Friday, March 30, 2012

Dave's Mapper!

Ever heard of Dave's Mapper? If not, check out the coolness!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Question Bomb: Merging the Railroad and the Sandbox?

Hello, I'm throwing out a "question bomb" for ya'll to respond to with thine opinions. Why call it a "bomb"? Because I hope to have an explosion of comments! Why am I doing this? Because I respect your opinion, that's why!

Here's the question: can one merge the techniques behind railroading and the sandbox style of roleplaying?

I will eventually share my own opinion, but I wanted to crowdsource this first.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

(NOTE: question bomb inspired by this post that I discovered while digging through the great Hack & Slash blog.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Inspiration from Clyde Caldwell

Much-needed Monday morning inspiration provided by artist Clyde Caldwell. I wish I had these guys on my side today. Sorry I haven't posted for, like, a week. Just taking a bit of a respite from gaming frenzy in the wake of ending a campaign. But rest assured I'm gathering my energies for a triumphant return to the table-top!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Feeling the Crunch and Keeping the Roleplaying Flame Alive

Hey all out there in Bloggerland! As you probably know, I've been running a Castles & Crusades campaign since last summer. We've had 18 cool sessions of the campaign, and the group has had a good old time of it.

Over the course of the last few months my regular life duties have been increasing in pressure. My job is demanding more and more from me in terms of time and brain power, and as my kids get older more extra-curricular activities on nights and weekends take up time. The result: I find myself less and less able to devote time to prepping for my C&C games.

C&C is not a complicated system. But it seems like I have trouble keeping the abilities of the races and classes in my head. And as a GM, I like to be able to remember those abilities. C&C has roughly the same classes and races as AD&D. If I had more time and, frankly, was a younger man with less brain degradation, I could probably hold more of the game's rules in my head, which would therefore make me a more confident GM when I run C&C.

Also, I've been running the campaign in the Forgotten Realms, which is a huge place. I've tried to give the players as much of a sandbox as possible. My definition of a pseudo-sandbox is giving the players a lot of rumors and plot threads that they can potentially follow. I've created a bunch of possible scenarios to explore in whatever order they like.

The problem comes with me having to develop a flavor for an area to which they may journey. I don't feel good as a GM if the places they travel to are too generic. Without time to refresh my memory of the particular flavor of a location through reading my published Forgotten Realms materials, I've been feeling like I'm not providing enough of a living, breathing world. Just having the published world materials as a resource is nothing if I don't have time to study them on a regular basis.

So, I talked to my players about an impending end to the campaign, within the next few sessions. I told them that I believe in campaigns having endings, and that they should save their characters for a new C&C Forgotten Realms campaign sometime in the future. This future campaign would be a "sequel" of sorts for the one that is about to end. I think they seemed pretty OK with all of this.

So, what's next? Well, I talked to the group about me running a Labyrinth Lord campaign in an as-yet-undecided world. The Labyrinth Lord system will allow me to wrap my head around a smaller rule set but not compromise playability, fun, etc. I am confident that they players won't balk at the smaller character options selection. I am confident that they "get" the old-school idea that personalization of an old-school roleplaying character doesn't come from a huge bunch of character abilities, but rather from the player's use/portrayal of that character.

So, using Labyrinth Lord, I hope to alleviate my depleted prep time issue. And a new, SMALLER setting* will allow me to give them a sandbox without making my head explode. I'll report in some more in the coming weeks about the end of my current campaign and the genesis of my new one.

*I think am officially calling dibs on Thunder Rift! More details to come on that...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two Rosetta Stones?

I think it should be apparent to anyone who's been reading my blog that I have a deep love of Castles & Crusades. Some may even know that I have been developing a deeper appreciation for Labyrinth Lord. In studying both systems for some time now, I came across an interesting tidbit: both games claim to be "Rosetta Stones." Want proof?

Look here (where it says "The Rosetta Stone of Roleplaying Games") on the Troll Lord page for C&C, and here (where it says "The Rosetta Stone of Old-School Fantasy Role-Playing Games!") on the Goblinoid Games page for LL. In light of this, one might say it's no coincidence that I am so attracted to both games. ;-)

Now, looking deeper, one notices that Troll Lord claims that C&C is the Rosetta Stone of Roleplaying Games. That statement seems to include ALL roleplaying games. Whether or not the Trolls wanted to make as grand a statement as that seems, I'm not sure (though the Trolls are so in touch with their fans that it wouldn't be hard to ask them!).

Whereas Goblinoid claims that LL is the Rosetta Stone of Old-School Fantasy Role-Playing Games, a much more focused and distinct segment of the roleplaying pantheon. Goblinoid has firmly placed their game in the ranks of the old-school, "D&D-esque" fantasy gaming realm.

But upon reading Troll Lords' game, one realizes that Castles & Crusades also seeks to promote an old-school style of play. Indeed, the game seems to combine a bit of 1E AD&D and a bit of 3E D&D as well. Many consider the game to be as much of a retroclone as Labyrinth Lord. I'm not so sure I agree with that, as there are deviations from the AD&D classes to consider (C&C rangers do not cast spells, which I totally agree with...that's just one example of many) and the C&C SIEGE Engine attribute check mechanic is not exactly like the 3E d20 roll versus DC mechanic.

This might all be "duh" stuff and me just thinking too much about this. I'm not really trying to get too analytical about this or foster a debate as to what these two companies intended to state when they wrote those words. I'm not sure how much thought was put into these Rosetta Stone statements. I'm not trying to get too deep into this, I really just thought it was a fun tidbit of information.

However, as lighthearted as I am about the whole thing, I would love to hear what others have to say. Please chime in if you are at all interested. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Inspiration: Moebius (1938 – 2012)

Farewell, purveyor of the surreal...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Castles & Crusades House Rules

I thought I'd share my house rules for my Castles & Crusades campaign (Paragons of Waterdeep), in the spirit of...well, sharing. I've also included the rules I currently use from the Castle Keeper's Guide, which aren't house rules per se but I wanted to show them as well. Please let me know what you think, and please share your own house rules for your preferred game system if you care to do so.


Hit Points: max at first level.

Wizards: can use HPs to cast spells if they have cast all their prepared spells (1 HP for each level of spell).

Counterspell: a wizard can counter another wizard’s spell by casting a spell of the same level as the target spell. The countering wizard can make an INT check in order to determine the level of the spell to be countered (as long as the spell is of a level that the wizard can cast). The countering is an automatic success, with both spells cancelling each other out.
Clerics: can select one spell per level that they can spontaneously cast (i.e. use a spell slot currently filled by a prepared spell). This selection of spontaneous spells can be changed every day when selecting spells for the day.
Reversible Spells: reversible spells for wizards do not need to be memorized in reversed form (i.e. a spell can be cast in its reversed form “on the fly.”)
Fighters: Bonus to Hit starts at +2 at level 1 (to give them a leg up over the BtH of Fighter "sub-classes" like ranger, barbarian, and paladin) and improves by one each level thereafter. In addition, Fighters have the Cleave ability (stolen from ACKS, replaces Combat Dominance). Whenever a Fighter kills or incapacitates an opponent with a melee or missile attack, he may immediately make an attack against another opponent within 5' of the target he has just dropped. Fighters may make a maximum number of cleave attacks per round equal to their level. When making cleave attacks with missile weapons, Fighters are limited to a maximum of 2 with a crossbow, 3 with longbow, and 4 with composite bow, shortbow, slings, or thrown darts, daggers, or javelins.
Two-Weapon Fighting: roll two damage dice, keep whichever you want. Forego extra dice roll to get +1 defense for round (declared at beginning of round).
Shields: can be used for shield bashes (declared at beginning of round). Gives extra dice roll for damage (1d6 for bucklers or small shields/1d4 for large shields) but sacrifice AC bonus for round. Instead of inflicting damage on a successful bash, the attacker can choose to stun an opponent. Defender must make a CON save or be stunned (cannot take actions for 1 round). Large shields can also give their bonus to certain saving throws (such as breath weapons).
Natural 1 and Natural 20 (combat only): a natural 1 is always a miss and a “fumble,” the effects of which are up to the GM. Natural 20 is an automatic hit and does maximum damage. GM may also allow for some “fantastic effect.”
Hold Action: during combat, a player can hold their action for use later in the round. However, held actions not used in a round are lost at the end of the round.
Injury before Action: if a wizard is injured during the casting of a spell, they must make a CON save or have their casting fail.  Also, if a character with a ranged weapon is injured while aiming, they must make a CON save or have their aiming disrupted.

Fate Points (p. 277): players get three Fate Points to spend per game session in order to influence the game in some way. The following is a list of the most common uses (once per round).
·         Down But Not Out (3 points): a character that would normally die at -10 HP is stabilized at -10.

·         Fortune’s Fool (1 point): can be used to reroll an attribute check or attack roll. Can also be used to force a reroll of an attack against a character.

·         I Just Made It (2 points): automatic success on saving throw.

·         Might Blow (1 point): once per game session, a player can use this to turn an attack roll into a natural 20.

·         Providence Smiles (1 or more points): character asks GM for a “plot break.” The GM may overrule the request, and the point is not spent. Alternately, the GM may require the player to spend more than one Fate Point. Can only be used once per game session.

·         You Missed Me! (2 points): a blow that would have hit a character misses instead.

·         Sound the Charge (1 point): double movement rate for one round.
Checks against Prime Attributes (p. 234): against opponent with applicable prime attribute(s), +6 is added to player attribute check(s).
Action Description “Bonus” (p. 235): when attempting an action that requires an attribute check, a player’s description of their character’s actions may earn the player a bonus to their roll.
Combat Maneuvers (with modifications, p. 256):
Firing into Melee: on a roll of 1-3, a character hits a friendly. Roll another to-hit to see if the friendly takes damage. Chance to hit friendlies is eliminated if a player takes time to aim. Aiming and firing in the same round confers a to-hit penalty of -4. Aiming and waiting until the next round to fire lowers penalty to -2. Waiting another round eliminates penalty.
Called Shot: performed at a -8 penalty, but a hit means automatic critical (full damage). Taking rounds to aim lowers penalty by 1 for each round taken.
Offensive Focus (declared at beginning of round): confers a +3 to hit and -6 to AC for round
Fighting Defensively (declare at beginning of round): -2 to hit, +2 AC
Full Defense (declare at beginning of round): no attack, +4 AC

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Paragons of Waterdeep: Session 17

As seen at the end of our last session, our intrepid band of adventurers was summoned to Waterdeep by the archmage Khelben Arunsun. The Blackstaff sent a High Forest elf and a pride of griffins to fly the party back to the city.

The group was flown to Khelben's tower, where they were reunited with Marn, the apprentice who had helped them use a portal to teleport to the High Forest way back in the campaign's first session. The apprentice was glad to see them, but related how he had been reprimanded by the archmage once Khelben discovered Marn had used the portal. As a result, Marn had been under a sort of probation since the party left the city nearly a month before (the party left Waterdeep on the 3rd of the month of Tarsakh, and had returned on the 28th).

Marn asked the party to turn over the small orb in the black iron box that the Shadow Thieves had ordered them to take into Waterdeep. The apprentice assured them it would be in good hands, as would the party (who expressed concerned at the threat of the Shadow Thieves making a move against them, or even worse killing their friend Keseim). The group was also introduced to an elven wizard named Celcifer (the character of our newest player, Mark) and told that the elf was assigned to accompany them about the city, to help keep them safe.

From there, the party was free to do as they pleased. Cleric of Lathander Oisin decided it would be prudent to return to the Spires of the Morning, Lathander's great temple in the city. He was eager to return and report on the results of their quest (NPC cleric Leela, whose faith had faltered in the face of a friend's death and grievous injury, was also eager to return). The group received a chilly reception from Oisin's fellow cleric Rorik, who listened to their tale of success against the undead in the High Forest with much skepticism. The cleric told them he would report their news to the high priest, Dawnmaster Asperis, and then walked quickly away.

From there, the party headed to the market to trade in some of the treasures they had accumulated and purchase new gear. Milo in particular was interested in upgrading his gear, and haggled with a jeweller over three large gems he had recovered after the group's fight with a bull-like construct.

In the market, the group noticed they were being tailed by a group of unsavory-looking characters. Oisin and Kale recognized the thugs were being led by Taim, a ruffian that they had encountered in the first session. The group decided to lead the thugs to a secluded street and then make a move against them.

The party was able to overcome the thugs, and they questioned Taim as to why he was following them. The man told them that he and his cronies had recently started receiving messages on scraps of parchment from an unknown source. These messages (which were being left in the thugs' supposedly secret hideouts) had ordered the thugs to start harassing certain individuals in Waterdeep in exchange for coin, and the mysterious benefactor had indeed paid them well for their services. The night before the party returned to Waterdeep, Taim received a message that warned of the group's arrival. The note also commanded Taim and his cronies to keep an eye out for the party.

The group suspected that Taim and his gang might be pawns for the Shadow Thieves. In order to discover who was giving the orders to Taim, the party decided to set up an ambush. They would stake out one of the hideouts and see who, if anyone, would turn up.

To be continued...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Much-Needed Monday Inspiration from Artist Jeff Easley

I got some good reactions to my post about artist Keith Parkinson, which was pretty cool. I've been meaning to do more artist appreciation posts for a while now. So, today being Monday (blech!), I decided I needed some inspiration, as usual. This image by the famous Jeff Easley, who should be well known to anyone who has been involved in the D&D scene for a while, is a good metaphor for me today: you just gotta grab that ogre (giant?) by the nose ring! Hope you're all having a good day out there!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Artists: Keith Parkinson

Cover image for the novel Eye of the Hunter

The late Keith Parkinson's work is some of my favorite stuff. His images, along with those of Larry Elmore, were integral to my early gaming years. But where my exposure to Elmore's work was solely from D&D products, Parkinson's pictures came to me on other gaming products as well, such as the cover image from the original Rifts core rulebook:

That rulebook also contained some beautiful full-page paintings by Parkinson, and his work graced the covers of many of the Rifts sourcebooks.

His work was also featured on many a fantasy novel, and could even entice me to pick up the work of Terry Goodkind! ;-)

Keith's cover for Goodkind's Stone of Tears

To me, his work gave a good sort of reality, a solidity, to fantastical situations. It made the wondrous seem more possible. His work had a depth to it, and when I say that I mean that his images made me feel like I could step into them. But for all this feeling of the real, there was still something dream-like about them. His paintings have a vibrancy and level of detail that make you notice that detail and marvel at it:

Of course, when it comes to D&D, who could forget his famous Forgotten Realms boxed set cover:

And Elmore wasn't the only one to do a good turn at depicting the Dragonlance world:

Lord Soth and some of his good friends!

So, thanks Keith, where ever you may be, for the inspiration!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Regarding All Things Martian

I've been meaning to get into some sword and planet stuff for a while now, long before word of the upcoming John Carter movie hit the streets.

(And why can't they call the movie John Carter of Mars?! Just calling it John Carter seems really stupid.)

I was in the Barnes and Noble near my work today, and as I was heading back to work I spotted a really awesome-looking John Carter of Mars collection sitting in the bargain book area. Here's the cover:

Awesome, right?! I flipped through this thing and it is full of incredible illustrations, just a beautiful book! I am definitely going to go back and get it ASAP. It's good for me that the thing is a bargain book, but it makes me sad to see a big stack of beautifully-crafted classic collections going unsold. Maybe the movie will fuel some interested in the John Carter stories. If you can find this thing, take a look and tell me if you don't think it's sweet.

Note: I already have a Science Fiction Book Club collection of the books, but it don't look nothin' like the one pictured above!

On a related note, has anyone else heard of Warriors of the Red Planet? It's an RPG that seems to have been quietly under development for some time now. This also looks pretty darn cool! (UPDATE: I just figured out that Al of Beyond the Black Gate is the mind behind Warriors of the Red Planet! Duh, me!)

Oh, about the movie: what I've seen of the previews looks encouraging, and I'm holding out hope that it will be good.

That's all for now, earthlings!