Thursday, December 15, 2011

Arms of Legend - a test for Mongoose

Mongoose has always been a bit of an enigma as far as gaming companies go. They have some great writing and truly creative game design, but they are often hobbled by some really spotty editing. One classic example of sloppy editing was the Arms & Equipment book for MRQII. Most consider it to be the worst of the MRQII books, although Necromantic Arts is a close second. Well, in January, Mongoose is coming out with Arms of Legend, which is obviously a re-release of Arms & Equipment, as it is written by Lawrence Whitaker, the original author of A&E and no longer employed at Mongoose. This represents a golden opportunity to make amends for past mistakes and do a proper job of editing. I am cautiously optimistic, although that optimism is tempered somewhat by the fact they repeatedly refer to the new release as "Arms & Equipment" on the website. It's a small thing, but that lack of attention to detail is troubling.


Traditional Xmas bloodletting at WotC

You have to be a real glutton for punishment to work for WotC. Every year around this time, the Christmas layoff notices get dropped off to undeserving game designers and their families. This year, it's longtime employees, Rich Baker and Steve Winter. I understand how business works and sometimes costs have to be cut, but guys like Baker and Winter bring something to the table that some nameless desk jockey in accounting never will, creativity. That's worth more than a few dollars on a spreadsheet. I suspect much of the decline in the quality of WotC's products results from the annual loss of talent and the inevitable drop in morale that follows.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Legend for a buck

I make no bones about it, I consider RuneQuest II by Mongoose to be the finest game design in the entire tabletop rpg industry. I know those who prefer a less simulationist style of game will rise in protest, but for my money, MRQII is the best. So now, with Mongoose cutting loose from Issaries and releasing its game engine under its new Legend brand, it's only fitting that they release the corebook with a splash. The pdf is being sold for $1 at DriveThruRPG. So, go get it! Now!

Special note to my group, at some point I will definitely run this game, even if it's just with my daughters and a few of their favourite plush toys. If you want in, now is the best time to own this game.


Monday, November 28, 2011

My reading project continues, pt.2

As my gaming exile continues, my effort to read all the sci-fi classics that I have missed proceeds according to schedule. This month, I have finished two '50s-era novels which couldn't be more different, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

Certainly the more literary of the two offerings, A Canticle for Leibowitz chronicles a thousand years of history as it relates to a monastery in the American southwest centuries after a global nuclear war. Divided in three parts, corresponding approximately to the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and the Modern era, the book explores the cyclical nature of history and the conflict between faith and reason. While not exactly a page-turner, Canticle is clearly an important work in science-fiction. Many of the tropes we've come to expect in the post-apocalyptic genre were clearly articulated first in this book. Interestingly, A Canticle for Leibowitz was the only novel Miller published in his lifetime. A follow-up, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was released posthumously, nearly four decades later.

Asimov's I, Robot is more appropriately described as a short story anthology, although each story is presented in a linear chronology as a complete narrative through the reminiscences of a "robopsychologist" who participated in most of the events described. The narrative basically describes the history of robotics from the humble beginnings in the late 20th-century to a time in which robots basically run everything in the latter half of the 21st-century. Like Canticle, I, Robot is somewhat dated and, at times, a bit of a dry read. One amusing "Austin Powers" moment arose when the main character, fearing a rogue robot which had somehow broke out of its programming was hiding among a shipment of some 60 identical robots, recommended that the entire shipment be destroyed. Others in the company argued against it as it would cost the company TWO MILLION DOLLARS! So, in about 20 years the unit cost of a sentient robot will be roughly on par with a base model minivan. Still, I, Robot is, without question, an influential book, and if you can get past the fact that Wil Smith is prominently displayed on the cover these days (mercifully, it bears little resemblance the film), it's worth a read.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Pathfinder MMO....bold move or suicidal overreach?

As the gaming world breathlessly awaits what is grinding away behind closed doors at WotC, Paizo is taking advantage of the deafening silence to make some big moves. There was the release of the well-received Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box and now this! Now I know precisely squat about the business of online gaming, so others may correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume launching a new MMO would be the type of project that requires insane amounts of money. Paizo is a pretty big fish in a small pond, but they don't have Hasbro to bankroll their adventures. I wish them luck.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Adventure Paths

Someone at the gaming table said something last weekend which echoed in my head. "I have this great idea for a character..." I have this problem all of the time. Pathfinder has so many options, many of them sound cool and there are tons that I'd like to try out. The problem is that we tend to play Adventure Paths. They take 6 months to a year to finish and we usually play one character for the duration. Kingmaker was close to a year and near the middle many of us introduced a second character to act as the "B" team when our original PCs were busy running the kingdom. Mainly this developed because we wanted to try other classes.

As we are currently just starting Book 2 of Carrion Crown, I expect us to be playing this campaign for at least another 2-3 months even though I intend to end things at Book 3. I've noticed the last couple adventure paths, the PCs have either been largely unaware of the meta plot or just haven't cared. If this is the case, why not just run Modules or the more self contained AP parts? We could play more characters, and let our ADD shine through. Derobane can play even more crazy characters.

Just tossing that out there.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My reading project continues

I have finally completed the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, all 2300 pages of it. I won't go into details of the story, as there is a thorough synopsis on Wikipedia for anyone who is interested. However, I will say that I enjoyed the first two books, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion more than the last two, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. Although comprising four books, the Hyperion Cantos is really two novels, each released in two parts. The two novels are separated in narrative time by almost three centuries. I would say that the first pair is pretty near perfect. The characters are deep and compelling and the story is impossible to set aside once you have immersed yourself in it. I simply couldn't put it down.

I can't say the second novel was quite as good. It was almost 300 pages longer than the first and it really felt like it. I confess that I didn't read the second book completely in the order in which it was written. About a third of the way through the second book (which would be the fourth book overall), I was beginning to feel so bogged down by what seemed a rather repetitive and overwritten plot about the messiah-like figure Aenea spreading her message and fleeing her pursuers that I skipped ahead and read the ending first. I did eventually return to where I'd left off and read the entire book, but upon completion, I never felt those initially skipped pages added much more to the narrative. I would suggest the author could have probably dispensed with a couple of hundred pages and not harmed the novel in any way. Having said all that, the entire series was extremely well-written and well-worth reading.

So, next on the agenda, I have the following titles queued up and ready to go:

A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
I, Robot - Isaac Asimov (yes, surprisingly, I've never read it)
The Book of the New Sun - Gene Wolf
A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernor Vinge

I'll definitely need to take a break after that.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rappan Athuk for Pathfinder

I never played the classic original megadungeon for D&D 3.5, even though I did buy the pdfs for a song a while back. That may change next year as Frog God Games has announced that Rappan Athuk will be released for Pathfinder in 2012. The release is described thusly:

Weighing in with over 50 dungeon levels and dozens of wilderness areas, Rappan Athuk will be released next summer as a hardbound, library-stitched book in both Pathfinder and Swords and Wizardry formats. The book contains 18 more levels even than Rappan Athuk Reloaded, as well as the outdoor adventures supporting them. I am also working on a leather cover (or faux leather) for thebinding.

This thing is truly the granddaddy of all dungeons. It represents years of play testing, years of adventure, and hundreds of player character deaths. Many parts of my campaign that have transpired over the years are included in its pagesfrom the dead remains of fallen heroes, to marks left on walls, to cryptic scribblings left by lost or dying adventurers.

Just like the dungeons of the early 1970s played by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Rappan Athuk is like a living being, big enough to be used for thousands of hours of play. From the Goblin city of Greznek to the Hall of the Titan Cyclops, from the Well of Zelkor to the Mithril gates, and from the Well of Agamemnon to the Abyssal pocket-plain and to the throne of Orcus himself—this terrifying place will create memorable experiences for all players and Game Masters.

This Tome represents the completed manuscript, including the wilderness surrounding the dungeon, three villages nearby, and the dreaded Temple of Tsathogga, where the sinister, evil priests of the frog-demon seek dark secrets and dark powers lost when the army of light destroyed the temple of Orcus at the site.

This book will be available for pre-order in March or April 2012. Retail price and page count are still to be determined (though it will probably be about $125 and 1000 pages or so). The pre-ordered copies will contain bonus material as a pdf enhancement that were cut from the final manuscript and will not be available after the pre-order period ends.

The estimated price point of $125 for 1000 pgs. compares favourably to a typical Pathfinder adventure path and given the relative scarcity of interesting product coming out over the last year, I see this an investment I can easily justify.

Maybe I'll go now have have a look at those pdfs and see what kind of misery I can inflict on my players.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Rippin' on...scary monsters!

Just in time for Halloween, Zack and Steve reveal D&D's scariest monsters.

Scary Monsters


Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Campaign Continues

After a bit of a break we finally got to play session 2 last night. Strange happenings continue in Ravengro and more and more clues point to the old haunted prison Harrowstone just outside of town. Second Level brought another chance to retry a bunch of skill checks that went poorly the first time and were met with much more success this time. The PCs began to piece things together and after learning a bit more about what they'd be facing, made a second attempt on the prison. Avoiding the areas they explored the first time (and were forced to retreat from), the PC discovered an entrance into the prison's dungeon. Fighting off numerous spirits and undead, they eventually uncovered a secret tunnel leading from one of the prisons wings to a wing that they'd been unable to access. However the tunnel contained a grey ooze which nearly killed the party's paladin and alchemist. Resources exhausted, the party has once again retreated back to town. One of the prison's main haunts has been defeated but 4 remain.

This has been a great adventure so far. It has a good mix of role-playing and combat with some very unconventional enemies. Its always a tough time with mysteries - you don't want to just hand out clues and at the same time the PCs can't get too frustrated. So far everyone seems to be having a good time. I think I will designate a map cleaner next time as I received some feedback after the session that I should map out more of the rooms. That's find, I don't mind mapping the rooms out - its cleaning the board off afterwards that bugs me. I find it interrupts my flow so let's delegate the task out! Any takers?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wizard vs Sorcerer - the solution!

Maybe it's a legacy of 3.5 but I've always preferred the wizard over the sorcerer. Wizards get a new spells level one level earlier, know more spells, and if they leave slots empty can fill the gaps with utility spells mid day. Wizards also have better school powers then sorcerer's bloodlines. Sorcerers get only 2-3 skills so they even have trouble acting as the party face since after you've covered Perception and Spellcraft, and are tempted by the ever awesome Use Magic Device, there aren't any skill points left. Bards are, hands down, the best choice as party face.

Wizards aren't all sunshine and rainbows either. While they get spells earlier, in order to be even slightly competitive with a sorcerer's spells per level, a wizard must specialize. This greatly restricts what spells you can cast. Sure you can still memorize them but it requires 2 slots/forbidden spell, defeating the point of specializing in the first place. There is the issue of having a spell book - best hope your DM isn't a dick and likes to mess with it, and that you have to prepare your spells ahead of time. This isn't the end of the world because most people pick out the best spells from each level and prepare those over and over, and carry the rest as scrolls or leave spell slots empty.

I have finally found a solution to this quandary. In Ultimate Magic, the Wildblooded archetype was introduced which allowed for mutated versions of the standard Bloodlines. The Sage is a mutated form of the Arcana bloodlines and solves many of my main issues with sorcerers. All of a Sage's abilities key off Intelligence and not Charisma. They even get a few extra spells known. The only missing piece is that you have to play a Human and choose the Known Spell favored class bonus. With this combo you'll have 6-7 spells known for each level excluding your top 2 spells levels (so roughly what a wizard would have based on my previous wizards) but you get about 2 extra spells/day/spell level. It like getting some of the best perks from each class. About the only thing missing is a wizard's spell access rate. The sorcerer's skill selection rather sucks too I suppose but this can be mitigated slightly by traits, and it won't make a huge difference overall anyway.

Alas, this is another character build that sits in my head along with the Zen Archer, the Debuff Cleric, the Come and Get Me barbarian, and the Dirge Bard. Actually this would be a pretty sweet party.

As an aside the Sohei monk is the first monk archetype I've found that can almost keep pace with the full bab classes in melee combat.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My reading project

For personal reasons, I anticipate being absent from my regular gaming activities for at least the next few months. It's unfortunate, but it does afford me the opportunity to do some recreational reading, something I haven't been able to do for several years (unless one considers reading Dr. Seuss stories to pre-schoolers recreational). At just the right time, out comes the NPR Top 100 Science-fiction and Fantasy Books list. I've read about one-third of the books/series on the list, so I figure it's about time I jumped into the rest, especially the SF books. First on my list, #51 - The Hyperion Cantos. I completed the first book, Hyperion in about a week and I'm now roughly a third of the way through the conclusion, The Fall of Hyperion. Endymion and The Rise of Endymion are in the pipeline and ready to go. At the rate I'm going, I figure to be through the complete series by mid-November. I will have a more complete report of my thoughts at that time. My initial impressions, the books are, not surprisingly, extremely well-written. The main characters are deep and the trials they face elicit genuine emotion in the reader. As a parent, the odyssey of Sol Weintraub and his daughter, Rachel, is particularly poignant (and, at times, gut-wrenching) for me. My only criticism, on the other hand, relates to the "illness" that befalls Rachel. I won't go into details, but suffice to say, I felt it was a bit contrived and strayed far beyond my concept of science-fiction and deeply into the realm of fantasy. Still, as a plot device, it was powerful and I find myself deeply invested in that particular subplot.

What's next after The Hyperion Cantos? Well, I just picked up a copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz, a classic that's older than I am. I always meant to read it, but never got around to it. Now's my chance.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Rippin' on...whaaaa?

Zack and Steve at have finally stumped me, bringing out an '80s game I'd never heard of. No doubt, Cyborg Commando must have been a real stinker to be so obscure, but man, what a design team!

Cyborg Commando


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Wheel of Time

And so my epic odyssey begins. I am going to read the entire Wheel of Time series from beginning to the very end. All 15,000 or so pages of it. At my standard reading pace I should be finished by the end of April which is perfect since the last book is due out in April sometime.

I know what I'm doing this winter.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


For anyone that plans to play Paizo's AP Rise of the Runelords. Please leave now as the post below is full of spoilers.

There is a boss in RotRL that is crazy powerful. She has several abilities that synergize well, her lair is well defended and the terrain favors her a great deal. Officially she is CR 10 vs a party of level 7 but with her gear and the terrain, she is much much harder. Reading the paizo boards, there are innumerable entries on the TPKs Xanesha has caused. I have always wondered: I game with a bunch of smart guys that min/max pretty well. Could we beat her as written?

We had a slight shortage of players last week end so I had our 4 remaining players show up with characters ready to go. They only had a vague idea what they were up against but everyone was rather combat focused. They made short work of the golem at the base of the clock tower. The paladin smited him down quickly. Climbing the tower proved to be tricky. Everyone thought the bell trap was awesome and although it smacked the sorceror, he was ready with feather fall. The cultists at the top of the tower proved to be rather ineffective but the noise of the battle would alert the next encounter.

The rogue was able to scurry up the scaffolding without being spotted by the now airborne Xanesha but the paladin would not be so fortunate. The image of a demon distracted the PCs for 2 rounds allowing Xanesha to buff further. She then landed on the rooftop to prevent the cleric and sorcerer on the lower floor from targeting her. The paladin and Xanesha traded blows and the rogue sneaked in a blow or two as well. Although the paladin had hot dice, so did the DM and the paladin fell to a massive critical hit. With the only PC who been able to really hurt Xanesha dead, the PCs tried a few different things, but her AC and spell resistance made her really hard to affect.

It was a bit of a stand off, Xanesha slowly healing herself from the massive damage the paladin had done, and the remaining PCs trying to figure out what to do. They finally decided that retreat would be the best tactic. They almost got away but the cleric blew his save vs her Charm and was left behind to his doom.

For the deadliness of the encounter 2 dead PCs out of 4 PCs is pretty good. In a campaign, Xanesha would have known about the PCs and adjusted her tactics accordingly. I forgot that part of the rooftop was covered in a Silence spell. The PCs made a few critical saves and the paladin got two critical hits on her.

There is good reason she'll be redone for the re-release of the AP next year. She is just way too difficult. She has an opportunity to pre-buff making her AC sky high, she has good SR, excellent saving throws, and a crapton of hitpoints.. The only way I can see her being beaten is with an archer, a paladin, a wizard who gets lucky with a couple dispel magics, and a cleric who tries to keep everyone alive. If the tower is properly scouted, that would also make the fight easier. Retreat was a good solution. If everyone had been equipped with flight, the who battle dynamic would have changed.

I like to see the retreat tactic used. I know that we (as players) don't use it very often. In our current campaign Carrion Crown, the (low-level) party was faced with an enemy that they could not hurt. Eventually the party retreated back to town to pick up some more supplies (and follow a different plot thread).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Monte Cook returns to the fold

The big bear has come out of hibernation, it seems. In this case, the bear is WotC and it's hungry. Seeing the upstart Paizo eating its lunch for the last year or so, WotC has decided to bring some gaming royalty onboard to reinvigorate the brand. Monte Cook is joining the D&D R&D department. It's on!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What am I reading?

I check the blog daily to see if anything is going on and since its been a while since we've posted anything, it is time.

Two weeks ago we started a new campaign. Everyone is playing their new characters to the hilt and is eager to get back into the swing of things after taking most of August off. We'll be enjoying a small interlude as I attempt a TPK using a rather over-powered boss from an adventure path we have yet to play (we're missing people this weekend).

I continue to zip through novels. In the last couple months I've read about half of Michael Moorcock's Elric books, and the first Chronicles of Amber. I quite enjoyed the first one but I put the second Chronicles down about half way through book 2 (or book 7) and never picked it back up. Not sure why I didn't like the second as much. It just had a very different feel from the first series and I didn't get into it as much.

My grand plan is to read the entire Wheel of time series start to finish. The last time I did it was about 10 years ago which involved reading parts 1-10. With the final book being released in April, I figure it will take about 6-7 months to read the first 13 volumes again. I have yet to read part 13. What to read until I start my Odyssey in October? Poking through my digital book collection, I discovered that I had Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series. It seemed logical that since he was finishing the Wheel of Time I should check it out.

I am pleasantly surprised. The first book was very enjoyable and I'm constantly trying to find time to work on book 2. The world is logical but mysterious, the "magic" systems make sense, and he writes interesting and realistic characters. The plots are well laid out and make sense, the point of views are easy to follow and he has good pacing. I'm always a bit apprehensive starting a new series because I tend to try to stick it out even when they are almost unreadable (I'm looking at you Steven Erikson). But at the mid point of book 2, I'm still quite happy with my decision to read them and I can honestly say I'm not really sure where he's going to take the series. I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 09, 2011 that how it works?

I have never given much thought to the GNS Theory or the Threefold Model or any other theory related to rpg design, for two reasons. One, I don't care. My sole criteria for buying a game is how much fun I think it will be. Typically, I go for games with well-developed rules for combat (as I likes me some hackin' an' slashin') and lots of options for character building. A cool game setting helps too. The other reason is that I've never had a clear understanding of the different components of the models. I have a pretty good idea what Gamism is, largely because the classic example of Gamism is D&D in all its iterations. Typically, we talk about rpgs being non-competitive. There are no winners or losers. Compared to boardgames or CCGs, that's true. But clearly, games like D&D are competitive. You don't compete against your fellow players, but you do compete against the world controlled by the DM. Victory is achieved by gaining treasure or levels or in-game objectives, while defeat typically means character death. So, having established that rpgs like D&D are competitive, the gamism comes into play with issues such as game balance and setting victory conditions. Now sit down, you OSR guys. I played old-school D&D and there most certainly was game balance. Monsters were defined by level and typically, the deeper underground you ventured, the deadlier the monsters became. Game balance wasn't as strictly defined as it would become in later editions, but players still knew that they wouldn't face an ancient red dragon in the first level of the dungeon.

Likewise, I sort of understand what Simulationism means, although the definition seems a bit fuzzy when applied to modern games. Basically, simulationist games try to model the reality of the game world as accurately as possible. In older games, this typically meant modelling reality itself. For example, RuneQuest was more simulationist than D&D because it had hit location tables and armour-as-damage-reduction and other aspects which made combat more realistic (and more deadly). However, the broader definition means modelling a reality defined by the setting. If you had a game based on cartoon physics, for example, you would have to include rules that accurately model the fact that you don't fall after running off a cliff until you notice that you have done so.

Where the GNS Theory really breaks down for me is Narrativism. I have read the definition on Wikipedia and the best I could distill from the verbal diarrhea is that narrativism is role-playing, you know, all the stuff we do between fights. Deciding that your elven character doesn't like dwarves, knowing full well your buddy is going to play a dwarf, then playing up the conflict, that's narrativism. By this definition, every damn role-playing game ever written is narrativist, making it a fairly unhelpful term for defining game design characteristics. Now, there are games like Vampire: The Masquerade which are described as narrativist, or, I suppose, more narrativist than every other narrativist game. So, I assumed that meant you spend less time throwing dice and more time talking about your character's alienation. However, I have recently uncovered some information which suggests to me there is something more to narrativism than I thought. Reading up on the HeroQuest rpg from Moon Design (under license from Issaries), I found this little tidbit regarding the narrativist aspect of the game:

The game's mechanics are focused on quick resolution; Contests are resolved by comparing the results of two twenty sided dice, each tied to a character ability chosen by players and/or narrator. After the die roll, the participants work together to interpret the outcome in story terms.

So, apparently narrativism actually impacts game mechanics and conflict resolution and does it in the most pablum-spewing, self-esteem-building, non-confrontational way possible. It's like playtime at pre-school where everyone wins and ribbons are awarded for participation. Maybe I'm interpreting this wrong. Help me out, Storytellers and indie gamers, what does narrativism mean to you?

And please remember, I'm a science guy, so use small words.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Balkanization of the rpg industry, pt.2

My previous post on the fragmentation of the tabletop rpg industry was picked up in this post over at one of my favourite gaming blogs, Whitehall ParaIndustries (someday I'll work up the courage to ask what the name means). Gleichman and I are in general agreement about the state of the industry, although I sense he is somewhat more pessimistic than I. However, we disagree about the relative importance of the D&D edition wars to the overall state of things. I actually believe the divergence of D&D 3.5/Pathfinder and D&D 4e is, on the whole, beneficial to the industry. I don't believe the rpg industry lost very many customers as a result of this. D&D fanboys got a whole new line of gamebooks to buy with the emergence of 4th ed. People like me, who were more or less satisfied with D&D 3.5 got Pathfinder. The beauty of Pathfinder is that for many gamers who didn't feel the need to either move to 4e or the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game, they could still purchase the adventure paths and use them with their old D&D 3.5 rules with only a small amount of tweaking. As a result, you have D&D 4e fans, Pathfinder fans and D&D 3.x fans still spending money on game materials.

This brings us to the OSR. I think the big question that needs to be asked is when did these guys drop out? Gleichman believes this exodus resulted from the release of D&D 4e. That doesn't ring true to me. Sure, the OSR movement seemed to coalesce sometime around 2008, judging from the start dates of many of the most high-profile old-school blogs, but these guys seem no more enamoured with 3e than 4e. If the OSR is a response to 4e, why scurry all the way back to '74 or '77? No, it appears more likely that the old school guys were lost to the rpg industry for much longer and there is not much the industry could do to keep them spending. The one big mistake WotC did make with respect to the grognards was to remove the old edition pdfs from circulation. Selling out-of-print games doesn't keep game designers employed, but giving up an easy revenue stream makes no damn business sense whatsoever.

So where do I think we're heading? Well, I think eventually WotC will abandon the traditional tabletop rpg industry altogether, leaving Pathfinder and maybe Warhammer as the flagship games. The Dungeons & Dragons brand still has some value, so I think it will still exist in some form. The real carnage I think will happen among the second teir companies. There are simply too many of them selling too many products to a market that is not growing. Many of the casualties will probably not die completely, but will contract into one- or two-man operations selling pdfs and POD or turn into living dead companies like Palladium Books, selling one popular game over and over again to a small, but fanatical following. The industry won't die, but nobody is going to get rich either.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Balkanization of the rpg industry

When I started playing tabletop rpgs back in 1981, there were only a handful of games that anybody ever played in my little corner of the North American continent. Most everybody played something from TSR as their main game, be it AD&D, Basic D&D, Gamma World, Star Frontiers or something more fringe like Boot Hill. Some people played Traveller, although I never knew any personally. A few adventurous types even dabbled in games from Chaosium or FGU, but you typically had to go to conventions to try them out.

Of course, we all knew about other games like Original D&D or Empire of the Petal Throne, but they were really more myth than reality. Even back then, a set of the OD&D books would have been something akin to a hockey stick used by Rocket Richard, more of an heirloom than something you would take out to the local rink for a game of shinny. Other games like GURPS or MERP which would garner a lot of attention were still a few years away.

I mention this because in gaming circles, the early '80s are often described as the golden age of tabletop role-playing. It seems, the trpg community has been wringing its hands in existential dread ever since. Every new development, from the parting of ways between Gygax and TSR to the rise of CCGs to the demise of TSR and the emergence of online gaming has been greeted with a new round of doomsaying. Now, I agree with those who say the tabletop rpg industry is in decline, but I don't think any of the reasons usually cited are responsible. I think the big problem is fragmentation of the market. I'm not talking about the OSR and the edition wars here. The OSR guys have their own little thing going on and good for them. As for the WotC v. Paizo melee, both are big enough to nourish the industry and a little healthy competition is good for both companies. No, I'm really talking about the second tier of game publishers. The most egregious example is what is currently going on with RuneQuest.

Back in the day, RuneQuest, released in 1978, was a pretty popular game in some quarters. Not D&D popular, but it held its own and allowed Chaosium to become a major player, especially with the 1981 releases of Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer. The Basic RolePlaying system used by Chaosium today is based on the d100 game mechanic developed for RuneQuest. In the early editions, RuneQuest was intimately tied to the Glorantha setting, but in 1984, a new edition (3rd ed.) published by Avalon Hill, broke that connection and the game went into decline. Eventually, Greg Stafford, the original designer of Glorantha, reacquired the rights to RuneQuest under his own company, Issaries. Issaries later licensed both RuneQuest and Glorantha to Mongoose, which released two editions, the second of which is, in my humble opinion, the single best-designed tabletop role-playing game ruleset ever devised. It should be noted that Issaries also publishes another game, called HeroQuest, which is mechanically very different from RuneQuest, but which also uses the Glorantha setting (confused yet?).

Jump ahead to 2011, Mongoose has just ended its licensing agreement with Issaries (note, by this time, Chaosium is completely out of the picture). However, it is justifiably proud of its MRQII rules and wants to continue to support them. Enter Legend, a rebranded version of Mongoose RuneQuest II. Interestingly, Mongoose owns the rights to the Stormbringer license, having acquired them from Chaosium in 2007, so for a few years, Stormbringer, renamed the Elric of Melniboné Role-Roleplaying Game, and RuneQuest were reunited using the same ruleset. Anyway, we now throw in another monkeywrench. Peter Nash and Lawrence Whitaker, the two game designers most intimately associated with MRQII, have left Mongoose to form their own company called the Design Mechanism and wouldn't you know it, they promptly acquired the rights to RuneQuest and Glorantha with the intention of releasing RuneQuest 6 next year. Meanwhile, Mongoose, has several IPs, Deus Vult, Wraith Recon, Age of Treason and Elric of Melniboné that all use the Legend game engine. With that many properties, chances are none are going to get the support they deserve. Indeed, based on the release schedule Mongoose recently put up on their site, it looks like the newly-published Age of Treason campaign setting may be left to wither on the vine.

So, what is the point I'm trying to make here? I think I represent pretty much an ideal customer when it comes to the gaming industry. Tabletop rpgs are my primary hobby. I don't own an Xbox or a World of Warcraft account. I've played Magic: The Gathering once and even that was with a borrowed deck. I go to maybe five movies a year. But I spend a lot of money on games, many I will probably never play. I am the kind of customer a game publisher wants to keep happy. What the rpg industry doesn't want to do is to confuse the hell out of me! Almost every game I have invested heavily in over the last few years has gone through some kind of similar trauma to that described above. CthulhuTech, Cthonian Stars, Eclipse Phase, d20 Modern, Septimus, an endless litany of failures and lack of support, some terminal, some temporary, but in every case, I stopped buying the game. Only the Star Wars Saga Edition (and, of course, Pathfinder) managed to survive to what I considered an appropriate conclusion and I bought every single book. What I'm saying is, please gaming industry, show me some commitment. I wouldn't buy a car if I thought the automaker was going to hand off the model to another company which would completely redesign it and stop making parts that fit my vehicle. Likewise, I don't want to invest in a game if I think the company is going to abandon it half-finished.


Ed. note: The real reason for this post, I just bought Age of Treason and it looks there won't be any supplements for it in the next 10 months at least. I am not amused.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Myth-A-Con Gaming Report, 2011

For 40 bucks, I was able to attend a three day gaming convention in Calgary called Myth-A-Con. I only spent two of the three days because that's about all I can handle in a single weekend. I constantly ate food (awesome hamburgers, sub-par baked goods) and rolled dice for roughly 20 hours of gaming. Here is a report on the new gaming systems that I tried.

Shadowrun: Awesome genre. I loved the mesh between magic and technology. It was awesome to be in the middle of a gang war. The rolling mechanic was a little bit bulky with all the 6 siders, but it was not really a hindrance to the game. Bruce was a really good DM for this one. No minis were used; it was all old-school in your head combat. I played a car thief that had an awesome van with a mounted heavy machine gun. Yeah, we did a totally cool drive-by shooting and threw a captured orc gangbanger out of the speeding van.

Savage Worlds: This version of Savage Worlds was set in the 1930s. It was sort of an Indiana Jones/ Mummy type of setting. The DM (Mike?) was pretty good. He knew the game system and was able to add lots of flare to make the game believable. The game system was all exploding d6s. You only get 4 hits until you die, but you can use little story points as re-rolls to help you survive gun shots and crocodile attacks. I liked the exploding dice but I thought the system was a little bit bulky. We used little miniature paper cutouts and a little photocopied grid to roughly show the position of our guys for combat. Very cool genre, so-so game mechanics. I played Buck, a sexist, over-the-top man's man that led an expedition to the rain forest to snatch a gem from the natives.

Dresdin Files: I wish I could make a better judgment on this system, but the person running the game didn't really know what they were doing. Very disappointing. The genre was really cool, though. Vampires, undead, demons and that sort of thing running around the modern world. I played an emo-kid that wanted to turn into a white vampire that fed off of depression. At least it was fun to play an emo kid. I modeled the kid after the South Park goth kids. The DM used dice and a piece of paper to roughly position our pcs for combat. The system used a cool and very simple system for resolving combat: 1-2= fail, 3-4= nothing, 5-6= success. Successes cancel failures and viceversa. I need to play this game with an experienced GM to really get a better feel for it.

Eclipse Phase: This was the coolest game at the con. I loved the simple percentile dice system. I loved the genre, BIGTIME. I played a computer hacker that was working for a major corporation and got to hack elevators, security doors, cameras, and other high-tech thingys. I think I have found my new favorite role-playing game for space D&D. The DM was fantastic. No minis were used. This was all old-school in-your-mind combat. Cant's say enough good things about this game. Please go to to check this game out.

Legend of the Five Rings: I am a sucker for Asian themed games so this one was instantly appealing to me. The GM was really good at building intrigue and was really good at promoting role-playing by giving out pre-gens that had certain quirks and mandates. I played a samurai retainer that needed to protect another PC, was jealous of another PC, and despised other PCs. Role-playing in this event was a lot of fun. Combat in Lot5R is all 10 sided dice that explode. The exploding thing is really fun, but the system is really bulky. Hit points are complicated and counting up 9d10 with 7 players in the party made for very slow combat. Combat was all old-school in-your-mind. The DM was quite good, but sort of evil. We failed in our quest, and he put the blame of the failure squarely on the shoulders of on poor PC.

Playing these games over the weekend was really a terrific experience. I got to know a bunch of new people, and learn lots of new games. I also learned that I put way too much emphasis on tactics and miniature combat in my homegames. I love combat with the guys, but doing so much role-playing this weekend reminds me of the pleasures of role-playing, mystery solving and creative, critical thinking. I will surely be adding more of these elements to my home games.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Rippin' on Changeling: The Dreaming

Zack and Steve are back and ready to revisit the World of Darkness. Aww, Changeling: The Dreaming, how adorable.

Changeling: The Dreaming


Friday, September 02, 2011

Age of Treason campaign setting for MRQII/Legend

Mongoose recently terminated its license to produce RuneQuest and any related Gloranthan material. However, it is still quite happy with the MRQII rules and intends to continue supporting the game under the new brand Legend. The first product under the new branding (even the core rules aren't released yet) is Age of Treason - The Iron Simulacrum campaign setting. Age of Treason centers around the Taskan Empire, a collection of city-states with a decidedly Roman flavour. Ruled by a God-Emperor, who has been in seclusion for centuries and speaks to his court through a golem-like entity known as the Iron Simulacrum, the Taskan Empire is a potent and enlightened nation at the height of its power. This is in contrast with the frequent fantasy rpg trope of a campaign world living in the shadow of an ancient golden age. The golden age of the Taskan Empire is now. However, as with all great empires, the fall begins long before it becomes apparent to all. Rivals from beyond her borders grow more confident, while would-be rulers from within grow restless and the masses, comfortable in their prosperity, are none the wiser. It is up to the player characters to battle the treasonous forces that seek to undermine the Empire...or perhaps, join them.

Age of Treason introduces a few new rules to distinguish it from the standard MRQII ruleset. Most obviously, Common Magic is no longer available to everyone. This was always controversial anyway, being a feature of the Glorantha campaign setting that elicited strong feelings on both sides. My own feeling is that magic should be rare. When every blacksmith and barmaid knows a few minor spells, it creates a feeling of magic as being mundane and ordinary. So, I'm gladdened by this change. Common Magic doesn't exist as a discrete type of magic in the campaign setting, rather being mixed in with other sources of power and cultural factors. The other major types of magic from MRQII, namely Divine Magic, Spirit Magic and Sorcery are all present, however. Another important change is the addition of a new characteristic, Social Status (SOC), in keeping with a general emphasis on intrigue and social interaction prevalent in the setting.

While it is generally expected that most players will be citizens of the Empire, other races are possible. Interestingly, there are only humans in this world, but some are so different from the mainstream that they might as well be different species'. For example, there is a brutal race of barbarians called the Orcs of Kasperan who practice human sacrifice on a massive scale to appease their vile gods. Although technically human, their physical appearance and brutal behaviour are certainly congruent with D&D-style orcs.

Religion in the setting is complex and integral to every aspect of the campaign. By virtue of being a citizen of the Empire, everyone has a Pact with the Imperial cult. However, there are other gods which characters may also form into Pacts with and, indeed, any character wanting to use Divine Magic will have to do this as the Emperor has not achieved full divinity and cannot grant spells. In keeping with the RuneQuest tradition, there are all manner of mystery cults and funeral clubs to join. All worship is understood to be transactional. A character agrees to worship a particular god, granting power to that divine being, in exchange for some measure of favour in the present and protection in the afterlife.

It's all pretty cool stuff and a bit of a departure from the standard fantasy campaign setting fare. The book itself is 200 pages, hardcover with all black-and-white interior art and fairly striking cover art. It includes a 70 page mini-campaign to get you started and sells for about $40. For fans of MRQII, it's a pretty solid investment.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Phineas and Ferb

OK, this post has nothing to do with gaming. I have two small children and its a struggle to find TV for them that does not make my eyes bleed or brain rot. While on vacation and staying at the in-laws I had to find some new TV for the kids to zombify them and keep them from driving me insane.

Most of the shows were junk but I did stumble across Phineas and Ferb. Created by the same guys that created Rocco's Modern Life and wrote for the Family Guy, it works on multiple levels. I laugh at stuff all of the time and my oldest just looks at my and asks what was so funny.

Most episodes follow a similar plot. P&F are deciding what to do with a day of summer vacation and end up building something crazy. Their older sister Candace is constantly trying to "bust" them to their mother. The second plot involves the pet platypus Perry who happens to a secret agent. Each episode he has to go stop the evil doctor Doofenschmirtz from building his latest "inator". The battle always ends up destroying and removing any trace of whatever Phineas and Ferb built that day just before their mother shows up which makes Candace look crazy.

Most episodes have a short little song of a style matching the episodes theme. There are some great lines. Ones which stand out include "Karl, keep up the good work and you may make unpaid intern". "I was part of the resistance but I'm so good at resisting, I started resisting them."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My latest obsession - MRQII and Elric

Ever since I picked up RuneQuest II from Mongoose last year, I've been looking for a suitable setting for it. I finally found what I was looking for when I bought the Elric of Melniboné Core Rulebook last week. Although published last year, I never really felt compelled to give it a look until recently and I'm glad I did. Now I will confess, I've always found the Elric saga a bit of a hard slog. While not especially complicated plotwise, Moorcock's writing has, for me at least, always been easier to put down than to pick back up again. I have read all the books in the Elric saga, but it took years. Having said that, the setting of the series is impressive. Melniboné and the Young Kingdoms is quite possibly the most perfect campaign world possible for a dark fantasy rpg and Mongoose has done an admirable job of bringing it to life.

Not surprisingly, the book starts off with some 35 pages of history and geography of the Young Kingdoms. Though probably not necessary for most players, GMs will find some useful background in here for running a campaign. The second chapter deals with character generation. Human is the default race and many GMs may decide just to allow humans. However, rules are included for playing Melnibonéans, Half-Melnibonéans and several minor humanoid races from various time periods including a race of extinct giants called the Karasim, a winged race called the Myyrrhn and a primitive, dwarf-like race called the Pukwadji. In addition to the new races, new cultures are added to supplement the four already provided in MRQII, Civilised, Barbarian, Nomad and Primitive. The new cultures are Melnibonéan, Poor, Outlaw and Wanderer of the Time Streams. The first three are pretty self-explanatory, but for those who have not read a lot of Moorcock's stories, the last one might need some explanation. The world of Elric is just one of many in Moorcock's Multiverse, known as the Million Spheres. The worlds of the Million Spheres are connected to each other by several overriding concepts, such as the Eternal Champion, who is destined to fight for Balance in each world. Besides Elric, other manifestations of the Eternal Champion include Dorian Hawkmoon, Earl Aubec and Corum. Some characters, including Elric himself, have been able to transport themselves between worlds within the Million Spheres, while others do so unintentionally. Characters who shift from world to world are Time Stream Wanderers. Needless to say, such characters are a challenge for both players and GMs. Also included in this chapter are new skills, such as Dreamtheft, Rune Casting and Witch Sight. Most of these new skills relate to the unique magic systems in the game (see below).

After a brief chapter on currency and equipment, there is a discussion of metaphysics. The eternal conflict between Law and Chaos is central to Moorcock's stories. Powerful forces on both sides struggle through their mortal proxies to control the Multiverse, while the somewhat quieter force of Balance seeks to ensure neither comes to dominate. The Eternal Champion typically works toward greater Balance, although in the case of Elric, it is not his original intention. Next follows a section on magic. There is no Common Magic, but Sorcery and Spirit Magic do exist in the game. Two other types of magic, Dream Magic and Rune Magic are also introduced. Rune Magic is not unlike Sorcery except for the obvious addition of runic symbols during casting, but Dream Magic is quite different and rather unique to the Elric stories. There are two types of Dream Magic, Dreamtheft and DreamQuesting. The former involves the theft of someone else's dreams for the benefit of either the Dreamthief or a client. Stolen dreams can provide insight into the dreamer's personality and motivations, can aid in the solution of a dilemma into which the dreamer might have some insight or even allow the recipient of the stolen dream to improve a skill which the dreamer possessed. DreamQuesting, on the other hand, allows a dreamer to travel to alternate worlds or distant time periods to experience real events. It is a particularly popular pastime for Melnibonéans, which is why their capital city of Imrryr is known as the Dreaming City.

A large chapter on cults is next. Cults play a big role in the various versions of RuneQuest as a source of knowledge, both magical and mundane. Typically, every character will belong to a cult. The cults in the Elric of Melniboné Core Rulebook revolve around the various Lords described in the Elric saga. These include the Lords of Law and Chaos, the Elemental Lords and the Beast and Plant Lords. The book finishes with a chapter on monsters and prominent NPCs, another on tips for GMs and a final one on playing the game in other eras beyond that covered in the Elric saga. All-in-all, it's a pretty solid core book. It is well-written and, perhaps even more importantly, given Mongoose's track record, well-edited. The interior art is sparse and all black-and-white, but competent. If you like RuneQuest II and seek a campaign setting that doesn't have any Ducks, this may be just what you're looking for.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ultimate Combat, what's awesome?

Hot off the presses, I have my new copy of Ultimate Combat and I'm hungrily chewing through it. I won't go into a discussion of the Gunslinger class or the firearms rules since we have gone over those in some detail here, here, here and here. Suffice to say, the second version of the Gunslinger playtest is pretty much the final version. I'm also not going to talk about the Ninja and Samurai classes, since I simply have no interest in them. Instead, I'm going to pick out the juicy bits that immediately caught my eye and which make me want to use them in a future build.

I'm not a big fan of archetypes. It's not that I don't like the options they provide, it's just that they typically require replacing a superior class feature with a more specialized and, therefore, inferior one. So, for an archetype to pique my interest, it has to replace a class feature that doesn't impress me to begin with. Two archetypes fit the bill for me, the Crusader Cleric and the Spellbreaker Inquisitor. Not surprisingly, both archetypes come from classes that, in my opinion, need all the help they can get. The Crusader archetype allows a cleric to give up some spellcasting ability in exchange for additional feats, including feats such as Weapon Specialization and Greater Weapon Focus which are normally limited to Fighters. Even sweeter is the Spellbreaker archetype. I would never play an Inquisitor unless I was using this version. You give up Monster Lore (nice, but not awesome) as well as all those annoying teamwork feats and the Solo Tactics class feature in exchange for a bunch of saving throw bonuses against spells and the ability to make the DC for rolls to cast defensively higher for enemy spellcasters. As they say on the interwebs, it's full of win.

There are several awesome feats in the new list, but given there is a gigacrapload of feats in Ultimate Combat, It's not surprising. Here are a few of my favourites.
Hammer the Gap - great for piling up the damage at high levels, each hit as part of a full attack gets a damage bonus equal to the number of previous successful hits.
Dimensional Agility, Dimensional Assault and Dimensional Dervish - the Monk and the Magus will have great fun with this combination as it allows you to use dimension door or abundant step with far more tactical flexibility.
Clustered Shots - Oh come on now, total damage from full-round ranged attack added before DR is applied, because you know, archery really is underpowered in Pathfinder.
Pin Down - you get an AoO against an opponent attempting to withdraw or a 5-ft. step, if you hit, he takes no damage, but he can't move. No escape for you, little wizard.
Guided Hand - although it requires Channel Smite, not exactly the most must-have feat around, being able to replace your Str or Dex modifier with your Wis modifier on attacks with your deity's favoured weapon is worth it for clerics who already have to spend precious build points on both Wis and Cha.

That's it for now. I will have more to say as I digest more of this tome. I have to say, it appears, at first glance, to have much to offer.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Summer Reading

I am going on vacation next week. Not a vacation I am especially looking forward to although I'm sure it will have some enjoyable moments. I am expecting lots of down time when I am not chasing children trying to prevent their early demise. Since I will be computer free it will be a chance to catch on my reading. In the last few months I've reread the entire Song of Ice and Fire series. At long last the final book of the Wheel of Time series is out in April 2012 and I figure it will take at least 6-7 months to reread the entire series before I pick up the final book. I have until October or so until I begin that odyssey and so I have a few months to fill.

There are tons of influential books that I've never read so why not fill my vacation with them. I'll be reading them on my iPhone which is not the ideal media I'm quite used to it now and people can't snoop at my reading materials. First up is Elric. I started last night and I'm already over half way through Elric of Melnibone. It's a pretty easy read compared to Martin.

When I tire of Elric, Zelazny's Chronicle's of Amber will follow. Beyond that, I have no idea. Those two series alone could keep me going for a long time if I read them all.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Fantasy Flight Games gets Star Wars

So, the worst kept secret in the gaming world has at last been revealed, Fantasy Flight Games has acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Ever since WotC dropped the licensing rights and Mongoose rather oddly revealed that they didn't get the license but that another company did, speculation has been that the other player had to be FFG. No other company seemed to be big enough to afford it, except possibly Paizo and they never seemed to be a good fit for Star Wars.

Well at last, the cat is out of the bag and the first announcement of new product lines include both a tactical ship-to-ship minis game called X-Wing and the Star Wars: The Card Game ccg. Although there is no announcement of a tabletop rpg at this time, there is a suggestion that one is in the works.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Some declarations of my own

I'm not usually much for memes, but I can't resist any opportunity to inflict my opinions on the public at large (or at least the miniscule subset of it that actually reads this blog), so when Joseph Bloch and, later, Zachary Houghton posted about their personal gaming preferences, well, I felt compelled to join the fun. Please note that the following represents only my opinions, and does not necessarily reflect those of my fellow contributors (although they are welcome to add their own).

On game design:
I love "kewl". I know that as a 45-year old gamer who first started playing D&D in 1981 and has been continuously playing tabletop rpgs for three decades, I don't really fit the demographic profile of a new school gamer. But I am. I love to min/max, but I also love to play suboptimal characters just to see what I can get out of them. I am a powergamer. Character background, story arc, narrative, none of these things mean very much to me beyond providing a framework in which my character can develop. I don't care what is going on four kingdoms over and I don't care what happened 2000 years ago, unless that information is relevent to what my character is attempting to accomplish. It's a bit odd, since I am history buff, but I guess it's because I only care about real history. I like a lot of options for character design. I know a lot of old school types prefer to personalize their characters outside of the rules, but I want tangible game effects from the decisions I make. I want to know that choosing a two-handed sword over a longsword and shield will have some meaningful consequences.

I definitely fall into the simulationist camp when it comes to game design. Even though I have played some iteration of D&D for most of the last 30 years, I have always chafed under some of the more gamist aspects of the game. I've never liked AC, preferring something like the BRP system in which armour reduces damage, but not the chance to hit. I also don't really like the power curve of class-and-level games. No character should ever be so powerful as to be able to confidently take on an entire army. I prefer that players never be completely confident of the outcome of any fight. Even a lowly goblin should have at least a slight chance to seriously injure any PC with a lucky shot.

I am comfortable with Tolkienesque player races, but I'm also willing to entertain divergence from those templates as long as they're not too weird. Gloranthan elves and dwarves, for example, would certainly be "too weird". I don't care for subraces, however, unless they are radically different and only serve as evil alternatives to the PC races, such as drow or duergar.

On setting:
I'm a bit of a stickler for consistency in setting design. For example, I don't like Asian settings in general and I certainly don't like them freely intermingled with my pseudo-European medieval D&D setting. No knights and ninjas for me, thank you very much. I do like the inclusion of firearms of the appropriate technology level for a High Middle Ages European milieu, but I've never been satisfied with any of the efforts to incorporate them into D&D. It seems impossible to model the advantages of firearms using the D&D rules, without making bows completely obsolete, so they are inevitably underpowered and overpriced.

Oddly enough, my gaming history and my personal preferences on setting are, once again, at odds. I am a sci-fi guy. I'd prefer a rail gun and a powered exoskeleton over a longsword and a suit of chain mail any day. Yet, somehow I always end up slinging spells and swinging battleaxes. I guess fantasy is simply more conducive to my hack-and-slash style of gaming.

On pronouns and gender issues:
I always use the male pronoun. I find reading a game book that switches back and forth from male to female pronouns to be very distracting. I don't have any problem with female gamers, but my group is all-male and we like it that way (and so do our wives, I'm sure). Game night is boys night out. We don't have to suck in our guts or tighten our sphincters. Most importantly, we don't have to censor ourselves and worry that what we say might offend the ladies.

On politics and religion:
I am a Canadian conservative. That means I'm of a different breed from our friends on the right of the American political spectrum. It means, for example, that I believe religion is something best not discussed in polite company. I don't want to know how you did the nasty with your wife last night and likewise, I don't want to know how you scored with your personal savior on Sunday. Having said that, there are some similarities which have implications for my gaming experience. I despise moral relativism. Some things are just plain wrong and no amount of cultural sensitivity training is going to change my mind about that. This means the morality in my world may seem a tad Victorian to some. There are good guys and bad guys. Sure, there are some occasions of moral ambiguity, but inevitably, my heroes prevail, though the price of victory may be steep. It also means I don't really like playing in evil campaigns. That's not to say I haven't done so and I've been told by reliable sources that I can whip up a pretty awesome villain when situation demands, but it's always well outside of my comfort zone. I'm very pro-military and my games always have a healthy dose of righteous smackdown by the thin olive drab line. If I can find some way to stick a tank in there, mores the better (I know most guys are into fighter jets, but I'm a tank guy). I'm queasy about violence against women and children. Such violence exists in my campaigns, but I always prefer to leave the details to the imaginations of my players. Needless to say, any character, be it NPC or PC, will encounter swift and brutal judgement from the appropriate authority for perpetrating such violence. On the other hand, if a paladin wants to thrash some bad guy to within inches of his life, so be it. Men are expendable and evil men even more so. Waterboard the terrorists to your heart's content, boys.

On technology:
Whatever. Use it if you want as long as it doesn't grind things to a halt. In our group, we have a mix of technophiles and technophobes (ok, that last category is mainly just me) and it seems to work fine. There are laptops and iPads operating cheek-and-jowl alongside dice and pencils with no problems. Of course, no one has spilled a bottle of Dr. Pepper on someone's keyboard yet.


Cowboys and Aliens would make a great game

I went to see Cowboys and Aliens last night. It was excellent. For older nerds like me who find the screen-filling CGI, eye-searing lens flares and nausea-inducing jerky camera effects of today's sci-fi movies to be a bit too much sensory overload, Cowboys and Aliens is a nice change. That's not to say this isn't a F/X-heavy film, but it isn't the visual assault and battery that most big budget sci-fi movies are these days. I won't reveal any spoilers, because there are some genuine surprises in this film, but I will say the acting was pretty good. Daniel Craig was excellent and Harrison Ford was decent in an unconventional role for him. While not exactly a villain, his character certainly was a nasty piece of work.

I kept thinking, as I watched, how cool this would be as a game setting. There were great character types, such as the gun-totin' preacher man (played by Clancy Brown), the ruthless, wealthy rancher who owns the town (played by Harrison Ford) and the honest sheriff who has to walk a fine line (played by Keith Carradine).

The best part of the film is that there aren't any obvious dumb plot devices. The aliens are tough SOBs and the relatively primitive technology of the humans is no match for them. The only effective weapons the humans have are the aliens' own arrogance and a bit of stolen alien technology.

Also, since the aliens land in the American southwest, you know they didn't come for the water. Go see it. You won't be disappointed, unless you need a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich special-effects explosion to feel truly alive.


Monday, August 01, 2011

Pathfinder Minis

I was a bit late to the mini game. I have a bunch of reaper minis I painted myself but I own zero monsters. It seems that Paizo has started their own mini line. The first big set will be available at Christmas with a Rise of the Runlords set out next summer (which also suggests that they'll be reprinting RotR for Pathfinder).

I'll probably pick up a case for Christmas. Buy it from Paizo and they throw in a free huge black dragon which looks pretty damn cool.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weird War II monster factory 3

The "Widowmaker" demon is the most powerful of the common extradimensionals and the only one to demonstrate any significant intelligence. Though apparently unable to direct the actions of the lesser abominations, widowmakers are able to use the natural instincts of these monsters to their own advantage. They will use the extremely aggressive racknees and devil dogs as cannon fodder before moving in to mop up any survivors. Besides their enormous ripping claws, the most terrifying aspect of the widowmaker is its mind blast attack, which can render several foes helpless before the demon moves in to rend its victims limb from limb.

STR 5D6+9 (ave. 26-27)
CON 3D6+6 (ave. 16-17)
SIZ 5D6+9 (ave. 26-27)
INT 2D6+6 (ave. 13)
POW 3D6+3 (ave. 13-14)
DEX 2D6+3 (ave. 10)
APP 1D6 (ave. 3-4)
Move: 8 Hit points: 21-22 Damage bonus: +2D6
Armour: 4 pt carapace
Attacks: Claw 50% 1D10+db (bleeding)
Skills: Dodge 30%, Hide 30%, Jump 20%, Listen 35%, Sense 50%, Spot 35%, Stealth 20%, Track 30%
Powers: Super Sense (Infrared Vision) 2, Mind Blast


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weird War II monster factory 2

Devil Dogs are the second most common of the dimensional horrors, after racknees. The size of a riding horse, but with the ferocity of a badger, devil dogs are a nightmare of fangs and claws. They are not as fast as racknees, so they often fall upon victims already crippled by the smaller, faster abominations that precede them. Otherwise, they use their greater strength to hunt prey which has managed to find some protection from racknees, such has locking themselves in a car or room.

STR 4D6+3 (ave. 17)
CON 3D6 (ave. 10-11)
SIZ 3D6+6 (ave. 16-17)
POW 2D6 (ave. 7)
DEX 2D6+6 (ave. 13)
APP 1D6 (ave. 3-4)
Move: 10 Hit points: 13-14 Damage bonus: +1D6
Armour: 2 pt hide
Attacks: Bite 50% 1D8+db (bleeding)
Skills: Dodge 40%, Hide 30%, Jump 50%, Listen 35%, Sense 50%, Spot 35%, Stealth 40%, Track 50%
Powers: Super Sense (Infrared Vision) 2


Weird War II monster factory 1

This new series of posts will reveal new monsters created for my "Tommies at the Gates of Hell" Weird War II campaign for BRP. Only monsters that have already appeared in the campaign, now into its third session, will be presented.

Though details are sketchy at this point, it is clear that Nazi scientists have released some kind of monster apocalypse upon the war-ravaged European continent. The carnage has been horrific. The Allies are in full retreat, leaving civilians behind to face an onslaught of horrors from some alien dimension. Whole nations have been depopulated, including Germany itself.

Small pockets of survivors struggle daily against the waves of alien abominations that sweep across the land, including a small group of British soldiers and Belgian civilians near the city of Rochfort. This is where the story begins.

The Horrors:

Racknees are six-legged arachnoids the size of large dogs, but with the speed of a race horse. Though not displaying any discernible intelligence, racknees are exceedingly cruel. They rarely kill their prey immediately, preferring instead to take one or two large bites from the victim's legs or flanks and then moving on, leaving the wounded person or animal to bleed out.

STR 2D6+6 (ave. 13)
CON 3D6 (ave. 10-11)
SIZ 1D6+3 (ave. 6-7)
POW 2D6 (ave. 7)
DEX 3D6+6 (ave. 16-17)
APP 1D6 (ave. 3-4)
Move: 12 Hit points:8-9 Damage bonus: none
Armour: 2 pt carapace
Attacks: Bite 50% 1D10+db (bleeding)
Skills: Dodge 50%, Hide 40%, Jump 50%, Listen 35%, Sense 50%, Spot 35%, Stealth 40%, Track 30%
Powers: Super Sense (Infrared Vision) 2


Rippin' on...World of Darkness

Zack and Steve are back. I've never heard of this particular White Wolf offering, but I never was a WoD fan anyway.

Mummy: The Resurrection


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ultimate Combat Cometh!

This is the time of year I probably hate most as a gamer. All of the good stuff is getting released at GenCon and there are sneak previews all over the internet.

Last year it was Paizo's Advanced Player's Guide that had me all worked up and this year its Ultimate Combat. Ultimate magic came out in the Spring and it was good but wasn't stuffed full of awesomeness as I had hoped. Some of the previews already have me drooling. It looks like they are making monks awesome and throwing lots of bones to most of the other melee type classes.

Of course even after I have it in my hands, I'll have ideas for dozen of awesome characters. Although, as I will be DMing next, I could slide them in and throw them at the players...

Friday, July 22, 2011

What is the future of manned space exploration?

With the end of the Space Shuttle program and no new generation of manned space vehicle on the horizon for the United States, those of us who care about the future are naturally concerned. Sure, the Russians have their Soyuz program and the Chinese seem to have every intention of being the second country to put a man on the Moon, but without the Americans in the game, it seems the exploration and eventual colonization of the Solar System is becoming ever more the realm of science fiction. I have heard some suggest the future of American manned space exploration is actually better off without NASA. They believe private companies like SpaceX can do it for less money. I don't doubt that private enterprise can handle routine low Earth orbit operations such as launching satellites or shuttling personnel to the International Space Station, but are we ever going to see a manned mission to Mars, for example, from a private company? I seriously doubt it. Where is the profit in it? There's little evidence to suggest there are any resources of value to us on Mars, at least in the short term. No question, the resources of the Solar System are vast. One can imagine limitless solar energy or asteroid mining for all the raw materials the human race would need for the next ten thousand years, but these are extremely long-term efforts. Most financiers don't want to invest in projects that won't see a return for centuries. So what is the future of manned space exploration? I see three scenarios.

One, we let the Chinese do the heavy lifting for awhile. In other words, we do nothing. It's definitely the path of least resistance and there is no law of the universe that says the future belongs to English-speaking peoples. Maybe the first space colonists will speak Mandarin.

Two, we get NASA back in the game. This is certainly a possibility, especially if the Americans get shocked by the successful launch of a manned Chinese lunar mission. It seems to be a question of timing and the current American debt crisis. Will the Americans pull themselves out of their malaise in time to get their space program back on track before the Chinese get too far ahead? It's hard to say, but in my experience, it's never a good idea to bet against the Americans.

Three, turn space exploration into a non-profit, charitable endeavor. Wait...what? Admittedly, this is an unconventional idea, but I think there are a lot of people who would like to contribute to space exploration. First, there are private individuals. Millions of Americans (and Canadians) who dream about our future in space might be willing to make small tax-deductible donations to a manned space program. Even more importantly, big investors could benefit from tax incentives as well in order to get access to the billions of dollars required for manned space flight. I envision a manned mission to Mars involving some input from NASA, private companies like SpaceX and non-profit space exploration organizations working together. If we don't want to see the future of the human race shaped by the regressive, totalitarian regime in Beijing, this may be the only way.



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yay! More RuneQuest

As mentioned previously, Mongoose has unburdened itself of RuneQuest and Glorantha, but will continue to publish its MRQII rules in a new game called Legend. Now, two of the game designers that worked on MRQII have started their own company and negotiated the rights to RuneQuest from Issaries and will release a new edition, RuneQuest 6, next year. This will make four major tabletop rpgs in print, Basic RolePlaying, Call of Cthulhu, Legend and RuneQuest 6 based on the BRP game engine. Does this represent a renaissance for the venerable system? My guess is probably not. I don't get the sense that a gritty and realistic game like BRP appeals to the younger gamer looking for the anime-inspired hyperpowerful characters wielding ridiculously oversized weapons. Still, it seems the game has endured and continues to attract a following. I just hope they don't oversaturate the market.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Rippin' on D&D 3.5 monsters

Zack and Steve really reached out for an odd one this time, the Monster Manual IV. Dragonspawn, oh the horror!

Monster Manual IV


Paizo Ascendant

The Paizosphere is all abuzz about this forum posting. The big boss lady at Paizo is certainly a source of some authority, so it's taken as at least somewhat credible. A few blogs have taken up the discussion, noticing, among other things, that Pathfinder occupies the top 2 spots on the fantasy gaming bestsellers list at Well, the domination is even more pronounced here in Canada. The fantasy gaming list has Pathfinder holding down the top 5 spots and 6 of the top 8, with no WotC product appearing until the 9th spot. Now, as others have noted, these numbers may be deceiving. WotC has been moving toward a different business model recently, with a greater emphasis on online, subscription-based gaming. It seems clear, however, that as far as traditional tabletop role-playing is concerned, the type of gaming in which a group of friends gather around a table to drink Mountain Dew (or, in my case, Coke Zero) and throw dice, increasingly, the game of choice is Pathfinder (especially in Canada).


Monday, July 04, 2011

Michael Bay - I just can't quit you

So I went to see Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon 3D over the weekend. I've seen every one of the movies in the series despite having absolutely no attachment to the franchise at all. I was too old to embrace the Transformers when they were first introduced and, quite honestly, I find the idea of hyper-advanced robots that transform into pickup trucks and tapedecks to be ridiculous. Yet, despite the mountain of criticism directed at him from many quarters and the lack of quality material to work with from either the source material or his actors, Michael Bay does one thing better than anyone in the business. He knows how to direct a kick-ass action sequence. If you can endure the interminable sections of the film in which Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebeouf) bemoans his miserable life (despite being on his second supermodel girlfriend), the payoff is well worth it, as the climactic battle sequence for the salvation of the human race is simply awesome. Disengage your brain and enjoy the eye candy.


New Pathfinder books announced

Not surprisingly, the next hardcover Pathfinder rulebook to be released after Ultimate Combat will be another bestiary. More interesting is what Paizo just announced will follow, the Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide. I am particularly stoked about the inclusion of monster races as PCs. Complete rules for playing drow, tieflings, goblins, etc. will be a much needed addition to the game. Too bad it's ten months away.



I am constantly building characters examining the classes trying to figure out what does and doesn't work. To speed the character building process I've found a number of spread sheets that do most of the work for me. They are never perfect and I always have make manual adjustments for things they are not equipped to handle. It would be nice if I could find a product that could do everything.

HeroLab is a pretty good product. I bought the base package for $30 and then the APG and Ultimate Combat for $10 each. It has lots of cool features but the thing I'm most impressed with so far is how well it handles archetypes. There are a bunch of features I haven't really played with yet. It could be a great GM tool if all of the encounters were preplanned in the software with all the NPCs and monsters loaded. The tactical display can monitor initiative, any status effects in play, give you a quick view of spells available, hit bonuses and damage, and even has a complicated dice roller. I mean if you fully loaded the software with everything you need, you could easily use it to run every combat. I would probably track hit points separately, and you have to look up the details for some spells but for the most part it does it all.

When I assume the DM mantle I'm strongly considering loading all the monsters and NPCs into HeroLab and see how well it works. Last time I was DM, I had a small stack of notes and character sheets that proved a bit tricky to manage. It could prove very helpful. I'd have to buy the two Bestiary add-ins first. Maybe next paycheck.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cthulhu's ongoing war against CthulhuTech

Few games in recent memory have had to overcome more hurdles than Wildfire's CthulhuTech. Originally published by Mongoose, that relationship ended very quickly. It was soon followed up by Catalyst Game Labs, which published the bulk of the game books until an allegation of financial wrongdoing on the part of one of CGL's owners forced Wildfire to seek out yet another publisher. That new publisher is Sandstorm. It seems, however, that the ongoing financial malaise (and the obvious ire of Great Cthulhu) is about to claim another victim. There is growing speculation on the interwebs that Sandstorm and/or CthulhuTech may be coming to the end of the road. These developments have further implications for other games as well. Although it could be argued that CthulhuTech was reaching the end of its cycle anyway with all the books that had been planned already published or in the pipeline, Wildfire's new game, The Void (aka, The Game Formerly known as Chthonian Stars) is just getting started. Will it, like CthulhuTech soon find itself orphaned (again, it was also originally going to be a Mongoose release) and looking for a new publisher? And what about Posthuman Studios and their game, Eclipse Phase, which is also published by Sandstorm? It seems to be a very bad time to be in the business of publishing tabletop rpgs with high production values that are not part of the D&D legacy. It may be that the only way for small publishers to stay afloat these days is to limit themselves to pdf and POD sales.


Update: Forget speculation, here is confirmation. At least it appears The Void will see the light of day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Comments - Old posts.

I was poking around the blog today taking a peak at our most viewed posts and I saw Derobane's post about building monks was near the top. I didn't recall what the post was about so I took a look. There were a ton of comments (ok, half a dozen) I didn't recall ever having read. At least some of them we added very much after the fact since they refer to the APG which wasn't released until 6 months later.

Is there anyway in Blogger to see what new comments are being added? It makes me wonder how many other old posts are being commented on, and I (perhaps we) have no idea.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Free RPG day!

Is June 18th this year so make sure you get down to your FLGS and check it out. I'm hoping to pick up the new Paizo goblin adventure released this year.

My apologies to the Barbarian

A few posts back I ranked the different pathfinder classes and I placed the barbarian below the fighter. I've spent some time over the last couple days messing around with barbarian builds and really looking at the powers and realized that I've made a mistake. When you try to build a barbarian like a fighter, the fighter will always be better. If you build a barbarian around some key Rage powers, you get a terrifying beast that makes a fighter quiver with fear.

If you just look at the numbers the fighter is better. He hits more often for more damage and has those nifty crit feats. But if you put your optimization hat on you can see how the ole barb can surpass his rival. Let's start with the beast totem line of rage powers. Claws are a great back up weapon, by level 16 you've got a +5 natural armor bonus making your AC better then the equivalent fighter, and at level 10 you get Pounce allowing a full attack after a charge. With the Lunge and combat reflexes feats, the Come and Get Me rage power, and Enlarged the barbarian can make Attacks of Opportunity against anyone that either moves or attacks him within 15'. Against the fighter, the barbarian would reply with 4 attacks of opportunity and then do his own full attack. With a good enough Dex, a barbarian could do over 10 attacks per round most of them AoOs at full BAB.

Superstition gives him an awesome will save (with a big caveat), Reckless Abandon allows him to hit as well as a fighter, and Witch Hunter give a damage bonus against anyone with spells/spell-like powers. The Invulnerable Rager archetype trades uncanny dodge and trap sense for much better DR which really helps a build like this.

This barbarian will need lots of healing available because he is going to take tons of hits but the devastation he can unleash exceeds even what an archer can do.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

More on Mongoose, MRQII and Wayfarer

As I posted previously, Mongoose has not renewed its license to publish RuneQuest and the Glorantha campaign setting. It will, however, continue to publish the core rules in a new format, originally called Wayfarer. However, there is a game called Wayfarers and by a strange twist of fate, the company that produces it has approached Mongoose about a publishing arrangement. Mongoose has agreed (beware of referer spam page) and has also decided to rename its new RQ clone Legend. Since I already have MRQII and Legend is supposed to be virtually identical to MRQII with the Glorantha-specific material removed, these developments would not normally be of much interest. However, Mongoose has decided to make Legend OGL. This is awesome, or it would be, except for the little caveat that there will be no SRD. Yeah, that's right. You can freely use anything from Legends in your publications, but you have to have the book. So, to Mongoose, from the handful of gamers out there that don't publish their own work (i.e. 99.9% of us), thanks for thinking of us.


Sunday, June 05, 2011

All Hail the King!

The volley flew true and Nyrrissa, unable to escape, felt the arrows pierce her body. There had been no escape to heal herself this time after being anchored to this dimension.

She felt the insane rage drain from her soul as the last of her life blood leaked away. Halak the ranger lowered his bow and flexed his stiff fingers. The Archon hovering behind him was the only thing shielding him from Nyrrissa's mental control. He thought her saw the cursed Nymph smile at him as the life and magic faded from her and she began to fall into the frozen river below.

Lung the barbarian reached out and grabbed her and carried her over to the cliff, his body still riddled with Halak's arrows. Peskar, the arcane trickster, followed, shifting back to his natural form. Merissa the summoner, collapsed on the cliff edge. The insane nymph had nearly disintegrated her in the battle's dying moments. The cleric followed the pack to the cliff and began patching everyone up.

Our kingdom is safe again (for now). The evil fey who had been manipulating things behind the scenes for years had finally been brought down. It had been a rough battle. The key to defeating her was the sword Briar but its wielder, Lung, had been banished via Maze as the battle began and had only managed to return at the tail end of the fight. The rest of us had been trying to strip her of her defenses which had made her near invulnerable. Halak was the only one that had any significant chance of hurting her so we had to keep him alive (and not dominated). In the end we managed to eak out a victory.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Rippin' on LotFP

Congrats to James Edward Raggi IV and the OSR. Zack and Steve have noticed you. You have arrived.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Role-playing vs. roll-playing in Pathfinder

As our group eagerly anticipates this weekend's finale to our long-running and highly-enjoyable Kingmaker campaign (thanks, Tayloritos!), I find my gaming style has changed dramatically from what it was perhaps 5 or 10 years ago. I don't know if it is late-onset ADD, but last week as we battled hordes of minions in our quest to lay a beatdown on the evil fey queen, I came to the conclusion that a part of me was subconsciously hoping my current character would bite it. "Why?", you may ask. "Do you not like your character?" On the contrary, Pesker, the Arcane Trickster, is actually quite awesome. Though not a heavy hitter in the party, our barbarian, our ranger and our summoner's eidolon are far more impressive at that. He is, however, supernaturally stealthy and often waltzes through combats without a scratch. He's also quite versatile, having potent spellcasting and skills to draw from.

So, what's the problem?

The new hotness has worn off....after four sessions! Yeah, this isn't even the guy I started with. My original character is Dakros the First, Priest-King of Drekmore. Once the kingdom was well-established, it became clear to me that King Dakros would not continue to wander about the hinterland, risking his neck. He needed to rule his kingdom and lead his armies. So, I retired him from adventuring and created Pesker to serve as the King's Man and deal with the dangers that threaten from beyond the temporal borders of the realm. I've learned a lot from the short time of playing Pesker. Having never played an arcane trickster (magic-user/thief in old-school parlance) in either D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, I never had a good feeling for how to get the most synergy out of the combination. I see now that while rogues are pretty weak in Pathfinder, combining them with arcane spellcasting can make them pretty solid, especially using the Arcane Trickster PrC.

Anyway, getting back to the point of this post, it makes no sense that I should develop so little attachment to my character, that I am already looking at a replacement. I remember in my teenaged years playing the same character for years and being deeply invested emotionally in their survival. I even remember playing a dwarven fighter for months after he had hit his racial maximum and could not advance any further in levels. I can't even conceive of doing that now. Strangely, it seems my 15-year old self had a longer attention span than my 45-year old self. Or is it the nature of game today that encourages players to invest more in the "build" than the character itself? How do we get back to the "character-as-alter-ego" concept that tabletop rpgs are based on as opposed to playing a package of stats more akin to a boardgame or computer game? Would we even want to? Do any of you guys see this same trend or is it just me?