Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dragon Age Character Sheet - Google Docs Templates

I was fortunate enough to be a playtester for the new Green Ronin Dragon Age pen and paper game (based on the new PC/XBox game). It's pretty awesome! Check the boxed set out at your FLGS or the PDF at drivethrurpg.com

For those of you who've gotten into the game, I found this character sheet template on Google Docs. Enjoy!

Dragon Age Character Sheet - Google Docs Templates


(And here's my bragging rights about having been a playtester...)



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ars Technica post about Google Wave

This is a little outdated already, as some of those needed/anticipated rpg apps/extensions are starting to pop up, but it's still worth the read as to what to expect when starting to engage w/ fellow gamers via Google Wave:


Also, check out the EnWorld Google Wave Group:


And this EnWorld thread about how some folks are using Google Wave:


Please do share your thoughts and usage experiences.

Best,

Tyler

Sunday, December 13, 2009

First Try at Using Google Wave for D&D

So, I was on my way to the games shop, today, to run a game of D&D using 4th Edition rules, set in the Forgotten Realms. I wasn't even out of town yet when I became part of a line of other drivers alternating between 25 and 40 mph due to the snow, so I hit the grocery store to pick up some supplies and turned around. Feeling pretty cranky that my long awaited game of D&D would not happen, I started working the texts and emails to see if any of my usual gang of players would be interested in trying a game via Google Wave.

Google Wave invites were accepted and then Susana, Josh, Gareth, Stephan and myself were off to the races.

Well, kind of. Aside from the usual 'getting used to a new UI' experience that would come with any chat or email client, we had one big issue - laaaaaaaaaaaagggggg... I had only used Google wave for more slowly iterative exchanges, before - sending a document or clip to a co-worker or friend, leaving a message to schedule something or use some of the extensions/features specific to Google Wave. But for real time chat w/ multimedia?

Holy cow, it's slow.

I've already seen tons of coverage of speed issues, but putting 5 people in one room, plus a dice rolling app (more on that in a moment, because that was wicked cool), we were lagging to the point where two players dropped out within the first encounter. (No harm, no foul on that.) One player very positively shared her experiences using Skype plus Ooovoo (to view her battle mat via webcam), a free web-based dice roller, plus an SRD DM's Screen for 3.5e D&D. I myself played play-by-post on dndonlinegames.com for years. But the big boon for Google Wave - once Google gets the speed issue tackled, per the mashable post I shared above (see "speed issues") - is that it combines all of the elements that one of the players is currently using 4 services for, and adds the real time element plus embedded media that were missing from the earlier incarnation of play-by-post that I played for a long time.

So, once speed is addressed, what were some of the cool flashes of future brilliance that we saw while playing today?

1) Embedding images in a very intuitive and graphically pleasing way. Let alone the fact that with a single push of the Images or Files button, you can very quickly review a gallery of images or documents that have been posted.


2) Managing player decisions with easy add-in's like the voting app. "OK, folks - do we go to the Dire Wood to investigate the rumors from the elvish explorers, or do you want to do something else?"


3) Managing dice rolls with Dicy (dice-y@appspot.com). Just add that address as a contact in your Wave contacts list, and then add that contact to any waves you wish to allow dice rolls in, and you'll see something like the following pop up to give you some guidance and options:


After that, any time you type something akin to [1d20+15], it will pause for a moment after you type the ] and then you'll see something akin to [1d20+15 = 10 + 15 = 25] populate out in the wave, reflecting the dice rolls. You can only roll one set of dice at a time, as far as I can see, but if you want to do the attack and damage simultaneously, typing [1d20+10] and then separately [1d8+6] isn't really so hard. I could, also, be misunderstanding the UI, so definitely explore it.

Recommendations?

A) Well, focus on the above ways of leveraging the tool for the intent it was designed, for one thing.

B) Also, until the speed issue is resolved, I found that larger blocks of text - anything more than 5-10 words - worked best when I typed things out in Notepad and then copied and pasted the full block over into the wave itself. One of the players noticed that the lag issue basically disappeared with that. The lag is definitely tied to the feature of showing typing as it happens, rather than just content and loading.

C) That said, we got up to 271 msgs on the Wave for the game we ran (which was really just a bunch of tavern time, plus some exploration and a single encounter with an Ettin), and while I have no metrics to back this up, I think that maybe the size of that wave added to the lag and slowness. I know that when I've used the search feature or tried to scroll through the wave since we wrapped the game, earlier today, it's pretty cumbersome. Maybe this is one of those things that will improve as we go, but I'd advise that you break out encounters and sections into different waves. Start in one wave, jump to another somewhere around 40 posts, etc. Even in play by post, I found this to be the case.

The above may sound like there are a lot of bugs, but the biggest and really the only salient one impacting play is the speed matter. As Google moves this from an alpha-beta to a beta-beta in practice, this should address itself, making this a much more powerful way to game. For the time being, for small groups that really familiarize themselves with the UI and the nuances, it should have some great potential. I, for one, am planning on finishing playtesting the next Dragon Age scenario that I have to test via Wave, this week.

Have any of the rest of you tried this out? What do you think? Ideas? Suggestions? Other extensions/bots for Wave that have helped you?

[And for those of you tracking the campaign - Amos, Scumbeard, and Narcy have now left Loudwater exploring the Dire Wood in the High Forest, borrowing extensively and shamelessly from the FR Campaign Guide. They met a 2 headed ettin, saw, and conquered. In the ettin's den, they found a note and some gold from a fey/elvish creature that was apparently paying off the ettin to guard the albino ring of trees that surrounds the Dire Wood... Ooo - a fey conspiracy! Tune in next time...]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weekend in the Realms

I hosted a game for Weekend in the Realms at a local games shop, a couple of weekends ago. A good time, but lower attended than other "Weekend in..." RPGA sanctioned games I've run in a long time. Could have been a bunch of factors.

How was the game? A good time. Josh, Martin, Mouton and Susana from the usual crowd at Time Warp Comics showed up to play. We ran the recommended "The Icy Queen's Crossing" adventure that the RPGA sent to shops with some cool glossy color character sheets. All told, the adventure was neat, but I have two qualms with it, similar to issues I saw with larger release Living Greyhawk games over the years.

1) Tying in the marketing of other products is fine, and something I think the RPGA should do to help grow the hobby, but maybe tying these events to a date a couple of weeks after the release might help with making the brand new products more usable for the game itself, rather than just a direct tie in. I recall this happening with the Bright Sands arc for Living Greyhawk tying into the Sandstorm book and nobody having really had enough time to get the book and get used to it before the games started. (That may just be misperception, but that's the way I recall it.) In this case, "The Icy Queen's Crossing" was a tie in to The Fall of Highwatch a new Forgotten Realms novel by Mark Sehestedt, which came out only days before the Weekend in the Realms. If the adventure was a prequel, that would have been fine, but according to the intro the adventure actually took place after the events of the novel. Haven't read it yet, but I've got to wonder about the spoilers or if waiting a few weeks would have been a better tie in. Read the book? You'll love the game!

2) Part of why I think the Living campaigns over the years had such legs was that they afforded players the opportunity to have organized play, and the actions of those games were reported back to a central repository and in some cases that affected the course of future campaign arcs. This was done very effectively with Living Greyhawk, for one. I do, however, have some disappointment that due to the Region system for RPGA over the years and due to wanting to hold back what I assume must by WotC's intellectual property for more formal releases that few of the Core adventures ever let you really play in the sandbox with your favorite characters from the books. Would it be so terrible if Drizz't or Elminster from the Forgotten Realms books made an appearance in a special Core adventure? I think it'd be a great touchstone, and perhaps ramp up some interest. Maybe there's even an NPC or two in this adventure that played a large part in the Highwatch novel - when I get a chance to read it, I'll find out. But adding in some of the power players from the novels as window dressing would be a nice touch.

All told, the adventure itself was a good solid 4E afternoon game - a new monster, a cool villain, and a couple of twists to roleplay through. If you didn't get to play it at the Weekend event, try to find a DM or store who got a copy. Despite my philosophical flaws about release dates, etc., above, it was still a hella fun game.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Halloween Call of Cthulhu Parts I & II

Halloween Call of Cthulhu Parts I & II

So, last weekend, DJ Lance Rock, Chef Boyardee, John Wilkes Booth and one of the experts on the Cottingley Faeries gathered to play Call of Cthulhu. (Our wives, a Poodle Skirt Dancer, a Faerie, and my lovely wife, who was taking this picture who was dressed as a Flapper, suffered us gladly.)

I cracked out one of my favorite of the more recent Cthulhu tomes, Secrets of New York. As all of the players grew up in the suburbs of New York City or the city itself, it was fun to see our stomping grounds through the eyes of 1920s Lovecraftian horror. (ooo scary) BRP/CoC is one of our favorite systems to play, and although we only get to play it a few times of year, it was like putting on an old pair of sneakers (albeit ones that are creepy and can summon a demon from beyond the abyss).

Stephan (Expert on Faeries, above) created the characters (thanks, man!) and he played a mystic. Josh (Chef Boyardee) played a young man from Spanish Harlem who was taking classes at Columbia. Mark (John Wilkes Booth) played a street urchin with the voice of a wise-cracking New Yawk kid from a Depression era radio serial ("Aw, jeez..." was muttered frequently...). I GMed the game and NPCed a Columbia professor and a jazz trumpet player.

We played the "Transgression" scenario out of Secrets of New York, which was a lot better than I thought it might be! The source book itself is fantastic, but the scenarios seemed to fall a little flat when I originally read them when the book came out, but the story of a Columbia professor gone mad and about to open a gate to the beyond came across less hackneyed than I thought it might, especially with the fine roleplaying of the party. The image of baseballs appearing mysteriously in apartments all over the city somehow being connected to a horrifying end-of-the-world scenario worked a lot better than I thought it would! The background of NY for Cthulhu also provides a very rich framework to jump into, which is something else that I was surprised at. With so few Lovecraftian and Mythos tales taking place in New York, I wasn't sure if it would seem forced, but the folks at Chaosium - like always - created a very deep campaign to leverage. Great stuff!

The day after Halloween, I got to do it all over again at Time Warp Comics in Joisey. While the Jets game played in the background, we played "Masks of Halloween" by Oscar Rios (see earlier post for background on that scenario and the "Halloween Horror Returns!" product). Josh, Susana, Martin and I played through the Masks scenario, with Josh playing his character from the previous night, Susana playing the Columbia professor, Martin playing a charlatan mystic, and me NPCing a gentleman's boxer. The Chaosium line of monographs have some excellent stuff in them, and this scenario (a haunted farm stand where Nyarlathotep is trying to bring about as much mayhem as he can) was well worth running in your own campaign, or as a Halloween one shot.

Stay tuned for more ghoulishness as winter - and in turn gaming season - progress!
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Friday, October 23, 2009

D&D Forgotten Realms at the Shop


Just wanted to include a snapshot from the most recent D&D 4th Edition Forgotten Realms game at the shop. That's Greg, Josh, Martin and Susana and their figures around the battlemat. Huzzah! Good times at Time Warp Comics.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Prepping for Call of Cthulhu Halloween Game


On Halloween itself and then on Sunday November 1st, I'll have the opportunity to run two games of Call of Cthulhu with a Halloween theme. Thankfully, Chaosium has published a number of collections of one-shot Halloween scenarios, including "Halloween Horror Returns!" which is my personal favorite. The scenario "Masks of Halloween" is what I'll likely run for both sessions, giving the players the ability to explore the seemingly mundane (Halloween hay rides, etc.) with lots of great Mythos madness lying just beneath the surface...

In the past, I've run one-shots from Blood Brothers, Mansions of Madness, and even a D&D campaign build around Heroes of Horror. (Thanks for derailing that so well, Mark. Thanks...)

What will you do for Halloween, this year? Any cool gaming stuff planned?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Found two D&D Templates on Google Docs

Check this!

http://docs.google.com/templates?hl=en&q=dungeons

At the time of this posting, there were two Google Docs templates for D&D, including one to organize your thoughts for an encounter, but another that was a 4E Character template. Suh-wheet!





Saturday, September 19, 2009

Forgotten Realms in the 4th Edition of D&D


So, I understand why WotC is focusing more on building a Campaign Guide and a Player's Guide for the worlds they'll support, with minimal modules and additional setting books. (A completist at heart, even I gave up on owning all the FR materials during the mad rush of 3.5E D&D.) But, that said, I do somewhat miss the support materials to expand upon what's in the campaign settings. Is the 4 pages of content about Cormyr from the Campaign Guide going to be all that the largest of the Realms' kingdoms will get during 4th Edition? (with the exception of D&D Insider articles, that is) I'm having fun taking advantage of this void of information by digging back into my archives, even into the Volo's Guides. If you never read the Volo's Guides, think "Let's Go Forgotten Realms" or a Zagat's guide - starred reviews of the inns and locales of the Forgotten Realms, written by the Realms' most notorious bard/vagabond, with lots of plot hooks inserted here and there (as well as "corrections" from the ever accurate Elminster the wizard...)

What campaign support materials do you use when prepping a campaign?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Auditing the Dungeon Master's Guides


I'm getting back into the DM's seat for Dungeons & Dragons after almost a year hiatus. (I've spent my time playing D&D, and running Runequest and other games over the past many months, and will continue to do so. Halloween Cthulhu is just around the corner!) I'll be running 4th Edition D&D at my friends' comic book shop for regularly scheduled games, with Forgotten Realms as the campaign setting (the setting I've been running in pretty regularly for about 20 years, with the occasional side trek to Ravenloft, Greyhawk or Eberron).

In prep for the games, I've been scouring my years and years worth of Forgotten Realms supplements for adventure hooks, encounter sites, plots and NPCs. In my humble opinion, the Realms run best as a sandbox, rather than something where the players are led by the nose into a large metaplot. (I'm still trying to understand how TSR thought having the Horde or the Times of Troubles as playable encounters in the 90s was a wise idea... Unless the PCs are driving the action, having them suckered into large campaigns as bystanders - soldiers in the army, instead of instigators - can make for a difficult scenario to DM...) So, to create the best Realms sandbox that I can, I've been leaning on a lot of the campaign resources, but also on decades' worth of Dungeon Master's Guides. It's kind of wild to see how this product has evolved over the years.
  • The First Edition DM's Guide, of which I do not have the fancy one pictured above, but instead the yellow spined edition that had some revisions to it, was a stream of consciousness walk through gaming philosophy, tables of random items and dungeons, and much much more. Not a practical guide by any stretch (not even its champions, myself included, would claim that) it was instead basically a brain dump by Gary Gygax of how gaming ideally works. Much fun is the random dungeon generator for solo play, as well as the artifcats that are still finding themselves used in games today.
  • The Second Edition DM's Guide was the weakest of the bunch. Neutering D&D to make it "adventure without danger" in reaction to a lot of the pressures of the 80s about the evils of roleplaying games (I'm using fairly broad strokes here - there were a lot of other factors to the revision), 2nd Edition started the trend of making the DMs guide slimmer than the Player's Handbook. Put the rules in the PHB, put the philosophy and commentary in the DMG. But, sadly, there was little of that in the 2nd edition guide, focusing more on magic items, etc.
  • The 3.5E DM's Guide (I don't have the 3e one), took a step back to offering more in the way of guidance, including a chart of 100 plot hooks that I still use, lots of advice about running games and creating adventures, as well as tons of info about how to DM. I think it may be the best of the WotC/TSR DM's guides.
  • The 3.5E Dungeon Master's Guide II, which I couldn't lay my hands on in the past few days - must be in a box somewhere, was a fantastic resource. Taking the 1E village of Saltmarsh and expanding it, building plot hooks for months of adventures, and statting out so much of it was tremendous. Perhaps even better was the advice on how to make a world living and breathing, including how to build out official factions. Now was this likely in reaction to what was happening in the video game world with factions as a way to relate to a game world? (See Oblivion, WoW, etc.) Likely yes, but the way to enact it for a tabletop RPG as well done, and made it something I started trying to do more and more of with the Ptolus campaign I was running when I purchased this book.
  • Not an official TSR/WotC product, but noteworthy nonetheless was Green Ronin's Advanced Gamesmaster's Guide. (Full disclosure - I playtested this for Green Ronin, and felt right from the start that it was going to be a fantastic product.) There was more keen advice in here than in any other product I'd seen to that point about how to be a good DM. Not just the stuff about "here's how to prep a published adventure," but stuff about roles in the playing group and how to address particular needs that different player types might have, how to craft scenarios to different play styles, and lots of great ideas for NPC behavior, plot hooks, and more. Great, great stuff.
  • Lastly, the 4th Edition DM's Guide. Now, I've been kind of hard on 4e. I still feel like the overall focus of making a game that is more relevant to the World of Warcraft gang (of which I'm happy to be an on-again-off-again member) takes away from the fun of "play" that previous editions had. ("Do you want to be a wizard or a fighter?" has been replaced with "Do you want to be a controller or the tank?" as I've stated before.) That said, the DM's guide does a good job in going over the mechanics of being a good DM - how to build good encounters, how to build quests, etc. I feel the overall system itself is too focused on the mechanics of 10 encounters are needed to level, and here's what should be in those encounters, and that sort of metagaming, but the result is what you make of it. I'm going to work hard to make a 4E sandbox where it's about the characters, not the stats and artillery roles. The way the book closes, with the introduction of the town of Fallcrest as an adventure starting point, does a good job to show what the game can be, and I hope more and more DMs embrace that.
I'm looking forward to a very role heavy version of roleplaying through the Forgotten Realms, in my new campaign. (No munchkins allowed, folks!) I'm also looking forward to the 4th Edition DMG II that is due out, focusing on running campaigns for characters levels 11-20. Bring it on WotC! I got some dice and am ready to game!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Runefang by C.L. Werner (Warhammer Fantasy Fiction)


While flying to and from England, last month, I read C.L. Werner's Runefang, one of the Warhammer Fantasy titles published by Black Library. My exposure to Warhammer Fantasy has been a long one, dating back to the table top game that I started playing - er well, at least painting minis for - in the early 90s, and into my introduction to the Fantasy RPG through my friend Travis in the earlier part of this decade. I've read all of the Gotrek and Felix novels, as well as some of the lower profile titles released over the past few years. Runefang was a well done addition to the canon, being a title that expanded upon the world of Warhammer. Gorbad Ironclaw, Gordreg Throatripper and Uhrghul Skullcracker, two of the game's orc legends, were introduced as characters in the novel, marauding orcs who led hordes across the world. In the midst of the maelstrom of these orc invasions (spread across several generations) were attempts to wield a magical sword called the Runefang to defeat the tide of monsters descending upon civilization, albeit a dark and hopeless civilization, unlike the shinier safer worlds of many other mainstream fantasy series like Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms and others.

The world of Warhammer is not a place where tidy and charming wizards pop up at the last minute to save the day - I actually lost count of the number of primary and secondary characters that died during Runefang. That, I think, is the key piece about Warhammer Fantasy, and what works and doesn't work for it as a shared world of fiction. The world itself is immense and much more like the "points of light" idea that Wizards of the Coast is trying with the Forgotten Realms now - the idea that society in between the outposts of civilization in a fantasy world is a harsh, cruel place without much amenities or even safety. Werner did a great job with painting that image in Runefang, wherein a Dirty Dozen style motley crew of characters are sent on this suicide mission to retrieve this magical sword from a long lost outpost across the barony where the story unfolds. There are bandits, orc tribes, rival factions in the court who would not like to see the (anti-heroes) succeed, and more. But Werner balances this with some hope and some heroism, which is more than I can say for what some of the other Warhammer titles are able to carry out. Particularly Elfslayer, the latest in the Gotrek and Felix series, and the other dark elf titles, seem to border on exploitation rather than "dark fantasy". Knowing that a village was razed by vicious marauders should be enough for the readership of the novels, without details of the torture and pillage. I know there's a market for very dark fantasy, but I do have some concern that the readership of novels based on a tabletop game played by young people may not be the place for exploring this territory. (Wow, never thought I'd sound like an old fogey like this.)

Warhammer titles that I thought did a good job of expanding upon the Warhammer world in a fashion that I thought lent more to the overall "shared world" include:
  • All of the William King Gotrek & Felix titles, as well as the first couple by Nathan Long (Orcslayer and Manslayer)
  • Fell Cargo by Dan Abnett
  • The Adventures of Florin and Lorenzo by Robert Earl
  • The Enemy Within by Richard Lee Byers
  • Mark of Chaos by Anthony Reynolds
Weigh in below on the comments thread if you have thoughts about any of the other Warhammer Fantasy books.

Monday, September 7, 2009

John Madden DM (with thanks to RPG Blog II)

Saw the below over on RPG Blog II, and couldn't resist sharing it via my own pages as well... Tis the time of year to enjoy football, role playing games and other indoor pursuits. (well, I guess football takes place outdoors, but I like to watch it from the comfort of my couch...)




Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The passing of my father

My father, the man who raised me, taught me, and introduced me to so many wonderful things - hiking, philosophy, poetry, gaming, carving, and painting, amongst many other vocations - passed away. Such times as these when I've lost a close friend and cherished mentor, before, have caused me to think of e.e. cummings' poem 'Buffalo Bill'...


Buffalo Bill's
defunct
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat
Jesus
he was a handsome man
and what I want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

Monday, August 3, 2009

I got me some Google Juice

The G.I. Joe DVDs were awesome, but hey dig this!

I got me a Google Voice account, and Google also just mailed me a laminated set of directions for GMail (Become a GMail Ninja). I don't know how I got on the Golden Ticket list, but daaang! I feel the love, Skynet. I feel the love.

If you haven't seen the GMail Ninja thing, check out the link. Didn't know I was already about 80% there to being a GMail Ninja, but the list of tips and tricks helped me close the gap.

But the serious Google Juice is in the Google Voice account. The ability to send texts from my browser, have a phone number that rings all the numbers I want it to ring throughout the day (my work phone during work hours, my cell while I'm at lunch, etc.), the ability to have some contacts ring to certain phones and others to other lines, the ability to set up customized voicemails (have all the folks in my gaming group always get a voicemail message that states the dates of the next 3 games, but have the work folks get a brief "leave a message"), and the list goes on...

So cool. Thank you Willy Wonka! I will keep drinking the google kool aid; just keep the loot coming! :)

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Forgotten Realms in 4E: The Literature

I just finished reading Bruce R. Cordell's Plague of Spells (1385 DR - 1396 DR) and Richard Baker's Swordmage (1477 DR - 1479 DR), two of the earlier books in The Forgotten Realms pantheon to be set after the Spell Plague, which serves as the high water mark between the 3rd and 4th edition continuities of the classic shared fiction world. Other titles have covered the FR since the switchover to the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but these books opened up the first two big story arcs of the new era - The Abolethic Sovereignty and Blades of the Moonsea, respectively. In the non-literary world, I'm about to start my first 4th edition game of D&D set in the Forgotten Realms, starting a sandbox game in the Moonsea area using the 4e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and Player's Guide to the Forgotten Realms.

So, how are the books, and how do the help define the FR in 4E? Both were good, and in different ways. Cordell's Plague of Spells, the earlier set of the two titles, does perhaps the best job of explaining the Spell Plague of any of the texts I've read so far about 4th edition. He makes the experience of the (massively magically overpowered) world coming to an end and a new less pleasant world taking over seem real. Additionally, he does a great job making the characters more three dimensional than many other genre fiction titles, making Raidon's loss of a child something that sticks with the reader, Anusha's coming of age reminiscent for many of us, and Japheth's drug addiction a little more realistic than many books of its ilk might want to address. From both a game mechanics perspective and a literary perspective the apocalyptic removal of magical power from many of the Forgotten Realms' prominent figures helps address a problem this setting had suffered
under for over a decade - if there's a world full of massively overpowered beings, why would any other heroes be needed? (I know, but who will watch the watchmen?) Taking the power players down a peg helps give the other figures (player characters in the game, new characters in the books) take shape. The thing that I think Cordell did rather well within his book was keeping a few touch points from the earlier setting to help bridge the gap between "the old world" and the new era. Amongst these were characters from his book Stardeep, about a dungeon within the realms, and also cities and gods from the older campaign. Japheth as a young monk from Candlekeep before the fall was an interesting twist. (What happens to the folks who have spent their lives cataloging magic and knowledge when the world of magic shatters? Well, some would lose their way...)

Swordmage was a different animal. Set much further after the end of the spellplague, it was less concerned with how we got here, and much more about where we are now. There are still touchpoints back to the older setting - info about gods' names that had changed, cities that had been 3rd rate to Waterdeep are now larger players, the Elven kingdom of Myth Drannor has become whole again - but there are also some wholly new elements, like embedded pieces of the planet's lost sister world Abeir. The investigative plot line of SwordMage is fairly reminiscient of many of the stories associated with the Eberron campaign and literary setting. Eberron, the campaign world created by game designer Keith Baker, is a world of pulp mystery - think Chinatown with orc thugs and protagonists that are loners who reluctantly investigate murders. Geran, the main character in Swordmage, is a child of privilege who of course leaves all of that behind to travel the world. In his travels, he becomes entangled in scandal in the Elvish land of Myth Drannor, and after wandering for a while as an adventurer comes home to Hulburg, the kingdom ruled by his elderly uncle. Yes, this is the set up for every Princess Bride-esque tale to be told with Dungeons and Dragons as the mechanics for the telling, but Richard Baker does some clever things to not just tell the story, but make the reader interested in the new campaign world that the game is set in. It's no coincidence that the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting opens with descriptions of the Moonsea area, where this novel is set, I'm sure. It also leaves enough plot hooks and introduces enough characters (NPCs in game parlance, for the uninitiated) to make for enough tales told around the game table using this novel as source material, much like many 1st edition gamers leveraged the Moonshae Isles books by Douglas Niles to start the first games based in the Forgotten Realms, more than 20 years ago. (Yes, I was one, sitting in my parents' living room after Christmas, and opening the gray box of the first FR Campaign Setting, and rolling up stats for NPCs while listening to Queen, with either the Niles books and the first R.A. Salvatore books, well dog eared by that point, within reach.)

The books are both worth reading, if you liked the FR books of years past or if you're planning on playing in or running a FR game that uses the 4th Edition setting. Cordell's book does a nice job of bridging the gap (I understand one of Salvatore's latest does a similar job), and Baker's Swordmage helps define one of the campaign areas that many players will rediscover this world through - the Moonsea. Both do the genre fiction world justice, and are better than other similar releases in other series. Most importantly, they keep a campaign world that had been stagnating a bit in recent history viable, and take it in new directions. I'll see you in the Realms.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I am the Luckiest Man in the World

So, I'm driving to work, the other morning, listening to the local rock station, and the DJ says, "After the break, we'll have something special for fans of the 1980s cartoon, G.I. Joe..." With baited breath, I pulled over and dialled in after they announced that some lucky winner would get a boxed DVD set of G.I. Joe Season 1.1, and lucky me, I was caller 7. As one of my friends said, "Tyler, what's the phrase that pays?" Well, WNNJ, you're my hero.


Things I had forgotten about G.I. Joe since childhood:
  • The COBRA Temple looks like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, mixed with a Stygian temple from Conan...
  • That G.I. Joe will always "return after these messages..."
  • COBRA Commander and Destro employ the same mind controlling headbands that Ming the Merciless used in the Flash Gordon serials, about 50 years earlier...
  • Destro had a Cthulhoid background...
  • Major Bludd looked way more badass than he sounded (was the voice actor an evil cartoon mouse on another show?)
  • Snake Eyes was way more badass than he looked.
  • Bullets never hit anything except for inanimate objects
  • There are not enough acronyms in the world
  • Sgt. Slaughter was not just a wrestler, he was a Joe
  • Destro controlled possessed Joes with a joystick
  • I still have a crush on The Baronness

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wrapped up H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth - not as good as Keep on the Shadowfell...

I ran Keep on the Shadowfell for the D&D group that plays periodically at Timewarp Comics & Games, right as D&D 4E was released. The particular d&d group that was playing it there meets roughly once - sometimes twice - a month, so it took us a good 6 months to play through the whole thing. This was during the honeymoon period for me with Fourth Edition, when a lot of the new powers and class permutations seemed pretty novel and exciting. After DMing the game for a few months though, for different players, I started to feel a little differently, feeling that each combat was becoming repetitive. ("I use magic missile." "I use magic missile." "I use magic missile.") It seemed to me that despite the efforts to add new options to character classes, a weakness for some classes from1st Edition had reared its ugly head again - there are courses of action that are far more preferable for certain classes, and you'll use them over and over again, despite having other options. Magic Missile might have been the weapon of choice for a 1st level magic user in 1e because that was the most effective option, but at least by 4th level, you had a lot of other options. In 4E, after a wizard has blown their encounter power(s), they're still using magic missile a heck of a lot, even at level 8 or even higher...

So why did Keep on the Shadowfell work for me, aside from the honeymoon stage piece? Well, it was a well done module with lots of hooks for encounters and NPCs that weren't fleshed out. It was vaguely reminiscent of T1: The Village of Hommlet from early AD&D, in that the town itself was just as much the adventure as the encounters themselves - meet the town wizard, meet the innkeeper, etc. The end of the mod felt a bit like a railroaded closing to what had been a pretty promising adventure, but that's in my opinion a necessary evil of published adventures - they need to establish closure somehow, and if there are a lot of well defined plot hooks along the way, the closing sometimes can be a bit abrupt or have some urgency to it, just for architecture's sake.
My buddy Josh ran Thunderspire Labyrinth for the same group, though, and my feelings are not the same as they were for Shadowfell. Thunderspire Labyrinth had a lot of potential - the party saves slaves captured by evil Duergar - dark dwarves - in the Underdark, have to fight off a cult associate with an ancient Minotaur temple, and more. That said, this module seemed way more heavy on the encounters and factions that were pretty two-dimensional (we get it - Duergar are evil dwarves...) rather than providing an adventuring environment and NPCs that the PCs really had any interest in protecting. The concept of a town in a mountain was great, but I didn't feel like there were any strong hooks for making this place a home for the PCs - something I always look for in settings (create a place where the PCs wouldn't mind staying, and adventuring some more).

I have a lot of respect for Baker and Mearls, I just felt like after the wide-open, sandbox-y feel of Shadowfell that Thunderspire gave a lot more potential for play outside the pages of the module, whereas Thunderspire Labyrinth had some great scenes and ideas but was more of an adventure to play as a path to completing the Heroic Tier so that you could get on with the Paragon stuff.

We're going to play a sandbox game of Forgotten Realms as the next game with this group. I'll be DMing, and the party will find themselves in the Moonsea, leveraging a lot of the things I thought Baker has done well with the Swords of the Moonsea series, and giving the players an open ended world to play in.

What'd you think of H1 and H2? Is H3 worth incorporating into our game? Interestingly, I've seen lots of folks say they thought H2 was far better than H1. Discuss!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Roleplaying Games that are good to play 1 on 1?

No, not a return to my gamebook posting, from a few months back. My buddy Josh is coming over this afternoon for some gaming (and steak, but that's another blog...). We could play some runequest, I suppose, as his character is the protagonist for the RQ campaign I've been running, or we could just play a boardgame or card game, but we're in the mood for roleplaying. What games work effectively for a DM and player, in your opinion?

Ones that spring to mind for me are:
  • Call of Cthulhu - most of Lovecraft's stories were about sole individuals, not parties
  • Kobolds Ate my Baby - Beer and pretzels roleplaying at its best, and the adventures of a rogue kobold are always good for a few laughs
  • OD&D - the original red box still plays well one on one - heck, I've got a bunch of Expert level mods from the 80s that were intended for just one player and one dm
  • Eberron D&D 3.5 (waiting to try out 4e Eberron) - the film noir aspects of this D&D setting lent themselves well to lone detective games (heck, I lifted a ton of plot hooks for my eberron games from everything from Chinatown to classic pulp serials - Flash Gordon worked VERY well for the fragmented nations of Eberron...)
  • I'd say Magic: The Gathering, but thanks to Jim at Timewarp Comics, I sold my collection of cards years ago - thanks, man! you helped me kick the habit!
Any ideas? Want to share some stories of one-on-one games you've played?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Nerd Oscars

Don't forget to vote! Ballots end on August 1. Green Ronin, Swords and Wizardry, Forgotten Realms - lots of good stuff in here, as always! Check it out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

James Mishler's take on the Gaming Industry

The blogosphere (or at least the nerdier parts of it) is abuzz about a post by former editor of Comics and Games Retailer James Mishler about his take on the health of the gaming industry. In short, he's not too keen on the long term sustainability of widespread tabletop gaming publishing. Check out the article here, and the myriad comments on that page, as well as James Maliszewski's Grognardia blog. Oh, more over here at enworld, too.

My take, as I've shared in a few of these forums is this - Wizards of the Coast and before them TSR have likely always treated the core books as a loss leader, or in layman's terms as the Gillette "Give away the razor, sell the blades" model. The money for larger companies is in selling the adventures, accessories, splat books, and other upsells over time. It's tougher to do that on a smaller model.

All that said, I think online publishing, p.o.d. and other approaches can give some opportunity to the smaller independents. Mishler touches on a lot of this. (and his "Begun the PDF Price Wars have..." passage is brilliant.)

Thoughts?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dragon Warriors RPG


In my latest case of "Must Go! Must Buy!" syndrome, I'm picking up the Dragon Warriors RPG, based on the quick start booklet they provided for Free RPG Day, this year. (If you didn't grab it, you can download it here.) My curiosity was piqued based on the freebie, and I've been doing more reading about the game. Interestingly enough, according to old pal Wikipedia, Dragon Warriors was originally released in the 80s in 6 novel sized paperbacks - a very different format compared to the doormat hardbacks and boxed sets that ruled the day then, in the gaming world. The newer Mongoose Publishing releases collect these older materials, and repackage them in more traditional hardback format.

So, what's appealing about the game? It has the old school feel of RuneQuest or Palladium Fantasy, with a more distinctively European bent. Think Brothers Grimm. Think Feudalism. Think Norsemen at the Gates. This isn't the high fantasy of The Forgotten Realms or any of the settings or influences that shaped American RPGs through the 90s (much as I love those games, too). A f'rinstance - the description of The Ogre from the mini-bestiary in the Free RPG Day sample partially reads:

The ogre may be old, but that does not mean it is stupid, and it has fought humans before. It will stay below the bridge, using the stonework as a shield, and making occasional grabs for members of the party from alternate sides of the bridge. When it is completely under the bridge, it cannot be seen or targeted by anyone on the bridge or the road. if it coems under repeated missile or spell-fire and can't work out where its attacker is, it will run away, down the ravine and out of sight.

So, we've been given not a simple set of flavor text or an ecology of this creature, we've been given full scenery, motivations, and characterization. Very impressive stuff.

Along the lines of my previous post about my issues with 4th Edition D&D, my same feelings about rules influencing roleplaying apply here. The rules - at least as sampled in the freebie booklet - seem to suggest a game built around archetypes more akin to Conan, Siegfried, and Lankhmar's denizens than World of Warcraft. [In defense of the great minds behind 4e, Mike Mearls has a good post here about where the inspiration behind the 4e class archetypes came from. Hopefully, more players will explore these inspirations, as they are great - I think the rules at the end of the day just became to WoW-y for a table top game.] The richness and depth of the multi-page description of just the Barbarian class is impressive, and hopefully in the right hands of players will lend itself readily towards the kind of game that I think Dragon Warriors has the potential to be.

Anybody have any experiences playing the game? Any feedback? Anything to expect?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hackmaster Basic - Quickstart Rules!

Huzzah! Kenzer has posted a free PDF of the quick start rules to the latest Hackmaster, Hackmaster: Basic. Click here to go to the Kenzer Hackmaster site, or just deep link here for the quick start rules. I'm glad to see, especially with this year's Free RPG Day stuff in mind, so many companies putting out nice, slim "try before you buy" quick start docs. Well done, Kenzer!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Latest Thoughts on 4E - we're about a year in...

My latest thoughts on 4th Edition of D&D are up at Enworld.org here:


What started as a comparison by one poster between World of Warcraft and 4th Edition has started to edge into flame war territory, but I'm resolute that by taking something pen-and-paper and trying to blatantly mimic something digital that we may have seen the high water mark of dungeons and dragons and we're receding rapidly from it...

A copy and paste of my post (without having to wade through other responses, etc.) is here:

I think by making the characters fit into niches in the party explicitly (leader, controller, etc.), it damages the ability for a player to roleplay their role. (Can't tell you how many times a new player at a table in the shop where I run games has said "I'd like to be X," and some other player holds forth about how we've already got too many controller types, etc., when it was just a kid wanting to play at being Gandalf or something...) Party balance (we can't all be clerics...) is one thing, but by over strategizing party structure, we're removing the chance that maybe that Wizard wouldn't be a controller type - maybe they'd be the tank with the fireballs, or an elderly sage who avoids combat and is studying runes during the fray, trying to find the way through the dungeon. Defining ones own character is what makes the game fun for many. Walking into a formula - one more formulaic than 3.5e's splat books or 2e's Kits - is going to hurt the play of the game as a roleplaying game. Those variant kits and splat books, mocked as they may have been by some in the hobby, actually opened more doors for variations on classes, rather than trying to shoe horn all players of a particular class into a singular, specific role.

Defined roles in a MMORPG are one thing, where for solving computer-driven scenarios you need X spellcasters, Y healers, and Z warriors to defeat an opponent, but I'm of an older school of pen-and-paper RPG players where in a good RPG, there's a large map (or better, a sandbox) with a series of encounters, wandering monsters, and lots of scenarios to roleplay, rather than a booklet of 5-7 hyper-defined single room maps with combat scenarios that require X spellcasters, Y healers and Z warriors to defeat the opponent.

Let alone the fact that, to take one example, a spellcaster now is even more so a walking magic missle, rather than perhaps an interesting figure schooled in arcane lore who creates spells, mixes potions with untold results, and an actual interesting background, rather than a series of powers that I can shuffle like playing cards and play to defeat an opponent.

This is just my take, watching how it's affected the games I run. Will I still continue to play 4E? Yes, because it's what others are playing, but I feel we're drifting away from traditional role playing the more we attempt to mimic what is succeeding in other markets (video games).

You know how you build a better bicycle? You don't imitate a car.


Other thoughts? How do you feel? Am I being shortsighted or hopelessly nostalgic? How have they gotten it right, more importantly?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Free RPG Day - What a Haul!

Still poring over my loot from yesterday. Wow! If any of you have played the full or freebie versions of any of these, please let me know. They all look pretty hip. A list of my loot and some quick thoughts, below...

  • Castles & Crusades - A Primer - Troll Lord Games - When C&C first came out a few years ago, kind of leading the charge to return to OAD&D now taken up by OSRIC and countless others, I was really intrigued. I never dived in though, despite the opportunity to play new Gygaxian materials, as it seemed like not all that much different from the red box I still have (albeit without the box). That said, the primer has tempted me to invest in the "fourth crusade" being released this summer. The rules seem a bit cleaner (or at least better explained) and the breadth of support materials now suggests to me more than just a rehash of rules - there's a real opportunity here, and I want to explore it.
  • Dragon Warriors - Introductory Book - Magnum Opus Press and Flaming Cobra/Mongoose Publishing - This is the one product I've reread a few times since grabbing it yesterday. WOW! This is British Fantasy RPGing from the late 70s early 80s at its finest - Runequest, Pendragon, and Warhammer FRPG all rolled into one. I have not seen the Dragon Warriors books at any of the FLGS I frequent, but I plan on ordering them. A simple rules set with Celtic fantasy threads down to the kings buried in barrows in the hills... Nice stuff... Some reading I did suggests an early edition came out in 86. Has anybody played this?
  • Dungeons and Dragons (4E) Khyber's Harvest - Wizards of the Coast - I thought I'd never want to play Eberron ever again after leading a party of munchkin high school kids through it at a series of games I ran at a local shop (sample dialogue between two of the players: "When are we going to fight a Tarrasque?" "Damn it, dude, it's a unique creature; there's only one Tarrasque." "Oh, sorry, when are we going to fight the Tarrasque?"). But, Keith Baker is a great designer - my generation's Ed Greenwood, perhaps (oh, let the flamewar begin) - and I'm routinely impressed with his ability to fuse Indiana Jones w/ D&D and make it work. Heck, maybe the rerelease of Eberron will be what saves 4E for me... And heck, it came with a free dungeon tile!
  • Corporation - Brutal and Flaming Cobra/Mongoose Publishing - I thought vaguely cyberpunk inspired games about big corporations ruling the world had died out, but then Enron happened and now they seem relevant again. Another freebie from the Flaming Cobra imprint of Mongoose Publishing, and one I plan on digging into a bit. Stephan and Gareth, if you're reading, this one totally looks up your alley.
  • Rogue Trader: Forsaken Bounty (Warhammer 40K Roleplaying) - Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop - This was the one everyone was practically drooling over yesterday, and I saw referenced as the must-have in a posting on a message board. VERY impressive design quality, and the ability to do more in the 40K multiverse - how to lose?
  • Pathfinder: Bonus Bestiary - Paizo - The Pathfinder RPG is trying to become the heir to the 3.5 throne, and appears to be winning hands down - and it's not even released yet. This freebie add on to their pending Bestiary, gives you the Shadow Mastiff, Huecuva, Lammasu, and more classic monsters for your 3.5e compatible RPG. Very cool renderings and I'm a fan of what Paizo's trying to do to keep what has become my second favorite edition of d&d alive.
  • Goodman Games two-fer - Hearts of Chaos (Amethyst Adventure), Hero's Handbook: Immortal Heroes - Goodman Games may be the thing that saves 4th edition. So far, the non-core WotC books (with the exception of the two FR books and the Eberron Player's book) have seemed really lackluster to me - better, but not much better, than the 3.5 splat books. Goodman's trying to do cool stuff with the rules to expand upon things, and the Immortal Heroes with its method for attaining divinity (akin, but far cooler, to the basic immortal set) and Amethyst, which essentially mixes d&d and twilight 2000, are pretty mindblowing...
  • Hollow Earth Expedition: Kidnapped in the Hollow Earth - Exile Games - I downloaded a bunch of the Pulp Adventure stuff when it came out - freebie stuff that was on drivethrurpg.com - and there is a soft spot in my heart for 30s era pulp stuff. The derring do stuff, as well as the mystical Lost Horizon kind of stuff. If you haven't seen this game, check out Exile's website.
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters (World of Darkness) - White Wolf Game Studio - For those of you who write off the Vampire/Changeling set as LARPing gone wrong, get this or any of the more recent World of Darkness edition starter kits (many available for free on drivethrurpg.com) and play them. Roleplaying done right, World of Darkness continues to amaze me with the quality of its products and the depth with which they consider the ways a player would want to play a character, rather than just coming up with more equipment and powers books like so many other game lines devolve into. Well done, folks. I look forward to playing this on some spooky fall evening.
What did you folks grab as your free swag from Free RPG Day? Any good stories? Good games you played?

Monday, June 15, 2009

RuneQuest: When Last We Joined Our Intrepid Heroes...

The last game of RuneQuest I ran, last month, was in my opinion a step in the right direction. The players started coming into their own as characters, grasping the different Gloranthan themes like the Empire of Wyrm's Friends, the God Learner Empire, and furthering the overall plot related to the humble rogue of the Clanking City who has found that he is to bring about the world's destruction (The Destroyer). Also noteworthy was the first "in the flesh" appearance of The Interloper.

As the party adventured down river, they came upon the small city of Tinaros on Felster Lake. In Tinaros, they got into a tussle with some dock hands that were trying to exact tribute from our intrepid heroes. They investigated the city briefly, saw that a pageant for Sacred Time was being held in honor of the legendary Arkat, but they returned to the docks and recruited some of the thuggish dock hands to be essentially their pirate crew. Yarrr. (Yes, Jon was behind this piratey turn of events - all worship the Mighty Flying Spaghetti Monster...)

Making their way to Kustria, where the Destroyer was told he'd find out more about his heritage and where his path was taking him, they arrived in one piece, tussled with the Kustrian Longshoreman, shared some loot and looked into possible trouble to get themselves into while the Destroyer did his soul searching. Rather quickly they stumbled upon Mad Maud's Brass Horn inn, where the crazy proprietess added another bizarre NPC to the mix (who could forget a barkeep who had mice living in her hair). Staying there, they found that like much of what Glorantha (and all of RPG-dom) holds to offer, if you are an adventurer, hanging out in the common room of an inn will result in people searching you out for hire.

A Messenger of St. Beaud (a young street urchin in the Lampwick mould) brought news of the framing of a timinit (antman) monk for the murder of the abbot of the Arkat Cathedral. The party reached out to the antman, who runs the Rug Seller's Guild, and agreed to help clear the young monk's good name. They also caught wind of an evil gangleader named Ava who is in charge of a band of thugs called the Renunciators - rivals of the Vadrus Runners (who, coincidentally comprised part of the group of thugs that accosted the party at the docks).

After several days of searching, including a day the Destroyer spent at Church Row researching the Interloper and the tales of the Destroyer, the party had a run in with insane Ava and her gang. Ava, it seemed, had muttered more than a few words about The Interloper during her and her gang's attacks on the citizenry. While attacking her hideout, and completely decimating the gang (gotta love RuneQuest's vicious combat rules), the Interloper appeared out of a mirror in her hideout and assaulted the party. A vicious demon, he evaded many of their blows and managed to escape into the mirror before it was shattered in the midst of the combat. He revealed himself in one of his many guises - primarily, to make it known to The Destroyer that he was aware of his presence. The city guard appeared as all of this was occurring, and The Destroyer realized that Ava was aware of his true identity. Risking being revealed as "the Destroyer" and likely being sentenced to death for crimes he'd yet to commit, the Destroyer reluctantly killed Ava, and turning in her body for the bounty. Jon's pirate recruited the survivors of her gang to join their band of pirates, and paid the crew out of the booty in The Renunciators' hideout.

A thread that I thought was a little too tidy had the timinit monk actually framed by Ava's gang, and so his name was cleared in the process. Basically, I was working to have as many arrows pointing to Ava's hideout as possible, so that there'd be a run in between the Destroyer and the Interloper, and a potential unveiling of the Destroyer as the man he truly is (or will be). In a sense we got that, with the Destroyer's reluctant killing of another, furthering his story a little bit more, actually in the vein of Ben from Carnivale, without the player's having seen that program before.

After the game, I arranged for the RuneQuest Pirates, Glorantha: Blood of Orlanth, and another Runequest book or two to find their way to me just in time for Father's Day. ;) I wanted to add more to the game to help cater to the players' interests. There's only so much within the actual Glorantha sourcebook (lots of resources, especially about the small region of Safelster), but I wanted to create more of a sandbox for the game itself. Interestingly, I found out that part of the reason why one of our usual players didn't come to the last session is that he found the campaign to be too event-oriented instead of sandboxy. Something I'm trying to remedy. I felt the first couple of games had to help establish some landmarks, and hopefully now that the players "speak" Gloranthan a bit better, I can kind of leave them to their own devices, to find adventure where it suits them.

Any other DMs out there struggled with that issue in the past? The balance between keeping thigns moving, and keeping things open ended? I'd appreciate any advice.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Next RuneQuest Game - Sunday the 17th...

Picking my RuneQuest game back up on Sunday the 17th with the usual gang of idiots. The Destroyer - the hapless, unintended bringer of doom upon the world - and his co-horts will find themselves sailing downriver on their Dragonewt boat to the God Learner city of Kustria. Options will be laid out for them to stay local for a while and try to research more about this great plot against the Clanking City's defenses, or they may go out in one of many sandbox-y directions to adventure further - perhaps furthering the meta story, perhaps not.

For those of you gents in the campaign, what do you want to see? (comment here, if you'd like) For those of you running RuneQuest games, what is working for you in the current Glorantha setting?

Thanks!

-Tyler

Friday, May 1, 2009

1 on 1 Adventure Gamebooks: Castle Arcania

While unpacking more boxes after my move I came across a few of the classic TSR 1 on 1 Adventure Gamebooks sets including Castle Arcania, the first of the series.  Flashback!  I hadn't seen these books in years, and immediately flipped through them.  Most of them were given away to buddies as gifts after this discovery, to share in the mutual nostalgia kick.  

These books were the logical extension of the Choose Your Own Adventure kick - stat up the protagonist and his/her enemies, put an illustration on each page, and add an element of random encounter resolution.  The Lone Wolf books accomplished something similar, frankly to a better result.  But the 1-0n-1 books had an interesting kick to the young gamer in training circa mid-1980s - you didn't play these alone, you played them with a friend.  For me, that friend was more often than not my older brother, Chris.  Many a long car trip or rainy Summer afternoon were spent flipping through these books together, asking each other "What location are you in?"  You see, in order to allow the players to compete with one another, each story set had an artifact or ability of some sort that allowed the players to somehow detect where the other player was at all times.  Through the use of a map in the book, you could essentially chase the other player, and confront them once you had amassed enough loot or information to defeat them.

Castle Arcania's plot was essentially a "valiant knight versus evil wizard who has kidnapped a princess" old saw.  For me, it presented a first, though.  The "good" character embodied by the Knight looked like a jerk on the cover of the books - to me, he looked pissed off an angry, not heroic.  And Neves, well, he just looked badass.  Evil wizard or note, he rapidly became my favorite to play between the two characters.  (The random elements allowed massive replay for a product of its time.)  

This was a first attempt by TSR to really expand upon the success of their Endless Quest choose-your-own-adventure-style books, and it's amusing to see the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that was employed.  The setting is massively inconsistent, with the princess' bodyguard being termed an "Amazon", conflicting with some elements of Western Europe ca. the Dark Ages, and with a dash of Egyptian imagery (fight Anubis, kids!) tossed in for (good?) measure.  That said, being thrown into the deep end of the mixed-campaign-and-monsters pool made for a fun ride.  Further books (Druid's Grove, and others) got a bit more consistent and developed more interesting plots, making them almost grow with the players who had bought this first book set and moved on to the rest.

If you can find any of them up on ebay or at used shops, grab one set - it's worth the ride.  If you want to join in on the nostalgia, post any comments here or visit this site that has a bunch of reviews of these books up: http://www.gamebooks.org/show_item.php?id=1828.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just added FeedBurner to "Tyler is Gaming..."

Followers and Readers, go out and share the things you love and hate within this blog!  I've added FeedBurner features to make it easier to share content from this site, allowing you to more easily subscribe via email, share postings via email, share via Facebook and more.  Frankly, this is almost more of an exercise for me than something that I thought the masses were awaiting, but I hope you get some use out of it, and it adds to your enjoyment of the blog.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Enworld.org Community Supporter


I just became a Community Supporter over at Enworld.org.  I feel very strongly about the communtiy that they provide online for gamers, and have taken great advantage of it to better understand my hobby over the past several years.  Joining helps support their infrastructure and endeavors to serve the online gaming community through providing resources, forums, news, and content.  Also, with the Ennies around the corner, knowing that I'm helping support a gaming awards show makes me feel chic and nerdy all at the same time.  

If you want to help support Enworld, visit their Community Supporter page.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sunny Day in Washington Square Park




"There'll be laughing, swaying, music playing, dancing in the streets."

College kid on the bench next to me, to her friend: What's on your mind?
Her friend: There is so much strife and brutality in the world...
College kid: It's too nice a day for this sh*t, man.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Would Google Do? - the Wizards of the Coast Edition

Over the weekend, I read Jeff Jarvis' "What Would Google Do?" - a treatise about how Google's business model and overall philosophy are changing the way that many think of not just their workplace but also the world itself. 


  • give control over to your customers
  • pursue your own niche well and support others who fill in your gaps
  • be transparent and open
  • provide elegant solutions
  • free is a business model
  • trust the people
  • make mistakes
  • and don't be evil.
Now, as I read the book, and I reviewed Jarvis' examples of how these tenets are being applied to many industries (think: the Android cell phone, better ways of managing health care documents, better ways of managing energy consumption), I kept coming back to Wizards of the Coast.  As early peeks at 4th edition started to roll out about a year ago - with the hype machine telling us what to expect, and playtests of the early edition of the rules appearing at gaming conventions - it would seem that WotC was off to a very promising and "googley" approach to their craft.  The scale of playtesting - involving actual end-users on convention scale, instead of just in isolated groups - was tremendous compared to any other RPG roll out that I am aware of.  The lurking on enworld.org and other message boards by the designers and staff was apparent.  WotC was so bold as to roll out a few versions of the rules through convention sample games before the rules were done - to let us see what they were cooking in the kitchen before it was even done.  And perhaps most of all, the open game license was reported to be alive and well.

And now here we are a little over a year later, and I'm kind of confused.  For all the promise of those early days, and the continued promise of "join dndinsider and playtest the new barbarian class" and other steps that seemed intended to take the players into consideration, how did we end up here?
  • PDFs of Wizards products - even old school d&d ones that can't be assumed to have tremendous marketshare against 4e - have been yanked from PDF vendors like Drivethrurpg.com.
  • The GSL - open gaming license of 4e - has gone through a tremendous amount of examination by the industry.  Products compatible with 3rd edition may no longer be published if a publisher wishes to create an identical 4th edition flavor.
  • Additionally, third party products that were common during 3rd edition as game aids - things like spell cards that put the Player's Handbook spell lists in index card format for easy reference at the game table - have been banned as WotC starts to roll out its own versions of those products.
  • Gleemax - the social networking site for d&d fans - has been abandoned, with no clear image of a social medium of choice for d&d fans to fill the void.
  • Similarly, while WotC is clear that it is not dead-in-the-water, the online support for d&d through dndinsider has become little more than a web-based version of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, with little more than a few other gadgets to round it out.  Not - yet - the online gaming table with craftable player minis that was promised well over a year ago.   
The above is just an anecdotal summary based on the news shared on the enworld.org news page over the past few months.  My goal is not to beat up on the big dog in the gaming world.  But I am wondering, after reading Jarvis' book, if some lessons might be applied here to make WotC a company that more clearly serves the needs of its customers (and would likely turn a nice profit in the process).  

A few suggestions:
  1. Yanking PDFs from the market over a handful of pirated copies that replicated out quickly into thousands of pirated copies is understandable on one hand - free is a business model, but letting others bootleg your work with no remuneration is not a business model.  On the other hand, it really seems like a baby-with-the-bathwater situation.  It can't be assumed that the first PDF that showed up on a torrent site was the Player's Handbook II, which prompted last week's decision.  Why didn't WotC put together an amenable alternate plan before all of a sudden nixing e-books as a viable platform for their gaming products?  Without this kind of foresight, I'm admittedly concerned that whatever platform they do pick may not stick and I'd be again stuck with having an online edition with no platform to support it.  This lack of trust of the overwhelming majority of their players is a PR mistake.
  2. WotC needs to find its niche.  Part of what made 3rd Edition's open license so compelling for me and many other players who returned to the hobby was the fact that there were all of a sudden lots of creative individuals and companies churning out adventures and support materials.  While we've seen a few publishers dive into publishing adventures, companies seem less actively publishing products that extend the hobby beyond just scenarios.  I almost wonder if the aforementioned power cards scenario may have an impact.  Is WotC really going to make a break even on power cards?  Was it worth pressing the issue and preventing others from releasing these, albeit leveraging WotC's intellectual property?  No, but is it likely that there were folks who bought the 3rd party power cards without having first purchased the core rules from WotC?  The same line of thought applies to Dragon and Dungeon magazines.  Paizo had been doing a great job with them - probably the best gaming writing since the mid-80s Dragon magazine.  Why take that away from a company that was doing a skilled job with it and turn it into part of a yet to be completed online initiative?  I'm all for staggering the roll out of features, but if Dragon and Dungeon were to be the cornerstone of something else, where's the something else?  The other whiz bang features (aside from some tools that are not whiz bang) have yet to arrive, essentially leaving us with online editions of publications not up to their former glory.
  3. Likewise, why was Gleemax chloroformed?  Not that creating a platform to compete with Facebook and MySpace was a wise idea to begin with, but now that it's gone there is a void that the players themselves will fill on their own.  By the time WotC gets around to a stronger Facebook presence or finds a creative way of connecting with their players through social media, the players will have created their own niche groups on Facebook and obviated the need for something generated by WotC itself that would have reportable metrics and added value for the consumer.
All told, I think WotC is a much more progressive company than many consumer-product-driven companies out there.  But there have been some missteps lately that adversely affect the image of the company to the players who are expecting more for their gaming dollar than just a book and a game to play with friends.  Dungeons and Dragons is a cult classic, and the affinity we players have for the game and for one another is a tremendous opportunity for WotC to create long lasting relationships with its consumers, not just for the feel good story, but for building onto those relationships to make the product even stronger, and one that we'll continue to expend our ever decreasing expendable income upon.  Come on, WotC - be Googley.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Living in a Cloud

Just landed one of them new, cheap as sin Acer D150 Net Books.  The intent being that I can now draft blog postings more easily on the fly while in transit (no, not when driving), and more importantly, spend more time working on my writing (both fiction and the games materials I design).  

All of this is letting me explore technology in some new and interesting ways, and figuring better ways to create content in a mobile world.  I've installed Google docs w/ offline support, Google Calendar and some other google apps that will frankly replace how I'd used MS Office on previous machines.  I've also amped up the way I have the machine configured for speed and security.  Lastly, I've set up Juice and Google Reader (w/ offline support, again - thank you Google Gears) so that I can just fire this puppy up in the AM, download my latest podcasts, and RSS feed articles, and digest them on the way to work or over my morning coffee on the days I'm at home.  

Yes, maybe I've just been drinking a serious amount of Jeff Jarvis' Kool Aid, but I'm excited at diving into the deep end of cloud computing with this 3 pound netbook after a couple of years of finding ways that I can use the world-as-a-platform to help drive the organization of my writing, my ideas about technology, and the way I communicate.  Now, to put all of these tools to good use...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Geek Orthodox: Come Sail Away! Come Sail Away! - Dragonriders of the Styx Toys

Geek Orthodox: Come Sail Away! Come Sail Away! - Dragonriders of the Styx Toys

Saw this today in a deep link within a geek-orthodox posting. Holy crap, I hadn't thought of these action figures in a loooong time. I vaguely remember a set with a plastic map and plastic dragons that the action figures could interact with. Awww, nostalgia...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The man with the tin foil hat helped me fix my blog...

A wrap up to a fun April Fool's day on me (issues w/ formatting my blog, then my internet service dropped out for much of the day wrecking my ability to work...)... Watching VH1's The Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s, and catching up on all of the important stuff I needed to be doing all day, as well as, y'know, fixing the formatting on the blog.

Major kudos and a shout out to Chris Lang at googlingsocial.com for helping me fix the blog's Google Friend Connect features, today. You rock, man!

To make up for a lack of content, please check out my "shared items" on the left-hand navigation, where I was able to flag some of the better April Fool's posts from nerddom, today. Enjoy, folks.