Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Year, New Games - January Report

Hey, remember how I've been talking about wanting to try out a whole bunch of new games this year? How my gaming group was going to start rotating in new games for a short run to see how much we like them and such? Well, it's time to start living the dream. This past just-over-a-week, I've already crossed two such games off my gaming bucket list with the promise of more sessions to come. Here are my thoughts so far.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King System

When I first heard of ACKS (which, I've been told by +Jason Hobbs should be pronounced "axe"), I thought it sounded neat: a BX retroclone designed toward the old-fashioned end game of becoming a a ruler with a stronghold and a solid domain game. I've never actually gotten a campaign to "domain game" status, so I've been interested in this game ever since. I've actually been looking for the "perfect" domain game for just about 12 years now and have gone through everything from Birthright to Empire to try to find something satisfactory. For $10, the ACKS pdf seemed like a sound investment.

Turns out, it was. ACKS is not just another retroclone. In many ways, it attempts to smooth out a lot of the little complexities of BX (like, say, combat tables) while still offering players a bunch of options (the proficiency system here is not quite as toothless as the AD&D proficiency system and not nearly as complicated as 3e's feats) and allowing DMs to take advantage of all "early edition" material he wants to with minimal conversion (AC conversion is the only thing I'm noticing right now). Since I mentioned it, the "to-hit" system is terribly easy and is almost a sort of "reverse THAC0" in that you have a target number (determined by class & level) that you have to roll equal to or better than to hit an unarmored foe; AC is ascending, starts at zero and adds to this target number. Thus, a first level cleric (to-hit throw 10+) has to roll a 12 or better to hit an opponent in leather armor (AC 2; 10 + 2 = 12). This might not sound like a big deal, but it vastly beats looking up to hit targets on charts every time and for some reason, simple addition is easier to do than simple subtraction.

So far, I've played two sessions of ACKS, run by Mr. +Brian Takle (who also ran the D6 WEG Star Wars game I played in in November and December) and had a blast both times. Sure, much of that could be the players involved, but to focus on the rules for a moment, my level 1 cleric has been remarkably successful as a fighter even if he's not been terribly successful as a healer (despite taking the Healing proficiency twice, I've not yet been able to put it to good use). The rules play remarkably fast without much looking up of particular details except in extreme cases where the thing being looked up is of huge import. Furthermore, the weight of consequences in the game feels immense; if dropped to 0 hp, for example, your hero might not die, but he will most likely have some lasting consequence from the calamity. Thus, in our ACKS game, we have two characters missing an eye. Danger has real, lasting meaning in ACKS, and that's a beautiful thing.

As far as the actual domain rules go, at level 2 (as of last night), I'm a long way off from knowing how those play. To be honest, they look neat and very old school (centered around hexes!) which should be fun if we ever get to it. For my tastes, however, the ACKS domain rules aren't ideal and are a little too crunchy, as in "too many numbers to crunch" and "too much stuff to keep track of." To be honest, I'd prefer a Birthright-like system that marries BR domain management to a hex-based system and divorces it from a specific setting, allowing for lots of flexibility. Yeah, I know. Good luck there.

Savage Worlds

The other system I've gotten to try in the last week is Savage Worlds (sorry, no RPGNow link), run in this case by Mr. +Matt Woodard. Matt has, for the entirety of the time that I've known him, been a huge proponent of SW and, if my G+ feed is any indication, he's in good company. Apparently, if you're not playing 4e or Pathfinder and aren't an OSRior, you're probably playing Savage Worlds. Okay, I get it. It's one of the big guys right now, which means it's absolutely worth paying attention to. When Matt suggested that we run a SW-powered zombie apocalypse game, I eagerly bought in. Fact: SW uses the standard polyhedrals (except for the d20) so I get to bring all my dice unlike most "generic" systems which buy in to one die type exclusively. Fact: I love killing zombies and post-apocalyptic survival stuff. Fact: I can't afford not to try a game for which the core rules are only $10 in print. Yup, $10 in a digest "explorer's edition." Nice stuff.

I've only played one session of SW so far (the next is coming up on 2.10) and I really enjoyed it. At the outset, +Tim McMacken Jr commented on how I'd been "spoiling" the group with my tactical & hex maps for D&D and how surprised he was that Matt wasn't using stuff like that for SW. Matt's comment was a sort of "wait and see" response and as the game progressed, Tim (who's still really new to RPGs in general) was impressed by how little they were required so long as everyone was on the same page. Matt's concept had us all playing Marines (except for me; I was playing a Navy Corpsman since the Marines apparently don't have medics and borrow them from the larger pool of Navy personnel), and the ladies in our gaming group ended up picking the higher-ranking folks which put +Laura Montoya in charge of all of us (she's just as new to RPGs as Tim) which had her out of her comfort zone for a moment, but with some reassurance from the rest of us, she adapted to the role of boss lady really well.

Similarly to ACKS, it would be easy (in this case, very, very easy) to just say that I had such a good time because of the awesome role-playing and DMing that was going on. In no time, we were in-character (well, most of us) and trying to sort out our problems the way our characters would. I think the other PCs are getting sick of my Corpsman's "Heroic" Hindrance, and if they're not, they will be soon. I think that the reason it's easy to just talk about how the RP was the part that "made the game" is that the rules don't get in the way of the game. They're unobtrusive, simple and easy to remember. The only thing that was difficult to sort out were the rules regarding automatic fire on our squad's SAW (that's military-talk for "big ass machine gun") and targeting an area, so we made up our own rule (which I like a lot). There was some confusion about the Wild Die and the fact that it gets rolled every time you're rolling a succeed/fail roll (and doesn't get added to the other result), but nothing that couldn't be worked around by astute rules-lawyer-y types (like me) just figuring things out for folks. All in all, it was a really great time and I'm looking forward the next session.

Next Time

For February, I'll get some more ACKS in and more SW zombocalypse. I'm not sure how many more sessions of SW Matt has prepared, but if he just has one more, we'll need another short run game to round out February. I'm hoping that this will be +Rad DeLong running Amber Diceless or his brother +Andrew DeLong running a session or two of his legendarily epic homebrew game that I've only ever heard discussed in furtive whispers in the decade plus that I've known the DeLong brothers. There's also been some talk from Matt Woodard about a possible ShadowRun 4e run session or two which would be awesome, too. To top all of this off, it seems like the Game of Taps has stalled out (although perhaps only for a moment), freeing up my Monday nights for another G+ game; I'd like to use this to either (a) get into someone else's game (particularly one from my RPG bucket list or tour des editions) or (b) run a BLUEHOLME game. Yup, I'm thinking about actually running BLUEHOLME. Let me know if you're interested (Monday nights, 10p EST/3a GMT), I'd love to kick ass with you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kickassistan Turns 100

It's pretty hard for me to believe, but this is the 100th post here at Dispatches From Kickassistan. My first post was on August 14th of this last year, a mere five months ago, and in that time, I've gone from intermittent posting whenever something struck my fancy to new blog post every day or two. It's also been pretty hard to believe the great reception that there's been to my particular brand of gaming logic here on a real blog as compared to what I had previously been getting on WotC's official site.

I'd like to take a moment to thank you, dear reader, for getting me where I am today. If it hadn't been for you, and the other readers like you, encouraging me daily with reposts, comments and +1s over on G+, I don't know if I'd have gotten as heavily into this whole blogging thing as I am now. I might have been a "one or two posts a week" sort of guy, not the sort of guy who obsesses about what I can do next that folks might find interesting. This blog set me up with the players of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad game by connecting me to +Edgar Johnson  so, in a roundabout fashion, this blog actually created more material for itself simply by existing (and by being paid attention to by the right people). Since this blog served to thrust me into the world of running games online, it has also thrust me into the world of playing games online, too and I've joined in on quite a few different G+ hangout games, particularly those run by +Brian Takle & +JD Clement.

I have lots of neat new stuff planned for the next stage of Dispatches From Kickassistan. The first of which is a new title banner that's being designed by +Wayne Snyder, one of the players from the Metal Gods, the proprietor of the Goblin Mini-Mart and a damn fine illustrator. He also bites when DMs try to convince players to look into toilets inside of dungeons. I can't tell you to much about Wayne's new banner for the site, mostly because I feel like describing it might give too much away (and this deserves to be a surprise), but I'll say that it suitably gives homage to my crazy horror/sword & sorcery pulp and postapocalyptic cartoon influences. I'm contemplating moving to a custom URL for the site when I get the new title banner, but I'm not completely sold on the idea.

Some of the new stuff planned is really just the old stuff, or, rather, the stuff that got most people to visit Kickassistan in the first place: you'll be learning more about Ur-Hadad, the strange world she inhabits and the bizarre creatures that populate her. If you've been around for the first 100 posts, you'll know what to expect here, but if not, be prepared for some strange. Tied to the world of Ur-Hadad (but not necessarily within it so that everyone can get mileage out of it) is the as-yet-untitled Dreamlands- & Dreamtime-inspired
hexcrawl toolkit that I'm slowly assembling and you'll see the pieces of as they become useful. Finally, Winos & Wastrels, my downtime-management system for OSR-style games, will continue to take shape. Tada! Lots of stuff coming in the next 100 posts from Kickassistan.

To round out this post, I'd like to end off where Dispatches From Kickassistan got its start back in August: Korgoth of Barbaria.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monster Monday: Do It Yourself in DCC

So, folks, I've spent the last few months inventing or re-inventing monsters for my various DCC games and it's been very educational. Maybe you've seen some of my Monster Monday posts (there aren't many) or my older Fiends From the Folio series of conversions; there's lots of other stuff that I've not released here, but will at some point (probably). In all that time, I've learned a few tricks that I'd like to share with you, particularly for using these monsters effectively in encounters to provide a reasonable challenge for your players that (a) won't be a pushover and (b) gives the players a reasonable chance of success (our opinions of reasonable chances may vary).

Off Da Railz, Yo
I realized first and foremost that some of the monsters I was designing were either hitting too hard or hitting too soft, depending on what they were hitting. Similarly, it felt like many of my monsters were made out of paper, taking few hits to knock them out. Low hp in monsters is fine when all of the PCs are 0-level mooks, but when you throw in even one level 1 PC per player with that same group of mooks, you've got some serious hitting power. It felt as if few of my monsters were able to accomplish what they were intended to do and instead were glass cannons that might get a hit in and kill a PC here or there, but combat would rarely last more than two rounds. But if all I did was beef up the hp totals of my existing monsters, then the murder train would go out of control -- off da rails, as +Rad DeLong would say -- and I'd be neck-deep in a new crop of 0s in no time.

And so, instead of just beefing up one thing and nerfing another, I realized that a targeted approach was needed, the basis of which would be the intended niche for each creature in the encounters that I'm planning. Here's what I've got so far:

  • The Mook: I use the term "mook" a lot, and I almost always mean the same thing. A low defenses, low damage, low hp enemy often used as filler in encounters where they're not the real threat, but another creature is. Your basic orc or goblin typically fills this role, but so many others can as well. To make a monster a mook, give your average PC a 50/50 or better shot of hitting the thing (AC 10 or 11 at 0th level, 11 or 12 at 1st, stuff like that), a lower hit die (I'd usually use a d6 for these guys) and keep their damage low (d4s for most damage expressions). 
  • The Beast: In some ways the opposite of the mook and in some ways his cousin, the beast is designed to dish out punishment and take a lot of hits while allowing the PCs to feel like they're making progress on taking it down. For the beast, keep damage similar to the mook, but give him an extra action die to make him a threat to more people. Similarly, you'll keep defenses low so that more PCs can get a hit in on him; here's the trick, though, give him a lot of hp. A lot. Make taking down this one guy a serious task that your players cannot ignore. Consider increasing the die type to a d10 or even d12 for bigger, smashier challenges. 
  • The Turtle: I couldn't come up with a better name than "the turtle" without dipping into MMO or 4e terms, so I decided that turtle it would be. The turtle is a frustrating enemy because its high AC makes most of the PCs' attacks pretty useless. Use the turtle when the enemies should be well-organized and -prepared, particularly as a line of defense for other, less durable enemies. The turtle's hp should be average and his attacks should do a normal amount of damage (d6s or d8s) or less. 
  • The Monster: The monster is what happens when you cross the beast with the turtle; high AC, high hp and enough attacks to seriously threaten a good number of PCs. Use monsters sparingly and most if not all of them should be unique. I tend to use them as the key note encounter (the "boss fight," if you will) of my adventures. Dragons, big demons and avatars of evil gods make great monsters.
  • The Sneak: The sneak is a turtle that is capable of sudden, very accurate, high-damage attacks under certain circumstances. Usually very mobile and capable of some degree of stealth, the sneak's high damage output is usually contingent on this mobility or stealth; otherwise, the damage output will be on the low side. Give the sneak a high AC, a low hp, and low damage but a single (or few) attack at a greater than average accuracy and high damage; consider also adding a unique movement mode such as flight or teleportation to make the conditional damage a real threat. Use the sneak when you want to strike at the PCs' flank and catch them unawares.
  • The Warlock: Wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, witches, diabolists and mind mages of all sorts can fill the role of the warlock. The warlock hangs back in combat, often due to his low AC and hp, often protected only by his magics and bodyguards. The primary function of the warlock is to rain down death and destruction on the PCs, just like the party wizard does to the monsters. Throw in some controlling effects to shape the battlefield to the DM's whim (walls of fire, clouds of acid, things like that) and you've got a grade-A warlock. Use the warlock carefully: you'll want to carefully plan warlock encounters and make each one memorable, often as key points in your adventure. After all, the dark powers don't bend to everyone's will.
  • The Enigma: Often encountered alone, the enigma is exactly that: a creature so strange that the players don't know what to do with it. Often, the enigma will have a single or very few forms of attack that rarely damage opponents but usually confound them or kill them outright. Usually, fighting the enigma is more about player ingenuity than out and out combat and thus its combat stats usually matter only as the DM wishes to see them matter. Often, the enigma will have a primary defense form tied to its most devastating attack, sometimes in a two-pronged attack (like the Blue Siren's hypnotic plumage and the females' stealth attack) and sometimes in an all-or-nothing combination (such as the petrification gaze of a medusa). Good examples of the enigma include the medusa, the catoblepas, the rust monster and even the disenchanter. Use the enigma to demonstrate to the PCs that they need to always be on their toes. 
Using the preceding archetypes, you can stock a dungeon with a single race of monsters, but with a great enough variety of challenges that you shouldn't get bored. That having been said, mix up your damn monster types. The "all orc dungeon" sucks and is repetitious. You could use these archetypes as a checklist as you go through stocking your dungeon, looking to make sure each type is represented to some degree. There is one type of enemy, though, that I absolutely hate sending against my players and avoid at all costs:
  • The Medic: This guy (usually a druid, a shaman or a cleric of some dark power) heals the other enemies but is in all other regards about the same as a turtle. Want to make the players feel ineffectual? Erase all that damage they just did to the big bad by healing it up. Want to give yourself a headache in bookkeeping? Add in a medic so that you have to keep track of twice as many numbers. Want to have a fun game? Limit your use of medics to an absolute minimum. 
So, there you have it. When I'm designing or redesigning a monster, I think about these thingss now. What's my goal here? Usually, it's not just to throw some random monsters at my PCs. I try to make each encounter count, and so I've developed some tools that help me make my monsters memorable. Here's hoping it works for you as well as it works for me. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

This Is Not My Beautiful Blue Box, This Is BLUEHOLME

A few weeks ago, before the whole DnDClassics launch, I didn't have a copy of Moldvay Basic nor had I ever read one. Everything I knew about Moldvay Basic I learned from the internet and retroclones like Labyrinth Lord and LotFP Weird Fantasy. In the many collections of pdfs I've acquired over the years, I've never even found a stable version of Moldvay there, so I've had to do without that estimable tome. While I've spent the past few days poring over Moldvay Basic again and again (there's so much there!), just before the DnDClassics launch, I was spending a lot of time with a different version of Basic and a new retroclone that does a hell of a job replicating it.

Before I go any further, let me state that I am not a reviewer. I don't get advance copies of stuff so that I might devour it quickly and crank out a review of something that I'd rather not talk about. And so, every review that I write (maybe the word "review" is wrong; "educated opinion" is more accurate) is inspired by that work in that the work actually managed to inspire me to write about it, rather than it just being something I've read to review. That having been said, let's move forward.

I really, really enjoy Holmes Basic; I didn't enjoy it at first, but I believe that that's because I didn't get Holmes Basic, and there's so much to get that might not be apparent at first. Yes, Holmes Basic is very, very basic (all weapons do d6 damage, for example), and not much like the Moldvay or Mentzer boxes that would follow it years later at all. What we have in Holmes Basic is built on the legacy of the '74 white box (and supplements) and aims to capitalize on the simplicity of it while smoothing out the strange complexities of it. Effectively, Dr. Holmes tries to take all of the rules necessary to play the first three levels of the game and put them all in one place. The words "of the game" are important here because "the game" is not AD&D (which hadn't been released yet) nor a continuing series of successive rules boxes (like BECMI), but it's OD&D. Let me say that again in a slightly different context: Holmes Basic wasn't a game in and of itself, but rather a jumping off point to lead new players into the world of the '74 white box game.

When I realized this, my brain yelled, "Hold up, Holmes just got interesting."

Since... well, since the internet, it's been very obvious that interest in OD&D has grown, including my own. The fact that a game like Swords & Wizardry exists (and I get to play it every Saturday night) is testament to this fact. I'm sure we've all read them and, while some of us will defend them to the death as the perfect iteration of the game (with our without some ideal combination of supplements and articles from The Strategic Review, Alarums & Excursions, the Dungeoneer and/or White Dwarf), the rest of us likely admire many of its features (such as its open-endedness and DIY-ness) but bemoan many of its more complex or confusing bits (such as a lack of a real combat system). The thing about Holmes is that it takes the confusion, clears it up (as best as could be done under the existing OD&D rules) while holding on to the features that players (including modern players) love about the original ruleset.

Now that I've decided that I love Dr. Holmes's edition of Basic, I have a new problem. Other than +Zach Howard of Zenopus fame, I'm not sure how many other players out there have the same love of the Doc's rules that I do. And it's not like there are new copies of it being printed, nor is it on DnDClassics, so I was kind of out of luck.

And then along came BLUEHOLME.

BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules is an amazing retroclone emulating the Holmes rules remarkably well. The presentation is clean and neat, the ruleset exceptionally clearly defined and well-organized. The art in use is all here is all public domain art, but its all thematically appropriate and so well-chosen that it easily belongs alongside commissioned artwork. Dreamscape Design and editor Michael Thomas have done a fantastic job of presenting a ruleset that closely reflects Holmes Basic but yet retains a solid feeling of uniqueness and character that feels scholarly and sophisticated, as if high-brow-ifying Holmes Basic. And why not? Why can't the scholarly effort of Dr. Holmes to clarify OD&D be celebrated in a sophisticated, erudite retroclone? The spirit of Holmes is in these pages, in print for the first time in over thirty years and suddenly, your average gamer can get their hands on them in the form of these rules with the low, low price of zero dollars. Free. Free Holmes Basic. Fucking awesome.

BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules is the first of a two-part ruleset, the second being BLUEHOLME Compleat Rules which, having not been released yet, I presume is still in production. Whereas BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules is a strict retroclone, I further presume that the Compleat Rules (since they range from levels 1 to 14) is a thought experiment investigation (a "what if" scenario) of what would have happened if Holmes had designed an Expert box. Time will tell as to what the Compleat Rules end up like, but until then, we can content ourselves with the excellent presentation of the Prentice Rules and hope that Compleat is free, too.

Not that I wouldn't pay for BLUEHOLME, just that I know that not everyone will. In fact, if Dreamscape Design ever does the Prentice Rules in POD, I will be one of the first guys in line. In fact, I'll take two. At least. You never know how many copies you'll need at the gaming table.

Reading BLUEHOLME, I got interested again in Holmes. Then Dreamscape Design released The Maze of Nuromen, their first adventure for BLUEHOLME. Just like the Prentice Rules, this one is free (though it may not always be; $0.49 isn't much to pay, though), so there's nothing to lost by downloading this. What you get in the Maze of Nuromen is a well-built and remarkably well-polished dungeon that takes itself seriously, but isn't stiff or stodgy. This seriousness doesn't cramp the "anything goes" style of early D&D and avoids the pitfalls of genre D&D by maintaining enough space for old fashioned Swords & Sorcery weirdness. Now, I'm not just interested in Holmes/BLUEHOLME, I'm excited about it. Now, I want to throw together a G+ game, perhaps as part of the "edition tour" that I proposed here.

To paraphrase OJ Simpson, if I did do it, it'd probably be every other Monday night, (off weeks from the Game of Taps, 10pm EST and onward) and would be a FLAILSNAILS-friendly event (and a great opportunity to start a new FLAILSNAILS character). So, for all you late night OSRiors, keep an eye open: some Kickassistan-style BLUEHOLME might be coming your way soon.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Legacy of Brootality

Some folks may have noticed that I really go in for old school British fantasy stuff -- although I'm nothing like an Anglophile -- particularly the Fiend Folio and the stuff I used to read in classic issues of White Dwarf. Lately, I've been reading a lot of issues of WD, going back to the beginnings of the magazine and working my way up. I'm currently on WD #44 and I just discovered something that I thought was terribly interesting. But first, there are two facts that I need to settle.

I have still never played this
First, I have never actually played RuneQuest. While I played the hell out of Call of Cthulhu, I never knew very much about RQ, BRP or any of that. In fact, I'm not even sure when I learned that the BRP game engine existed and that games other than CoC were powered by it. I'm honestly pretty sure that the realization that all of these games used the same engine only occurred to me a few years ago.

Second, my gaming style stuck to "class & level" far too long, possibly because my personal gaming history really only began somewhere in the late 80's. And by that, I mean serious personal gaming history. Sure, I'd owned books before then, but I hadn't done much with them. Even then, my class & level gaming went beyond the normal D&D stuff into the Palladium games and stuff like that. I didn't make the jump to a skill-based game engine until the 90's and the World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu.

So, not only did I not play RQ, I really wasn't interested in the whole skill-based system until the inevitable teenage angstery that fueled the popularity of the WoD.

[I'll throw in a note now that I did play a bit of Shadowrun, & Mythus, too and that Earthdawn (a sort of hybrid skill & level system) all made regular appearances at my gaming table.]

And thus, it was that I had no idea that the Broo ever existed until just now when I was reading WD #43.

I had always assumed that goat man beast men formed by Chaos were just a Games Workshop/Citadel thing. And then I saw it: in the same issue where WD reviews Warhammer for the first time (then published by Citadel, which was not a part of GW at the time), there were miniatures that I've come to know as beastmen or Gor, but wearing the name of Broo in an ad for Gloranthan minis.

Woah, this is a very different story than the one I've been telling myself for the past however many years.

Suddenly, goat men were older even than their involvement in the WH-verse. Suddenly, they were no longer the Gor, they were the Broo. It was time to do some research.

The earliest copy of RQ that I have is a 1980 RQII rulebook. There, on page 76 is the following:

"Human-bodied and goat-headed, the broos (or goatkin) are tied irrevocably with the Rune of chaos. They are given to atrocities and foul practices, and carry numerous loathsome diseases.

"They will hire out for pay, but tusk riders are more desired as mercenaries, and that is saying something. They are immune to all poisons and diseases.

"Their usual armor is generally cuirboilli, though they will wear metal if they can scrounge or steal it. Human and dwarf smiths will not sell them armor or weapons."

Citadel style, RQ substance
While being relatively terse and not telling us much about the Broo as a people, it does let us know that, as early as 1980 (and probably earlier, I just can't prove it right now), the Broo were being slain by RQers in the US & England and that Citadel miniatures were licensed in the UK to make some really nice-looking minis (see right).

So, apparently, as the Warhammer line expanded to include new beast men of Chaos figure lines, while many of these figures were new sculpts of beastly animal men of various descriptions, Citadel also sneaked some of their goatkin sculpts that had previously served as Broo. In fact, in 1985, Citadel released a "Beastmen of Chaos" where all of the models were goat man-style beast men, primarily because they could no longer produce official RQ minis as they'd lost that license. Citadel may have lost the Broo, but WH had gained the Gor.

In RQ, Broos are listed as just one sort of beast men, ostensibly among many; this is pretty much the same way that WH uses them, at least initially.

So, what does all of this have to do with Kickassistan?

Simple. I've wanted to use goat-like beast men in Kickassistan for awhile, particularly since I identified a niche for them. I've been looking for a militaristic beast men breed that I can throw against the Game of Taps crew in my conversion of Keep on the Borderlands, Keep on Kickassistan. I need a replacement for the hobgoblins, and so I've been thinking that a goat man would be perfect for the role. I had been afraid that a goat man might make the thing all sorts of Warhammery and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, I don't want folks to look at this and my oft-avowed love of the Fiend Folio and think that I'm just trying to build a more sword & sorcery version of the Old World because really, it ain't like that. I just happen to like weird and goat dudes and the FF have that in spades. So, goat men being not a WH invention, but rather one of an old school game that I have a ton of respect for (even though I'm just now starting to learn about it) means that I'm not skating on the thin ice of grot-worshippery but rather following in a grand tradition of goat people that goes back to the good ol' days.

The more I think about this origin of goat men, I realize that all of DCC's beast men have the same origin. I modeled my beastmen initially after +Harley Stroh's beast men in Sailors on the Starless Sea. From the feeling that I get from Mr. Stroh's initial work, I'd say that his work was informed by a prior tradition of beast men (though I can't think of any literary references; everything I've got involves rpgs in one way or another) that goes back to the days when rpgs were young and not everyone was interested in pastiching Tolkein and Leiber together. So, by a long chain of influence, I have my goat men by way of the Gor, but really initially inspired by the Broo.

The extra good news is that this has made me think long and hard about the nature of beast men in Kickassistan and you should be seeing more about them from me very, very soon.

A huge thank you goes out to wardy-la of Level 2 ( and this amazing article he wrote that I had to rip off a lot of info from. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

DnDClassics: It *IS* OCRed, But...

First off, is now active. It is indeed a branch of RPGNow/DriveThru (as we all knew/suspected it would be) and it has a pretty great starting selection which comprises a really good cross section of editions, a sort of "greatest hits" collection.

Currently Free @
Here's the bad news: these are straight scans and not OCRed scans, meaning you can't just do a simple copy & paste job or (should you be a little more tricky and unlock your pdfs like I do) edit the actual text. 
[EDIT] These pdfs ARE OCRed. The OCR looks so good that you wouldn't know you're reading OCRed text, which is exactly what I wanted out of them. Holy crap do these things look good. The text in B1 looks exactly like it does in my print copy. [/EDIT] The good news about this is that the scans are really, really high quality scans that make the bootleg product look terrible. So, WotC is establishing a quality standard, just not the quality standard I was hoping for. 

Another observation I made are the specific editions that get the nod. As far as rules go, there aren't too many comprehensive rulesets available on DnDClassics. And by "aren't too many," I mean there are two. Moldvay Basic (thank god!) and the 3.5 Rules Cyclopedia. No OD&D (like I was hoping for), no Holmes (which I'd really like to see), no BECMI and no AD&D at all. Here's what I think is going on:

WotC is reprinting the 3.5 core books, so why should they release the pdfs? There's plenty of 3.5 content to be found on DnDClassics, including the Expanded Psionics HB, the PHBII, the DMGII & 3.5 Unearthed Arcana. The core books just aren't there (although the 3.5 Rules Cyclopedia could be said to replace the core rules, it's not as handy as having the 3 separate books). I'm predicting right now (well, I predicted it last week, really) that WotC is going to use this pdf marketplace as the support network for the reprints of previous editions and to drive sales of the currently-in-print edition.

Unable to find a reasonably-priced
copy or a good scan for years,
I finally paid $4.99 for this 
For example, AD&D 1e was reprinted last year, to much fanfare and you can still get the reprints. Thus, WotC does not release the pdfs of these books but releases pdfs in support of them; particularly, right now, DnDClassics has the entire N-series ("novice" series) for AD&D; you know, the one released in '82 that starts with Against the Cult of the Reptile God. (I was tempted to snatch up this series, but +Brian Takle is starting an Adventurer, Conqueror, King game on Wednesday, ostensibly using this as a jumping-off point, so I'm behaving.) 

And so I get to the mad ramblings and inane theories part of the post. Be forewarned.

What aren't we seeing here? 

AD&D 2e: We know that a reprint of AD&D 2e is in the works for what it's worth. 2e was my go-to game for a good long period, so I'm glad to see it getting some love. I may even buy these (I never bought the Monstrous Manual and my Monstrous Compendia are in rough shape) after two decades. 

BECMI: I've been a big proponent of the reprint of BECMI D&D whether in individual set format (which I'd honestly prefer) or in Rules Cyclopedia format. Honestly, I'll gladly take either one. I loved BECMI and thought it was astonishingly well-thought out. +Jez Gordon, I finally agree with you that if WotC is going to reprint anything from BECMI, I'd rather it be the Rules Cyclopedia. Now if they'd just publish the individual boxes as pdfs, we'd all be happy.

D&D 4e: Because it's currently in print, no matter how many people are telling you it's dead. D&DNext isn't here yet, thankfully, and no matter what you think of the edition, it's still the flavor of the day. I do expect that support for 4e will continue here on DnDClassics in the same way that it is for the other editions. I do expect, however, that such support will be thinly spaced out due to the relative slimness of the overall 4e catalog. By the time that Next comes out, it will only have been in print for 6-7 years; hardly the 12 that 1e had or the 11 that 2e had. 

OD&D: Is it possible that WotC is daring to reprint the original whitebox? If they do, this will be a banner day for geeks everywhere. How will they do it? LBBs only? LBBs and Chainmail? LBBs, Chainmail & Supplements? This could get seriously awesome, so let's not get our hopes up too much. 

All in all, I'd say that DnDClassics is off to a great start. I'm pretty amazed at how fast they went from rumor (here on this blog) to an actual usable, well-stocked marketplace. I've already spent money there, too. Turns out I've never owned a Moldvay Basic set as every time I've bid on one or seen one for sale, it's gotten too rich for my blood. Pdfs of Moldvay Basic have been disappointments, too. Now, for $4.99, I have a copy of the ruleset that is so terribly important to the OSR set that it's treated like a gold standard. AND IT LOOKS GREAT! The scan on this thing is beautiful, even if it's not OCRed. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

#7RPGs In Kickassistan

I think this thing started last month when someone posted a pic of their gaming shelf on their blog or G+. I want to say it was James Maliszewski, but I know I saw some pics on G+ before I saw James's blog post, so my sense of what happened when is more than a little off. The gaming shelf pics meme mutated a few weeks back into the #7RPGs meme, where folks discussed the 7 rpgs they played and ran the most often, sometimes with some commentary. The more I thought about what rpgs I've played the most, the more I started to second guess how much time I actually spent really playing or running the games, rather than just prepping stuff for them. And then I thought my gaming group was going to implode (see the entirety of my posts for this last week) and started looking long and hard at what I wanted to do, gaming-wise.
Image too cool not to use

#7RPGs - Player
  1. D&D (3e, BECMI)
  2. Marvel Super Heroes
  3. Vampire: TM
  4. Robotech
  5. Rifts
  6. Shadowrun
  7. Star Wars (WEG d6)

#7RPGs - GM
  1. Star Wars (WEG d6)
  2. D&D (4e, 3e, 2e)
  3. Vampire: TM
  4. Mage: TA
  5. Call of Cthulhu
  6. Earthdawn
  7. Dungeon Crawl Classics
Some thoughts:

D&D: I started with BECMI (my pal Destin ran it way back in the day; I'm pretty sure everyone played elves), then I ran 2e for a long time (although my first 2e group mashed in a lot of Palladium stuff because we didn't really know any better, nor can I say that we ever actually ran just Palladium without any D&D). During 3.xe, I played more than I ran, but I did run a bit. My current run of GMing began with 4e (coming off a pretty long hiatus) and has bounced around from there. 

Marvel Super Heroes sure was a blast, wasn't it? I wish I had room on my GM list for this one, but really, I only ran it for awhile in very late 90's. Maybe a few weeks or so. We played the hell out of this one back in the day, though, and my friend Roger ran this, Shadowrun and the oft-maligned (oft-by-me-maligned) Mythus. I don't recall spending much time playing Mythus as much of a GAME and more of a ROLE PLAYING exercise (which may be why I still have positive memories of it). 

It was my pal Andy who introduced us to the WEG d6 Star Wars RPG back in middle school (it was 1e back then) and I immediately played a bounty hunter. Who learned to use the Force. And I did that whole "Potentium heresy" thing back then when it was cool before you had to drop planets on Chewbacca to work a reasonable investigation of morality into the Star Wars universe and then suddenly everything's relativism all the time and it all gets terrible. Yup, back then. The Zahn trilogy rekindled interest in SWd6 in high school and I started running it then, broken up with my renewed interest in AD&D (2e). I brought this one back out in college and it was a hit, particularly because I used a lot of Star Wars tropes (like the cut scene) and have this ability to improv Star Wars like no other setting. 

Vampire: Yeah, that happened. I think it happened to all of us back in the 90's, didn't it? At least we got Mage out of the OWoD. Only part I still enjoy.

Earthdawn was awesome back in the day, wasn't it? I used to (back in high school) run this at the local gaming club every other week for dudes who were like twice my age. I wonder whatever happened to those guys. If anyone knows what happened to the guys who used to run MAGI (Michiana Area Gaming something-that-starts-with-I), let a brother know. I miss those bastards. 

Rifts got played a lot. A lot. Other than our home game, we also had a game at the aforementioned MAGI gaming club that ran every week or two (again, most of the other players were twice my age) that Roger (see MSH & Shadowrun above) and I went to religiously, not so much because Rifts is awesome as because the guys we played with were a blast and taught us a lot about gaming. Alongside the Rifts game was lots and lots of Robotech because, goddamnit, Veritechs/Valkyries are kick ass. 

It surprised me that DCC made the list, but with the Game of Taps running as long as it has and the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad being the runaway success that it is, I've spent a lot of time running DCC. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Old Dogs, New Tricks: More Tips for Using Roll20

Howdy folks.

This last week, I actually got to play in the Metal Gods campaign for the first time since ... was it November? I think it was November. The Slaves of the Silicon Gods adventure of mine went on a bit longer than I had anticipated, but it was a blast, so all's well in the end. +Edgar Johnson was worried that his material wouldn't be funny enough for us, but then we found out that the Inn in Ur-Hadad we were staying in also caters to otter people, and that drove us mad. (Turns out, he said "we've had odder folk than you" not "we've had otter folk then you.") So, I got to spend this last week out of the driver's seat, and I realized that now I have a few more tips for folks wanting to run games using Roll20 on G+. Here we go.

  • Create a "Launch Page": I use something I call a "launch page" for all of the tokens that I know I'll use (or even just think I'll use) in the adventure. I add at least one token of each type, adding in the variables and details that I'll want to know to each token, such as hp. Using this master set of tokens, I can copy and paste any number of tokens from the launch page onto any other page very quickly, allowing it to act like a sort of palette that I can use to introduce tokens from. Basically, I use this page as a launching point to start the adventure from as well as a reference point in case I ever lose a token.
  • Hand-Drawn Maps: I love using hand-drawn maps rather than just drawing shapes with the tools in Roll20. I purposefully leave the blue lines from the graph paper in when I scan my map images in so that I can use Roll20's "align to grid" function -- a function that is crazy powerful if (a) your scan has your lines pretty much dead-on square to Roll20's grid and (b) you actually follow Roll20's instructions on how to do this. Like oh so many things, this will be frustrating your first few times, and I know how we geeks think we know everything about how to do anything, but seriously, follow the instructions. Apparently, zooming in to 150% scale does wonders for Roll20's ability to get the scaling correct on your map. 
  • Know Your Macro Commands: Well, at least the dice commands. /r XdY+Z. That's it. Internalize it. Live it. Breathe it. Have that command ready to rock with whatever particulars you need to have in it for whatever situation. Yes, you can use the visual dice roller, but not everyone in your gaming group may be able to see them. I probably won't be able to, so don't do it. I want to know what you rolled. You could create some macros (especially if you make buttons of them) should you learn how to program them, and that's crazy easy.
  • Tell Us What You're Rolling: One of the neat things about scripting dice rolling commands in Roll20 is that, after you've entered the dice command, you can write something like "Initiative" or "Battle Axe Hit" or "Heavy Blaster Pistol Damage." Doing this may take an extra few keystrokes, but it tells the entirety of the group just what you're doing. I've got to say, one of the most frustrating things I've done so far is try to sort out initiative rolls, only to have a player say "Oh, no, that wasn't my init roll, that was my attack roll from last encounter" or something. Please, please, please, please tell the rest of the group what you're rolling. You can even code these into macros (see above) and then you've got nothing to remember (when I'm playing in Ur-Hadad, I've got an "Initiative" button that I can hit and it reports that what I've just rolled is my initiative score). 
  • Know What You're Rolling: Apparently, other people don't memorize the statistics of four different characters to use at the same time. I guess I can understand that. The reason that I have most of my characters' stats memorized is that I write them out, as well as bonus expressions for every attack and power and skill roll that's unique (my cleric, Aram, for example, lists "mace +1 (1d6+1)" for an attack and "Spellcasting +4"). It slows the entire group down if they have to wait on you to figure out each turn exactly what you have to roll. So, know what you're rolling ahead of time. If you can, write everything down; if you need to, look stuff up during the turn of the guy before you. 
  • GMs: Learn to Shift-Leftclick: Yes, you can ping the map if you hold the leftclick, but if you hold shift while you leftclick, you center everyone's maps on the point you're pinging. It's like you're telling the group "here! over here! I want you to pay attention to this!" Sometimes, the cats need herding, and this is a good tool to do it.
  • Write on the GM Layer: I write all sorts of notes on my GM layer. I've even been considering putting monster stats there so I don't have to look away from my screen. Traps, key references, secret doors, where players' corpses are or will be... stuff like that. Any note that you don't want the players to see but that you want to reference whenever should go here. 
  • Don't Be Afraid To Draw, Too: Whether as a player or a DM, don't be afraid to use the freehand draw tool (or the object tools) to draw in things that need to be on the map. Where the fire is, where I dropped my axe, where the thing I just discovered is, etc. Lots of stuff you can accomplish by just drawing and not worrying about "ruining" that "perfect" map you're killing everything inside of. This usually ends up being done on the token layer, but if the DM wants things to be a bit more permanent, he can draw them on the map layer. 
Well folks, there's what I've learned from DMing over Roll20 for the past two months. There's some stuff to get used to, but once you get the hang of it and find little tricks that make the system work for you, the level of complexity plummets. If you have any thoughts of your own on how to make this task less daunting, drop me a line, I'd love to read them. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013 and the Oncoming Pdf Storm

If you've been paying attention to G+ today, you might have noticed a strange phenomenon going on: a series of incautious or well-placed (depending on how you look at it) leaks, it has come to light that WotC is very close to releasing pdfs of their back catalog, starting with modules B1-4. While a post earlier today (where it was demonstrated that WotC had a publisher's page on RPGNow/DriveThru but no products) set me to wondering, Mr. +Jeremy Deram confirmed (after a fashion) my speculations here by exposing the existence of (which was quickly covered up after Jeremy pointed it out; I'm not linking the picture here, so go see it over at Jeremy's blog). A while ago, WotC announced a "digital initiative" where it would make available electronic versions of previous editions and products, so this really shouldn't be a surprise, particularly in this day and age of "collector's editions" re-releases.

Now, as Mr. Deram reports, thefirst pdfs available will be modules B1-4, and for these, I'm not terribly excited (since I already have copies of them all in print), but it does open the door for a rules set to use them with. Specifically, I expect that this will be the Moldvay BX box, particularly with all of the attention paid to that edition with retroclones like Labyrinth Lord and LotFP and the fact that modules B2-4 were all designed for BX (B1 was originally designed for Holmes Basic and replaced the dungeon geomorphs and monster & treasure assortment included with the early versions of the Holmes boxed set).

My pdf collection of TSR D&D materials is pretty damn extensive, but there's some things that the prior WotC scans (from when this stuff used to be available on RPGNow) missed or didn't get well enough or are missing pages or whatever. I'd love it if many of the old materials were OCR'd and cleaned up to avoid the awkwardness that infests a lot of poorly done OCRs (my pdf of OD&D are like this and it makes them difficult to read).

Now, as far as what WotC's release schedule will be, it seems clear to me that on the heels of B1-4 will come a rule set to play them with. This could be BX or even Mentzer BECMI or even, if we're going to get excitable, both. I could see WotC then releasing some of the X-series followed by the Moldvay or Mentzer Expert rules, the CM-modules followed by Mentzer Companion rules, and so on. Or they could just circumvent the whole thing and release a pdf of the Rules Cyclopedia.

Of course, there's an entirely different bit of business logic that WotC could be using. What if they plan on releasing pdfs of modules to support material that they are rereleasing. Consider, they're releasing the Slavers modules and the S-series in support of AD&D, so what if they are going to start selling B1-4 because they're going to reprint Moldvay Basic, Mentzer Basic or even the Rules Cyclopedia? Finally, reprints I can use!

So, what do I want to see released as a pdf? Here's my top 5:

  1. Mentzer Basic & Expert 
  2. Moldvay BECMI (all of it; the pdfs I have suck)
  3. The UK-series of modules 
  4. OD&D + supplements (terrible OCR job on the ones I have and missing a page here or there)
  5. The DA-series of modules (MOAR BLACKMOAR!)
Let's see how and when all of this unfolds. My money is on "relatively soon.

As an aside, I realize that there are lots of versions of D&D I've never played and would, at some point, like to give a shot to. Which makes crazy ideas run through my head. Wouldn't it be fun to do an "edition tour?" To start with the '74 white box/LBB version and then proceed to play every published edition for at least one session? Sounds to me like it could be a blast. It could be done with retroclones, but wouldn't it be more fun to do it with the actual rules? To make it even better, make it a FLAILSNAILS event so you could use the same characters in successive games. Hmm... 

[UPDATE] +Dak Ultimak, publisher of the best damn rpg zine on the planet, CRAWL!, tells us that is owned by DriveThru (after a fruitful WhoIs), which makes a lot of sense out of the organizational style of Jeremy's screenshot. (I can't imagine WotC having a "Free Stuff" button that happens to look exactly like the DTRPG one were this not the case). 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This Old Module: An Important Correction

Yesterday, as I was finishing up the post about "What Would Don Turnbull Do?" I realized that I didn't feel I was stating my case adequately, that something was missing from what I'd been writing. It wasn't until very late last night that I realized what it was.

I was dead wrong.

The question that I had been asking myself wasn't "What Would Don Turnbull Do?" but rather "Does this monster fit in the Fiend Folio?" Does it fit alongside the Adherer, the Kharghra or the mighty Flumph? Alongside the Githyanki, the Hook Horror or the Princes of Elemental Evil?

That's what I actually ask myself.

Of course, this rubric could be applied to every monster book out there. "Does this monster fit in the Monster Manual? What about Realms of Crawling Chaos? What about Realms of Chaos? What about the Old World Bestiary?" And so on.

And still, it's only a partly accurate guideline, because whatever we create will always be our own intellectual children, rather than of those who wrote these books, but that's the point isn't it? My monsters wouldn't all fit in the Fiend Folio. Few would, actually. Most would have to go into some sort of "Fiend Folio of Hyperboria and Zothique" or something like that. And that's fine. That's actually the goal, so no harm done.

This stuck in my craw all night last night and I had to correct myself. I'm sorry for any misconception my post yesterday may have caused.

[EDIT] When this post originally went out, I had mispelled Don Turnbull's name... twice. It's fixed now. Thanks for not jumping all over me, folks. I wrote this post after being awake for about ten minutes, so I didn't have my head on straight yet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This Old Module: What Would Don Turnbull Do?

A few weeks back, I wrote about Saving Old Modules From Themselves. Apparently, a lot of people were interested in what I had to say, which I take as seriously flattering. Sure, there were some people who disagreed with me and my sensibilities, but those people, quite frankly, aren't the sort of folks who spend a lot of time here in Kickassistan, so we're not worrying too much about them. The post in question brought up some of the issues that I take with older modules and what I call "genre D&D" at large and a lot of you out there had a lot of supportive things to say about the issues I brought up and, as a result, I knew I'd be following that article up with a few successive ones addressing the faults that I called out there. After trying to force some posts out of my brain, I instead decided to just wait and let them come to me. Today, I'm going to be looking at one way to solve what I call the "Not Another Orc Syndrome."

Facing room after room of orcs is boring. There, I said it. Even if those orcs are goblins or hobgoblins or any of the other billion things we've spent decades killing en masse. Sure, killing those poor mooks was new and exciting way back in the seventies (and during the 80's, too), but the shine has worn off, especially with the monsters filling these niches filling a common one between different settings and game systems. Ostensibly, if you play D&D, the One Ring, Warhammer or Barebones Fantasy, orcs is orcs is orks is orcs, right? Well, in my mind, that's a problem because once my players know they've seen a particular challenge before, it stops being scary to them because they know how to deal with it.

What's the best tool in your DM toolbox to fix this problem of genre D&D when you find it in an old school module that you'd like to run, if it weren't for all those faults?

For me, it's asking the question "What Would Don Turnbull Do?" and using the answer to that question as a guide.

For those who (somehow) don't know, Don Turnbull was the guy behind TSR UK back in the day when that entity existed. He was the guy behind Imagine magazine (lots of people are talking about that right now), he cut his teeth writing some awesome stuff for White Dwarf when that old warhorse was fresh out of the gate and was the HNIC of TSR UK overseeing the legendary UK series of modules. Most importantly to this discussion, he was the editor of the Fiend Folio, the most stunningly interesting, illustrated and imagined bestiary of rpg monsters not merely of 1e, but, for my money, to date. I get far more inspiration looking through the pages of ye olde FF than any Monster Manual or similar book ever produced.

Sure, Don Trumbull might not have written the monsters in the book, but he was behind culling them from the pages of White Dwarf and mixing them in with some module-derived monsters by some dude named Gygax into a relatively cohesive format. Now, I know that the FF has its detractors. Some folks just don't like the absolutely strange quality and absurd nature of some of the monsters therein. Also, some people like Dragonlance. Other people not liking something means zip, zero, zilch to me (as my lovely wife can attest to) because other people are the reason that crap exists. I almost always want a whacked-out, crazy monster rather than a yawn-inspiring one that my players already know how to deal with and will take one of Mr. Turnbull's monsters every time over a Monster Manual one.

Of course, your mileage will necessarily vary because you aren't me.

Here's what I want you to take away from this so far: know your aesthetic and how to get mileage out of it.

I don't always want a FF monster, just most of the time. Sometimes, I want a Lovecraft or CA Smith-style monster. I've got resources for those, and references to help me flavor my own new monsters accordingly. Sometimes, I want a more conceptual horror and I look to James Raggi for inspiration. Sometimes, I want a Priestly-style, WH-flavored grotty hellbeast. And then, of course, there are the non-gaming sources.

The core of the idea here is to use these inspirations to think about what you want to replace the Not Another Orcs with rather than just what you could replace them with. Neither is the point to just copy and paste from an author/creator you dig all of the time, but that certain author/creator's styles that inspire your aesthetic can be called upon here to help inspire your monster choices and creation. In my case, I tend to ask myself "What would Don Turnbull do if he were designing a monster for situation X that does thing Y and fits criterion Z?"

The thing about asking that question is, what you're really asking is "what the hell do I want to do?"

Which is a good thing to do.

Because you don't always know.

And asking how someone else might do X, Y and/or Z can inform you about how you actually want to do them, particularly if you don't want to do them the same way whomever would have.

Did I Seriously Just Watch That? - Baldwin Torture Porn Edition

The Baldwins feature among their number this guy named Daniel -- or, as IMDB states his family calls him, Danny. Sure, he's done a
 lot of different stuff, some of it even worth paying attention to (see Homicide: Life on the Streets), but I'd have to say that these days, Danny's claim to fame is that he looks like a chubby, beat-up version of his brother Alec. In 2009, Danny (or "fake Alec" as I prefer to think of him) played a serial killer in the completely abysmal film, A Darker Reality. As far as I can tell, the entire reason that this film was made was to place a guy who looks reasonably like Alec Baldwin (not hard when you're his brother) in a torture porn movie like the Saw franchise.

Do not watch this film.

And that's from the guy who explained how to watch Lifeforce and survive.

Just don't do it.

I understand that me saying "don't do something" is akin to saying to many of you "you should totally do this thing," but really, I never thought that I would have to invent the following phrase, much less use it to explain anything ever:

Torture Porn Done Wrong

Some people are shaking their heads and puzzling through that. "Isn't all torture porn, by definition, done wrong?" Yup. And this even gets that wrong.

So really, just don't do it. Even you, +Jez Gordon . It's not worth it.

And if you ignore even that warning (and the fact that I can't find enough decent images from the movie to fill up space in this post), here's some of what you'll be treated to:

  • Dr. Tits McGee and her incredibly inappropriate work attire. Tube tops apparently are good ideas at hospitals.
  • Detective Badatmyjob is grumbly and gruff like every other movie detective but with the added bonus of being entirely ineffectual, incredibly poorly-acted and, when it comes right down to it, completely tangential to the plot.
  • Danny B (I now prefer to think of Daniel Baldwin as "Danny B," and he breaks with his crew on the mean streets like he's straight out of Breakin' 2) plays a ludicrously over-the-top clown of a psychopath complete with pointless overdubs from his "how I got to be an idiotic serial torturer/killer" memoir. 
  • Seriously, this Danny B is hard to swallow. Not only does he come off as clownishly terrible, but comes off like a Baldwin. Snarky, smug, condescending. A fucking Baldwin. 
  • Unimaginative gore. I'm the sort of sick fuck who wants his torture porn to do new and exciting things in the torture and murder departments. 
  • Danny B has a retarded torture assistant. Literally retarded. I see no point in this and it serves to merely make the whole thing come off as less serious. I'm fine with less-serious gory movies, but "lightening the mood" in a torture porn flick just seems remarkably tasteless. Normally, I can do tasteless, but tasteless plus bad acting plus terrible plot plus velveeta-grade cheese makes the whole thing come off as the bad sort of amateurish, like the folks who insisted on playing Malkavian antitribu because "crazy is cool." Fuck you. You don't get to use that as an excuse for sucking.
Now, I need to watch I Spit On Your Grave to get the bad taste of A Darker Reality out of my brain. 

Fucking horrible. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monster Monday: The Blue Siren

Has it really been a month since I've done a Monster Monday post? I'm sorry folks, I've totally messed that one up. It seems like Tuesday will roll around and I'll ask myself "Self, what are you going to write today?" Then answer, "How about a monster? Monsters are cool." "Yeah, self, but we should really save those for Monster Monday. When is Monday again?" "Yesterday, idiot." And so it goes. You get no new monsters from the wilds of Kickassistan and I miss opportunities.
Not like this at all
The best known as the Blue Siren is one of the stranger predators of the jungles of Kickassistan, and is highly sought after by the nobles of Ur-Hadad as both a guardian and show piece. A show piece due to the males' vibrant plumage and exquisite song, a guardian due to the hypnotic quality of that very plumage that causes all who view it to become stunned and do nothing but gaze at it. Looking nothing like any one Earthly bird, the Blue Siren of Kickassistan has marked similarities to several different species; it's head is similar to a crested cockatoo, it has long, curling tail plumage akin to the lyre bird, and delicate pinions that trail lenthy arabesques of color, and a body comparable to that of a medium-sized dog. Once a potential victim has been lured into complacency by the males' intricate and mesmerizing plumage, the lurking nearby strike.

An extreme example of sexual dimorphism in a species, many early explorers believed that the different sexes of the bird were actually different species and it was not until nobles sought captive Sirens that otherwise was proven. While the plumage of the male Blue Siren attracts most creatures and sentient beings, that of the female does something even more remarkable: it makes them harder to see. No simple sort of camouflage, the female Blue Siren (which, being brown instead of blue, is often called a Sirenwife rather than "female Blue Siren," although primarily by those who fail to truly understand the nature of the species) uses her plumage to mask her presence from the victim's attention rather than attract it; in short, the plumage tells the perceiver's (and would-be prey's) mind that the female Blue Siren simply isn't there. It is then that the female, being easily twice the size of the male and with a viciously serrated beak and talons, attacks the hypnotized prey.

Blue Siren

Init +1; Atk +0 beak melee (1d4) or special; AC 14; HD 2d8 (hp 9); MV 10’ or 60’ fly; Act 1d20; SP Hypnotise (20’ radius, Will save DC 15 or paralyze); SV Fort +0, Ref +4, Will +2; AL N


Init +3; Atk +3 beak melee (1d4+2); AC 13; HD 3d8 (13 hp); MV 10’ or 60’ fly; Act 1d20; SP Nearly invisible before attack (DC 22 to see); SV Fort +1, Ref +4, Will +2; AL N.

Blue Sirens are somewhat social animals, although there is fierce competition between males for mates. Normally, a male will have from one to five mates and only if there are enough females to support him and another male will he tolerate the presence of another male. Some exceptions do occur, normally for familial reasons, but the small family social group of male and mates eventually enforces itself as these family units compete for food and territory. A standard nest of Blue Sirens includes one male (who will spend the bulk of his time acting as a lure for prey for the females) and three females. The survival rate for males, despite their unique evolutionary advantage, is considerably lower than for females; thus, bands of migrating females may sometimes be encountered as they scour the jungle for a male they may claim as their own.

Though some treasure may be found in the nests of the Blue Siren, primarily the leftovers from some prior kill made by the Sirens, the true value to be found in a Blue Siren lair is the eggs of the birds. In any nest, adventurers may find 1d5+2 eggs; taken back to civilization, these brightly-colored eggs will fetch 30 gp (sp in Metal Gods) each right away. Further, if hatched (which takes 1d7 weeks), the hatchlings are worth 100 gp/sp, and fully grown, trained Blue Sirens can go for as much as 2d5x1000 gp/sp for males and 2d4x1000 gp/sp for females (this requires an additional six months of rearing and 2d3 months of training). Blue Sirens are not known to lay eggs in captivity, and so a steady stream of eggs is demanded by the noble classes, leading many to seek their fortune in the jungles of Kickassistan, only to find their deaths.

Image reference:

Friday, January 11, 2013

What Happens At Sea? d24 Table for the Dreamtime/lands Hexcrawl

It's been awhile since my "What's My Crime" post about using the Lucky Roll in DCC to determine what crime lands a PC in the penal colony at Biology Bay in the Dreamtime/Dreamlands hexcrawl thing that I have yet to discuss too much about. It's been somewhat on the back burner as I write new material for the Game of Taps, the Weaver's Loom and the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaigns, but soon one of those obligations will be lifted for a bit as +Edgar Johnson takes over. And so, it's time to turn back toward the hexcrawl thingy and see where we're going with it (aside from needing a new name for it) by switching up the "d24 Random Equipment" list into a "d24 Random Events at Sea" table that serves roughly the same purpose with the addition of simplifying the 5d12 cp for starting money roll.

Roll | Result

1 | Uncharted island; you need something to keep your map in as you explore. - Backpack (14 cp)
2 | Important anniversary; you celebrate it at sea, in chains, but the cake ain't bad. - Candles, 1d6 (20 cp)
3 | Learned a dangerous secret; spent the rest of the trip in solitary confinement. - Chain, 10' (23 cp)
4 | Mysterious possession; compulsively drawing magic circles saves your soul. - Chalk, 1d4 pieces (26 cp)
5 | Ship-board gambling champion; too bad the chest you won had no money in it. - Chest, empty (27 cp)
6 | Smuggled cargo; it's gotta be in one of these crates, right? - Crowbar (28 cp)
7 | Drinking buddies with a guard; he let you keep the empties. - Flask, empty (29 cp)
8 | Regarded as an old salt; you take up smoking a pipe. Maybe a meerschaum. - Flint & steel (30 cp)
9 | Hurricane! You used whatever was at hand to keep yourself on board. - Grappling hook (31 cp)
10 | Ran a gambling ring; broke fingers of debtors who didn't pay. - Hammer, small (31 cp)
11 | Ship-board conversion; sincere or not, you've been penitent. - Holy symbol (32 cp)
12 | P-p-p-pirate ghosts! Quick, hold them off with this! - Holy water, 1 vial (32 cp)
13 | Ship-board heresy; heretics enjoy free crucifixions. - Iron spikes, 1d4 (33cp)
14 | Assigned to night watch; no boarders, no icebergs, no problem. - Lantern (33 cp)
15 | Ship-board romance; this can be scary on a prison ship. - Mirror, hand-sized (34 cp)
16 | Plague outbreak; you helped burn the bodies to stave off infection. - Oil, 1 flask (34 cp)
17 | Labor on an away boat; they made you work, but let you keep the pole. - Pole, 10-foot (35 cp)
18 | Stole from the mess hall; you got really good at hiding food really quickly. - Rations, 1d4 days (36 cp)
19 | Washed overboard; your consolation prize is the rope they saved you with. - Rope, 50' (37 cp)
20 | Pirate attack! Your infamous "sack of potatos" disguise saves your life. - Sack, large (38 cp)
21 | Mysterious contagion; it drives men mad and leaves you cowering in your bunk. - Sack, small (39 cp)
22 | Deathbed confession; the old thief gave you these tools along with his dying words. - Thieves' tools (42 cp)
23 | Monster attack; you learned to use fire to keep the beasts at bay. - Torch, 1d4 (45 cp)
24 | Boarded by a foreign power; and all I got was this crappy waterskin. - Waterskin (51 cp)

This table should be self-explanatory other than the copper piece listing. Instead of rolling your random item, roll a d24 and roll for something that happened during your voyage as well as a piece of random equipment. Rather than roll the 5d12 for starting cash, you can, instead, roll a d24 and take the cp listed here.* Take as much or as little direction from this table as you like; it's mostly just a fun way to add a little bit of detail along with something useful.

*As you might expect if you've been reading this blog, these results for cp totals are based on the probability models for rolling 5d12, which provides a nice, normalized bell curve, which is then fitted to the super-flat probability curve of the d24 die roll. Instead of making it strictly make sense probabilistically, I instead tried to preserve the flavor of a bell curve, particularly with the first and last die results being significantly far away from the median (two standard deviations, if you're keeping track, putting it squarely within the 96% mark). Of course, you could just ignore it and roll normally. 

[Edit: I just fixed the cp distribution a little. Somehow, I had my 1/2/3 rule of probability distribution a little off. Should be more even odds now.]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winos & Wastrels: Part Two B, Sample Interests

Last week, I gave you the first two phases of the Winos & Wastrels downtime management system that I'm developing for use in my home games to figure out how characters spend their time and money in between sessions. One of the key features of this system is buying into two different Interests; one Goal and one Temptation, both of which are drawn from the same list. Goals take a positive spin on the Interest, whereas Temptations take a negative one. Today, I'm going to look at a few different Interests and what they mean in the positive (Goal) and negative (Temptation) aspect.

Sample Interests


Connaiseurie (Goal) - While others may simply drink wine, ale or whiskey, you make it your business to truly appreciate it. Perhaps you're a brewer or distiller or even vintner who takes pride in your work; perhaps you're a sommelier whose knowledge of alcohol is your trade. Then again, perhaps you just really like to drink and have turned the simple act of imbibing into an art form. Regardless, you spend this Upkeep Turn indulging your passion for the finer drinks in life and finding no small measure of reassurance and succor at the bottom of each bottle.
Intemperence (Temptation) - Your passions drive you not merely to drink, but to consume in excess. You spend the nights of your Upkeep Turn draining bottle after bottle as you descend further and further into dipsomaniac stupor that will likely leave you far worse for the wear.


Gourmanderie (Goal) - Whether a chef or merely the possessor of a notable palate, you devote the majority of this Upkeep Turn to not merely feasting, but more accurately to the sensation of taste itself. Exotic recipes, rare ingredients and the proper degree of skill necessary to marry the both together are the passions you pursue this Turn, as if enlightenment can be found in happy taste buds and a sated stomach. Who's to say it can't?
Gluttony (Temptation) - The angels of your better nature desert you whenever you are confronted with the opportunity to consume. Your days are marked with large breakfasts, vast midday meals and sumptuous evening feasts, but never is any bite enough to sate your vast illusory hunger that covers the rents in your soul you attempt to fill with food.


Arcana (Goal) - Your thirst for knowledge knows few bounds and you spend the bulk of this Upkeep Turn mired in research, study and scholarship of a type of your choosing. Perhaps you seek to unlock metaphysical truths of the nature of reality or simply a better understanding of animal husbandry; it matters not, for you have made the study of any arcana or apocrypha your bailiwick. Who knows what secrets you might discover?
Forbidden Knowledge (Temptation) - Some would call you obsessed and indeed perhaps you are, but the knowledge that consumes your every waking thought is not the sort that can be found cheaply or easily. When you come by your lost grimoires of prohibited arcana or scrolls of forgotten secrets, you devote every waking hour to their study, to the detriment of your social life, your sanity and your soul.


Industry (Goal) - For others, making money is a struggle; for you, it is an art. You spend this Upkeep Turn bolstering your business interests and working at growing your own personal wealth through clever manipulation of markets, dutiful management of your goods and services and careful implementation of solid business practices.
Greed (Temptation) - Wealth is an end in and of itself, you come to believe, and you pursue its accumulation mercilessly and without regard to whom may be harmed in your pursuit. You call in every debt, break any contract and haggle all deals to ensure your maximum profits, destroying your own good name and every fool unlucky enough to owe you money.


Craftsmanship (Goal) - You set about either commissioning or manufacturing a great work of artistic skill and supreme craftsmanship. This Upkeep Turn, your great work may not be accomplished, depending on its nature, but great strides are made toward its completion; at the end of the appropriate amount of time, your investment will pay off in an artifact of such quality that it shall be treasured by your heirs for generations to come.
Vanity (Temptation) - Whether you craft your own objects or have them manufactured for you, you adore items of opulent and decadent form and design, adorned with the finest in rare metals and fine gems. Assuming you can afford them. Regardless, you craft or commission the gaudiest objets d'art and artifacts you can manage, flaunting the results, tasteful or not.


Reputation (Goal) - Although you may not be actually altruistic, you strive to cultivate an air of magnanimity and largesse at home in the highest halls of society. You devote this Upkeep Turn to cultivating your contacts with nobility, clergy and the merchant class in order to as much be well-known in the halls of power as to have important allies from whom favors may be called in.
Snobbery (Temptation) - In an attempt to improve your station in society, you burn bridges and step on the backs of your social inferiors. You demand absolute obedience from those below you in the social (or economic) order and punish insubordination and failure quickly and without mercy. Your passions drive you to build your legend on the backs of those you deem inferior.


Romance (Goal) - Romance is the pursuit for emotionally fulfilling companionship (whether physically fulfilling or not) and for this Upkeep Turn, you pursue it in whatever guise you find it. Though it may bankrupt you, you endure potential hardship after potential hardship in search of that psychic satiation that romance brings.
Lust (Temptation) - Investing whatever means are at your disposal, you indulge in the passions of the flesh as continuously as possible during this Upkeep Turn. Given the opportunity, any opportunity, you will turn against even your own better judgment and well being to sate your lust for physical companionship, often to your own detriment as you attempt to compensate for your emotional inadequacies with debauch.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On The Table: Gaming Aspirations.

As I've mentioned in the past, one of my gaming groups alternates games. D&D 4e one week (run by moi) and something else in the weeks between. Really, we haven't started that scheme yet and so far, we've just been playing board games, card games, non-board-based Euro games and other stuff. Now, thanks to my group realizing that I'd like to play sometimes, too, we're stretching our gaming legs and playing some of the stuff that's been on our collective gaming "bucket lists" for some time or stuff that we have a volunteer Guest DM to handle. Here's some of the awesome that we're cooking up on our gaming table right now:

  • FFG's Edge of the Empire: I ordered the starter box a little bit ago and once it shows up, I'm ready to tear this thing open. Whether I'm playing it or running it, I know I'll have a blast because it's Star Wars and Star Wars is my first fantasy love (as I've already said at least once this week... man, I've got to stop repeating myself). 
  • Amber Diceless: Yup. I said it. +Rad DeLong dragged this one out of some closet somewhere and dropped it on the table in the middle of the "hey, how about?" conversation this past Sunday. I've never read the Zelazny books (don't hate, please) and as far as I can tell, this is a game about folks who are members of a family who rule the whole of the universe, right? How could this go wrong? A big plus for me on this game is that Rad would likely run it and our Guest DM for Savage Worlds (see below), Mr. Matt Woodard, would be totally down for joining us for this one, too.
  • Savage Worlds Zombocalypse: Matt Woodard (no G+, I can't link) offered to run a Savage Worlds zombie apocalypse homebrew something or other for us. One session, maybe two at the outside. I'm not sure what he's planning, but he did say something about there being justification for having firearms skills and also creating our characters at the end of the first session (I guess that would make it more than one session, eh? Man, I'm a real genius sometimes). Neat ideas, smart DM, I'm down.
  • Shadows of Esteren: I have to be really careful when I say the name of this game because half the time it comes out "Shadows of Estrogen," which the group decided sounds like "Menopause: the RPG." In reality, SoE is a low fantasy, dark medieval game with lots of shadowy horror stuff going on in the background that smacks of Guillermo Del Toro's art, books and movies. Really, all I had to say to this gaming crew was "story game," "low fantasy" and "Del Toro" and it was starting to sound like a good idea.
  • Shadowrun: Rad & I both have fond memories of this game, but apparently our experiences were vastly different. Sure, I remember my street samurai getting mowed down by enemy fire (Rad's experiences seemed to be more on the deadly side, too), but I also fondly remember my decker hiding in relative safety while the rest of the party takes the hits. Or my physical adept slinking around the battlefield and striking from the shadows only to retreat to them immediately after the kill. Reminiscing aside, Shadowrun was always a favorite and I'd love to see how a new edition handles some of the advances in tech we've had since then. My one worry is the state of Catalyst Game Labs because this happened
  • Traveller: Turns out, all of the young-uns that I play with haven't ever even heard of Traveller. This one might wait until Traveller5 comes out this year, or I might just grab my MGT LBBs and see what happens when these folks roll some dice. Ending up with completely random characters can be a refreshing experiment and the "character creation as mini-game" aspect of Traveller (along with "every aspect of the goddamn game as a mini-game" aspect) is one of my favorites.\
  • FATE Core Wizard School: FATE Core is already a runaway success on Kickstarter (as of this writing, it has $232k of its 3k goal and I'm writing this well in advance of posting it) and from what I've seen, this looks like a super-simple story game that focuses on pulp-ish cohesive story telling. When I was thinking through a game that I could create and run in very, very short order, I came up with the idea for a Wizard School game. The fun thing is that nearly everyone I say "Wizard School" to comes up with the Harry Potter style of Wizard School. Me, I come up with Mage: The Ascension meets the one-hour action dramedy (read: Joss Whedon) meets Doctor Who meets Discworld all mashed up in the 16th century, with lots of stuff based on real history, except where that gets changed by the stuff the players do. Every player gets to be the best at something and the whole group works together to define a "syllabus" (read: a rough outline for the story) for the "semester" (however long the story arc lasts). Fun, easy and one-shot-ish.
  • Woodland Warriors: The wife suggested that we run this one and a few people in the group seemed to like the idea. While the Mouse Guard RPG does the "cute little animals acting like heroes" thing from a story game point of view, Woodland Warriors takes the opposite tack and is actually an OD&D retroclone that has some simple and elegant solutions. Sure, it may be designed as an introductory rpg for younguns, but I think we could get some serious mileage out of it, particularly since at least one of our players grew up on the Redwall stuff. +Tim McMacken Jr, I'm looking at you.
  • Malifaux: So, this one is (a) not an rpg, (b) requires at least a $50 buy in from players participating and (c) opens us up to the slippery slope of wargaming. I dig the minis, though, and if Rad is willing to go in on the terrain, I'll go in on at least one squad (maybe two so we'll have an extra for other players who don't have a squad already). I've already signed on for one Outcasts squad and I think Rad's planning on a Neverborn squad, so we'll see what if anyone else adds something killer to the mix.
  • Rad's Brother's Homebrew Game: Apparently, Rad's brother Andrew has been working on different iterations of the homebrew game system for the last fourteen years ( I got the actual count on Sunday night) and, although Rad swears that the system is very complex and more suited towards campaign play, Rad also suggests that it might be suitable for a one or two session adventure. I'm optimistic (and am looking forward to yet another Guest DM).  
For now, there's our list. Well, the short list for the time being. I'm sure that we'll add some stuff to it and that I'll have things to say about the stuff we try out. I'm especially looking forward to Shadows of Esteren and Edge of the Empire (enough to invest a small chunk of change in them and to run them on my off weeks). I'm really excited to see how this tour-des-joues goes and to learn what games we all like and why.