Saturday, June 28, 2008
JRR Tolkien: One of the first fantasy novels I ever read was The Hobbit. It has been core to my role-playing style ever since, creating a focus on the relationships within the party and the journey as much as the goal and over-arching plot. The Silmarillion has had a strong secondary effect on my world-building efforts.
Robert E. Howard: More than any other source, Howard's Conan and Kull and the Hyborian and Thurian worlds have influenced my campaign setting styles. His mix of classical and medieval and sword and sorcery has been the central influence to my own world-building efforts.
Jack Vance: (Added in) Yeesh, how could I forget this one? I was rushed writing this entry before. Vance had a huge influence on my concept of adventure, further emphasizing that the adventure is as much about the journey as it is about the end. There's not quite the whole Dying Earth ennui about most adventures I create, but the importance of character of side treks is a major Vancian element.
And yet, of late I've pulled away from Vancian style magic...
Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, HP Lovecraft: These three have had a strong influence, primarily in the weird, inhuman aspects of my campaign settings and the historical milieu in which my worlds are built.
Robert Adams: The Horseclans series of novels have had a strong influence on the gritty reality of my worlds and my preferred form of play, i.e., the world and the players in it must sustain a high level of verisimilitude, though within the fantastic milieu as established.
Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, ER Burroughs, Lin Carter: These authors have all had a minor influence on my works, though a great debt is owed to Carter for his ensuring the preservation of and promulgation of classic fantasy and science-fantasy (with several demerits for his and LS deCamp's Conantics).
David Gemmell: An honorable mention must go to the late, great Gemmell, this generation's very own Robert E. Howard. Had I read his materials at a younger age, they would certainly have had a stronger influence on my gaming style. As it is today, I read his works for new inspiration, especially to see what he built upon the shoulders of giants.
As to movies, I can't really say that movies have ever had a direct, strong influence on my gaming. At best it has always been peripheral; for example, X1: Isle of Dread being a King Kong pastiche had a strong influence, but the influence was not direct. I am, however, going back and looking at the pulp fantasy/action/adventure classics to see what inspirations they can offer. I'd say of recent movies the only one that has given me any further insight is probably The 13th Warrior; it has made me as a judge less fearful of slaughtering PC's when opportunity permits! :)
Actually, I should mention a growing television influence: The Simpsons. No, seriously; The Simpsons is a perfect example of how to build a living, breathing world with a central core of characters and a wide variety of peripheral NPCs. Each episode also has a very tight time frame in which the entirety of the plot is resolved, and yet each of the main characters have some part to play or even their own sub-plots. While this is true of virtually every sitcom to some extent, The Simpsons delivers time and again (well, at least through most of the first 10 seasons).
Similarly, the Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon. Okay, stop laughing. Stop laughing and go watch it. Every episode plays like a game session, as of course it should. To whatever extent Gary had influence on the final product, if even merely in approvals, there you see some of what he thought was representative of what game play should have been like. Food for thought...
Sunday, June 22, 2008
An awesome time was had. It involved a brave gnome wizard/knight who spider-climbed his war pony up the side of a temple wall, a 1st level halfling who single-handedly took on a bugbear, a moderate amount of alcohol, and a fair number of sales (of AGP product and of a surprising amount of classic Judges Guild product). A full report will follow when I get some sleep, and follow-ups to e-mails will follow thereafter...
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
What happens with the Wilderlands? That is still up in the air. My advice to Bob will be to not touch 4E with a 10' pole, not for the Wilderlands, not for any Judges Guild product lines.
Ideally, Bob will decide against going with 4E, which means things can get back on track with the Wilderlands of High Adventure products for Castles & Crusades and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy Player's Guides for v3.5. In this case we will likely see Necromancer Games publish Tegel Manor for v3.5... or even possibly Pathfinder.
If he decides to go with 4E regardless... then we shall see where we go from there...
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Today I stumbled across his website and discovered that he has finally gotten around to bringing out a second series, The Big Snow Job. Very cool. And it is especially cool that it is being published through one of my favorite comic book publishers, Archaia Studios Press (home of what is perhaps my all-time favorite comic book series, Artesia).
Unfortunately, ASP is going through a corporate re-org, so most titles are on hold for now (and there hasn't been a new issue of Artesia in years, as Mark Smylie is too darn busy working as publisher rather than writer and artist). But it looks like the first issue of The Big Snow Job is actually out there... now I just need to find it in a store somewhere!
I should note that Runners not only was awesome to read as a comic book, it strongly inspired me to get back into playing some science-fiction role playing, along the lines of Traveller or Star Frontiers. There's lots of neat stuff to steal from it for a good sci-fi campaign.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention former fellow co-worker John Jackson Miller's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comic book series from Dark Horse. While there is certainly more than enough drama to go around, especially with everything happening at the heart of a war zone, there is plenty of wahoo-style action in this series, too... it kinda reads like a classic mash-up of a Star Wars and Traveller RPG campaign.
Monday, June 16, 2008
To top it off, they’ve been rationalising and trying to sell these decisions to the fans with a series of half-assed explanations on their website, claiming that things didn’t work they way they used to be, or this was constraining creativity, or that was just bad. I have never seen any of these problems in the game before they brought them up, nor had I ever heard anyone complaining of them. They made them up, out of whole cloth, to justify their changes for whatever reason.
I am somewhat tempted to make a comparison to Hitler and his vilifying of the Jews, but it wouldn’t be fair. I mean, in Hitler’s time, the problems actually existed, he just needed a scapegoat. The 4E designers scapegoated stuff for problems that were completely imaginary themselves.
Thanks to Retro Randall for the link.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
So now it is just a portable hole-in-the-wall, a small pit, or so forth, not a storage container.
100,000+ gp for a 5' x 5' x 5' hole. Sure, it's instant, and can even make a hole in the hardest substance (not that materials have hardness anymore, mind), but still...
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
First Look: Whatever else one might say about 4E, the book covers certainly are far more evocative of adventure than the covers of 3E ever were. The PHB front cover has a Dragonborn fighter or warlord and a human wizard by Wayne Reynolds and the back cover has a floating castle by Rob Alexander. Both are nice pieces. The two characters on the front are called out with some sort of shiny gloss ink, rather than the flat ink of the rest of the cover. The book feels solid and looks good at first glance.
Quick Glance: With a quick flip-through the initial first look feels more solid; the layout seems clean and lacks the background lines that made reading the 3E books often a chore or difficult for those with poor eyesight. There looks to be plenty of art, some of it obviously instructional and pertinent in nature. There appear to be lots of color-coded abilities. Tables use alternating shades every line, which can be a pain.
Dedicated to Gary Gygax… In my opinion dedicating this edition of the game to Gary, a game so radically different from anything Gary ever played, is like dedicating a war memorial to Gandhi. No matter how good a game it might be otherwise...
Index: It has one, and it functions.
Chapter 1: How to Play (pgs. 4 to 11): This is a very brief chapter that introduces the basic concepts of role-playing games and the core mechanic of 4E. For this kind of chapter it is simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated, the way an intro chapter should be. It does not get bogged down in the philosophies of gaming, thank goodness. The basic idea they get across is “have fun,” so they got that right at least. Some interesting bits:
* Miniatures and battle grids are not required, but might be found useful… a horrible understatement. Whoever wrote that did not read the combat rules or the many, many powers that cause enemies and allies to shift in combat…
* “Simple Rules, Many Exceptions” and “Specific Beats General,” where players are told that specific rules on cards… I mean, powers break the general rules of the game reads like a rule from the Magic: The Gathering rulebook.
Chapter 2: Making Characters (pgs. 12 to 31): Another basic chapter of any game, again it is very functional and with minimal surprises. I knew that bards, barbarians, and druids would me missing from the class list, so that was no surprise. I’d heard of the “character roles” element being added, and it strikes me as one of the first things that really sets the “it’s all about combat” tone of the game. Another thing that strikes me is in the character race section, where in discussing dragons, mind flayers, demons, and other races it mentions that “These aren’t characters you can play; they’re monsters you fight.” Strongly juxtaposed against the OD&D ideal of playing what you felt like, including a young balrog!
The ability score methods have effectively taken out all randomness from the core rules; rolling scores is now the third method rather than the first and primary. Not at all an unexpected element, but still another way it takes the game further from its origins.
Alignment changes are no big deal as far as I’m concerned; frankly the five alignment array is closer to the Holmes version than anything else, with Evil being Lawful Evil, Good being Chaotic Good, and Unaligned being all the varieties of Neutral. Considering how many DMs and players had used alignment as a prison rather than a framework in the past, this might be a good thing.
The deities section is okay; the GSL will let us know if it really means anything or not to 3PPs, otherwise, it is only so much flavoring. Removal of evil deities to the DMG has its good and bad points; I dislike the assumption that all player characters must be good heroes, but I like the fact hat it leaves some things mysterious for players.
Languages get totally nerfed; 10 languages for the whole world? I understand why they do this for simplicity’s sake, but it sets my teeth on edge.
The big factor in this chapter is the character advancement chart. Later in the DMG it is discussed how a regular, weekly campaign can probably have characters attain 30th level in about a year and a half. While I have no problem with 30th level characters (heck, in BECMI we go to 36 as mortals and another 36 as immortals for a total of 72+ levels), the rapidity of advancement is just dizzying. It is, of course, par for course today with players grinding their way to 70th level in WoW and 60th level in CoH and other games all in a week or two, but it just gives me the heebie-jeebies. The overwhelming focus on attack powers as compared to utility powers already gives me a sinking feeling…
The last two pages of the chapter are dedicated to going over every section of the character sheet. A good thing for new players, I think.
Chapter 3: Character Races (pgs. 32 to 49): Its funny that the designers tried to move away from Tolkien by eliminating the last Hobbitish vestiges from the halfling race, and then went right back and created a Noldor/Sindar break between the eladrin and elves!
The two new biggies in this chapter are the dragonborn and the tieflings. Dragonborn are essentially cut-rate Krynnish draconians suitable as PCs, while tieflings are the bad-boy D&D answer to the Horde (and Bob Bledsaw did them better in the Demonic Empires of the Wilderlands, BTW).
That all said the changes to the races, notably the adjustments all being positive and each race getting a special power or, in the case of humans, even more of a boost than they did in 3E, is all part and parcel of the power inflation of 4E. With the modern gamer focus on the crunchy combat-oriented numbers of games, it was needed to even seem remotely competitive with the numerics of the online and console games. Frankly, I’m surprised hit points aren’t measured in the hundreds at 1st level with each attack dealing thousands of points of damage by 20th level… so things could have been much, much worse.
Finally, the material presented for each class, from physical qualities and names to “Playing a Dwarf” and “Halfling Adventurers” are all nicely useful for new players.
But at this point, yeah, I’m beginning to see what some folks are complaining about with all the orphan text. On one page alone there are five extra lines that could have been tightened up; but I’m sure that by the time the book was in layout, the designers were well into the third project down their list and had no time to go back into the file and add new text just to make things fit better…
Chapter 4: Character Classes (pgs. 50 to 175): This is the heart and core of the book. If it seems like a really big chapter, that’s because it also includes everything that would have been in the “Spells” chapter and a good bit of what once might have been in the “Feats” chapter. Up to this point, frankly, most of the changes in the game were merely cosmetic by comparison to what follows. Character classes and how they work will make or break this game for many old-time players. It is in this chapter that we find out that indeed, this is not your father’s Dungeons & Dragons; this is not even your older brother’s Dungeons & Dragons. This is a completely different game. Whether it is a good game or not depends on the reader and his or her gaming style…
At their core every class now has a number of at-will, per encounter, and daily powers. For martial-oriented characters (fighters, rangers, rogues, and warlords), these are “exploits” that can be performed during melee or ranged weapon combat (or in a few “utility” cases, otherwise during an adventure). The theory behind the limitations of encounter and daily powers here is that these exploits come up only so often in each combat, perhaps only once, and maybe never. Juxtapose this with the spells of the divine and arcane powered characters (clerics, paladins, warlocks, and wizards) where most of their powers are based on magic or the power of the gods and their power would, like with earlier D&D systems, be limited by their knowledge and experience. It’s a bit of a stretch to make it work out that fighters and wizards have the same number of powers per day, and it smacks to me of a shotgun marriage between tabletop and online/console game play. But again… this is what new players expect out of a game. So while it just doesn’t really work for me on so many levels, I hope it’s all that and a bag of chips for this younger set.
That said, it is not a deal-breaker for me on whether or not to play this game. Heck, it’s not that dissimilar to the power system used in Tom Moldvay’s classic game Lords of Creation… it’s just not the way I envision D&D working.
More on specific classes and power next in Part 2…
Monday, June 9, 2008
Cloth Armor (i.e., "clothing" to most folks) provides a +0 armor bonus to AC and has a purchase price of 1 gp.
+6 Magical Cloth Armor provides a +6 armor bonus to AC and has a purchase price of 1,125,000 gp.
Plate Armor provides a +8 armor bonus to AC and has a purchase price of 50 gp.
+6 Magical Godplate Armor provides a +20 armor bonus to AC and has a purchase price of... yes, 1,125,000 gp.
The cost to enchant either item? 1,125,000 gp. The time required to enchant either item? 1 hour.
Purchase price of a +1 Magical Longsword is 360 gp. Purchase price of a Silvered Longsword is 500 gp. Purchase price of a +1 Magical Silvered Longsword... 360 gp ("any" weapon).
Purchase price of a bag of holding (20 cubic feet, up to 200# weighs 1#) is 1,000 gp. Purchase price of a handy haversack (100 cubic feet, up to 1,000# weighs 1#) is 5,000 gp. Purchase price of a portable hole (5 ft. x 5 ft. x 5 ft. cube, i.e., 125 cubic feet, no weight limit mentioned) is 105,000 gp. An extra 25 cubic feet for 100,000 gp?
Potion of healing... 10 hp... 50 gp
Potion of vitality... 25 hp... 1,000 gp
Potion of recovery... 50 hp... 25,000 gp
Sure, each spends a healing surge, but still...
These are just some glaring things I've noticed without going in-depth into the issue. And don't get me started on the costs of some rituals!
Raise Dead. Level 8. Cost to learn? 680 gp. Cost to use? 500 gp (1st to 10th level), 5,000 gp (11th to 20th level), or 50,000 gp (21st to 30th level). Time to cast? 8 hours. No roll needed to succeed.
Observe Creature (i.e. scrye). Level 24. Cost to learn? 105,000 gp. Cost to use? 21,000 gp plus a focus worth 10,000 gp. Time to cast? 1 hour. Arcana roll to succeed, with maximum duration of five round. FIVE. ROUNDS.
So it is infinitely easier to rip someone's soul from across the most distant planes, recreate his body, and merge that with the soul to give him life, than it is to spy on someone...
Sunday, June 8, 2008
First, 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons... isn't bad. In fact, from my perusal so far of the Player's Handbook and the Monster Manual, it seems like a pretty decent game. I've yet to go through the Dungeon Master's Guide, so I can't really say as to that. (Yes, I bought them. Said I wasn't going to do it, promised myself I wouldn't do it... and caved. More on this later in the post...)
However, I was correct in that it is certainly not *my* Dungeons & Dragons. Far less so, even, than 3E. It seems to be a good game, but it is not, I feel, the game I want to play when I play what I consider to be D&D (that's still 1E AD&D or Castles & Crusades).
But would I play this game? Yeah, sure. If my group wanted to play it regularly... as long as we alternated with something else, maybe. Pick-up games now and again? Certainly. It *is* a good game for a certain style of play. There are aspects of it that are very cool, in fact.
First impression coolness: well-defined rules sets, some aspects of the ritual system, the new multi-class feat system (far superior IMO to the 3E multiclass nightmare), and certain parts of the way magic items work.
And then there are things that just give me the heebie-jeebies. The whole economic system is a crock, treasure parcels, the nerfing of the wizard in favor of power balance, every class feeling kinda the same (arrows and magic missile are no longer substantively different), treasure parcels, page after page after page of powers (and not a single decent index of said powers), the lack of anything magical to the magic system, treasure parcels, the assumption that the world revolves around adventurers, the fact that there are nearly *no* normal versions of animals in the Monster Manual, cake instead of death, treasure parcels, and the overall Warcraftization of the game. Oh, and the absolute need for miniatures... they say that minis are "suggested" for use, but any attempt to run a combat, even a small one, without minis is destined to end in confusion, dismay, arguments, and tears.
And did I mention treasure parcels?
Of course, all this fits in very well with what the designers *intended* with this edition; as I've said before, with 4E they are doing exactly what they need to do to appeal to the new generation of gamers. And in that I think they have succeeded admirably in meeting their goals.
Will I publish 4E products through Adventure Games Publishing? Provided the GSL (which is still not out) is not horrifically one-sided and I can publish products that can ignore the more blinkard bits (economic system and treasure parcels, I'm looking straight at you)... yes, certainly. I believe 4E has a very good potential with the new generation of gamers, provided they have the patience to slog through all the material they need to read. Likely I will not have any coverage of 4E in Adventure Games Journal, unless there is a carve-out in the "no 4E and 3E in same product" for magazines, as AGJ will remain dedicated to Castles & Crusades. But if there is money to be made, and if I can convey to the players a classic sense of wonder and adventure in a 4E product, then yes.
Anyhoo, I was going to post about the 4E demo I played in this morning at Chimera Hobbies in Appleton, after which I bought the PHB, then went to lunch... then returned to pick up the DMG and MM. I've even got pictures from the demo. But I'll post that all tomorrow... er, later today, as I just realized how late it is, and how tired I am. So more on that later...
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Game: Castles & Crusades: Wilderlands of High Adventure
Title: Cro Manach
Judge: James Mishler
Time: Friday Morning (10 AM to 2 PM+)
Participants: 6 to 8 players
Centuries ago the great monastery of Cro Manach fell to an orc horde; however, the curse of the gods fell upon all combatants, and the ruins have been uninhabited since. So too, legends say, the great treasures of the monks still lie there amidst tumbled stone and skeletons. Do you have what it takes to brave the terrors of the Severn Midvales and reclaim the lost treasures? Characters of levels 4 to 6 will be provided, or bring your own with judge approval. No experience necessary. NOTE: Players will earn credit as playtesters for this adventure, a part of the second Wilderlands of High Adventure Sandbox Module, Cro Manach: The Midvales.
Game: Castles & Crusades: Wilderlands of High Adventure
Title: Khazbundgundur, the Great Dwarven Delve
Judge: James Mishler
Time: Saturday Morning (9 AM to 1 PM+)
Participants: 6 to 8 players
Can you survive the perils of the infamous Dwarven Delve north of the City State? Brave the deception, the despair, and the death within the mine and capture a fortune in precious jewels. Survive and glory is yours! Characters of levels 7 to 9 will be provided, or bring your own with judge approval. No experience necessary.
NOTE: The original Judges Guild module was published under a different name that today unfortunately has an altogether different connotation... I have changed the name here as I do not want my blog to get slammed by search engines as being an "adult" website!
Game: Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay Rules)
Title: Yavdlom Manor
DM: James Mishler
Time: Sunday Morning (9 AM to 1 PM+, maybe to close of show at 3 PM)
Participants: Any number
In the distant past, the Haunted Manor was the home of the House of Yavdlom, a great noble family. It was abandoned many years ago when the family mysteriously disappeared. It is now rumored to be haunted. Strange lights and sounds are often seen and heard in the ruins by passing townspeople. Recently, a group of boys and girls from your village got up the courage to go and investigate the haunted manor; they have not returned. Some of these children are your brothers, sisters, nieces, or nephews. No others in your village are brave enough to investigate, and the great lords of the realm are unconcerned with foolish children. If they are to be rescued, it is up to you... 1st level characters will be rolled at the table.
NOTE: This adventure takes place in the Mystara campaign setting, specifically in Karameikos, so it's a way to get a Mystara fix if you are a fan of that classic setting.
I'll also bring along my D&D B/X books and C&C Boxed Set for the Porch Party at the American Legion Hall Thursday night, in the event that anyone wants to play a pickup game of D&D or C&C rather than a board game...
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Each of the following games is for up to six players, Teenager+, no experience necessary, cost $4 ticket. Characters will be provided, but if you wish to bring your own, all characters are 1st to 3rd level. Each session runs three hours. Each different scenario is run twice, save for Bandit King, which is scheduled three times; these are not tournaments, merely the same demo run at different times.
Sign up quick before all the slots are gone!
RPG01947: Cratered City, Ebon Pyramid — The red cratered wastes to the south are home to strange creatures amid glittering ruins. What fabled treasures and eldritch horrors await you and your stalwart friends in the Ebon Pyramid of the Pharaoh of the Damned? 3 Hours. Thursday, August 14th, 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon. Hyatt: Concept: Table 2
RPG01948: Against the Goblins! — Your village has come under attack by goblin raiders, the heads of the heroes you sent after them hanging from their standards! You are all that stand between your families and the Goblins of Garthax! Do you have what it takes to be a hero? 3 Hours. Thursday, August 14th, 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Hyatt: Theory: Table 4
RPG01949: Bandit King of the Sour Lands — The bandits have been raiding along the Golden Road through the Sour Lands of late, and angry merchants have hired you to take them out. Blood and guts, swords and sorcery await all, death for some, gold and glory for others! 3 Hours. Thursday, August 14th. 4:00 to 7:00 PM. Hyatt: Studio 1: Table 2
RPG01950: Ice Witch of the Beastlands — Your tribes folk were attacked and taken away in chains while you were on a hunt. With your strange new allies from the southern Warmlands, can you defeat the evil Ice Witch and rescue your people? 3 Hours. Friday, August 15th, 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon. Hyatt: Studio 1: Table 6
RPG01951: Bandit King of the Sour Lands. 3 Hours. Friday, August 15th, 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Hyatt: Vision: Table 5
RPG01952: Cratered City, Ebon Pyramid. 3 Hours. Friday, August 15th, 4:00 to 7:00 PM. Hyatt: Theory: Table 3
RPG01953: Against the Goblins! 3 Hours. Saturday, August 16th, 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon. Union Station: Wabash: Table 2
RPG01954: Bandit King of the Sour Lands. 3 Hours. Saturday, August 16th, 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Hyatt: Theory: Table 1
RPG01955: Ice Witch of the Beastlands. 3 Hours. Saturday, August 16th, 4:00 to 7:00 PM. Hyatt: Theory: Table 1