Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Future of Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeons & Dragons Keynote Address at Gen Con Indy 2012



The Future of Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons Keynote Address at Gen Con Indy 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (June 28, 2012) - Calling all heroes, your presence is required!  Join us for an unprecedented look into the future of Dungeons & Dragons, including the evolution of the game, the re-birth of a fantasy setting and the next generation of art.  Wizards of the Coast is proud to host its first-ever Gen Con keynote address on Thursday, August 16th  to share with D&D fans what is in store for the game that has changed gaming forever. Speakers include President and CEO of Wizards Greg Leeds, Senior Manager for D&D Research and Design Mike Mearls, and some of the greatest creative minds in the industry. 

The keynote begins at 7:00 PM in the 500 Ballroom of the Indianapolis Convention Center and will be live-streamed at DungeonsandDragons.com/events.

Greg Leeds quote: “We are honored to be hosting the first-ever Gen Con keynote address, and sharing with the legions of D&D fans what the future holds for the game that has changed so many lives.”

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About Gen Con
Gen Con, LLC produces the largest consumer hobby, fantasy, science-fiction, and adventure game convention in North America. It was acquired in 2002 by former CEO and Founder of Wizards of the Coast Peter Adkison. Gen Con is a consumer and trade experience dedicated to gaming culture and community. For more information on Gen Con, visit www.gencon.com.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let's Talk About ... Agents of S.W.I.N.G.

Alternate cover image taken from the author's DeviantArt page.
Let's talk about a fun little game called Agents of S.W.I.N.G. It came out from Postmortem Studios and was written by James Desborough (you may have heard of him). I'm writing this review because because this is a cool little game that deserves the attention, and because James is a creator who also deserves the attention. Now, I'm not a fan of everything that Postmortem does, but I am a fan of this game.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. uses a Fate 3.0 hack at its core, but unlike many other of the contemporary Fate hacks, this version is a bit more streamlined than what you are going to find in other third party builds. Don't let that 344 pages on the RPGNow fool you because Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a digest-sized book, unlike the letter-sized books that the other Fate hacks have been. If Agents had been done in a letter size it would have been a much slimmer book.

James shows an understanding of the underlying concepts and mechanics of the Fate rules when he digs in and streamlines the mechanics to get to what he wants to do with them. I'll get back to that in just a bit because I want to talk about the setting, and then get back to how the rules make this setting work. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a solid game that everyone who enjoys cinematic, fast-paced espionage gaming should own.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a game of Swinging 60s British Spy-Fi television and movies.Shows like The Avengers, The Man From UNCLE, Danger Man and The Prisoner are the basis of this game. For those who might not know about Spy-Fi, Wikipedia gives a nice definition:
It often uses a secret agent (solo or in a team) or superspy whose mission is a showcase of science fiction elements such as technology and ideas used for extortion, plots for world domination or world destruction, futuristic weapons, gadgets and fast vehicles that can travel on land, fly, or sail on or under the sea. Spy-fi does not necessarily present espionage as it is practiced in reality. It is escapist fantasy that emphasizes glamour, adventure and derring-do.
This isn't a game, or setting of gritty espionage, like the current James Bond movies or the spate of Bourne movies, but one that embraces the pulpiness of the genre. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a game where John Drake can rub elbows with the Doctor and go off and fight Communist tyranny. In fact, if you look closely at the extensive collection of NPCs in the book you might just find analogues for both of those characters. There is even plenty of support for the Sci-Fi gadgetry that is so important to this genre.

Then we get to Fate. As we all know, Fate 3.0 is the engine that was built for Evil Hat's Spirit of the Century game, a high-flying game of pulp adventure, that has been adapted to be used for everything from urban fantasy to space opera to traditional fantasy games. The inherent pulpiness of Fate makes it a great match for this genre. James then streamlines and customizes the rules in his build, to make the rules fit into the concepts of Spy-Fi even better. One of the fundamental (to me) changes is the change to the adjective ladder of Fate. Fate (and the Fudge rules from which it is derived) is built around the concept of the adjective ladder as both a tool for descriptions and as the core resolution mechanic. This is the adjective ladder used in Agents of S.W.I.N.G.:
+8: Out of sight
+7: Far out
+6: Fab
+5: Groovy
+4: Neat
+3: Solid
+2: Hip
+1: Cool
+0: Yawn
-1: Bent
-2: Crummy
-3: Bummer
James cooked the Swinging 1960s London right into the core of the system. This is a good thing, because the rules help to reinforce the mindset of the setting and pull the players both into the setting and their characters. Each time you roll the dice in Agents of S.W.I.N.G. you are sucked into thinking like someone in Swinging London.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. introduces a point-buy system to Fate that does away with pyramids and extensive stunts and perquisites. The point buy system for Skills in this game is particularly good (and time saving). Something that I plan to use should I run another Fate game myself. Basically, what James does is make each rank worth a point (so a skill purchased at Hip costs 2 points and a skill purchased at Groovy costs 5 points) and then gives starting characters 20 points with which to purchase skills. You can get a surprisingly adept character out of this method, which I am sure was the point. Stunts are similarly broken down and streamlined.

Does Agents of S.W.I.N.G. do the job of capturing the feel that it is going for? I think so. The choice of the Fate system was a good fit for this system, and the further customizations to it by James help to reinforce this. Fate embraces the swinging pulpiness of the setting and at the same time enforces the setting in the minds of the players.

I cannot recommend strongly enough that people buy this game. Am I doing this review for political reasons? Absolutely, but not for the reasons that some may think. When creators are censored or pressured into making games out of political pressure that is ultimately not good for gaming in the long run. People cannot design if they are constantly looking over their shoulder, which is what happens in an environment of anger and hate. Once one publisher or designer crumbles, it is only a matter of time before the mobs move on to something else that they don't like, using their anger and fear as a justification to stifle further creativity.

Keep in mind that, should you decide to comment, this is not a public venue. It is my blog and my rules. I will allow, disallow and delete whatever comments that I want. The Thumper rule is in effect: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Simple Skill System For Swords & Wizardry

Admittedly, not everyone want skills in their old school games, this post is for those people who do want to add the option to their games. This is written for Swords & Wizardry but could easily be ported to any old school game. The genesis of this particular variant comes from a forum post made by one of the players in the G+ Swords & Wizardry game. This is still in a very rough form, and I am posting this mostly to get it out of the headspace and into a format that can be commented upon.

The basic mechanic is that the player rolls 2d6, adds any modifiers from their character's Ability Scores, and compares it to a target number for the difficulty of the task (as set by the Referee). If the roll + modifiers is higher than the target, the character succeeds at using that skill.

Difficulty Determined by Referee
Die Roll
Simple Task
No Roll
Hard Task
9+
Difficult Task
12+

The referee should keep the difficulty of the task in mind at all time, and should also consider the general level/competency of the character in mind as well. What is a simple task for a 6th level character might be Hard or Difficult for a 1st level character. The referee is always cautioned to err in favor of the character when determining the difficulty of a task.

Modifiers are determined by the Dexterity or Intelligence of the character, using the following table:


Score
Bonus/Penalty
3-8
-1
9-12
+0
13-18
+1

If a skill is something that is dependent on the character's overall agility and coordination, use the Dexterity score's bonus/penalty. If the skill is something that depends on the overall mental capabilities of the character, use the Intelligence score's bonus/penalty.

At this point I do not include Thief skills, because I think that those skills should be a protected niche of that character class. An option for Thieves could be to convert the Thief "skills" over to skills in this system and just give the Thief a special modifier, like half their level. I'm not 100% on this specific listing of skills just yet. This is a part that I am still turning over in my head (yes, this list of skills was taken from an OGL source, and it will be properly attributed, should this idea make it into a polished and final form).

Arcana: Your character’s knowledge of the unknown and the magical within the game world. Note that this doesn't give a character any sort of spellcasting ability.

Athletics: Anything involving physical or athletic activities, including climbing, swimming, and acrobatics.

Communication: Your character’s ability to communicate with others, but not to persuade (see Social, below).

Focus: Anything involving concentration, observation or perception.

Nature/Outdoors: How good your character is at things like camping, fishing, hunting, survival, navigation and horseback riding.

Enterprise: Your character’s knowledge of how businesses and finance work.

Investigation: Your character’s knowledge of how to look for clues, searching an area for hidden things, and the like.

Languages: How good your character is at speaking/reading/understanding a particular language. Each language counts as a different skill.

Military Sciences: Your character’s knowledge of tactics and strategy, as well as military history.

Profession: This is what your character does for a living when not out adventuring. Sample professions can be: Blacksmith, Cooper, Brewer, Weaver, Veterinarian, and etc. The profession must be specified, and this skill can be taken multiple times for multiple professions.

Performance: Your character’s ability to perform in front of others, this can be acting, singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument.

Social: Anything involving using your charm or persuasion

Technical: How good your character is at technical tasks such as mechanics.

Transportation: How good your character is at driving or piloting vehicles. Also allows the character some basic mechanical knowledge of their preferred vehicle.

Skills do not have ranks, they are either trained (i.e. the character has that skill) or untrained. All character classes start play with one skill at first level, and gain another every three levels.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random Spellbooks For Swords & Wizardry

One of the benefits to a game like Swords & Wizardry is the ability to quickly generate a character. Roll the dice, pick the class, fill out hit points and you are pretty much ready to go. The only thing that can slow down the process is figuring out what spells the Magic-User can have access to when starting out. The assumption is that a fledgling magic-user is given a (mostly blank) spellbook when completing their studies that has a handful of spells scribed into it by their teacher. The question is, what spells are in their spellbook?

This post helps you to quickly, and randomly, generate a starting spellbook for your first level magic-user. (It can also be handy for spellbooks found in the loot while dungeon-crawling.) We assume that your character's teacher is not going to be too helpful and provide them with too much magic...just because powerful magic-users tend to be covetous of the knowledge that they have gathered, and paranoid about how others might use that power against them. One house rule that I have for my Swords & Wizardry games is that Read Magic is a class ability for magic-users, rather than a spell. It seems silly that a magic-user would undergo that much sorcerous training and not understand magical languages.

Spellbooks are a repository of the accumulated magical knowledge of the magic-user, part documentation for their spells and part magical diary of their journey of discovery. A spellbook is very important to a magic-user because it contains the formulas and memory devices for each spell that they use. Losing a spellbook means that a magic-user is unable to rememorize spells as casting causes the spells to vanish from their minds. This makes a spellbook more valuable than gold to a magic-user.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Some New Options For Your Old School Cleric

I use the conflict between Law and Chaos as a central point in my D&Dish fantasy games. I like the idea of the conflict because it provides a central narrative to what is going on in the game and embracing and ramping up this conflict really makes a lot of the central concepts of a fantasy role-playing game really start to make a lot of sense. This post is about making Clerics a central part of this conflict in a mechanical way, as well as giving your Cleric a bit of extra juice. These rules were written with my Swords & Wizardry game in mind, but with a little squinting that could be easily adapted to most old school types of games. Obviously, not everyone is going to be as interested in applying these rules to Clerics in their home games, but I think that they add a nice bit of flavor to Clerics, particularly at lower levels, and makes them into something other than a slightly weaker Fighter knock-off.

At some point in the eternal conflict between Law and Chaos one side, or the other, hit upon the idea of having their own supernaturally empowered warrior to use as pawns in the battles. Fighters were helpful, but they would not always have the raw power that these forces would want or need and Magic-Users were useful but they ultimately served their own agendas. This was the origin of the Cleric. Once one side had their own Clerics, the other side needed them as well.

Clerics combine the qualities of a a warrior and a wizard, but into a package that is controlled by Law or by Chaos. The spellcasting ability of the Cleric is entirely dependent on their following the rules of their patrons within Law or Chaos. Not following those rules gets the Cleric stripped of their spellcasting, which can be very dangerous in the types of situations that Clerics tend to find themselves. However, since Clerics are typically chosen from the ranks of the most faithful, breaking these rules is rarely an issue.

Different Clerics fill different roles within an organization, and these roles are represented by Domains. A Domain is a class ability for the Cleric, but one that the player gets to choose. The Domain picked for a Cleric is like a theme for them, giving them purpose within their religion and sometimes within the adventuring group as well. All Clerics get one Domain at first level.

Domains are fairly generic because Clerics tend to fill the same sorts of niches within religions. Groups are encouraged to come up with their own Domains as well, using these as a basis for their own creations. One thing to remember is that these Domains do not work in the same manner as those from other editions of the original game.


Friday, June 08, 2012

The Next Round of Dorkland! Roundtables

I have really been enjoying doing these Dorkland! Roundtables. Sure, the technology is still in a beta phase and there have been bumps and hiccups because of that, but I have really enjoyed getting to have conversations with people who love tabletop gaming and are passionate enough about it to want to talk about it over the internet. The upgrade to Google's Hangouts on the Air, over regular hangouts, has made a real difference in being able to hold a focused conversation with designers and not have to worry about random people deciding that they need to come into your Hangout to grief, or try to hit on women.

James Maliszewski of the Grognardia blog and designer of Thousand Suns, a Science Fiction role-playing game. James is a respected gaming "pundit" and authority on the history of our hobby who is often credited as one of the early proponents of what has become known as the Old School Renaissance, a growing group of gamers interested in the traditions, history and early days of tabletop role-playing. He also has demonstrated his chops as a gamer designer with the 12 Degree, which has been used in Rogue Games Colonial Gothic and Shadow, Sword and Spell, as well as James' Grognardia Games published Thousand Suns. According to the game's blurb Thousand Suns is "a roleplaying game that takes its inspiration from the classic literary "imperial" science fiction of the '50s, '60s, and '70s written by authors like Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Gordon Dickson, Larry Niven, H. Beam Piper, Jerry Pournelle, and A.E. van Vogt, among others."

I will be talking to James on June 18th at 9pm EST (United States).

The next Dorkland! Roundtable after that will be my first actual panel discussion and it is something that I am very excited about. I will be talking with five designers who have all created super-hero games, some are newer names that you might not be as familiar with while others have been around in game design for a while. All of them are united by a passion for comic book super-heroes that has driven them to design games around them. The panel will be:

  • Industry veteran Jeff Dee. In addition to being on of the early, and inspirational, artists for a good number of TSR's D&D and AD&D products, Jeff is know for having created the Villains & Vigilantes role-playing game while still in high school. Jeff has also developed the game Living Legends, a spiritual successor to V&V, and is back on the gaming scene with Monkey House Games doing a new edition of Villains & Vigilantes.
  • Steve Kenson has created material for pretty much every super-hero game that has been on the market, since he became a professional designer. He has created both the Mutants & Masterminds game (for Green Ronin) and Icons (for Adamant Entertainment). When not designing for games he also writes fiction for Shadowrun and Battletech, among other properties.
  • Marget Weis Productions Creative Director Cam Banks has spearheaded two of the new school approaches to super-hero role-playing with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and the Smallville Role-Playing game. MWP is unique in that it has sort of "dueling" licenses with both DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. and Marvel Comics and has games dealing with the characters of both companies at the same time, and with close to the same system. Both Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Smallville run off of variants of the company's innovative Cortex+ system. Like Steve, Cam is also published fiction writer.
  • Joshua Kubli of Imperfekt Gammes has created the Invulnerable Tabletop  Super Hero RPG. Joshua is the new kid on the block on this panel, and is probably nervous about appearing alongside all of these others. Joshua also designs a series of sandbox science fiction adventures for Occult Moon. He definitely has nothing to be worried about appearing here.
  • Chris Rutkowsky of Basic Action Games designed BASH! (Basic Action Super Heroes), currently in its Ultimate Edition. Other publishers, like Vigilance Press, also produce licensed material for the BASH! game. The genesis of BASH! was Chris' desire to create a game with minimal math and overhead that could be used with kids in an after school program that he was involved with.
While normally Dorkland! Roundtables are about an hour in length, due to the number of guests involved this super! Roundtable will likely be about an hour and a half (just to give all the people a chance to talk) and will start at 9pm EST (Unites States time) on July 2nd.

If you are a game designer or publisher and would be interested in a future Dorkland! Roundtable, please contact me via Twitter or Google Plus and we can talk about getting you scheduled to appear on one of the future broadcasts. All Dorkland! Roundtable are initially live streamed via YouTube and Google's Hangouts on the Air and archives are available for viewing on YouTube and Vimeo.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Gen Con Launches Educational Partners Program

INDIANAPOLIS (June 6, 2012) – Gen Con LLC has entered into a partnership with the Indiana University School of Informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis that will make the IU campus the first institution in the nation to participate in Gen Con’s Educational Partners Program.

“Given the academic reputation, enrollment size and proximity of the campus to Gen Con, partnering with the IUPUI seemed like a natural fit for Gen Con Indy 2012,” said Adrian Swartout, CEO of Gen Con LLC. “The IU School of Informatics at IUPUI offers some innovative specializations such as Storytelling Fundamentals and Gaming, and their students and faculty will add a unique voice to discussions on current topics in the industry.”

With its new Educational Partners Program, Gen Con hopes to give programmatic access to selected academic institutions, allowing students and faculty to interact with key members of the game industry and participate in educational, informative seminars.

“We are proud to collaborate with Gen Con on its Educational Partners program,” said Mathew Powers, assistant professor at the IU School of Informatics at IUPUI. “The School of Informatics uniquely integrates computing, social science and information systems design to explore how people use computing and technology to live, work, play and communicate, so it only made sense for us to collaborate with Gen Con, which is known world-wide as the best place for the creation and development of truly original gaming fare.”

Gen Con will celebrate its 45th anniversary this fall, as well as its 10th anniversary at its show in Indianapolis, August 16-19. According to the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, Gen Con Indy 2011 provided more than $36 million in economic impact to Indianapolis, largely attributable to its record turnstile attendance of 120,000.

For questions regarding the Education Partners Program, including how to get involved, please contact Jake Theis, Gen Con Senior Marketing Communications Manager, at jake.theis@gencon.com.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Sound of Music: How You Can Use Music To Explain Your Campaigns

Today I get to talk about two things that I like in one post: gaming and music. Campaigns all have a tone and a feel to them, sometimes no matter how hard you try to describe the feel of a campaign to a prospective player the words just escape you. That's where music can come in. Sometimes music and songs can describe things that your words fail. For example, do you have a Cyberpunk game coming up? Try using Susie van der Meer's Somebody Has to Pay from the great Run Lola Run soundtrack. One thing to keep in mind...I hate movie scores and I think that they're abysmal for trying to set the tone for your own campaign. For me the connotations from the source movie are just too high. Yeah, you could say that I have a double standard, since I just linked to a movie from a soundtrack, but for me that is something different.

Digging through a box the other night, I found a bunch of old mix CDs that I had made for some old campaigns. Most of them had never moved past the planning stages but I saved them anyway. The CD in question was labelled "Santeria" and I am going to assume that it was for one of my many modern horror/conspiracy/magic games. From the choice of songs, I am going to date this CD at about 2005.

I listen to this now and a couple of the songs are clunkers, and I could have probably demonstrated the tones that I wanted in the campaign a bit less heavy handed. One of these songs I hate to admit that I listen to, like would be too strong of a term but there are some personal resonances to the song. It's amazing what history and relationships will do to a song.

I know that I was being cutesy with following Sublime's "Santeria" with Amy Winhouse's "Rehad" because I have always felt that Bradley Nowell would have had a much greater impact on American Popular music if he hadn't died of a drug overdose. I don't think the irony of Amy Winehouse's death was lost on anyone.

What I am going to do with these nineteen songs (provided I can find all of them on YouTube) is trace a pathway through them and show how they can be used to demonstrate the themes of a campaign. Now, this isn't an actual building tool. These songs didn't inform the actual campaign, instead they were intended to be used to explain the campaigns to others.

Be warned that some of these songs are not safe for work. Some of them might just get you odd looks from co-workers if you're listening to them at work. It also may be that some of these videos are not available in all countries. There's not a whole lot that I can do about that but wish you luck on finding them for yourselves.

After the jump, the songs from the long lost mix CD and a bit of explanation on how they can help to explain the tone and feel of a game.