Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is This How D&D Is Supposed to Be Played? - One Year Later

This post was one of my first "famous" (as in, linked and talked about elsewhere) blog posts, done just four days after starting the blog. It got nominated and accepted for the Open Game Table anthology before I even knew that the project existed, so somebody thought it was more than fodder for that day's boredom-breaking flame wars. Hell, it ended up being discussed on Paizo's message board last week!

It's been a long year of odd living situations and personal weirdness, not to mention a lot of reading, discussing, and arguing about role-playing matters. I'm going to go through and quote bits from the original article and give my thoughts on them... ONE YEAR LATER!

One of the positive effects of Gary's passing was that many were inspired to play old versions of D&D as a tribute and memorial to him. I think that opened a few eyes to how good the old games actually are.

Recently there's been a bit of a tendency for people to claim that 4e is the major cause and booster for the Old School Renaissance. Well, they claim that dissatisfaction with it has driven people to the old games. While some of that is obviously going on (although I suspect any backsliders who were expecting to enjoy 4e are more likely to stick with 3.x or move to Pathfinder than come our way), I think Gygax's death is a more important catalyst. Boards like Dragonsfoot and Knights'n'Knaves have been around forever, and all the major simulacra were around or announced long before Gygax died or 4e was even announced, but it was Gygax's death that pushed the blogging into high gear (... inspired Grognardia anyway, which seems to be both a direct inspiration for others to start their own blogs, as well as being the best place to find them), resulting in a greater visibility for the whole thing. I don't think it's wrong to say that the established old-school boards aren't the best environments for newcomers to jump in and splash around, nor the most constructive place to present ponderings of a more philosophical or experimental nature.

I really wish that these modules had been designed and released with less consideration as to how nice they'd be for a session or three's adventuring, and more consideration for what they displayed concerning the game as a whole.

Modules are a tricky beast. They have to be self-contained, but at the same time the good ones have to communicate the "campaign" factor. I've been trying to reconcile the two with my own projects as they come closer to release. I see that others (although this is not an absolute) still release adventures in the "self-contained good for one-shotting" mindset, which is not productive in the long run.

Ryan Dancey's "20 minutes of fun packed into four hours"

I still don't know which 20 minutes were supposed to be the fun. Looking at how 3.x is set up, I have my suspicions, and that stuff has never been the fun for me, and I tend to design adventures to turn that sort of fun on its head. But we'll have more reminiscing about fun in a couple weeks, won't we?

Matthew Finch's The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom

I was rather unkind to this module, and I should address that. In the past year, I've run this module for my group, so my opinions on it are far more credible than they were last year. Finch is a master of presenting weird situations and ideas that really get players involved and interested. There are plenty of individual bits of Pod-Caverns that had them quite invested in the situation (and one of the characters, months of real time later, still has to speak in rhymes). Many of Finch's Eldritch Weirdness spells prove his talent at coming up with odd yet eminently gamable ideas, and his City Encounters has much the same flavor.

But the Pod-Caverns as a whole just didn't come together for me. It seemed like a lot of the weird stuff was in there just to be weird, and all these great individual details didn't make sense as part of the same environment. Not to mention that the Shroom didn't seem to have a tight grip on his own home caves so believing he was a threat to outside communities (as briefly offered in the module's intro) didn't seem right... so in my game, I made the Pod-Caverns the connecting point between a cavern where a brownie was trying to protect his fox-coup from the giant chicken in the mushroom forest, and a rip-off of SSOC's Valley of Howling Shadows (talk about a diverse selection off odd...), with no pod-men territorial encroachment.

And I still think that dwarf gag is frickin dumb!

That said, I am very interested in The Spire of Iron and Crystal, since the bit of buzz about it I've heard makes it sound like it's full of the odd stuff that Finch does well, and just might all be housed in an environment to make it all ring true as a package. Now to find it in a way that doesn't involve Lulu or an upcharge. :P

(not that fully-described locations are anything to sneeze at - it's the only reason why I haven't released module after module yet... but I can make up something marked "Location 10. Kitchen" just fine in play with no written text, I just have trouble sitting down and writing a publishable and complete description for such a room... shit... I wonder if I should just release modules without all that description? 38746238742638742 releases in the next month, here I come!)

I still believe that a published adventure should flesh out its location descriptions (and relationship between various entities therein), popularity of the one-page dungeon notwithstanding.

B1 In Search of the Unknown

You know... I would run this today, and it was a location in my Olden Domain game... at least until someone figured out my thinly-veiled rumors about it and informed me they know the module.

B4 The Lost City

I've seen it since then, and it really does look like a lot of work to make it live up to its potential. Just as-is, it is far too simplistic and small to really evoke the atmosphere it could. Again, I feel providing all that detail is the entire utility of a module... else why not put that effort into my own creation?

Hmm. There was a lot less commentary on that old post than I'd have thought. Perhaps I was more clear-headed writing that post than certain others. I'll just reproduce the final bits from one year ago, because I still believe they are very true today:

To focus on reproducing the worst and most cliche elements of traditional gaming is not a celebration of days gone by, but a bastardization of it, and it plays right into the hands of what the detractors ignorantly claim the game is all about.

With the attention that traditional gaming has gotten from the passing of the progenitors, and the division caused by the new edition of what claims to be D&D these days, there is a chance here for a renaissance of commercially feasible and creatively vibrant products. If we don't take advantage of that, then all we have is nostalgia and if all we're doing is reminiscing about a "better time" then the only place we'll go is away.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Green Devil Face #3 Deadline

There are already several great submissions in for GDF #3, plus a logo-in-progress, but it seems that with no deadline people just think, "Oh I'll get around to my submission... whenever!"

So June 30 11:59pm Helsinki time (aka EET - Eastern European Time) is the deadline.

In addition to your traps, tricks, and other mindbending situations, trap-related (or devil facey) artwork would be cool to receive.

Green Devil Face has no system it's officially attached to, but if you read this blog you should figure out which games your submission should work with. :)

Contributions are unpaid, but all contributors retain the rights to their work, give me the rights to publish their work only in Green Devil Face, and will receive a printed copy of the issue in which their work appears.

Last Night's Online Game

I had three players for last night's online Labyrinth Lord game.

The problems:

I was nervous. One of my players was having only his second RPG experience ever (after a disastrous first attempt), and the other two players just know me from my blog. I kind of felt like my entire reputation as a blogger and writer was at stake... if I gave bad game, surely the one guy would swear off gaming forever and the others would spread the word around that I'm just all talk... yikes! The pressure!

This wasn't a campaign sandbox kind of thing where players were making a decision of where to go. We were playing a specific adventure, and I could have started things differently. I could have laid out the intro, given rumors, let everyone buy additional equipment based off of that, and then started the game at the first point of decision-making (Zeke's!). But doing that doesn't feel right, so they went through the motions of dithering around town, "deciding" to go up the mountain, and going through the beginning of the trip. Different circumstances demand different approaches. I don't mind presenting a situation that causes the players to delay while they discuss what to do, but in this case I caused the game to start slower than it needed to. And considering the front end of the adventure proper is just "creepy atmospheric locations to explore," it's not like things go into high gear, so the unnecessary lag at the beginning was made worse.

It is very odd to be talking to people I can't see. I've done it plenty in other contexts (I did telephone surveys and customer service for too many years), but this was awkward. Tied in to the above point, it's really hard to tell, without seeing people, if they are thinking and planning and concerned about the situation, or just bored out of their minds. I wasn't running what I think is considered a typical fantasy adventure (no combat in the four hours we played) so trying to gauge where their heads were at was important.

A lot of my refereeing tricks didn't work with this method. When I run games, I am usually standing up, and when describing locations I use gestures and body language to communicate sizes, distances, spatial relationships of objects, not to mention facial expressions and mannerisms of NPCs. I was still doing all that even though nobody could see me. The players didn't see me limp around like Zeke or do my Popeye impression scrunching half my face, nor did they see me spread my arms wide when describing the gigantic book they found at one point. Adjusting my style to the medium used is something I need to do if this kind of gaming is to become a habit for me.

I was also not letting completely loose verbally as it was a 2am-6am game and Maria was sleeping in the next room (or trying to... see below) and I was trying to be half-considerate. I suppose this is partially a good thing because when they got to the screaming faces, it would have really been obnoxious for me to just howl uncontrollably into people's ears (assuming they had headphones on).

Poor Maria. Not only does she put up with the apartment full of maniacs every Sunday, she bakes for us (one of the players last night asked, "Where are our scones?"), and just suffers not having her apartment to herself in general. Last night, she got home at 10pm from a full day's work... and at 2am had me in the next room blabbing on and on for hours. I set this up quick because I'm in such a hurry to get Death Frost Doom out the door, but perhaps that was a bit presumptuous. No reason to be in such a hurry. Future online gaming efforts shall only be done when Maria is at work. Luckily her shifts change often so the next overnight shift is never far away.

The good stuff:

Lots of valuable notes were taken. Playtesting is vital when planning to release something, even for background and "fluff" elements. What makes sense when writing often comes out a bit odd when real people are experiencing that situation. Death Frost Doom is intended to be a cohesive adventure location, not merely a resource for disparate ideas. It has to all make sense together, and all of the above-ground locations were newly written and had not been used in actual play before last night. I know in the rush to have something out I feel the temptation to cheat and skimp on such things under the rationalization that, "Well, all the real fighty encounter type things have already been seen in play!" I'm glad I showed a bit of patience, and dare I say professionalism, in doing this right and playing everything before releasing it because even though all of the big things seem to be fine, many small details will change due to actual play.

The technology worked very well. The Skype conference was free and I was able to hear everyone very clearly. It probably helped that it was the first time in five years that I'd gamed with people without accents (or as the Europeans would say, people with American accents). Skype gave us no problems other than a few seconds of distorted noise, and one guy got dropped once, and that was fixed in a minute or so. The Dragonsfoot chat room worked quite well, even though the die roller takes a few tries to get used to (especially since this wasn't a particularly heavy die-rolling session so nobody really got into the groove of using it). The Scriblink whiteboard worked well enough (even though my scribblings looked like they were done by a five year old) since I'd alerted everyone that this wasn't a mapping-intensive adventure where clues and deductions were to be had through exact and correct mapping. It was cool that anyone could draw on the same surface so people could ask about positioning when they were in oddly-shaped rooms or rooms with lots of different stuff in them.

I had feared that having four disembodied voices together might cause confusion, but it was no problem at all. Everyone seemed to recognize when it was me talking, and a few set conventions such as declaring actions in third person ("Zoltar will open the door..." instead of "I open the door...") made it easy to determine who was speaking.

Most importantly, despite my performance anxiety, it seems that everyone enjoyed themselves and experienced the adventure in the spirit it was written. The players were a bit cautious (... well how would you act if gaming with the Green Devil Face guy?), but I liked that because it showed at least a basic caring and respect for the in-game narrative. We didn't finish the adventure, but the guys all seemed eager to continue at a future time so that's probably the best indicator that it didn't all royally suck. :)


This is a viable method for gaming, but there might be only so far down this road I'm willing to go. I wouldn't want to play a game entirely in a chat room (nevermind play-by-post), because speaking is much quicker than typing, and if you robbed me of my vocal inflections (and NPC voice acting!) I might be completely lost running a game! I don't know whether I'd want to set up webcams either, because I'm not sure how that would affect the smooth voice broadcasting, and as was pointed out, I would then have to wear pants (how did he know?). It's easy enough to not pick my nose or scratch my balls in front of actual people, but I fear I'd absentmindedly display all sorts of unpleasant behavior if there's a webcam there.

Poor Maria. From the day I met her I thought she was way out of my league (and I'm amazed I got a second date after spending our first date discussing the Carcosa controversy with her) and I just continue to foist an escalating amount of strangeness onto her. This morning after I woke up she was telling me that during the bits she was able to sleep (oops), she was dreaming about the game I was running. She says in her dream she came out and watched me running the game. In the dream version, we all did have webcams so she could see the players. She said they looked bizarre. Not just a little, but a lot. Inhuman, "alien," with claws instead of hands and things of that nature. "I didn't remember Matt looking that strange in the other pictures you've shown me," was a bit of in-dream dialogue.

Alrighty then.

Next online game is 7pm Eastern time Thursday, June 4. I still want to limit it to six players, and of course the people that played last night get automatic spots if they so choose. We will continue where we left off (after the death of half the party from a yellow mold trap in the dungeon, they retreated to town so it's a natural pickup point for new people) and it should be a quick trip back to the dungeon.

Insect Shrine Art Preview

Tuesday night, Maria and I had Laura Jalo and her boyfriend Oskar over for dinner. Laura delivered the completed artwork hardcopies for Death Frost Doom, No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides (there are still a piece or two to go on this one), and Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill. She was also paid in full for the former two projects (at a shameful rate, honestly she should be paid as much for one picture as I paid for all of them... but that's one of the reasons for inviting them over for a big dinner), but it was the first time I got to see the actual pieces of art rather than a digital camera photo.

Laura completed her first piece for me last June, completed the last Insect Shrine piece for me April 14th, and has been doing ongoing work since then for the other projects. Her development in the past year has been tremendous, and I will be extremely proud to present the art in the finished projects.

But this also puts a lot of pressure on me. I'm not financing large print runs using traditional offset printing, I'm running a tiny publishing effort out of my living room. It will be too easy to screw up her artwork and have it end up blurry or otherwise flawed in the final output. Even having other people handling the printing doesn't mean it will come out so well, as first-print buyers of the Creature Generator can attest after comparing the cover image in the pdf and what appears on the physical booklet. And I'm not exactly "Mr. Graphic Design" as the judges of the One Page Dungeon contest should be aware of about now.

But I will do my best, both in the writing and in the presentation of the projects. It is my hope that when Insect Shrine is actually released (July... but we know how good my predictions are in these matters...) the embarrassment and ill-will concerning the delays will be forgiven (but not forgotten - smack me down if I ever utter the word "pre-order" again without an already completed-and-in-hand product).

But in the meantime, I present a thumbnail preview of the Insect Shrine artwork.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Online Game: Tonight! Details!

For now, let's assume this is a one-shot, and see how it goes from there. Here's how we'll do this.

Gametime: 7pm Thursday Eastern time, that's 2am Friday Helsinki time.

What you need: Skype and a microphone. Skype is a free download and using it is free. My Skype name is JimLotFP. Add me as a contact on there before gametime, and fifteen minutes before game time I will start the conference call in Skype.

Because we need a die roller, I'm going to open a private Dragonsfoot chat room. Once we're hooked up on Skype, I'll let you know the room name and password. Not sure if you need to be a Dragonsfoot member to use the chat rooms, so take care of that before gametime. :D

Tricky part is a mapping surface. I think we'll attempt to use Scriblink this time. Not fancy, but how perfect does cartography need to be?

To repeat:

We'll use Labyrinth Lord for the rules. People who "sign up" need to have 3 playable characters ready when we start (roll 3d6 down the line, discard characters who have a total negative bonus, make one switch of scores... characters will start at 2nd level, so take maximum hit points for first level and roll for the second level points... take the maximum starting money then roll starting money and that's your beginning total).

Six players maximum. "Book" with me by email ( and be there by gametime, else it's first come first served. And let's see if this seat-of-the-pants futuristic gaming works. :P

Meet the Three Brides

... or at least catch a glimpse of them.

This is just a rough draft of the cover I threw together after receiving the artwork yesterday (more on that tomorrow). Scans need to be cleaned up and color levels evened out, the formatting will be a bit different (I can't imagine the LotFP logo remaining that large, for starters), the text at the bottom will change... but... this is the general idea of what the cover will look like. A little splash of color certainly livens things up, doesn't it?

(and really... nobody caught the reference in Monday's Moo-Cows of Pembrooktonshire?)

Lulu: Absolute and Complete Dogshit

A few years back, I wrote an issue of my music zine that was composed of just one long essay, with none of the usual interviews and reviews. Although ranty (surprise surprise!) I think it was one of the better things I'd ever written, and it got me in contact with quite a few people and in general it was an awesome time.

I set myself up with Lulu because I wanted a hardcover copy of it (the actual issue was printed through the Small Publisher's Co-Op, which would have been an enormous resource for us if it didn't close down in 2006). I left it up for public sale because, well, why not? But between it being available from my site for free (read it here, and while you're at it read this and this which were not written by me but were directly influenced by my writing) and the regular print issue being available for $20 cheaper... my hardcover sold exactly zero copies.

Today I get notified by Lulu that a book I have available (as if I have more than one) through their service is now available on Amazon! oh gee. They didn't ask, and they jacked the fucking price up by $8... 30%.

... and apparently this is happening across-the-board with books available on Lulu.

Now people are publicizing that their stuff is available on Amazon like it's a good thing. One example: Basic Fantasy's storefront on Lulu says DON'T BUY THIS BOOK, making it so very clear that it's available for free download. The books on Amazon aren't presented that way, and while someone might look at the publisher and type that link in, basically Amazon and Lulu are hoping nobody notices and that some sucker will pay about $3 more than they otherwise would have (although it must be noted that Gonnerman is happy to be listed on Amazon). Yes, costs are increased when going through a distributor but it should be the publisher, not their fucking go-between storefront provider that has been given no rights to the content, to decide whether to put something into greater distribution, how much should be charged, and what the product details will look like. Some of these things don't even list who the actual publisher is, or give page counts, etc. It's disgraceful.

Yes, Lulu gives an opt-out, in fine print at the end of their notice, but I would think that people who have no rights to the work they are making business deals with could ask before they raise prices and present people's material in new (and rather large) sales channels any damn way they wish.

And lots of publishers in our scene make their books available for free, or at-cost. That "at-cost" amount now has even more people making money off their work (and profit-seeking publishers do not see any increase in their share of the sale at the increased price either) and the existence of free downloads is nowhere to be found, for any of them. In at least one major case (Labyrinth Lord), the Lulu-on-Amazon deal is now in side-by-side with a version being legitimately sold (as in, intentionally in distribution) through Amazon. That'll impress someone looking for the book on the trusted giant of the bookselling industry, I imagine.

I'm pissed just for what they did to me and my book that nobody bought and nobody was going to buy. I can't imagine how I'd be feeling if I was one of these guys administering something that mattered through Lulu.

I just canceled my Lulu account altogether. Fuckers can eat my shit and I hope they choke on the peanuts.

Monday, May 25, 2009

About Branding and Printing - Notes About Three Publishers

(rampant speculation ahoy!)

I received GS1 Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord and F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies in the mail today. I haven't had a chance to read through them thoroughly, and this should in no way be considered a review of their contents or game worthiness. Rather, I am going to speak to their branding and how they are printed.

Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord by RC Pinnell (aka Thorkhammer in various places) is not done using the OGL and brands itself as "Advanced Fantasy Adventure." It's obviously intended to be a continuation of the G1-2-3 series, and was previously labeled G4 instead of GS1 (back when it was an ad-hoc off-the-home-printer offering rather than a Lulu pay project). The stats inside are pure AD&D 1e, down to spell lists, magic items, etc. No euphemisms here.

One thing I will say is that having it available on Lulu is probably a great detriment to the product. It is only 12 pages, plus cover, and the cover isn't even in color. The dungeon map is on the back cover (Lulu doesn't print on the inside of the cover), which I think would negatively impact its actual-play usability (I know I stand up a lot when running games and pick up my adventure notes when I do...). Yes, the back cover is the classic blue shaded dungeon map, but surely it would make zero difference if the thing was not in color.

For this he's charging $7.05 (plus shipping which usually isn't too kind on Lulu). It's not a ripoff or anything since product details are plainly given and so any buyer makes an informed decision before laying out his money, but I will guess that he could have printed this product locally and made it available for that same $7.05 including (domestic) postage, and still be making the same money per copy as he is now. All it would take is a small upfront investment to print out a number of these (not a huge investment for a product of this size and he's active enough in the community that I'd bet a toe that he would have recouped his investment almost instantaneously upon release) in advance, if not completely sold out of his print run - note how the 20 bundles of this and The Fane sold out in just a few hours.

(And since writing this - I had the foresight to do some fact checking before posting what I'd written this morning - I have discovered that the copies offered as part of the package deal were not produced by Lulu. I was wondering how they could offer both at that insane price considering Lulu's base price... and the answer... they didn't, even though it looks like they used the same formatting that Lulu requires. Now the product is still up on Lulu so this isn't - yet? - the new way the Sanctum is being produced, but it gives hope that more people are at least investigating whether other venues than Lulu will work for them.)

Guy Fullerton's The Fane of the Poisoned Prophecy is an interesting case. It also does not use the OGL, but it does claim compatibility by name with "1st Edition AD&D" (and "1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons"). Within, he uses lots of spells by name, and uses monsters certainly unique to AD&D 1e with full statblocks in encounters. This even has a TSR-like cover design. Pregenerated characters are fully detailed within as well. It's a fairly high-profile release for our scene, being available at a number of online vendors and Guy is making an effort to get in-store distribution.

The printing is totally pro, with a color cover, (black and white) maps on the inside covers, and artwork liberally scattered throughout. It retails for $11.99, so Guy should making enough to pay his artists, make it worth the while of his distributors to carry the product, and presumably keep a few pennies for himself at that price.

Then we have the case of Brave Halfling Publishing. They've recently decided that they'd print their new products themselves instead of going through Lulu and have an ambitious release schedule planned. One of their future projects is a Holmes clone. They announced a "Name That Game" contest all over the relevant portions of the net, featuring this Kevin Mayle piece as the announced cover. Look familiar?

And here is where I believe our actions are not under the radar, that Certain People are aware of us (even beyond facts like several blogs of common interest are linked off of Mike Mearls' blog): In a short period of time (I can't remember whether it was within "a few hours" or "a few days") all of the publicity for the Holmes game had the artwork (and the Holmes name, replaced with "a 1977 basic rpg") scrubbed off of it. I don't know, but have the impression, that it was because BHP was notified that such close cover art, and I guess the name, crossed the line. The announcements are still up, the game is still planned, but that artwork seems to no longer be associated with the project.

The Sanctum's "module code" used to be G4, but is now GS1 (see here, where the author states "Simply put, the G4, which I presume you purchased, was replaced (for legal reasons) by the GS1.").

So assuming are we being watched (or perhaps it's better to say, "Certain trademark holders are indeed aware of our activities"), if these changes imply that certain details about certain projects did indeed cross a line, does that mean that other things that have been released and publicized and talked about in the exact same places and by much the same manner are indeed deemed OK and have not crossed a line?

I realize none of this has been legally tested and we're all operating under goodwill here. To make my position clear: I do not want to challenge Wizards' ownership of any trademarked or copywritten items with my releases and don't suggest anyone else do that either, but at the same time I would want us all to go as far as possible to plainly and without euphemism communicate what it is that we are doing without challenging them. As these releases show, the OGL is a tool but is obviously not the only tool to accomplish this, and if that's established then "What is the best way?" becomes a fair question. Realizing, of course, that most on this side of the question are not going to be able to afford a lawyer, and even if one was consulted, the "safe" answers could possibly be very different from the "legally accurate" answers anyway.


The reason I talk about all of this is not only do I have a personal interest in printing and branding methods, but a lot of us are putting stuff up for sale in various places and by various means. I don't think there should be a "backroom" where publishers have their own secret club or worse yet each publisher hoarding their knowledge. And we shouldn't all be fumbling around in the dark, either. We should talk about these things out in the open, all benefiting from each others' experiences and methods. If we're doing something wrong, let's talk about it instead of trying to bury it. If we run into a hurdle, we should be open about it so the next guy doesn't stumble over the same darn thing. If somebody is doing something right, let them share and let the competition for the "Old School Dollar" be based on effort and content, not hidden procedures and secret formulas for success. We're rebuilding and supporting and celebrating our favorite game(s), and we have the opportunity to do it right this time.

Meet Cows #125, 163 and 265, Grazers and Milk-Givers and Good Livestock of Pembrooktonshire

The farms and pastures around Pembrooktonshire are peaceful, rolling, and beautiful. The livestock is healthy, the land is fertile. The usual drudgery and uncertainly that farmers elsewhere face is instead rewarding and profitable here.

Long ago, longer than any of the current citizens can remember, Pembrooktonshire welcomed visitors, had their own men worthy of note, and on occasion had problems common to outlying communities: monsters. All of these qualities are now distant memories, but there are reminders to be found if one knows where to look for them.

Some time back there was an infestation of doppelgangers in the area. Four of them set themselves up in Pembrooktonshire. Their activities were stealthy enough to be undetected by the powers that be, but in their own subtle way, they caused much mayhem, not to mention the number of villagers they murdered, ate, and replaced. They were eventually defeated by a traveling group of powerful adventurers, but instead of killing them, the adventuring wizard decided to have some fun. He polymorphed the four into cows and made sure they did not remember their lives previous to grazing and saying, “mooooo!” Collecting their treasure, the adventurers went on their merry way, never again returning to Pembrooktonshire. The cows became known as good quality stock, giving plenty of milk and somehow never growing old, so they have been sold and thieved and traded by the townsfolk over the years.

Today, cows 125, 163, and 265 are coincidentally part of the same herd again. The three still graze and give milk, but if the magic that keeps them bound to these forms is ever dispelled…

Learn more about Pembrooktonshire in the adventure module No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, coming soon from LotFP.

What Is Old School?

It's that time of year again...

Grognardia starts the latest round off with More Than A Feeling, which argued that the term "Old School" has actual meaning in it, and that it is more than just some abstract, subjective phrase.

The biggest response going the other way (barring trolls in Grognardia's comments) seems to be here, where it's argued that the term is so subjective that there isn't any real concrete meaning to the phrase at all.

Last July, I had two entries on this blog: What is "Old School? Who cares?, and "Old School" vs. New School" - Final Word.

I don't know that my thoughts are still identical to those expressed in those two entries, but I do have a bit more to say on the matter after the debate of the past couple days.

I Hate Fun came about because the word "fun" is so subjective that using it would effectively be a conversation stopper. For it to be useful in any conversation, the term fun itself would have to be defined by the person using it, and that never happens. It's always "I do that because it's fun." or "I don't like that because it's not fun!" "I only play games I think are fun." It kills conversation dead, and since message boards are (presumably) about conversation (in reality they seem to be about drawing lines in the sand and yelling "You crossed my line! You're an asshole!" and "Cross this line, motherfucker, I dare you!" with variable amounts of courtesy), fun is a toxic term. Thus, I Hate Fun was not literally saying "I hate fun," but hating the use of the word fun while at the same time defining what is fun for me and how that differed from what many other people seemed to consider fun.

The term "old school" is something like "fun." I think it could have a definition, and it should have. Grognardia didn't go so far as to define it, just saying that such a definition should be able to exist. But is the baggage that comes with using it worth it? I think so. There is a difference in style and tone between older games and newer designs. There should be a term that can sum up such things, a term with meaning, right? I understand the procession of games and the thinking that informed their creation isn't an either/or condition, but come on... there is a difference between mainstream then, and mainstream now (I have to say mainstream because these things have to be about the general atmosphere, not including every single exception and outlier) in terms of game design and game play.

If the viewpoint taken by the Wondrous Imaginings blog is correct, then the term Old School needs to be taken out back and shot, then cremated. Purely subjective terms are toxic to discussion and understanding, and anyone using them as an argument, rather than a punctuation to an argument, needs to be ignored lest they poison discussion going on around them.

Yet that's not the point. The fact that people could use a term incorrectly and often would does not suddenly make a term subjective. It just means a lot of people are using it wrong.I don't believe "Old School" is a purely subjective term, but I do believe it is a terrible term to use. I know I've been swept along and use the term "Old School Renaissance," but whatever term I'd use ("Classic" or "Traditional") will have the same problem of definition, even if I'd find it more pleasing and representational.But the argument of, "You're not using the right word," is hardly a conversation anyone enjoys. But what else to do about it?"The assholes can't admit they're understanding a concept completely wrong... best to just surrender it." As if!

Argue argue argue.

I still think the "good" versus "crappy" dichotomy would work better than the "old school" versus "new school." "B/X is a good game! 3e is crappy!" probably communicates a lot more about what the speaker is saying than "B/X is old school and 3e is new school!"

I guess it just depends on how long we want to argue about terminology instead of using the terms to actually make an argument.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Anyone Up for a Game?

A few weeks back I talked about doing an online game, and then never really followed up on the suggestions given for how to do it. Always more crucial things on the agenda...

Well, Death Frost Doom has been expanded past its original core to the point where I can no longer really claim that the extra material is just fleshed out background and description or that it's been playtested on the whole. At the same time, the core of the adventure is identical to how it was in my campaign so the balance of my players have either been through it or have had the experience related to them by those that have gone through it.

So let's do this.

Thursday, 7pm Eastern time. I want you to play in my game online. We'll use Labyrinth Lord for the rules. Six players maximum, to keep this from being a total circus. People who "sign up" need to have 3 playable characters ready (roll 3d6 down the line, discard characters who have a total negative bonus, make one switch of scores... characters will start at 2nd level, so take maximum hit points for first level and roll for the second level points... take the maximum starting money then roll starting money and that's your beginning total), they need to have a microphone on their computer (not sure of the platform we'll use, that'll be Tuesday's firm project, but have Skype ready to go in the meantime!), and be ready to spend an evening in hell. :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

We Think Too Small

I had planned a great big giant post about my Rome trip around the theme of "We Think Too Small." But things got busy... So let me link a couple of galleries and then give the sum-up to the post I was going to make.

My Rome Photos from May 9 - 12.

My Turku Castle Photos from May 15 (not so spectacular, originally built in the 1200s but it's been "repurposed" and renovated so many times, and it looks just like Hämeen Linna inside).

Just look at those Rome pictures though (the ones of the monuments, not the ones where I start obsessing over why some statues' penises are broken and others are not). Look how big those buildings are.

When I see RPG maps and cities and settings, I see a lot of things built on 5' and 10' squares. Sure, the past couple of years has seen the megadungeon come into fashion again, and the scale of one of those is immense, but the individual elements and rooms don't seem to be.

If I'm not mistaken, D&D is supposed to be "middle-agish" in feel, and the default method of play is exploring dungeons and ruins from some ancient civilization.

... Rome, right?

Not literally, of course, but the idea is that there's all this ancient treasure and magic underground that isn't overground. The ancients were Richer and More Advanced.

... Rome, right?

Even if not, the scale of the architecture of ruins can, and perhaps should, represent the splendor of a civilization that produced and possessed all that ancient treasure. Break it out. Make it HUGE. Go wild. It'll make everything seem even more fantastic, yet be more real at the same time.

And exploration strategies will have to change with all those great big distances to cover as opposed to being stuck in claustrophobic conditions.

But there are other ideas to be ripped out of Rome. I've got a few pictures in that pile of Egyptian obelisks that had been looted and carted back by the Romans. We shouldn't let our ancient ruins be monocultures! Rome spread its influence, but also took in a great deal of influence from those it conquered.

Visiting the Pantheon made me realize something too. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it didn't fall overnight either, and it certainly didn't just crumble into dust when it did. The fall of a civilization that built the ruins that are now this week's dungeon probably didn't fall into ruin overnight. After whatever caused it to not be the paragon of splendor, people probably stuck around trying to rebuild, or pretend as if their new society was the same as the fallen one just for living in the same space. They'll rip out the guts of the current architecture (to use elsewhere), temples, and other great places while keeping the magnificent facade, and replace the innards with their own cultural artifacts.

So that great ancient city that's being explored can be a mishmash of cultures and times, and can end up being as gonzo as anything D&D has to offer, without even ever breaking verisimilitude. Not a bad deal.

And one thing that our tour guide at the Colosseum said struck a nerve (the guy was really good, for charisma and the ability to make the tour enjoyable at least, can't speak for his factual value so much as I'm not up on my Roman history, but we got lucky because we just randomly picked out someone advertising English tour groups)... when the Romans brought animals from all over to the Colosseum, they weren't bringing "animals" as the citizens understood them to be. The lions, hippos, giraffes, etc, seemed like monsters to the crowd. Surely there are D&D adventure seeds in that realization...

So that's that. It was a fun trip, Italian drivers are crazy, Maria was surprised to find out something that I already knew - metalheads are the same everywhere you go (she seemed shocked that the crowd for Doomraiser looked identical to the Finnish metalheads), and the food... oh my goodness... the food. :D

I'll leave you with one photo I took which I decided to call Armor Class 9:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Town's on Vacation, I Am Not.

No Pembrooktonshire stuff this week. I'm finishing up the current project so when I have all the art originals in my hand on Tuesday I can just drop them into the layout and be off to the races.

But never fear, you'll meet more Pembrooktonshire folk on Monday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Congrats to Mikko!

Mikko Torvinen is the first-place Black and White winner of the Fight On Erol Otus Art Challenge!

He's not currently at my table, but he was present for most of the Olden Domain games I ran earlier this year, and that's where I mentioned that Fight On! was always looking for art submissions...

Now if someone else would hire Laura to do some art, I'd feel like I'm really getting somewhere with this talent farm idea I was hoping would be a byproduct of my own work... :P

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Creature Generator on Sale!

Noble Knight is having a big sale on Goodman Games products, so you can get the Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra here for $9.56 plus shipping through May 31.

(edit: looks like it's now out of stock... woohoo! Sales!)

For All Those Who Use Battlemats and Minis...


I finally remembered to take a picture of the game table before people show up. Finding places to put character sheets and set up my screen is difficult enough...

Those scones are freshly baked, mind you.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Another Glowing Review for Green Devil Face

Read it here!

The Failure of the Industry

I'd been complaining on Twitter how some posts on message boards relating to "overtaking D&D" and "What if WotC reprinted old D&D books" were making me want to cancel my internet service because they were killing my brain cells because of a lot of "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," commentary being thrown about.

Then there's this post about the industry being irrelevant to actual gaming.

As a guy who has published and will continue to publish game materials, and as someone who doesn't buy many game materials, and as someone who plays more or less weekly, I have much to say about this.

I'll tell you why the industry has failed me: Because it produces canon and instructs buyers how to follow an official way instead of aiding what I'm wanting to do. Because it provides piles and piles of setting detail detached from any actual play and it provides waves and waves of new rules and options for characters instead of doing what it can to keep a core game simple and easily entered.

The role-playing industry has but one purpose: To Enable Play. Some people might think they're in the business of selling content, and so the more content they sell, the better they are at being a role-playing company. Not so. To Enable Play. That's all it is good for.

You know what enables play? You know what enables play and improves the ability of all involved to play? Adventures. Yes, the hobby is one of do-it-yourself creation, but (of course!) I believe that (quality) pre-made adventures are valuable.

First, they provide superior potential for good gaming for x number of sessions. That's cool right there.

To repeat a point, they provide a means for both referees and players to think and game in ways that won't happen if their group and their play remain completely insular.

The GD(...andmaybeQ) series, T1, B2, X1, S1, and so many more are commonpoint touchstones for our hobby, and certainly nobody can say the 1970s modules were intended be a campaign rather than supplement them as begun to happen with certain modules in the 80s. These common touchstones can be valuable as they can enable a real discussion of play using shared experiences, which I believe are far superior than discussing theoreticals on top of personal experiences (and far more productive than arguing rules points, although that certainly has its place).

Role-playing is a social hobby. A successful role-playing game requires a good-sized pool of players, not (only) to sell books (or pdfs, or what have you), but to actually have the experience of playing to begin with. The bigger the pool of players, the easier it is to just play instead of making an effort to play. And a thriving industrial component not only an indicator of a healthy hobby behind it (I think I can state without controversy that 4e is seeing plenty of actual play), but its products can reach people simply through the effort of releasing and distributing it. I think some in our circle forget that our potential is not just the people currently interested in traditional gaming. Products on shelves is not only a good promotional weapon (how many have a prejudice against "dead games" or "pdf-only" releases... we all have our own particular bugbears in this area, don't we? I certainly do...), but a psychological one, as traditional games displaying traditional philosophies will carry weight just by being read. Certainly quite ridiculous attitudes have gotten vocal sizable followers this way...

The failure of the industry as it stands to serve the hobby does not mean that the idea of an industry is a failure in itself. We've just got to do it ourselves. Some already have and have so enriched our hobby. But there is more to do, and the difficult part is going to be keeping our methods "pure" as the movement continues to expand. "Pure" will mean different things to different people, and as I move into year two of LotFP: RPG blogging, my goal will be to show more and tell less.

The things I have released so far, and the things I plan to release, should show what I mean. So if I may toot my own horn about my small contributions to the industry and the hobby:

Can anyone say that The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra does not have the capability to contribute to every single game out there? Whether it's the best tool for the job is of course up to you, but can one single person running a fantasy game tell me that they couldn't use it? Can anyone say that the advice in the book, purposefully contradictory so you can't take any of it as "canon" or some sort of "one true way" manifesto, straitjackets or narrows gaming if it is followed?

And I don't care what kind of game you run... you can stick any number of Green Devil Face traps in your game as-is. Some ideas in there are more crazy than others, but I refuse to believe that someone could page through those and find nothing they could use.

Now, adventures are something else entirely. If you've read The Tower from Fight On #4, you'll see some elements of how I write an adventure (although it is also unrepresentative in other ways due to its limited scope and "Weird Tale" ambitions). Yes, there is plenty of detail, some of which I'd think is essential. Yes, there will be plots and situations happening. Background pouring out the ears. My adventures won't have sequels that assume things happened in the previous module. If my longterm plans happen, there will be thematically linked adventures, but nothing in the way of the "adventure path" as it is currently known. My adventures will be equally capable of being self-contained one-shots (well, my guess is most won't be a one-session experience, but you get the drift I hope) or dropped into a sandbox, or weaved into the existing threads of a quest/plot-based campaign, with limited hassle. And I think my adventures will have an atmosphere different than any other author out there, and different from that of your table, so you won't be paying for or presenting "more of the same" or something you would have just as easily done yourself.

Those are the goals, anyway, and of course my success at achieving them will vary from adventure to adventure. But there it is.

But is there anyone who would think that releases like that, while certainly being industrial activity, hurt the hobby? Does anyone think we would have less players or more foolish play if Green Ronin or Necromancer or Goodman Games or heaven forbid Wizards of the Coast produced honest-to-goodness OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry or traditional D&D materials in this manner and did it through all their available industrial channels?

D&D and Clone Stuff in Print

Chaotic Henchmen is also offering a real steal for a Fane of the Poisoned Prophecies and Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord combo here. It's such a steal and for a limited amount that I jumped on it as soon as I saw it, and so should you.

Brave Halfling Publishing's website is live. I have a feeling the adventures for sale there will be available for a touch longer, so I'll be waiting until my financial situation evens out a bit before placing orders there.

I also hope to catch up real soon on the Advanced Adventures line from Expeditious Retreat Press. I only have the Pod-Caverns at the present time.

Also recently released is Jeff Rients' The Miscellaneum of Cinder, although you need to trade for the self-published version.

There is of course Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa which has been available for some time.

Let's not forget Rob Kuntz's Pied Piper Publishing.

My own Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra is out through Goodman Games.

Of course there is Green Devil Face project, and the floodgates are so close to opening on at least three adventure modules (I know, promises promises).

Who else is out there putting stuff out in print for our games without using Lulu or the like?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Meet Alexandra Morgan, Schoolmarm and Good Citizen of Pembrooktonshire

Ms. Morgan is the local schoolteacher and the foremost authority on manners and custom in Pembrooktonshire. Courted for her expertise when festivals and important events occur, she is normally not engaged socially as most of the townsfolk believe she takes the rules of social behavior a bit too far. Her interpretations of everything from proper dress to courtship are subjects of discussion all over town amongst adults of parenting age. Older folks are set in their ways, and of course the younger folk don’t care.

Or at least they think they don’t care. Pembrooktonshire youngsters are incredibly better behaved than most children after about age nine or so, directly due to the influence of Ms. Morgan. That family-aged adults seriously debate her opinions is no accident either.

Some decades ago, when Alexandra was a pre-teen, a local man set off to seek his fortune. This angered Ms. Morgan as she took this to mean that the perfect town of Pembrooktonshire was not good enough for this malcontent. What an insult! When he returned years later with an alien bride, Alexandra was furious and mounted a campaign of social condemnation that drove the couple away into the nearby mountains (another blasphemy – nobody goes into the mountains!).

She swore such social contamination would never happen again. For decades now she has been the school teacher in Pembrooktonshire, and the prosperity of the town ensures that most children receive at least a basic education. At exam time, Ms. Morgan knows that she has her students’ complete attention and that others would not disturb such intense study time, so she uses her talents at mesmerism to not only impress the real lessons into the children, but make them more susceptible to and place far more importance on tradition and social pressures. Her hypnotism skills are quite weak, and without such a captive audience and an overall environment that supports her intentions, it would never work. But she has both, and so Pembrooktonshire grows more uniform and insular as the years pass by…

Learn more about Pembrooktonshire in the adventure module No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, coming soon from LotFP.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Appendix N

This went around the blogs over the weekend...

Last year I did this post which touches on the subject.

But for our purposes now... instead of listing books that are influencing me, I'm just going to direct you here. I've used this as a reading list far more often than I've used the actual Appendix N.

Green Devil Face Reviewed!

Michael Shorten posted a very positive and kind review of Green Devil Face #2 here. Thanks!

Remember that submissions are always welcome (and the frequency of new issues depends on you! - all contributors get a free copy of the issue they're in), and it would really be cool if somebody could put together a custom logo for it, maybe something psychedelic in the tradition of the early logo for The Dragon. I can't pay, but you'll get on the permanent comp copy list if I use your work as the permanent logo!

Back From Rome

We landed back in Helsinki about two hours ago. Funny that the way things work, my passport has nothing to indicate I left Finland or entered Italy! The new printer (I've named it "Tippy") was ready for pickup so I got that on the way home.

Today is a day of rest, catching up on all the blog posts I've missed and what's going on in messageboardland, (it's funny how a few days gone makes it seem like I've missed a ton of stuff) and swearing at Tippy before I figure out how he works. Tomorrow I need to fill a few Green Devil Face orders that came in while I was gone and go through my hundred or so Rome pictures and do my big blog post concerning that (and as soon as I saw the Colosseum, I had a relevant blog angle!).

Somewhere in there I need to bug my artists and see if they've gotten anything done these past five days!

Then on Friday I'm off to Turku to see the castle there during the day and catch Lord Vicar and Spiritus Mortis at night. Saturday will likely be another dead day, then Sunday is game day, and Monday I get back to work to actually turn all this stuff I've been talking about into actual things for you.

From the "I'm a Sucker" department: At the airport in Rome this morning, while waiting to leave, I spotted Harry Turtledove's The Gladiator in a bookstore. Damn thing had a 20 sided die on the cover and the blurb on the back talked about political subversion through gaming. It was a quick, breezy read (nothing like the Clark Ashton Smith I'd brought with me!), entertaining enough... but... I read it in like two, two and a half hours, and it cost 13€. And I bought it anyway because it had a 20 sider on it. ay ay ay

... and I know you all cared immensely about this post. :D

Meet Rachel Whispers, Landowner and Good Citizen of Pembrooktonshire

Whispers is a comely young widow, just twenty-three years of age. She now runs the decently-sized apple tree orchard that’s been owned by her husband’s family for generations. She’s an able administrator and a kind employer.

Rachel Whispers is scared to death. She became convinced that her husband’s death from falling from a ladder was no accident, and she came to believe their three year old son was responsible. She came to believe he was possessed by a demon. On one stormy night, when she was struggling with the decision to turn him over to the priests, the child said something particularly blasphemous and in a fit of pure terror she killed her only child. Her panic only increased as she realized what she’d done as the boy’s dead, innocent face stared up blankly at her.

Knowing this would mean she would go to the gallows, Whispers brought the body to her secret basement to give herself time to think about what to do next. To her horror, when she woke up the next morning, she found her son playing in the front yard, talking to the neighbors. Firmly convinced of his diabolic nature, she killed him again when he came inside and brought the body down to the basement, no longer troubled by guilt.

But every morning, there the child is, laughing, playing, being seen by the neighbors. And every late morning, she brains him with a cast iron frying pan, or a piece of furniture, or perhaps even stabs him with a large knife. The way she kills her son seems to be different every day. But nothing stops him from being alive and happy the next day.

And Rachel’s basement is getting full…

Learn more about Pembrooktonshire in the adventure module No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, coming soon from LotFP.

One Year

I've been blogging for one year today. Wow.

As time rolls on, I'll be revisiting some posts on their anniversary, clarifying things that I believe were not taken the way I meant them, and also talking about how things have changed.

But yeah, happy anniversary to me!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meet Benedict Onions, Junior Priest and Good Citizen of Pembrooktonshire

Onions is the youngest priest at the church in Pembrooktonshire, yet his artistic talent and impeccable calligraphic skills have caused Father Rhydderch to put him in charge of archiving and copying of old texts (presses being considered too vulgar to duplicate holy works). Onions enjoys his duties immensely.

Benedict is also quite the forger, and is a former employee of the Reuter bookbindery, where he learned the ins and outs of book manufacturing. Onions has been rewriting the chief texts that Rhydderch uses for his sermons one page at a time, and then replacing those pages late at night. The rewritten passages carry the same general meanings as before, but when taken as a whole are beginning to resemble something else altogether…

Learn more about Pembrooktonshire in the adventure module No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, coming soon from LotFP.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Meet Morris Simons, Composer, Bard, and Good Citizen of Pembrooktonshire.

Morris makes his living composing great musical works for great orchestras in larger cities, but around town he’s known as the minstrel who performs down at the Good Shepherd. He’s a young man for one of his abilities, merely in his mid-thirties, but he has an old haggard look about him. Sometimes it seems like he’s staring at things that aren’t there. His performances always draw a crowd because people never know how he’s going to act.

You see, when Morris plays an instrument, and it doesn’t matter if it’s his lute, a violin, his mandolin, or even his prized dragonskin drum, he sometimes travels through time. There seems to be no pattern, no way to predict when or if it will happen. When he does time travel, he always appears in the midst of other performing musicians, sometimes in rehearsal, sometimes in performance, and a few times, on live television. Because he’s never playing the same thing the others are, the performance breaks down immediately, and when Simons stops playing, he is instantly transported back to his own time at the same moment he left; onlookers don’t even notice that he’d gone. And that’s the moment his performances become eccentric and interesting.

Learn more about Pembrooktonshire in the adventure module No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, coming soon from LotFP.

Out of the Office

I'm off to Rome for a few days, so no fresh posting and any Green Devil Face orders will have to wait until the 14th to be processed.

Pre-scheduled Pembrooktonshire posts will still appear.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

So That's Where I Saw That!

The upcoming release was originally to be titled Death Cold Frost. Then Mr. Trollsmyth made a suggestion that it should have Doom in it. I thought it was a good idea. So, Death Frost Doom!

But that sounded familiar. Too familiar. I did a Google search (and a search at Metal Archives) to make sure I wasn't just copying the name of some album. No matches. OK.

But still... a nagging doubt about it.

I haven't been following the metal scene so closely lately, due to the fact that I don't have the money to keep up on the new releases by the bands I like, let alone dig for new ones. But today, after ordering the new printer, I went to Keltainen Jääsarkija to pick up Reverend Bizarre's final release Death is Glory... Now. For the past several years I'd been a first-day buyer of RB's CD releases (them and Hammers of Misfortune are my absolute favorite bands these days), helping to put Slave of Satan and Teutonic Witch on the singles charts here in 2005 and 2007, and So Long Suckers on the album charts in 07. But this last compilation of all their 7" releases came out three months ago and I didn't realize it until two days ago... that's how far out of the loop I've gotten.

While at the record store I saw this:

I knew I'd seen the general phrase before.

And there's another album that's snuck out that I need to buy. And I haven't even gotten the previous one, and I love Rob Lowe's singing. I'm so lost...


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Meet Titricia Finn, Midwife and Good Citizen of Pembrooktonshire

A spinster in her early 60s, Ms. Finn is handles the deliveries for the majority of Pembrooktonshire’s births. She’s very good; she’s never lost a mother or child in her care.

While she goes to Church every Sunday and keeps up appearances, Titricia is not what she seems. She worships the Outer Powers, and they have given her a task. After delivering a baby, she takes it into a private room to “be cleaned.” She insists on privacy, and because of her flawless reputation, no one argues. Here the child is traded to an agent of the Outer Powers for a changeling; a facsimile of the child so perfect that neither the parents nor child will ever realize it isn’t a natural human. Changelings are more impulsive and stubborn than the norm, and tend to be more physical than intellectual (-1 intelligence and wisdom, +1 strength and constitution), but otherwise are human. The only clues that they are something else are that protection spells affect them as if they were summoned beings, and because they have no true souls they can never be raised from the dead.

Because she does not handle every birth in town, and because sometimes she just doesn’t have the opportunity to do the switch in time, there is a 1 in 4 chance that any Pembrooktonshire native under the age of 30 is a natural, normal human.

Learn more about Pembrooktonshire in the adventure module No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, coming soon from LotFP.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

D&D Has a Lot of Baggage

D&D is a set of rules. While these rules do have their implications which can be debated, people (and publishers) can and do twist and contort everything about D&D to where it can't possibly have any definition besides its most fundamental rules. Yet the line where something becomes "not D&D" is quite debatable (see the 3.x and 4e edition wars, with many stating that it's still D&D to them), but obviously there is a quite definite line or else every RPG is D&D.

(A prime reason I think my Olden Domain game fizzled after 6 or 7 sessions was that I was trying to be older-school-than-thou and monkeying around with the rules and procedures instead of just picking a D&D version and running it as-is. It did cap off with a "cleared the gnoll problem for the primitive villagers" resolution so that was good at least. And I've submitted that "gnoll" tower to the One Page Dungeon contest.)

The quote mentioned here is completely pointless. "Warhammer isn't like D&D..." because it's got a different character creation and combat and magic system. When I first came into contact with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in the very early 90s, I took that atmosphere and decided that's how I'm going to run D&D from now on. My monsters don't all have treasure, and my games aren't "about" glory and riches unless the PCs decide that's what it's about, and even then I won't serve it up on a silver platter.

Not to mention the published WFRP campaigns (at least for the first edition) don't match the atmosphere Mr. Wallis describes. You don't end the Enemy Within campaign (the very campaign which spawned Mr. Wallis' quote) covered in shit. Or Doomstones, either. Warhammer's style and atmosphere can be transferred quite easily to D&D, and only D&D's high level play might have trouble making the jump back.

The post here, linked as support to the post above, seems to name Tolkien as the prime inspiration to Warhammer, but I've always thought of it as quite Moorcockian. Either way, to some degree both had some influence on D&D (both important but neither prime influences), and I don't see how the American spirit defines D&D. Sure, there are expectations and general perceptions about the games, but both games can be quite played exactly like the other. Doomstones was originally written for D&D, as I recall. That Dungeonland and Beyond the Magic Mirror were directly ripped from Lewis Carroll probably gives it the British flavor, but I think this little bit from Castle Greyhawk would have fit wonderfully as a Warhammer adventure.

Then there's this thread (remember Wick's anti-D&Disms leading up to this game's release?) and resulting discussion. "Let me put it this way to start with: why does Cthulhu automatically eat 1d3 adventurers per round?" is supposed to be evidence that Call of Cthulhu is the anti-D&D. A defender states, "That Lovecraft fiction is as far from D&D as one can conceive..." which has to be objectively wrong just based on Appendix N.

Even Matt Finch draws a line between the atmospheres of Call of Cthulhu and D&D in the comments here.

When it comes to D&D, my line is somewhere around where Mr. Mornard calls it: "A hit chart, a saving throw table, some character progression, monsters, treasure, and some rules on air combat, sea combat, and building a barony. Add imagination and go apeshit." (he forgot character classes, but maybe that's under character progression) You can take the basics and make sci-fi, Victorian, ancient mythic Greece, hardcore historical, horror, comedy, action-adventure, romance, hard-boiled detective, or anything you want and it's still D&D as long as it retains the core elements.

But this sort of thing is why I was fretting yesterday. Death Frost Doom is nearly complete, and I'm worried a bit because I'm certain it (and my other forthcoming work) will be accused of not "feeling" like D&D (no matter what rules I officially release it under, I have a feeling it'll be bought and used most by D&D players, I think it's safe and factual to say!) by some even if I attempt to make it note-perfect on the rules.