Monday, July 16, 2018

The Perfect Storm

So the complications are stacking up in my friend Dwayne's Middle Earth campaign using his 3d6 house system.

At one particularly dramatic moment a NPC received shocking information from a PC. I quipped "You should roll percentile and if a 1 come up the guy has a heart attack".

Dwayne rolled a 1.

The NPC died of a massive heart attack right then and there.


Friday, July 13, 2018

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy and the Hall of Judgment

The latest from Douglas Code is a kickstarter for an adventure for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy called the Hall of Judgment. It is an adaptation and revision of his earlier adventure Lost Hall of Tyr for the GURPS system. It is noteworthy because in part it is an experiment by SJ Games to see how 3rd party publisher support will be received by the fans of GURPS and how it will work out in the long run.

So far the kickstarter has been a success and it is now in it's last 24 hours. If you are a fan of GURPS and fantasy I recommend checking it out. Doug has a passion for Viking myth and legend and it shows in his previous works giving them a distinct feel. He knows GURPS inside and out and the mechanics side of the adventure will be solid. Finally he mastered the tricky art of making full color layouts and his books are a treat to read.




Thursday, June 28, 2018

It goes where? An idea seed for a science fiction campaign.

In the late 21st century, humanity has a tentative foothold within the solar system. There are thousands of humans living off planet scattered throughout the Earth-Moon system and a few transitory outposts on Mars and various near earth asteroids.

On July 6th 2089, observatories and astronomical satellites start tracking a high energy source inbound into the Solar system. Within 5 years it was clear that it was decelerating and would soon enter solar orbit. Over a dozen probes were developed and launched. Finally in 2098, the object entered into a solar orbit between Neptune and Uranus and ceased emitting energy. What remained was a small localized area where gravity was distorted. Barely detectable as stars and planets moved behind the object and then suddenly shifted back to their normal position once they emerged from behind.

The first probes reached the object in May of 2101, what they detected amazed everybody, it was a mechanism of alien manufacture creating an opening to a stable Rosen-Einstein bridge or wormhole several hundred meters in diameter. Upon further investigation the first transit was attempted and when the probe return and its data was analyzed the results were electrifying. It was not just a bridge through space but time as well.

The other end of the wormhole was in the orbit around Earth, Earth of 65 million years ago.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Recommendations for the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy

On a forum I was asked for a list of what original Judges Guild supplements were useful for a Wilderlands campaign. So I made a list along with my recommendations.  I may have missed one or two.

You can read the details on each of these at the Acaeum's excellent reference site.

The City States
City State of the Invincible Overlord
City State of the World Emperor (includes Map 6)
Modron
Tarantis

The Wilderlands of High Fantasy
Wilderlands of High Fantasy
Map 6 is found in CSWE
Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde
Wilderlands of the Magic Realm
Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches


The Wilderness Series
Mines of Custalcon
Spies of Lightelf
Pirates of Hagrost
Shield Maidens of Sea Rune
Witches Court Marshes

Adventures
Book of Treasure Maps
Book of Treasure Maps II
Book of Treasure Maps III
Lost Man's Trail
Prey of Darkness
Tegel Manor

City State Adventures
Glory Hole Dwarven Mine
Wraith Overlord: Terror Beneath the City State

Supplements
City State Warfare
Fantastic Personalities
Sea Steeds & Wave Riders
Wondrous Weapons
Ready Ref Sheets

Pegasus Magazine
Each had a Wilderlands supplement/adventure

Dungeoneer/Journal
Some issues had Wilderlands info.

For a novice looking at the originals my recommendation is to get them in the following order:

  • CSIO
  • Wilderlands of High Fantasy
  • Ready Ref Sheets
  • Book of Treasure Maps
  • Mines of Custalon
  • Tegal Manor
  • Glory Hole Dwarven Mine

If you find them useful and fun then get the rest of the Wilderlands Maps, and whatever else interests you.
The hardest and most expensive to find will be the City State of the World Emperor which has Map Six CSWE,. Luckily my revised Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde will be out in a few weeks and will Map Six in it.



Friday, June 1, 2018

The OSR is what you want it to be!

Just keep in mind when you read about what the OSR ought to be or ought to be doing that the widespread use of open content under the OGL means that the OSR is always what YOU think it is. Not what me or anybody else thinks.

 That the tools are there for you to show how the rest of us are doing it wrong (in a good way). Coupled with the low barriers enabled by digital technology, you can share as little or as much as you want in the matter you think best. Whether it is a comment, a text file, a full color hardback or god help you a boxed set.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Choose your own sci-fi stock art.

I like supporting other OSR projects. The more people we have doing this stuff successfully helps to keep this a thriving hobby with enthusiastic gamers. As many if you with my works know, I am partial to black and white line art and James Shield excels at drawing in that style. I was very pleased with what I got from his last kickstarter and now he has new one, Do It Yourself Science Fiction Stock Art.

This time the focus is on science fiction but what especially neat is that it is also a tool kit for making your own. You can see a preview of it in the image below and he explains it on his kickstarter page.


While the focus of the OSR has been traditionally on fantasy, but there is now a wealth of science fiction material built on the ideas behind classic DnD (White Star, Stars without Number, etc). Having resources like James' DiY Stock Art will make it take much easier for projects to get done and in our hands.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The first five maps and guidebook for the Wilderlands of High Fantasy is available for sale!


I am pleased to announce the release of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. This is one of four products covering the eighteen maps that encompasses the Judges Guild Wilderlands setting. This product covers five of the maps as detailed below. The four sets combined will cover a region equal in size to Western Europe providing years and decades of adventuring for you and your group.

Unlike many setting products, the Wilderlands sketches out the overview and history in light detail. Then presents a comprehensive list of local detail in a compact format that is customizable. This eliminates much of the tedious work involved in creating a setting and allows the referee to focus on the campaign and the grand adventures the players face as their characters.

This is presented at two products both in PDF and Print on Demand.


The first product is a 24 page guidebook containing a brief overview of and commentary on the first five maps of the Wilderlands along with lists covering details on Villages, Castles, Lairs, Ruins, and Islands.

Included with the Guidebook are letter sized blank map of the Wilderlands that can be used to take notes during a campaign. A PDF with the map legend. A letter size black and white guide to the placement of each of the 18 maps within the Wilderlands.

Finally a giant sized preliminary version of the master map that I used to crop the individual maps from. With the right printer this can be printed as a full scale map 5 feet wide and 8 feet long. With the PDF you can selectively copy out regions as complete maps that overlap the borders of the 18 maps. After the release of the final set of maps this file will be updated as a layered PDF allowing for custom maps of the Wilderlands to be copied or created.




The second product is a set of five maps: City-State of the Invincible Overlord, Barbarian Altanis, Valley of the Ancients, Tarantis, and Valon. When ordered via print on the demand they are printed in two overlapping halves each on a 12" by 18" poster. In addition each map is presented as a 22" by 17" PDF file.

The maps have been redrawn from the original in a color style. Instead of the distinct symbols of the original maps, terrain has been drawn as a  transparent fill and vegetation represented by colored areas. This allows both terrain and vegetation to overlap. Representing more accurately the complexity and diversity of the Wilderland's geography.

This release will be followed by the Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde in a few weeks covering the next five maps of the Wilderlands.

A preview PDF

The Wilderlands of High Fantasy Guidebook

The Wilderlands of High Fantasy Color Map




Friday, April 27, 2018

Dragon Heresy Kickstarter

My friend, Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic is in the final 48 hours of his kickstarter  for his Dragon Heresy Introductory Set.

Dragon Heresy is a Dnd 5e variant that is a gritter take on the fifth edition mechanics. In addition the setting he created for his RPG has an interesting take on Norse mythology and culture.

Currently I am running an Adventures in Middle Earth campaign. The experience had lead me to conclude that Mearls and his crew did an excellent job of designing an RPG that can be adapted, with tweaks, to radically different settings and sub-genres. Dragon Heresy is another excellent example of using that flexibility.

Head on over to the kickstarter and listen to Doug's pitch and see if it something that interests you.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Details on Faeries for the Majestic Wilderlands

Two years ago I made a post how I got a handle on how faeries work in my setting. The basic issue is that there are multiple interpretations of why faeries are what they are in myth and legend. This means in order to roleplay faeries there is no definitive source for the referee to use. Many of the major ones didn't click with me until I came with the approach I outlined below. I like it because it preserve the mercurial and seemly random nature of faeries but provides a consistent starting point for an encounter.

I collected the Faeries entries from the legendarium I am working on for my Majestic Fantasy RPG and posted it as a PDF here.

FAERIES
Magic in the Majestic Wilderlands is the force of creation made manifest. Before the creation of the Abyss and the Chromatic Crystals, the inherent level of magic was low. In order to be harnessed as a spell, it was laboriously gathered in a ritual and infused into a scroll, charm, or magical device. After the creation of the Chromatic Crystal, someone with a disciplined will could cast a spell without the use of a device.

Over the centuries magic did not turn into a science or craft because it was influenced by an individual’s emotional and mental state. What worked for one individual, often didn’t work for another. This susceptibility of magic to emotion had another consequence, the creation and evolution of faeries.

Faeries are creatures, and monsters born out of the ambient level of magic that flow throughout the Wilderlands. The emotional life of elves, men, and even plants and animals give birth to these creatures including the faeries that developed sentience. The nature of their birth has left all faeries with a singular drive to recreate the emotions that give them life. This typically manifests with the faeries using their abilities to recreate the circumstances of their birth. Using magic, to manipulate the environment and those around them into playing out certain stories and emotions, over and over again. This can led to dangerous situations when emotions like anger, hate, and fear are part of the faerie’s nature.

The key to dealing with the Faeries is to understand the emotions and stories that gave them birth.

The Elves and the Faerie
When the Wilderlands was created there were two sentient races; Elves and Men. The Elves were born as the glory of the Wilderlands, as a shining example of the potential of life. They were given great gifts however the price was that their fate was tied to the Wilderlands. One reason is the innate magic of the Wilderlands sustains their immortality and other gifts. Because of this, the elves feel kinship with the faeries, and in general will help them fulfill their nature. For the faeries that have the negative emotions as their nature the elves will still help them but try to do it in isolated locations far from the other races of the Wilderlands. Many elves realms have a large population of faeries.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Announcing the Wilderlands of High Fantasy Revised Editions

Wilderlands of High Fantasy Announcement 
In November I promised to revisit the issue of the Wilderlands maps if nothing has been released by March for the Judges Guild's City State of the Invincible Overlord Kickstarter. I was able to work out a publishing agreement with Robert Blesdaw II to release the 18 maps I drew for the kickstarter project. In addition I am permitted to publish a series of revised guidebooks to accompany the maps.

Each guidebook will be around 20 to 32 pages and will contain the original listings edited for known errata and corrections. To avoid the issues of cost that accompanied other releases of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, I am following the pattern of the original releases.

The maps and guidebooks will be divided into four products, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy,
Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde, Wilderlands of the Magic Realm, and the Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches. Unlike the original releases, Map 6 Viridistan will be included in Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde although edited down to the format of the other four maps.

The retail cost is yet to be determined as I am testing the various print options. I am targeting $20 per bundle of printed map and guidebook. The maps will be printed as two 12” by 18” sheets. There will be five maps in Wilderlands of High Fantasy and Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde, and four maps in Wilderlands of the Magic Realm, and Wilderlands of Fantastic Maps. The backer and retail costs will reflect the quantity of maps within a product.

The PDFs will be free to all kickstarter backers. The printed cost to backers for all 18 maps will be slightly less than $20. The printed cost of the guidebooks for backers should be around $3 to $4 depending on which print format works out the best. I am tacking on a one dollar charge so it will count as a sale on both OBS sites, RPGNow and DrivethruRPG. There will be shipping charges from One Bookshelf.

I am doing this because as a Judges Guild licensee, the problems of this kickstarter affect my sales of the Majestic Wilderlands along with other projects using the Judges Guild IP. The above is what I can do to help with the resources I possess. Robert Bledsaw II is aware of what is going on and has worked with me to come up with a solution to get a portion of the product you paid for into your hands.

I will have the package of the first five maps and guidebook released by mid April as the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. I am trying to have remaining maps and guidebooks done by the end of May so I can release them for North Texas Con, a convention focused on older edition gaming. But it may not be until June until I get Fantastic Reaches out. The PDFs will be done first and I will release preliminary copies as soon as I am able.




Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Minimal Dungeons Redux

Nearly eight years ago, I wrote a post about Minimal Dungeon born of an observation that various example we have of keyed dungeons from back in the day were very terse with little notes. As you can see from Judges Guild Tegal Manor and the well known photo of Gary Gygax with his Greyhawk binder attached to this post.

Rob's Note: You can download the dungeon referred in my original post from here the Elf Lord's Temple.

Now both +Peter V. Dell'Orto  on Dungeon Fantastic and Delta on Delta's DnD Hotspot wrote about their observations. Both have the opinion that the format is useful for a referee's own notes but not acceptable for print publication. I disagree in part.

First off I concur that what we see in the attached photo is too terse. Even the published Tegel Manor suffers from terse although there the uses of map notes, and room titles makes it more usable. My opinion the root of the problem is the long shadow of adventures formatted tournament style. An adventure with a keyed map, with each keyed location fully describe with a introduction that provides an overall explanation and general notes.

The problem with the tournament format that it doesn't scale. There a limit to the size of a locale that can be effectively described in this format. Beyond with people get lost in the detail or the project itself is unfeasible for publication.  Nor does the tournament format work well when the focus of the adventure is on the interactions between different NPCs rather than on the exploration of a locale.

So what is the ideal format? I would contend there is no ideal format. The focus should be on teaching you the reader on how I, as the author, ran the adventure. Whatever does the trick for that particular adventure is the right choice.

It starts with you imagining sitting down with another referee and explaining how to run the adventure. Then taking what you imagined (and perhaps practiced on a friend) and writing that up so the rest of us can learn how to run that adventure.

For example +Zak Sabbath excels at using his talent as artist and writer to explain his adventures and supplements through a unique combination of written and visual elements.

What about minimal dungeons specifically. Let's look at Tegel Manor by Judges Guild. It compactly details a fundhouse dungeon in the form of a sprawling manorhouse with a small four level dungeon beneath. It does this through a combination of terse text, some random tables, room titles, and above all the map itself.


To be clear I am not holding Tegel Manor as a great example. Having run it twice now, it just on this side of plausibility. Along with I get little sense of how Bob Bledsaw Senior ran it outside of the obvious "it is a funhouse.".  However I think it only a little more to turn it into a a great example of a minimalist dungeon. About double the page count should do it and most of that would be in the beginning where one explains how the place works overall, and give some specific on areas of the dungeon. Then add a sentence or two to flesh out the different room and leave it at that.

I think the advantage of the minimalist approach that is plays into the default mode of referee which is largely a matter of improvisation as the players attempt various things as their character. The only time that a complete description of C14 Butler's Room is needed is for product oriented towards novice referee. Otherwise it just take too long during actual play to read that much text. And beyond a certain point it is too much to retain even if you read it all beforehand.

But it tricky. It is a fine line between too much and too little. Which is why if you are terse it is best to use a combination of technique written, visual art, and maps to teach somebody how to run that adventure.



Friday, March 9, 2018

City State Map spotted in the wild.

Thanks to Allan, Jon, and the Black Blade Publishing crew, my color City of the Invincible Overlord map made it debut at Gary Con. Wish I could have attended. But still if you want a copy the map is available on RPGNow for $10 print + shipping (around $3 to most of the USA).

Thanks to +Allan Grohe and +Guy Fullerton for the photos.



Update: I just learned from +Allan Grohe of Black Blade that they just all sold today. That was quick! Again thanks to the Black Blade Publishing crew for display my books and maps.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Scot Hoover aka Kellri needs your help

The OSR operates at a variety of different levels in the hobby and industry. Ranging from people who only blog, to full fledged publishers like Frog God Games and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Among these people are the folks that "really know their stuff" and are excellent at producing useful tools and reference.

One of these is Scot Hoover also known as Kellri. Since the beginning of the OSR he has operated a blog packed with useful information and most well known for the Classic Dungeon Designer Netbook series. Particularly for #4 Encounter Reference. The complete list of what he wrote can be found on the right edge of his blog. Currently he is midst of a massive multi-year project called Dangerous Dungeons. A open content update of the Encounter Reference that expands and extends that work for OSRIC.

Unfortunately he suffered a stroke Monday and needs help. He has two kids and lives in Vietnam teaching English. If you can help he has a GoFundMe page. He trying to raise $5,000 to cover the diagnostics and treatment he needs to recover from this. Hope everybody can help him reach his goal. As of Saturday he is halfway to his goal.





Monday, February 19, 2018

OBS Content Program is terrible and it is now not just an opinion.

My first post of 2018 was about how the One Bookshelf community content were a terrible deal for authors ... with one exception.In the discussion here and elsewhere commentors noted that much of what I said was opinion regarding a technical area of IP law.

So I submitted a series of question to One Bookshelf. The answers were all I suspected, and not favorable to the independent creator.


Me

If I created a 5e supplement about Daggerford in the Forgotten Realms. And in had some original magic items of my own creation (for example the Spear of Night). Does the DM's Guild license preclude me from using that Item in a product outside of the DM's Guild.
One Bookshelf response
Yes, if you released that content on DMsguild then you cannot release it again as part of an OGL product. You could theoretically put that same magic item repeated in another DMsguild product.

Me
Suppose several years ago I released the Spear of Night in a d20 product and then later incorporate a variant of it in a DM's Guild product.

One Bookshelf response
If you've done that then you should not put the Spear of Night in a DMsguild product.


Me
Slightly more broad, say I release Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition product based on an original setting of my own creation (for example of Majestic Stars). Then I turn around later and release the same material for a different system. Not using any Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition. Does the Traveller Aid Society license prevent me from doing that?

One Bookshelf response
Yes, the Traveller's Aid Society does prevent you from doing so.


Me
What if I released the Majestic Stars under another set of rules and then released a Mongoose Traveller 2e version under the TAS?

One Bookshelf response
No, you cannot do that.


Me
Understand I am talking solely about reuse of control original to me. I am concerned as the Community Content licenses grant rights to derived  works. If I released a hypothetical Daggerford supplement I am fine with that product as a whole remains on the DM's Guild for the duration of its copyright. What I am not fine with is not being able to reuse original concept and elements that are original to me and not based on publisher's IP.

One Bookshelf response
I understand your concern here. If you want to maintain control of the content you should not make it part of any Community Content program. 

Final Comments
What makes this bad are the consequences it implies for being successful. If somebody is successful with any of these community content programs, and has built a body of work that in part original to them, the license preclude not only ever use it elsewhere but also forbids preparing derivative works.

This is particularly problematic with programs like the DM's Guild and Traveller Aid Society, as they are not just about a specific setting, but also define much of what is fantasy roleplaying and science fiction roleplaying through their culture impact. The derivative works clause comes close to being literally shackled to a specific factory floor.

It understandable that publishers want to maintain control over their own IP. These community content programs are innovative in the IP holders giving up some of the traditional control over one's IP.

Incorporating a no derivative content clause into these agreements to the third-party creator or original content is unjust. The use of a publisher's IP and the publicity behind the program does not make this a fair deal, and Wizards, Cypher, Mongoose, and the rest should ashamed for including this as part of the IP agreement being used.

This is even more so when you consider that under current US Law there is a specific provision for author to regain the rights to the works they created between 35 and 40 years after publication. Steve Jackson used this recently to regain the rights to the Fantasy Trip, Melee, and Wizard.

This exists because Congress, in a rare moment of sanity, recognized that publishers all too frequently take advantage of new authors. The newbie authors are forced to sign draconian contracts that effectively surrender lucrative rights to the work they create. It not some theoretical or ephemeral problem, but something that currently exists throughout creative industries.

Shame on the publishers for doing this, and shame on One Bookshelf for enabling it. Don't force authors to wait 35 to 40 years to get back rights that are theirs. Change the agreements to eliminate the claim to derivative content, and until then, spell out ALL of the rights the authors will be giving up front and center of the agreement and FAQ.

Note: Thanks to Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic taking the time to edit my post.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Talking about Authentic Medieval Roleplaying

I been doing a series of podcasts with Brendan Davis, Nick Seidler and Adam Baulderstone.

The first was with Brendan as gamemaster and featured a trap dungeon.

The second was me using my Majestic Fantasy Rules (based on Swords and Wizardry) to run an adventure set in a fantasy medieval setting.

The live stream is here and the podcast where we discussed it can be found here.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

One of those days.....

Every have one of those days and then something happens that just puts a smile on your face.




Congrats to everybody at SpaceX for a hell of an achievement



Friday, February 2, 2018

Livestreaming the Majestic Wilderlands


Just a heads up that I will be refereeing tonight a one shot adventure and it will be livestream.

The link

The adventure will be Deceits of the Russet Lord, an original adventure I been working on as the follow up to the Scourge of the Demon Wolf.

It will be run using my Majestic Wilderlands rules which are a combination of my supplement and Swords and Wizardry.

Overview
Nestled in the western eaves of Dearthwood is the Shrine of Saint Caelam the Dragonrider a popular pilgrimage destination. The monastery that runs the shrine are habitually late on delivering their tithe to the Bishop. This time are even later than usual. His excellency is fed up with the continual delays an is sending the player characters to resolve the issue and collect this season's due.

But meanwhile others feel their due is owed as well and their payment is far bloodier.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

That vague setting behind Points of Light and Blackmarsh

For those of you with both Points of Lights, and Blackmarsh know that there are common elements like the Grand Kingdom, the Ochre Empire, Delaquain, etc throughout the different setting. While never spelled out in detail they are all could be considered part of the same setting. In the first Points of Light each of the three lands (Southland, Wildland, and Borderland) are also separated in time that when put together open a window into the larger history.

+Ethan Gundry asks whether has anybody had any success merging all the Points of Light settings, along with Blackmarsh? A while ago I combined the Blackmarsh and Southland map along with the work I done with the Wild North merge with Blackmarsh. The result was this.


But do I have a "master" map that combines everything? Do I have a master document like the old Greyhawk Folio? Yes I now have a master map, no I don't have a Greyhawk Folio style master document. Keep in mind the focus on the Points of Light/and Blackmarsh is usability. That each individual setting stands on it own as a useful backdrop for a campaign. Making them into the equivalent of region supplement defeat that purpose. But still I want the option to exist to combine them so I keep the few background elements I write about consistent.

So what the deal with the master maps. Well I drew a lot of maps over the years and I have a bunch that not part of the Majestic Wilderlands or any other setting. For example this giant map I made for what I call the Eastgate region.


At the heart of which is the City State of Eastgate


Both originated in 2008 before I got my license from Judges Guild. I took all the content I made for the Majestic Wilderlands and stripped out the Judges Guild IP which included drawing new maps. I started writing the initial draft of the Majestic Wilderlands when a fortuitous set of circumstances led to me to securing a license to use enough of the Judges Guild IP to publish the Majestic Wilderlands supplement. Having that license meant I could use my original notes as is saving me a lot of work.

But the above work didn't go to waste as I used some of what I created for Blackmarsh.

So back to Ethan's question about combining the maps. A year ago I was sketching out some map on paper to get a feel for how mountainous and hilly regions really looked like based on Earth's geography. I decided to draw a outline map as an experiment to see how real I can make it look. The result was this.


And I figured if I am spending the time doing this I might as well incorporate the Points of Light/Blackmarsh maps use the above as a future reference.

Here is the annotated version of the above.


At this time I am not going to flesh out all the blank spots as I want to leave the possibilities open for further Blackmarsh style projects. The thing I am currently working is the circle marked Beyond the Borderlands basically my answer to the question of what lies beyond the Cave of Chaos in B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

I am also working on the tweaks to the Wild North to make it fit along the north edge of Blackmarsh. This is the map for that. Basically everything below Row xx26 has been tweaked while everythiing above is pretty much the same as the version from Fight On #3.



Hope this answers your question Ethan. Appreciate asking it as it gave me the idea for this blog post.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Making a campaign human centric with the least amount of violence to RAW

+Joshua Macy has a complaint that not uncommon, all the players in his campaign made non-human characters. Let's face it, non humans are cool kids of fantasy roleplaying. Most races have interesting backstories, memorable characters, and of course the racial abilities. Sometimes all three like with the Drow.

Starting with DnD 3.0, later edition attempted to rectify this by giving Human their own racial abilities. Typically extra flexibility by granting a feat or two, increased ability of the player's choice, or more skills. But still it seems lacking and rather bland.

The primary way I fixed it was to grant a 15% XP bonus for humans that works the same as the XP bonus due to having a high prime requisite. Read below the fold for my reasons why.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Why Middle Earth is working for me, the Cubicle 7 supplements

There are two main things that "sold" me on Adventure in Middle Earth by Cubicle 7. The fact that magic is presented as subtle in the core books, and the quality of their supplements.

First most of the AiME contents is repackaged from their The One Ring (TOR) equivalent. What differs are the short sections of either AiME rules or new stuff like NPCs, Creatures, and items. The rest is duplicated from the original TOR version. Luckily the TOR stuff is excellent. But I have to put it out there so you are not surprised in case you decide to buy the TOR supplement AND the AiME supplement. The Moria Boxed Set will be the first Middle Earth product that new to both TOR and AiME. For the rest TOR is generally ahead on the release schedule but AiME is catching up.


Rhovanion Region Guide
TOR and AiME have a class of supplements that can be characterized as a region guide. Both games have a referee hex map that divide broad areas of Middle Earth into regions. One reason for this is that the hex map works hand and hand with the journey rules. Another is that it offers a useful way of  organizing the geography for supplement like this one.

This is a section of the referee's map for the Wilderlands in Rhovanion.


The reddish area are the place that are most  dangerous to travel in as the party found out last week when they were attacked by a swarm of black squirrels in the middle of the Heart of Mirkwood.

The Rhovanion Region Guide has three major section. The first covers the regions along the river Anduin, the second covers the regions of Mirkwood. Dale, Lake-town, and Erebor are not covered although the TOR supplement for these areas have been released. The last section are new adversaries found in these region. It includes NPCs like Gorgol, son of Bolg, and the more general like Hunter Spiders. Seventeen new foes are added plus numerous NPCs in the various region writeups.

Out of all the supplements this is perhaps the most useful.

Each region is given a general description. Has a section called combat scenery which is advice on where typical encounters take place. A description of the wildlife, and inhabitants. This is followed by a list of notable inhabitants. For example the East Middle Vales describes; Beorn the Shape-shifter (from the books), Turin the Tinker, Gelvira Pot-stirrer, Ennalda the Spear-maiden. The last three are original characters created by the author. Turin is a useful contact about the what going on. Gelvira runs a inn at the Old Ford which can be used as a home base by the PCs. Ennalda is a spear-thane of Beorn and is likely the person the PCs will interact most with if they associate with the Beornings.

Then the section goes on to describe notable places within the region. Which for the East Middle Vales is The Carrock (from the books), The Old Ford, The Isle of Strangling Tree, Beorn's House (from the books), The Grey Heath, and The Cleft of Storms. All of these provide interesting places to explore or have roleplaying possibilities.

Man it looks packed
It is and it isn't. While there are a lot of things described it isn't like my mini-region in Scourge of the Wolf where I provide a capsule description of a dozen settlement within a 25 mile radius. Each hex in the above map is 10 miles not quite the howling emptiness of Greyhawk's 30 mile hexes but large enough that even with what I described for the East Middle Vales you have to spend a day or so travelling to each site. And if you go outside of that, you are talking journey of a week or longer.

When you look at the below map for the East Middle Vales keep in mind that you are travelling two hexes (20 miles) per day by foot. That the only two "settlement" are The House of Beorn and the Old Ford with perhaps the Carrock when the Beornings meet there. Where are the Beornings? Read the description from the book.
While most Beornings live in isolated farmsteads, there are a few… well, towns would be an exaggeration. Call them villages, or steadings, clustered around trading posts or river crossings; one of the largest has sprung up in the vicinity of the Old Ford. 


I will talk about the other supplements in the next post.

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.