Friday, September 19, 2014

Surrender the Booty!

Shortly after Gen Con and my last post, I kind of hit a point of physical and mental fatigue.  Progress on most projects stopped.  In fact, just about the only thing I managed to accomplish in the last month is some work on Pirates of Tortuga, my new weekly campaign.  In the last few days, I have started to come out of that malaise with a desire to get back to things.  First the blog here, and then perhaps more ambitious projects.

As Friday, September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and since my current weekly game is also pirate based, it seems only natural to cover that topic.  I collected a number of pirate themed game materials over the years.  Some of them were excellent.  Below are five of the most useful I have found.  Since my current campaign is historically based, I am limiting myself to games set in our own past.  Green Ronin's Freeport, Frog God Games' Razor Coast, and of course my old favorite Alderac Entertainment Group's 7th Sea are all excellent games with pirate themes set elsewhere,  If you need a little more fantasy in your pirate games, I urge you to look to them.  For gaming on the Spanish Main, I present these gems:

GURPS Swashbucklers

This book went through three editions.  This is not
 the last, but it is by far the best cover.
For gamers who cut their teeth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, GURPS sourcebooks were the best place to go to get information about any genre,  Even if you did not like the GURPS system, their books were packed with setting details you could use.  GURPS authors did their research and the content was of superior quality even if their production values were somewhat austere.  One of the best of these sourcebooks was GURPS Swashbucklers by Steffan O'Sullivan.  As the name would suggest, it covers both pirate campaigns and continental European adventuring in the style of The Three Musketeers.  The main entries all contain solid coverage of the main themes of a swashbuckling campaign.  The real gems, as is the case in most of the best GURPS supplements, are the sidebars.  These small one or two paragraph treatments of the esoterica in the genre are where an enterprising GM can find details to make his game really sing.  Likewise, the details in the sidebars are just the right hooks to hang a character concept on.  I do not run many GURPS games any more, but my shelf of GURPS material still gets used in just about whatever game I am running and Swashbucklers shows exactly why.

Campaign Classics: Pirates

How dangerous can he be wearing
pantaloons like that?
Written in 1990 for a game system that nobody I know ever played (or at least talked about playing), Pirates a supplement for Rolemaster/Hero System still merits a mention nearly 25 years later.  This is largely for the same reason I mentioned GURPS Swashbicklers above: it is so full of useful campaign material that it doesn't matter whether you use the system or not.  Pirates is a far more focused sourcebook than its GURPS counterpart.  As a result, it delves deeper into the world of pirates.  The real strengths of the book are twofold.  First is the amount of information it gives about the various locations in the Caribbean.  Later pirate games do this, but no one does it quite as well.  Each entry about an island or town is just a paragraph or two (Except for major locations like Port Royal and Tortuga which are necessarily longer), yet gives a good feel for how to make that location different from the others.  The second strength is the maps. Using a combination of historical maps and more modern cartography, Pirates has the best and most comprehensive maps of any pirate genre role-playing supplement ever.

Skull & Bones

 Skull & Bones  is my favorite of the more modern pirate based games.  A d20 supplement, Skull & Bones adds elements of horror and supernatural to the Spanish Main.  This has some intriguing implications since the work introduces the concept that both voodoo traditions and Christian relics can have power in the Caribbean.  As a student of history, I tend to prefer historical campaigns that do not incorporate the mystical, but I do appreciate what the authors are trying to convey.  Where I find Skull & Bones most useful, however, is in its organization.  Gaming material has undergone a lot of changes since the first two entries were produced, and not always for the better.  One of the real leaps forward between the old school and more modern efforts is in the presentation of material.  Skull & Bones adds considerable new information to the genre, but it really shines at presenting the material in such a way that the game player can easily access it.  A thorough table of contents, index, and logical presentation of material may not seem like that big a deal, but every GM who has ever spent time at the table thumbing through a rule book looking for some obscure rule or table can attest to how useful these things can be.

The Pirate GM's Right Fist


Not as fancy as the other entries, but just as
useful.

If you want to run a pirate game, but you are cheap, then have I got a deal for you.  At a paltry $1.99, The Pirate GM's Righ Fist is just the ticket.  Black Shark Enterprises is a new, independent producer of (thusfar) exclusively generic pirate based gaming materials.  Right Fist was their first entry on DrivethruRPG.  Fourteen pages of tables and a short essay that are worth every penny.  Designed for the GM who is either running a game on the fly or just needs a little inspiration between sessions, the tables cover most of the things that GM could need fast.  Quick random encounters on land and at sea.  What is that merchant ship carrying?  Need a ship name fast?  Where is that ship headed?  Roll some dice and there is the info right at your fingertips.  In general, I am not a fan of the whole random table for a dollar part of the field.  The amount of thought that went into these tables, however, is enough to change that opinion.  Also, the number of interesting details about pirate life that Mark S. Cookman, the author squeezes into the two pages at the end of the supplement make this one of the most useful pirate supplements to be had at any price.  He has advertised a product for ship to ship combat to be released later this year.  I anxiously anticipate it.


 Buccaneers & Bokor, Issue One

Did I mention it is free?
If $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, how does free grab you?  Buccaneers & Bokor was a short lived emagazine in support of Skull & Bones.  They are all still available on DrivethruRPG cheaply.  Each of the issues was worthy of mention and has information useful to the pirate GM.  The first issue, however, has two things going for it that the others do not.  First, it is free.  It is hard to beat free.  Second, it contains a set of tables for random adventure generation that are hard to beat.  Gareth-Michael Skarka has created a system of table that he has adapted in various Adamant Entertainment products across genres.  At their base, they emulate a screenwriters pitch (and frankly Mad Libs) where the tables insert random elements into the following sentence: "The main characters must [DO] [SOMETHING]  at [LOCATION] but have to contend with [COMPLICATIONS] while being confronted by [OPPOSITION]." The sentences when filled in can usually make an interesting plot.  Even without using the sentence structure, looking over the table of random words can get ideas flowing.  It helps that some of his words are not always typical for the genre.  Used this way, they are a bit of a word association brainstorming exercise.  The rest of the issue is worthwhile as well, with a glossary of pirate lingo, a brief adventure, and a mythical pirate island all rounding out the offering.

These are some of the most useful items in my treasure chest.  Got any treasures I missed?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ten Things I Took from Gencon 2014



There was a brief, unannounced hiatus from the blog while I took a week off to attend Gen Con. Last year I posted a note like this on Facebook. I found the notes a useful reference point when planning for this year. It is my hope that these notes will help for future years.

Ten Things I Took from Gencon 2014: 

1. Hotel registration was worse than ever this year. Event registration was marginally better, but only because i didn't try to register until two weeks after it opened. Gen Con seems to pay a lot of lip service to improving these services without ever doing anything that makes them any better. I guess as long as they having increases in attendance every year, they will not do much to change things. The on-site situation, however, was much better. Lines were long at Will Call and in other places, but seemed to move at a much quicker pace. The expansion of the dealer hall also really relived the congestion in the aisles. Even the Saturday crush was better despite the increase in attendance this year. Good job on that. Now just make it so that I can get a room without having a stroke every year. 

2. There are two restaurants in the Mariott. Champions is the one that everyone frequents. I find this puzzling as my two efforts to eat there were filled with microwaved food and at least one attempt to give a friend e. coli. Circle City Bar and Grille on the other hand is delightful. It never seems to be crowded, has always had good food, and tailors the menu to the gamers in attendance. It is sort of like the Ram, only with far better fare and less waiting to be seated. 

3. Gamestation had no booth this year. Their presence at Gen Con has been gradually shrinking for several years. Curiously their website is down as well. I hate to see that. I do not much like their precision dice, but I have always wanted the WKU grads in the gaming business to succeed. 

4. The dealer hall was bigger than ever! The added aisles were very welcome and not just for the eased congestion. The number of small vendors selling cool things was impressive. I purchased several products from the little guys this year. I wonder how many of them would not have even gotten space in the hall without the expansion.
 
5. Last year I declared Paizo/Pathfinder to be the new kings of the Role-playing world. This year they provided evidence that they might not be benevolent dictators. Roping off your entire booth and then making people line up outside the dealer hall for a chance to get in was a complete dick move. Certainly that probably helped with the congestion situation, but those folks standing in line did not get to see anything but a hallway until they got to go to the Paizo booth. That is certainly not the way I want to spend my vacation. 

6. D&D NEXT/5e/V, whatever you want to call it seems to have gleaned some positive buzz. Everyone I came in contact with who encountered it seems to have at least something good to say about it. I cannot tell if that is because people actually like it, or they are just happy that fourth edition is now mercifully put out to pasture. 

7. I heartily recommend finding something to do outside the convention area a couple of times per convention. This year I went on Thursday night to the theater at the Circle Center Mall to see Guardians of the Galaxy (Excellent!). On Friday, I took the six block walk with friends to eat at Shapiro's Deli (also Excellent). These departures from the convention craziness were very welcome. Too much noise and too many people lead to gamer crud and sensory overload. 

8. Food trucks continue to be really spotty. On Wednesday night, I got an excellent Crawfish Po Boy from one truck. On Saturday, my friends waited for 30 minutes or so to place their order and then nearly an hour to get tepid, mediocre food. Aren't food trucks supposed to be fast and convenient? That seems like neither.

9. The Con Bag was a definite upgrade, and a good way for many con-goers to haul their stuff around. I filled mine up with purchases for the ride home. A book bag with a strap is certainly less likely to clog up the trashcans than the plastic jobs they have given out in past years. The coupon book, however, has gotten as dire as the swag did back in the day. There is no coupon to the coupons. Does anyone actually use any of the coupons other than the Crystal Caste free die? 

10. I got to play in a number of RPG sessions this year. Even with one cancellation, I managed to play three sessions of 7th Sea and a game of Desolation with one of the designers. Since I never get to play those games, i was more than happy to paritcipate in each of those sessions.I noticed, however, a couple of problems. First, in two of the four sessions hand waved the final encounter. I paid good money to beat up the bad guys, not have the GM say: "You beat up the bad guys!" Also, I noted a marked amount of house rules going on. That is not a problem per se, but a GM needs to realize that a house rule, even one they have used for years, is likely not going to be familiar to the players coming to a convention game table. I do not need to play the game "as written" necessarily, but if you change something it is on you to realize that it is different than the rules as written, not me. 

The housing debacle and the stressors involved in convention planning made me declare more than once that this would quite possibly be my last Gen Con. It is easy to forget how much fun the con can be once you get there. Then you forget how much of a pain it is to get registered for the con when you start making plans for the next year. I enjoy Gen Con a lot, and this year was a good year indeed. i will have to keep my mind on that when I am pulling my hair out next year while securing a room.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

RPGaDAY Part 2

Yeah.  This is small.  Click it if you actually want to read it.
5) Most Old School RPG Owned.

Unfortunately, I no longer have my Red/Blue Box stuff.  It was lost in my move back from Louisiana.  I still have the AD&D Player's Guide from middle school, though.  It sits on my shelf held together by masking tape and a promise not to touch it any more.  Still, the MOST old School thing I own is something I picked up about fifteen years ago in a bundle of stuff given to me by an old college buddy.  It is the first edition of a (seemingly) unauthorized D&D module from Iron Crown Enterprises from 1980 entitled The Iron Wind.  It truly is Old School, complete with amateur production values, an incomprehensible faux handwriting font, and nothing resembling a plot.  On a positive note, it does have a couple of cool maps.  Also, it seems to have been popular in some circles as it got two reprints over the years.  It is a good reminder, if nothing else, of how far the hobby has come in the last 35 years.   


6) Favorite RPG Never Get to Play

This one is actually pretty tough.  If I include games that I have never gotten to play as a player, but have GM'd, then the list can get long, fast.  I have never gotten to play Legend of the Five Rings, GURPS Autoduel, Dark Consporacy, Dragonfist, Freeport, Atomic Highway...  Of those, I am going to go with Legend of the Five Rings though.  Not just because I have never gotten to play as a player, but also because my gaming group has gradually changed into a group of people that do not seen to be interested in that genre at all.  The chances of getting to play it any time soon seem remote.  I cannot even get a decent Gen Con game because they do not play the first edition, which is the one I like the best. 

7) Most Intellectual RPG Owned

By most standards, most of the hobby would be considered intellectual.  I suppose within the hobby, however, some games tackle more complex issues than others.  Certainly Savage Worlds treads less philosophical ground than say Dogs in the Vinyard.  I think my answer here, however, is going to be GURPS Vehicles.  Any game system for vehicle creation that requires the use of a scientific calculator is probably not only intellectual, but also too intellectual for me.

8) Favorite Character

While the last two were pretty tough, this one is remarkably easy.  I have been the GM for much of my gaming tenure.  As a result, I do not have a ton of PCs to choose from.  In the last few years, I have had several memorable characters:  "Wild" Bill Breckenridge in the GURPS Crimson Sky game, Phil Stonefist from Savage Star Frontiers, and my current Owen Sparks in the SW/Bookhounds of London game.  None of those characters, however, can hold a candle to my old Top Secret/James Bond RPG character Bill Phillips.  Phillips is part spy, part psychopath.  He has the subtlety of the aluminum baseball bat he carries and regularly uses to beat the stuffing out of all who cross him.  Prone to big guns, highly dubious modes of transportation, and hard living, Phillips was my college power fantasy lovingly allowed to wreck his surroundings by a permissive GM.  I would likely hate to have Bill as a PC in a game I ran, but he was a hell of a lot of fun to play.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RPGaDay Compilation part 1

I would make this larger, but the next bigger size totally messes with
the sidebar.  Click to embiggen.

In the game blogging world, this is a bit of a thing.  I like the occasional project like this, but I do not think it is worth the trouble of 31 days of blogs. In order to participate, but not drag it out to a daily exercise, I am going to use posts to cover several entries at a time.  I am already a few days behind, so I guess I should get started!

1) First RPG Played.
I know how excited I was to see this on my birthday.  I
suspect my grandmother had a very different reaction.
 August 24, 1980.  Red box Dungeons and Dragons.  Given to me my my mother on my 12th birthday.  "Played" my first game that day.  It was a bit of a disaster, but of the best variety.  The kind where you can tell something amazing is there, you just do not quite understand what is happening at the time.  I have been trying to wrangle that amazing thing for 30+ years now.

2) First RPG Game Mastered.
I opened the box, drew my first dungeon on the blank map in the book and ran my first game the same afternoon.  My first two players were my seven year old sister and my seventy year old very Baptist grandmother.  They rolled up first level characters and ran into the THREE Medusas I had populated the first room with.  It went about as well as that sounds.

3) First RPG Purchased.
The basic set was good for several months.  At Christmas time, my aunt got me a second copy of the basic set for Christmas which I promptly took and exchanged for an Expert Set.  I was only dimly aware that there was such a thing as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons for a LONG time.  When a guy at my middle school showed up one day with a copy of the Player's Manual, I knew I had to get one.  When he offered to sell me his (well actually his brother's which might be why he was so willing to sell it) for $10,  I jumped at the chance.  That sucker retailed for $15.  In early 1980s money!

4) Most Recent RPG Purchase
I bought a couple of .pdf name generators on DrivethruRPG last week. Those do not really represent much about anything in my current hobby life other than the readily accessible way that online purchases can separate me from my money.  So rather devoting any time to thinking about them, let us look at my last physical purchase.  I just got a copy of Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG through an eBay auction last week.  This is fortuitous because my newly reconstituted mid week game group is going to be starting a Pirate game after Gen Con.  Spanish Main uses the Savage Worlds rules, a favorite of mine.  Our game will be real world bases, though, so we will have to strip out all the references to ghost ships etc.  What remains looks like a good foundation for what I hope to run.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Defining the gamer

I had dinner last night with my best friend.  He is a relatively new gamer, one I brought into the fold. Earlier in the day I had made an indirect criticism of how he named his characters and how it diminished my suspension of disbelief in the games we played together.  I could tell he took the comment to heart when he made an analogy about his time as a football player.

He stated that he understood that his level of commitment to the gaming hobby was not at the same level as mine and others he knew.  His level of commitment made him less of a gamer than others who devoted more time and energy to the hobby.  It was like when he played high school football.  It bothered him at the time when others would say "I am a football player," but what they meant was that sometimes they played catch with their dad or friends on the weekend.  They weren't football players, HE was a football player.

I get where he is coming from there.  Indeed, I have been guilty of this kind of thinking often in my own life and hobbies.  Looking at the situation as he presented it last night, I see the huge flaw in that argument.  Where does that elite sort of thinking end?  Does a college football player get to tell my friend that what he was doing wasn't football because it was only at the high school level?  Does an NFL pro get to disqualify the college player from the ranks of football players because he plays on Saturdays instead of Sundays?  Does a player with a Super Bowl ring get to tell the bench warmer on a last place team that he is not a football player?

The answer, for me at least, is no.  Those guys playing football in their backyard are playing, and enjoying, football.  

The same goes for my friend being a gamer.  Certainly, I will continue to discourage him from naming his characters so flippantly.  But I think the definition of a gamer is: someone who enjoys gaming.  That means the guys who make games for a living.  It also means the game masters who belly up to the table every session and have their beautiful plots and schemes ripped apart by callous players.  It also, also means the players who get together every week, month, once in a blue moon to roll some dice/flip some cards/do rock, paper, scissors to resolve conflicts.  It also, also, ALSO means that poor soul who has dice and cannot find a group.

The only real definition is this: If you want to game, you are a gamer.  

The less time we spend worrying about the definitions, the more time we get to spend gaming.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Test Pages

Last Week's voting was useful.  "Colonies of the White Coast" is the current working title for my project. Actual writing on the project has hit a bit of a standstill, but I am switching to writing a different section of the project in an effort to work around the current impasse.  Working out details of the world, and how the details will be put into print, however, has continued.  The end result may be terrible, but it will not be because I did not put a lot of thought into what I was doing.

As a bit of an inspiration, I thought doing a mock up of a couple of pages might be useful.  The text, of course, is still subject to editing.  Indeed, this may not be what the end product will look like at all, but it is what I think it will look like when I am done.  I have even done a test to see how the pages will convert to .pdf and it looked pretty good for a completely self-taught amateur.  Take a look and tell me what you think.


I think I have enough stock art to limit the
number of pages of unbroken text like
this one.
The Obelisk art: Some artwork copyrighted by Robert Hemminger, used with permission.
The Page Background: Publisher's Choice Quality Stock Art copyright Rick Hershey/Fat Goblin Games 
www.fatgoblingames.com
 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Play Test

So far in July, I have run three play test sessions of my work-in-progress fantasy campaign.  Things have gone pretty well.  As I am writing the world, I am making it system-less, but when I run the game we are playing Savage Worlds.  I am trying very hard not to think too hard about game mechanics, but when I do I try to relate game concepts into SW Edges, Hindrances, Powers, and Skills.  Most of the concepts should easily transfer to other systems without too much heavy lifting.  I will, of course, leave that up to anyone else who ever runs a session of it, should that ever occur.

Each session has had three players, but not always the same three.  I have been fortunate, so far, in that I have had players almost no gaming experience and those with decades of table play under their belt sitting down for these sessions.  It is good to get both perspectives, and something each player has done has provided useful feedback, even it the player did not know it at the time.

One of the best results of this endeavor, however, was to see my wife dust off her dice bag and play in two of the sessions.  Gaming was the first interest my wife and I had in common, so it was a bit of a downer when she decided to quit playing a few years ago.  Her primary reason for quitting stemmed from our central game group's heavy concentration on the political intrigue inherent in Legend of the Five Rings.  L5R (at least the first edition of it) is a great game, but what interested most of my players at the time was not my wife's cup of tea.

I was admittedly a bit surprised when she accepted my offer to play in the first playtest session.  I probably shouldn't have been.  She has been very indulgent of my hobby over the last twenty years even when she was not a player, and I presume that she was humoring me.  When she began pouring over the playtest characters and latched on to the goblin rogue, though, it looked like she had an actual interest in the character.

As it turned out, this character is one of her most memorable.  In a four hour playtest, she managed to instill  more personality into Reggie the goblin than any of her previous characters.  Reggie was an enthusiastic, if not altogether successful thief.  More importantly, my wife seemed to really enjoy playing her.  Enough that when I started working out the second play test session, she was eager to play again. In the second session, we learned that Reggie was deadly with a crossbow, loyal to her friends,  and whisper quiet when left to her own devices.  Of all her positive characteristics, however, my favorite is that Reggie might just be the right goblin for the job of getting my wife back to the table again.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Give it a Name

I have been working diligently on my new game world.  In the last week or so there have been two play test sessions of some of the material that went pretty well.  Another session is on tap for Wednesday, one in which the players will get to explore some of the largest city.  Writing ceased for most of the past week while I was on vacation, but there was a lot of brainstorming done, which should translate to written work in the coming week or so.

While I was off, however, I did encounter a bit of a stumbling block.  I have been calling the whole project "The Colonies" which is both simple and explanatory.  Unfortunately, it is also a bit generic and I am afraid it is a tad dull.  Also, there is a bit of a problem.  Unbeknownst to me when I came up with the original name, Fat Goblin Games has a series of products as part of their line called the "Shadows over Vathak: Colonies."  A quick perusal of the previews of their stuff on DriveThruRPG indicates to me that there is no real similarity of content.  Under ordinary circumstances, I would not really worry much about this. EXCEPT. Fat Goblin Games has also produced a number of the publishing products I will be using in my project including the cover base, the page backgrounds, and some of the interior stock art.

Since they put out fine products that I like, I am thinking it might be a good idea to change my project's name to be more distinctive.  To that end, I am considering naming the entire project for one of the central geographic features of the new land.  When the humans reach the new land, they land on a long stretch of beach they dub Costa do Branco:  the White Coast.   It is the white coast they return to in their first colonization efforts.  A quick search of that term also seems to indicate that no one has used it as a project title yet.  It seems to still be simple, if not quite as explanatory.  Also, Costa Blanca is a real place in Spain that has some inspiring architecture:  fully in keeping with the spirit of this project.

There is a poll feature that Blogspot seems to allow.  It should be over there ---->.  Vote and tell me which you prefer.  If you do not like either one, comment below and tell me what you think I should do instead.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem



The Long View.  I did the best I could to
 get it all in.  I was standing in a  closet
 to get this.
I have been a roleplaying gamer for a long time.  Over the years, I have accumulated a considerable collection.  In 2012, I bought five(!) bookshelves to put it on.  The thing about RPGs, however, is that they are heavy.  Ridiculously heavy.  Break the bookshelves level of heavy.  After unfortunately multiple collapses, two of which dumped the contents onto me and one that I thought for a moment might have buried one of the cats, it seemed like time to obtain something sturdier.

Three of the bookshelves survived the crushing weight and the best two now house my actual book collection (right there on the left).  The three new shelves are industrial plastic shelving units rated to hold nearly 900 pounds each.











 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

This Post is Cancelled

I planned to post about something different today.  In fact, I already had two paragraphs written and was churning right along.  Then I got a call.  Yet another call.  Yet another in a long line of calls.  Yet another in a long line of calls cancelling my game.  A game that has been cancelled more times this year than it has been played.  Suddenly, I do not much feel like creating content for others at the moment.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Five Free RPG Systems on Drivethru RPG

This week I have done a lot of the mental lifting on my project: The Colonies.  Thus far a rough draft of the first chapter, written last week, was polished up a bit.  The first half of the second chapter, which I anticipate to be the longest, has been put to paper as well.  In all a little over 8000 words so far.  My original goal was about 30 to 35 thousand words.  After seeing how quickly I blew past the 25% mark, and how much more I think I have to do, that number seems small.  Looking at the how long it took me to get to this point, however, I figure it will take me until the end of August to finish the first draft.  Then to editing and layout etc.  This is turning into a much longer project than I had first imagined.

Also, thinking about the project has left me less time to think about what I am going to write here.  I would rather not post than post some inanity just to keep up with a deadline.  So, if I cannot write anything about the hobby that is thoughtful each time out, at least maybe I can post something useful.   And so, I present the following:

DrivethruRPG has a ton of roleplaying material for sale.  Some of it is wonderful, some of it is crap.  Most people reading this probably already know this by now.  What you might not know, though, is that they also have a TON of free stuff there as well.  Much of that is not all that great either.  Some of the free stuff is really good though and here are a few of the ones that I think are most worthy of spreading the word about.  This is likely to be the first part of a series of entries.  Today, I will be focusing on complete RPG game rulebooks.  Later entries may cover things like free minis, adventures, etc.  My criteria here specifically excludes Quick Start rules systems, Kickstarter previews, and scaled down "basic" rules systems.  Some of those are good too, but what I want to focus on are games you can download and use without thinking: "Now I have to buy something else!"

Atomic Highway: There are a lot of post-apocalyptic RPGs out there.  Despite being free, I consider this one to be one of the best.  Certainly, it is one of my favorites.  It was not a free product when it was originally released, but the author decided a few years ago that he had made all the money he was likely to make on it and made the PDF free for everyone else.  It is not a complex game, and does have some simplicity in the rules (especially for ammunition) that might drive some players to distraction.  It make up for these things by packing a lot of cool ideas into a compact package and telling the GM: "Here is what we have for you, take it and run with it!"  My favorite part are the scavenging tables.  Much of the stuff on the list is just junk, but it is creative and interesting junk.  I want my players to find old 8-track tapes and then figure out a use for them.


Swords & Wizardry: For the old school D&D Fans, here is one of the better first edition clones on the market.  Like Atomic Highway, the complete edition of S&W was not originally a free product.  The folks at Frog God games, however, made releasing this edition for free a stretch goal in one of their successful kickstarters.  Frog God products are usually of very high quality, but at a wallet busting price point (e. g. Razor Coast).  Swords & Wizardry gives you the high quality without the second mortgage. Plus, it gives you some funky Erol Otus cover art for that extra nostalgia kick.


Stars Without Numbers:  This one violates my "no scaled down" versions a bit, but only back handedly.  This edition came out and was the complete game and then the author expanded it for the current for sale product.  Even without the expanded material, however, this is a complete game.  And a damn fine one at that.  In fact, it is probably the best game I will mention here today.  This one takes old school rules, adds some intuitive skill systems, and throws in a unique sci-fi setting.  Then it pitches the whole concoction into a blender and turns the setting to "atomize."  It is mind boggling how good the final result is.  Gameplay feels old school and new school at the same time.  What is more, his creation of a system for creating content for the game is innovative and amazingly effective.  For the GMs out there:  if you take nothing else from this post download this and look at the "World Tags" section.  This is truly useful stuff for thinking about how to world build.

D6 System: This is recommendation is a bit different than the others because it is a series of books instead of a single product.  You will note that most of the stuff on the link page is free.  All of the free products are worth your time.  Once upon a time there was a company called West End Games.  They made a several  very influential games: Paranoia, the first Star Wars RPG, and TORG.  Later they made a bunch of other games, some of them good, some of them not-so-good.  Then they lost some of their high profile licences, ran into financial problems and sold out.  They new buyer seems to have been a poor businessman and the various remaining properties were sold off piecemeal to other companies.  The core d6 system that was so central to many of their successes was turned into an open source project and the d6 books were released as free product.  They seem a bit dated now, but in the right hands they can be a very useful system.  And the price cannot be beat.

CJ Carella's Witchcraft: This last one is a bit of a stretch.  Not because I do not think it is a good game, but because I only have anecdotal evidence about it.  Fact: CJ Carella has written a number of things that I have really liked over the years including three of my favorite GURPS works (Martial Arts, Imperial Rome. and War against the Chtorr). Fact: Witchcraft uses the Unisystem, the game system also used by All Flesh Must Be Eaten and Terra Primate.  Two games that I own and am fond of.  Fact:  This game got a lot of good press when it came out originally.  Fact:  I am generally uninterested in this type of game but I know that some of my readers like it and others might.  Opinion:  It is a complete and free game, so given the facts presented above, if you like this sort of genre, what do you have to lose?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Making Room for the Next Hero

If you will indulge me for a moment (and I presume since you have taken the time to come here and read the words I am writing that you are predisposed to do so), I am going to mix my interests for just a moment.  Sunday night BJ Penn, an MMA legend, lost what most consider to be his last fight.  In the post fight press conference Penn, rather emotionally, announced his retirement.  Now, Penn has retired before, so certainly he may rethink this decision in the next few days and months.  Somehow, however, this retirement seems different.  It seems like maybe he means it.

Penn V Edgar 3.  These men spent 64 minutes and 14 seconds
doing this to one another.
I was not a big Penn fan over the years.  Too often, it seemed, he was fighting a guy that I considered one of MY GUYS.  In fact, that was the case Sunday.  Penn's opponent was Frankie Edgar, an accomplished fighter in his own right.  Edgar is the kind of fighter I usually get behind, not flashy, usually quiet and respectful, and one who goes into fights with heart and determination that may or may not be backed up by the necessary skill to defeat the fighter on the other side of the cage.

While I might not have been the biggest Penn supporter over the years, his presence in the sport is undeniable.  His was a persona writ large all over the sport of mixed martial arts for most of the last fifteen years.  His name was so ubiquitous that even my wife, who politely nods and feigns interest when I talk about the sport, could point him out in a crowd and stopped reading to watch his fights when he came on.  Even though I was never a huge fan of his, I was always ready to watch him fight. His record, like many of the old guard fighters is a mundane looking 16-10-2, but those are just numbers.  A deeper look at his opponent list is a veritable Who's Who of other important names in the sport.  Virtually every one of his fights was an EVENT.

Mmm.  Tastes like chicken.
His personality was just as large as his fights.  He would fight anyone, at any weight.  Sunday's fight was contested at the bantamweight limit of 145 pounds.  Penn held UFC World Titles as 170 and 155 pounds, but was unafraid of stepping up.  In Japan he once fought Lyoto Machida in an openweight fight.  Machida, a former UFC World Champion at 205 lbs. weighed in that night at 224, while Penn weighed 191.  That thirty-three pound weight differential was insane especially for a fighter who normally competed at 170!  But Penn did it and held his own with the very dangerous Machida all the way to a decision.  He was never one for truly over the top antics or smack talk, but he did do some crazy things.  Like lick the blood of his opponents from his gloves.  Repeatedly.  I once cribbed this maneuver for a PC without even realizing I was channeling Penn until after the fact.

What does this have to do with gaming?  Well, Penn's career reminds me a lot of a role-playing character's.  Especially a beloved character, one who has progressed through a truly amazing campaign.  Penn career was one of awesome battles with truly worthy opponents, much like a PC.  Unlike a PC, however, Penn's abilities began to deteriorate with age.  Penn's last seven fights consisted of one win, one (dubiously judged) draw, and five losses.  While some role-playing games have some makeshift rules for character stats slipping as they age, does anyone ever really use them?  As a result, a player character could conceivably go on forever, or until the GM finally runs the encounter that kills 'em.

Neither of those things seems like a truly fitting end for a legendary character.  I have made variations of this point before both in conversation and even with the Wagon Train analogy in an earlier post. Still, I think it is important enough to consider again.  Even the most beloved player character comes to a point where there are only one of two above scenarios that can play out.  Either the GM cannot create a situation to challenge the PC, or the GM creates the situation that kills the (beloved, remember the beloved part) character.

Or, like Penn, the beloved legendary PC can retire.  In both the cage and at the game table, that retirement makes room, potentially, for the next legend to stake his claim.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The "Lost" Star Trek Campaign Pitch

This is normally the time of week when I would make a "Colony" post.  Those who interact with me personally know, however, that I have decided to turn that into an actual PDF book.  Writing on that has proceeded apace.  I should have the first chapter done by the end of the week.  That has left me little time to think of something interesting to post. 

One of the original goals of this blog was to present campaign pitches for potential future games in my game group.  The whole first month of posts was dedicated to that concept.  Below is a pitch I made to the weekly group that did not quite make the cut at the time, but I think still has potential.  It did not make it into the first month of campaign pitches either, mostly because I ran out of days before I ran out of ideas.  I don't have a lot of preamble to this one.  Everyone knows what Star Trek is.  And so I present to you...

Star Fleet Academy Blues (Star Trek RPG)

The game will begin with the characters’ entry into Star Fleet Academy, follow their careers through four years of classwork/adventures, and finish with the player’s first assignment, the Graduation Exercise, which will determine their future Star Fleet Career, if they can complete the exercise with their lives.
Extra Character Points for the first PC to blast that smirk
off Riker's face.  With a phaser.  Locked on the KILL
setting.
This game will consist of five distinct story arcs.  The first four will be three to four week stories each detailing the unusual occurrences the cadets undergo in their Academy career, one for each year at academy.  The last story arc will be slightly longer, and at the end of the Graduation Exercises (and the game), the PCs will be split up and assigned to their first true Star Fleet deployments.

Because this game is so episodic, it allows for a really wide variety of adventures.  While past events will have ramifications in the future episodes, the time that passes between episodes allows for the PCs to move from one story to the other easily.  Also, since Star Fleet Academy is about exposing cadets to a wide variety of experiences, that variety will translate to the adventures they become involved in.

This game may draw from the Star Fleet Academy box set by Last Unicorn Games, but some of my players may have already played through that material, so it will be mostly used for background and not for the adventures contained therein.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ode to a Fat Bandit

I bought my first paper miniatures back in 1986 or so, but I never really used them in at the table much until I started playing Savage Worlds a few years ago.  I had a player who really benefited from the ability to see the relationships (and especially distances) between characters that miniatures provided.  That it took me 30+  years of gaming to determine that this was a good idea probably speaks volumes about my lunkheadedness.  <--- That is a word right?  The minis were part of a series by Steve Jackson Games called Cardboard Heroes.  The originals are long out of print, but you can buy them in PDF form from their web store. The first sets were fantasy based, but they expanded over time to include some Autoduel minis, Science Fiction, and eventually a couple of Horror based sets packaged with some floor plan maps in the late 90s/early 00s.  In the modern age there are a number of companies that make paper miniatures both in PDF and as print products.  Some of them are quite good.  In my old man's heart, however, the Cardboard Heroes will likely always be my favorites.

While I did not use those first miniatures at the table, they did become part of my gaming experience in another way.  The art on many of those first miniatures was inspiring.  These little dudes (and dudettes) were less than two inches tall, but they were incredible line drawings.  They had real personality.  What is more, they were much more detailed than the crummy lead miniatures of the day and  a load less expensive.  The Cardboard Heroes were so detailed that I found myself using the miniatures as models to create NPCs in the fantasy games I ran.  I found myself even creating adventures specifically to include the creations these minis inspired.

Size isn't everything.
  This guy looks awesome
when he is 2" Tall.
My favorite of the original Cardboard Heroes was named Fat Brigand by the company.  With great affection, I dubbed him Fat Bandit (for versatility dontchaknow?) and he became a regular fixture in my fantasy games. Looking back on things, I don't wonder if bandits didn't become one of my favorite It's-ok-for-the-players-to-just-kill-these-guys enemies because I got to include Fat Bandit in the ranks of the enemy.  Fat Bandit was so much more than... er a fat bandit to me.  He has been a pirate captain,  a travelling merchant with an attitude, urban criminal overlord, and more.  Other minis in the series provided the same sort of NPC inspiration.  Only rarely, back in the day did I ever get to play as other than the GM, but at least once I created a PC based on one of the Cardboard Heroes as well.

When I went on my no-fantasy hiatus, this practice of minis as NPC generator fell a bit to the wayside.  When I started running traditional fantasy again a few years ago, I found that paper minis were far more available than in the good old days.  I have purchased a bunch of those, both fantasy and modern, since I started using miniatures at the table.  I have even found a way to make some of my own which has been a great addition to the game.   If there is any interest in my process for that, sound off and I might make it a future blog entry. Even with all the other options, however, the Cardboard Heroes still figure prominently in the mix whenever I run a fantasy game.

Remember that lunkheadedness I mentioned before?  It was only as I wrote this that I considered the notion of creating a PC for Fat Bandit.  Now if I can find a fantasy game to play him in...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Races in the Colonies Part Two

The last time we visited The Colonies, we took a look at three of the six major races.  Today, we will look at the remaining three.  The races described in the first entry were, more or less, cosmopolitan in nature.  The three today, while having complex social structures in their own right, are much less urbane.  These races reside on the rougher edges of The Continent.  Rare individuals may represent these races in the settlements of The Colonies, but for the most part, these races keep to themselves.

The most populous of the three races are the Orcs.  These fearsome looking individuals live in small, extended family units scattered throughout the continent.  Orcs are capable warriors when the occasion calls for violence, but their primary existence consists of subsistence farming and occasional hunting and fishing. Many Orcs are talented craftsmen, especially in woodcraft.  Some Orc tribes located near forests have even taken on the relatively new occupation of lumber production.  Of the three races, they are the most likely to come into contact with Colonials, as the more outgoing Orcs trade their handcrafts, lumber, and surplus produce for metal tools, seafood, and more exotic goods. Orc tribes, on the whole, respect the delicate balance of nature and strive to use the land without abusing it.   Their balance is ill understood by most of the other races.  The Elves claim all interior lands, but especially forests, for themselves and resent even the modest intrusions of the tribes.  The Colonials look at the talents the Orcs possess and wonder why they do not do more to exploit the abundant natural resources of the Continent.  For their part, the Orcs seem content with their lifestyle.

The Elves profess to be the original inhabitants of the Continent, and are violently opposed to the incursions of the other races into "their" lands.  The Elves spent much of their long history warring with the other races of the continent.  For most of the other inhabitants, survival against the continuous attacks of the Elves has been the ultimate goal.  The Elves proclaim that each of the other races are invaders who do not respect the natural order.  It seems to the other races, however, that Elves are simply incapable of not hating anyone who is not an Elf.  The Elves are especially protective of the forests where they make their homes.  Little is known about the structure of Elven settlements, as no non-Elf has ever seen one and returned from the forests.  At least no one who will speak on the matter.  The exceedingly few Elves who have ever come to The Colonies will speak of their homeland either.  For all their protestations about the other races misuse of the land, it is rare to see an Elven warrior who is not wearing weapons and armor stolen on a previous raid.

While the Elves proclaim they are the first sentients to inhabit the Continent, the Reptilian Elders remember when the first Elves arrived, and so know the truth of the matter.  Of the major races, the Reptilians are by far the least populous.  There are perhaps only a few hundred of them left on the Continent.  Indeed, they are a dying race, and they are aware of this fact.  The Reptilians have a very low birthrate, offset only somewhat by the fact that they are extremely long lived. All but the youngest have lived on the Continent for millennia.  No Reptilian can recall any other member of their race ever dying of disease or old age.  They are not immortal, however, as evidenced by the great number of them slain by the Elves over they years. Most Reptilians live their lives as either as solitary individuals or in the occasional pair bond, scattered throughout the Continent.  They congregate only with the greatest infrequency.  On those rare occasions when one of the females lays a viable egg, the nearby Reptilians flock to the area until the new child hatches.  The Elves watch for these congregations, in the hope that they can destroy the new life.  Only on the rarest of occasions will a Reptilian ever be seen in a settlement of one of the other races.  With their race slowly becoming extinct, one would think the Reptilians would not have much to offer the other races of the Continent.  What the Reptilians do have, however, is a prodigious memory.  They remember everything that has ever happened on the Continent.  They remember those who inhabited the land before the Elves came.  They know where the ruins of that civilization lie.  And they know how to fight them should they ever return...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five Internet Resources for Your RPG Game

Life has intruded on my blog creation opportunities this week.  An unplanned trip out of town has forced me to be a little more resourceful in carving out the time necessary to commit something to pixels.  As a result, the amount of new creative material that I could produce was sparse.  Still, I wanted to provide something of value to my readers even if it could not originate from my own creativity.  In today's post, I have decided to present five of the many cool game related websites I have found over the years.  Some of these may be familiar, others, I hope, are a surprise.  Many of them pertain to running games in the various editions of the all-time best selling RPG, but the information can be easily translated into your system of choice.

First up is, Meatshields!, a very quick henchman generator for OD&D.  This simple little program takes the size of the town and produces a list of available henchmen for hire.  Some of them are pretty worthless, even to bear your torch.  Others have more than a bit of training to recommend them.  The best part of the generator, however, is the equipment and personality that it attaches to each potential sidekick.  Rather than a nameless man-at-arms, I could get someone like Gar, a human man-at-arms who has some of his own gear, is a former gravedigger with a hatred of Goblins and 4 ounces of Wolfsbane in his backpack.  Now that is an NPC who could make an interesting addition to the party!

There are a number of online dice rollers out there.  By far my favorite is the Hamete Virtual Dice Roller.  This powerful little application allows you to chose what type of dice you need, and even allows for exploding dice.  In  addition, it provides a way to email the results to other players, very useful for online gaming.  I really to use this program when I am using random tables while doing adventure creation.  Sometimes breaking out the real dice is just inconvenient.  At those times, this program really fills the bill.

Speaking of Random Generators, one of my favorites can be found here.  The Donjon is packed with useful tools.   Name generators, random adventure generators, a pretty good dungeon creator and ton of additional valuable tools, including a number for non-fantasy games.

Not all of the best sites are random generators though.  S. John Ross was at one time one of the best writers working for Steve Jackson Games.  They parted ways somewhat less than amicably several years ago and he began putting most of his creative efforts into The Blue Room.  Ross is a bit of an eclectic sort, and provides a wide array of usually useful, but always interesting content.  Of especial interest are his Big List of RPG Plots, big stories that a GM can add his own details to in order to create detailed and compelling games.  Also of note is his article on Medieval Demographics, which provides a useful way to create realistic fantasy kingdoms.  I plan on using his figures from this essay to formulate the population centers for The Colonies.

Finally, I am going to mention a site that I have plugged to my friends on Facebook before.  Still, it is really useful and deserves another mention.  Recently, I have become a big fan of paper miniatures.  In this, I am fortunately not alone.  One web citizen has created a huge resource of art for paper miniatures across genres from Fantasy to Super Heroes.  7 Wonders is truly massive with THOUSANDS of minis ready to download.

Hopefully you will find some of these useful.  If you can think of a site that I might be interested in, be sure to drop me a note in the comments below.



Thursday, June 19, 2014

Races in the Colonies Part One

I have given a lot of thought to the intelligent creatures of The Colonies.  The twin influences of J.R.R. Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons on the fantasy genre in our hobby have made certain races default in many fantasy games.  Certainly there are plenty of exceptions to this, but I have seen a great number of "systemless" systems that contained the standard races and even included the relatively recent additions of Tieflings and Dragon Men.  Still, the traditional fantasy races are ubiquitous because they allow the players an immediate familiarity with the world. One of the most jarring experiences I have ever had was trying to read a fantasy game in the past where the races were so alien that I had trouble imagining them in the world the author was trying to create.  A middle ground is in order then.  

Nasty Hobbitses! We hates them.
No wait.  Hobbitses are cool. Nasty
Gnomeses!  Yeah, that's the ticket!
The first thing to do is to determine which traditional fantasy races are not a part of The Colonies.  There are no hobbits  halflings in the world of The Colonies.  I have nothing against halflings.  In fact, some of my most beloved NPCs over the years have had furry feet.  Halflings, however, are the most tangible link to Middle Earth, and I am trying to distance this fantasy realm from that source material.  I have no such love for Gnomes.  Gnomes suck.  Gnomes are the Aquaman of the standard fantasy races.  No Gnomes in The Colonies.  No Tieflings or Dragon Men either.  Tieflings have always struck me as a bolt on race for players that want to be "cool" and "evil" without actually being evil. Or cool for that matter.  And Dragon Men, well... there is a reason that there are no Dragon Men that will be revealed in time.  A final change will round out the exclusions:  The various races are not interfertile.  No Half-Elves or Half-Orcs running about.

Of the traditional fantasy races, that leaves Humans, Elves, and Dwarves.  Not a bad start.  In fact, a pretty diverse game could be made from these three races alone. To make them somewhat less than the standard fantasy fare, however, I am going to put a substantial twist onto each of them.  Humans are the baseline race and will have several sub-categories that will be the subject of a later post.  Dwarves and Elves are instantly recognizable.  Their roles in The Colonies are going to be very different than most fantasy worlds.  

There are six sentient races of consequence in The Colonies.  It is important to note more than six sentient races are present, but only these six races possess the numbers and resources necessary to make a significant impact on the land.  Other sentients include both adjunct races (Ogres that live among the orcs, and the Goblin's meaner cousins the Hobgoblins) and smaller tribes of barely organized creatures (the Gnolls of the Thesalian Plains).  The intelligence of some monstrous entities in The Colonies is suspected by certain scholars, but rejected by most of the populace.

The most prolific race in The Colonies is the humans.  The human population stems from two sources:  the descendants of the small indigenous population that lived in small tribal units on the continent before the arrival of the Old World castaways, and the much larger number of immigrants that have come from the old world since.  The immigrant contingent is further divided to a certain extent by their Old World nationality.  These divisions, while often quite serious in their native lands, have largely gone by the wayside in the The Colonies.  The prejudices of color, culture, and nationality that pervaded the Old World were significantly trivialized when the humans immigrants came into contact with the other races in their new home.  Indeed, one of the few real divisions that remain in the human population is between first generation immigrants and humans of Old World stock who were born in The Colonies.  The newcomers do not understand how old rivalries can be so easily cast aside.  The Colony natives do not understand how their society can survive if humans of all stripes do not work together.

The Dwarves were not the first natives of the continent to encounter the humans, but they share, by far, the closest ties with the newcomers.  The Dwarves of The Colonies spent most of the century before the coming of the Old Worlders in a disastrous war with the Elves.  The war went so poorly, in fact, that the Dwarves were driven from their underground homes by an Elven ritual curse.  To this day, any Dwarf who tries to enter one of their former homes or mines falls incapacitatingly ill.  Worse,  many of their former homes have been infested by giant ant-like creatures.  As a result, the Dwarves have reluctantly resorted to surface dwelling.  They still practice their mining and metalworking crafts by open pit mining.  This scarring of the land ensures the continual enmity of the Elves.  When the human immigrants began coming to The Colonies, the Dwarves quickly began crafting tools and weapons for the newcomers and traded these superior wares for a protective alliance.  Today, humans and Dwarves live together if not in complete harmony, at least in a series of relationships that benefit both races.

 When the castaways arrived in the continent, it was a Goblin tribe that welcomed them.  Lack of communication and misunderstanding almost led to violence in this first encounter.  The intervention of the Goblin magician and scholar Tovak (and a spell which allowed him to speak with the newcomers) prevented bloodshed.  The Goblins initially sheltered the humans, introduced them to representatives of most of the other races of the continent, and provided whatever assistance they could in the repair of the merchant ship.  All the while, they watched the humans and learned from them.  By the time the merchant vessel was repaired, the Goblins had learned enough about ship building to create their own.  This is the Goblin way.  They Goblins of The Colonies are the most adaptable race on the continent.  Their scholars can learn virtually any subject.  Their warriors can learn any tactic.  Their workers, any task.  The Goblins watch, learn, and adapt. Frequently, they combine their adaptability to surpass the craftsmen and scholars that they have learned from, a trait that made most of the other races treat the Goblins with suspicion.  There is only one thing preventing the Goblins from becoming the dominant race of The Colonies: they are extremely fragile.  Goblins are very susceptible to disease, and their slight frames are ill suited to the rough nature of life on the continent.  The life expectancy of a Goblin is only 30 years.  It is not uncommon for the best and brightest Goblins to perish just as they are about to complete their greatest accomplishment.  This is so common, that most Goblins of ability attract a number of apprentices, both to assist them in their work and to carry it on when the inevitable disaster strikes.  

This post is becoming a bit long.  In the interest of not losing too many readers with verbal bloat, I think  it best to break this up into two posts.  In the next entry in this series, we will take a look at the remaining three major races of The Colonies: the xenophobic elves, the crafty, tribal Orcs, and the venerable Reptilians.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Giving the New World the Hook

In the making of a new fantasy world, I am using advice from a lot of different sources.  There is plenty to learn from those who have taken this journey ahead of me.  As I make reveal the different aspects of this project, I will be highlighting some of those resources for the other world builders in the audience.  The first product I want to highlight is brand new.  In fact, it came out (how very serendipitous) the afternoon after my last post. Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding is 200+ pages of useful, creative advice for a mere $4.  A quick look at the free preview indicated that this guy had given a lot of thought to the process of building a game world, including a number of organizational aspects that I had not considered.  Since the price seemed exceedingly reasonable, I took a chance on it.  While I have not read it in its entirety, what I have read is quite insightful.

As a result, this first post about my new world will NOT be about the races.  That post will be my second of the week, which was when I intended to present it.  Taking a cue from Jester David, this post will present a bit of information about the game world that will inform the subsequent entries.  It is my hope that this entry provides context for all the others.  According to the How-To Guide, every new campaign world needs a unique hook.  Something that makes the game world interesting and a place where the players will want to have adventures.  The author poses a question that I find it hard to disagree with:  If a new fantasy game world isn't unique in some way, then why would it not be more useful to use one of the many existing game worlds that have been published over the years?

I agree with this assessment.  Indeed, I had already determined what the unique elements of my world were before reading his book.  Where the author has changed my mind is in the presentation of some of those elements.  I had planned to unveil the hook slowly as I revealed the world through blog posts.  In order to gain initial interest in the project, Jester David has convinced me of the importance of revealing some of the bigger elements of the game world up front.  Being too cryptic about things and, in this venue, stringing the nuggets of knowledge out over too great an amount of time would only kill any player interest in the project.  A basic knowledge of what is going on in the world will (hopefully) help generate interest among potential players.


The Colonies.  

A little over  a century ago, a merchant ship was cast well off course by a storm.  When the crew finally found land after several weeks adrift, it was not any land with which they were familiar.  Indeed, as the crew explored their surroundings, they became certain that they had discovered a previously uncharted land.  The coast was rife with old growth forests, timber that would have been exploited long ago in their own lands.  This was but the first of many surprises in store for the castaways.

The sentient denizens of the old world were entirely human.  The first contact that the sailors had with the local population were assuredly not.  In fact, in the year that the sailors lived in the new land, they encountered five non-human civilizations.  Some of the natives were friendly, others wary, and one race was entirely hostile.  The friendly natives took the castaways in, taught the crew how to survive in the rugged, untamed land, and used powerful magic to repair their ship and give them the means to find their way home.

A little over a year and a half after their ordeal began, the surviving crew of the merchant vessel finally came to port in the Old World.  Most of them were happy just to be home.  One of them, a  merchant named Jovah Vrell, however, began immediately planning an expedition back.  The land simply had too many underutilized resources, a veritable fortune for the taking.  Vrell quickly found interested investors, outfitted new ships, and hired craftsmen and mercenaries enough to populate an outpost in the new world.  The native populations of the new land greeted the newcomers in much the same way as the original castaways.  Some natives enthusiastically embraced the new craftsmen, and the products they could create, others violently opposes what they saw as an invasion of their homelands.  By the end of the first year, however, none of the natives could deny that the Vrell colony was there to stay.

It was not long until Vrell and his investors were among the wealthiest men and women in the Old World.  Raw materials and finished products alike flowed from the new land.  Not to let such an opportunity slip through their fingers, other merchants and governments of the Old World launched expeditions to the new land.  Other colonies were established and the conflicts of the Old World were transferred to the new.  Old enemies found new reasons to hate one another in what became known as "The Colonies." The distance between the continents coupled with the resistance of the natives prevented any sort of mass immigration.  The colonies gradually grew and expanded for ninety years, until the vast majority of their inhabitants were natives of the new world themselves.  Small scale immigration continued, however, until eight years ago.


Major astronomical events were not unheard of in the Old World.  Usually they were attributed to the whim of one god or another.  Most people dismissed the Great Mass, a ball of light that streaked ever closer to the planet, as another such event.  One that would impress upon the people the power of the gods without changing their day-to-day existence.  As the Great Mass came loomed ever closer, however, many became concerned that this event was different.  The storms, earthquakes, and giant waves that followed when the Mass impacted in the Old World made believers of even the doubters.  Once the natural disasters subsided, the colonists began to realize that no new ships were arriving from the Old World.  Furthermore, after the impact, no ships that left the colonies for the the Old World ever returned.   For better or worse, the Colonies were now the world, both old and new.


Without a mother country to answer to, each of the colonies were forced to forge their own path.  Some now thrive, some languish, one utterly collapsed.  The friendly native races share the sorrow of the Colonists.  The less friendly plot their revenge.   Some of the colonists long for the Old World.  Others see coming of the Great Mass as the dawning of a new era of opportunity.  One that they wish to seize and make the most of.  Hopefully, the players will be some of those last group.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Rule of Six

When I proposes creating my own fantasy world to kick around in, I knew it would be a lot of work.  The number of details that go into such an endeavor are astounding.  I have done a considerable amount of research over the last several days, and come to at least one conclusion: anyone who decides to undertake this kind of world building probably suffers from some kind of mental malady.  A journey begins with a single step goes the old adage.  It holds true for both a journey of discovery and a the road to damnation.  It remains to be seen which one this endeavor will become.  Perhaps both.

There are a bewildering array of choices to be made when creating an entire game world.  Maps, cultures, races, technology, magic, monsters, style... the list is nearly endless.  And yet, to have a finished product all of these choices must be made even if the choice is to exclude that category altogether.  At least part of this is the Paradox of Choice.  There are so many options that it becomes difficult to make any choice at all, or be satisfied by the choice once made.  Hand in hand with the Paradox of Choice comes Analysis Paralysis: in which the frantic search through the myriad options in service to a "perfect" option leads to making no decision, and therefore, no progress.  For the purposes of this project, determining a path and following it to a conclusion, even an imperfect one, is preferable to scrapping the project due to the lack of a perfect solution to any of these design problems.

PSST.  Hey bud! Want to buy a six?
In an effort to circumvent any potential impasse that may arise, and especially because my preliminary thoughts found such paralysis creeping in, I have decided to institute an artificial constraint to the proceedings which will give me a good finish point when dealing with any of the individual issues that may cause a sticking point.  I call this The Rule of Six.  When designing any aspect of the world that contains multiple choices, the goal will be to design six distinct options.  There will be six predominant sentient races.  Six major nation-states will comprise the central gaming world.  The major races will share a common pantheon of six deities.  There will be six major trade routes through the central game world.  The object will be to make this an upper limit, but not a hidebound goal that must be obtained.  Why six?  It is a nice middle number that gives variety without making the choices akin to "everything but the kitchen sink."  Also, it is a manageable number of things for players to remember.

The plan is to make this endeavor system-less.  If the project reaches a conclusion and players would like to play in the world, I would probably use Savage Worlds, of course.  Still, I would like the end result to be playable even my readers who do not regularly use SW.  Perhaps at the end of the exercise, I can create some specific rules for SW.  Edges and Hindrances that reflect the game's flavor should be pretty easy to create, but are perhaps better left for when the project is closer to completion.

I am going to reveal one aspect a week.  Each will be a, hopefully, brief synopsis of the topic.  There is more to be known about each subject than I can possibly include in a weekly blog post, but I hope to include enough information to interest both potential players and the casual reader. Next week, I will reveal the major races that inhabit the world of Sextus (a working name for the world, I have yet to firm up some of the details of the cultures that might necessitate a change).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Learning the Rules from the Bottom Up

Where Man Meets Magic... and is totally
confused.
I have a run a number of different game systems over the years.  Learning a new game can be a very enjoyable part of this hobby.  It can also be a hugely frustrating process.  New rules systems can be confusing even when they are well written.  Concepts that are easy to practice at the table can be ridiculously hard to put into text.  The learning curve is steeper for some games than others as well.  This becomes a barrier to entry for some games.  I have mentioned before, but it is germane to the point:  I really like the concept of Shadowrun, but the magic rules, and the hacking rules to a lesser extent, were so dense that I gave up on them years ago.

The game master needs to know how the rules work.  I, as the GM,  must be able to explain them to my players. Without a solid grasp of the rules, I cannot properly create material for the game.  As the final arbiter of the game, I must fairly apply the  rules to determine what happens when a player takes an action.  So that begs the question:  how is the best way to learn the rules of a new game?

Yup.  This guy is my welcoming committee for
every new game.  
The best way I have ever found to learn the basics of any game is to create a character in the new system.  Not just any character, I always design the same one: a basic thug.  The genre of the game does not really matter for this to work.  In every game, there is someone that the players, especially beginning players, are going to pound on.  Most games provide the stats for this type of character already, but I always go back and do it myself anyway.  By using the character creation system to generate this basic cannon fodder, I learn some interesting things about the system.

The first, and probably most important, thing that creating a very basic fighting character in any system teaches me is how the character generation system will work for my players. Once the players have accepted your campaign pitch, creating  characters is often the first time that the players will encounter the new game you are proposing.  For many players, the character creation process is one of the great joys of the game.  A new character is a blank canvas, one full of possibilities.  If the players find the character creation process difficult, however, it can sour them on the game before the first session begins.  Taking a trip through the character creation process ahead of the players can alert me to the problems that players may encounter when they generate their own heroes.

The second reason to create a thug is to see how the character stats work within the rules.  Until I understand the rules, a pre-generated character is just a bunch of numbers on a page.  By engaging in the character creation process, I can see how the character stats mesh with the task resolution systems.  The most important things that a rule system can do is provide a method for PCs to do stuff and fight stuff.  By creating my own character, even a violent and not very bright one, I can use each step of the process to see how the various attributes, abilities, and skills work within the system to allow characters to achieve both these things.
Or... at least I will when I finally
level up.

Finally, drawing up a new fighter from scratch gives me a good idea of the power level the system allows to new characters.  This permits me to scale challenges, both combat and otherwise, to the abilities of my new characters.  If the statistics for my generic thug will likely struggle with a challenge, then the (presumably more competent) players likely find it challenging as well.  If my beginning bruiser cannot succeed at all, then my challenge may be too difficult for new players who do not yet know how to optimize their characters.

At the end of this process, I have learned quite a bit about the system.  Less than I will likely learn in the first session of play, but certainly more than I will learn by reading the rules alone.  In addition, I have some idea of how to utilize the character creation process.  Since I will be using that system to create NPCs throughout the campaign, that is a very useful byproduct.  And, if nothing else, I have a new useful stat block for an NPC that I can throw at the players any time there is a need.