Thursday, December 4, 2014

Micro Games

My actual copy.
The inimitable John O’Neill over at Black Gate Magazine is doing a series of articles about the old MicroGames that Steve Jackson created in the 70’s. He’s talked a lot about OGRE, which was a fan-favorite by all accounts, though it’s one that I never got to play. However, I do own a copy of Melee from The Fantasy Trip (it’s sitting right here on my desk as I type this), and I’m once more fascinated by the idea.

For those who may not know (and where the hell have you been???), these products were basically simple, pocket-sized board games, meant to be pulled out, set up quickly, and played for a short period, usually for a specific goal. Coming out in the mid-70’s, they are usually viewed as related to the RPG phenomenon that was just getting underway with the 1974 release of Dungeons & Dragons. There’s some validity to that comparison, but these games also stood on their own merits.

Anyways, I will leave the reviewing and in-depth discussion about these games to John, as he probably has more and better things to say. For my part, I will ask one question:

Is there maybe a niche market today for these kinds of games?

I love fiddling with game mechanics. I have invented many systems. Some from scratch, others as modifications of existing games, and still others being a bit of both. I like the idea of boiling down complex ideas into simple mechanics. I don’t go too much for realism, but I do like to balance the mechanics in a realistic way, if you know what I mean.

So, I’m thinking about putting together a few of my own “micro games.” Probably publish them as PWYW PDF’s (or maybe charge $1). I could even try to figure out a way to make printed versions available.

Anyone else think this is a neat idea? Or, better yet, does anyone else know if someone else is already doing this? Because I’m always fearful of just retreading well-travelled roads.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The State of Things

Since Gamehole Con, things have been kind of stagnant for me personally, at least from a gaming standpoint. Our 3.5e campaign trucks on, and is nearing its climax. The last session was a bit of a downer, especially when compared to the previous one. Ahnuld almost got taken down my a demon. That in itself is no big surprise. But considering that in the previous session he had stood toe-to-toe with a Balor, the outcome of a mere Merelith's attacks was disappointing. But, in all honesty, I just had a night of crappy rolls. So, there's that.

Anyways, now that we're all starting to see the horizon in this campaign, we're starting to finally look, as a group, beyond it. For months I have been trying to spark interest in some new ideas that I can work into campaigns myself. Usually these involve a deviation from the standard fantasy, and into such genres as Espionage, Superheroes, and Science Fantasy. All of these ideas were met with reactions that average out to a shrug and a "Meh."

I was starting to come to the conclusion that my group just has no interest in anything beyond fantasy. And this was confirmed when my wife offered to run the Dragon Age RPG, and everyone was immediately on board for it. She had run a game at Gamehole, and one of our regular players sat in on it. And after she got excited, her excitement spread throughout the group. So, it is more or less official that Dragon Age will be our next game. Which, honestly, I'm totally cool with. My wife is a great storyteller (from the World of Darkness tradition). So, I know it will be fun and exciting.

Additionally, she assures me that her campaign will not be as extensive as our current one (which has been going on for 4 or so years in real time now). And that she would like to break it up with other games, of other genres, just to keep things interesting. So, even though no one has embraced my ideas, there's still a chance they may come into the light someday. We'll have to see.

In the meantime, I've been working on getting through with school, which has left me with very little time and energy for writing RPG stuff. I'm hoping to be able to remedy that. I still want to get Zine-O-Morph #2 out by the end of the year. I need to get some artwork done, and write a sample adventure that follows my theme of Military Sci-Fi. I'm also looking at future issue ideas, including one on Pulp-inspired Adventure, and one on Historical Adventure.

I'm also rolling some ideas around for an expansion for Mutants & Marvels that will include some ideas others have suggested, as well as some ideas that were initially scrapped, but I think might find some interest. To date, M&M is one of my most consistent sellers, so there is obviously some interest. I just wish people who bought it would review it...

But right now, during my down time at work, I need to pound out a short research paper on the Literature of the Scottish Reformation. Fun!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

And the Gamehole goeth…

Actually the actual Gamehole is apparently a room above a bar & grill where the Gamehole guys meet regularly. I have been invited there a few times, but have never been able to extricate myself from familial obligations to go. Either way, that Gamehole remains, but the Gamehole Con has closed its doors for another year.

Once more, much fun was had during the course of three days. Below I will break down my experiences with each game I took part in. But let me start by giving my thoughts on the Con itself.

Warning: this post is kinda long…

It was awesome. Bigger and better than last year, GHC2 had a larger dealer room, with many interesting vendors and a lot of stuff that I had to make a Will save versus maxing out my credit card for. I walked away with some old school stuff for me (both of Metzner’s red books, a couple of Dragon Magazines, and B4 The Lost City), as well as a set of custom Dragon Age dice and a nifty dice bag, both for my wife. Of course, at the front entrance was the guy selling real swords. And Conan’s Father’s sword sat there for three days, taunting me with its $$$! price tag.

For gaming, there was a quite a wide variety. Of course, the big guns were 5E and Pathfinder, each with whole rooms devoted to just them. But there was also quite a variety of other games, both old and new. I even saw some guys playing Champions, and felt a twinge of jealousy, since I had kind of wanted to find a Supers game. Lots of board games, including an entire library and room of them, where you could just check one out and play it right there if you liked. And of course, a large miniature wargame room (more of a hall). Oddly, I didn’t see much for CCG’s, aside from a hefty MtG presence, as always. Are those out of vogue now?

The facilities were great. The Sheraton was very accommodating, and the other patrons who were clearly not there for the Con seemed to take it all in stride. A few odd looks, and not much more. All-in-all, the whole package was quite organized and well-done. The organizers seemed to have everything well in hand, and there was very little stress rolling off any of them. Now, on to my games…

Shadow of Moonsea (5E) – First off I took in a 5E game run by a friend of mine who works for the same state government agency as I do. It was a cool adventure, with some interesting mysteries, encounters, and a premise that could lead into a whole campaign. I played to type for me, and chose the Half-Orc Barbarian. Hey, it’s what I know and I figured I would ease into the weekend. The only downside was that the DM got so involved with the mounting story, that time ran short and we never got to finish the second half of the final battle. But, despite that, we all had a good time. And, as expected, the 5E rules were nice and swift, and didn’t get in the way of the story.

Why are we here? These things are already dead! (1E) – This was probably my least favorite of the games I played in. The game itself was fine, the DM (apparently someone who had written for TSR back in the day, but whose name escapes me now) knew what he was doing and was entertaining. But, the adventure was kind of silly, and based on D&D-izing a current political hot topic. Needless to say, the DM used it as a way of putting his views out there, and if you happened to disagree with those views…well, I did disagree, so I had to just grin and bear it. Once I got past that, and just concentrated on the game itself, it was fun. Nothing spectacular, but a decent time. After it was over, he let us know that the adventure would be coming out in print next month, and we rolled off to see who would get his playtest copy. I won. Good times, I suppose. The actual highlight of this session was turning around and realizing that Ed Greenwood was at one table running a game, and The Dungeon Bastard was at the other.

Frank Mentzer’s game (OD&D) – This was originally supposed to be a 1E minis-war type of adventure, but Frank, having just come back from Italy a few days prior, had forgotten the materials and minis. So, he gave us the choice of a 1E adventure, or a “Back to 1974” OD&D adventure. We went with 1974. It was a great time. The adventure itself was pretty cool, a standard “meet in the tavern, head to the dungeon” type of thing. But the real fun was just listening to Frank talk about the old days, and how they used to play this version of the game. It was like an RPG history lesson, wrapped around a fun little romp. Frank is a great guy, and I can only hope that I am half the DM he is. Especially when it comes to running things off-the-cuff, and engaging everyone at the table. As a bonus, he autographed my old Expert Rulebook (which now matches my signed David Cook edition), as well as the character sheet I used.

Interlude: Frank’s Table – After we ate dinner, my wife and I had about an hour before our next game. So, we took seats in the lobby in an alcove with a table that had a Con sign reading “Frank’s Table.” We knew it was Frank Mentzer’s table for something, but he wasn’t around when we sat down. Then, about fifteen minutes later, he showed up with a few board games, and proceeded to talk my wife and me into giving one a try. We played fun little game called Cathedral, and it was very cool. My wife wants to find a copy now (it’s out of print), because she thinks our son would enjoy it. Once more, Frank was a great person to talk to, and probably one of the nicest people in the world.

Rogue Moon of Spinstorme (Traveller T20) – We picked this game because we just wanted to break up the fantasy gaming with something else. Using the d20 version of Traveller, this was a nice, hard sci-fi, military game. The guy running it was a fellow Desert Storm vet, so there was a bit of the obligatory story-swapping at the beginning, then it was into the fray. The game was fun, and pretty interesting. With a few combats, some mishaps, and a couple of mysteries, it was the second of three parts, and I found myself wishing I could have taken part in the other two. Since it used the d20 mechanics, the play went smoothly, with little to no hiccups. The cool thing was that, even though it was a military-themed game, it didn’t feel forced, and my wife, who has no military inclination whatsoever, had a great time. Chalk it up to yet another fun game with strangers.

The Ruin of Ravenfall (Pathfinder) – My last game of the weekend was a Sunday morning Pathfinder game. I chose it because it wasn’t a Pathfinder Society game, so there was no pressure to do anything in a certain way. Incidentally, my wife was supposed to have joined us, but she had had a stressful day on Saturday, when there was a family emergency, followed immediately by her car having issues. Suffice it so say, everything is better now, including the car, but she felt she needed to back out of the game. So, I went alone. The adventure turned out to be the one that was written for, and published in the Gamehole Con program this year. The DM set out the pregens, and they were all Pathfinder-specific advanced classes. That was pretty cool, as it allowed me to see other options besides the standard classes. I ended up playing an elven swashbuckler with a rapier and a pepperbox (a primitive multi-barrel pistol, forerunner to the revolver). The adventure was way cool, with a lot of undead, a dark conspiracy, and an excellent boss-fight. I was ecstatic to have figured out the mystery long before the reveal. That rarely happens for me. I had a really good time with that one, and now that I have a copy of the adventure itself, I might see about running it myself sometime. Maybe for my kid or something.

With the Pathfinder game done, the Con was basically over for me. I lingered in the lobby for a bit. I had wanted to hit the dealer room one more time, but they were already packing up, so I wasn’t able to. In the end, I casually meandered out to my car and forlornly went home.

I had so much fun. And honestly, if it were possible, I could do one of these just about every weekend. I can see why some gamers get addicted and travel hundreds of miles for conventions. If I didn’t have so many other responsibilities, I would totally do that. But, I will settle for Gary Con in the Spring, and then Gamehole again next year. And I think next year I definitely want to try my hand at running something.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Gamehole cometh…

Ok, I know that sounds awful. But I’m really excited about this coming weekend. It’s Gamehole Con II, and I am now officially a 2nd Level Gamer. I’m not sure if I got anything special for that this year, but they assure us that, in the future there will be perks based on how many Gamehole Cons you have attended.

Anyways, my schedule for this coming weekend includes 28 hours of gaming over the course of three days. This includes one 5e game, two 1e games (one with Frank Metzner), a Traveller T20 game, and a Pathfinder game. Basically I will be rolling d20’s all weekend. And I’m totally cool with that.

Friday and Saturday mornings are set aside to browse the seller room, and maybe pick up some off-the-cuff game or a panel. My wife will be there too. She’s playing a game run by Jim Ward on Friday, and then running her own game of Dragon Age that evening. The rest of the time we are together, and I love that. No gamer widow in my house!

I think maybe next year I will see about running a game or two. Right now I’m looking at Covert Ops, and maybe Mutants & Marvels. Of course, if DwD gets FrontierSpace out, I might could go for that. Then again, I might just chicken out and remain a player. We’ll see.

For right now, I’m just excited for this year.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Ahnuld (Half-Orc Barbarian 6/Favored Soul 6/Fighter 5) killed a Balrog…er…Balor in melee combat last night. He had a big boost of help from the Archbishop, and from one of our archer characters, not to mention all of the buffing spells and effects. But, when all was said and done, the thing died, and subsequently exploded (because that’s what they do). And even standing ground zero for the blast, Ahnuld was left with 71 hit points, and ready to fight some more. The army behind the beast was a bit intimidated, and many of them broke and ran. The only downside was that two of our NPC followers, including Ahnuld’s best friend, Atruus (Dark Elf Wizard 13) died in the blast. Fortunately, the Archbishop can raise them both. All-in-all a good session. And the battle for Salisbury is only half over!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An old friend

I drew this sometime in the mid-90's.
Today, I am going to talk about someone who is near and dear to me. And in so doing, I am going to do that thing that all D&D geeks do, but that we all hate when others do it. I'm going to talk about my favorite character. (If you're not interested, get out now. I will completely understand.)

In the beginning...
Sometime around 1985-86, my friend, his sister, and I decided to start a D&D campaign using the Expert Set. In looking back, I had thought that the Expert rules had introduced the half-elf as a player race. This is not true, as it turns out, so we must have been incorporating elements of AD&D into our B/X game. Either way, I made a half-elf fighter named Tomos.

Though visually Tomos was initially based on the Marvel Comics character Longshot, he was actually an idealized version of myself. His stats were phenomenal (and honestly rolled), and I have never truly matched him in that area since (though I occasionally come close). By the end of that short campaign, he was 5th level, and filthy rich. I'm pretty sure we fudged the XP rules, but whatever. He was the highest-level character I had ever had up to that time.

First Upgrade
Jump forward to my Senior year (1987-88). The old friend has graduated and his family has moved away. That year I reconnected with some other friends whom I had met in 8th grade, but who had left and come back three years later (it should probably be noted we were all Air Force brats living on Kadena AFB, Okinawa). They played AD&D, and had middle-level characters. When we decided to start a campaign together, they wanted to use those characters. So, I dusted Tomos off, since he was the only one even close to their level, converted him from B/X to AD&D, and he went gallivanting around Oerth with Panthrus, the human ranger, and Styol Ganthral, the elven fighter/magic-user.

About this time I was deep in the throes of my budding love of Conan and Robert E. Howard. So, when I converted Tomos to AD&D, and his 18 Strength became 18/90 (the strongest a half-elf could be in AD&D), I naturally started thinking of him as Conan with blond hair and pointed ears. But, he also had a 17 Charisma, and since we were using Unearthed Arcana, his Comeliness came out to be 19. So, he was a VERY attractive and pretty Conan. That's when his personality took off in my mind. He soon became an amalgam of Conan and D'Artagnon.

That campaign got him up to 9th level, and I had much fun with his Vorpal bastard sword (treasure from his very first campaign), with which he was Double Specialized ( do the math). I had decided that Tomos had spent much of his amassed fortune on a ship, and was now a seasoned sailor and ship's captain. That worked well, since the campaign took place on an island, and it provided a neat way for the three characters to meet (they hired my ship).

Back from obscurity
Skip forward a few more years. I'm graduated and completely out of touch with all of my old friends from high school. But, I still have Tomos' character sheet. Somewhere around 1990-91, I'm in the Army at Ft. Bliss, TX, and I get the 2nd Edition books. Not having anyone to play with at the time, I proceeded to convert Tomos to 2E just for shits and giggles. Not much effort there, but I made some cool additions (remember fighter followers at 9th level?). I eventually found people to play with. But, sadly, I never played Tomos in that edition.

A brief solo career
A few years later I am out of the Army, living in San Diego, and working my way through school. Having no regular D&D game, a friend offers to run me through tome casual solo adventures. So, once more I dust off Tomos, and we have a few adventures involving a Drow assassin, the Forgotten Realms goddess of Luck, Tymora, and a few other fun events. The game abruptly ended, and Tomos is kinda left hanging. I do remember that he now had a keep of his own from that brief stint. But, not much more than that.

Cameo appearance
Jump forward again to the late 90's. I'm living in Salinas, CA. 3rd Edition comes out, and I jump in with both feet. Found a group through the FLGS, and started playing. After a while I get an idea. I convert Tomos to 3E, and run him in a short campaign that lasted all of one module. I'm not even sure he leveled beyond 9th. As it turned out, that was the last time I ever saw him as a D&D character.

Tomos has stayed with me throughout the years, usually as a character I planned to write fiction about. I did write one complete, very Conan-esque story about him on my first computer, but lost it somewhere over the course of several moves. I would also imagine him meeting famous characters from Forgotten Realms, where he had ported to for 3E, like Drizzt Do'Urden. Of all of my characters over the years, Tomos Elvenblood (he picked up that none-too-imaginative surname somewhere around 2E) has always been very special to me.

And now I am thinking it is time to bring him out of “retirement” once more. I have long wanted to write an epic fantasy trilogy. And I have had numerous ideas, plots, settings, and such related to that. But the more I think about it, the more I feel like Tomos is the character I want to be center-stage for that epic story. So, with nothing but time and imagination, I may just sit down and start plotting that out. I’m sure elements of his D&D origins will make it onto the page, and that would suit me just fine.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A bit of a quandary

So, while working on the content for Zine-O-Morph #2, I have a bit of a dilemma.

As I have mentioned before, the focus of #2 is supposed to be Military Science Fiction. The main focus, as I have developed the content, has been on how to run a military sci-fi game that feels like a REAL military game. So, a lot of the info in there is about how the real military works, and how to work some of those details into your game to give it the right feel.

However, I am finding that the majority of the information relates to real-world military, with the science fiction part being pretty secondary (except for the races I created). So, now I am wondering if maybe I should re-direct my efforts a bit. Perhaps make the focus this issue about military in RPG’s in general, and save the sci-fi stuff for a later issue.

Right now, I could tailor a lot of my content to the new Covert Ops game (see my last post). In essence issue #2 would switch from Military Sci-Fi, to Modern Action/Adventure. It would give me a place to detail out the stuff I have for an old SpyCraft game that I ran years ago, as well as flesh out some cool ideas I have for a fictitious organization similar to SPECTRE from the old James Bond novels and movies (but, sadly, not from Victory Games’ JB RPG).

And the Sci-Fi elements I have written (including three new races) could be saved for a future issue. Possibly in time to coincide with DwD’s release of FrontierSpace, depending on when that comes out.

So, what do you folks think? Does the idea of issue #2 being about Super Spies and paramilitary action heroes sound like a good idea?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Covert Ops

My latest RPG acquisition is Covert Ops from DwD Studios. I paid out the $32.99 for the hardback print of the Core Rules, plus PDF’s of everything. All in all, a good investment so far (the print copy is still in transit).

Overall quality is quite good. It’s well-written, well-organized, and very easy to follow. The layout and design are nice and clean, without a lot of the “crap” filler you see in products from larger companies. The artwork is pretty serviceable, and gives the whole game a very comfortable feel.

The mechanics are nice a smooth, and really harken back to the old days of gaming, while still remaining relevant. The guys at DwD are unabashed fans of Star Frontiers, and you can see its influence here. The percentile systems, the use of d10’s exclusively, and the simplified skill system all provide a very concise method of resolving rolls without burdening the game play. And if you’ve read anything I have personally written, you know how much I like that.

As I normally do, after giving the main rules a good skim-through, I printed a character sheet (which is also very nice-looking, and available in two formats, one being more print-friendly), opened my dice-roller app on my iPhone, and rolled up a quick character. The process was extremely easy, and I found that by having you roll your background first, it made placing the rolled attributes in a more logical manner. After only a few minutes I had all of the basics that I needed to play, and all I would need to do then is come up with a good story.

The PDF’s are chock full of goodies that I wish every game had. Worksheets for creating your own missions, agencies, and villain organizations. There’s initiative cards, a hit location sheet, and a few other things that all fit nicely with the simple mechanics. I’m thinking of taking a cue from DwD in this regard, and developing some of these things for Mutants & Marvels.

For a little history, DwD is the company behind BareBones Fantasy, which, I understand, is quite popular, and uses a similar system. They are also developing a science-fiction game based on these core mechanics, which promises to be the spiritual successor to our beloved Star Frontiers. I’m quite eager for that.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to delve into Covert Ops, and try my best to get a group together for some good, old-fashioned super-spy/paramilitary action adventure.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Talking the talk

It occurred to me yesterday that I currently spend more time and energy on writing stuff for games I don’t play, than I do actually playing RPG’s.

Due to my real-world obligations (kids, college, work, etc.), I am unable to commit to much gaming time. I have a regular game of D&D with a group comprised of three couples in our 40’s (more or less), with kids and similar obligations. We meet roughly every two weeks, with occasional interruptions due to a child’s school (or in a couple of cases, martial arts) functions, family vacations, visiting relatives, and so on. We even have a player (also a 40-something) who recently moved from Wisconsin to Florida, but still participates through Google Hangouts and Roll20.

When I compare my past experiences to the recollections of others who have been interested (if not participating) in gaming for as long as I have, I find my experiences somewhat lacking, as it were. I started D&D with Moldvay’s box in 6th grade. But, I don’t recall getting to play a whole heck of a lot. I mean actually play. There were no campaigns, no long-running sessions. There was just a lot of talk, conjecture, and planning. In fact, until I was a sophomore in high school, I’m pretty sure I had only ever gone through one module (Slave Pits of the Undercity).

When I was a sophomore, I finally found a gang of buddies who were also into RPG’s, and we played a lot. But, we still never played any campaigns. The closest I came to one was when my friend took me (as Andrew Hearst, 005) solo through three different missions, using Victory Games’ James Bond RPG. We also played a lot of Marvel Superheroes, a bit of Gamma World, and a few odds and ends games. But nothing terribly long-lasting.

Then, during my senior year, I met a couple of new friends. My old gang had broken up, as a couple of their parents had moved away from the Air Force base we lived on. So, when I met these two brothers (who it turned out, had been there when were in 8th grade a few years prior as well), we started an AD&D game that lasted several months. That was probably my first “campaign” of any kind in D&D.

Through my 20’s and 30’s, there were several dry patches. In the Army I had some buddies who played, and we played a lot. Even a couple of mini-campaigns. But nothing lasting more than a few months. This trend continued, with breaks, when I got out and moved to San Diego. My last group there liked to play all kinds of games. And while the Stargate SG-1 run was pretty long, even it had breaks in the middle for other stuff.

So, now I find myself in my 40’s and finally experiencing the kind of years-long campaigning so many of my fellow gamers talk about doing back in high school and college. It’s an interesting experience, and I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to do this kind of gaming back when I was a young man, without much of a life beyond my own personal gratification.

Now, if you have stayed with this post to this point, you get bonus XP. Honestly, in my rambling and reminiscing, I may have forgotten what my original point was. I think what I’m trying to say is that my gaming experience sometimes feels like it has always been atypical. I’ve always had an interest in a wide variety of games, but haven’t played half of the ones I’ve wanted to. Maybe it’s time to try and rectify that. I’m in a position where I have a wife who totally understands the jones to play (she is running a Dragon Age RPG session at our local Con next month), so I might be able to finagle some time to join another group. Can’t quite get myself to try out the online thing, as I would be very self-conscious about talking into a mic, not to mention being interrupted constantly by the 5-year old. But, I might get to that point someday.

Either way, I will continue to generate content for games, just as I’ve always done. I have reams of old papers containing ideas I would dream up during my dry spells, where I didn’t have anyone to game with. So, I guess that just comes naturally. Now, if I could just find a way to quit my day job and do this stuff full-time…

Monday, September 29, 2014

Zine-O-Morph status

So, as I stated in my previous post, issue #1 didn’t sell too well. And I am wondering if maybe the price was a bit too high. I see a lot of other zines with more content for less price, and I’m wondering if I overestimated its value, especially considering the format (PDF-only).

To that end, I am thinking of setting up a system of reducing prices. When a new issue is released, it will go for the $2.99 cover price. But, when the next issue is released, the previous issue will be permanently reduced to $1.99. I think this will be a good thing, though I’m sure there will be a lot of people who might put the new issue on their wish list, and then wait for the price to drop. I know I would. And that’s cool.

That being said, I might reduce issue #1 early. However, the thought makes me feel bad for the few people who already bought it. So, what I might do is generate some exclusive content for those few. I’m not sure what it would be at this time (my brain is in Military Sci-Fi mode, and not underdark adventures right now). I don’t know, what do you guys think?

As far as #2 goes, it’s cruising along nicely. The main article is just about done (probably a few little tweaks as they come to me), as is the first of three new races. I also came up with a substitute for the “New Items” section that I think will be cool. And as I said before, the fiction is done as well. All told, I suspect I will be ready to roll with it by the end of the month.

My initial idea was to do a new issue quarterly, but I think rather than committing to that kind of schedule, I will probably do new issues as I get them done. I’m also thinking I will probably open the zine up to non-paid contributions (both writing and artwork). If that seems to be something others are interested in, I will probably work up a list of topics that specific issues will cover, and let people send me what they think would fit.

Anyways, happy gaming! And be sure to check out my other stuff, and leave reviews for what you purchase. Thanks in advance!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Have to giggle at myself sometimes

So, I published Zine-O-Morph #1 on Friday, and it bolted out of the start gate with a good handful of sales right off the bat. And for most of Saturday, it sat at #3 on RPGNow's "Hottest Titles" featured at the top of their front page, and at #4 on their "Hottest Small Press" for a time too. I got all excited and giddy.

Then I saw on Google+ that Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor had put up a flash review with some glowing praise. That made me grin. Tim put out one of the best fanzine out, and was a huge inspiration for me to even try. So, to have him praise it was high praise indeed! Subsequently, by the end of Saturday I was beaming with excitement over this.

Then Sunday rolled around. Not a single sale. And now Monday morning...still at the same number.

Ok, I'm sure I'm over-thinking it. But hey, it's my blog, right? Honestly, it doesn't really surprise me, and it wouldn't surprise me either if it just didn't sell well. While I am confident in my writing ability, and I think the presentation is pretty good (though I plan to up the graphics game a bit with subsequent issues), I think it's a weak subject matter.

Underdark adventures have kind of been done to death. And people are probably just tired of hearing about them. And I totally understand that. Had I to do it over, I would have done something else, probably. That being said, what I did do, particularly the new race, I am pretty proud of. Heck, even the fiction turned out well.

So, just a recap, this is not me capitulating. I am moving forward with new issues. Heck, all it is is me doing what I do anyways (writing scads of RPG material from my head), and making it available to others for a small fee. If I can make a few bucks, it'll help with the costs of Gamehole Con and Gary Con, so that's cool.

Anyways, if you bought the issue, please give it a review. As always, I am actually interested in peoples' opinions of the stuff I do. And, obviously, reviews help with sales. But that's generally a secondary consideration. I have a full-time job.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Zine-O-Morph is live!

Check out the first issue of Zine-O-Morph at RPGNow!

Thank you to all who encouraged me, and those who helped make it happen.

Zine-O-Morph #1 is GO!

Well, it will be once I can get to a computer that has an updated browser (I publish from work during my break times, and my work is a bit behind on updated brower versions).

Last night I finalized the deal with Jon Ascher, the DeviantArtist, and set up the possibility of his art in future issues as well.

The Zine weighs in at 29 pages, including the cover. I'm pricing it at $2.99, and should be available for purchase by the end of today.

Already hard at work on issue #2, which is probably already about 35% done at this point.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In the proverbial can

...more or less.

Issue #1 is all done. I even wrote a short, 1-page afterword for it today. All I need to do now is get the final artwork from the DeviantArtist. I had initially given up on that, thinking he had decided not to do it, since he hadn't responded as I thought he would. But, last night I was pleasantly surprised to find a first draft of the drawing in my email. It looks fantastic. And after a couple of aesthetic modifications, it should fit in quite nicely. I think in the future, if I decide to commission artwork, I will do it earlier in the process, and have more patience.

As I have mentioned before, the plan for issue #2 is already underway. I have a general outline of the main article, some ideas for new races, and an idea for what to do for new items. In a complete 180' from issue #1, I already have the fiction written. It's an older vignette that I had written with no plan as to what to do with it. So, I finished it, edited it, polished it up, and now it's sitting in the working file for the zine issue.

This whole process has been a bit of a learning experience, and one that I have enjoyed. It's been nice to see support from fellow bloggers and zine-makers. In this age of (relatively) easy self-publishing, there are a lot of zines out there. And that fact almost made me falter. But, I persevered, and am going to go ahead and stick it out there. If it falls flat, no big deal. At least I tried, right?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Free publicity anyone?

If you are interested in placing a small advertisement graphic for your own zine, or other indie publication, in the back of my Zine, please send me a B&W jpeg. No bigger than 3"x3", please.

Send them to tdoolan005(at)gmail(dot)com.

Made the cover today. It's all looking pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Zine-O-Morph #1 had some progress lately. I finished one of the pictures, and am now working on making a cover image out of it. I was originally going to go full-color, but I'm thinking I might do it B&W, as that seems to be en vogue for fanzines these days.

I have one piece of art in progress from a fellow blogger, and another I had been talking to a DeviantArtist about. However, the DeviantArtist seems to have lost interest, so that's a step backwards. But, I might be able to pull it off myself. I can visualize what I need in my head, so I might be able to get something workable down.

I also finished the fiction, so that will be back in. I was struggling to write something that would fit with the Zine format, without being too long and drawn out. I took my original story and jumped the starting point further in and went from there. I think it turned out pretty good, all things considered.

And finally, I have added a bonus section. This whole idea began with the concept of using Drow in Basic Era games. I did a write-up of them, and that was going to form the basis of the whole Zine. But, I was later informed that Labyrinth Lord did one already, so I decided to go a different route and make up my own race. Then, after seeing the LL effort, I decided that mine was much better. So, I am including my views on the Drow for Basic as a bonus section.

All in all, I think this will turn out pretty cool.
I'm rather proud of this illustration.
Took some inspiration from the
Bill Willingham classic.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I see the light!

Zine-O-Morph #1 is cruising along nicely. All of the content is done, and reads fairly well. I decided to ditch the idea of fiction for this first issue, as I am still trying to figure out how best to do it in such a publication. But the articles are all done, the new monster/race is done, a few new magic items have been created, and an adventure has been written.

I have three more pieces of art I need, plus a cover. One of them I am negotiating with one of my favorite DeviantArtists right now for. One has been offered by a fellow blogger. And the third I will do myself. The cover will take some thought, but may end up being a colorized, embellished version of one of the interior pieces. Unless I can get a separate piece out of someone...

Once those are done and in place, I will do the final edits and layout adjustments, create the ToC, and add some "window dressing" artwork. The very last piece will be an "Advertisement" page in the back where I can share some of the various other indie and zine publishers I know. I have a few in mind, but if you self-publish your own RPG material, and wouldn't mind a little free advertising, let me know, and we can work out what you would like in my zine. I'm thinking banners and block images. Like what we saw in the old Dragon issues. Alternately, I may place these throughout the book, rather than all on the same page.

I'm kind of excited !

On a side note, Mutants & Marvels sold quite well. So, if you bought and have had the chance to read, and hopefully play it, I humbly ask for reviews at RPGNow. And that goes for all of the stuff I have there. Sure, it helps with sales. But, mainly I'm just insecure and need some positive reinforcement.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Geek/Nerd Overlap

Ok, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying geek. But, I don't really consider myself a "nerd" per se. One is social, the other is academic. Basically, I love geek culture, but I suck at science and math.

However, due to my work experience, I'm kind of a whiz at MS Excel. On Friday, I had some downtime at work. So, I opened Excel and proceeded to create a spreadsheet using forumlae that would generate the bare-bones of a 5e character when you hit the F9 button. The results are hit or miss. I gave the abilities a spread of 6-18, rather than 3-18, to reflect rolling 3d6 and re-rolling 1's. Here are a couple of the better outcomes.

I'll probably flesh both of these out into full on characters, just because. Right now the sheet only randomizes what you see here. The racial modifiers to Abilities are not factored in, but are listed in case you decide you don't like the race it gives you (plus coding that to automatically calculate would be a pain). I might add in some other things like Starting Money and Backgrounds.

What's the point of doing this? Well, to get your ball rolling, of course. How many times have you sat down to create a new character, and realized you have no idea what you want to make? Well, open this puppy up, and start hitting F9 until something grabs you. It'd probably also be good for generating NPC ideas as well.

I did this sort of thing ages ago. Back when 2e was out, The World Builder's Guidebook was a really neat tool. So, I basically took a bunch of the major tables for world generation, and put them into an Excel sheet. In that one, hitting F9 would generate the bare bones of an entire campaign setting. Including races, geography type (no maps, though), a pantheon type, and other niceties. It was pretty cool, and I played around with it a lot.

Zine Fiction

Ok, I have a question for those who read indie gaming zines. As you may know, I am working on the first issue of my own creation. I am down to needing two things: new magic items/tools, and fiction. I started writing the fiction, but now I am questioning what I have.

As a writer of fiction I have a natural inclination to write expanded opening exposition. I want to introduce the characters, give them some personality, and a reasonable motivation for embarking on the journey to come. The journey itself is the meat of the story, but the opening part seems important to me.

However, in a short piece, written for a zine like this, I am wondering if I should skip the opening exposition, and drop the characters into the Journey, giving details about them along the way as I can. In short, it seems that fiction like this is meant to illustrate a concept introduced earlier in the zine itself, so the journey is more important than characterization.

The question for you is, how much is too much? Should I have a long(ish) character exposition at the beginning, or should I just jump into the journey?

I'd really like some solid opinions on this, so feel free to pass this question around (or just share this post).


Friday, August 15, 2014

Character Death

Ok, I've never reacted like this, but I do get irritated.

When I game, I detest character death. As a GM I will help players find ways to avoid it if at all possible. And as a player, I will fight tooth and nail against it. That being said, it has happened. Although the last time was when someone else was running my character in my absence. But, that’s a whole different story.

Anyways, I see a lot of people in the OSR community talking about how character death was the norm “back in the day.” They use it as a way of nitpicking more recent editions of D&D and the options for players to stave off the death of a character. Especially in 5e, with the hit dice as healing, the death saves, and what have you.

When I see these arguments, I just roll my eyes. But, on a deeper level, it bothers me, and irritates me a lot. Because this attitude is indicative of another attitude: the Adversarial DM. These are DM’s who relish character death, and will construct adventures based solely on the idea of killing as many PC’s as possible without breaking or circumventing the rules. These are the jackholes who will lament “I only killed half the party last week. I need to try twice as hard this week.”

Back to the OSR guys bashing 5e, if I had a dollar for every time one of them stated something along the lines of “Kids these days got it easy” in regards to how “deadly” a particularly edition of D&D was…well, I’d probably be able to pay cash out-of-pocket for the 5e Monster Manual next week.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Too much games

I recently ordered a printing of Stars Without Number through Lulu, and it’s on its way. In the meantime, I am reading the PDF bit by bit, and I am really into the idea of running/playing (probably would rather play) a sci fi game.

Tied into this, I am working on a novel based on the premise of a sci fi/space opera universe that also has magic in certain areas. To simulate this, I could easily drop magic elements from D&D into SWN. Which is why I am looking at it instead of the awesomeness that is Star Frontiers.

Of course, if no one bites the whole blended universe idea, and would rather just do straight up sci fi, then SF would be my first choice.

But then there’s the fact that the 5e PHB comes out today. I certainly plan to buy it ASAP. I kept forgetting to pre-order it from my FLGS, so I will probably pay full price (for RPG stuff I prefer to support local stores instead of Amazon). Though they might give me a discount for being a member of their “frequent shoppers club” thing.

Anyways, the shiny newness of 5e has me still wanting to give it a full-blown play of high-fantasy adventure. However, with my group still in the final phases of a 3.5 game, it may be a while before we want to switch gears. Which may be a good thing, as it would probably allow us time to get ahold of the other two core 5e books as well.

And finally, there’s the ever-burning desire to play every game on my game shelf. Marvel Superheroes (or perhaps Mutants & Marvels), Dragon Age, Spycraft…the list goes on and on. Sometimes it’s difficult to be so RPG AD…oooh…shiny!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Reconsidering things

Over the course of the last few days I have had the opportunity to flip through the Oriental Adventures book, and read some choice sections. First of all, what a great book! So much information and creativity, packed in a relatively slim volume (by RPG standards). However, I noticed a couple of things that I hadn't before.

First off, if you are an experienced D&D player, and know the basic mechanics for AD&D, you could conceivably play with the OA book all by itself. It has a complete character section, with all that you need to know about character creation, including generating abilities, all of the races available, and all of the classes. Not to mention a complete monster section, and sections on aspects of an OA game that would be unique. Really, if I were running an AD&D Oriental Adventures campaign, I would bring this book, with the DMG and maybe some setting splat books for reference. And that would be it!

Another thing I noticed is the lack of artwork. I think that there may be a total of 15-20 pieces of art in the entire book. And a handful of those are actually borrowed from another resource, rather than drawn by the in-house artists of the day. The monster section is completely devoid of artwork. Not a single monster illustration.

This second part has me re-thinking my strategy for putting Life of Rage out. As you may recall, I am working on expanding the supplement I had previously published into a stand-alone retro-clone. Right now I have a few pieces of art that I have done myself. And I have a list of ideas for several more. But now I am thinking that I may not need that much more than I have. There are a couple of things that I definitely want, such as a nice, full-color cover image. But, for the rest I'm thinking of just letting my descriptions stand as they are.

If I decide to go that route, I am probably over 90% done with it. And that's kind of encouraging.

In semi-related news, I have been looking into doing the PoD option through RPGNow instead of Lulu for Mutants & Marvels. If I can figure out how to do the cover and get it uploaded, I will switch over to that method. And, if I can get it all worked out, it will pave the way for setting up the LoR book for the same treatment.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Zine-O-Morph Issue 1

My fanzine's first issue is about 75% complete. I've done the intro, the new monster, and the adventure. Now I need to write up some cool new items (magic and/or mundane), and do a short fiction related to the theme of "low level underdark" and all of the text will be finished. From there I need to put together a couple of pieces of artwork, including something that works as a color cover, and then edit it all together.

As always, artwork is my one stumbling block. I know I can probably do it myself, but I never feel like my art is good enough. However, I don't have many options in that regard, so I will just have to muscle through.

In other news, I recently scored copies of the Fiend Folio and Oriental Adventures books from 1st Edition, both in pristine condition, and both for $4 each. I'm really excited about those, especially the OA book. I have always loved Oriental settings, and this was a favorite of mine back in the day. I never got to really play in Kara-Tur, but I read a lot of the stuff related to it. I was also in a long-running campaign of L5R many years ago, and totally dug that (which was probably why I didn't mind the 3e OA book using Rokugen as the setting).

Flipping through that book has me thinking about 5e, and the possibility of a new OA sourcebook. The concensus among those that follow 5e's development is that it's probably not even on the horizon. And of course, because I am me, that sparked the idea of doing one myself. At least creating 5e compatible classes based on the OA book. I'll probably put that together at my leisure. And who knows, maybe if WotC releases some kind of OGL for 5e that would allow me to publish it, I can put it out on RPGNow. Either way, it'll be a fun exercise.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My thoughts on Experience

Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of debate and discussion about experience in D&D, particularly about what earns a character points.

One of the main traditional thoughts has always been that you get XP based on the monster you kill. There are various methodologies applied to that principle (like having the party split the XP, versus each member getting that set amount), but the basic notion remains the same. This is how I have always played, and until recently, I would never have even considered second-guessing that.

However, there are large swaths of gamers who contend that this sort of system promotes needless, and meta-gamey violence. Their thought is, with this logic, why would you not attack that random wild beast and thereby leave potential XP laying around? So, basically, they disregard or heavily modify a major rule of the game, based solely on the potential for abuse. I hate that. It’s a pet-peeve of mine.

Sure, there are always going to be those gamers who will attack anything with an XP value. These power-gamers (min-maxers, munchkins, etc.) are focused on “winning” D&D by getting to the highest level possible, as fast as possible. And of course, there will always be DMs who pander to that style of play (did I ever tell you about the DM who had us fight a brontosaurus, simply because it had a huge XP value? Needless to say, I never played with him beyond that one session). And if they enjoy that style, great for them! But, I would wager that these types of players are the exception rather than the rule. Most gamers I know only attack monsters/NPCs that their characters would logically attack.

However, another traditional view is getting XP based on the value of treasure found. This one I actually disagree with. And it has to do with how I define “Experience points.”

In my mind, Experience Points represent what your character learns through…wait for it…experience! When you fight and defeat a monster, your character learns a little bit from the encounter. He gains a bit in fighting ability simply by using it, and perhaps a bit of knowledge about his foe. And these bits of learning add up, thus you level when you gain enough “experience.” What does a character “learn” from finding a pile of gold?

The argument is always that he had to get past some obstacle to get to the treasure. Fair enough. But, why not give experience for bypassing the obstacle instead? If I have to kill a dragon to get his hoard, I should get XP for the dragon, not the gold. What if I walk into his lair, and he has left and gotten killed by a crusading knight leagues away? What have I learned from walking into a cave filled with treasure? What experience do I have to reflect on, making me a more seasoned adventurer?

My solution is Encounter-Based XP. The character gets experience by surviving to the end of an encounter. Whether that end comes at the tip of a sword, or at the end of a fine oration (or skill check), is irrelevant. Either way, the character did something worth reflecting on, and they learned something from the encounter. Thus, they get experience. Any treasure found is its own reward.

That’s just my thoughts. Obviously, many will probably disagree. But, if and when I run a D&D game, this is how I will do it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

5b Character

This guy!
Yesterday I rolled up my first character for 5b (Basic Rules) from scratch. Rather than use a printed character sheet, I decided to go all old-school and use a blank sheet of notebook paper. This was mainly in response to some complaints I have seen about 5e in general. The complaints arise from the "wall of text" that is the pregens and sample characters that come with the Starter Set, and the various previews.

I based my character on a miniature that I have had for a few years that was supposed to be my character for a 4e game that never came to pass. The character is wearing a hooded cloak, some kind of plated armor, and carrying a maul. So, I decided to make him a cleric, since I wanted to take another step away from the typical "fighter-type" that I usually play.

In short, the process was very simple and intuitive, and really, nothing seemed odd or particular complex to me. Well, I did have one quibble: The maul is a Martial weapon, so my cleric doesn't have proficiency with it. Still, with a 17 STR (he's human) he has a +3 to hit. Not bad for a 1st level character. Anyways, once I was done, I compared my resultant sheet to an old 2e character I had laying around from years and years ago, and the 5b sheet was more or less the same in complexity. The pregen sheets are obviously misleading to some people.

I think I'm really going to like playing 5e. That's a far cry from where I stood on it a couple of months ago. Now I just want the PHB to come out so I can see what the other races and classes look like.

Monday, July 21, 2014


As of this morning, I have already sold more copies of Mutants & Marvels than I expected. That is very cool! Hopefully some of those who buy it will have nice to things to say, and will actually say them at RPGNow (reviews!). I would love to hear what people actually think of it (good or bad).

In related news, I set up the game to print at, just so I could print a physical copy for myself without resorting to flimsy copy paper covers. And now I have decided to make that public. So, if you want a physical copy, you can order it through Lulu for the low price of $9.99 (see the link to the right).

Just be aware that the physical copy is 6"x9". I did a test print at that size and it looks fine. Making it bigger threatened to triple the costs.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It is finished.

Ok, after a lot of advice and encouragement, I stuck Mutants & Marvels out there. You can get your copy at RPGNow, for the low-low price of $4.99.

I'm both excited and nervous. This is my first stand-alone product.

Questioning my efforts

Probably one of my biggest faults as a game-designer is that I don’t think I am terribly original. And this makes me second-guess almost all of my efforts. Case in point, Mutants & Marvels.

As you no doubt know, M&M is a mash-up of TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes and the d20 mechanic. In order to create it, I basically took MSH, filed off any references to Marvel Comics and characters, and tore out the old, percentile-based mechanic, replacing it with a basic, d20 mechanic. In a nutshell, that’s it.

Two other efforts have done almost the exact same thing. And arguably, done it better.

Four Color (4C) is a direct clone of MSH. They also filed off any Marvel references, and re-skinned it into a generic supers RPG that works just like old one did (with very few modifications, as far as I can see). 4C is available for free, and has nice art and good production values.

Icons is a bit more ambitious. They recently published a comprehensive version, that is credited to one of the creators of Mutants & Masterminds. Now, they substituted a d6-based mechanic for the original. It’s a pretty complete game, and sells for about $10 on RPGNow, also with good art and production values.

One thing that both 4C and Icons did was to change the names of the Abilities and the descriptive words associated with the Ranks. In both, the Ability names used are simply synonyms for FASERIP. And in both, rather than using the scale of Feeble up through Unearthly (or beyond), they make the “words” secondary to the numeric values, and then list possible words to use if you like the descriptive feel of MSH (though in both, the original words are still listed as choices).

In Mutants & Marvels I kept both the FASERIP ability names, and the descriptive ranks from MSH. I noted them as Open Gaming Content on the OGL, but they are still there. And this has me questioning things. Did the writers of the other games change the names and words simply to differentiate their games from MSH? Or did they do so for legal reasons? It’s this second question that makes me sweat.

I have read and re-read the OGL, and I think the way I did it is perfectly legal, since the OGL is actually not designed specifically with any single game in mind. True, it is most often used for D&D and other d20 derivative works, but that is not specifically listed as a stipulation of the License. However, I’m not a lawyer.

As of right now, M&M is ready to go. I have done all the edits, made my final decisions on art and other original content, formatted the PDF, and am ready to just upload it to RPGNow. And here is where I falter. Because I’m afraid people will see it, and laugh at me for being a hack. Or worse yet, someone will file a Cease & Desist against me, forcing me to take it down.

I just don’t know what to do.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

More and more!

Here is the cover.
I had planned to publish Mutants & Marvels yesterday, but this week I have been adding a bunch of stuff, doing some overlooked edits, and writing a short, sample adventure to include.  Some of the edits shortened the page-count a bit, but then I added more stuff, and after the adventure is inserted, the whole thing might actually be closer to 45 pages.  Not too shabby, I say.

I also played around with Lulu yesterday, and I think I can get it published in print for pretty cheap.  So, while the PDF will be available through RPGNow for about $3.99 (though I might bump that a bit, since it is a stand-alone rather than a supplement like my other stuff), I may have the print version available through Lulu for just a bit more.

Speaking of Lulu, I set up my PDF of Stars Without Number as a hardback print, and it came out fairly cheap.  I used that as a way to learn how Lulu works, and it came out pretty nice.  So, I will probably be having that printed soon.

Has anyone played SWN?  I love the whole idea, and it looks pretty well-done.  I've been itching for some Sci-Fi gaming, but the only game I own is Star Frontiers.  Not that SF isn't made of awesome, but I would like some options.  You know, just in case I manage to get anyone else interested in playing...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Mutants & Marvels are coming!

I sent out a copy of my final product to a few people for some feedback the other day. Still waiting to hear back from a couple before I publish it. In the meantime, I re-wrote the Introduction page, removing all of the first-person nostalgia story, and making it a bit more like a real game intro. This freed up some space.

I decided to insert a concise description of the core mechanic. It occurred to me the other day that I never fully explained exactly how it worked. Granted, it's a pretty simple mechanic that has been used since the OGL came out in the early 2000's. But, it never hurts to spell it out so there is no confusion.

Graphically, I fixed some problems. I have also fixed the "vanishing leg" problem that D-Man was having in the colored image I posted last time. And lastly, I re-used that image inside for the "team" picture I mentioned before. I struggled for a long while over that picture, and it was getting too frustrating to deal with.

I think my only regret about this whole thing is that the picture of Diana on the cover is the only picture of a female hero in the entire thing. I'm considering working on some more art, and maybe getting some from outside sources. I'm also considering fleshing out the setting into an actual setting, rather than just the "framework" version I included. And maybe even writing a sample adventure. Then combining all of this into a Deluxe Edition of the game to be sold separately. Anyone who buys this edition will probably get a code to redeem for a discount on a Deluxe Edition.

Right now it weighs in at a slim 40 pages from cover to cover, with a price point of $3.99 most likely. I'm going to look into how much a printed copy from Lulu would cost at that page count. If nothing else, I'll probably get one made for myself.

Exciting times!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Got a cover image!

As of today, Mutants & Marvels has a cover with an original image.  That's a colored version of a commission I had done for my original character, Dynamo-Man, and my wife's character, Diana Cutthroat.  They were an item in the City of Heroes MMO.

Now all I need is an interior piece that illustrates something to do with a supergroup or team. I think I have an idea. I'll get to work on that ASAP. So, I would imagine that the final product will be up on RPGNow by the end of the week! YAY!

Monday, June 30, 2014

How to deal with smug players

My take on the whole idea that, if LotR were a D&D campaign, it could have all been avoided (seen in many web-comics a few years back):

DM: Tonight we begin the campaign to destroy the One Ring, and end the threat of Sauron…

Player 1 (Gandalf): Ok, here’s the plan. Gandalf calls on the king of the eagles for a ride to Mordor. Once there, he and Frodo will fly over Mount Doom, and drop the ring in, thus ending the war before it begins. *smiles smugly*

Players 2 through 9: *smiles smugly*

DM: Alright, great plan! *rolls some dice behind the DM screen* Unfortunately, Sauron has detected the presence of the Ring because it is getting closer, and he isn’t really distracted from looking for it yet, and has realized it is rapidly approaching. Seeing this, he deduces that your plan involves flight (because how else would that even be possible?), and immediately dispatches the Nazgul on their dragons to intercept. Roll for initiative. Oh, wait, only you, Gandalf and Frodo, since your plan didn’t involve anyone else coming along.

…15 minutes later…

DM: As the fourth Nazgul falls from the sky after your unrelenting magical assault, the other five rush in for a simultaneous attack. The eagle you are riding is hit ten times (one dragon missed all three attacks), taking a total of *rolls many dice, and does some quick math* 286 points of damage.

Player 1 (Gandalf): But that puts it at -20 hit points…it’s dead!

DM: Oh. Well, I was going to give you each a Reflex save to stay on the eagle, but that seems kinda pointless now, huh? And since neither of you have the ability to fly…and I assume Gandalf doesn’t have feather fall memorized?

Player 1 (Gandalf): …no.

DM: Right. So, you both plummet to the ground below, taking *rolls many dice, and does some more quick math* 125 hit points each.

Player 2 (Frodo): *looking dismayed* Frodo is dead…

Player 1 (Gandalf): So is Gandalf…

DM: Ouch. With a sickening crunch you both land amidst the orc army gathered around Orthanc. *rolls some dice* The good news is that you managed to kill seven orcs with your impact. Yay! Seven blows for the alliance of men and elves!

Players 1 through 9: …

DM: The bad news is, the Ring is found, and immediately taken to the Tower, where Sauron uses it to fully come to power, thus completing his quest for the domination of Middle-Earth.

Players 1 through 9: …

DM: *putting his stuff away* Great session, guys! So, who’s up for starting the supers campaign next week?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Zine-O-Morph Developments

The other night I did as I planned and sat down with Photoshop to design a logo. I did come up with a few options, so I ran them by the wife and we agreed on one of them. However, I’m going to look around for more interesting fonts, since I kind of had a specific look in mind when I started out, and nothing quite fits that. Of course, I could draw a logo free hand and go from there…

Anyways, the first issue was coming along nicely. I had almost the entire section on the new monster/race done. Then I went to the OSR forum I frequent, and mentioned in a thread that one guy’s question had inspired a huge project. His question was about Drow in Basic D&D, and I had offered a brief write-up, based on my own knowledge and experience, and it had got me to thinking. So, with that germ of an idea in mind, I had set about making the first issue of my Fanzine about the underdark, with a special focus on the Drow, using the B/X rules.

Well, I was informed that Labyrinth Lord already has a “basic era” entry for them. I was a bit crestfallen at first, but then realized that my effort was much more ambitious than LL’s. That being said, I didn’t want to just rehash things, so I switched gears. I yanked that entire section out, and began working on a completely new and (hopefully) original underdark race.

But, what to do with all of the effort I had put into my variation of the Drow? Why, offer it for free, of course! So, if you’re so inclined, you can download a copy here (and it will soon be linked on the My Products page above). I think it’s nicely formatted, and uses the classic Bill Willingham images we all know and love.

My mind is also looking at the future of the zine. Since this first issue is mainly about low-level fantasy, I thought I would switch gears for issue #2, and go Sci Fi. And what better take on that for an ex-grunt like me than Military Sci Fi? So, in a few months (or sooner, who knows?), issue #2 will hit with all kinds of goodies about running a military game.

The question is, what game? Each issue will be focused on the rules of a particular game or edition of a game. So, what Sci Fi game should I use as a foundation? I’m inclined to use Star Frontiers, since I’m familiar with it. But, there are already two excellent SF-themed zines out there (Frontier Explorer and Star Frontiersman), so I may look elsewhere. The problem is that I haven’t gotten to play any SF RPG’s in so long, I’m not sure where to go with it.

But, I have some time to think about it. First things first...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


That's the name of my RPG Fanzine. Why? Because I like it. And it kind of plays on several different genres and tropes, if you think too much about it.

Anyways, the first issue is underway. I have the basic layout and outline that each issue will follow, some idea of how the artwork will go, and am chugging along on the content. For an advance (I mean REALLY advance) peak inside, each issue will contain the following sections:

• Letter from the Editor
• Generic article that can be adapted to multiple Editions/Systems
• New monster/race/class for a specific Edition/System
• New Magic items/Spells/Technology
• Simple adventure using the new monster/race
• Short fiction related to genre theme

So far, the Letter from the Editor is done, and the New monster/race/class is done. I'm not ready to reveal what the theme is yet, but I think it will be interesting. I certainly had fun mining my personal knowledge and some resources for the content of the new monster section.

Tonight I will probably sit down with Photoshop and come up with a logo, and probably a standard cover layout. Something I'm toying with is the idea of using a different font for the cover of each issue. One that reflects the genre being focused on. Or, I might do that for the cover text, but leave the logo in a standard font.

I'm also considering putting in some kind of "ad space" for other indie publications. Other zines, products, etc., al free of charge. Not sure how I will work that, but I thought it would be a cool idea.

So, there you go. Zine-O-Morph is revving up!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Another Aspect of the OSR

There have been many debates and endless discussions regarding how one defines what the “OSR” actually is. For some it’s simply games published before [insert year here]. For others, it’s a style of play. But I have a theory.

OSR = Least expensive way to game possible.

I realized this as a possibility when I looked at my RPGNow sales report. I have a handful of titles out there. They range in price from $1 to $2.99 each. Generally, each one gets decent sales numbers during the first couple of months, then they fall off, and barely trickle in. Some go months without any movement.

The other day I put Hero’s Journey out there as a Pay What You Want, since I have it offered here as well for free download. Amazingly enough, in less than a week it has 80 downloads. That’s pretty cool. But of those 80, 7 actually paid the suggested price of $1.

Now, let me be clear, I am not complaining. Nor am I suggesting that 73 people owe me a buck. All I am saying is that, when it comes to RPG’s, gamers tend to go as cheap as possible. I know, because I do it myself. My RPGNow library is filled with tons of free stuff. However, I also make it a point of actually purchasing things when I can. And when I see a PWYW listing that sounds interesting, I try to pay something. If not the suggested price, than at least a couple of bucks.

I see more evidence of this line of reasoning when the topic of 5e (or any edition from 3e on) comes up. A large point of contention for many gamers, particularly those of the OSR bent, is the $50 per book price point on 5e. I can relate, since I have the same concerns.

Someone somewhere pointed out that, if you adjust for inflation and the physical quality of the book, $50 is pretty much right on the mark. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it will cost me $150 to have the core game. And yes, I know that when you buy from Amazon, or other online retailers, you could shave about 40% off of that. But, I also have a thing about buying from a FLGS whenever possible.

Most of these people who see the game as too expensive, also, coincidentally, see the game as “broken” somehow. It’s bloated with useless rules (the word “bloat” has now become a running joke on the forum); the artwork is too unrealistic/realistic/bland/colorful/whatever; the rules promote the use of minis too much/not enough; Etc., etc.

The bottom line is, I feel like a lot of people want to dislike it so they can justify not spending money to support the industry. Which is ironic, considering that those of us who have been playing for 30+ years (the core of the OSR demographic) have easily dropped over $1,000 each on gaming stuff.

Compare that to the car guy who drops hundreds on mods for his hot rod; or the sports guy who shells out hundreds every year on season tickets and memorabilia; or the outdoorsman who has a room filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in ski equipment, boating equipment, hiking and camping gear, or what have you. The bottom line is, hobbies are expensive. In the grand scheme of things, RPG’s are pretty cheap.

When I look at it that way, I actually kind of feel like a cheapskate bastard for not wanting to spend $150 over the course of 6 months to support an industry that has heavily influenced my entire life.

I’m still going to download the free stuff though. Because, free!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dimension Door Extreme!!!
A few different elements came together in my head suddenly and created a D&D campaign idea this morning.

As I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Stargate (the movie, the TV show, and the RPG). At our last D&D session, our characters, who are traipsing around the various levels of Perdition in search of an artifact, stepped through what was basically a fantasy version of a Stargate.

So, what if the party were part of a guild that had discovered a network of inter-dimensional portals, and their job was to go through these portals and find out what was on the other side? Find new or lost artifacts? Search for evidence of lost civilizations and gods? Find some kind of ally or weapon to help their home world fight off a demonic invasion?

The possibilities are pretty endless.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Lawful Evil
Obeys the law, but manipulates it for personal gain,
without regard for the consequences to others.
In recent weeks there have been a few discussions about Alignment in D&D. There are many different interpretations of how Alignment is supposed to work, and many of them are incompatible. This has even caused a lot of players to simply ignore Alignment. Personally, I don’t get this view. In my mind, it’s pretty simple: A character’s Alignment is there to provide a guideline to the player to how his character will act in any given situation.

When I was writing Hero’s Journey a while back, I put my thoughts down on paper, and codified them in the rules. To date, it’s still the explanation that makes the most sense to me. So, I am copying the Alignment section here, for reference.


Every character has a set of social values and a moral compass. Together, these two facets form the character’s Alignment, and define much about a character’s personality, and how they interact with the world around them. To define your character’s Alignment, choose one each from the following two categories:

Lawful – You believe Laws are meant to be obeyed, and you will not break them unless forced to, or given no alternative. You will seek justice against those who flaunt the law in any way you can.

Neutral – You believe Laws are generally good, but, as those who create them are fallible, every law must be weighed against its consequences, and can be summarily ignored if they do more harm than good.

Chaotic – You believe Laws are artificial constructs and should have no hold over the individual, if that individual does not agree with them. You will pay the Law lip service, but will ignore it if it interferes with your personal views or agenda.

Good – You value life, equality, and righteousness above all things. You tend to be cheerful and positive, look for the best in everyone, and will go out of your way to protect and help the weak and helpless.

Neutral – You believe all beings create their own fate, and that good and evil are just reflections of the individual’s views and actions. You will not harm unnecessarily, but you will usually not go out of your way to protect anyone but yourself.

Evil – You believe that your desires come first, and that you should be able to take and do whatever you can to achieve your own level of contentment. You often take joy in others’ pain, and will not endanger yourself to help others, unless there is a direct benefit for you to do so.

A character’s Alignment is mainly for background purposes. It is there to help a player define a character’s personality, and guide him in how the character will react in any given situation. However, certain actions, many of them Class-dependent, will be effected and/or limited by a character’s Alignment (particularly in the case of Priests). GM’s are encouraged to help players interpret their Alignment when a question of Moral or Social behavior comes into play.


By the way, Hero’s Journey is available free on the “My Products” page, linked above. If you’re so inclined, please take a look and let me know what you think. I may put it out on RPGNow as a PWYW document, just for kicks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Room for another Zine?

Today I discovered a new OSR-themed Zine at RPGNow called The Dragon Horde (it's currently on issue #2). It's a fun little zine, with a good variety of stuff. This, combined with Tim Shorts' periodical zine, The Manor, has me wondering if maybe I could do a simple little Zine of my own. Mine would probably be exclusively PDF, though if POD was an option, I'd surely be open to that.

Right now, it's just a germ of an idea. But I'm thinking a quarterly, or maybe bi-monthly schedule. Each issue would have a specific theme (fantasy, sword & sorcery, sci fi, etc.), and would contain a specific set of features, like new items, new monsters, a small adventure, and a generic-use article (not system/edition specific). I'd also consider adding in a small piece of orginal fiction to each issue.

I dunno. What do you guys think? I might do a single issue, just to see how it does, and if there is any interest in more issues. If nothing else, this could be a fun little creative exercise.