Thursday, April 25, 2013

Steffan O'Sullivan's VG (Very Good) Fudge

I was looking for some source files on the Fudge RPG system and, as I usually do when I want to go to the source I checked out Steffan O'Sullivan's (mostly dead and infrequently updated) Fudge Page. While nosing around I found a page that I had never noticed before...a link to something called VG Fudge. It was a very simple variant that SOS came up with for the game, and all that it did was change the Adjective ladder. If you go to the linked page, SOS explains some of his reasoning for making this change...reasoning that I think makes a whole lot of sense.
It's easy to state the change - it's very minor in appearance, though fairly major in application. To put it briefly, in my GMing, I've changed the standard Fudge word ladder to:
  • Superb
  • Great
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Mediocre
  • Poor
That's it. No other major changes. Still seven levels, still easy to remember, still easy to know which is better or worse than any other level.
This was posted in 2011 (which shows how long it has been since I looked seriously at Steffan's website).

He added a level in between Good and Great (hence the "Very Good" name) and took out Terrible as a level. That may not seem like a lot but to someone who has played and GMed Fudge for a long time...that's a pretty big change. Personally, I think that removing Terrible is a much bigger change to the ladder than adding another "positive" level. taking away Terrible decreases, to me at least, the chances of a truly bad result during task resolution and coupled with the addition of the Very Good level (which I admit isn't the best of names) if really brings Fudge games to a whole new (pardon the pun) level. It adds a bit more granularity to the system, which I think is a welcome change to the game and its rules.

I will likely adopt this ladder in my Fudge-based games, although I think that I would probably rename Very Good into something that sounds better. Excellent, maybe? Play with it, and I think that you might find it interesting, too.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dorkland! Roundtable with Mark Truman

Once again I find myself falling behind with posting my Dorkland! Roundtables here to my blog. Things have been busy the last couple of week, with the build up to the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, and all that sort of fun stuff, so other things have lagged. Fear not! That doesn't mean that I am ignoring my Dorkland! Roundtables (I do prefer to let them percolate over on G+ and my YouTube channel for a while anyway).

I spoke with +Mark Diaz Truman of Magpie Games, creator of such fine games as The Play's The Thing and Last Best Hope.

We spent a lot of time talking about the impact of Kickstarter on tabletop RPG publishing, and I think that Mark brought up a lot of good points on how to engage a community before, during and after your Kickstarter to help maximize the appeal of attention grabbingness (yes, I just made up that word) of a game. For better or worse, depending on the project, Kickstarter has changed how role-playing games are taken to market, or sold to people in general.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day: Let Me Tell You About My Game...

A lot of people are writing today about Swords & Wizardry, and that's a pretty cool thing. You can find an ongoing list of all of the posts over at Erik Tenkar's Tenkar's Tavern (the premier OSR blog nowadays, in the opinion of this non-OSR person). There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement going on for the game. Today only (April 17, 2013) there are also a couple of sale going on (the links to and coupons for I posted last night) from Frog God Games and the Swords & Wizardry SRD site. I would also suggest checking out the storefront of +Matt Finch, the creator/developer of Swords & Wizardry. It's nice to give him some direct support for the cool work that he has done for all of us with this game. If you go the route, be sure to use the 20% off coupon for April: APRILBOOKS13, and get a discount that doesn't cut into Matt's profits. Show some love for this great system that you can get into for free.

Also be sure to check out the Google Plus Swords & Wizardry Discussion community on G+. It is unofficial, but Matt and some of the people from Frog God Games all post there, and it is a good place to get questions answered from Matt and from fellow fans. There's also a lot of cool new rules discussion and material posted to the group as well. At the risk of sounding egotistical (I founded the disclaimer), the Community has really evolved into a premier place for talking about the game online. It has started hooking up community members in games too, which is pretty awesome.

Sunday I did a "pre-mortem" post getting a little bit into what got me started down the road of Swords & Wizardry fandom that led, in a way, to today's appreciation happening. A few months back, a conversation between +Erik Tenkar and myself lead to the first Appreciation Day, that time for the Basic Fantasy RPG (another OSR retroclone). Basic Fantasy nearly became the system that I ended up using for my return to running games and my first ever online gaming experience.

Today, I am going to take a slightly different approach for the Appreciation Day than some of the other bloggers. Instead of talking about rules or mechanics, I am going to talk about my first (but not last) Swords & Wizardry game, run via G+ Hangouts on the Air. For the longest time I was incredibly skeptical about running a game online. I just didn't think that it would have the same energy or enjoyment to it. I was so incredibly wrong about all of that. I think that the Google hangouts are a great tool, and for me at least, do a great job of simulating the face to face experience. And considering that our group has a couple of people from California, a Canadian and others scattered around the country...this is a group that never could have happened other than through online play. I have to say that I have made some new friends through this, and developed an appreciation for Swords & Wizardry along the way.

One of the great things about playing via Google+ Hangout is that we can record our games. This may or may not be great to everyone, but your mileage will vary. It is nice to have something tangible (as tangible as electrons at least) that you can point to when people ask question like "So, what is this game and how do you play it?" I can give a link and people can experience the awesomeness of the group in action. Above isn't our first session of our campaign (we had been playing for about a month or so by the time that G+ started offering the Hangout on the Air option), but it was our first recording. It took a couple of weeks to convince everyone that we should a) livestream our gaming and b) put it up on YouTube (yes, that's a link to a playlist of all of the videos that we recorded...including a couple of Lamentations of the Flame Princess games as well) for everyone to see in the months and years to come.

Obviously, mistakes were made during play. I misruled things a few times, but overall we tried to not let things breakdown and we kept playing through things. There was a sort of reverse learning curve to the game, as a couple of the players had to unlearn some of the habits that they picked up from years of playing more recent editions of D&D. The acceptance of an old school game wasn't entirely universal, but I think that the dynamics of the group, and the fun that we were having, overcame some of those things eventually.

I asked the players to comment on Swords & Wizardry and our campaign, and these are the comments that I got from them. First off, I'm going to put Ethel's comment up (she goes by +solange simondsen on G+, which is her Second Life screen name), because she was the reason that I started this campaign in the first place:
I mentioned to Chris Helton one day the OSR gaming he was talking about sounded fun and he offered to start a game I could play in. That seemed like a lark and that was about a year ago, and the gaming group is still going. I had never played any kind of D&D or tabletop RPG, but I’ve always been a lover of games - board games, video games, word games. But that really didn’t prepare me much for what was ahead.
Before the first game, I read over all the rules and tried to make sense of what all the monster tables and lists of spells were for. OK! I was ready… That first night on Google+ I met my fellow gamers and we rolled up our characters. They knew everything; I was completely unprepared. I kept forgetting (and still do sometimes) how saving throws work. They knew all the monster abilities and were blithely arguing with the GM about why they should get a +1 to hit and I was couldn’t really decipher the hit table. In fact, I was having trouble telling a d8 from a d10. Lucky for me, the gamers in our group were some of the most generous, patient and good-natured people you’d ever want to meet. I am still kind of iffy, but after a year of gaming, I’m slightly less of a derp than when I started.
Looking back, I can see pros and cons with starting out with Swords and Wizardry. What’s great about it is also what made it hard for me at first. It is rules light, easy to grasp and simple to dive right in. Being rules light also means, though, that you have to be inventive, bring some background knowledge to the game, and not rely on the book to resolve every question. But having just read what I wrote, maybe that was a positive even for a first-timer. All the discussions about how things could or would work, the stupid mistakes that wound up working out in spite of myself, all the laughing and poking at each other we all did… A lot of that would have been lost if we had been following a more prescriptive system. And that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.  
So, right from the trenches we see that Swords & Wizardry can be used to make someone with no experience with tabletop RPGs into a gamer. I honestly think that Ethel sells herself a little short, after 30+ of gaming I still have brain farts about what to do and not to do at times (I think our game play videos have plenty of evidence to show that), and she took to gaming like a fish to water. Yeah, there were some hiccups. Gaming, for better or for worse, does have a lot of jargon to it that a new person has to learn and over come, but like she said, I think that the group really came together and tried to help her out and smooth over some of the rough patches. Ethel has even run a few sessions of her first adventure (which you can catch near the end of the playlist of our videos). It only took a short while before she was in there, making Monty Python jokes and acting all gamer-like with the rest of us.

+David Rollins, who played the party Cleric, had this to say:
The thing that affected our play as a group most was the streamlined nature of the rules. There was a lot of room to improvise creatively and use items and the environment in creative ways to increase our effectiveness far beyond our collective hit dice. In Chris' campaign we found ourselves seriously outclassed on a a few occasions but managed to avoid the TPKs with some out-side-of-the-box tactical play that was not covered by the rules. Instead of covering everything the rules left room for creative solutions.
In my case, I played a cleric. With no spells until 2nd level but the power to turn undead my character started as a holy warrior who stepped to the front in the battle against chaos. Spells and turning became something to be called on only in cases of great challenge in battle. With fast advancement my character had multiple hit dice before any other party member giving him the hit points to remain a viable front line fighter even though his attack bonus did not keep pace with the actual fighters in the party. This is a very different animal from the tough casters that clerics became in the later editions. It was a blast playing an uncompromising holy warrior on a mission!
David was also the person who helped mentor Ethel's new gamer. He helped with explanations and patiently explaining things multiple times (if needed) in order to help her out. Plus he also embraced some of my weird approaches to fantasy game worlds, and I think that helped things a lot. David really helped to push my campaign in new directions, when I thought that I was going too far already, by taking some of my weird plot ideas, and weird dungeon crawling ideas, and running with them.

+Josh Thompson, the player of the party Thief, said, in his succinct style:
My time with S&W has shown me that you don't need a complex set of rules to have  complex setting and characters. If anything, the non-intrusive rules have allowed such areas to deepen. Also, the hallways are very cozy.
+Jeremy Whalen who, sadly, no longer games with us, provides a bit of a counter point towards the game. Showing how things can vary within a group. Jeremy provided the muscle to our early adventures, with his Fighter Goreaxe.

I played Goreaxe as a traditionally grim warrior as intent on inflicting harm as on protecting his compatriots and surprisingly enough his family back in town even though we only touched upon that specific aspect when I was with pleading with Chris to spare Goreaxe from a failed save that should have resulted in his untimely but richly deserved death.  "What about my wife and kids? Seriously they need me!" (btw that worked, Goreaxe survived!)
I really enjoyed my role and the system was certainly quick and easy but I think it may have been a bit too streamlined. One specific incident sticks out in my mind.
Early in our campaign we were exploring a dungeon, hot on the trail of the mysterious chaos that threatened the region, when we burst through a door and confronted a pack of lizard men (if I recall correctly). Goreaxe rushed forward and attacked, as intent to kill his enemy as on protecting his party. The initial flurry went well enough but when it came time for our opponents to attack they simply did an end run around Goraxe to hit the soft wizard left behind in the doorway. I objected and sought to interpose Goreaxe in someway but apparently they were too quick for him as. I felt quite impotent as the wizard took the beating that should have been for Goreaxe. Mechanically S&W just didn't’ work that way and it left me, as a player, somewhat frustrated by the oversight. Now to be clear I do not advocate for systems that attempt to codify every eventuality as that is simply not practical. What should have happened? Well I think it came down to narrative and presentation. When I objected Chris simply indicated the rules did not support that and then proceeded to keep the game moving however I was disappointed, and for a few moments, my happiness index fell.
The lesson here, if I may be so bold, is that when systems don’t cover intended character actions, or player desires, it is up to the GM to find a way to handle the situation that maximizes everyone's fun without derailing the session. I moved on after a few moments of irritation because, as a player, my responsibility was to help Chris make the game enjoyable for everyone, not just myself. Also, the wizard deserved a beating.
+Stacy Dellorfano (the first person to join our core band of adventurers) added:
The best thing that I could possibly say about Swords & Wizardry (and it's a good thing), is that I've barely noticed the system, been too busy beating shit up. :)
Honestly, it seems like we mostly came to very similar conclusions about the game and its approaches, and found that it was a style that suited us as a group, once we were all able to get into the mindset and allow ourselves to stretch our muscles. Swords & Wizardry supplied us with a light and flexible ruleset that supported us when we needed it, and also got out of the way when we needed that. I honestly don't think that our game would have been the same, or as much fun for any of us, if we had used a different game. Swords & Wizardry has officially become my go-to fantasy game, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

As a GM, and as a game designer (both hats were worn in our previous campaign), Swords & Wizardry provides a solid, but light, foundation that encourages me to hack it and do with it as I want. That was demonstrated in some of my different approaches to a traditional dungeon crawl, and interaction with the characters and the world. Our next game is going to be based on S&W as well, but we are going back to the Whitebox rules as our foundation. I'm also using the encouragement of the players to hack things a bit more extensively than we previously did. I am adding a skill system to the game (adapted from a Basic Fantasy RPG hack), doing away with the Cleric as a class, and adding other little mechanical bits and pieces. Ironically, during the time that we have been playing this game I discovered and fell in love with the world of the Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game and have started tracking down some of the early edition material for it. While I like Swords & Wizardry as my system, I am finding that a non-D&D type of setting suits me, and my fantasy interests better. In our next campaign, Demon Codex, I am going to embrace a lot of that and turn this game into my game, and then by extension into our game.

It has been a fun road. Not only has Swords & Wizardry introduced my friend to the wonderful world of gaming, but it has also allowed me to meet some great new people and game with them. It has also let me find a community of people interested in this game, and their different approaches have shown me new and different ways of looking at the game. It has also allowed me to meet and pick the brain of Matt Finch (who will be appearing on a future Dorkland! Roundtable). It also led, indirectly I guess, to so many bloggers talking about a great game on this day.

Thank you, everyone, for contributing to a great community and for helping to make such a great day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shaintar Cover Preview

If you watched tonight's interview with +Sean Fannon live you got to see a tiny version of the preview image of the cover for the upcoming Shaintar book. Now, in case you want to see a better version of it, here you go:

Click on the image to see it in all of its glory and thanks to Sean for providing this special preview.

Two Great Sales For Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that tomorrow (April 17th, 2013) is Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. There's going to be a couple of sales, and I wanted to make sure that you have the coupons ready so that you can buy up all of the stuff that you really need for your Swords & Wizardry games. These coupons are good for twenty-four hours only (I assume that they will likely kick in after midnight EST because, well, I am on EST but do not take that as Gospel).

There are two sales that will be going on. First, is the eStore of the Swords & Wizardry SRD site: There you will find a list of Swords & Wizardry products in PDF form (some even by third party publishers). Their sale is only for the items on that page, but the coupon code (SWAD252013) will get you a 25% discount on the 17th.

Frog God Games is also running a sale on all Swords & Wizardry products bought directly from their website (unlike the SRD store, this sale covers print and PDF products). The coupon code for the FGG's site is SWApprDay. The FGG sale does not include subscriptions, pre-orders or items $1 or less.

Remember: These coupons are good only on April 17, 2013.

Tomorrow will be a big day. There is going to be a lot of talk about Swords & Wizardry out there in the gaming blogosphere. It is going to be fun.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Guardians of Order's Mark MacKinnon Resurfaces...On Kickstarter!

Back in 2006, it all started with a post from George R.R. Martin on his website (I couldn't find an archival version but I copy/pasted it onto a blogpost here back then, and I copy part of it again now:
I regret to announce that Guardians of Order, the Canadian games company that issued the GAME OF THRONES role-playing game last fall, is closing its doors and going out of business.
Although the GoO website remains open and there is some fan activity on the message boards there, it would appear that orders are no longer being fulfilled and emails to Guardians itself are going unaswered. The company's office has been vacated, and the company phone has been disconnected, When I finally reached GoO's owner and president Mark MacKinnon last week, he confirmed what many had come to suspect -- that he is shutting down operations. MacKinnon is presently attempting to place some of GoO's games with other companies.
Interestingly, at the time, the speculation was that Mongoose would end up with Guardians properties (a little known fact is that Mongoose white knighted the publication Guardians last few books before White Wolf stepped in to help with the Game of Thrones and BESM 3e games). We all know now that White Wolf ended up owning the properties.

MacKinnon followed up with a classy post on the (now defunct) Guardians of Order website:
First, an apology. I am terribly sorry that George Martin broke the news about our situation. That is certainly not how I wanted the information to be released, and I had thought that my frank conversation with him about A Game of Thrones-specific issues was in confidence. This is the second time now that someone other than me releases very important news about Guardians Of Order, which leaves me frantically trying to patch the holes. The polite and proper thing for me -- as President of the company -- to do would be to contact all of our creditors (which includes some great freelancers and industry associates) FIRST and explain the situation to them. I was working on that process when my efforts were derailed by one simple website post. So I am very sorry that someone else took it upon himself to release this information. It's not how I was proceeding to handle things.
The archive is also non-existent but (with forethought) I also copy/pasted MacKinnon's post onto a blog post. I also did an extended blogpost that archived a timeline of the blowup and meltdown. Updated:Thanks to +Eric Franklin I have a link to the Guardians LiveJournal (which has some interesting things to show). We probably shouldn't be surprised if this suddenly disappears.

It also came to light a year or so ago (over in a thread on RPGNet) that MacKinnon had not only failed to pay freelancers for a number of the final products, and had stiffed publishers in the company's Magnum Opus program, but he had also kept PDFs up on the OneBookshelf site that he no longer had the rights to sell. Unfortunately I do not have a link and the RPGNet site is notoriously hard to search. If someone can find a link to this, plese let me know in the comments here, or over on G+, and I will put the link up in this post. Updated: I found the thread wherein it was discovered that MacKinnon had been selling the PDFs (including licensed anime properties that he no longer held the license).

Now, MacKinnon has resurfaced, with a project for a board game called Upon A Fable over on Kickstarter. He even uses shots of games that freelancers never received payment for in the video on the project page. Some have called for funds raised from the Kickstarter be used to to pay back those who were never paid. I doubt there's any legal recourse, since Guardians is long gone and I am sure that they held the debt rather than MacKinnon directly, and I'm not going to assert moral recourse in this case. My reasoning for posting all of this is so that people can be informed and, hopefully, not throw good money down a deep, dark hole. This is someone who has already demonstrated a willingness to take money from a number of sources, not pay the people who have done the work and ignore communications before disappearing.

There are also a few red flags with this project. This isn't the first time this project was attempted on Kickstarter. According to a post over on the Board Game Geek site, made back in March:
This game marks my first published design in over seven years ... and I made a critical mistake. I assumed that a professional Kickstarter campaign presentation, combined with attractive graphic design and engaging game mechanics, would be sufficient to reach my Kickstarter funding target. How wrong I was. Within the first 48 hours of the campaign, I knew the funding attempt would fail; shortly thereafter, I made the decision to cancel the campaign.
It is interesting that you cannot find the original project, and that the BGG posts don't actually list MacKinnon by name. According to some emails I've read, posts on BGG threads asking about the previous non-payment to freelancers have been deleted from the site.  Also, there was a quote from their Facebook page that came to me in my email that said:
With our reworked pledge plans we are also in the position to lower our funding goal to $25,000 from $30,000. Although our costs to proceed with the project will exceed $30,000 -- printing high-quality board games is expensive! -- we are backing Upon a Fable with some of our own money as well since we will selling additional copies through retail store channels as well. Any profit to be made will be on those back-end sales and not just by meeting our minimum Kickstarter funding goal. We want to give Upon a Fable the best chance to succeed, which is why we settled on the $25,000 target.
Undercharging for a project is never a good sign that the people will be able to deliver on the project. They are already in a hole on funds, and should something unexpected happen...they will be even further in the hole. The email gave this link, but when I followed it I couldn't find the exact passage. I may just be blind. Updated: I am blind. It turns out that the above quoted bit came from an April 11th update to the Dyskami Publishing Facebook page.

Hopefully people will read all of this, follow the links and read a bit of the history before deciding to put their money on something like this.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day: Pre-Mortem

The Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day is coming on April 17th. For me, this is a day that has been months in the making. Last summer an online friend decided that she wanted to give tabletop role-playing a try. Unfortunately, she was in California (still is, actually) and I am down here in Florida. That would require a really big tabletop. Then G+ started up their Hangouts, a way to do browser-based video chats that was tied in to your Google account. It was good. I was surprised, honestly. I had avoided online play for a long time because I had believed that it wouldn't be the same sort of experience as face to face gaming. It turns out that I was wrong (which isn't something that I announce very often) and the gaming was a lot of fun. I think that luck had a lot to do with it, finding the right mix of people that worked well together.

I've never really considered myself a part of the OSR, or any old school movement. When I decided that I wanted to run this game online I started looking around for a system to use. Free was the first consideration. This was a game for someone who might not actually even like it. I didn't want her to go out and spend a bunch of money on a game, or hobby, that it might turn out that she wouldn't like. Simplicity was the next consideration. I am, at heart, a pretty rules light kind of guy these days, and games with a lot of crunch really aren't really my thing anymore. Even with those two considerations, that still leaves a lot of games as contenders.

Eventually I narrowed it down, and I ended up settling on Swords & Wizardry as the game to use. I liked the clearer explanation of the rules from the original (and better organization). I had hoped that it would make it easier on someone who had never gamed before to be able to get into the rules. We start with Whitebox, because of all of the available versions of the game, this was the simplest of them. It seemed a good starting point. The game clicked for all of us, and the mechanics were mostly easy enough to understand for her as well. She had a few difficulties understanding some of the finer points that those of us in the group who were more experienced with gaming had come to grips with long ago, but some further explanations (and none of us being afraid to look stupid helped a lot) smoothed things out eventually. However, one of the things that seemed to help her out the most was when I reccomended that she read Matt Finch's (that's the creator of Swords & Wizardry) Quick Primer to Old School Gaming. I don't agree with all of it, and I certainly never played all of the ways that are talked about in it, but it is definitely a great resource for understanding this style of play, and it helped her to better understand a lot of the things that already made sense to the rest of us.

Over time everyone fell into their characters and the idiosyncrasies of my style of GMing, and we all had a lot of fun. Battle were fought. Scars were earned. Narrow escapes were made. Along the way we even playtested a few things, and my friend wrote her first adventure and tried her hand at GMing herself. Really, not so bad for about seven months of gaming.

As I said at the beginning of this post, Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day is coming, and there are going to be a lot of bloggers talking about the game around the internet. It is very cool and I am glad to be a part of it. This is just another step the journey of gaming that I've taken over the years, only now I have at least one more friend who is walking on that trail as well. I've also made some cool new friends and gamed with them. I've also discovered an awesome game in Swords & Wizardry and I see myself getting a hell of a lot of mileage out of it over the rest of my life.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Dorkland! Roundtable with Eddy Webb

I spoke with Eddy Webb of CCP/White Wolf on the Dorkland! Roundtable recently. It was a good talk and we spent some time talking about all things LARP and LARPing. I've never done any LARPing, so it was an interesting discussion for me. It is good to see how other people approach their modes of gaming, and to learn how you can take the approaches from LARPs and tabletop RPGs and see how you can apply them to each other.

Norse Mythology-Inspired Monsters For Swords & Wizardry

This post is taken from some notes that I made for a campaign world for Swords & Wizardry inspired by Norse mythology. Norse myths were one of the first that I got into when I became interested in mythology as a kid (I think that the copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology that I received from a grandmother was to blame for all of that). The ideas that I have had for this world are probably the most "metal" of my D&Dish ideas, being inspired by Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Jack Kirby's Thor: Tales of Asgard and the myths themselves. Maybe one day I will get to expand this into a full setting. Characters would be Aesir and Vanir warriors, roaming the Nine Worlds looking for adventure.

I think the fact that I picked the version of Immigrant Song from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie is telling that I'm not going to be all that traditional or "metal" in my interpretations. Keep in mind that this isn't intended to be a strict historical or mythological interpretation, so liberties have been taken for the sake of fun and gameablity.

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

Fenrir (also known as Fenrisulfr or Vanagandr in the Northern tongues) is a monstrous black wolf that bedevils the Aesir and Vanir of the Nothern Lands. Fenrir is close to the size of a full-grown bull elephant and is covered in dark, mangy fur. The wolf is highly intelligent and is prophesized to be one of the forces that will take part in the world's end.

Many adventurers have claimed to have brought the end to the wolf, including many Aesir and Vanir warriors, but still the beast comes during the night to raze and kill.

It is said that the wolf can move freely among the Nine Worlds.

HD: 8
AC: 2 [17]
Attacks: bite (1d10), 2 claw (1d8)
Saving Throw: 8
Special: reforms within 6 days of being killed (roll 1d6 to determine the number of days), hit only by magical weapons
Move: 20
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1
Challenge Level/XP: 10/1400

Also known in the Northern tongues as the Hrimthurs, the Jotunn are a race that plague the Northern Lands from their ice and mist-filled lands of Niflheimr. The both fight against the Aesir and Vanir, and sometimes work along side of each other as well. The relationships between the three races is complicated and it is not unusual for them to interbreed. While called giants, because of their large size, Jotunn are in fact not Giant in size (as the S&W game thinks of giants). They tower over the Aesir and Vanir, by a foot or more, and are exceptionally strong.

Jotunn are either extremely beautiful, sometimes rivaling even the most beautiful among the Aesir and Vanir, or monstrous in appearance. The monstrous Jotunn are chaotic and twisted in their appearance, with claws and multiple limbs and heads. The Jotunn are an older race than the Aesir or Vanir, being the offspring of Ymir, the first being.

There is another race of Jotunn that live in the land of Muspell and are known as "fire" Jotunn. Like Fenrir, they are prophesized to take part in the end of all things when they raze the Nine Worlds with their fires. "Fire" Jotunn are not often seen, and do not wander the Nine Worlds, like their brethern. Referees may want to use the Jotunn as a template and add fire-based abilities to that to simulate these fiery giants.

HD: 5
AC: by armor worn (which has to be specially made to fit their larger bodies)
Attacks: punch (1d8), by weapon
Saving Throw: 12
Special: --
Move: 15
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1-10, plus a 6 HD leader if more than three
Challenge Level/XP: 6/400

Not strictly monsters, the Einherjar are the heroic dead picked by the Valkyries to reside in Valhalla until their need in the battles at the end of days.  They look as they did in their lives, like strong and brave Northern warriors. They spend their time waiting in Valhalla, drinking, eating and practicing their fighting with each other. Any Einherjar killed again in combat rises up again in Valhalla the next morning.

Einherjar are very rarely encountered outside of Valhalla, but sometimes Odin will entrust one or two of them to Aesir that are on particularly important or dangerous missions.

HD: 4
AC: 5 [14] (ring mail and shield)
Attacks: by weapon (typically battle axe or bastard sword)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: if killed, return to life in Valhalla the next morning
Move: 12
Alignment: Law
Number Encountered: 1-3 if guarding, 1-100 in Valhalla
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240

These so-called swart or black elves are probably closer to what fantasy games think of dwarves than elves. They are the craftmen of the Aesir and Vanir and dwell in the lands of Svartalfaheim. Their disposition towards the Aesir and Vanir tends to bad, as they have put up with generations of being ordered and threatened by the two races. Jotunn tend to be on slightly better terms with the Svartalfar. They tend to stay to themselves in their caverns of Svartalfaheim, creating great items and artifacts and tending to their forges. For enough money (which is often a lot) or pledges of favors, the Svartalfar will work their magics and create items for the Aesir and Vanir. If attacked, or organized into war parties, they will be carrying powerful magical weapons and items that they have created.

HD: 3
AC: 9 [10], 3 [16] if armored
Attacks: by weapon, always magical weapons of at least +2
Saving Throw: 14 (+2 against magic)
Special: --
Move: 10
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1-6
Challenge Level/XP: 4/120

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Short Order Heroes

I've met some interesting people around Google Plus, a lot of people who are doing more than just talking about gaming...they're doing things and making the games that they want to have out there. One of these people is +Jesse Butler. He's got a Kickstarter coming up for what he's calling a hybrid of card games and RPGs. Short Order Heroes is sort of what he says it is, and what it is isn't half bad.

Obligatory Crappy Phone Picture
I received a promo deck of the cards in the mail from Jesse. What you get is a deck of 50-some (I admit that my phone rang while I was counting the deck and I lost count) playing card-sized cards, each with a quirky and evocative piece of art, an adjective (tied in to the piece of art) and a number. The number is there so that the cards can be used with a task resolution system (there are very brief rules enclosed with the deck). I really like the style of the artist (billed as Eleanor Ferron). I like quirky art. It reminds me a lot of the art of Jana Christy from Very Vicky, a favorite indie comic of mine from the 90s. The art in conjunction with the adjectives can very quickly give you some personality hooks for a character, or NPC.

Now, the idea of these cards is that you "make" a character by drawing three cards and using the adjectives on the cards describe your character. I can see this as a starting point for a character, but I do think that it would definitely need more meat (even for me). The idea of the adjective-based character creation would mesh well with a game like Fudge, where adjectives are already a part of the system. I can also see these cards as a way to come up with a personality for Generic NPC #5 that the GM is recycling a writeup of another NPC and wants a quick way to differentiate the two characters. I'm not saying that this approach isn't without merit, or use, but I think that it just needs a little more meat on its bones. And this is coming from someone who likes rules light games.

I can definitely see using this as a part of my next Fudge-based or PDQ-based game. It is a very cool tool, and GMs can always use a new tool in their toolboxes. The Kickstarter will definitely be worth a look when it starts up.

Bone Hill Remix Adventure

In a conversation with +Wayne Humfleet over on G+ he pointed out the old Internet Archive pages for WotC. Nosing around I found the pages from when they put up some of the old AD&D modules for free download. Nothing is ever lost on the internet.

+Zak Smith has been doing some cool remix projects, both on his blog and over on Google Plus, and one of the items that I found via the Internet Archive made me think of what he was doing, and how something cool could be done with it. Obviously this is still copyrighted material, so all of this is done as homage or parody or fair use...whatever gets the blog into the least amount of trouble.

So, what I found (and that I totally had forgotten about) was a Rich Text File of the text from the AD&D module L1: "The Secret of Bone Hill," along with some maps and a few interior pieces of art. And then I thought that this would make for a cool remix project for people. Go to the link, and the files are just underneath where it goes. Then do a search & replace, or cut and mix the text into something new, cool and fun. Then release it into the wilds so that everyone can share your cool adventure.

The quality of the images isn't great, but there are some great tool to create something new and weird. Just remember: no OGL or publishing these things, because we don't really own them. If you have questions, ask over there.

Once you have your remix, link it in the comments on this post or over on my G+ post and I'll gather them all up and link to whatever you do with them. This could be some fun, I think Go remix Bone Hill!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Blog Appreciation Day

Over in the land of Google Plus, +Erik Tenkar and I discussed doing a follow up to the highly successful Basic Fantasy RPG Blog Appreciation Day with an appreciation of another old school system. Since I have been running a Swords & Wizardry game via G+ Hangout since the summer, and Erik is gearing up to run one for his face to face group, we thought, "Why not do one for Swords & Wizardry?" A couple of emails with +Matt Finch later and we have the basics. A Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day is now set for April 17th and bloggers are rapidly coming on board. At the time of this posting we were about to reach 20 bloggers, and we will probably have more by the time we're done.

I even made a "snazzy logo" for it:

If you're interested in participating, go to Erik's post linked above and sign up in the comments.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hero Games' Steve Long On The Dorkland! Roundtable

I think that the Hero System gets a bit of a bad rap among gamers. Yeah, it can be a complicated approach to gaming but without variety we would all be playing the exact same dungeon crawls still. I talked with Steve Long about Hero Games, its history and some of the flack that it gets from gamers on the Dorkland! Roundtable. Say what you will about the Hero System, but Steve Long is a man who is passionate about gaming and about the Hero System and this passion came through in the interview. I hope that you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed talking with him.

Blog Grooming

I imported the posts from a couple of blogs that I made and really never used. They seemed like good ideas at the time, but it's probably best to just have everything pointing into one place. My 4 Color and Ignition blogs have been taken down (not that there were many people checking them out) and the posts are now a part of this blog. Both of these blog dealt with (long gestating) game design projects anyway.

Probably the only post of any interest to people will be the review that I did of the first issue of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Belit story arc on Dark Horse Comics Conan the Barbarian comic. I'll have to follow up with the other two parts. If you aren't reading Brian Wood's work on Conan the Barbarian, or pretty much any other comic he's writing, you're missing out on some of the best writing being done in comics today.

Crowdfunding A GenCon Trip

I want to go to GenCon. I will admit that part of the reason why I want to go is so that I can blog about all of the cool things that happen there and share them with everyone. Of course, I do want to experience them first hand. I've run this blog for almost 10 years not, the anniversary of this blog will be in September, and I had wanted to do a big tour of conventions and celebrate my bog's anniversary with a gigantic festival of geekiness. The sad truth is that attending conventions, particularly big ones like Dragon-Con or San Diego, is very expensive, particularly when you're flying from Florida.

I had sort of given up on being able to do anything special for the anniversary of my blog (although I still have some neat giveaways planned for the fall). But then I'd seen a few people using this site called GoFundMe to help get money for things like moving expenses and other things. I thought, "why not a trip to Gen Con?" I brought it up online, and some people whose opinions are important to me said that I should do it. So I am.

Click on the badge and you can go to my GoFundMe page. I'm asking for $2000 to defray the costs of travel and hotel to Indianapolis for the convention. In my first 24 hours I made over $100, and I am very thankful for that but obviously I need more. Every little bit will help and will be appreciated.

I'm also willing to line up special interviews or other promotional considerations, if publishers or game designers would like to contribute to the campaign. Just send me a message with your GoFundMe pledge, or contact me via email or social media. I'm not all that hard to find.

Honestly, this wasn't an easy thing for me to do. And I can completely understand if you think that I'm just trying to get others to pay my way. In a way, that is true but I'm not being disingenuous about it and I'm not secretly hiding my millionaire status in order to get others to defray my expenses. I'm this guy who likes geeky stuff and likes to talk about it with other people.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Green Ronin's Chris Pramas on The Dorkland! Roundtable

I spoke recently with Chris Pramas of Green Ronin Publishing about his history as a gamer, designer and publisher. We talked about trying to expand fantasy gaming in new directions, with settings like Testament and The Trojan War and games like Blue Rose. We also talk a bit about how gamers react to the "different" that they ask for.

Also be sure to check out Green Ronin's Kickstarter for a new Pathfinder edition of Freeport (ending in just 8 days from the time of this post).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dungeons of Dread: The Classic AD&D S-Series of Modules Reprinted

Updated with some thoughts on the actual product.

 Out today, according to the Wizards of the Coast website:
Dungeons of Dread is a hardcover collection of four classic, stand-alone Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules -- S1: Tomb of Horrors, S2: White Plume Mountain, S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth -- complete with original black-and-white interior art.

S1: Tomb of Horrors: In the far reaches of the world, under a lost and lonely hill, lies the sinister Tomb of Horrors. This labyrinthine crypt is filled with terrible traps, strange and ferocious monsters, rich and magical treasures, and somewhere within rest the evil Demi-Lich.

S2: White Plume Mountain: It has always been a subject of superstitious awe to the neighboring villagers. People still travel many miles to gaze upon this natural wonder, though few will approach it closely, as it is reputed to be the haunt of various demons and devils. The occasional disappearance of those who stray too close to the Plume reinforces this belief. Now, the former owners of Wave, Whelm and Blackrazor are outfitting a group of intrepid heroes to take up the challenge of recovering these magical weapons from White Plume Mountain.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks: From the preface by Gary Gygax: "This module was begun early in 1976 when TSR was contemplating publication of a science fantasy role playing game. Jim Ward had already shown us some rough notes on Metamorphosis Alpha I thought it would be a splendid idea to introduce Jim’s game at Origins II, and introduce the concept to D&DO players by means of the tournament scenario. I laid out the tournament from old “Greyhawk Castle” campaign material involving a spaceship, and Rob Kuntz helped me to populate the ruined vessel."

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: In the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland there is rumored to be a magical hoard of unsurpassed value, a treasure of such fame that scores of adventurers have perished in search of it. Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage—if you live!
Item Details

Release Date: March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Price: $39.95
ISBN: 978-0-7869-6461-1
It looks like it is going to be reproductions of the original modules, put together in a single hardcover. I'm looking forward to seeing these because the only one of these modules that I saw the first time around would be Barrier Peaks. I'm looking forward to giving these a spin with my new Swords & Wizardry Complete books (just arrived yesterday). I will post more when the book arrives.

Now that I have a copy of this in my hands, I have to say that this is a physically impressive product. Except for what appears to be scanning troubles in a few place (with fuzzy, low rez pictures on a couple of pages), the art is very well reproduced and the slick paper causes the black and white art to pop off the pages.

I will be honest...I never played any of these adventures the first time around. In our gaming neck of the woods in the 70s and 80s, adventures were hard to come by (no real local gaming-related store until probably about 1984), so we never played published adventures. I'm sure that this probably gave us a completely different D&D/AD&D experience back then, but we liked it. Seeing this volume of classic adventures shows me some of the things that I missed out on.

These are some brutal adventures. Tome of Horrors is considered by many to be the example of a killer dungeon. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks introduced science fantasy (in an official way) to AD&D. This is some formative stuff right here.

As someone looking at these adventures with a fresh, and contemporary, eye, I think that they have held up well. I can see running these here and now for a group of players. Obviously, it would take the right group of players. These adventures are challenging, and can grind down a party of characters. Not everyone is cool with that approach and some will be upset about having characters killed. That's all a part of the cover charge for something like this, and that is all right by me. Of course, I would be the GM so it is easy for me to say that it would be fun.

If you have never experienced these adventures, I definitely think that you should. Buy this book, run these adventures and kill some characters. This is the old school, unadorned by any of the modern add-ons of the Old School Renaissance. If you have experienced these adventures, maybe it is time to do so again. None of us are 12 any more, and it could be interesting to see how modern us reacts to these adventures, with a few more years of experience under our belts. Regardless, Dungeons of Dread is must have in the library of any GM with an interest in older styles of play.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dorkland! Roundtable with Richard Iorio

Last week I spoke with Rouge Games+Richard Iorio II about his history as a gamer, getting into designing and his work with getting Rogue Games going, and his games Colonial Gothic and Shadow, Sword & Spell. We spent a lot of time talking about older games and what about them motivated his current approaches to designing games.

Vornheim Running Low + Micro Review

Last night, or maybe this morning, +Lamentations of the Flame Princess posted this on Google+:
If you want a physical copy of Vornheim and you see it on a store shelf or in stock at your favorite webstore, GET IT. My distro warehouse person said last night they had 1 left, so whatever's in stock is pretty much it.

As you know, LotFP is a bit backlogged at the moment and Zak's next thing is A Red and Pleasant Land so it'll be a bit before we get to Vornheim again.

(Thing is with small press, resources are limited and tying them up with reprinting an older title often seems less interesting and lucrative than doing a new project because sales of the reprint would be considerably slower than a brand new thing, even if in the long run Vornheim has the greater sales power - which we can't know ahead of time...)
I haven't talked much about Vornheim on here, but it has slowly but surely worked its way into my gaming since I picked it up last summer. Regardless of what edition of D&D you may play, this book has great ideas that will find use in your games. I use the tables like Search The Body constantly, to give quirky little flavorful items to characters. The urbancrawl rules are great for coming up with city maps in a hurry. The names and titles tables are great for coming up with a name for that NPC that you had to come up with on the spur of the moment. This doesn't even scratch the surface of the cool tables that make up the front and back covers of this book. +Zak Smith has come up with two tables that allow you to figure out everything from the to hit and damage of NPCs, to the level of wizards, to the cost of beer in an inn by making a single die roll. These tables are beautiful and elegant in their simplicity and utility. I will use them for as long as I run fantasy games.

Basically, all of this means that if you see copies of Vornheim in your FLGS, or on your favorite web store, buy it. Buy it now while you can still get this in actual book form. It might be a while before you can get another chance.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Sherman, Fire Up The Wayback Machine and Find Some Vintage RPG Files

I will admit that I was looking for a copy of the original text file version of Fudge (purely from nostalgia because that was actually how I was introduced to the game back in the 90s). A Google search found it, but alas the website was defunct. However, thanks to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine I found the RPG page for the missing TEXTFILES (it was the 90s so you should think of it in all caps) site.

You want old school, this is where you want to look. In addition to the Fudge rules (plus addenda) you can find old Chaosium Digests, old early free RPGs, and netbooks for AD&D, Rifts, Shadowrun and other games. It even has the old Highlander hack for oWoD there.

There's a convenient .zip archive of the entire page, so I just downloaded that. Rediscover some "lost" gaming history now.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Fudge ASCB: Fantasy, Part I

Yesterday I put up the SRD page for Fudge: ASCB. As I said, periodically I'm going to put up notes and ideas for Fudge-based things on here, and that will be my baseline.

Fantasy is a cornerstone of our gaming, and it is something that I have thought about a lot. Most of my ideas have revolved around trying to smoosh D&D into a Fudge paradigm, and that just doesn't work. There is a Fudge build for fantasy (it originally appeared in the Fudge Expanded Edition rules put out by Grey Ghost, but it is derived by Steffan O'Sullivan's 5-Point Fudge variant). I like it, but I want something a bit lighter and less traditional.

This is obviously going to be more than one post, and while I'm not going to shove D&D into a Fudge hack, I am going to convert some D&D materials over. That's the fun part of Fudge and d20 both being released under the OGL, I can move monsters and spells back and forth.

If you haven't looked at the Fudge: ASCB page yet, you might want to now. The terminology will make more sense.

What D&D calls classes (Fighter, Thief, Magic-User, Cleric, etc.) we will use what ASCB called Aptitudes. These aptitudes will handle the basics of what classes do in broad strokes. A Fighter fighting. A Thief stealing. A Magic-user using magic. A Cleric smiting divinely. The broadest applications of these things will be your character's aptitudes. These are ranked on the standard Fudge attribute ladder. There will be more than the basic four, because otherwise it will be hard to make characters look different. I think Bard will be needed. Outside of that....I don't entirely know yet. I still don't want a straight up D&D knockoff. We've already got D&D and it does what it does just fine.

These are like aptitudes, but more specific and they help clarify the exact abilities that your aptitude gives you. They also help set apart characters, so that one character who has the Fighter/Cleric combination of aptitudes can look different from another one. They are player defined, so that will take care of most of that, but I do want samples. Combat maneuvers, for example. I think my posts on Old School Clerics and Fighters will help with making some predetermined Specialties.

This is an easy one. Basically what other games call races will be cultures in this hack. The nice thing about that is that it is also easy to make Cultures into cultures if you're interested in a more human-centric game, like something inspired by REH. But for most, Elves and Dwarves and all of those things will fit neatly into a Culture.

This represents your character's  place within their culture. In many cases it is an occupation, or something like that, but in the case of this hack I am going to imagine it as who your character was before they started on the adventuring lifestyle.

There will be other things, of course, like magic to worry about, but I already have some ideas on that. I am looking forward to fleshing out some of these ideas here on the blog.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Tomorrow: The New G+ Hangout Campaign

We started a new game this week. We have had a lot of fun with our Swords & Wizardry games over the last few months, but we decided that it was time for a change of system and genre for a bit. As most people who know me know, I am a big fan of the Fudge RPG, so after a few false starts that is what I pitched to the group. We're using a variant called ASCB for the characters, with a few embellishments on my part.

We made characters:
We also started to flesh out the connections of the various characters.

We aren't sure yet how long this campaign is going to go, but we are definitely in for an interesting ride.

HARBINGER WARS #1 – Read the First Five Pages!

On April 3rd, there will be no winners. Just survivors. Harbinger Wars is coming!
Valiant is proud to present an advance preview of Harbinger Wars #1 (of 4) – the can't miss first chapter of the game-changing battle between Bloodshot and Harbinger that will define the Valiant Universe in 2013! From acclaimed writers Joshua Dysart and Duane Swierczynski and red-hot artists Clayton Henry and Clayton Crain, Valiant's first family crossover event starts right here this April!
For decades, Toyo Harada’s Harbinger Foundation and the government’s own Project Rising Spirit have been waging a secret war over the rarest resource known to man – the unruly superhuman telekinetics known as Harbingers. Over the years, they’ve each collected a small army of these empowered children to inflict their agendas on the world. But now, the reformed Harbinger hunter known as Bloodshot needs to atone for his crimes – and he’s going to start by releasing two dozen of the most volatile Harbingers from their PRS prison and into the world.
Bloodshot wants to lead them. Toyo Harada wants to control them. And Peter Stancheck, a teenage renegade with immense powers of his own, wants to give them free rein. But the runaway children of PRS have their own ideas for the future…and, as the body count rises, the Valiant Universe will realize that power this immense cannot be contained. It must be exercised. Who will survive the Harbinger Wars?
Spanning 12 issues total, the definitive Valiant Universe storyline of the year begins on April 3rd in Harbinger Wars #1 (of 4)! Then the action continues with new jumping-on points in Harbinger #11 and Bloodshot #10 – the first issues of all-new four-part storylines chronicling the fallout of the Valiant Universe’s first full-scale superhuman conflict. Follow the entire Harbinger Wars saga through Harbinger Wars, Harbinger and Bloodshot or read each series independently for a complete standalone story arc!
For more information on Harbinger Wars and the rest of the Valiant Universe, visit Valiant on Twitter, on Facebook, or at

Cover by LEWIS LAROSA (FEB131152)
Pullbox Exclusive Variant by CLAYTON HENRY (FEB131153)
Variant Cover by CLAYTON CRAIN (FEB131154)
Variant Cover by PATRICK ZIRCHER (FEB131155)
$3.99/T+/32 pgs.
ON SALE – 4/3/13 (FOC – 3/11/13)
Art & Cover by KHARI EVANS (FEB131156)
Pullbox Exclusive Cover by CLAYTON HENRY (FEB131157)
Variant Cover by PATRICK ZIRCHER (FEB131158)
ON SALE 4/10/13 (FOC – 3/18/13)
Cover by MICO SUAYAN (FEB131159)
Pullbox Exclusive Cover by CLAYTON HENRY (FEB131160)
Wraparound Variant by LEWIS LAROSA (FEB131161)
ON SALE 4/17/13 (FOC – 3/25/13)


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Dorkland! Roundtable with Matt Forbeck

There was a lot of things to talk about when Matt Forbeck was at the Dorkland! Roundtable. I knew that he had worked for a great deal of companies in the tabletop role-playing industry, even co-found Pinnacle Entertainment group and serving as its first President. I didn't know that he had published a gaming fanzine while still a teen and had a booth at GenCon for it. We talked about all of these interesting things and we talked about his writing career, including his successful 12 for 12 Kickstarter campaigns.

There was a lot of good stuff, and we probably could have kept talking for another hour. I think, along with my talk with Monte Cook, these were the two Roundtables that we could have just kept going on and on. I hope you enjoy.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Valiant Comics Hit H.A.R.D.

The 90s are back, and Valiant Comics is bringing back the H.A.R.D. Corps as part of the Harbinger War.