Saturday, September 20, 2014

Planning a Series of OSR Posts for the Lapsed Gamer

I've gotten a number of emails recently from folks "coming back to the hobby" after 20 or 30 years and looking to reignite the fires. Say what you will about 5e, but it is certainly bringing attention back to the hobby of RPGs. I can't say it's going to grow the hobby as a whole (but it should, at least initially), but I have noticed an uptick in lapsed gamers looking to find their old love. 5e might have stirred the spark, but the OSR is where they feel at home.

The problem with the OSR is the sheer number of choices and flavors one can find. Heck, it's not just systems themselves, but subsystems, as both Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry both come in three flavors each.

Now, for those of us immersed in the OSR, this isn't daunting, it's exciting. For a lapsed gamer whose old gaming books are long since gone and is looking for a current version of the rules, in PDF or print, there's a crapload to sift through.

I'm planning to start a series of posts highlighting the various OSR systems and point out the classic sources they seek to emulate as well where they differ. I'll be starting with the systems that are available in one form or another for free in PDF and then move on to the ones that have a cost involved in the basic rules. The end of the series will wrap up with the more extreme variants that are drawing inspiration from the old school games but may have stepped a bit further afield.

The initial list I plan on looking at includes:

Labyrinth Lord
Swords & Wizardry
Delving Deeper
Basic Fantasy RPG
LotFP Weird Fantasy
Mazes & Perils
BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules
Dark Dungeons
Seven Voyages of Zylarthen

I'm open to further suggestions I may have missed. The free Myth & Magic Starter Guide is NOT on this list, as I have no idea how well the system will be supported.

As always, open for input :)

Kickstarter - Slumbering Ursine Dunes (Hill Cantons Mini Sandbox)

Remember last night's post where I mentioned the "elevator pitch?" Well, I find this to be an effective elevator pitch:
Straight from the Hill Cantons, comes a mini-sandbox played the hell out of by six play groups and over 40 players. Run, play or splice up 50-plus pages of mayhem and weirdness in this Slavic mythic-inspired (with an acid fantasy-twist) adventure for Labyrinth Lord or a well-aged fantasy rpg of your druthers.
Evocative and exciting. Tells you exactly what is in the tin. Short. (not +Tim Shorts , but there can be only one ;)

Looks like Slumbering Ursine Dunes is going to be yet another Kickstarter that I'm backing. And look, it's already hit a stretch goal. Go figure ;)

The great thing about this project is two things actually:

1 - you can go to the Hill Cantons blog and get a pretty good idea of the writing style of the current Kickstarter

2 - if you support for as little as a buck, you can download the text only version of Slumbering Ursine Dunes. If you like what you see, up your pledge. If you don't, you're out the cost of a can of Coke.

Did I mention the art rocks too?

Friday, September 19, 2014

I'm Not a Kickstarter Expert, But I Play One on the Internet - 5 Rules Inquiring Minds Need to Know

I'm averaging 2 to 3 inquiries to look at pre-release Kickstarters per week at this point, and this doesn't include the heads up I get from my readers to point out some of the winners (and losers) that are out there.

It can be a bit overwhelming at times, and there are ones that I'd like to highlight here at The Tavern, but I've fallen a bit behind. Trust me, I'm working on it, but my days of five, four or even three posts a day seem to be far behind me.

In any case, to help me maintain what little sanity I currently retain, I'm going to throw a few helpful guidelines out there to my readers and others that send me Kickstarter leads:

1 - Don't bother sending me links to the latest 3.5 / 4.0 / Pathfinder Kickstarter. Even if it is "has ideas usable with any edition of your favorite game" those ideas are not going to be worth the price of full admission for me and my readers. It's a waste of your time and mine.

2 - Do give me your elevator pitch in the email. If you can't get me interested in 2 to 3 sentences, how do you plan to get the masses interested?

3 - RPGs are my bread and butter, especially with Kickstarter and the like. Well, and beer related products. If it isnt a game or beer-ish, that pitch really better be good.

4 - If it's a pre-release page you are linking to, expect direct feedback. If you don't wan't direct feedback, send me the link when you've gone live. Then you can expect public feedback.

5 - "Good, Bad... I'm the Guy with the Boomstick!" (to paraphrase Ash) - If you bring my attention to your project I'll point out the good and the bad as appropriate, assuming I post about it at all. Be sure you want me to post about it BEFORE calling my name three times in the bathroom mirror (Candyman reference).

I try to go into these Kickstarter (re)views with an open mind but organization is not my strong point. Make your emails short and informative and enticing enough that I want to go to your Kickstarter / Indiegogo / MyLittlePony Crowdfunding site.

The time you save me upfront I will return to you when I look at your site.

Thank you.

The Management

Brainstorm Podcast #2 is Live - Let's Talk about Balance in the Game

Join +Vincent Florio , +Glen Hallstrom and myself in the 2nd episode of the Brainstorm Podcast, where we talk about balance in the game - encounters, classes - all of the good stuff.

We had a lot of fun doing this episode and it shows :)

Indiegogo Has Effectively Done Away with Campaign Deadlines - To Infinity & Beyond!

You know about Indiegogo's "Flexible" campaigns - those are the ones that keep your money even if they fail to fund.

Now Indiegogo is taking it in the other direction - funded or not, the campaign no longer ends.
Continuing Your Success on Indiegogo 
We have heard from many in our community the desire for and positive impact of the ability to keep their campaigns open beyond the deadline.  Since our mission is to democratize funding, we believe we must continue to pioneer this industry through innovation until all people can fund what matters to them – whatever it is, wherever they are or however they’d like to do it. 
To that effect, we’ve launched a new pilot program that will let campaigners continue raising money even after their campaign deadline, providing a new way to deepen their engagement with funders. 
By allowing campaigns to continue after they reach their goals, this turnkey pilot project reflects the increased use of Indiegogo by businesses, artists and activists who seek to attract and develop new audiences. The new functionality will enable campaigns to:
Continue receiving contributions from around the world
Maintain the exposure, SEO and links that they’ve already built during their campaign, without having to start elsewhere from scratch
Capitalize on the existing web traffic
Manage ongoing funding and communication efforts from a single location
Utilize data obtained through Indiegogo’s Campaigner Dashboard and Google Analytics integration 
As the world’s largest online funding platform, Indiegogo routinely looks to customer feedback to help drive the innovation of new products and features to improve the user experience.  The pilot program will be open to select campaigns starting today – including Tens and TrackR bravo – and will expand to all campaigns that have reached their initial funding goals in the coming months.  Stay tuned…

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Evil PCs - Do You Allow Them?

I remember quite vividly when AD&D 2e dropped assassins and half-orc when jumping editions. I was upset that TSR had dropped evil classes and races from the realms of PC use. This, after playing in 3 groups in 2 different states and seeing just one evil PC - a half-orc assassin. I really should have been more upset at the filing off of the serial numbers of the demons and devils between editions.

It isn't even like any of those groups had a hard and fast rule against evil PCs - we just used the commons sense rule of "even evil doesn't have to be a dick!"

These days, I'd probably allow an evil PC if he player were able to explain up front how they could play the alignment and NOT be a dick to the rest of the party.

So, do you allow evil PCs? Yes? No? Why? Why not and all that other shit that comes prepackaged with these types of questions ;)

How Much Scheduled Gaming do You do at Cons?

It seems to me you never have enough time at conventions to do all the gaming you want to do. Or, more accurately, you schedule more gaming than you can enjoy. This is what happened at NTRPG Con for my wife and I - the days we had two games on the schedule were literally overwhelming and exhausting. In my mid 40's I no longer have the stamina I had in my mid 20's.

Oh, and don't forget needed to leave time for pick-up games.

I figure in the future we'll limit ourselves to one scheduled game each day.

So, how much gaming do you try to squeeze in at conventions?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Boozing it Up at the Gaming Table - Yea or Nay?

+Vincent Florio had a post yesterday at The Evil GM talking about booze at the gaming table. I had an answer. I was going to post over at Vince's blog, but then I went down to the local pub for dinner and my evening bartender took good care of my wife, my son and myself. As I type this, I remember why I don't drink and DM - I simply can't stay focused enough to herd my usual party of cats.

Back in my college days I refused to allow beer at the RPG table (board games and the such were enhanced by the drinking tho.) I always felt it was difficult to keep the party on track when they were three sheets to the wind.

These days, in the middle of my middle age years, I find myself imbibing liberally during gaming sessions I'm a player in, but I totally abstain when I run a game. I can have difficulty enough staying focused while sober ;)

So, were do you stand with drinking at the gaming table? Or do you say fuck standing up, and just fall off to the side? ;)

Of Simulacra, Emulations, and Transmogrifiers (Guest post by Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr)

(This morning we have a guest post by +Richard LeBlanc , he of New Big Dragon Games and the D30 Sandbox Companion fame. I'm honored that Rich decided to post this here at The Tavern. You can read more of Rich's thoughts over at his blog - Save vs. Dragon)

Of Simulacra, Emulations, and Transmogrifiers.

I've long held that Apple products were superior because... well.. they were Apple products. If you've ever read the book "Insanely Great," you know what I'm talking about. Steve Jobs hired graphic designers and typography experts, in addition to others in various and diverse fields, and it was these things that helped make the Macintosh the truly brilliant product it was. (Granted, we really have yet to see if Apple can maintain its true vision with their visionary gone.) So here I sit, 30 years after the first time I touched a Mac*, and though many PCs now offer the same kind of command over type and layout, I am still a Mac person. How is it I do not hold that same place of honor for the intellectual property protected by the OGL? (You know what I'm talking about. The beholder, carrion crawler, displacer beast, umber hulk, rust monster, githyanki, githzerai, slaad, mind flayer, kuo-toa and yuan-ti all hold such non-OGL status.)

If I see a crappy replicant (sic) property like a Transmogrifier on the shelf at the local dollar store, I'm the first to make fun of it for the sad knockoff that it is. So why am I okay with calling my rust monster a "corroder"? Why am I okay with calling my carrion crawler a "carrion creeper"? Or calling a beholder an "eye beast"? If I were an IBM clone person, maybe it would be easier for me to understand why I'm okay with this, as the concept of an alternately named clone is part-and-parcel of the deal. Which obviously brings me to the concept of retro-clones in general. Why don't I look at something like Swords & Wizardry and say to myself, "Hey! That's the Transmogrifiers of old-school RPG gaming?" From my point of view, what it comes down to is intention.

Matt Finch's goal (or so I believe it is safe to assume) was never to make a cheap knock-off of LBB D&D to be sold dirt cheap at the local dollar store in order to take advantage of those kids who just couldn't afford the real thing. Swords & Wizardry is obviously a labor of love (something I assume of retro-clones in general). By comparison, I don't look at a Transmogrifier and think, "Wang Wěi** must have made this product out of his deep love for the concept of the Transformers, and because one just cannot get a Transformer without having to stalk eBay and throw down a few hundred bucks even without an original box to get one, he must have lovingly made this crafted product in an attempt to share his passion with everyone else."

I currently find myself halfway through writing the monster listings for the Basic Psionics Handbook, and this thought has stayed very top-of-mind. It's amazing how many archetypal psionic monsters are not open content. In able for me to port them over to my BX psionics system, I have no choice but to rename them. Otherwise, I will infringe outrightly on the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast as outlined in their Open Gaming License. In essence, what I am doing is creating what amounts to an alternate universe where the names are similar to those known by AD&D players, but may only be familiar to dedicated BX players (as these creatures have never made it into those editions—e.g., what point is a mind flayer in BX that has no psionics?)

In some ways, I see my duty with the Basic Psionics Handbook being two-fold. First, and most obvious, it is to try remedy BX's psionics deficit by attempting to create a psionic system as simple as it should be (be no more) for those players. But second, it is to bring a set of monsters to that edition that, while they hold a dear place in the hearts of many an AD&D player, have never had the chance to grow such roots with BX-exclusive devotees. And here's the rub... I may not use the original names for the following, well-established psionically-endowed creatures: githyanki, githzerai, mind flayer, slaad, ustilagor, and yuan ti. Instead, say, "Hello!" to the astral gish, limbo gish, mind thresher, zlod, intellect seeker, and wan-ti.

I must also state, that while I am trying to capture the spirit of these creatures, I am also trying not to just duplicate their old stats in the new format. I am trying to create (in some ways) my own interpretation of them (usually for the sake of simplification and seamless integration to this new psionic system). My goal is not to knock them off in order to "put one over" on the masses. Rather, it is to translate them into the system I have created, making them available (in most cases, for the first time) to many a BX/BECMI DM. I liken it to the translation of a book from one language to another. For example, a literal translation of something like Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" might prove more than a little clunky. (Just try pasting a few passage into any online translator and I'm sure the results will leave something to be desired.) Instead, those of us who want to read the book but do not speak Chinese (regardless of dialect) rely on folks like Ralph D. Sawyer (whom I chose for little reason other than he translated the paperback copy that I own). He takes that original text and interprets the original author's words and intentions for the audience.

When it comes to this sort of verisimilitude, am I Ralph Sawyer, or am I Wang Wěi? Am I an impassioned advocate, or am I a flagrant, self-serving huckster?

Are these types of workaround names (and the associated content) acceptable because: 1) we have learned to accept them (given the proliferation of retro-clones already bearing such simulacra, 2) we know they are a product of passion in the face of license limitations, or 3) both? Or are they unacceptable because they have more in common with the Transmogrifier—we know they're not the real thing, and will NEVER be the real thing, regardless of how much passion they have going for them?

I wonder if it's more like going to a party and drinking Pepsi, even though you're a Coke person, because the host only bought Pepsi. You'd really prefer the Coke, but you know you can't get one, so Pepsi is "acceptable" under the conditions. But with every sip of that Pepsi, you'll just be reminded that it's just not Coke.

* As a side note, the friend responsible for me having access to that 1st-generation Macintosh in 1984 is the same one that gave me my first d30 in 1981.
** I'm just going with the most common Cantonese given name and surname here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Do You Use "Big Bad Evil Guys" in Your Campaigns?

This topic came up in a recently recorded Brainstorm Podcast episode - Do you use BBEGs and if so, how do you go about designing them?

For me, I rarely go into a campaign with a BBEG fleshed out, let alone thought out. I always figure my players will designate some NPC their nemesis and I'll go from there, but then again, my parties are like herds of cats, you never know where they are going to go.

Then again, I've played in some campaigns that have very effectively utilized BBEGs, so maybe it's a deficit in my DMing skills that leads to the leaving out of bBEGs in my games.

So, where do you stand with BBEGs? Yay or nay? Power behind the throne or in the face power manipulator?

How Big Should the Sandbox Be?

I've written about this on the blog before, but the forthcoming "Tenkar's Landing" crowdsourced project has got me thinking about it again - how big does your sandbox need to be?

What I like about the island that Tenkar's Landing rests upon is that it is limited in scope - about 65 miles long and 15 miles wide on average. Assuming 6 miles from center to center of each hex it puts the total land mass at just under 1000 square miles. That's a lot of exploring.

Can the party leave the island? Sure. Tenkar's Landing is a trading port after all. I do have much of the surrounding area mapped too (but have few if any plans to detail just yet). Hopefully the players and their characters will find enough excitement on the island to occupy themselves for a good long time.

Crowdsourcing the sandbox of Tenkar's Landing should be an interesting experiment. An island with the ruins of an extinct advanced civilization colonized by a now failing empire to be detailed by a dozen or two creative types from the OSR community. I may want to be a player in the resulting sandbox...

So, how large a sandbox do you like for your campaigns and why?

* note - this will be a crowdsourced project, not a crowdfunded project. By the community, for the community.

Monday, September 15, 2014

It Looks Like the "Tenkar's Landing" Crowdsourced Project Will be a "GO"

There appears to be enough interest in giving the Tenkar's Landing crowdsourced project a shot. So, here's where we stand:

- I HOPE to have this kick off at the beginning of October. No guarantees. Work has been a summer of hell. Let's see how fall falls into place.

- We need a better name than "Tenkar's Landing" for the island. Tenkar's Landing is just the major town / port. It was a colony of a trading nation that is now a failed nation. The town itself is self sufficient and has a relatively strong mercantile influenced government.

- There are remains of an advanced civilization long passed scattered around the island. At a certain point, magic and technology are indistinguishable - that is the case here.

- There are no traditional native human / demihuman communities. All are immigrants from elsewhere. Aside from Tenkar's Landing there are some small scattered hamlets / enclaves.

- Hexes are either 5 or 6 miles across. Not a huge difference, but we'll figure it out in the next few weeks.

- Hexes 1214 and 1314 are desert with obsidian shards and strange ruins scattered about. Magical or nuclear devastation, to be decided. Strange beasts abound.

- Hex 1213 is broken mountains and craters.

- Dungeons, Castles, Towers, Ruins indicated are those that are commonly known. East of the river near Thocar's Castle is hardly explored.

- Some folks have requested hexes already. I'll do my best to honor those.

- I'll probably open up a G+ community page and a Obsidian Portal page when it gets closer to going live.

- There is no default system, but as I'd like this to be usable with everything from S&W and LL to the DCC RPG and everything in between, the less system stats the better.

- Figure a sandbox for levels 1-8 or thereabouts.

Alright, back to catching up on some 1500+ pieces of email

Announcing "The Brainstorm Podcast" - 30 Minutes or Less or it's *Free (*it's always free)

Wild Games Productions has added an "edition free" podcast to it's stable - "The Brainstorm."

It literally is a podcast about brainstorming ideas for RPG games (primarily edition free.) Use the ideas, abuse the ideas, submit ideas - the podcast really is there for the listener in this case.

So, join your hosts +Vincent Florio , +Glen Hallstrom and myself ( +Erik Tenkar ) at The Brainstorm Podcast.

(Episode 2 of the Tenkar & The Badger Podcast should be dropping any time now too - so much Tenkar, so little time)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How Important are PC Spellcasters in Your Campaign?

I remember when I ran AD&D (1e and 2e) back in my college days clerics were rare as PCs. If the party was lucky they had a Paladin with his laying of hands ability and a crap load of potions. Magic-users weren't much more common, and once I banned Bladesingers from ever again being used in our group, I'm not sure we ever had one again.

It certainly made writing adventures for the group a bit of a challenge, as the party was built more for head on combat than it was stealth or death from afar. I also found myself using less NPC spellcasters, for the few I used were damn tough on a party that lacked a response. Remeber, the goal at the end of the night is for everyone to have fun.

In the playtest of The Unmaking Campaign, we lake a magic-user. So, no sleep spells to save our bacon. No web, invisibility or fireballs as we rise in level. I doubt +Jason Paul McCartan is going to change the campaign to conform to the PCs - this is, of course, a playtest. Instead, it will force us to overcome out shortcomings.

So, how important are PC spellcasters in your campaign?

Idle Thought's of Tenkar's Landing - Crowdsourcing a Small Sandbox

I was working on this sandbox way back in the spring of 2013 and aside from the maps and a few notes, I've done nothing with it. Stuff got put to the side and the plate can only hold so much.

I got to thinking about Tenkar's Landing again last week, but the plate these days is so much smaller and it's stacked so high I can't see much of what is on it anymore. I want to get some use out of this as I do like the map (used Hexographer for those that are curious.)

So, my idle thought is this - crowdsourcing the development of the island. Give my readers a hex (5 or 6 miles across per hex - it's not a huge sandbox but as I have the surrounding area mapped, it is expandable) each and let them have at it and see what the end result is. I'd keep hex 1311 for myself, of course ;)

As I said, and idle thought, and even at that, I'd still need the time to set things up and organize it. Consider this post a simple gauging of interest into the concept of passing out the 30 some odd hexes on the island and the dozen and a half that are on the map but across the waters.

I Forgot to Add "What" to My To Hit Bonus? (DCC RPG)

Last night was another session of our DCC RPG campaign being run by +Craig Brasco . This is the campaign with Graygor, my damn near mutant warrior, he that has bonuses on 5 of his 6 stats (and no penalty on the last. He of the amazing hit points, due to his lucky roll adding his luck bonus to his HP every level in addition to the usual stamina bonus. He really is a monster.

Apparently, he's more of a monster than I realized, as I forgot to add his luck modifier to "attack rolls with one specific kind of weapon."

It's not a hidden rule, but it is one that passed me by when I read the details of the warrior class.

As his reward earlier in the campaign was a non-magical mithril two handed sword (+ 1 hit, + 2 damage) he started out with a bit of a bite. He's also got + 1 hit and + 1 damage due to his strength score. I just never realized he could get yet another + 2 hit with his swords due to his luck,

Didn't make him miss any less ;)

I wonder what else I've overlooked while reading the DCC rules.

Still haven't managed to pull off a single Mighty Deeds of Arms. trust me, it's not for lack of trying...
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