in telepathy, poltergeists, cryptozoology, UFOs, and the occult in general.

One of his earlier works, The Outsider, is still considered one of the great treatments on the subject of the psychological and social implications of the outsider as a literary and social figure and the concept of alienation in general.

Colin Wilson was a prolific man of letters and a writer of wide experience, and his loss is deeply felt.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pholtus of the Ur-Flan

In regards to my review of Vecna Hand of the Revenant, Mystic Scholar raises the excellent point that Pholtus is, according to the established Greyhawk canon, an Oeridian deity, but is shown in the book as being the central deity of the Ur-Flan city of Fleeth. Also, in the graphic novel he is said to be the "god of moons", but in the other sources he is known as the sun god. What to make of this?

Well to take the second point first, one of the often-overlooked elements of the Guide to the Flanaess from the 1983 "gold box" (p. 74) isn't actually part of the text, but in the listing at the top of the entry describing the deity:
Lesser god, LG(N) - Light, Resolution, Law, Order, Inflexibility, Sun, Moon
That pretty much answers that. Although he isn't often thought of as anything but a god of sun and light, the original material does point to the link between Pholtus and the moon(s) - the moon(s) being the source of light during the night, of course (remember that Oerth has two moons, Luna and Celene). The misconception is undoubtedly helped by our modern interpretation of sun and moon as opposites, but in the mythology of the Flanaess, this need not be so.

At some point, Pholtus' symbol changed from a silvery sun disk to one with a crescent moon in the corner. I confess I can't immediately point to where this transition took place (anyone know when this changed? Please chime in, in the comments). Perhaps it could point to a regional difference?

But that still leaves us with the question of Pholtus' provenance. According to the Guide to the Flanaess (p. 62-64), the "racial origin" of Pholtus is OC, meaning both Oeridian and "common in most areas". The only guideline we're given in terms of such mixed origins is a parenthetical notation:
(The careful reader will note that certain deities are both of a certain racial origin and common, at the same time.)
This seems to indicate that such deities did indeed have a specific racial origin, but subsequently disseminated throughout the various other races of the Flanaess to the point where they could be found in the various pantheons - Flan, Suloise, Oeridian, and Baklunish (although the question is open as to whether or not that means only those Baklunish nations proximate to the Flanaess, or the entire Baklunish Basin).

Now, the events of Vecna Hand of the Revenant are not precisely dated. But they certainly take place in the dim past of the history of the Flanaess. Indeed, far enough in the past to warrant a distinction between the Flan and Ur-Flan (the prefix "Ur-" coming from the German meaning "primitive or original", and linked to the name of the Mesopotamian civilization called Ur). And the centrality of the worship of Pholtus in Fleeth stretches back at least a thousand years before its destruction, and doubtless many more years before that, because the priesthood of Pholtus is seen as dominant in Fleeth even during the childhood of Vecna. (I should point out that it's an especially nice touch that the language spoken in Citadel Cavitius is "an ancient form of Flan", which one may hope is was noted by Vecna Hand of the Revenant author Modi Thorsson, building on this snippet of information found in the previously-published adventures Vecna Lives and Die Vecna Die!).

It is certain that the Ur-Flan were possessed of a higher level of civilization and knowledge than the Flannae whom the Suloise and Oeridians encountered after the destruction of the Suel Imperium. So that bespeaks of at least many centuries transpiring. In Vecna Lives, we are told that Vecna predates the migrations, and possibly even the foundation of the Suel Imperium itself. So too, then, must the propagation of the worship of Pholtus to the Ur-Flan, as it is firmly entrenched as the chief faith of Fleeth in Vecna's childhood, a thousand years before its fall. Presumably the migration of most of the other "common" deities from their provincial origins to a more cosmopolitan status happened during these early times as well.

So that gives us some very rough time-frame for the dissemination of the various "common" deities from their original ethnic backgrounds. If we take "before the migrations" as more reasonable than "before the founding of the Suloise Imperium", and that "the migrations" refers to the Flan migrations beginning around -2000 CY, that gives us something in the very rough range of at least -3500 CY, and possibly quite a bit earlier.

The question remains... why? What was it that caused such a cultural diffusion without any sort of physical migration? Why then? And why only some deities and not others? A mystery indeed.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: Vecna Hand of the Revenant

Apologies for the delay in writing up this review, as I got the book back in May and only now got around to reading it. I have to say this thing was well worth the wait, and its extreme rarity (and the fact that no sequels were ever made) is a crime against all Greyhawk.

Written by Modi Thorsson and published by Iron Hammer Graphics in 2002, Vecna Hand of the Revenant was to be the first in a series of graphic novels detailing the ancient history of the Flanaess, specifically surrounding Vecna, the arch-lich and source of the infamous Hand and Eye. (The Head of Vecna itself is, alas, apocryphal, although the story surrounding it may well be true.)

The book opens with Kas, right-hand-man of the lich Vecna (ahem) attacking the ancient city of Fleeth (a city of the Ur-Flan, held to be impenetrable because of its divine shield invoked by the priests of Pholtus). We jump back to a thousand years before, when Vecna himself was but a child, and learn that he can pierce the shield because he once lived in Fleeth himself, before his evil blossomed. A lot of the book deals with Vecna's backstory; his childhood in Fleeth and subsequent path to become a great wizard. It also gives details on the inner workings of the priesthood of Pholtus (at least in the distant past), which could definitely give some interesting flavor to a contemporary Greyhawk campaign (especially the "Ritual of Light" which actually blinds the priests who conduct it!).

During the battle of Fleeth, we get to see how Vecna lost his hand and eye, and how the lich himself was saved by... Acererak, another name which should be familiar to Greyhawk fans (although this is before he himself became a lich). I personally don't care for the incessant tying together of all the names and characters of Greyhawk into a single narrative, but it's certainly a minor thing. The book unfortunately ends in the midst of the battle, just as Kas is poised to... well... in the interests of spoilers I won't say, but it's very much a cliff-hanger (but I will say it is not about his eventual betrayal of Vecna; this series seems to have been intended to go for several books at least).

The artwork by Kevin McCann is fabulous. The details of Vecna's half-undead army are gruesome and lovingly drawn, and there are a lot of nice touches in terms of clothing and architecture to tell you that this is happening in the past, and not in the Flanaess of the modern era.

All in all, I dearly wish this series had been continued. There may not be too many details that a DM could use in a modern campaign (although some sort of time-travel adventure back to the time of Fleeth could have interesting results), but in terms of "deep background" this is a must-have.

I give it five wizards out of five.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Red Dragon Inn 4 Unboxing

Hey hey! Yet another late Kickstarter comes in for a landing. All right!

Red Dragon Inn is one of my favorite current beer-and-pretzels games. You can play in an hour, and it's a load of fun. Now we have the third expansion to the game, which is essentially more of the same. Which is a good thing. New characters, new drink cards. There are a few new rules, but they're mostly connected to the new characters, which is fine. I also got two of the extra characters - Cormac the Mighty and Witchdoctor Natyli. There were also a few Kickstarter-only drink cards that seem to be pretty potent.

Game play is essentially unaltered. Players are adventurers in a tavern (or, in this case, a ship) buying drinks for one another, gambling, and essentially trying to be the last person standing. When your alcohol level and your health level meet, you're out cold (and out of the game). The brilliance of the game is in the balance of the decks - some characters will have more gambling cards, some will have cards that deal out more damage (good-naturedly) to other players, and others will have impacts on drinks. Some of the expansions have characters with new powers which require some additional rules, but it's nothing earth-shaking.

The new expansion's conceit is that it takes place on a ship, so there are some new rules for sea events (Kraken, rough seas, pirates, etc.), but the game should work just fine without them. The new characters are Bryn the Boatswain (a burly woman who looks like something out of a Phil Foglio cartoon, no new cards that I could tell, heavy on the damage-dealing), First Mate Remy (gets to "mark" other players when he plays certain cards, once marked, a target suffers different/enhanced effects from subsequent cards played on him by Remy), Tara the Navigator (lots of cards to avoid ill effects from other players' actions), and Captain Whitehawk (some neat cards that do damage to her and a target, as well as forcing someone to ante more gold to gambling and not allowing them to beg out). Again, nothing earth-shattering, but a nice expansion that should add a little variety. It also comes with extra gold tokens, player mats, and health/alcohol markers to allow for really huge games.

The two "allies" I got both seem to be heavy on the new rules. Cormac has a "rage pool"; as he gets more enraged, he gets drunker quicker, but does more damage. Natyli has "debuffs" which her cards allow her to play on other players, which have different one-time effects (such as reduce the numerical effect of any card by 1). She also seems to have a boatload of gambling cards.

All in all, I'm very pleased with RDI4. Looking forward to breaking it in this weekend.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Sample of Lost Eria

So here is a quick sample page that is representative of the level of detail I'm considering for the Lost Eria™ Gazetteer. This example just happens to be about a full page in length; some will be longer, and some will be shorter, depending on how important the nation is in the setting. But this hopefully serves to give the general gist of the level of detail I'm looking at (click to embiggen):


There is a "general" section that a GM can read, no more than a sentence or two, to give a mile-high view of the place. Then sections on history (with more detail as one approaches the current date), politics/society, economics, military, religion, and wrapping up with a handful of notable personages (again just the roughest possible thumbnail - a name, class and level, and what makes them notable).

The finished product will of course have art (including heraldry, naturally), and some ab-so-fragging-lutely incredible maps, but I wanted to get a gauge of what folks think about the level of detail. I'm trying to put in little tidbits that can be tied into adventures (in the above, things like the attempted Imperial Restoration, the war against the sahuagin, and current tensions with the free city of Traven). The idea is to leave those sorts of things not fleshed out in the gazetteer, but leave them as tantalizing nuggets that could be turned into adventures at some point (the tombs of the Imperial family on the island of Andermere, for example). 

I also want to set things up to support campaigns that involve more involved economic and military aspects (which in turn will be covered in-depth by the Adventures Great and Glorious™ rules supplement, coming out in late 2014 if I'm lucky).

My question is, does that seem like a reasonable amount of detail? Too much? Too little? Some glaring omission? Please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

New Free PBM 'Zine


There's a new free pdf 'zine available that focuses on play-by-mail games. PBM games were big in the 1980's and 90's, and I was heavily involved in them myself, both as a player and a moderator. Suspense & Decision magazine (great title, btw, which excellently captures the feel of what classic PBM games are all about) covers a lot of ground, and I look forward to the next issue. In fact, I recently found what might well be the only surviving copy of the rules of my own PBM game, "Sail the Solar Winds", and really should write up an article about it for the magazine. Blasts from the past indeed (although some outfits are still running PBM games to this day - a reason to check the mailbox other than to get the electric bill!).

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ah, the Joyous Holiday Season

One of the little traditions we have in our family is that we don't start decorating for Christmas or listening to Christmas carols in the car until we're coming home from my mother-in-law's house after Thanksgiving. That trip home is the semi-official start of the joyous Yuletide season in our home. And as we drove home tonight, I couldn't help but think of this old holiday favorite. I hope you enjoy it as much as I...


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Secrets of the Lost Tomb

So I saw this nifty board game being playtested at this year's Metatopia convention, and lo! and behold, the Kickstarter to put the game into production is now live.

Everything Epic Games' Secrets of the Lost Tomb is a pulp-era game of exploration and looting, with some Lovecraftian themes, mythology, and not-quite-history thrown into the mix. It's very entertaining and the artwork is terrific. If you like cooperative games like Arkham Horror, and are a fan of the Indiana Jones/Lovecraft aesthetic, I'd encourage you to take a look.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shrines of Living Memory

A quick teaser...

Shrines of Living Memory

Each shrine or smaller temple dedicated to a particular aspect of one of the Three is named after the cleric or mystic who founded it. This founder’s name is never inscribed in the temple itself, but always transmitted orally. Should the name of the founder of a given shrine or temple be forgotten by living men, the shrine will have lost its sacred nature and must be razed and a new one established in its place. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

What do you want in a setting?


For those of you who either use pre-made settings, or like to use them as idea mines, I'm wondering what it is you like, or dislike, about published campaign settings?

For instance, my beloved World of Greyhawk has gone through many different published iterations. The original folio is still considered to be a masterpiece of almost Hemingwayesque brevity. A few pages of the broad outline of history, a paragraph or two of description for each nation (with a few notable exceptions), and a line or two for most geographical features. That 32 page folio book and those two gorgeous poster maps by the talented Darlene were all there was. A minimum of detail, and those maps to inspire the DM to fill in the details through his own creativity.

By today's standards, I daresay it would be considered totally inadequate. A setting without mention of religion? No lists of NPCs? No adventure hooks? No diagrams of castles and maps of cities and regions? Unthinkable!

The gold box followed, with the same maps but adding a lot more detail, including weather, deities, encounter tables, and more. Then From the Ashes, which advanced the timeline, and included mini-adventures, And so forth. Each edition of Greyhawk filled in more and more detail.

The Wilderlands setting (which I knew at the time as the City-State campaign) from Judges Guild was almost the opposite. It was focused on the small-scale, and piecing together the shape, powers, and events of the bigger world from the smaller pieces was, to me, a difficult thing. I still loved it, though.

My question is, though, what strikes you as the correct balance of detail and vagueness (for the DM to fill in himself)? Personally, I get turned off by settings that pile on tons and tons of obscure detail, to the point where only obsessive-compulsives and those without jobs or families to distract from reading everything that is published for the setting, can keep up. Forgotten Realms, I'm looking at you.

Which is not to say that the FR doesn't have its high points. The grey box was a masterpiece, managing to be both detailed and inspiring in a single stroke. But then the inexorable torrent of supplements and novels came at us like the undamed river Angren coming at Isengard. And to be fair, a lot of people really like that level of detail, knowing that wherever their players journey, the DM can just pick up the appropriate supplement off his shelf and have at it.

So what's your detail-vs-vagueness sweet spot for settings? Are there features you look for? Things that turn you off? Must-haves?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ogre Launch Party East AAR

So I spent the day at The Only Game in Town in Somerville, NJ helping out with the Ogre Designer's Edition East Coast Launch party. I had a terrific time, and not only got to play Ogre, but got to teach the game to a bunch of folks. We had about 40 people there throughout the day, did some raffles (giving away counter sheets, posters, pocket versions of the original game, and what looked like pre-production trials of the 3D counters), ate pizza, and played lots and lots of Ogre. I think about ten people had their copies of the game with them, and I was gratified to see a bunch of "Ogre Supporter 2012" shirts. The store itself is really nice, with tons of space for play and a staff that knows what the hell they're talking about when it comes to games.

An Ogre-themed cake, one of the Ogre Macrotures from the game at this year's Dexcon as a display piece, and the box. The damn thing is bigger than a MK-V:





Overrunning a howitzer is incredibly satisfying:


This was the best game of the day, in my opinion. The Ogre (a MK-III) made it to within on hex of winning. All the big guns and missiles destroyed, only anti-personnel weapons left (which are enough to kill a command post), but the defender managed to take out the last treads in the last minute. I love nail-biters like this:


A MK-IV (which is loaded up with missiles as its primary armament) takes on an enormous force defending a train. Half the train made it off the board:



Several people had the Ogre app and were using it to track damage:




And cake!


All in all, a terrific time. I'm glad I got to be a part of it. There's talk of doing a monthly Ogre day at the store. I'll certainly be there for at least some of them.