Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Zero Charisma

This is the first I'm hearing about a new film called Zero Charisma, that focuses on the life of a gaming nerd who has, well, pretty much a charisma of zero:

The trailer is pretty interesting, and it looks to me like the game avoids pure mockery of gaming and gamers in favor of actually exploring the characters themselves. (Of course, I could be wrong; it's just a trailer.)

There is also a more in-depth article over at Aint it Cool News, including an interview with the directors and star of the film:
Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews have crafted a funny, touching, and true film about nerddom, and Sam Eidson does seriously great work as Scott.  It's one of those performances that in a better world could be considered for some awards consideration. There are some performances that don't feel so much acted as lived in, and Eidson really gets into the very marrow of Scott, and into what it really means to be a nerd.  It's not cliché when it feels so genuine. 
Plus, for those in Houston, there will be a screening of this film plus three classic swords & sorcery films (titles TBA) on August 11th at the Drafthouse. Tickets are only $12 if you pick them up before August 1st. Sounds like a hoot!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Nice Newspaper Article about D&D

There's a nice article about D&D and roleplaying games in general in yesterday's Times Free Press out of Chattanooga:
To some, the idea of teens ignoring their Xbox 360s and Playstation 3s in favor of a style of gaming that first became popular the ’70s and ’80s might seem like a surprising anachronism. Yet D&D and other tabletop games have persisted for 40 years in the face of increasingly sophisticated competition from high-tech forms of entertainment. ...
Tabletop gamers, new and old alike, say they are drawn to the freedom of a game system that doesn’t limit their choices. Whatever they want their characters to do generally is allowed and, as a result they say, the experience feels more “real” than playing a video game, in which the world is like a beautiful cage — vividly portrayed but also limited by its programming.
There's a lot more at the link. Definitely worth checking out.

(h/t to Keith Davies over on G+)

Update: article had been moved, link updated.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Professional Adventurers

I have to say I am not a fan of the concept of "professional adventurers".

That is, settings which self-consciously have people who call themselves, or are called, "adventurers". Places where there are adventurers' guilds, places with message boards in the town square with notices posted by people looking to "hire adventurers", places where adventuring parties are given "charters" by the local nobility... Basically, places where "adventurer" is a job description, the same as one would call oneself a baker, a sellsword, an innkeeper, or a blacksmith.

To my mind, "adventurers" should be extraordinary. A band of wandering mercenaries? Sure. But a band of people who wander about looting tombs and slaying nobles they deem "evil"? Not so much.

Now, the concept of adventurers as a class of people for whom that's what they do (and all they do) is a trope as old as fantasy RPGs. It's something that's embedded in the DNA of settings like the Forgotten Realms.

But if one looks at the "Appendix N Literature", the adventurers, so to speak, were the exception rather than the rule.

How many Fellowships were there in Middle Earth? How many organized groups of professional tomb-looters were there in the Young Kingdoms, composed of a mix of various types of people? Did Conan find many "bands of fellows" other than mercenaries or bandits? Certainly none that were wandering about the landscape, traveling hither and yon in search of adventure. An individual or a pair, perhaps. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser can arrive in a village near Ool Hrusp without attracting notice. But the classic "band of adventurers?" Any large group would be assembled for a specific purpose, like the company of Thorin Oakenshield. They didn't just wander Middle Earth looking for adventure. They assembled for a specific quest, with a definite objective.

I don't see how any world can sustain the existence of numerous groups of wandering adventurers with any shred of verisimilitude.

The local nobility would rapidly find the constant arrival of heavily armed and well-magically-equipped bands of what are essentially brigands to be rather destabilizing. In lands that are at peace, such groups would be quickly shunted off to greener pastures by the Powers That Be. In lands at war, such well-armed groups would be pressed into service, and if that proved impossible, would be deemed to be in league with the enemy and dealt with forthwith.

One exception might be in the case of a megadungeon in close proximity to a populated or urban area. Since the activities of the explorers are focused on the ruins rather than random wanderings, it could be argued that they are more focused on a single objective. They are not the randomly wandering "adventuring party" of some campaigns.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Next Superman film will feature Batman as well

Looks like it's official, and here's the start of the wind-up to that Justice League movie that DC hopes will do 1/10th as well as the Avengers:
On the heels of the worldwide success of “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyderis bringing together the two greatest Super Heroes of all time—Batman and Superman—for the first time on the big screen.
Zack Snyder, who made a surprise appearance at Comic-Con today, breaking the news to audiences there, later said, “I’m so excited to begin working again with Henry Cavill in the world we created, and I can’t wait to expand the DC Universe in this next chapter.  Let’s face it, it’s beyond mythological to have Superman and our new Batman facing off, since they are the greatest Super Heroes in the world.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Regional Humanoids

Lots of people wonder why there are so many different types of humanoids in D&D; kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, and (in AD&D) flinds, norkers, and xverts. They're all clustered in the 2 HD-or-under end of the pool, and the overwhelming majority are lawful evil, so it's not to provide a nice and comprehensive diversity among the population. There are just a lot of different species of humanoids out there.

In the original Greyhawk campaign, they were stuffed together cheek-to-jowl. Castle Greyhawk featured all of the various types in relatively close proximity. The DMG even gave us a table to tell us how one type of humanoid felt about another; hobgoblins tolerate bugbears, but bugbears actively dislike and will bully hobgoblins.

It occurred to me that a better explanation for the variety of humanoid races might be geographical diversity. Rather than the Caves of Chaos, with a tribe of bugbears a hundred yards from a tribe of kobolds, the humanoid races would be distributed geographically. In the southeast of the continent would be orc country, while in the north would be found the many kobold tribes. The further westward one went, one would encounter first goblins, then hobgoblins, and finally their fearsome cousins the bugbears. And so forth.

This doesn't mean that there couldn't be extraordinary individuals (or small groups) out of place, but they would be extraordinary. If you encountered a group of goblins in what should be gnoll country, it would be something to remark on and wonder why they were there.

I don't have anything concrete with this notion, just throwing it out there as a possible way to give the otherwise difficult-to-differentiate stew of humanoids a bit more difference.

(Yes, I touched on this a few years ago, but some more thoughts sort of crystalized so I wanted to get it out there.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hasbro announces Kre-O D&D building blocks

There aren't a lot of details yet, but Hasbro has announced an upcoming D&D-themed line of Kre-O building blocks. Kre-O blocks are compatible with Lego, but are marketed by Hasbro, which also owns D&D.

Now, I don't find this particularly interesting in and of itself. There have been many off-the-wall D&D tie-in products over the years (including the infamous D&D gummi bears). Lego has its own official adventure game line, and so it's little wonder that Hasbro is making the connection.

It does, however, confirm something that various game designers and publishers have been reporting behind the scenes for a while, now. Hasbro, for reasons unknown, is simply not pursuing any licenses for D&D outside of its own umbrella. That's why there's a D&D Kre-O and not a D&D Lego. That upcoming D&D movie? Bear in mind that Hasbro and Universal have a deal that isn't scheduled to end until 2014. They could view the new D&D movie (which has its own rocky history so far) be a last gasp to try to salvage the relationship.

But outside of multi-billion-dollar companies like Universal, Hasbro (which handles all such things for its subsidiary Wizards of the Coast) has been singularly unwilling to discuss any sort of license for any of its D&D related properties. I know they have been approached about licensing Mystara, Dragonlance, and Greyhawk (and possibly more such properties that I haven't heard about) to third parties and have shown absolutely no interest in doing so, refusing to consider any deal no matter how hard the would-be licencor tried.

So to me, the fact that the D&D name is on an in-house Lego knockoff, rather than Lego itself, is indicative of an overall company policy to keep everything in-house. Even if the IP is not being used, even if there are fans clamoring for new material, and even if there are third parties willing to write Hasbro checks and make other sweetheart deals, Hasbro would rather see it lie fallow than let someone else even have a crack at it. I couldn't pretend to understand the reasoning, but I would speculate that it's all about politics. Nobody wants to be the guy who made the bad deal.

And even if that isn't the reason, the whole situation well and truly sucks.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kickstarter Update: Just the No-shows

Reading through this thread on rpg.net got me thinking that it's been a while since I sat back and figured out where all my backed Kickstarter projects have gone. This time I'm only going to list the ones that are either late (still) or haven't hit their shipping date. Bear in mind this is out of a total of 30 Kickstarter campaigns backed. Here we are in chronological order by estimated delivery date:
So, out of 30 backed, 10 are overdue. That's a pretty miserable percentage. 

Exciting Ogre Miniatures News

One of the promises made during the heady excitement of the Ogre Designer Edition Kickstarter was that SJG would be bringing the Ogre Miniatures line back into production.

Well, it's happened!

If you go to the Ogre miniatures page over at Warehouse 23 (the official Steve Jackson Games webstore), you'll see a whole bunch of stuff that has been out of print and unavailable (except at exorbitant prices on eBay) for years. Doppelsoldners, MK IV's, MK VI's, Vulcans, and a lot more.

I just filled in most of the holes in my own collection. If you're a fan of Ogre Miniatures like I am, I'd urge you to hie yourself over there and check it out.

Monday, July 15, 2013

2014 Super Saver Combo for next year's Dreamation and Dexcon

Dexposure conventions is offering their usual terrific deal on pre-registration for both their Dreamation (in February) and DexCon (in July) conventions, held in Morristown, NJ. Here's the announcement:
We have also just posted the 2014 Super Saver Combo offer, your chance to register for both DREAMATION 2014 and DEXCON 17: $85.00 for the basic Combo and $119.00 for the Super Deluxe Combo!
Let's do the math - For the basic Combo, we're charging only $85.00 for the cost of registration to DREAMATION 2014 ($50.00) and DEXCON 17 ($60.00); a savings of $25.00! For the Super Deluxe Combo, we're charging only $119.00 for the cost of registration to both conventions ($110.00), plus the DREAMATION 2014 t-shirt ($15.00), plus the DEXCON 17 t-shirt ($20.00-$22.00), plus the DEXCON 17 Wednesday night Buffet ($25.00); a WHOPPING savings of at least $51.00!!!
EVERYONE who registers for either Combo Package AND puts the word "METATOPIA" into the notes field will ALSO receive a FREE Player Membership for METATOPIA 2013 (A $20.00 Value!!!).
Use this link to go directly to the 2014 SS Combo Page: http://www.dexposure.com/ss2014.html
If you're anywhere near the New Jersey area, I cannot urge you strongly enough to try out these conventions. I never fail to have a great time, they have a ridiculously wide variety of games (including plenty of interest to OSR fans), and the staff is terrific.

And, as previously mentioned, be sure to check out Metatopia. If you're a publisher/designer looking for playtesters (as well as a wealth of info on the industry in the panels and seminars), or a player looking to playtest the latest and greatest upcoming games, you'll want to be there. They'll also be running their First Exposure event at GenCon again this year, along the same lines.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Quasi-Generic Modules

One of the things I miss about the earliest days of the TSR adventure modules is the fact that, while they were designed to fit into a particular campaign world (the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting), it was also completely possible (and it seems deliberately so) to plug them into one's own home-brew setting with little or no conversion.

Take, for example, G1-3/D1-3/Q1, the famous "Against the Giants" modules. Although they were set in a particular section of the Flanaess, the basic plot - giants are raiding human settlements and need to be stopped, and some unknown force is the impetus for the raids - can be transferred into just about any campaign world. Modules like S1 "Tomb of Horrors", while possessing some background information about ancient history and a particularly noteworthy villain of yore, can simply be plunked down into any campaign with a minimum of fuss (bear in mind that the module itself gives several different possible locations for the Tomb; it could be in Iuz, on an island in the Nyr Dyv, in the Bright Desert, in western Geoff, in an island off in the Solnor Ocean, or in the Vast Swamp, which seems to have become the default (and later canonical) locale.

Even modules that seem to be fully integrated with the campaign like T1-4 "Temple of Elemental Evil", with its complex background of politics, religion, and history, can be placed in just about any campaign with only a small amount of conversion (or no conversion at all, if one fancied putting deities like St. Cuthbert and Iuz into their home campaigns-- I know several of my early homebrew efforts had them as gods).

Contrast this with many of the modules that came later, especially the "adventure path" type adventures. Because they were tied to tightly into the background and ongoing story of a particular campaign world, it made it much more difficult to drop them into one's own homebrew world. Contemplate putting something like DL2 "Dragons of Flame", or "Cormyr: Tearing of the Weave" into a different campaign milieu. It's perhaps not impossible, but it does present a much more daunting prospect.

Note this is not a function of Greyhawk adventures being more quasi-generic; many of the later titles were just as tightly woven into the fabric of the setting as any Dark Sun or Forgotten Realms module could ever aspire to. It's a function of time, and as far as I can tell the switchover started in the early-mid 1980's, when homebrew campaigns began to decline in favor of pre-printed settings.

This sort of portability is something modern designers might want to bear in mind when designing new adventures. Many OSR titles today are, in some ways, too generic. I think my favorite type is a mix; a module that is set in a particular setting, but which can easily be ported into other campaigns with little effort. That, to me, gives the optimal mix of background texture and portability that makes a module most useful.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Continuous Play, or Breaks?

When you run a campaign, do you hold that the action in the game is happening more or less continuously, or do you build in breaks during which the characters are deemed to be off doing their "day jobs", training for their next level, carousing, etc.?

In the last campaign I ran, for instance, things seemed to proceed at a breakneck speed because the party would go into the dungeon, come out, rest just long enough to heal themselves and recover spells, and go right back into the dungeon. This led to a situation where time in-game passed at a much faster rate than time outside the game, so the whole campaign only took a few months of game time even though it lasted nearly two years in real time.

I've been thinking that building in some sort of down time might not be the worst idea. Even if it's just "winter", giving the PCs some time off to rest and acculturate to all the changes that have happened in their lives. Something like the "winter phase" in Pendragon.

Anyone ever done anything like this in D&D?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shipping the Bones

You know that impossibly ginormous Reaper Bones miniatures Kickstarter that's been landing on peoples' doorsteps this past couple of weeks? They put together a time-lapse movie of how the orders were packed. It's fascinating and fun. Well done, guys!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bestiary Art Update

Quick note: there's an Adventures Dark and Deep™ Bestiary art update over at the BRW Games site. Enjoy!

Monday, July 8, 2013

DexCon 2013 - Another Awesome Convention

Ogre Macrotures
This past holiday weekend was DexCon in Morristown, NJ, which is a convention that I regularly attend. This year, I attended as a publisher for the first time, selling Adventures Dark and Deep books. I'm going to start putting the more BRW Games-centric posts over at the BRW Games website, so you can read about the details there. I'm going to concentrate here on the other stuff.

First and foremost, the guest of honor at the convention was none other than the famous Steve Jackson. Yes, the Texan one who wrote Ogre, Illuminati, and GURPS, not the British one who wrote the Fighting Fantasy books.

Meeting Steve Jackson was really a highlight for me, as I've been a fan of many of his games since they were sold in little plastic ziplock baggies in the 1970's. 

Mark (l), who built the macrotures,
and Daniel (r), SJG's Ogre line chief
First, he made an appearance at the Ogre Macrotures game that I ran, which lasted most of Friday afternoon, using ginormous figures and taking up much of the wargaming room floor. The MK V Ogres were about two feet in length, and looked absolutely terrific. This is going to be a regular event at DexCon going forward, and each year we're going to make the figures better, more diverse, and include new elements like terrain and buildings and such. Steve himself said he was really impressed with how the units turned out, and I have to agree (I didn't do any of the building; I just ran the scenario itself).

Couldn't roll above a 3
to save my life
On Saturday, I participated in a special event, wherein Steve Jackson played 12 simultaneous games of Ogre. It was a "MK III vs. the command post" scenario, and I firmly lay my resounding defeat on the fact that I was rolling just awful. If I had had just average rolls on three turns, I would have been okay. But twelve attacks and only one hit? That's just unnatural. 

Still, if I have to lose to someone at Ogre, let it be Steve Jackson. :-)

Steve also did what was essentially a Q&A for game publishers and designers, fielding questions on a variety of industry topics, from Kickstarter to outsourcing. Incredibly fascinating stuff from someone who has been in the industry forever, but who has emerged as just another regular gamer when you meet him in person. 

Steve Jackson sizing up the optimal
way to obliterate my CP
The rest of the convention was, as usual, just a complete hoot. I didn't get to play as much as I usually do, but I did get in a game of Core Worlds, and ran a new Adventures Dark and Deep scenario (details at the link above). This is a very fun convention, not least because they don't emphasize one type of gaming over any other; there is LARPing, RPGing (with lots of indie RPGs represented), board games, wargames, video games, computer games, and even outdoor games. Plus a video room, special chocolate and ice cream events open to everyone, and even a burlesque show. Plus the obligatory dealer's room, which was much more diverse this year than it has been in previous years. I hope that trend continues. 

And I should give a special shout-out to Chris Bernhardt of Judges Guild fame, who was there selling his most excellent (and huge!) City State of the Sea Kings, which is part of the Wilderlands campaign setting. This thing looks phenomenal, and I can't say enough good things about it or him. (The website says it's "upcoming" but it's real, and it's gorgeous, and it's for sale.)

All in all, another great weekend, and I can't recommend DexCon highly enough.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Off to DexCon

I'll be heading off to DexCon tomorrow in beautiful Morristown, NJ, so posting here will be sparse at best. Have a great Independence Day to all my U.S. readers!