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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Feeding the Feeds - We've Got Your Links

When I rebuilt The Tavern's blog in late 2012, a few links / features got misplaced and forgotten. One of those was the link to subscribe at Feedburner.

See, I don't use feed aggregators and the like to read the blogs I follow, but maybe I should change that habit - Feedly and Netvibes look like convenient ways to grab all the blogs I want to read on my tablet.

In any case, we've added the links to Feedburner, Feedly and Netvibes to the right for those that want an easy way to add The Tavern.

May as well do it now, as it would suck to miss notifications when the podcast goes live ;)

How Often do you run Adventures as Written?

I've been thinking about Castle of the Mad Archmage and an earlier attempt at running a pre-release version of Dwimmermount "as written" and I've found that I have little success at running anything purely as written.

Without me adjusting things for my style of DMing and adjusting for my group's style of play, I find that adventures fail to meet expectations - both mine and that of my players. Of course, when I ran modules back in my AD&D 1e days, everything was run as written - so let it be written, so let it me done. Obviously, my methods have changed over the years.

Do you run adventures / modules / etc as written, or do you make adjustments for your styles of DMing and your players' style of playing?

Second Session of Castle of the Mad Archmage Went Well (even when the party zigged instead of zagging)


The infamous "B Team" has their once a month session last night, which was also their second session delving into the depths of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. Whereas the party virtually trounced through a sizable amount of territory on the first level of the dungeon last session, this session they decided to explore the 2nd level, and dipped their toes, intentionally and unintentionally, into the 3rd level.

Some observations:

- while the lack of a thief in the party is less than ideal, the party has done well with crowbars and hammers
- given the choice between a thief and a cleric, I suspect they'll always pick a cleric going forward
- giving incrementally increasing "exploration XP" as they explore the dungeon works as an amazing carrot. I'm still giving XP for gold and monsters defeated but no longer adding the discretionary XP I would add to a session. As the session went on, it was much like watching a game of craps at Vegas ;)
- a 1/1 cleric / magic user on the 3rd level of a megadungeon is extremely squishy. +Tim Shorts did an excellent job in not being completely squished.
- the Sleep spell really is magical at lower levels

Now, I rarely run anything "as written" these days. It's just the nature of the beast - no commercial product will ever be a perfect fit for the type of game I want to run for my groups. Sometimes I make a pencil change or note as I do my read through, but other times I just make a mental note and make the change at the table.

Also, prep usually covers where I expect the party will explore and skim the next "layer" or areas and locations. I did not expect the players to venture down to the 3rd level, and was therefore not prepared for it (although it is a snap to grab maps and drop them into Roll20). A well done megadungeon doesn't drown you in room descriptions. A good DM should be able to keep a few rooms ahead of his players by reading the sentence or two for each room in a given area and filling in the gaps for the rest. Castle of the Mad Archmage allows for this, and that is fucking awesome. We hardly missed a beat when the group dipped their toes into the 3rd level, not once but twice. Stonehell is the only other megadungeon I can think of that comes close.

+Douglas Cole has a play report of the session over at the Gaming Ballistic Blog as does +Peter V. Dell'Orto over at Dungeon Fantastic


Fantasy Grounds 4 Con (May 8th thru May 11th)


Fantasy Grounds was my portal back to active role playing (as a player in a Dark Heresy game none the less).

From my admittedly limited experience compared to others, there is very little learning curve with FG as a player and it has some amazing bells and whistles. (the learning curve is mostly on the GM side)

With all that being said, there is an online Fantasy Grounds Con coming up in May, 2014. Here's the press release:
FG Con 4 is here! 
FG Con is back for our 4th event. This time around FG Con will span 100 hours from the evening of Thursday May 8th (AUS/NZ time) to late night Sunday May 11th (US/CA Time).
We've got 43 sessions available for registration right now and several more close to being published. Visit the site here: http://www.fg-con.com/events and get started.
We've got the following rulesets being played: 
Lots of Pathfinder Society
Savage Worlds
Castles&Crusades
D&D 3.5E
A playtest of the new Fantasy Grounds Champions ruleset
Serenity/Firefly using BRP
FATE
Extiction Event (totally new ruleset)
GUMSHOE (another new ruleset)
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire 
All players play free! Of course you still need to have installed a copy of Fantasy Grounds and TeamSpeak but you can still play even with a demo/free license. There is no cost to play at all. 
GMs - there is still time to get your game listed - but don't leave it too late as it will get harder to fill your game. All Full Licenses will be bumped to Ultimate licenses for the duration of the Con so you can get those friends involved who dont have a license.
If you need any help - either as a player or a GM please contact the FG Con team by email: team@fg-con.com All feedback is welcome. Suggestions regarding the site, regarding recruitment, regarding emails - whatever - the FG Con team want to hear from you. 
Regards,
Damian | damian@fg-con.com
Not sure I'll have the time to pop in myself, but it looks to be a good time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Give us Your Podcast Wants, Don't Wants

+Jason Paul McCartan and I are in the brainstorming phase of the OSR podcast planning, so I'm going to throw this out to The Tavern readers. Finish the following sentence and add it as a comment to this post.

I want the podcast to include ___________________, but I don't want the podcast to include _______

Example:

I want the podcast to include relevant guests from the OSR, but I don't want to the podcast to include the sound of Erik flushing as he takes his wireless headset to the bathroom.

No prizes, except for the possibility of a better podcast :)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Dozen RPG Podcasts Given Link Love are Up

To the right of this post is a series of links to the (currently) 13 (a Baker's Dozen) podcasts I subscribe to for listening to on my daily commute. Nothing makes driving from lower Manhattan to Queens via the BQE more pleasant than a good gaming podcast. Hell, in the mornings when this direction is reversed, there are mornings I need to shut off a podcast mid topic - or sit in my car and be late to work - damn temptations ;)

The list will grow as I find time to sample more. It doesn't include any "play podcasts", as I don't currently have any of these set up on my phone. If I do add some, they'll be their own separate list, as there is some serious extremes of feeling regarding these.

Enjoy. You really can't go wrong trying anyone of the podcasts listed, but taste is always an individual thing. If you don't enjoy one, just delete the feed and move on to another...

Name The Tavern's New Podcast - Win $10 RPGNow Credit if We Pick Your Suggestion

+Jason Paul McCartan and I are looking for a name for the upcoming OSR podcast we are about to inflict upon the gaming community, and we need your help in naming it.

Add your suggestions to either this blogpost or any attached G+ threads to enter. We'll pick one (hopefully) by Monday, so get your suggestions to us by Sunday.

Our plan is to involve the OSR Community on many levels of the podcast, much as we do here at The Tavern.

Just an idea of the kind of podcast you're in for, here's the disclaimer we are toying around with at the moment:
"Warning: You are about to enter The Tavern. All bets are off. There WILL be gratuitous language and stuff that's not safe for work or people of low constitution or willpower. The dice will lay where they fall. So, enter at your own peril or find another podcast to listen to, one that doesn't make you roll save versus..." (cue intro)

13 Posts Short of 4k - Taking a Look at Where We Are and Where We Are Going

I expect we'll hit 4,000 posts sometime this weekend - Monday at the latest.

Fucking amazing. Scary too. If you've been along the ride for most of these posts, God bless you. If you're relatively new, welcome aboard.

Just think, at the end of May, The Tavern hits 5 years old. That's like venerable in AD&D years.

What are we doing to celebrate?

We hope to have the first episode of the upcoming podcast released by the end of May. No guarantees. I'm talking to the godfather of OSR podcasting tomorrow for advice. Yes, unlike blogging, I'd like to hit the ground running when it comes to the podcast - or, failing that, and least not trip up too badly.

We've got plans ( +Jason Paul McCartan and I) for the as yet unnamed podcast - we just haven't figured them all out yet ;)

Oh, for the the future listeners in the audience, you'll be hit with a New York accent and a Scottish brogue. Yep, twice the confusion and still free - can't beat that.

The blog will always be the place where I hang my hat - my comfort zone - my macaroni and cheese (baked, not from a box) - mmmm.  Damn, getting hungry at the moment. The podcast will be where I let my hair down.

No excessive talking about beer on the podcast (with a German-American and a Scotsman, it is quite likely, however, to come up on occasions), no titles (but we may resort to name calling at times), probably more profanity then we would like (but less than some of you may fear) and, hopefully, a fun time had by all.

I have no doubt that the podcast will need time to find it's proper voice. It took time for The Tavern to hit it's stride. Feel free to to prod us in the right direction when needed. We'll feel free to ignore you as warranted :)


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Does the OSR Mean to You? (not asking for a definition)

What does the OSR mean to you? I'm not asking you to define the OSR, because such a definition is fairly nebulous and arbitrary.

For me, the OSR means making the old new again. Keeping the rules I first found as a teen fresh and relevant 30+ years later.

The OSR means I can find new adventures for my old rules, and new rewrites of the old rules that are easier for these aging eyes to read and this aging mind to follow.

The OSR has given D&D of old the lifespan and vitality of a Tolkien Elf - it will not die even as those that deigned it have moved on to the beyond.

The OSR is. That in and of itself is an amazing thing.

Screw "If" - "When" The Tavern Podcast Comes Together...

Alright, "The Tavern" will be putting out an OSR podcast. No date yet, but between the vague time frame definitions of SOON!, soonish and "not so soon", I'd put it around midway between soonish and "not so soon" ;)

I'm figuring two steady chairs and a guest each episode - bloggers, writers, artists - basically content creators. Not really big on the idea of doing straight up interviews, as my technique would probably fall along the lines of "interrogation". Instead, the third chair would get to put their input to the topic at hand.

Talking megadungeons? Grab +Joseph Bloch for the third seat. Talking Swords & Wizardry? Strong arm +Matt Finch . ACKS? +Tavis Allison .  Mapping techniques? +Dyson Logos and +matt jackson . Successful and on time RPG Kickstarters? Maybe +Kevin Crawford or +Zach Glazar .

BTW, the above are just examples of the way I would want the third chair to run. None of the above have been begged  strong armed  cajoled contacted yet, as the podcast doesn't exist except in the planning stage.

I'll be spending the next couple of weeks researching the technical hurdles. Thankfully, I can use OSX or Windows, so software wise I can grab the best  easiest to use and comprehend in the shortest amount of time

I expect there will be a few "negative number" episodes to work the kinks out prior to any "official" launch.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mini Review - One Night in Slateholm (Gaming Fiction)


One Night in Slateholm is +Chris Gonnerman 's 1st Volume of what will hopefully be a multi volume set of gaming flavored fiction.

Although I felt the start of the story was slow, when it hit it's speed the virtual pages flew by. A warrior and a half elven magic user  / thief get in over their necks trying to save a young woman from an evil wizard. Sure, it may seem like a hokey premise, but it works.

We get to see some classic spells get put to use (charm person and web were two of my favorite spell scenes), well done dungeon scense and most importantly, I only caught one typo.

If you enjoyed the classic TSR fiction - this is better than most and sticks closer to the gaming rules sources. Definitely a good yarn if your are looking for some gaming fiction for your virtual bookshelf.

If you have a Kindle and an Amazon Prime account, you can even read it for free ($3.25 otherwise)

If I Were to Podcast...

I've gotten a decent amount of feedback about a possible OSR themed podcast. There seems to be an interest in one, which is damn cool.

I didn't plan to be the one hosting it, but there seems to be some interest in that too - God knows who would want to hear my New York accent on a semi-regular basis but hey, not my problem ;)

There does appear to be a huge learning curve in getting this right, so I'm not going to do a "GMS" and give a date (and then another and yet another), as this shit may never happen. Then there is the software, hardware, evening wear - it took me years to become an effective and hopefully entertaining blogger - it will take me months (at least) to figure out how to do a barely passable podcast.

I do believe I have enough friends in the OSR to ensure there would be a constant stream of interesting guests - and I have some cool thoughts on that too.

Alright - time for research and a time sink check ;)

How Mongrelized is the Ruleset You Run?

I run a Swords & Wizardry Complete game - actually, I run two campaigns of S&W. It isn't pure S&W though...

In addition to a ton of houserules of my own, I use some charts from ACKS, magic items from AD&D and adventures written for the DCC RPG (as well as a "Luck" variant inspired by the DCC RPG).

Is it any wonder that mongrelmen are one of my favorite "old school" monsters? :)

So, do you run your games "by the book" or do you use a houserules and rules sourced from other RPGs?


Monday, April 21, 2014

The Podcast List - Part One - The Core Four

I'll be putting up that link list of podcast love in bits and pieces. Today, I thought I'd start out with the podcasts that are my core ones - the ones I listen to the moment a new episode is available for download, even if it means coming back to another podcast in mid episode later.

They won't appeal to everyone. A simple truth but still truth. Still, if you haven't given something on today's list a listen to and you are at all interested in gaming related podcasts, these are a good start.

Happy Jacks RPG Podcast - Stu, Stork and the rest of the Happy Jacks gaming miscreants will be happy to help you make your game better. Whether you agree with them or not isn't so much the point as they often don't agree with each other. They are experienced gamers and are very comfortable with the podcast medium.

Do they annoy me? Sure - the whole "Google Christ" (instead of calling it Google Plus) thing is played out. Some of the belching could be cut down, as it exceeds the amount we used to do during our teenage games. The biggest annoyance was Tappy and his "I don't know shit but I'll pretend I know the answer for everything" attitude. I almost miss him and his arrogant ignorance.

Still, it's a gaming podcast that my wife will listen to, and that speaks volumes. Excellent production qualities. The podcast that made me a podcast listener.

Usually updates each weekend.

Roll For Initiative - 1st Edition AD&D Podcast - +Vincent Florio and crew are the other gaming podcast that my wife will listen to. She feels like she's sitting at the table with those on the other end, which mean's they are doing something right. Informative and relaxed, it is a natural fit to my core list of podcasts.

My sole annoyance? Giving everyone the title of "DM". It's a common theme on all the Wild Games Production Podcasts. I think it's corny. So kill me.

RFI updates on a less regular schedule than Happy Jacks, which causes me to refresh my podcast app on a near daily basis to ensure I don't miss an episode. Actually, maybe that is a good thing ;)

Fear the Boot - Dan and crew have a nice, relatively short length per episode (compared to others on this list), RPG podcast. I don't want to call it philosophical in nature, but the techniques they talk about can get even a grognard like me thinking in new ways. Happy Jacks and Fear the Boot have been crossing the streams recently, which has made for some interesting cross pollination.

Drawbacks? It can be dry compared to the podcasts I've mentioned above. Well, maybe not dry, but it can lack a certain energy.

Spellburn - Yep, a podcast for the DCC RPG. Jim, Jobe, and Jeffrey do an amazing job with the show. I'm not even running DCC at the moment and haven't been for about half a year, and yet these episodes are some of the most enjoyable for me to listen to.

Except that everyone has the title "Judge" (part of the WGP shtick) I really have no complaints - except for the hiatus they were recently on. Hopefully they are back to regular episodes.

Alright, that's the Core Four. More in a day or two :)

All This Talk of Podcasts Got Me Thinking - I Can't Find one that Talks About the Clones

I just sent this as an email to Wild Games Productions, but I feel it it also something that can be talked about here:
I wouldn't mind seeing a podcast that touches upon Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Mazes & Perils, Delving Deeper, Dark Dungeons, OSRIC, Scarlet Heroes, Hackmaster, LotFP Weird Fantasy, Castles & Crusades, Blood & Treasure, Adventures  Dark and Deep (edit) Stars Without Number, Other Dust, Ambition & Avarice, Fantastic Heroes and Witchery, ACKS and the like. There is certainly a lot of ground to be covered, and none of the clones exactly matches up to the editions they are emulating. 
News about releases, talk about houserules, melding different rules sets, online (VTT) gaming yapping about the various clones - that sort of stuff. 
We all love the originals, but most (many) of us play the clones (better editing, layout, clarity and the like).  
Just thought I'd throw that out there. I think Vince and the crew could pull it off.
Now, I'm sure I missed one or a dozen of the retro clones out there with my above list.

In any case, I just think it would be fun exciting just damn cool to have a podcast devoted to the clones. Differences, highlights, game breakers, supplements, adventures, houserules, interviews and the like. Just for the love of he that is holy, please don't give the hosts the title of "DM" ;)

I'm sure +Vincent Florio  and crew have a ton of shit on their plates already but I think it's a viable idea. I know I wold listen to it :)

So, good idea, bad idea, no good idea goes unpunished idea?

Guest Poster - Pete Spahn -Terminology Deathmatch: Adventure vs. Supplement

Way, way back in the long, long ago, TSR began releasing products to support the core Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. These products were labeled "Adventure Modules" and they differed greatly in content, design, and reception. Some were cherished and adored. Others were hated and reviled. All were accepted as "adventures".  I have long believed that the varied response to these products was not only due to personal preference, but also due to the actual design elements of these "adventures", some of which were not really adventures at all.

If you break down the content of these "Adventure Modules" you will actually see they are two types of products---adventures and supplements. For purposes of this article, an adventure is a series of outlined events that happen without character intervention, and in fact the outcome of these events can only change through the actions of the player characters. A supplement on the other hand is a location, with plot hooks, encounters, and places to explore and perhaps even things implied to be going on in the background, none of which requires the PCs to do anything.

Adventures
Take a look at some of the classic adventures of the past: Night's Dark Terror, Curse of Xanathon, Assassin's Knot, Saltmarsh Series, Ravenloft, Red Arrow Black Shield.

Curse of Xanathon fits the criteria of an adventure. Badly. It's a horrible railroad that forces the PCs against a high priest who is unkillable the first time they encounter him. Only after they are forced to run from him (another railroad) do they learn how to kill him. Everything in it points to bad adventure design, and yet it is still classified as an adventure because the PCs are required to DO something to further the course of events.

A much better example of an adventure done right is Night's Dark Terror which has the PCs traipsing all over the Duchy of Karameikos trying to stop a magic-user who is uncovering the secrets of ancient magic. If the PCs do nothing, this mage and his organization of slavers could potentially become very powerful.

Ravenloft is another good example. The PCs are transported to the demiplane (which some might call a railroad) and must DO something in order to escape. Sure, they can bounce around in the village and forest, killing vampires and werewolves and such, but pretty soon Strahd is going to come looking for them which gives it a sense of urgency that is not present in a supplement.

Assassin's Knot and the Saltmarsh series involve investigative work, with consequences for inaction (or incompetence). In Saltmarsh, if the PCs do nothing, the coastal village will eventually be overrun by sahuagin.

Red Arrow, Black Shield involves the PCs traveling from country to country in an attempt to rally support for their army. Each country swayed commits troops to the final mass battle. Again, the PCs are required to DO something to complete the adventure.

Were these the greatest adventures ever written? Of course not. At the time, I don't think the folks at TSR really had a clear idea as to what made a good commercial adventure which is why you see dungeon crawls, investigations, wilderness treks, etc. all labeled as "adventure modules" and plot hook railroads accepted as standard fare. I think if they would have been classified better and a little more thought given to player motivations, some of them might have been better received.

Supplements
Now let's talk about a few supplements: Tomb of Horrors, Keep on the Borderlands, Isle of Dread, Temple of Elemental Evil, Castle Amber.

Tomb of Horrors not an adventure? Keep on the Borderlands not an adventure?  Isle of Dread not an adventure? Madness!!! We've all run those adventures countless times!

But hear me out. As I said above, an adventure is more than just a mapped location with some plot hooks and encounters. There needs to be some sense of urgency, some sense that the PCs affect a course of events through their action or inaction.

Take a good long and honest look at the Keep on the Borderlands. You get the keep, some encounters in the wilderness, and of course, the Caves of Chaos. These are places to adventure in. They are not adventures in and of themselves. There is no reason for the PCs to get involved in anything happening in the text or on the map and there are no consequences for action or inaction. The encounters are mostly static. The PCs can raid the Caves and return to the keep at will, then return to the Caves, and although there are some minor suggestions for what the monsters might logically do to adapt, there is no sense of urgency for the PCs to do anything.

Compare this to the Lankhmar: City of Adventure supplement (or my own Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay). Like the Keep on the Borderlands, each has mapped locations, plot hooks, and encounters that set the stage for memorable adventures. However, none of these products are adventures in and of themselves. The PCs are not required to DO anything. They can wander around, pick fights, explore locations, etc., however, if they decide to do nothing, there are no consequences for inaction.

Can you have adventures using the Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, etc.? Of course you can! In fact, they are designed that way. However, again, that does not make them adventures. Anything you say about adventuring in the Keep on the Borderlands you can just as easily say about Lankhmar or Dolmvay.

Tomb of Horrors is an extreme example of this. It's basically a high-powered dungeon without the surrounding maps and encounters to give it context (i.e. a Caves of Chaos with no Keep). If the PCs leave the Tomb, no big deal. Nothing happens. Isle of Dread is the same way. You have an excellent map with tons of interesting locations and encounters, but if the PCs decide to leave the island, well it'll still be there if they wish to return. Castle Amber is basically just a romp through a magical castle (and can be considered something of a railroad as well).

Temple of Elemental Evil is basically a crawl through a large dungeon although one could argue that the evil rising in the old temple gives it an implied sense of urgency that pushes the module towards the "adventure" category.

I'd like to point out my own Blood Moon Rising adventure for a clear example of what I classify as an adventure. It is set during a festival. There are a number of events that take place during the festival, some of which surround the opening of a demon gate. On the last night of the festival, a host of demons will be unleashed.

That is the outline of the events that occur if the PCs decide to stay in their rooms with the covers pulled over their heads. Now, the kicker is that the PCs can disrupt this whole chain of events by getting involved, locating the demon gate, and closing it which prevents the demons from being unleashed on that final night. If they act: they save the village. If they do nothing: demons.

Conclusion
So in closing, a series of events that only vary with PC intervention. That is a published adventure. A location with plot hooks and encounters. That is a supplement.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A New Look for Tenkar the Dwarf


+Craig Brasco , thank you for the latest portrait of Tenkar the Dwarf!

I really do want that beer stein - who needs a more traditional weapon when you can have this?

It must be magical...

Podcasts - Do You Listen to Them and Which Ones do You Listen to?

I find myself listening to gaming podcasts on my daily commute, to the point that I probably should just cancel my Sirius / XM as it is hardly ever used these days.

My plan (as suggested last night by +Joe D ), is to put a link of gaming podcasts on the right side of The Tavern's page, so the readers can sample what are some of the better podcast out there, in my humble opinion.

The thing is, I am sure I'm missing some of the better ones myself, so I need you, the patrons of this fine establishment, to point me in the right direction.

My personal "go to" list of podcast includes the following (in no particular order besides alphabetical):

Dead Games Society

Fear the Boot

Happy Jacks

RPG Circus

Roll for Initiative

Save or Die

Spellburn

THAC0's Hammer

What say you? What's missing from this list? What have I overlooked over the last 2 years? Tell me.