Monday, October 29, 2012

Dorkland! Roundtable with Rafael Chandler

I spoke with Rafael Chandler, an indie RPG designer and computer game designer on my Dorkland! Roundtable. We talked about his game Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (with a new edition coming out this Fall), his work in computer games, his first novel and his love of heavy metal music.

It is becoming a bit of a cliche, I think, for me to talk about how fun these interviews are, but there are so many different perspectives and playstyles at work in gaming and it is good to see beyond what you normally do and you normally expect from a game, so that you can see the perspectives of others, what others are doing out there.

Let's Talk About The BareBones Fantasy RPG

There's a new RPG on the scene, BareBones Fantasy Role-playing Game. Brought to you by the same minds that brought The Star Frontiersman fanzine and the reimagining of a classic science fiction RPG. Now, I am going to say right off the bat that this game might not be for everyone. BareBones Fantasy is planted firmly in the rules-light end of the game design spectrum, weighing in at just 84 pages. Now, for me this alone isn't a big deal because I definitely prefer games that are lighter and more streamlined in their presentation.

Starting off with the art, the art in this book is very good. From the color cover, to the black & white interior art, this book sports some very strong art, stronger than you often see in a first time product from a publisher. The cover is evocative and pulls you into the action, as if you are the next adventurer who is throwing themselves against the dragon that is being fought.

The layout of the book is simple and uncluttered, making the book (or the PDF in my case) easy to read.

Once you get into the game you will see that this is definitely a first game by the designers. Some of the concepts could have stood to have better explanations, the use of "levels" in the skills is an example of this. Some skills need levels, while others don't. While there are tables on each of the skill descriptions that tell you the skills level, and what the "rank" of those levels are (much in the same way as classes are often ranked in older editions of games like D&D), since all of the skill scores are converted into percentile ranks it seems a bit puzzling as to why skills need levels (outside of giving a hook to those who are used to more class and level-based games). There is also a couple of steps that go into generating the percentage scores for skills, and it does seem that process could be a bit further streamlined.

That, I think, goes to the core of things with this game. BareBones Fantasy is intended to be a rules-light sort of game, but it is definitely on the more complicated end of rules-light. It is certainly not as light as a game like Risius, or even a game like Over The Edge. This is not a negative thing, it is just that I think that some of the processes could have been further streamlined to make BareBones Fantasy closer to what some think of traditionally as a rules-light game. I like the idea of using the classic classes of most class-based fantasy role-playing games as skills, This is a great idea, and something that I have toyed around with myself. I think that taking this approach cuts out a lot of the complexity of traditional class-based fantasy role-playing games.

Mechanically this game is pretty simple, and things boil down to a percentile, roll low system.  There are various situational modifiers that can be applied to various situations, but the previous sentence sums up how you do things in this game. Whether it is a skill check, or an ability check, everything uses the same mechanic.

The section of the game dealing with the bestiary has all of the monsters that you would expect from a fantasy RPG, if you were coming from other, already established, games. I think that from precedence some of the creatures could have been broken down into greater specificity. The dragon entry, for example, could have been further broken down into various types. I like a lot of monster, and I like unique and interesting monsters that help give players an insight into a games world. The monsters in BareBones, while serviceable, are a bit more generic than what I personally like. The simplicity of creature writeups in the game, however, make it easy enough for a game master to personalize creatures to better fit their world. My main issue, I guess, with generic monsters, is that they do not have a sense of awe that allows players to turn creatures into adversaries rather than just a set of statistics that have to be fought against. This could very easily be something tackled too by the game master in an individual game, but it is something that I would have like to have seen.

I do like random tables in my fantasy games, and of the two offered up in the rules (Adventure Idea Generator and Random Dungeon Generation), the Random Dungeon Generation tables are the stronger of the two. Probably not as good as others that I have I seen, but they are good starting points for the game master to use in creating adventures for the character, while they are getting used to the game and the rules.

There is the starts of a setting in the Keranak Kingdoms. This is fairly traditional fantasy and could easily be further fleshed out by most fantasy game supplements. I don't know that it is enough to really start play entirely on its own, but I think that it can be used as a starting point. Expecting a fully fleshed out setting in a game this brief is probably asking a bit more than what is intended, so this is not something that I would consider to be a fault of BareBones Fantasy. Since most people are probably likely to plug in their own, existing, home-brewed setting, I doubt that the brevity of this section would be an issue for most of those interested in picking up this game.

So, is this a good game? I would definitely say that it is. Yes, there are flaws, but they aren't serious ones, and many of the things that I would probably have issues with would probably be easily handled with a house rule or two, something that a lot of gamers do with their games anyway. Coming in at just under $10 for the PDF this game is probably priced a little too high to be considered an impulse buy (I know it is for me at least), but it definitely would be worth the price. The commercial version sold at the link of the beginning of this post also has a low ink, printer friendly version with the fact that people will have to print this out in mind. While I would not call BareBones Fantasy an innovative game, it is rooted in simple and solid mechanics that will allow players and game masters to get to the game that they want to play quickly and easily. I definitely recommend checking this game out.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Necronomicon 2012 Interviews with Lakisha Spletzer and K.L. Nappier

This past weekend was Necronomicon 2012 here in St. Petersburg, FL. I've been a guest on their gaming track for the last few years, and I always enjoy getting the chance to speak about gaming and many other topics that I end up on panels for. This year, I decided to do a couple of short interviews with local writers that I have had the pleasure of meeting at the convention over the years. You can listen to these interviews here on the blog, or click through and listen to them on the SoundCloud site (where you can also download MP3s of the interviews). Both Spletzer and Nappier are self-publishing indie authors (although Nappier did start out "traditionally" with a larger publishing house.

Both talk briefly about their journeys as authors and share advice for other indie/small press/self-publishing authors, from the experience that they have picked up over the years of being writers and self-publishers.

Lakisha Spletzer

Lakisha Spletzer at Necronomicon 2012 by dorkland

K.L. Nappier
K.L. Nappier At Necronomicon 2012 by dorkland

I think that cross-pollination of ideas, even from sources that may not seem like they would have commonality (like the worlds of fiction and gaming publishing), can lead to learning new and interesting things about what we do ourselves.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Read Outside Your Comfort Zone: Paranormal Romance

This is the cover from the original hardcover edition.
Back in 2001, Kelley Armstrong did something revolutionary...she wrote a fantasy novel set in the modern day with a female protagonist, who happened to be a werewolf. Yeah, in less than ten years that manage to become a cliche, but this is where (for me at least) it all started. I found this book (I think it is up to it's third edition these days because I bought it in hardcover and I know there have been two paperback releases too) tucked away on a shelf in my then-local Half Priced Books (I miss them down here in Florida), and was blown away.

I've never been a big fan of fantasy literature, despite the best intentions of fellow gamers over the years, outside of a couple of authors that I enjoy (like Moorcock or Howard or Zelazny), so it is rare for a book with fantasy tropes to engage me. Maybe it was the female lead. Maybe it was the modern day setting. I don't know. It hooked me in and I've read every book that she has read since (which isn't a small number). Then I started casting around for other authors, and I found people like Patricia Briggs and Devon Monk. And I rediscovered old favorites like Nancy Collins (I consider her Sonja Blue stories from the 80s and 90s to be the prototype for a lot of the tropes of paranormal romance fiction).

Give Bitten a read, I think it will appeal. Armstrong is also not a stranger to gaming, being a fan of the Unisystem rules. Honestly, I think that a couple of the books after Drug Store Magic read like they were written from someone's game reports. I don't mean that in a bad way either. The byzantine background reminds me also, in a few ways, of the setting of GURPS Cabal. I like that the supernatural protagonists are not treated like monster, in the cliched way that many horror writers and games treat these sorts of things. In a lot of cases, these characters are treated like they are in a novel of the everyday but that everyday just happens to have werewolves, magic-users and vampires in it. Unfortunately, a lot of "geeks" wrinkle their nose at the thought that a book might have romance in it. I find that silly.

The reason why I wrote this blog post is to issue a bit a challenge to gamers and geeks: read something outside of your comfort zone, outside of what you might normally read. You never know where your next favorite writer, or genre, may come from. My suggestion is to start with Bitten and see if the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre bites you.

The Eternal Warrior Appears From Valiant Comics

First came Ninjak… Now prepare for the debut of Valiant's next superstar hero — the  undying Eternal Warrior! Valiant is proud to present an advance preview of Archer & Armstrong #5 by New York Times best-selling author Fred Van Lente (Amazing Spider-Man) and artist Emanuela Lupacchino (X-Factor) — the FIRST ISSUE of "Wrath of the Eternal Warrior" and an all-new jumping on point for the series Comic Book Resources calls "refreshingly unpredictable"!
No one in the Valiant Universe is more dangerous or more experienced in the art of war than the Eternal Warrior. After thousands of years on the battlefield, he’s a master of strategy and weaponry, an unrelenting force of nature capable of dismantling entire armies with little effort and less conscience. His brother Armstrong, on the other hand, likes to read poetry and drink beer. Maybe that’s why they had such a bad falling out? But now — after years apart — the Eternal Warrior has a new mission: destroy young Obadiah Archer, Armstrong’s best-est new buddy and teammate in the war against The Sect. And, like it or not, Valiant’s history-smashing adventure duo will soon feel the brunt of the Eternal Warrior’s fist and steel.
The manhunt begins on December 12th as two immortal brothers go to war for the life of Obadiah Archer, only in Archer & Armstrong #5 - featuring a cover by superstar artist Patrick Zircher and interlocking incentive variants by Emanuela Lupacchino! And, comic shop subscribers, don't forget to reserve your Archer & Armstrong #5 Pullbox Exclusive Variant today — featuring a limited edition cover by Doug Braithwaite! Valiant will be maintaining a strict no overprint policy on all upcoming Pullbox Exclusive Variants, so pre-order now!
Cover by PATRICK ZIRCHER (OCT121228)
Pullbox Exclusive Variant by DOUG BRAITHWAITE (OCT121229)
Interlocking Variants by EMANUELA LUPACCHINO (OCT121230/OCT121231)
$3.99/Rated T+/32 pgs.


Monday, October 22, 2012

My Necronomicon 2012 Schedule

Necronomicon, a local SF, Fantasy and Horror convention here in St. Petersburg, FL. Starts on the 26th. I will be in the convention. If you're local and we have talked only online previously, please take a moment and come say hello. This is my list of panels, and I am probably going to be in author's alley at a friend's table helping out.

My schedule:

Romantic Elements in F&SF: the Male Perspective    
10/26/12     2:00 PM     2:55 PM     St. Petersburg 3    
William Hatfield, Chris Helton, Rick Wilber, Linnea Sinclair, Host: Nancy J. Cohen

How Not to be a Successful Writer    
10/26/12     4:00 PM     4:55 PM     St. Petersburg 1    
Our authors discuss the things that will keep you from ever finding an audience for your work.
Tracy Akers, Johanna M. Bolton, Chris Helton, Rick Wilber

Getting Started: Writing Game Modules    
10/27/12     9:00 AM     9:55 AM     DEMENS    
Whether you want to write modules for your friends or for profit, get the advice you need to make them great from our pros.
Chris Helton, Christina McCoy, Eloy LaSanta, Joshua Peterson, Hal Greenberg, Host: Chris McCoy

How to End the Story    
10/27/12     2:00 PM     2:55 PM     St. Petersburg 3    
You got started and you put some good stuff in the middle but how do you give the tale a good finish? Learn here.
William Logan, Stokely Gittens, Lakisha Spletzer, Michael L. Joy, Chris Helton, Host: T.S. Robinson

Dorkland! Roundtable with Tracy Barnett

Last week I talked with up and coming designer Tracy Barnett about his games and his development as a designer. We also talked about the things that motivate and excite him and get him making games.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why I Hate Stealth Kickstarters

Again this comes up, so again I find myself thinking about it and this time I think that I have to work out my thoughts in a post. I know that people are going to argue about this, fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinions on these matters, even when they disagree with me.

You're probably wondering what this "stealth Kickstarter" that I'm so upset about actually is. As a matter of fact I've already had my wording "attacked" by having someone say that these things aren't being hidden, so they can't be stealth. I use the term stealth in this regard to describe introducing a secondary project (whether as a stretch goal or as a pledge level) into a primary project (the project that is being Kickstarted). The first time this happened (and caused me to not back a project) was with Frog God Games and their Kickstarter for a new edition of their Swords & Wizardry Complete rules. They had a pledge level that allowed backers to purchase a monster book unrelated to actual project. The second time that I noticed this was with Robin Laws' Kickstarter for Hillfolk added a stretch goal that when reached would release the Gumshoe system under and open license of some sort. Just as a note, Hillfolk isn't a Gumshoe game.

I get that this is a marketing ploy to pull another demographic into paying for a project. Is it legal, by the standards of Kickstarter's guidelines? I'm not entirely sure, but I'm not a lawyer or a legal expert. I just know what I know from reading the guidelines on the Kickstarter site. I have decided to send a request for clarification on this point to Kickstarter, so hopefully I will hear something back. If that happens, I will update this post accordingly.

Some would say that I am using this as a justification as a reason to not back projects that I wasn't planning on backing already. That's not the case. I get that a lot of people aren't interested in the principals of how they spend their money. I'm not one of those people.

This quote comes directly from Kickstarter's guidelines page. After the quote I am going to use, what may seem to some to be tortured logic to get to a point.
A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.

One of the problems that I have with stretch goals (and I have more than one problem, but that is likely for another blog post) is that I think they turn a discrete project into something open ended. I know, tortuous logic, but it is part of the problem that I have with the process. Also, stretch goals tend to turn more into swag than what I think they should be...making the project stronger/faster/better. If a project makes more money than what the project manager needs then that additional money should go into making the project better, whether that is via more/better art, high page count, additional material from other creators. I do not think that it should go to doing things that are unrelated (like releasing other systems under an open license). Yes, I know that people are going to disagree with me, but I don't care.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jeff Lemire Covers Harbinger

I'm posting this mostly because I think this is a sweet cover. You probably know Jeff Lemire from his creator-owned comic Sweet Tooth, or his recent work in DC Comic's New 52 on books like Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, Animal Man or  Justice League Dark. He's going to be doing a variant cover for Valiant's Harbinger comic. I love the "high school notebook doodle" quality of it.
If you want more information, here's stuff from the publisher:

Valiant is proud to reveal a variant cover unlike any other for Harbinger #8 by superstar creator Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, Sweet Tooth). Rendered in ballpoint pen on ruled notebook paper, Lemire's cover is Valiant's line-wide variant offering for January 2013, covering the latest issue of the all-new "Renegades" arc by New York Times best-selling author Joshua Dysart and rising star Phil Briones. 
"Josh Dysart is one of my favorite people and favorite writers in comics. We've wanted to work together for a long time now, but things never seem to line up with both of our busy schedules. When I heard Josh would be a part of the incredible Valiant relaunch with Harbinger, I immediately asked editor Jody LeHeup if I could do a variant. It may not be a full comic, but at least Josh and I have finally done something together," said Lemire. 
"I'm really excited about the high quality books Valiant has been putting out and it's great to be a part of it in even this small way. I was so thrilled that Jody and the Valiant guys let me go nuts with my lo-fi ballpoint pen idea," he added. "I had a blast!"
"Jeff routinely conjures some of the most engaging images and stories in comics and I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with him again," said Associate Editor Jody LeHeup. "This incredible cover is a testament to that fact and to his love for the outstanding work that Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Phil Briones and the rest of the Harbinger crew are doing right now."
Out of the ashes of the Harbinger Foundation, the rise of the Valiant Universe’s first super-team continues this January! After fighting their way out of Toyo Harada's secret academy for superhumans, Peter Stanchek and Faith "Zephyr" Herbert are out to recruit the next generation of psionics and strike the Harbinger empire wherever it may stand. Peter Stanchek. Zephyr. Kris. Flamingo. Torque. Meet the latest member of the resistance on January 23rd in Harbinger #8 – the next awesome installment of the series Comic Book Resources calls “a must-read."
Valiant's Harbinger #8 Lemire Linewide Variant is available to retailers who cumulatively order 125 copies or more of Valiant's January titles in any combination. Visit for more information!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Horror Saves in Old School Games

Welcome to my obligatory Halloween post. It is funny but I've never seen the fascination with running horror scenarios or games, just because it is October. Maybe it is because I have always played a lot of horror games that I don't see the need. Horror and superheroes (I know, a strange mix but it makes sense to me) are my preferred genres over fantasy any day. I was reading my PDF of The Book of Unremitting Horror (which is a scary ass bestiary written for d20 Modern but that could easily be adapted to other d20 or old school games) the other day when a reference to Mongoose's OGL Horror book sparked an idea: genre specific saving throws for a horror-themed old school game.

It seems easy enough to me to add a few new categories of saving throws to things. I'm not going to quote everything directly, so you might want to check out the OGL Horror book on its own. I'm not really one to get behind OGL [Blank] line from Mongoose, because I think that most of them suffer from the company's typical need for more speed than editing. There are interesting ideas that can be mined from some of the books, but on their own many of them are shambles.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

My Dorkland! Roundtable with Wolfgang Baur

I talked with Wolfgang Baur on a Dorkland! Roundtable. We talked about the upcoming release of the Midgard Campaign setting, as well as some of the influences that have gone into its development over the years and the processes of how Open Design/Kobold Press does things.

We also talked about games that he has worked on during his career, and games that he would like to work on.

Sword of Sorcery #0: Amethyst and Beowulf

My biggest complaint of this comic is the awkwardness of the title. Sword of Sorcery just doesn't sound right to me, for some reason. I know that it was a title of a DC Comic in the past, but it really just doesn't sing to me. Maybe because of there being two leads? I'm not sure. Regardless, it is a fairly minor complaint, as comic complaints go.

I will get this right out of the way at the beginning. I was a huge fan of Jem and the Holograms as a kid. There, I said it. I even think that some of the writing on the cartoon has held up surprisingly well over the years. Yes, there is some terribly bad stuff in those shows, but it has held up better to the adult me better than many of its contemporaries. And, while I did like the Amethyst comic in the 80s, it was the connection of Christy Marx's writing that drew me to the book.