Friday, March 30, 2007

Treasure Tables on Helping your Players Connect to their PCs

Good stuff once again at Treasure Tables. This time, it's a short list of things GMs can do to help their players connect to their characters. I found this tidbit made me sit up and take notice:

Have the NPCs play to the PCs’ concepts, including strengths and weaknesses. This is an offshoot of making use of background flags, but it stands pretty well on its own. If one of your players builds a character who’s all about being big and tough, have NPCs comment on their stature, seem slightly intimidated in their presence and (once the PCs are well known) recognize them from stories they’ve heard about their martial prowess. In other words, reinforce what your players think is cool about their characters.

I think too many GMs do the exact opposite. They try to hold the PCs back, rub away what makes them special, and try to bury them in minutiae, rather than letting them shine. The ability to challenge your players while allowing the PCs to be and look heroic is, I think, among the skills that separate the decent GMs from the great ones.

Read it all, of course.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Griffons, Girls, and Clumsy Cats

Fredrik K.T. Andersson has updated his Elfwood gallery with four new pieces. Only one is NSFW, but the gallery in general isn't. For some reason, they new pieces are not outlined in red as has been the case in the past, so here are some direct links for you: "The Female Fellowship" (I have no idea why this one is under parental controls), "The Griffin Rider", the NSFW "Human Satyr Family", and the crude but humorous "Love Hurts". I especially like "The Griffin Rider" for its rough, slightly unfinished feel that gives you something of an insight into how Mr. Andersson creates his images. It's also a very light-hearted piece with lots of energy and character.

A Hex on Saturn?

Cassini has sent us pictures of odd hexagonal shapes in the clouds over Saturn's north pole. This isn't a maybe-kinda-if-you-squint-funny thing like the face on Mars. These are serious, regular shapes, almost identical in the lengths of their sides and immediately obvious to the casual observer.

So what are they? A star gate? It's interesting to note that Saturn's moons may have icy surfaces, something interstellar travelers might find useful for a cosmic pit-stop. And, contrary to the way most games work things, because of the way dense objects bend space-time, it might actually be easier, not harder, to enter and exit hyperspace the closer you are to a large gravity well. With its flashy rings, making it easy to spot in a crowded solar system, Saturn might be the perfect place to stick such a gate.

Maybe the hexagons are the seal on a prison of a Great Old One. The planet has long been associated with primordial fertility deities. It's zodiacal properties are capricious and potent.

In any case, until NASA explains exactly what's going on up there, you can have all sorts of fun with this little fact in your sci-fi, weird history, or supernatural games. Enjoy!

Avonia, ho!

Avonia is the name of a website and blog devoted to pen-and-paper RPGing, specifically of the d20 variety. The caretaker of Avonia, Patrick, also posts frequently at Treasure Tables, and it's from there I was pointed to this topic. Patrick's curious why we continue to play our old-fashioned, analog, pen-and-paper games when there are lots of fancy computer games out there just begging for our attention. He's got some ideas of his own, but he's curious to hear your thoughts. So why not pop on over and give him your two cents?

THIS IS SPARTA... in Second Life

Second Life has been much in the news this past year or so. Many pundits of the online gaming world, as well as financial and social observers, have felt spurred to chip in with comments pro and con. I’ve got a theory as to why Second Life, which after years of being almost free to play and still hasn’t garnered as many users as World of Warcraft racked up in the first six months, is a press darling. But that’s for another post, maybe…

Yes, I play in Second Life sometimes. Even there, I’m heavily in what you’d call the “casual gamer” group; even in my wild MUDding days, I was never a 30+ hours per week player. I doubt I’ve spent much time in the heady stratosphere of 20+ hours per week. I’m afraid I’m too easily distracted, especially by table-top-style gaming. This is why I don’t talk about online games that much. They fascinate me as intellectual exercise, they entertain me when I can’t get a better game going, but I’m not the rabid fan some folks are.

Ok, nice long-winded introduction there, Trollsmyth. What the heck does Second Life have to do with Bronze Age warriors? Well, there’s a territory in Second Life, referred to by the locals as a “sim”, devoted to the movie “300”. It’s a very cool little set-up as well. The sim is divided into five small islands. The central island is a large amphitheater which apparently was used for a roundtable discussion with Frank Miller and other notables from the film. One of the other islands, reached by a cute but rather silly little tram system, or by much more expedient flight, is a mock-up movie theater, where I assume clips were shown to the roundtable’s audience. I missed all that cool stuff, and the documentation I got implies it was by invitation only. I’m certainly no Second Life bigwig to get invited to an event like that.

Those are the least interesting parts of the territory, though. There’s a reading room that includes a big, in-game flip book with stills from the movie and production sketches. Kinda neat, especially since your Second Life self can take a copy to enjoy in the leisure of your virtual abode. Cooler than that, though, is the next island, which holds billboard sized side-by-side comparisons of the comic book and the movie. So you’ll see a tall board with a page from the comic where the oracle does her thing beside a still from the movie in wide-screen dimensions of the same scene. Frankly, either are works of art worthy of hanging on your wall. And since the images can both be had for free, you can hang them on your virtual wall.

What? Am I serious? Absolutely, true believers. I’m talking free textures. Granted, I’m not sure how often you’ll feel the need for a texture of Xerxes’ throne, or a phalanx of advancing Spartans. But they are available, and very cool.

But it gets better. The next island is a walk-through reproduction of Sparta. It’s not big, just three buildings and the famous well. You know the one I’m talking about. The one the dude gets kicked into? And yes, you can jump down in the well. The place is fully explorable. They’ve got a Spartan warrior costume and a copy of Gorgo’s costume, both created by AdamandEve, available for free. Both are cool sources for bits for your own look, even if they are unmodifiable. And the buildings are stocked with all sorts of neat little Bronze Aged goodies you can copy for free. Yes, it’s a decorator’s paradise, and who doesn’t enjoy sprucing up their little corner of Second Life?

Not everything is available to be taken, but there are pots, helms, spears, bowls, cheese, and other goodies to give your Second Life dwelling a homey, if obviously a tad spartan, touch. Poke around for a bit, and you can also find an in-game gesture, so you too can kick people into wells while shouting the now famous line.

Liam Kanno (his SL handle), the builder of the village, is understandably proud of the work he did on it. He told me he’s not certain how much longer it will remain up. That’s entirely up to Warner Bros. I have no idea if the sim, called Silverscreen, is owned by Warner Bros. or is a private parcel that’s rented out for the promotion of movies. Regardless, it’s something I’m going to keep my eye on from now on. I can’t see them doing something like this for “Music and Lyrics”, but Harry Potter or one of Shyamalan’s flicks might be a perfect fit for a Second Life promotion.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What the...

Ok, I've no idea why Blogger decided "SF Revival" needed to be in all giganto-text. The fix wasn't too hard: just go into edit mode and tell it what font and size I wanted. Still, I'm using one of their pre-made forms for a reason. Ah well, I shouldn't complain. It's a hell of a service for free.

The overwhelming response to my question about links was something like:

Dude! Lighten up! You ain't the Blogfather. The only people who really pay any attention to your links are folks bored at work. Put what you want, and to hell with why.

- Joe Trollsmyth-reader
So I'm just going to leave them as they are for now. I might toss in a heading for games, and another for movies.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The SF Revival

In this case, SF stands for “Star Frontiers”, TSR’s entry into science fiction RPGs. The game originally came out in 1982, and there was a review of it in the first issue of Dragon magazine I ever read. This was back when Dragon was more about the hobby of RPGs as a whole, with a sprinkling of war gaming and other fun stuff, and less a mouthpiece for a single company.

The game itself was pretty good, and a lot of fun. It had a surprisingly hard-science foundation. I remember thinking that using acceleration to replicate gravity and shielding your ships from lasers with a cloud of water vapor to diffuse the beam were clever ideas. The races were surprisingly alien as well. Yes, everything had a recognizable face, but the dralasites, sentient ameboides capable of producing a number of limbs dependent only on the character’s stats, didn’t have to. The yazarians were like a cross between a baboon and a flying squirrel, but they were the only other humanoid race. The villains were giant slugs with arms and paddles called slathar, and the remaining PC race were insectoid-like centaurs called vrusk. Compared to most other sci-fi games, then or now, having half of the PC races be non-humanoid really makes Star Frontiers stand apart from the competition.

The feel of the game was perfect for reproducing the space opera of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The setting was a sparsely settled frontier, the worlds loosely united in a mutual defense league, but multi-stellar mega-corps often wielded more power than governments. Computers straddled the line between the number-crunching tools of the 70s and the wonder makers of the 80s. The robotic rules were a lot of fun, and while you couldn’t play a robot yourself, you were certain to interact with them, or possibly even build a few of your own. (If you’ve ever seen the movie “Ice Pirates”, you might have a good idea how the robot rules were often used in Star Frontiers.) Combat was notorious for dragging on, however, due to the low levels of damage done by the weapons. Still, if your idea of good SF reading included the works of H. Beam Piper, Robert, Heinlein, or the Commonwealth stories of Alan Dean Foster, Star Frontiers was a good fit for your science fiction RPG needs.

And apparently still is! Bill Logan (aka CleanCutRogue on has “digitally remastered” the game. He’s taken the same rules, unchanged from their release a quarter of a century ago, and reformatted them to match the look and layout of modern RPGs. You can find the impressive results here. His efforts have spawned a small community of Star Frontiers revivalists who will soon be putting out the third issue of their monthly web magazine, The Star Frontiersman. If this is a game you have fond memories for, or one you haven’t yet had the chance to enjoy, I’d recommend giving these new “editions” a look. Also, be sure to check out the thread that started it all, and is still going strong, at

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The shame. The shame!

Four months since my last update?!? Ok, that’s just inexcusable. Especially since so much has been going on. Things feel a bit quiet on the RPG front, admittedly, but there’s lots of new art stuff to talk about. Lea over at Paintpots has been working with sculpture, a medium that I feel fits her style very well. In Dragonlance movie news, there are new backgrounds. The first gave me a strong and worrisome Scooby Doo vibe, but the newest look to be very strong nods towards the brothers Hildebrandt. My feelings remain mixed, but hopeful.

But the big news for me is that I’ve finally gone through and begun to organize and update the massive mess of links I’ve been accumulating for this blog. You can see the fruits of this on the right-hand sidebar. If you know a link worthy of mention, please let me know. I’m still not entirely certain how I want to judge worthiness, honestly. You’ll notice I didn’t link to Parkinson or Elmore, or others in that league. Do I really need to? Doesn’t everyone already know them? Nene might arguably be in that league, I dunno. PvP and certainly doesn’t need me to plug them, but I hit those almost every day, so they made the list. What do you think? Should I be linking the “big” names?