Friday, August 31, 2012

Blood and Treasure: Player's Tome in Review

I received a comp copy of the PDF of John Stater's latest game: the Player's Tome for Blood & Treasure. I have to say that I like what I am seeing. This isn't a retroclone, it is something that might be better classified as a "second wave" OSR game. Instead of trying to recreate an earlier edition of an out-of-print game, like most in the OSR had done previously, John has taken the know-how that he gathered while developing material for various versions of Swords & Wizardry, as well as working on the Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords & Wizardy, and has applied what he has learned to the d20 3.x SRD.

Like I said, he isn't recreating another older ruleset, he is taking the approach of simplicity and utilitarianism that is a hallmark of so much OSR work and he looked at how he could simplify the 3.x SRD material and still keep it as something that is recognizable as being derived from those rules. Has he succeeded?

I think that he has. Obviously, I'm not getting the full game from just the Player's Tome but there is enough of the game in there for me to come to some conclusions. This isn't the work of someone who hates modern games. Far from it, this is the work of someone who loves fantasy gaming but doesn't like the complexity that comes with a lot of contemporary games. That's a mind set that I can completely relate to. The whole reason for my jump into retro-gaming over the last couple of years is because I had gotten tired of the complexity of a lot of the games out on the market today, and wanted games that were simpler. This lead me to games like Swords & Wizardry and OpenQuest and Warrior and Wizard.

This isn't a perfect game, but few are. The game itself is definitely strong, and complete. The layout of the book is a bit lackluster, and the fonts are a bit small. I'm sure that was a choice so that page count could be reduced, but these eyes aren't as good as they used to be (particularly with reading PDFs). The art is a mixed bag, but the "iconic" character art for each of the character classes is phenomenal, which might be why some of the other art left me a bit cold. I also have to say that the iconic character art is some of the most inclusive art that I have seen in a fantasy game in a while.

Presentation aside, the rules are strong. John has streamlined a lot of the complexity down to a manageable level. At the same time he has kept the elements that are recognizable as being a part of the 3.x rules. Feats are still a part of the game, streamlined dramatically, and optional. Skills have taken a cue from some of the ideas coming out of the OSR and are based off of saving throws. This is a mechanic that I liked when I first saw it on a gaming blog, and I like the variation on the theme that John has done for Blood & Treasure. There are plenty of spells (most of the book is taken up with spell lists, even though the spells too have been streamlined), which fixes something that I don't like about a lot of old school clones. In their desire for fidelity to the source material, I think that magic-users and clerics tend to get shortchanged. It is nice to see that there is plenty of magic to go around.

This is a great game that a lot of people are going to be talking about for a long while.

Should you buy this game? Hell, yes. Organization and presentation aren't the best, but I'm sure that this will change with future editions. For a game done by an amateur layout person (since there is no layout credit in the book, I am assuming that John did the layouts himself), the book could have looked a lot worse. Underneath that, however, there is a strong fantasy gaming engine that more than makes up for any shortcomings in presentation. Blood & Treasure is the next Castles & Crusades, and I think that publishers like Troll Lord need to look out because there is some serious competition for them to be found in this game. Don't just take it from me, however. Go out now (there's a handy link at the top of this post) and buy yourself a copy of Blood & Treasure. You won't be sorry.

Howard Chaykin's Black Kiss [NSFW]

With Chaykin's follow-up mini-series, Black Kiss II, finally hitting comic stores, I thought it would be a good time to (finally) get my post about the original Black Kiss up on the blog and out into the world. Black Kiss came out from Vortex Comic in the late 80s. Vortex was a Canadian publisher that also brought us Dean Motter's Mister X. The Vortex books were ahead of their time, in one way or another, and very cutting edge. Which is likely why a creator like Chaykin would be interested in working with them.

This post is based on the Thick Black Kiss collection of the miniseries that Vortex put out in the 90s.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dorkland! Roundtable: BRP Edition With Ben Monroe and Jason Durall

On a very special Dorkland! Roundtable with Ben Monroe and Jason Durall we talk about Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing System and the upcoming standalone BRP fantasy game, Magic World.


We spend a lot of time talking about why we like BRP, what drew us into the system in the first place and other topics of generally dorky conversation. A map is shown to us by a member of the upcoming generation of roleplayers, as well. It was a lively conversation, and much more fun than the last time that I talked with Jason on here. Before Hangouts on the Air because a thing, Jason was on my first Dorkland! Roundtable, which was a bit of a fiasco for a good number of reasons. But it also shows just how much things have changed, technology-wise, with Google+ in the last few months.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Magical Origins and Icons Superpowered Roleplaying

This blog post sprung out of a Google+ post that I made the other day. One of my favorite things in comics has always been the magical characters from Doctor Strange to Zatanna to Doctor Fate to John Constantine to Sargon to Doctor Occult. I like the fact that they are a little bit weirder than your "regular" super-heroes, that they don't always wear tights, and that their adventures are a bit more fantastic.

I wrote up a couple of new Origins for Adamant Entertainments Icons role-playing game. Actually, I wrote up more than a couple but I thought that I might save those for another blog post, or perhaps some other use. If you haven't played Icons, you should check it out. Designed by super-heroic gaming guru Steve Kenson (creator of Mutants & Masterminds and other super-hero games), Icons is a lighter approach to super-heroes, inspired by the Marvel Super-Heroes game of the 80s from TSR, as well as the Fudge and Fate RPGs. This is a game that is designed for pick up play so that you can get characters up and going with a minimum of effort and fuss. This game has a fun and novel approach to its subject matter, and I think that any one interested in super-hero comics and role-playing should have a copy of Icons on their book shelf.

Origins are sort of the archetype for a character in Icons. It represents the type of super-hero that your character is. Magically-oriented super-heroes have just as many options of types as do their non-magical brethren, if not more. In this article, I will give you a couple that will let you get started into integrating magical heroes into your Icons games.

Old School Caster: The hero has been around since the Golden Age of heroics, slinging spells and taking names. The character probably knew the parents and grandparents of many of the heroes operating today. Unlike a lot of younger magicians, honor and rules are very important to this hero. In the world of magic, knowledge is power, so the character gets two additional specialties.

Altered State: The hero was once human, but the supernatural world has changed them into something...other. The character is now a creature of magic of some sort, from an elemental being to a living plant to a magically animated golem. Raise two of the character's abilities by +2 and give them an additional aspect.

The (Un)dead: The character died, but that state of being does not stop someone from becoming a hero. Now serving a higher (or sometimes lower) power, the character has been given a new "life" and a mission to go with it. Increase two of the character's abilities by +1 and give them an additional aspect to cover their (un)life.

Aspects and Magical Origins
You will probably notice that these new Origins give characters more Aspects than more "normal" starting characters under the basic Icons rules, and there is a reason for that. The magical community in super-hero comics tend to be more maladjusted than most regular super-heroes (outside of mutants, at least). Icons has an excellent mechanic for dealing with that with Aspects. Challenges work well to simulate the social and psychological tolls that the world of magic can take on a hero. Yes, it gives magical heroes a bit more determination to play with but that will not always offset their other problems.

Normal super-heroes often find magical heroes unsettling, for one reason or another. That has to do with the magical world and its dangers being so much stranger than what regular heroes have to deal with. Magicians and demons rarely have the desire to rob banks or kidnap people. The normal super-heroes are lucky to deal with that. The magical heroes get to deal with the reality incursions of elder gods and demonic entities that live within left angles.

Magical Specialties
Just to give your new magical hero a little bump, here are a couple of magical/occult specialties to give them a little more juice.

Demonology: The hero has received training in demons, their workings and the realms in which they live. Add their specialty bonus to tests dealing with these subjects.

World of Magic: Magicians tend to know the mover and shakers, human and otherwise, in their community (both good and evil). Add their specialty bonus to tests dealing with knowing who might consider a place within their territory, what witches may sell potions in a city, and other similar tests of knowledge.

Legend Lore: In a world where gods actually walk the Earth and magic exists, knowledge of the legendary past of the world and some of these beings can come in handy. Add the character's specialty bonus to tests about the myths, legends and folklore of the world.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Valiant Masters: Bloodshot Vol. 1 To See October Release

The series that laid the foundation for the "Summer of Valiant" is finally back in print! Valiant is proud to present an advance preview of Valiant Masters: Bloodshot Vol. 1 HC - Blood of the Machine - the first in an all-new line of deluxe hardcovers collecting classic stories of the original Valiant Universe! 
 
Once, he was the hired killer known as Angelo Mortalli. Now, there is only Bloodshot. Brought back from the grave by the government scientists of Project Rising Spirit, Bloodshot is powered by microscopic nano-machines that can repair all injuries and maximize his physical potential. But the nanites can't replace his lost memories – or help him shake the feeling that he was once anything but a hero. Atoning for his sins in a world he no longer knows, can the man now called Bloodshot recover the secrets of his past? And survive his deadly first encounters with the likes of the Eternal Warrior, Ninjak and Rai along the way?
 
Collecting Bloodshot's best-selling debut with the original series coloring, the inaugural Valiant Masters volume re-presents Bloodshot (1992) #1-8 by fan favorite writer Kevin VanHook and comics legend Don Perlin for the first time anywhere! Plus no fan will want to miss "The Tablet" - a brand new tale of the VH1 Valiant Universe starring Bloodshot and the Eternal Warrior by the classic creative team of VanHook, Perlin, and Bob Wiacek!

Rediscover the series that defined a generation when the Valiant Masters: Bloodshot Vol. 1 HC - Blood of the Machine arrives in finer comics shops everywhere on October 24th!
 
VALIANT MASTERS: BLOODSHOT VOL. 1 HC - BLOOD OF THE MACHINE (AUG121341)
Written by Kevin VanHook
Art by Don Perlin, Andrew Wendel and Ted Halsted
Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith
$24.99/Rated T+/200 pgs.
ON SALE OCTOBER 24th
 


 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Squeezing A Bit More Out Of Your Old School Fighters

For me, as a designer, I think that the best "content" comes out of play. Whether it is making adjustments to a game to better fit everyone's styles, or coming up with new mechanical bits and bobs to give a little more something to player's characters. This is the second batch of character options that I have come up with for our weekly Swords & Wizardry game, but it can just as easily work for Labyrinth Lord as well. I came up with the method that I am using previously to add some zing to clerics, and the method works for other character classes as well.

Basically what I am doing is offering up an additional class ability, one that the player gets to pick for their character. It adds some new special abilities and a bit of customization to a character. The player picks one Fighter Style during character creation, and is stuck with it for the duration of their character. These styles also add a bit of flavor to your character, giving you (as the player) some story and background hooks into the character. This can end up helping with the role-playing of your character as much as it can help with the gaming of it.

I know that this is going out of the boundaries of old school play, for some, but my approach is that I am looking for a simpler approach to gaming, which games like Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord supply for me, which I can then customize to fit the needs that the group and I have for play. So far that has meant bolting on this rudimentary advantage system onto the character classes. This approach has worked well with our party cleric, without making it out of proportionally more powerful when compared to the other characters in the group. It may not work for everyone, but it works for us.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Dorkland! Roundtable With Kyrinn Eis

I spoke with Kyrinn Eis earlier this week on my Dorkland! Roundtable.


It was a good talk. We talked about gaming, Saturday morning SF television in the 70s, and how Google+ is impacting people's gaming and talking about gaming.

Google+ Actual Play Archive

I have put up a new page (linked in the menu at the top of the screen) to archive some of the actual play going on over at the G+ social media site. Click on it to see links to actual play videos that have been made by the people using Google Plus for their "tabletop" role-playing needs. There is a link on the page to a thread on G+ where you can leave your links, if you want to be added to the archive. With any hope, we will see this page swell dramatically.

If scrolling up is too much, here's a link to the page: http://dorkland.blogspot.com/p/google-actual-play.html This is a static page (rather than a blog post) that I will update as people share their links with me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five Magical Items For Your Fantasy RPG Campaigns

I try to keep these fairly system neutral. so that you can easily pop them into the game system of your choice. I like magic items with interesting qualities to them, and I think that these reflect that. They have been influenced by various media sources, that you will probably recognize.

I hope that these magic items spark something for you in your games. If you use them, let me know.


Monday, August 13, 2012

The Dorkland! Roundtable with Quinn Conklin

Last week I talked with Quinn Conklin of Occult Moon on my Dorkland! Roundtable. His was an interesting talk, personally, because both his career as a designer and these Roundtables got their start because of Google Plus. I don't think that I can say often enough what a great tool that this site is becoming for gamers and gaming. The quality and quantity of discussion via G+ is the best that I have encountered online, better than message boards or any other social media site.

There are a lot of people who are saying that Google+ is a wasteland, that no one is out there using it or talking on it, but they obviously aren't tabletop RPG gamers. You can find a link to my G+ profile in the sidebar of the blog, or at the bottom of this post. If you enjoy the blog, and haven't connected with me over on Google+, you should go ahead and do so now.


I can be found on G+ at http://gplus.to/chrishelton. If you add me to one of your circles and don't have something that identifies you as a fellow gamer then please send a private message so I can add you back.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Kickstarter Crack: Are RPG Publishers Going Down A Rabbit Hole?

Every day we all see announcements of new Kickstarters, or publishers/designers saying that they've submitted Kickstarters, or that they are planning one. It is a goldrush as publishers, and wannabe publishers, see the dollar signs that some are getting and want a piece of the pie. I had figured originally that in a couple of years we would reach the saturation point and Kickstarter would lose its luster, now I'm not so sure that the tipping point is all that far away.

We have had a couple of high profile RPG Kickstarters fail to materialize after a couple of years: Gary Sarli's e20 has been plagued with alleged behind the scenes issues, nearly from the beginning, and Phil Brucato's Powerchords is apparently in a limbo-like state since achieving funding in 2010. Yes, I know, there will be defenders of both of these Kickstarters that will likely come out of the woodwork, but I still say that a 2-year gap after reaching funding with no product in sight is inexcusable. With the rush for money that is going on with Kickstarter and people wanting to publish, I think that this is really only the tip of the iceberg. When you have people who do not have any sort of business background, working off of the basis of their "awesome" ideas, who are suddenly hit with the fees and taxes that come with having a real business it is going to be easy for them to get overwhelmed and burn out as well. Considering the history of a lack of business training that we have in the RPG business, there could be a lot of these coming up in the future. Like I said in a recent post here, there are too many (both fans and publishers) who value enthusiasm over professionalism, and this is going to bite Kickstarter backers on the ass.

True, I want creators and designers who are excited about their upcoming and current projects, but enthusiasm without professionalism, or even some sort of track record, doesn't mean that things are going to get done. This also leads to Kickstarter overload, with publishers announcing one Kickstarter after another, sometimes launching a new project before the previous one reaches its final stages of coming to market. Enthusiastic, yes...but is it practical? I don't really think so, plus it starts to lead to a fatigue and the fans start to believe that publishers see them as nothing more than a piggy bank. This attitude is already surfacing around the various social media outlets as gamers are saying "Enough!" to the grind of Kickstarter projects.

The enthusiasm angle also has the added danger of self-selecting for your existing audience. If you know who your audience is, and you know what they want, you end up selling the same things to them over and over again, at the exclusion of a broader market. This ends up creating a look of success to your Kickstarters, but there's no further buzz or market share gained, which is one of the strengths of Kickstarter if you plan on getting your product into distribution.

A year ago I would have said that Kickstarter was the savior of RPGs, allowing projects that would never have seen the light of day to have a chance at getting published. Now, I'm not as certain about that as I used to be. Publishers need to start pacing themselves, particularly in this economy, and realize that every Kickstarter isn't going to be like Traveller5 or Ogre. Yes, there's money to be made to get projects off of the ground, but now we are even seeing projects that announce their stretch goals out of the gate. The assumption being that gamers are going to kiddy up the money. A couple of these projects have had to revise their pre-announced stretch goals, or offer up further bribes to get people interested.

Sloppiness also plagues Kickstarter projects. The reason why I made my Enthusiasm post (linked about) was because I encountered a poorly written Kickstarter project from them, not to mention poorly thought out. A "stealth" Kickstarter like theirs, they are Kickstarting a new printing of their Swords & Wizardry Complete book and yet one of the pledge levels is for a new version of their Monsters book) leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Subsequent communication with whomever answers the mail on their Kickstarter account didn't do much to help that feeling. Ultimately, I chose to not support their Kickstarter, even though I would have liked the books that they were offering. I'm sure that some people will think that there's nothing wrong with adding a stealth Kickstarter to a publisher's existing project but I think that is just another example of the money-grab mentality that is surfacing. I will admit that this mentality isn't unique to those with RPG-related project, it is just that those are the ones that I am watching.

I do not think that Kickstarter is a bad thing. I still think that it will be able to help a lot of publishers get their projects into the hands of gamers that would not have otherwise seen them. I do think that publishers need to exercise more caution and forethought, and a little less enthusiasm on the part of their projects. I'm sure that this isn't going to be a popular or widely-held opinion within gaming circles, but it has been percolating in my head for a while and I think that it finally needed to be released into the wild. Hopefully this spawns some debate and thought on the subject before more gamers get burned on overly enthusiastic projects that never see the light of day.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Garth Ennis And The Shadow

I made one of my irregular stops to the comic store today. Unfortunately they didn't have the book I went to find (Chaykin's Black Kiss II, but I guess you have to go on new release day for things like that), but I decided to pick up a couple of issues of Dynamite's new version of The Shadow. I would have picked up more than the first two issues, but unfortunately the store didn't have any copies of number 3. The first arc of this new book is a story called "The Fire of Creation." I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but since these books are already a few months old now I am pretty sure that most of the people who want to read them already have. If you aren't one of those people, you might not want to read past this point.


Dorkland! Roundtable with Jacob Wood

I talked with Jacob Wood of Accessible Games about his upcoming game Psi-Punk (currently going through it's Kickstarter). As of the time of this posting, he is at 34% of his goal for his Kickstarter. I like the Fudge system, and I like cyberpunk stuff, so this is a Kickstarter that I endorse and think that you should check out and put your money into.

This is the video of the Roundtable with Jacob:


In addition to talking about his Kickstarter, we had a very interesting and enlightening discussion about issues of accessibility for handicapped people in gaming. Jacob talked about issues that he has with commercial PDFs and the problems that he often has with them in reading software for the blind. I learned some important things about accessibility, I think. Jacob also discusses accessibility issues at his blog and reviews materials on the basis of its accessibility for handicapped gamers. Really, some good stuff.

Like I said at the top of this post, I hope that you check the link to his Kickstarter and show it some love.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Enthusiasm and Professionalism in Tabletop RPG Publishing

About this time last year I wrote a post about publishers rushing games in order to have them for sale at Gen Con, only to have to release a new edition within months because the rush job missed so many errors. The business of RPG publishing sometimes seems to forget the fact that there's more to this than just having something to sell at Gen Con.

The polar opposite of this attitude is the "hobbyist," those who publish because they love games more than they understand how a business really works. A good example of this would be the current (as of the date of this post) Kickstarter being run by Frog God Games for a new edition of their Swords & Wizardry Complete, in hardcover format. They previously released a hardcover edition that was marred by printing errors and poor follow up and customer service. I guess some lessons are difficult to learn.

I do not think there is any nobility in publishing something from the stance of being a hobbyist, so if your responses to this opinion post are based from that mindset don't bother.