Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The other day I came across this fan site that is putting together a 40 minute film titled Hunt for Gollum. They have two trailers up, and the release date is May 3rd. This actually looks very good, and is worth checking out.
Monday, April 27, 2009
This was once a formal sitting room, which included a grand piano and was used to entertain guests. Now the furniture is in terrible shape and the piano is a broken wreck in the corner of the room. A hobgoblin sergeant makes his home here, and holds his own sort of entertainment in this room. There is a bedroll in the corner that serves as a bed for the hobgoblin.
1 hobgoblin sergeant. AC 16 (buckler), HD2, HP16, Dam 1d8 (Masterwork long sword) or 1d6 (light crossbow)
There is a 25% chance that there will also be a female hobgoblin in the room.
1 hobgoblin (F). AC 13, HD1, HP4, Dam 1d6 (short sword) or1d4 (dagger)
Treasure: There is a small chest (Hardness 5, HP 10) in the room that is locked (pick locks: DC 14, CL2). The key is on the body of the sergeant hobgoblin and contains 1d12 gold.
Once all the goblins on the surface level have been defeated, an orc band will move in, and an orc sergeant will take up residence here.
Once Paizo has finished with their Legacy of Fire series I will post my more in depth product review. However, I will say that they are very attractive looking books, and their art director Sarah Robinson has done an amazing job. By far, this series is one of the best looking RPG products on the market.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
When I played my first game, the dungeon entry way was a portal into another world, in which all things were possible. Outside the dungeon was a fictional historical European environment. In that first campaign, we did not spend a lot of time exploring outside the dungeon. The game existence was the dungeon for all practical purposes.
This leads to an idea that outside the dungeon is rather, dare I say, dull and routine, and perhaps even a bit of a grind. The monsters, magic, treasure and other out of the ordinary experiences all existed inside the dungeon. It is this concept of transition from normal to supernatural that exists in the entry way of a dungeon that I find to be very powerful imagery. Once we pass from outside to inside, we leave the natural behind, and anything can happen once we have past the threshhold. It is the wardrobe of the game that separates the rather dull to the exciting.
That was in the old days. In the current times, this has been dropped, as we have turned to world building in which even the outside of the dungeons have become fantasy worlds where the supernatural also exists. I often wonder in our attempt to create a world, are we losing this powerful symbolism of the dungeon entrance?
I think there is a natural urge to world build and give our creations context for existence. Once could argue that when one steps into the game as a whole, one is escaping the current reality and entering a world that offers something exciting. Gaming should be fun, and should offer a entertainment right from the start, and I agree with all that. However, with this methodology, we lose that stark contrast that the dungeon mouth represents. As the treasure hunting adventurers enter the dungeon, they are entering into a place that is far more dangerous and exciting than exists back in the home town.
I suspect that my initial experience in D&D is similar to that of others that began around 1980. The adventures centered around the dungeon, and the goal was to get there as fast as possible, as that was really the point of the game. As time went by, the experience rapidly moved away from the dungeon and expanded like a genesis device to populate an entire area and eventually the entire world.
This goes back to my comment yesterday about magic. Initially, magic was only found in the dungeon. Now, the concept of a magic shop is a fairly well used idea, and can be found in almost every adventure that has a significant sized town. With magic becoming widely available, I would argue that it has lost some of its magic and become a bit mundane. If one has enough gold, why even bother going to the dungeon at all? Just go to the local store, grab a cart and start shopping. I think we are losing something here.
Now I realize that the ship may have left this pier many years ago, and I think in some ways some of the magic has also left. The unknown isn’t really unknown any more. Where once someone may have thought the drow were cool and mysterious because no one really knew much about them, contrast that to now where they mainstream and very well known, even by non-players.
I think this is one of the major reasons why I love the dungeons. There is still a bit of uncertainty about what lies in them. There is still excitement walking down a long hallway, wondering what traps lie up ahead. Finding that room in which an ancient tomes hint at something powerful is waiting a few levels down. Knowing that character survival is a precious thing and that luck favors the well prepared.
But, it is that dungeon entrance, that portal into darkness that symbolizes the transition from the dull real world to that which is magically supernatural, that holds special interest for me.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Earlier in the week, I was flipping through FFG’s website and I noticed a new release of their excellent Descent game. They plan to publish a Quest Compendium, which will be a collection of scenarios written by some well known names in the industry, including Monte Cook and Keith Baker.
I am a fan of the game, but I realize that it is a bit limited in that the characters are pre-made and there is limited growth opportunity. It plays a bit like a miniature game as a result. With all that said, it is still a fun game that provides an evening of dungeon crawling, and can serve as an introduction to more complex games.
In thinking about Descent, I have come to realize that of all the D&D adventures out there, I really like the big dungeons. The murder mysteries are fun, and the outdoor quests are interesting, and the small side dungeons or a ruined building are kinda neat, but what I like is the big multi-level dungeons with a castle ruin sitting on top. I like playing them, I like reading them, and I like refereeing them. There is just something about a big dungeon that resonates well with me. I remember the first time I played, and I was exploring a dungeon. It was the excitement of exploring knowing that something cool was right around the corner.
This brings me to the topic of magic. I am not a big fan of the well stocked magic store. The dungeon should be well stocked, but not the store. The idea that one can go into a store and buy all sorts of magic items, takes a bit of the mystique away. Dungeons should have a good assortment of magic items that are found frequent enough to keep the players engaged and wanting more. Magic serves as the ultimate reward for exploration. By putting magic in a shop, or allowing characters to create magic, takes some of the luster away. The magic does not glitter like magic should. The dungeon should be the place to find the magic, as it represents a descent into a realm where anything is possible, with luck finding favor with the well prepared.
I have a couple of additional ideas on this theme that I think I will post tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
6. Ruined blacksmith shop
The first building in this section is the ruined blacksmith shop. The door is torn of the hinges, and the shop itself shows signs of significant fire damage. The building is still recognizable as a blacksmith shop, but just barely. Other than damaged tools and wrecked forge, there is nothing else of value here.
7. Storage area.
The middle building was once a storage area which serviced both the stables and the blacksmith shop. Surprisingly enough, this section has survived and is in good shape. The crates and barrels are broken, but the area itself is in good shape. There are a number of dry goods here, which is clearly attracting vermin. A medium sized centipede is currently crawling through the barrels, and will attack if disturbed.
Medium Centipede. AC 14, HD1, HP4, #Att 1, Dam 1d4+ poison
If the characters defeat the centipede, another vermin type will move in to feed upon the dry stores that are still present in this room.
This was once the stables, and is now being used as kennels for the Bestial Host. As long as the Bestial Host is present in the surface level of the keep, there will be wardogs present here. Use normal wolf stats to represent the wardogs.
1d6 Wardogs (wolves). AC 13, HD 2, HP4, #Att 1, Bite - Dam 1d8, SA trip attack
Once the Bestial Host is defeated, a giant spider will move in and make its lair here.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
So it beings…
“A whirring noise was heard. A red light touched the points of standing rocks. The dragon came.” The Hobbit
I read Beowulf today, so it seems only appropriate that I review a product with dragons in it. It has been written somewhere, that products that center around dragons sell better than any other products. Folks love dragons. It’s in the name, and I can safely say that I fall into this category.
The mythology of dragons has been with us a long time. Earlier today, I was thinking that there are two basic types of dragon mythology, the western dragon and the eastern dragon. Being in China, this is how I am thinking about them. I just flipped through to Wikipedia and here is what they said:
The dragon is a legendary creature with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits that features in the myths of many cultures. The two most familiar interpretations of dragons are European dragons, derived from various European folk traditions, and the unrelated Oriental dragons, derived from the Chinese dragon.
I remember when I first saw the 1st edition MM, I flipped right to the section on dragons. Since that time, whenever I see a new MM, the dragon section is always one of the first sections I go to. Now I will be the first to admit that we probably do not really need any books that are focused solely on dragons. The 3rd ed Draconomicon was an excellent resource for all things draconic. It had fluff, it had crunch, it had new classes, it had art work by Todd Lockwood, and it was probably a bit too much.
So what does Paizo’s Dragons Revisited have to offer that has not been already covered? Well, let’s get into it.
The layout is exactly like Paizo’s earlier Classic Monsters Revisited. The book covers the classic ten dragons, giving each dragon a six page spread with a sample dragon at the end of each section. The first page of each section has a half page art work of the dragon followed by an inspirational quote to build up the theme of the dragon.
Let me first say that the artwork is very good. Paizo has given each dragon a different look than the 3.5 edition imaging. If one is a big fan of the 3.5 look, then one may not like the new dragon looks of Paizo's dragons. I will be the first to say that when it comes to dragons, the art work is even more important. The dragon is such an iconic figure in fantasy lore, they need to measure up to these lofty standards. The dragons by Todd Lockwood clearly do, and the other artist that Wizards employed try to measure up to his high standards, which is no easy task. Paizo makes liberal use of Hou, Wooten and Concept Art House, and these artists are also very good, but the dragons look different than what one sees in the books by WotC.
With this said, there are a number of great pieces in the book and I will list out a couple that stick out in my mind:
1. The black dragons on page 3 and page 6 are excellent, and I think I like these better than the 3.5 edition black dragon.
2. The blue dragon on page 10. Paizo blue dragon is a sleek beast compared to WotC's chunky blue rhinoceros dragon (not that there is anything wrong with rhinos).
3. The bronze dragon on page 22 attacking the shark is a very evocative piece.
4. The art piece on page 46 captures the fury of the red dragon unleashed.
5. I really like piece on page 58, with a frost giant attacking a white dragon, while another one gets ready to join the combat.
It is important to note that this is a fluff book. Outside the sample dragons at the end of each section, the rest is fluff, which is done by design. The intent of the “Revisited’ series is to provide a new spin on classic creatures, which the emphasis on fluff rather than crunch. Upon reading through the write ups, I would say that Paizo has aligned most of the commonly held dragon themes together, and there are very few surprises contained inside. That is not to say that the write ups were predictable or unimaginative, but they captured commonly held canon, and expanded on these ideas a bit, with a Golarion theme woven throughout. Even if one is not using the Pathfinder’s universe, the book is still quite usable. By removing the crunch, Paizo has made the book usable for all editions of play, which I applaud them for. The content was very enjoyable to read through, and although most of the ideas were familiar to me, I still found them interesting and engaging. Perhaps my favorite write up was the crafty and manipulative blue dragon, which happens to be one of my favorite of the evil dragons.
To conclude, do we need another fluff book on dragons? No, probably not. However, Paizo has done a nice job in packaging this one, that I think will appeal to all the folks out there that just like dragons, which still seems to be a considerable number of folks. Do I think this one will sell well? Yes I do. It’s a nice book just to flip through, if you are just looking for some ideas on how to make a dragon interesting. While the Draconomicon maybe a more exhaustive tome, Paizo’s version is more of a reader’s digest version, and sometimes that is all one really needs anyway.
Rating: 4 Dragons (on a scale of 5)
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Originally the keep had four main defense turrets, however now only the two northern ones still stand. The southern two towers are now a mountain of rubble, and serve as a grim reminder of the tragedy that has befallen the keep. The two towers that still stand are very similar in construction. Each has four levels including the roof and ground levels. The first level was a general storage area, the second was the main barracks, and the third level served as a common area, as well as the command post for the turret’s defense. The roof was a look out area, and the remains of several ballista still exist on there. The levels are connected by a series of ladder ways.
3. Western defense turret.
1 Medium spider. AC 15, HD3, HP15, Dam 1d6 (bite + poison)
Treasure: 1d12 gold
4 skeletons. AC 13, HD1, HP6, Dam 1d6 (short swords)
2 gargoyles. AC 16, HD5, HP25, #Att 4, Dam: claw (x2) 1d3, bite 1d6, gore 1d4.
This tower serves as a base of operation for the Bestial Host, with a number of goblinoids taking up residence here. The Bestial Host avoids the Western Tower as the spider that lurks there is rather well known . This series of encounters will probably turn into a rolling combat as once the tower is alerted, the bugbear captain will give the order for a mass attack.
4 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)
Treasure: 1d4 silver pieces on each goblin
B. Second level. This is home to a “team” of five hobgoblins. They are currently engaged in a game of dice, unless they one of the goblins from below comes up to give warning.
5 hobgoblins. AC 15, HD1, HP6, Dam 1d8 (long sword)
Treasure: 2d10 gold
C. Third level. This is where the bugbear captain can usually be found. If he hears combat coming from the floor below, he will go investigate.
1 Bugbear. AC 17, HD3, HP15, Dam 1d10 (master worked bastard sword)
4 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)
Treasure: There is a small chest in the corner, which the bugbear keeps a potion of cure light wounds along with 1d8 gold. The chest is locked, and the key can be found on the bugbear.
D. Roof. On the roof are the tower lookouts. For the most part the two goblins try to remain out of sight, and do not engage in the combat below. If encountered on the roof, they will attempt to flee by climbing down the tower. As they have done this a number of times, they know exactly how to do this quickly, and it should be considered as normal movement.
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword) or 1d6 (light crossbow)
Treasure: 1d4 silver pieces on each goblin
Friday, April 17, 2009
For the weekend, I will update Chordille Keep and also squeeze in a product review.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
His post could not have come at a better time, as I am thinking about buying some Dwarven Forge terrain for use in creating a visual dungeon. Dwarven Forge is both beautiful and expensive. At almost $100 a set, it adds up quickly. In a sense, Dwarven Forge is Legos for gamers. Without a doubt, it’s cool stuff, and the eye candy factor is very high.
So the question for me is it worth the cost, will I use it, and will it add to my game play experience. Adding props to the game help anchor the game experience and provides context for the players to interact with. I have always maintained that D&D is a shared experience. In order for it to qualify as a shared experience, there has to be some commonality in the experience otherwise you have a bunch of folks just doing their own thing, and it is totally disconnected. This would not meet my definition of a shared experience.
But, I agree with some of the premise. The table top D&D DDI that Wizards was working on did not hold appeal for me. The idea was that one could use the digital tabletop to connect to folks virtually and use it as a game aid. What I saw was basically a computer generated version of their miniatures on their cardboard tiles. While I agree that using miniatures is helpful, especially in combat, I am not convinced that Wizard’s miniature lineup is the best, and if I am looking at a computer screen, I definitely want it to look better than that. In short, their eye candy was poor.
As a wargamer, I enjoy playing with games that are very attractive to look at. For example, playing Warhammer/Warhammer 40K with fully painted miniatures is very impressive, and that does add to the game play. In short, its eye candy. FFG’s board games, like Descent and War of the Ring, are very attractive due to their game pieces. For the more traditional wargames, counters that are colorful and that are played on well done maps are more enjoyable than wargames that look cheaply put together.
So back to the original question, how much is too much? I believe that you need some props to get alignment on what is going on. I have been in a number of games where the DM is trying to explain what is going on, and finally just has to draw it out, as it cannot be explained well. I do believe that the plain battle mat is great, as one can quickly draw out the room, and alignment is gained very quickly.
One of the things that I do not like about 4th ed is the heavy reliance on battle mat, due to the way the mechanics are set up. A lot of the powers and feats are tied directly to the battle mat. The battle mat goes from being a tool to tell the story to a required center piece of the game. To me, this turns the game into a miniatures battle game, not that there is anything wrong with a miniature battles game, as I like pushing the lead around as the next person, but this is different game.
When I first started playing D&D, I always thought about creating a 3-D dungeon, as I thought that would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Without a doubt, seeing a 3-D dungeon actually all lined up is eye candy. But does it add to the game, or does it detract with the flow as one is constantly adding rooms and shuffling around pieces as the characters make their way through the dungeon? At this point, I am not sure.
I am still tempted to buy a couple of sets and see how it works out. It feels like for mega-dungeon crawling, Dwarven Forge would be perfect and would add to the game. But would it then feel like a miniatures game with the players just pushing their miniature through the maze of the terrain? In any event, it would look impressive, but is it really just a white elephant that looks better on someone else’s tabletop?
Well I have another month or two to ponder this, before I am back in the states.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Overview: The old path leads up to the main keep entrance. Once this was a grand entry way, but now it lies in ruins. The main entranceway shows considerable amounts of fire damage, and the main doors are just charred remnants, hanging loosely in what remains of the hinges. As one creeps closer, one can see murder holes in the ceiling above.
A. Lower guard Chamber. This chamber has pieces of debris lying all about, but is otherwise empty except for the trap. The trap is cleverly hidden in the wood and rubble that lies throughout the room. On subsequent revisits, the trap will be reset by the Bestial Host.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
As a final note, for the monsters, I will be using the C&C stat block with a couple of 3rd edition items thrown in to made it easy to convert to Pathfinder/3rd or an earlier version.
Easter is a good time to take care of the spiritual side of things. I love posting on game stuff, and I probably spend way too much time doing it, when I should be doing work or other stuff. This is a good day to reflect on the bigger picture of life.
Overview: The path leads past two guard towers to the ruined keep. Both show signs of fire damage, but otherwise seem to be in fair shape. These towers are very similar to each other as they are two story towers with a common area on the first level a barracks on the second level, and a roof level. The second level has are arrow slits (4 per side), but the ground floor does not. There are hatches and ladders that lead between levels. The doors to the towers are re-enforced wooden doors with a hardness of 5, and 20 hps, and can be locked from the inside (pick locks CL +2, DC 15).
A. West tower. The west tower is empty when initially encountered.
B. East tower. The east tower is occupied by 6 goblins and one sergeant hobgoblin from the bestial host. There are two goblins on each level of the tower, with the sergeant on the second level. The two goblins on the roof are the lookouts to the tower, as the other inhabitants are either sleeping or playing some sort of goblin game with cards or abusing a small rat that they have captured. The lookouts on the roof are less than professional in their duties, and it is possible to sneak up on them, without being seen.
6 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword) or 1d6 (light crossbow)
1 hobgoblin sergeant. AC 16 (buckler), HD2, HP16, Dam 1d8 (long sword) or 1d6 (light crossbow)
Treasure: The goblins have a total of 1d12 gold equivalent and the hobgoblin has 1d6 gold equivalent.
General tactics: The goblins are cowardly foes, and the two on the roof of the east tower will not engage foes unless it looks like they are headed to the keep, and which point they will fire from the protection of the roof ramparts. If they take fire back, they will sound the alarm. Once the alarm is sounded, the two goblins and the hobgoblin on the second floor will open fire through arrow slits. The goblins on the ground floor will guard the main door.
Revisits: Upon subsequent revisits to the keep, the bestial host will station goblin guards in one or both towers, led by a hobgoblin sergeant. Once the characters have revisited the keep and defeated the goblins three times, there will be no further guards stationed at the towers, and instead roll for a random monsters. . On subsequent visits, if the doors were destroyed, they will be replaced by a simple wooden door with a hardness of 2, and 10 hps and will not possess a lock. After the third visit, the doors will not be replaced.
Note: For the write ups, I will be using the C&C monster stats to keep things simple, and to allow for easy conversion into other systems.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
This will be a ongoing series of blogs on my Chordille Keep map. First up, the wandering monster charts.
1 – No encounter
2 – Wolf pack (1-6 wolves) or Worg + wolf pack (higher level party)
3 – 1d6 Goblins or 1d6 ratlings (see Ptolus Bestiary)
4 – 1 Ogre or 1 owlbear
5 – 1 Red dragon wrymling, unique encounter. Once defeated, this turns into a “No encounter” result
6 – Evinarus (Male Elf/ Rogue 2) unique encounter, once encountered, this turns in to a “No encounter” result
7 – Ghoul pack (1d4 ghouls or ghast + 1d4 ghouls (higher level party) - night only otherwise no encounter
8 – Rodents (1d6 rats or rat swarm)
9 – 1d4 Stirges or 1d4 Nightmare bats (Pathfinder module D2)
10 – 1d4 Vermin (beetles, centipedes, scorpions or spiders)
11 – 1d4 Red Kobolds hunting party on dire weasels
12 - No encounter
Notes on Wandering Monster Chart
A. For more than 6 characters increase the monster groups by one die size (ie change 1d4 to 1d6, change 1d6 to 1d8, etc)
B. Red dragon wyrmling – A small red dragon has been seen in the area, and it is rumored that it is the spawn of Metterak
C. Evinarus – See bonus encounters at Dungeon-a-day.com
D. Nightmare bats – These were summoned by a wizard long ago, and still hunt in the area.
E. Red Kobolds – This is a band of kobolds that are descended from a red dragon. The scouts can been seen mounted on dire weasels and patrol the area around the keep. I really like the idea that kobolds are related to dragons and have dragon blood in them. When AD&D was released, they were pictured with dog like heads, and over time they have morphed to lizard like creatures that are related to dragons. By making kobolds related to dragons, then we can do fun things like give them wings and breathweapons, which really just makes my day. Obviously I am a big fan of this, and I will be linking the kobolds to Metterak.
I initially created the keep using MS Excel. I adjusted the cells to about 21 pixels a side which gave a good square size in which to build on. For the most part, Excel has a number of options that allow for drawing a keep or dungeon. I tried to use the cell border function to the maximum extent that I could, and then used drawing shapes and lines to connect everything together.
Once I had this done, I copied it as a bitmap into PowerPoint. I wanted to keep the grid formatting from Excel, and the bitmap gave me this look. Once in PowerPoint, I added a bit of color and the numbers. The new MS Office suite allows one to save documents in PDF, which is a great function, so one I was done in PowerPoint, I saved it as a PDF.
Overall I was happy with how it turned out. Next time, I am going to play with the colors a bit more. As I mentioned in my previous blog, there is a dungeon contest, and I am looking forward to apply this technique and see what I can create. Once I have submitted it, I will post it on the site.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
(October 1, 1947 – April 7, 2009)
By now word has spread, and I think most have heard the news. The message boards and personal blogs with messages in tribute to Dave and offering support for his family are starting to pop up. The outpouring of support and kind words for Dave are truly inspiring, and I think the fan base recognizes and appreciates the contribution that Dave made over his life.
I never had a chance to meet him, and I am a bit saddened by this. As a co-founder of a hobby that probably has consumed more of my free time than any other hobby, I would have liked to have had met him. While Gary seemed to be at the front of the hobby, Dave was the unsung hero behind the scenes. He was a primary creative force behind the creation of the game, and without him, Gary probably would not have pulled it all together. His Blackmoor campaign was the truly the first campaign and existed before the game, and my understanding is that he was playing it until just recently, which probably makes it the longest running as well as the oldest campaign.
I sometimes ponder a bit about what those early days were like, when it was just an idea that was shared with a small group of folks. Who could have predicted that this idea of theirs would travel around the world and sell millions of copies. It is amazing to think that it started with a print run of 500 which sold in three months. The time was ripe for their idea to gain traction and it did.
Over the past day or so, I have been reading the various tributes, and I went over to Wikipedia to look his legacy and it is quite a list. I have enclosed it below as a reminder of what he gave us:
Dungeons & Dragons (1974) (with Gary Gygax)
Dungeonmaster's Index (1977)
The First Fantasy Campaign (1977)
Adventures in Fantasy (1979) (with Richard L. Snider)
Robert Asprin's Thieves' World (1981) (co-author)
Citybook II - Port o' Call (1984) (co-author)
Adventures in Blackmoor (D&D Module:DA1) (1986) (with David J. Ritchie)
Temple of the Frog (D&D Module:DA2) (1986) (with David J. Ritchie)
City of the Gods (D&D Module:DA3) (1987) (with David J. Ritchie)
The Case of the Pacific Clipper (1991)
The Haunted Lighthouse (Dungeon Crawl Classics Module #3.5) (2003)
Dave Arneson's Blackmoor (2004) (lead designer)
Player's Guide to Blackmoor (2006)
To Dave, I thank you for all the hours of fun that you gave me in this game that you created. You shall not be forgotten.
Rest in Peace.
Steve’s depth of knowledge on sword and sorcery, high fantasy, science fiction, mythology and film was nothing short of amazing. His ability to weave multiples sources around a single theme was truly a unique talent that few possess. He could wield the quill like the heroes of old could wield their great axes. It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and the way he crafted his trade, left no doubt as to the caliber of writer that he was.
While the main thrust of The Cimmerian was to support the works of Robert Howard, Steve made it a point to champion numerous authors like Martin, Tolkien and Lovecraft, just to name a few. My favorite of his essays were the ones on Tolkien, as I count myself as a huge fan of the late professor, and one of my greatest disappointments will be that I will never get a chance to hear Tolkien speak on mythology and his more famous works. It is my belief that Tolkien was a very special author, and know that Steve was firmly in this camp as well. His essays on Middle Earth are just stunning, and really bring out the brilliance that was embedded in his works. Steve’s ability to turn a phrase and bring in an unexpected reference was just a thing of beauty.
The tag line for The Crimmerian web site is, “A website and shieldwall for Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Best in Heroic Fantasy, Horror and Historical Adventure.” I would argue that Steve was the anchor of that shieldwall. All the bloggers that log their craft there are very talented, but Steve just took it to another level. That is not a slight to folks like Brian and Leo, but rather just shows just how impressive Steve was.
Some of his more recent essays that I enjoyed are as follows:
1) An Early, Albeit Pagan, Christmas in the Old North
2) Lonely Mountain, Crowded Expectations; Or, Prelude as Successor
4) Glaurung and Smaug Make Room for Fafnir
Several of the bloggers at The Crimmerian had wrote tributes to Steve and I will link them here, as they are very good.
Brian Murphy: Bidding farewell to the heroic heart of Steve Tompkins
Duece Richardson: His Like Will Not Be Here Again
As a final thought, the figures in heroic fantasy are always a bit larger than life. Their epic tales are a bard’s dream come true when it comes to weaving yarn to delight all within ear shot. Some of the heroes are tragic, and it is what allows us to identify with them, as not everything goes our way in life. The storm will come, and it is through this storm that character is made. There are a number of us that recognize this and see the human elements in these stories, which is why we keep coming back to them. Steve recognized the inherit value in these stories and made it a passion to express this through his writing.
Here is hoping that even as I write this, you will be swapping bardic tales with those that have gone before you. We will miss you.
A short note from Monte on his Dungeon-a-Day project:
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Paizo Gives PDFs Some Love: 35% Off!
We at Paizo Publishing understand how important PDFs have become to most roleplaying gamers. We know that PDFs allow you to easily carry around a large library of books on your laptop, PDA, or cell phone. We know that PDFs are great for searching for that piece of obscure information. We know that PDFs are a great way to keep out-of-print products available. And we know that PDFs provide a great way to check out new products.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Apparently I have been living under a rock for the past 12 hours or so, because I just received an email from Paizo telling me that Wizards is halting their sales of PDF’s, and that I should buy them now otherwise forget it. Of course by the time I saw that, it was a done deal. In the mean time, every blogger has already posted their commentary on the subject, and Enworld is shutting down posts on the subject that are already almost 20 pages long of folks complaining about it. I definitely feel late to the party on this one.
So I get the piracy thing. I really do. In this digital age, it is something that we have to deal with. The music industry learned that the hard way. Fans want to get their products through digital media, and through the internet is a prime way to do this. However, I do have some commentary on this.
1) It seems to me that the biggest issue is piracy on the new stuff. I am not convinced that Wizards is losing a lot of sales on the older product to PDF piracy. With this in mind, if Wizards is really concerned about piracy on PHB 2, they should delay the PDF releases until the hard cover books have been in circulation for a year or so. This is similar to what publishers do with hard covers and soft covers. The soft covers hit the street about a year after the hard covers. Let’s face it, the big sales spike is within the first 6 months of a product release then drops off significantly.
2) By eliminating ways for paying customer to buy PDFs, I think this has the opposite effect. I have no data to support this claim, but I am going to go out on a limb on this one.
3) Based on what I have seen so far, it feels like an inside job or more likely that Wizards has a problem with one of their printers illegally distributing their products before the release date. It seems like this would be a straight forward process to verify.
I also saw mentioned that Wizards wants to support the local game stores and that means limiting the availability of PDF files in order to keep sales of the books high. Again, I get this, and I think that if Wizards just delayed publishing PDF files until for a year, this could help out the smaller brick and mortar stores. However, I think it is online retailers like Amazon that is really hurting the FLGS, as they can sell it for 20-30% off the cover, and the FLGS cannot match discounts like that.
This brings me to my next point of the older material that is not in print any more. Again, I am going to go out on a limb and say that since Wizards is not selling or supporting the older products, and that the FLGSs probably do not have this stuff on their shelves, the only way to get this stuff is through PDF. Now Wizards is not doing anything to promote the older stuff, as they want everyone to move to 4th ed, so the sales potential on the older material is really just a drop in the bucket, and I suspect that piracy on the older material is very small.
My last comment on all this, is that this is a public relation nightmare for WotC. Clearly this is going to be seen in a bad light. The suddenness of it strikes me rather oddly. They shutdown everything rather quickly, and it feels a bit like a knee jerk reaction, regardless of whether or not this is indeed true. If this was a planned move, it feels like they should have immediately launched a counter marketing plan to put this in some sort of positive spin on the situation. Instead, it looks like things are getting wildly out of control. This cannot be good for business. I am not sure what’s going on over at Wizards.
This may sound strange, but even though I am not a fan of 4th ed, I do hope Wizards is successful at least on some level. Wizards is the big gorilla on the street, and I believe that it is actually in the best interest of the hobby to have a strong lead player in the market. I do believe that the current situation is not good, and it is leading to fragmentation of the fan base, which I think is bad for the hobby. The hobby is rather small to begin with, and anything that causes it to splinter off, will ultimately make the fan base even smaller, which makes it harder for companies and game stores to stay in business. Having a couple of big players in the market supporting a game system is just good for everyone, in terms of keeping interest high in the hobby, and allows the local game store to survive. The FLGS needs big brands to keep a good customer base. Without the big brand, their sales will drop off also. Just as a mall needs anchor stores, our hobby needs anchor brands. When I see fans say that they will not support Wizards, I see this as a slow death spiral to our hobby. This is a bad sign.
Now I do agree that there will be independent game designers that will publish, and that there will be diversity in choices. The retro movement is surviving on this at the moment, but I do not think this is a recipe for long term growth in the hobby. This is one of the reasons that I am rooting for Paizo. Potentially Paizo can keep some of the fan base together, as they have emerged as a strong player in the market.
So to wrap this up, I think Wizards has a mess on their hands. Yes I do believe that Wizards will pull PDF’s to their own stores to control distribution. However, this heavy handed tactic will not win favor with the fan base, and it will take a bit of work to get that good will built back up again.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Enclosed is the player’s map and along with the GM’s map, which has the room numbers on it. Even through this has been designed with Monte’s dungeon in mind, it is fairly generic and can be used for any dungeon that needs a ruined keep.
With this statement, I give permission for folks to use these maps for their own use. If this is going to see publish in another media (blog, electronic publication, fanzine/magazine), please reference this blog site and this particular blog entry.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Continued from yesterday
Dungeon-a-day is a very interesting idea. My overall thought is that the website is very slick, and I suspect that Monte will continue to make improvements over time, which means it will get better. We spend a lot of time debating the merits of one rule set over another, or discussing some optional rule set, and discussing game philosophy. It is good to see someone put all that rhetoric aside and actually start working on an ambitious project, which this is. I have to give kudos to Monte for this.
Now I do recognize that there is a bit of criticism about the subscription model. There is a feeling that what one is really getting is just fancy blog, and with the multitude of blogs out there, why would one want to pay for it. This goes back to my discussion on value, and does one consider this as valuable as a magazine subscription. With any internet subscription model, that is the basic question that one has to answer. If one is not interested in an electronic magazine subscription, then this is not for you.
There has also been a bit of discussion on whether or not this is really an old school mega-dungeon. The level maps are a bit small (38 encounter areas on the first level and 24 on the second) and the room entries are a bit long. So I do agree that the map levels are a bit on the small side, but I am ok with this, as I actually like to see more vertical orientated dungeons with half levels in between the main levels. When I am doing my design work on large dungeons, I try to incorporate as many small side levels, as I find that a bit more interesting than just one large flat dungeon. I do recognize this as my preference, and not everyone would agree with me. I think offering vertical choices are more interesting than just a standard horizontal choice.
With regards to the long room descriptions, I think that is the nature of the subscription model beast. If I am going to pay for content, then I want to see content. To put a number on it, if I am going to subscribe to something that promises daily content, then I want to see ~1K of word content. Now this does not mean that I want to see dungeon rooms come in at 1000 words, but rather I want to see a total of ~1000 words between the different articles. Different folks may have a different number in mind, but that is my threshold. Thus far, Monte’s room write ups range between 300 words to up over 1500 words. I fully agree that he could tighten up the descriptions on some of the rooms. However, he is using a room template that while easy to read and use, and does stretch out the room descriptions a bit. Also, the 3rd ed monster write ups can become very bloated, and thus far, Monte has tried to keep the monster stat blocks to an absolute minimum, which I appreciate.
One of the things I really like is the interconnectedness of the dungeon so far. There is an overall dungeon plot to it, and it is not just a collection of rooms. I think that this is truly the key to making a great mega-dungeon. It is relatively easy to create a series of maps and populate them monsters and such. However, it is quite another thing to create a tight interconnected dungeon plot that links rooms and levels together. As a player, it is more interesting to play through a dungeon, if it has a plot, and there are deeper things to discover. This concept of a dungeon plot turns into a puzzle for the players, and I think that this helps stimulate good game play, and keeps the interest going. Levels which are quite independent and divorced from one another may be interesting at first, but I think greater interest comes from dungeon plot that gets revealed as one travels through the dungeon. This is not to say that dungeon should be an adventure path, but rather the plot should be a bit of a puzzle that the players can figure out, and I believe that this leads to better game play.
The last point I do want to mention is Monte’s use of Dwarven Forge miniature terrain. I really like the pictures of dungeon with the Dwarven Forge terrain. When I first started playing D&D, I always wanted to create a 3D dungeon. I will be the first one to say that Dwarven Forge terrain is very stunning when set up. It definitely gives the game a bit eye candy at the table. I personally do not owe any, but I am giving it considerable thought. To run a mega-dungeon using Dwarven Forge terrain (or something similar) would be really cool.
Overall, I do give this product a thumbs up. I think Monte has made good start, and I am hoping that he continues to improve the site. With that said, I realize that this is not for everyone. The subscription model may not work for everyone’s budget. If one is not planning on playing through it, if may not have a high value proposition. However, if one is creating a mega-dungeon, this site has a number of good ideas that are ripe for using. With each room getting its own detailed description, there are plenty of ideas that can be used in one’s own mega-dungeon.
Rating: 4 Dragons (on a scale of 5)
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Dungeon-a-Day, by designer Monte Cook, has been now live for about three weeks or so, and there has been quite of bit of discussion on it. A number of bloggers have posted their comments, and some of the more commonly known features have been discussed and debated at length. But none the less, I will give my assessment of what has been done so far, and provide some additional insights that have come from what we have seen over the past three weeks, that perhaps were not as well known earlier. This review will be split into two parts, the first one being the more objective overview, and the second part will include more subjective analysis as well as a bit of commentary on mega-dungeons in general
As a disclaimer, I am a fan of Monte’s work. That is not to say that I like everything he has done, but I do think he is a very talented writer, and has a good understanding of the mechanics of the game, that comes from designing games for TSR and for developing the 3rd edition version. His list of published works is impressive, both in terms of quantity and quality. I do not own everything that he has published, but I do own a number of them. In this review, I will try to maintain an objective eye at the whole thing. With that said, let’s get into the actual review
The overall concept is very straight forward, as it’s a web based subscription model that is based on providing content five days a week. The content comes in terms of a room and usually something else, which has included blog entries, pod casts, maps, handouts, bonus encounters, new monsters, and glossary updates. There are hyperlinks throughout the website that allow quick access to addition information. For visitors to the site that are not members, there are a number of areas that can be accessed to help one determine if this is something that they want to sign up for. Monte has a number of subscription plans available, and signing up for a year subscription is clearly the best dollar value, which equates to about $7/month, or a little more than a subscription to a magazine. I am estimating the current price of a year magazine subscription to be at about $5/month for a year, and this does depend on the magazine as some maybe a bit cheaper than this, but there are some that are more than $7/month. I bring this up, as I think this becomes a good bench mark in determining if this something that one wants to sign up for.
There are a number of features that I think are very solid:
1. Maps done by Ed Bourelle. Ed is the owner for SkeletonKey Games, which specializes in maps and tiles for gaming. Ed’s cartography is very solid work.
2. The main map now has the function in which one can click on a room and be taken directly to that room.
3. Pictures of the rooms created with Dwarvenforge to give a 3-D feel for what the room looks like, in addition to the standard map. I personally really like this.
4. Interesting room ideas. Monte has clearly put some thought in the room design, and there are plenty of good ideas that have been written into the dungeon.
5. The website is focused on the dungeon, and everything is built around this concept.
6. Monte has an expanding list of sponsors, and I suspect that this will grow over time. Paizo just signed up this past week, with Jason Bulmahn agreeing to write a monthly blog to support Monte. I actually think this is very cool, as Monte was acting as a consultant for Jason for the creation of the Pathfinder rules, and with this move, Jason is returning the favor. Very classy.
7. There is an active forum in which subscribers can provide feedback to Monte, and he has taken action on the suggestions that have been made.
8. An overall dungeon plot, with foreshadowing, hints and clues to what exists below.
These are some of the items that have thus far received the most criticism:
1. Cost. The cost is more than a magazine subscription.
2. Monte is using the 3rd ed rule set as the basis with which to write this, and some folks may no longer be using this rule set.
3. The content is being provided one room at a time, and there is no updates being made over the weekend.
4. At the moment, there is no compilation as the levels are finished. This may change, but right now there are no plans.
5. I personally do have a minor quibble about the site organization, specifically with regards to the key reference materials. I would like to see the navigation menu beefed up a bit more, but I do suspect that this will be improved. My general thought is that one should be able to get to a key reference page in one click, and it should be very intuitive as to where it is.
For tomorrow, I will post part two, which will include my final thoughts on Dungeon-a-Day.
Friday, April 3, 2009
This brings me to Mr. Styrofoam Man. There are these old guys that ride these beater three wheel bikes that some times are motorized, and sometimes are not. Mr Styrofoam Man rides one of these bikes and he has a mountain of styrofoam that is piled 20’ high. I do not exaggerate. It is just plain scary how high this stuff is piled. He has it all bundled up and it looks like a white mountain making its way down the street. Sometimes the stuff is piled on such that the white mass of styrofoam looks like it is about to envelope Mr. Styrofoam Man. When you look at him, he has this crazy grin on his face that is never changing. The truly scary part is that he is very quiet and does not stop. Nothing stops him. Traffic stops for Mr. Styrofoam Man, but he does not stop.
I was out to lunch with a colleague the other day, and I was coming out of the restaurant and I was about to cross the bike path, which runs beside the road. I looked right and then I looked left and there he was. He was barreling down the bike path at a good clip, and he was upon us in an instant. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had actually stepped out on to the bike path. Nothing stops him, and his ability to pop up out of nowhere is a bit uncanny. Truly an amazing sight.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I can still remember when I saw my first Dragon magazine, and I thought that it was one of the coolest things ever to see print. One of the things that I really liked in the early days was that Dragon was not just confined to D&D, but rather covered a wide array of games. This is probably the result of the wargaming roots of the game, and the creators were fans of these types of games. I clearly fall into this category, and I enjoyed reading these other articles. D&D in those days was really just a handful of books, so Dragon magazine was the only resource available to go to for experimental/optional rules and the general state of the game. I miss that, and I appreciate what Wolfgang is trying to do with KQ.
One of the really cool things that the early Dragons included were adventures and other fun games. There are a couple that really standout for me, not so much that they were truly great games, but that they were short and fun to play.
The Awful Green Things from Outer Space
First seen in Dragon 28 (1979), The Awful Green things made their start, and have become something of a cult classic. TSR would go on to publish this as a box game, which enjoyed some success before the rights returned to its author Tom Wham, who eventually worked an agreement with Steve Jackson Games for further publish.
My buddy Doug bought the game, and I played several times, mostly as the Awful Green Things. This game is just a lot of fun to play. I remember the first time I watched my friends play, as the crewmen won with the help of the fire extinguisher that turned deadly to the Awful Green Things, and the crew was able to contain the green menace.
The game is not that hard to play, and the basic premise is very straight forward. The Awful Green Things have invaded the spaceship Znutar, and the crew needs to defeat them. The Awful Green Things have the advantage as they can grow and replace themselves, while the crew cannot, so the crewman are fighting against the clock as they have to act quickly or become over whelmed. The weapons have unknown effects on the Awful Green Things, which is part of the appeal of the game. Until you use the weapon, one has no idea what they will do. For the crew, they need to pick up the area of effect weapons, and hope for the best. For the Awful Green Things, they need to multiple quickly and use their numbers before the crew finds a killer weapon to use against them.
All in all, just a fun game to play
First seen in Dragon 10 (1977), and the Snits have running around ever since. This game has a similar fun feel as The Awful Green Things. Initially it was an insert into Dragon magazine, and then later sold as a box game by TSR. Eventually, the game license returned to Tom Wham and is now produced by Steve Jackson Games.
The plot of the game involves the large Bolotomi that enjoy smashing Snits as they run up on to the beach to reproduce. Well after a bit of that nonsense the snits decide to lead a counter attack against the Bolotomi, by attacking from inside the Bolotomi. The game itself depicts this internal battle inside of the Bolotomi. One player is the invading snits, and the other player is the bodily defenses.
For the Snit player, the game is very straight forward, in that there mission is to kick a number of internal organs or find the spark of life and destroy that. For the Bolotomi player, the goal is to create Runnungitms that can counter attack by chomping the Snits. The game then becomes a battle of kicking Snits vs. the chomping Runnungitms. The challenge for the Snits is to cause as much damage as fast as possible, before they are over whelmed by the Runnungitms. The Snit player starts with a fixed quantity of Snits, while the Bolotomi can create more Runnungitms. As organs are kicked and the Snorgs are destroyed, the Bolotomi player has to decide what to create with his Compositor organs, either Runnungitms or Snorgs to man up the internal organs.
While both games are a bit whimsical, they are fun to play and the games can be completed within an hour.
One can argue that the production values are better now days, but there was a certain fun factor in the early days of Dragon, which I do not think has been captured since.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
In D&D terms, magic is usable by good guys, and I classify this as your basic high magic that is neither good nor evil. One of the things I like about the Forgotten Realms campaign world is the definition of magic and its relationship with the weave. To me, this just makes a lot of sense. In a nut shell, the weave moves through all things, and one needs to just tap into it to work magic. Dead magic areas are locations that the weave does not go through. I am probably over simplifying it, but I think I have captured the essence of it. I am definitely a GM that likes everything to fit together well, which plays to my internal sense of an orderly reality. Magic, while outside the normal rules of physics, should be consistent when compared to itself. With that said, I do appreciate the concept that magic should be magic and not entirely explainable, which adds to the fantasy element of D&D.
Now Dark Sorcery is something else entirely. The current book I am reading is by CS Friedman, called Feast of Souls, and it was a very interesting approach to sorcery. I am actually a big fan of her work, and I really enjoyed her other fantasy trilogy, The Coldfire Trilogy. In her current book, sorcery is fueled by a person’s life force, either one’s own life force or another’s life force. This is a new spin on the idea of Dark Sorcery, which I am finding very interesting.
To me, this harkens back to the pulps, where Dark Sorcery was something evil, and with it came the corruption of men’s souls. The temptation is power, but clearly there is a price to pay. So the question becomes, how does one incorporate that into a game? With NPC’s it is easy to introduce. With players, it is a completely different story. I do want to introduce the concept of Dark Sorcery into my game as something that the bad guys use, and something that the good guys can use also, but there is a price to pay.
I have always enjoyed reading about the struggle of good characters with regards of using evil tools to defeat evil. It is the age old question of does the means justify the ends? The purists among us will clearly argue against this, but there are some that will say that the only thing that matters is the end result. To take another example, in the Eisenhorn Trilogy, we watch the puritan inquisitor come to grips with the question as he uses the tools of chaos to combat chaos.
With this in mind, I have been thinking how to create this for the characters and have the players really wrestle with this. Clearly Dark Sorcery holds power for those that embrace it, but there is a cost. The challenge is not only how to create this conflict, but how to keep the game relatively balanced regardless of the decisions that the characters make.
A couple of months ago I did a product review on Chaositech by Monte Cook, which provides a good mix of fluff and crunch on how to introduce a type of Dark Sorcery that Monte calls chaositech. Monte in his Ptolus campaigns mixes this in, and I was able to use some of it in my last campaign. I wanted to do more with it, and I am hoping to introduce it back into my next campaign, regardless of what that is. Even though Chaositech is written for 3rd edition, the concepts are clearly portable into any edition.
I have also been kicking around the idea of corruption points. I also mentioned this in an earlier blog. I really like the concept, as it allows for characters to use Dark Sorcery, but there is clearly a cost for long term usage. I think this captures the essence of what I am looking for. In my experience, just having a role playing penalty is not enough, there needs to be some sort of mechanics attached to this, as this will naturally force role playing through the decisions that the players will have to make that will ultimately affect their characters.
I will probably be blogging more on this topic, as I think it adds a dimension to the D&D game, and it is keeping with the pulp fiction roots of the game.