Thursday, July 31, 2008

4e Delivers

Or so it seems, on one of the most important elements I think RPGs need to nail right out of the box. I'm speaking of efficiency:

4E has IMHO the lowest barrier to a good night of gaming. As a father of two, and a full time researcher, I have barely enough time to game as it is. Our game nights are packed now that we playing 4E. I probably won’t forget the 2nd game night using the new rules: 3 hours = 3 combat encounters and 3 ‘non-combat’ encounters = 6 things done. All the players shined both in combat and out, and everyone had an awesome time.

This is why WotC really needs to get their digital tabletop right. Combined with a game that makes it easy to pack a lot of fun in a limited amount of time, making it easy to get together with friends is a killer synergy. If they can then help cultivate better DMs and better players through the communities that develop around DDI, they can possibly inject a lot of life into the hobby.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

RPGs Other than D&D

Here's where I admit just how mainstream my tastes can run.

James Maliszewski, prodded by the other Brian Murphy, listed his favorite RPGs that are not D&D. Even though it's rather lacking in "indie" goodness, James' list is still far more eclectic than mine:

  1. STAR FRONTIERS - My parents bought me the Knight Hawks box for Christmas, not really understanding how the game was put together. No problem, a few days later I bought myself the Alpha Dawn box for my birthday, though we had to hunt all over town to find a copy. I loved this game in spite of its many flaws, including a very clunky combat system that usually resulted in people beating each other to death with their otherwise useless guns after they'd burned through all their ammo. I still love the aliens, especially the blob-like dralasite, which was a favorite in our games. It also caught me at just the perfect time, when my reading tastes were heavily into Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, and Alan Dean Foster. You can still get a taste of this game through the "digitally remastered" version now available on the web page for The Frontiersman.
  2. GURPS - Nearly as old as D&D and still chugging along fine. I have a love-hate relationships with GURPS. The trick to really enjoying it is choosing just the bits you need and leaving off the rest. I haven't gotten to play this one nearly as much as I'd like.
  3. Shadowrun - This is one of those games that either clicks with you or doesn't, and it's almost entirely your reaction to the setting that will decide the issue. When it came out, it really clicked with my friends, and it was just as popular as D&D with us through the end of my high school days. It's the game that really taught me to pay attention to mechanics, and how the rules can reinforce or interfere with the setting. The first edition of this game did both. I have very cool ideas for this game, and some day I hope to play them out.
  4. Traveller - My exposure to this game was pretty limited. It seemed to have more promise than Star Frontiers in many respects, but was always a near-miss with me. I suppose that's in large part because what I really wanted was...
  5. Fading Suns - Wow! I adore this crazy little game. It's so deep, so rich, the concept at once so simple to grasp and yet so textured in its possibilities and presentation. The mechanics, unfortunately, are as sprawling as possibilities, and were always a hurdle I felt I had to get over. I've got the outline of a sci-fi setting on my hard drive, and it owes more than a little to the ideas in Fading Suns.
  6. True20 - I'd love to mention Blue Rose here as well, but I really haven't gotten to play it enough to list it. But I have gotten to enjoy a bit more True20, and for a while, I was thinking it would be the last RPG I'd ever need. Yeah, it's really that good, and that flexible, a sort of GURPS-lite without making you feel like you're cheating yourself of GURPS' crunchy goodness. I still adore the rules, but it was my dissatisfaction with trying to tweak them for fantasy that has me turning back to Moldvay/Cook.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There's a New Sheriff in Town

Via The Gamer Dome we learn that WotC has decided to emphasize their focus on Magic: the Gathering and D&D, and this new direction means the death of Gleemax. I doubt there will be too many tears shed over the demise of the lime green brain-inna-jar. However, I imagine there will be much speculation as to what this means about WotC. It'd be easy to think this means that 4e didn't sell as well as projected, or that the company is in dire straits for one reason or another.

I think this is premature. Keep in mind that WotC got a new president just before 4e was released. New presidents like to put their stamp on a company and shake things up, so everyone knows there's new management, with new ideas, and that things will change. "Refocusing on core competencies" is a hoary old arrow in the quiver of incoming presidents and the like.

Home is Where You Hang Your Hat of Disguise

More good stuff from Amagi Games, this time on PC "bases" or homes:

The home base, secret hideout, wizardly towers, fortresses in the woods; in fictional setting, many of the archetypes that roleplaying characters aspire towards are ones that develop and maintain interesting homes. Only a scant few games, however, have explored this territory in any significant depth. So, this article is a bit of a look into things that make a home base desirable, and ways that GMs can then use the (desirable) base to spur engaging action.

Those of you who played "old school" D&D will be familiar with the "end game" of building strongholds, and the sort of fun that can create, already. But there's no need to wait that long. Even if home is just a rented apartment or attic room in the city, or an abandoned barn on the outskirts of the village, can inspire players to "buy in" to the local community, and the campaign as a whole.

There's one little spot where I disagree with Mr. Kornelsen:

Try not to encourage detail that will never be used; spending loads of time creating things without a ‘return’ is annoying to many players.

Now, in Levi's defense, he's speaking directly of details that provide some sort of "home turf" advantage in conflicts. But in my experience, players love to map out their homes in loving detail and lavish them with all sorts of aesthetic improvements. I'd certainly not discourage this sort of behavior, especially if everyone understands up front that most, if not all, of these won't have any mechanical influence on the game.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Covering DRAGON

There have been a lot of neat retrospectives on D&D art just lately, but my favorite is sirlarkins' discussion of his favorite covers of Dragon:

The covers of Dragon were, for me, an early and constant source of inspiration. Dragon, for a time, featured some of the best fantasy art on its covers every month. My retrospective will of course be largely influenced by the period in which I was an active reader and subscriber (circa 1989 to 1995) but as it turns out most of my favorite pieces are from before that era, grown out of familiarty acquired after purchasing the Art of Dragon Magazine many, many winters ago.

I started, and stopped, reading Dragon in a slightly earlier frame of time than sirlarkins, but there's a lot of overlap between my favorites and his. I also find I have a lot of agreement with his comments on the art of Elmore, Easley, Caldwell, and Holloway.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fight On! #2

Check out the table of contents.

Did you see what's on page 28? Huh, huh, didja, didja? Now you know you gotta buy it!

"But trollguy," I hear you say. "Why should I buy the magazine when you've got that for free right here?"

Well, in addition to that giant list of articles by luminaries from across the grognardosphere, there may be some additional magical goodness in the Fight On! version of the article.

What's This Game About:: 4e

Odyssey has a very interesting insight on monitoring the ebb-and-flow of 4e combat:

I've noticed, running 4e, that PC hit point totals don't really matter. On a round by round basis, yeah -- if they're bloodied, or if they're low enough that a monster can take them down in one hit, that matters. But just paying attention to their hit point totals doesn't let me know how they're doing, what the pace of the fight is, or how close they are to defeat.

It's a trap I could see myself falling into if I tried to run a 4e game. "What?!? You're out of healing surges? Oh, um, yeah, I guess this is gonna be a short adventure then..." It makes my brain itch to find a way to ditch hit points entirely, and instead give the entire team some form of resilience score based on healing surges and what-not, further melting the individual character into the gestalt of the team.

The Look of Adventure

Been keeping up with Amagi Games? I haven't been keeping up with much of anyone just lately, but I've still been keeping an eye on Mr. Kornelsen's great little blog of neat ideas. There's been a lot added since I talked about the site last, but "The Special Glow" is a great article on how to draw attention to things in your games without blatantly tricking them out with neon signs and day-glow stickers marking them as "QUEST IMPORTANT!!1!!one!!!":

The Preferred Material: Borrowing directly from video games, here, where ‘the bits you can mess with’ are often in a slightly different color… It’s possible for a given species of foe, or culture, to add to or modify locations primarily using some preferred material or materials. If the group looks down a hallway and sees that little obsidian spikes with gold bits have been pinned to the walls, this might tip them off that the hallway has been modified by the Shalaut, that terrible race of lizard-things.

Lots more where that came from, discussing not just inanimate objects but also characters and bits of information. I love the Amagi Games is shaking out to be a place to go for useful advice on issues that GMs routinely face in RPGs.

UPDATE: And be sure to check out this little interview with Levi at At Will.

Sunflowers on Europa

Freeman Dyson talks about the possibilities of life on Europa and, even more promising, on the much smaller objects of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hope These Folks Remember to Bring Their 10-foot Poles

A secret series of caverns and tunnels are to be explored beneath a pyramid in Mexico:

At the end of this month, they are to investigate a man-made tunnel and cave system underneath the pyramid – the third biggest in the world – to test theories that it was used for rituals including human sacrifice.

"We think it had a ritual purpose. Offerings were placed at the very end of the tunnel as part of the pyramid's construction process," said Alejandro Sarabia, Teotihuacan's director of archaeology.

He will lead a team of Mexican, American and Japanese experts into a 295 ft long, 8 ft high tunnel some 20 ft below the pyramid.

"We want to find out why the Teotihuacan people sealed it and when," Mr Sarabia said. "Excavating the cave could give us some clues about what happened at Teotihuacan, about the fate of the city."

Has anybody checked the level on this adventure? It can really suck when you're expecting kobolds and end up fighting cuatls.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Playing Without a (GSL) Net

James Edward Raggi IV, he of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, has some thoughts on the 4e version of Kingdoms of Kalamar. This latest version of Kenzer & Company's campaign setting is, as always, compatible with the world's most popular RPG. But they don't even bother with that fig leaf:

A 4e product for sale right now. Saying "For Use with Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons" right on the cover...

Not using the GSL.

This was a predictable outcome of the GSL. However, I doubt we'll be seeing a lot of this sort of stuff. Mr. Raggi ponders whether this example makes the who simulacra thing redundant. Possibly, but only if you've got a copyright lawyer handy and you're fairly certain Hasbro won't sue you. Keep in mind that Hasbro doesn't have to win the lawsuit. They just have to inflict enough financial hurt that you decide never to be crosswise with them again.

But Kenzer can probably get away with it, and we may see a few other companies poke their toes in this water as well. But I don't expect to see many, forget most, 4e material released in this manner. And I don't expect we'll see any simulacra follow this example.

ElfQuest Gets a Movie?!?

I've been a fan of Elfquest since the 5th grade. Had the books hidden in my room so my folks wouldn't flip through them and find the, er, less clothed bits.

For those of you who don't know the history, the Pini's created Elfquest after seeing that animated Lord of the Rings movie, and vowed to do fantasy animation right. Unfortunately, they couldn't afford to fund an animated movie. But they could self-publish some comic books. In fact, they are often credited with spearheading the big self-publishing craze of independent comics.

Anyway, the point is, Elfquest was always supposed to be a movie, but things always seemed to fall through. Now, it appears, Warners is serious about it. I'm damned curious to see how they plan to approach it. It's the sort of project that doesn't fit comfortably into your usual genre system. That said, after Jackson's LotR trilogy, del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth", and the good buzz I've heard in advance of "Hellboy II", maybe someone will actually do this project justice. However, we don't know how heavily the Pini's are involved, or much about who will be working on the project. But it should have trolls in it, so you know it'll be good! ;)

UPDATE: Duh! More stuff at the Elfquest page:

Our director Rawson Thurber (yes, the great great grandson of the James Thurber) is just an amazingly brilliant and wonderful young Leonardo Di Caprio look-alike - the perfect director for this film. He and his sister grew up reading EQ (can quote chapter and verse) and he has always had a deep passion for it. Now he's on the A-list! Who knew?!? Anyway, after many false starts, Rawson's just what we needed to finally push this project over the top.

There's almost nothing to say about the movie itself, yet. It will probably be a combination of CGI and live action. It will probably take about two years to make. Rawson is writing the script and producing as well as directing (a la Guillermo del Toro on Hellboy). Richard and I will be acting as consultants all the way through.

I'm shocked it won't be animation, but not that shocked. Animation that's anything but Pixar is a tough sell these days. So now we can all go crazy playing the casting game as we try to decide who should play Cutter and Skywise and the rest.

"...imagine a magic missile crushing the darkness, forever."


Ok, I'm still playing catch-up on all the great blogs out there. (Have you seen all the cool blogs Mr. Maliszewski's added to his blogroll? I was reading some of them already, but not all. There are some hidden treasures there.) Jeff's report on his experiences with 4e line up a lot with my expectations, especially this:

The most interesting thing I've noticed about 4e so far is how powergaming the system seems to work. Some people will try to tell you that the simplified character creation makes powergaming impossible. Those people lack vision. The munchkining of the game obviously lurks in synergizing among your teammates. The era of the overpowered "character build" may be over, but I predict that the smart munchkins will be all over "team optimization" like stink on poop.

Yeah, I've been talking that up for a while now. I think by Christmas you'll be hearing how every group needs a "striker-striker-warlord fireteam" or some such. I'm really looking forward to seeing how that sort of thing shakes out. Often in games as complex as D&D, the unintended bits are cooler than what the designers consciously put into the game.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008



Sorry for being absent so long. I've been really under the weather, and haven't even been reading the intrawebs much since I posted last.

That being the case, I'm sure there's already been a lot said and posted about this great guide by Mythmere on how to play old school RPGs. I think he nails it, but that probably doesn't surprise regular readers, as he discusses the central importance of the GM crafting the game for a particular group and resource management.

It's also making me wonder if I'd prefer a game with more of a combat focus, where we don't worry about how many torches the PCs are lugging around, and focus instead on "meaningful" combats full of dramatic importance. I dunno, maybe. I kinda fall down here because I keep wanting games like this to mimic reality as I know it a bit better than they do. But then, I'm the guy who has a trouble letting go and embracing the silly, slapstick fun of Paranoia.