Saturday, December 31, 2011

Armchair Reviews: Clockwork & Chivalry Core Rulebook 2nd Edition PDF


Here's my latest review:
Having never played any of the flavors of Runequest, ever, it's hard for me to critique this core rulebook's rules (though I am a fan of the parent ruleset and was intrigued at the 1st set of Mongoose Runequest ruleset -- but that's another story). However, as a sourcebook and a spark of inspiration I can offer my opinions.

First off, the setting is one that I thought I was familiar with -- a swashbuckling setting with clockwork marvels -- but I was quickly proven wrong. The game is anchored in the time of the struggle of King Charles I and the English Parliament, with all the political and religious turmoil of that explosive era. Mix in alchemy, clockwork machines, and a changing view of the world, and you have an RPG already very different from the archetypal smooth talk and swordplay model of gameplay.

There rules for character creation seem pretty straightforward, with the 30+ professions and descriptions giving a great feel for the era. The Factions section (and their interrelated nature with the Righteousness mechanic) adds both flavor and potential richness to roleplay and gameplay possibilities.

The illustrated sections on Weapons and Armor will lend players and GMs alike passable expertise on the era's implements of war, and the sections on Alchemy and Witchcraft put a different spin on the traditional view of spellweaving in RPGs, while the section on clockwork devices help frame and make playable this particular conceit of the game. And the source material doesn't end there: maps of Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Europe and the New World; Wages and the Cost of Living, History, Important People, etc.

And there are sections on gamemastering this RPG, a couple of adventures to get you started, and a useful index to find all sorts of material in this dense, seemingly complete RPG corebook.

There are some problems with the PDF bookmarking of the my copy, but these can be easily rectified I'm sure in future iterations of the PDF.

All in all, a fine addition to my RPG collection.

Actually, I doubt I'll ever run it. But I will mine it mercilessly for my Fading Suns campaign.

Friday, December 30, 2011

In Search Of: Go-to OSR Ruleset(s) for 2012

So I'm looking at the various Retro/Neo/Alterclones out there for several reasons:

(1) holidays are stressful;
(2) need moderate complexity ruleset for one Enigmundia subsetting;
(3) need light ruleset for the various OSR setting offerings out there (Carcosa, Weird Adventures, Blackmarsh, Vornheim, etc.).

It's fun looking through the ones I have and seeing which one fits my needs.

Of course, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is really begging to be purchased now... stupid collector's impulse.

Armchair Gamer Plans for 2012

The year 2011 was another learning experience in terms of writing a series of articles. Mainly I learned that I need to set aside time to read and write for some of the series that I had planned -- not all entries are easy to do, and that's what killed some of my attempts.

Still, in 2012 I'd like to continue doing reviews. Perhaps not all new products, some older ones -- even those that are not available in PDF on RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. I've become fascinated by what elements make certain RPG products work better than others and some of my fave rulebooks and sourcebooks come from back in my gaming past.

I'd also like to restart my postings on Enigmundia, and maybe combine that work with the Shards work I was doing.

I'd like to start up some support for the Hero System, sustain my support for Fading Suns, and figure out how to write some stuff for a science fiction campaign inspired by many sources.

That's a lot. I do hope I can do it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Armchair Reviews: Weird Adventures

Damn, what a densely-packed sourcebook. And I couldn't even cite a specific entry that I liked for fear of spoiling player enjoyment by revealing what I liked (twists and surprises galore). Anyway, here's my review as it appeared on RPGNow.com.

Weird Adventures is a sourcebook for a game setting that is a mixture of traditional fantasy elements and a mad infusion of weird pulp fiction (mostly) set in a strangely familiar nation and city.

The sheer density of setting texture and detail alone makes this sourcebook a must-buy, but it's tied together by a weird conglomeration of almost-recognizable elements taken from history, period culture, myth, movies, fiction, comics, and pulp novel arcana that works as a setting. There is some lacuna left for the tastes of the DM -- but those spaces are easily filled by nabbing from both traditional fantasy and 1920s Americana.

It is a bit light on the game mechanics for a sourcebook, but the new monsters have stats that can be extrapolated to any D&D ruleset, and the DM is open to establishing how prevalent and powerful guns and transport might be in his/her campaign. I do recommend allowing yourself to be inspired by both magic and mad science in answering these questions, as the setting seems to excel at keeping players and GMs on their mental toes in anticipating secrets and twists to the adventure hooks. I'd love to give examples, but to do justice I'd have to give an entire entry away!

The art truly evokes both the feeling of the source material and the conceit of being a travel guide of sorts into this strange realm, and -- while I only have the PDF version -- I think that the printed copy will make a handsome, conversation-starting addition to any gaming collection.

Just make sure your friends don't borrow it without you knowing!

I'm think that an appropriate expansion would be various rulesets expansions for the appropriate retro-clone, but that's another post.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Piecemeal System Reviews: Three from January

I was curious and discovered that I had, in fact, written some reviews before.

There are three "piecemeal system reviews" that I did in January of this year that talk about elements of game systems that I remember. Here they are:

Also, I have the initial post that I made, showing that I had intended to cover a few more system mechanics. Maybe I'll do it next year.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

OSR Cycle of Innovations & Critique Criteria

Fantasy Heartbreakers and militant OSR purists aside, the indie OSR movement has -- in concert with other industry-wide learnings and trends, of course -- produced a lot of quality material. Few are perfect, and of course different people will have varying opinions on the products, but there are best practices that are added to the body of OSR work grows.

Because of the exercise of RPG product review, I've realized several things about my preferences in source material:
  • Dealbreakers - there are certain things that make the product irredeemable or just not worth my time to find out if the content is worth it; this includes layout decisions that make it a pain to read through the material, or painfully inept writing or editing. Bad art, it turns out, I can forgive.
  • Consistency of tone - I don't mind informal writing of source material, nor do I mind material that's meant to evoke a certain emotion or atmosphere (even if done badly). I do mind writing that alternates between the two, especially if the informal tone tends to break the so-called fourth wall. If you're going to poke fun at the atmosphere you're trying to build, just start off informal.
  • Synergistic Crunch and Fluff - I don't think there's a magic ratio of crunch to fluff; I do believe that key elements of your setting demand crunch -- even if you have to say: use the crunch in some other RPG sourcebook. I hate floating pieces of fluff that are ill-defined and yet are intimated at being an "encounterable" bit of fluff.
  • Organization matters - group useful bits of info together, stick them in some place close to where they're mentioned, do it consistently and I'll be happy. Throw in some indexes and I'll be even happier.
I have more, but I realized it might be good to build up a list of this criteria AND to get some folks talking about what they felt worked and didn't work in various source material according similar lists of criteria so that there's a large amount of talk about what makes an RPG sourcebook good aside from just the material in it. And perhaps how certain source material can overcome key failings, break the rules, and become must-haves -- while others languish in the hell of mediocrity.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Radar: Hey! It's Buckaroo Banzai!

I was traipsing through the websites of the various companies whose RPGs have caught my eye and saw this: A Buckaroo Banzai RPG on the Adamant Entertainment website! It'll be out in April of 2012, with an interesting blurb:
Adamant Entertainment, in association with the Banzai Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Strategic Information, has entered into a license agreement by which Adamant will be producing the Buckaroo Banzai Adventure Game — a training manual for Blue Blaze Irregulars which uses the format of a tabletop role-playing game in order to prepare BBI recruits for the sorts of situations in which they may find themselves while aiding Buckaroo. The training manual will feature guidelines for taking on the roles of either your own Blue Blaze Irregular Strike Team, or the roles of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers themselves. Familiarize yourselves with global threats ranging from Red Lectroids from Planet 10 to Hanoi Xan and the World Crime League; Learn about the specialized equipment available from the Banzai Institute, such as the Oscillation Overthruster and the Jet Car; And begin to embrace the motto of the Blue Blaze Irregulars: “Helping him to help us.”

The 1984 Buckaroo Banzai "documentary" was a fantastic attempt at a modern-day pulp hero in the vein of Doc Savage and The Shadow, with some of the best sound sweetening work at the time ("Sined. Seeled. Delivered."), a fun plot, and lots of interesting characters and quotable quotes.

Looking forward to this - hope it's good;Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!


                                                                                                                                                 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Armchair Reviews: ICONS -- The RetConQuest PDF





Here's my latest review: an adventure for a system I've never played. However, it is an interesting enough adventure as an introduction to a game system and start of a campaign.

In a nutshell, The RetConQuest is a solid adventure that seems -- structurally -- more appropriate as an introductory adventure rather than as a stand-alone adventure in an ongoing campaign.

The core conceit of 'normal humans' remembering their superpowered selves and slowly/instantaneously regaining their identities and abilities in an alternate timeline is a good one, allowing new players (and characters) to slowly be introduced to the character creation and task resolution rules of Icons without necessarily abandoning the game narrative completely. The plot twists seeded in the "initial" and "final" confrontations with Tempus Khan are also useful in terms of helping fine tune characters created in the course of play, in addition to being a clever, limited-novelty nod to the nature of battling time-conquering villains.

For an ongoing campaign, however, I have a preference for more scenes and encounters that would allow the GM to present a series of encounters with heroes, villains, and normals from the regular campaign and how their lives are different from what is remembered. There was only one opportunity for this in the published adventure, though a clever GM could arguably extend or spread out such scenes.

Finally, there were a small number of typos that could have been fixed (and still can be through the magic of updated PDFs): like the "page @@" incident and a missing apostrophe.

All in all, a solid, clever adventure and a potentially great beginning for a great campaign!

I would add to this review that my preferences do tend more to sourcebooks, and adventures that actually flesh out certain portions of a campaign world with little bits of texture and telling detail. Despite this, and a staggering realization that I prefer smaller fonts to larger ones in my gaming material, I thought this was a good product.

A New Fading Suns Site from Redbrick?


Well, technically it's a new Redbrick website.

I think a lot of my links to the old blog posts will go dead soon, which is sad. Although I'll be happy when the New Fading Suns ruleset comes out though!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Setting Expeditions: Code Black -- Part IIIa

Just because I'm in a stressed mood and have a lot of work ahead of me, I decided to do a little quiz (not that hard really) based on the various movies that you can technically run in the Code: Black setting with some minor tweaks to the rationale, and in some cases not at all.

And for fun, I've arranged the pics into a safe for work (I think) arrangement of pics that seems to follow the traditional sequence of horror plots in these kinds of adventures. Hope you enjoy, and let me know if you recognize all the films.

Signs & Portents
Due Diligence
Inciting Artifact
Legwork
Strange Discovery
Fatal Encounter
Regroup and Rally
The Gang
The Gear
The Garb
Into the Belly of the Beast
Not In Kansas Anymore
Confrontation
Enough Talk
Oh, it's on now!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Armchair Reviews: Isle of the Unknown PDF edition


Something with the title Isle of the Unknown conjures up an island far from the outposts of civilization, shrouded in mystery, brimming with strangeness and wonders. In this case, only the first aspect is untrue since the island in question is 35,00 square miles in size, broken up into 330 land hexes (each 86 square miles), and each hex is keyed with a central point of interest which includes a number of towns and one city (ruled by a king). But there is mystery, strangeness and wonder aplenty on it.

The island in question is 35,00 square miles in size, broken up into 330 land hexes (each 86 square miles), and is described in much the same way that the Carcosa sandbox setting was -- each hex is keyed with a central point of interest.

Comparisons to Carcosa are unavoidable because Isle of the Unknown is written by the same author, published by same publisher, and is presented in roughly the same format (which is not a bad one) as Carcosa, though it does lack the extensive hyperlinking. So let's take a look at what some of those similarities are.

Like Carcosa, the hexmap is numbered -- each numbered hex corresponds to a location or entity of interest. Like Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown is not a sourcebook that deals in minutae, but provides sufficient information for a GM to flesh out (or even run a fast-and-loose game, since Hit Dice, hit points, and other key information are provided without resorting to stat blocks).

Unlike Carcosa, however, Isle of the Unknown is less concerned with emphasizing the non-standard nature of the setting. On the contrary, Isle of the Unknown takes great pains to allow easy slotting of the setting into an existing campaign -- the culture and political structures of the cities and towns and churches are tackled with the lightest of broad strokes.

Instead the book focuses on three primary types of encounters / hexes of interest scattered throughout the island: magic-users, statues, and creatures.
  • The magic-users are clearly non-standard ones: they tend to wear armor not normally associated with their kind, have special innate abilities above and beyond normal mages, and tend to enjoy painted full-page, full-color depictions (which are quite evocative).
  • The statues are strange, powerful, and attired in clothes and armor evocative of a fallen Roman Empire (though clearly, one can insert the attire of another great fallen empire appropriate to one's campaign) and can grant abilities, aid or curse visitors, or attack them outright.
  • The creatures are primarily chimerical creatures, ranging from larger versions of normal animals (a 6' tall roadrunner), twisted versions of normal creatures (an 8' tall humanoid swan with sleeping human faces on its torso), and -- of course -- mix-and-match combinations of creatures.
Taken individually, these encounters can be used as a magical rogues gallery, a statue encounter list, and a large monster's manual. Together, it suggests something else: perhaps the last flowering remnants of a vastly powerful empire, or a land touched by forgotten gods. The magic-users as described and depicted evoke the feeling of Greek or Roman gods, playfully skirting direct analogues and clearly being less powered; the statues smack of powerfully wrought enchantments that once served some greater purpose, and the creatures seem like echoes of an age when rampant magical experimentation on creatures was the norm.

There are, of course, other types of encounters, but the preponderance of these three suggest that a campaign geared towards exploring the unknown nature of the island would do well to focus on these elements.

Isle of the Unknown wraps all this up with the keyed map, printable Player and GM maps, and appendices that list the locations of all magic-users, all statues, and even provide a visual listing of all the creatures grouped by HD rating.

All in all, a rich setting with a lot of usable material the could have perhaps benefited from a few more hints on the origins and nature of the mysteries of the island -- without necessarily setting it in stone, of course.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Radar: Weird Adventures Now Out?

Hey, I saw this new product on RPGNow.com. It seems... strangely familiar.


Armchair Reviews: Carcosa PDF Edition


After that spectacular sale on all the Lamentations of the Flame Princess imprint mentioned earlier in my blog, guess what I get to review first as a DriveThruRPG / RPGNow reviewer? One of the newest offerings (at least on RPGNow / DriveThruRPG) from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess imprint: Carcosa.

Here's the review I gave:
This PDF edition of Carcosa is apparently a compilation and revision of material that has appeared before -- material I'm not familiar with in detail, but have passing familiarity with from the OSR blogosphere.

In a market that often seems to be divided between super-slick hi-resolution imagery and sadly amateurish attempts at passable gaming material, Carcosa manages to stake a claim for solid gaming bang for buck on its own terms.

As stated in the Introduction of this sourcebook, Carcosa is not a sourcebook that will drown its readers in setting minutae, but will give sufficient information concerning the setting that will allow GMs and players to use the material any way they wish -- even if they wish to cannibalize the material for monsters, ideas, rules, and adventure seeds.

Fortunately much of that material is very good, despite my misgivings about the 'mature nature' of the setting and the Weird Science Fantasy label is well-deserved -- it somehow manages to merge legacy alien technology, macabre sorcerous rituals, and a decadent, decaying, dangerous world filled with terrible creatures and awful gods into a uniquely setting that comes across as both challenging and interesting to adventure in.

While some may be more used to slicker and cleaner art styles, I feel that the art direction and execution is excellent -- it captures the weirdness of the setting, and evokes the feel of the sourcebook as an old-style travel guide or almanac for a foreign land. I would go as far as saying that the linework and the composition tends to connote its subject matter more than denoting it -- they have the feel of being "artist's interpretations" of people, places, and things that are real and were lifted from an accomplished artist's sketchbook.

The PDF has the following sections:
  • Introduction -- does much to frame the understanding and use of the sourcebook
  • Men and Magic -- describes rules such as dice conventions, allowed character classes, and building characters in this setting
  • Sorcerous Rituals -- talks about nature of rituals in sorcery; extensively hyperlinked to the appropriate Monster Descriptions
  • Monster Descriptions -- the monstrous menagerie of Carcosa; externsively hyperlinked
  • Hex Description -- there's a Hex Map of Carcosa with number hexes; you can find the descriptions of each number hex here; extensive hyperlinking to monster descriptions and sorcerous rituals
  • Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorceror -- a short sample adventure that takes place in one of the Hexes
  • Addenda -- lots of good stuff here for the GM
The PDF also sports features like a default two-page spread, a handy table of contents sidebar, and meticulously hyperlinked text. That last bit, by the way, is what pushed this product from a four-star product to a five-star product for me -- it may not be as slick or flashy as some other sourcebooks, but in terms of content, design, and utility it was a winner for me.
I don't know if it should be longer, but Carcosa is definitely something I'll be referring to now as one of my favorite sources of gaming material.

Armchair Reviews: Thoughts on Approach

I'm about to start reviewing some products for the DriveThruRPG and RPGNow sites, and it's made me think about methodology.

How does one give a fair review?

First off, I'd have to have a quick disclaimer that my review is based on a mere reading, rather than an actual playtest of the material. I think this is important, because -- and I think most would agree -- reading a good RPG rulebook or sourcebook is a different experience from actually using it in a game.

This observation is not meant to lower the importance of the initial reading and impression of the material. That first experience informs and inspires the GM and his/her players as to the scope, themes, subtexts, vistas, archetypes, and possibilities of the game system, game setting, or game adventure.

Second, I'd have to review the material not only by component elements (chapters, writing, artwork, layout, fluff, crunch) but also by the gestalt impression left on me. This is because certain works work despite the mad, frankenstein's monster approach to the content and presentation, and certain works lie stillborn on the mad scientist's worktable bereft of life despite their surface beauty.

Third, I'd have to figure out how to condense all that into a five-star rating mechanism.

Hrm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Setting Expeditions: Code Black -- Part II

To my mind, there are three major elements of the Code: Black setting. They are (a) Good and Evil; (b) The Brotherhood; and (c) Earth is a flawed prison.

Good and Evil

Potentially the most difficult or most understandable element is the existence of absolute good (hereafter referred to as Good) in the universe, as well as absolute evil (hereafter referred to as Evil). The setting states that the forces of Good and the forces of Evil, and all the races and intelligences and being that were a mixture of both were caught up in a war. Yes, the classic eternal struggle of Good vs. Evil.

Except that it ended a long time ago, and Good won. And after Good won, it disappeared from the universe utterly, leaving behind Evil and its allies imprisoned in this universe.

Humanity, long an ally of Evil (some were coerced, some joined willingly), for reasons only guessed at, were released from their imprisonment on Earth and inherited the empty universe.

Of course, other creatures of greater Evil escaped as well and fought against humanity and sometimes enslaved it. And there are even more powerful creature of Evil that rage against their imprisonment in the jail that Earth has become, and struggle to weaken the nature of their respective prisons by craft and cunning and power.

The Brotherhood

The Brotherhood of Gilgamesh fights these Evil monsters in all their forms, but must do so with the understanding that there are battles that can be deferred and that there are limited resources to use. The most precious resource is that of personnel with The Sight.

The Sight is the ability to perceive reality as it is. Unlike the mindbending Metropolis of the Kult RPG, reality is pretty much as it is now -- the mundane reality we know is a prison to the more fantastic monsters and worlds that lurk inside it -- except that there may be a werewolf here, a vampire there, a zombie outbreak nearby, and a growing gateway to a nether realm beneath your bed.

People with The Sight can join The Brotherhood and fight monsters, and become part of an organization that tends to lose members in many nasty ways. As a result, there are protocols and secrets in the organization mixed in with the necessary openness to get new hires up to speed. And then it's sink of swim time.

The Brotherhood isn't all about holding hands and expecting everyone to fall in line against Evil. They know that we were once allied with Evil and all its factions -- the pull may be too strong for some. There are protocols about that too.

Earth is a Flawed Prison

As stated earlier, the mundane reality we know is a prison to the more fantastic monsters and worlds that lurk inside it. Some terrible creatures exist in our reality -- vampires, lycanthropes, and so on -- but it's suggested that for all their power they are still bound in certain ways by reality and can thus be slain with the appropriate tools and spells. One wonders how much more powerful they might be in an altered reality.

Altered realities can take place in specific locales: perhaps a place where an elder god is attempting to weaken the prison and burrow out, perhaps minions of a long-dead deity have made sacrifices and performed rituals to allow it to bestow its blessings on its followers, perhaps a great cataclysm has weakened the integrity of the prison in this particular area. And that's why you get strange things happening in places that it shouldn't.

How many cells to this prison? How many realities exist, folded and twisted into the mundane world we call home? How many creatures have escaped?

That's where you come in -- welcome to the Brotherhood.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Setting Expeditions: Code Black -- Part I

Code: Black is an RPG that acts as a Kitchen Sink Setting for your supernatural / preternatural / weird sh*t campaigns.

That's a very broad amount of genre ground to cover, but the overall premise of the setting allows for a campaign that can tackle
  • straightforward "monster showdowns" ala From Dusk Till Dawn and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight;
  • spooky atmospheric hauntings ala The Eye, The Grudge and The Ring;
  • professionals taking on the weird ala X-Files, Supernatural, Dog Soldiers, and the little known film Double Vision (starring Tony Leung and David Morse);
  • reality-bending, "the world you know is wrong" extravaganzas like Hellraiser and Silent Hill;
  • science-gone-wrong outbreaks like Resident Evil and almost any zombie apocalypse movie;
  • humans tampering with the natural order of things as in the cult film Cube and the riffs on The Island of Dr. Moreau;
  • old standbys like cthulhoid elder gods, demons and devils, and trapped ancient evils.
RPG-wise, the setting feels like a mashup between Stalking the Night Fantastic & Chill, marinated in the juices of Kult, lightly seasoned with some Call of Cthulhu. The flexibility of the setting's recipe allows for the infusion of the ridiculously complex political structures of White Wolf's World of Darkness, the down-the-rabbit-hole weirdness of Over The Edge (especially the mystic sh*t crew), and the fantastic work Pelgrane Press has put into releases like Esoterrorists and Trail of Cthulhu.

System isn't really much of a concern here; it's statted out for BTRC's entry into the Univeral RPG System arena (EABA), but you can make use of whatever gear and creatures you already have in your system of choice and just add the elements you need.

Up Next: Key Elements of the Setting

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the Radar: H.G. Wells' Little Orc Wars

What the what? Yes, you read that right -- the word 'orc' does appear in that title.

One of the thing I miss about being in a FLGS is the ability to browse for strange and unusual games that I would never buy -- but am sorely tempted to out of curiosity.

After typing in random letters into the new RPGNow search bar, this game was recommended. After a quick spit-take, I read up on it.

It's apparently based on H.G. Wells's Little Wars, but has extra rules that explain how it can be used with any type of miniature set. A bold claim, but intriguing enough to give me pause.

Behold the marketing copy:

H.G. Wells’ Little Orc Wars is a miniatures game based on the rules and concepts published by the genius science fiction author nearly a century ago. It is, in fact, one of the most flexible, innovative, and fast-paced miniatures rule systems for use with fantasy miniatures and models ever created. Indeed, a primary feature of this game is that it can be played with virtually any miniatures, setting it apart from the vast majority of fantasy miniatures games, which demand that only their branded products be used in play.

This booklet contains a fast-play extract of an expanded rules set being published by Skirmisher Publishing LLC. Other highlights of the complete book include guidelines on building props and models; examples of play depicting some of the best wargaming models currently available, including those by the Miniature Building Authority, Armorcast, Fantascene, Dwarven Forge, and Flying Tricycle; and action-oriented images of miniatures in play.


For $1.99, it's really tempting. And excellent cover, by the way.

Well played, Skirmisher Publishing. Well played.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Isle Imperium Shards -- A First Set of Shards

As mentioned early, shards have two names. But how are these revealed?

In two ways: (1) by sharding one, thus committing yourself to bearing that shard for a given amount of time; (2) having a warder shard, which allows you to ask the names from the shards themselves.

If you discovered that a given set (most discovered caches of shards are sets of 7) with the following names, what would you think they do?
  • Ossis Potior | Bone Collector
  • Proeliator Lamniar | Blade Bravo
  • Umbra Beatus | Saint of Shadows
  • Sanomagus | White Mage
  • Aduromagus | Fire Mage
  • Tripudior Tempestas | Storm Talon
  • Cepi Monstrum | Blue Mage
OOC Note: The Latin Names are just a conceit to indicate the 'mystic name' and to reward players who actually bother to see if there's a secret in the 'mystic name'.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On the Radar: OSR items at $1.35? Other Sale Items on RPGNow.com?

Well, well, well. It seems that a whole bunch of OSR works are on sale at RPGNow.com.

First up is Vornheim by Zak S., which is on my list because I've always been curious about the internal organization and layout of the material. It's been marked down from $9.00 to $1.35.

Next on the list is Raggi's Tower of the Stargazer, down from $3.25 to $1.35. Hey, his Weird New World, Hammers of the God, No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, and The Grinding Gear are all down from $6.00 to $1.35 as well.

And Raggi's People of Pembrooktonshire and Death Frost Doom are both down from $5.00 to $1.35.

I'm not sure where this sale has been referenced, but it seems clear you can have a lot of OSR material on the cheap.


Then again, I'm also looking at Mongoose's not quite OSR Legend, down from $19.00 to $1.00, even if it's unlikely I'll ever run it.


And I'm looking at Darkness Visible: Espionage Campaigns for Stars Without Number down form $19.99 to $9.99. Because I really like Stars Without Number.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Reasons We Play RPGs -- Valid / Not Valid / Incomplete

I wanted to look at 4th Edition Champions, and take a look at the different types of players and explore how:
(1) they may have found satisfaction in other pre-RPG hobbies
(2) their needs were met by RPGs
(3) they may have been lured away by other post-RPG hobbies

The following list is taken from the classic HERO Big Blue Book (4th Edition), but is expanded upon and grouped differently.

Combat-related Reasons

The Combat Monster
- wants to fight; games must have combat

The Mad Slasher
- joins games to "kill" for stress release
- conflicts with roleplayers and plausbility

Intellect-related Reasons

The Tactician
- is primarily interested in the tactical challenges of battles
- can be interested in political challenges if it's a matter of game mechanics or securing a numerical/tactical superiority

The Mad Thinker
- sees everything as a puzzle or a problem to solve
- loves to outwit the villains and sometimes the GM

The Rules Ravager
- wants to bend or exploit the rules
- may not have any interest in the campaign per se

Character- and Story-related Reasons

The Copier
- copies characters from other media
- expects to be as good as those characters

The Pro from Dover
- wants to be the best at what they do
- may conflict with other PCs or NPCs

The Plumber
- likes to detail his/her character with intricate personality and backstory
- loves being ensnared in moral quandries and emotional scenes

The Romantic
- most interested in the interpersonal relationships of characters
- professional and family and romance

The Tragedian
- likes to explore tropes of literary tragedy with PCs
- not concentrated but diffused and sustain betrayal, loss, death, etc. throughout campaign

The Genre Fiend
- expert in the tropes and conventions of the genre
- expects them to come out in play

The Showoff
- wants to be the center of attention

Meta-related Reasons

Social Gamer
- wants to game because all his friends do

Game Sweetheart
- wants to game because current / would-be / former significant other does

Game Spouse
- wants to share experiences with avid RPG spouse


The Questions
How many of these reasons are now satisfied by other outlets? Do computer games -- and more specifically computer RPGs -- satisfy these needs? Does social gaming satisfy some of them? Do easier outlets for creative expression like role-playing forums and online societies address these needs? Has the table top RPG niche shrunk?

And will initiatives like ConstantCon reclaim lost marketshare?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Isle Imperium Shards -- Common Knowledge & Rumors

The Bone Collector shard, after becoming Accomplished,
underwent a slight change in nomenclature. Where once
there was a brutal scourge of the undead now stood a learned
sage of the necromantic arts -- and other secrets.
I've been trying to figure out how best to explain shards, but there's a lot of stuff that may overwhelm. So in classic OSR tradition, I'll treat them like the artifacts or high-powered magical items that they are and share what 'common knowledge' and rumors exist about them from the PC perspective.

Of course, I'm adjusting this from the Isle Imperium perspective (which was shard-centric) to a more standard Fantasy milieu, so that knowledge is a bit more rarified I suppose. Not just any adventurer will know it.

Common Knowledge

Most of them look like elongated crystals, just large enough to jut out from either end of a clasped fist. If you look closely, they're flecked with some kind of silver-gold metal; if you look closer, you might see geometric patterns of that metal inside the shards.

They're called shards, but others have called them power stones, magic rocks, godstones, and so on. It doesn't matter what they're called -- what matters is what they can do.

What they can do -- if you're a viable mount -- is transform you into something more than a mere mortal. And it's more than the garish costumes and frightful armor and strange transformations that shard mounts have to endure -- if you're new to shards and bearing them as a mount, you're only slightly more powerful than normal -- granted access to greater strength and toughness, given one or two magical abilities, and so on. The veteran shard bearers can give high level mages a run for their money, and it's said that some mages are shard mounts as well.

Without the shards, however, the mounts are just as human as before -- but don't think that it's easy to unshard a sharded mount. It seems only truly powerful beings and other sharded mounts can perform forced unshardings -- and shard mounts consider the act worse than rude: it's murderous by their standards, since unhealed damage and uncured illnesses are transferred onto their frail normal forms in full force.

Rumors
  1. shard mounts can tell shards apart by memorizing the fleck patterns of their shard collections;
  2. different shards grant different abilities;
  3. shard mounts must select which shard abilities they will have access to for a given period of time -- some say this period is every 6 hours, others say it's every 8 or 12 hours;
  4. shard mounts can internalize abilities from different shards through a secret process, allowing them to access abilities from other shards they've borne when wearing a different shard;
  5. there are limits to the number of different abilities open to a shard mount, especially when mixing internalized abilities and current-shard abilities -- though there are supposedly ways to extend those limits;
  6. some shards will not allow shard mounts to select internalized shard abilities from other shards -- it's theorized there is a mystical opposition between the sources of these abilities;
  7. there are families of shards that certain shard scholars feel should be brought together;
  8. there are families of shards taht certain shard scholars feel should never be brought together;
  9. loyalty to a favored shard allows a mount to refine / accomplish / essentialize a shard -- it transforms into a similar, yet more powerful version of itself and gives the shard mount access to newer, more powerful abilities (and perhaps a change in shard wardrobe);
  10. all shards have two names -- a mystic name and a common name;
  11. a common name is said to be the translated version of the mystic name;
  12. if a shard's common name is different, even slightly, from the translated version of the mystic name (which is only learned via shard scholars and sages), then the true nature of the shard is being hidden for some unknown reason;
  13. shards have favored mounts, and mounts have favored shards;
  14. not all shards may be borne by shard mounts -- some have hidden requirements;
  15. unused shards can devolve into simpler versions of themselves after a time;
  16. fractured shards can drive their mounts insane;
  17. shard abilities can sometimes act in accord -- and are more powerful when more shards share that mystic accord;
  18. shards require a specific mystical framework to operate in, and are inert in certain locations;
  19. shards represent abilities and powers from ages gone by, allowed to work in the current time by the power of the mystical shard framework;
  20. shards represent abilities and powers from spheres and realms beyond our own, forced to work in our reality by the secrets and subtleties of the mystical shard framework.

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