Friday, June 28, 2013

Back to the Mox...and WotC

There’s no easy way to say this except to say it: I played WotC’s “D&D Next” last night.

Luke, one of my former-regular players at the Baranof, is moving back to the Midwest…not immediately, but within the next couple-few weeks…and I wanted to see him before he left and my schedule is pretty swamped all July.

[in fact, I hadn’t even planned on going out last night because my father is in town and Thursday was the only day that worked with HIS schedule to get together. However, I managed to finish dinner and get the family home by 9 allowing me a couple-three hours of “out” time]

So I headed back to the Mox Café where I haven’t gamed in a loooong-ass time. And I got to see some of the old boys (and girl) and take in a little gaming. And what they were running was D&D Next, WotC’s play-test shenanigans that is supposed to magically morph into 5th Edition.

*sigh* Where to start?

As is obvious from my posting, I did not spontaneously combust at the sight of a miniature-strewn battle map. Yes, I had fun (aka “a good time”)…though it certainly helped that I’d had a couple beers before showing up and a couple more thereafter. Was it enough fun that I’d play it again…?

*sigh* (again)… Hmmm…I’m having a hard time articulating at the moment. Maybe there isn’t a good place to “start” this “review” and I should just meander a bit. Yeah, let’s do that.

I actually signed up to be part of the D&D Next play-test a while back and was receiving regular email updates, though I haven’t for a few months now. Probably because I chose to “unsubscribe” and report WotC as “spam” in my gmail account. I just wasn’t very impressed with what they were doing. Duh…that’s why I decided to do the whole D&D Mine thing and why I wrote 5AK.

So because I haven’t “kept my hand in” with D&D Next, much of this was new to me. Well, “new” is probably not the most accurate term…but I’ll get to that in a moment. This was definitely my first opportunity to actually play-test DDN in any capacity…and my first time playing any WotC version of D&D since…well, probably since before 2005 (in all honesty, I don’t remember).

Ugh. I AM having a hard time with this. I’m trying to sum up the “gist” of the game in a couple sentences, in order to give my overall impression, after which I would write my usual “elaboration” but there are simply too many pithy phrases coming to mind. I guess I can just list them (in no particular order):

-        It’s a board game.
-        It’s less frustrating than DCC.
-        It’s D&D3 light.
-        Magic-users shoot lasers.
-        It’s the newly revised Revised Chainmail.
-        It’s not an RPG.
-        It’s a hot mess.

(note that any of these phrases could include the words “kind of” after the word “it’s” but I’m trying to be less wishy-washy in my prose)

Okay, let me describe the game play first; then I’ll talk about my thoughts on the thing.

Dan was acting as DM. It was a good sized group: six players, including myself. There was a halfling rogue (natch), an elven ranger, a human cleric, a wizard, and a paladin. I played a 2nd level dwarf fighter that was handed to me (someone else’s PC from the week prior). The characters appear to have been pre-gens created by the DDN people as I received a 1st level print-out that broke down how all my PC’s traits and feats worked, but then I also received a (hand-written) character sheet that included changes from prior adventures (including those from “leveling up”).

The adventure (which I entered in media res) was a large subterranean complex, the center of which was a svirfneblin (deep gnome) city that had apparently fallen on hard times. Us surface-worlders were down there looking for jobs and adventure and had several possible mission options. When I arrived at the table (late), I found the five already-present PCs having their asses handed to them by a pack of five orcs. Once I entered, we quickly mopped up (more on combat later) and looted the bodies for something like 12 silver pieces each (I contemptuously allowed the other party members to divvy my share amongst themselves…what the hell was 12sp to me? My character sheet said I was a “noble” and/or “knight”).

After healing ourselves nearly to full power using a short rest, the party decided to retreat back to (gnome) town…the reason being that we were running “low on spells.” After a long rest (these are technical terms with specific game mechanics) we* decided to enter the largest, most dangerous looking cavern on the board, to retrieve a lost gnomish crown for the local strongman/honcho type looking to legitimize his rule.

[*in this case “we” is more of the “royal we,” if you know what I mean]

The party encountered two zombie orcs that weren’t nearly as tough as the earlier live ones, and we quickly put them down. At that point, the group called it a night. From what I gathered, there had been an earlier confrontation with stirges that I had missed (and that the PCs found easy) and one with kobolds (also easy thanks to a “sleep” spell), but I’m not sure if those took place in the same game session (before I showed up) or in the week prior.

OKAY…so that’s what HAPPENED in the session which (if you’ll notice) isn’t a whole lot for two hours of game play (the length of time I was there). Half a fight against less than half a dozen orcs. Some recuperation. A (short) deliberation on objectives. A 2nd (extremely short) fight. Fini.

There was precious little that could be called “role-playing” that occurred at the table. The players had formed a definite opinion of their gnome warden employer (in short: “a dick, and we should try to double-cross him”), which I presumed was from previous interaction. Some inane war cries were bandied about in combat (that was my contribution). And…um…fini.

What the game really boiled down to was a table-top, skirmish level (i.e. small scale) combat game that has a context (i.e. “setting”) and a number of different and variable options for use in combat. In many ways, it’s no different from a small scale version of World of Warcraft, save that it’s turn based rather than real time (i.e. you can consider your actions without a velociraptor beating on you), and it involves moving miniatures on a board instead of pixels on a screen.

The rules were simple enough that it took me almost no time at all to jump in to the action. It’s just a “lite” version of DND3 with respect to movement and tactical maneuvering…and the whole thing about opportunity attacks and threatened areas are a “no-brainer” to an old hand at Blood Bowl with its movement and “tackle zones.” In fact, I don’t know why they bother giving movement and ranges in feet at all when the scale is always 5’ squares. Why not just say that my dwarf “moves five” and can throw his axe “four” (or 12 with a penalty)? Why bother saying the wizard’s laser blast is 30’ when you can just say “six” (i.e. “six squares”)?

Are the designers afraid that will make the game sound less “role-playey” and more like a board game? Um, designers? This IS a board game.

My PC had as much character as a playing piece in the Dungeon! boardgame…he just had more options on what to do. Julie, playing the elf ranger bless her heart, did NOTHING in the game except wait for her turn to come up in initiative order, at which time she’d roll a D20 to hit and (if successful) roll damage. That’s it. Oh, she used her “hunter’s mark” power as a swift action to give herself a bonus once or twice, but otherwise she exercised no creativity, contributed nothing to the imaginary game world …simply chose a target and rolled a D20 and then damage or not. When her turn came up. Once per round.

I didn’t take the time to ask her (and wouldn’t have wanted to look like a prat anyway), but I wanted to shout: “Is this fun? Are you really having fun? Are you getting anything out of this? And if so, what?”

There were some neat effects in the game that were still kind of dumb. The orcs had a racial trait called “relentless” that allowed them to continue attacking (and making opportunity attacks) one round after being mortally wounded. It’s kind of dumb simply because there seemed to be no rules for “over-killing” the creatures…if I mortally wound the orc and my three comrades continue to attack him, hacking off his arms and head, should it really be allowed an additional attack “just because?” If you want a tougher orc, why not just give it an extra wound…er…hit die…er…(sorry, I’m using terms from my own game which don’t really apply to DDN)…er, more hit points? I don’t really get it…in my opinion it would be a cooler trait for a PC than for a monster.

Rules-wise the game was very basic and very light-weight (though not in comparison to, say, B/X) Tactically, it’s simply about maneuvering efficiently through tackle zones and then “pulling the correct trigger” when it comes to your special abilities. The other players were dithering about what to do with the zombies shuffling towards us. I pointed out they were too slow to actually reach us so long as we kept moving and using ranged attacks. If this is D&D, then it’s “no-brainer” D&D.

And that’s why…even though it was fun and I had a good time and it was less frustrating (system-wise) than DCC…given a choice between playing D&D Next again and playing pretty much anything else, I’d probably pick the “else.” Probably. If it was another board game that had a high set-up time, maybe not. If it was an uber-crunchy RPG (like Champions) requiring hours of prep, probably not.

Then again, if my option was between D&D Next and Champions I’d probably opt to stay home…or watch a sporting event in the bar instead.

None of which, by the way, should be construed as a negative reflection on the players at the table. Most of my fun was in interacting and playing with the people around me. I singled out Julie not to point out Julie as a “bad role-player” or “boring person” but as an example of how the game does nothing to encourage role-playing…or anything…besides waiting for your turn. Other players had the same lack of “stuff going on.” Luke was doing the same thing with his thief…waiting for his turn to come so that he could roll a D20. He was in melee however (unlike the ranger) so had the extra “stuff” happening of taking damage every round. At least the wizard tactically (and cowardly) removed himself from combat when he felt he’d taken too much damage from orc arrows.

Of the group, the cleric, paladin, and fighter exhibited the most in-game effectiveness: the cleric had a variety of different effects he could do (both with spells and divine channeling), the paladin had group healing spells in addition to being a rock-hard bulwark, and the dwarf dealt a good deal of extra damage (which he was allowed to do because of his shit-ton of hit points). But the EFFECTIVENESS (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean the GAME was any more or less INTERESTING. Trying to puzzle out a sphinx’s riddle or figure out an alternative method of defeating a magical monster (that is immune to normal weapons)…these are interesting challenges. I don’t find it challenging to figure out how best to overcome a few beasties in a tactical skirmish. That’s nothing more than a jazzed up version of Space Hulk.

Now, I also said the game was a bit of a “hot mess.” What I mean is…well, it is in the play-testing stage still, but it feels like there’s been very little direction or over-sight to the design process.  Like either the designers don’t understand what they’re trying to build, or else they know but they’re so focused on minutia processes that they’re missing the Big Picture view. They’ve got a grab-bag of stuff from 1st and 3rd and 4th edition, and they’re trying to blend it and patch it and update it with a “twist” and yet streamline it at the same time. If there’s a head designer he’s got ADD or he’s completely out of his element. If there are multiple designers they may not be on the same page. If this game is being designed mainly from fan feedback through the DDN play-test process that would explain a lot…but explaining it doesn’t EXCUSE it.

All right, this is long enough. Pretty meandering and not very articulate, as I predicted…but I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings on the whole thing. Allow me to wax positive for a moment: hot mess or not, it’s NOT an un-fun game. It’s just not a role-playing game and it doesn’t feel much like “Dungeons & Dragons” to me (probably because it’s not really a role-playing game). It has the tropes of D&D…dwarves and elves and fighters and clerics and armor class and saves…but it doesn’t play like D&D. It plays like a souped-up boardgame. Which is a lot less than I had expected of this project.

Still, I was glad I bothered to go. It was nice to see "how the other side games" and the group was a very good one…tight, friendly, witty, and welcoming. They had a cool group dynamic, everyone got along well, and none of the ribbing was mean-spirited. Luke asked (as we were packing up) if I’d gotten enough for a “scathing blog review” and I suppose there IS a lot of negativity on display here. But I had a good time and it’s hard to be too scathing when such is the case.
: )

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blowing Up Cleveland

I mean, who really wants to fight a landwar in Asia?

I created a simple campaign scenarion for World War Borg. It includes a handful of additional rules and updates for the one-page micro-game. You can download it here:

Battle For Cleveland

You'll notice I didn't really talk about which side belongs to which nationality...the occupational force that has declared martial law could certainly be the U.S. Army and the PCs could be Russians or Chinese or Canadians...whatever.

I don't know what exactly I have against Cleveland (if anything)...I just like the idea of demolishing it in a 21st century ground war and the idea of there being a medieval style market-place (overseen by jack-boot wearing enforcers) operating out of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Running gun battles. Insurgents. All that jazz.

My recommendation: have the PCs night drop into the old Cleveland Browns Stadium. A failed skill roll can indicate they end up outside the place, or get spotted by a patrol, or get hung up on a building.

All right, later Gators.
I'd include a street map if I had more time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

World War Borg

All right, all right...I realize "Metal Ever After" is a stupid name any way you slice it. I've changed the name of the micro-game to World War Borg, which is more descriptive anyway. Made a couple (very minor) changes to the document as well, and have removed the old link.

If you want the current version, you can download it here.

Life and work are crazy at the moment. Hope to post something more later today.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

More Inspiration (World War Borg)

I completely forgot I had this.

Maybe a year or two ago I picked up a copy of Charles Simpson's book Inside the Green Berets. I'd never heard of it before and (if memory serves) I think I got it for 50 cents or so from a neighborhood used bookstore that was going out of business. I then promptly relegated it to a dusty shelf for "future reading." At least, till yesterday.

Currently Reading This
I've never personally known any U.S. Army special forces least not that I know of. My grandmother's youngest brother was an airborne ranger, but not all rangers choose (or are accepted into) the special forces (i.e. "the Green Berets") and I don't think Uncle Tommy was one of those...for a variety of reasons. I had a buddy who was a Marine scout-sniper, which has some pretty intense (and comparable) training (as well as similarly dangerous assignments and the self-sufficiency to operate in very small teams with very little support)...but there's a big difference between having the training to kill and being trained only (or mainly) to kill. Soldiers of the special forces have a larger scope of mission objective.

Or so I'm starting to learn.

So anyway, I picked up this book because it's a piece of military history (like I said, one of several hobby interests) and because I was thinking it might prove useful for research with RPG design. Of course, I promptly forgot about it, when I found it buried in a pile of other books I've yet to read.

Now, if only I'd started reading it last week, it would have provided serious inspiration for Metal Ever After...for example, I might have simply said all the PCs were special forces personnel. It would certainly make sense in light of the chargen system (with the wide variety of skills available to PCs). And that may still be the case...i.e. I might go back and rewrite the book (or re-craft the setting) to make use of the information in this book. Certainly, I think I'll model the PCs, their role and their squads, on special forces units.

Funny. One of the names I was originally considering for the game was "Ranger Team X." But I thought the implication that the PCs were all Army rangers was too limiting. I'm now reconsidering this.

But for the present, the game will consider to stand "as is" (any changes will be incorporated into an "expanded game" not the one-page, micro-version). Inside the Green Berets is an interesting book but...well, I'm only on Chapter 6. I am taking notes, but I'm not ready to adopt it wholesale into World War Borg.

Hope everyone's enjoying the solstice! Later, gators!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Metal Ever After (EDITED)

[nothing to do with rock music]

So…a couple-three days ago I wrote about being drawn in again to the idea of playing/running/designing a “war” RPG, by which I mean “a game where PCs are members of a small military or para-military unit” and adventure sessions being composed of “missions” of a military nature.  Done on a small scale, I think such a venture gives you:

a)     Good setting for deep/dramatic role-playing, AND
b)     Good setting in which to kick some (imaginary) ass.

I’ve owned and/or played a lot of “war” type role-playing games over the years, including Albedo, Revised Recon, Twilight 2000, Godlike, 3.16, Grey Ranks, and Carry…and probably a few others I’m forgetting at the moment. Even Mekton Zeta had some aspects of “military” to it (if only “military light”…see also Palladium’s Robotech). Most of these focus only on one of those two things, though, with the second part being mostly “incidental” depending on the GM running the thing…which ends up meaning they fail for me (personally) as “games I want to play.”

Of course, it’s quite possible that I’m being too hard on the designers. In fact, I know I am…I’ve written before about the goodness of both Revised Recon (the best, most complete game Palladium has ever published…and I mean EVER) and Twilight 2000. Still, most of these games are either to crunchy mechanically (GURPS War? No, not interested) or two “soft and squishy” (hey, I liked Enemy at the Gates, too, but I don’t want to run the same scenario every week!).

And then the other thing is that I really want cyborgs in my game.

So round about Wednesday, I hit on a great idea for a series of blog posts…basically an inside look at my “design process” (such as it is) as I create, from scratch, my own World War III RPG. I could put my “talents” (ugh!) on display, entertain my readers, and (hopefully) end up with a little game to show for it. Kind of like my Land of Ice supplement series (I’ll finish it someday, really!)  except with a lot of sidebars explaining my reasons. Actually, I guess the whole thing would be a sidebar of “thinking out loud” with snippets of chapters pasted onto the end of each thoughtful post. I went so far as to write a few paragraphs that afternoon, but then (day job) work got in the way, and nothing got posted to the blog.

Next day (Thursday, AKA “yesterday”), I decided that my mental design process and my “thoughtful writing” process aren’t really on the same page…so I scrapped the "series of posts" goal in favor of just doing the game. I spent my free time yesterday crafting the rules, and by the end of the day I had a new one-page micro-game (haven’t done that in a while!), with a pretty silly working title (“Asian Land War,” if I remember correctly). We play-tested last night, and today I figured out a better name for the thing:

A few random notes for those interested:

-        Micro-games are notoriously short on explanation, but try to condense and distill all the essentials. If this was expanded it would, of course, be groovier and probably include a lot more setting material and rules for mission creation and antagonists. Sorry about that.
-        There’s a reference to RULE ZERO in the game. For those who missed that blog post, you should read this. It’s something I’m using in 5AK with great results.
-        The game steals some of (what I think are) the best parts of Revised Recon and Twilight 2000 (including combining the two for character creation). In a full version, I would probably use the alignment system of RR. The squad rules are based (very, VERY roughly) off Albedo Platinum Catalyst.
-        I’m not really satisfied with the "ranking" system…we had a Lt. Colonel in a five man squad which is really too high a rank for infantrymen in the field…even a borged out recon team. For an “expanded game,” I would definitely take more time and make a better matrix, and include rules for how rank would adjust RP rolls with other soldiers. Maybe. I’d probably look at Albedo PC or 3:16 for a better way of doing rank “advancement.”
-        The terms “light” and “heavy machines” are taken from Rifts’s Warlords of Russia.
-        The inspiration for the setting is 80-90% ripped off from the Appleseed films…if you ignore the utopian cities like Olympus Complex. Basically, the world (Earth) has been in a World War for so many years, society’s mostly broken down and units are operating with little supervision or accountability. PCs get mission objectives via satellite phones (literally: if they can get their hands on a phone they call a satellite and pick up a voicemail message…totally impersonal and without much rhyme or reason). The default setting is Asia but North America would be pretty good, too (tooling around the ruins of Cleveland in an alcohol-powered, super-tank sounds like good times). The key concept is this: large continental theater (ground war) PLUS ruined dystopia. Soldiers are rebuilt as cyborgs because it’s cheaper and faster than training newbies and getting ‘em up to veteran status. “Reuse and recycle” is the phrase that pays…or maybe just “use, reuse, and use-up.”

[here's a video link to show you what I'm talking's about 4.5 minutes in length]

-        There’s a derived ability score – "Cool" – that has absolutely no game mechanic/system purpose to it. I put it in because I loved it as a concept (it's from TL2K, where it works great), but as I put the system together I couldn’t really find a place for it. However, I left it on the one-sheet for "flavor" and in an “expanded version” of the game would probably use it as some sort of saving throw against long-term combat fatigue (or something). I just think it’s a good stat for “losing your shit.” Kind of like sanity in Call of Cthulhu.

Last night’s game found Greg playing in a re-skinned Vietnam-era adventure (of the “go find the charismatic dissident visiting him mother’s village” kind of thing) taken directly from Revised Recon. There was some good game play, a bit of casual brutality (zip-tying civilians and eating their lunch, for example), but we hardly had a chance to touch on combat before wrapping up (though what we did test worked the way I intended: quick & bloody). It’s definitely something in need of further play-testing…and since I’m waiting on 5AK edits to come back, I figure I have some time to kill.

Unfortunately, time to actually game will be in short supply the coming month. Next Thursday, my Dear Old Dad is in town and that’s the only day I’ll have to see him (his schedule, not mine). Following that is 4th of July, which my son has been talking about incessantly since March. Following that, my wife’s out of town till the 12th…and then we ALL fly down to Mexico, meaning I’ll miss the 18th as well. I won’t be getting back to the gaming table till July 25th which is just…crazy, man.

SO…I’m strongly considering running (or attempting to run) a play-by-post game over the internets. I’ve had good success with this in the past (at least when we’ve used simple systems) and I’m thinking that might be a way to “keep my hand in” AND get some play-testing in, even as I’m forced to do my drinking at home. If anyone’s interested, post a comment here or drop me an email at:

bxblackrazor AT gmail DOT com

Right now, the only game I’m interested in running via PBP is Metal Ever After (I don’t have a one-sheet for 5AK at the moment), so be ready to rock-n-roll with your chrome beret, pal.

[BTW: just in case I wasn't totally clear before, you can download the Metal Ever After micro-game HERE on mediafire]

Questions, comments, and criticism are (as usual) both welcome and wanted.
: )

Art by John Liew (used without permission...sorry)
EDIT: The game's name has been changed to WORLD WAR BORG. Links above corrected.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

War Games

I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned my interest and fascination with war and most things military in general...this despite being a real world anti-war conscientious objector type. I know…it’s a weird dichotomy that some might even perceive as hypocritical. I don’t. I can distinguish between doing violence to others in real life (“bad”) versus historically (“bad” but not much we can do except try to learn from our mistakes) versus in fiction and gaming (“good” and “fun” so long as it doesn’t carry over into real life).

Just to reiterate (from past posts): I don’t think humans are naturally violent, conflict-driven individuals. Sorry, I don’t. I know it can appear that way if one simply looks at the breadth of human history with a superficial eye (based on the murder and atrocity we’ve committed on each other over the years). But to write it off as “human nature” is ignoring the reasons behind the trends and trivializing the lives and choices of individual humans (you can reduce folks to “numbers” and “stats” and “trends” but within the mind of each person you’ll find someone who thinks of themselves as plenty unique and snowflake special with their own motivations for action).

ANYway…for whatever reason, I’m “into” war…as far as reading about it or watching films or the History Channel or playing games. I don’t think I’m sick or wrong in the head (I’m sure that most people who enjoy horror movies aren’t hoping to end up in a real life terror situation). It’s just how I tick. I don’t think I get it from my father…he liked old John Wayne war films but didn’t otherwise collect or research military history. No other family members or mentor-types in my life have shared this interest (and thus passed it on to me). And while I once upon a time (pre-college) considered enlisting in the military (or at least ROTC), I long ago decided (again pre-college) that the possibility of killing people…whether in defense of my self or my country…really wasn’t something I wanted to dance with.

[I did put up a new American flag outside my house ‘round about Memorial Day, but that was more about my old flag being completely old and ratty, then any particular celebration]

But whatever…the “mystery of me” is something for me to unravel myself. The game-related part of this post is that I’ve been thinking a lot (again) about running a military-style RPG…either at my table or at the upcoming Dragonflight convention…and it has nothing to do with Raggi’s Better Than Any Man 30 Year War subject matter.

[though I should also have pointed out earlier that I my interest in warfare is as eclectic as any of other interests…I’m interested in ancient, medieval, colonial, modern, whatever warfare…I’m not just devoted to, say, The Crusades or the American Civil War]

Nope, as with most of my brain tangents, my inspiration stems from recently viewed films…and nothing as high-falutin’ as Saving Private Ryan. No, the films (both of which I’ve seen in the last week) include the following cinematic masterpieces:

Red Dawn and Predator

Feel free to offer up your ridicule.

But as I said, I’m talking fun and fictional…I know “war is hell” and all that. The only place for it (as far as I’m concerned) IS in fiction, and in fiction one can make light of the subject matter. Is it offensive to someone that I’d like a game that pits an American mercenary team against a light-bending alien? Or that I’d offer a war game scenario that proposes a joint Russian-Cuban invasion of the American Midwest? Sorry…sometimes I’m prone to whimsy. 

War example of "whimsy"
To the subject matter at hand: some folks might say these films aren’t really “war movies” in the traditional sense of the term (Red Dawn is more of a survivalist fantasy-come-true and Predator is a straight-up monster film), but for MY purposes they both represent ideal scenarios for war-themed RPGs. Why? A couple reasons:

-        Both feature a small group of protagonists on relatively equal footing (i.e. the prototypical merry band of player characters).
-        Both have a compartmentalized setting (they only deal with small piece of the war rather than the whole damn theater of action).

Something like the Battle of the Bulge or Gettysburgh or the 2nd Crusade is really outside the scope of your average role-playing game…which is probably why games where some huge-ass war is the centerpiece (like Star Wars or Dragon Lance) seem to fail so often as RPGs.

[the Star Wars thing is not up for debate in this post, by the way]

You can re-run military campaigns using ACTUAL war games, but RPGs are for smaller scale actions, with more immediate stakes, and a more personal interest in the challenges at hand. Both these films…if used for scenario material…puts these things on the forefront:

Red Dawn: small group of high school kids with no military training must strike back at the invaders who’ve taken over their small town in Michigan, figuring out how to work as a cohesive guerilla unit.

Predator: small squad of veteran mercs must rely on their skills and training to survive an otherworldly menace with superhuman abilities.

Both adventure scenarios offer very specific and unique situations/challenges. The teenagers really have no advantage except knowledge of the terrain and their foes underestimation of their courage and bravado. The mercs have plenty of skills, weapons, and explosives but fight against a superior foe with a significant technological edge. However, as a mini-campaign (Red Dawn) or one-off scenario (Predator) both provide ample room for both role-playing (yay!) and getting your (virtual) gun off (double yay!).

Of course, they each require a separate game systems to really do ‘em justice.

For Red Dawn, I’d adapt Twilight 2000 to the American Midwest (or Northwest…you’ll note I’m talking about the 1986 film not the 2012 remake set in Spokane, WA which I haven’t seen but which has been universally panned in all the reviews I’ve read. The Pacific NW has a lot of the same environmental conditions one might find conducive to a Red Dawn-type scenario, though I’d probably use Ellensburg or Moses Lake over “Spoka-Vegas”). Twilight 2000 has just enough info to be useful to a small-scale, modern war filled with non-traditional troops “drafted from the countryside” as it were. Sure, there’d be some necessary adjustments, but not many…ESPECIALLY if you considered the invaders to be a Soviet Red Army or even the Chinese and the PCs to be American freedom fighters armed only with the AK-47s and RPGs they could steal off their communist opponents (21st century weaponry has surpassed much of the US hardware listed in the 1st edition of TL2K). Besides, a Cold War era RPG for a Cold War era premise? That’s only fitting. Heck, maybe I’d set the scenario in 1986 anyway.

Character generation for PCs would, of course, have to be abbreviated since none of them would have any formal military training. I might limit the age of the PCs, too (real-life adults would only make an appearance as NPCs or opponents).

For Predator, I would of course use Palladium’s Revised Recon. Every time I see that film I think immediately of RR (at least, ever since I picked up a used copy a couple years back). As I’ve written before, the tough part really is converting the predator alien to Recon stats, because even though it is relatively easy to model using Rifts or Heroes Unlimited, RR uses a completely different system than any other Palladium game system. No SDC or HPs for example. Ability scores are based on a percentile roll (instead of a 3D6) and damage is deducted from a character’s “strength” score (reminiscent of Boot Hill…or more like Star Frontiers, really).

The conversion’s actually pretty sticky, now that I roll it around in my head. I DON’T just want to make the predator monster into “a tougher soldier,” and many of the super-powers found in HU would be incredibly appropriate…except that they use a different (non-percentile based) system. I suppose I could adapt HU to RR…bend light reducing shooting and alertness rolls by 85% instead of requiring a D20 roll of 18+, for example. But some things (like A.R.) just don’t really adapt well. Still, if a conversion could be done, a one-off session one could model pretty much the entire Predator film in a number of set-piece scenes. And it would be totally fun to write-up all the individual soldiers in Dutch’s team as pre-gen characters using the Revised Recon rules. Now THAT’s something I could take to the Dragonflight Con.

Hmmm…more on this later. I need to get home, but (internet willing) I might have something more to post about this tonight or tomorrow. Hasta la vista!
; )

[Post-Script Note: I ended up not posting this till this morning due to a Mariners game that went 10 innings and churned out a win...followed by me crashing about two minutes after my boy. Yes...I caught the nail-biting end of the Spurs-Heat game six down at Chuck's Hop Shop as well. I will get back to the war gaming brainstorm eventually]

Monday, June 17, 2013

Of Fathers and Monsters

Welp, it’s time to start gearing up for June. Yeah, I realize it’s a little late to start “getting ready for June” but just take that as an indication of how busy the last couple weeks have been. Hell, I even missed FREE RPG DAY (more on that in a minute) not because I was busy but because I didn’t even realize it was going on!

I did have a happy Father’s Day, and I hope other folks did, too. Not to rub it in anyone’s face, but mine was very enjoyable…the family let me sleep in (all told I got something like 25 or 26 hours of sleep since Friday night…including naps…which is about double plus my usual amount over that same span). The wife made me breakfast, the boy and I got a long walk and some play-time, another nap, then a looong, much-needed massage followed by Guinness and meat pie at the local English-style pub, before picking up the boy from Grandma’s house.

Oh, yeah…and a new electric toothbrush. It’s been months since my teeth felt so clean.

I also had time to reflect a bit on fatherhood and my relationship with my own father. I got pampered a bit thanks to my (relatively easy) siring of a child, but really Father’s Day is about remembering our own fathers, much as we dads might think it’s about getting a day to hit the golf course, free of the usual household chores. 

All of us have fathers – men that without whom we wouldn’t be walking around, breathing air and reading blogs. It’s an inescapable, biological fact. Even if our fathers disappeared from our lives years ago (or even before we were born), they are responsible for our existence…as responsible as our mothers…and regardless of what judgment we might have on their ability at being a PARENT, we can be appreciative of the role they had in bringing us into this world. I mean, unless you wish you’d never been born or something (I think most of us enjoy living most of the time).

And yet there is so often a melancholy association with our fathers…even those of us with the great fortune to have fathers who were loving and present and not prone to raging bouts of asshole-ism. It’s different from dealing with one’s mother who we often continue to feel a certain amount of tenderness, even into adulthood (not to mention a need to please and the guilt of “not being a good enough child”). With one’s father, to have “tenderness” or “compassion” is almost to feel like having condescension or pity for the man…and that would seem to undermine that traditional role of “strength” that the father is supposed to have in the family dynamic. Offering your father sentimentality can feel like you’re calling the man weak…and so we instead try to approach him with a degree of “respect for his manliness” and (in practice) a certain aloof indifference to his own emotional needs.

And woe-betide the poor man whose made tragic choices in his life…whether ones that affected himself or his family or (most likely) both. He may already feel like a shlub and our only choice of behavior is either to A) pile onto the shit he already feels or B) ignore any pain or regret or guilt he may be feeling for the sake of maintaining that illusion of “father as strong man.”

Because I think we want our fathers to be strong men. Children grow up thinking of their parents as godlike, perfect beings anyway, but mother is allowed to be the comforter and tender-loving care-giver and father is supposed to be a solid rock. And while we lose illusions of our parents’ infallibility as we grow older and wiser and see them as “normal human beings” we still want them (perhaps subconsciously) to meet our idealistic expectations. Because we are their offspring. With respect to our fathers we want to be descended from “strong men.” That doesn’t mean “warriors” necessarily, and certainly not “angry tyrants” but STRONG…in their convictions perhaps, certainly in their ability to endure. Whether we are their sons or daughters, their genetics are in our DNA, and I don’t think there is a single person, in their secret heart-of-hearts, that wants to say “my father was a weak man.” Even if he abandoned our mother…even if he abandoned his children…we want to be able to chalk it up to youth, or ignorance, or an indiscretion, or a lack of compatibility.  Or even just that the man was an asshole…at least saying a person is stubborn and pig-headed and self-centered shows a type of strength (even if it’s not a very nice, good, or effective one).

But no one wants to say: my father was weak. Because what does that say about us, his children?

And because we won’t (secretly) allow our fathers the luxury of weakness, we often prevent ourselves from having an intimacy and closeness we might otherwise have. Perhaps it’s easier for daughters to enjoy MORE closeness with their fathers but regardless, if only one party in a relationship is given the space to be vulnerable, it’s tough to achieve a true intimacy. Even for those of us who enjoy an otherwise “good relationship” with our dear old dads.

Now having written all this, I should point out this is simply a reflection on “the state of things,” not a manifesto on how we need to change the world. By the time a person is in their 30s (and probably before that) we intellectually understand that our fathers are “only human.”

[we also intellectually know that someday we are going to DIE and we hide that from ourselves as well, pushing it to the back of our minds as a “low priority” consideration]

It’s not incredibly necessary (or even appropriate) to suddenly start denigrating our fathers (at least not any more than we already do), but I think it’s okay to acknowledge not only their lack of perfection (or strength), but ALSO:

A)     Our personal need and desire for them to be unreasonably strong (an unreasonable desire), and
B)     Our debt of gratitude to them for our lives…regardless of whether or not they meet our ideals or not, regardless of how competent or powerful or righteous or “strong” they are…or not.

Whether or not YOU are a good person or not (by which I mean “make positive choices in your action” or not), has nothing to do with your father…you have free will to make whatever choice of action you wish. On the other hand, without your father, you would not have been given the opportunity to make ANY choice AT ALL…because you owe your existence to him, like it or not.

*ahem* And that’s the extent of my Father’s Day reflections for this year.

[by the way…I could have waxed on for a few more pages about my own father’s foibles and fuck-ups and my on-going relationship with him, but I’ve decided to spare folks THAT, not out of embarrassment or shame but under the realization that my own father is far more interesting to ME than it is to my readers]

So...I missed Free RPG Day on Saturday which is just…ugh…now THAT is embarrassing. Usually, I’m there when the store opens and taking first swipe at any and all goodies on display. This year, I had no idea it was even this weekend…I haven’t been spending a lot o time on the internets the last week or so and it just wasn’t even on my radar. Sunday, I walked into Gary’s Games and saw a copy of LotFP’s adventure, Better Than Any Man, on display and was like, wow, you guys got THAT in stock? And I was told: No, it was part of the offerings for Free RPG Day the day before…the copy on display was the only one left over.


Of course, I immediately picked it up, as well as Hall of Bones, a free adventure scenario for S&W. Other than these, the only thing left from Saturday was the Cosmic Patrol quickstart that I picked up (and blogged about) last year, which means my total haul for this years ended with a pair of OSR-generated adventures. Seeing as how it was Father’s Day and my family gave me time to lay on the couch and read uninterrupted (another infrequent luxury at my house) I can offer a couple thoughts on these two products:

“Hall of Bones” (for Swords & Wizardry): a fairly basic, low-level adventure. For me, the best part is the smooth inclusion of a basic rules overview (plus pre-gen characters) making this a fairly standalone game-adventure (just add dice and players).

I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of S&W. I know a LOT of OSR-types like to ride that pony, but despite the art, layout, and modern sensibilities of game design, I prefer the original LBBs. And not just the romanticism of having brown-covered books…I mean I prefer the original scope and content of the rules. S&W over-steps (for my taste) in certain blanks...but those blanks are part  of the charm of the original game. Hmmm…I don’t mean this post to turn into a referendum/review of S&W so I’ll leave it at that.

The simplicity of S&W means that rules for “how to play” can be included in a 20 page adventure book making for a complete game, which is a pretty sweet feat. That being said, I found the adventure itself underwhelming. Yes, I realize it is an introductory adventure for 1st level characters. It still felt a bit of “challenge lacking” for my taste, and the new monsters…well, I’ve created “intro scenarios” with unusual variations that I thought were better, so I guess that’s what I’m judging on. I’m a jerk…sue me.

“Better Than Any Man” (for Lamentations of the Flame Princess): I was truly surprised that this was even available a day later, though I’ve seen commenters on other blogs stating they’d choose to wait for a PDF rather than pick up a print-version. I guess their shelves are more crowded than my own (though the idea would seem crazy to anyone who’s actually seen my “game room” – my wife compares me to those hoarders you see on TV).

Better Than Any Man is an impressive piece of work. Not impressive in the quality of the art and production for a free offering on Free RPG Day…I think Raggi’s earned enough credit over the years that he can get such products funded via KickStarter with (comparatively) minimal effort. Even if I was NOT phobic of KS on general, technophobic principle, I don’t think my following would be enough to do what he does (plus, my following is a bit less focused than fans of LotFP). But, no, I don’t think an ambitious, free product like this is out of the scope of his ability.

No, what’s impressive is the adventure itself. I’ll be honest: I haven’t kept up with everything Raggi’s published. The last thing I actually paid for was Death Frost Doom…I came close to getting Vornheim, harcover Carcosa, and Grindhouse Edition LotFP when I ran across them at the game shop but two main considerations stopped me:

-        My funds have been tight enough of late to keep me from getting every impulsive want, and
-        LotFP is a version of D&D that I will probably never play.

Not because it’s not well done or doesn’t have great potential as a fantastic setting or even that LotFP’s house rules “tweaks” are bad. Most of ‘em are to the good. No, it’s just that B/X (or Holmes or OD&D) work good and are readily customizable, and I don’t need a “weird-horror” version of D&D seeing as that’s not my usual genre of fantasy adventuring.

[that being said, if I ever wanted to do a 15th – 17th century fantasy adventure game of the type typified in White Wolf “historical” WoD settings or even the more recent WITCH HUNTER of which I’ve blogged, I’d probably pick up SOME version of LotFP to use for the system. Right now I’ve been a little too busy with my own play-testing to try to entice my players into this type of game/setting]

However, lacking Raggi’s actual books, I lose the overall view of Raggi’s gradual development over time and numerous products. Reading an adventure like Better Than Any Man compared to Death Frost Doom just shows (to me anyway) a marked change in growth and maturity. DFD is special because it was waaaaay outside the box as far as adventures go and wasn’t afraid to plunge one’s campaign setting into an undead Armageddon by allowing the thing to run its (most natural) course. But even so, it felt much less like a “D&D” adventure and much more like Call of Cthulhu (or a CofC-style “investigation”) in a pseudo-fantasy-medieval setting. Which, as said, was pretty different, but somewhat unplayable depending on your average player’s expectation of game play.

BTAM, on the other hand, is definitely D&D. It is D&D with a setting and context, but it is still D&D. People may say it has a WHFRPG feel to it…from my point of view, WHFRPG was simply someone’s D&D heartbreaker set in a pseudo-historic setting. BTAM does away with the “pseudo” and works with actual historic events (like the 30 Year War), which is hip ‘cause…well, ‘cause I like that approach (it’s similar to what I’m doing with my 5AK setting, though Raggi doesn’t bother changing the names of countries and historic personas). BTAM actually provides several different types of adventure for exploration: a wilderness fraught by war (and including many random encounters) a couple dungeons (restrained in scope while still being interesting and carrying the signature creepiness of LotFP) and a political conflict of heroic proportions with the potential to save thousands of at-risk individuals from that most despicable of monsters, the human war machine. Nice.

Nice Familiar!
I only skimmed over the tentacled monsters (of which the one on the cover is but a single example), but drank deeply of the rest of the adventure. I found The Seven to be deep and well-written. and a fantastic, challenging puzzle for the PCs. I found the Mound to be the kind of adventure Hall of Bones wanted to be but wasn’t (sorry…). I found Goblin Hill to be the weakest part of the adventure, not because it’s not a suitable adventure, but because it feels a little cliché, both due to the over-the-top grisly horror and the insect-type villain that conjures to mind everything from Shadowrun’s  Queen Euphoria and District Nine to Naked Lunch and Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I found the wilderness encounters (like the Baroness) and the descriptions of towns caught in the throes of war and witch hysteria to be excellent.

There’s a LOT of good stuff in Better Than Any Man…it’s a nice little setting for a mini-campaign, and certainly one that can be expanded into major, year-spanning campaign involving the Swedish invasion, the 30 Year War, the horrors of organized religion unleashed by unscrupulous (or ignorant) zealots, and the underground cults of daemonic religions and eldritch horrors. In many ways, BTAM feels like the kind of game that WHFRPG always wanted to be, but never could be due to its failure to create adequate small-scale adventuring rules (especially with regard to magic) and its cumbersome career mechanic.

[oh, yeah…and the simple firearms mechanics Raggi includes are just about perfect, by the way…if I use firearms in my future B/X games, I’ll probably just steal these, assuming I’m not using LotFP as my base system. If Gygax/Arneson had used a simple system like this in OD&D, it might have saved decades of debate down the line]

If you didn’t have the chance to pick up Better Than Any Man at Free RPG Day, you might try finding it, if only as an example of what can be done to create a small campaign setting that provides a lot of meat for players without a shit-ton of dross. In some ways, it reminds me of my old Goblin-Wars campaign, but much more thoughtful and better organized. I’m not sure I’m terribly enthused about Raggi’s game world and themes, but the quality of the material is damn fine, and well worth looking at and possibly emulating.

ALL RIGHT…now that I’ve written up all that, I can get back to my planning of the month of June. Got a lot of stuff that needs “gearing up,” as I said.
: )

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Other Football

World Cup qualifying match for the USA in Seattle tonight. More later. Beer in hand.
: )

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dragonflight XXXIV

It's a beautiful day to throw one's hat in the ring.

Today's my first day off in a while...the wife got back into town Friday, but then promptly came down with a stomach virus that had her flat-on-her-back all weekend long. Today, she's back to work and D is down at daycare so I finally have a chance to take care of some stuff before heading back to the day job tomorrow.

Mmm...just me, my laptop, and the all-day breakfast at the Baranof. Feels like old times.
: )

My original plan for the day was to spend most of it writing up something that...well, never you mind (it's a subject for another post). Instead, I've been looking into this year's Dragonflight Convention...that's Dragonflight 34 for those of you that don't read Roman numerals. One of the oldest  gaming conventions still up-n-running.

Again, this year I was invited to run a game (based on my doing so in 2010). That's not quite the honor one would imagine: I suspect I'm simply being recycled from the organization's database. No one actually showed up to my gaming table back in 2010 (I was running B/X, if you can believe that) and I don't think there was any particular "buzz" about my books or gaming at the time...that all started happening in the Fall of 2010. Back then I was just one more blogger yelling in the darkness.

Actually, I'm still just that, but now I've made a few friends in the gaming community and some kindly folks have sent me good, hard currency for my scribblings.'s been three years since that last convention, and I'm on the verge of publishing the new book(s) (complete with dice!) and I'm thinking maybe I need to give it another try. You know, running a game at a local convention? I mean, it IS in Bellevue (Seattleites like myself are disinclined to spend time on "the east side" as a general rule), but don't I owe it to my book to do a little self-promotion? At least circulate the name and face even if I'm not actually glad-handing folks?

*sigh* Yeah, probably. Self-marketing is not my forte...but that doesn't mean I shouldn't give it a shot. Even my (usual) half-assed one.

So, I've put down my money and will be attending the convention this year. I'm thinking about signing up to run half-a-dozen games because, A) I can get reimbursed for my ticket by doing so, and B) if the people attending my table are anything like 2010 (i.e. "no one") then there's little chance I'll run the risk of burn-out.

Now, the question is just one of "what do you want to run."

Here's what I'm considering:

  • Two (or three) sessions of 5AK (same adventure, different days/time-slots)
  • One (or two) sessions of Cry Dark Future (probably using an old Shadowrun adventure like Queen Euphoria and pregens)
  • One (or two) sessions of B/X...or maybe not 
  • Possibly KWN (my Star Wars-flavored, X-Plorers direct competition with Tony Van Liew's Jedi and FFG's latest box set).
  • Possibly a little DMI ("Deal Me In"), using supers or post-apoc/mutants.
  • Possibly a little Clockwork or Boot Hill action

Unfortunately, I don't know if I'm going to get ANY takers for ANY of these games. I got hold of a copy of the 2012 Dragonflight program, and the vast bulk of games on offer (in the RPG section) were for Pathfinder games run by something called the "Pathfinder Society." Even Savage Worlds didn't hold a candle to these guys. I And ugh.

People really do miss their D&D 3.5, huh?

A friendly (new) face over at Gary's this morning pointed out that the folks that gravitate towards Old School gaming may not be the kind to attend "hard core" gaming conventions, which might account for why you see (for example) more Pathfinder and 4E and Savage Worlds. Of course, there is representation for the Indie/Story Now contingent of northwest gamers...but those might be considered "hard core" of a different stripe. My particular "target audience" might only exist outside a conventional convention.

Ah, well. As I said, I've signed up and paid my money, so I will be attending (and yes, I got permission from the family, first). If I draw blank at my gaming table, it just means I'll get more time as a player...which is plenty fun, too. I don't see Ogre's Story Lounge on the list  as of yet, but he was there last year, and given the opportunity that's where I'd spend the majority of my time. Otherwise, I see Eric Aldrich is running Airship Pirates which would be cool to play (don't ask me to run it!), or perhaps I'll try Mr. Van Liew's unauthorized Star Wars game (though the description requires me to bring a character and after downloading and perusing the rules I find myself at a bit of a loss). I doubt I'll sign up for DCC since...well, I don't like it very much at all.

If I had more readers in the Seattle area, I'd be tempted to do a poll and see what people are interested in playing, but since most of you are from the east coast and Europe I suppose I'll just have to sign up for things I'd like to play. However, I am open to suggestions (feel free to submit in the comments section of this post).

Maybe I'll run my re-vamped Dungeon! in the board game section. there's an idea!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nice Review of TCBXA

M Blackburn did a nice review of The Complete B/X Adventurer over at his blog. By "nice," I mean "more than fair." He actually wrote the piece back in April, but I've just been too busy to mention it (or even comment on the post!) until just now. Heck, I'm still too busy...I need to get to work!

If you haven't purchased a copy and want some insight into what another buyer thought about it, check it out. I've still got books to sell!
; )

For those who don't know what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

DUNGEON! Card List

As promised (in the comments section of yesterday's post), here's the card list for my Dungeon! revamp:

Hit It Here

This card list does not include spell cards, of which there are 36 (enough that each spell-casting character can carry a full complement). I suppose for the sake of completeness, I should list them, too. Okay:

Clairvoyance - 6
Fire Ball - 9
Hold-Charm - 6
Lightning - 9
Teleportation - 6

Okie-doke...that will probably be an end to my blogging about the Dungeon! board game for the foreseeable future. I thank you all for your indulgence in this regard...sometimes one just gets a bee in the proverbial bonnet and needs to work on things completely unrelated to the main objective. Which is, of course, to craft fantastic RPGs for fun and profit!

We'll return to that main enterprise in short order.
; )

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Your "New" DUNGEON!

This will be a quick post as I've got to get to lunch...I am starvin' like Marvin.

Here are the files for my revamped DUNGEON! board game...remember me talking about this last month? Okay, so I've got it together (just finished the rules document, which was the delay in posting this).

You can download the cards here.

You can download the rules here.

You will need your own board and pawns, of course (I was able to acquire a matching set of the correct colors from a Queen Anne game shop, but would like to have painted minis one of these days).

A few notes on assembly:

For me, I printed the cards, cut them into appropriate "color sections" and then glued 'em to a construction paper back using glue stick and the appropriate color. I then ran them through a cheap, cold-press laminator and cut them out with a pair of scissors. They turned out surprisingly well (I'm not all that "crafty") but this is more of a "what you can do" can certainly get away a simple cardstock (or heavy paper) back and no lamination.

ALSO, since I'm lazy and used the same back for both monsters and treasure (and didn't want to pay money/wait three weeks for a custom rubber stamp to do the markings), I distinguished the "encounters" from "treasures" on the same level by putting a silver "star sticker" on the back of each treasure card (you can use "gold stars" if you like...they're available in packs of hundreds from the local drugstore). I put these stars on before lamination, just BTW.

A few notes on copyright infringement:

This revamp is not intended for commercial sale but for personal use...period. I created this because my two-year old appears to have eaten half of my old cards and I'm less-than-satisfied with WotC's re-print. As such, DO NOT SELL THIS! If you want to print it up for your personal use...well, that's why I'm making it available. I freely borrowed images off the internet for use in the cards, and was happy to use terms like "Hobbit" and "Balrog" because this is a non-comercial, arts-and-crafts project. Don't be an ass trying to peddle this on eBay or something. Thanks!

Even better...feel free to use this as a template to make YOUR OWN version of Dungeon!

A few notes on play-testing:

Both the "Basic" and "Expert" rules have each been play-tested exactly one time. I always found the hero to be the easy victory, and such was the same in the current version of the basic set. In the expert game, the guy playing the hobbit came out on top...but he had a lot of lucky draws (and the other players spent a lot of time in cages). I can't thus vouch for the over-all "game balance" of this...but it sure looks fun!

Feel free to contact me with any questions.
: )

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rule Zero

I've had more than a couple questions pop up in the comments section of the blog regarding the "custom dice" that will be included with the print version of 5AK. I probably should have been more explicit about this earlier, so as not to get things "too hyped up." These aren't anything super-fancy with dragons or swords or skulls...just simple six-sided dice with the "1" pip replaced with a single word:


Snake-Eyes in 5AK

This is the initial mock-up image from Chessex. The actual dice have the word written horizontally, not diagonally.

See? Nothing all that gaga, but still pretty cool. The game doesn't need custom dice...and until Thursday never used them during the play-tests...but they're nice to have as it's easy to otherwise forget Rule Zero and count the ones, especially for us long-time gamers.

Oh, wait...I haven't explained Rule Zero? Hmm, yeah, about's the game text on the subject (from Volume 1, copyright 2013):

No matter the number of dice rolled, ANY ROLL OF “1” ON A DIE IS COUNTED AS ZERO. This is a very important difference from other games you may have played. Any D6 that comes up as a “1” should simply be removed from the roll, as if the player had rolled 1 less die. In other words, the result of a D6 roll will always be a 0, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. When rolling a D3 the result will always be a 0, 1, 2, 2, 3, or 3. 
If all dice rolled come out as 1s (i.e. “zeroes”) then the entire roll is considered a ZERO regardless of any bonuses or adjustments that might have been made to the roll. This is called “zeroing out.” For example, when making an attack roll, a player adds her attack adjustment to her attack roll of 2D6. If the player rolls two 1s, the roll is considered a 0; the player is not allowed to add her attack adjustment because she has “zeroed out” and thus failed in her attack. 
Sometimes the rules will call for a player to roll a “D66.” In this case, the player rolls two D6 dice to generate a two-digit number, with the first die counting as the 10s and the second die counting as the 1s. For example, a roll of 3 and a roll of 5 would be counted as a roll of “35.” When rolling D66, die rolls of 1 are still counted as 0, so the number generated will be from 00 to 66.
Rule Zero is ALWAYS in effect. A roll of 1, never counts as “1.” If you’ve purchased a print version of this game, it should include dice with a “zero” side where the 1 would normally be found; this is to remind you of Rule Zero.
[that last sentence was only added after I had actually placed the order with Chessex]

The Rule Zero mechanic allows a lot of interesting system effects from a design point of view, not the least of which is giving me some extra numbers to play with (for example, on a normal 2D6 roll you have an eleven number range...2 through 12... but with Rule Zero you have a twelve number spread, including zero). It emphasizes the built-in consistency (in my rules) of high rolls = good and low rolls = bad. It doesn't skew probabilities downward when it comes to "high" dice rolls (for example, adding Rule Zero does not diminish the chance of rolling an 8+ on 2D6, not the chance of rolling a 14+ on 3D6), and it provides a means of automatic failure (like D20's "natural 1") that is self-evident..."Oh, yeah...I rolled a zero." 

Also, since the main roll in 5AK is the 2D6, the chance of that auto-fail is generally LESS than that of D20 (1 in 36 as opposed to 1 in 20...2.7% compared to 5%). A little less random clownishness, in other words. 

Anyway...more on 5AK and design stuff later. Hopefully, I've satisfied the curiosity of folks that were wondering. 
: )

[oh, BTW, I am well aware of the whole "Rule Zero" definition generally used in RPG design circles and MY rule was indeed conceived as a deliberate stab in the face of that particular monstrosity. But I'll have to explain my opinion on that at a later date...right now, I've got a bunch of stuff to do and not much time to do it in!]