Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Just lately, there was a link to this gallery of fantasy art. It's a fun perusal, though there's not much that's new there. I was surprised to find what appears to be a (NSFW) Frazetta cover for one of the Flashman novels.
Anyway, I suggest spending a bit of time checking it out. In spite of the odd organization (like lumping Frazetta's work with Boris Valejo and Julie Bell's which, yeah, I can kinda see why, but...) it's a neat collection.
Tieflings are not human and demonic offspring, but are the true-breeding descendants of an ancient empire that made dark and terrible pacts with the Nine Hells. Their fiendish visage is actually a manifestation of a curse, due to their progenitors' crimes. They're more closely tried to devils than demons.I'd love to give you a direct link, but I'm not seeing how to do that just now. :p If you can find it, there's lots of neat stuff from the "Races and Classes" preview book for 4th edition D&D.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
The Harrow deck is our fortune-telling tool for this Adventure Path. The deck itself is a 54-card deck broken down into six suits of nine cards each. While, in-game, these six suits and the card images themselves are "in character," it draws a lot of its inspiration from the mechanics of the game as well. The deck's six suits each symbolize one of the six basic attributes all characters are built around: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. And in each of those six suits, we have nine different cards for each of the nine alignments. Therefore, we have a chaotic evil Wisdom card, a neutral good Strength card, a lawful neutral Dexterity card, and so on.
Now if they can build a rules mechanic around it, I'd be in heaven. Granted, I doubt I'd ever get to play the game, just as I doubt I'll ever get to play my tarot-based mechanic for Fading Suns that languishes in rough-note form, but it'd still warm my heart to know such a thing existed.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Howard's typical Cimmerian is similar to that of the classical scholars, and presents a figure most unlikely to advance the literary arts. But this is where Conan differs from his kin. In The Phoenix on the Sword, Conan is an older man who has conquered on of the greatest nations of the Hyborean Age expressly to free them from tyrannical rule. He conquered to rule, and to liberate an oppressed nation. A far cry from the typical barbarian. By separating Conan from his kin, Howard simultaneously increases the audience's sympathy for the barbarian king while enabling the character to advance a theory of the value of literature.
Neat stuff, but I fear Cinerati is too well read for his own good. ;)
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Frankly, I think this is an excellent idea, and I hope it results in an exceptionally fine-tuned game for Mongoose.
Edited to fix a broken link on 02/11/11.
Friday, November 09, 2007
There's new art over at Ackergard's and Andersson's pages. I'll have a post up about that, and a new artist who has one foot firmly set in the styles of the "old school" of RPG illustration, this weekend, assuming I can get out from under this damned flu long enough to finish it up.
You can find the announcement and a pic of the cover here. Hey, that dragon doesn't look half bad. Maybe I've been unnecessarily pessimistic. Here's hoping...
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
There's one thing that has been very nice throughout the 3e era: I've felt like I was Wizards' target audience. Not always, but for most of it. Of course, they occasionally got my tastes dead wrong - there'd be a lot more adventures from Wizards if they were aiming directly at me, and a lot of Greyhawk ones at that! - but ruleswise? Nice going.
The biggest thing about 4e for me is the potential it has to fix the problems I've had with 3e. The biggest disappointment? The way its publicity has been handled.
If there's one thing that really makes me cringe, it's that "teaser" video displaying the "problems" with the previous editions of D&D. Now, I - and most people familiar with 3e - can relate to the problems with Grappling in 3e. (Incidentally, I don't have a problem running Grappling, I just have a problem with how powerful it is with large creatures). However, the problem with AD&D is... you don't know what mini stands for which monster? Huh? How on earth is that a 1st edition problem?
4e got off to a bad start, and things haven't gone smoothly since then.
Myself, I feel oddly disconnected. When 2nd and 3rd editions were rolling out, I was deeply, passionately involved in what was happening, and following every scrap of information with the intensity of a starving wolf tracking a lame caribou. But I've lived without the latest version of D&D for a while now. 4th edition looks interesting, but not nearly as much fun as True20 is right now. My dreams of being a professional pen-and-paper game designer have deflated under the reality of hobbiest wages. I'm just having fun, now. With the net and online play, there's no reason to feel saddled to what the corporations are doing.
On the one hand, I feel liberated. On the other, I recognize that attitudes such as mine are the death-knell of an industry. What will happen when all our games are put out by Forgites and Wayne Reynolds is forced to illustrate get-well and birthday cards to keep a roof over his head? Yeah, there will still be free or cheap content, but you really do get what you pay for.
But all of that isn't really related to Merric's post, just thoughts inspired by it. Merric gives a nice overview of the basic themes we've been able to see about 4th edition so far. If you haven't been keeping up with it, he's written a good primer as to where things stand now.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Looks like it could be a lot of fun. Frankly, I'm tempted, just for the chance to possibly get paid to play in Paizo's playgrounds. If any Trollsmyth readers enter, let us know so we can wish you luck!
"With the end of the print editions of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, Paizo has lost a conduit to find new talent," said Lisa Stevens, CEO of Paizo Publishing, "so we decided to launch an RPG design contest similar to American Idol, giving unknown talent a chance to get noticed!"
Starting October 31, 2007, any eligible person will be able to submit an entry into the contest. For the open call, that entry will be a wondrous item using the 3.5 SRD. Each entry needs to be 200 words or less, and must include all of the proper mechanics and flavor. Judges will announce the top 32 entries on November 28; those contestants will advance to the first round of public voting, where they will be assigned a new design task, and their entries will be posted on paizo.com for the public to read, critique, and vote on. The designers garnering the most votes will continue to subsequent rounds, and the ultimate winner will earn a paid commission to write one of Paizo's upcoming GameMastery Modules!
Monday, October 29, 2007
Overall, I’ve found this product to be mostly helpful if you’re looking for non-epic, low-fantasy seeds. Therefore, I’m awarding it a 4. My feeling is that it’d earn a 5 if I was at all familiar with Hârn, and reviewing it as a straight-forward Hârn supplement.
In the end, it’s free, so you can’t really afford not to check it out!
It sounds like it might be a nice mix with Mr. Bezio's Phoenix Barony setting.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not Paizo will adopt D&D 4.0 for their future products. This isn’t the idle chatter you might think. Sure, the marketing juggernaut that is WotC will make it appear like everyone and their grandmother is flocking to the new version of the game, but I recently learned that an astonishing number of AD&D 1st edition players never migrated to 2nd. I can’t remember the exact number, but I asked Mr. Dancey about it directly over at the Fear the Boot forums. I want to say something like 50% of 1st edition players never converted to 2nd. The whole point of the OGL was to create so much new content for 3.0 that there would be something for everyone, and nobody would be able to ignore it.
The problem now, of course, is that a lot of different companies have a lot of work invested in 3.5. A lot of players also have a lot of money and shelf space devoted to the current incarnation of D&D. Will they convert to 4.0? Why should they? A certain amount will, due to momentum. And 4.0 might bring in new players. But what if the new edition causes the market to fracture further? What if D&D players decide that 3.5 is a better game? What would happen to the market? What would happen to WotC and D&D?
As for Paizo, I think they should just bite the bullet and go True20. ;)
Sunday, October 28, 2007
As I’ve just started reading the rules I thought it might be fun to do an entire thread documenting not only a review of the game, but the opinions, deductions, and problems of a typical gamer (that’s me) as he reads and attempts to gronk a new game for the first time.
I plan to contribute a step by step review of what I read and absorb day by day (and I’m going to take it slow, since I’m very busy). Then I plan to go into any opinions I might have of that, and ask any questions I may have of the fine people reading. Following that I hope to see any other discussion on the topic at hand (usually a chapter of the rules).
I hope to end the whole shebang with a playtest of the game and an actual play report (my group willing). Not sure if I will use the sample adventure (haven’t read it yet) or write one of my own.
Frankly, I can't think of a better way to review a game for others to learn from. It may not be quick and concise, but RPGs are a product with a long tail, and require a significant investment in time to play. So a longer, more in-depth review makes perfect sense to me.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
And he likes it:
Still, I’m more than satisfied, considering the nine bucks sacrificed for this amazing product. It’s a great, fast-moving and rules-light system on it’s own, and an awesome adventure aid accessory (Yay! Alliteration!). You can literally, and smoothly, start in a blank game world, and have an adventure constructed around you as you play, whether it be alone, with some friends but no GM, or with friends and a GM, who acts more as a referee with a knack for controlling the game than a GM. I highly recommend you get this book, no matter what system you play.
I'm very curious about this system. When I'm flush with disposable income again, I'm highly tempted to check it out.
Friday, October 26, 2007
And the folks at RPG.net seem all a-drool over it.
There are some details I'm unsure about, like how often you reroll your initiative, or what happens if everyone gets it up past ten, things like that. But it looks like a very slick design.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The really bizarre thing is that the animation screams low budget and cheap, but the music and voice talent want to be high-budget. Frankly, I think the blame for this resides solely with the animation team. They don't appear at all to have worked up to the standards of the rest of the crew. But I could be completely wrong, and blame might more fully reside with the producers who failed to arrange the proper funding for this film.
I have no idea of their respective budgets, but the animation I've seen so far fails to measure up to the "Record of Lodoss War" OVA from 1990, which made extensive, sometimes painful, use of recycled animation, but didn't have the benefit of computer animation. And computer animation can be a powerful tool when combined expertly with traditional cell animation, as was seen in "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas". The creature designs are especially noteworthy in that film, and the soaring snow roc was beautiful to watch, especially after it snatched up the heroine and carried her to the top of it's mountain lair, snow drifting from its wings. By comparison, the dragons of Dragonlance, which still resemble ugly crossbreeds of snake and duck, move like spastic puppets, without any sense of weight or flight.
I'll probably rent this one when it makes its way to our local video store, but I really don't see adding it to our collection. And I'm not going to encourage the Trollwife to see the trailer, because I'm fairly certain if we do, she'll refuse to watch the movie. :(
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
There's a been a bit of happy thread necromancy at the GMing Forums at Treasure Tables, and this one is golden:
To quote Inigo Motoya from The Princess Bride', "Let me explain, no, that would take too long, let me sum up"
A typical Side Events table I use now has the following columns:
Characters' orders (magic and masterwork items on order)
Most column entries have only half a dozen words in at most, but these can blossom into a wealth of detail and opportunities for the players.
This sort of thing doesn't just work for urban campaigns. The entire world ought to be busy about its own ends while the PCs are shaking its foundations. You don't need something as ornate as Craig's tables. Just having a few yearly festivals at the turnings of the seasons will make your campaign world feel more real for your players.
You know...the old me never would've done what I did on Thursday. But the new me totally did, and it felt goooooooood.
Starting this blog, and talking about the gaming-related change of mind-set as I do, has really had a positive effect on me. My gamemastering style really is changing, and it's for the better. I feel...
...I feel like a new GM.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
I'm surprised, but not shocked. Say what else you will about Rowling, but she's always been true to her characters, no matter what. Bully for her!
Rowling said Dumbledore fell in love with the charming wizard Gellert Grindelwald but when Grindelwald turned out to be more interested in the dark arts than good, Dumbledore was "terribly let down" and went on to destroy his rival.
That love, she said, was Dumbledore's "great tragedy."
"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," she said.
The audience reportedly fell silent after the admission -- then erupted into applause.
Rowling, 42, said if she had known that would be the response, she would have revealed her thoughts on Dumbledore earlier.
Frankly, though, I'm interested in seeing more characters like Dr. Who's Captain Jack. I can't shake the feeling that our infatuation with sexual identity as a defining personality trait is a bit myopic. A character like Jack, whose sexuality is "Yes, thank you!" feels like a breath of fresh air.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
But now that folks are actually reading it, Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress is getting some surprising praise:
For what its worth, I bought this book for my fiance, and she whipped through it in two days. It's now on loan to several other friends of ours. It was extremely helpful to her and she loves to rp now. Another friend of ours is designing a dungeon to run for her and her boyfriend. So say what you will about the book, but it was the best money I've ever spent on gaming.
This brings to mind other observations I've linked to about gaming and the female of our species. Let's hope this book gets passed around more.
You can find a pdf excerpt from the book here.
Ok, I’m about to do something that anyone who wants to build a successful gaming blog should probably never, ever do.
I’m going to admit that I’m not down with the cool kids.
It’s been creeping up on me slowly, especially since the publication of D&D 3.5. It’s gotten to the point where I can read a post on a message board about D&D and have no freakin’ idea what they’re talking about.
For instance, there’s this post over at RPG.net:
When I started the campaign I'm running, the party was a rogue, a spellthief, a paladin, and a favored soul. After a few sessions, I wrote in a ranger and a multiclasser intent upon cerebromancer. Long story short, it seemed like a balanced party: 2 skillfuls, 2 bruisers, 1 healer, and 1 blaster.
Then I kicked out the cerebromancer because he didn't show up to four sessions in a row, the spellthief is now playing a soulbow (long story), and the ranger is bowing out due to other commitments.
Now the party has no crowd control, and I don't know how to fix it. I really don't want to add another player because it is already hard enough to organize games with the five schedules I'm currently juggling.
Wha? I don’t even know what a favored soul is, but I assume it, like the soulbow, is a new character class or prestige class from a non-core book. That’s not such a big deal.
But when did players start building characters around themes like “crowd control” and “blaster”? When did such considerations become so vital that a DM would think the game was broken if the party didn’t have someone who could handle them?
You can see a bit of befuddlement in the responses:
You're the GM. You control what the players come up against, and the party won't need a character to do crowd control unless you choose to make it necessary. So don't.
To which the OP says:
That doesn't really help me much because you're telling me not to use:
summon monster spells
more than 4 enemies in any one encounter
Uh, no. Not really.
Listen, I don’t want to sound snotty, and this ain’t another take on edition wars, but this is a fault-line in a rather serious culture clash built around D&D, the core of our hobby. There have always been different flavors of the game, different ways to play it, but we’ve always started with the same basic assumptions. Whether you were playing a traditional dungeon-delving game, or something with a lot of politics and urban intrigue, the old balance of stealth, healing, muscle and firepower was understood. It was simple, vague, and flexible, and most of them could be replaced by hirelings or magical aids in a pinch.
Now, however, some players are seeing mechanical realities that others are oblivious to. Yeah, you can blame MMOGs, I think. Tank, blaster, healer, buffer, mob control. For a successful high-level raid, you need all these areas covered, and with multiple PCs. Otherwise, you get clobbered at your weakness, and your team falls apart.
Thing is, pen-and-paper games ain’t MMOGs. In addition to the above mentioned power of the DM to adjust the opposition, the players have a lot more options than just what’s listed on their character sheets. I have always, and still do, throw my players up against opposition they simply can’t slug it out with, toe-to-toe. I just make sure I always give them a chance to run or overcome, if they are clever.
Most of my players have always been able to do it. I’ve never, ever, had a TPK (though I have had a few Total Party Captures, but that’s a feature, not a bug). I’ve thrown low-level characters up against liches and dragons, mid-level characters against demon princes, and high-level characters against gods.
The key to making such encounters work is flexibility. Let the players be clever. Let them negotiate, let them use the environment to their advantage, give them a chance to escape and then find their foe’s weakness. Players should feel that running away to return, better prepared, to fight and win another day is a viable strategy. This, after all, was the way the game was designed to be played.
Ok, that’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it? Where do I get off making it?
Simply look at the adventures given to us by the creators of the game. Mr. Gygax’s “Vault of the Drow” was not intended to be “fair”. There’s no way a party of the appropriate levels could fight their way through the drow city that is the centerpiece of the adventure. But methods were given to allow the players to get into the city, to walk the safer streets and learn what they needed to accomplish their goals. Stealth, guile, and deception were encouraged. And this wasn’t a low-level adventure where Mr. Gygax was forced to throw the heroes against something far beyond their abilities just to have something interesting. This was an adventure for levels 10-14.
But the designers back then didn’t pull any punches on low-level parties, either. Take a gander at this map of the Caves of Chaos, the dungeon for the classic “Keep on the Borderlands”. What you’re looking at is a horseshoe valley peppered with cave entrances. Each warren is home to a different set of challenges. There’s nothing to prevent the ill-prepared party from entering any of them. A party that doesn’t do its research is as likely to face the powerful evil cult of warriors and clerics as they are the tiny band of kobolds.
Research is a vital part of this sort of play. The players are expected to ask about the dungeon before they go charging in. The old modules all included lists of rumors, some true and some false, that the party might pick up. Inside the dungeon, it was expected that the PCs would attempt to capture members of the enemy, and question them for details of what other dangers they might face. If you were lucky, rescued captives or dissident members of the local population might even be able to draw you map of part of the dungeon.
Do players still do things like this? Or do they quickly jump into the maze, go toe-to-toe with everything they face, kill it, and then move on until they need to rest, heal, and restore their capabilities? Just how much is D&D played like a MMOG?
And it’s not just the players that have left me bumfuzzled. The designers are doing it, too:
I'm working on magic items right now. A previous version of the rules had magic items that were just too complex and too numerous, so we're stripping off a couple layers of complexity. You won't be a magic item Christmas tree any more, but you might be a Christmas shrub or a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
What does this mean? Doesn’t the DM still decide what magical goodies the PCs get? Did they somehow make low-magic campaigns against the rules? Making the magic items less complex, sure, if that’s what you want, go for it. But how are they going to make them less common? Isn’t that up to the DM?
Yes, I know the Challenge Rating system assumed a certain level of magical equipment to be on hand. But again, that only applies if the party is going to go toe-to-toe with the monsters. Is that the only sort of encounter people play today? And how do these assumptions affect character creation? Do players feel they need to maximize the utility of their character, always creating the same build because that gives the most benefits, just to measure up to the Challenge Ratings?
Do folks feel trapped, needing to create an “effective” character rather than a fun one, or the one they’d like to make?
If this is the state of D&D among even a tenth of its players today, then 4th edition, assuming it honestly addresses these issues, can’t come soon enough.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I've been lax in keeping you up-to-date on Håkan Ackegård's updates to his online galleries. There's good stuff in all of them.
Starting with his safe-for-work gallery, there's a sketch of Douglas the Dragon, some heroes, and a lot of cute, fluffy bunnies. Over at his NSFW Playelf gallery, he has an arm-wrestling "Tough Elf Gal" with ears out of World of Warcraft, and some anthropomorphic vixen girl pics. But be sure to catch " Evil Plot Foiled at the Masquerade Ball", an older commission that's amazing in its detail. I think it's a bit too busy, too much action happening all at once, but it's the climactic moment of the battle, and I'm certain it's exactly what the folks who commissioned the piece wanted. It's a wonderful showcase of Mr. Ackegård's command of anatomy, his flexibility as an artist, and his exacting attention to detail. I think the composition is a bit rough, too busy at the top, like I said, but it still stands head-and-shoulders above much of what you'll see even in books by WotC and White Wolf.
Finally, a ton of new stuff can be found at his extremely NSFW Grigbertz gallery. Have I mentioned before now "Dungeon Encounter"? Interesting, but it left me wanting. It feels too simple, asks too few questions. I think my major beef with it is the lack of anything interesting about the lizard fellow. Without any ornamentation, equipment, or decoration, I'm not inspired to indulge my interest in para-anthropology. Still, it's a technically exceptional piece.
Next come some playful "Bride of the Beast" sketches. "Julie in Trouble" is especially imaginative, and feels a bit more like a brainstorming session for a few pages in a comic book. Mr. Ackegård's ability to suggest so much with a few simple lines and some shading continues to impress me. The more finished "Pillory at Nighttime" is, of course, the bit of dementor porn I mentioned. Ok, it's not really a dementor, but it could pass for a close cousin, right? Er, ok, mebbe not...
"Playtime in the Garden" is classic Ackegård. A pretty girl, indecently clothed (but with her ankles disguised), is encountered in a lovely setting. The setting is a bit more ephemeral this time, indistinct, but still peppered with those little details we've come to expect.
"Leash" is a return to the Nethack illustrations. Have we seen this Valkyrie before? I want to say yes, but a cursory search didn't turn her up. A bit of bestiality in this one, so you've been warned.
If wolves are not your thing, how about nuns? "Worship" is another depiction of bondage nuns being naughty in the world of "Pontifex Maximus". It's much softer than his usual stuff, and I'm guessing it's chalk and pencil. Scarlett's anatomy is a lot softer than normal, and the girl almost looks rubbery rather than flesh and bone. Still, if you like your erotica with a soft focus, you'll find something to appreciate in this one.
And then something a little different. Our "Pontifex Maximus" heroines are transported to a technologically sophisticated world, something feeling a tad cyber-sorcerer-punkish. The feeling is very much "Shadowrun" or "Torg". I love "The Techno Town Bazaar" for its little details: the rat-girl's pistol hidden beneath her makeshift counter, the way the wolf-guy has an inflatable tome hovering over his book store, the guy checking Scarlett out as he walks by. I'm not a huge fan of latex, so "Plastic Scarlett" isn't nearly as interesting for me. The next work, however, is a wonderful bit of Ackegård whimsy: "Bondage Witch vs. the Hoverboard Gang". You almost feel sorry for the poor gangers. Who is their captive? What are Scarlett's plans for her? You can make up your own story, of course, or follow the link to a podcasted story by Nobilis. I haven't listened to it yet myself, so I can't tell you what it's like.
"Bondage Witch Appreciation" is another quick sketch in the same series. We finally catch up to Sofia in "Mole's Tavern". It's not quite as rich as "Bazaar", but is still fun. "Outside Looking In" offers us another sketchy Ackegård cityscape to frame the lovely Scarlett. Finally, "Chibi Scarlett" (in black-and-white and later in color) is exactly what you'd expect.
Turning to something different, we finally get a bit of story from the Savage Tide world. I must confess to being a bit confused by that name. Most of the pics have been in a forest, and completely lacking in tides. Maybe there's an allusion I'm missing?
Anyway, we have a series of pictures featuring the druidess Jenn we've seen a few times before, as she is forced to endure a druidic hazing ritual. There's some amazing work done with perspective on a few of these, and the angles shown are something I can't remember ever having seen before, though the idea is obvious and delightful, once you see how Mr. Ackegård tackles it. The stoneshaped restraints and wicked pixie are the sorts of creative turns that Mr. Ackegård excels at. I'm very much looking forward to more work from him based on this world.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Mr. Dancey seems to be a good touchstone for sparking ideas just lately. He’s most recently given us a peek into his Ryan Dancey’s Storyteller’s Guide to D20 Games. The core appears to be opening up the game to improvisational input from both the players and the DM. I’m curious how he’ll tackle the issues of trust. The Trollwife and I have been playing games in this style for just over a decade now, I think. It grew out of our trust for each other. She’s long known I DM by the seat of my pants, weaving ideas out of random bits of inspiration that float too close to escape, right there in the middle of the game. And I know she’s more interested in a fun game than simply “winning”. She also understands that adversity, wonder, and depth, both in character personalities and their interactions, make for a better game. If she wants to throw in a kindly old uncle, an ancient legend about a trickster-god otter, or a hallucinogenic plant, just off the spur of the moment, I’m more than happy to take her idea and run with it. Our games are like jazz jam sessions, riffing off one another to create something far cooler, deeper, and powerful than either of us could create alone. I’m curious to see how Mr. Dancey tackles the trust issues that are at the heart of this sort of play.
(We’ve had less success with me as a player. I tend to be far too passive as a player, mostly because I’m horribly out of practice and I worry about stepping on her toes too much. We have the same problem when we go dancing. I’m thinking maybe salsa lessons are in our future.)
I’m also intrigued by similarities in theme that I’m seeing in this thread over at RPG.net. These older versions of D&D had a lot of blank spaces on the map. The idea was that the DM and players would fill in a lot of the holes. Nobody knew what your D&D game would be like. In the early days, campaign settings were few, and it was assumed your DM would make up his own.
Today, things are very different. We’ve got entire books devoted to a single monster. We have giant, choke-a-mule tomes like Ptolus, complete with hand-out menus for in-game restaurants, discussions of local customs and fashions, and enough adventure between two covers to take your characters from the earliest days of their adventuring careers all the way to post-world-saving retirement.
Paizo’s “Pathfinder” books are an excellent example. The adventures are complete in every detail. The world is fleshed out, every NPC has a name, personality, relationships. The settings are described not only as they currently exist, but also with histories. The setting of each adventure is complete and hangs together like a work of art. The adventures are lined up in order, with a narrative flow and rising and falling action that give you the sense of taking part in an epic saga.
Things were different that Christmas, lo these many years ago, when I got the Basic D&D boxed set that included the Moldvay red book. The rulebook was only 64 pages long, complete with character creation, combat rules, spell and monster catalogs, DM advice, and sample maps. Also in that box was the classic adventure “Keep on the Borderlands”. KotB was about as unlike a “Pathfinder” adventure as you can possibly get. First, nobody had names. Even the Castellan and his neighbors had no names. No discussion was made of their relationships to one another. Was the blacksmith his bastard brother? Or just a simple hireling? The module gave you no clue. This lack of detail extended to the “dungeon” as well. The monsters in the Caves of Chaos also lacked personal names. Even the deity worshiped by the evil cult was unnamed. We did get a bit of description about how the different monster groups related to one another, which were allies and which were enemies, but little more.
Today, this would be seen as a half-assed adventure, incomplete, and barely playable. But back then, it was exactly what we needed to get our games started. The key to getting the most out of KotB is understanding that it is not an adventure. It is, instead, a setting.
Some folks have laughed, for instance, that the NPCs in the Keep itself have no names, but they do have stats and treasure. The implication is that players are expected to slaughter the inhabitants of the Keep and take their stuff, like the stereotypical psychopaths that many assume we played back then. The truth is, you were not supposed to do any particular thing. You could do anything! KotB doesn’t assume the players are going to be allies or friends of the Castellan or the other inhabitants of the Keep. The players could join the evil cult in the Caves instead. Or they could play the two sides off each other, “Yojimbo” style. No assumption is made, and so all possibilities are left open.
This applies to the names as well. Yes, Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books were an inspiration for D&D, but also listed in the back of the Moldvay basic rulebook as potential sources for ideas are Karl Edward Wagner’s Dark Crusade, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Baum’s Oz books, and Burrough’s Barsoom novels. Other than a basic Iron Age level of technology and the existence of magic, little was assumed about your setting, and simply naming the inhabitants would color your world in broad strokes. What do the blacksmith and his finished works look like? You get a very different mental picture with each possible name: Snorri Torvaldson, Rajik bin Jabal, Titus Asinius, Vor of Helium, Jack Pumpkinhead. It’s amazing what something as simple as a name can give you. The blacksmith’s home and workshop may simply be a rectangle on a map, but Snorri’s is built of heavy timbers with daub-and-wattle walls and a thatched roof, while Titus’ home is built of bricks, with a tiled roof and arched windows. Rajik’s wife is covered from head to toe and veiled, so that only her eyes can be seen, while Vor’s wife wears nothing but jewelry, each piece lovingly crafted by her husband when he was wooing her. The sword (normal) for sale in Jack’s shop is probably a cavalry saber with brass basket hilt and red tassel, while the same sword hanging on Snorri’s wall is a broad, two-edged blade with a lobed pommel.
This was the genius of D&D in those days. The game was a thin skeleton, a bare frame upon which you and your players hung the themes and styles you were interested in. Were the players noble and proud knights, seeking to stamp out injustice and raise the banner of civilization in the wilderness? Cut-throat mercenaries, eager to spill blood for the highest bidder? Foppish rakes looking for distraction in a world slowly slouching towards collapse and dissolution? Basic D&D and KotB could do it all. Yes, some assembly was required, but back then, that was half the fun. Just as with the ubiquitous use of house rules and homemade monsters, setting, themes, and styles were all up for debate.
Now Ryan Dancey seems to be beating on the same door. As D&D approaches it’s newest incarnation and we hear about “power sources” and various setting assumptions, Mr. Dancey is suggesting a style of play in which the players learn to be open about what the games they play will feel and look like. I’m not suggesting here that Mr. Dancey is attempting a throw-back to the way we played D&D back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Rather, instead, I’m suggesting that there are common themes of trust and invitation, a greater openness to tinkering, twisting, and putting your own stamp on the game. I’m also not suggesting that there is an absolute dichotomy here. D&D 3.5 still requires a lot of imagination and is still very open to a wide array of settings. But as the game has adopted a more rigorous set of rules, it’s begun to fence in a lot of what used to be open pasture. D&D 4.0 seems to be moving further in that direction. It’s going to be fascinating to see how ideas like Mr. Dancey’s are embraced, and how the interaction of the various play styles influences the development of D&D, and RPGs in general.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
But they shouldn’t be.
There's only one problem... The picture of Blackrazor... well... it kind of looked like a... um... well, the kids online are calling it a vajayjay (whatever that is). Ahem… in two different ways.
You can see the pic in question here.
Um, no. No it doesn’t. And if any part of your girlfriend’s anatomy is metallic, spikey, and sports a bizarre, orange catlike eye, dude, you’ve got problems.
Seriously, if you’re the sort of person who gets bent out of shape about pictures like this, let me tell you, this is *exactly* why you don’t get invited to the cool parties. This stuff really gets into my craw. It’s juvenile, it’s stupid, and it gets people tiptoeing around each other on eggshells. Grow up!
It’s this sort of thinking that makes pictures like this NSFW. This may be the most thematically beautiful piece I’ve ever seen by Fredrik K.T. Andersson. It’s sweet, it’s expressive, and it celebrates some of the most important things in life: the wonders of childhood, the joys of motherhood, the bonds of family, the importance of taking time to simply enjoy being alive, and the power of simple exploration and curiosity. That some people will undoubtedly find it offensive explains a lot about why the world is as screwed up as it is.
And it wouldn't at all surprise me to find that many of those same folks would be offended by the mere existence of a site called GayGamer.net, or, at the very least, find it "problematic".
And it wouldn't at all surprise me to find that many of those same folks would be offended by the mere existence of a site called GayGamer.net, or, at the very least, find it "problematic".
Eventually, everyone must undergo their own Copernican Revolution, and realize that the world does not revolve around them. Everything is not about you. Everything does not reflect back on you. Nor does it reflect upon everyone else. We are all responsible for our own works, and little else, either for credit or condemnation.
And seriously, go kiss a girl. It won't be the end, or the beginning, of your life.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
However, we still have those awful dragons to contend with, and the fact that it's straight to DVD. I'm hopeful, but not much more than that at this stage.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
And if you need proof that Dr. Rotwang is an exceptional blogger, you need only look here for an example of his excellent taste.
If you want to see an actual game in the process of being made, the ever-interesting Levi is blogging the creation of Hoard - Dragons at War. Unfortunately, it's not about dragons at war with other dragons, which would be hella cool. It is about dragons at war with humans who are weakening the barriers between their world and the realm of diabolic forces in order to maintain their civilization. Looks like a global warming/pollution metaphor to me, but don't let that turn you off. Levi's one of the deep thinkers in our hobby who questions everything. I'm expecting cool stuff from this project.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Like d20, E6 is a game of enigmatic wizards, canny rogues, and mighty warriors who rise against terrible dangers and overcome powerful foes. But instead of using d20’s 20 levels to translate characters into the rules, E6 uses only the first 6. E6 is about changing one of d20’s essential assumptions, but it doesn't need a lot of rules to make that change.
To understand E6, imagine the perspective of the average medieval peasant in a d20 game. This person has the stats of a 1st-level commoner, and while they might not know their stats explicitly, they know their relation to the rest of the world. Our peasant knows that he can be killed quite easily by maurauding raiders, enemy soldiers, or even wild animals. He’s not mighty, he’s not organized, and he doesn’t have any special skills to bring to bear when danger strikes. He worries about drought and flood, and the welfare of his livestock. His extended family likely all lives within a mile of his birthplace. To him, a trip to a town ten miles off is an expedition into the unknown.
Imagine you are this peasant, and you meet a trio of 6th-level adventurers. When you address the wizard, you are speaking to someone who could incinerate your home and slay all your livestock with a few words. The fighter has prevailed against a dozen orcish skirmishers and slain them all – and he could do the same again. The cleric is a man so holy that the gods themselves have granted him the power to cure the sick and heal the wounded. These are epic heroes.
Now consider the powers of a CR 5 manticore. To the peasant, the appearance of this manticore near the village isn’t a nuisance: the beast can, and likely will slay you in seconds if you draw its attention. You, your livestock, and your entire family are in immediate danger of violent death. Even if you were well armed and gathered a large peasant militia, your village faces heavy losses and no guarantee of success. Against such a creature, adventurers may be your only hope. E6 recognizes that 6th level characters are mortal, while reframing the game’s perspective to create a context where those same 6th level characters are epic heroes.
There are a lot of intriguing ideas here, including thoughts on bringing D&D closer to the experiences described in most fantasy novels and movies. Be sure to check it out and give rycanada your feedback.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
And, oh yeah, naked girls in bondage. So neither of these are safe for work. First we have “Chained Up on
Next we have “Dungeon Encounter”. As one of the commentators says, it’s an excellent example of Mr. Ackergård’s “ability to combine cold brutality with gentle caretaking.” It’s striking work, but leaves me a little uninspired. I think it’s the lack of context. Why is she in the dungeon? Why is he there? His utter lack of ornamentation is odd. We have no hints about who he is, what his culture is like, or why he’s there. There’s too little for my imagination to catch on and weave a story from.
Still, if you’re the sort who enjoys just letting your imagination drift, needing only the most meager starting points, be sure to check out Mr. Ackergård’s tamer galleries. You’ll find dingbat hatchlings, anthropomorphized ink blots, and a cute druidess in a new category with the promising title “Savage Tide”. Cute and bizarre seems to be the order of the day, and his technique continues to inspire.
Zoombaba has carefully studied the art released so far in the marketing of D&D’s 4th edition and asks a very probing and vital question: “Is this the most METAL version of D&D ever?”
Consider this ... the 4e default campaign is "points of light in a dark, dangerous world." (sounds grim). Orcus is on the cover of the new Monster Manual. Paladins can be any alignment (um, meaning evil). The PH cover shows the return of hookerplate boobmail. They're getting rid of gnomes. Armored Beholders. Asmodeus is a god. Half-demon (excuse me, tieflings) PC races -- like here and, um yes, here: the hot demon chick. I mean christ, even the dwarves are hot!
I guess this does explain why everyone is holding aloft their weapons like they're posing for a Man-O-War cover. I certainly wouldn’t complain if WotC embraced the “four-stringed axe”, but I won’t be holding my breath, either.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's definitely worth a read, especially if you haven't been following along. I had no idea what he was thinking at the beginning (which is obvious from this post), but now that's he's laid it all out, I'm mixed. Overall, I think he's got some very good ideas, but I'm at a loss as to how to implement all the points in a coherent package.
I think a lot of folks threw themselves off the rails when he mentioned "Storytelling Games". The name, honestly, isn't as important as the rebranding. To most folks not into RPGs, "roleplaying games" means "D&D". Hell, to many folks in the hobby, it still means "D&D" or all the many games like it, including "GURPS", "Shadowrun", "WHFRP", etc. Renaming the style would be a powerful marketing tool that would both get people to look at the game who might otherwise recoil at the "roleplaying" moniker, and get roleplayers to approach the game with an open mind as to how it should be played. This is vital as Mr. Dancey is intent on skewering a few sacred cows along the way.
The main area of conflict that I'm struggling with is the intersection between player-influenced and altered environments and shared worlds maintained by the "service provider" STG company. But maybe I'm overthinking things. After all, LARPs do a lot of this all the time, don't they?
And now that I think about it, you do see similar activities across the web, but most are rather free-form. We've all seen the RPG "taverns", chat-boards and IRC channels where people get together and free-form stories. Perhaps we should see this as some crossbreed between MUSH and RPG?
Maybe. I don't think that's the direction Mr. Dancey was thinking. Again, we run into the same issues. If everyone can affect the world at whim, then most of those effects will be ignored and then do we really have a shared, persistent world? What sort of utility must the service provider offer in order to earn the money of the players? WotC is hoping a combination of online DM tools, periodical content, and virtual gaming table will do it for them. But at the end of the day, the only thing you really need to play D&D is a few rulebooks, some dice, and your imagination. How do you shift the focus of RPGs from the small, insular, table of friends to the wider community?
2x8 Squad Leader
1x10 His Majesty's Personal Cobbler: You made the most beautiful, most comfortable, most durable shoes in the entire kingdom, and as a result you are one of the relatively few people to have seen the monarch barefoot. Do you still have this exalted position? If not, what happened? If so, where'd all your money get to?
Saturday, August 18, 2007
There is one benefit to the per-encounter design philosophy that adult gamers will come to find useful: it allows for meaningful progression in smaller, but more frequent, episodes. In other words, regular short gaming sessions become viable. You get online, you play through one or two encounters in an hour or so, and you call it a night. Still have plenty of time to watch your favorite shows, spend time with the wife and kids, run off to that choir practice at church, or whatever else takes up your time after that and yet you maintain your presence as an active gamer. This style of design and play is more convenient, more casual-friendly, than the current or older designs.
Again, as the industry greys, the games will begin to drift from their service to people with no money but lots of time, to people who have lots of money but no time. If WotC did what they've promised, expect a lot of the load to be taken off the DM's back, especially in terms of preparation for the game, and running combats. How well this works remains to be seen, but I imagine it will be a the make-or-break deal for a lot of older gamers.
If you go here, you can see the D&D 4th edition preview slideshow. You’ll get to see some of what I assume is 4th edition art. But before you watch, be sure to don eye protection. I swear, I have never before seen a collection of art with so many sharp, stabby, spikey, glowey, hurty things being jabbed RIGHT AT YOU!
I once said that Wayne Reynolds was on his way to becoming the Larry Elmore of 3rd edition. With the covers of 4th, it’s now official: Mr. Reynolds is the Jeff Easley of 4th. Already, I have to say, things look promising for 4th edition.
So far, I like it. I don’t *love* it. Ok, I think I may love the cover for the new DMG. But otherwise, it’s ok.
I wish I could get a closer look at some of those covers, especially the PHB. What I think I’m seeing on it is a strong, action movie freeze-frame, posed feel. Everyone is striking a cool pose, lightning is flying, but the attentions of the characters seems divided. The wizard is toasting something outside the frame, while the warrior babe is looking directly at you. There’s a lot of “directly at you” in this preview art. Almost all the portrait pieces had someone holding up a staff, a sword, or a mace towards you, as if to threaten you or show it off. A lot of people are going to look at these and say the look is all about action, but I think they’re really all about looking cool. There’s a strong differentiation between the characters, especially in Wayne Reynolds’ work. In the green dragon piece, the dragon is green, the warrior is blue and silver, the swashbuckler is red and brown, and the wizard is yellow. The dwarf’s palate melts into the orange of the walls, but he still stands out thanks to his crucifix-like pose and being a dwarf. The focus is clearly on the dragon, but everyone stands out here. Where Mr. Elmore’s work was “you are there,” Reynolds in 4th edition is “Who do you want to be?”
And William O’Connor is hitting all the “cool” buttons hard. The warrior here has strong Warhammer vibes with the oversized weapon and oversized pauldrons of overlapping plates and hanging tabs. But he’s got a spiky shield for a touch of 3rd edition. The thief, of course, is a tiefling, which is already fairly cool in most folks' books, but she’s got those crazy flaming daggers, and kick-butt heeled boots. The off-the-shoulder pauldron is a nice touch, both tying her visually to her warrior comrade and being flirtatiously sexy in an untypical way. Feminists will frown as they flip past it, but won’t immediately reach for a box of matches. ;)
And it’s very interesting what you don’t see. Everything is grim, cool people in the heat of action, or about to take action. You don’t see young men chatting up tavern wenches, or playful pranks. This is all about looking serious and looking cool.
The goal, clearly, is getting you, the viewer, excited, and to spur fantasies of the sorts of things your cool character will do while you play the game. The art is realistic enough for you to identify with it, but doesn’t impose any sort of realism on you. This is the “reality” of dreams, where gravity is optional and style is more important than practicality. With 4th edition’s emphasis on quicker play and PC options, it’s probably very fitting.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light - an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time.
I'm not an expert in this type of thing, but it looks like they didn't really break the speed of light, but took a short-cut by tunneling through space-time. Which is just as good, honestly, and might avoid a lot of the relativistic issues that come with moving at or near or faster than the speed of light.
So who's for holding the 2012 GenCon on Alpha Centauri Prime?
If this is what I think it is, what most of us think it is, I'm in shock.
Seriously, lots of mind-bogglin' goin' on this week.
From The Miniatures Page:
August 16, 2007 (Renton, WA) – Whether you storm a mad wizard's tower every week or haven't delved into a dungeon since you had a mullet and a mean pair of parachute pants, one thing is certain - millions of D&D players worldwide have anticipated the coming of 4th Edition for many years. Today, Wizards of the Coast confirms that the new edition will launch in May 2008 with the release of the D&D Player's Handbook. A pop culture icon, Dungeons & Dragons is the #1 tabletop roleplaying game in the world, and is revered by legions of gamers of all ages.
The 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game includes elements familiar to current D&D players, including illustrated rulebooks and pre-painted plastic miniatures. Also releasing next year will be new web-based tools and online community forums through the brand-new Dungeons & Dragons Insider (D&D Insider) digital offering. D&D Insider lowers the barriers of entry for new players while simultaneously offering the depth of play that appeals to veteran players.
The 4th Edition rules emphasize faster game play, offer exciting new character options, and reduce the amount of "prep time" needed to run the game. D&D Insider includes a character creator that lets players design and equip their D&D characters, dungeon- and adventure-building tools for Dungeon Masters, online magazine content, and a digital game table that lets you play 24/7 on the internet — the perfect option for anyone who can't find time to get together.
"We've been gathering player feedback for eight years," said Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director of Roleplaying and Miniatures Games at Wizards of the Coast. "Fourth Edition streamlines parts of the D&D game that are too complex, while enhancing the overall play experience. At its heart, it's still a tabletop game experience. However, D&D Insider makes it easier for players to create characters, run their games, and interact with the rest of the D&D community."
Wizards of the Coast will release two 4th Edition preview books in December and January — Wizards Presents: Classes and Races and Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters. The first live demos of 4th Edition will happen at the D&D Experience gaming convention in
Since its first release in 1974, the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has taken millions of players on imaginary adventures of epic scale. Today, D&D is universally regarded as the original game that created the roleplaying game category, and the inspiration for generations of game designers. D&D is enjoyed by millions of players worldwide, while countless more remember it with fond nostalgia.
EnWorld, of course, has the most up-to-date info. See the first post in this thread here.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Mr. Dancey and Mr. Antunes seem to be almost riffing off the same theme, though their work appears to be independent of one another. So far. Anyone else wondering if Mr. Dancey has a GenCon surprise up his sleeve?
I'm a bit mixed on this latest portion of Mr. Dancey's plan to save the pen-and-paper RPG hobby. On the one hand, it sounds kinda cool: playing in a massive world, where the actions of your party have an effect on the gaming world as a whole. Games Workshop has been having some success generating excitement with similar “campaigns” for their fantasy and sci-fi war games. Mr. Dancey's “Legend of the Five Rings” has also benefited from similar play. Done well, this sort of thing could build into something really exciting.
But I'm seeing conflicts with yesterday's blog. Doesn't a single, persistent world require a unified set of rules? Yes, you could tell all sorts of stories in a single world, and the idea of taking a standard “kill the ogre” adventure and having one group play it as a standard monster hunt while another plays it as a drama full of tragedy and pathos is neat. But how far can those two group diverge and still say they are playing in the same world? How does the second group explain the self-sacrifice of their sorcerer, for instance, when the first group burns through resurrections like toilet paper?
Mr. Dancey's pulled a lot of rabbits out of his hat so far. And so far, I'm cautiously optimistic. But he promises a bit more technical info on how he thinks something like this might be implemented. I look forward to seeing him conjure an alligator.
Also, be sure to check out his “Time Out” piece on how roleplayers appear to segment within the hobby. Old data, but still interesting to consider. I'm pretty sure both I and the Trollwife fall pretty heavily on the Strategic/Story quarter.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I mentioned in my last post a fun little card game called “Once Upon a Time”. With that game, you get cards that include things like characters, settings, and plot points. When it’s your turn to tell the story, you toss down a card every time you use the thing on that card in your story. The object of the game is to empty your hand.
The stories, however, tend to be fairly simple and madly disjointed things. Characters get abandoned or killed off on a whim as players steal the storytelling spotlight from one another. You don’t really care what happens to the characters except in a very shallow way, because every element of the story is ephemeral.
Nobody enjoys a bad investment, whether it’s financial or emotional. People are much less likely to invest in a character they think is unstable or subject to frequent, bizarre personality changes. This is why changing the writing team on a comic book often results in losing readers (though a good writer will bring new readers to a title). People are also hesitant to invest in characters who are likely to die. You see this in the classic spoof of old style gaming, where Bjorn Redhawk VIII, virtual clone of his seven forbears, joins the adventuring party shortly after the death of his sire, Bjorn Redhawk VII. And the same is true of any aspect of a story, including setting, climaxes, and even plots.
I asked Mr. Dancey about this, and his reply is interesting. If maintaining a cohesive plot is important to you, assign someone the responsibility of maintaining it. The idea isn’t so much the sort of round-robin storytelling that many of the more daring Narrative style RPGs are, but rather a toolbox that you can pull from to create the sorts of stories that are important to you. So if you’re worried about verisimilitude and cohesion of story, you can put someone in charge of maintaining those for the various aspects of the story, and give them the tools from the box that will allow them to do that.
With a modular rule set, you can have all sorts of tools, from rules that maintain cohesion of character (“each character in the story is assigned to one player, and only that player may control that character and his/her/its resources”) to rules that define the setting. The rule set is going to have to be vast, because it can’t take anything for granted, from the focus of the story to the viewpoint or even the goals of the players, beyond the simple desire to create a story.
This sort of gaming requires a very high level of cooperation and trust between the different participants. Say you want a tale full of magic, and you put one player in charge of the rules for magic. You then have to trust that this player will adjudicate those rules fairly and in the best interests of the group and their story. In traditional gaming, most trust the GM to make sure everyone else is playing honestly. Even if they’re not, the amount of damage they can do to everyone else’s fun is mitigated by them only have responsibility for, and control over, their own character. Of course, untrustworthy players will become known and blackballed just like bad GMs are today, so it’s not as great a danger as it might appear at first. Still, it’s something to keep in mind.
Hopefully, Mr. Dancey will have more to share tomorrow.