Monday, January 31, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Grindhouse Edition Referee Cover COMPLETED!

There will be all new covers for the interior booklets of the Grindhouse edition (the box cover itself will remain the same).The first of the new covers to be completed is the Referee cover. Here it is, by the one and only Peter Mullen!

Early Morning Musing

I've been accused lately of focusing too much on art.

Focusing a lot, yes. Too much? Never!

I'm thinking about this Guns & Renaissance type supplement I seem to want to do and I have visions of a big color piece of a dragon strafing an army's supply wagons... where the powder supply is kept. They needed tons of the stuff for every cannon brought to battle, you know.

BOOM.

Also, people continue to give me grief telling me that the book, as a technology, is on the way out. The future is digital I'm told. However, these history books about technology I've been reading all make the same point - the absolute best examples of a technology are produced only when that technology is in decline and "obsolete" technologies share the space with emergent and newly dominant technologies.

Not that I believe books are on the way out (merely going to share a significant proportion of the space they once mightily ruled), but even if the automobile is going to revolutionize the world I'm still going to make the best buggy whips I can make, because I like buggy whips and don't really care about cars in the least.

... and people do still make buggy whips in 2011. It's not the major industry it once was, obviously, but niche markets are still markets.

And games aren't technology like all that so the analogy is crap anyway. In a world of automobiles there are still bicycles and scooters and, oh, horse-drawn carriages can still be found in most cities, can't they? Maybe the analogy isn't all that awful...

Point is, we're all going to die, so some smartass telling me that I'm the walking dead (add and you don't even know it if the speaker is extra-strength douche) doesn't much phase me. Good times are still ahead for us all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sometimes I Post Just to Hear Myself Type (Out of Office Thu-Fri)

... but you didn't have any doubt about that, did you?

Anyway, I'm doing prelim layouts for Vornheim, which is taking ages, with the added fun of distractions.

One such distraction is TAX STUFF! Woohoo! One of the drawbacks of being an actual businessthing is the paperwork... and I've decided to not wait until the last minute before filing certain 2010 paperwork (due Jan 31! I have a week!) so I've been doing that.

But now I'm hoping Vornheim goes to press at the same time as the Grindhouse Edition... and hoping that press date is March 1 now, but who the hell knows. Just by naming a date I jinx it.

Art continues to be a slow going process. I don't have any of the completed booklet covers yet and a lot of key interior pieces are yet to be done. However, I had a few people make some "plop in anywhere" fillers so I'm good to go once these key pieces are done.

As the book covers for the box set are completed I'll post them here. Going to be some good stuff.

Isle of the Unknown seems to be at a very advanced stage of readiness. A very easy to handle format to the writing there, but anything more has to wait until April or so before that moves forward... and the print date will be at the mercy of the art.

Art direction for Carcosa is still up in the air though. We haven't totally settled on an art direction, but discussion and "tryouts" are ongoing.

My historical books are coming in at a brisk rate. Those Osprey books really do rock. I am completely in awe of the completely disorganized nature of arms and armor in early-to-mid 1600s warfare. Knights in full armor with pistols and wearing full helmets with baseball hat-like brims.

Several other history books are in the mix too, and I find Bert S. Hall's Weapons & Warfare in Renaissance Europe to be fascinating reading.

I think I know what I'm going to do with guns to make them guns. People are going to whine that they're underpowered but keep this in mind: A regular sword or axe or whatever does d8 damage. A regular human has d6hp, a man-at-arms probably should be around 5 or 6. Guns are not super-weapons (not during the time period in question, anyway), certainly no more so than longbows or crossbows. From everything I'm reading, crossbows really would be the superior weapon to a gun in an adventuring context because the advantage that guns have over bows or crossbows largely involve factors that our games don't deal with.

I'm stopping the local store games for awhile for the sake of my sanity, and am preparing a new sandbox to try out for a campaign.

Picked up a couple of Taschen's art books (Baroque and Gothic, but Renaissance wasn't there...) on sale cheap to get myself into the period mood.

I've come down with some sort of something that caused me to canceled tonight's Skype game.

Off to Tampere tomorrow so will be out of the office until sometime Friday.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rich Longmore

Some more interior art for the Grindhouse Edition was just delivered. Among the goodness:


It's good to have a bit of slice of life atmospheric art in the set and not just a bunch of slice of flesh stuff.

You can see more of Rich's work here.

Totally Crucial Opinion Poll!

Yesterday I received my first ever set of Gamescience dice!

Yes, I have gulped the Elitist Dice Marketing Kool-Aid!

I now have eight precision edge high impact dice - the standard 7-piece set plus an old-school 0-9 d20, all in opaque crimson.

... but what color should I ink the number with? I have no idea! Tell me!

(not red, smartass)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick Quiz II

Just making sure I wasn't being a hardass unfair Ref tonight.

Having a bit of fun with my "totally goofy" side rather than the "grimdark" or "standard dungeon" sides.

A Leprechaun appears to the party. "Do you want to take a magical test?"

Yes!

OK.

I hand each of the players a scrap of paper. Secret ballot, each must choose Earth Air Fire or Water.

Fire wins, and that's what the test is about.

So they are dumped into a pool of sparkling oil in the great outdoors.

Still saturated with oil, they come upon a cabin... inhabited by a man with licks of fire instead of hair, and fiery fingertips. He wants to touch them, he likes seeing things burn. He's terribly polite about the whole thing.

What do you do?

What one of the players at tonight's game did was volunteer to be touched. Flat out said "You can touch me!"

The player was a bit upset three rounds later when fire damage finally kills his character (giving him saving throws for all three rounds for the things he was trying to do to put the fire out, failed all the saves and damage rolls finally got to him).

Just checking that the "Hey Mr Fire Fingers, touch my drenched-in-oil self!" fatality wasn't just me being a cock.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Awful Idea

So today I've been dealing with art issues, doing some prelim layouts, and doing research. Multi-tasking on a Friday. Because you care so much. :D

I was reading Handbook to Life in Renaissance Europe today (by Sandra Sider), and something struck me while getting to the chapters about European contact with indigenous people around the globe.

I don't use orcs or ogres or any of that stuff in my games these days (I have used "goblins" as a humanoid catch-all not too long ago, but my campaign is moving more and more to Earth 1600s)... but I'm reading these books and taking notes as to what the "guns (and other Renaissance things)" project would need to contain. But it's going to be a cross-clone supplement, and I do believe most people who follow my stuff go for a "fantasy standard" setting approach... that means orcs, kobolds, goblins, etc.

How to deal with that?

I could just ignore it. It's not necessary to deal with it, really, just like the core rules going back 40 years don't deal with them - humanoids are a series of entries in a monster book. Extraneous. This approach doesn't conflict with how I (don't) use humanoids, doesn't conflict with how I presume you use humanoids.

Or I could do something else with the whole humanoid thing.

See, wherever the Europeans went, they acted like the owned the place. Conquered and colonized and made slaves or slaughtered everywhere they could. Where they couldn't, only then did they actually trade. They were dicks. This is old news. But how to twist that to fit a fantasy game?

Remember that whole criticism about humanoid monsters just being stand-ins for ethnic minorities so it's OK to kill and rob them? I do believe that argument, with orcs etc as traditionally presented, is bullshit.

But what if you change the assumptions so they actually are?

What if the entire concept of "orc" and "hobgoblin" or whatever is a cultural construct of the campaign world, and these things aren't a different species at all, or "irredeemably evil" or whatever. What if they are actually human and it's just the PCs' racist cultural viewpoint that views their features as monstrous and treats them as subhuman vermin threats fit only for the sword?

What, you thought it was just coincidence that orcs and humans make half-orcs? Isn't awfully convenient that your Charm Person and Hold Person spells work on these guys just like they do those you recognize as human? Hmmmm?

Horrific, yes. But completely fitting in the mindset of the real-life Renaissance where all sorts of otherwise courageous and wise people thought nothing of slaughtering and enslaving their fellow human beings around the world (while slaughtering each other at home over minor theological differences within the same religion) just because they looked and lived differently than they...

Our heroic countrymen subdue a wicked orc from the southern jungles before it can do evil...

For best effect, reveal the truth to your players just after they finish Keep on the Borderlands.

... or not.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Isle of the Unknown and How it Will Define LotFP as a Publisher

The Grindhouse Edition of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is in a holding pattern on my end as most of what I need to do to it now depends on the art that hasn't yet been delivered. (to the artists reading, this doesn't mean rush... better for it to be slow and good than quick and sloppy)

So I've finally had the chance to really start looking over and planning details about Vornheim, Isle of the Unknown, and Carcosa. Vornheim: The Complete City Kit's format is entirely functional - Zak and I will be taking advantage of the format of a physical book and using it to do things beyond just being the storage medium for information. We'll also be taking advantage of the Free-PDF-with-Physical-Purchase to make the combo do even more things (I am really struggling to not use lame business lingo here). I'm hoping it'll be considered innovative, but at worst it'll simply work.

Now Zak's a obviously not just a writer - he's also the artist and his mind works in many more directions than mine does. In other words, he has a lot of ideas that seem very strange to me, but for the most part we're going with his direction. I'm the publisher but he's the guy on Vornheim. The mandate from Zak is to do all this while keeping the book as affordable as possible. None of the fancy bits of the book are unnecessary - they all have a game-play function. Our format and page count was set very early on and we're going to deliver all this to you with a lower-than-$20 price tag (exchange rates willing).

Impressed you will be. But this is all very specific to Vornheim and not to LotFP productions going forward.

Carcosa already had a low-budget version released a couple years back and my vision for the re-release is big. It's going to be a fancy hardcover, on the outside resembling a forbidden magical tome. One idea we're looking at is keep the cover itself clear of any publishing gobbledygook or sales stuff and include that info on a OBI strip type of thing.

Again, very project-specific as Carcosa is entirely its own thing with a history.

Isle of the Unknown is something else altogether. No particular physical format is suggested by the concept. So what to do?

If we keep the font that previous LotFP adventures have used (Times New Roman 8pt), we could condense it down, have a bit of artwork to fill out the page count, put the map on the reverse of a detachable cover and have the package resemble Hammers of the God. Module-as-Usual.

However, if we increase the font size a bit and make the thing a little more readable, this is no longer an option. We're looking at perfect-bound, with questions about where the map goes. Not insurmountable, but not module-as-usual. Then I get this email from McKinney the other day:

James,

As I was falling asleep last night (in that half-awake half-asleep state) the following idea occurred to me. Then at 4:30 this morning I woke-up and couldn't fall back to sleep because of this idea. As I type this sentence it's 5:09 in the morning.

More than anything else, art in an RPG product needs to be useful. I think back to my early RPG days, and what "sold" me on a product more than anything else? Monster Manual-style art. The day I bought my Holmes Basic set, I also purchased the Monster Manual. It was a no-brainer purchase rather than the PHB or the DMG. Why? Because of the multitude of monster illustrations.

Some months thereafter I went to the store, money in hand, to buy the PHB. Ha! The Deities & Demigods book was sitting there, brand new on the shelf. One look at it (with its MM-style art) and there was no debate: I bought the DDG instead. I could sit for hours looking at the pictures in the MM and the DDG (and, in the next year, the Fiend Folio). The PHB and the DMG? Not so much. Sure, drawings of adventurers are cool, but how can they compare to the compendia of drawings of monsters in the MM, DDG, and FF?

Consider two monsters from the MM that nobody ever uses: the masher and the slithering tracker. (Hell, I literally never even noticed the very existence of the masher for about 20 years!) Why does nobody ever use them? What do they have in common?

No picture.

What if the interior art of Isle of the Unknown is devoted solely to Monster Manual-style (by that I mean relatively small drawings of just the monster itself) drawings of the 108 or so monsters in the book? That's a lot of drawings, but they'd be relatively small. The drawings would make the monsters come alive, unlike the poor masher and slithering tracker.

Plus, the drawings overall would be cooler than the drawings in MM, DDG, or FF. After all, how cool can a drawing of an orc or a brownie be? In contrast, all the monsters in Isle of the Unknown are weird and relatively hard to picture.

My first thought was "Oh fuck that. It'll cost a
fortune to have someone draw all those things. And that'll double the size of the book." I'm not going to have all these illustrations done and then make them teensy tiny, after all. Basically, Isle of the Unknown goes from being a module ("small project") to being a setting ("big project") on just the weight of visuals, with the same written content.

... and not that it would be solely the monster art in there - this would be going into offset printing territory for sure and at A5 size we need multiples of 32 pages, and as there's little chance that it'll magically end up being the exact number of needed pages I'll also need enough art to fill out that page count. I want readable fonts but not exaggerated giant lettering, and blank pages sitting at the end of a gaming supplement are lame. Plus there's still the cover that needs to be gorgeous (I agree with this and if I didn't need to keep up good relations with people I'd name some names of recent OSR cover art that isn't just "kinda bad" or "understandable given the budget," but art so bad it makes me feel embarrassed for all involved). And the map needs to look professional.

Do I want to take that step? It's nice that he's got all these ideas but it's easy to have ideas when someone else is bankrolling them.

But wanting to make sure McKinney is happy with the final product, I checked around. It turns out I could do this, although the art budget would be through the roof. Yes, that cost gets passed on to you, the buyer, but with the new page count that would be required, I think the price wouldn't be outrageous for what you'd get.

Then I did my first close reading of the entire book. Holy balls, all these monster descriptions talk about color! Hmmm. HMMMMM. Not that color is necessary for the illustrations, but one should check into all the options. All-color monster illustrations not only increases the price of each piece of art individually, but a different type of paper than planned will be required for the book, and printing in color is more expensive as well, and any extra pics would also have to be in color or it won't seem like a cohesive product. Geoffrey's island is described so vibrantly that I can't say that the color would be an unnecessary luxury - color is integral to the imagery McKinney uses.

But going all-color moves us into strange territory - the risk becomes not only large but dangerous, and while I believe people will pay a quality price for a quality product, there does come a point where too much is too much.

(disregard POD pricing models - with offset if you're going all color it's the price of commissioning color vs black and white that jacks up the cost of the book more than paper or printing costs)

Isle of the Unknown is (or was until now) a smaller release on the schedule, so really what I decide for it will set a standard for what a "run of the mill" (horrible way to put it) LotFP release looks like going forward. I have a little while before I'll start commissioning any of this stuff, but that just means I'll have more time to agonize over the decision.

So what to do?


Keep in mind that Isle of the Unknown is a sandbox. Not a setpiece module that you'll run for 1 - 3 sessions and then be done with it. It can form the skeleton of an entire campaign which never leaves the Isle.

I want every release to be special and as high-quality, inside and out, as I can make it.

I believe that the perception of OSR products as "cheap" hurts us more than helps us (remember that the classic TSR products were extremely high-end for their time and not cheap on release) on a variety of levels. In an age of freely available PDFs, legitimate or otherwise, competing on price seems utterly daft. Sparse production values in a book designed to spark the imagination hardly make the book more worth owning.

But how much is too much?

A Look (Far) Ahead

I'll have a post later on today about the more near-term projects LotFP will be releasing, but just a word about a down-the-line goal.

One thing I am a fan of is a more modern assumed culture for my games. That caused a bit of concern when No Dignity in Death was released and it had printing presses and ladies pictured in 19th century dresses. The cover of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is specifically planned to be not- medieval, and Tower of the Stargazer certainly isn't your everyday medieval setup.

One thing I am most interested in is moving my focus to making everything about the assumed setting of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing into the late 16th and early 17th centuries. That means guns.

Two things prevent me from including that kind of thing in the Weird Fantasy game proper - it's widely considered to be a genre clash to have guns in a fantasy game. Yeah, 2e had the arquebus and there is Warhammer, but the average fantasy gamer doesn't use them. I don't want Weird Fantasy Role-Playing to be completely divorced from familiar modes. The other thing is, well, it's very easy to use game books as sources for how these things should be, and that's crap. I wanted to research and build a firearm system from scratch from a knowledgeable base, not just do a clone version of what A Mighty Fortress did or whatever. I want to give it a proper amount of time. This isn't just an adventure, it's a whole new way of looking at a setting.

When I was in England I stocked up on a lot of history books about the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War and other books on the time period. I've recently placed a more substantial order of books (about 20) , a good deal specifically about the arms and armies of that time period.

Not to say Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is going to become a historical game. I don't have near the eye for detail to make that work, I'd want things like The Three Musketeers to be just as important a reference as any historical record, and I'd want to mix and match elements of, say, 1450 - 1640 without worrying much about it.

But many people associate that time period with all sorts of derring-do and swashbucklery and incredible advances in art and science, but it was also a time of intense religious bloodshed, colonial exploitation and genocide around the world. It marked the beginning of chattel slavery. It was a brutal, brutal time. Which suits me just fine.

The idea is to come up with a handy set of rules to introduce into my home games and see how they work. Get them to where they're comfortable, come up with a good variety of new spells to accompany a late Renaissance setting, and have a good mass combat system that takes into account the time period. Put a book together with this all-original material and release it as a cross-clone supplement (not LotFP-specific).

Or maybe it'll be a mess and I'll get real tired real quick of PCs trying to be Guy Fawkes as a solution to every problem and I'll scrap the whole idea.

Anyway, the first batch of my new books came in today.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Quick Quiz

Just want to make sure I wasn't being a completely vague and confusing Referee tonight.

The situation:

You are hired to act as a guard for a diplomat on a diplomatic mission to deliver a diplomatic pouch to An Important Guy.

You know that previous attempts at this mission have failed and the diplomat and his guards assassinated.

The diplomat meets the PCs at the appointed time; he has a wagon that's already quite packed and he has a cover story for everyone and everything. He is careful, at most times, to stay with the wagon and make sure nobody starts rifling through it (including the PCs who are traveling in the wagon).

Every night, one of the PCs is visited in the night by a mysterious man - including a couple times when the guy's standing immediately outside a second story window - whispering to them "Don't search the wagon. Don't search the wagon." As the days pass when he appears (always disappearing into the fog after saying his piece), he says things like, "Don't search the wagon. Time is running out, don't search it..."

There are a few times where the diplomat is unavoidably busy and forced to be away from the wagon for a period of time. You're guarding it.

What do you do?

Upcoming Releases

This weekend I finally started to dig in to the upcoming books (Vornheim, Isle of the Unknown, Carcosa) and I think people are going to be well-pleased.

Vornheim will be easy to promote. "You know that Vornheim city from I Hit It With My Axe? That! Which also functions as a generic city adventuring sourcebook!"

Isle of the Unknown is easy. "Medieval island permeated by Weird Stuff, presented as a 70s-style sandbox."

But... how does one describe and promote Carcosa?

"The post-apocalyptic pre-colonial Mesoamerican planetary science fantasy horror setting - swords, dark sorcery, ray guns, Cthulhu!" "But forget all that, you'll only fixate on a half dozen (or whatever) lines in the book!"

That's a mouthful. :D

Saturday, January 15, 2011

You Find the Most Interesting Things When You Read CDs

I ordered Atlantean Kodex's The Golden Bough (2010, Cruz del Sur Music) through a local record store, and I was able to pick it up yesterday. I've only listened to it once so far so I can't say much about it other than it is in the same style as 2007's The Pnakotic Demos.

I did take the opportunity, after watching Creepshow 2 again after a decade or two ("I beat you! I BEAT YOU!!!"), to browse the liner notes. An interesting bit:

The Golden Bough
is dedicated to 12,000 years of European mythology,
and to the spirit of underground metal proudly defying progress.

The Willows

I re-read this story this morning. Algernon Blackwood was a genius.

You can read it here, and his work is in print all over the place.

I'm taking all three box flap quotes this time from this story.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

OSRG Booth at GenCon 2011... LotFP Participating!

From here:

This is the news that I couldn't say earlier. There will a booth at Gen Con featuring Old-School products from at least 5 OSR companies; Brave Halfling Publishing, Expeditious Retreat Press, Frog God Games, Goblinoid Games, and all the way from Finland, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Suzi and I will be running the booth at the convention. The Old-School Renaissance Group has arrived and the OSR will be in force at Gen Con this year! I'm tremendously excited by this next step in the OSR.

Hopefully the booth will act as the hub for the OSR community at Gen Con. I'd like to have a "master list" of all the Old-School gaming going on at the convention at the booth to help direct people towards those games.

I also want to let the entire OSR community know that the booth is open to everyone's products as long as we have space. That means if you've published an OSR product you can have your product for sale at Gen Con 2011 with all of the other awesome OSR products already committed to the booth. Much of the strength of the OSR comes from individuals and we want to have the community there in as great a capacity as possible.

So if you're interested in having products at the booth, contact me at josephbrowning@gmail.com for the details.

LotFP will be participating. I hope to have 10 products available, which means 5 releases between now and then (including the Grindhouse Edition).

The Grindhouse Edition will either have a different box , or a cardboard sleeve, for GenCon (still to be determined). The box or sleeve will be a GenCon 2011 limited edition with exclusive artwork not to be available anywhere else. The inside of the box will be unchanged.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Grindhouse Edition Character Sheet Posted!

It's right there on download links area on the left.

It's pretty much just a minor update to the old sheet (once again by Jeremy Jagosz), with the back page cleaned up a bit and the front page now showing the updated Common Activities list (with neater graphics for the spellcasters).

If you see anything wrong with it, please let me know. :)

Mentzer is Coming to Finland

Frank Mentzer is the first announced guest of honor for Ropecon 2011.

Looks like I don't have to try to fumble my way through another old-school presentation. :D

Monday, January 10, 2011

Skype Games (on the 12th, 14th, 19th) Update

So this is what I have penciled in:

Wednesday January 12, 6pm Pacific, 9pm Eastern
Aberrant Hive Mind
Higgipedia
Zak
Mandy
Paul

Friday January 14th, 6pm Eastern, 3pm Pacific
Allandaros
Bear-Sophie
Jeff Tillotson
Joe the Lawyer

Wednesday January 19th, 6pm UK time 8pm Helsinki time
Pookie
Carter Soles
Andreas Davour
Spawn of Endra

If this is wrong, post in the comments and I'll update as necessary.

Still looking for another person for the 14th (maybe two as one there is a "tentative") and a couple more for the 19th.

For those that are playing, my Skype ID is jimlotfp. Add it sooner than later. :)

I'm off to bed now, but I'll post the Grindhouse Edition character sheet tomorrow. Everyone should be able to make their own 1st level characters based on that (only real difference is the updated skill list for those making Specialists). I have updated Cleric spell lists to send right now and pre-gened starting spellbooks for Magic-Users and Elves can be send a few hours before gametime. Otherwise everything's close enough to the Deluxe edition where using the currently available box set or PDF will work just fine.

Any questions?

Great. Now the Text is Going to Get Me in Trouble, Too

So I had a late idea (looks like there will be a good amount of gaming between now and press time to try it out, so why not?) about a spell, and from that idea led to the realization that a screwed up summoning can call forth a concept rather than a thing was fun.

Coming up with suitably dark concepts was interesting, especially since I was looking for just little evil phrases and not thinking about game mechanics at the time.

But now I'm writing down what they do.

And that's just turning bizarre. (it doesn't help that I've also started watching The Prisoner for the first time ever...) The effects need to be severe, they need to be nasty - this is a screwed up extra-dimensional summoning in a fantasy-horror game.

As it turns out, discovering what effects things like "Memories of Pre-Conception" and "Lust of a Betrayed Lover" have is leading me to some pretty unpleasant places.

And it does feel like I am discovering rather than inventing. Which is always a good sign.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Fine Eye for Detail

I just noticed not five minutes ago that there are two people on the cover of the Goodman Games edition of the Creature Generator.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On Playtesting, Lovecraft Releases, Moving Away from Retro-Clones

Lots of good stuff on the blogs lately. Of course I must be a bad businessman and actually have opinions on things. And express them.

First, playtesting.

If something goes to print and you accept money for it, it should be playtested.

But blog posts? Whatever for? Blogs are for throwing ideas around, not for presenting Professional Product. I think the same applies to "fanzines," and may be how the term signifies "idea bank!" even if the final result is as swanky-looking as Fight On!.


The thing is though, what does playtesting mean? In more mechanically advanced games and systems, rigorous testing to make sure things work is important. In games where balance is important, you really need to be rigorous in figuring things out if you're going to be sure that a game does what it says it will. If you proclaim there is a right way for a game, then everything you do has to follow that way and unintended consequences are bad.

In looser games where things blowing up and the entire session going downhill on a bad die roll is not undesirable, playtesting is done for a different purpose. What one group does in a more open game will not be representative of a damn thing that is possible. Basically, as long as it's possible for a group to survive the adventure while experiencing all the major bits, and it's possible for them to die along the way, as far as I'm concerned the adventure's good balance-wise.

And I have to point out, I've run Death Frost Doom a bunch of times. All that playing and enjoyment of the module didn't help Alexis enjoy it, now did it?

What I've found in the value of playtesting adventure material is in determining that all necessary expository material is included. Making sure the relationships between different elements in the adventure are explained so that the purchaser, without benefit of contact with the author, can run the darn thing in the spirit it was intended. I've seen actual play reports of most of my work that reinforces that it can do what I intend it to do without my being there. Success!

Confession: You know that Purple Lotus in Death Frost Doom with the random effects? Before publishing (and after publishing and probably until the end of time) not every one of those effects had happened in play. :P

Seriously though. There's the original D&D which is damn near incomprehensible as a stand-alone product that didn't even include essential rules and upgrades being played at the time of its release, and that created this entire hobby. There's AD&D1e core, which had a ton of stuff which really doesn't work well in play and which even the attributed author didn't use or in some cases even want in there, and people have played that just fine for over 30 years. But then there's Unearthed Arcana, which was full of wonky ill-advised shit that ruined campaigns worldwide, and the Dungeoneer and Wilderness Survival Guides which were full of wonderful detail that you can tell were formulated in a lab without ever coming into contact with an actual game table.

Somewhere in there is a mixed message, and the truth, about the importance of playtesting.

Labyrinth Lord has a Lovecraft thing coming out.

I think I might have dodged a bullet. Lovecraft has a heavy influence on Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, obviously. but to me "Lovecraft" and "Cthulhu" are not the same thing. At conventions when talking about the game I've tried to play down the tentacles, because tentacles are not what I'm pushing. Remember my micro-rant here.

I'm going to get Realms of Crawling Chaos. I'm willing to bet money (which is what purchasing a gaming book is, really) that parts of it will end up in my campaign (especially appropriately-themed spells). But it looks to really take Lovecraft elements and put them directly into the game. It's a different approach than I'd take, and I'm glad for the difference. There is a forthcoming (how soon?) Swords Against the Outer Dark that I'm not so clear on as far as tone and what it will deliver. My worry is that people will still put Weird Fantasy Role-Playing into the same mental space as these products, because being different is important. The strength of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is that you already know how to play, it's all very familiar, but it can deliver a different play experience than the other simulacra or the games they emulate.

(Yeah, Carcosa has Cthulhu & Co, but to me they aren't the selling point or defining setting element.)

Which brings us to the big one.

Moving Away from the Retro-Clones (with other good talk here and here and here).

Odd that there seems to be a little surge in "Why don't we have anything new?" talk in the OSR, which was built on the rejection of new things and the desire to have new things which directly recalled what we already knew we liked.

Look, I don't want mechanical innovation. I might switch around spells on a list and screw around with things that nobody used or never worked right (encumbrance, wrestling), but my game looks the way it does because there is a skeleton of what I want in a game that's been out there for ages and ages and that's that. Game over.

Goodman's DCC game advertising seems to have spurred the discussion. Goodman has released some great things (Dungeon Alphabet, Creature Generator, Points of Light), but the Dungeon Crawl Classics? That whole brand? Remember their marketing:

Remember the good old days, when adventures were underground, NPCs were there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level? Those days are back. Dungeon Crawl Classics don't waste your time with long-winded speeches, weird campaign settings, or NPCs who aren't meant to be killed.

That's what the DCC name and brand still means to me. Not how I play at all.

Their self-description of the rules engine for their new game?

Rules Set: DCC RPG, an OGL system that cross-breeds Appendix N with a streamlined version of 3E.

3e is what made me hostile to the "D&D" brand, so obviously this game isn't for me. Even if it does create discussion.

And then there's the Appendix N thing.

It goes back to "What is this thing we're doing?" Is it a set of rules? Or inspirations?

Things need to be different in order to find their own audience. With nobody pushing OSRIC (if OSRIC had been released as an in-print, for-profit concern in 2006 this discussion wouldn't exist in meaningful form - OSRIC would own old-school by such a margin that there'd be zero incentive to bring anything else to market), Swords & Wizardry moving closer to 1e with the Complete edition makes sense, and it's a move that benefits both S&W "prime" and "White Box" as it makes them different. Labyrinth Lord's core game is now comfortably between the two (and keeps chugging along as probably by far the most successful of the simulacra; wasn't it Proctor who first saw the value in wider distribution back in 07 or so, unfortunately going through Key20 at the time?).

Those games have the advantage of being able to say "This is the game that's been around forever." They all present the same thing in different ways. The spells, the monsters, the magic items, the implied setting. The rules vary bit by bit, but the trappings are the same. I think the clones are both necessary and awesome, but I certainly understand that another "pure" clone isn't necessary.

There is still room for additional things building on that familiar base.
Things that change the trappings, that deliver a different feel and experience, without changing the rules skeleton. Obviously I feel this way! The success of these additional things will be due not to pure originality, but in how well they are presented (hopefully a love for publishing that matches a love for writing will make a difference here...) and how well they straddle the line between being different and still being familiar.

Creativity will help there.

But I'll say it plainly:

Fuck originality.

Give me interesting and well-done things that I can use for my existing campaign.

We're not making fine art here, we're making game-play aids. Too much originality reduces general usability. The imagination should be sparked more on the consumer's end than on the producer's end, really. It's why you make adventures with no definite "end encounter" or victory conditions, why you make rules without strict expectations of the progress of play.

I happen to think the cross-compatibility of this scene is its strength, the common understandings of the fanbase is the only thing that makes the OSR anything worth a damn in the first place, and anything that moves outside of those elements might as well be 4e or FUDGE for all I'm going to care. It's why I change only certain things and leave the rest alone.


The perfect example:

The Dungeon Alphabet is probably the most universally well-received (and commercially successful) thing that anyone in the OSR has produced, and it deserves every accolade it receives. Every single last damn one of us can pick up that book and get inspired and make our game better. It's creative as hell.

But is there a single original element in the whole thing? I say no. The whole thing celebrates the well-worn and familiar elements of dungeon crawling. By its positioning the dungeon as a vibrant and worthwhile gaming environment in many ways it discourages pure originality by keeping people well satisfied with the original baseline gameplay assumptions.

And that's fine by me.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Announcing Some Skype Games

I want to run A Stranger Storm with a few more groups before the game goes to press.

Announcing three slots, looking for 3 - 5 players each:

January 12: 6pm Pacific US time.
January 14: 6pm Eastern US time.
January 19: 6pm UK time.

Obviously with it being the same adventure you can only sign up for one of the games.

Voice chat will take place over Skype, while chatting in the Dragonsfoot forums (unless someone knows of a good Skype die roller?).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Curse of LotFP

When the Deluxe Edition was being put together, most of the visual/arty types on the project moved or were preparing to move while working on the project.

I thought that was bad.

A disconcerting proportion of the visual/arty types working on the Grindhouse Edition are falling ill or getting injured. Two that I know of requiring lengthy hospital stays (just found out about one of them last night).

Does this happen to other publishers with big projects?

... makes me wonder if I should hope that this printing doesn't sell out over the next couple of years because I fear what will start happening to people when it's time to make a third printing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Grindhouse Edition Spell Lists

You'll see a lot of spells being switched around in order to separate and clarify the two types of magic between the Holy Man and the Diabolical Wizard types. Note that the "Speak With..." spells, particularly Speak with Dead, are now over on the Magic-User side. No Animate Dead for the Clerics either. It's the Magic-User that disrupts the fabric of reality. There is only one spell shared between the two classes now, Dispel Magic, because both needed it - but they work differently.

Whether Cleric magic is truly divinely inspirited or merely a type of mysticism whose practitioners are traditionally brought into the religious structure, and whether Magic-User spells represent true diabolism or use of the knowledge stolen from beyond sleep or whatever, is entirely up to you. But Cleric magic fights Magic-User magic.

Now this doesn't fix a central issue in a "Weird" game that's often brought up, namely the Lovecraftian idea of no gods, no significance, just strange alien entities that will reclaim the Earth when they bother to get round to it.

Well just as D&D was a melting pot of fantasy influences, so is LotFP a melting pot of strange and horrific styles. This isn't just Lovecraft: The Fantasy RPG and never was intended to be.

The one weakness of this setup, which just might limit the potential wide applicability as a general retro-clone (but I figure so many got there before me anyway), is that the Cleric class really doesn't work so well for pagan style religions anymore (if it ever did), and the Magic-User class makes a poor fit for a that sort as well. Bring forth your Druid variants, haha!

One thing you'll notice, I wanted to keep all the spell lists so random spells could be chosen with a die roll. That meant padding out some of those higher level Magic-User spell lists with spits and spats of OGC entries instead of just dropping spells that were "out of flavor." The idea of researching spells is going to be newly encouraged though (not that anyone ever even considers such things...), so anything missing can easily be replaced in a campaign even if you decide to use the new spell list as the official baseline. That's one of the very points of using this rules backbone in the first place, that multitude of compatible stuff. And if you like the spell lists from the Deluxe edition better, simply use it instead. Nothing changes.

(the free PDF of the Deluxe edition won't be linked from the blog anymore once the free PDF version of the Grindhouse Edition goes up, but it will still be available from the main LotFP site)

Here they are:

Cleric Spells

First Level
1. Bless*
2. Command
3. Cure Light Wounds*
4. Detect Evil*
5. Invisibility to Undead*
6. Protection from Evil*
7. Purify Food & Drink*
8. Remove Fear*
9. Sanctuary
10. Turn Undead

Second Level
1. Augury
2. Delay Poison
3. Enthrall
4. Heat Metal
5. Heroism
6. Resist Cold
7. Resist Fire
8. Silence 15’ Radius

Third Level
1. Cure Disease*
2. Dispel Magic
3. Magic Vestment
4. Remove Curse*
5. Sacrifice*
6. Water Walk

Fourth Level
1. Cure Serious Wounds*
2. Detect Lie
3. Divination
4. Neutralize Poison*
5. Protection from Evil 10’ Radius*
6. Spell Immunity

Fifth Level
1. Commune
2. Cure Critical Wounds*
3. Dispel Evil
4. Insect Plague
5. Quest
6. True Seeing*

Sixth Level
1. Anti-Magic Shell
2. Find the Path*
3. Forbiddance
4. Heal*
5. Tongues*
6. Word of Recall

Seventh Level
1. Control Weather
2. Earthquake
3. Holy Word*
4. Part Water

Magic-User Spells

First Level
1. Charm Person
2. Comprehend Languages*
3. Detect Magic
4. Enlarge*
5. Faerie Fire
6. Feather Fall
7. Floating Disc
8. Hold Portal
9. Identify
10. Light*
11. Magic Aura*
12. Magic Missile
13. Mending
14. Message
15. Read Magic*
16. Shield
17. Sleep
18. Spider Climb
19. Unseen Servant
20. Ventriloquism

Second Level
1. Audible Glamer
2. Change Self
3. Detect Invisible
4. ESP
5. Force of Forbidment
6. Forget
7. Invisibility
8. Knock
9. Levitate
10. Light, Continual*
11. Locate Object*
12. Magic Mouth
13. Mirror Image
14. Phantasmal Force
15. Ray of Enfeeblement
16. Speak with Animals
17. Stinking Cloud
18. Wall of Fog
19. Web
20. Wizard Lock

Third Level
1. Clairvoyance
2. Detect Illusion
3. Dispel Magic
4. Explosive Runes
5. False Alignment
6. Fireball
7. Fly
8. Gaseous Form
9. Gust of Wind
10. Haste*
11. Hold Person
12. Invisibility 10’ Radius
13. Lightning Bolt
14. Monster Summoning
15. Phantasmal Psychedelia
16. Protection from Normal Missiles
17. Secret Page
18. Speak with Dead
19. Suggestion
20. Water Breathing*

Fourth Level
1. Charm Monster
2. Confusion
3. Creation, Minor
4. Dig
5. Dimension Door
6. Extension
7. Globe of Invulnerability, Minor
8. Growth of Plants
9. Hallucinatory Terrain
10. Invisibility, Improved
11. Mnemonic Enhancer
12. Polymorph Others
13. Polymorph Self
14. Protection from Normal Weapons
15. Seven Gates
16. Shadow Monsters
17. Speak with Plants
18. Wall of Fire
19. Wall of Ice
20. Wizard Eye

Fifth Level
1. Airy Water
2. Animate Dead
3. Chaos
4. Cloudkill
5. Contact Outer Sphere
6. Creation, Major
7. Faithful Hound
8. Feeblemind
9. Hold Monster
10. Interposing Hand
11. Magic Jar
12. Passwall
13. Secret Chest
14. Stone Shape
15. Telekinesis
16. Teleport
17. Transmute Rock to Mud*
18. Wall of Force
19. Wall of Iron
20. Wall of Stone

Sixth Level
1. Animate Dead Monsters
2. Barrier
3. Contingency
4. Death Spell
5. Disintegrate
6. Freezing Sphere
7. Geas
8. Glass Eye
9. Globe of Invulnerability, Major
10. Invisible Stalker
11. Legend Lore
12. Lucubration
13. Move Earth
14. Phantasmal Supergoria
15. Projected Image
16. Shades
17. Speak with Monsters
18. Stone to Flesh*
19. Suggestion, Mass
20. Veil

Seventh Level
1. Animated Artwork
2. Duo-Dimension
3. Fireball, Delayed Blast
4. Grasping Hand
5. Instant Summons
6. Invisibility, Mass
7. Magic Sword
8. Phase Door
9. Power Word Stun
10. Prismatic Sphere
11. Prismatic Spray
12. Prismatic Wall
13. Remote Surveillance
14. Reverse Gravity
15. Simulacrum
16. Spell Turning
17. Statue
18. Vanish
19. Vision
20. Witchlamp Aura

Eighth Level
1. Antipathy/Sympathy
2. Charm Person, Mass
3. Clone
4. Demand
5. Incendiary Cloud
6. Maze
7. Mind Blank
8. Permanency
9. Symbol
10. Trap the Soul

Ninth Level
1. Gate
2. Imprisonment*
3. Meteor Swarm
4. Power Word Kill
5. Shape Change
6. Time Stop

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Checking Magic

It's that time, going into the spell lists and making sure the actual spell list matches up to the text of spells, making sure the asterisks signifying reversibility are all consistent, that sort of boring stuff, plus making notes and changing things that were only ever there "just because," and not because they made sense.

For example, going through and standardizing "Permanent" durations (which can be dispelled) and Instantaneous durations (which don't go away but can't be dispelled).

Then throwing in little bits of mischief like making the Death spell Permanent but not Instantaneous just so players and Referees can mess with each other more in the game.

(bringing to mind one possible recipe for Lichdom: Cast Death on yourself. Your corpse must then be prepared in specific ways and then entombed in a specific manner. After being dead for a specific amount of time, long after the body has begun decomposing, the Death spell must be dispelled. If not done properly, lichdom is not achieved, but the revived mage instead is simply awakened to die in agonizing pain since all of his organs are rotted and useless. Good luck setting this one up, you mad, mad wizard you!)

I also changed around how Bless and Prayer work because in a game not about combat, it doesn't make any damn sense to make these things nothing but combat aids. Bless is now a first level spell (Resist Cold got moved to second level) and gives the subject "points" to "spend" on die rolls (pretty much anything other than damage), sorta how Karma worked in the old Marvel Super Heroes game. Makes it an actual useful thing with general applicability instead of a near-negligible combat boost - and yet another option to discourage Cure Light Wounds as the no-brainer first level choice.

Also, many of the duplicate spells between the two Cleric and M-U lists have been removed from one class or the other, focusing what each of them is magically for. For instance, the Cleric is now more strongly an anti-magic class. One classic complaint about the ol' Vancian magic system is its lack of fickleness and danger. Valid, in some ways, but introduce through spells more ways to mess with each others' magic, and, well, problem solved, shall we say. Nothing too major, but by planting the right scrolls for the players (and assigning the right spells for NPC spellcasters), Magic-Users get to sweat things that much more.