Thursday, October 30, 2014

DungeonScape for 5E is gone before it started

This just in from OSR Today:
This morning it was announced by Trapdoor Technologies, who were creating the new character generator called Dungeonscape for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, are shutting down the current version of the tool, effective noon MST October 31, 2014, giving little more than 24 hours notice of the shutdown to current users. 
Well crap. I doubt that Wizards has a "Plan B" when it comes to digital development; there's no way they would have let Trapdoor get as far as they did.

Personally, I think it might have a lot to do with the fact that this deal also pretty much precluded the release of the 5E books in pdf format. It looked like the agreement with Trapdoor locked them into all of the digital content for 5E, and they were going with a proprietary system that required a subscription to their service to work.

So while this is definitely bad for people who like online character generators and that sort of thing, it's potentially very good news for folks who were hoping for pdf releases of the rulebooks. Without Trapdoor's exclusive lock on all things digital, Wizards might be in a position to release pdfs now.

It's also (and this is entirely speculative, based on no actual data) possible that Wizards will open up digital development in the same license they've promised us for more conventional third party products.

That would certainly explain the delay in releasing the license, if they decided late in the game that they wanted to let folks develop their own character generators, etc. Again, pure speculation on my part, based entirely on this news.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

BRW Games Call for Submissions

It's that time of year again - BRW Games is looking for authors who think they have what it takes to get published.

At the moment, we're looking for RPG adventure modules that aren't tied to any particular campaign setting, either using the AD&D 1st Edition/compatible or D&D 5th Edition systems. We are not looking for settings or rules supplements. Submissions should not have been previously published elsewhere, but we can make exceptions in special cases. Please contact us with details.

Please do not send in proposals or multi-adventure series. We are looking for finished self-contained adventures, but that doesn't mean they need to be able to be wrapped up in a single session - longer adventures are okay. Plot-driven, location-based, and sandbox styles are all acceptable. You do not need to have polished cartography, but preference will be given to submissions that have been playtested more than once.

Please send your submissions to If we like what we see, we will contact you with rates and terms. Good luck!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Sea of Death

(Caution: Spoilers)

No, I haven't forgotten my reviews of various Greyhawk novels. When last we left, I had just reviewed Artifact of Evil, the second in Gary Gygax's "Gord the Rogue" series of books, published right before he left TSR. Now we turn to the first in the series to be published after his departure (and the first to actually bear the "Gord the Rogue" banner as a series identifier), Sea of Death.

Published by New Infinities in 1987, this novel picks up some months after the previous installment, and finds Gord in the Baklunish lands west of the Flanaess. He is on a mission to recover the second part of the three-part artifact known as the Theorpart, which will free the god Tharizdun from his aeons-long sleep and bring about the final victory of Evil over the multiverse. To assist him in this mission, he has been endowed with magical powers by the Demiurge (Basiliv, who in Gygax's Greyhawk is the Mage of the Valley), and the Cat Lord, who favors the forces of Neutrality.

The second part of the artifact, known as the Second Key, is found in the City Out of Mind in the dangerous Sea of Dust. The map in the beginning of the book confirms that this is the same as the Forgotten City on the original Darlene map of the World of Greyhawk.

One of the things I like about this novel is that we see a lot of the inner workings of the various evil factions. Iuz finds himself under the thumb of his mother Iggwilv and his ally Zuggtmoy, while at the same time opposing his father Grazz't, who is in turn opposed by various other princes of the Abyss. They, being chaotic, oppose the release of Tharizdun, but wish the power of the various keys that will free him for themselves. Against all of these chaotic evil factions is Anthraxus, leader of the neutral evil plane of Hades, who is working to see Tharizdun released, feeling he will be given a high place in the new order of evil. It's clear in these passages that Iuz is a favorite character of Gygax's, and he gives some wonderful dialogue to the cambion.

And opposing all those still are the forces of Neutrality (of which Gord is a highly-placed champion), and we get some inkling that Good is also involved, but appearances by angels and solars are few.

Iuz and Grazz't are contesting for the Second Key by sending a single agent with some assistants; the evil dwarf Obmi (from the previous book, as well as appearances in Hall of the Fire Giant King and the original Castle Greyhawk) on behalf of Iuz/Iggwilv/Zuggtmoy, and the drow priestess Eclavdra (also from Hall of the Fire Giant King, as well as Vault of the Drow) on behalf of Grazz't. To befuddle their enemies, Grazz't and his right-hand-demon Vuron (one of the most fascinating characters in the series; more about him later) have created a clone of Eclavdra, who will act as a decoy.

Of course, things don't go according to anyone's plan. The clone of Eclavdra survives, although she doesn't remember being Eclavdra, and is known as Leeda, Gord's love interest. They proceed to the buried city with trusted Baklunish tribesmen, and all three groups converge on the resting place of the artifact at the same time (which is actually lampshaded in the book, with one of the characters saying something about such synchronicities being arranged by mysterious forces).

In the city, they encounter albino pygmies, the degenerate descendants of the Suel who did not flee the city when calamity struck down the Suel Imperium centuries earlier, who are served by vicious albino apes. They have many captives from the surface, and we learn that there is some trade between the underworld of the drow and this place; Leda's memories slowly resurface as she continues on with Gord (and her character becomes more like that of the true Eclavdra).

Eventually, Gord prevails over the perils of the city, and a cadre of slaves is rescued. The desert is once again crossed, and on the shores of Jerlea Bay a huge battle is fought not only between the three agents, but also the extra-planar assistance they invoke. Leda slays Eclavdra, the forces of Good intervene, and eventually the magical powers involved hurl most of the combatants into other planes.

At the very end, Vuron convinces Gord to hand over the Second Key to him, along with Leeda, who will serve in the role of Eclavdra, to temper the actions of his lord, Grazz't. This is an instance of the odd nature of Vuron, who is as alabaster-white as his master is ebon-black, and who displays a decidedly lawful streak for a demon lord. He might even be said to suffer from pangs of Good, and the scenes were he puts his intellect on display are wonderfully done.

From a gaming standpoint, there is a ton of material that could be used in a campaign. Details large and small abound about the Baklunish tribes north of the Sea of Dust, there are enough pieces of information about the flora and fauna. weather, and environment of the Sea itself to run an adventure or three within it, and tantalizing hints about some of the lands west and south as well (some nations are named, which I used in my own "Beyond the Flanaess" maps several years ago). The City Out of Mind/Forgotten City is described in relative detail; certainly enough that an enterprising DM could use the chapters set there as the basis for a fully fleshed-out adventure.

This is the point in the series where Gord becomes more of a Mary Sue, however. Imbued with magical powers by various powerful beings, this novel sets him on the road to near-unstoppability, and the resultant increase of the power level of his enemies means that his companions (Curley Greenleaf, Gellor, and Chert) become more sidelined. Personally, I find that hurts the stories themselves, and therefore I give this novel three wizards out of five. Still recommended, especially if you're looking for a source of inspiration and information on the places visited, but not required reading.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Metatopia schedule now up

The schedule of events for this year's Metatopia convention in Morristown, NJ on November 6-9 is now up. For those who don't know, Metatopia is a rather unique sort of convention that caters to game publishers and designers, and hooks up people looking to playtest new games with companies in need of playtesters. You tell them what sorts of games you're interested in, and they put you in an appropriate playtest. I personally go for the panels and seminars; they're invaluable to anyone interested in the game industry (and it's not just RPGs; all sorts of games are represented).

Now that the schedule is up, here is what I'll be doing, for those who might be interested:

D015: "Self-Publishing 101" presented by Joseph Bloch & Fred Hicks. It's a terrifying prospect, taking that first step into the world of game publishing. You have already made a great decision to come to METATOPIA; two of our industry veterans will take your newbie questions here. Friday, 1:00PM - 2:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D019: "Planning Your Crowdfunding Campaign" presented by Joseph Bloch, Fred Hicks, Kevin Kulp & Joshua A. C. Newman. Successful Kickstarts (or campaigns on other platforms) don't just "happen". There's a lot of work that needs to be done in advance or behind the scenes to bring your plans to fruition. Friday, 3:00PM - 4:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D033: "Print On Demand 101" presented by Joseph Bloch. A veteran designer of the Old School Revival gives you the basics on doing small print runs without losing your shirt. Friday, 11:00PM - 12:00AM; Serious, All Ages.

D060: "What is the OSR?" presented by Joseph Bloch. The Old School R... (OSR) has been something of an enigma for years, but its influence is keenly felt in the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Explore the history of the OSR, see just how many OSR games are out there, discuss the influence it has on the RPG industry, and figure out just what the heck people mean by "OSR", including the real enigma... what does the "R" stand for? You'll be surprised at the answer. Saturday, 5:00PM - 6:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What is the OSR? The *definitive* answer

With all the hullabaloo around the definition of "OSR", I felt it was incumbent upon me to provide the definitive answer.

And of course, given that it's the OSR we're talking about, that means a random table!

Die Roll (d20) The OSR is...
...Old School Renaissance.
...Old School Revival.
...Old School Revolution.
...Old School Rules.
...Old School Retro-clones.
...Old Shit Rules.
...any game I played, or might have considered playing, from 1980 to 1990.
...a design philosophy of creating systems, settings and adventures that fit within the boundaries of old-school mechanics and concepts; that is, either directly utilizing features that were in existence in the period before the advent of 2nd edition AD&D; or features that, in spite of not having historically existed at that time, could have existed in that period without the addition of material or design concepts that are clearly the product of subsequent ideas or later theories.
...Oh Shit Really? That's what OSR means to me, because I realized I was playing the way I wanted to, and I liked it.
...anchored on classic DnD and on an interest in similar old school games.
...grounded in classic D&D.
...a marketing term and is neither old nor an identifiable single way to play.
...about stripping away rules and making gamers simpler.
...about moving away from storytelling to adventuring.
...a movement in gaming that focuses on role playing games from around 30-40 years ago. In many ways it is like freeform jazz-funk – it is very 70s/80s, it scares me, and I don’t fully understand it … and among the terrible squealing and hurumphening it produces moments of such sublime beauty and genius that it takes my breath away.
...a term used to describe the vigorous growth of activity and interest in TSR D&D over the last several years, begun online, but spreading beyond that medium.
...a type of RPG that allows a group to have a simple, elegant experience without the fuss or setup involved in more complex, modern roleplaying systems.
...about random monsters, hit locations and armor values.
...people who like certain kinds of games (‘old school games’) and sometimes product things (modules, rules books, settings, fanzines, etc.) for those games.
20 pornography. I know it when I see it.

With apologies to the various places and people from which I stole these answers, some of which date back to 2009. It could very easily have turned into a d100 table...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rebasing Prepainted Miniatures

One of the advantages of modern pre-painted miniatures is that there is usually a glut of suitable figures available in the after-market. Right scale, more or less, and covering both the usual fantasy tropes as well as some interesting monsters. Many of these, especially those that are reasonably priced ($1-2 each, sometimes a little more or less, especially at conventions) come from other games and other lines. 

One of the problems with doing this is that such miniatures come with weird bases, bases that have "Heroclix" type dials, odd sizes and colors, etc. In later editions of D&D, miniatures should have standard-sized bases, as it has an impact on movement, zones of control, etc. You can get away without doing it, but it looks nicer on the table when things match up. 

Usually, the answer is to use metal washers of the correct size, possibly painting them black. They will certainly do the job, but they have the disadvantage of having the incorrect thickness and a hole in the middle (the hole is smaller if you use a "fender washer", but it's still present). Naturally for someone as anal retentive as I am, it simply won't do.

The quest for suitable replacement bases was a long one. Most commercially available bases have some sort of terrain molded into the base, making it look like flagstone, etc. Nice, but unfortunately the "official" D&D miniatures use plain black bases. Litko makes a very nice plain base, but they're either wood or magnetic, and not quite thick enough. Battlemart makes some plain white ones, but they're just ever so slightly the wrong size, because they're metric. Annoying. Proxie models makes ones with a raised lip and a slightly textured bottom; I might get a batch of them to use with my metal figures, and fill in the depression around the metal base with flocking, but until I'm prepared to do that for all my figures, both metal and plastic, I went looking for something suitable for the plastics I already had.

And lo! and behold after a lot of searching, I found something suitable from an industrial plastics supply company. So suitable, in fact, that I'm going to start selling them in small batches, since it took way too much effort to find something that should be ubiquitous and which I think at least some gamers are going to find really useful.

Here's how it works.

First, you start with a suitable figure on a large/incorrect/unwanted base:

Next, carefully pry the figure off the base with an x-acto knife. They're usually attached with super-glue, and it's possible to pop them off without damaging the figure. You have to be careful on two counts. First, you don't want to slice into your fingers, especially given the natural way to hold the figure while you're gently prying with the knife. Second, you want to make sure you're not cutting into the plastic of the figure itself; when it comes off, there shouldn't be anything left on the base except glue:

Now, here is the replacement base. It's dull black, the correct diameter (1" for a medium-sized creature), and the correct thickness (1/8"):

A dab of super-glue on each foot, hold it down for a few seconds, and voila!

Here's the above dwarf with an official Wizkids D&D figure for comparison. The bases look almost identical at a casual glance, which is exactly what I'm looking for:

And the best part is, they come in the proper diameters for large, medium, and small creatures:

An official announcement of availability will be made once I get some of the details down. I might start at conventions just to test the waters, but if anyone absolutely has to have these now now now, email me and I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The most useless miniature ever

I give you... the doppelganger:

Let's make a miniature of a creature that only appears in the shape-shifted guise of some other creature. Something that quite literally is never, ever seen in this form in the game. 

At least there's a shot that the rakshasa (also a shape-shifter) could choose to appear in the form of a chunky humanoid with the head of an elephant:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Tale of Two Castles

Miniature Building Authority
Well, two modular castle-building miniature Kickstarters, anyway. Coincidentally, both of these launched on September 30, and both look remarkably similar on the surface. Which shouldn't be too much of a surprise, given what they are, but it is probably unfortunate for both that they just happened to launch on the same day. Ouch.

The first (completely arbitrarily) is by Miniature Building Authority. MBA has been around a while, and has a decent enough reputation in the field to make a credible effort. The smallest reward level that actually gets you something to put on the table is $110, which gets you a market building (I'm not counting "early bird specials"), which is sort of an open-walled storefront like you'd see at a Renaissance Festival.

Miniature Building Authority
Some of the higher reward levels, like the tower house, are really cool, with detailed interiors that you can open up and use for play (sort of like a dollhouse, with floors and ceilings that can be removed for access). The barbican ($375) is the first really castle-looking set, and it's a very impressive piece of work, with walls, round crenelated towers, and a gatehouse.

The point of something like this, however, is modularity, and that doesn't really kick in until you get to the three castle sets; small ($500), medium ($1,600), and large ($2,600). Ay caramba! These things are really pricey, but damn they are beautiful. And come painted, to boot. Of course, there will be freebies, stretch goals, and you can buy the pieces a la carte as well. All in all, a pretty impressive offering.

UpWorks - manor house
The second is called UpWorks, and is done by True Adventures, Ltd. This is a new company, but the head is an old hand at this stuff, having formerly been the president of Dwarven Forge for the last decade or so. These pieces don't come painted (there's a tutorial video on how to dry-brush them), but they are cast in stone grey, so if chipped there won't be a white layer underneath poking through.

This one is a little different than the other, in that the walls and floors seem to be made to fit into pre-fab floor frames that have a sort of tongue-in-groove thing to keep the walls lined up. Looks like your buildings have to follow the arrangement of those floor frames, so I'm not sure how this would work if you wanted to do an irregularly-shaped building.

UpWorks - castle + stretch goals
There are significantly fewer reward levels on this one, and the smallest reward level is $90, which gets you a manor house (but no stretch goals). $140 gets you a tower (and the stretch goals), $295 gets you a fortress, and $590 gets you a castle.

There will be add-on packs for UpWorks, so you can buy additional bits and pieces, and stretch goals will really add a lot - the first stretch goal will get everyone at the $140 level or more an entire 111 piece fortress set. That's pretty damn impressive, but it's hard to make direct comparisons based just on the number of pieces.

Aesthetically, I think I like the MBA stuff better. The UpWorks buildings, by virtue of the fact that they use those square and rectangular floor frames, look very chunky to me. One advantage is that it allows you to have floors that hang over lower floors, as shown in their gallery. That's pretty cool. Either way you go, though, it's a good time if you like castles in your games.