Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hurry up and wait, Blackmarsh progress

After researching my options, I decided to go with RPGNow for the print copy of Blackmarsh. It will be 8.5 by 11, 16 pages. So the full map will be properly display within. Since I will be using color the maps will (crossing fingers) be a full gray scale. I also setup the PDF sides of things which will be free and working with Brave Halfling to coordinate our releases.

The only downside is that the I have to wait for the print files to be approved from a technical standpoint. A process that takes way longer than Lulu. Then I get to order it and see how it printed and hope that nothing went wrong. Otherwise I get to repeat the whole cycle again.

One thing I did different this time is made sure my files are PDF/X-1a:2001 compliant. This is a standard used by printing houses to ensure that the printed color is really what the color the customer wanted.

Because I did this I am going to set up a b/w versions on lulu and RPGNow to see if it succeeds in avoiding halftoning of my maps. The key element of exporting to a PDF/X-1a:2001 PDF was converting all my images to either a 1 bit b/w format for line art or 32-bit CMYK (not RGB or grayscale) for the images. I hope you find this helpful for your own projects.

We are on track for an April release. And below is the full letter size cover. Click to enlarge.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sometimes the Crystal Ball isn't so cloudy

When commenting on technology for gaming I said that flexible LCD computers would make a major impact on gaming. The basic idea is that the computer is a flexible LCD Screen that you unroll and plug it into a bar that has your computer, has all your USB style ports and power connections. Then you can interact with the surface via touch. Or on the high end via coded physical pieces that the surface senses.

Well it turns out that something took that idea and thought about how it would actually work. You can read the article and watch the video here. Admittedly it is still a bit of a pie in the sky but it nice to see others thinking along the same lines.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some format questions for Blackmarsh

I was doing some review of my print options and some issues came up that I need input on.

In the Delving Deeper Boxed set, Blackmarsh is digest size (5.5" by 8.5") with a full size letter size map. There are no issues there.

But for the standalone print book I realize that I need some feedback because of the map.

For the digest size book I am going to have to section the map and add a couple of pages after the entries and also have one page with the whole map at a reduced size. I need to add some pages anyway because of the print requirement of having one blank page at the end and it will be perfect bound.

Looking over my options I can also have a letter size version which will allow me to have the full map. It will be saddle stitched. Plus it will be using the color process and will allow the full greyscale of my maps to come through rather than the halftoning that afflicted Majestic Wilderlands.

I am wondering if I should even be bothering with the digest size version for print. I can provide both so that is not an issue.

Delving Deeper Covers

Now that the edits are past, I have been working on the layout.

Here is the Delving Deeper Boxed Set cover

and here is the standalone print cover. Yes it plays a bit to nostalgia.

Both will digest size (5.5" by 8.5") books. The Boxed set version will be 24 pages digest (6 folded sheets). The print version will have some extra pages to include the main map in the book.

RPGNow only has perfect binding so in addition to selling there I will continue to sell at Lulu and offer a saddle back (staple) bound option. Along with that have a parchment cover option. The disadvantage of Lulu will be that you have to download the PDF and the word doc from the Bat in the Attic website. Still working on pricing for print but it will be very easy on the budget.

Monday, March 21, 2011

From the Attic: Early version of Majestic Wilderland Clerics

When I completely organized my roleplaying stuff last year I found some pages of my old AD&D notes. Then I promptly misplaced them, sigh. Well I found them stuffed in a spiral bound book of photocopied Judges Guild tables. So now I am presenting them for your enjoyment and inspiration.

When I got the AD&D Dragonlance Adventures Hardback it really inspired me to customize the AD&D rules for the Majestic Wilderlands. It was the first time that it occurred to me that something like the MW Supplement could be done. Although it took 20 years before the opportunity to do something came about.

My initial design was very derivative of the Dragonlance classes. What I did is took the potpourri of gods and organized them into major groups. I think I had four as opposed to Dragonlance's three.

The only surviving text I have is for the Olympian which were I called my Chaotic Good/Sylvan/Elven gods. The idea is that these deities have separate churches but at the highest level they have a common hierarchy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Delving deeper into Blackmarsh

I apologize for the title of this post for being a pun. If I was sitting at the table with Dwayne and Tim I would have gotten hit in the arm by now and owed them a coke.

John Adams has been blogging about the Deleving Deeper rules and so I thought likewise I would share some of what you are getting with Blackmarsh.

The map is created, like the original Blackmoor, but taking a map of Holland and flipping it around. I go into detail about this in this post and I have James Mishler to thank for connecting the dots on this.

The result is this

I further fleshed it out by adding villages, lairs, and other locales.

The locales are described in one or two paragraphs like this for the ruins at 0814 and 1112
0814 Scattered throughout the bogs are several small buildings that were once the homes of magic-users researching the plants and herbs of the region. Stone was sunk into the bogs and dry pathways were built to connect the scattered residences. It was abandoned in the century after the fall of the Bright Empire and time has taken its toll. Sections of the pathways have worn away and various creatures have moved into the abandoned dwellings. Some have reported that the wizards left unfinished experiments and strange forms of plant life live in the ruins.

1112 On the sea bottom are the sunken remains of the last treasure ships to sail from Blackmarsh before the fall of the Bright Empire. There are over a dozen galleys with cargo consisting of gold, adamant, and sealed crates with viz still in their hulls and scattered across the seabed. Taking residence amid the crumbling ships is a school of several dozen sharks (2 HD) along with a giant sea serpent (12 HD)
I also added a map of the town of Castle Blackmarsh.

As well as some short entries on a dozen establishments within the town.

Due the circular bay on the map, the background I come up with has a meteor, known as The Mountain That Fell, crashing into the earth and smashing out what became known as the Smoking Bay. It scattered a strange material known as viz that is potent in using to create magic items and caused many strange and unusual monsters to form. (many of the original roster). The elves were the first in the region and healed the lands but soon other races came in. The elves split over the arrival of the other races with the xenophobic faction forming the Brotherhood of the Raven. Those who desired peace created the Blackmarsh Rangers (an organization not a class). The conflict between the two factions, along with the continual intrusion of outside forces seeking viz drive the subsequent history of Blackmarsh.

An important part of that history is the arrival of the Bright Empire when it was at it's maximum extent. Blackmarsh was just beyond it's further frontiers and was loosely colonized by various magic-users and their conclaves. Their main settlement was Castle Blackmarsh. They built several castles, keeps, and towers throughout the region seeking viz. When the Bright Empire fell Blackmarsh survived but many of the wizard keeps and towers feel into decay. They form the largest part of the numerous dungeons that dot Blackmarsh.

Viz is a magical substance that takes many forms. One Viz allows a magic user to cast a memorized spell without losing it from memory. The viz is consumed in the process. Two Viz allows this for a second level spell, three for a 3rd level spell and so on. One Viz is also worth 100 gp towards the creation of a magic item. It is meant to be only a little more useful than scrolls and to be magical treasure usable towards the creation of a magic item.

Those you with Gothridge Manor's Knowledge Illuminate will recognize viz. This is one of the elements that Tim, Dwayne, and I share among ourselves. Each of us developing our own take.

The background has been applied with a light touch and be altered without impacting much of the locales detailed. Like the Points of Light series the dynamics of how locales interact with each is what ultimately drives the setting.

I explicitly tie this to Southland although it is not dependent on having that setting. Those who own Points of Light or downloaded it from the Escapist can use it alongside Blackmarsh to create a larger setting. Also I plan to convert the Wild North that was published in Fight On #3 to a standalone setting and set it just to the northeast of Blackmarsh.

I will be honest, that doing this is a bit of juggling game. I am trying to be careful so that I don't go into AD&D 2e setting territory and produce a series of setting books that require all of them to be bought. I focus on making it work as a standalone setting but give some support for tying everything together for those who want that.

Blackmarsh is a homage to Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. But it is not a clone. The elements that it shares are; drawn from a map of holland, has a castle with a dungeon underneath where access is controlled by the elves, an elven forest, vikings roaming around, and there is a larger kingdom to the southeast. Beyond that background, the locales and details are unique to the Blackmarsh setting. Much of what I used is inspired from material I developed for the campaigns I ran in the Elephand Lands in the Majestic Wilderlands.

Finally all of this material will be placed under the Open Game License for you to develop from. What this specifically means is that a free PDF will be provided, a word document stripped of art, and high resolution graphics of both maps. I will also be selling a standalone print copy for those of you who play similar systems to Delving Deeper.

Feel free to ask any further questions in the comment section.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Legends of Pakesnarrion

One the things that I liked about Elisabeth Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion is the various legends and folklore she eludes to in her story. Since the focus of the book on is on Paksenarrion, we only get a few details of what the stories are about.

One, Gird, got a full treatment in Surrender None and Lair's Oath. Today in her blog, the author graciously gives a overview of another legend, Torres Necklace. It pretty good and I recommend reading it for inspiration.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blackmarsh, a sandbox fantasy setting for Delving Deeper

I am pleased to announce that the Blackmarsh sandbox fantasy setting will be included in the Delving Deeper boxed set by Brave Halfling Publishing. It will be a 20 to 24 page supplement detailing the region of Blackmarsh and its locale. It will include a 8.5 by 11 map of Blackmarsh, a half page map of the town of Castle Blackmarsh, an essay on managing sandbox fantasy campaigns, a short history, and a fleshed out list of locales, The locales are described in one or two paragraphs with only the level, class, or HD noted for the NPCs and creatures.

The text and maps of Blackmarsh will be released under the Open Game License allowing anybody to freely publish supplemental material for the setting. The setting shares the same loose background with the other Points of Light setting. It is designed to adjoin the Southland setting. Blackmarsh is to the north of Southland. For those with the Points of Light books, it is set in the same "time period" as Southland.

I consider my work on sandbox setting my most original contribution to the hobby. Until the Necromancer team and myself worked on the Wilderlands boxed set it received little attention or interest. Since then I been able to write a number of well received projects, Points of Light, How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox, etc.

since then, I am always looking for opportunities to get more sandbox fantasy material out there. When John Adam announced his boxed set I sent him an email and we quickly came to an agreement to include Blackmarsh in the boxed set. I really excited about this as I think it will help people get up and running with Delving Deeper quickly. Of course since Delving Deeper is built on the original 1974 roleplaying game, Blackmarsh will work with Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and many other retro-clones.

When the three volume softcover series is released, I will release the PDF of Blackmarsh for free. Also I will release a plain word document of Blackmarsh. Along with this I will offer for sale a standalone print copy of Blackmarsh.

Currently the project is the midst of being edited and proofed, see the series of editing post by Tim of Gothridge Manor. I will post more on Blackmarsh itself tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2011

From the Attic: An early roster of gods for the Majestic Wilderlands

I have a file box fill with the first decade of material I created for the Majestic Wilderlands. Among them is a composition book which has some notes on the gods. On the inside cover I drew the symbols of the different religions and some of the sects and orders.

Great value from Dwarven Forge

As great as they are, $99 for Dwarven Forge Sets is a very expensive purchase. Coupled with the fact you need at least three sets to get adequate coverage for a typical dungeon session makes many have second thoughts before buying. Note by coverage I don't mean the entire dungeon but rather the variety you need to have a average dungeon section out on the table. The only reason I have a set is because a friend gave it to me. (I still appreciate the gift Scott if you are reading this).

But one thing I am willing to get is items to "stock" the rooms I drawing using Gaming Paper (a great deal) or a dry erase battlemat. I have two plastic tray filled with these items and small dungeon tiles that I use for this purpose. It allows me to fully describe a room quicker and more accurately than verbal alone.

It happens that Dwarven Forge does make accessories. Because Jerry of Gold Star Anime publicized the game where I used my one Dwarven Forge set to simulate the confusing nature of a maze, the folks at Dwarven Forge gave him a couple code worth $50. Graciously Jerry gave me the code which I really appreciate.

So I went over the Dwarven Forge site and decided to get their Dungeon Accessory and a set of Columns. When I got them on Friday and was really impressed. They come fully painted and the larger pieces have felt bottoms. The prices accurately reflects the quality of the items as you can see for yourself. Plus the quantity of items you get feels like you got $35 worth as well.

My own compliant is that I wish I was able to buy multiple quantities of single pieces. I would have liked to have been able to order more chests and barrels.

After receiving this I think I will save up and buy the tavern set. Also makes wants me to paint the resin pieces that I had for years.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Orcs of the Majestic Wilderlands and other things

James of Grognardia is trying to start another bandwagon with this post.

At one time I went through the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II and noted all the possible culture forming races. There was a huge number well over a hundred!

I thought this was a bit ridiculous to try to come up with anything plausible out of. But rather than just cut and pare this I tried to think of a way of making this exist.

By then I already had established an Uttermost War and that it was a war between the Gods and the Demons. The demons were not a special group but rather gods and mortal who revolted and decided they knew how to run creations better than the original plan.

So I decided there were only two races in the beginning elves and human. The elves were created to be guardians of the wilderlands and their ultimate destiny was tied to its fate. Humans were destined for something beyond and their time in the wilderlands was just a step to their ultimate destination.

But how do I get from two to over a hundred sentient races?

It the demons fault. The demon were largely comprised of gods and elves. Humans that came under their control were enslaved. Unfortunately humans being humans made for poor slaves by demon standards. Either they rebelled or broke too easily when driven. So the Demons decided to create the prefect servitors.

They used magic to twist humans into new races. The first batch consisted of Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings. With them they were focused on physical hardiness (Dwarves, Gnomes) or reduced need for supplies (halflings). But they had too much of the human spirit and still caused problems.

So next they experimented with animal hybrids the result were things like centaurs, lizard men and the like. The results were often strange and for many there were breeding issues.

Finally they realized they need to go after the mind as well as the body. So they created the Orcs, goblins, and the rest of the humanoids. For goblins they tweaked them so that had a obsessive attention span. They would focus on a task to near exclusion of all other things.

For Orcs they greatly increased their aggression levels and introduced a dominance mechanism based off of that. Orcs will readily follow any leader they perceive to be stronger than they are and their in-fighting left them too divided to think of resisting the demons.

After the Uttermost Wars the Gods tried to integrate demon created races but only succeeded with the earliest that did not have their minds effected. Unwilling to commit genocide they scattered the other races to isolated regions of the Wilderlands. Of course as millenniums passed eventually they all came into contact with one another again.

I felt this explains the AD&D setup rather nicely. While the story of the orcs is tragic, it is understandable why there is so much bloodshed with civilizations that border them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Useful GURPS Material

Mook over on TheMookNet has made some really nice fillable PDFs, charts, and aides to use with GURPS.

If you are feeling the lack of a decent monster manual I just download the Natural Encyclopedia by Kevin Munoz.

UPDATE: I found the latest version and linked to it instead. Thanks Dan for pointing it out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How make a fantasy hot elf chick Part XCDVMI

You start with some chicks

Feed them until they turn into this

While wearing these

Then get your hot sauce and do this

Viola! Hot elf chicks.

Not as funny as Gothridge Manor's post but definitely in the spirit of the day.

Mechanical Complexity of D&D Part II

There are several D&D sub system from different editions I consider good mechanics.

The Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook, I view this is the best minimal summary of the D&D game. It is an excellent foundation on which to build your own D&D.

First is Ascending Armor Class from 3.X is better than THAC0 or a chart look up in my opinion. This is coupled with a to hit bonus that increases as you level.

Rituals from 4e. I think for a referee who wants notch up the magic level in their campaign without turning the character into super heroes this is the way to go. At a turn casting time it doesn't impact combat much but allow many utility spells to be used during the course of the campaign. There is still some resource management involved if you rigorously keep track of the total components (in g.p.) that the player have on hand.

My Ability system from Majestic Wilderlands. Yes I wrote this so I am bit biased. But I really like how it works out in play. I may need to tweak the list at some point but so far it worked out very well. The main reason is that it been additive to the game rather than restrictive. The list and the bonuses show what the character are good at not at what they can't do. It is a fine distinction but an important one as I continue to run both of my Swords & Wizardry campaigns.

Unified Level chart. I think this is by far the more straightforward system of customizing a person's character I seen. Granted it takes a couple of levels to it's do it job but then in a skill based system if you spread yourself too thin and the character will suck at everything.

The problem with this is like feats in 3e and powers in 4e. You can just keep adding classes to the mix until the sun goes down. Which is why if this subsystem is used you should really look at the setting you are going to use and pick out the mix that reflects it.

I would use the Standard, Movement, Minor Action, Free Action system of organizing a combat round from 4e. Although the actual list of actions would reflect classic D&D more than later editions. I think this is a straight forward and easy way of organizing D&D combat. As for the dreaded Attack of Opportunity I would basically allow a free attack if the character with initiative tries to leave the immediate (5') area of his opponent his opponent using a full or half move. But if they just want to slide around in short little 5' move there is no attack of opportunity.

I would use the Spell and Magic Item selection from AD&D 1st edition. It broad but doesn't occupy endless volumes either.

I would tweak the monsters and classes to work with roughly the OD&D power range. When I first refereeing S&W I didn't really appreciate the difference with AD&D but I can see it now.

While there are more elements I would consider from various editions these comprised the ones I like the best and I feel will work well with the core rules of Classic D&D without adding undue complexity to the game.

In addition I am not making another clone game. I got enough on my plate at the moment. Mainly pointing out that there are good ideas in later editions of D&D.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mechanical Complexity of D&D Part I

Mike Mearls wrote an article comparing the steps to a create a fighter between the different edition. To summarize it takes 6 steps for AD&D 1st, 11 for AD&D 2nd, 16 for D&D 3.X, and 18 for D&D 4.0.

I think in total D&D has gotten more complex over the various editions. The prime factor for this is player saying
I want to make the character that I see in my head.
A good test of this is Fritz Leiber's Gray Mouser who has a bit of fighting, a bit of magic-user, and whole lot of thief.

Back in the day this is the prime reason why people went to Runequest, Hero, GURPS and other FRPGs. The solution adopted was generally the list of skills with the players being allowed to pick which ones his character is good at.

However the list of skills is not universally appealing or simple in the way the straightforward class & level system of D&D is. In 3.X the designer came up with a pretty elegant way of allowing players to customize their characters yet retain much of the advantages of level and class. Also skill based system developed packages, or templates which took the list of skills and distilled into a specific set of options understandable to the average player. The two approaches learned from each other.

As for D&D this one of the main factors that propelled it into a smash hit. It also helped effectively suck the wind out of 2nd and 3rd tier RPGs by closing the biggest reason for changing away from D&D.

But coupled with the open ended list of feats, diversity of classes, and other things then we start running into the complaints about 3.5.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Medieval Farming Year

A good source for flavor for your fantasy campaign is knowing the agriculture calender. While most folks know about the spring plowing and planting as well as the fall harvest it would interesting to know how the rest of the months went.

Andy Staples over at the Penultimate Harn site has come up with a great summary of the agriculture year for medieval farming.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Comments on the Commercialization of the OSR

Mythmere the author of Swords & Wizardry has a great series of blog posts on the commercial side of the OSR. The first two are here and here. I think he is doing a great thing by writing these articles and that community will benefit as a whole from his insight.

I have my own take on the situation.

There are two parallel economies in the OSR. There is a commerical economy where a company or author puts up a work for an amount and people buy it. Then there is the gift economy made possible by the extreme low cost of internet and digital access. In the former, money is the medium of exchange. In the latter reputation and access to limited resources, mostly people's time, is the medium of exchange. This is part of a larger shift that our economy is making and has not yet completed.

Of the two the Gift Economy dominates the OSR due to the legacy of Dragonsfoot and other individual communities. One big issues, as Mythmere points out, is that of quality. As the biggest resource that is being competed for is people's time. Time to play, discuss, write, draw, and so on. And people want to spend time on activities involving material that is "good". Of course what is "good" differs a lot between individual but luckily for us, there is the common ground of we want good classic old school material. It what defines the OSR over any other roleplaying community.

In a gift economy people rely on trusted sources to provide an initial sort of what is good and crap. These trusted sources got that way generally because they earned it. There is a distinct first mover advantage but that is mitigated by the fact that one's position can only be retained in a gift economy by being reliable. It some project or individual quality drops it is easy enough to switch elsewhere.

Now the gift economy could have allow me to release the Points of Light for free and a lot of people would have been happy to download it. But it would not allow me to see it in print or see it in stores that have to pay rent and utility for their physical space.

It may be that someday the equivalent of Star Trek's Material Fabricators allows the gift economy to dominate the physical production of items but it is not now. So if you want to do more than see a PDF floating around the internet, you need to become commerical. You build in a profit into your price so you can have the capital to do what you want on the next project.

But going commerical doesn't mean you can ignore the gift economy either. You can if you want but that means you are throwing yourself in the same boat as any other RPG startup company and forced to build your own audience. The industry is littered with the broken dreams of many who tried this. But to be fair many succeeded as well.

If you want to take advantage of the OSR then you need to keep the gift economy side very much in mind. That means not only adhering to the letter of the Open Game License but it's spirit. Charging a reasonable price for your material. Release the occasional free article or product. Particpate in the community through blogging, or the forums. And finally be reliable and honest so that you are viewed as a trusted source.

Finally there is the profit motive. Money is a part of our lives and while it is fashionable in some segments of society to disdain it, I believe that to be driven to make a profit is a good thing in a individual. Provided one is straightforward and honest in their dealings. I have no problem paying for good work for a person who deals fairly, and works hard. And I think if I do good work and deal fairly that people will buy the material I create.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mythmere of Swords & Wizards takes the plunge.

I welcome Matt Finch aka Mythmere to the world of blogging. It will be mostly Swords & Wizardry announcements but also include some tips and tidbits as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some Harn Pottage for your campaign

The main staple dish eaten at least once a day by everyone, rich or poor. Varying between a thin broth and a very thick stew, its base would be an herb, vegetable or meat stock, to which cereals, peas, beans, vegetables, meat or fish would be added depending on the wealth of the person and the season of the year.
Among the gems over on there are several that standout: Harn Pottage I, Harn Pottage II, and Harn Pottage III.

These three are filled with useful bits not only for running a Harn campaign but any fantasy campaign. Much of the content comprised of various locales but detailed vaguely where they are located in Harn. The idea is that the referee can place them where needed rather than fleshing out a region like in the main Harn supplements.

For example Harn Pottage I contains
The freehold of a farmer
A Town House for Sale
Small Cave
A Magic Item: Janob's Divining Heart
Magic Weapon: Dawn's Grace
An Inn
A House of Courtesans
A Gargun Cave (Harnic Orcs)
Metalsmith shop
Abandoned Temple
Wilderness Settlement
Yeoman Steading
Tavern of Ill repute.
A Cottar home (a very poor serf)
Hunting Lodge
Magic Item: Cloak of Varadel
Magic Armor: Wyrm Guard
Magic Armor: Falen's Grasp

The other two are likewise filled with varied and interesting material ranging from a fully fleshed out Keep, a generic village, an unsanctioned holy order, and son on. I highly recommend this as a resource and a source of inspiration no matter what FRPG you play.

For certain interested individuals here is a like to a Medieval pottage recipe.