Friday, June 28, 2013


So, I recently read a blog post from a fellow RPG blogger who I would say knows what he is talking about when it comes to the hobby.  In this post he gave his thoughts and feelings on D&D Next, after his first taste of being "at the table" with it.  I'm not going to rehash or go over what he said and felt, because that's on his blog.

However, I will point out one thing he repeated a few times:  That DDN "is not a role-playing game."  And that it's just a "board game."  This is something that I have been hearing from old-school gamers since 3rd Edition came out.

The idea seems to center around the fact that the majority of rules in the later editions of D&D cover combat, and how best to play it out using miniatures on a map.  Usually a battle-map, marked with either hexes or a grid.  And somehow this setup takes the game away from being an RPG, and makes it more of a strategy game.  Ok, fair enough.

See him there?  With the sword and the winged helmet?
My problem with this is that this notion is painted as a bad thing.  Despite the fact that D&D started life as a miniatures war game.  And that, in every edition, miniatures have featured prominantly.  Even in my old Moldvay edited Basic Book, there is a drawing of paper, a pencil, dice, and...a miniature.

But the bigger issue I have always had is with the idea that, because there are a large number of rules devoted to how to use minis and maps to play out combat, that it somehow lessens the "roleplay" aspect of the game.  Which, I simply do not understand.  Maybe my definition of what "roleplay" is needs to be examined.

In my opinion, roleplay is when you, as the player, pretend to be your character during the game.  You react to the situation as your character would, you often speak words and phrases your character would speak, and you might even modify your voice when speaking "in character" much like an actor does.  To me, this is the heart of roleplaying, and there are no rules written for how it is done, or even if it is necessary to do.  It's also what sets D&D (or any RPG) apart from, say Stratego or Chutes & Ladders.

When you sit down to play an RPG, you bring two things:  Rules and Imagination (ok, you also bring dice, paper and pencils, or just an iPad, like my wife).  The rules are for the things that are tangible; combat, skill use, casting spells, etc.  Things that have an element of randomness, or can possibly fail based of a multitude of external factors.  Rules can be lite, allowing you to interpret them on the fly.  Or they can be crunchy, covering as many possible actions as they can.  Or, they can be somewhere in the middle.

But, one thing the Rules cannot cover is what your character does.  They can influence your decisions, and they facillitate how you do things.  But what you do is your decision alone.  And no rules are necessary for that.  That's where the Imagination comes in.  You use your imagination to "roleplay" the game.  So, this notion that because the rules are heavily weighted on minis somehow reduces the roleplay aspects is a bunch of crock.

It's like saying that, because I drive a high performance automobile, I must drive fast and recklessly at all times.  That blown V8 with headers and dual carbs facillitates me driving fast, but it's up to me whether I press harder on that acccelerator.

All of this is fairly academic, though.  The bottom line is, if you don't like minis, and don't like a lot of combat in your RPGs, by all means don't use those rules.  A good DM can run a completely non-combat campaign with any rulebook and setting.  And while I personally would leave after two sessions, others may enjoy that.  And you know what?  That's fine. 

Although if you are in a campaign like this, I would call to question why you even use ANY rules set.  But, that's a whole other discussion.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I thought I would take a moment to talk about dragons today.  They are a foundation element to fantasy role-playing games and fiction.  Mythology is rife with variations of them.  And now, with technology at the level it is, they are permeating film and television as well (really looking forward to seeing the rest of The Hobbit).

As a gamer, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with them.  In games like Skyrim (which I have been known to go on binges of playing), they are integral to the plot, and a random, almost-daily menace.  But, slaying them has become almost too easy, to the point where my character killed one with his fists, wearing nothing but a loincloth.  But, it’s a video game, with only a modicum of personal investment beyond time and achievements.

But in a tabletop RPG, things are different.  In my opinion, D&D dragons should be something to be feared and respected.  Maybe hunted, if the party is powerful enough.  But they should never be common.  In most of the worlds I have created, dragons are near-mythical.  Much like Tolkien.  They are huge and fierce, and spread destruction on a level that even kings and emperors fear.

As a DM/GM, I use dragons sparingly.  They are the End Boss, if they are met at all.  Generally, if the PCs see one, it is from a distance, and even from miles away, the PCs will feel fear.  And, unless I am using a published adventure (which I almost never do), I tend to stay away from the “chromatic and metallic” dragons in D&D.  All of my dragons, regardless of color, breathe fire.  They are also just as likely to be “good” as they are to be “evil.”  In my view, dragons are selfish and self-centered, and that’s about it.  Whether this leads them to do evil or not depends on the world, and the situations they are in.

My one exception is Dragonlance.  I’ve read Chronicles four times, and Legends three, as well as several other individual books and trilogies.  And even though the stories and writing vary in quality, the world itself is amazingly detailed and consistent, and does a very good job utilizing the D&D dragon elements in a cohesive manner.

All of that being said, I am a big fan of using variations of dragons in other roles.  Dragon races (the Dragonborn are about the only thing I liked about 4E), pseudo-dragons, dragonettes, wyverns; they all have found places in my games. 

But, in short, if you are playing in one of my games, and you see a real dragon, you should probably run.  You might even get away!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Back down to art again

As of a few minutes ago, the text for my OSR coversion of Life of Rage is complete.  And, like the original version, all that remains is artwork.  This seems to be a recurring theme, and something that is a bit of a stumbling block for an independant (wannabe) game-designer like myself.

At this point, if I want to be able to charge a small fee for my original creations, I have one of two options.  I can either A) do the art myself, or B) commission the requisite artwork from a professional.

Option A is obviously the most cost-effective.  I work a day job that is adequate for covering the normal expenses of a full family.  So, finances are a major concern.  I don't have the kind of cash laying around to invest in something that could conceivably lose me money.  At this point, all of these efforts have cost me nothing except time.  Honestly, I'm a fair artist.  Not a professional in terms of ability, but I can get by.  And there are always a few shortcuts for a small venture like this.  So, this route is doable.  The main downsides are that it is very time-consuming, and that I am my own worst art critic.  So, I know that if I do the art myself, it will be a long time before this stuff is ready to be published, and even then, I will most likely be unhappy with the final product.

Option B has the downside of not being feasible at this point, due to the afore-mentioned financial constraints.  Art is expensive.  Good art is very expensive.  And I don't have the financial backing of an established RPG publisher.  I could crowd-fund, ala Kickstarter, I suppose.  But that adds the extra burdens of expectation and delivery.  And I'm kind of a coward when it comes to self-promotion and promising delivery.

Really, at this point, I have only one option.  So, I guess I ought to break out my pencils, pens, paper, and reference books, and get cracking.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I’m a Tinker Gnome

At least when it comes to tabletop RPG’s.  I don’t think I have played more than three games in my life that I haven’t tried to alter, enhance, improve, or otherwise deviate from the written words of.  This has lead me to some fun times.  The whole process has even lead me to writing my own games from the ground up.  And now, with my recent interest in OSR and Retro-clones, a new kind of tinkering has sprung to mind.

First off, I have to admit that the initial impetus for a lot of my amateur game-design has been financial.  I have never been well-off, and aside from a brief period about 10-12 years ago, I have always had to struggle to stay above water.  Consequently, I have never really been able to afford all of the cool splat books, new RPG’s, and added content written for my favorite games.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  Saturday was Free RPG Day.  And, like Free Comic Book Day, it’s almost like a Geek Holiday that I look forward to every year.  This year I picked up the annual Pathfinder freebie, a WoD/Vampire adventure (mainly for my wife), and two sets of quickstart rules.  It’s the quickstarts that sparked an idea.

While sitting on the can yesterday (where I get some of my best reading done), I was perusing GW’s free intro to their new WH40K RPG, Only War.  The game centers around the idea that the players are all Imperial Guardsmen.  I’d be interested in seeing how this plays out, as my initial thought is that it would just end up being a skirmish game, like a mini-version of a full-blown 40K game.  Which is fine with me, but I doubt I could convince anyone I currently game with to give it a try.

But my idea came in when I looked at the mechanics, and realized that, even though the quickstart rules are pretty sparse, only giving the players what they need to run a very limited scope game, it would not be hard to reverse-engineer it into a complete game.  Maybe even scour the rules of GW trademarks and place the whole system into an original world.  Honestly, the rules could work well for an action/adventure game based loosely on my beloved Mack Bolan/Phoenix Force/Able Team/Stony Man books and their universe.

Not sure if I will do much with this, but I think I will most likely at least do the scouring and expanding part.

Meanwhile, today sees me back to the office after 9 days off.  In between work tasks I am tinkering with the OSR conversion of Life of Rage.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Like a teacher!

Yesterday, while flipping through my little Age of the Sword booklet, I noticed some things that needed to be fixed.  Then I saw some more.  And even more!  And before I knew it, I was attacking the pages with my red pen, leaving a bloody swath of edits in my wake!  As the last one fell, I was panting in disbelief that I had put this crap out for public consumption at one point.

Most of the edits came in the form of leftovers from EGO.  The original text was for a universal system, so there were a lot of references to non-S&S genres (like guns, and vehicles, and turret mounted autocannons).  I cleaned all of those up, clarified a few of the rules, and rearranged some of the content.  I also created a form-fillable version of the character sheet, mainly so I could create premade sample characters.  Over all, it's pretty good now.  I might still work on fleshing out some of the content and flavor text.

But, as always, the art will be the hard part.  Yesterday I had this idea of creating original art by freehand copying the Frazetta art I have in there now, but adding in details and modifications.  So, basically I would be borrowing Frank's poses and layouts, and that's it.  I think that might work.  And this will probably take me the entire summer to do.  Age of the Sword might be ready for release into the wild sometime around August.

In other news, I am thinking about putting together a little Basic D&D adventure to run my 10-year old daughter (and probably her mom) through.  She has expressed interest when we go to game-night on Fridays at our friends' house.  Of course, that interest kind of falls off as soon as her own friend shows up.  But still, it might be fun to give her a shot at Basic.  I have the PDF of B1 - In Search of the Unknown, so I might just run her through that.

I'm off to Vegas this weekend (driving from Wisconsin, ugh!) to see my oldest daughter graduate from high school.  But, I have all of next week off, so in between family stuff, I might get some writing done.  And then we have our regualy bi-wekly game next Friday night.

Until next time, keep rolling!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Swords & Sorcery

On a whim, I opened up the PDF of the play test version of my complete S&S RPG, Age of the Sword.  And then, on another whim, I decided to use Adobe's "booklet" printing feature, and print the thing out.  I now have in my hand (well, on my desk, as holding it would make typing difficult) a 5.5" x 8.5" RPG, just begging to be played.

It currently sits at a whopping 23 pages, plus covers, Introduction and Forward pages, and a blank character sheet.  The only section that is still empty is the "Sample Characters" which I never got around to building.  And the whole thing is laced with pencil and ink drawings by Frazetta and other fantasy artists, with a legal disclaimer at the front stating that they are just there for illustrative and place-holding purposes, please don't sue me.

So, now I am trying to figure out what to do with the dang thing.  The layout is pretty nice, and the whole thing looks pretty good (though there are some big, blank spaces that could use some text or illustrations).  In order to finish it properly, I would mainly need to fix the art issues; replace the copyrighted art with original art, and do a full-color cover image.

The game was designed to be minimalist, and bare-bones.  But, I think there is some room for expansion.  Maybe some more detailed options in game-play, a few more monsters and foes to fight.  And the world I created as a setting is intentionally vague and abstract (without even a proper name, it's simply called "The World").  There are defined nations and regions, but each just gets a gloss over, with a general description and not a lot of detail.

The mechanics are based on a dice-pool system that uses d6's exclusively.  You're basically looking to roll over a target number for any given task.  There is a lot of leeway for how to employ that mechanic, as the whole thing was based on a universal system I wrote ages ago called EGO.

Over all, I like the game.  And I think fans of the genre that Howard built would like it too.  I think I might dust it off, polish it up, and see what I can do with it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gaming and Me

So, we had our latest session on Saturday.  Our party is currently at 13th level, and we are in the process of rescuing a Norwegian princess from the clutches of storm giants.  It should be noted that our DM has created an alternate version of our own world, with D&D races and monsters, and a pantheon of mythological-esque deities.  I think the year is somewhere in the early 1300's, but I keep forgetting.

Anyways, what we were hoping would be a quick snatch and grab turned into an assault on a rather crowded frost giant hall, including their thane, his magic-wielding wife, a "bard" of sorts, several polar bears, and two captive white dragons.  I dare say, if we didn't have a veritable army of NPC followers, we probably would have turned around and gone back to the King and told him his daughter was dead.

As it is, we have managed to whittle down the giant forces to a manageable level with the clever use of fireballs and many fire-based magic attacks (not to mention an illusionary army of Valkyries).  My character, a half-orc barbarian/favored soul/fighter, has managed to take down a few giants in melee combat, and as the session ended, he was enraged and surrounded by three of them.  Most of our party is in good shape, though two have been blinded, one permanently, and the NPCs have only just started taking some serious hits.  The next session should see the end of the way or the other.

I didn't get a chance to work on any writing this weekend.  Ok, "didn't get a chance..." translates to "I was too lazy..."  But, I did some thinking and came to a conclusion about my gaming preferences.

It started with a discussion about play-styles and various editions of D&D.  I am a huge proponent of using whichever system you are most comfortable with, as long as you are having fun.  I don't partake in "edition wars" actively, though I will defend any given system when someone says something derogatory about it, if I feel differently.  This came when comparing B/X to 3e at the OSR forums.

I won't go over the specifics, but basically this, combined with comments by a friend who is gearing up to start a new campaign (completely separate issue) got me to thinking.  And I have realized that, while the old grognard in me loves the older editions, it is mainly for the nostalgia, and the various memories associated with the various editions (like playing 2e on the front of an M-1 Abrams tank in Saudi Arabia).  On the other hand, my active gamer, the one who plays today, prefers 3.5, with some flavor from other editions and games (though I'd be perfectly happy playing a 3.5 game that used nothing but the PHB for chargen).

And when I try writing or planning stuff using the old editions, my two inner gamers are at odds, and I find myself wanting to combine the two, with a heavy lean towards the 3e side of the house.  So, in the end, I will probably not be playing any older editions, unless it's a one-off (like when my friend ran an all-day marathon session of 1e for his birthday last year).

And I'm cool with that.  The old games create an atmosphere and style of play that I think can fit in with the newer editions.  So, that is where I will probably go with my gaming from here on out.