Tuesday, August 31, 2010

D&D at the Baranof (Part 3)

[continued from here]

I'll spare you the suspense: my brother's character was killed.

By owl bears.

How awesome is that?

It went down like this:

Asked AB what marching order he wanted to assign to his party. He replied (after only slight deliberation): Halfling, then Dwarf, then Cleric, then Meaty (the fighter), then the Magic-User last.

Really? You're really going to let everyone march in front of you? When your character is a 7th level fighter with an AC of 1 and, like, 30+ hit points?

'Yeah. How do you think my character got to 7th level?'

I can see why the Dwarf with the 3 charisma is your best friend. C'mon...you're going to let your ex-fiancee walk point before you do?

'Ok, fine, Meaty will walk IN FRONT of the cleric...jeez!'

And so off they went.

There are quite a few doors in B1...stuck, wooden doors that need to be kicked open. AB liked to go through doors...they would break down most every door they encountered. Generally, he would have Grouch (the dwarf) do the honors. Unfortunately, I was rolling extremely poorly for door opening rolls and despite his 16 strength, ol' Grouch ended up bruising his shoulder more than half the time. After every failed roll, Meaty would shoulder his way to the front of the line and blast the door down with his 18 strength...grumbling the whole time.

The first inhabitants the party encountered was in the stronghold's kitchen: a trio of kobolds were busy cooking up something for the lords of the Fortress Q.

[yes, Rogahn and Zelligar were both healthy and present in the stronghold. Remember that all False rumors were True and vice versa. Rumor #18(F): Zelligar and Rogahn have actually returned to their stronghold and woe be to any unwelcome visitors!]

Do you want to attack the little dog men?

'Um, well, no...let's try diplomacy first. Does anyone speak kobold?'

[I have to say, I was shocked with this approach from my WoW-addled sibling...is it standard practice in 4th edition games to talk to the encounters rather than attack? I guess my brother is a throwback as well]

Hmm...it appears the only character that speaks kobold is your best friend, Grouch the dwarf.

'Grouch will talk to them!'

I roll reaction modifying for Grouch's Charisma of 3 and the kobolds attack, only to die quickly and messily. My brother and I laugh over our beers at Grouch's attempt at "tactful greeting."

A few long corridors, a couple storerooms, and a bit of being lost in the twisting turns of Castle Q and the party finds itself in Zelligar's indoor garden chamber. Unfortunately, I'm mean and there are several shriekers present who start to give off a keening wail as the party's harsh torchlight lights the darkened room.

Shriekers are 3HD apiece (!!) and it takes several rounds for the characters to kill them. Dicing for wandering monsters, I find a lumbering owl bear ambling down the corridor to investigate the noise. The characters nut up and gang bang the thing dropping it in a single round, though Meaty takes a blow from a forepaw (a taste of what was to come). As usual, I was rolling 6s for initiative, even though I couldn't open a door with the same six-sider.

The next encounter took place in the "visitor's lounge" where my notes read "evil centaur." The evil centaur was checking out the life-size marble statue of a beautiful nude woman. Deciding to try negotiating again, the party this time put forth "Lady Troy" (the cleric) to do their talking. At first, the horse-man was well-disposed to the pretty lady in the chain coif as they tried to bluff their way into some useful info. However, he was eventually tipped off by their drawn and bloodied weapons and when Meaty opened his mouth to lie his ass off, the Reaction dice came up snake-eyes and the centaur attacked.

And died. Quickly.

Per the module, the statue is "obviously of great value" but is nearly impossible to move due to its great weight. AB decided Meaty would throw his bag of holding over the thing and knock it over (possibly using the party's 10' pole as a suitable lever). I'd had a couple by this time and decided this was a fine plan, though the statue took up most of the room in his bag (which can hold half a ton!).

More wandering, including finding and perusing Zelligar's bedroom (Big Z wasn't there...I had him located in his workshop/lab) didn't net them any more treasure...I can't recall why they didn't loot the wizard's bedroom; I believe they even left the books that looked valuable if un-decipherable.

I should note that my Virgo brother was mapping the whole time...drawing on a spread-open napkin with a pencil. Despite a lack of graph paper and my conspicuously dubious measurements ("the corridor extends 50 or 80 feet and then turns left...") he actually did a pretty good job of mapping. Later he remarked:

"Keeping a good map...or even a half-assed map...is a real time-saver. That part in the southeast where we were lost was mainly due to beer, but otherwise I had a good idea where to go and how to get out with just a few scratch marks."

[I am paraphrasing]

Eventually their lack of a thief (or their general disregard for safety) got the better of them and they blundered into a false door/pit trap that dropped most of the party 40' into a deep pool of cold water. Faced with dis-encumbering themselves or risk drowning, AB decided that Meaty would dump the statue and Grouch would strip off his plate mail, while the Lady Troy would try to tread water in her armor. Fortunately, all of the party members were able to make their swimming checks and the magic-user (who had NOT fallen in the drink) was able to help them out with a length of rope. 'I'll come back for the statue,' vowed Meaty. Such was not to be.

Finding the stronghold's armory was not nearly as big a coup as they'd expected...most of the gear was broken, old, or otherwise useless. However, they could smell treasure nearby and they anxiously pressed on. Kicking in the door at the opposite end of the armory they found themselves in the stronghold barracks facing several "guards:" three owl bears!

While the magic-user's lightning bolt spell left one monster in smoking ruins, AB may have overestimated his chances against the remaining two beasts as Meaty and Crouch waded into melee, Lady Troy providing healing and Carey doing his usual 'floating.'

[by the way, a 6th level halfling with a 12 strength and a +3 dagger does just fine in combat when you're using the All-Weapons-Do-D6-Damage rule]

Grouch, no longer wearing plate mail, was quickly scooped up in a bear hug and took massive amounts of damage. Meaty, still wearing his +3 chain, was also hit with every single attack of the owl bear (including the automatic hug attack). Unlike the dwarf, Meaty did not have 42 hit points. Despite the cleric focusing all her healing power on the fighter, the second round saw him take enough damage from the beast's hug to bring him to -2 hit points.

Quickly I rolled on my 50 Ways to Die table: "a massive blow crushes your spine killing you instantly." The owl bear had broken Meaty's meaty back!

As we had finished our pitcher at this point and it was 10pm (we' been playing close to two hours), I decided to call the session rather than finish out the fight with the NPCs. As it was, the fight was shaping up to be at least a half-TPK (Grouch was well on his way to joining his best buddy in the Happy Hunting Grounds)...and since Lady Troy was NOT carrying a raise dead spell (I guess she was level 6 after all), I figured it was time to head home to wife and beagles.

"It was the damn claw-claw-bite that did me in," analyzed my brother, something I've discussed on this blog before myself. Beware the big creature with the multiple attacks, for they are truly the most dangerous game!

I have to say that I really had fun gaming with my brother, and just being able to walk into Gary's the next day and tell Tim, "yeah, my brother got taken apart by owl bears"...man, is that just a fun phrase to say! Makes me smile just thinking about it (owl bears are definitely on my Top Ten List of favorite D&D monsters).

Anyhoo, AB is thinking of playing again, and perhaps I'll skip the Thursday ECGF game in favor of beers and B/X at Baranof's from now on...Lord knows, it was one of the best times gaming I've had in awhile (face-to-face play, adult company, booze...what more could you want?). If we do, we might pick up where we left off and we might not...ABles has been saying he's interested in play-testing the B/X Companion, so perhaps we'll take my half-finished adventure module for a spin. It might be just the push I need to get the damn thing ready for publishing!
; )

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I find it difficult to believe that anyone that reads this blog does NOT know who James Edward Raggi IV is (at least within the OSR community/blog-o-sphere)...but on the off-chance you don't, allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite pieces of RPG art of all time:

Truly, at this very moment I can't think of a single piece of color art I admire as much. Well...other than Brian DeClercq's beautiful cover for my B/X Companion, of course.
; )

If anything can convince someone to buy one more game or game supplement, the cover art of a book must be at least as important as a well written review by a well-respected critic. After all, one of the draws of RPGs are their ability to fire and stretch the imagination...and good artwork (fantasy or not) is a great help in this regard.

It makes me slightly depressed. As I work on the new books, I can't help but think how damn fortunate I got with the B/X Companion and the talented artists willing to contribute to my work. Yes, yes...some of them have already emailed me their willingness to work with me again (thank you, folks) but still, until you see it, how do you know the art is going to turn out...well, good?

I think I got an amazing piece for my book, and Mr. Raggi certainly got a good one as well. I'm sure that a lot fewer of our books would have been sold with lesser pieces gracing their covers...regardless of how good the material inside is. I can only hope we're both as fortunate in the future.

D&D at the Baranof (Part 2)

[continued from here; sorry for the delay!]

A little more than a year ago, I managed to pick up an old, sepia colored copy of B1:In Search of the Unknown, an adventure module first written and published (I presume) to use with the Holmes Basic D&D set. B1 is a module I've never had a chance to run or play, and I was excited to try it out with my brother.

The module IS a little "tweaked" from the adventure as originally written. For one thing, I've chucked all the monster and treasure lists from B1 itself, instead making the adventure in the Level 5-7 (Expert) range. Tougher monsters, bigger treasures in other words.

Oh, yeah...I also decided to mix it up by making every false rumor TRUE, and every true rumor FALSE. Now THAT's a game of a different shade (especially considering I had to write up R and Z...the adventurers to whom Castle Q belongs!)! When I told the Doc about that he thought that was a crazy idea, "the false rumors are always the really extreme ones!" Yeah, that's what makes it more fun.

It also means I only had to stock half the dungeon. Two of the true rumors (now false) included:

- the dungeon is un-finished
- the dungeon has more than one level

Answering both those questions "no" made my prep time A LOT shorter.

Anyway, house rules were as follows:

Um...is that it? No, wait we also used my three beautiful, random tables: B/X Headgear, 100 Reasons, and 50 Ways to Die. Remember those?

And wow, they worked great! Really. My brother does a little cartooning, so he drew each character's respective headgear on their character sheet to better picture them...and the relationships (I made him roll for Meaty's relationship with all four NPCs) really helped give Meaty interesting ways/reasons to interact with the other NPCs, as well as providing insight and backstory for his character. For example:

Carey the Clever (Halfling 6; headgear: hat with feather) - they met each other when meeting on the road, neither giving way, and fighting a duel with each other that ended in a tie. Considering that Carey is a halfling with no attribute above 12 (3D6 in order remember?), and Meaty has an 18 strength, AB was much more inclined to allow Carey his "clever" moniker. The little guy MUST have done something ingenious to fight the burly warrior to a stand-still.

Troy the Righteous (Cleric 6 or 7, can't remember; headgear: chain coif) - were once betrothed/engaged but one broke it off...they're now friends. From this relationship, we deduced that "Troy" was in fact female, the Lady Troy (or "Linda" or Lady Linda of Troy). This made for several interesting scenes in dungeon, when Meaty was forced to choose between pragmatic solutions and not being a total heel regarding his ex-lover. As the Lady Troy tended to stay close to Meaty and provide him with healing, it appeared she might still be carrying a bit of a torch for the guy.

"Grouch" Stonehelm (Dwarf 6; headgear: Roman-style helm) - best friends. What does it say when your best friend is a dwarf with a charisma of 3? Grouch was yet another victim of the 3D6 in order roll and was consequently one surly SOB. And yet he and Meaty were best friends. They worked well in tandem (being the heavy hitters, while Carey acted as a "floater" or "striker"), but eventually we decided they were best friends simply because they had out-lasted all prior adventuring companions. They definitely had a mutual respect for each other's melee might.

[BTW, the last guy's relationship never really came up in play, though I thought it might be interesting:

Some Magic-User, name un-remembered (Magic-User 7; headgear: short conical cap) - shares a secret psychic bond.

This never actually came up in play as AB took an immediate dislike to the "pansy" magic-user (though he used less complimentary terms). Usually relegated to the back of the party, Munio (I think his name was) was treated as a nuisance despite my attempts (as DM) to make him nothing but utilitarian/helpful. For whatever reason, ABle had a chip on his shoulder for this guy from the get-go...perhaps because he attached the moniker "the Magnificent" to his name...I really don't know. Regardless, AB was hostile towards the guy and I couldn't really figure out how to make the "psychic bond" work so it didn't get used.]

I will write more on the actual adventure...later. There's still some discussion with AB as to whether or not he wants to continue the mission or not (you'll see why when I post the next bit). But regardless, I'll give you the full run-down from last Thursday later this afternoon/evening.

: )

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Video Review of the B/X Companion

Bighara chose a review of my B/X Companion as the subject of his video blog's 4th episode. Thanks for the feedback man...your feedback (and your nitpicking!) is fully appreciated.

Check it out!
: )

Friday, August 27, 2010

D&D at the Baranof (Part 1)

So it didn't happen the way I thought it would, but I finally had a chance to play D&D last night (Thursday)...with my own brother of all people!

The original plan was to run a game at the Thursday night meeting of the Emerald City Gamefest. Unfortunately, things being what they were this week, I totally half-assed and botched the whole thing. First, I didn't get my game on the schedule until Wednesday night (*sigh* ...computers), then I was running around doing too many things Thursday after work. The end result...I didn't actually get to Wayward till 7:30 or so, and the gamers already had a game going...about 8 people playing Truth & Justice.

They invited me to join 'em but I really didn't feel like it...I'm kind of tired of being the newb that arrives late and has to get filled in on the rules as well as the story. Plus I really didn't want to play T&J or a superhero game anyway. I've been jonesin' for some B/X action for about a month now and well...drinking coffee and getting jittery throwing down hero narrative just didn't appeal.

So I left, and waited outside for my brother.

Yes, AB is back in town...got back from North Carolina about 10 days ago and has been staying with me and the Mrs. (as usual) while searching for a job and a new place to live. Now I've mentioned before that ABles isn't big on the nerdy RPGs anymore (he's a World of Warcraft fan when he can afford the account and the computer...so much more cool), but tonight he was in the mood to play and had asked to tag along to game night. He's been pretty jazzed about the book publishing thang, but tonight he claimed he was simply bored.

I was waiting for him outside because (on the walk over) he had decided he needed to run down to the smoke shop to get chewing tobacco.

When he came up he wanted to know why I wasn't inside.

"It's a no-go," I explained. "They've already started and there're no stragglers waiting for another game; everyone's just playing around one big table."

Well why don't we join 'em? Asks he. If they already have eight or nine people what's one or two more?

"We could join, but I don't feel like playing in a crowd tonight, and I didn't really want to playthat game. Let's just grab a beer from the bar and head home."

Then he proposes that WE play...just one-on-one. Like the old times.

I am taken aback. AB has not played D&D...or any role-playing game...in close to 20 years.

"Ok," I say. "But let's go play somewhere we can drink." And off we go to the Baranof.

The Baranof, or just "Baranof's" as Greenwood folks tend to call it, is just about the sleeziest, oldest dive bar / greasy spoon in the 'hood...possibly in North Seattle. It has managed to outlast many, many eateries, bars, and businesses in the area over the years...including McDonalds! It is beloved by many, possibly due in part to having Seattle's longest happy hour: 6am to around 8ish, if I remember correctly. When my buddy's bar burned down a few years back (also in Greenwood), I took him to Baranof's to drown his sorrows as it was the only bar open that early in the morning and serving stiff drinks. Hey, what are friends for?

ANYway...AB and I went to Baranof's which advertises on the door: "Bad food, warm beer, lousy service." Inside, another sign says "Beware pickpockets and loose women." The restaurant portion of the place was just closing (it was around 8:30), but the waitress told us it was no problem if we wanted to order a drink from the bar and hang out in a booth in the dining room. We got a pitcher and did just that.

AB asked if I had characters already made up. Yes. He wanted to roll up his own character and take along a few "companions." No problem...I provided him with pencil and paper. "How do you do this again?" he asked. I explained we were playing B/X so characters were rolled up the old fashioned way: 3D6 in order. Like a champ, he remembered the proper ability score order.

His character ended up being a fighter with an 18 Strength (after dropping his Intelligence from 13 to 9 and increasing his Prime Req from its initial value of 16). Wisdom and Dex were both 7 and everything else was average. After discarding the names "Meatball" and "Bolognese" (the latter was "too Italian") he decided on just calling his character Meaty. Meaty was 7th level and started the game with a handful of magic items rolled randomly: chain mail +2, shield +2, war hammer +1, and a bag of holding. He wanted to roll his hit points randomly...and I discovered I had not a single eight-sided dice! What?!

Fortunately, Baranof's is right next door to Gary's Games, and the shop hadn't closed. I ran over there with 2 minutes to spare, purchased a few random dice of varying sides (including two D8s) and made it back before AB had finished his pint.

Of the eight pre-gens, we decided he would have four joining his party: two would be under his control and two under the DM's. He was allowed to know their names and classes when selecting party members, and nothing else. He chose a halfling and a cleric (which he would control) as well as a dwarf and magic-user, which would be left in the control of the DM (the four pre-gens left behind? A fighter, an elf, a thief, and a second magic-user). It was an interesting selection for sure.

So ready, we began his adventure:

B1:In Search of the Unknown.

B/X Companion Table of Contents

As I prepare to make another run to the post office, I am reminded that I've received a couple emails/comments asking for the Table of Contents to be posted to the blog. Here, for your interest, is the inside front cover of the B/X Companion:

Why-o-why, JB, do you bother to list Charisma modifiers? For easy reference...Charisma is vitally important to a number of systems in the B/X Companion, including running dominions and leading troops into battle. And the specialist hirelings? Again, ease of reference (though you'll need one of the earlier rule sets to see their descriptions). The NEW specialist hirelings are all found in Part 4, pages C21-C22.

All right, I DO have to make my post run, so I can get back to writing Land of Ash...I may have spent too much time eating breakfast this morning. Feel free to keep those orders coming...I will try to make another mail run this afternoon, and I will definitely do one tomorrow (Saturday) morning as well.
: )

Blogging Breakfast

It must be payday somewhere, because the slim sales of the last couple days are starting to pick up all of a sudden.

I haven't had a day withOUT sales yet, which is good, but I'm still waiting to hear from folks in Canada. I mean, how far IS Calgary from Seattle anyway?

Right now, I am at the Four Spoons eating their "English Breakfast" which is close-to-but-not-quite the traditional English breakfasts I've eaten in England. I substituted "English muffins" for toast because, let's face it, if you can't have real English toast, why bother?

I am totally serious...at least the places I visited in England, they have toast down to a science. I have never seen toast toasted so consistently to perfection as in England (admittedly, the only part of the UK I've spent time in). Maybe they've just been making it for a thousand years or something? When did the English start drinking tea? Marco Polo?

You may think I'm being silly but traveling to other countries I've found it's absolutely imperative to sample as much of the local cuisine as possible. When I was 17, I lived in Japan for close to a month, and I spent several weeks eating teriyaki burgers at McDonalds as often as I could. I was a total coward, and I mentally kick myself every time I look back on those days. Now when I travel, I refuse to eat anything even vaguely American unless I have no other choice.

By the way, the worst toast in the world? Italy. I was staying at a bed-and-breakfast in Venice..."and-breakfast" for God's sake!...and the "toast" came packaged in plastic like a Hostess Twinkie! Fresh from the factory, I guess. It was tasteless and terrible to boot. I discovered later that Italy wasn't much of a "breakfasty" country...and fortunately they have plenty of great cuisine available at other times of the day (other very specific times, but that's another story).

Now what the hell does this have to do with role-playing? Very little, in truth...I'm just writing as I eat and read other peoples' Friday morning musings. However, the cuisine of a culture IS a consideration when writing a book designed to provide a campaign setting.

Well, at least if it's for a role-playing game. I mean REAL role-playing. If all you use your game for is running encounters with monsters, then you probably won't give a shit about what's on the menu. Me, I think this kind of thing enriches the role-playing experience helping players get into the feel of the world.

Oh, JB, you're just saying that 'cause you're trying to justify posting something about toast. No, dude, I'm not. Or maybe I am, but there is value to be mined here, dammit!

Remember this post from a while back regarding X4:Master of the Desert Nomads? This is what I'm talking about...using food to not only tell you something about the world (for the DM), and in actual scenes that provide the players an "in" or "window" INTO the game world.

This is one of the reasons I absolutely LOVE running Gygax's B2:Keep on the Borderlands for new players. It does so much to put players into the minds and mood of the game with its design. Sure there's the opportunity for players to announce who they are at the gate, right off the bat...but this is generally pretty ham-fisted as many first time players have difficulty even coming up with names, and announcing them makes them feel silly.

What doesn't make them feel silly is ordering food off the menu at the tavern. Every first time player gets this...we've all gone to a restaurant and ordered food in the past. Even young kids whose parents' have ordered for them know how to do this. It instantly connects their real world self with their game world self and causes an immediate transformation, helping to identify with their characters in a way that did NOT happen at the Keep's gates.

[ha! just reading back over those old game reports are fun stuff...I've got a new one I'll put up later today]

All right...breakfast over save for a singed tomato that I just can't bring myself to eat (I AM in the U.S. right now, not the U.K.) and the thoroughly American coffee that I drink far too much. I'll check back in later, folks. Have a good day!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Running Beagle Games Announces: Land of Ash

I don't know why blogging has been so slow this week...is it the quiet before the storm?

Who knows...I'm tired of checking the roles and finding nothing new. And rather than be PART of the problem, I figure I'll throw down a little inspirational (I hope) reading. This excerpt is the Foreword to Land of Ash, a new B/X campaign setting in the works from Running Beagle Games. Enjoy!


My name is Varleth and I have seen the wonders of the ancient world in the fullness of its splendor. Flowering hills of rich, deep soil, not just dunes of sand and ash. Dark, moist forests teeming with natural life, not unholy monsters. Stretches of grasslands, unlike the blasted and barren plains of our own world. Powerful mountains capped with snow…frozen moisture which the ancients of Adeth possessed in abundance they took for granted.

Yes, water…it was everywhere in the ancient world running in trickling streams and mighty rivers; pooling in deep lakes, and filling salty oceans. And the rain…O, the glorious torrential downpours one could bathe in for days! Ponds and wetlands and cascading run-offs from the peaks...a true paradise the Old Ones took for granted.

What I say may amaze you, but I have oft been called an amazing individual. I am Varleth and I was born a traveler…one who - by dint of happy fortune - can project himself bodily through both space and time. I see you have heard the term…perhaps you have even been acquainted with one like me; we are not all that uncommon. But like other Gifted individuals that wander Adeth, we sometimes find it prudent to hide our abilities. Simple exploitation of the Gifted is one thing… when fear and ignorance band together, death rides not far behind.

Not that Adeth isn’t rife with death…I have traveled enough to see a hundred ways for men to die in this land, and know there are certainly more than I can imagine. Besides simple exposure, hunger, and (of course) thirst, the barrens are filled with more than choking ash and the occasional withered shrub. The monsters that hunt the broken lands live off whatever meat they can find, and wanderers are a good source of nutrition. The nomads that roam the wastes have a tendency to kill first and ask questions later, and their ways of slaying waste little water from their fallen foes. And while there is the occasional patch of nature or tiny oasis to be found, these are universally guarded by the druids, incredibly fierce in their defense against outside intrusion.

Lest you think city life makes one fat and happy, know you that death is nearly as sure within the City-States as it is outside their walls. A knife in the belly from a passing slight happens almost as often as a knife in the back from wandering the wrong, crooked alleyway. Nothing in the cities is free, and starvation and thirst are as rampant among the impoverished as it is in the wastes. Not that there truly is an “underclass” to the cities…most are sold into slavery, or sell themselves, before they perish from want. At least slaves are given to drink…after all, it is difficult to labor when suffering dehydration. But have you ever seen the slave children lap at the ashy ground for a few drops of spilled water? Can humans really treat each other as such? They can…I said 'nothing in the city is free,' but value is in constant flux. And the value of a person’s life is often lower than one would imagine.

Except, of course, the gladiators. Aside from the politicians and the priests, no one commands the respect that these celebrities do. Well, if they fight well and survive, that is. Otherwise they die, just like any other man. The Margul of course are not true men, but their blood is still red (if a bit darker) and it stains the arena sand just as readily. In the city, these ancient people are valued only for their skill at arms. Who knows if this was always the case?

But death in the arena is far from the most dangerous part of the Adeth City-States…even I have survived more than a few bouts (for I, too, was once a slave). Looming over all are the God-Kings, those rulers who have lived centuries and turned our lands into the ashen ruin it is today, using corrupted magic that devastates all it touches, a blasphemy against nature and against the Law of true Theurgy. Removed as they are from the people they hold in thrall, they still exercise their tyranny through the power of their temple knights…wizard-warriors, trained in black sorcery as well as the way of the weapon, they enforce the will of the God-Kings on a cowed populace. If not for the shrines of the Four Elements and their priests, there would be no solace at all for the people of the cities… all would be forced to pay homage and worship to those who have ravaged the land with their cruel armies and mighty magic. But how can one stand up to such creatures?

I know there are still ruins of the ancients left in the wastes. I have seen them: mighty fortresses buried in the ash and sand, entombed in blasted mountains. I have walked the ancient halls of one such stronghold…a fell place, inhabited with monsters and warded with traps against the unwary. It was also filled with treasure…wondrous items from a forgotten age and metals…precious metals of the kind so rare (like true iron!) as to command a fantastic price in the bazaars of the Adeth. Perhaps one of these ancient sites hold the key to throwing down the God-Kings; if not they can surely provide wealth to buy water enough to last us comfortably the rest of our days! I am Varleth and I have seen many wonders. If you would join me, I will show them to you. Adventure awaits!


Me, that is. Completely blew it and left 5 orders on the table this morning that should have been delivered to the post office. Instead, I won't have a chance to mail them till tomorrow morning.

Sorry, folks...that was a complete jackass move. I apologize for failing to deliver your goods in a timely fashion.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spartacus, Gin, and Tonic

Took a break from the "madness" today, meaning no mailings. Well, barely did any writing on my other "mad" projects either (got caught up in work-type-work). However, the main reason for the lack of post office flurrying was my lack of vehicle today (the beagles needed a teeth cleaning...very pearly-white right now). I've got five new orders and they'll be going out manana.

Mmm...today was hell. It's almost enough to make one want to stage a slave revolt at the office. I'm sure some of you working stiffs out there can relate (probably not Raggi, though...he's living the dream).

Thinking about the historical Spartacus as a model for gladiator type action on the B/X playing field makes me even MORE sure (I guess I'm up to 110%) that I don't want to separate Fighters into additional, crowd-pleasing classes (didn't the Big S lead a few thousand troops around the mountains of southern Italia?). I think simple arena rules, probably based on standard Reaction rolls (and thus subject to Charisma modifiers) is the usual system du jour to use.

On the other hand, I don't want to go TOO over-the-top with arena rules...after all, I'm not writing a Circus Maximus game based on B/X. What I AM doing, is knocking off a certain campaign setting published by a certain game company that tends to stink up the joint (in my not so humble opinion). That's right, you heard me...a CAMPAIGN SETTING.

Why a campaign setting, you ask? And well you should. I could give you the long answer (or just post a .pdf of the introduction, already written, which explains my exact feelings on the subject)...or I could just say: because.

Because I can. And frankly, because I think I can do it smaller, and cheaper, and better (if perhaps not glossier).

But we'll see. Right now, the main thing I'm worried about is the "smaller" part. I'm certain I can boil everything down to 64 pages...but I'm shooting for 32-40. It'll be meaty and probably short on illustrations (by the way, I love-Love-LOVE my artists from the B/X Companion, but at this point I don't feel I can exploit them more than I already have. Someone ought to get paid, and that means less art over-all I'm afraid)...but I want to show what can be done. And I mean "done nice and tidy."

[like my G&T here...*clink*]

By the by...if you think I'm talking about a retro-clone of a certain 2nd edition game world, you definitely ARE mistaken. Reading Mr. Maliszewski's recent musings on "game world bloat" really touched a chord in my heart, and anything I make is going to be as short and sweet...and functional...as possible.

Which is going to mean sharpening up my editing skills...and definitely leaving some stuff on the floor.

All right...my drink is finished and it's time to walk the beagles. From what I hear, they had a helluva' day, too. Later, gators!
: )

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oh, Yeah...Almost Forgot...

Did some work on one of the three projects I'm working on (they all have names, I'm just not sharing them yet). Today I figured out how to do psionics in B/X; this will be in one of the new books.

No, it doesn't involve "psionic strength points."

No, it doesn't work like a spell caster's spell list..."except psionic!" Don't drag me down in THAT stinky mess.

You folks have to remember that I'm from that 1980's school of thought, a la Steven King and Scanners. Hmmm...didn't I blog about Scanners awhile back? Maybe...I'll have to check that out later.

Now I AM going to bed.
; )

Comments on the Book

My internet was down most of today (until after 9:30pm, actually)...but little packages are starting to arrive at their destinations (at least in the U.S.) and some feedback is starting to trickle in.

I don't want to spend too much time tooting my own horn (I don't think that's why folks tune into the blog...well, who knows why folks tune into the blog!) but I will post a couple links and emails:

Mr. Gorman provides his initial impressions here.

BlUskrEEm can't figure out how to delete his blog, so he posted about the book. He thinks I hate halflings. On the other hand, he thinks my mass combat system might be good enough for at least one of the people that's been blogging about M.C. lately.

Steve sent me an email saying he really digs the book and plans to fit it into his B/X modified campaign, including my alternate combat system.

Steven (different guy) emailed me to see if I'd gotten his money yet and whether or not I had a book to send him(!). I told him I had already mailed it (I really did, I promise!).

Timeshadows thought her copy "looked lovely" but is still too busy with her move to read it. But she lives in Florida! I'm sure the Canadians should be getting their copies soon.

Okay...you can see I'm not really that good at the shameless self-promotion thing. I mean, other than blogging the hell out of the bloggity-blog-blog...but that's just running my mouth with my fingers. Maybe it's just been all the late nights stuffing envelopes has fatigued my brain a bit?

I'm going to bed now...hopefully I'll have something more interesting to write about in the morning. G'night.

No Gladiators

So right now, two of the books I’m working on were to feature gladiators in some shape or capacity. At least that was my original intention…I am now nearly 99% sure there will be no gladiators in either one.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings on gladiators. On the one hand I love ‘em, and I have no idea why…maybe for the same reason I dig the NFL. Quite possibly I was some sort of ancient Roman fan in a past life…perhaps a bookie of some sort. Who knows…I seriously doubt I was a gladiator or I’d probably have very different feelings (and nightmares!) about the “sport.”

ANYway, in working up a gladiator class for B/X, I’m inclined to look at a variety of sources, including BECMI’s Thyatis campaign book, Bard Games’ The Compleat Adventurer, 2nd Edition’s Dark Sun campaign setting…hell, even the gladiator prestige class from the 3rd edition splat books. After reviewing everything, as well as a little thoughtful consideration (if not careful deliberation), I come to the conclusion that the gladiator as class doesn’t need to happen.

In B/X, a gladiator is a fighter. Period.

Strangely enough, in the end it comes down to a matter of game balance. Now personally I’ve never given much of a rip about game balance, at least not as a hard science (c.f. the last 2 editions of D&D). But as an idea…well…

The B/X fighter fights. He/She uses all weapons, wears all armor, rolls D8s for hit points, and advances in attack and save progression every 3 levels. They can build a fortress at any time, but any followers/hirelings/retainers need to be found and hired. There are no “gimmes.”

So then what’s a gladiator going to be?

Well, gladiators have used all types of weapons and armor. Hit dice should probably be D8. I can’t see their attack progressions as higher or lower than a standard fighter. And even slave gladiators may one day free themselves and buy a castle (as with the fighter, no “gimmes” seem appropriate). So what sets gladiators apart?

Um...special abilities?

So glads can fight with two weapons, or exotic weapons, or have Greco-Roman wrestling skills, or receive bonuses to AC when wearing certain armor pieces, or receive some bonuses to certain maneuvers or something?

Um…that just ends up being a “Fighter Plus.”

If that’s what a gladiator would be (a fighter plus bonuses) why would anyone play a fighter? Are the gladiators limited in level? Human classes aren’t normally limited in B/X. Do they have a penalty to XP? I can’t believe it would be very much…dwarves are only 10% more for a host of abilities, languages, and save bonuses. And elves are double, but cast spells as a magic-user of the equivalent level.

In the end, I just can’t justify making gladiators anything “special,” even though it might be fun to come up with various “level titles.” Gladiators are fighters…just like boxers are. Just like fencers were as recently as the 20th century (and, yes, professional fencers referred to themselves as “fighters” just like prize-fighters…check out the autobiographies of Aldo Nadi).

Much as I like the idea of a gladiator class, I’m afraid I’ll be leaving it on the cutting room floor of my B/X workshop. Damn it, B/X! Why do you have to be so un-forgivingly perfect in your system symmetry?!

; )

Monday, August 23, 2010

Feedback on the Book

Copies of the B/X Companion should start reaching even Canadians in Manitoba in the next day or two (the European folks may take a little bit longer). If any of you blogger-type folks make note of your thoughts and impressions on the book, I sure would appreciate it if you'd drop me a quick email or comment about it. I'm not asking folks to do reviews, but if you DO say something...well, I want your feedback, possibly for future endeavors, and I'm afraid I don't read EVERY blog as regularly as I would like.

And please, feel free to be honest. As I said, I fully plan on keeping up this publishing thing (blog or commercial) as long as I've got stuff to write about. While I'm afraid I'll never be able to please all the people all the time (and, frankly, wouldn't want to), I sure wouldn't mind criticism...hell, it doesn't even have to be constructive! Lord knows I've treated certain game systems like the proverbial red-headed step child. Feel free to let me have it! I did train to be an actor after all...building up a thick skin was part of the deal.
; )

Prost, folks. Hopefully you won't have to wait much longer for your copies!

Wolfmother (Redux)

Sequels can be challenging.

I wrote a while back how much I enjoyed the Wolfmother CD. It was so good and I listened to it so much, I asked the Doc to send me a copy of their second album (Cosmic Egg)…even though I had heard from multiple people that it “wasn’t as good as the first album.” In fact, some of the things I heard about album #2 were even less complimentary. Apparently, the band only contains one of the musicians from the original line-up and the sound has changed substantially.

However, I was willing to give it a shot…after all, their first album was so good, I couldn’t imagine the 2nd would be TOTAL crap. I mean, there had to be some nuggets of goodness, right?

Well, once I started listening to it, I started to see what the disappointment was all about. The first song on the album was a total “eh.” The second song was likewise “blah.” The third song…same story for the most part. Whereas the band’s self-titled first album had four kick-ass songs right up front, right from the get go. And THAT’s the way to start an album…put something awesome up front, top it (White Unicorn is my favorite track on the record), and then top it AGAIN (Woman won a Grammy for Best Rock song of 2005). Start an album great and a lot of later stuff can be forgiven by the ear.

After the third disappointment on Cosmic Egg, I nearly set aside the album…but I didn’t. I kept the faith…helped a bit by a semi-inspired ending to the 3rd track. And my faith was rewarded: the FOURTH track of Cosmic Egg is where the real album starts as far as I’m concerned. #4 is great. #5 is derivative but good. By #6 I can see what the new direction is all about. Overall, the album may not be as consistently as good as their first record, but it’s nothing to sniff at…provided you start listening with Track 4. And track 15 is on the album is probably my favorite song of Wolfmother’s on either album. Now that I’ve got the “key” to the record, I’ve been listening to nothing else for the last few days.

There’s no accounting for taste in aesthetics…I know my buddy likes song #3 the best, and that’s his “key” into the album (and others, like my friend Craig, don’t like it at all, though perhaps he never made it past those first three tracks). The same holds true for RPGs, of course…an aesthetic of a different flavor, but still an aesthetic.

Take my B/X Companion, for example. Five different artists contributed their work to my book. I know which ones are MY favorite (and, no, I’m not going to say who), and I figured my qualitative taste would be…well, universal or something. Such is not the case. My brother prefers one of the interior artists to all the others, going so far as to say he wishes the cover had been done by this particular individual (and my brother is an artist with a critical Virgo eye himself). On the other hand, my friend Steve thinks the cover is the best thing about the book and wishes all the interior art had been done in a similar style. Likewise, my wife has HER favorite artist/image in the book, and it is not the one preferred by myself, my brother, nor Steve-O.

The mix of art and aesthetics by different artists is a GOOD thing. Changing up one’s style or approach between projects can be good as well…provided you manage to retain the quality and some of the sensibilities that made people like it in the first place. It accomplishes two things: the possibility of widening your target audience, and the broadening of the audience’s own mind with regard to “what is cool/neat.”

But just the challenge of trying to follow up a project can be a daunting task; knowing where to start, knowing what to do; knowing how to please your target audience while still being true to yourself and expanding your own horizons…that can be tough.

I say this as I simultaneously begin work on three different projects as a follow-up to the B/X Companion. Hoo-boy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First Feedback on the B/X Companion

Just received this email:

I'm way too sleepy to figure out how to post a comment on the blog. But I saw your post and wanted to let you know I picked up your book yesterday at Gary's, and I am enjoying it. I haven't had a whole lot of time to read through it yet, but nice job. I hope I never run into a bane lord. Running one on the other hand...

Welp, there it is folks. The first customer to get his hands on my book says he is enjoying it. Really, that's all I could have hoped for. Thanks, Eric. I appreciate you letting me know!

By the way: glad you liked the bane lord...one of my personal favorites.
: )

Somewhere in Seattle...

...someone has a copy of the B/X Companion in their hands.

I was down at Gary's today, hanging out to see if anyone wanted to join in some old B/X fun. As was the case two Sundays ago, no one showed up. Ah, well. I think I'm just going to have to take the D&D goodness to the Thursday night gaming group.

However, I did see that one of the copies of the book sold to Gary's Games, had been purchased. No idea who, but apparently someone interested in Old School gaming.

Now selling the book isn't anything new...I mean, I've sold one-third of the print run in the last two days. However, while books have been mailed out, I'm not expecting anyone to get anything before mid-week. Which means I'm not expecting any feedback on the book till Tuesday at the earliest.

But someone has the book. As I type this post. Some stranger I don't know and have probably never met is holding the book in his or her hands...or at least has it sitting in a shopping bag, waiting for reading later.

That's pretty darn cool. I sure hope he/she enjoys it!
: )

Post-Apocalyptic Masterpiece

Today is Sunday and there's no open post office on Sunday. If God himself was trying to publish the B/X Companion, he would have to rest from these incessant trips to the post office.

However, there is (apparently) no rest for the wicked (i.e. little old JB) 'cause if I don't keep on top of my envelope stuffing at home, I'm likely to get swamped. Fortunately, it looks like I may have picked up an "administrative assistant" (my unemployed brother). He's good with the spreadsheet thing and is a stickler for detail (Virgo), so I trust him to get the envelopes stuffed even if I insist on doing the addressing myself.

But right now, I AM taking a break. And drinking coffee down at the Wayward.

[and there's a table full of people playing Pathfinder right behind me. Wow, what IS it with Greenwood? None of these people are familiar to me at all. I don't see the bankers over there anyway...talk about "nerd central;" no wonder I like this place!]

Anyway, much as I'd love-love-love to blog about the trials and tribulations of being a self-publisher, that's not the point of the blog and it's time I got back to a little "business as usual."

This game is an f'ing masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned:

Twilight 2000...where have you been all my life?

How many different ways can I gush about this game? THAT's the real question here. I've blogged about my love of post-apocalyptic fantasy and my disappointment with most (all?) PA role-playing games. Not that there haven't been good ones...or good games, anyway. Just that they didn't quite "do it" for me.

T2000 does it. Oh, boy, does it ever.

Let's talk about the basic goodness first. The game rules consist of two slim books, some handy-dandy quick reference sheets (very necessary) and an "adventure" that I haven't yet bothered to read. As far as I'm concerned, I'd be perfectly happy with the rule books. They contain pretty much everything you need to play in a very tightly focused post-apoc world. Together, the books are under 64 pages long.

And they are some meaty pages.

Despite being illustrated and having blank space suitable for notations, T2000 packs A LOT of info into its pages, all focused on the setting. The setting...the last days of World War III. The nukes have flown, conventional forces mobilized, the entire world pretty much down the crapper. You play the remains of a U.S. army unit stranded in Europe, though your squad may have members of different nationalities/backgrounds as you pick up others along the road.

The rules provide everything needed for how to find find, water, fuel, etc. It's incredibly detailed...how many kilos of food a person needs versus how much time it takes to gather so many kilos from particular environments, for example. Food, water, maintenance of vehicles and equipment (a constant struggle when oil for greasing parts is at a premium). It's a simulationist's dream game: there's no metagame rules for addressing premise and there's no spiral upwards of power and advancement for the gamist. It's just a world...a world with rules showing the basic entropy that would devastate our civilized world following a complete collapse of power structures.

And yet, it is tightly focused. It has meaty rules, but the game makes no attempt to manage or codify EVERYthing in the game "universe." There's no "sail boat" skill or boating rules...I don't even thing there's rules for aircraft (as high performance petroleum fuels aren't really available at this point in the alternate history...the ground trucks and vehicles are running off alcohol). It is explicit, deep, and crunchy, but it also exhibits almost perfect "economy of game design."

In addition to the RULES, the setting is well thought out and excellent for the game. Why? It's just a post-apocalypse game right? Well, T2000 provides a timeline of detailing the whole WW3 shooting match from 1995 to 2000 and how things got so out of hand, eventually moving from border skirmishes between China and the Soviet Union to all-out catastrophe. It is a thoughtful and well-crafted scenario of alternate history, certainly deeper, meatier, and more interesting than anything in, say, Rifts or Gamma World 1st edition. But because of its level of detail, including theaters of war operations, allied forces and conflict actions, it provides all the material needed for creating game scenarios in this particular game world. Plus, unlike spiraling game settings found in other games (Traveller's Imperium, Forgotten Realms, White Wolf's Aeon Trinity) the game world is pretty much static or changing only by the actions of the players. If anything, the world can only spiral downwards...into deeper collapse in other words. You'll never have to buy another supplement once you pop the top off Twilight 2000.

And while all that is very cool (from my perspective), it's not even the BEST PART of the game design. The best part is the oh so specific instructions provided to the GM on exactly how to run a T2000 campaign. I've owned a lot of sim heavy games over the years and this has been the stumbling point for most of them. Sure, they may provide a mini-adventure or two, or some sample adventure ideas. But then what do you do after you've played a one-off game. For me, this "sink-or-swim" approach has often left me foundering. As a GM playing a high concept game (like ElfQuest or CyberPunk) you have to have a very specific idea of what you want to do with the campaign, much more than "oh what a cool world setting...let's have adventures in it!"

At least if you want to have long-term consistent gaming with a system. Story Now games aren't concerned about "long-term" (generally), and gamist games (like D&D) keep people coming back for the goal of increasing one's power/level/whatever. Sim games...they need structure, NOT just "high concept" or they fall apart.

T2000 gives you a structure. It outlines how the GM should run the game. It suggests the first couple adventures/scenarios in order to introduce certain game concepts to players. It discusses both short term goals (adventures/scenarios), and long-term goals for structure. It talks about how to bring in new players or characters (should someone get killed). As with everything else, it is both thoughtful and meaty...and economical of space (taking up maybe a page-and-a-half to provide what's needed).

If you want to play a game set in "life right after The End" I don't see how one could do better than Twilight 2000. There's no wahoo mutations or radioactive monsters. It's got pretty good simulationist-love mechanics (by the way, the combat system has some very cool ideas built into it that I will totally steal and adapt to any "modern warfare" game), that while crunchy don't appear to be over-whelming (thank God for the cheat sheets, though, as there are quite a few abbreviations).

It has the gritty survival: you're fighting for food, for fuel, for ammunition, for vehicle parts.

It has the community building: keeping your squad together, adapting to those you encounter, other cities and towns trying to re-build (or maintain) their lives.

I just want to kick myself for not playing it when I had the chance back in 1987. Too bad it's out-of-print...I wonder if the latest edition is as good as this tasty gem of a game.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

B/X Companion: Now International!

As in "over-seas."

The Pay/Pal button has been updated...South America and Europe is an extra $9 to shipping, I'm afraid. But according to the Post Office, it's the same price whether I'm shipping to the UK, France, Finland, Germany, or Brazil.

It still trips me the hell out that I'm getting emails from folks in the UK, France, Finland, Germany, and Brazil...all wanting my game. I don't even speak Portuguese. Or Finnish! Sheesh!

I should mention that the response has been fairly overwhelming the last 24 hours. At this rate, I'll sell out my first print run by the end of the week. Which is...

Well, frankly a little overwhelming, as I said.

Not that I'm objecting! Please, please buy my book! And please use it to play! That's the whole point of writing it! Well...that and to see if I could even complete something like this. But I woke up this morning, checked the emails, and had a bit of a minor panic attack. The phrase "selling like hotcakes" comes to mind...and no one's even reviewed the book. That's just...


Maybe I should explain. I do a lot of "artistic" stuff...or I have over the years. I've never done anything that I've gotten paid for before. Well, I DID get $100 once to dress up as Batman for a kid's birthday party, but I'd hardly call that much of an acting gig. Even in my garage band days, I was playing pro bono or for beer, not cash.

To actually be paid for one's writing (I don't even advertise on the blog!)...even a small amount which I intend to offset my costs and perhaps use to facilitate another book...well, it's extremely gratifying for my own sense of self-worth.

And nerve-wracking in all honesty. What if everyone hates the book and chucks it in the trash? What if I'm flamed around the internet and become some sort of pariah/outcast? What if people threaten to burn down my house unless I give them their money back?

What if I end up despised in seven different countries?

I'm sure this is just paranoid/worst-case-scenario talk...but remember, folks, I am no "insider" of the gaming industry. Despite living in the Pacific Northwest my whole life, I've never worked for Wizards of the Coast, or any of the other independent game companies out here. Hell, I've never even worked for a retail game, book, or comic store...not even as a part-time job. When I was a kid, I was flipping burgers all summer long!

So it's kind of nuts. You Old School types who've written for other game companies and are now putting out quality stuff of your own...you folks may know a little bit (or more than a little) about what you're doing. Me? I'm just stumbling around in the dark waving a book at people and seeing who wants to buy. Damn...I don't even have a "presence" on Dragonsfoot or Knights and Knaves; I'm still a bit surprised anyone knows who the hell I am!

Anyway, thank you folks. I really do hope you get something (fun, useful, both) out of the game. Your encouragement and your support have helped me realize a not-too-small dream of mine. Hell, my buddy Steve now wants me to help him publish HIS (non-gaming) book. That I can be an inspiration to others...well, that's totally cool, too. But I wouldn't have come this far without being inspired by all of you.

Truly, thank you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

And So It Begins...

The first half dozen copies of the B/X Companion were shipped from the post office today...at about 1 minute before closing.

Congrats to the folks getting them...man, I sure hope you enjoy it. I know I get a thrill every time I read it, and I wrote the damn thing! I still think it's pretty damn inspiring and anyone interested in high level B/X (or OD&D or Labyrinth Lord) should probably take a look.

To the folks that didn't get your order in before I got to the post office...sorry. I will be making another run (with another stack of books) tomorrow. Depending on where you're living, you should get 'em in a few days.

WHICH REMINDS ME: If you do NOT live in the USA or Canada, please EMAIL ME before you make a purchase. Shipping and handling is higher to other parts of the world (the UK is $9), so email me FIRST and we'll work something out.

To everyone who's helping make me feel like a real, live author by exchanging your hard currency for my written imagination:

Thank you.

Words cannot express how much gratitude I have for all of you. Boy, I sure hope you find it worth the read.

B/X Companion: Ready for SALE!

And so we embark on the grand Capitalist adventure.

I'm not much of a capitalist. Truth be told, my values are mainly socialist. I freely admit this, even though I'm sure my Republican opponents will use this statement on my blog to attack me someday in the future when I'm running for office. Fuck 'em.

ANYway, the book is now for sale...hitting the PayPal "Buy" button on this blog should (if I set it up correctly) take you to an order site where you can pass me money and your mailing/shipping information. That's the grand hope anyway. And then the money will somehow get deposited into a newly minted bank account for Yours Truly.

By the way...what the hell is up with Greenwood? Is everyone in this neighborhood a closet gamer? I'm down at the bank this afternoon opening an account for Running Beagle Games, and the hot chick who's helping me just wants to know more and more about my role-playing game and tell me how much she's into old school Dungeons & Dragons and writing short stories about her character (a cleric apparently). Then the bank manager comes over to meet me ('cause I opened a new account) and HE'S like, "so you wrote an RPG? I'm a total gamer..." and HE starts talking about how he loves role-playing games.

I asked the bank people if there was a secret club somewhere I needed to know about.

Crazy. Even one of the printer ladies (NOT in Greenwood) wanted to talk about her role-playing and how excited she was for me and my book. And, no, these people don't even know about the blog.

I guess it's just like the pot-smoking population of Seattle. The folks I know who smoke weed (I do not) assure me that one-quarter to one-half of the adults in this town are at least occasional tokers...but you'd never know it unless you were "of the type." Apparently, there's a bunch of underground gamers, too. Now if only I could find a way to organize 'em.

Or tap the market. Now THAT would be very "Capitalistic" of me.
; )

[yes, I just compared closet gamers to dope smokers...so sue me]

First Print Run (FINALLY) Finished

Just picked up the crate from the printer. They look pretty good. Good enough, anyway.
; )

I'll be working on adding the PayPal button to Ye Olde Blog over the next couple days, so expect posting to be light unless I figure shit out immensely quick. Also, I'm going to need some way to track orders and addresses for mailing.

For those who absolutely cannot wait, I am heading down to Gary's today to sell the first couple, so you can buy it retail if you're in Seattle.

After that, I'm going to buy a cheap picture frame to frame a buck. I'm really no entrepreneur...that would be my brother, who (after close to 15 years) is broke, homeless, and driving a car the bank has been trying to repo for more than 12 months. Business is hard...AB is smart, charming, hard working, and honest to a fault (with the exception of his semi-stolen ride)...it's just tough to make things work. I have no delusions myself (well, maybe a couple...) but I AM excited.

All right, all right...gotta' run some errands.

Oh, yeah...folks are wanting to know how much it's going to cost 'em.


That includes shipping and handling to anywhere in the USA or Canada. The postage rates aren't supposed to change anytime soon, so that should be good for awhile.

For folks outside the USA or Canada, I'll have to check on a case-by-case basis.

Thanks for waiting, folks.
: )

Just Got a Call From the Printer

My books are ready!

Heading down to Georgetown in 5 to pick 'em up (that's a South Seattle neighborhood).

I am so excited I broke into song...my life, the musical.
: )

Thursday, August 19, 2010

News & Sundries

Hooked up with the Emerald City Gamefest crew tonight down at the Wayward Coffee House. It was a fun, if light, session of role-playing. A couple posts back someone asked me why I hate on Steve Jackson's Toon RPG. There are multiple reasons, including the fact that I stopped enjoying "loony-toons" around the age of 6. But a LOT of the reason has to do with me not being a huge fan of light role-playing (not that I want "ultra-crunchy;" just something in between).

Actually, I think it may have to do with the whole 'toon thing. That really makes me irritable.

Anyway, I'm almost always down to learn a new game, light or not, and tonight it was Risus. Our setting was that we were all in a teenage "goth" band and out Ford LTD broke down near a "haunted mansion" where hilarity and mysteries would be solved. Kind of a Josie and the Pussycats meets Scooby-Doo. Except we had a dancing ferret (don't ask).

The worst part about gaming at a coffee shop at night is that it's a COFFEE SHOP. When the sun goes down, I generally want beer, not more caffeine. Ah, well...as I said, it was fun, and next week I'll have my beer BEFORE the game.

Regarding the book, printing, etc.: Got a call from the printer today. Their machine is still F'd. Rather than wait for it to be fixed, they decided to just send the printed paper to another "bindry company." The thing should be ready for pick-up by tomorrow morning.

All right...I REALLY need to hit the hay. Blog at y'all later!
: )

Dreaming Up the New Project

By the time most of you folks read this (assuming its Thursday night) I shall hopefully be in the middle of gaming with some newfound compatriots at the local coffee shop. We’ll see how well these "convention contacts" work out…I’ve got a little nervous anticipation just thinking about it.

However, at the time I’m writing this, it is still Thursday morning (I won’t have a chance to post it till after work), and my brain is zooming around quite a bit this morning so I figured I’d better get my thoughts down on paper.

D&D…that’s what I’m thinking of right now, specifically my next writing project. I have two in mind, neither one of which is finishing that adventure module dammit (I don’t know why I keep procrastinating on that. Oh, wait…the maps, right). Anyway, two other products have suggested themselves to me, neither one of which would be nearly as ambitious in scope as the B/X Companion, and both of which would make heavy use of blog topics to date. Since both would be slim tomes, I was thinking I might combine them into one big one…I know gamers just LOVE to throw money at a hefty book!

The first possible project is one I’ve talked about a loooong-ass while ago: recreating (or re-interpreting) The Compleat Adventurer for B/X play. I’ve already written up a couple-three of the classes: the Beastmaster, the Bounty Hunter, and the Witch Hunter. In going over these today (something I haven’t done in several moons), I still find that I am satisfied with how they turned out, and would be happy to publish them…along with similar class write-ups…in a book.

Would people pay money for my musings on classes? Maybe not a lot…especially as more than a bit of it is available free through perusal of this blog. But there are probably people that wouldn’t mind having all these “optional extras” in one handy-dandy tome. Kind of an “Unearthed Arcana” for B/X.

Besides, it was too long ago I had blog readers clamoring for some sort of compilation. And for the most part, I’m proud of my work.

Don’t think such a thing would be limited to…or a simple re-telling of…the classes in TCA. For one thing, I don’t think they’re all necessary. One of the great things about B/X is the structure of their classes. Classes are just that: “classifications” of adventurer. And most things can fall under the purview of one of the Big Four: cleric, fighter, magi-user, and thief.

Here’s a list of D&D “classes” you will NOT see in any book of mine:

Assassin: anyone can kill, with or without poison. If you want an assassin with thief abilities, you’re playing a thief who murders for money.
Barbarian: any fighter can be an illiterate barbarian. If you want to make him as buff as Conan, make sure he has a high strength, dexterity, and constitution. Conan wears armor, but you don’t have to.
Buccaneer: there’s already a B/X monster for this; likewise with the bandit, merchant, and noble.
Cavalier: any fighter can wear heavy armor and ride a horse. Write up your own Code of Honor. There’s no need for any “ability score inflation” or extra bonuses. What is this…Rifts?
Knight: see Cavalier.
Ninja: see Thief.
Paladin: my feelings on this class have been covered extensively. See Cleric.
Rogue: See Thief.
Sage: this is an NPC hireling in B/X.
Spy: another NPC hireling.
Templar/Temple Knight: see Paladin.
Warrior: see Fighter.

Personally, I doubt I would ever write-up a “Gygaxian Druid” as a B/X class…these are fairly specific to Gygax’s game world and bear little resemblance to historic druids. As it is, I do have a druid “monster” in my B/X companion, and I prefer the “druid of the grove” archetype to the “adventuring druid” any day of the week. B/X isn’t World of Warcraft!

The original Compleat Adventurer had only 13 new classes. Right now, I can only think of 9 or 10 that fail to fit into one of the standard archetypes. Hmm…maybe I should say “fails to fit into the standard archetype well;” after all, one could certainly use a cleric as a witch-hunter, or a fighter or thief as a bounty hunter. But people that buy the book want to pay for SOMEthing; the following classes are ones that I think would be fun to write-up and would add something “extra” to the average B/X game:

Bounty Hunter
Martial Artist/Monk

Much as I love the jack-of-all-trades Bard, I don’t think I would include it. Depending on the type of literary reference you’re using, I can see many different character classes working just fine as a minstrel: Fighter (Fflewddur Flamm), Magic-User (Vainamoinen), Elf (various Nordic folk tales)…even Dwarves (Tolkien)! All they need is a musical instrument (call it 50gp).

Since it’s obvious I’ll have some room to make up, I was also considering adding some of the spell-casting classes from The Compleat Spell-Caster to the book. As with the “adventurer” classes, I don’t want to simply re-tread the spell-casting archetypes already in B/X (i.e. clerics and magic-users), but would want real, new “magical stuffs.” This one is so much harder, not because it would be difficult to create new spells (I actually think THAT would be a ton of fun!), but because it’s so difficult to create separate schools of magic, when magic is so well-defined by the game system.

B/X magic IS well-defined. It is Vancian, living stuff that wraps itself around the mind of the spell-caster until it can be released into the world. Magic-users implant these “spell creatures” through the study of books, clerics have them implanted by their deity (through prayer and meditation). What other ways could spell-casters have magic stuffed into their brains? Eating fairy food? Reading rune-carved standing stones? Bargaining with demons and spirits?

The main reason (I would think) that most people come up with new spell-caster types is because they want a new spell list (or alternate list). People play druids in D&D because they think it would be cool to call lightning, animate plants, turn into birds or bears, and (in later editions) have an animal companion. Most are not thinking about what it means to be a druid from a historic or even game setting perspective. Not wearing metal armor is something they have to “put up with” in order to get the cool powers, as is the limited availability of high levels (in old AD&D anyway).

I’m not about that. At least, I’m not JUST about new spell lists and cool powers. New classes (in my mind) should provide different styles of play. The bounty hunter PLAYS DIFFERENT from a normal fighter or thief. At least, if you want to make use of his special abilities. I don’t want my illusionist to be “just another magic-user.”

That being said, here are the spell-casters I’m thinking of including in the book:


These are not set in stone, but they are my current considerations. Yes, the Harlequin and Witch-Hunter are technically “spell casters” but their abilities are so minor, they don’t rate their own spell lists. These guys (and gals) do.

Unfortunately, each of these is problematic for different reasons.

Necromancers are “evil” pure and simple; anyone who deals with demons and seeks immortality through turning themselves undead is a Very Bad Person. In B/X terms, the person is CHAOTIC, being extremely selfish and self-centered in their actions. Yet, none of the classes in B/X have alignment restrictions…and I do NOT want to start! But is there any way to create a Lawful demonologist?

Witches, on the other hand, can easily be of any alignment: Glenda or the Harry Potter chicks are examples of non-evil Hags, and Baba Yaga might even be considered Neutral in some circumstances. The problem with witches is how to treat them: are they nature worshippers (like clerics/druids) who derive their magic from on high? Are they potion brewers and spell crafters (as in, formula writers) like modern day Hermeticists? How to treat them…perhaps as some sort of cleric/m-u hybrid?

I think Mystics are probably the easiest guys to write-up…they’ll be something of a cross between the Compleat Spell-Caster version and the Rifts Mystic OCC (possibly with a little oriental monk thrown in). The trick with them is making them interesting enough to play, without bulking the class down in a bunch of extraneous “special powers.” I think these guys will draw magic from their own “inner resources” (like meditation) or possibly “reading the Akashic records.” They will have the smallest spell list of any of the classes.

And the Illusionist? Well, I’ve blogged about the Illusionist before. I really do think this can be a good class for an adventurer: spells are useful and different, alignment is un-restricted, nothing ties them down. The only question is: how do you make them different from magic-users BESIDES their spell list. I don’t want them to just be a magic-user with a different spell book.

Maybe I need to take a page from pulp and look at all those Eastern mesmerists of fiction (the Shadow, Fu Man Chu, etc.), as well as the Howardian pulp illusionists and be-dazzlers. I really think they need magic that comes from something other than a spell book…any character limited to spells of 7th level should NOT need to carry around a spell book (especially if they can’t go armed and armored). Arabian Night stuff is more what I’m thinking about.

Hmm…maybe illusionists will be more like mystics after all. Like architects in the film Inception, they will create labyrinthian structures in their own minds every morning, locking away a portion of their own “disbelief” in order to create the reality-warping structures that will blow peoples’ minds.

Hmm…that sounds pretty good.
: )

The Lowest Guys on the Totem Pole

At least they didn't make 'em play in traffic.

I've said before that I'm not really into LARPing...never have been. Unless you count running through the woods as a 10 year old pretending you're a member of the Wolf Riders (complete with bows and arrows). Of course, we didn't have any "rules" associated with those games...maybe "don't shoot arrows into each other," but that's just common sense.

That the Convention chose to sequester the live-action folks away from the rest of the gamers (and the hotel)...well, I can't help but think that's saying something. Sure, maybe the LARP people wanted a "big space without distraction from the rest of the con." But an unattached garage? I mean, people were parking cars in it!

I wandered over to the garage Saturday afternoon, curious as to what I would find. A trifle nervous to be honest. I mean, MY basic inclination would have been to sequester LARPers off-site myself, but I understand that this prejudice comes from my own "fear of the unknown." They're just people, right? Right?

In the garage, there was one long table with chairs, and a bunch of scattered papers and junk...probably left over from the last game. There were also three people who had set themselves up in three folding chairs in the middle of the garage. One was a guy with a long ponytail, probably around my age or a little older (late 30s, early 40s). One was a woman probably in her 20s or 30s. The third was a kid, a girl, who must have been around 13-15, maybe 12. They were sitting side by side in the chairs, with the little girl in the middle.

The dude with ponytail beckoned me over. I approached semi-hesitantly.

"Do you want to role-play," they (the adults) asked.

I shook my head...no just 'checking stuff out,' seeing what's going on.

"Come on...just a quick one? It's fun..."

I told them I was actually just waiting for my ride to pick me up (this was true) and brushed them off...but I was creeped out the way they were trying to tempt me. Like evil gnomes trying to get me to eat fairy food.

When they saw I wouldn't budge, they went back to their "game," which appeared to involve sitting on a bus (?) with the two adults trying to tempt the kid into something (?!) though what I didn't get...they seemed to be having some sort of philosophic or academic argument/discussion while the girl verbally defended her position.

It was weird. And kind of creepy. I didn't really want to know how the scene was going to play out, and decided to leave. I did my best not to run.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

3 Days, 3 Games, 3 Different Styles (Part 4)

[continued from here]

The Doc decided to wander off into the jungle of this new and unknown island, despite Buddy telling her not to stray too far from the beach “while we’re working on repairing the plane!” (I made it clear that Buddy had absolutely no mechanical knowledge or engineering skill, and Jao was going to do the work while I checked on the “medicinal” cargo). Sulking because the Doc had disregarded his instructions (the GM tapped “doesn’t get pushed around by no dames”), Buddy decided to take a nap in the cargo hold…though first he recovered a service .45 from its hiding place, tucking it in his waistband. I did have to pay Ogre a FATE chip to keep from getting stinking drunk as he tried to activate my “heavy drinker” aspect.

Doc Walker, meanwhile, was hot on the trail of some purple-feathered whatchamacallit and had long ago lost sight of the beach. She blithely wandered into the typical rope-around-ankle snare trap and was left hanging in the air, until she was surrounded (a few minutes later) by a group of swarthy natives in masks with snake tattoos and spears.

“Mr. Jao? Mr. Jao!”

Using her academic skill, Doc discerned that they were members of an island Snake Cult consisting of outcast tribesmen from a number of different primitive island tribes. Preying on their superstitions, she decided to flash her lighter at them (being a 1920s socialite and “independent woman” of course she smoked!) and managed to completely over-awe them. They gently lowered her to the ground and then ran off into the jungle.

Walker walked briskly back to the beach. “How are the repairs going? Where’s Mr. Buddy? Look at this purple-headed whatsis I found…it’s a lot fatter than I thought it would be from my books!” This she jabbered at Jao as Buddy crawled out of the hold. She seemed stubbornly unaware of the gathering troop of Snake natives marching out of the jungle.

Ah, hilarity ensuing…Doctor Walker understood a number of languages, and after trying some out found one of the Snake outcasts spoke some Spanish, and was thus able to act as a translator between herself and the Big Chief. The Chief had decided he wanted to woo and wed this imperious temptress with her fire-making ability. Dr. Walker (thinking fast) told them that she couldn’t possibly wed anyone without the approval of her brother (indicating Jao despite the lack of family resemblance) and that the chief would have to best him in a test of skill (brawling) three days hence…only on the condition that the chief could provide her with a large enough hut to meet her opulent requirements. The chief agreed and she was henceforth known as Ula-Ani (“White Bride”) Walker.

Walker was hedging our bets, as it would take at least another day for Jao to fix the Monkey and hopefully we’d be able to get out of here before the contest day arrived. In the meantime, she also wasn’t afraid to use her newfound status to arrange for a tour of the island, especially the breeding grounds of the purpled-feathered bird species in which she was so interested. She would be accompanied by her “servant” (indicating Buddy), who surreptitiously hid the pistol in the back of his pants, beneath his shirt. Jao stayed with the plane.

Ogre then did a “cut scene” to narrate something “out-of-frame” and unrelated to what was going on in the player characters’ vicinity. Apparently, the chief’s brother was something of a rival and he had decided that the chief’s distraction with his new bride-to-be was the perfect distraction to stage a coup. He organized his own loyal warriors and sent them out with two missions: kill the “brother” at the plane, and kidnap the Ula-Ani Walker!

Back to the plane, then…two spear-wielding natives charge out of the jungle at Jao. Fortunately he has feet of fury and is unafraid to make like Tony Jaa and bust some heads. Combat is a little drawn out, though mainly due to a quick rules explanation (successes each round fills life boxes, eventually over-flowing and allowing the player to put a “temporary aspect” on the opponent…like “stunned” or “knocked cold.” Better successes or tapped aspects can be used to both speed this process and assign more permanent aspects, like “knocked into a coma” or “killed dead”). It’s a good warm-up to see how things go (especially as Jao is a fairly capable combatant), and then we move on to the dust-up in the jungle.

Buddy, Walker, and the Spanish speaking guide are on their way back to the jungle when 10 snake cult dudes pop out of the jungle and try to grab the Ula-Ani. The guide beats feet out of there and Buddy pulls his pistol and shoots a guy in the face…he’s not going to mess around with obvious hostiles, and he’s no great shakes in the athletics department. Ula-Ani tries to over-awe with her lighter again and scares one savage, but another grabs her. Jao is running pell-mell through the jungle but it’s going to take him a couple rounds to get there. Meanwhile, Ogre is rolling the outlaws as a single “mob” opponent (with a lot of life boxes!).

Now, I did NOT give Buddy a very high skill with pistol…only +2 which would be “low professional,” slightly better than amateur/hobbyist, but in need of practice. In order to actually beat the snake dudes’ defenses, I was tapping aspects right-and-left and making up new ones on the fly (though remember we were limited to 10), and tapping the natives’ aspects as well. For example, they had an aspect of “foolhardiness,” which was good for a shot in the face, and I added “twitchy trigger-finger” and “history of dealing roughly with natives” to my own character sheet. I could only tap an aspect once in a given round, but I was able to tap it every round if I wanted (provided I had the FATE chips remaining) and this helped me shoot down several foes.

The doc, meantime, was showing again that she was no wilting flower, grabbing a machete from one of her captors and making good use of that classical education (“fencing”). As Jao arrived and started kicking ass, and Buddy gunned down anyone that got too close, Ula-Ani Walker carved her way through the would-be kidnappers spattering herself with blood from head-to-toe! Hoo-boy! Jao and I exchanged a glance as the good doctor turned into some sort of meat-hacking butcher!

Running low on bullets, Buddy reversed his grip and belted one of the last few natives across the chin. My “fists” skill was no greater than my firearms so I tapped another aspect, “heavy drinker” (figured I’d been in some bar fights) to fell another one. Walker chopped down the last of them and tapped a couple aspects to enable adding a “severe” aspect to our foes. In this case, she tapped the snake cult’s “superstitious” aspect and deemed they had been cowed into worshipfulness at her battle prowess…basically that she was the warrior goddess whose coming had been foretold in prophecy! Thereafter, she was known as the Opti-Ula-Ani…the Bride of the Island…and the snake cult was pretty much putty in her hands.

The characters made their way back to the beach where they found that the plane had been stripped of several pieces…including a tail fin and the pilot’s chair…in order to build the Opti-Ula-Ani a suitably luxurious hut. Walker was actually pretty happy at how things were turning out, and had all but decided to take the chief up on his marriage proposal, but Jao and Buddy could see our hopes of getting off the island slipping away.

I added one more aspect (“can get down and party with anyone”) and spent a FATE chip to take control of the narrative. Over the years, Buddy had found he was able to adapt to pretty much any culture’s form of “low entertainment.” Despite the lack of common language, he was able to communicate that a victory party was in order to celebrate putting down the rival snake cultists and the upcoming nuptials…and he broke out the orphans’ “medical supplies” for the occasion!

Once the entire tribe was passed out stinking drunk, Buddy and Jao (who did not drink) were able to liberate the pieces of the airplane and get ‘em back to the Monkey. The next morning, a hung over (but apparently happy) Opti-Ula-Ani convinced her new husband to let us go, and even paid us a hefty bonus on our standard fee (including the cost of the orphans’ medicine), so long as Jao agreed to return some day and collect her memoires for publication (“Jao? Jao?! What about me?”). Jao of course agreed, and gave the bride-to-be a polite but firm handshake before getting into the Gold Monkey.

And then we flew off into the sunset!

*whew!* This has turned into a VERY long blog post and because of that I decided to break it up into two separate entries. Some random notes about the game:

- I, of course, had a blast and greatly enjoyed my cynical character. I left out some stuff (for example his Big Mouth almost getting him speared by the friendly natives while Buddy and the Doc were on their sightseeing excursion, and his chuckling every time Walker insisted he call her “doctor.” I did try to play him as a lovable loser who’d “just been raised wrong;” mainly selfishly self-interested rather than mean-spirited.

- The other players seemed to have a good time, too, and we all had good chuckling moments. There was plenty of give-and-take around the table, and more than a little laughter at everyone’s antics.

- I found Spirit of the Century great for this kind of character-driven pulp. The “aspect” mechanic really forced us to make our characters’ character front-and-center in the game. Especially when it came to tasks (like fighting) where we weren’t very good. Neither Walker nor Buddy were fantastic combatants, so we had to find ways to cleverly use our aspects in order to succeed at things.

- On the other hand, Jao was so capable at the things he attempted (flying plane +5, fists +4), that he really never needed to activate his Aspects…and his characterizations were thus a little less extreme than Walker’s and Buddy’s. It would have been interesting to see Jao get into some sort of social or mental conflict.

- The bribing with FATE chips was great fun, and it helped both Carol and myself that we were willing to put our characters in trouble (and often) based on various Achilles heels. We often suggested our own temptations to the GM, rather than wait for Ogre to issue them (though he did a fair share of issuing temptations himself). Making “flawed” characters helped in this regard…I don’t remember any temptations made to Jao by the GM.

- I liked the streamlined chargen process a lot (even though my Harry Dean Stanton aspect never got used). It was fun “discovering” aspects of a character IN-play, instead of creating the guy from scratch before-hand and then having to play to those expectations. You know what I mean? I had a basic character concept, and then added flavorful and useful aspects, as needed, all of which strengthened my character concept. That was better (for me) than just adding all those aspects ahead of time and MAYBE (or maybe NOT) finding ways to make them useful in the game.

- ALSO, because the character grew out of play, I have a much stronger idea of who Buddy Kowalski is, now, based on the experience of play. This is one of the things I really like about long-term Dungeons & Dragons campaigns (at least, when there is real “role-playing” involved), but it is more difficult as the D&D system does not support the creation of characterization. In SotC, the whole system is based on EXPLORING that characterization. And because of that exploration, I would have no problem playing Buddy again, hamming it up, getting in trouble, etc.

- Would the game be good for long-term play? I think I could get a lot of mileage out of “Buddy Kowalski” if we were to do a series of adventures, but I’d be a little afraid of Jao being relegated to “sidekick” status. Let’s face it…being good at fighting and flying is a lot more interesting in a movie or video game than in an RPG where combat is based on a handful of abstract dice rolls. But who knows? Maybe Eric had a kick-ass time taking those savages to town. Despite getting roughed up a bit, I was satisfied with Buddy’s ability to hold his own…and that was my only concern regarding combat anyway.

- And speaking of combat, I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the combat system, which Ogre raved about. Now, when we spoke afterwards he assured me that the full system was a lot of fun, with people using stunts and aspects to roll up big numbers on opponents and throw all sorts of cool aspects on them. However, I’m not convinced I can fully embrace this. I prefer standard rules for taking characters “out of action” rather than just “adding aspects” (temporary or not) to them. I’d also prefer to see all types of conflict do “damage” along the same damage track. We had a physical damage track, a mental damage track, and (for the natives that Walker was trying to over-awe) a social damage track. It would have been simpler and easier to have a single damage track where ALL damage (regardless of type) could be applied. Walker stopped trying the over-awe (and went for the machete!) so that we could “gang up” on the mob’s physical track. Personally, I think damage is damage is damage…but whatever, that’s not the way this game works.

- It was a blast, though, all around and I was well satisfied with my first play of a true pulp RPG. I wouldn’t mind playing again…though it’s hard to imagine I'm clever enough to come up with a character as fun to play as Buddy Kowalski.

; )