Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Musings on Dungeons

The dungeon I am running at Gold Star Anime involves a new technique for me. In this post I talk about minimal dungeons and with the ruined Elven Temple I am applying the technique. So far it is going good and the players seem to have a lot of fun.

One thing I thought about was how to run the maze. My experience with live action roleplaying has given me an appreciation for "out of the box" thinking to simulate different roleplaying scenarios. I realized that I could use the Dwarven Forge Master Maze set I had to good effect. In this case the limited amount of pieces I possessed was an advantage.

I have enough pieces to represent the maze 40 feet in all directions. So instead of drawing it out on the battleboard or verbal describing it I use the pieces to built one section at time. As the party moved one I tore down the area they left and built the area they entered. If they choose to do so they could spend a little time mapping it.

It worked very well as the party picked their way through the maze. The master maze set I had replicated the confusing nature of the labyrinth without giving the part hints about where they came from. Setup was not too slow and allowed the players to think about where they were going next. Mapping attempts worked as well as may experienced crawling through a few labyrinths in live-action which to say it sucked. Josh playing Hazar had a pretty good instinct about where the dungeon was going so he gets the maze master award for the session. Myself I always solved the issue with the right hand left hand technique.

The only time I abandoned the technique was during the minotaurs. To make the description as fast paced as the chase I used my battle mat and dry erase. That worked well as the player ran blindly through the maze trying to get away from the minotaur.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Descent into the Depths of the Gold Star Anime Part II

Part I
Cast of Characters

Bob – The Wizard, 3rd level Human Thothian Mage
Seth – Dunnigan, 4th level Dwarven FighterJohn – Hazar, 6th level Human Thug
John (“the other John”)– Alaghazar, 3rd level Human Thothian Mage
Jerry (“big Jerry”) – Janus, 4th level Elven Cleric (female)
Jerry (“little Jerry”) – Hunter, 4th Level Halfling Fighter
Note: Some portion of the maps below have been eliminated as not to reveal unexplored areas.
In Part I we left the party paralyzed and battered in the teleport circle room. You would think that this would be a solemn moment of reflection and rest. Nope!
Flushed with victory Hazar arranged the paralyzed party members and proceeded to explain to them exactly how they owed their lives to him and his heroic deed. Then proceeded to explore the circular corridor around the teleport room.

He found the south door and boldly opened it. Beyond it were 4 Orcs setting up a campfire in alcove with a excavated tunnel leading beyond it. Startled they stared at each over for a moment when Hazar whipped out some ration and offered it to the Orcs. With a growl they readied their weapons and charged. Once again Hazar was in a fight for his life. But his skill was up to the task and despite several grievous wounds he dispatched the orcs. Staggering back to the teleport circle room. He laid down to rest until the party revived from their paralyzation.

After the party revived everybody got healed and it was decided that they would rest here. Fortunately the next 8 hours were uneventful and the party rememorizes spells and took care of any remaining injuries. After some discussion it was decided they would try the door to the west and see what lay beyond the rear of the secret door.

Carefully opening the secret door they found a 20' by 20' room with ruined remains of furniture. To the north was a busted secret door already opened.
After carefully searching the room the party tried to open the door to the hallway. It was stuck? After finding no locks or anything barring it from opening the party decided to use main force. After a few whacks from Dunnigan's Axe the door fell down in a crash!

To the north they heard the hurried scramble of a good deal many people getting up and putting gear and weapons on. Reacting quickly the party rushed out into the hallway positioning themselves around the corner. All except for two party members (which I forgot to write down) decides to go back around and head to the three way intersection to the north. Running they failed to notice the 20 foot pit and promptly fell into it. Fortunately it was just a pit and they survived the fall.

Nineteen Orcs rushed out of the room filling the hallway up. Alaghazar webbed the Orcs and the party lit them aflame. A few well placed bow shots and blows brought the rest of the orcs down. Unlike the debacle of the ghoul fight the party slaughtered the orcs within two rounds.

Hearing further noise to the northeast, from room 18, the party got the two that fell out of the pit. They again setup another ambush this time using liberal amounts of sleep spells to bring down another 19 orcs. The haul from 38 orcs was their first real treasure, which included large amounts of silver pennies, a map to an Elven Stables, a Potion of Red Dragon Controls and a magical sword named silander which hates orcs. These items were found by Hazar in metal urns which had poisoned needle traps on the lids.

While most of the party was cataloguing the treasure, Alaghazar wandered away and opened the door to #16, at which moment a rack of spears fell, some of them impaling him. Fortunately quick attention by Janus the Cleric prevented his death. The room proved to be the remains of an armory which little of value.

Janus. Alaghazar and the party cautiously looked at was in the cave in Room 19. There they found a ornate bathing chamber with two statues of Silvanus' handmaiden on either side. The orc however fouled it as they used it as a latrine. Calling on Silvanus Janus and Alaghazar wades into the foul pool. Like an eraser across a chalkboard the filth was swept away and the chamber was restored. This display of the god's power caused Alaghazar to fall on his knees and swear fealty. Pleased Silvanus granted the party a bless of +1 to all rolls for 24 hours.

Further exploration of the area revealed a set of stair going further down into darkness. The party decided to save that for later and explore the rest of the the level.

They turned around and headed south and the corridor dead ended in a octogonal room with three doors. The room was littered with the debris of storage crates.

Checking the door to the west and east. The party found a #25 to be an old dining room, and #23 a Kitchen with one of it's stone cabinets in rubble. After searching the party found 30 days worth of Elven Waybread intact!.

In room 24 they found an old store room with little of value. But behind some crates they found a secret door that opened to a set of spiral staircase going down. After they go down a few feet they found an iron chest with a few skeletons around it. After carefully examining everything Hazar opened the chest and found it loaded with coined covered with a black substance. He picked up a few and it turned out it was a mold. Unfortunately the mold causes a deadly disease but Hazar had natural immunity (he rolled a 20 for a saving throw). He told the party to stay way as he carefully cleaned everything. After it was all counted they had nearly 8,000 in silver pennies.

The stairway stopped at the end of a corridor going northeast. The party checked out the one door they could see and found another storeroom with ruined crates and this time lots of smashed up bottles. A careful search reailed two intact bottles of extra-healing.

When they reached the northeast end of the corridor they found themselves looking into a maze. In the distance they could see the occasional skeleton bone.

Carefully setting the party's marching they ventured in the maze. At first they tried to map but after a few twits and turns they gave up. Hazar quickly took charge and he seemed to pick his way through the maze with ease. Note I am not posting a map of the maze as the adventure is still ongoing.

Threading the maze party they emerged in a strange room. It was empty with a few old dried splotches of blood. In the center of the west wall there was a 4 foot diameter room that was covered in grease to make it slippery. It curved upward and to the left. When all attempts at climbing it failed the party went back into the maze.

After a hundred feet in they heard a bellow and a roar and a Minotaur charged the party. Hazar shouted run! and the party fled running as fast as they could. Eventually they ran into a dead-end and were forced to face the Minotaur. There was an 10 by 10 alcove that The Wizard stepped into but that proved to be a pit trap and he fell. Fortunately he survived. Hunter the Halfling fighter met the charge but was head butted back five feet into the rest of the party.

The party rallied and with swords and spells managed to severely injure the minotaur. Bellowing with pain the Minotaur fled back into the maze leaving the party gasping for breath. And that where we brought that night session to a close.

Next post will have some concluding thoughts and comments. Despite various bouts of disorganization the party did really well and had several great roleplaying moments. We will see how it winds up next time at the Gold Star Anime.

Friday, August 27, 2010

For map makers Inkscape 0.48 released

A new version of Inkscape has been released. You can read the release notes here. This is a vector drawing program similar to CorelDRAW which I use to make my maps. If you want to go the full monty on mapmaking but have a low budget this is the program to get. It has all the features that I use in CorelDRAW for mapmaking.

The main improvement in this version is improved node editing including begin able to select two or more paths and edit the nodes on those paths together.

If you want to see what you can do with inkscape I have tutorials, here, here and here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

RPG Stack Exchange now open for your questions (and answers)

The private beta period of the Roleplaying Game site on Stack Exchange is now over. It is now open for everybody to come in, ask questions, and give answers. The reputation system is woven through the site and give great feedback on the quality of the answers and questions. The Stack Exchange faq spells out how it differs from forums and regular Q&A sites. The short answer is that it is no one thing but a bunch of little stuff adding up to a pleasant place where you can go for answers.

I would also add that it works best with experts in the field. So if you are a professional, been playing or refereeing for a while, you might this to be a place where you can share you knowledge without the usual issue involved with forums discussions. and that is more dynamic then writing a blog or article.

Mind you it not going to replace a forum's sense of community as it is highly focused on getting answers to questions not general conversation about a topic. But it works as a nice adjunct.

You are free now so go enjoy it.

The Do It Yourself ethos is a strong current among those who been playing, writing or refereeing older editions of the world's most popular roleplaying game. There been a fair amount of confusion generated by the recent Frog God Games/Mythmere announcement.

And no I am not talking about the ill-written ad copy on the About Us page of their website. James Raggi's post mirrors much of my sentiment on the matter. The only thing I will add is that the people involved with Frog God Games are stand up folks, I worked with them in the past, and I trust them to do right by their customers both in quality and contributing back to the hobby.

Now that out of the way, there is a lot of confusion over future publishing for Swords & Wizardry. This short post by Julian Grimm sums up the various statements I read. Matt Finch clears up the matter in various posts including this thread on the Swords & Wizardry forum.

But what being missed is that publishing (big or small) is not the same game in the OSR as it was in the past years of the hobby like the 70s, 80s or 90s.

We all free now. Free because of the Open Game License.

Nobody can't take their toys and go home. At various times in the past two years people left the OSR and removed their products. However their work continued on because of the Open Game License. If because of circumstances I had to quit publishing tommorrow you can still use and adapt the Myrmidon, the Montebank, etc from the Majestic Wilderlands because it is in a section that I released under the Open Game License.

So when I see new arrangements being announced I am not concerned for my own projects. I still have sitting beside my desk a copy of Swords & Wizardry with the Open Game License on the back page. For that I thank Matt Finch and wish him all the best in his new relationship with Frog God Games. I thank all the authors of rules, supplements and adventures that continue to release new material under the Open Game License.

I am free from worrying that a publisher turns greedy. And guess what! So are you.

You are free now, so enjoy it!
Additional Clarifications
(in response to Scottsz comments)
I am going to refer to a worst case scenario. The Frog God Games/Mythmere merger is not that scenario. My opinion is that the merger will be an step forward for the hobby.

People were concerned about whether Swords & Wizardry Core Rule and/or White Box was going to go away with the announcement of Swords & Wizardry Complete. This is my opinion on how the OGL will work in the worst case scenario of a publisher taking a open rule set and making it closed or cease publishing it.

If the worst case scenario ever ensures you can just do a new layout, add new arts and release the same product under a different name. The reason you can do this is because of the Open Game License.

From section 4

4. Grant and Consideration: In consideration for agreeing to use this License, the Contributors grant You a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.

I highlighted perpetual to show where my assertion comes from. In short a publisher can't unilaterally revoke permission to use OGL material. He has to have cause and that only applies to an individual violator.

I don't think aspect this has really sunk in with the majority of the folks in the OSR. It effectively ends the power of a publisher to "go home and take the ball with them." Particularly for rules.

I am not saying is going to a paradise. Because there a lot of other things that are unique a publisher , like connections, a distribution network, and capital. Plus a community of a fans that buy their products. When a publisher changes direction it changes that community and a lot of people don't like that and react negatively.

So a worst case scenariowill hurt. But with the OGL there is a clear path that a community or an individual can take to solve the problem.

Now I am being vague on "worst case scenario" and "solve the problem." This could mean some individuals republishing the rules, and rebuild the market and/or community around the new book. But I can't envision all what a community consider worst case. Nor I can envision all the paths that an individual or community can take.

But that part of the beauty of the OGL. By it's open nature that means multiple things can be tried. And one of them (and maybe more) will be what works and keeps the hobby going.

Now there has been discussion about "game rules can't be copyrighted" and the like. But no matter how you slice it they are riskier avenues and much more restrictive. The OGL in contrast clearly set forth the conditions under which a copyright can be used. The risk is much less and you have a bigger pool to draw from to get people to help.

There been many fine products published that have been NOT released under the OGL but the foundation of the publishing side of the hobby has been adapting the d20 SRD under the OGL to produce a game that emulates one of the older editions. There would be a hobby but without the OGL it would no where near as vibrant and expansive as what we have today.

Gloranthan Classics on RPGNow!

Issaries has released their multi-volume series of Gloranthan Classics on RPGNow. I am getting a copy of Griffin Mountain myself. I have vague memories of it and given my interest in sandbox campaigns I wanted to pick a copy. The cover isn't as cool as the original tho.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I don't want to be like tears in the rain

Monday our weekly Swords & Wizardry game got going again after a short hiatus. Looking over the state of my notes for the monthly Gold Star Anime game and my weekly game I decided that I need to blog about the weekly game as well as the record keeping of the Gold Star Games is much better. Tim of Gothridge Manor has some comments on the session here.

Cast of Characters
Tim as Ashling a Elven Montebank, (Rouge, Magicuser type)
Dwayne as Eoleander a Half Viridian/Elven Fighter
Rusty Battle Axe as Syrivald Human Mage from the Order of Thoth.

The day started with the party heading down to the Celadon Palace, the Citadel of Viridistan to met with Cathwar one of the members of the Council of Viridistan. Eoleander was informed that the Council had located a suitable weapon to trade for Blackrazor. They arrived at the citadel and were escorted into Cathwar's office.

In trade, Cathwar was prepared to offer Dancer a +3 Sword that acted also as a +3 ring of protection due to it's ability to enhance parrying to unearthly levels. Along with this he offered an assortment of +2 weaponry and shields for the use of the rest of the party. However Eoleander continued to bargain hard and was able to secure title to an estate near Viridistan. Cathwar didn't seem particularly bothered by this and pointed out that the Council had numerous estates on their hands that they are willing offer title for in order to get them back on the tax rolls. When pressed about military service he was slightly offended replying tersely
We don't practice feudalism like those easterners over in City-State.
Aside from that the deal was concluded successfully and the party returned to their house on Scholar Street. Over lunch Eoleander proposed that they go and clear out an old hill for they found in the wilderness north of the Barradine mountains near Gormmah. (note update and distribute a new player map). He wanted this for several reasons, first it would be a place where they could safely meet with the dragon Maddas (a copper dragon they met on one of their early adventures), second a base from which they can expand their own realm.

The conversation switched to talk about the fact that the party has been wandering back and forth between the Gormmah area and Viridistan. Eoleander suggested that they research the portals they found in the Trehaen Circle of Pelys and figure out how to move one of them to the hill fort. That way they can use the entrance portal in Viridistan go through the various rooms and portals of Pelys and emerge near instantly in or near the hill fort.

(The Circle of Pelys is a series of rooms interconnected by portals. Each room has four ports. This is based on C3 the Lost Island of Castamir. The party successfully dug up the entrance portal and brought it to Viridistan and installed it in their house.)

In addition one of the rooms isn't a room at all. The four portal open out on a level force wall that surrounds a 60' tower 40 feet above the ground. The tower is perched on a ridge rising 2000 feet from an ocean of mist. To make things even stranger there not one but two suns in the sky.

Eoleander they saw hippogriff there and since both Ashling and Syrivald know Charm Monster they will be able to gain some hippogriff steeds in the meantime. After the lunch was over it was decided to try to get the hippogriffs first.

The party entered Pelys and emerged into the tower "room". Looking at the stairs spiraling outside of the tower they decided to go up. There they found the hippogriff nest with three eggs and assorted items. Some were valuable, a like a silk bag, but the one that catch their attention was a figurine of a ebony fly. Syrivald picked it up and lucky for him the Shield of Magic that all Thothian mages learn protected from the potent curse laid on the figurine. If Eoleander or Ashling picked up it would left them Blind and unable to speak.

The party then descended the stairs to the ground (the top of the ridge) and found a open archway. It lead into a 30' diameter room in the base of the tower. There they beheld a strange sight. A translucent egg 10' high floating in mid air. When they examined they saw a man in scholar robes inside as if he was embedded in material of the egg. Syrivald remarked either he is trying to preserve himself in stasis for some reason or is imprisoned.

After the mystery of the egg the party decides to wander along the ridge top. It ran in a north south direction and they decided to head north. Eoleander was nearly lost when he misstepped and nearly tumbled down the slope. But his great dexterity and strength stopped him only 50 feet down. After traveling nearly three leagues the came to the northern terminus of the ridge.

It was there when Syrivald figured that they were in a wold. He explained that in various regions of the Wilderland, especially where the fey live, the Wilderlands can stretch. A person could walk around a small region in a hour but if he attempted to traverse it would be a much larger land inside. The double sun is undoubtedly a side effect of being inside of a wold. The good news that every wold is connected to the Wilderlands at some point. If they could it they could exit the wold and see where they are in the Wilderlands.

After this they decided to held back. Drawing near the tower they saw two hippogriff return. Using Charm Monsters they were able to call the hippogriffs to them and tame them. Ashling was the first to try riding them and to his surprise proved to a natural. Syrivald was next and with a little coaching he was able to do a credible job.

Taking a guess that the entrance is below the mists the two flew down the slope into the mists. After a minute of zero visibility they emerged flying down and away from a mountain peak. The peak was part of a north south ranges surrounded by a vast forest. To the south water could be seen. Syrivald and Ashling decided to make for the water and after a four hour trip they came the coast line running from slightly south west to slightly northeast.. Just beyond the southern horizon they could see another shoreline. Offshore they could see a ship in Soturian color which is usually only seen on the Winedark Sea to the north of the City-State. Deciding they flew far enough they headed back north.

The hippogriffs were getting hungry and decided to hunt in the forest before continuing. During Syrivald examined the surrounding flora and got the sense they were in an ancient elven forest. Considering that they were north of Viridistan and City-State, he was pretty sure they were in the Kingdom of Irminsul the largest and greatest of the Elven realms in the Majestic Wilderlands. The trip back was uneventual and they made it back to the mountain peak, flew through the mist and arrived back at the tower.

Returning to their house in Viridistan through the portals of Pelys. They decided that the hippogriffs would be a great asset but it will take a while before the ones hatched from the eggs will be mature enough to ride on. Realizing that they are in the world's largest city they decided to see if anybody is selling Hippogriffs. After inquiring around they found Master Todhunter Steadmen. A wealthy ostler who has the contract to supply horses for Viridistan's cavalry.

At first they had difficulty seeing Master Todhunter but after mentioning they had hippogriff for sale they were immediately escorted to see him. Master Todhunter seemed eager to buy hippogriffs but when the conversation turned to buying them he seemed evasive and wouldn't give a straight answer. Saying that hippogriff were seen as a symbol of Viridian rule and not salable here, He ships them all east to City-State. Ashling comment after they left the premise was
That man was lying through his teeth.
During the conversation it was mentioned that the Council was trying to build up a hippogriff stable. So the party decided to see Councilor Cathwar. Cathwar acknowledged they were trying to breed some hippogriffs but only have six at the moment. It been really difficult to get any for some reason. When told about Master Todhunter statement about shipping hippogriffs east, he was surprised. His fellow Councilor, the dwarf Dorvon, deals with him all the time as he in charge of most military matters.

Dorvon knows that we are trying to build up a flight of hippogriffs."

It was obvious that Master Todhunter must be supplying Viridians with hippogriff. So the party resolved to find proof of this. Ashling said he had a plan and so that night, with the aid of his stealth skill and a few well placed sleep spells he was able to get into Master Todhunter's bedroom. There Ashling unleashed his Gingwatzim (an energy creature found in Pelys). The Gingwatzim feeds on it's victim strength. After few minutes Ashling forced the Gingwatzim to return to dagger form and began to ask Master Todhunter pointed questions.

Hippogriff and all thing Viridian need to be destroyed! Wiped off the face of the Wilderlands! You scum may call them lord and master and kill me but there are a dozen other like me ready to step in and end your evil.
Well it turned out that Master Todhunter hated Viridians and was buying hippogriffs to kill them as they were used extensively by the Viridians. And that he was part of some organization dedicated to killing them. Ashling told him to forget this night and that it never occurred, otherwise the consequences would be severe.

Deciding to lead the Todhunter situation along for another day. The party became preparations to leave Viridistan and head to the hill fort. They found their old friend Ilthan Provis, the Captain of the Green Maiden and chartered his ship again for a trip across the Trident Gulf.

Before leaving Eoleander and the party decided to do a little recruiting and when back to the Ale shop on Dalliance Street. A couple of months ago, the party met a gang of half-Viridians calling themselves the Tainted there. Eoleander stepped into the tavern and confronted the gang. Explaining to them that they had a choice between doing good and doing evil. If they continued their ways, he would deal with them and make a final end.

Their leader, Tarben, laughed in his face replying

Do what you gotta do. What the point? Do good, do evil? All those moments get lost in time, like tears in the rain. If it my time to die, then I die.
Angered Eoleander left the tavern. Two blocks away the party heard people running up and when they turned they saw Tarben's girlfriend Nasheen run up to him.
I don't want to be like tears in the rain. What do have to do? I have friends that feel the same way.
After a moment consideration Eoleander told her to be at the house on Scholar Street in a couple of days. Prepare for a long journey.
I figured I need to start recording my sessions in detail. My memory isn't like how it used to be and when it gets to the phase of my campaigns the detail become important as the interconnection between factions grow. Post 6th level where players in my campaigns start thinking about what kind of mark they want to leave on the world which sets up the high level end game. I admit that most of MW campaigns have been run using GURPS but they follow a similar flow as well.

Tarbel's quote was adapted from Rutger Hauser excellent speech from Blade Runner.

Like Tim of Gothridge Manor said, the campaign as indeed entered a new phase.

Frog God Games and Mythmere Games join forces

Some really good news here. The Nercomancer folks have been great to work with and NG's successor looks like it off to a fine start with the Slumbering Tsar series. Now one top of that we get a great announcement about Swords & Wizardry. You can also read about what going into Swords & Wizardry Complete here.

August 24, 2010 - Poulsbo WA

Frog God Games, the successor to Necromancer Games, is pleased to announce that effective immediately, Mythmere Games, headed by award-winning author Matt Finch, will be joining up with the Frog God Publishing team to produce even more of the true old-school gaming resources that Necromancer Games and Frog God Games have always been known for.

Matt explained one of the reasons for the agreement as “"There is a large and active community of gamers playing various out-of-print editions of fantasy role-playing games. This alliance is going to be a big leap forward in terms of providing new resources and adventures to those of us who prefer an older-school type of game. It doesn't matter if you're an old-school grognard, a brand-new player, or an experienced gamer trying out this whole 'old-school' thing the internet keeps talking about. You're going to like this".

As a result of this merger, Frog God Games will be publishing the Complete version of the old school, ENnie Award-winning Swords & Wizardry™ fantasy role-playing game, which will be released in November.

“This merger is very much in line with my philosophy on game design, I play an old school game at my table, and have always written and produced books of that genre”, said Bill Webb, CEO of Frog God Games. Frog God Games and its predecessor, Necromancer Games both are known for producing d20 and Pathfinder adventures and sourcebooks with a distinctive “old school” feel. Necromancer, where Bill was partnered with Clark Peterson, produced over 50 books between 1999 and 2007, including Wilderlands of High Fantasy™ (under license to Judges Guild), Gary Gygax’s Necropolis™ and Rappan Athuk, Dungeon of Graves™.

Frog God Games is currently producing adventures to support the Pathfinder™ role-playing system. According to Bill, “This brings together the best of both worlds for me; our material is distinctly old school feel, regardless of the game system. By supporting both formats, I see an opportunity to provide high quality and exciting material to a larger audience. It’s a win for the gaming community.”

Frog God Games will now produce game supplements for both the Swords and Wizardry™ game and for the Pathfinder Game™ (published by Paizo Publishing of Bellevue WA).Swords & Wizardry builds and supports free-form role-playing games.That is to say, games where “light” rules create a framework instead of trying to cover every detail, every rule, and every situation. Over 30 books are currently in production for release in 2010 and 2011.

Matt explained ,There are a lot of gamers out there who are using out-of-print rules quite happily, or who have a vague feeling that they lost some of the game's spirit over the years and don't know how it happened. And then there's the thriving community of old-school gamers on the internet, who have been powering forward for years. I think this new development is going to take us to critical mass. With an old-school game like Swords & Wizardry breaking into the mainstream, with all the power of Frog God Games behind it, I believe that all these three gamer-communities are about to connect. This is when the thunder starts to roll.”.

The Swords & Wizardry game “clones” the original rules of the fantasy role-playing game that started it all back in 1974, when it was published by Gary Gygax and DaveArneson. Part of the reason for the merger was to expand distribution and enhance production quality by involvement of a larger company. Matt described this as, “a step that has been developing for years, as the old-school community has grown larger and larger, supported by more and more gamers, and, increasingly, even by publishers. And this is the point where it all reaches critical mass, I think. Frog God Games has the resources and the high profile to introduce this particular style of gaming back into the mainstream."

Most previously existing products created by Mythmere Games, including Knockspell Magazine™ will continue to be produced and distributed by Black Blade Publishing (http://black-blade-publishing.com/Store.aspx).

Distribution and publication of the Swords and Wizardry Core Rules will continue through Black Blade and other sources, and will be compatible with the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook to be released in November by Frog God Games along with a full supporting line of adventure modules and other resources for the game.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perhaps it is a good thing not being able to use the D&D Name.

The one thing that all retro-clones share is the inability to use the Dungeons & Dragons trademark as the title of the game. There are many in the OSR publishing community that would jump on it if it could magically was opened up for use. But would that be helpful with the situation we have today?

I found this thread on RPG.net where the poster asked what would keep a newer player from playing an older edition. The usual range of edition arguments ensues with a few thoughtful replies. However the thread reminded me about the underlying issues.

"Back in the day", there were a variety of reasons why people moved on to a different RPG despite D&D being their first game. For some D&D was too abstract, not enough character options, didn't like fantasy, combat wasn't realistic, and so on.

Then D&D itself changed, with the parent company (TSR/Wizards) changing the game to what they felt would work best for the current market. So despite the fact that a game doesn't age it did change and a new generation learned and liked a new version of D&D. And now we have a least three major version of a game called Dungeons & Dragons. * Each of these versions have their own fans.

The arguments in the RPG.net brought the fact home to me that the name Dungeon & Dragon now represents several very different games. That it would be better for those who like the older editions to forge ahead and carve out their own identity with the version they love. That OSRIC/Labyrinth Lord/Swords & Wizardry/Dark Dungeons/etc are the new face of the older game. Just as Pathfinder the face of the 3.X versions, and 4.0 is now Dungeons & Dragons as deemed by WoTC.

This way we don't run into false expectations, it's older so it must suck in some way, why doesn't it have X or Y, and so on. The original game will live or die on it's own merit. Which many have found to be considerable.

*The line from OD&D to AD&D2 as one major version, D&D 3.X as another major version, and D&D 4.0/Essentials as a third version. Many break it down further than that but the point is that there distinct different games calling themselves Dungeons & Dragons.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Descent into the Depths of the Gold Star Anime Part I

Cast of Characters
Bob – The Wizard, 3rd level Human Thothian Mage
Seth – Dunnigan, 4th level Dwarven FighterJohn – Hazar, 6th level Human Thug
John (“the other John”)– Alaghazar, 3rd level Human Thothian Mage
Jerry (“big Jerry”) – Janus, 4th level Elven Cleric (female)
Jerry (“little Jerry”) – Hunter, 4th Level Halfling Fighter

Ted and two sons could not make but we picked up two new players Bob and Seth. We spend a few minutes rolling up their characters and we were ready to go. Little Jerry and the Other John returned as well providing much need manpower.

Note: Some portion of the maps below have been eliminated as not to reveal unexplored areas.

The game picked up where last left it, the part staring down a flight of stairs leading into darkness. After lighting some lanterns the descent began. First they ran into a short hallway with six doors, three on either side.

Janus immediately cast a Find Traps which revealed that the entire roof of Room #4 was unstable. The players poked around each room and finding in most nothing more than molded remains of casks, and crate. In Room 2 there were various frescoes of the god Silvanus in his healing aspect and a 20 foot by 10 foot spring fed pool filled the back. After careful examination Janus determined that the pool was slightly magical and was able to draw 4 bottles of healing potions from it. While poking around in Room #6 Dunnigan, the dwarf fighter, uncovered a dug out passaway leading deeper into the dungeon.

They passed through a large room 40' by 40' that was dug out and before them they saw the magnificence of a temple of Silvanus. At the temple's nave the party saw an altar. Caring little for the glories around him Dunnigan immediately made for the altar however a unstable pillar fell over nearly crushing him. After that the party proceeded much more cautiously with Hunter carefully checking each pillar.

Alagazar wandered the room looking at the various frescos including a series depicting Silvanus marrying one of the four handmaiden of Dannu, goddess of healing, crops, and the hearth, each season. He was heard saying, "He is a lucky guy."
While Janus and other party member examined the altar, the Wizard (Bob) decides to open the door to the southwest and take a look around. After finding a four way intersection he came back. Bored with looking at Janus praying at the altar, Hazar, Janus, and Dunnigan decide to look beyond the Southeast door.

There they found the remains of the Vestry but the over powering stench of thousands of rat droppings nearly caused them keel over in nausea. Before they could leave the room they heard the chittering of rats coming from the tunnels. Reacting instantly Hunter and Hazar exited the room and slammed the door.

Only to realize a minute later that Dunnigan was still on the other side of the door. When ten Giant Rats emerged Dunnigan bellowed and attack. However even his vaunted fighting skill could not defend against so many and he took many wounds. The party hearing the commotion came down and rushed in to help Dunnigan. However the next wave of Giant Rats emerged from the tunnels and after hacking them down still more came including some Rats of Unusual Size (Monstrously Huge Rats). The party thought discretion was the better part of valor and retreated spiking the door shut.

After regrouping and some healing the party headed out the southwest door and went to the intersection that the Wizard discovered.

The party tried the door to room #9 first and after opening they found the remains of the high priest's bedroom. After a careful search all they could find was a chest filled with the high priest's vestments and ritual items used in the ceremonies in the temple. While the rest of the party groused at the lack of treasure, Janus was very happy with the find.

Meanwhile the Wizard gets bored and wandered over to Room #10 and opens the door. In there he finds the remains of the Wizards Bedroom. Spying an intact cabinet he rushes over and opens it, while looking through it's content two Giant Ticks attack him both scoring at hit. Staggering to the door the Wizard manages to kill one with an iron spike but the other one continued suck his life blood causing to fall at the doorway. The rest of the party rushes over and kills the last Giant Tick before he dies.

After Janus' heals the Wizard with some rituals (and no encounters as they take ten minutes each). The cleric searches the room. In a pile of broken bottles he finds an intact potion of polymorph self, and under an over turned table he finds a single bottle with Vis infused water in it. Vis is magic in a pure form and allows a caster to use one of his memorized spells without losing it.

While the searching and healing is going on, Alagazar, the other mage in the party, decides to search to the south. He finds a strange circular hallway and a door in front of him.

He opens the door and see before him a circle with unique arcane symbols. After careful examination Alagazar realizes that this is a teleport circle. A mage memorizing this could use this as a target of the 4th level spell Limited Teleport. Every teleport circle has a unique design to allow the use of this spell.

Excited he calls over the party and shows the circle to the Wizard and Janus. The rest of the party decided not hang around. Dunnigan and Hunter circle counter clockwise to check the door to the west, while Hazar goes clockwise to check the door to the east.

Hunter and Dunnigan open the door after checking for traps and finds a short hallway that ends in the back of a secret door. Before they can do anything they hears the screams of terror from Hazar.

Hazar likewise checks his door and when he opened it he saw a tableau of horror, a pack of ten ghoul gnawing on the remains of humans and humanoids. He quickly shuts the door and attempts to spike it closed. But the pack of ghouls rip the door to shreds in their hunger. Alagazar quickly orders the door to Room 11 shut as Hazar come barreling in with seven Ghouls behind him.

The other three ghouls go in the opposite direction only to run into Dunnigan and Hunter leaving their hallway. Despite a valiant fight the two were brought down by the ghouls paralyzing touch. Over in Room #11, Janus order the door opened and Alagazar quickly complies. Janus presents the symbol of Silvanus and orders the Ghouls to begone. They howled and started to rush in. Dumbfounded Janus stood there slack jawed as Hazar quickly reacted to shut the door.

After a few minutes of "What the hell were you doing." and some "But, but, it should have worked." The foursome came up with a new plan. The door opened again and the Alagazar cast web binding the ghouls in the hallway. Some oil and a torch caused a small inferno the killed several of the ghouls. Maddened the remainder rushed into the room.

Even burned the remaining Ghouls nearly proved the party's undoing. After several rounds only Hazar was left standing and his agility and deftness with a dagger kept him away from the Ghoul's paralyzing touch. The last ghouls fell under his blades. Hazar retrieved Dunnigan and Hunter from where the Ghoul took them to feasted on them and shut the door.

Continued in Part II.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A concise definition of a sandbox campaign/setting

Over in the private beta of the RPG Stack Exchange (it will be public in a week) I worked up a concise definition of what the term sandbox means for RPGs.
The term originated in computer games and there it typically describes a game where it's playing field is wide open for the player to do what they want. Around 2005 with the release of Necromancer Game's Wilderlands of High Fantasy Boxed Set, it's authors, I am one of them, used it to describe what made the Wilderlands different than other setting. The boxed set was designed to make it easy for the referee to adjudicate his players roaming freely across the map.

Later the term got attached to a specific playstyle where the players wander the landscape without direction from the referee. However this is beyond what myself and other Wilderland authora intended. The problem is that when people take the hard core simulation of wandering the map too literally. This often results in frustration as many PC groups feel rudderless and the game without direction. In fact if you read through various forums posts, like at Enworld, you see these campaigns fail more than they succeed.

The trick to overcome this is World in Motion. You work with the characters to give them a background they like in the setting. This provides a framework in which the players can make his initial choices. This background can incorporate what some consider railroad elements like being members of a noble household, a guild, a temple, etc. But the key difference is that the players are free to leave or ignore those elements as long as they are willing to suffer the consequences.

Along with this you develop a timeline revolving around NPCs and events. This timeline is created with the idea that this is what happens if the player didn't exist in the campaign. This timeline becomes your plan. It gets altered as a result of the consequences of the player's action. At some point the campaign will become self driving as the consequences of the consequences start propelling the players forward.

Again the Sandbox was meant to describe a type of setting not a playstyle. But you can't control how these things go on the internet so hence the confusion.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bat in the Attic Status Report #5

I am still working on Scourge of the Demon. The Adventure portion is done but I am making a mini-supplement for a barony in the Majestic Wilderlands in the second half. It will have a regional gazetteer (done), A beggar encampment (done), a feudal village (half done), and a mage conclave (outline). I apologize for the slow going but I make progress every day.

Sales for Majestic Wilderlands have fallen off as expected. I sold 37 print copies and 28 PDF copies in April, May, and June. I am quite pleased and thank everyone who bought a copy. We will see how 3rd and 4th quarter sales do as far the long tail goes.

I do advise would be publishers not to let up on any advertising efforts. The recent Escapist Review netted me a few sales. Appreciate it Alex! This serves as a reminder that we only barely scratched the potential of our market so keep looking for those opportunities.

As for other project I am coming into the home stretch of the How to make a Fantasy Sandbox series. I plan to collect it, get it edited, and make it into a nice product. I also did some work on projects further out like Lands of Adventures, and the Main Campaign Guide for the Majestic Wilderlands.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Mage's Tale, a story of the City-State

This story sheds a little light into how the Order of Thoth of the Majestic Wilderlands works
A Mage's Tale By Robert S. Conley

Before a young man in robes was a single unlit candle. He focused intently on it, his brows furrowed.

From the corner, “Thil you must channel the mana with your will. Focus it on the candle.”

Turning to the mage lounging on the divan, Thil replied. “I can’t do this with you badgering me Indigo.”

Indigo’s face clouded with anger. “I’m badgering you Thil? What about in battle?” Thil found himself sprawling on the floor as his chair was yanked out from underneath him. Indigo continued talking. “That was a simple apportation that left you helpless. If it was flame, stone or a dozen other nasty spells you would have been dead, Thil.”

“Ignum Pyro” Thil chanted as he cupped his hands. A bright ball of flame appeared in his hand.

Indigo sighed as he flicked his finger, immediately the ball of flame winked out. Then Thil let out a gasp as the table overturned and landed on him. It pinned Thil to the floor as it pressed down. Indigo stood up. “Thil, the vim shields you from direct magical assault, but it doesn’t protect from objects manipulated by magic. And just what was your intent with the flame? You came to me for advanced training. We are done for a while.” Indigo walks out of the room. As the door closes the table falls off of Thil. He gets up and angrily kicks the table.

Indigo enters Master Edward’s study. Edward looks up “Indigo? I thought you would be with Thil teaching him Will casting.”

“I was, Edward. His skills have a long way to go before he is ready.” Indigo replied.
“Despite his potential, his temper and impatience holds him back.”

Edward leans back and sighs, “Since Unely departure, he has the best potential of all our apprentices. It is important to have him trained, Indigo.”

Indigo shook his head. “Having a student try to put fire on me, dampens my enthusiasm Edward. The boy needs to calm down.”

Edward stands up “The conclave needs trained mages, we are too few as it is.”

“Look,” Indigo spoke, “I know this. But you are pushing some of these students way too hard. Any harder they will hurt themselves or others. I know you don’t want to hear it Edward but Thil needs a breather. Badly!” Indigo turns to leave. “Give him some duty that will utilize his current skills and some experience.”

After Indigo left the study Edward begins to think. “What the hell am I going to do with Thil?” he says out loud to the empty room. A few minutes later, while deep in thought, he doesn’t notice another mage standing in the door.

She coughs, “Excuse me, Master Edward.”

He looks up, “Sorry for not noticing you, what can I do for you Frea?”

“A lieutenant of the City Guard just delivered this saying it is urgent.” Frea steps over to Edward’s desk and hands him a sealed scroll.

Edward breaks the seal, unrolls the scroll and begins reading. After a few paragraphs in his brow begins to furrow. After finishing the scroll Edward lays the scroll on the table with a sigh. Turning to Frea, “Please fetch Master Delvar and ask him to come here.”.

“Yes, master. If you don’t mind my asking what did the scroll contained?” Frea asked.

Edward answerd, “It appears that Zik is in the jail of Orc Hold.”

“Oh no what did Zik do?”

“The bill of particular says that he assaulted and killed several guards.” Edward gesturing at the scroll. “I am going to send Delvar to see what the hell happened. Although given his past I can guesswhat occurred.” After pausing a moment, “And tell Thil to come here as well, perhaps this is something he needs to see.”

Frea left the study and Edward took out a blank sheet of parchment. After consulting a book of legal forms he starting writing a writ for Delvar. “Yes I think this will be an excellent learning experience for Thil.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From the Attic: Gaming and Popcorn

Tim over at Gothridge Manor talks about Gaming Snacks. Aside from my unfortunate record with pizza, he says that we gamed before microwavable popcorn.

Not so fast bucko!

Yes it true that Microwavable Popcorn, the kind we know today, didn't take off until the mid 80s. First there was one you had to put into the fridge and then in the mid 80s versions that you could keep in a cabinet came out.

But he forgot that we had air poppers like this.

In the back of the orange piece is where you put your butter. Turn it on and it melts dripping on the popcorn as it pops.

I remember the advent of microwavable popcorn because my father was a popcorn fiend. One day I came home and one of our cabinets was loaded with boxes of microwavable popcorn. The air popper went into storage and we never used it again.

The many Spinward Marches

I am a fan of Traveller even though I only refereed the game only a handful of times. I bought products across many eras of Traveller. I bought products in just about every edition ever produced. James of Grognardia has a pair of posts on Traveller, here and here.

In these posts he talks about the Spinward Marches and in the later post has some good comments on "evolving" settings.

I agree with his sentiment and vastly prefer Harn's approach of an eternal present over a campaign world that "evolves". That my plan for the Majestic Wilderlands. I may post or write something about what happens post 4436 BCCC in my campaign but I won't make it official. The idea is that referee will be free to resolve things like the Viridian Civil War without me writing something that contradicts their resolution.

But the Spinward Marches is not a particularly good example of an evolving campaign. Yeah there was a 5th Frontiers, yes the Imperium and the Zhodani changed from their original presentation. There are versions set in 1065, 1105, 1117, 1202, and 1248 as well as the GURPS version and the Mongoose Version.

But after the first couple of years added details pretty much stopped. Later products rehashed the library data of older products. It was a bit of mess. Even with TNE smashing the Imperium the Spinward Marches was left pretty much alone as a concession to Traveller fans wanting run traditional adventures with the TNE rules. Plus the date 1202 was so far off from 1105 or 1117 that you would have to run a campaign for a really long time to the point where it even a factor.

It wasn't until the advent of GURPS Behind the Claw (not so good) and Mongoose Spinward Marches (better) that we finally get systematic detail to entire Spinward Marches. But now comes the danger that James points out. Will Mongoose resist the temptation of "advancing" the setting or choose to focus aka Harn on added detail to the existing line. We will see.

Finally there is Traveller 5 by Marc Miller. I am part of the beta group. I can't give out specific detail but one of the goals is to support "eras" of the Third Imperium. That the referee picks which era he likes and goes off and uses that. The sentiment seems to be "OK we got this rich background let's give the tools to flesh it out." as opposed "let's advance it even further".

It is interesting concept and it may very well work. That is if they ever get T5 out. Some remarked about my first Points of Lights that they like how each region were set in a different time of the quasi-setting I used. I may explore this in a specific line of products after I get a few more Majestic Wilderlands products out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More Majestic Wilderlands Reviews

The Escapists reviews the Majestic Wilderlands here as well as James Raggi's excellent Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Open Source Apps for the Roleplaying Desktop

Everybody have different budgets they can spend on their computers and applications. Invariably most have a gap in the basic software you can use to produce roleplaying stuff. So I went around and looked at the best of the open source alternative to commercial applications.

For an Office suite with a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Database, and Presentation software there is OpenOffice

For a Word Processor there is Abiword which feels like an older version of Microsoft Word. Note I prefer Abiword over the OpenOffice word processor which feels too busy for me.

For Spreadsheets there is GNumeric which does a fair job of importing Microsoft Excel files.

For a simple paint program I recommend Paint.NET. There Gimp but the learning curve is very steep.

For a vector drawing program (like CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator) there is Inkscape. Great for drawing maps especially in conjunction with Paint.NET.

For desktop publishing software to professionally layout a manuscript there is Scribus.

Finally for all the gearheads out there I recommend SMath in conjunction with a spreadsheet like Gnumeric. Smath replicates writing formulas on a piece of paper with the added benefits of being able to calculate those formula. It is pattern after a piece of software called MathCAD and the two are unique in the world of Math software. It is MUCH friendlier for the math savvy gamer than FreeMat or the other math packages. It also invaluable for converting between different units which is often a pitfall for messing around with formulas.

So if you are missing something look at the list and pick it up.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roleplaying at Stack Exchange is at 92%!

We topped the 92% mark to have the Roleplaying Stack Exchange enter into Beta. If you haven't signed up yet you can go here to do so.

Again what make a Stack Exchange site different then a forum or a Q&A site like Yahoo Answers is the reputation system. It does a good job of identifying good questions and answers. More importantly giving those who do give good questions and answers more responsibility for running the site. At the highest reputation there is little difference between the original moderators and the user.

Plus there enough a game aspect that it is fun to try to ask good question and give good answers

MorrisonMP asks some good questions

First off Jeff Atwood (one of the founders/coders of Stack Overflow and a very good programmer talks about it here.
1. What makes a question a "good" question?
The short answer any question you have about running or playing a tabletop RPG. A slightly longer answer are the example questions on the site. However the key element is the reputation system filtering the "good" questions from the "bad" questions. You don't know what is a good question until you post and read through the comments, answers, up votes, and down votes. From my experience on Stack Overflow it is self policing after the community gets going.

2. What makes an answer a "good" answer? (and the answer to this seems obvious, but what I meant is, good as defined by the reputation system.)
Again the reputation system defines what are good answers.

3. If the reputation system is based on voting, how will this in any way keep the same vocal minority that is the majority on forums from doing the same here?
If you notice they require a lot of committed people in order to put this up on line. The idea that with such a large number it will be hard for a minority to hijack the site. Also those who already have high reputations on other Stack Exchange sites count more in the commitment process (I have a 4000+ rep on Stack Overflow). In theory this means that those of us with high reps learned to "play nice" under this system.

From following Stack Exchange they try to get a bunch of little things going together in synergy rather relying on one big idea. Note they have a badge system in addition to raw reputation.

4. Once reputation begins to be set, it becomes increasingly difficult to alter, so what stops people from bumping themselves to the top of the pile?
There is a maximum per day. It also flags repeated votes from the same group IPs to counteract friends voting for each other all the time.

Ultimately, how does this method actually improve on the forum mechanic -- since it still relies on the same controls (peer) that ultimately set the communication rules of forum sites.

The focus of Forums is on organizing discussions. Stack Exchange was built on getting good answers and good questions first then organizing discussions. The shift in focus makes a difference. Programming forums have a problem with programming language wars which rival editions wars in RPGs. If you look on Stack Overflow you will see it relatively free of that. Proponents of different languages inhabit the same site peacefully which is a miracle in of itself.

The initial months will be crucial, if the community treats the Roleplaying Stack Exchange site like Stack Overflow users then it will a good resource. If it is highjacked then traffic will fall and the Stack Exchange folks will close it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Fantasy Sandbox in Detail Part XVI

Part XV

This is the fifteenth in a series detailing the 34 steps I recommended for making a Fantasy Sandbox Campaign. Today's post will cover part of the following step.
Pick the 4 or 6 most important Population locales and draw a quarter page sketch map of the settlement.
From Step VIII

0504 Kathi (village) Human
This is a farming village on the eastern shore of the Isle of Piall. The village has 300 humans and is held by Sir Vandas Gervon a distant cousin of Baron Argus. A third of village is devoted to fishing and the remainder works the surrounding fields. Despite Baron Argus’ disapproval Sir Vandas tries to be helpful to the Sheriff. He hopes to win the Sheriff’s recommendation so he can send his son, Andal to be a squire at the royal court in Haras.

  1. This the manor house of Sir Vandas Gervon, his wife Elessa, and their 5 children the eldest of which is the 17 year old Andal. Visitors with any status will be greeted with a royal welcome and a feast at the manor's great hall. During which Sir Vandas will question the party to see if some type of squireship can be secured for Andal.
  2. This is the small merchant quarter of the village. It has the Goldenrod Inn, a Smithy, and a Carpenter's workshop. Across Byway is a small temple of Veritas run by two priests and three acolytes.
  3. This is a pasture. It is used for grazing the local herd before the fall slaughter and the spring lambing.
  4. This is the North Field over 800 acres of cropland (much of this extends off map). Kathi practices two crop rotation. Currently this field is in fallow.
  5. This is the South Field which is another 800 acres of cropland (also extends off map). Currently this field is planted with wheat, barley and rye. The Village Reeve and Sir Vandas are considering whether to switch to a new system of rotating three fields.
  6. These are various individual vegetable gardens tended by the villages. They are crisscrossed with number small paths.
  7. This is the home of the fisherfolk of the Kathi. They are led by Donard Tivor a huge hulk of a man. He takes little interest in the conflict between Moran of Carras, and Helmar of Datha. When either tries to interfere with one of his fishermen, he smacks the offender upside the head with his large fishclub. Known for eating the head of a herring for good luck prior to the start of a fishing season.

This is pretty much a typical manorial village. You have the lord who is Sir Vandas who has the power of justice over the serfs of the village. Freedmen can appeal to the king's sheriff in Mikva however as a practical matter this is only done as a matter of last resort as most try to avoid causing major trouble in the small village. The villagers have several officers the Reeve which works with Sir Vandas on day to day administration, the Beadle in charge of collecting fines and keeping the peace, the Woodward in charge of making use that the woods are properly used, and the Hayward which inspects the fields, and tools to make sure everything is done properly.

The freedmen of the village will include the innkeeper, the smith, the carpenter, several yeoman who hold land rent-free in exchange for being ready for instants military service. A handful of the villagers hold strips in their own name with the only requirement that they pay a rent for using the common plow.

I recommend Harnmanor as the most gamable treatment of Manorialism. Fief and A Magical Medieval Society are both likewise good. Ken Follet's World without End, the sequel to Pillars of the Earth has several chapters set in a medieval villages that has useful stuff for gaming. Finally on Lythia.com a well done generic manor was released.

That it for part XVI next is Part XVII where the town of Mikva is detailed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Onward to the Two Towers

For the past couple of months I been reading the Lord of the Rings to my eldest son and we finally made to the end of Fellowship of the Rings. As I said in the Power of Tolkien his writing has power even when spoken out aloud. I try to give the character distinct voices and my son seems to enjoy that. A couple of times I had him on the edge of the seat which was interesting. Recently he enjoyed the passion I put into Boromir's rant at Frodo just before he tried to take the ring.

After watching the movies so many times it is nice to rediscover the books.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How not to use the OGL.

Die Cast Games released a module under the OGL with a cover featuring the art of Jeff Easley and designed to use with AD&D 1st edition. All good except for one rather big problem. They have Advanced Dungeons & Dragons plastered on the cover in a large font.

When Wizards released the d20 SRD under the OGL there were several lines drawn that you don't cross. First not everything D&D is under the OGL which why you use the d20 SRD, any rules you derived also had to be open, and finally you don't use the D&D trademark or any other trademark unless you adhere to a second license.

Sure things like defining what open and what product identity, along with correctly setting up your section 15 (where you list all the OGL product you used in your product including your own) can leave your head scratching. But help is often just a post or email away to clarify this stuff.

The big problem is section 7 of the OGL.
7. Use of Product Identity: You agree not to Use any Product Identity, including as an indication as to compatibility, except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of each element of that Product Identity. You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark. The use of any Product Identity in Open Game Content does not constitute a challenge to the ownership of that Product Identity. The owner of any Product Identity used in Open Game Content shall retain all rights, title and interest in and to that Product Identity.

Nostalgia marketing is fine ... to a point. And Die Cat's module is way over that point. Which is a real shame because the cover art is nice, the production values are good, and from all reports the module is a solid adventure. Now we wait with baited breath for Wizard's reaction or lack of it. Grognardia post articulates my fears quite well. I don't relish having to explain why what I write is not a rip off of Wizard's IP.

We see how this plays out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Generations of Gamers (at least how I view it)

I been playing and refereeing roleplaying games since I was in Junior High School in 1978. I started with the Holmes Blue Book and quickly snapped up the AD&D hardbacks when they came out. I did not know about original D&D at the time. Unbelievably the summer prior to getting Holmes I was teasing for NOT playing Dungeons & Dragons. The kid in question was waving a original D&D white box at me.

So I been playing for a long time and I got to thinking about the different generations of gamers. I always felt I was part of a 2nd wave with the folks playing OD&D part of the 1st generations. I the Blackmoor and Greyhawk folks were the zeroth generation predating any publication.

When I got in roleplaying games and wargames were at the height of their popularity and even in a town of 15,000 in rural NW PA there were plenty of games to be had of both variety. I would say the 3rd generation was post Dragonlance. By then D&D was big business and the physical quality of the books were noticeably better. Although D&D fatigue was setting in among the more experienced gamers. The slack was taken up mostly by playing other genres with games like Traveller and Call of Cthulu. Around this time Battletech became the first quasi-RPG wargame to really hit big. At least in western PA.

Number of RPGs increased with a variety of complexity and focus from the zaniness of Toon, the even more zany Paranoia to the extreme customization of Champion/Hero system, and GURPS. Also licensed properties like Star Trek, Star Wars, etc were abound.

Then 2nd edition AD&D was released. Which I am sure made an easier game to learn for the newcomer but was met with mostly blah among experienced gamers. (Again from my point of view). Shortly after, the first real big sea change came into roleplaying with the release of Vampire the Masquerade by White Wolf. I would call this the 4th generation as a whole new segment of gamers came into the hobby and for the first time the ladies were well represented.

Then RPGs really took at hit with Magic the Gathering. There for a while most roleplaying was shut down as our hobby time was consumed with the card game. This was also the time of late 2nd AD&D and TSR financial woes. For a while it seemed to me that White Wolf was poised to be top dog in a shrunken RPG hobby.

Then 3rd edition D&D hit. Which inaugurated the 5th generation and had the salutatory effect of drawing in a lot of folks who given up playing D&D and RPGs. Plus the landscape of the professional and hobby side was changed with OGL and the d20 SRD. It was eerily similar to how the openness of the original IBM PC impacted the computer industry. (Something that I experienced as well)

Currently I feel we are in the 6th generation of roleplaying. 4th edition D&D broke the legacy of D&D 3.X enough to cause a new group of gamers to dominate the largest segment of the hobby. Also like the White Wolf era this is a generation that is defined by more than a D&D edition change. The Open Game License, the Internet, and Print on Demand are creating new secondary areas of the hobby.

Some might object to the dominance of D&D in how I view the generations. The simple fact that D&D been top dog since day one. The vast majority of gamers are introduced to the hobby through the various editions of D&D. Doesn't mean that it the only game in down but when it sneezes we all catch cold. When sales run hot the hobby and industry is in a boom.

As for the future the answer is pretty much as it always was. It will go to those who put in the work to create it, to those who learn from the best (and worst) of the past and continue to forge head.

Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stack Overflow for roleplaying games

Stack Overflow is a new style site for getting questions answered. Opened two years ago it works through anybody asking a question about programming with anybody allowing to answer. Where it differs from a forums and similar sites is the reputation system for rating questions and answers. It is highly refined compared to moderation system, exalts, and other similar systems. Some get addicted to building reputations, and those who have the highest have truly earned it. So far it proven highly effective for getting programming questions answered.

Now they opened up Stack Overflow system for just about any topic. They tried going commerical but their original approach didn't work. So they decided to make it free but with a catch. The catch before they host a site it has to go through several phases to see if it has enough interest.

Sure enough there is a site being generated for Roleplaying games. It is in the commitment phase where people promise to use it during it's beta. When enough have committed then it will open to beta. If it is used enough during beta a permanent site will open.

I think it will be highly useful to the roleplaying community to have a Stack Overflow sites dedicated to answer questions. The reputation system keep the signal noise ratio very high and I will think it work really well. So head on over and sign up so it get into beta.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Dwayne, Tim and I had a lot fun last saturday playing various board games late into the evening. First Dwayne and I tried a few round of the Settlers of Catan card gams which was a lot of fun. Then when Tim got there we tried to deal him in but found out all the expansion Dwayne bought were for the original version. Settlers of Catan may be a great games but -1 for making a confusing set of boxes.

Well not to worry Dwayne brought a Babylon 5 board games which was a lot of fun. You build your own galaxy with the included tiles and fight it out. I played the Minbari, Dwayne the Centauri, and Tim the Earth Alliance. The first several rounds were peaceful but then Dwayne went after Tim. After a two rounds of the Centuri trashing the Earth Alliance I warned him to back off. He ignored me.

Luckily for me I had a couple of card that allowed me to rearranged the map due to spatial distortion and the like. The Centauri went down however the Earth Alliance then started to attack the Minbari!. Well the second Earth-Minbari war didn't go so well for the Minbari. It was hard fought but eventually Minbar fell and Tim won.

The last game with Tomb. Produced by AEG, you recruit parties of adventurers and go dungeon crawling. The dungeon is filled with crypts and one is open the board tells whether the player on the left or right is cryptmaster and runs the monster and adjudicates the traps. Death happens nearly every round but AEG provided a boatload of adventurers to recruit. There are cards that allow you to screw around with each other both as a player and a cryptmaster.

The game is a lot of fun and really recommend it. There is an expansion which expands on the cryptmaster side of the game. I played it too conservatively and it came down to a race between Tim and Dwayne. Dwayne won with the very last Crypt fight which nearly resulted in a TPK due to my great dice rolls.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Others comment on Sandbox campaigns

Alexander Macris the CEO and publisher of Escapist has a column and is writing about his own approach to Sandbox campaigns. We chatted a bit and I was able to offer him the Southland chapter of Points of Light as a free download. Check out the other columns on his site Days of High Adventure I think is of particular interest.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gygax's Minimalist Dungeon

The two main things that started me thinking about minimalist dungeons are the description of Blackmoor in Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign, Tegel Manor, and this photo of Gary Gygax running Greyhawk.

If you zoom in you can see that there just isn't a whole lot of text there. Photo courtesy of Philotomy.

Again I am not aiming to duplicate the past but seeing what we can learn from this approach for the dungeons we create and publish today.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Maps earning their keep.

Many remember the light blue maps that came inside of B1 - Search of the Unknown, B2- Keep on the Borderlands and many other early modules. While there were some detail on those maps they were basically gridded rectangle in a sea of light blue. I acknowledge that the minimalist format has an appeal to many I think the format pioneered by Tegal Manor and Harn really adds value to a module that text only doesn't do.

Let's look; first Tegal Manor

The Tegal Map is just packed with information about the different rooms and hallways.

Now Harn

While less on the map text the Harn style makes up for it in detail. You can look in each room and visualize the contents. Those of you want to look at in more detail you go to Lythia.com and download Tashal Eastside City Block. For even crazier example you can download the Tashal Upper Eastside.

Often the most effective presentation and books are those who combine good writing AND good graphics. These two map styles in combination with the text makes for a superior module than either alone. Many of the professional maps I do have little "bits" inserted to help the referee flesh out the scene without having to add a lot of text. One thing I need to work on is adding some verbiage, like Tegal Manor, to give the referee a sense of what the environment is like. I love how various areas in Tegal Manor have text like creaking, hissing and so on.

The one caveat I have is that I don't like the photorealistic maps that are somewhat in vogue. Don't get me wrong I think they make for great battlemaps. However for use in the actual book I think the b/w greyscale (or minimal color; 2 or 3) is clearer. The use of full color photo realism often results in muddy looking maps on the 8.5 by 11 page.

I also think the Harn maps goes a little too fair in applying various texture files. Too many will also muddy your pages. In the end you have to practice and try various approaches until you find one that works best.

A map that successfully combines all these elements is one that really earns it's keep.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More on the Knight Killer Crossbow

SeaOfStars asked in yesterday's post whether a knight killer crossbow should weigh more. I dug into my notes taken from GURPS and historical sources and the answer is sort of.

The crossbow would be bulkier but not that much. Probably 12 pounds. If you want further balance you could say that you need a minimum strength of 12 or suffer a -4 penalty to hit. This accounts for the increased recoil.

The cranequin used to cock the crossbow weighs 9 pounds. But it is also detachable. You could argue that a built in stirrup and windlass is accounted in the extra weight. As for price much of the crossbow is still wood and still a relatively simple mechanical device. If you using a feudal society where the knights are effectively law enforcers the Knight Killer could viewed as an illegal weapon. Especially with it's name.

However to be honest saying that it double the price and double the weight is not going to have all that much of an effect in the abstract combat system of D&D. It is a single shot, highly accurate, high damage weapon. If the party relies on using this as their main attack and the first volley misses they are in big trouble.

Finally this was developed when the shoe was on the other foot. The party were the city guards dealing with adventurers. When the next campaign came around they had to deal with the consequences of their own innovation.

In of itself the Knight-Killer looks like a freebie handed to the players. However it makes sense when placed in the context of the campaign I ran.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Knight Killer Crossbow

In this post Tim of Gothridge Manor talks about the official guard figure. In it he mentioned the Knight Killer Crossbow. This weapon originated out of a GURPS campaign where everybody played a member of the poor suffering town watch. Among the tactics the players developed was a super heavy that could only fire once as you needed to winch it up to recock it this took at least 6 rounds.

The SoP (standard operating procedure) was for everybody to fire their knight killer, drop it, and then ready their normal weapons. Not everbody hit but those who did tore into their opponents. Being GURPS this often meant an opposing adventurer was taken out in one shot. Those who survived were often grievously wounded.

When I wrote up the Majestic Wilderlands I included it as part of my price list. It was folded into the general boost that crossbows got. All crossbow got a bonus to hit because of superior accuracy. The Knight Killer Crossbow is patterned after the european arbalest.


Crossbow, light: 30d*. 6.0/lbs
Acc:+2 RoF 1 Rng:60 ft Dmg: 1d4+1 (Bolts)

Crossbow, heavy 38d, 6.0/lbs
Acc:+4 RoF 1/2 Rng:80ft Dmg:1d6+1 (Bolts)

Cross., Knight Killer 46d, 6.0/lbs
Acc:+4, RoF 1/6, Rng:100ft Dmg:1d20+2 (Bolts)

Prodd 38d/ea 6.0/lbs
Acc: +2, RoF 1, Rng: 60ft, Dmg 1d4+1 (Bullets)

*d = denarius = silver penny = silver piece.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Minimal Dungeons

In the last post I mentioned that the dungeon I created for the Gold Anime folks was an experiment. I call it a minimal dungeon. The idea came to me through reading various discussions about Blackmoor, El Raja Key, Tegal Manor, Greyhawk, etc. Whenever you see part of notes they look almost ludicrously minimal aside from a few detailed setpieces. Something like Kitchen - 5 Orcs HD1 HP 5,5,4,3, Treasure 100 gps in a sack on the table.

So what going on here? Especially when we hear that many of these places were huge sprawling megadungeons. When we see official releases many times is it is a fairly large box or thick book. More often we just don't see anything at all.

I am beginning to think that everybody's expectations got skewed when the most of the early modules were tournament modules. In tournaments you need make things clear to make sure the module is fairly run for everybody.

I don't think we need that level of detail at our tabletop. Yes if you are publishing you will need some words in there to teach the referee what you think the module about. But beyond a certain point extra verbiage is excess weight.

But where is that point? Where does it quit being something that save you time in making a fun session and changes into something little better than what you get from having a computer randomly generate a dungeon.

I don't know and right now I don't have the answer. But hopefully what I am doing will enlighten to what would be a good answer. And hopefully you will get something out of it as well.

In addition a lot of people slag the Old School Renaissance for being too nostalgia oriented, or too backward oriented. I always thought that was hogwash with all the new things that many blogger, forum folks, and publishers do. And it no different for me with this exercise. While learning how the first campaigns were run is fun what I am looking to do is something more practical. How to make a dungeon that is useful, that you will buy, doesn't cost a lot either in time to write or page count, and just as important allow you to make it your own.

The dungeon I will be using will be this. It from an old composition book of graph paper that has a dozen of my earliest dungeons (those that survived). The key were long lost so I set out to reuse the map and writing it up anew again.

After some reading and consideration I decided to use the Moldavy random dungeon content as the foundation. Added to that I used the original version of the Monster and Treasure assortments. For the upper levels that I am detailing today I am drawing from the 3rd level charts. I know Swords & Wizardry has some charts but I will try them at another time.

Like my sandbox fantasy settings there will be an overarching theme. In this case this site was the home of an old Elven Temple community devoted to the god Silvanus. I apologize if I get vague on the background details but the group just ready to go down to the level below and I don't want to give too much away. Everything here they already been through.

So I roll up 24 locations according to Moldavy's chart and came up with this.

1a - Empty
1b - Monster, Treasure, No
1c - Empty
1d - Monster, Treasure, Yes
1e - Trap, Treasure, Yes
1f - Empty
2 - Monster, Treasure, No
3 - Special
4 - Monster, Treasure, No
5 - Special
6 - Empty, Treasure, No
7 - Monster, Treasure, Yes
8a - Empty
8b - Trap, Treasure, No
9a - Empty
9b - Special
10a - Monster, Treasure, No
10b - Monster, Treasure, Yes
10c - Special
10d - Special
10e - Monster, Treasure, No
10f - Monster, Treasure, Yes
10g - Monster, Treasure, No
10h - Special

#1 - Elven House
1a Entrance Chamber

1b Ruined Living Room
5 Orcs: HD 1; HP 3x7, 2 x 3; AC 6[13]; Atk 1 spear (1d6); Move 9; Save 17; CL/XP 1/15; Special: None.

1c Empty Room with debris

1d Resting in this room is the warleader of the Orcs.
Orc Warleader: HD 4; HP 12; AC 6[13]; Atk 1 spear (1d6+2); Move 9; Save 17; CL/XP 1/15; Special: None.

1e, ruined bedroom.
Spike Trap 2d6 damage. A board with a spike is rigged to swing across the door opening
On the remains of a dressed is a jeweled box with over 1,000d treasure and paralyzation needle trap Save or be paralyzed for 24 hours.

1f Bedroom Closet

Since this ruined elven temple is found in Dearthwood which is infested by Orcs having an orc lair is an easy call.

2 – Meditation Chapel
13 Giant Centipede (small, lethal): HD 1d2hp; AC 9[10]; Atk 1 bite (0 + poison); Move 13; Save 18; CL/XP 2/30; Special: poison bite (+4 save or die).

To me the Mediation Chapel is an elven thing where they go to commune and relax. Probably need the above line if I publish this. The 13 giant centipedes can be nasty if the party not smart about taking them out.

3 – Ancient Well
An overgrown well untended for generations, withered flowers and pitted bowls of rotten food are found in niches. If a new fresh offering is made the pixies living in there will grant a +1 bless lasting for 1d6 days to the entire party.

The first special. Set it up as a boon for the party.

4 – Amphitheater
An ancient elven wight lives in room at the bottom of the Amphitheater. The room was used to store props and as a changing room.
Wight: HD 3; HP 18; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 claw (1hp + level drain); Move 9; Save 14; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Drain 1 level with hit, hit only by magic or silver weapons.

Probably need to explain that it is sunken into the ground. As the map can be looked at either way.

5 – Dining Hall
When entered the party will see a hall with tables laden with food. When they sit down and start eating it will disappear showing the true ruined appearance. They will hear a sigh and get a feeling of great sadness. This will reset the next full moon.

The transformation of the Elven realm of Silverwood into Dearthwood was a tragedy this is meant to convey some of that sorrow. The second special result.

6 – The Kitchen
Rotten remains of a kitchen.

I like to write locales that make sense. While I can understand the appeal of funhouse dungeons they are not really my forte.

7 – Storeroom
This room was the kitchen storeroom. Amid the piles of refuse are the two Giant Snakes and their treasure. A Potion of Fire Resistance and a jeweled Necklace worth 1,000d.

Giant Constrictor: HD 6; HP 28; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 bite (1d3), 1 constrict (2d4); Move 10; Save 11; CL/XP 7/600; Special: Constrict

d = denarius = 1 silver penny = 1 silver piece. I price everything in silver, call the coins pennies as a flavor thing.

8 - Cottage
8a – Bedroom
The ruined remains of the Bedroom of a Cottage

8b - Closet
The topshelf of the closet is rotted causing it to collapse when the door is opened. Save or suffer 2d6 damage. In the fallen junk you find 1,200d.

Trap with treasure at least there is some consolation for the pain.

9 - Cottage
9a – Bedroom
The ruined remains of the Bedroom of a Cottage

9b – Closet
In the pile of junk there is a music box.

There a reason for the music box, but I can't get into it yet.

10-Temple of the Elves

In this section I will go through each room

10a –Temple Steps
8 Giant Rats surry around the temple steps
Giant Rat: HD 1d4hp; HP 4 x 3, 3 x2, 2 x 2, 1x 1 AC 7[12]; Atk 1 bite (1d3); Move 12; Save 18; CL/XP A/5; Special: 5% are diseased.

10b – Rubble pile
2 Monstrous Rats lie hidden guarding their treasure of 2,800d.
Monstrously Huge Giant Rat: HD 3; HP 10, 8; AC 6[13]; Atk 2 claws (1d3),1 bite (1d6); Move 12; Save 14; CL/XP 3/120; Special: 5% are diseased.

The party approaches the temple there are giant rats scurrying around the steps. I think this is a great evocative scene. However I think I need to explain the setup with the Monstrous Rats a bit better. Basically the players will see piles of refuse and check them out. The Monstrous rats are a gotcha moment.

10c – Alcove of Elders
The half dozen statues along this wall depict various noteworthy elders, scholars, and sages of the elves. Meditating in front of one of the Statues will cause the following spells to be cast. One time for 1 person every full moon.
1 Cast Healing (4d6+2 hp healed) , “Virtue is healing.”
2 Cast Dark Vision “One must see one’s enemies”
3 Create Food, “An army doesn’t walk on it’s stomach.
4 Shield (duration 24 hours, AC 15 melee, 17 missile), “A good defense helps when a good offense fails”
5 Haste (doubles speed and attack for 24 hours), “A good offense is better than a good defense”
6 Strength (duration 24 hours, 2d4 strength, fighter, 1d6 strength clerics, theives), “Sometimes power is best when brought directly on your enemy”.

10d – Alcove of Heroes
The half dozen statues along this wall depict various noteworthy heroes of the elves. Meditating in front of one of the statue will confer the following effect for 24 hours 1 time only for all six.
1 Raises Strength (1d6) “He could bear the load of a dozen.”
2 Raises Intelligence, “He outfought his enemies by his wits”
3 Raises Wisdom, “None was a better strategist”
4 Raises Dexterity “If you saw his blade, it was too late.”
5 Raises Constitution, “He persevered where others fail.”
6 Raises Charisma, “Thousand would gladly follow him into the abyss.”

This is was a fun set of special to write and it played really well. Probably need a sentence or two explaining the setup a little better.

10e - Altar
A centipede swarm lives around the altar.
Centipede Swarm: HD n/a; AC n/a; Atk 1 (1hp + non-lethal poison); Move 4; Save 18; CL/XP 1/15; Special: non-lethal poison.

This played out totally hilarious in the game as one member of the party rushes to check out the altar.

10f – Storeroom
Various items used in the temple were stored here. 2 evil Curates are here preparing to haul various items to begin a ritual to desecrate the main temple. In a large chest along with ritual implements is +1 Sword of Silvanus (they planned on destroying this in the ritual) and 600 gold pennies.

Evil Curate; AC 2[17]; 5th level Clerics; HP 24,16; HTB +2; ATK 1 DMG 1d6 (Mace); MV 60’; Save: 10: Mace, +1 Mace, 30d; Spells: Cause Light Wounds, Protection from Good, Hold Person, Curse, Prayer

The main fight of the ground level. If I publish this need to add a few sentances here and at the beginning to explain that this is a Temple of Silvanus that these guys are going to desecrate for their evil plan. That they are demon cultists

10g – Vestry
This is was the office of the Head Druid of the Temple. Now there are 12 Orc minions of the curate lounging around eating and drinking. If they hear fighting outside they will respond in 2d6 round as they are more than a little drunk. A party has automatic surprise on the Orcs.

Orc: HD 1; HP 3x7, 3 x 3, 3 x 5, 3 x 8; AC 6[13]; Atk 1 spear (1d6); Move 9; Save 17; CL/XP 1/15; Special: None.

The drunken orc bit could be consider a bit of a funhouse but also plays to the naturalistic side of how I run things. Not every orc guarding a chest in a 10 by 10 room is going to be on the ball.

10h - Closet
This is a locked closet where the vestments and items used in temple services are stored.

Could just be ignored as flavor text but players into roleplaying could use this as a way of renewing the temple for the glory of Silvanus. I also need to flesh it out to show that these are of Silvanus not the Demon Cultists.

I think things will come together the more I write using this format along with running game sessions. One thing I noticed is that I got more verbose the further I wrote. During the writing of Level 1 I kept the short and simple descriptions more consistent in length and brevity.