Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Swords of the Damned ebook now available

Well that happened a little bit sooner than I was expecting!

I am pleased to announce that the ebook version of the first-ever Adventures Dark and Deep novel, Swords of the Damned, is now available through Amazon.com (what, you're in Britain? Fine... here you go). Here's the blurb:
Morcar, a professional adventurer down on his luck, is shanghaied into attempting his riskiest mission yet – venturing into the labyrinthine tunnels underneath the ancient city of Graybarrow. Accompanied by a band of desperate renegades and rogues, he faces both the dangers of the unknown depths and a force that lies beyond death itself, with cultists and warriors on his trail. Can he conquer the Swords of the Damned, or is he destined to join their ranks...
The book will be available in hardcopy in a few weeks, but don't let that stop you from getting the ebook first (the ebook and hardcopy versions will be sold separately). It's a nifty adventure novel, and well worth the $3.99 to get it on your Kindle. Personally, I can't wait to have a dead tree version in my hand, but then again I am an old grognard, and set in my analog ways. This is also the first book in a trilogy, so more fun to look forward to!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dreamation 2014 Recap

This past weekend was the Dreamation gaming convention in Morristown, NJ. I was there in a variety of capacities - I had a publisher's table and was selling both Adventures Dark and Deep™ and Castle of the Mad Archmage™, I ran Ogre Designer's Edition as one of Steve Jackson Games' MiBs, and I got to play both Star Wars X-Wing and DnD Next. All in all, an exhausting weekend!

First was the BRW Games booth. I and two of my friends/minions manned the booth during the weekend, extolling the virtues of both ADD and CotMA. Sales were lighter than expected, I'm sorry to say, but the con paid for itself (including hotel and meals and everything) and that's always a good thing. There weren't many sales, but what sales there were, were big ("give me one of everything" was the most common order). Other vendors and publishers also reported light sales. This isn't too surprising, as Dreamation is a smaller convention than Dexcon, owing to the time of year. It's also a day shorter for the same reason.

I ran an Ogre Designer's Edition game on Saturday that went very well. We had three players, so I split them into a team of two (each with a MK-III) and some armor and infantry against a single MK-V, also with armor and infantry support. The objective was control of a communications tower in the middle of the board.

Three-Ogre pileup while ramming
This was a really close game - there were times throughout when I thought one side or the other was toast, and then their fortunes would be reversed. The Ogres ended up in a ramming-fest towards the end, and the fact that the MK-V player still had a couple of GEVs when everything was reduced to slag or near-slag ended up tipping the game in his favor. All the players seemed to have fun, and I know I had fun watching.




I got to play in a Star Wars X-Wing game for the first time, and had a blast. I bought the game and a bunch of extra figures a while ago, but never actually got around to learning the rules. I finally got to see it in action, and now that I know how simple it is, I'll definitely be playing it on a regular basis. I might even get my wife to play, as she is a huge Star Wars fan. We had a force of six TIE fighters against a trio of X-Wings (the Rebels ended up getting creamed, and the Imperials only lost a single ship - one of mine). What I really liked was how fast the tables can turn in the dogfighting; in a single turn, things can change dramatically. Simple rules, but complex tactics, is a hallmark of a good game in my book. This one has it. Let's hope the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing game proves to be the same.

Finally, I got to play a game of the latest iteration of the D&D Next playtest rules, run by the RPGA. They were using a re-skinned Castle Greyhawk adventure from the 3.5 days (apparently there was an RPGA Greyhawk module of which I was unaware). The module itself was kinda meh, but I did enjoy the game and it was interesting to see how it played with higher-level characters. We each had 11th level characters, and there were quite a few special abilities and such. They seemed designed to stack with one another, which led to some curious instances (like my character, a gnome thief, could pretty much move at triple speed at will, as long as he wasn't attacking).

A nice convention as always, even if it did seem a bit smaller and more laid back than normal. Now on to planning for Dexcon and the OSR Con-within-a-con. Expect a lot more details on that to be coming soon, but for now block out the July 4th weekend for what promises to be a great time!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Megadungeon talk abounds!

"There's something afoot in the wind"
There's definitely something in the air lately, because I've noticed a decided uptick in the conversations about megadungeons in the OSR blogosphere lately. I cannot help but be pleased, of course, as this is a subject near and dear to my heart, and my own megadungeon effort, the Castle of the Mad Archmage, is now available in print and pdf.

First, JDJarvis at Aeons & Auguries asks "How Mega is Mega?" The question being just how large a megadungeon needs to be in order to be a proper megadungeon. I personally don't think it's necessarily a question of either room count or physical size. A vast area filled with twisty passages and the occasional room can serve the same function as a much smaller, but denser, dungeon. It's about the time the PCs spend intensely engaged with the environment, rather than the size of the environment per se. If your dungeon is so crammed full of interesting things that the PCs spend an entire evening on three rooms, it's going to take them just as long to explore as if it were vastly expanded physically, and a lot more time was spent in exploration (and I don't think a megadungeon must choose one or the other; different levels or even areas on a particular level could have both characteristics). And if nothing else, check out his post for the off the wall crazy map of his dungeon.

Roger the GS at Roles, Rules, and Rolls makes a direct reply to JDJarvis in his "What's a Megadungeon?" He presents what seems to be a handy rule of thumb; each level should have twice as many x.p. in total than is required for a party of PCs to level up. With 4E's emphasis on balance and challenge levels, I'm somewhat leery of such hard-and-fast formulae. That said, I can see the value in making sure that, if you're using dungeon levels to roughly equate to character experience level, there should at least be enough x.p. for the PCs to level up before being forced down.

Next, Peter over at Dungeon Fantastic asks "How Mega is My Dungeon?" He comes up with a list of four criteria that are important to a dungeon being classified as a megadungeon: repeated play; cumulative play; diverse challenge levels; and end points, but no end. I especially like his point that "A dungeon often has an end (a demi-lich, say, or a boss fight with a dragon) but a megadungeon has accomplishments." That certainly fits with my own design philosophy regarding Castle of the Mad Archmage. Seemingly in response to A&A, he deliberately states that specific room count is not, in and of itself, a criterion. I would have to agree on that score (see above), and also with his point about factions not being necessary.

EDIT: Apparently there are even more out there than I list above. Please feel free to post more links to posts about megadungeons (keep it to within the last week, please) in the comments, and let's discuss!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Megadungeon-Based Game Mechanics

There are a number of game mechanics built into the AD&D rules (and other versions, but I'll be using AD&D 1st edition as my primary example here) that directly support the idea that megadungeon play - as exemplified in campaigns such as Castle Greyhawk, Maure Castle, and Castle Blackmoor - was the norm for which the game rules were originally designed. These feature huge dungeon environments that are "living" in the sense that the environment is itself changing, even physically, as more levels and side-levels are being added, features and creatures change over time in reaction to the players' actions and the internal logic of the place, and as a rule it is never possible to "finish" the adventure. Several game mechanics point to this as the original intention of how the game was to be played.

The first is the ability to "detect grade or slope in passage, upwards or downwards" (dwarves 75%, gnomes 80%). This is useful in situations where there are long corridors that have a nearly-imperceptible slope. These are often found in large dungeons in order to conceal a transition from one dungeon level to another. Incidentally, the existence of such sloping dungeon corridors also implies the existence of non-sloping dungeon corridors that are just as long, in order to provide "cover" for the sloping ones. Without such long corridors, every time the PCs encountered a long hallway, their guard would be up and they would suspect they were being sloped down or up to another level.

The second is the dwarves' ability to "detect new construction or passage/tunnel" (75%). This is an ability that only makes sense in a context where there is new construction to be found, and the fact that it is new has some significance. As has been discussed many times in many places, one of the features of a megadungeon is that it is never "finished", either from the players' perspective or the DM's. There are always new levels being created and thus constructed (see for instance the Greyhawk Construction Company), and when the players come upon a corridor opening where none had been before, it's their cue that a new area has been added to the dungeon, and is thus worthy of exploration.

The third is the ability to "determine approximate depth underground" (dwarves 50%, gnomes 60%). This comes into play in dungeons where there is a possibility that one has gone from one level to another without realizing it. That can come from a variety of different reasons - the aforementioned sloping corridors, as well as undetectable elevator rooms, teleportation effects, slides, and pits - but is only really significant in an environment where there are multiple levels of the dungeon, and where the level that you're on actually matters. As a rule, in a megadungeon (or other old-school type dungeon, for that matter) deeper=more dangerous. When the difference between level one and level five is the difference between an encounter with an orc and an encounter with a troll, it matters. Otherwise, you're just lost, and being lost on level five is no worse than being lost on level one.

The fourth is the gnomes' ability to determine direction of travel underground (50%). This is important in dungeons where features are set up specifically to interfere with accurate mapping, such as teleporters, spinning rooms, mazes, natural twisty caverns, etc. In even a large conventional dungeon such as Hall of the Fire Giant King, there are no real opportunities to get lost in a directional sense.

Look, too, to the back of the AD&D Players Handbook, in the section labeled "Successful Adventures" (pp. 107-109):
"...talk to the better adventurers so that you will be able to set an objective for the adventure. Whether the purpose is so simple as to discover a flight of stairs to the next lowest unexplored level or so difficult a to find and destroy an altar to an alien god, some firm objective should be established and then adhered to as strongly as possible.
"If transported or otherwise lost, begin mapping on a fresh sheet of paper, and check for familiar or similar places as you go along. Never become despondent; fight until the very end.
"Avoid unnecessary encounters. ... Your party has an objective, and wandering monsters are something that stand between them and it. The easiest way to overcome such difficulties is to avoid the interposing or trailing creature if at all possible. Wandering monsters typically weaken the party through use of equipment and spells against them, and they also weaken the group by inflicting damage. ... In the same vein, shun encounters with creatures found to be dwelling permanently in the dungeon (as far as you can tell, that is) unless such creatures are part of the set objective or the monster stands between the group and the goal it has set out to gain. Do not be sidetracked."
"If the party becomes lost, the objective must immediately be changed to discovery of a way out. If the group becomes low on vital equipment or spells, it should turn back. The same is true if wounds and dead members have seriously weakened the group's strength. The old statement about running away to fight another day holds true in the game."
As you can see, this advice is much more pertinent to a large-scale dungeon environment, with multiple levels, multiple possible objectives (rather than a single "plot" to be followed"), and multiple possible distractions placed there by the DM to lure the players away from their goal with shiny trinkets and dangers.

This is not, of course, to say that other ways of playing are wrong. To be sure, the original rules cover other adventure locales such as wilderness and cities as well, and the only examples that we as players were given in the early days were converted tournament modules that were not suited for the sort of play described here. But the earliest style of play - the massive megadungeon complex - is certainly in the game's DNA, and shines through in some of the implicit assumptions that made it into the rules.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Details on Wizkids' D&D Miniatures Plans

Some breaking news out of the NYC Toy Fair (at which I was originally supposed to be today, but unfortunately my plans had to be changed last-minute) regarding the plans for Wizkids' upcoming D&D miniatures line, as posted originally on ICv2.

There will be two lines of minis; a regular D&D Miniatures line, and a whole game unto itself called D&D Attack Wing, with both lines sharing some (but not all) figures. The D&D Miniatures line will have both 6-figure starter packs whose contents are known, and 4-character booster packs that will have blind content, meaning that, much like Obamacare, you have to buy it to see what's inside it.

Gotta say, that pretty much ends my interest in D&D Miniatures right there. If I'm a DM, I want to be able to buy specific figures that are applicable to my game. If I need a dozen skeletons, I want to be able to buy a dozen skeletons, not buy a half-dozen booster packs and hope that I get enough of what I need. They're looking at the figures as collectibles, and I'm looking at them as tools to assist play at the table. If anything, I'll just get them on the after-market.

The other line, D&D Attack Wing, actually sounds kinda cool:
"It will follow the formats that we’ve defined with Star Trek Attack Wing, except this will be dogfighting dragons," [WizKids CEO Justin] Ziran said.  "And the new twist on this is ok, you have dogfighting dragons, but what about ground troops?  And so now you’re going to have giants, and ballistas, and magic users fighting the dragons up above and the dragons raining fire down on the guys on the ground.  It’s a very interesting take."
The product configuration will be the same template and SKU configuration as Star Trek Attack Wing, which is a box set with visible contents, and visible boosters.
Dogfighting dragons dodging boulders hurled by giants and catapults? Count me in. More details about the game to come out at the GAMA trade show next month. Although the choice of name is really odd. "Attack wing" makes sense for a game built around starship combat, because a "wing" is an air force unit of organization (either above or below a group, depending on which air force you're talking about). But it doesn't make a lick of sense when you're talking about dragons, even if dragons have wings. Hopefully the name will undergo a change before the game is released in "late Autumn."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Rating the Doctors

I've been a fan of Doctor Who since I was in junior high, watching Tom Baker on Saturday afternoons on the New Jersey public television station. I've been a fan ever since, and the show has gained me many friends (mostly from college - in the first months of freshman year, a lot of us coalesced around watching Doctor Who in the dorm common room, and it served to allow all of us gamers and geeks to find each other easily).

Recently, my wife and daughter have finally (!) gotten on the Doctor Who bandwagon, zipping through the new Doctors (Eccelston through Smith) with startling speed. I can't rightly explain why they both suddenly got the bug - I've been trying for years to get either of them into the show without success. But I'm not complaining.

I thought I'd take a couple of minutes and rank the Doctors in order of preference. As I write this, Peter Capaldi's Doctor has yet to be seen except in the first few seconds after his regeneration, so he is omitted. I also don't include John Hurt's War Doctor in my list, because he really didn't have so much as an episode to himself, although I did like him and would put him as #3.5 in the list, were he included. Naturally, everyone's going to have their own rankings (and feel free to share them in the comments), but it's my blog, so mine get put above the fold. :-)

#11 Matt Smith. Yeah, yeah, I know. Sue me. I just don't care for his Doctor. He's too goofy. And the stories that he was given, where it seems that it's all about the Doctor-as-most-important-person-in-the-universe, rather than the people around him, irk me. That said, Nightmare in Silver is a terrific episode, and he's really good in it, perhaps all the moreso because it is an atypical Smith episode, hearkening back more to the Patrick Troughton "isolated outpost under siege by bad guys" days than anything else.

#10 William Hartnell. I confess I have not seen all of the William Hartnell stories, but what I have seen leaves me kinda... meh. I'm not sure if it's because the writing is a little dodgy because they were still trying to figure out what the series was supposed to be, or the pacing, or if it's just something about him. But I just never "took" to him.

#9 Peter Davison. My relatively low rating for the Fifth Doctor might well be a function of the fact that he replaced my favorite. But I think there's something to be said for the fact that the writing was a bit weak during his tenure (although it wasn't without its really great episodes, like Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks), and I simply didn't care for his meek and indecisive Doctor. I know they were going for a deliberate contrast to Tom Baker's Doctor, but it may have been a bit too much.

#8 Christopher Eccelston. Like most Doctor Who fans, I dutifully watched the "new Doctor", and I kept waiting for the show to become... I dunno... fun. Eccelston's Doctor was a jerk, but not in the sort of way that a jerk like Colin Baker can be forgiven because of his other, better, qualities. He was just... annoying. Was it the stories, as they were still figuring out how to do the show? Was it Eccelston himself? I can't put my finger on it, but I kept waiting for the show to "get good". At least it was "good enough" to keep me on the hook while I waited. But, fortunately, good it did eventually get...

#7 Sylvester McCoy. I do like McCoy, honest. But his seems to be a tired Doctor, and the stories he is given seem to be tired as well. I think if he had come in earlier, his tenure would have been a lot stronger, but coming when it did, it was just treading water. I don't think it was his fault as an actor that the series entered its decade-long hiatus, but a Doctor is more than just the actor who plays him.

#6 Patrick Troughton. I would argue that the Second Doctor set the stage and tone for the rest of the series, forty years on. He was so different from the first, prickly, Doctor, and gave the character a whimsical and funny side, the Doctors who followed him owe him an enormous debt. His episodes were somewhat formulaic - an isolated outpost under siege - but they made the formula work, and used it to establish a number of Doctor Who villains who endure to this day. Plus he's just so damned charming. It really works for a character who is more inclined to fast-talk his way out of a jam rather than use Venusian Karate or "build a bookcase at them" with his sonic screwdriver...

#5 Paul McGann. I saw the Doctor Who movie when it first aired (it was supposed to be the pilot for a new and revived version of the show in the United States, but that never materialized) and liked it quite a bit. I got a chance to see it again recently (during BBC America's 40th anniversary extravaganza last year) and thought it, and he, held up quite well. He's become something of a fan favorite, sort of the "Doctor who never was", and thus he's been the medium upon which fans can impress their own expectations without much fear of contradiction. I did particularly like him in the BBC-produced mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, which shows him turning into John Hurt's War Doctor.

#4 Colin Baker. Not usually one of the more popular Doctors, I really liked Colin Baker's acerbic personality and take on the character. Yet always there was that glimmer of a smirk or kind smile behind the sneer, and I appreciated his atypical Doctor. Plus, he had the best long story arc in the show - Trial of a Time Lord.

#3 David Tennant. I honestly really liked him. He was quirky without being goofy, and he had some really great episodes (The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, for example). His run was when the "new show" really found its stride, and wasn't afraid to pull in elements from the classic show.

#2 John Pertwee. He just nails it. Dapper and always in command of what's going on around him, he was blessed by having the perfect villain - The Master - as a foil against whom to battle. If only the budget of the show at the time hadn't kept him on Earth most of the time, his could have been the undeniably greatest run.

#1 Tom Baker. You never forget your first Doctor. His madcap wit, eccentric characterization, and the great writing of his period just makes him the best. Of course he has some clunkers (who doesn't?), but on the whole, he gets the nod. He also had the best companions - Leela, Sarah Jane (albeit shared with a couple other Doctors), and K-9.

Then again...


Monday, February 10, 2014

Is it really "The Flanaess"?

"A catalogue of the land
of Flanaess..."
Sometimes things have been staring you in the face, literally for nearly thirty-five years, and you only notice them when they happen to catch your eye.

For as long as I've been aware, fans of the World of Greyhawk setting have referred to the northeastern portion of the continent of Oerik as "The Flanaess". With the definite article "the" always included.

"A catalogue of the
Land Flanaess, being..."
But when I look at the Guide to the World of Greyhawk, one of the two books in the original gold box set, I find that "Flanaess" is often used, conspicuously without the "the". We see the opposite in other places in the book, such as on p. 13, which uses "the Flanaess" regularly.

What to make of this?

Surely "Flanaess" would be analogous, linguistically, to "Europe". That would make a bunch of sense geographically as well, considering that Europe, as a continent abutting Asia, is analogous to Flanaess, a continent abutting Oerik.

"Characteristics of the races
inhabiting The Flanaess"
I can't think of a single instance in which someone would say "The Europe" and have it make any sense. It's simply an anomaly.

It's odd, the things that catch your eye after all that time. Did Gygax change from "Flanaess" (as a straight linguistic replacement of "Europe") to "The Flanaess" (to add a sense of the exotic)? I am unaware of any straight answer to that question - anyone know of one? Maybe a Q&A on some message board somewhere?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An East Coast OSR Con?

For the past couple of weeks I've been quietly asking prominent figures in the OSR, particularly those in the greater NYC area, if they'd be interested in participating in an East Coast convention targeted at an OSR audience. (No offense if I haven't reached out to you specifically!)

Thusfar the response has been enthusiastically positive. I won't name names right now, because nothing is graven in granite, but it could wind up being quite an interesting event.

I've also been in touch with the fine folks who run the Dexcon convention, held each year in Morristown, NJ, and this year to be held over the July Fourth weekend. They're more than happy to let an OSR convention piggyback on their own convention as a sort of convention-within-a-convention, with the possibility of spinning it off to its own independent thing down the road if there's enough response. 

The chief feature of the convention, of course, would be the games. Having a whole track of old school type games would be the big draw, from my point of view. Not having to travel to Wisconsin or Texas would be an added bonus (with no offense intended towards Garycon or NTexasRPGCon, of course!).

So the questions for the hall are, would this be something you'd be interested in seeing? Do you think the OSR can stand another dedicated convention, specifically geared towards us East Coast types? What sorts of games would you like to see represented? Just RPGs, or some old-school wargames and miniatures as well? (Like the really cool Chainmail games that some folks have been running in the last couple of years.) I've run events myself at this con and others, and invited other DMs to do so as well, but this would have more of a self-identity, and a dedicated track on the schedule.

At this point, I'm still gauging interest, but if it looks like we could hit a threshold of activity, we could see a dedicated OSR track at Dexcon this year, with an independent con in 2015 if it works out well enough.

What do you say? Sound interesting? Have some ideas? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

New Game Day



Woo hoo!

This was a pretty good day gaming-wise in several respects. First and foremost, I finally got to show up at a meeting of the Jersey Area Gamers, which is a group of old grognards like me who play mostly older wargames. I've literally been trying to make it to a meeting for months, and events kept conspiring to keep me from making it.

It was also New Game Day, and in honor thereof I played two games I'd never played before. The first was Major Battles and Campaigns of General George S Patton, which was published by Research Games in 1974. I had never heard of the game or the company before, but we played the Bulge scenario, using figures from Axis & Allies rather than the cardboard counters that came with the game, which are rather ugly, even (especially?) for 1974.

I, as the Germans, had to prevent the Americans from relieving the town of Bastogne. It's a point-to-point game with card-based movement (the number of movement points available to you in a turn is determined by the flip of two cards), and the true squeeze is in being able to concentrate your forces in the right places with the very limited number of movement points you have for that turn. I lost (although if I had managed to force the Americans to retreat in one critical battle, I might have pulled it out), but I found the game itself to be very interesting. It's a quick game - we finished the Bulge scenario in about an hour and a half. Certainly I'd give it another go, especially now that I have a feel for the flow of the movement mechanics.

We also played the card game of Battleship, which I had never seen before. It was a very quick game, but I can see how one could get lost in playing it in rapid-fire for a whole afternoon.

All in all, a fun afternoon, even if I did have to beg out early. I'm just glad that I finally made an appearance at the club. I had a great time, and I hope I get to make it to many more meetings in the future.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Suspense & Decision Issue 3 Now Available

The third issue of the play-by-mail e-zine "Suspense and Decision" is now available. I've got to say, for a subset of the gaming hobby which was supposedly defunct, there sure seems to be a lot of material to write about. This 'zine is coming out at a prodigious pace, and even though I don't play PBM games any more, I still find it fascinating.

In fact, even folks who never played PBM games will find something in here to enjoy, I think. There's an article on "Five Tips To Make Your Play-By-Post D&D Game A Long-Lived Success" by Cayzle Alterio, and an article on girls in gaming, "You Go, Gamer Girl!" by "Amber."

There is also a lot of material on the reboot of one of the classic games of the PBM heyday, "Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire." BSE was one of the really huge PBM games back in the day, and it's now back. I might be tempted to start a ship again- that was one of the best ones out there.

I know a lot of OSR types are also big fans of REH's Conan novels, and should seriously consider giving the PBM game "Hyborian Wars" a try. This is a game I played myself several times in the past, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's still being run, and it's certainly worth at least a look for dedicated Howard fans. This issue of S&D has several articles dedicated to the game. I am again tempted to give it a go once more.

All in all, another great effort by Grimfinger, and I look forward to the next. One of these days I'm going to get off my butt and write those articles about "Starmaster" and "Sail the Solar Winds" I keep talking about...