17 August 2017

Travelling In Style

In brief, my first exposure to Traveller was rather unimpressive. I'd been running OD&D in the 1970's for my friends but I've always loved science-fiction more than fantasy. Still do. There are lots of reasons but the fantasy novels I truly enjoyed were far fewer in number than sci-fi books I had on my bookshelf. So, when I became aware of the Traveller boxed set of rules I bought a copy right away. I pored over the books, designing a subsector and starting world, an interstellar government, a minimal history of present day Earth to the time when the campaign was to take place, and even alien races. Then?

Nothing.

Everyone was so gung ho over D&D I couldn't get a campaign going. I tried offering a few one-shots to get everyone interested but even that didn't work. I eventually quit trying and put all the books away, taking them off the shelf from time to time and sighing "if only." It would be a few years before I actually ran a game.

So ... How Did It Go? 


It was a lot of fun, but we were all learning and there were a few issues. It was enough to tell me I really liked the game in practice as well as theory and would run it over all others if given the choice. Anyway, I basically ran the '77 version of the game, with a few mods and house-rules.

As a game mechanic I really liked the range band based starship combat system, swiped from the '81 edition. Don't get me wrong! The grease-pencil using vector based system is really cool but not that easy to implement in a college dorm room with a make shift table.

I also used, after a time, the 12 additional "Other" classes from JTAS. They were pretty handy to have but rarely came into play.

No Third Imperium. As this setting didn't exist in the '77 edition, not having it didn't cause an issue with me. I was aware of it after a while, but I'd already established my own interstellar authority. The United Star Systems Alliance (yes I know, I was a college kid okay?) was a loose and rather contentious assembly of aligned systems. Much like the territories of the Old West, one could outrun trouble by staying on the move. Well, you could outrun for a while at least!

What I Liked About the Game


Besides the fact it was science-fiction and I really dug sci-fi?

Traveller has a great built in impetus to adventure. If you have a Merchant vessel, it's quite easy to get behind on payments if you only transport cargo and passengers. If you've been giving a Scout on detached duty, having the life support system flushed every week or two requires Credits, baby. The best way to get that kind of brass is to take side-jobs and ... oh, by the way? There is a someone whose fancy clothes and haughty air mark her as out of place in this seedy starport bar. She appears to really wish to speak with you and your band of misfits.

You can die in character generation. This is common knowledge now but, at the time, it was revolutionary. It also serves as a great balancing mechanism. Your PC gains skills with each term of service, but faces a chance of dying before ever getting to play. Even further, you may not get the skills you want. 

Combat is deadly. Unless you have a truly exceptional character there is a very real possibility the first shot you take in combat will kill you. So, you want to avoid combat as much as you can. When you do get in a fight you'll want to think tactically, striking from a position of strength with the best weapons and maneuvers you can muster. As opposed to D&D, your PC will not be tempted to go into a backwater town and shoot up the place ... if they're smart they won't anyway.

Sky's the limit. You could build virtually any world you wanted, wrapping your own backdrop around the world. An Imperium? A Federation? An evil galactic Empire? Didn't matter what you wanted, you could make it if you so desired.

30 July 2017

[Fiction] Awaken Online: Catharsis

What follows is a mini-review of author Travis Bagwell's "Awaken Online: Catharsis" (AOC) which is available on Amazon as both softcover and ebook. This review is written primarily from the standpoint of a reader and gamer and not as an editor.

Why? Well, speaking as an editor I must say this is definitely a first novel. The writing lacks polish and Bagwell makes some freshman errors in grammar and usage. So if one is a grammar pedant it may be wise to avoid this work for now. For the rest of us? I recommend you give the book a read.

A few days ago I was approached by a friends of Bagwell's, who enthusiastically recommended AOC to me. Right away her description of the books put me off:
It's about a virtual reality game that becomes almost like real life to its participants and eventually starts having an effect on the real world!
It's been done! And done, and done, and done ... She kept after me, eventually bringing me her personal copies of both books and again urging me to read them. Well? One simply cannot beat a free read so I decided to humor her and at least give the books a try.

What I found what a delightfully fresh take on the whole players confuse virtual reality with real life and an AI wants to rule the world scenario. The story revolves around a brilliant but limited by its creators artificial intelligence (AI) and details the AI's struggles to meet the goals assigned by its programmers. A second story line involves a player in the games, which is known as Awaken Online, who is an underdog in the real world but becomes a major player in the virtual.

Yes, there are Mary Sue elements to the story but the entire novel skews toward YA Fiction and is thus in good company (Eragon, Hunger Games, Twilight). This does not detract from some fresh ideas and rather entertaining story telling, both in the virtual game reality and weaving in real life elements and how the whole thing might actually work if the concept actually existed for us.

Further, one could really see the format used in this book as an excellent basis for a true D&D big screen film. It deftly weaves elements of the player's workaday world and artificial reality, with short interludes for dealing with game mechanics such as assigning attribute bonuses and increasing abilities when leveling up.

Bottom Line: Awaken Online: Catharsis and Awaken Online: Precipice are a refreshing take on a time-honored science fiction theme. Author Travis Bagwell is apparently set on writing a series of novel based upon this idea and has, so far, presented some very entertaining tales. Keep on eye on this author and I recommend this book to sci-fi readers, RPG'ers, and computer gamers.

29 July 2017

There Are No Bad Magic Items!


I was listening to three 2nd generation referees of D&D* discussing the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh editions of Basic D&D and Expert D&D (B/X) when a certain magic item came under discussion. The Helm of Telepathy description from the Basic rules is cited here (emphasis added):
Helm of Telepathy: This item looks like a fancy helmet. The wearer of this helm may read the thoughts of any creature within 90' by concentrating on that creature. To make the helm work, the wearer must concentrate on the creature and not move. The wearer will understand the creature's thoughts, and may "send" thoughts to the creature; however, the creature may refuse to respond.
For reference Holmes' Blue Book, an edition with which all three claimed to be familiar, states creature or characters. Going even further back, OD&D's Book II reads any creature. So the ridiculed part about any creatures is nothing new, though it is held up as such. Additionally, the jokes about how useless this was as a magic item went on for a full couple of minutes and included jokes about convincing a herd of docile bovines to wander off the road and stop blocking traffic.

Really? Let's set aside the observation sapient beings are creatures too. So making an attacking pack of wild dogs see their pack leader as a wounded deer or a bloody raw steak with your powers of telepathy doesn't sound useful? Making a hungry owlbear see an empty hallway as he searches for the hapless PC who disturbed his rest doesn't sound like a great idea?

Seriously?

I'd tell them the same thing I told a player who wished to play a thief-acrobat in my campaign. Yes, you absolutely can play an acrobat but understand something right up front. I do not write specifically to your tight-rope walking or tumbling skills. Finding a use for those is up to you. I set up the situation and you figure out how to get around it and get your thieving hands on the nice, shiny gold-pieces and gemstones at the end.

Your players will surprise you every time. Throw the gear you can't figure a use for into your dungeon anyway ... because they can! They will! As a referee I like creative play and I'll reward it accordingly. Don't allow your limited thinking to limit your players. You're only one person and there's a whole team of them.

-----
*meaning they started playing with Holmes or B/X but before 2nd edition. 

20 June 2017

Some Good Guidelines For Players

This is quoted (except for changing defendable to defensible and adding emphasis to item #1) from a post by user Scott Anderson on The Ruins of Murkhill forum. I'm no longer a big fan of forums and am not a member, but if you like them this seems to be a good one.


1. Always ask, "how do we get the loot without putting ourselves in much danger?" Loot is how you level; combat is how you die.

2. Always have a larger plan. You might be able to afford to build a castle at level 8 but who's going to actually build it? Who will man it? What peasants will support it? A random castle in the wilderness is worse than useless. It's a huge mausoleum.

3. Build up the towns you visit through industry and military power. Make them remember you by leaving a mark on their town.

Industry: build a work house. Like maybe there's clay nearby. You can hire a master potter from the nearby city to show the hapless sods how to throw clay pots, and then build a pottery factory. Or maybe invest in some looms and start a rag maker's shop. Something to improve the lot of the least among the townsfolk.

Military: spend some time with the men showing them how to fight. Introduce them to your gods. Offer to take them out adventuring nearby. And when you leave, give them a way to call out to you if they ever need your help. This will build you an army and make sure the town is safe when you return.

Family: if you are a boy character, take up with a maiden and have a baby. That will tie you and the town together in a way no mere physical connection can. Given enough down time, a lady character could make a baby and leave it with the dad in the same way.

If you plan to stay a while, finance a palisade around the town or at least a bailey. That way you will have a defensible position and the beginning of a fort or castle in the future.

All of these tasks can be completed in several different towns in order to establish a real territory.

4. Clear areas systematically. You will be able to build new frontier out of wilderness piece by piece.

5. Spend treasure to buy legitimacy. Titles and political favors are as valuable as military might.

6. Have stuff your guy wants, and tell the Ref he wants it. Then a good Ref will give you opportunities to find or earn those things. It makes things go easier for him to get input.

7. One of the very important things that all of this requires is adequate down time between adventures! Down time requires a calendar and regular time keeping. So if you want to have a real campaign, offer to take care of time, seasons, and weather for the Ref so he doesn't have to.

05 June 2017

North Texas RPG Convention Summary

NTRPG Con 2017 After-Action Report

North Texas RPG Convention (NTRPG) ran from June 1st to June 4th this year at the Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport Hotel. Herein follows a quick summary of the convention, from facilities to games.

Lawful

  • Frank Mentzer running the auction, which included some pretty hard-to-find items and a few unique collectables. 
  • A good variety of games and settings. 
  • A well thought-out schedule. Though, obviously, one couldn't play in every game? It was easy to get a good variety of experiences in. 
  • Easy access to D/FW Airport for those traveling from distant points. 
  • The K&KA Social rocked
  • So did AustinJimm's homebrew suds. 
  • Frank Mentzer spilling the beans on his next KS, an expansion (with map and gazetteer) to a certain well-known setting compatible with and expanding on a certain predatory bird with plumage that is neither white nor black but somewhere between. Many (so-called) OSR notables from the Old Guard will be in on the project and, yes ... Darlene herself will be drawing the map (see note above about predatory bird). 
  • Special hotel menu items that were reasonably priced and delivered right to your gaming table by dedicated serving wenches. No beer, though; you had to go buy your own and bring it to the table yourself. 
  • The restaurant had a nice variety of food items and drinks.

Neutral

  • Hotel was a bit on the pricey side, though I'll be the first to state their hospitality was commiserate with the price.
  • Not every room had a refrigerator, though I'm not clear why some did and others did not. 

Chaotic

  • One game I was in had switched venues from the location provided when I signed up and in the schedule booklet I was given when I checked in. The originally assigned table also had a copy of the sign up sheet in a stand up display, further telling me (and three others) this is where I was supposed to be. When we finally figured out what happened, the game was already in progress. I attempted to apologize to the Referee ... who cut me off and brusquely told me this change had been posted on the bulletin board so I should have known. Wait! So ... it's my fault? I didn't think an apology necessary for such a minor thing but I certainly neither expected nor appreciated the blame for something outside my control. 
  • In another game, one with only four player-characters signed up? Two of the players spent the whole time time complaining about their PC's "lack of combat skills" and refusing to take the even the slightest risk in attempting to complete the task we were given. The two also bickered incessantly with one another and eventually one got his knickers in a twist, packing up his gaming gear and storming off in a wee bit of a snit. Fortunately, the main objective had already been completed.
  • Young players. While I appreciate youthful enthusiasm? One young player had a strident voice with no "inside" volume setting. He also didn't understand the concept of waiting his turn. It made it difficult to hear the referee and, in turn, be heard when I tried to take an action. 

Tips For Future Attendees 

  • Dress in layers if you are touchy about ambient temperature. It varied from comfortable to a bit warm in one case to rather chilly in one other. It didn't bother me, but a few players were unhappy about it. 
  • If you're budget-minded but still want to attend? The Quality Inn next door or the Red Roof Inn across the street may be a bit more to your liking. Listed rates are approximately half of Westin's regular rate and well below even the convention pricing. Both are an easy walk away from Westin.
  • There is also a Denny's across the street, though the special $10 convention menu was a pretty good bargain; even compared to Denny's prices.
  • A convenience store is directly across the street with typical stock and a variety of soft and hard drinks.

03 March 2017

More Campaign Questions

I found this over at my online and real life friend Nathan Jenning's 'blog. More interesting questions to consider when creating a fantasy campaign.

Questions for Campaigns at Each Level of Scale


What is the name of this place?


Why
  1. Backstory
  2. Size
  3. Population
  4. Army and size
What race is in charge here? Really?

Do they speak common? Something else?

Is anything illegal?
  1. Weapons
  2. Magic
  3. Something odd or absurd?
Who is in charge? Really?

Secret societies? Cults?

Who is the wealthiest? Different from above? Really?

Stronghold?
  1. Motte & Baily
  2. Castle & Keep
  3. Curtain Walls
  4. Wood
  5. Stone
  6. Enchanted
What is the religion? Really?

Who is their cleric? Really?
  1. What are clerics?
  2. How do clerics work here?
Is this place for Law, Chaos or Neutrality?

Can we change alignment here?

Who is the most powerful?
  1. FM
  2. CL
  3. MU
  4. TH
  5. Dwarf
  6. Elf
  7. Hobbit
Who knows the most?
  1. Book knowledge
  2. Experience
Is there a:
  1. Tavern or Inn
  2. Stable or Livery
  3. Jail or Prison ... and who is in it?
  4. Church or Temple
  5. Bank
  6. Town or Guild Hall ... which guilds?
  7. School
Can we buy?
  1. Supplies
  2. Equipment
  3. Weapons or Armor
  4. Magic Items
  5. Transportation
Can we find?
  1. Healing or Potions
  2. Antidote
  3. Cures
  4. Raise Dead
  5. Curse or Remove Curse
  6. Lycanthropy Cure
Can we obtain hirelings? Retainers?

Where is the nearest treasure to recover?
  1. Is it legendary
  2. Will it make us famous
  3. Will it make us rich
Are there any problems around here?
  1. NPCs
  2. Monsters
  3. Will it make us famous
  4. Will it make us rich
  5. Will it make us landed
Is this place its own problem?
  1. Deception
  2. Intrigue
  3. Corruption
Does anyone need something done?
  1. Are they rich
  2. Powerful
  3. Will they pay: in kind, coin, land
Is this place at war?
  1. With whom
  2. How long
  3. Is it just
  4. Who is winning
Where is the nearest dragon? And hoard? Or any creature that:
  1. Petrifies
  2. Paralyzes
  3. Drains Energy
  4. Poisons
  5. Breathes a weapon
  6. Contagious condition
  7. Regenerates
  8. Enchants
How do PCs find out about these things? Rumors?

01 March 2017

[Review] How To Run A Kickstarter

Kick Starter (KS) has attracted various types of projects since its inception. Though there are folks who malign KS, deservedly so in a few cases, I would be the first to point out this a shortcoming of the format of KS offerings and the individuals behind those projects, not the KS folks themselves. I could spend a lot of time slamming certain notorious KS meltdowns, ranging from projects which began with good intentions but failed to deliver, to what appear to be outright confidence games intended to fleece people.

This is not a post about that, and I'd appreciate it if you would take discussions about such elsewhere.

Let me point out before I go further I've backed 9 KS projects:
  • I received the correct rewards for my level of patronage every time. Yes I did; every one, every time. 
  • The reward matched the description on the KS page.
  • All but one project delivered later than promised, but only one of those eight was delivered more than a month or two later than promised. 
  • In every case I received clear and (more importantly) believable communication from the responsible party or parties that (a) my project was late, (b) the reasons for the delay, and (c) a reasonable estimate of when I could expect my reward(s) to arrive. 
So, not a bad track record overall. I agree with KS in that I'm not buying a product so much as I'm supporting the development of a product. In light of my apparently unusual success with KS, what does it take to stand out from that crowd?

Douglas H. Cole and Gaming Ballistic LLC's Kickstarter Dungeon Grappling (DG). I was impressed on so many levels with how Cole conducted this project. I received constant communication about DG, fun things to read, my input/feedback was sought, and my e-mails were answered promptly (I sent two over the course of the KS campaign).

It wasn't just the communication. The product itself was exactly as advertised, save where backer feedback suggested changes the majority thought were a good idea. It was delivered on time and securely packaged to prevent damage to the product (I once received a badly damaged "collector's" version of a KS product due to the way it was packaged, no I won't tell you which one).

Now when the project is winding down? Cole is still seeking feedback. Are we happy with the product? What else would we like to see? Would we be interested in this semi-related product and here's what else the company has in the works. And, most importantly of all? Has everyone received all their rewards and are there any issues or problems with what they've received?

This is how to run a Kickstarter! Know your product, know your capabilities, know your audience. If the first 3 rules of a brick-n-mortar store are location, location, location then I'd say the first 3 rules of KS are communication, communication, communication!

Neither I, Cameron DuBeers, nor my Wobbly Goblin Press are employed by or affiliated with  Mr. Cole or Gaming Ballistic LLC. I'm just a gamer impressed to hell and gone by a well-run Kickstarter campaign.

12 January 2017

[REVIEW] Dungeon Grappling

Dungeon Grappling (DG) is written by Douglas H. Cole and published by Gaming Ballistic LLC. Neither myself, Cameron DuBeers, nor my company Wobbly Goblin Press, are associated with either Douglas Cole or Gaming Ballistic in any way beyond backing the Dungeon Grappling Kickstarter. This review is based upon the first PDF release available to KS Backers only. Gaming Ballistic is currently accepting pre-orders [here] (link updated).

I never had the opportunity to read the 'zine article DG grew out of, so I cannot directly address any differences between the two. I will say DG includes a nice introduction to grappling and what it means to your campaign. Also a nice part of the presentation is the body of text, artwork and background art are all divided into layers. Artwork and background can be turned off, leaving the just the text for easier reading and printing. Not that the two are intrusive in any, I found the presentation of the material to be well done, but I personally like plain text for reading on the computer screen.

The actual game play mechanics are logically divided into three sections: Core Concepts, Grappling Effects, and Monstrous Grappling. Also included at the back of the book are an exhaustive Index and a summary of the rules in the form of two reference sheets. The latter will be helpful when conducting grappling in a referee's own campaign, particularly the first few times these new concepts are employed.

As advertised, Dungeon Grappling presents a system adaptable to most FRPG games, particularly those emulating pre-1983 rules sets. Rules for the different gaming systems are presented with the correct terminology and level of detail, leading me to believe Mr. Cole is either adept at all these systems or had plenty of editorial assistance writing those sections.

One aspect of the game I particularly like is the division of player-character and monster grappling. This section also includes example monsters with statistics and combat examples specific to 5E, S&W: Complete, and Pathfinder.

So, how do the rules work? For S&W they work great. I found them easy to adjudicate, adaptable to the fluidity of combat, and producing consistent results. I ran several scenarios including one on one, one versus two, and five smaller opponents versus a larger, stronger opponent. The rules handled each situation without a lot of paging through the rules or having to guess how to proceed.

Conclusion? I will be incorporating these rules into my S&W based campaign rules. Is there any better praise for a work of this type?

Summary: presentation, coherency of rules, ease of use; all get top scores. This product is highly recommended for your home campaign.