Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wilderlands Player's Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords

Wilderlands of High Adventure
Player's Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords

Adventure Games Publishing presents the first in a series of cultural sourcebooks for the Wilderlands of High Adventure. Each installment of the Wilderlands of High Adventure Player’s Guides includes a fully-detailed culture for players and judges to fully flesh out their Castles & Crusades adventures in the Wilderlands.

The first installment, Wilderlands of High Adventure Player’s Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords details the culture and society of the northern horsemen of the Wilderlands. Tharbrians are renown throughout Viridistan, the Roglaras, and beyond as atavistic and savage horse nomads. They roam the north-western plains of the Wilderlands with impunity, recognizing no lord or master. They have brought down empires and extirpated whole civilizations. Herein you shall discover the secrets and truths about Tharbrian history and society, and details on their abilities and culture.

This 22-page book includes complete details on:

History
Environment/Range
Appearance
Personality
Ethnic/Racial Affinities
Culture
Laws and Traditions
Religion
Social Structure
Organization
Gender and Family Relations
Animals
Diet
Technology
Clothing
Armor
Weapons
Combat
Treasure
Language
Names
Racial Traits and Abilities
Glossary

Wilderlands of High Adventure Player’s Guide #1: Tharbrian Horse-Lords
Official Gaming Aid Designed and Approved For Use with Castles & Crusades
By James Mishler
AGP05501, 22-page PDF, $5 MSRP

Click here to buy
Tharbrian Horse-Lords
on DriveThruRPG

Monday, June 29, 2009

More Stuff for Sale: Gazetteers!

Well, a few odds and ends, actually, all doubles I've been carrying around for years... and now need to make room.

EDIT: Update 1, 6/30/09 16:30

JG0086, The Dungeoneer #8 ... $10 each [Poor, rusted staples, some scuffs and tears] (3 copies)

JG0880, Corsairs of the Turku Waste (Traveller) ... $6 [NIS]

TSR9193, GAZ 1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos ... $10 [2nd+ print, Fair, scuffs, minor tears on map, spine frazzled, some writing]

TSR9254, PC1 Tall Tales of the Wee Folk ... $8 [Fair, scuffing and frazzled spine]

TSR9277, PC3 The Sea People ... $5 [Beat to Hell, this was my personal copy frankensteined with a new purchase, spine is taped, map is written all over, even the character sheet on the inside cover was written in at one point]

Shipping depends on what you buy and where you are; I ship only USPS.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gamma World Adventure

One of the other things that kept me busy this last week was another wedding, that of my good friend Ray (see here and here and here) and his fiance-now-wife Heather. Busy in that I've been preparing for a Gamma World 4th Edition game for him and several friends as a "gamer-geek bachelor party".

The characters were:

Wave (Liam), an Altered Human Scout with Body Change: Scales, Displacement, Radiation Eyes, and a couple others I cannot recall. He fought with a flintlock pistol in each hand.

Leeroy (Ross) an Altered Human Esper with Displacement, Telekinetic Flight, Empathy, Poor Dual Brain, and Duality.

Tweet (Ray), a Mutant Monkey Enforcer with a Total Carapace, Heightened Balance, Heightened Physical Strength, Skeletal Enhancement, and Ultravision.

F'fig (Tom), a Sentient Tree Enforcer with all sorts of physical mutations that turned the already mighty tree into a physical combat monster.

The adventure began in Cobalt Town (formerly Fredrickton, Missouri) in the lands of Xan Vran Zaw. Cobalt Town is ruled by the Lords of Cobalt, a (highly-inbred) aristocratic tribe who lords over the Altered Human population of serfs and servants (serfs as in land-bound serfs, not the mutant race known as serfs!) Junction City, the northern suburb of Cobalt Town, is a haven for free Altered Humans, Mutant Animals, and Sentient Plants.

The party started at the Blue Glow Tavern in Junction City, where their friend and patron, Ren of Ah Foo, gave them a mission: deliver a message in a satchel to the distant City State of Xan Loo to the north where the Great Mizuhzip River widens to Lake Mizurah. He gave them the satchel, rations or cash for two weeks of rations, and a spear with a Flag of Passage upon it (a white flag with a red, blue, and black eagle device upon it, the Ancient symbol for the Post Office, used by couriers across Gamma Terra).

Dangers that were rumored to lay ahead included:
  • Primitive tribes of barbarians were passing through the region;
  • The ruins to the north known as Vramingtuhn were infested with giant vermin;
  • Land Sharks had been spotted recently in the north;
  • The local branch of the Knights of Genetic Purity, known as the Knights of Bizmark, were hunting not only Altered Humans but also Mutant Animals who possessed the ability to speak;
  • Rumors were of a serf uprising in the western farmlands out at Oakgrove.
They set out early one morning along the Old Sixtyseven. They quickly discovered that the rumors about an uprising might well be true; they could see that a much stronger guard had been placed on the Old Sixtyseven Bridge where the Oakgrove Road passed under it. The Captain of the Cobalt Guard was even there wearing his Ancient Sun Bolt Gun and his guards were even armed with Ancient rifles! Fortunately, the party had no reason to encounter them, as they simply took the curving road north onto the ancient flowrock (concrete) road. They made good time on the Ancient road, even though in places it was covered with dirt, grasses, and even chrubs and saplings.

They set to for camp at night just south of Vramingtuhn, in an area with ponds and small creeks all around. They lit a fire, hoping that would keep away most of the vermin they heard of, considering giant roaches and rats the potential danger. Wave took first watch, and fortunately spotted the true danger... two Skeeters, giant wingless mutant mosquitos, making their way up from the pond toward the camp as dusk fell into night. He shot them with his pistols; one fled immediately, the other came on, hungry for blood. As the others awoke and stood, the quick monkey smashed at the one with his morning star, and Wave drew his long sword and slew the last with his blade, the head flying off into the darkness.

The next morning, worried about the blue glow they saw coming off the Bones of the Ancients on the horizon in Vramingtuhn, they went west into the wild hills, hoping to avoid the danger of the Glow. After two hours they passed a game trail, stright an narrow, and thought it was perhaps an Ancient road, smaller than the Old Sixtyseven. As it went east and west, they had no desire to follow it, and so they continued north, with Wave in the lead. Shortly thereafter they came to a long, wide clearing; along the edges the grasses were tall, and there were saplings, but within the erratic edges of the clearing the grass was short and cut. At the center they saw a long strip of Flowrock, and at one end a large, wide building made of rusty metal.

When they approached the building, they saw that it had a long, wide, tall door at the center. They tried to open it, but were not successful; either the door was locked or it was rusted shut. Tweet climbed up to the roof, and Leeroy flew. There they saw that the roof was alternatingly sections of metal and nograin (plastic), the nograin in this case being weathered and rotted, with some of it having shattered and the bits fallen into the building. The building was obviously pretty weak, too, as when Tweet jumped up onto the roof, it shook drastically, and the section he was on slid down and off with a great crash; he was swift enough, though, to jump to the peak of the roof, which was apparently much stronger.

The pair dropped down into the building. There they found that shelves and several desks lined the walls, and that there was a large metal object in the center, with a long tail, two short stubby wings, and a bulbous front section in which could be seen four seats... onbviously a vehicle of some sort, though none knew how to operate it, of course!

With his Ultravision, Tweet was able to determine that there were two energy sources in the building, one from the rear of the vehicle, another from a desk drawer. In the desk drawer he discovered an energy cell with a weak charge; he put this in his backpack, knowing it might come in handy some day. He then investigated the energy source on the vehicle; he found it to be a bright blue drum, about a meter tall and 2/3 of a meter wide. As he did this, Leeroy checked out the door. He found that it was actually locked, but was not strong enough to open the rusty handle that opened the lock. He called for help from Tweet, who with his strength, was able to open it fairly easily, and the door squeaked open wide.

There they saw Wave and F'fig looking in at them, wondering what they had been doing. They also saw, coming down the long flowrock strip, a large Living Metal creature (robot)! It was a three-meter-wide disk, hovering about a meter above the ground, and atop it several boxy sections of metal, in the center of which was a human-like torso with two arms and a head. The arms and head were waving wildly, while the creature was waving back and forth erratically as it charged toward them! They heard a metal clattering and slicing sound join the faint whooshing sound from its lower vents, and figured it must be preparing a violent greeting for the trespassers!

Rather than be trapped in the building, they decided to charge at it. Wave let loose with both guns, far out of range. As they closed, they heard it screaming in a mechanical voice, "Identification please! Identification please!" As they closed further, Wave finally hit with a shot, and the phrase changed to "Intruder alert! Intruder alert! Exterminate!" The first to reach it was Tweet, who smashed several metal and nograin bits of it off with a massive morning star strike. Then F'fig reached it, and something in it snapped, and it started screaming "Begin Lawn Care: Tree Trimming Subroutine!" and with a burst of air it thrust into the air with Tweet on its back. Underneath they could now see that the central section of the disk was a whirling cacaphony of long, sharp blades, which proceeded to chop off several of F'figs upper branches!

Tweet continued to bash at it, with slight effect, while flintlock ball and crossbow bolts availed the others not. The living metal failed spectacularly in an attack on F'fig and fell to the ground with a crash, nearly jolting Tweet off its back. Then Leeroy flew onto its back and started hacking away with a short sword, Wave reached it and hit it hard, apaprently in an important area, with his long sword, and F'fig and Tweet got in a few more blows. F'fig finally hit it hard once with his long sword, and there was a horrible grinding, screeching sound with little bursts of lightning all over, and it finally fell over, dead. The torso and arms thrashed one last time, and from the featureless head came the weak, weird mechanical words, "Greeeeet...iiiings... chair... man... it isss gooood tooo seeee youuuuuuuu aaaaagggggggaaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnn..."

The party looked over the body for a while. They figured two of the blades from beneath could be used as sword blades, adn some fo the remaining "guts" of wires and such might be worth something to a junk dealer, so they ripped those out. Wave decided to lop off the head and keep it as a trophy.

They then returned to the building, where Tweet decided he would try to figure out how the Ancient vehicle worked. He started pressing buttons at random, and now and again got a beep or other sound, and even once for a moment the vehicle seemed to come to life, though then several of the lights started glowing strangely. Meanwhile the others checked out the racks on the wall, which were covered with strange metal tools... maybe worth something to examiners!

Infortunately, at that point, Tweet apparently pressed the wrong combinations of buttons, as the vehicle started giving off a loud, annoying claxon, every light on the front board turned red, and the barrel-like power source in the rear fell out and started hissing, a blue mist emanating from a crack along a seam. At that, a calm female voice issued from the machine, "Danger! Danger! Please evacuate the area! Danger!"

And they did, quickly, and they were several tens of meters away when the vehicle and the fuel cell exploded in a great blue fireball. The building was shattered, the pieces seemed to hang in the air for a moment, and then fell with a great crash into a pile. They could see that the whole glowed an eerie bright blue, with a glittering blue mist seeping out from within throughout the area... so they quickly beat feet out of there!

They continued north, and after three hours hit the Old Sixtyseven again, and followed it north and west. They passed a herd of un-branded wild rakoxen grazing along side the road; they decided they were not in enough need of meat to endanger their mission by trying to take one, and so passed on. After three hours they were considering making camp, but then realized they were quite close to Bone Terror, an Ancient ruin of some ill repute, and decided to continue... unfortunately for them, a different horror struck, as they saw to either side Land Sharks cresting through the soil, two the west and one to the east!

Wave let loose with two shots, missing, and F'fig shot at a third, also missing, then the creature swam under the road; one burst through the rotted flowrock to attack Wave in the front, the second attacked Tweet, and the third burst through at F'fig (though not a meal, he'd made himself out to be a threat). Wave was bitten viciously, and had it not been for his Displacement power, would have almost been dead; as it was, he appeared 70 meters south along the road, and was not able to get back in the battle before it was over. That shark subsequently went to attack Tweet, but was unable to get a bit in before Leeroy hit it with his Empathy power, making it feel tired, weak, and frightened; it dove back beneath the flowrock and never returned.

F'fig struck the one attacking him with his long sword, with a massive hit; the shark decided that the threat was greater than any food value, and fled beneath the soil. Finally, all three remaining party members ganged up on the third shark, which had been trying to gnaw at the carapaced monkey like a cat gnawing on a snapping turtle! It recognized Leeroy as a much softer target, and sure enough, one bite later and Leeroy was very glad he had the Displacement power, or he would have been dead! But now he, too, was 50 meters down the road, and only Tweet and F'fig were left. Fortunately, the two powerhouse Enforcers were heavily armored,a dn the creature never got another bite in before they whittled it to death with morning star and long sword.

Still much worse for wear, as Wave and Leeroy had still sustained some damage from the bites, the party continued on for an hour, and made camp.

During second watch, Tweet heard the sound of a herd of horses making its way toward the camp; at first he was worried, but then he realized that they were moving slowly, and he heard no sound of men or other creatures. The horses continued to approach, and he realized it was not a herd, but a singular horse, a centisteed, which had upon its back two saddles, both covered with blood. He quietly awoke the others; F'fig tried to use his Allurement mutation upon it, but failed; apparently the scent of his sap was most distasteful to the centisteed. The others were able to slowly approach it, though, and discovered that for a centisteed, it was relatively tame...

The next morning the party set out with Wave far in the lead as scout, and Leeroy and Tweet riding the centisteed. They made good time, and had not further encounters the entire day, until they reaches the Skyroad south of Festusz. The Old Fityfive Skyroad was a road of Duralloy upon ten meter tall pylons [remember the metal roads in Minority Report? Yeah like that]. At the Skyroad exit they encountered a toll booth with guards. The guards claimed to be in the service of the Mayor-Captain of Festusz; they wore a green uniform under chainmail, with each wearing an Ancient greenish-gray helmet, and bearing spears and swords. Upon the flag at the toll booth flew a variant of the Restorationist flag, a rising sun, but rather than over a green field, underneath the sun were crossed rifles, of Ancient design (M-16s).

They informed the party that it would coat 10 domars to use the Skyroad, per toll booth, and that there were three more to the north en route to Xan Loo. Also, Toll Booth Three had a tavern and inn where they could stay in peace and safety for the night. The party happily paid the toll, and asked if the guards had heard anything interesting; they replied only that a number of travelers had come through recently en route to Xan Loo, seeking to join local festivities there celebrating some religious feast.

The party made their way north to Toll Booth Three, where all but F'fig got rooms for the night and a meal, and they put their centisteed up in the stables (5 domars per night, 5 per meal). F'fig walked down the offramp into Festusz and put down roots in a park-like area, where he slept and, in the morning, "ate" for free.

That morning the group sought a healer in Festusz, and were able to find one, a member of the White Hand who charged a mere 14 domars per healing touch (using his mutation, Transfusion). The party was much replenished thus, and ready to move on to Xan Loo...

This was, unfortunately, where we left off, as we ran out of time... However, it has been determined that Ray and I will continue with the Gamma World adventure first, rather than our Greyhawk game, when opportunity permits...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wondrous Wedding Sale Continues!

The Wondrous Wedding Sale continues today, with Barbarians of the Wilderlands #1 on sale at merely $1.60 — that's 60% off the cover price of $4.00!

And Adventure Games Journal #1 remains at merely $5 ($7 off the MSRP of $12) for the time being — but that can change at any time!

Adventure Games Publishing PDFs will never be this cheap again, so get them while you can!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monstrous Menaces #2: Blade Dancer, Goblin, and Tharghûl

Monstrous Menaces #2:
Blade Dancer, Goblin, and Tharghûl

By James Mishler
Adventure Games Publishing presents the second in a series of new monsters for the Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper to populate his dungeons and wilderness. Each installment of the Monstrous Menaces series presents three new monsters for a mere dollar, eminently affordable in today’s economy.

The second installment, Monstrous Menaces #2: Blade Dancer, Goblin, and Tharghûl, presents the Castle Keeper with a 5 HD Construct, a 1 HD Humanoid, and an 8 HD Unique Undead. Each entry includes complete listings for the monster’s description, organization, ecology, treasure, range, and special abilities.

Blade Dancer
Blade dancers are animated humanoid collections of scores of razor-sharp blades, from small 4” knives to great two-handed swords. They whirl about swiftly like dervishes upon the points of their long-sword legs, with four long arms made of broad swords; their “heads” are constructed of many small blades, with pommel stones for “eyes” and a wide mouth made of many knives. For all that they are made of un-living metal the blade dancer often has a menacing, cruel look upon its “face.”

Goblin
Goblins are small, gnarled humanoids; in shadows they much resemble thin dwarves, though compared to dwarves they are stooped, their arms and legs are slightly too long for their body, and their head is slightly too large, with overly-large wide pointed ears. In the light the difference is obvious, as goblins have greenish-grey warty skin, and too much black scraggly hair in all the wrong places (and usually little or none on their heads). Goblins have a sickly-sweet smell, like that of a corpse ripened in the sun, and their breath is a stench like rotting onions; most goblin warrens smell not unlike a charnel house in midsummer.

Goblin eyes are round and bulging, and mostly black with large iris and cornea; the white of the orb is invariably shot thick with red blood vessels. Like the eyes of a cat, goblin eyes reflect light in the darkness, a deep, blood-red glitter. They have a long carrot-shaped nose that sits atop a wide, frog-like lipless mouth. Goblin teeth are haphazard at best, with many gaps and broken bits; over time as old teeth are lost new ones grow in, though they grow in uneven and often painfully, such that goblin’s gums are ever bleeding and raw. Goblins either have either no chin or far too much of one, with hair as usual only growing in spots rather than in a full-fledged beard.

Note: Monstrous Menaces 2 provides a much-expanded entry for the common goblin race, including full details on goblin vision, language, organization, ecology, culture, religion, gender and family relations, coming of age, cleanliness, weapons, armor, treasure, range, combat, and special abilities.

Tharghûl
Tharghûls are the kings of the ghouls and ghasts, the lords of the graveyard and charnel house, despots of sewers and desecrated temples. Where vampires rule, tharghûls tread lightly; where tharghûls dominate, vampires fear to tread.

A tharghûl in its natural form appears to be a walking corpse; some are thin and emaciated, while others are fat and bloated. Skin is usually like that of a corpse, green and pock-marked, often inhabited by worms, and in places sloughing off. The face is a nightmare, with lips long rotted away, long hound-like teeth and fangs, a sunken nose, and bloated, bulging eyes. Hair is usually white, long, and matted with blood or absent. Hands are clawed, with long sharp nails. A tharghûl usually wears clothing as was appropriate to its station, or to its new more powerful position; the clothing often jars grossly with the rotted, stinking body, as it is new and fashionable, though soaked through with blood and covered with gore.

Monstrous Menaces #2: Blade Dancer, Goblin, and Tharghûl
By James Mishler
AGP06002, 12-page PDF, $1.00 MSRP

Click here to buy
Monstrous Menaces #2
from DriveThruRPG

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monstrous Menaces #1: Gharlidh, Grulnosc, and Rocktopus

Adventure Games Publishing presents the first in a series of new monsters for the Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper to populate his dungeons and wilderness. Each installment of the Monstrous Menaces series presents three new monsters for a mere dollar, eminently affordable in today’s economy.

The first installment, Monstrous Menaces #1: Gharlidh, Grulnosc, and Rocktopus, presents the Castle Keeper with a 4 HD Monstrous Humanoid, a 6 HD Aberration, and a 1 to 16 HD Magical Beast. Each entry includes complete listings for the monster’s description, organization, ecology, treasure, range, and special abilities.

Gharlidh
Gharlidhs are a horrific subterranean humanoid race purportedly bred by an evil underground overlord. They feature characteristics of humans, goblins, and orcs, but only vaguely, for most of their five to seven-foot tall body is covered by bony growth from the top of their thick skull to tips of their clawed toes. Their head is misshapen, as they have neither eyes nor nose, and so the skull slopes unnaturally; their ears however are huge, hairy, and pointed. Their mouth is huge, and filled with many sharp fangs.

Grulnosc
Grulnoscs look much like a giant snail with an extremely thick, stone-like shell, save that it stands six to eight feet tall at the top of its shell. Upon closer examination, however, the slimy flesh of the creature is revealed to be utterly different in nature from that of normal snails, or any other known living creature, and the shell is of solid rock, latticed with metals and perhaps even gems; the seven eye stalks with very human-like eyes that it projects from its “head” also indicate to those steeped in animal lore that this is not a natural creature, or even a giant-sized version of such.

Rocktopus
At some dark point in the history of the world, oceanic octopi were magically mutated such that they took to life on dry land, albeit preferably in wet subterranean locations, though these creatures can survive quite well aboveground in tropical locations such as rain forests, jungles, swamps, and marshes; anywhere, really, provided there is a large and deep pool of water for spawning. Full-grown rocktopi are nine to 16 feet long (one foot per hit die), with eight long tentacles of many suckers, a large bulbous body, two large eyes, and a razor-sharp beak.

Monstrous Menaces #1: Gharlidh, Grulnosc, and Rocktopus
By James Mishler
AGP06001, 8-page PDF, $1.00 MSRP

Buy it now on DriveThruRPG

Sigh...

Just to give you an idea of how my life has been going lately, I just finally posted a new PDF product to DriveThruRPG, and sent out the comp copies to subscribers, reviewers, and other notables...

Except, in my haste, I forgot to actually select my NEW product, and instead sent EVERYONE a comp copy of the Adventure Games Journal #1 PDF!!!

Yes, this is about par for course... sigh...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weird Game-Oriented Dream...

Every once in a while, I'll have a dream about an "alternate reality" version of Dungeons & Dragons. Some of these dreams are obviously in the same "alternate reality," as the same books and styles appear time and again. This dream was, however, quite unique, and weird for other reasons...

So in the dream... I drove to a local Big Box store, looked like a combination between KMart and IKEA. Out front of the doors in the parking lot stood an assortment of summer stuff... gardening, children's pools and swings, and so forth. Also, amidst that stuff, lurked the store's Guardian Lizard (I said it was a weird dream for other reasons, too). Guardian Lizards, of course, are wolf-sized giant lizards. So to protect myself from the store's Guardian Lizard, I first set loose my own Giant Lizard, so they would run off and play together ("play" like when cats play, only more violent).

I then ran into the store. It was late at night, so not many people were around. Instead of shelves along the walls, they had cabinets, so you ahd to go looking through cabinets to find the goods you wanted. And of course, there's never anyone around to help when you need it... so I looked for some time before I found what I was looking for.

Two boxes was all they had left in stock (stock on everything was low there, it seemed normal that way). Each box was identical, and I was disappointed they didn't have a selection (so there were definitely more than one of these kinds of product available).

The box looked like an old Grenadier Advanced Dungeons & Dragons boxed set; the material was also the same, with the bottom half of the box being plain cardboard with, however, the back text page pasted on, rather than simply held on in the shrink, as these were not shrink wrapped. The lid was yellow, like the early Grenadier boxes, with a painting of adventure like on the original Grenadier covers, but I do not recall what the painting was, nor do I recall the name of the product. The box was, however, sized the same as a standard TSR box of the day, though thinner, only 1" deep rather than 1 1/4" deep.

The box was filled with cards, 8 1/2" x 11", double-sided, color, like those often included in boxed sets in the 2nd Edition AD&D era. There was a small guidebook, merely a folded sheet of paper, detailing how to use the cards. Some were maps, which could be put together to form a larger map, while other cards were encounter cards, each card detailing the encounter on the map section of one other card. And there were probably 200 cards or more...

Essentially, I was looking at what I realized was intended to be a 1st Edition AD&D equivalent of a Delve Format product, with the maps intended for use with 15 mm miniatures or counters (like we had in Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, and similar games). No counters were included with the boxed set, at least that I saw, but they may have been in the bottom of the box and I simply missed them.

But it was definitely for 1st Edition AD&D, or perhaps one of my "alternate dream reality" simulacrums of that game. As it was modular, I remember thinking maybe I should buy both boxes, so I would have extra maps... and that's when I woke up...

I should note that the dream was obviously set "Today" yet the product I was looking at was new, not old, not a forgotten classic... but new, and the latest thing. Odd.

EDIT: And I just realized where this dream likely came from (well, the boxed set, not the lizards... no idea WHERE those came from). Before I went to bed I was looking through my FASA Star Trek RPG; the boxed set included two blue sheet schematics/maps of the Enterprise and a Klingon D-7 Class Battlecruiser. While these were smaller, I also have the larger D-7 boxed set, which is scaled for use with 15 mm figures. As I had these products in the back of my mind when I went to sleep, and was also thinking of AD&D... I guess my mind churned out something that never really existed but seemed kind of familiar...

Now I wonder... what if, back in the day, TSR had included map sheets or cards, along with counters, in the Mentzer or even Moldvay D&D Basic Set, as they did with Star Frontiers and Boot Hill (and Gangbusters and... the list goes on and on). How would that have changed assumptions of D&D gaming back in the day? I must wonder, why did they include these maps and counters with almost all other RPGs in the early days, but never with D&D (they eventually included plastic figures with some of the later "intro" sets and the stand-up paper figures with the Challenger modules). Hmmm...

Monday, June 8, 2009

High Fantasy vs. Sword & Sorcery

Thanks to Jeff Rients, as is often, for the link to Santiago's post on High Fantasy vs. Sword & Sorcery gaming.

This is an excellent summation as to the differences in game style play. The essential difference between High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery is that in Sword & Sorcery gaming there is a "lack of player entitlement."

In a Sword & Sorcery game, you are not the hero... you might become the hero, if you are lucky and skillful. But Fate is not necessarily with you, and there is no cosmic or karmic justice to see that the Good Guys Always Win.

This ties in with a lot of the recent discussion of Old School vs. New School gaming; Santiago sees this really not as a systemic, or "crunchy" game rules issue, but as a Swords & Sorcery vs. High Fantasy issue. And this makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider the literary history of modern fantasy.

Back in the day, most pulp fantasy that the early game playes and game designers grew up reading was Swords & Sorcery — Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, John Carter of Mars, Elric of Melnibone, Cugel the Clever — none of these "heroes" was destined for anything. They were "self-made men" in many ways (though Elric had quite an advantageous upbringing, in a way). Their successes and failuree were entirely on their own shoulders and mighty thews (or black razor-edged blade).

What we forget about most High Fantasy is that the "heroes" often are not in charge of their own destiny; in some cases it even picks them up and carries them along whether they want to go or not. And even when they fail, they succeed, due to the requirements of the "cosmic force" behind them, be it the Christian God or something else. Remember, Frodo failed in the end, and it was Fate (Iluvatar, "God") who stepped in (the whole LotR story is a Christian tale about how mortals cannot gain salvation themselves, no matter how much they struggle). Arthur was nobody special; he was High King because he was fated to be High King, and in the end, Arthur failed in his duties... it was only though the Holy Grail that he had any "success" in the end (again, only through the Grace of God). To take a more recent example, Belgarion in The Belgariad, the Child of Light, went through all the adventures around the world and to the end of the world, and in the end, success and failure was not up to him, it was up to the "cosmic force," the Prophecy of Good, to defeat (albeit temporarily) the Prophecy of Evil.

Like these High Fantasy stories, High Fantasy gaming is not about the day-to-day adventure; it's all about making sure it all knits together to tell a story with the proper ending; the proper ending must be told, regardless of the means. In a Swords & Sorcery style game, the means are the end; i.e., the journey is the story.

And as the wheel has turned, and most fantasy stories today are High Fantasy in the Tolkien tradition (though hardly in his Christian tradition), modern game players who grew up reading these kinds of stories want a game that emulates the High Fantasy experience... where they are "heroes of destiny." And so we end up with a game like Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons, a game designed in such a way that the player cannot lose...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Light on Posts for a While...

Posts are going to be few and far between on this blog for a while.

Jodi and I are getting married on July 10, with a delayed reception on July 25, and so we are getting into the final stretch of all the organizing. As I am still without a "day job," and she still works for The Man (thank goodness), it has fallen upon my shoulders to handle all the day-to-day details and arrangements. Frankly, even having been peripheral to the arrangements to date, I don't understand how most brides aren't stark raving mad by the time the wedding finally rolls around! It's like planning an invasion of a freaking country...

Anyway, what this means is that as I am still in launch mode for Adventure Game News and still trying to complete several products for Adventure Games Publishing and now a Wedding Planner... something has to give. And that "something" will be this blog, Facebook, and Twitter (though of late, Facebook and Twitter are as much victims of their own crapulence as anything else).

So I probably won't be around too much on these pages, or keeping up to date on my blog list, until late July/early August. Still, feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions; after all, I'm just busy otherwise, not going into seclusion!

Blast from the Past — GateWar!

Holy Frijoles, GameMaster!

Thanks to a "WTF is this game?" post on The Acaeum, I have rediscovered the awesome weirdness that was GateWar, formerly known as Element Masters, published by Escape Ventures (Note: it appears the GateWar site is abandoned, more or less, yet another web-based relic).

First published in '82, with a second edition in '84, and the final GateWar-titled edition in '94, GateWar was Encounter Critical Light when a young S. John Ross was still happily playing that new-fangled Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.

The basic concept: a magical experiment in a medieval fantasy world goes awry, opening gates to myriad other worlds and letting in alien creatures from across the univese. I'm not sure of the level of technology involved, though there are definitely science-fiction elements. Professions include Teacher, Socialator (remember that from Battlestar Galactica?), and Surfer... yes, Surfer! It has several kinds of magic, teleportation gates, and weird alien creatures called Observers — these look like Gumby's bastard child by E.T., are virtually indestructible, and yet all they do is follow you around and... observe.

I remember this game seeming wickedly weird back in the day. Today it is what Jeff Rients would definitely call "Retro-Stupid" and might even hit the mythical "sweet spot" between Retro, Stupid, and Pretentious — witness, from the Writer's Guide to the Shared GateWar Universe on the GateWar website:

EV Supported Ideology

Even though it's true that playing games does through various game mechanics teach such benefits as learning how to read various tables, maps, schematics and contributes to increased familiarity of mathematics and statistics this is not the areas of knowledge EV wishes to emphasize.

The following ideas are presented in a candid form to eliminate confusion, and are not intended to be expressed in EV products so obviously. They are not original to EV but belong to society and the many great humanitarians of the past such as Albert Einstein, Gene Roddenberry and scores of others that have contributed so much to what we are today.

The Value of Critical Thinking and Logic, Violence, Sex, An Individual's Obligation to Society, The Individual and Society - A Symbiotic Relationship, Legalization/Decriminalization of Drugs, The Role of Competency Tests, Honesty, Sexual Orientation, The Individual's Right to Choose, Male and Female Traits, About Organized Religion, The Existence of God, About Differences of Religious Opinion, Common Goals of Science and Religion;

[Note: Each of the preceding ideas has a full explanation on the GateWar website]

Basic Beliefs:

  • The principle of "oneness and wholeness" of all races and societies.
  • The primary role of the individual is an unfettered search for all universal truths and until all such universal truths are revealed (by whatever means) the promotion of continued amity and concord, between all people.
  • To uphold the basic principle of equal rights, opportunities, and privileges for all men and women.
  • That education should be compulsory until adulthood.
  • That the extremes of poverty and wealth, should be eliminated.
  • That intermediaries in the form of institutions or priesthood are not necessarily required for the understanding of one's place in the universe and/or one's relationship to it's creator.
  • The necessity of the creation or the selection of a common language to be used by all people.
  • Any type of work performed in the spirit of service should be the most exalted type of activity in the views of both the individual and society.
  • That no individual is above the law that has been agreed to by their society.
  • Monogamy, should be encouraged and divorce should be discouraged, but not enforced by law.
Hmmm... admirable indeed, but certainly under the Rients Threefold Model, this falls under the Pretentious label. So I'd say that GateWar gives Synnibar a run for its money... I hope to find a copy sometime soon.

Oh, and here are some interesting quotes from the reviews list (all from long-defunct magazines of Long Ago and Far Away):

The GateWar RPG falls into the AD&D, Chivalry & Sorcery, and Dangerous Journeys RPG mould of "a table for everything, and everything in a table". Nearly every page of the 280 page rule book has one, two or even three tables containing rules, random events, price lists and miscellaneous lists. But don't let that put you off. A quick read of some of the tables and you soon realise that many of the actual contents are quite tongue-in-cheek. In fact, many of them are (intentionally) hilarious. (eg. Unique Tavern Characteristics: Smells like a gym; U-killed-it, U-cook-it; Free bulbous roots with entree). The A-Team would love this game.
Australian Realms

GateWar is, in essence, an old-fashioned fantasy game that is playable and fun. And since that is EXACTLY the effect its authors apparently wanted, it is a success.
Scribe Electronic Magazine

It is clear, however, from even the most basic glance-through that a lot of thought has gone into the world of Vinya. The level of detail is breathtaking in its scope. Descriptions or rules cover almost every aspect of Vinyan society, from the type of government to the many things that you can do, or have done to you(!), in taverns (there is even a table of Vinyan chat-up lines, with such gems as "You don't sweat much", "I bet you're something without those clothes" and that perennial favorite of lounge-lizards throughout the multiverse: "You look just like my mother did before she died"). How can your player characters fail with a line like that?
Valkyrie Magazine