Friday, March 18, 2016

Taking Stock: What does it all mean?

So, I’ve taken a look at all of my stuff, and I have come to the conclusion that I may be focusing too much on creating game content, and not focusing enough on gaming content. What I mean is that I am writing rules for play, without writing any actual play time material. In short, I think maybe I should try my hand at writing adventures.

And not only adventures for my own games, but for other games out there. Right now I am in love with 5E. And with the DM’s Guild rules, I could write some of those adventures I have run in the past, and ones I have imagined running, and have a built-in audience who might actually enjoy them.

I think my hesitance to write adventures stems from my long-standing tradition of making my own stuff up. As a GM I have almost always run games based on my own idea. I think I may have only run about two published modules in my life.

I own plenty of published adventures, for lots of game systems and genres. And I have been a player in many game based on such modules. But I’ve never really tried my hand at actually just writing a module. So, I’ll probably start there.

The other thing I might try to do is to stop trying to “re-invent the wheel.” I mean, take Mutants & Marvels. Other than the initial wonky idea of updating the old MSH game, there was no reason for me to do it. There are dozens of supers games out there, allowing for every taste and sensibility in gaming styles. To be honest, the gaming world didn’t (and probably doesn’t) need another one.

I might also try collaborating with others occasionally. So far all of my stuff has been on my own, with input from a few friends. Doing something truly collaborative might be fun. It would certainly relieve some of the pressure of being a one-man-show.

I’d also love to be able to write for an established company. So, if any of those are listening, consider my self-published library a CV of sorts.

So, anyone got any thoughts, opinions, or ideas?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Taking Stock, part II: The Odds & Ends

Continuing to take stock of my little library of self-published gaming material, here are some of the odd little projects that I did mainly for the enjoyment of doing.

Hero’s Journey
This one actually started off as my effort to create my own retro-clone. But, it quickly morphed into something else, and probably has more “original” ideas than Basic Arcana does. Hero’s Journey is, more-or-less, a complete RPG system. It’s very generic, and has no setting material at all. The Monster section is just a group of tables, rather than the MM-style write ups that I originally intended.

Over all, I like this thing. And I would love to be able to flesh it out, and help it grow. But, I think the market is flush with retro-clones now, so interest would probably be pretty low.

Oddly enough, I saw that someone published a game called The Hero’s Journey that is based on Swords & Wizardry. I’m curious what that’s all about, actually.

One day I had the brilliant idea of doing my own fanzine for RPG’s. The idea was that each issue would have a specific theme and genre, and would contain a few articles pertaining to that, as well as a piece of original fiction, an adventure or other game-supplement, and hopefully some cool artwork.

I managed to churn out two issues before the dismal sales numbers made me re-think the whole idea. The first was focused on the Underdark, as it could be presented in “basic” games. The second was all about military science fiction. I’m proud of both issues, and I think I did some damn fine writing in there. But, they just didn’t catch on, so Zine-O-Morph will probably remain shelved for good.

Attack of the Furryons!
What can I say other than this was a little bit of whimsy that caught some traction and somehow got finished. All of the artwork is public domain, and the rules aren’t even all that original. I would have loved to play this with my son. But, alas, he’s a bit old, and is more into video games than physical games (though we still occasionally dip into HeroQuest). Honestly, the fact that a few people have bought this surprises me. Especially with the sheer amount of similar products available.

Fists & Fury
Like Furryons!, this is another bit of whimsy that managed to get completed. Originally intended as a nod to The Fantasy Trip’s Melee game, but with a martial arts twist, Fists & Fury takes a lot of inspiration for wuxia cinema and from my favorite fighting game series, Street Fighter. I think it’s a pretty slick little system, and would love to maybe expand it into something bigger. But, there are some roadblocks to that. Regardless, it was a fun exercise in creativity.

Next time: What does it all mean?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Taking Stock, part I: My Big Three

As most of you know, I fancy myself some kind of self-publisher of games. I’ve enjoyed a bit of success here and there, and I love it. But something makes me wonder if it’s all worthwhile. In an effort to get a clear picture of where my efforts have been and where they are (or should be) going, I’m going to go through all of my products at RPGNow one-by-one, and assess their intrinsic value from my perspective. Feel free to drop in your own comments.

Note: I'm including links, just in case this piques anyone's interest.

Basic Arcana
A few years ago I became fascinated by the OSR movement. I began my RPG life with Moldvay’s Basic Box back in 1981 or so. And that version of D&D has always held a special place in my heart. After finding an internet forum devoted to OSR games and gaming, I decided to try my hand at writing something compatible with the Moldvay version. The result was called Basic Arcana.

Conceived as a “basic” variation of the 1E Unearthed Arcana, BA was meant to present some optional rules and variations to the old Basic games and their clones. After I had gotten about halfway through writing it, I discovered that I was doing nothing really new or innovative, but I persevered until I had it done. I peppered it with illustrations from my own DeviantArt page, and the public domain, and put it out there.

The response was better than I really expected. It got a decent amount of movement initially (helping almost fund an entire gaming Con that year), and it still performs regularly, selling 1-3+ copies every month. All-in-all, I like the product, and wish I could see it in use. But, like many of my products, it’s just something I wrote based on my experiences and preferences, and I’ll probably never get the chance to play with it myself.

Life of Rage
I am a self-confessed orc-o-phile. Orcs are my favorite fantasy race, and I have a soft spot for almost every iteration of them (the Warcraft Orc being my favorite). I had conceived of this game ages ago, with the basic premise of “what if the players were the orcs?” It started out with having an original, and mostly unique system. But then I got the idea of making it an OSR product. So, I layered all of my original content over the basic rules, refined it as much as I could, and put it out there.

Like Basic Arcana before it, Life of Rage OSR has always done somewhat well. Though it didn’t sell as well as BA at first, it has settled into the same monthly performance of 1-3 units. However, LoR also has a few supplements to attach, including Half-Orc Sorcerer, and Qruzlat (orcish martial arts). You can even get it all in a Bundle.

I was working on a more complete version, which included a “Monster Manual” type section, as well as some other bits and pieces. That is actually mostly done. However, like all of my projects, one of the biggest hurdles is artwork. And I can’t bring myself to release a “complete” version without some cool, original artwork. I may end up working on that myself, since commissioning others with more talent costs money that I just don’t have.

Mutants & Marvels
Initially, this game was envisioned as simply putting the old Marvel® RPG (FASERIP) game to the d20 mechanic. It was started as a personal project, with no intention to share it with anyone other than a few friends who showed interest. But, after some encouragement, I went all out with it.

This is my big one, really. At least, it’s the one I’ve put the most into, and got the most feedback on during production. M&M has had two versions. The original version had a lot of issues, and with the help of a few very keen testers, I made a lot of changes and additions, as well as added some extra content that I felt needed to be in there. The second version is a MUCH better game, I feel.

M&M seems pretty popular, if the sales numbers are any indication. And the Facebook page gets regular new likes. I’ve tried to get that going as a place to discuss the game, but haven’t seen a lot of action on that front. Mainly, it’s just a place for me to post (infrequent) news, and a few freebies I come up with.

I do have a pretty bold idea for a new supplement, and I will probably be working on that in the near future. I’m also looking at expanding the “bare-bones” setting that I included in the rulebook into its own supplement. And finally, I’m considering running a session or two at a convention in the near future.

Next time:  The Odds & Ends

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gary Con Thoughts – Part II

First of all, let me get this out of the way. The 2nd trailer for Captain America: Civil War.


If you haven’t seen it, do so.

Speaking of Marvel, let me talk about one of the better experiences I had at Gary Con. A friend of mine, Shane Bradley, ran an awesome 2-part game of Marvel Heroic RPG (Margaret Weis Productions), where we were the Avengers fighting Ultron. The plot followed pretty close to the movie, which actually made things a lot easier. It was basically two really big superhero rumbles, and they totally rocked.

When I signed up for it, I told Shane that I was interested in playing Captain America. Because he’s my absolute favorite superhero. He said his nephew had already called dibs at the time, so I opted for Thor instead. I prepared for the game by watching the entire second season of Avengers Assemble. I felt pretty well-prepared to toss Mjolnir and archaic quips around with gusto.

When I got to the table, I dug out the Thor data sheet, but I only found the Jane Foster version of Thor (turned out I had mistaken the real Thor’s sheet for a second part of JF’s). I had just started reading the graphic novel of her first arc, so I was totally cool with it and dug in. The guy next to me at the table was just as new to the game as I was, and he had Cap. He offered to trade, but I declined. I had set my sights on Thor and was committed to him…er, her.

The game itself was very new to me. I had bought the core rule book when if first came out because it was Marvel, and it was pretty. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the mechanics, so I just slid it into my shelf next to my other supers games. Turns out, once I got going with it, the mechanics are pretty sweet. Probably not my favorite system for supers, but I still had a lot of fun with it. And that’s basically the only benchmark I have as to whether a game is “good” or not.

Our team was a pretty eclectic mix of Marvel characters. Half of them (in both sessions) were mutants, and at any given time there were only 2-3 actual Avengers on the team (well, what I consider actual Avengers). But we made it work, and we had a blast beating Ultron and his drones into submission.

All in all, if you like supers games, I highly recommend checking out this game. It could totally be your cup of tea.

My other great experience was actually an unscheduled pick-up game. My wife was playing Firefly Friday night (which, incidentally, uses the same system as the Marvel game I played. At the time, I had nothing scheduled, mainly due to the Adventurer’s League games ending so quickly. However, the guy at the next table over was setting up for an AD&D 1E game of “Baba Yaga’s Hut” and it turned out he had an opening. So, I sat down, pulled out my dice, and away we went.

That was a really fun game. The DM was very animated and enthusiastic, and really made the game come alive. I had a great time playing my dwarf cleric, and laughed out loud when he was able to shrug off the Death Knight’s fireball (Ring of Fire Resistance). The adventure was a good blend of mystery, puzzles, and action. I don’t think anyone walked away unhappy with the adventure.

So, that’s pretty much it for another Gary Con. This was my third, and we will probably go again next year. But for now, I am setting my sights on Gamehole Con here in Madison. I might actually run something!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Gary Con Thoughts, Part I

This past weekend was Gary Con, as many people already know. We arrived Thursday night, ready to jump into gaming Friday morning. After a nice dinner with friends, we had a hiccup during check in at the hotel which created some negative financial consequences we will be dealing with this week. But we got to our room, which was decent, if a bit overpriced, and settled in.

Thursday morning my daughter and I didn’t actually have a game scheduled until 10:00. My wife was running her first Dragon Age game at 8:00, so the kid and I just wandered around, getting the lay of the land, and checking out the dealer room. The kid is a budding artist, and was completely enthralled by the cool artwork. And she had a long, animated conversation with Terry Pavlet, who is a helluva guy. We ended up buying a print from him for her before leaving on Sunday.

Anyways, much of my scheduled gaming was in the Adventurer’s League games, leading up to the Curse of Strahd release. I readily admit to not being all that big of a fan of Ravenloft. Horror just isn’t my thing, personally. But I am aware of what it is, and who Strahd is (I read Knight of the Black Rose, because I love Lord Soth). Still, it didn’t dawn on me the purpose of these little adventures until the second to last one.

Still, I had fun playing in them with my Dragonborn Paladin. Met some interesting players, and saw some cool characters and concepts (though overall, there seemed to be a lot of rogues). However, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe these could have been done better.

Essentially, each episode was scheduled for a 2-hour slot. But, none of mine except the very last one lasted that long. Most of them were done in an hour or less. And that was with a lot of table-talk, and interruptions. And the DMs seemed to range in their ability to adapt to players going off-script. It didn’t happen often, and for the most part they kept things on track. But there was at least one instance where the players did something unexpected, and caused the whole adventure to get cut short, though we still succeeded in reaching the objective.

It was basically a missed opportunity, and I immediately saw how I would have handled it differently, in order to give the party the fight they were supposed to have without any leaps in logic. But, it turned out ok in the end. Honestly, my only complaint was that I think all five episodes of the initial arc could have been done in one, 4-hour sitting. Which is pretty much the standard for Con games. But I do understand the reasoning behind handling them this way.

Outside of those adventures, I did have a lot of fun with other games. I’ll talk more about those later. So, overall it was a fun Con, despite some personal hiccups that were both expected and unexpected.