Monday, November 30, 2009

Official Press Release for The Grinding Gear

New Release: The Grinding Gear

LotFP: RPG Releases are available exclusively from these vendors:

Finland: Arkkikivi
France: Ludikbazar
Germany: Sphärenmeisters Spiele
North America: Noble Knight Games
UK: Leisure Games
Worldwide: LotFP Webstore

Also available in PDF from Your Games Now and RPGNow

LotFP: RPG releases are designed to be played with old-school fantasy games, most notably Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry,and OSRIC; see the full list of directly-compatible games here.

The Grinding Gear

If this adventure does not drain every drop of your blood, then it will disintegrate you. If it does not disintegrate you, it will electrocute you. If it does not electrocute you, it will starve you. If it does not starve you, it still will defeat you in a battle of wits.

You very well may survive.

But only the best will win the treasure!

If you think you're ready, if you've got the guts, tell your group's referee that you want to test yourself against THE GRINDING GEAR. Then you can answer the question:

Are You Good Enough?

The Grinding Gear presents a self-contained adventure setting consisting of an abandoned inn and the dungeon below it. It includes over 50 detailed locations, three referee maps, a player handout, plus referee notes and "designer notes" that tie everything together.

The print version is a sixteen page adventure booklet surrounded by three detached glossy heavy-stock covers featuring maps, artwork, and the player handout.

The PDF version comes with both A4 (36 pages including all notes and maps) and Letter-sized (37 pages) formats, laid out specifically for the PDF format and fully bookmarked.

Challenging. Cruel. Rewarding.

The Grinding Gear.

For low-level characters.

Adventure by James Edward Raggi IV

Artwork by Laura Jalo

Cartography by Ramsey Dow

Some advance reviews are in!

"Another absolute gem" - Jeff Rients

"As old school as it gets" - Von der Seifenkiste herab...

"So here we have a product that is what it says on the tin: a low-level one-shot puzzle dungeon that tests the player's dungeoneering skills." - Playing D&D with Porn Stars

"Looks so pro we might as well start calling Jim a sellout"

Also Available:

Death Frost Doom

"Death Frost Doom is, quite simply, an inspiring product, managing to combine an old school agnosticism toward "story" with the kind of atmosphere and ambience one tends to associate with newer understandings of roleplaying." - Grognardia

"I certainly could recommend this product to anyone who enjoys old-school fantasy play, particularly with that horror/weird-tale twist." - RPG Pundit

No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides

"It's a bold, original product that shows off the true potential of the old school renaissance to use the wisdom of the past as a springboard for new ventures that avoid the mistakes of the past." - Grognardia

"Fundamentally different than anything TSR ever published." - Geoffrey McKinney, Dragonsfoot and review

People of Pembrooktonshire

"Nearly all of the NPCs, in and of themselves, are interesting and quite a number of them are sheer genius." - Grognardia

"In a lot of ways, this book lays the foundation for understanding how to set up a political or role-playing heavy sandbox setting more than anything I have read." - Savage Swords of Athanor

Green Devil Face

The 'zine of diabolical tricks and traps ready to use in your dungeon!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Just Saw, on Finnish TV...

... a World of Warcraft ad featuring Mr T talking about mohawk grenades in the game.

... during a commercial break during The DaVinci Code... (National Treasure ripoff, if you're wondering)...

See, this is why we can't have nice things. The competition has enlisted C-list celebrities to allow their likeness to be used in absolutely ridiculous ways in their products, and they advertise it around the world on television during piss-poor movies.

Where was that Labyrinth Lord ad with Jaleel White giving us a "Did I Do That?" during the TV airing of Boat Trip a couple weeks ago, huh?

Rollenspiel-Almanach reviews People of Pembrooktonshire!

It's in German; read it here.

Babelfish translation... here.

Now to go read it to see if I've just linked to a positive or negative review. :D

Saturday, November 28, 2009

LotFP Releases Now Available from Leisure Games in the UK

I think this is a big one... anyway, the link is just up there to the right.

New Review of The Grinding Gear

Geoffrey McKinney has posted his review of The Grinding Gear both at Dragonsfoot and the OD&D Discussion board. It'll be popping up at soon as well, I'm told.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Grinding Gear Chart Positions!

The wreck that was Thursday is done, and Friday is looking much much better!

The Grinding Gear has cracked Noble Knight's Top 10, and both RPGNow and DriveThruRPG's Top 40.

This with only 3 of what should end up being over a dozen reviews posted, and since the French and British shipments aren't for sale yet (the Finnish vendorpeople should be here in quarter of an hour to pick up their copies) I haven't even announced the release anywhere but here.

Not bad. So far so good. The best is yet to come. blah blah blah.

Buy a copy or three, will ya? :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

GG PDFs OK, Secret Doors, Sanity Mechanics

The issues concerning the PDFs have been resolved, so clicky clicky on those RPGNow and Your Games Now links up there on the right and purchase The Grinding Gear if PDF is your preferred format.

If you like books, Noble Knight, Sphärenmeisters Spiele, and the LotFP Webstore have it in stock. LudikBazar should have it any day now. We've received word that Leisure Games in the UK has received their first LotFP shipment (several weeks old, so Grinding Gear is not included in it) and those items should be posted to their store by the weekend. I'll have a specific announcement here when that is the case, and do the full Grinding Gear press release here and around the forums once everyone has their current shipments in stock.

There has been a bit of talk about the handling of secret doors from those that already have The Grinding Gear. I thought it was odd when Zak over at Playing D&D with Porn Stars had a question, but now it appears there is a full-on rules issue that I was not even aware of until yesterday morning.

Apparently the Moldvay Basic and Labyrinth Lord state that a character gets only one try to find a secret door, and if that fails, pffft, tough shit! I have never played like that, and as I said was never aware that such a rule existed.

Doublechecking yesterday morning to make sure I haven't been playing wrong for a quarter of a century, I did confirm that OD&D, Holmes Basic, Mentzer Basic, AD&D, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry do not have this "one try only" language in the rules for secret doors.

I'm truly flabbergasted that a game that so features exploration as a primary activity would have such a limitation. To me, secret doors are time sinks, and if a party wants to take the time to make an extra check (or five) at the cost of a turn each, running down their light sources and risking wandering monsters, that's great!

My entire style of running (and writing!) adventures just wouldn't work with a "one chance only" approach, and to repeat again, I had no idea this was a rule in any version of the grand ol' game, let alone having any idea that people actually played that way.

And many of my secret doors don't specify a specific way to open them. That's what the roll is for, and generally when I do specify the opening mechanism, a roll will find the door but the opening of the door depends on the mechanism and no mere die roll can open the door. The classic modules are full of undescribed secret doors, and I don't recall problems with them either in my games or online discussion.

How do you handle secret doors in your game?

My post a few days ago about horror games started a bit of discussion. Grinding Gear business has delayed the editing of the followup post (as well as formatting Green Devil Face #4, which has nine fine entries), but I did want to say a few things more about Sanity/Fright mechanics. (this is a retread of yesterday's response on the LotFP message board, plug plug!)

Sanity and Fright systems seem to confuse different things, and to me seem to just be a hammer that games use to enforce genre and force players to "role-play properly." CoC seems to think that being exposed to the true nature of the universe and dealing with monsters and magic leads to the same thing as dealing with mundane horrors that any emergency services personnel might encounter on a bad day.

If it was merely some sort of "Keep Your Cool" characteristic to prevent a mild-mannered accountant from reacting to situations the same way as a twenty year police veteran, that's one thing, but a characters' "Cool" should improve drastically on each contact - that mild-mannered accountant isn't going to be bothered at the end of a rough night by the same thing that freaked him out to start the night.

Same thing with the supernatural and magic and such. The idea that humanity is in its little shell, ignorant of the real truth of the universe and the forces that control it. The tearing of that veil might be stressful, but once you realize the Necronomicon isn't making all of that up, what further mental breaks are there? Seeing your first monster?

In either case, I think that the lowering of the "mental hit points" would mean a character staying more in control as their normal lives as shattered. The "insanity" is built-in to the role-playing experience... PCs dealing the magic and cultists and monsters are going to seem eccentric at best, and most likely absolutely batshit insane to the man on the street, what with their propensity for violence, paranoia, belief in impossible things. No need for a mechanic.

Two SAN 0 characters from fiction: Jack Bauer and Ashley J. Williams.

This of course assumes that CoC's SAN stat, which I do believe spawned the whole idea in horror role-playing, should be taken in an entirely Lovecraftian context, and not as a general "Eek! I shit my pants!" mechanic.

And I consider this sort of thing to be different than actual psychic fear and insanity attacks, mind you.

One more plug: The LotFP RPG Facebook page! Become a fan! Spare yourself the scat humor and general weirdness you get if trying to add yourself as a friend to my personal profile!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Grinding Gear available at Noble Knight, Your Games Now, and RPGNow

In Print

Available at Noble Knight here.

Also available at the LotFP Webstore here.

Also still available from Sphärenmeisters Spiele here.


Available at Your Games Now here.

Available at RPGNow here.

(The previous issues concerning the PDFs have been resolved.)

Still waiting on it to arrive at Ludikbazar, but French fans should be able to order it there any day now.

The original shipment to England, made three weeks ago, still hasn't turned up, and that package didn't even have Grinding Gear in it, so not sure what's up there.

Arkkikivi should have copies shortly as well.

New People of Pembrooktonshire Review - in German!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just One Little Heretical Note

I love the Dungeoneer and Wilderness Survival Guides.

In theory.

The "you are there" qualities found in those rules are awesome. This is what it would be like to be in an underground labyrinth or lost in the trackless wastes!

But all these rules are a humongous pain in the ass with way too much crap to keep track of. They are useless in practice, and the non-weapon proficiency system should be taken out and shot.

But if I could keep all that stuff straight in my head and memorize it all to apply it without having to look anything up or worrying about remembering to use the rules sometimes while forgetting to use them at other times... I would. Unquestionably.

Another (nano) Review of The Grinding Gear, plus Death Frost Doom Actual Play, plus...

Jeff Rients says a few good words about The Grinding Gear here. I expect this to show up at Noble Knight and LudikBazar (and then RPGNow and Your Games Now) literally any day now, so watch this space.

Maliszewski over at Grognardia used Death Frost Doom as a basis for his last four (!) Dwimmermount sessions. Read about those here, here, here, and here.

I had an email waiting for me when I woke up this morning, and I may be on another podcast very soon. More information as things are finalized and they actually happen.

I'm going through the Green Devil Face #4 stuff and formatting that, so there should be some sort of news there soon as well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Horror in (Fantasy) Role-Playing Pt 1

Pardon me for being a bit belligerent, but I've been pretty much wasted (in a non-chemical sense) the past couple days, lounging around in bed, and sitting in front of a keyboard trying to make a fantastic location come to life and only being able to produce drivel.

Swirling purple psychedelic mist! The results of a thousands-of-years-old massacre still laying on the floor fresh as the day it happened! Golden mining tools on a pedestal! A meteorite sitting right there!

And that's one room. You'd think I could make that sound interesting, right? Not today, apparently.

I did make the girlfriend watch Boat Trip, and her reactions to that movie gave me some joy, at least.

(hint: the movie sucks so bad you can watch Cuba Gooding Jr's acting career evaporate during the course of the film)

Since being productive today is out of the question (it's very nearly 1am as I type these words), but I'm trying to delay going to bed quite yet, I'm going to speak on a subject that annoys the shit out of me.

Horror in gaming. Horror as a gaming "genre." Mixing horror and fantasy gaming.

It's a good idea, but you'd never know it by the way people implement it.

First things first:

If you have any sort of sanity or fright mechanic that applies to player characters, your idea is already very bad. Throw it away and start over.

For the exact same reasons morale rolls don't apply to PCs. And especially forcing these kinds of mechanics for situations that normally happen in "non-horror" games without that check. Skeleton pops out of a casket in your normal D&D game? "I ATTACK!" "I TURN UNDEAD!" But if it's horror? "Roll your horror mechanic check to see if you're freaked out and develop OCD or piss your pants and drop your sword!"

... or how about this?

"The werewolf springs through the window and attacks poor Jurgensen the innkeep!" In your normal D&D game? "*Roll* It hits, doing *rolls* 12 points of damage. Jurgensen dies instantly as the creature tears out his throat! What do you do?" But if it's *gasp* a horror game, it goes a bit differently. "*roll* It hits, doing *rolls* 12 points of damage. Jurgensen dies instantly as the creature tears out his throat! Make a horror mechanic check, and if you fail I'll tell you what you do!"

"I read the book." If it's your average D&D game, then reading the book of mystical lore will be full of spells that your character can learn. If it's a special and powerful book, it will earn you (or cost you) a bunch of experience points. But in a horror game? "I read the book." "Well now, it's full of magic spells, and reading this forbidden and secret lore warps your character's mind! Make a horror mechanic roll to see how badly your character loses his mind!"




Using mechanics to force genre is shit. If you can't get your players to buy in to genre conventions in the first place, using rules to force them into it is a waste of time. Play something else. No, I don't have much respect for Call of Cthulhu's Sanity system. I think D&D's Ravenloft setting was written by people with big ideas but zero clue. You have to go to a special place that's scary to do horror? Really?

If you want to play a horror game or a horror scenario, don't fuck around and waste time telling your player how their characters are scared. Just scare them. Save the "This table will tell you how your character reacts" bullshit for the NPCs.

How to scare them? More about that in Part II, sometime over the weekend.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

RPG Pundit reviews Death Frost Doom

Read that here.

The Grinding Gear now Available from Germany's Sphärenmeisters Spiele

The LotFP portion of their shop is here. German customers can see a review of Grinding Gear here.

I'm hoping the Noble Knight and LudikBazar shipments will arrive by Monday at the latest, and when it is available at both those places I will open up direct and PDF sales.

Another Grinding Gear review!

I'm hoping the German vendor has the thing available for sale today, and depending on the postal service I'm hoping Noble Knight has it by Monday at the latest.

In the meantime, Zak from Playing D&D with Porn Stars has as review of The Grinding Gear here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Insect Shrine Playtest, Session 4

This is a monster module. :)

Several things happened this session, many of them the result of random rolls and more by way of players screwing up how things were "supposed" to happen.

We're four sessions in, and while they still haven't set eyes on the "Insect Shrine," they have discovered at long last why the place is called "Goblin Hill."

The unpredictability of turning and sleep spells was again highlighted, as several combats could have taken completely different turns if certain rolls were different. TPKs were possible, and perhaps likely at one point, without a certain roll.

I really enjoyed it when one player told me that how everything happening makes the setting feel like things happen on their own, and not just because the PCs are there. To me, that justifies the size and sprawling nature of the adventure, and the wilderness and extra places to explore, rather than simply being the titular dungeon and nothing more.

I also enjoyed that "scripted" events which were "supposed" to go one way, ended up doing completely different things, and revealing overarching "plot lines" happening in the background, entirely due to player action.

I think this was the session where things turn from "randomly exploring" to "let's get a plan together with possible goals in mind."

Depending on what goals the players set for themselves, I told them that it is possible (but not likely, honestly) for them to conclude their adventure next week, but it could be a lot longer if they decide they want to explore every last inch of possible area within the module. It will likely be somewhere in between.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Lazy Monday

The sun never really came out today, and it was dark again by 4pm. I love Finland. :)

Had a great game yesterday. I normally don't talk about my Sunday games much around here, but this time it was great. The group was missing their magic-user, and walked into trouble. There was much cheering around the table, and in the end, three of the four PCs managed to escape with their lives. But they are (all?) grievously low on hit points and are still in the dungeon. How they will escape? They are going towards an area they haven't been, and I know what's there...

Also, there were two regular players who weren't there. How to get their characters in here next time?

One thing I am certain of, is I need to regulate the use of oil flasks better. The oil flask is the best weapon in the game (2d8 damage over two rounds on the primary target plus possible splash damage to adjacent targets) and the PCs have taken quite good advantage of that. Too much to be at all reasonable, I think. I'll think of something that doesn't kill the oil flask, but certainly diminishes the "guys running around favoring flasks and eschewing standard weapons."

Outside of the dungeon, things are heating up. Three different forces are after them, although one doesn't exactly know who they are yet. One has followed them into the dungeon - a nasty bounty hunter who sits in the dark of a rather large bridge over a chasm, waiting to see torchlight.

We'll see how everything shakes out next week, but they've been in this dungeon for four weeks now, real time, and for the first time they've learned where in the place their objective is. How they respond to the outside forces will determine which direction the campaign takes after they're done with this place.

It's funny though, when I make large dungeons, I do liberally scatter monsters and treasure, but my players, both in this regular game and the Olden Domain games from earlier in the year, seem to always somehow avoid the treasure parts. They didn't even move forward seeing the little kitty on top of a treasure chest in a secret room... perhaps a smart move as it's obviously not just a kitty, but there is something in that treasure chest, don't you think?

Session 4 of the Insect Shrine playtest is Wednesday. They are actually in Goblin Hill now, so it should be all action and decision-making from here on out instead of at-times dead-end exploration and figuring out where to find stuff. These knobs will (hopefully) be set to 11 now.

And that's it for the gameplaying. I'm currently working on the dwarf adventure which has no good name (I contacted a band for permission to use their name for the adventure, but they've just signed a record deal which prevents them from using their name willy-nilly), and all of my own ideas are pretty awful - they are either non-descriptive, or just bad. But the art has been commissioned. Two color pieces (might as well have something on the back cover, right?), four black and white, and two "fillers," again by Laura Jalo.

The Grinding Gear is getting out there. I know people in Germany and Switzerland got promotional and pre-order copies on Saturday, and if experience means anything, everyone else should start getting them today, including those of you in the US. As each of the vendors (shipped a slower method because of bulk and expense) receive their copies and put them on sale, I will announce it here. Noble Knight will hopefully have them by the end of the week. When all the first-week orderers (everyone up there on the right) have received their shipments, I will make the PDF available in the usual places and then make the big announcements everywhere, and make it available for direct order as well.

Anything else I missed?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The First Grinding Gear Review is Online!

I just mailed these things out on Thursday...

Here is the review by Moritz Mehlem. Yes, it's in German, but Babelfish can help you out.

Friday, November 13, 2009

They Never Forget a Grudge. But What if They Are the Ones Who Did Wrong?

The Old Miner's Shame

While the Insect Shrine is still in playtest and the Grinding Gear makes its way around the world, this is the project I'm working on. I've done quite a bit with dwarves in my home campaign, and even though a lot of it was very longtermplotty, there were quite a few individual locations that are interesting all by themselves.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this project here or if it was elsewhere, but the name may or may not change. It's simple and direct, but something nags at me about it. I could get all floofy (you know, "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" level floofy) but that just doesn't seem very dwarfy, does it?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Grinding Gear: Update + Other Things

The Grinding Gear is sitting in my living room (and at my desk, and on the kitchen table, and in the bookshelf, and on the bookshelf).

Pre-orders, review copies, and another vendor solicitation have already been sent out.

Vendor packages and publisher courtesy copies go out tomorrow.

When the vendors who place their order this week all have their packages, I will make the announcements, put it back up for sale, hit the message boards, and it'll be Grinding Gear-o-mania (meanwhile, I hope to be wrapping up production on the next thing by that time... but we all know that Iggar Vi has the curse of no speed...). The PDF will go on sale at the same time as these announcements, since I did this pre-order for the print version this time.

The Grinding Gear includes some designer notes with the module, but if you're interested in some more trivia about it, look at the thread on the LotFP Forum here.

A note about shipping: I recently invested in some stiff protecting envelopes, but with the Grinding Gear, it pushes the postage up to the next category. In real terms, if you're outside of Europe, if I pop it in a normal envelope, it costs 3,20€ to mail (that's $4.80 for you Americans). If I use one of the protective envelopes, it is 5,40€ ($8.10). You'll forgive me if I use the sturdier envelopes only for orders of two or more books for direct orders. And cross fingers that things don't get shredded in transit, although I haven't received a single report of that happening since I started publishing. But now that it's just an issue of cost, it'll likely start happening right and left. *sigh*

While we're talking about money...

The decision was made to not be a cut-rate rock-bottom price publisher. When I released the first printing of the Creature Generator, I charged just 4,50€, postage included (1,40€ at the time to the States). It included rushed art and the cover, which looks great on the screen, didn't show up well at all. Later that year, Fantasy Fucking Vietnam was 3,81€, same deal (postage for that size increased to 1,55€, where it remains). These were photocopied, mind you.

So now The Grinding Gear is going to be 10€ when you order direct (3,20€ of which is postage). I am only concerned because the adventure length is "16 pages + 3 covers." It makes it sound like there's not a lot of adventure in there if you go by just page count, and it costs the same as the 36 page People of Pembrooktonshire. Let me discuss why I chose this format.

First, full-color covers, and professional maps. I know old-schoolers tend not to care about fancy production values, but I hope an actual color cover is not beyond reason. And while the maps I have done for my earlier releases have been at least functional, I never want to present something like that Dragon Cave map from No Dignity in Death in one of my adventures again.

Also, those of you who have purchased my adventures already know that I use a clean layout with small font. Even though these are A5 pages, I would wager than 1 page of an LotFP book equals a page of the average full-size book when you consider margins, font size, etc. Or nearly so anyway. Goodman Games took my 28 page (including cover) A5 size Creature Generator and turned it into a 32 page (plus cover) full-size book, for instance.

By the way, I publish in A5 size because I find that size far more convenient for placing behind a screen or holding while playing.

Then there are the detached covers. This is not done for nostalgia purposes. There are three maps in this adventure, plus a player handout. There are some complaints about the pull-out section of No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides which I find reasonable. Why should you be expected to disassemble the book to use the product? And putting maps within the adventure itself, unless in the same spread as the entire description of the map contents, leads to in-game page flipping. I don't like that when I buy an adventure, and so I try to keep the maps separate in my products. Yes, Death Frost Doom has two in-book maps, but those are extremely simple locations, I think.

So if people don't want them to be in a center pull-out (and no one has contacted me to say "Great idea, that!"), and I can't stand them in the book, they have to be separate. And if they are going to be separate, it would look like shit for them to just be a detached sheet of paper. There aren't enough of them for a "map book" as was included with the old TSR supermodules either. So... extra cover inserts, much like the original Desert of Desolation individual modules. Only the outer cover is in color though.

Because I didn't want any blank sides on those, I included a two page designer note "Cheat Sheet" to make a little bit of sense out of some of the seemingly random elements in the adventure, plus added another piece of artwork.

But that adds to the production cost. So once you start getting these, you guys need to let me know if you prefer a center pull-out section, which will allow the modules to be less expensive, or the multi-cover inserts which look fancier and prevent the need of tearing sheets or bending staples, but increase the cost.

Which format I'll use for future releases is entirely up to public opinion. I don't mind either way.

Now I know that this all might sound a bit... defensive. I am absolutely proud of this thing, and I thought enough of the adventure itself to run it for two different groups before ever thinking of it as a publishing project. I have no doubts about the quality of The Grinding Gear as an adventure.

I do feel I need to sell this as a product, and explain the decisions made to upgrade certain features that result in the higher price:page count ratio than earlier releases (especially in light of this post). I read the news all the time and it's all "unemployment high, the dollar low, and economic hardships blah blah blah." I am aware. I printed 500 instead of 250 not because of a surge of interest in LotFP products, but to keep the per-unit price down. This does have a big impact: a $2 price difference for those of you buying through Noble Knight, if my calculations are correct. I'm crossing my fingers that the release builds enough interest and momentum to justify the increased print run, but if not, I still saved customers a bit of money.

(With this release and the promo campaign that'll kick off in a couple weeks, I hope some of the European vendors end up moving plenty of copies... right now I think in terms of Noble Knight and dollar exchange rates because by far most of my print sales happen through Noble Knight.)

I hope this next bit doesn't make me seem overly greedy, but I'll be up front about it and let you decide: PDF prices, starting with The Grinding Gear, will go up. The Grinding Gear PDF will be $6 (tentative). The formula for pricing PDFs when Death Frost Doom came out was 50% of Noble Knight's sale price. I still think 50% of print price is a good formula, but NK's sale price isn't the real price. This is mail-order, so basic shipping costs should be taken into consideration for that formula as well (although weighted less than the price of the actual thing). These PDFs are fully bookmarked and formatted specifically for the PDF (larger font, and no columns so it's easier to read on screen), in both Letter and A4 formats. Starting with this release the organization of the files will be better, and printer-friendly versions of the maps and handouts are included in addition to the regular versions.

So that's where things are.

Questions? Comments?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Loss and Curse of Relevance

I was born way, way, way too late. 1954 would have been a good birth year. That's right. I'm complaining that I am way too young. I missed so much, as the prime opportunities involving my interests passed decades ago.I get depressed easily when reading about the future of things I enjoy.

Here is a thread on about gaming and e-readers. I don't doubt this is where the future lies.

But I like books. Shit, I just went almost two months with no phone service. I have a pre-paid plan, and 10€ covered me from January through the beginning of September. I just put 25€ more on it and I expect that to last me most of the next year. The last time I made an actual phone call was back in May I think, to schedule a dentist appointment.

Mainly, I use the thing as a watch when I bother to take it off the bookshelf at all. Oh, and as an alarm clock because my actual alarm clock's alarm is broken. The last thing I want is an electronic doohickey that reads my books, plays my music, and blows me on command.

But some clever person is going to be cutting edge and put video and music into their electronic RPG releases, and publishers will be expected to keep up. Not just writing and layout anymore, but video and audio production. For a role-playing game. And keeping up on the latest handheld reading technology that will change every few years, because it's easier to re-sell that than those uneconomical books that can occupy a shelf (and be swapped and re-sold!) for years and years without generating ongoing revenue.

Of course the big RPG "properties" aren't even the core businesses of the companies making them anymore. While this shows the realities of business on a corporate scale, I think this distorts the possibilities on more human scales. D&D is just a portion of Wizard of the Coast's business, and not the largest portion (and Wizards of the Coast, in turn, is a nearly not-worth-mentioning portion of Hasbro's business). Any normal human being would look at the revenue D&D produces and go, "Oh wow holy shit!" But through the eyes of big corporate scale, it's minuscule. And which scale do gamers seem to pay attention to?


"D&D is ohmygod wow the biggest thing there can ever be it's the monolith!"

"D&D is probably underperforming so badly for Hasbro that they're probably going to cancel it. They just keep it for the IP anyway."

That D&D has taken big steps towards the electronic subscription model, which, by many accounts (and despite the horrid missteps of their "Digital Initiative" early on), does enhance the playability of the 4e game design. This is the future. Which conceals a message: "Are you actually working out your game with a pencil and paper? How quaint!"

Which undoubtedly will drive publishers with resources to do the same.

Or maybe it'll be something different.

Fantasy Flight Games is doing that Warhammer 3rd Edition monstrosity. Here is a promotional video for it. I know people are going crazy waiting for this, but the manipulative intent of this video makes my skin crawl. The slick, scripted manner in which the "interviews" are done (their word choices here are not spontaneous, they are very deliberate; listen), while the "game components" (read: elements which will ensure that you can't just buy a book and be done with it) are showcased using dramatic filming techniques (and music!) to make it look like their box is a major cinematic experience... all to sell you a game that's been done, and done well, twice already without all the extras.

Quite an impressive, and epic, piece of advertising trying to convince you how down and dirty their game is.

Some of it sounds neat in theory. But you need their cards, their dice, their prepackaged sets in order to play the darn thing. And to achieve all these interesting concepts, it seems the game is awfully rules-heavy with half a million condition flags. As I understand it, they have something of a feat system which will only exist on these cards. Not in the rules. It's like the character sheets they sell are already filled in. Wonderful. McRolePlaying.

Both the "physical goodies" and the "electronic presence" elements squeeze the idea of a traditional role-playing game into "obsolescence." No longer are games powered by your imagination, they're powered by a computer, or a ton of cards and interlocking pieces.

Don't have one of those? Left behind!

Compare these to Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry, which both offer unlimited adventure in a single book.

But things go in the other direction as well. The One Page Dungeon is of no use to me. It's a sparse presentation, but to me the difficulty in preparation is not a map or a key, it's the detail. How do things fit together, what's the relationship between setting element A and B? To me, what makes an adventure good is that after you've done your exploration, fought the monsters, and collected the treasure, there was something unique and intriguing about the location. It becomes a character of its own.

And then there's something like this:

In studying the needs of DMs who all have specific campaigns with real histories, characters and plots of their own, it became apparent that the idea of mainstay adventure modules, such as many based upon TSR’s old model of assumed expediency, has shifted greatly with the contraction of that market and an ever present need over the years for specific game material created by each DM.

That from Rob Kuntz, who is now promoting his new Dungeon Sets line. He's also promoting a Dungeon Trappings line. No complaints about these by themselves, as Dungeon Trappings sounds not dissimilar to Green Devil Face, and unkeyed geomorphs have been with us as a product for 30 years. These will look great, as they're being designed by Ramsey Dow, who I've mentioned before as having done the maps for the next few LotFP releases.

My problem is that this sounds like Kuntz is stepping away from creating complete adventures entirely in favor of these fragments. He writes great adventures, and if they're not selling, I think the problem is somewhere other than the fact that people supposedly don't use adventures.

I have a vested interest in all of this. Yes, I am a publisher, but even as just a simple fan and patron of particular publishers' work I was driven nuts about the things I wanted not being available in forms I could buy. I don't want to skip from game to game, I don't want my game to change, I don't want game elements I can't use and play with on a pad of paper, and I don't want an ever-increasing amount of rules and "character options."

I want adventures. Adventures to spice up my game with something different, adventures I can fit into my campaign without rewriting half of it, adventures that make me think of things I never would have thought of on my own.

That's what I want, and that's what I do.

Enough reflection and prognostication and other luxurious uses of leisure time. In four hours, I have a group of people coming over to enjoy outdated and archaic game play. On Wednesday I will do that again. Yesterday I gave a pile of money to Ramsey and Laura, and did layouts so that tomorrow I can give a shitload of money to Valopaino.

The Grinding Gear is coming, you see. Soon. It'll be a cruel and challenging and perhaps rewarding experience for your players. It'll fit nicely between your own adventures in your own campaign. It'll look nice. It'll feel nice. But it'll be nothing but paper (or even less than that if you get the PDF). It won't have audio or video, it won't sing or dance, it won't include minis or custom dice or cards. It'll take a human being applying judgment and effort to make it come to life and be what it's supposed to be. It has one room that I fear will be seen as so goofy as to belong in this thread, but I couldn't help myself. You'll like it (the adventure... maybe not the room). And it'll cost, shipping included, about the same as a single movie ticket and a bucket of popcorn at your local cineplex, or less than a new-release DVD, while taking longer than 90-150 minutes to use.

How's that for blatantly manipulative and rehearsed marketing language?

Oh, Babelfish, You Rascal!

So the German Labyrinth Lord forum is here.

The game is called Herr der Labyrinthe in German.

Babelfish doesn't translate that consistently. So in the same line, the game is called both "Mr. the Labyrinths," and "Gentleman of the Labyrinths."

I want to play "Gentleman of the Labyrinths."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oh Yeah, There Was a Green Devil Face Deadline, Wasn't There?

With everything else going on, I forgot to post a reminder before the 31st, and then afterward I just had other things to do.

So. We've got several cool submissions already, but we need more. We always need more! And this is the TARGA benefit issue.

What is Green Devil Face and what can you contribute and how? Read about that here.

End of day Saturday the 14th, firm deadline.

RLB had some kind words to say about Green Devil Face today. Read those here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Updates and Commentary and Blathering


I know I've been in "business man shill mode" more than "interesting blogger mode" for quite awhile now, but I've been busy working with publicity, distribution, tax issues, and in between all that stuff, sneaking in actual for-product writing. This in addition to having a bit of a life. I can't apologize for it, as trying to build a full-time business selling old-school adventures kind of requires full-time attention if there is even the smallest chance for it to not be a suicide mission in the first place, and beyond the writing I hardly know what the hell I'm doing. But I learn.

It's been almost three months since the last release. However, releases are on their way. Next up is The Grinding Gear, and I just received the first proof for the last map this morning. There are some changes to be made but I'm told by tomorrow I should have the final versions delivered. Laura has finished all of the major art pieces, and has gotten final approval for the filler sketch. This should be able to go to press at the beginning of the week... but the question is if I should release it that quickly since it's questionable whether my new British vendor will even have received their first shipment yet.

Another question will be how many to print. Death Frost Doom is my big seller so far, having recently hit the 200 sales mark (and is a Copper pick on RPGNow!). That's print and PDF combined. But to make a go of this as a business, I'm going to have to reach about 350 sales on average of my releases. I don't think this is impossible, I think our scene is still growing, and there is no reason that places like Germany and the UK can't be every bit as successful for me as the US - or even more successful if the dollar keeps losing value.

But I'm looking at quotes from the printer for Grinding Gear, and the difference between 250 copies (what I did for NDiD + PoP) and 500 copies means over $2 difference in final retail price (and more every day, with exchange rates - the dollar's decline has been my primary business concern for the past few months and people are probably sick of me worrying about it and talking about worrying about it) for you guys. 250 is safer, but it'll be more expensive, and to be successful I'd need to do a reprint anyway. 500 gets the price down to a more reasonable level (and means each promotional copy sent out is less of a financial bite!), and would cover what I'd need to sell altogether per project, but is it wise to risk that much up front?

Insect Shrine you know about, and I just posted a playtest report this morning. The maps are all done, the art is all done, all that remains is this playtesting, then rewrites based on playtesting, then proofreading and general editing, then layout, then printing and then selling the darn thing. I've given up trying to predict when this will be out, and I'm half convinced the world will end before all these steps are complete.

I am about one-third done with the first draft of a project with the working title The Old Miner's Shame. I'm not entirely happy with the title, but I haven't yet thought of anything better. The for-publication map should be finished quite soon, but I'm waiting until I see the final word count and some layout experimentation before I even commission the artwork. I'm not even sure what I want for the cover yet, although I'll get Laura working on one particular symbol after she turns in the final Grinding Gear art.

I'd also like to say a public Good Luck to Ramsey Dow. He's got some major projects coming up, including several with Pied Piper Publishing, so he won't be able to work with LotFP for awhile. It feels a bit bizarre doing a send-off when none of his work for me has yet been published (aside from this blog post preview), but he's responsible for all the maps for The Grinding Gear, Insect Shrine, and Old Miner's Shame and I've been in constant contact with him for the past two-plus months.

After these releases, I'm looking at the jungle/cannibal followup to Death Frost Doom (smart business says capitalize on it NOW, creative impulse says give it time to percolate and be natural rather than exploitative about it), the Sanitarium adventure, and I'm looking at doing a Knights of Science class/adventure supplement. Or maybe something else, and who knows what order.

I still believe that an introductory set of rules with tutorial-heavy content in the Mentzer tradition, in a box, is needed, and I'd love to do it, but I fear I'd be diluting the scene with yet another generic rules set. But doing the tutorial with the full rules wouldn't make sense, and certainly not by itself in a box. And how would I reach those that it is intended to serve? Doesn't do much good to go through all that effort and produce an introductory set that will be applauded by 25-year veterans and never reach the hands of a new player. hrrmm.

I'd like to take a few words to speak about Edition Warring. Not the way you think. I'm talking about why I don't publish for any specific game, and instead use a "big tent" approach.

There are some that are specifically publishing for early editions of D&D. While that's probably the most pure way to do things, I don't like the idea of completely tying my future to a trademark that I have to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge to mention.

OSRIC is getting left behind. It's odd, because 1e was the big one, but it's Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry which are getting the promotional pushes. They're also getting the variants and are the much more open systems. OSRIC, between its multiple contributors and much less open format, isn't going into distribution, isn't getting tinkered with nearly as extensively, isn't having the loving grassroots fan community that it could have had. In 2006 OSRIC looked like the future. Funny how that goes.

And while games such as Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord have a far greater support and collaborator network than I do (being a cranky old hermit has its "privileges"), and they are both going to be in stores very soon, and they will be the driving forces for recruiting new blood into our segment of the hobby, I don't get the feeling that either Finch or Proctor are necessarily much better businessmen than I am, nor do I have the impression that if things grew too big to be part-time they'd give up whatever their other lives are in order to run a middling-level RPG publishing company (no delusions of grandeur that the OSR will rule the roost) and all the headaches and poverty that go with that. So hitching my horse to one of them exclusively seems unwise.

I hope I am proven wrong. It's not like either discuss much with me (although both have been very easy to work with when I've needed to deal with them), and I'm just going by web-presence impressions. I hope they're both plotting their world domination, stockpiling their war chests and counting down until it's time. I hope both Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry do very well, gain many players and rake in a ton of cash. I hope I can sit here someday soon and say, "You know, I should have just published my stuff for [specific game], and I've missed a great opportunity because I didn't." That will mean the old rules are wildly successful and our community is successful, even if it costs me a bit in the process.

But it's too early to tell, and I always get in the slowest line at the supermarket, so this isn't something to risk. I'll tell you what though, if one takes off in distribution and achieves real popularity (I don't think both would at the same time because they're so similar, and which would be the more likely to do so is a question I can't answer because my personal preference won't decide it), I'll be pursuing a distribution deal and whoring myself out with the [Popular System] Compatible! graphic design.

Because there is the fact that I really don't see the difference between the systems. I was one of those people who played 1e way back when but unwittingly was really using a ton of "Basic" rules for actual play. The difference between "Basic" and "1e" and "0e" to me are academic, and not an issue of game play. I don't believe that tone of the rules dictates the tone of adventures. People houserule their 1e games as readily as their 0e games, and the level of detail in a setting or adventure depends more on the referee (or author) than the system used.

I don't agree that my releases are "essentially systemless" as some claim (People of Pembrooktonshire aside). All it requires is that you know what "leather + shield" or the speed of an unencumbered human means in the system you are using to play the game. There's no conversion involved. However, people have been telling me they have run, or will run, my games with all sorts of systems: Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer RPG (pre-3e, naturally), Dark Heresy, Castles & Crusades (which I consider now to be considerably different than LL/OSRIC/S&W/etc due to the Siege Engine - I think that changes everything) and probably another system or two I can't recall right now.

I love that this is possible, and I love that some people consider my work worth the effort to make the conversions to those systems, but those conversions are indeed necessary to use these other systems. My adventures aren't generic. But, as things have turned out, neither are they really for any one specific game.

So a big tenter I remain.

And with that, I will go back to work. I leave you with this: The Grinding Gear won't just be a cool adventure, it won't just be impressive, it will be fucking impressive.

Insect Shrine Playtest Session 2

hmmm. Mixed feelings about this one. After doing an all-night Night Visions film festival on Saturday-Sunday (first movie started 6:45pm Saturday evening, and we left the theater at about 11:30am Sunday morning... Orphan, The Box, The Road, Dead Snow, Descent 2, Nightmare, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, and Super Typhoon if you're wondering... also caught The Forbidden Door and Tetsuo: Bullet Man at the fest Thursday night - reviews after the game report!), I've been kind of wiped out. I think it showed in my performance refereeing the game last night.

On the other hand the material performed well, even though absolutely nothing went the way I had envisioned it. The sandboxy nature of the area combined with some good decision making on the PCs' part made everything less tense than it could have been, and in my fatigued condition I didn't seem to have the snap to liven it up.

The party pretty much did two things: Investigated the old village, specifically the abandoned farmhouse, and went into the halfling mound.

The farmhouse bit was "narratively" odd, as the plot hook I'd planned was unnecessary to convince them to go there, but also made the trip more casual. The tension unwound rather than built up, but I was proud that using information that I'd previously written, it was easy to devise a resolution that allowed the vital information here to pass to the players' hands while being 100% consistent with the setting and who all these people are.

The halfling mound was a bit odd. I'd already posted the map here on the blog (not that the thing is complex anyway), one of the players had already gone through it in an earlier incarnation (and events, by coincidence, conspired to make the circumstances surrounding the approach identical... what are the chances?), and one of the players really had to go home in the middle of the "climactic" fight. I could have skipped this part completely, but there's good opportunity for experience and I want to see how the new fluffy bits work with a live audience.

I think I gave a bit of short shrift to the role-playing back at the Inn, but the character of some of the residents there was able to come out a bit more.

Next week, same time, and hopefully a bit more peppy, lively, and dangerous. Both me and the adventure. ;)

And now... movie reviews!

The Forbidden Door This Indonesian movie is about an artist who sculpts images of very pregnant women in unusual poses. The secret to his artistic inspiration is that he puts aborted fetuses into the bellies of his sculptures. This has nothing to do with the actual plot of the movie. It really is disturbing at some points, but at other times it tries too hard and crosses the line into the comedic. I found that the ending unraveled the build-up and mystery rather than paid it off.

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man This is a Japanese movie starring Westerners who can't act. The script is horrendously bad. It's about a man that transforms into a human gun. Unfortunately due to budget and artistic decisions, I didn't figure that out until quite a ways into the movie and thought the guy just had a big turd on his head. The movie just stops at certain points and turns into an industrial music video. The battle scenes are pretty much the cameraman having an epileptic fit, so nothing can actually be seen. Half the movie takes place in a basement. Apparently this is the third in the series of Tetsuo movies (Iron Man and Body Hammer being the earlier ones), but I just didn't get it. At all.

Orphan I thought this was almost really great. That actress had me thinking "Christina Ricci in Addams Family" the whole way through - I think she's going to be a huge star. If you accept the twist as plausible (and I did), then the movie rocks. It is only let down by having a truckload of false suspense (camera imitating a point-of-view shot creeping up on someone with the music going... and then switching angles and there was never anything there and we're watching a guy shave, for instance) that were unnecessary.

The Box This is a grand, grand piece of shit. It's about Martians. This isn't a spoiler - the opening shot of the film gives that much away. The use the Arthur C. Clarke "Any sufficiently advanced technology..." quote to take license to make no sense and just have shit randomly happen just because. It's also a 70s period movie, and I giggle at the lengths filmmakers go to in order to avoid cell phones wrecking their plots. This is the kind of movie that is so bad that anyone claiming to like it loses all credibility when talking about anything, ever.

The Road Depressing, agonizing, slow, excellent. The trailers make it seem like it's an action movie. It isn't. Not even close. Apocalyptic.

Dead Snow Very self-aware (maybe too much so) Norwegian movie about Nazi zombies way up in the mountains (no cell phone reception!). Includes the horror movie geek for the audience to identify with! The Raimi montage homage got the theater cheering. It's a fun-without-being-insulting kind of zombie action movie. It's in Norwegian, but don't let that scare you off if you're into these kind of movies. Unlike some of the other movies we watched during the festival, the subtitling here is very good.

Descent 2 More of the same. Takes place in a cave (no cell phone reception!). It literally is the exact same plot as the first one, although how they'll reconcile this beginning with the editing they did on the American version of the first film's ending, I don't know. Luckily, no such problems this side of the pond. From the advance hype I thought this would be more in the line of Aliens ("This time, they're prepared! Or so they think!"), but it's just a bunch of unprepared schlubs showing up in a cave to be eaten. Again.

Nightmare 1981 "cult" "classic." This movie sucked ass, and we had a really shitty print to watch. Everything was rather orange. I think the only reason this movie continues to be seen is that it caused a bit of a media furor in Finland when it was first released (this country banned Dirty Harry for years and years...) according to the festival organizers, and the guy responsible for distributing the movie within the UK was jailed for it. Unconvincing, unsuspenseful, the gore wasn't even all that. We laughed and laughed at the advanced 1981 computer criminal tracking system. The graphics were shit but that thing was more advanced than the computer in Alien! Just a crap movie.

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl And now for something completely different. The blood shoots by the gallon in the Japanese high school drama. Watching the school nurse chasing a drop of vampire blood with a mop as the blood runs away from her is probably the most normal thing in this movie. The school includes a wrist-cutting club that's preparing for a competition, and the club of Japanese girls wanting to be black would surely be terribly offensive if one single other thing in this movie was to be taken seriously. It's a shame that the zaniness just kept coming like water from a showerhead, because by the time the woman with the eyeballs for nipples shows up, it's kind of just, "ehhh." Still, quite a unique experience.

Super Typhoon You'd think that a patriotic Chinese disaster movie wouldn't be the best choice to close out a festival when everyone's already been there for 15 hours. You'd be wrong. The mayor of this endangered Chinese town is the baddest ass ever in the history of film. He will not allow one single Chinese citizen to be endangered by the fiercest typhoon in history! When the nurse not qualified to do much of anything has to deal with an after-hours birth that's going badly on an outlaying island, you know these people don't know how to make a serious movie. When the mayor is down on his knees begging the fishermen to not take their boats out to sea while 50' waves are crashing behind him while inspiring music plays, you know you've got an absolute classic on your hands. Also featuring a pickpocket who can't stay out of trouble, the meteorological expert that also happens to have been the mayor's grade school teacher ("Top marks!"), an American storm-chasing photographer who can't seem to say more than "Typhoon OK!", and an entire oldschool miniature cityscape - which gets hilarious when real actors are seamlessly inserted, fleeing through the streets amidst all the toy cars.

Worth a week of being a zombie, for sure. ;)

We did miss other parts of the fest, as we weren't available to go Wednesday night (was the first Insect Shrine game) or Friday night (we went over to a friend's house for an early Halloween and watched... movies! The Mist and Carpenter's Halloween!). Crispin Glover did some sort of live performance or something, not clear what he was there for, plus of course some other movies. I can't believe I skipped a black metal documentary to watch The Box. :P

It was torturous having to watch the sponsors' advertisements before just about every movie. And the trailers for the new Holmes and Avatar movies make them look worse than The Box. I will avoid both with extreme prejudice. However, they were promoting a movie about Swedish feminist porn at the festival, so everyone got condoms and the trailer for the movie included actual porn. And I don't think there was an age limit on the fest. Not that a couple of mid-30s people had a reason to find out. And I still don't much know what the difference is between feminist porn and regular porn.

Oh, and last night during the game it started SNOWING! The first sticking snow of the year! And it's still SNOWING 12+ hours later!

I love this country!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Death Frost Doom review in Portuguese!

It's here.

Babelfish can handle it if you want to read it. :)

Figures I'm looking for reviewers in all sorts of languages and then an unsolicited review in Portuguese shows up. Ah well. I wonder if I can get some Brazilian or Portuguese distribution...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Call For Reviewers (UK, Germany, France, Finland)

The Grinding Gear is nearing completion. Laura has had her final sketches approved so those will be done in the next few days. There is but one more map to be completed by Ramsey, and once those are done this thing goes to press. Writing is done and proofed and laid out and is just waiting for the graphics to be set in.

As of right now, I have 1 French, 3 German, 1 British, and 0 Finnish reviewers on my promo mailing list. I'd like to get that up to 5 each.

Reviewers will get a physical book for review, not a PDF. What I'd expect in return is a review on your blog, website, submitted to forums you frequent, and/or posted on the vendor sites... wherever you already visit- I'm not asking anyone to invade message boards they're not on and spam reviews.

This is a commitment to review, but not a commitment to review favorably. What I hope for is a thorough and honest analysis. Pundit's staying on my mailing list (assuming he reviews any of the other books with the same in-depth approach as he did GDF), for example. Reviewers who review will remain on the mailing list for future releases.

If you're interested or if you have any questions, email me (address is on the sidebar to the right). For budget reasons I am keeping a firm "5 reviewers/territory" policy so please understand I will be making selections based on visibility and personal opinions of writing styles.

So get in touch already. :)

(Update: As expected, I have more North American reviewer requests than I know what to do with. If you're a reviewer with Big Huge Website, feel free to get in touch, otherwise, I think I'm good sifting through what I've got so far. For other territories, I'm still looking!)