Monday, April 29, 2013

The Marvel RPG "Curse" Strikes Again

In case you haven't heard, tomorrow, April 30th is the last day that you'll be able to purchase the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game and its sourcebooks in pdf form. Margaret Weis Productions has lost the license and Marvel wants product pulled off of ebook catalogs. It's a shame really, I didn't much care for the system because of the muddy rules and lack of real character creation (though the fans have sorted those aspects out), but it was getting good press and it seemed like it was selling well, and even though the system didn't suit me I still liked the books; they were gorgeous and fluff was well put together. Evidently it wasn't selling up to Marvel's expectations however.

I don't know what the deal was that MWP struck with Marvel, only Marvel and MWP know that, but it seems like the string of Marvel RPG failures since the end of the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG from TSR have one thing in common: Marvel has really high expectations for any licensing deal they make. There's nothing wrong with that, but they should temper their expectations with a nice garnish of knowledge of the medium. RPG's aren't the big sellers they were in the pre-internet days. We're not likely to ever see another RPG boom like we did when D20 burst onto the scene (then again, stranger things have happened). Even in the days before the net and MMORPG's it wasn't like D&D was outselling all other forms of entertainment, y'know the days when MSH was on the market and running strong...

Plus, I can't help but notice that Marvel RPG seem to always be attached to some "experimental" product. The color chart of MSH, card-based roleplaying in SAGA, and then awful resource management of the Marvel Universe RPG. Marvel Heroic wasn't really experimental, but Cortex is hardly a "mainstream" rpg. If they wanted higher sales, go with the current big dog in the supers RPG market: Green Ronin and their well done Mutants & Masterminds. Sure, they'd have their characters stated up in the same system as their competitor DC, but so what? No matter the system, gamers are going to stat up their favorite characters, and I don't know anyone that only does Marvel or only does DC out of some sense of purity or what-have-you. Heck, they could have even licensed it to Steve Kenson to work with his excellent ICONS system (yeah, I realize that Steve didn't have control of ICONS when MWP struck their deal with Marvel). ICONS may not be the M&M juggernaut, but it's still a damn fine system written by the same guy that made M&M what it is.

All in all, I see the only "curse" with Marvel is, well, themselves. They expect too much from a niche market in a niche market in a down economy. There's plenty there in the Marvel Universe to put out a library of books, and great material to keep gamers that love supers to keep coming back for more, but that's never going to happen if Marvel expects RPG's to sell anything like toys and/or video games. Plus its just as likely not to happen if they keep going with untried system. Sure there's that chance they'll hit onto something that will resonate with gamers that's beyond the norm, but the chances of that are rare. If sales are the main concern they need to go with someone that's tried and tested, be it an author like Steve Kenson, or by licensing the universe for use with a popular system.

It's sad to see Marvel Heroic leave the e-shelves of e-bookstores through they net, and here's hoping that someone else it willing to give it another shot.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Razor Coast

The Razor Coast setting for Sword and Wizardry is out in pdf form. (You can purchase it from RPGnow or from Frog God Games.) I've been waiting for this for a while now, but I ended up settling on the Freebooter's Guide to the Razor Coast for now. The Freebooter's Guide gives players all the base information they need to create characters and get a general understanding of the various factions and what life is like in the Razor Coast. There are three new races (though one is the native humans of the region), new spells, new gods, new weapons/armor/items, and three new monsters. All in all, I'm happy with the purchase. The setting is well-written and therefore interesting. It's a must buy for anyone wanting to play in the Razor Coast.

I mentioned that I settled on just the Freebooter's Guide for now. That's because the main setting book is $40 for a pdf. That's a bit steep for an ebook, in my opinion. Now, I don't have any idea of the costs involved with putting this book together, so don't mistake me when mention the cost. For me, that price is too steep, but I don't expect anyone to change the cost to please me. It costs what it costs. That said, I do eventually intend on picking up the setting book, when it better fits into the budget to do so...though I'll still likely flinch visibly when hitting the confirm payment button...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder...

...or so they say.

I've been neglecting the blog this week in lieu of working on my S&W setting...which turned into another rules tweak, which turned into a proofreading session, which has taken much of my free time this week. I've got a couple of updates to the race list I need to get written up, and I want to go into the various human races that live in the setting as well.

As I'm going through the D&D Gazeteers mining the heck out of them for ideas, I've come across the forgotten (at least by me) Shaman class. I've got several animal atavistic-centered societies and thought it may make a good additon to the classes I have for the players in my hack of the S&W rules. Which brings me to my next idea...

I understand the reasoning behind the differing XP Progressions. (For those of you on the G+ Swords & Wizardry community, +Brett Slocum brought up this very topic today.) I've been batting around the idea of having a 3E style single progression table for all classes. I've always taken a very free and loose attitude towards XP. I hand it out as I see fit, and not necessarily because the rules say how XP should be handled. Magic-Users are fairly weak in the early levels, but they quickly grow into very powerful characters. However, that power is finite, being tied to the number of spells they can memorize. Plus, a fighter (or even a ranger, barbarian, or paladin) can "bring their A game" to bear in combat at all times (unless they are subject to some spell or curse that is). They are wholly viable on the battlefield no matter how long the battle laasts, no matter how badly they've been pounded, so the power level issues may actually come out in the wash. I haven't crunched any numbers on this, just eyeballing it. Has anyone done this in early editions? How did it go? Was the party wholly out of whack, or was it even noticed?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Races Part 2

Here's Part 2 of my continuing series of brief ideas on the races that will be found in my S&W setting.

Half-Breeds: Like Giantkin, these other half-races live lives where they never feel at home. Shunned, hated, and abused, it's little wonder many half-races live tragically short lives either turning to lawlessness or to the dangerous lives of adventurers.

Half-Elves are one half-race that may be able to find acceptance in the civilized world, as human-elf pairings are those that are more likely to be those based on love and affection. Still, such relationships are typically never accepted by either human or elf communities. The parents are often times shunned and degraded, and their children even moreso. It is this descrimination that drives many half-elves to become forces of change in their communities, while others will leave home as soon as they are of age (even before so) to become travelers, bandits, beggars, and adventurers. Many half-elves will try to hide their heritage, posing as either a human or an elf, but these ploys never stand up to instense scrutiny.

Half-Ogres are rare. Ogres value strength and ferocity above all other qualities and these qualities are taught at a very young age, so few half-ogres live very long. Among humans, half-ogres are a constant reminder of the violence that oftentimes brings them into the world. Half-Ogres who are particularly cunning can use their wits to lead small bands of ogres, or play up their more brutish looks to become hired guards and sellswords to wealthy merchants. Still, a half-ogre needs to live long enough to be able to take advantage of these opportunities and very, very few do.

Half-Orcs live lives similar to that of half-ogres. They are seen as weak by their orc families, and are seen as abominations by thier human families. Orcs are more intelligent and ever so slightly more cultured than ogres, so half-orcs do tend to have a better chance of living among orc tribes. Their lives tend to be miserable, as orcs see half-breeds as being little better than a goblin. If there isn't a goblin to abuse, then the next best thing is to kick a half-orc. Among humans, half-orcs suffer racism and even outright violence directed to them for simply existing. Life for half-orcs among humans is even sometimes worse than the lives of half-ogres since orc attacks on human villages are much more common, so there is a greater sense of animosity.

Halflings: Halflings primarily call the Five Shires home. They are a peaceful, agrarian people who prefer to stay out of the world of the big folk. Still, there are those that desire a life of adventure far from their quaint shires. One wouldn't think to look at them, but halflings are just as well suited to adventure as humans, dwarves, lupin, and other races. They may not be front-line troops (though more than a few invaders that have attempted to raid the Five Shires have discovered the ferocity of halfling warriors), but they are naturally stealthy and agile; perfect for thieves, scouts, and spies.

Humans: I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here, since I'm still researching and compiling information on the various human cultures available to players. Still, humans are the most populous race in the Known World. Few places in the world have not hosted this race in one form or another. They are the most diverse and adaptable race in world, so it should come as no surprise that they can be found virtually everywhere.

Minotaur: There are essentially two races of minotaur in the Known World: civlized (Taladasian) and uncivilized. The minotaurs from the island of Taladas are still a warrior race, but unlike the vast majority of minotaurs do not worship the standard minotaur gods of slaughter. They have come to worship gods of strength and justice (more informaiton on the various dieties of the campaign will come later). Taladasian minotaurs are sailors and merchants, but their most valuable commodity is their sword-arms. They may not be as massive and powerful as the bestial minotaurs, but they are still quite naturally strong.

Lupin: The dogfolk are a common sight in the Savage Coast region and are generally well-recieved by the most cultures in the Known World. They hail mostly from Renardy, where lupins make up the entirety of the government. The lupin ability to detect werewolves has made them highly sought after in parts of the world were the dread creatures are known to tread. (I'm going to modify the Dragon articles on Lupin and Rakasta sub-races for use in generating them as PC's.)

Rakasta: The catfolk of Bellayne are a common sight in the Savage Coast region. While not as well liked as lupins, rakasta are still a generally accepted race. They do not have the lupin reputation for loyalty and honor, but rakasta are known for being cunning warriors and nigh undetectable sneakthieves.

Ratfolk: The Ratfolk, or Ratanna as they call themselves, are a hated and reviled race, but many cities have found them to be a necesarry evil. They can be found throughout much of the Known World, but they are rarely seen. They live primarily below larger cities, especially those with advanced drainage systems. They build their warrens in these complexes. The Ratfolk have struck bargains with some cities to keep their sewers clear of creatures and spies for the price of clean food, clothing, and the like. Most refuse to deal with the ratfolk, however, and some city leaders even go so far to send the city watch or even bands of hired adventurers to rout out the creatures. Truth be told, Ratfolk are sneaky and dangerous not by any cultural goal to subvert other races, but out of necessity. They know what their reputation is, but many warrens attempt to change that perception. Sadly, most end up having to fight it out with their neighbors, which only solidifies the prejudices against them.

Sisters of Sword: The Sisters of the Sword are members of an ancient order of warrior women devoted to the gods of Light. The order takes in orphaned or otherwise unwanted girls, usually human, elven, or half-elven, and through a series of rituals the girls are transformed into a sister. All sisters retain their skin, hair, and eye color, but their bodies are transformed into tall, athletic, and beautiful women. They are trained in combat, mostly as fighters, but some become rangers, paladins, clerics, and spellswords. Sisters of the Sword are a rare sight in the world today, many of their cloisters have fallen over the years, and their numbers have dwindled as a result.

Spellborn: Spellborn are living constructs that were created during the First War. Long thought lost, they have only recently emerged from the ruins of their masters' former empire in the Anauroch Desert to become part of the greater world. It is unknown how the spellborn attained sentience, and if their sentience is a recent development. While most appear to be as honorable as any other race, their appearance is unnerving to many, leading many spellborn to be distrusted at best and attacked as monsters at worst.

Surasti: When Avalon was at the height of power, the kingdom of Surast was at it's darkest. Like a mirror image of Avalon, Surast was as dark and depraved as Avalon was cultured and blessed. The Mage-Kings of Surast had long conspired with demonic forces to concrete and expand their power. This constant use of foul magic tainted the land and the people. The Surasti, what few there are left in scattered, isolated pockets throughout the Known World, have the look of demons. Even though they overthrew the Mage-Kings and put their lands to the cleansing flame, their bodies are forever marked as having been tainted by foul magic. Their appearance has largely relegated the Surasti to the fringes of society. Even though they are no more prone to fall to the forces of darkness, most other races think the Surasti are always on the verge of succumbing to some demonic urge.

Tortles: Tortles are a gentle race of fishermen that can be found in many warm coastal regions in the Known World. They don't have any nation of their own, and largely live under the juridiction of other kingdoms, but as long as they are able to fish and largely keep to themselves they don't mind. Tortles have been targets of raiders before, but many have learned that the seemingly slow and over-kind creautres have fire in their bellies when threatened.

Wyrmblooded: Were the Draconians are born through the sorcerous tainting of dragon eggs, the Wyrmblooded were born by the blessing of the dragons gods Bahamut and Tiamat. Wyrmblooded are dragon-like humanoids that live in remote mountain regions, usually not far from an actual dragon lair. Some wander into the realms of other races in search of trade or adventure. While the first encounters with these beings were wrought in violence and fear, many villages and towns near wyrmblooded settlements have grown accustomed to the dragonkin.

Those are the races that players will be able to play at the start of the campaign, at least for now, the list may change a bit as I get to fleshing out the setting more. Plus, further deatils will be put out the further along I get with this process.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fleshing Out Ideas for my S&W Setting: Races Part 1

I've mentioned a few time the setting that I'm slowly making progress on for S&W. It's using a lot of Basic D&D material, mainly the GAZ series, which to this day I still consider to be some of the best setting material ever put out for any edition of D&D. I'm also adding bits and pieces from other D&D settings like Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and other D20 sources like Iron Kingdoms and Freeport.

Anyway, I've got a few things I'm trying to sort out as far of the history of the world and what races I'm going to allow and what their place in the world will be. This post (and likely the next two after) are going to deal with some really basic ideas behind the races in the world.

Playable Races
Avalonian (Aasimar): The last vestiges of an acient race that ruled the First Kingdom.

Cyclopskin: Civilized brutes that are allies of convenience with Dwarves of Rockhome.

Dwarves: There are two playable races of dwarf: Mountain and Red. Mountain Dwarves are the more common variety that are found throughout the known world.
The Red Dwarves are the descendants of the lost hall of Dhar Korvon, who became shipwrights, sailors, and pirates after being taken in by a fishing village.
Elves: There are two playable varieties of elf: Drow and Wood elves. The Drow are once recently becoming part of the world. Long have they been the enemies of all that stood in their way. Xenophobic and fanatical in their devotion to their spider goddess, a "cataclysm" has sent them scurrying into the light to live among their foes. What this disaster is, is still unknown.
Wood elves are the common elves that seen throughout much of the world. Their primary nation is that of Alfheim, but there are other scattered areas where they hold sway.
Giantkin: These hulking brutes are the offspring of humans and giants. Typically found wherever giants and men come into contact, they are still very rare. Giants see them as weak and readily kill them, while humans see them as a prime example of the cruelty of the giant races. In some areas, where the giant races are not hated invaders, giantkin can find love and acceptance, but these areas are rare.

Gnomes: Gnomes are a short race that look like a curious mixture of dwarf, halfling, and elf. They are an inventive and magically-focused species. They are the chief creators of the airships that can be found traversing the skies, though rarely these days as the world has grown darker.

Goblins: A more maligned and misunderstood race you are not likely to find. Yes, they are brutish, largely uncivilized and have a long history of warring against many of the civilized races of the world alongside orcs, hobgoblins, and various other nefarious characters. Goblins however, are not vicious little monsters, but due to their small size and relative weakness are easily coerced and bullied into serving others. Their natural culture is that of gypsy-like nomads. Contrary to popular opinion, goblins are not a stupid race. They are quite inventive, and well adapted to using the refuse of other cultures to build their machines. Goblins troupes have made strides in dispelling the stereotypes among others in borderland areas, but most kingdoms still see them as a threat to be exterminated.

Next up (hopefully tomorrow): Half-breeds, Halflings, Humans, Minotaurs, Lupins, and maybe a few others.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Day After...

I'm still trying to get caught up on all the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day posts. I think I'm about halfway through them now. There's a lot of great stuff that the community of bloggers put out yesterday. A LOT.

The best part is discovering all whole host of new blogs that I didn't know existed. I added at least 25+ yesterday to my Feedly reading list, which was already pretty long.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Word of Thanks

As I get ready to head home and dive into the veritable bounty of Swords & Wizardry goodness on display today, I want to give my thanks to +Matt Finch, +Erik Tenkar, the crew at +Frog God Games, and everyone else that is pitching in prizes or otherwise helped get the word out for this first (of hopefully many) Swords & Wizardry Appreciation day.

It's likely going to take me a few days to get through all the S&WAD posts, so I've got a lot to look forward to!

Thanks a bunch folks! You all are awesome!

On the Issue of Balance...

Making sure that all characters are essentially balanced with one another has been a consideration from the beginning. If early editions of D&D, this was done through differing Experience Point totals needed to level up along with the rules that casters forgetting spells once they were cast, which added an additional element of resource management to the game and therefore a bit of balancing of such character against Fighters. In later editions, a single XP table was added (with XP bonuses for playing certain race/class combinations), feats and skills were added with different progressions. It gave characters across the board more options for things to do, and the progression of special abilities being different for each class hoped to bring the idea of character balance to true fruition. Arguments on whether or not this class or that race or this feat combination and so forth still raged on just as the arguments on magic-users being the most powerful characters in later level raged in the early days of the game.
This has lead me to come to the conclusion that balance is a myth, or at least a fool’s errand.
Balance is going to come down to the players (DM included). A knowledgeable player can make a seemingly weak character sing while a player that’s not nearly as savvy can take a supposedly over-powered character and have a rough go of just keeping him/her alive. Plus, a DM who isn’t paying attention or worse yet, playing favorites, can greatly skew the game to make some character vastly more useful than others.
That’s not to say that DM’s should just let anything go. They need to be aware of the situations, of PC stats and abilities, and the ability of the players to play those characters. I remember one fight in a Night Below campaign I ran in college where a simple answer on the weather turned what should have been a very difficult battle into a cakewalk because I told a player playing a druid that the weather was drizzling and overcast. That opened the door for the player to cast Call Lightning on the river brigands which allowed the party a far easier victory than they ever would have had. The player knew his spells very well, but a couple other players started talking about either the druid or the spell being far too powerful or both. Now, once the party got into the Underdark portion of the campaign (the vast majority of the mid and upper levels of the campaign) that tune changed dramatically.
When I go about adding classes to a game, I try to keep them all on a relatively even keep power-wise. I don’t crunch a lot of numbers, just eyeball it until I feel I found the right “sweet spot.” In my experience, the lighter the rules, the easier it is to do this. I don’t know if that’s an issue of more of the rules being up to the DM to come up with on the fly, or the mentality of players coming into a game with a more open set of rules keeps their focus more on the game rather than trying to “game the game.” This largely speaks to what I was talking about in an earlier post about more rules not really equaling more enjoyment (in fact quite the opposite, especially if I’m running the game). While arguments over power and balance were/are had when talking about early editions of D&D and their OSR clones and inspired-by games, they don’t appear to be the norm. There are entire sections of many message boards devoted to later editions of D&D and their OGL offspring devoted to crunching the numbers to prove that balance has been destroyed by the addition of a race, or class, or feat, or spell. I find that to be tiresome minutiae that distracts from the real fun of the game: building a collective story, even if that story is as simple as killing things and taking their stuff.
I’ll admit that when I first got into 3rd Edition, I fell wholeheartedly into the balance trap. I had arguments with others in my group and on message boards about the effects on balance of certain aspects of the game(s). Discovering Swords & Wizardry with it’s simple and elegant design inspired by “0E” reminded me how much more fun it is to just play the damn game instead of focusing on making sure everyone’s’ character were on as level surface as possible.
This wall of text is essentially my way of pre-facing (long-windedly, sorry) some of the things I’ve added to S&W that may not seem quite so copacetic to others as I continue to post about my journey with S&W.

Elf Spells

In many games and campaign settings, elves are written to be these magical creatures, but the mechanics often fit more of a ranger than magic-user. As a inspired by Basic D&D where the elf "class" could cast spells, I decided to add in a special spell list that only elves can access. Any elf magic-user can learn any of these spells along with the normal magic-user spell list. A lot of these spells are druidic in nature, which I liked the idea of tying together elven magic with their love and stewardship of nature. Some of these spells are from Basic D&D and other sources, so some conversion may be required for home use.

Elf Spells
Level 1
Command Word
Faerie Fire
Faerie Lights
Locate Animals
Resist Cold

Level 2
Detect Danger
Know Alignment *
Predict Weather
Produce Flame
Purify Food and Water
Resist Fire
Silence, 15’ Radius
Warp Wood

Level 3
Call Lightning
Cure Disease
Cure Light Wounds
Heat Metal
Hold Animal
Obscuring Mist
Protection from Poison
Speak with Animals
Level 4
Animal Growth
Animal Summoning I
Enchanted Weapon
Remove Curse

Level 5
Control Winds
Insect Plague
Neutralize Poison
Plant Door
Protection from Lightning
Temperature Change 10 feet

Level 6
Anti-Animal Shell
Cure Serious Wounds
Pass Plant

Level 7
Create Normal Animals
Teleport Object
Transport Via Plant
Turn Wood

Level 8
Creeping Doom
Transmute Metal to Wood
Wind Walk

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Swords & Wizardry, or How I Fell in Back in Love with Old School

I started playing D&D with the 1981 Moldvay edition of D&D. It was borrowed from a friend's dad. I didn't have a full grasp of the rules or even what the creatures were. (I sent against my brother's heroes a horde of Halflings, for instance.) Until that point, my only "roleplaying" experience was either through video games like The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy, or through the classic dungeon crawler boardgame: Hero Quest. We made up a lot of things as we went along, especially when the game took us in a direction that the rules weren't clear about. At the time, in our feverish young minds, not having a rule set in stone was cause for argument and likely fighting, so it didn't take long to move to my friend's father's version of AD&D 1st edition, which had a lot more rules, and from there onto 2nd edition and to 3rd and so on. Each edition added to the rules base. Sometimes the rules made sense, other times, not so much. It wasn't until shortly after the release of 3.5 that I realized that I wasn't really having any fun. All these rules and special circumstances had become a drag on not only the game, but my desire to play it. Eventually, I wandered away from fantasy gaming in general, heading off to the fertile fields of pulp and sci-fi gaming with lighter systems that fit not only the play-style I preferred but also allowed me to focus less on the prep (prepping even mid-level games in 3.5 was a nightmarish chore) and more on enjoying the game.

Although I had left D&D several times in the past, there's something familiar about fantasy gaming that keeps me coming back. D&D especially draws me in. I've tried running other fantasy systems or multi-genre systems in a fantasy world from GURPS to Savage Worlds, none really drew me in they way that D&D's tried and true class-based system has. However, the thought of running D&D...bleh. Once I discovered the OSR games, I was being drawn in, first on a wave of nostalgia, but then I became entranced by the changes made to the classic games. Still, even though I enjoy Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplay, it wasn't until I found Swords & Wizardry that it really struck home how awesome old school could be.

Swords & Wizardry struck the right chord between the old and the new. Support for Ascending AC first caught my eye. Then I noticed the single save. Even though the rules were based on of the little books from D&D initial beginnings, races and classes were split up. The rules were slim and left many things open to the interpretation of each individual GM. The support of the Tome of Horrors converted for use with Swords & Wizardry didn't hurt in the least either. By the time I finished reading the rules, I was hooked and new this was the fantasy game for me.

Anyone reading this blog should know that I won't leave a system unchanged. Matt Finch even supported the hacking up of the rules by releasing a text version for those of us that want to hack into the game to really make it our own. Excellent! (I've covered some of the changes I've made to S&W in the past here.) I've modified classes from various OSR sources, like Classes of the Far East for Labyrinth Lord, to add to the game. I changed races from having to roll specific benchmarks to simple bonuses and penalties to stats, and expanded the selection. I added in skills like those found in the D&D  Rules Cyclopedia. Elven magic-users have additional spells they can choose spells from in addition to the normal magic-user list (a carry over from Basic D&D, but one that reinforced the supposed Elven tie to magic that never seems to be very evident in the rules). Spells that were easily converted from various Basic, 1st, and 2nd edition sources were added to the lists. I've bloated the rulebook, but didn't add many rules, that's the great thing.

Swords & Wizardry has given me what I've wanted, one that is inspired by the old, but takes mods from the new; a system that's written very much with the idea that the system will be tore into and made into a wholly new beast.

Enough pumping up S&W. My next post will start to outline the setting I'll be working on as a semi-regular feature along with my sci-fi setting and (hopefully) the MSH setting to boot. (Yes, I am that much of a glutton for punishment, and no I really don't have all that much free time.)

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day sale Tomorrow!

The other day I mentioned that Frog God Games is going to have a 25% off sale on S&W products in honor of the first Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. Well, that's tomorrow, but I have the code that you need if you want to take advantage of the sale: SWApprDay.

Plus, if you go to the shop, use this code to get 25% off S&W products (listed in the link below) there: SWAD252013


Sword & Wizardry Appreciation Day Tomorrow

I'm looking forward to Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see all the different things that bloggers all over are using the S&W rules.

I hope to get a chance tonight to really work on what I'm going to post tomorrow. It may very well be a multi-post day as different things come to mind. I'll likley go into further detail of what I've done to make S&W my ultimate version of D&D-style gaming for starters and then we'll see from there.

It promises to be a very interesting day in the blogosphere!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Crumbling Blocks

While I'm still languishing under a bit of writer's block (frustrating as heck), it has been easing somewhat. I'm formulating what my contribution to the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day is going to be. To help get me further into the fantasy mindset, I've been watching Game of Thrones (excellent show, by the way), reading through various D&D books like the Volo's Guide series, the Ravenloft boxed set, and other Forgotten Realms, and Mystara/Known World material. Once I finish the last story in The New Space Opera, I'm going to start reading George RR Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. I've switched into fatnasy mode in video games as well, setting aside the Mass Effect series in lieu of playing Torchlight II and Diablo III.

I'm still in the preliminary stages of planning the world for my S&W games. I know that it will be a sandbox-style game. It's still going to use a lot of elements from classic D&D settings like Mystara, Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and Blackmoor, but it will also have bits tossed in from other settings like Iron Kingdoms, Freeport, Wilderlands, and Scarred Lands. What I'm trying to achieve here is setting up a world with a lot of possibilites and stating off points. As my sons get older, I have hope that they will interested in gaming, and the idea of having a world set up and ready is appealing, largely because we could just jump right in and get started. Time is short now, and I don't expect that to improve much in the years to come, so I'm working on the setting now to be prepared for that time. If nothing else, if even if I end up running the setting for a group of established gamers, I'll still have the setting ready to use.

I'm not going to be ignoring Sci-Fi wholecloth, however. In light of my writer's block, I've been re-evaluating my "perfect" system. I've played through some test combats, and it's really damned deadly. Low level characters have a frighteningly high mortality rate even against "weaker" foes. It doesn't improve much with higher level characters. I don't mind character death, it's part of playing RPG's, but if there's little chance of survival no matter how many precautions the players take, then it saps a lot of the fun of playing. After all, what's the point in devising plots and story hooks, if the characters are going to die so readily and regularly? It's forcing me to look at what I'm doing wrong, and the possibility that maybe another system might even be more to my playstyle's liking. Thankfully, there are plenty of sci-fi games out there that can be used: SWN (which I already have a "just the rules" version written up), Alternity, Rogue Space, Star Frontiers, Traveller (in a mind boggingly array of versions), Hulks and Horrors, Starships and Spacemen, and so forth. I do have to admit that in my house system I fell into the trap of trying to use everything. Trying to cover every possible base and eventuality. While playable, it's still a bloody monster.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Knockspell is Coming Back!

+Matt Finch posted on his blog today that he's going to bring back the excellent OSR magazine, Knockspell! Seriously, this is great news. Knockspell was always a great source of inspiration for my games, be they in Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Rules Cyclopedia, or whatever else.

(Read the post here.)

Another reason to look forward to Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day...

Rachel Ventura from Frog God Games sent out an email yesterday to bloggers that are going to be patricipating in the upcoming Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day with some pretty sweet news:

"Hello bloggers!
First, thank you first for being a fan of Swords & Wizardry! Secondly, your support and participation in the Appreciation Day is very much appreciated. We would like to ask you each to announce to all your readers that we will be offering a 1 day only 25% off Swords & Wizardry sale. The coupon and information is optional to post on your blog of course: Frog God Games ( and Store will be offering a 25% off Swords & Wizardry products.  We will be sending out a coupon code before the event.

Thank you again for participating and a special thank you to Erik for organizing."
So not only will next Wednesday promise a vertiable smorgasbord of S&W goodness, but you can get a discount on any Frog God Games S&W products also!
It's rare that I so brazenly advertize for a company as opposed to just looking at specific products, but Frog God Games has been putting out nothing but gaming gold. Their solid support of S&W (I'm seriously jonesing for the S&W version of Razor Coast) with great material has put them high on my "must watch and will likely buy" list.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Couple Quick Things to Check Out

For those of you who play Mutant Epoch, or are just want a new beast to covert to your favorite system, Outland Arts has put out a free creature supplement here on This free supplement covers the Red Harvesters.

For those of you who play Mass Effect 3's excellent multiplayer scenarios, Bioware has put up a survey covering Multiplayer maps. You can find it here. This survey will only be up for a few days, so if you want to put your 2 cents in do so soon.

S&W Setting Musings

For Sci-Fi, my settings tend to be all-encompassing; anything goes. They way I look at sci-fi is that it's a big galaxy (sometime the scope ranges into the universal spectrum), so a place can be found for just about anything I want to use from any source. In fantasy settings, the same thing can be done, but my mindset is different for fantasy. My problem, however, is that I've got so much material that I would love to use that it's difficult to keep myself focused on a smaller scope. I'm trying to do that with the Mystara hack I'm working on now. (I hesitate even calling this setting Mystara since I'm changing the setting a lot.) Still, even with the idea of D&D iconic places, which is going to increase the size and scope quite a bit, I find myself looking for a place for Green Ronin's Freeport, Sword and Sorcery's Hallowfaust, and other bits and pieces from other company's settings that I think are cool and would like to use. It's part and parcel with having such a large collection of material to draw from. The collector in me buys up anything interesting, the creator in me dreams up of all sorts of ways to apply the new material, but the realist and writer in me sees a mountain of work to bring it all to reality. I'm sure it's a problem that a lot of gamers have, so I'm likely not stating anything that many of us haven't encountered time and time and time again.

One of the ways that I'm going to cut down on the scope is limiting the playable races. I tend to allow players to select a wide array of races. While I'll offer more than standard (much more so), I'm not going to allow a lot of the more "montrous" races like Orcs, Gnolls, and the like. Goblins will still be allowed, but they are going to be more akin to Goblins like those seen in the Iron Kingdoms setting (marginally socially accepted travelers that roam in gypsy-like familial groups). What I'm trying to go for is a sort of a "points of light" style of setting. There are kingdoms and such, and trade between cultures, but travel is dangerous and the wilderness is filled with danger; sort of the Civilized Vs. Uncivilized world in which the uncivilized are winning the war. This will be primarily an exploration and adventure campaign rather than much political intrigue or political hoo-hah in general.

I keep telling myself that one of these days I'll just take a small adventure and build the world from there like I did back when I first started out with the Keep on the Borderlands. Have the setting come to fruition one adventure at a time...then I look at all the books and pdf's in my collection, many of which have never seen use, but are chock full of great ideas and my will to let a setting flow from the adventures naturally falters pretty quickly.

Monday, April 08, 2013

BAH! BAH I say!

I've hit the dreaded writer's block this weekend. It's not a matter of not having anything to say or anything to write about or work on, but a matter of where to start or where to go next. I'm pretty well done with my hack of SWN except for adding in converted material. I've got some ideas for Marvel FASERIP. I'm slowly putting together my idas for my S&W campaign as well. The issue largely is life is getting in the way so much that when I do get time to sit down and write, I'm exhausted and these projects are all large enough that I just can't get engaged. What I really need is a good night's sleep. That would likely help me more than anything.

Hopefully, tonight will be nice and restful, and I'll be able to start writing.

Heads up on this week, though, I've got trainings this week, so it'll likely be a bit sparse around here...especially if this uncreative malaise I'm in sticks around. Hopefully that won't be the case.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Iconic D&D Locations

I'm going to be slipping into fantasy mode for a bit in anticipation for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day on the 17th. This will get me back in the right mindset for the subject matter as well as "flushing the system" a bit. I've been working on either the kitchen sink Sci-Fi setting or the house ruleset that I'm starting to get a little burned out on sci-fi at the moment. That never lasts, though, so fear not I'll be back to sci-fi before you know it!

I talked a bit the other day about building a Swords & Wizardry campaign based on iconic D&D settings. The base of the setting will largely be the Known World, aka Mystara  that was fleshed out in the Basic D&D GAZ series of sourcebooks (along with that of the Savage Coast). I'm thinking of adding the Hollow World into the mix as well, only not as a world-within-a-world but possibly as another continent. There were also be some other changes to add in other bits like Barovia from Ravenloft since Castle Ravenloft is an iconic D&D location. I've got through many of my adventures and made a note of locations that the setting will contain.

Castle Ravenloft/Barovia
Temple of Elemental Evil
White Plume Mountain
Keep on the Borderland
Caves of Chaos
Tomb of Horrors
Castle Greyhawk
Barrier Peaks
Sigil, City of Doors (to tie in any planar bits I may toss in)
Shady Dragon Inn
Palace of the Silver Princess
Lost City of Cynidecia
Castle Caldwell
Castle Amber
Ruins of Undermountain
Palace of the Vampire Queen
Thunderdelve Mountain
Isle of Dread
Xak Tsaroth
Sunless Citadel

There are others and so this list will undoubtedly grow. I'm also sure that I'll miss a few even after my extensive search, so if there are any suggestions, I'm more than open to them.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Board Games

I've mentioned before board games on this blog. Being a father to two young boys (4 and almost 1) has essentially wiped out my RPG playing time these last 4 years. However, board games still allow me to occasionally get together with a group of friends (or stangers if playing at the FLGS), have some fun without the stress of trying to plan for a game. Back in the day, games like Risk ruled the game table, some games spanning days. Really, in my small hometown, the options for boardgames was pretty limited to whatever the local Wal-Mart carried, which even today is a pretty crappy selection of tired old "classics" or the newest game tied to a movie that's usually not worth playing either. I did have a copy of Hero Quest (still have it, and a few of the expansions) and whenever we went to the city, I'd beg my parents to take me to game/comic shops so I could scour the shelves for more games. However, it wasn't until college that I really got to play a wide variety of games (both board games and RPG's). Now, my collection is pretty varied.

In honor of missing International Table Top Day, I sat down last night with my 4 year old and played the new edition of Dungeon. We've been working on his counting and number recognition, so I figured that Dungeon would be the perfect game to continue working on those skills. We've played Dungeon a couple of other times, so he knows the rules (though I do have to remind him of some things occasionally) and it's cool to see him formulating a strategy. He'll hit only a couple level 1 rooms on his way to the level 2 and 3 rooms, knowing that's where the better treasure lies. It's a strategy that's paid off for him in the past, and he was doing pretty well again, until he charged into a fight with a Zombie, rolled far too low, and then ended up Dead. After that point, all he wanted to do was get back to that room and get his treasure back. He did, but in the meantime, I was able to beat enough rooms to win the game shortly thereafter. Still, his counting skills are greatly improved from when we first started playing. He still has some trouble recognizing a written number, but I don't have to tell him if he's rolled good enough or not to beat a monster hardly at all anymore. Dungeon has become my teaching tool of choice. It keeps him engaged, and it's fun for me as well! Plus, he wants to play other games also, so hopefully this love of games will continue as he matures.

That said, here's an impromtu list of some of my favorite boardgames and the reasons why I like them so much.

Warhammer Quest: I bought this on a whim my freshman year of college. It was pretty expensive for a freshman working in the campus library, but it was worth it. Not only is it fun, but it's a psuedo RPG as well. Like a lot of GW games, it's deadly. The highest level I've ever progressed a character to was Battle Level 5 with a Dwarf. The other great thing about WQ is that it's playable solo with plenty of tables and charts to keep the dungeons feeling fresh. A few years ago, I bought a second set. These two boxes are the crown jewels of my collection. I only wish I was able to pick up all the expansions. I'm missing a few of the characters, and the Lair of the Orc Lord box set, which is far too expensive for my budget nowadays.

Hero Quest: My grandmother gave a copy of this to my step-cousin one Christmas. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted it. He didn't have any interest, so I traded him a copy of Bases Loaded for the NES. To this day, I consider that trade the best one I've ever made. I doubt he still has an NES, let alone that copy of Bases Loaded, but my well worn copy of Hero Quest still sits on the shelf. I credit Hero Quest for showing me that there was more to board games than Sorry, Monopoly, and Life, and it (along with The Legend of Zelda) set me on the path that lead me to D&D and other RPG's.

Gears of War: Based on the X-Box 360 series of video games, Gears of War is a cooperative combat game where the Locusts are controlled by directions listed on their cards, allowing the players to play characters and then move the creatures as determined by the "AI" on the card each turn. With this being a Fantasy Flight Games,, the production values are amazing. The rules could use some work, which is also common with FFG games, but after a few rounds it's pretty simple to play. GoW has become my go-to solo game when I just want to get something set up fast and get into a game.

Last Night on Earth: A Flying Frog Productions game, this is a great zombie apocalypse survival game. Not only are the mechanics of the game spot on, but it just oozes atmosphere. Another big plus for this game is that my wife loves playing it as well. She's made it a point to get me the expasions so we have more characters, zombies, and scenarios to play. I still need to pick up the new Blood in the Forest expansion now that I think of it...

A Touch of Evil: Another Flying Frog game. This one revolves around the heroes trying to save an 18th century town from one of a variety of monsters ranging from a Vampire to a Werewolf to a Headless Horseman. Unlike LNoE, which requires a player to play as the zombies, AToE is completely cooperative. Depending on the creature being fought, the characters will have to face a variety of minions and tests as they try to steel themselves for the coming battle. As an extra wrinkle, the town elders may turn on the heroes at the end, making the final fight all the more difficult.

Talisman: Yeah, I said it, Talisman. I've been playing the updated FFG version, but I've played a couple of the GW editions as well. This is a random slog through a world filled with monsters all in the hopes of acquiring enough power to take on the dragon before other players get the chance. I've played some rounds that took hours upon hours to finish. In all honesty, this isn't a very good game, but for some reason I keep coming back to it. There's something here that makes me love it, warts and all.

Pandemic: This is a great resource management game where you play one of four different types of researchers trying to discover cures to different viruses before they spread throughout the world and signal the death of us all. The mechanics are devilishly simple, but the strategy behind it all really makes the game shine. Players really have to work together if they have any hope of keeping the viruses from spreading all over.

There are other games in my collection like Drakon, Fortune and Glory, Forbidden Island, Descent, World of Warcraft, and the three D&D dungeon crawlers that are all great games, but the ones above are those that get reached for more times that not.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Weekend Round-Up

Sadly, due to the holiday weekend, I didn't get to partake in #tabletopday. I had plans to play Dungeon and Candyland with my son, but housework, houseguests, and running around getting in the way. I took some games over to my folks' house yesterday, but it was such a beautiful day that my brothers and I took my oldest son for a walk around the farm. Even though I was bummed that I didn't get to partake in any games this weekend, getting to show my boy the places where I played and grew up when I was his age still made yesterday a good day.

In between watching some March Madness this weekend (I'm still having nightmares about Kevin Ware's broken and playing around with HBOGO (I can finally watch Game of Thrones!!!) I continued to update my "to-do" list of characters that need stats for Marvel Superheroes (FASERIP). Currently, I have 4,382 Heroes, Villains, Alien species, mooks, and Supporting Cast Members statted up from various sources official and not and from various comic companies, other superhero RPG's, and homebrew characters. I have added another 1,945 characters that I would like to stat up so far, and that list is likely to grow. Obviously, I likely won't ever get around to statting up all of those, but as I do work through the list, I'll add mmore appendices to my Titanic Book of Characters series. (The link to those volumes can be found in this post.)

April 17th has been deemed "Swords & Wizardry" Appreciation day. As that day approaches, I'll be posting more about my love of the Swords & Wizardry system, and why it has risen to the top of the retro-inspired pile. Not sure yet what my actual post on the 17th will be about, but I have some ideas.