Thursday, May 16, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival: "Give Chance To Others"

There was a Filipino saying -- in English words, but not necessarily English grammar (we're funny that way as a bilingual country) -- that advocates letting everyone have a chance. When a child has been monopolizing a swing or a see-saw, parents will say: "Give chance to others." When someone in class tends to have all the answers, the teachers will say: "Give chance to others." When someone doesn't have a college degree, or the requisite experience for a political office like the office of Senator or President, the people say: "Give chance to others."

In that spirit, and in the spirit of the RPG Blog Carnival theme Campaigns I'd Like To Run, here's a list of  some of the RPGs out there that I'd love to "give chance" to -- primarily because even if I'd get a chance to run these games, the niched nature of these would make the players agreeing to it a long shot! But I'd really like to try out these particular systems or settings, because the interest me in particular.


EABA is one of those Universal Roleplaying Systems that can handle multiple genres. It has game system elements similar to the DC Heroes / MEGS exponential scale table and the D6 system. And it's got a number of interesting settings to its name.

The setting I'd like to try is Verne, which is a Victorian Steampunk & Science Fiction setting (as you may have surmised from the title). Here's a bit of the blurb:

Battle dirigibles, Cavorite, steamtroops, dinosaurs, Martians, Selenites, mad scientists, clacking Babbage engines, the works. Verne starts off with the historical Victorian Era and then merges it with the fiction of Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others to create a seamless alternate history that the adventurers get to shape and be part of. Verne can be as stiff-upper-lip fictional or Victorian Era grimy as you like, with detailed historical and cultural information, half a dozen adventures and numerous plot-centered NPC's and gadgets. 
Verne is nearly 220 pages of steampunk with the traditional BTRC attention to detail. Also available for Verne: A free interactive character creator for Verne, and a map pack with nearly 20 adventure locations, including an annotated interactive map of London.
Oh yes, it should be fun!

Traveller Hero

Yeah, these two books are out of print, but I'd still like to get my hand on a second-hand copy of both books and run them using the HERO System. It's the system I'm most comfortable with for modern and future settings, to be honest. One of my favorite SF campaigns was a Star Hero campaign, so Traveller with HERO is a logical leap. Boy, was I bummed when I found it it'd gone out of print (the license had been revoked) and I hadn't been able to buy it!

Pathfinder + NeoExodus: A House Divided

The setting is interesting enough for me to pick up Pathfinder, which I wouldn't normally do due to my allergy to the escalation of Feats that annoyed me about D&D 3.5. But with the OSR house rules and other things I've learned, I'm willing to make a streamlined run of the game to explore this interesting melange of concepts.

I did an Armchair Review of this particular book. Check out the link for more information on NeoExodus.

Sales & Promo Watch: OSR Promotion on RPGNow

DriveThruRPG / RPGNow have created an exclusive 15% off coupon code: OSRF711F2

It's good for these 12 featured OSR titles! The coupon code is good for the week of Monday 5/13 - Sunday 5/19 only; use it while it's still valid!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival: Mystara Mash-up

Starting off the Campaigns I'd Like to Run theme for May's RPG Blog Carnival is a Mystara Mash-up campaign.

Rationale: When I first started gaming, the B/X  and BECMI D&D world was my first exposure to the hobby. Of course, I didn't know that T1: The Village of Hommlet was an AD&D module, and thought that Advanced D&D was what you played once you were done with Basic and Expert D&D. Also, I thought that D&D was all one world (hence my own fascination with the series of Mystoerth posts by Timothy Brannan).

But the modules and the Gazetteers didn't always match up to one another (the word I would later use is canon), and I was always trying to learn about the world so it could be portrayed properly, because -- as a kid -- I didn't know I could make it up on my own.

The Mystara Mash-up campaign, therefore, would be a romp through the world of Mystara -- geared at showing the breadth of the world through a series of strung together adventures based on the classic D&D and AD&D modules that are shoehorned into my own take on the mythology of the world of Mystara.

Key Posts: I've made a number of Mystara-oriented posts over the years; these are the ones relevant to this particular campaign.
  • A Mad God in the Machine - how to have a campaign premise that allows for multiple PCs coming and going, but still retaining continuity, and allowing PCs to rub elbows with gods and kings early on in their careers; just have to be careful that they don't get overshadowed by the mad god who runs into them once in a while. 
  • Dark Corners of Mystara: Strange Waters - when they're being sent on missions by the Mad God, they may not be traveling overland exclusively. This is, of course, inspired by the river-based campaign from WFRP's Enemy Within campaign. Speaking of WFRP...
  • Stealing From WFRP: Roadwardens - and yet another campaign premise for the PCs when they've finished their river adventures.
  • Some Geography is in order - taking from my Enigmundia posts, I underscore the key elements that I'd like to emphasize for the setting.
  • Fate, Fortune, and the Adventurer - my own rationale for things like hit points and levels and the movers and shakers of the world being so powerful compared to the normals of the world.
  • Gods, Magic, and the World - a series of posts that deal with my take on the cosmology of Mystara's universe
    • Spheres, Magical Fields, and Outsiders - the gods and the magical field they created and maintain protects reality from things outside it.
    • Dark Corners of Mystara: Dwarves & the Hounds of Tindalos - highlights my preference for a slightly stranger feel for the campaign, preferably lurking just beneath the surface of a normal (albeit tumultuous) campaign world. I like the idea of Old Ones and Ancient Things being something that the Immortals keep at bay while they pursue their own twisted schemes of power.
    • Pagan Magic-Users: Pythagorean Mathemagicians - how the magic of the world is skinned, based on a given pantheon. Yes, it assumes that magicians invoke the names of gods in their spells, and 'pagan' ones at that.
    • Pagan Spells of Mercury - A sample listing and rationale of several 1st level magic spells attributed to Mercury.
    • Pagan Spells of Apollo - A sample listing and rationale of several 1st level magic spells attributed to Apollo.
    • Pflarr and Hermanubis - an attempt to merge the Pflarr of Mystara with an actual Jackal-headed Roman god (with a picture of the statue in a museum).
    • Cults of Orcus - an attempt to merge the Orcus of myth with his portrayal in D&D's pantheon.
    • Sleep, Dream, Fantasy, and Nightmare - the gods of the underworld, where many an adventure spends time, are stranger and more powerful than you think
  • Additions and Expansions
    • Add: Ravenloft - adding to the mystery of the powers of the Outsiders and the corruption of the Sphere of Entropy, I wanted to mix little of the Demi-plane of Dread
    • Add: Spartacus - to really push the decadence and the skill of the Thyatian gladiator class, some liberal lifting from this show.
Must-Include Modules

I'd like to have in the mix some classic modules for the Mystara experience, and I'm sure this will grow in the future. Off the top of my head:
  • T1: The Village of Hommlet - I'd transplant it to Mystara, place it near the Black Eagle Barony and suggest that perhaps the Baron was under the sway of the Temple of Elemental Evil.
  • B2: Keep on the Borderlands + B5: Horror on the Hill - both part of the Roadwarden experience, where they players must help the local militia and military presence clear out increasing monstrous aggresssion.
  • DA1 through DA3 - The Mad God in the Machine will send them to Blackmoor to retrieve something he needs in the past.
  • X1: The Isle of Dread - a place 'near' the Razor Coast, as well? Or perhaps a place that the PCs hear about when sharing stories over a drink. May hold some secrets of the Mad God as well.
  • X2: Chateau d'Amberville - not all the 'Timelords' are necessarily good or evil, yes? Some of them are just curious about new sources of Immortality.
As with many things on this blog, this is a work in progress. More to come!

Monday, May 13, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival for May: Campaigns I'd Like to Run -- Overview

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is something close to my heart: Campaigns I'd Like to Run.

Longtime followers of my blog know that most of my posts are about campaigns (long or short) that I'd like to run, but rarely get a chance to (hence, the Armchair Gamer moniker).

I'll have several posts on this, of course. They are:

  • A brief tour of the broad settings that I'd to like to explore as long term campaigns (check out the links at the top of my blog for a hint).
  • A return to my Kitchen Sink Settings of the past. 
  • Some interesting RPGs that I'd like to run like a TV mini-series (because I don't think I could sustain the tone and the escalation in stories necessary to retain plausibility), where you get to make major changes at the end and then possibly shake things up in the next mini-series.
I'll try to tackle why I'm drawn to these, as well. I'd like to throw out there to other GMs why certain RPGs appeal to me, and why I feel I can sustain certain campaigns for a year or more -- and why others must necessarily be a shorter engagement.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Inspiration: Father Brown

As I cast about for various real world and fictional anchors for my Fading Suns priest PCs, one fictional one immediately came to mind: G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown.

This fictional detective is not cut from the same cloth as Holmes, as his solutions tend to be arrived at from an understanding of human nature -- culture, prejudices, desires, and weaknesses. Furthermore, he runs counter to the 'exceptional detective' template, as the author has taken great pains to underline Father Brown's unexceptionalness. As very succinctly put in his Wikipedia entry, "Father Brown is a short, stumpy Catholic priest, 'formerly of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London', with shapeless clothes and a large umbrella, and an uncanny insight into human evil."

My first encounter with him was high school short story reading: "The Blue Cross". It was apparently the first story of the series, and ran counter to the mysteries I'd read up until that point (I was a big detective novel buff, before Madeleine L'Engle introduced me to Science Fiction & Fantasy via A Wrinkle In Time.) in that both the inspector and criminal were outwitted by Father Brown.

I never read anything else until about six years back when I started writing fiction again. I picked up a G.K. Chesterton anthology of his works and was charmed by them again.

Upon reflection, there might be an argument for a priest
to have his own entourage, just like a noble might.
Father Brown would be an interesting character to create and play as a PC or NPC. His intellect is quite keen; after all, his more intuitive and empathic approach to crime solving does not preclude an ability to reason.

In fact, his debut highlights his high esteem of the use of ratiocination when he tells Flambeau -- a culprit that he's helped arrest -- the giveaway in his attempt to impersonate a priest: "You attacked reason. It's bad theology."

Religion figures into every story, even if it's just the unique perspective of this very Catholic priest. He has a stinging condemnation of one of those bad priests we encounter often in fiction, delivered in an indirect manner as he attempts to convince the same priest to confess:

"I knew a man who began by worshiping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire... He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike down the sinner. he would never have had such a thought had he been kneeling with other men on the floor."

Throughout the stories, he is concerned about addressing injustice -- but his first priority is the salvation of a soul. In the stories I've read, he never intimidates someone into a confession. He comes across more as a stern, but sympathetic confessor rather than an avenging servant of the Lord.

Refreshingly, he is portrayed as genially passionate about his beliefs, but is also quite humble about himself. Quite likely, hearing the sins of the world so often has not turned him cynical, but reminds him constantly how we are all a misstep away from evil.

Most importantly, he always comes across a true man of the cloth, rather than someone merely playing a role.

The new Father Brown mysteries (with Mark Williams as the lead role), seems to really capture that essence of the character in a slightly more modern era -- though I must admit ignorance of the prior portrayals. The almost comedic, very friendly, but unyielding Father Brown will surely inform some of the Fading Suns priests I build.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On the Radar: Gaming in the 'Verse

or Why Must You Take All My Money, Margaret Weis Productions?

I just spotted this on RPGNow: the Firefly RPG Preview Pre-Order! What exactly is a Preview Pre-Order? Well, according to the page:

This PDF pre-order is for the digital, full-color version of this exclusive and will be available to fans worldwide. Gaming in the 'Verse will include preview material that will be expanded upon and published in the upcoming Firefly Role-Playing Game based on the popular Fox television series created by Joss Whedon. 
* Sample Art and Full-Color Map Previews
* Select Chapter Previews
* "Wedding Planners" a playable Echoes of War adventure written by Margaret Weis
* "Shooting Fish" a playable Echoes of War adventure written by Andrew Peregrine
* "Serenity Crew" a collection of stand-alone characters compatible with the Echoes of War line
* Chinese pronunciation guide
* ...and more!
All game material provided in Gaming in the 'Verse: Gen Con 2013 Exclusive will employ the Cortex Plus mechanic. The estimated release for the Firefly RPG is Winter 2013.

But that's not all. Check this out:

Fans who purchase this GenCon Exclusive will also receive a 20% discount off the Firefly RPG corebook at DriveThruRPG. This discount will be e-mailed directly after the corebook debuts.

So, what are you waiting f--

What? So this isn't the pre-order for the Corebook? It's the pre-order for the preview. Of course. Quite obvious in retrospect; it's right there in the title.

Ah, got a bit excited there. Hm. Still, I'll probably get it anyway since I plan on getting the core book...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fading Suns: A Priestly Path -- Part 00

I've tried to read through the latest incarnation of Fading Suns (known as the Fading Suns Player's Guide - Revised Edition) from start to finish. And failed. Multiple times.

Ultimately, I'm so familiar with the Fading Suns material that reading through the first chapter really goes through a lot of material I already know. So I'm skipping ahead to the character creation section instead, and will start getting into it that way.

In fact, I think I'll create a character for each 'faction', starting with the priests.

Priests of a Feather

So, an Urth Orthodox, Brother Battle, and Eskatonic walk into a Cathedral...

One of the most common stereotypes I run into is the 'bad priest'. It's in books, movies, comics, TV shows. And some portrayals are not without basis, I'm sure. Another common stereotype: the 'wise priest'. He's warm, insightful, and almost a smiling saint every time we see him. Sadly, this one is a lot rarer to encounter in real life.

But priests are an integral part of the Fading Suns setting, so it should be interesting to create several characters that are meant to be Player Characters without falling into either.

Yes, I've known a number of priests in my life. And I've also heard about a number of those who passed before my time as well -- and I've read about a number of truly interesting ones as well. We'll see how many of them make it into the final characters I build. I'd love to recreate a Father Brown or an Inigo de Loyola, but I might not have enough points.

"Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?" -- Father Brown

Saturday, May 4, 2013

D&D Classics: A Surprising Source of History and Trivia

Some of you may be aware that some of your favorite D&D classic rulebooks and modules are available online on DriveThruRPG and

However you may not know that the descriptions of some of the products (I haven't gone through them all -- I have a life, really!) have a write-up on their historical significance and some trivia associated with each.

From (WG4) The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, for example, we learn that

Though "Tharizdun" was labeled as WG4, there were no previous "WG" adventures (and never would be). In the Glossography for the World of Greyhawk boxed set (1983), TSR indicated that T1: "The Village of Hommlet" (1979) was meant to be WG1 and that S4: "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" was meant to be WG3. Meanwhile, in Dragon #71 (March 1983), Gygax revealed that the adventure formerly known as T2: "The Temple of Elemental Evil" was to be WG2 - but he now said it was to be published in two parts.

There's more there with some behind-the-scenes history and speculation on what might have been.

This, of course, piqued my curiosity and I check out one of my own favorites from the Mystara collection of modules: (B10) Night's Dark Terror. I found out that:

the TSR UK office wanted to code the adventure "B/X1," making it clear that it was a transition from Basic to Expert. The home office demurred, though, so the adventure went out as "B10" in the US and was stickered as "B/X1" in the UK. The "B/X1" copies of the module are much rarer (though an original printing of the adventure is pretty expensive on the secondary markets in any form).
Furthermore, it also turns out that

"Night's Dark Terror" marks the start of the second wave of Known World creativity, following the period from 1981-1986 when it was primarily the vision of Zeb Cook. The adventure details many of the wildlands of the Grand Duchy of Karamekios and also introduces new peoples such as the ancient Hutaakans and the Iron Ring slavers. It extensively describes several major locations, such as the city of Threshold. A magic tapestry of the lands that appears within the adventure really helps to define B10 as the gazetteer for this part of the Known World. 
No surprise, then, that this module was the major source for GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos (1987), which got the second wave of Known World publication really going.
Also, further justifying some of my ripping off of The Enemy Within for my old Mystara campaign:

Authors Bambra and Gallagher both left TSR UK to work for Games Workshop in 1986, where they coauthored Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986). Ironically, they brought a little bit of "Terror" with them: A map of Sukiskyn from B10 reappears in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as "Map 7: Typical Farmstead."

Which I suppose ensures that I'll eventually pick up a PDF of this module that I already have in print form... somewhere in my dusty collection of RPG material.

It turns out that this material is written by Shannon Appelcline, who worked on the highly recommended book Designers & Dragons -- a history of the RPG hobby!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On the Radar: Diceless Lords

Amber Diceless Roleplaying was a game I'd only read about, but had never  played. A friend owned the books, so I only got a quick look through, but never really tried it. A shame, really, since I'm a big fan of the Zelazny books.

But now, there are now a couple of games based on it. Well, one's already out. The other one's got a Kickstarter to complete it.

First, there's Lords of Olympus by Precis Intermedia. Using the core system from Amber Diceless, they created a setting based on Greek Myth.
Portray gods and demigods -- children of Olympian Gods, Titans, or Primordials in this diceless roleplaying game of multi-dimensional mythology Fantasy. Explore new realms or the classic worlds of Earth and Mythological Greece. Visit Zeus' Olympus, Poseidon's Seas, or Hades' Underworld. Mix politics with intrigue, alliances with wars as power-struggles and vengeance drive stories. Or, go the route of lesser power with mortals and heroes. 

Just enough to make me want to use to add some lovely REALLY high level play for a fantasy RPG setting. Perhaps for Mystara -- which has some of the Greek / Roman-inspired Immortals in it. Perhaps interesting enough to supplant the original Immortal mechanism in D&D's ruleset for it and put a different spin to the task of becoming Immortal.

Next, there's the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow with its own ongoing (at the time of this writing) Kickstarter. A bit more like Amber in setting, but with the numbers filed off. Well, that's unfair. I've heard bits of the setting and read some of the preview, and it's really intriguing. Enough difference and depth to be its own setting, and similar enough to have similar themes to the original game as well. I particularly like the concept of the Grand Staircase -- I envision it as an equivalent of the World Tree, actually, translated into modern understanding. But you can find out about it yourself.
This world is but one of untold many, a flux of chance caught between shadow and light. It is a world poised between great powers that shape and define all matter, one of many battlegrounds in an epic struggle between form and cacophony. This is the battle between the creators, shapers, and destroyers of worlds.
Ah, I hope to be able to play either of these games one of these days.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Watching the Heard: No More Princess Ark

A time for endings, it seems.

According to Bruce Heard's "Bye-bye, Princess Ark" post on his blog, there will be no further writings using that particular bit of intellectual property. As his discussions with the IP manager of WOTC revealed:

"There was no interest in anything involving a transfer of rights, a sale, a license agreement, a permission to publish, or any other option--as a matter of policy.  From what I'd heard of WotC, I knew this going in."

So, no new Princess Ark fiction, and perhaps a curtailing of the Mystara-related posts that had been fleshing out one of my favorite settings from D&D.

I do look forward to the future work of Bruce Heard, in particular his upcoming supplement for The Secret Fire RPG.

The Secret Fire RPG was Winner of the 2012 Innovative Game Design Award from I-CON 31, and is an RPG that apparently blends old school gameplay with storytelling. With Heard's involvement in a supplement, I may just revisit it out of curiosity.

And what of my own posts on Mystara & Enigmundia?

Well, my early instincts to differentiate Enigmundia from its inspiration (Mystara) seems to have made sense. To be honest, it was more because I didn't want to confuse my own wildly divergent ideas from being confused with canon. But in light of this, there'll be a clearer distinction in the future.