Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Why Middle Earth has been working for me

Since the beginning of summer I been running a Middle Earth Campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle Earth. My friend Tim's blog post reminded me that I haven't blogged on the campaign in a while.

One of the initial reason I was attracted to Dungeons and Dragon in the late 70s was due to my love of not only Lord of the Rings but the history that was revealed in the Return of the King appendices.

DnD offered me a way to take that love and actually turn into something more concrete than scribbles on a paper. Because Tolkien's history described realms rising and falling, naturally I was open for the players to do the same. Leading to me to be the referee that let players "trash" his campaigns.

The disappointment of Iron Crown MERP
As the hobby and industry expanded I looked for material to help me with this. I found it easier to use things that were grounded in the medieval side of fantasy. Then layered the level of magic I liked on top of it, Harn and Ars Magica I found particularly useful.

During this time Iron Crown published their Middle Earth Roleplaying System or MERPS. I really wanted to like this RPG and their supplements but they paled compared to the quality of Harn, Ars Magica, and Pendragon material I had. Everything except for Pete Fenlon's maps which were great.

The main problem with the game and supplement is that they didn't feel very Middle Earth to me. Yeah they had the names, characters, and locales but they lacked that spark that Tolkien infused the books with.


Over the years I collected two dozen MERPS books which remained unused until I gave them to a friend who really like the game and Middle Earth in the early 2000s.

During that time Decipher released the The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Then Cubicle 7 released The One Ring RPG. I looked at both and felt they were more interested in having the referee tell Middle Earth stories to his players rather than helping the referee bring Middle Earth to life as a place for the players to experience.

I know a subtle point but to me the distinction is important. When I referee I am not into telling my stories. My goal is to bring a setting to life so that the players felt they actually visited another place and did interesting things that were fun.

Adventures in Middle Earth
Then came along Adventures in Middle Earth also by Cubicle 7. I wrote a review of the first book in this post. Because it was rested on the foundation of DnD 5e, I knew that there was a limit to the amount narrative mechanics it could have. After reading it, I was intrigued because of how they reworked the classes, eliminated DnD style spell,  and turned feats into virtues More than just a Middle Earth RPG, it was a very much a low fantasy RPG using the mechanics of DnD. And completely avoids the issues I had with MERPS which to me always felt like DnDish fantasy, routed through Rolemaster, dressed in a thin Middle Earth outfit.

So I wanted to run it to see how it played, and so started a campaign. I started buying the supplements. It is in the supplements that Cubicle 7 kills it. It doesn't matter if it is the AiME version or the ToR version they make killer supplements for ANY Middle Earth campaign. And the stats are presented with light enough touch that they are easily adapted to your RPG of choice.

And their initial focus on setting the RPG in Wilderlands is brilliant. In the Return of the King appendices we know shit went down in the Wilderlands, both Dale and Erebor were attacked by the forces of Sauron. We get a paragraph of details and that it.

This means that a Middle Earth campaign can be set during the time period of the Lord of the Rings where the players are truly the heroes that matter. The members of Fellowship of the Ring may have ultimately ended Sauron and the war but dozens of other locales has their own struggles and victories. To be specific the various ToR and AiME products are all set between the Battle of Five Armies and the beginning of the Lord of the Rings novels.

The actual supplements are some the best adventures and campaign guides I seen outside of Harn, Pendragon, and Ars Magica. They range from regional supplements, books of adventures, to a pendragon style grand campaign spanning decades. And when they expanded to other reasons like Rivendell, Rohan, and Bree, the authors done a great job of opening enough of a crack that what the players do matter but still make the events of the novels plausible. For example Rohan regional supplements (Horse Lord of Rohan) and the associated adventure book (Oaths of the Riddermark) all focus on helping Thengel, the father of Theoden, the King of Rohan from the novels.

Next up is a Moria boxed set which I can't wait to see. It been a while since I bought into a RPG line wholesale and Cublicle 7 has earned my dollar.

The Campaign
I will blog more about what I am doing in my AiME campaign but I want to point out one thing. The biggest difference I am noticing is the pacing of in-game time. At first the alternating cycle of fellowship phase and adventure phase seemed seem too much like a straight jacket akin to the metagaming mechanics that other games use to in a vain attempt to create a "narrative" in the campaign.

But then I found it makes for a great way of abstracting the downtime between adventures. I am always a fan of what most hobbyists call down time activities. For example in my Majestic Wilderlands Thursday campaign  one player is always using the magic item creation rules, while another is busy lining up trade deals.

What make AiME fellowship rules nice that they are not all meat and potatoes activities (trade, crafting, training, etc). About half of them are what I call pure roleplaying focused on interacting with NPCs. Here is a partial list.

  • Gain a Cultural Virtue
  • Gain an Open Virtue
  • Gain New Trait
  • Heal Corruption
  • Influence Patron
  • Meet Patron
  • Receive Title
  • Open Sanctuary
  • Recovery
  • Research Lore
  • Secure a Supply of Herbs
  • Tend to Holding
  • Training

Added to this are version regional undertaking. For example a couple of sessions back the PCs made friends with a group of Woodsmen living next to the Old Ford across the Anduin. That settlement has a special undertaking called Guard the Old Ford. Which offer the possibility of earning a bit of rare coin from the tolls levied on travelers.

Wrapping it Up
Again I am having a great time and now that I have several months under my belt I will be posting on some of the interesting things I learning running a Middle Earth campaign.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The many maps of the City State of the Invincible Overlord

Sales of the City State of the Invincible Overlord color map has been good, with 100 copies sold so far. I ordered another copy of the map for myself to see what it would take to assemble into a single map.

I started by dabbing some two way glue on the overlapping areas. Once it turns clear it act like sticky tape. I can carefully pull apart the two maps and adjust the alignment. Once I got it right. Then I use clear packing tape make a solid join. After I got all four maps together and taped I took it to Staples and got the map laminated.  I was happy with the result but look forward to the day RPGNow gets posters added to the paper sizes they support for print on demand.

While doing this, I was reminded of how many times I dealt with different version of the CSIO Map.

So I pulled them all out and took pictures with my lovely wife Kelly Anne.


The one on the right is the color map joined together and laminated. The one in the center is the original map I got in 1980. As you see the color map is slightly longer but the same width. The one on the left is the map for the Necromancer Games version of City State. I didn't draw that one but did proof it for the cartographer.


The above is a photocopy of the original no name city map drawn by Bob Bledsaw. I used to double check the original printing. The offset printing process required the original handdrawn map to be photographed to the paper size which causes a small loss of detail.


Around 1986 my CSIO map was getting worn as you can see in the first photo. And the setting was developing into the Majestic Wilderlands. I was studying for a geography minor so had access to light table and a set of technical pens and rules I had to buy for class. So I put the original map on a light table, a piece of vellum on top and proceeded to draw. 

Here a closeup of that map


Then around 1993 I bought a copy of CorelDRAW 4 as well had access to a HP 12" by 12" drawing tablet. When I drew the hand drawn map, I drew just the ink line (walls, buildings, shorelines). Had it photocopied on a blueprint copier and then added the color detail. 

I still had the master I photocopied off so I had it reduced to to fit the table and used it make a rough sketch of where everything was located. Then built the map up layer by layer to the below result. 


This was my first major map drawn using CorelDRAW. Which after much practice led to the below.


At some point I will modify the Majestic Wilderlands version of CSIO to this style. 

Hope you enjoyed this. Those of you attending Gary Con (and later North Texas Con) will be able to purchase the maps at the convention from Jon Hershberger and the Black Blade Publishing crew. In addition to the map themselves I am sending the following cover sheet to use in the packaging.



Monday, January 8, 2018

OBS Community Content Program is terrible (with one exception).

While I talked about the issue of One Bookshelf's Community Content before, +James Raggi's reminded me to that people still are largely unaware of what going on.

A few years ago Wizards and One Bookshelf (DrivethruRPG and RPGNow) got together and created a community content program that on the surface offered the following deal

We will allow you

  • To use anything from Forgotten Realms 
  • The published DnD 5e Book 
  • Use any content posted to this program including templates and art.

Provided that

  • You give additional 20% cut of the revenue over what you would get for an OBS listed product.
  • that you can only post the content you create for this on this site, 
  • that the only rules you use are DnD 5th edition
  • that the only setting used is Forgotten Realms
  • That you adhere to some content guidelines.

Now most folks zeroed in on the additional 20% cut. But I never cared about that. If I really wanted to release a Forgotten Realms products for profit my chances of securing a license from Wizards was effectively zero. So the cut seem reasonable especially I don't have to go through any lengthy approval process.

But there is a huge downside that really kills this for anything but a very narrow range of products.

From the license you agree to when posting a work to the DM's Guild or any other community content program.

5. Rights You Grant to OBS
(a) No Reversion. Due to our licensing arrangement with the Owner and the collaborative nature of the Program, you are granting us broad licenses in your Work and your User Generated Content included in your Work, and the rights to your Work will not be reverted once it is published in the Program. You will have the ability through online tools at OBS websites to stop public display and sale of your Work on OBS marketplaces, but not to stop the sale of works of other authors in the Program even when such works use your User Generated Content that you originally created in your Work and thereby became part of the Program IP for other authors to use.
(b) Exclusive License to your Work. Effective as of the date you setup your Work through the Program on OBS’s website, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to develop,
license, reproduce, print, publish, distribute, translate, display, publicly perform and transmit your Work, in whole and in part, in each country in the world, in all languages and formats, and by all means now known or later developed, and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.
(c) Exclusive License to all User Generated Content in your Work. Effective as of the date we first make your Work available through the Program, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to all User Generated Content included in your Work. You agree that the User Generated Content is available for unrestricted use by us without any additional compensation, notification or attribution, including that we may allow other Program authors, the Owner and other third parties to use the User Generated Content.
So pretty scary right? But I still think it fair for something based on another person's IP but then this one phrase.
and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.
This in conjunction with the use of Exclusive license kills the use of Community Content for any original settings or content. If I had released Scourge of the Demon Wolf on the DM' Guild first, by the terms of this I couldn't prepare a Swords and Wizardry version with different art, layout, and trade dress. Because that would be a derivative work of the 5e release.

Granted I am not sure what would happen if I did the reverse. Release the Swords and Wizardry version first and then the 5e version on the DM's Guild. Likely I would just kicked off and the product listing dropped. Anyway by that point you need the advice of a IP attorney anyway.

The prudent course is to avoid the use of any Community Content unless your work only makes sense for what they offer.

The One Exception.

The Community Content program vary in what they share. Broadly they all offer access to a set of rules. Some also have setting. The one expection is if you want to write something for a setting. For example if you want to write something for the Third Imperium then the TAS program will work for that. Unless you know Marc Miller well enough to secure your own 3PP license for the Third Imperium or get a work approved at Mongoose or another 3PP licensee this is the way to go get Third Imperium material published. The same for the DM's Guild and Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft.

Some, like Cortex Plus are rules only. My view that these are bad deals taking advantage of their fanbase.

Conclusion
As mentioned in my previous post on the topic, the problem is bad enough that for the first time the Traveller 3PP community felt the need to make the first Traveller retro-clone, Cepheus. Unfortunately fans of Cypher, Cortex and other don't have that option. My opinion is that OBS and the publishers are unjustly enriching themselves for the community content programs that only offer access to rules. That the no derivative content clause is predatory especially for novice authors and that publishers and OBS should be ashamed for including it.