Monday, June 30, 2014

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 6)

And now, at long last, we come to the "Monsters of Greyhawk" section. Taken as a whole, there really isn't any reason that the creatures contained herein need to be specific to Greyhawk, with a couple of exceptions that are tied to specific areas of the Flanaess. The full list of new monsters is:

  • Beastman
  • Vampire Cactus
  • Camprat
  • Changecat
  • Crystalmist
  • Greyhawk Dragon
  • Grung
  • Ingudi
  • Nimbus
  • Sea Sprite
  • Swordwraith
  • Mist Wolf
  • Sea Zombie
All but the changecat would show up in the later Greyhawk Adventures Monstrous Compendium supplement (unless my copy is missing a page - can someone double check?). In terms of presentation, we see again a split between 1st and 2nd edition, and it's interesting to see that the monster entry format for the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium hasn't been completely firmed up yet ("active times" for "activity cycle", "habitat/society" becomes "niche", and a "reaction modifier" that doesn't appear in the later material). A lot of the artwork in this section is recycled from earlier works.

As noted, many of the creatures are generic and could have been included in any 2E monster book. Things like the beastman, the vampire cactus, the camprat, the changecat, etc. would be just as home in the Forgotten Realms as they would be in Greyhawk. Even the Crystalmist, while it is said to be most commonly found in the Crystalmist Mountains of the Flanaess, is found in any temperate or subtropical mountain range, and its link to the setting begins and ends with the name (which, given that it's not particularly tied to that specific mountain range, seems odd). 

One of the most interesting creatures is the Greyhawk dragon. Highly magical and by nature a shapechanger, Greyhawk dragons tend to live their lives in large cities (the largest cities might have only one or two dwelling there) disguised as a human, usually a patron of the arts and letters. I think this is where my own house-rule that dragons can polymorph themselves into humans or demihumans at will comes from.

Another creature that is tied specifically to the Greyhawk setting is the swordwraith, which is a special sort of undead only found in the Stark Mounds between Geoff and Sterich. They drain one point of Strength with each hit (shades of the various demi-human vampires in the later Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium supplement), and exhibit highly organized tactics befitting their in-life occupations as mercenaries and soldiers. Although they're given the nickname Stark Mounds Undead Spirit, they can be found across any battlefield, which I find disappointing, as it could have been used to give that particular corner of the setting a little color.

Indeed, I think that is the byword of this section of the book - colorless. The monsters themselves are rather generic, and whenever there is an opportunity to use the monster to give a region of the Flanaess some background and color, it is squandered by the incessant need to make sure that each creature is found everywhere. While I realize that this makes them of broader utility as monsters, it most certainly lessens their effectiveness as tools to differentiate the various regions and areas of the Flanaess. 

Next up: the Hall of Heroes

Friday, June 27, 2014

The OSR and your FLGS
The other day the OSRToday announced the creation of a directory for those FLGS's who stock items of interest to the OSR to put their names and relevant data onto a list, with the idea that it might encourage more custom to said stores. All well and good, and certainly couldn't hurt anyone.

But what I found more interesting was the subsequent debate on GooglePlus between Jason Paul McCartan (who runs OSRToday) and Christopher Hardy, who runs the Savage Sorcery game store in... ummm... I'm not quite sure, because nowhere on "the ultimate game room store"'s website do they actually give a physical address other than buried on a less-than-helpful Mapquest map (and you're lecturing others about "insight and experience in the real "foot traffic" market"???). [UPDATE: It seems to be on the "About Us" page now.]
The discussion basically came down to Christopher saying that he doesn't stock OSR material because it doesn't turn a decent profit. And that's a very fair point. If your clientele is more interested in LAN parties, Frisbee golf(!), and the latest M:tG release, then you need to follow the money. It's a business, not a charity for 40-something gamers. But he also said "we don't and can't thrive on RPG Materials of any kind. It's mainly an afterthought." That I found quite revealing.

I say that because I know at least two FLGS's in driving distance for whom RPGs are a significant slice of their business. Certainly not a throwaway category that's more trouble than it's worth. They go out of their way to cultivate a clientele that wants those games, and develops the sort of customer loyalty that brings them into the store rather than taking the discount on Amazon, or the convenience of buying from And bear in mind everything in this post I say about RPGs applies to board games, too.
I've also been in FLGS's who have exactly the same attitude towards RPGs (especially RPGs that aren't D&D or Pathfinder) that Savage Sorcery seems to have. They just can't be bothered, and even if I am standing at the register with money in hand asking them to special order something for me, it just will never happen, and they act completely put out by even being asked to try. Those stores, I don't go back to.

It's admittedly a conundrum. Players/customers don't frequent the store because there's nothing there for them to play or buy. The store doesn't stock any OSR stuff because it would sit on the shelf and represent a waste of money. Honestly, I get that problem.

This actually circles back to another discussion that was going on earlier this week about TARGA, the abortive Old School version of the RPGA that I originally boosted way back in the early days of the blog, and might have had a small part in getting off the ground when I posted about such an organization back in 2008.

I think that such an organization might actually be a perfect vehicle to solve the conundrum. Perhaps the OSRToday site might be able to do so as well.
What if there was a way for any given FLGS to gauge interest in OSR type games? I'm thinking along the lines of GMT's P-500 program, where people indicated interest until a critical mass was reached. Once, say, a dozen people said they would frequent the store if they knew it carried a selection of OSR games, the store would take the plunge and then be able to fire off a very specifically targeted email campaign at those people. Basically, opting in to an email announcement list that wouldn't activate until it hit a target number of members.

Now, obviously not everyone who signed up for such a list would actually walk through the door. But I think it's not unreasonable to say that there would be a higher-than-average response rate, especially if it was combined with special events, sales, etc. I only picked a dozen out of thin air; maybe each store would be able to set its own threshold, based on local conditions and the willingness of the store owner to take a risk on such a venture.
Heck, it could even get more specific and poll those signing up for which games in particular they'd be interested in. When you get eight people within driving distance who all say they are interested in Castles and Crusades, that could be valuable information for the store owner, and he might want to pick up some of the latest releases and let those people know.

Perhaps such a thing would be more useful to the stores, and ultimately more useful to the players, because it would give the stores a way to know that they weren't speculating on some obscure title, and the players a way to know that there were others in their area who were interested in playing that obscure title, and would be willing to not only play at the store, but buy stuff there as well. And it could be expanded to board games, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Barbarians and their Ilk

Over at Tenkar's Tavern, the question of the day revolves around Unearthed Arcana, that AD&D expansion book that is something of a fissure among fans of the game. Few and far between are those who have no opinion on it; it often elicits a love it or hate it reaction. Erik himself seems to come down on the "hate it" side of the fence, especially calling the barbarian class "overpowered and anti-social".

Now personally I loved it and still do. Yes, there were some problems, but nothing that couldn't be overcome in the same way that we overcame any sort of problems with the rules that came before and after. We tinkered. Indeed, one of the features of my own Adventures Dark and Deep game is that the rules seamlessly integrate the original 1E rules and the material from UA, plus additional new material along the same lines integrated into the whole. Admittedly, I did make tweaks to the whole along the way, but it would not be inaccurate to say that if you wanted to see barbarians and acrobats alongside illusionists and druids in the rules, ADD will sate your appetite.

I'd like to specifically examine the barbarian class, and posit that the class itself is not unbalanced, overpowered, or anti-social. It is simply intended for a different sort of campaign than most DMs were used to at the time, and suffered from a lack of supporting documentation regarding this fact.

Bear in mind that Gygax's own campaign was rather magic-user-heavy. There were occasional stars of other classes, such as Robilar the fighter, but the real luminaries were the high-level magic-users, either played by Gygax himself or others, that stole the show; think Tenser, Mordenkainen, Otiluke, Bigby, etc. I think Gygax was deliberately trying to point the way to something 180 degrees away from that model.

I think the class itself implies a non-magic-user-centric campaign.

The most obvious piece of evidence is from the class description itself. While obviously deriving from REH's Conan, the barbarian as written can't even associate with clerics until 2nd level, and will only tolerate the presence of magic-users when absolutely necessary starting at 5th level. Indeed, as written it would not be possible to have a magic-user and a barbarian as members of the same regular adventuring group, period.

The barbarian class assumes the existence of barbarian homelands. Not necessarily a Viking-esque locale, because there are examples from steaming jungles and broad Mongol-like steppes given in the text. But there has to be a barbarian outland whence the barbarian can stride into civilization and tread it beneath his sandaled feet.

As further evidence, I point you to the Hunter character class, which Gygax wrote in 1988 after his ouster from TSR. I had actually seriously considered including a hunter class in Adventures Dark and Deep, but finally came down on the side of leaving it out because of copyright reasons as well as the fact that it was never listed as one of the new classes that Gygax was considering at the time his 2nd edition was being contemplated. But look at some of the background text of the class:
The hunter is one who was born in a wilderness area and grew up in primitive conditions requiring a knowledge of woodcraft, fishing, trapping, tracking, knowing the flora and fauna for many reasons, and hunting to sustain life. There might be rare exceptions to this, but generally the hunter is one of savage, barbaric background. There are, of course, hunters from open plains areas, frozen tundra, and barrens. Such individuals are of more nomadic sort than the class considers, and in general these backgrounds are more akin to the barbarian class. The hunter class considers a wooded homeland as the principal training ground, and this should suit most campaign milieus. 
There are specific call-outs to the barbarian class in the mechanics, too. Armor and weapons, and weapon specialization, work the same for the hunter as they do for the barbarian. In fact, there seems to be very little daylight between the barbarian and the hunter except in the combat skill area. (Although as an aside, the lack of any actual hunting skill for the hunter class is somewhat... odd.)

And I would also include in this litany Chert, the rough-hewn woodsman companion of Gygax's novel protagonist Gord, who hails from the Adri Forest and who is often referred to as a "barbarian". But looking at the list of skills of the hunter, I wonder if Gygax might not have had Chert in mind when he wrote the hunter class description...

In the World of Greyhawk there would be several excellent places for a barbarian campaign to be set. Ratik, that frontier of civilization on the edge of the Thilronian Penninsula, Tenh, which borders both the Rovers of the Barrens and Stonefist/Stonehold, and possibly even a Vesve Forest/Highfolk/Perrenland campaign, with both Tiger and Wolf Nomads to serve as wide-eyed visitors in strange civilized surroundings.

Even if that wasn't Gygax's conscious choice when putting together the barbarian class originally, and certainly this is all speculation of the highest order, I think the much-maligned barbarian could be redeemed by looking at him in that light. A group of barbarians, thieves, hunters, and fighters, coming down from the fringes and into civilization, might make an excellent theme of a campaign, and would even recall the standard set-up of MAR Barker's Tékumel, which placed the PCs as barbaric visitors into the decadent splendor of ancient civilizations.

I think it could work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Batman's 25th anniversary

While there's a lot of churn around the 75th anniversary of Batman's first comic book appearance this year, Tim Burton's Batman had its opening weekend twenty-five years ago. A lot of people at the time thought casting Michael Keaton, who was mainly known for comedic roles, was a huge risk. But I think it paid off hugely.

Jack Nicholson's Joker remains iconic, even in the wake of Heath Ledger's terrific take on the character years later. Batman defined 1989 for me, and to this day I will still watch it any time it's on television (which is a LOT).

It remains to this day one of my all-time favorite genre films, helped shape modern superhero films, and was the inspiration for Batman: The Animated Series, which remains another favorite of mine. Thanks and congratulations to all involved in that groundbreaking film from a quarter century ago.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What do you want to play or run?

Riffing off a post by Zachary Houghton on G+, here's a question.

What game do you want to play, but just can't find anyone else who's interested?

For me, it's Chivalry & Sorcery and Ringworld. I love both those games, but it is a rareified atmosphere indeed.

What about you? What would you love to play if only there were enough players who agreed with you?

Friday, June 20, 2014

BRW Games Midsummer Madness Sale

It's here!

From June 20-22, BRW Games is having a sale, with 30% off all of our titles. That's pdf and hardcopy. Rulebooks and adventures. Supplements and novels. Everything.

If you've been holding off getting Castle of the Mad Archmage, now's your chance. You can get it for under $14 in pdf, and under $25 in hard copy. See the 13+ level megadungeon in all its glory!

If you've been curious about Adventures Dark and Deep, now's the time to strike. You can get it for under $25 in pdf, and under $50 in hard copy. The answer to "What might the game have looked like if Gary Gygax been allowed to keep developing it?" can be yours.

But the madness will end soon. Sunday evening. So get them while you can - no telling if I'll ever do a sale again. It's an experiment.

Click here for the sale!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wanna see how Tekumel was done "back in the day"?

The incredibly talented Chirine ba Kal (who played in MAR Barker's original Tekumel games and has forgotten more about gaming than many gamers ever learned) has posted the following series of videos to his YouTube channel.

The whole thing will take about two hours to go through, but ye Gods is it worth the time. Not only to ogle the incredible scenery (the surface temples look amazing, and there are wooden blocks for the walls of the underworld, but damn it just makes it even better) and miniatures he has (the large temples can be found here for your buying pleasure, by the way), but the way he not only narrates the action but throws in tidbits about how games were done back in the early 1970's is just priceless.

Behold this gem, from the first video, starting at around 8:37:
This is the style of playing that we used to do back in Ye Olden Days here in the Twin Cities, where there was a very large element of role playing to all of our miniatures games, and there was a very large element of miniatures in all of our role playing games. There wasn't a clear division to it. We played everything; nobody was a particular specialist, and there certainly... I mean one week Dave Arneson would be playing Blackmoor as a referee, and the next week he would be Captain LeGreneul of the French navy trying to fight off Horatio Nelson the one-armed [in a] "Don't Give up the Ship!" action. I mean, we played everything. We'd do everything and anything and we had a great time doing it. A big part of what we did was the model-building aspect of it, where whoever was hosting "the game" would spend hours concocting something for people to look at.
These videos are sprinkled with those sort of things, and he has a write-up on his blog as well.

We in the OSR often say we want to emulate what happened in the Golden Age of gaming. Chirine lived it (I came in at the very tail-end in 1977, but never had any experience like this). Behold his works, ye OSR, and despair. I am so inspired watching these videos, I want to start doing minis with my roleplaying again.

These really give new perspective of the role of hirelings in the earliest games. Note also that he gives hints about what would be Bad Things To Do throughout. And doesn't worry about players having meta-knowledge about what's happening out of their view. And much, much more. Lighting, music, the whole garage-sale aesthetic for some of the terrain... terrific.

A very different style, but one that I really want to try to incorporate more of in my own games. This sure beats the heck out of playing online.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Swords of the Damned 2nd Printing Now Available

A few months ago, BRW Games published the first novel based on Adventures Dark and Deep, called Swords of the Damned, by Richard Tongue. Unfortunately, as some readers pointed out, it was somewhat lacking in proof-reading, and contained numerous errors.

I'm pleased to say that a second printing is now available, which hopefully rectifies this situation. It's been gone-through by our own Mollie Carson-Vollath, she who edited the ADD rulebooks, and I think you'll find that the new edition is of a much higher quality.

For the next few days, the new edition will be available for only $6.95, which is more than 20% off the regular price.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Midsummer Madness is Coming, June 20-22

I don't do sales. I've never done sales. But now, I'm about to do a sale.

Midsummer Madness is upon us!

In conjunction with both Free RPG Day and the Summer Solstice, all BRW Games products will be available for 30% off from Friday June 20 through Sunday June 22.

What does this mean?

It means you can get all three Castle of the Mad Archmage books for less than 14 bucks in pdf. Under $25 in hard copy (under $32 if you go hardcover). And that goes for the old-school version as well as the new Pathfinder edition.

It means you can get all three of the core rulebooks for Adventures Dark and Deep for less than 25 bucks in pdf. Under $50 in hard copy (under $70 if you want to go hardcover). And if you need some spare Players Manuals for your table, this is the perfect time to stock up on 'em.

But its only for the three days around the Summer Solstice. Once the Stars are No Longer Right, you're back to paying bust-out retail for another year at least. No idea if I'll do this next year.

Personally, I think it's a pretty good deal. Spread the word, tell your friends! If you've been wondering what folks are talking about, now's the time to find out.

Monday, June 2, 2014

OSWARP Deadline Approaching!

If you are planning on running a game or three at the first-ever Old School Wargaming and Role Playing (OSWARP) convention in New Jersey this 4th of July, you'd better get off your duff and submit your proposals, because the deadline for submitting a proposal is Sunday, June 8.

That's less than a week away!

Full details, including the links to the submission forms, can be found here. But in short, we're looking for old school games or modern old school-esque games. Run enough games, and you get into the convention for free. Sign up for enough OSWARP-tagged games, and you get into the whole Dexcon convention (which lasts Thursday through Sunday) for a vastly reduced price!

Make sure you select "OSWARP" as the game type when filling out your form.

OSWARP is being held concurrently with Dexcon this year, and will hopefully be spun off into its own convention in 2015.

EDIT: I just found out that rooms at the hotel are almost sold out. If you've held off getting a room, now's the time to do it!