Friday, January 29, 2010

What is the future of the Star Wars game license?

With the news that WotC is dropping the Star Wars license this year, no doubt rampant speculation will begin over the future of the franchise. So let's get it started. My guess is that the tabletop rpg is dead, at least for the forseeable future. There just aren't many companies aside from WotC that could afford it and the few that could don't seem to be a good fit. For example, Mongoose, a relatively big company, would probably be seen by the folks at Lucasarts as being a bit too risky. They publish a lot of product to be sure, but they also miss a lot of release dates and there are frequent complaints about the quality of their products. Cubicle 7 is an up-and-comer, but my guess is that they are not ready to take on something of this magnitude. Besides those two, the only company I can think of with the means to pull it off is Paizo. The Star Wars license might be a good fit for a company looking to position itself as the alternative to WotC, but I think they have so many resources committed to the various Pathfinder product lines, they probably couldn't see themselves taking on the demands of the Star Wars license right now.

The other side of the Star Wars game license is the minis. WotC has certainly beaten that dead horse repeatedly over the last few years, so I think if anyone got an idea to revive a Star Wars minis line, they'd choose to do it differently. I think the one company that might see some potential there would be Rackham. Doing Star Wars using an approach similar to AT-43 or Confrontation might have interest for minis collectors who are fed up with blind packaging and 15 different versions of Darth Vader. Personally, I hope that doesn't happen since it would almost certainly impact the other Rackham lines negatively.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rognar Called It.

Good bye Star Wars Saga

Want a job at Wizards?

WotC is looking for a new editor


One requirement not mentioned in the ad:

-Must be willing to leave quietly when we fire you just before Christmas


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So, what's on your iPod?, pt.5

What can I say about Apocalyptica? The obvious, four classically-trained cellists (Is that redundant? Are there any other kinds of cellists?) from Finland who use their powers for good, bringing symphonic metal to the masses. Probably best known to North American audiences for their covers on YouTube and their appearance in Some Kind of Monster, a documentary film about Metallica released in 2004, the group has been around since the early '90s. Their most recent studio album, Worlds Collide, was by far their most successful, reaching as high as 59 on the Billboard Top 200 in 2008. As one might expect, Apocalyptica produces an unusual brand of metal, at times symphonic, gothic, progressive, with an occasional track like "I'm Not Jesus" (sung by Corey Taylor of Slipknot), which can only be described as straight up rock and roll. While most metal music works better with fantasy, I feel the Apocalyptica sound lends itself well to a sci-fi rpg setting, especially space opera. This is good news for someone like me who detests techno, the usual music style associated with futuristic campaigns.


Editorial note: Apocalyptica, Crom, Sabaton, without doubt, everything interesting in heavy metal today is happening in continental Europe. The Scandinavians, Finns and Germans have taken over from the Brits and the Americans as the true powerhouses of metal.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pathfinder rule musings

Saving throws and magic items:
The save DCs for spell-like effects generated by magic items are too low, in my opinion. For example, the dagger of venom inflicts the effects of a poison spell on the target. This is a 4th level spell, so the Fort save DC is listed at 14. This DC does not, of course, incorporate the ability score modifier of the creator, presumably because that value is not known for every magic item. However, this means many magic items become pretty useless at mid-levels. Now remember, in the example above, poison is a 4th level cleric spell. That means the caster has to have at least Wis 14 to cast it. So, at minimum, the creator of a dagger of venom must have a +2 Wis bonus. I propose, then, that the save DC for this item should be 16, not 14. Also, if a PC wanted to make one, he should be able to use his own ability modifier. That way, a dagger of venom or any other magic item could be as dangerous to 15th level characters as it is to 3rd level characters.

Determining magic item functions:
I think the combination of using detect magic and the Spellcraft skill to identify magic items has caused many higher level spells to become much less useful. Consider, the number of spells that allow one to identify magic items, detect magic, identify, analyze dweomer, arcane sight and arcane sight, greater. Now admittedly, none of these spells exactly duplicates the effects of the others. For example, using detect magic or identify requires a Spellcraft check, while the higher level spells do not. However, I suspect most players will find little incentive to have all these spells in their daily list. There is just too much redundancy.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Now this is funny...

Most gamer humour is about as funny as a kick in the 'nads, classics involving gazebos and magic missile attacks on the darkness being the exception, rather than the rule. This, however, is hilarious.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mearls on game balance

I know what you're thinking, "Jeez, will you quit with all the game balance posts, already?" Well, what can I say, this post on Mike Mearls site has been getting lots of discussion on the blogs of late, so I'm just catching the zeitgeist. I agree with everything he says and I'm not sure where the controversy lies. After all, Mearls admits that many gamers don't care about combat balance. He just argues that having combat balance does not have to be detrimental to the non-combat aspects of the game. Hey, if you want to suck in combat, go right ahead. I suggest starting with a bard and building from there. D-bane, got anything to add? :D


Boring Magic Items

As I continue to gear up for the upcoming campaign, I've been looking at rule tweaks. Pathfinder has lots of items but for the most part they tend to get crowded out my those items which grant a numerical advantage.

The Cape of the Manta ray is very stylish but most people would trade it in a heart beat for a good ole cloak of resistance.

What I propose is to grant all of the PCs level appropriate bonuses. Everyone can add +2 enhancement bonus to the stat of their choice, a +2 resistance bonus, and a +1 deflection bonus. Items that grant these bonuses will be removed from the game. I'll leave in the Amulet of Natural Armor. I was going to lower starting cash somewhat but when I realized that there are no magic marts, I may just leave it alone.

Maybe I'll give everyone free armor and weapon bonuses too although now I'd definitely have to lower starting cash. Any comments?

Respectability? No thanks

When I look back at my early gaming life and ponder what it was that made D&D so cool in '81, I realize it was because the game was subversive. It was teaching kids reading, writing, mathematics and it was doing it without any adult supervision. That is ultimately what caused certain religious and political authorities to condemn D&D. The kids were learning, but not necessarily the things their authority figures wanted them to.

So now the generation that grew up on D&D is reaching middle age. We have kids of our own and we hope to pass on the hobby to them. Some of us want D&D and other RPGs to take on an air of respectability. Well, I say nuts to that. I think the hobby should remain the forbidden fruit, something not talked about in polite company. Like your dad's collection of vintage Playboy magazines, your old D&D books should be something the kids stumble upon while poking their noses in places they don't belong. I think this is the way tabletop RPGs will survive and endure. This hobby can't hold a candle to video games in the minds of kids today unless it has some element of danger. Make our games subversive again.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

A&AM Early War 1939-1941 comments

Bicycle troops (Belgian and Japanese) are actually pretty useful, assuming you have a decent number of road hexes in your map.

The Coordinated Fire commander ability of the Polish Officer is not as great as one would think. This unit can only attack adjacent targets, so in order for other units to benefit from the ability, you have to place your officer in the front line. That is a great way to lose your commander early.

It's not much to look at, but the Marmon Herrington is an excellent armoured car. I could see using it in any year of the war.

The BEF Infantrymen and the Finnish Ski Troops are both excellent 4-pt. infantry units and would be highly useful in any scenario. Too bad the Finnish Ski Troop doesn't actually have skis, though.

The T-28 is a beast. It looks scary as hell and is murder on infantry as well as early tanks.

The Semovente L40 looks awful. I'm even more annoyed that it's a rare and that I've got three of them.

The Cruiser Mk.III A13 is a great-looking unit. Too bad it has tin foil armour.

The Covering Fire SA of the Japanese Type 99 LMG is going to make the Banzai charge even more devastating and it's only a 4-pt. unit. At least it doesn't have Double Shot.


A&AM Early War 1939-1941 first pulls

I got my first 18 boosters from the Axis & Allies Miniatures recent set, Early War 1939-1941 (thanks, D-bane). I'll have more to say later, but here are my rares:

Soviet Union
BT-5 (x2)


United Kingdom
Cruiser Mk III A13 (x2)
Matilda II

Morane-Saulnier MS.406

South Africa
Valentine II
Marmon Herrington Mk.II AC (x2)


PzKpfw IV Ausf.A
Panzer III Ausf.F

Semovente L40 da 47/32 (x3) (WTF?!)

So, I missed two of the four aircraft in the set, including the Stuka. That sucks! Also, I don't have much use for three Italian assault guns (no idea how that happened). Still, it's a good start. I will obviously be jumping into the singles market at some point.


Friday, January 15, 2010

My charitable donation to WEG

The seemingly endless saga of misery that is West End Games has taken another turn. As I mentioned some time ago, WEG was looking to make a rebound. They had a new product, Septimus, a space opera rpg by reknown game designer Bill Coffin, and a new publishing model, Open d6, which would allow the venerable d6 game engine to become OGL. Along came GenCon. Eric Gibson, the current owner of WEG, arrived with a stack of Septimus softcovers and a plan.

Then he disappeared...

Rampant speculation followed. WEG's forums were abuzz with speculation, as the fans (who by this time, number in the tens) debated the future of the company, its owner and the game system. Fans created Open d6 Resurrection, Antipaladin Games created a clone called Mini Six and pretty much everyone felt they'd seen the last of West End Games.

Well, Eric Gibson has resurfaced and he's busily doing what he can to put to rest any rumours of his (or WEG's) demise. Problems with his overseas printer have made him unable to get his hardcover Septimus books into stores, while GenCon softcover and pdf sales have been weak. The Open d6 project is not dead and he's not too happy about these non-WEG efforts to create reasonable facsimiles.

So, partially out of sympathy for a struggling company that has given me a lot of joy over the years and partially out of curiousity about a product that seems increasingly unlikely to ever see the light of day in stores, I bought a pdf copy of Septimus. It is quite a tome, weighing in at a hefty 364 pages. The first 95 or so pages are dedicated to describing the world of Septimus, a Dyson Sphere on the very edge of a dying galactic empire. This description is quite detailed, and yet, there are some glaring omissions. Several things are mentioned repeatedly, but never clearly explained. For example, a particularly traumatic event, known as Steel Helix, is mentioned repeatedly as the source of much of the destruction currently seen on the surface of Septimus, yet no explanation of Steel Helix is given in the text. A free quick-start pdf of the Septimus game released months before the full game mentions a rebellion and describes a rebel military action called Iron Helix, which is presumably the same thing, but anyone without a copy of this earlier release would have little idea about this most important event in recent history of the game world. Other unexplained things include the Seven Cities (presumed to be other settlements outside of the capital that have been cut off by Steel Helix) and ZPG (some sort of disease which may be related to corruption of the advanced technology used to control the inhabitants of Septimus).

Beyond this criticism, Septimus is actually a pretty solid game. The d6 rules are fully presented, so no other books are required to play and the number of game and character options are quite extensive. The game is not as polished as Eclipse Phase or CthulhuTech, but it is certainly easier for inexperienced players to understand. It has a lot of potential, but at this point, I don't think West End Games has the resources to get this game off the ground in any significant way. Pity!


(Edit: Upon further reading, I have a clearer idea about the Seven Cities, although a timeline and a more detailed history would certainly help to elucidate the various political relationships within the game setting.)

Evolving Rules

I found this interesting article by Monte Cook. He makes some interesting comments on how gameplay shapes rules and rules shape gameplay. A worthwhile read.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Evil Campaign

The DM mantle will pass to me in the next few months and I've been trying to figure out what I'd like to do. One of the ideas that I've had is running an evil campaign. As long as there is no outright back stabbing they can be a lot of fun.

The problem is motivation. In a sandbox campaign where the PCs can wander around and do what they want this isn't as big of an issue since the PCs will pretty much decide what they want to do and motivate themselves. With an AP or Module they are generally written to good characters. Getting the evil PCs from Point A to Point B can be a real challenge. From past evil campaigns, having a powerful patron is a good way to keep the PCs in line but all of the adventures I have in mind would require some major rewrites.

Now I can understand being a mercenary and taking gold to rescue the princess but when you are asked to protect a town from an army giants, the town is just not going to be able to offer enough money to entice the high level characters.

I have three fleshed out ideas in my head. Going evil will rule out one right away but the other two might be workable. Is there any interest in going evil next time around or shall we stick with the familiar neutral/good parties? I guess even lawful evil works ok since you aren't likely to go back on your word.

More on game balance

An interesting post I read at Wondrous Imaginings got me to thinking that maybe I have been mistaken in what I understand game balance to mean in the mind of the old-school gamer. I always thought of game balance to be an approximate leveling of the field in terms of overall effectiveness of each character class. In my younger days, we often argued one class was better than another. I remember when the original Unearthed Arcana was released, everyone pretty much assumed the fighter class was irrelevent now that the new barbarian class was so obviously superior. That was our idea of a lack of game balance. However, game balance apparently means something different to JoetheLawyer, since his criticism stems from balancing encounters. He argues that new school D&D lacks realism since high-level parties never encounter weak opponents. This is, of course, not true. It happens all the time, but why waste valuable playing time dealing with such minor inconveniences. We don't play out every encounter with a particularly bothersome mosquito, so why should a group of 12th level characters bother to play out the one round of combat it takes to stomp out a small band of normal orcs. We just assume a few such encounters took place and were dealt with appropriately.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Rippin' on Avatar

As I said in my original post about Avatar, it is both a tour-de-force of visual effects and, at times, a pretty dumb movie. Leave it to Dan O'Brien at to give it the thrashing it so richly deserves.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What interests me in 2010?

Over the past few years, I have bought a lot of game stuff. Of course, D&D 3.5/Pathfinder has been my game of choice, but I have also invested heavily in Star Wars Saga Edition and CthulhuTech. Then there are the miniatures. Worse than game books, pre-painted plastic minis are my gaming drug of choice. WotC has certainly pried a lot of my hard-earned coin out of hands over the years to which my massive collections of D&D, Star Wars and Axis & Allies minis can attest. I have lost interest in serious collecting of the D&D and Star Wars lines, although I do pick up singles that catch my eye from time to time. Also, support for the A&A line from WotC has been drastically diminished, reducing it to a single new set in 2009 (and likely more of the same in 2010). This is actually a good thing, since my new miniature obsession, the AT-43 line from Rackham, is looking to lay a wallop on my bank account. So, what am I looking forward to in 2010?

1. Pathfinder - We know the Advanced Player's Guide and the GameMastery Guide are coming out this year. There are also rumours of a Pathfinder Bestiary II in the works, although no firm release date has been announced for that. All three would be must-haves for me.

2. Star Wars Saga Ed. - First up for 2010 is Galaxy of Intrigue, due to be released this month. Beyond that, only The Unknown Regions has been announced for release, prompting speculation that WotC will be finished with SWSE this year. If so, I'm cool with it. The game is pretty much complete anyway.

3. Eclipse Phase - I got into this game late in 2009 and I look forward to several new products coming out in 2010. The Eclipse Phase Gamemaster's Pack, Sunward: The Inner System and Gatecrashing have all been announced for release this year.

4. Axis & Allies Miniatures - Poor old A&AM, the red-headed stepchild of the WotC miniatures lines. Like 2009, there will probably be one naval and one land set released this year. I only collect the latter and it is expected to be a Mid-War (1942-1943) set. I will continue to support A&AM until the company kills it.

5. AT-43 - As mentioned previously, AT-43 is my new obsession. I've only just gotten started, so I have a lot of catching up to do and a limited budget to work with. I have some units from the UNA, the Red Blok and the Therians, so I will probably concentrate on those factions for the time being. I like the Cogs as well, so I might get a few of those. I will certainly be looking for sales like that awesome one last weekend at my FLGS. Thanks for the heads-up, N!


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

RPG approach to AT-43

The miniatures game AT-43, published by Rackham, could be converted into a pretty cool, combat-heavy, role-playing game, perhaps using the d20 Modern/d20 Future ruleset. I would, however, make some changes to the setting, based on my own personal tastes. For one, I don't really care for space-based sci-fi settings in which humans are the main protagonists, but which don't include a prominent role for Earth. This is especially annoying when the humans exhibit very familiar cultural traits. A perfect example is Battlestar Galactica. Earth exists in the BSG universe, but it is lost in myth. Apparently, the humans of the future can retain the names of mythological and literary figures, but lose the spatial coordinates of their planet of origin.

AT-43 takes this to another level. Humans were transplanted in another galaxy by our descendents hundreds of thousands of years in the future. The earthlings of 600K AD are actually no longer biological, but rather digital. Still, they create humans and set them up on other planets in other galaxies. The humans of the planet Ava come to blows with our descendents, called the Therians. Ava has two factions, the United Nations of Ava (UNA) and the Red Blok. The latter has all the trappings of the USSR; Russian names, the red star, communism, despite being 600 millenia removed from the 20th century. Talk about genetic memory.

I would definitely set up an AT-43 rpg campaign in the nearer future. The technology level displayed by the UNA and the Red Blok is not that far advanced from the present day. They use mechs, lasers and gauss weapons, so an early to mid-22nd century setting would be fitting. The Therians would be some other extragalactic superempire and the Red Blok could, perhaps, be Russian colonists on Mars who have reverted back to their communist roots. The Karmans would be uplifted apes, who have been granted the same rights on Earth afforded humans and may have even created their own colony somewhere in human space, while the Cogs would be exactly as they are, an huge alien empire constantly warring on the Therians. Humans would find themselves in the middle of a galaxy-spanning war between the Therians and the Cogs. Meaty stuff indeed, for role-playing adventures.


Further note: I have just discovered that Rackham has a game called AT-43 Tactics: Tactical RPG. Although it has some elements of an rpg, in that each player controls one character and that character increases in abilities over a series of missions associated with the AT-43 Operation Damocles boxed set, it seems to be extremely limited in scope.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Rippin' on BattleTech

Oh man, this is a stroll down Memory Lane. During one of my "elves-and-dragons-are-so-f*ckin'-lame!" periods in the mid-90s, I filled my need for testosterone-fueled mayhem with hours and hours of BattleTech. Inner Sphere mechs were just as pathetic as the art in this article would lead you to believe, so we usually played clan vs. clan. Then we realized D&D was cool and we all made our way back.



Clan Wolf Rules! Jade Falcon, suck it!