Monday, August 31, 2009

Fight On 6

Fight On 6 has a particularly good cover. It's a pretty exciting issue, I recommend getting it.

Table of Contents
Variant Races (Calithena)
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)
Git ‘R Done (Will Mistretta, Mátyás Hartyándi, M.J. Harnish, and Northrundicandus)
Hell-Grave of the Tveirbróđur (Jason Morningstar)
The Tribe of Rorvash (Erin “Taichara” Bisson)
Sandbox Preparation (Michael “Chgowiz” Shorten)
Welcome to Slimy Lake (Jeff Rients)
Knights & Knaves (Timothy J. Kask)
Chaos Monks of Kthulhu! (Jeffrey Talanian)
Creepies & Crawlies (Lee Barber, Shaine Edwards, and Geoffrey McKinney)
Blocks of Quox (Tony Rosten)
Summonings Vile and Dark (Matthew Slepin)
Esoteric Arts for Wizardly Know-it-Alls (Baz Blatt)
Old School Game Determination (Michael Curtis)
GBH (Peter Schmidt Jensen)
When I Was a Girl (Lee Gold)
Education of a Magic User (Douglas Cox)
Stone Gullet (Gabor Lux)
Wasteland Travellers (Gabor Lux)
A Few for the Road (Michael Curtis)
Enharza, City of Thieves (Santiago Luis Oría)
I Need a Dungeon Right Now! (Jeff Rients)
Dungeon Modules (Geoffrey O. Dale)
Oceanian Legends (Del L. Beaudry)
The Devil’s in the Details: Ahoggyá (Baz Blatt)
The Darkness Beneath: Lower Caves (David Bowman)
The Petrified Forest (Del L. Beaudry)
World Creating as a Hobby (Lee Gold)
Interview with Lee Gold (Maliszewski & Grohe)
Naked Went the Gamer (Ron Edwards)
Merlin’s Mystical Mirror (Zach Houghton)
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Mo Mehlem & co.)
Overland (Mikko Torvinen)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Princess Points

I can't get enough of Burroughs' Mars. I've been enjoying the books even more now than as an adolescent. I've been on an out of control John Carter of Mars collecting spree. Comic books, novels, art, board games, old RPG's...

My most recent acquisition is this little gem:Is this book called Adventure Gaming Handbook? Not a particularly good name. Perhaps it's Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter and the subtitle is Warlord of Mars? The graphic design doesn't really clarify the situation. Anyway, this has been an intriguing read. The writer could not decide if he wanted to be serious or silly. Heritage Models Inc. actually got permission to make this pseudo RPG, Unlike the ill fated Warriors of Mars by TSR.

The first half is a sort of light encyclopedia of Burroughs' Mars, while the last half has stats and mechanics for a light wargame that kinda sorta wants to be an RPG. It encourages a style of gaming (later labeled "troupe" play by Jonathon Tweet in his seminal Ars Magica RPG) where you play multiple characters. These rules have some real gems amidst this crude RPG published in 1978. One laugh-out-loud feature is your character's "Princess Points". The game assumes you are playing a red-blooded warrior on the make for a beautiful princess, so this is one of your core stats.

"The fateful, or fatal moment has arrive. You have met the Princess, you have turned on the charm, maybe you have fallen into a fountain or out of a chair, but whatever happened, this is it. It is time to see what she thinks of you. Hold your breath. You gaze into her eyes; you lay your sword at her feet...you wait."It appears the desired result is "HUBBA HUBBA!!!"

So with this renewed passion for Burroughs' thrilling Sword and Planet tales I've found myself drawing lots of John Carter inspired art lately.

The best news is I've found a partner to make an old-school Mars RPG with, someone whose work I admire and that inspires me. So expect a lot of Mars art to be posted over the next couple of months...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pathfinder First Impressions

As a teenager I thought size was a measure of quality in an RPG, but these days anything beyond 128 pages doesn't hold my attention unless it is particularly well written.

Pathfinder is 576, that's nearly 600 pages of fine print.

To be fair it is effectively a DMG and PHB combined in one tome, and what I've read so far is perfectly fine writing. Yeah, much of it is reference, spells, magic items, stuff. But still, thems a lot of words there.

I like the Art. A lot. Paizo is in a tight spot. Traditional D&D would be far too conservative, and modern fantasy like Warhammer is way too outrageous for their audience. And they have to distinquish themselves from Wizards - while using the same artists Wizards uses. They did this by returning to the subject matter of 80's Dragon magazine covers, but with contemporary styles. What I mean is the illustrations depict scenes of what you might actually do in the game. The cover, instead of being some characters facing you trying to look "bad ass", they are engaged in an epic battle with a dragon located in some ancient ruins. This asthetic is apparent in almost all the art inside the book. Except in the character generation section, appropriately, most of the illos are full action scenes in interesting locales.

They've allowed Wayne Reynolds to let loose with the detail and stuff he is so well known for, in ways I haven't seen before. I've read complaints on forums that the art is "dungeon punk", sure its completely unrealistic, but so is casting a spell, fighting a dragon, or drinking a magic potion.

Monte Cook writes a nice intro. In my opinion he is the "Wayne Reynolds" of RPG writing, that is to say his writing is insanely detailed, and he does a lot of it. It is most appropriate that he gives kudos to Pathfinder here.

The layout is good, font choices are good. Everything is legible despite how many words appear on each page. And the graphic designers still managed to get quite a bit of decoration in the headers, footers, and gutters in an aesthetically pleasing fashion without infringing on the text. Nice work.

The Getting Started chapter does a lot of explaining, but I can't imagine this RPG is for a beginner. And an experienced D&D player doesn't need this much intro, it is a bit overkill. It's almost a dictionary/glossary before the Character Generation stuff even begins. Really, all this could have been moved to an appendice.

Creating a character is familiar, but there are a couple things different. Each step has included optional rules in the text, not as a sidebar. Ability scores can be rolled for or purchased. The purchase option includes four methods from low fantasy to epic fantasy. To my design aesthetic this is playing it a bit too safe. I'd prefer the designer stick to what he thinks is the best rule and relegate options to a sidebar or appendice. It would make the design speak with a stronger voice, it would demonstrate confidence.

The ability modifiers stick with the 3.0/3.5 scale. Personally I'm most fond of the range in Moldvay's basic/expert rules as expanded in Wrath of the Immortals. But for Pathfinder's design goals it uses the obvious and most sensible scale for their audience.

The races are presented nicely, if somewhat blandely. This is the danger when trying to make generic templates - the results can be bland. We have the classic line up: dwarf, halfling, elf, human, gnome, half-orc, and half-elf.

I find that the presentation of the classes is much stronger than the races. The writing is more engaging and the illustrations are intense and filled with the potential for great adventure. As always happens though with more flavor comes more specificity. This is a very particular flavor of D&D. I like the line up here: barbarian, bard, cleric (I like the domains), druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, thief...I mean rogue, sorceror (very cool bloodlines), and wizard.

Skills are slightly condensed from 3.5, I think they could have been simplified more. My biggest complaint with 3.0 was the way skills rolls replaced what players used to puzzle their way through.

There are a lot of feats in this book. Too many. Not a good thing in my opinion.

The weapons section is nice, illustrations and descriptions are effective. This is one of the more successful sections of the book I think.

Alignment. This is one thing I think 4.0 got right, by eliminating problem alignments like Chaotic Neutral, and simplifying it just a bit. But, Pathfinder sticks with the classic AD&D moral/ethic axis we are all familiar with.

The additional rules section is 10 pages of encumbrance, movement, age, height/weight, vision, mounts, and object AC. Considering all the detritus 3.0/3.5 collected over the years this is fairly succinct.

But then we get to 26 pages of combat rules. No thanks.

The next three chapters are magic, spells, and prestige classes: arcane archer, arcane trickster, assassin, dragon disciple, duelist, eldritch knight, loremaster, mystic theurge, pathfinder chronicler, and shadowdancer. Prestige classes are one place I depart with many of my OSR colleagues. I really like them, adds a lot of flavor to the game, and creates interesting options for players as the campaign develops. Keeps things from getting stale. I'm not sure this is the list of prestige classes I'd choose for a core rulebook, but these look fun.

The rest of the book is basically the DMG. Looks like plenty of advice, plenty of treasures and magic items. This review has already grown much larger than I intended, so I must skip it. I haven't read any of this section yet anyway.

In summary, if you like 3.5 you'll probably love this book. It's a bit like 3.5 on steroids. One thing I do like is that it tries to stay true to D&D without abandoning the roots of the game. I'm not likely to ever play it, but I don't regret purchasing it. It is a finely crafted work.

I'll close out with one of my favorite illos from the book, the header for the Gamemastering section:

Samantha Morton as Sola

More John Carter of Mars movie news.
Samantha Morton, who you might recognize as the key psychic in Minority Report, will be playing Sola. I think this is a good choice, her voice has the kind of empathy needed for this important character.

Also Dominic West will be playing Sab Than, I think he will do just fine as the guy we don't want Dejah to marry. And Polly Walker will play the merciless Sarkoja.

Full story here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The New Sword and Planet

My excitement for Andrew Stanton's John Carter of Mars movie cannot be over emphasized. It looks like we'll be waiting until 2012 for this flick to hit your local screen. In the meantime James Cameron has done his own contemporary version of the Sword and Planet genre.

Avatar!

Burroughs' fans will recognize the story: an earth soldier falls in love with an alien princess. I expect this to have all the thrills and suspense Cameron is known for, and of course gorgeous visuals.

In addition, judging by many of the recent posts on OSR blogs, it seems the new era of the Sword and Planet genre are upon us!

Here is a little drawing I did of John Carter and Tars Tarkas fighting some Barsoomian lions.If any of you aspiring writers/designers are looking for an illustrator for a collaboration on a John Carter retroclone I might be persuaded...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lake Geneva Building Gygax Memorial!

http://gazettextra.com/news/2009/aug/01/plans-under-way-memorial-gaming-icon-lake-geneva/

Hope they include a bronzed DMG and d20.

Dejah Thoris

Lynn Collins was cast for the part of Dejah Thoris. I have no opinion about her, I haven't seen Wolverine or any other movie with her in it. I assume she must be good because I think Andrew Stanton has good taste. But, I don't know how Hollywood studios operate internally, there are likely a lot of factors other than a director's wishes that goes into the casting process.

But, if I was the casting director there is little doubt who I would cast:
Yes, Olga Kurylenko, the Bond girl from Quantum of Solace. Not only is she devastatingly beautiful, but she has incredible screen presence and comes across as strong and smart. Her accent is "exotic" to American ears. And it is easy to believe John Carter would battle hordes of martians across the face of Barsoom to rescue her.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ode to Judges Guild

Sometime around 1981 I would go to a very interesting bookstore in Tucson AZ (wish I could recall the name) that had a small section of RPG related material. Most of it was quite arcane to me, what I was really looking for were those neat hardbound D&D books I'd seen the other kids have. Little did I understand what The Judges Guild was all about.

Fast forward to the release of D&D 3. I had left gaming for a period roughly between 1987 to 2000 - the prime years of 2nd edition. Left is too strong a word. I actually played a lot of 1st edition D&D and also GURPS in this time. It seems D&D 3 brought a lot of old gamers home who had left during the 2nd edition era (and I believe 4th edition is completing their journey pushing many to the OSR). Well, this homecoming seems to have revitalized Judges Guild. I noticed at Gen Con one year their booth and they had stacks of these really old magazines: The Dungeoneer, The Judges Guild Journal, and Pegasus.

I have since made a point of picking up any copy I see at game stores, or flea markets at gaming conventions, or occasionally on eBay. I can't get enough. They are like fascinating museum peices, preserving the way the gaming community thought and played the game caught in amber. But they are also full of really cool freewheeling ideas. There seemed to be no boundaries. Everything from articles by evangelical Christians defending their enjoyment of the game to a dungeon crawl based on the Tower of Babel. How to handle the 5 senses in D&D to a treasure column called "All That Glitters..." with such cool magic items as The Dearth Sword which absorbs knowledge of spells from its victims and transfers them to its weilder, and The Horn of Battlesongs (usable by Valkyrie and Berserker classes!) which improves morale of allies.

What I love about The Dungeoneer, The Judges Guild Journal, and Pegasus magazines is their "text dump" feel - no frills here, homemade art (the aroma of fan participation), and cheap newsprint. And best of all the page after page of no holds barred creative ideas. It contrasts so much from the order TSR was trying to impose on D&D at the time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Carter of Mars Production Listing

Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars series is one of the inspirations for OD&D. So the news that a blockbuster movie is on track to being a reality, directed by the astounding Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E), is reason to celebrate.

This movie has been in development hell for so long, and has had so many false starts, it's hard to believe it may finally get made. Another important milestone has been reached, it has a production listing and is scheduled to begin shooting in January 2010.
John Carter of Mars (Sci-fi). Taylor Kitsch stars as John Carter, a Civil War soldier transported to Mars, where warring races vie for control. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Casting: Marcia Ross, Marcia Ross Casting, 500 S. Buena Vista, St. 210-D, Team Disney Bldg., Burbank, CA 91521. Shoots in January 2010.
One thing I find interesting about this is the title, this looks to be a trilogy (and by all reports will be). John Carter of Mars: A Princess of Mars is likely to be the full title of the 1st movie.

This has deep personal meaning to me. Iain McCaig was a principle concept artist, and he was very influential on my development as an artist after he gave a lecture at my art school and left many originals on display. He is simply one of the best living draughstmen IMHO. Also the Burrough's books are classics in the genre - fast paced, packed with imagination, and a thrill ride.

Andrew Stanton knows story and knows how to deliver on an emotional level. Just watch the intro to Toy Story 2 and try to tell me he can't make an epic sci-fi flick.

Mystery Map 1

A long forgotten tomb of a powerful ruler. He paid his court magicians well to protect his everlasting burial place with powerful enchantments. No thief has yet managed to spoil the riches held within.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grognard

Grognard is French for "grumbler". It is not necessarily pejorative and is sometimes used as a compliment. Historically it meant a soldier of the Old Guard in Napoleon's army.

Grognard is slang for someone who likes playing wargames.

According to Jim Dunnigan, former editor of Strategy and Tactics magazine "The term 'grognard,' as applied to veteran wargamers, was first coined back in the early 1970's by John Young. He was, at that time, an employee for [the board] wargame publisher SPI, and the use of the term around the office (and among the local play testers) soon led to 'grognards' being mentioned in one of SPI's magazines (Strategy & Tactics). Several hundred thousand board wargamers picked up the term from that publication and it spread to computer wargamers, as the the board wargamers (the ones with PCs, of course) were the first people to snap up computer wargames when they appeared. "

The OSR has picked up the term to mean old school gamers, or a version of D&D that was more wargame than the storytelling style of RPG that arose in the 90's, or the analog MMO that seems to be where the game is now.

If grognard meant wargamer, maybe it still does in some quarters, today it means someone who subscribes to a style of gaming that doesn't require metaplots or railroad adventures. It's a little more flying by the seat of your pants. Doesn't require the 400 page detailed world encyclopedia of some else's imaginary world. Is relatively rules lite, or as detailed with home brewed and borrowed rules the participants want to make it. In other words, it is how we played D&D when I was in high school just before Dragonlance came out. And to be clear it doesn't mean any other kind of gaming style is wrong or bad, inferior or superior, it is merely a category defining a person who enjoys a certain "old school" way of playing RPG's.

This actually came up at work yesterday as a serious discussion informing product development. I thought it was incredibly interesting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I like the 4e DMG

I don't know how so many of the OSR bloggers manage to post so frequently! I have a full time job and I come home and do illustrations for commission and personal projects. In addition I write and design games. So time posting here is precious.

I was looking through my 4e D&D books - I only ever purchased the 3 core books - and realized I don't dislike 4e, I don't feel anything for it really (other than some admiration for the quality of writing, graphic design, and art). I'm just not the audience for playing it. You see I played World of Warcraft for 14 days once. It was one of those free trial things. I realized at the end of the trial that I really should not play anymore. Because I have a life. Not to say that people who do play don't have a life, what I mean is I have a lot going on in my life. A toddler, A wonderful wife. A fun job making art for video games. Freelance work. And my own personal creative projects. There just isn't time for WoW. Besides, I'd rather play an actual role-playing game the old fashioned and best way: face to face.

It has been stated so many times that 4e is like an MMO I don't need to repeat it here (oops, I guess I just did). So in that sense it really is a "modern" RPG. The game has to evolve and grow and necessarilly change in order to remain vital, relevant, and alive. I understand that. So I admire what they've done, from what I understand the sales numbers remain strong.

But what I really admire is the 4e DMG. I think they hit that book out of the ballpark. the original DMG was my favorite TSR product, it was my introduction to the world of D&D. I despised the 2nd edition, my dissapointment cannot be measured. It felt like a cheap pamphlet in comparison to the original. Then 3rd and 3.5 editions of the DMG were pretty good, but I wouldn't think of them as great or classics, merely pretty good. But this 4th edition DMG is quite a piece of work. It is filled to the brim with excellent advice on running a game, good solid pointers on how to make the game fun. It works almost sans-system as a generic RPG advice book. For example I think it's description of the DM's job is on the mark:
Most games have a winner and a loser, but the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game is fundamentally a cooperative game. The Dungeon Master (DM) plays the roles of the antagonists in the adventure, but the DM isn’t playing against the player characters (PCs). Although the DM represents all the PCs’ opponents and adversaries—monsters, nonplayer characters (NPCs), traps, and the like—he or she doesn’t want the player characters to fail any more than the other players do. The players all cooperate to achieve success for their characters. The DM’s goal is to make success taste its sweetest by presenting challenges that are just hard enough that the other players have to work to overcome them, but not so hard that they leave all the characters dead.

At the table, having fun is the most important goal—more important than the characters’ success in an adventure. It’s just as vital for everyone at the table to cooperate toward making the game fun for everyone as it is for the player characters to cooperate within the adventure.
That's pretty good stuff. Not enough to get me to fire up a 4th edition game. I'm too busy with my Swords & Wizardry game, in addition to some personal game projects I'm playtesting out. However you have to give credit where it is due.