Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rate the LotFP Modules!

... because the Dragonsfoot people are doing it with the TSR B series, and I haven't got anything actually interesting to post, I thought I'd do this here.

  • Death Frost Doom
  • The Grinding Gear
  • No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides

  1. Which adventure is your favorite? Least favorite? Why?
  2. Which adventure do you think is the most difficult? Easiest? Why?
  3. What is the one thing, between all the modules, you most wish you had come up with?
  4. What's the best "screw you!" moment of any of the modules?
  5. If there was one thing you would change about one of the adventures, what would it be?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Version 0.06 and New Character Sheets!

New rules are available for download here and have the following updates:

  • Small alteration to Encumbrance Rules
  • Clarified Charm Person, Levitate, Haste, Detect Evil, Sleep spells
  • Added “no more than one level gained per session” rule
  • Clarified Helpless Opponents
  • Changed Warhorse price
  • Added Slave costs
  • Changed Doors to Low Roll mechanic to match other subsystems
  • Adjusted Monster XP Awards
  • Firing Into Mêlée rules revised
  • Added Dwarfs are Less Encumbered rule
  • Replaced Know Alignment with Heroism spell
  • Altered Halfling special abilities slightly
  • Changed Animal Encumbrance
  • Altered Language Rules

As you can see, all minor changes. The next big project is the Maritime rules, which I'm getting together to prepare the playtesting for Weird New World.

And here is the latest draft for the character sheets. Again, these will be redone more professionally...

The House of Snails!

I'm running two games a week these days in order to help get the kinks out of the system.

Today's adventure may be, if the PCs go for it, The House of Snails!

I'll have the latest updates to the rules and character sheets up sometime tonight. Hoping to have them ready for this evening's game. Along with a few other things. Writing this Referee book, with all the advice I'm putting in there, really highlights how sloppy my own Refereeing has been at times lately. Honestly, I'm not a very good improvisational Referee at all (and definitely a far better writer than Referee in general). Give me a solid framework and I can riff off of that all night. Without that framework? Eeek. Need to tighten that up, right now, especially doing double time gaming.

Also... hehe... my wife came home from work last night rather peeved. Seems she's been reading my blog during breaks at her job, and she wasn't so happy about some of the comments to the "And I Thought I Was Delusional" post. I mean she seemed genuinely ticked off in that "Someone just farted," kind of way. But don't worry, I deflected that by making her ticked off with me, because I think I was laughing and giggling at her for the better part of half an hour for getting upset by things that strangers said on the internet! I did ask her why she doesn't get herself an account to respond, and she told me, "You're my husband! You're supposed to defend me!"

I don't know exactly why any of those comments would have set her off, but you rascals cut that out before I end up giggling so much that I am forced to sleep on the couch.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Many Times Have You Offered 1,000,000gp Treasures?

Hammers of the God has a gem worth far more than that. It's kind of a dare, as there really isn't a way for the low level characters the adventure is designed for (2-4) to get it (and woe to those that make the attempt...), and it's very unlikely (but fully possible) they'll even be aware of it. The players that ran through this never discovered its existence, but I've since added a clue in the library about it...

Death Ferox Doom hands a treasure worth that to the PCs that they are free to take. My players, quite recently, didn't walk away with it, even though they had it in their hands.

I figure such mega-treasures, even if recovered and XP granted for them, aren't a game-breaker. It's a free level, if using the gp=xp rules as all good and proper games do, but other than that, it's nothing but complication. Keeping the treasure, hiding it away, that would prevent further complication, but once such an item becomes known (surely you're not just going to try to sell it down at the market), even good and noble nations will go to war for such a thing. Certainly adventuring types for which such a treasure would be level-appropriate will come a-knocking, and far more quickly than a nation could mobilize for war...!

So even if I try to engineer that these treasures never leave their dungeons, players always find a way, and I don't think it's such a big deal. (unless you allow the purchase of magic items in your game, but that's rather insane, isn't it?)

(Hammers of the God, out late July... Death Ferox Doom, later in the year...)

I can't wait to see what people make of Hammers of the God... it's nothing more than a hole in the ground, "here's a dungeon" adventure with no more of a suggested hook than sticking a map to its location in a previous treasure... but between the grand locations, the backstory which will only be known by basically stopping the adventure for a good long time and reading everything in the library (not that the players need to care, but the studious will find much to learn, and I expect conflict in groups that have more action oriented people and those who want to read all the books!), and the treasures available for such low-level characters - and the guardians of those treasures - I expect some to love and some to hate and hardly any to have a middling opinion.

Death Ferox Doom I hope to just be a complete punch in the gut, but that's aways off yet. After the box set and Hammers are out I want to get Insect Shrine, the Sanitarium adventure, and Death Ferox Doom all out this year. That's a very ambitious schedule, but this seems to be the year for that.

We shall see.

Monday, April 26, 2010

And I Thought I Was Delusional...

So just before she leaves for work, the wife asks me, "What if your game is wildly successful, and you do five printings, 1000 copies each, and they all sell out straight away! Can I take six months off of work and you pay for our upkeep?"

LotFP Products Reviewed on Voice of the Revolution!

Listen to it here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Well This Isn't Good... (concerning the game)

So I'm getting things done on this Referee book draft at a spiffy pace now. I'm at the point talking about campaigns. "Although the default assumed setting is Northern/Western European, there is no reason a Referee couldn't decide to make a campaign based on ancient Egypt, or mythic India, the Aztecs, Asian territories," blah blah with notes that you don't have to allow everything on the equipment list if your campaign background has a different technological assumption.

Then I realized, "Yeah, no shit the assumption is Northern/Western European..." I looked over all the art I had done for the game, dozens of pieces. Guess what? Everyone's white! (well, one of the models for the cover comes from Bolivia but she's being transformed into an inhuman beast so maybe that's not the best example...)

I'm thinking, "Well, this isn't good." And it probably isn't.

But what the hell am I supposed to do? Tell the artist to go back and blacken up some of the figures? Go and commission another piece of art for the purpose of highlighting ethnic diversity? Isn't that completely patronizing?

Basically, my vision of fantasy is very Merry Olde England and Vikings and Shakespeare (60s Romeo and Juliet is where I get my visuals for that) and such things, with monsters being more Cthulhoid and undead than your standard humanoid spread (and I defy anyone to map the goblins from the upcoming Insect Shrine to any real-life ethnic group).

In my real-life interactions, barring online, possibly (I have no idea what many of you look like, after all), the biggest "diversity" in my social circle right now is the fact that one of my players is Belgian. I haven't had real-life contact, beyond telling that one Iranian comedian that I liked his act, with a non-Northern European since moving away from Vaasa two years ago (which is very bizarre to think about... I used to live in downtown Atlanta; this really is an entirely different world). Nobody else answers my flyers, you know, and I have put them up in foreigner cultural offices and I'm not exactly turning anybody away.

I feel like I'm doing something wrong now, but the things that I can think to do that would fix that just seems condescending and reeking of tokenism.



A Great Adventure Inspiration:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Things They Are A-Happening

Ever have one of those sessions? Well I'm stubborn, and one of those sessions turned into two sessions. The first session went differently than I thought and following the logical outcome of the PC actions led to nothing much happening. "nudge nudge wink wink" to open the second session, and as it turned out my original adventure idea didn't have much juice to it either. Shit! No Ravencrosses in my publication future.

I've seen another update of the main cover art, the first time I've seen anything with both figures on it. Looking good, both models approve of how their likenesses are being used (which I honestly don't have to care about, but I know both of these people so it's good to keep on their good sides... I may want to use them again :D), so hopefully it's just a matter of weeks before it's done and I'm able to amaze you with its splendor.

I also took a look at a to-size blank box mock-up. All of the contents (which were similarly mocked up) comfortably fit inside with a little room to spare, so no worries if I go over my planned page count somewhere. The one problem might be shipping costs. If this weighs as much as I think it will, airmail shipping for one box to non-EU areas will cost 23,80€, nevermind the cost of the product itself or packing supplies, which I can't do half-assed with a box set.

Current plans are for the thing to cost right around 50€ in Finland (including the 23% sales tax) and $65 in US stores (not including sales tax, and currency fluctuations could still change that). For direct orders from foreign lands, I think I'm going to charge 50€ and have economy shipping included in that price (takes up to 4 weeks to arrive), with the option for you to spend another 10€ and get the priority (airmail) shipping option that usually takes a week or less.

I keep thinking of this as a premium-priced product, but honestly, that's not really true, even if it is a significant chunk of change. This is more like an average-priced RPG product in 2010. None of us like that, I'd love to say "Yeah, you get this great frickin' box for 20€!" but I have to be responsible. LotFP is a business, and however unprofessional I act (and will continue to do so... I'm making game stuff, not negotiating world peace, and if I have to be tight-lipped and on a leash, I might as well get a Quickie Mart job), the products themselves and how I handle them are professional and awesome and it takes time, effort, and money to make it so.

My art budget is coming to just under 2000€. There will be seven booklets in this box (Tutorial, Rules, Magic, Referee, the two adventures: Tower of the Stargazer and Weird New World, all of these with color covers, plus the Reading Guide pamphlet), plus dice, the pencil, character sheets, all that fun stuff. Not to mention the box itself.

Hammers of the God and Death Frost Doom 3rd Printing will be released separately but at the same time as the box. I suspect my readers here who want Death Frost Doom already have it, but you won't want to miss Hammers.

Brave Halfling Publishing, Expeditious Retreat Press, Goodman Games, and Rogue Games are participating in my Ropecon vendor plans, so all you Finns reading this can pick up a wider variety of old school items right there at the con. Thanks to the publishers for the wholesale rates on small numbers of books and deferred payment due dates!

The wife yesterday brought up the idea of a vacation. Just going off in the country somewhere with no TV, no internet, no nothing (although I do insist on indoor plumbing), just reading and relaxing and taking nature walks and screwing for a week or so. I think we're planning this for right after Ropecon, so we'll debut the game at the con, then ship all due freebies and pre-orders and distributor orders, and then it's hibernation for a short time and taking a damn break. I think I've gained 20 pounds in the last few months working on this, it's driving me nuts and ruining my health, and it'll be good to say "It's done, the world can go fuck off for awhile."

And then it'll be back to packing orders and working on the next nowhere-near-as-high-pressure release.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Am I the Only One...

... who wants to fly to, where is it, California?, and run a Carcosa adventure for Zak's group?

Mainly because I assume they're a rather desensitized group of people and I want to see if I can freak them out. And then if I do I can just blame it on Geoffrey.

Because I'm a gaming ambassador like that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stats of the Onion, Undressed

Just some notes...

Saw the sketch of Peter Mullen cover art for Tower of the Stargazer. Looks like he's nailed it. When it's done, you guys will see it, and you will want to play this adventure just from seeing the picture.

My Finnish business start-up subsidy ends in two days. Not a bad bit of a boost over the past nine months, I think. Printed the first four releases, paid for all the art for Insect Shrine, paid for all the art for the box set as well as the dice. Just for the record, this was specifically a business subsidy. I wasn't using the Finnish equivalent of food stamps to publish RPG stuff.

But it's not covering any of the upcoming printing costs. I arranged for the financing for that today, although the paperwork hasn't been officially signed or anything yet. I think the bill for everything for the summer releases, including the already paid-for art and Hammers of the God and reprinting Death Frost Doom and the extra non-boxed copies of Tower of the Stargazer and Weird New World, will cost just under 10000€.

That's $13,455 according to today's exchange rate.

I look at what I'm doing, and what I'm risking, and on one hand I think I'm insane.

On the other hand, I knew that already. At least I know full well that any corners cut were done so out of absolute necessity. Everything that can be done is being done. I will be able to hug my box set in ten years' time and know that it was the absolute best I could make it, without compromise.

It didn't have to be done this way. Having a game of my own to put out in Finland, to be able to have a table at Ropecon and get my stuff in stores here, it could have been easy.

All I had to do, really, was copy the shit out of the Open Game Content from Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. The bulk of those games are all open. Just copy/paste, switch out the product identity bits, buy some cheap-ass art, and voila! Product! I could have made it as inexpensive as possible and just put a redundant game on the market because hey, none of these other guys are dealing with the Finnish market!

Could have. Decided not to do it. Decided to go big. Decided to make a premium product instead of perpetuating (or being bound by) the "oldschool equals cheap!" idea that's come about by association. Decided to rework details and rules to make something that will appear appreciably different (even if it plays identically) from the other clones. Making sure that it's not the Same Old Shit, while essentially still being the Same Old Shit and being damned proud of it!

Deadlines loom. I'll know soon enough whether I was good enough to pull this all off, and then whether or not anybody cares. All the while wondering how quick the boxes will sell out.

Not boring times. :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alignment, LotFP Style? Law (Technology) vs Chaos (Magic)

With the alignment system I've put in place, it's pretty obvious that I don't have the first clue about what to do about Law. Chaos = Magic, Neutral = Normal. But law?

But yesterday, after the players discovered that the meteorite they were hired to recover turned out to instead be a crashed flying saucer, one of my players had a big idea.

If Chaos is magic, perhaps Law is technology?

(one thing about having my rules be OGL and deciding the rules will be a free downloadable PDF is I feel no guilt about freely adapting ideas like this... if I was doing a closed system with a "must buy to see it" I'd always be worrying that I'd need to compensate people for their ideas lest I be profiting off of others' work... but with the OGL/freebie angle it's obvious that when it comes to the big rules ideas that if they are available for free, that's not what I'm charging for when I sell the for-pay version)

The idea was fascinating. It would support a common conflict in fantasy campaigns, give all the alignments something to stand for, and provide many interesting little bits as a consequence.

Two problems I have with the idea, and maybe you guys can help me smooth this out.

We're playing a fantasy game, so Chaos = Magic doesn't kill a lot of common ways of play. We all use magic in our fantasy. Making Law = Technology would almost coerce people into thinking that using this alignment system means their game needs some sort of real technology in it to be playing it to form.

(and when I mean "technology," I'm not meaning "normal medieval/Renaissance advances")

Part of what I'm doing is trying to make a baseline campaign world mundane, with the weird stuff out on the fringes. So while I have no problem making a flying saucer the twist to an adventure, I don't want such a thing to be part of the campaign world, if you understand the distinction. If the decision is made that the alien flying such a thing is Lawful because he uses supertech, the want to balance Law and Chaos by having as much of this stuff as magic spells will be strong. Especially to someone picking up the game and just reading the text and seeing Law right there as the equal of Chaos as part of the game. I don't want to encourage a steampunk setting or anything of the sort.

I'm afraid that embracing this will change the entire perceived flavor of the game.

My other concern... Tower of the Stargazer has a wizard using both magic and obvious examples of wondrous technology. I think that's a fair thing to do, but to establish a dichotomy would be in a lot of ways preventing that from happening. I have visions of Lawful types not being able to use magic or magic items and Chaotic types not being able to use the high tech stuff because those are "Lawful" items. And regular neutral people can use both because they're not "married" to either concept in any way.

A lot of Lovecraftian weirdness is this mystitech as well and I don't want a really good idea to neutralize a core influence.

So what do you guys think?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

When the Players Resort to This, You Know It's a Good Game

So the monster hiding down the hole wasn't affected by fire. In fact, burning it released a noxious gas, so that didn't work.

Someone had the idea of packing the corpses of the dead bandits down the hole in an attempt to smother the monster. Happily, they didn't actually attempt this.

They did tie a chicken to a pole and stuck it down there in an attempt to lure the monster out so it could be shot at, but it didn't take the bait.

You can't do that in computer games, damn it. The unique qualities of the tabletop form in action!

Good news is the new character sheet (both sides!) got a workout, as well as the system. Nothing broken this time, nobody even complained about how encumbrance was set up. Comments were more along the lines of "this needs to be explained more" and "where is a prostitute on the price list?" and "you should have a space for weapon damage on the character sheet," so I'm getting pretty close now, I think.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Six Weeks, One Month, Three Weeks, Forever

Six weeks left to get all principle writing and revising done.

One month for editing and layouts.

Three weeks for printing and assembly.

The grand unveiling at Ropecon!

Then a lifetime of being told how much it sucks. :D

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Vanilla" Fantasy

... as a synonym for "common" or "boring."

I see it all the time, but only ever on the internet.

And you know what?

People that say that have obviously never tasted any actual vanilla.


Seems to me like many people eat some piss-poor ice cream, I'll tell you what.

And also, a couple logos for the adventures that will appear in the box set:

I haven't yet seen Mr. Mullen's artwork for the Tower so I'm not sure if the rainbow will work for it, but I'm hoping so.

LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing version 0.05 Now Available.

Link is there to the right.

This one doesn't really have a layout, it's just a PDF converted directly from my working document.

Changes this time:

Removed Attack Bonus from Specialist abilities, cleaned up Specialist ability text. Changed dwarf HP. Changed Halfling abilities to d6. Switched Minor and Small weapon costs. Revised Encumbrance. Moved Specialist skill explanations to general adventuring rules. Alphabetized general rules. Added Language Rules. Added Small and Oversized notations in equipment section.

I think Encumbrance is going to come down to just number of items carried, keeping it abstract instead of worrying for rules purposes what's in a pack or in a sack. That'll lead to some odd things (a guy trying to carry 20 axes might not get very far, but 20 torches? Even allowing for the fact that torches are big honking sticks of wood almost as big as your forearm?), but I bet it's simply about setting the correct numbers of items at each encumbrance marker.

These rules make the average D&D-style character overencumbered, but that's the point. Outside of RPGs, are there people who adventure and explore in full battle armor? People who go cave exploring with full packs and sacks and... and...? Nah. Not that realism is the goal, but something a bit more believable would be nice. There is the note in the rules that the Referee can call for an audit if he thinks stuff is too overpiled.

And if people decide not to use my encumbrance system? Then, this encumbrance system will be in good company considering every encumbrance system ever invented has been brutally ignored. ;)

That's what the retainers are for. "Jeeves! Carry my shit!" Servants are cheap. And you need to protect them else you're never going to get your gear around, let alone get the treasure out!

(the back of the character sheet will have a numbered equipment section making it easy to count up how many pieces of equipment you have without having to actually count... I'm going to try to make it easily usable, at least)

Let me know what you think of the Language rules. I'm thinking I may have made them one step too difficult. We'll see how it plays. But there are a lot of multilingual dumbasses out there, as well as geniuses (me!) that can't seem to get the hang of any other one.

Very Preliminary LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Character Sheet

Official game logo is not completed, and this does not represent the layout or graphic elements at all. But I need some sort of mock-up with which to show what needs to be on there so a more talented person can then make it pretty, and I thought I'd give you guys a look.

Also, the encumbrance list is not yet finalized, but it'll look something real close to that. Every game played brings something better but not yet where it needs to be.

I do want the character sheet to have pretty much all of the mechanical issues related to the game right there.

The "dots," well, everyone gets one dot to start with in everything but languages and spell-casting abilities to represent the 1 in 6 chance. Halflings of course have better chances at certain kinds of hiding, elves finding secret doors, etc. Specialists will add dots in several places of course. This isn't supposed to be any sort of general skill list, but rather a sum-up of various class skills (most of which anyone can attempt, but certain classes just do better).

Only fighters, elves, and dwarfs have the second two attack options, so those players can fill in those dots.

There can be a back sheet to keep track of items, retainers, money, property, and investments, but I wonder if that's even a good idea - those things change so often. But I suppose it should be there.

New rules update posted later today (Friday) and new Tutorial version off the the editors. May have new logos to show everyone soon as well.

(click to enlarge)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Wish the DMG was OGC

What lies ahead will require the use of all your skill, put a strain on your imagination, bring your creativity to the fore, test your patience, and exhaust your free time. Being a DM is no matter to be taken lightly!

Gary Gygax, DMG p 86

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Business Models Help Define Worthwhile Games

I've seen a couple of similar comments in the past couple days concerning business models and RPGs.

Over on theRPGSite, one answer to the question, "Why don't adventure modules sell?" was "only 1 person in any given group needs to buy it."

And on, someone asked about POD companies that do boxed sets. One response: "Boxed sets often included two (or more) books, one for players and one (or more) for game masters. Back in the day, that was pretty much all you needed to get started, and the onus was on the GM to purchase any modules and supplements that came out. The players could all share a book. Then someone figured out that there were 4 or 5 players to every GM, and that it made much more sense to sell books to the players instead of the GM. A boxed set doesn't really pull that off well. No group is going to buy 5 boxed sets. So you're selling a product that is designed to sell fewer copies."

I have absolutely no doubt that this thinking, "Make supplements that players need to buy," drives a lot of game design and product development decisions.

I also have absolutely no doubt that games that do follow this player "splatbook" model are awful and the existence of such things is a real obvious sign that I'm not interested in the game.

I don't even see why every player necessarily even needs a rulebook, although with the business model of the clones basically giving the rules away for free, perhaps my judgment is clouded there. Beyond equipment and spell lists, how much of the rules do players really need to keep handy?

(this is one reason my HERO System game in late 07 didn't last long; the system was very cumbersome if only one person, me, owned the rules... which would also be true for any games with extensive skill or powers lists or other things that require character "builds")

So as far as I'm concerned, published game materials are for Referees and collectors as the default condition, really. If that limits the market, well, sucks to be me as a publisher, but if I'm not willing to play games that have this Players Guide to Pointy-Eared Bastards, with New Rules That Make Your Character More Awesome Than With Just the Core Rules So You Want This and Also You Need to Pressure Your GM Into Buying As Well So He'll Allow These 'Options' That Will Be Considered Standard Rules in All Future Adventures and Supplements style of releases, what business would I have publishing any of it?

(and in my experience, players are GMs, if they're very deep into this RPG thing at all, just not necessarily of the same games)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Today's Task is Pure Magic

Writing the magic item section of the Referee book. Getting near the end of this draft.

There will be no monster lists and no magic item lists in the game, by the way. Nor extensive generation tables. On the monster end, I did that already, and on the magic item end, it's just too big. It would end up being weighted towards magic items that are useful for adventuring (or worse yet, combat), and on a conceptual level, that's really lame.

Note that Dispel Magic can permanently disenchant magic items in my rules.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Bit From the Referee Book

I'm still marching through the Ref book, trying to get the draft together. Things seem to be flowing better after the movie festival and today's game. The editor types haven't had a look at any of it yet, but I'm curious what you guys think of the following:

A campaign may be meaningless without people to play in it, but a campaign is bigger than anyone playing in it currently. It is easier to find new players than it is to resurrect interest in an idea that has been poisoned by bad decisions. Your first duty as a Referee, over and above the enjoyment of your players, is to protect your campaign, as that is the very foundation of what you have to contribute to any gaming group.

Back to Basics 2010 Film Fest Recap Part 2

Because you all come here for my movie reviews. We saw five movies last night, deciding to skip the last two, and so were able to be home at 7am.

The Crazies Biochemical zombies.

[REC] 2 Possessed zombies.

Life is Hot in Cracktown Slums and drugs.

Valhalla Rising Vikings!

The Final Terror Forest hike nightmare!

So we'll start with The Crazies. I'll admit I've never seen the Romero original, and still would have skipped this for being yet another horror movie remake. That would have been a complete shame. This was really good.

The story (with major major spoilers, true for this whole post): A military plane transporting a biochemical weapon for disposal goes down in the water supply of a small Iowa town. Those affected become homicidal maniacs. The government's response is to lock the town down... and kill everyone to prevent the spread of the bug. Told from the point of view of the town sheriff.

So basically, "biochemical zombies and the evil government." The script is smart (or should I say just fine, maybe "smart" is going too far), the suspense good, the scares being a combination of not-cheap jump scares (fitting within the context of what's going on, not cats jumping out of closets) and just the fucked-uppedness of the situation. Watching the army gun down a teenager and his mother because they are resisting quarantine efforts, and then immediately turn the flamethrower on their bodies, is quite the effective scene, as is the following scene where our protagonists capture one of the soldiers, just some kid freaked out. "They flew us in, we didn't even know what state we were in before we saw the car tags... I didn't sign up to shoot unarmed civilians..."

I mean, the movie doesn't transcend what it is, but it's as good as it can be, I think. Thumbs up.

[REC] 2 Oh fucking hell. So we walk out of one movie about containment and infection... and that's the plot of this one too. I've never seen [REC], but apparently the last shot of that movie is the first shot of this movie. An apartment building is under quarantine, and a SWAT team is escorting a health official into the building to assess what's going on. All they know is the infected are extremely violent, with symptoms like rabies.

Sound like the same movie twice? No. This one's different! One, it's in Spanish. Two, it's one of those "point of view" movies, shown only through the cameras the characters possess. Three, these guys aren't infected, they are POSSESSED BY SATAN.

No shit. The "health inspector" is actually a Vatican agent sent to collect blood samples from the original possessed girl, as the possession spreads through blood. The idea is with the sample, they can come up with an antidote.

Seriously. That's the plot. Maria astutely noted that this and the previous movie are basically the same thing, reflecting the assumed greater fears of the target audience. "Americans fear terrorists and/or bio-attack, not to mention they don't trust their government. Latino nations are rather more Catholic, so..."

The POV stuff is more interesting than usual, as four SWAT members have helmet-mounted cams, plus a group of kids has snuck in and they have their own camera, plus the news reporter from the first movie still has her camera, so it's not all from the same point of view as is the case with most of these movies.

I suppose this movie wasn't bad, but it really had the stink of "same old shit."

Life is Hot in Cracktown was interesting. Written and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, the same guy that did Combat Shock (reviewed yesterday), it's a vast improvement over that other movie. It's easy to forget that a movie done decades ago with zero budget doesn't reflect a director's capabilities if that's all you've ever seen from him. This was an actual movie, with no allowances needed for budget or acting or anything. It actually has some "real actors" (director's words), including Brandon Routh and Lara Flynn Boyle.

Basically it's a "slice of life" movie, showing the stories of a half dozen families in the streets, all affected by drugs. It's a rather depressing movie (the opening scene is a gang rape), but effective, coming across more as a documentary and very little like an exploitation kind of thing. It's the kind of movie where you come out of the theater and distrust everyone around you in the street because they might be one of these people.

I did appreciate that the movie, while bleak, didn't end as badly as it might have for all involved. I thought everything was building up for all these people to die horribly, which wasn't the case.

Valhalla Rising A gladiator Viking slave escapes his captors, joins up with Christians on a Crusade to retake the Holy Land, and end up in the New World instead, where the local native tribes aren't happy to see them.

Sound like a plot made of pure win? Or at least a guilty pleasure sort of experience?

Well forget it.

This was a slow-paced movie, really arty and grim and drained of color and oohh look how barren that landscape is. Very little dialogue. Very little action. Just the main character glaring a lot. As Maria put it, "He did very well for playing a man who never speaks, never changes facial expression, and only has one eye."

That is not an exaggeration. The main character doesn't utter a sound the entire movie. Or change facial expression. Or have more than one eye, come to think of it.

I still don't know what the hell I watched. "Some Viking dudes are miserable, then they die."

The Final Terror was another piece of crap. Early 80s "Bunch of people go into the woods, where there is a homicidal maniac wanting to kill all of them" film. Notable only for having people like Darryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, and Adrian Zmed in it. But this was awful. How awful?

You know the slasher movie cliche "they all die one by one until the last person fights back"? After the movie ended I understood it a bit more. A group of almost a dozen people, only three fatalities along the way (two at the begin, one at the big confrontation, meaning no deaths in the bulk of the movie, and let's face it, the plot and acting and dialogue weren't doing anyone any favors). huh? What? Isn't the entire point of these movies the body count? (shit, even Valhalla Rising got that part right)

Anyway, the movie was good in exactly two places: When the killer was camouflaged in the forest. The one scene where the killer is right there in the frame the whole time but you don't realize it until everyone else leaves the frame, the camera zooms in, and then the killer moves - good! And real, since obviously a no-budget crapper made in 1981 wasn't using fancy effects. The other scene was the killer emerging from a giant tree stump, which was a whole lot better than it reads.

So yeah, they got good mileage out of their setting, twice, for a few seconds.

Dumb shit movie.

We skipped the last two movies. Grotesque, described in the festival program as being about two girls being kidnapped and tortured for 90 minutes (with a quote from the director: "The producers hired me and told me to make a movie so violent it almost can't be shown"), didn't seem too appealing at almost 7am. Especially since it's new and Japanese so it was sure to be weird as well. Festival programs are hardly bastions of movie critique, so who knows how accurate my impression of the plot is, but it really did sound like the entire movie was just two girls being tortured, start to finish. I'd like a pretense of a plot, please. I want to know why those brains are splattering against the wall, I need to understand the motivation for that cock being cut off and eaten, you know?

Joysticks was to have closed out the fest, and I don't know what that was. IMDB gives me the impression it's a Porky's kind of thing, and so I don't feel like I missed much.

What a night.

Later in the month there is a film festival in Estonia. For 110€, you get a boat from Helsinki to Tallinn, a bus from Tallinn to the town the fest is in, accommodations in a three star hotel (who advertises a three star hotel? Sounds more like an assurance that it's not a total hole), and twenty horror and fantasy films. And big parties, since booze is so much cheaper there, but that's hardly a selling point to me.

But somehow I think I'll have trouble convincing Maria that doing that is a good idea, so maybe I'll have to wait until October and the next installment of Night Visions...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Power of Inspiration and the Power of Unpleasantness

The first night of the Back to Basics film festival was last night.

The lineup was Combat Shock, Harry Browne, Kick-Ass, Count Dracula's Great Love, and Devil's Three.

Combat Shock was a no-budget movie made in the mid-80s about a Vietnam vet living in extreme poverty in New York. The movie was pretty bad, but there was obviously a point and inspiration behind the movie, so it was OK to watch. That the director was there to talk about the film probably helped see through the shortcomings ("The fun stops here" was the greatest compliment he's heard about the movie, he says). He says the movie was made as a reaction to the 80s movies that were pretending to show the realities of Vietnam but just ended up portraying more movie heroes. I wonder if a lot of the Finns in the audience actually get the reality of the slums. I grew up in housing projects outside New York, not anywhere as bad as portrayed in this film, not by a longshot, but I've been around those kinds of neighborhoods both in Connecticut and Atlanta. Bleak and successful in getting its point across.

And for being filmed with zero money (this was eventually picked up by Troma for distribution, to give you an idea of how rough it is), I'll take how these gunshots looked more than either of the next two films...

Harry Brown is a 2009 British movie that is basically a spiritual successor to the Death Wish style of movies. You know, "crime run amok and one man decides he's not going to take it anymore." But it's an altogether more dignified film, with Michael Caine being very good as Brown. It's probably the best example of the genre I've ever seen, because it feels real. It's brutal and wicked and desperate. There's no cheering for Caine wasting the bad guys. None of the sense of redemption Gran Torino had, to make a fairly close comparison. My wife noted that the depiction of the junkies was spot on (she used to be an emergency room nurse... between that and the midwifery and her volunteer work with underage drunks, she's seen some horrific shit). A down, depressing movie (but an excellent one, make no mistake), whereas I think most examples of this genre want you to cheer the vigilante, with varying degrees of success.

Then there was Kick-Ass. A warning, all of the coolest action scenes and "shocking" lines by the girl are in the previews and trailers. Which means the actual movie viewing has to be carried by the story, which was decent enough. My problem was actually the comic book nature of the violence, which on the surface seems like a completely absurd criticism (and this is my same criticism of the Watchmen movie, actually). It really missed an opportunity to be powerful and throw the audience for a loop. Maybe watching it immediately after Harry Brown hurt it here.

I mean, OK, you're supposed to marvel at this little girl slicing and dicing and shooting and swearing. It's a farce, and an entertaining one. The director and Nicolas Cage both deserve hearty appreciation for the real intensity during Hit Girl and Big Daddy's origin story, and that's when I thought this movie could have been more. What if everything else about the movie is kept the same, but the violence wasn't cgi "ha ha look at that!" splatter? What if it was brutal, like Harry Brown? What if the big guns were more along the lines of the mini-gun in Predator or Robocop's ED-209 in the boardroom? It would have been uncomfortable to watch, really. Which I think would have made the point that the movie pretends to want to make., and perhaps genuinely tried (and failed) to make at several points in the movie - I think they undercut their own efforts a lot.

The movie appears to be subversive and perhaps shocking. How much better would it have been if it actually was?

Count Dracula's Great Love was a piece of shit. The bad print didn't help (the color was faded and everything was distinctly orange) but it's a 1972 never-was movie so I tried to forgive it. But there was absolutely nothing interesting about the movie itself. A few women with big tits and low-cut dresses does not a movie make. Crappity crap crap. Not scary, not funny, not exciting, not titillating. And it didn't make any sense... (you know the voice you're supposed to use there)

Devil's Three may or may not have been any good, or a fun bad movie, but it was 5am and that Dracula movie had just sucked the life out of us, so we skipped it.

Tonight: The Crazies (new version), [REC] 2, Life is Hot in Cracktown, Valhalla Rising, The Final Terror, Grotesque, and Joysticks. The films start at 9pm, we'll be home about noon, the next day, then I'll catch a few hours sleep, and then I have my game at 4pm. Good times! Hopefully a couple of good movies, too.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What? Responsibility? Me?

Helsinki Puolenkuun Pelit's Facebook update this morning:

In eager anticipation of Jim Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing out this autumn we've reorganized and expanded our role-playing games section. Come July, we'll be stocking the Lamentations of the Flame Princess game as well as the whole back catalog of Jim's traditional role-playing game supplements.

They only had a small shelf down near the floor in a place that people would really not look much at for their RPG stuff, and they've moved it up into a featured shelf space. I didn't know they even carried any RPGs before one of the guys running the place contacted me when I sent out my initial call for artists.

So it's not only my ass on the line now with this game, it's also a retail chain's commitment to RPGs.

No pressure. No, not at all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Making me Crazy!

Not since having weird dreams about the Insect God behind the Insect Shrine (who up to that point I hadn't even thought about) have my dreams really driven me to do something like my dream last night.

On Wednesday I had received some prelim work from Cynthia Sheppard, including roughs and studies in addition to some work being done for the actual cover. I've shown these to only a few people so far.

But this is good. Really, really good. But still a work-in-progress. Keep that in mind.

But the better quality one aims for, the more that any flaw sticks out. So I'm nervous. I sent some notes yesterday about the work I saw, including some things that both didn't seem to matter for the subject at hand but would seem unrealistic if unaccounted for completely.

And You Are There ultra-realism is what I'm aiming for with the piece.

So I had a dream last night. About the box set and the artwork.

This dream had me at my vendor table at Ropecon with a big stack of LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing boxes for sale. Somebody pointed out, "Why aren't there any footprints in the snow?" And that was it. The gathering crowd went on and on ridiculing the product and that was basically it for my career as a role-playing publisher. Because there were no footprints in the snow in the cover art.

... now I could just say, "Let her finish the principal characters before worrying about piddly shit like that." But is that on her list of things to do on the picture later on? Would I remember to check on that later before OKing the finished piece?

I mean, my entire budding career is on the line, apparently. I can't risk it.

So this morning I send an email reminding her, after just seeing roughs and unfinished work, that at some point there needs to be footprints in the snow.

I'm convinced that this whole thing is just making me crazy. And in turn, I'm going to make everyone else crazy. I'm probably a nightmare client.

Tower of the Stargazer Wrap-Up

Odd session yesterday. Because there were only two levels remaining to be explored, and because there was no combat, only puzzles, on those two levels, this session was a bit lopsided, according to the players.

One puzzle utterly stumped them, because while things changed when they pulled levers, the changes were not visual. They had to be touched to be noticed. A red herring stumped them here, and so they were within sight of the big treasure of the whole thing but did not get to it.

The other puzzle involved a game of chess actually being played. My concept was that it would be all the players vs the Referee (in this case me) in an intense game for one PC's soul. In actuality, it was that player vs me with one or two others giving an occasional assist, but more like most of the players twiddling their thumbs while the game went on. So that's got to significantly change. I had wanted the classic "chess board" included in my intro adventure but without making a gimmick out of it. Just play chess! Ah well... decent idea that fell down in practice.

But that's why you play these things before publishing them. Because not every seemingly good idea is a truly good idea, and the stakes are considerably higher in a for-pay product than just for the regular game group.

There was also uproarious laughter around the table for the fatality involved in one particular trap. It was later judged to be an unfair trap. But everyone enjoyed it tremendously at the time (including the victim's player). I shall examine it and see if I can simply put a bit more warning without changing the actual execution of the trap itself.

In all, five PC deaths, although three of those were because the one player, who had already lost two characters (to the chess game and to the aforementioned much-enjoyed trap), basically tripped the obvious "doomsday device" on purpose just to see what happens, since otherwise everything was completed.

So the only survivors were this new character that had just shown up at the end to trip up everything on purpose, and the magic-user who had decided to head back to town, faithful torchbearer in tow, when it was obvious they weren't getting the treasure and there was nothing more to do than fiddle with dangerous things. He didn't do too badly. Not much in the way of monetary treasure or XP for the two sessions, but he's got a spellbook and a small pile of scrolls, so he's well-positioned for future adventures.

Why Even Bother?

So somebody from something called Penny Arcade ran some Swords & Wizardry.

My players all started D&D with 4e like I did.

OK. But...

Each of you has also been taken back to 1974 and Original Dungeons and Dragons. Ancient mechanics for an ancient world. Before you quit D&D forever, let me tell you...

The goal is to play a game with the soul of Original D&D, but significantly more humane to the player.

A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger.

He compares the experience to:

I remember when I was a kid my parents took me to Fort Clatsop in Oregon. It's a winter encampment built back in 1805. Today it's a tourist attraction populated with peopled dressed in period clothing. I watched re-enactors churn butter and load muskets.

And his purpose?

Maybe seeing for just a night what it was like back then, will give them a greater appreciation of the game they're playing now.

You know... I can understand edition warring on the internet. It's waving your arms and defining your tribe, so to speak. I get that, and depending on my mood, wholeheartedly approve.

But why actually sit down and play something that you think is crap? The last line almost makes it sound like his players aren't happy with the usual game, and this guy's response was, "Gee guys, if you think the game is shit now, you should have played it then! You won't complain anymore! Those poor fools of ancient history had no way of knowing how much their game sucked!"

Seriously though, what are the chances that a guy with this attitude and apparently no experience was capable of delivering anything other than a crap game for his players anyway? I'm betting even the ones who might like early edition play didn't get to experience it in a way the encourage that interest.



I hope that as my players picked up their dice and got in their cars to drive home...

These people are old enough to drive?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Know I'm A Right Bastard, But...

Shouldn't we celebrate July 27 and October 1 instead of March 4 and April 7?

You know, how Martin Luther King Jr Day is in January and not this time of year?

RPG Resource reviews No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides

Read that here.

Just want to say...

... that I've gotten some progress shots on The Cover. Specifically the Flame Princess portion.

I want to have a big reveal when it's done so I won't post anything until then, but holy poop! I am so pleased so far. My original idea for the cover was to do a photo shoot, and now I think I'm getting something just as good without having to worry that the costumes and creature effects look like shit. And these are just prelims.

Tease tease tease!

I've seen the several dozen reference shots Marjut had taken. As I understand it, Luna had over two hundred photos taken to use as reference for the snake demon.

This is all actually happening.

No, scratch that.

This isn't happening. We're doing it.

Not even 6am, and it's back to work, to make sure that my parts get done on time and don't let down the promise that is being made by the art.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The RPG Industry is Dying...


The Dresden Files RPG is up for pre-order, two books priced $50 and $40.

Tweets from Evil Hat's Fred Hicks indicate decent chances that they will hit 500 pre-orders each (on a book that's not shipping for another 2-3 months) today.

That's $45,000 grossed in two days.

He also said, "If those numbers hit 1000 each in direct-sales preorders, the print run (5000 copies each) and nearly all production costs will be covered."

$90,000 gross to cover print and production costs. That's one hell of an investment. Evil Hat's not even considered one of the "large" RPG companies, is it? I mean, before this month.

Yeah. A totally flatlining industry.

Monday, April 5, 2010

We Were Cool, Once

ah, the mid-late 90s. What a wonderful time to be a heavy metal fan, if you were in it for the music and could deal with feeling betrayed by the old guard and with the overall scene being dead dead dead.

Because We Knew. We had a secret, and it was powerful.

In this environment I started my zine. I dedicated many pages to then-unknown bands like Opeth, Katatonia, The Gathering, HammerFall, Arch Enemy, Devin Townsend, Nightwish, Nile... lots of bands. Some had careers already on the rise, others seemed doomed to eternal obscurity.

Something that awesome couldn't stay a secret for very long. Many of these bands I worked hard (and spend five figures) to promote never went anywhere. Maybe they changed and I hated their followup albums, or maybe they continued to be fine acts but just never caught the public eye.

The worst that happened is that some of these bands became popular, and did so at the same time their sound was shifting.

Metal came back. Not the superstar 80s by any means (although some bands like Iron Maiden are more popular now than they ever were), but there was a solid base of talent across the entire metal spectrum.

We would hem and haw that the popular bands weren't the right ones, of course. Or that bands had to change to get there. To become successful, the scene was lifted away from the hobbyist/enthusiast business of the 90s and came into the commercial realm of major label partnerships and slick music videos.

And we remembered when we were cool. When we had some sort of secret code with which to talk to one another. When we were close and when the bands were true and when the other guys at shows looked more like us than like kids with their faddy hairstyles and weird clothes. And where'd all these girls come from (you know, all these fake ones, not the good ones us real guys were fucking)?

In addition to all this being pretty much garbage memory (and not even all of it mine), this turn of events and regrowth of metal has some pretty amazing side effects, even if half the bands are rather false and half the rest are just shit no matter how well-meaning.

The old guard is getting respect. Yeah, there's Maiden (and Megadeth and Metallica have regained some of their respect so easily thrown away in the 1990s) and it seems every band and their side-project from the 80s and 90s are reforming - not that even this can be argued with as it brought back Atheist and Cynic - but bands that yesterday were considered very old news like Saxon get magazine cover features when releasing a new album today, and never-wases like Anvil are tasting success for the first time in their 30+ year career.

So no, it's not so cool anymore, and it's definitely not exclusive.

But there are records being sold (yes, records being sold) and there are butts in the seats as musicians perform on actual stages to actual audiences. For good bands as well as the bad.

Yes, this post is about gaming.

TARGA: Mission GenCon 2011

It's too late to set up for this year, but one thing I'm pushing for TARGA's plans is to have a TARGA/OSR/whatever booth at GenCon 2011. We light up the online stores top sellers lists, win ENNIEs, have everyone online talking, for and against, about Old School, but at the premier RPG convention... we got zip.

This is ridiculous. This needs to change.

I'll tell you this, if I lived in the States, I'd have a booth at GenCon all on my own. There is a reason that the big companies roll out new game lines and big new releases at GenCon. It's a publicity bonanza.

(for all I know, Black Blade's got a booth this year, or Brave Halfling or Goblinoid already has plans for a GenCon booth. Wouldn't that be a pisser. But I've heard nothing along those lines about any of them doing such things.

By the way, I've got Goodman Games, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rogue Games, and Brave Halfling on board to send me stuff to sell at Ropecon. I ordered quite conservatively, just 3 copies of all applicable titles, but I'm already in deep enough shit if I'm miscalculating the Finnish market for old school stuff, right?)

There's a lot that needs to happen before this gets done. Just the booth space alone costs about $1000. Assuming the box set doesn't fall on its ass, I've pledged $250. Only fair since I count on this benefiting me a great deal.

I brought up fundraising ideas to the TARGA board. I sort of dropped the ball on Green Devil Face late last year because of everything here I needed to get organized, but I still have a new issue ready for editing and formatting. I bet others have short projects or adventures they'd be willing to donate to the TARGA cause, for this GenCon thing and for other activities, and I've put forward the idea of TARGA getting its own storefront on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow to sell these things.

With the recent hoo-ha (and all the painful "What's TARGA?" comments) happening at the same time TARGA (spearheaded by Shorten's efforts) handing Luke Gygax a $350 check at GaryCon for the Gygax memorial, I had a few thoughts.

TARGA's widespread visibility is irrelevant to its ability to perform outreach and do good work. Organizing convention games and International Traditional Gaming Week is all good and well, but I suspect it's TARGA getting its name on things people are doing anyway. Maybe I'm wrong. Either way, "we can manufacture Hoffmann lenses until we're blue in the face, we're not going to reach enough people." We need an event.

And there's no bigger event than GenCon for what we do. Whether people associate the work done with TARGA or not is irrelevant. It's the work, the goal, not the credit, that's important for an outreach organization.

We're building this thing up, all of us, block by block. I have a good feeling about my project (but I would say that, wouldn't I?), more of us are selling in the multiple hundreds of copies of some of our releases, and I think by next year it just might be time to show up on the industry's doorstep and knock their goddamn socks off, and let the greater gaming public know that we're here, we're serious, and we're going to kick their ass in a way nobody's been able to kick it in over twenty-five years.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is Always Right

At least it will be after the next update or two. Not as a creative exercise, but objectively, universally right. Argue and it's off to the glue factory for you, Boxer.

In other news, things are moving swimmingly on the game front. Getting the Referee book draft done is a real bitch, but it's coming along. Also reading up on the maritime sources, and people are really going to hate that adventure, for many reasons. Brutal isn't the word for it, and I haven't even set up a single encounter for it yet.

Both cover models have completed their reference shoots and The Artist has them and is hopefully hard at work as we speak.

When that is done, I'll post it and ask for an unscientific, non-binding "Will you be pre-ordering?" show of hands. Looking at around Ropecon for release though, so there's still some months.

Here's a sneak interior peak, by Dean Clayton:

Dean's going to have about 20 pieces in the box, including the interiors of Tower of the Stargazer.

I've made a decision about future PDFs. I'll be copying Labyrinth Lord's business model for the core rules; the free rules will be art-free, but the for-pay version will have artwork (in addition to the other books from the box too!).

I won't be doing dual-formatted PDFs anymore. Instead, I'll make one for-PDF layout (European page size, considering where I am), and make it look nice, and that'll be that. Whether you print that out or read it on one of those newfangled thingies, your choice.

Last night's TARGA conference call was eventful. I'll let the official update happen before I talk about how I envision things happening. "Shit or get off the pot" time.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Cover... REVEALED!


Announcing a New Project

When the box set comes out this summer, I need a small thing to come out before immediately throwing out larger projects like Insect Shrine or the Sanitarium or Death Ferox Doom afterwards.

I was having trouble thinking of what it should be.

I have trouble no more.

Love, Sweetness, and Light

A short work with three separate scenarios:

What Happened to the Ravencrosses?
A young couple is married and moves to the city to build their new life. Their coach arrives, but they do not. The authorities have decided the couple simply ran off to foreign lands with the sizable salary advance paid to the young Mr. Ravencross by his employer-to-be. The couple's families, under threat of suit to recover this money, don't believe it and beg for assistance.

Robber barons, union-busting, and the Perfect Crime.

The Sleepy Village
Three priests assigned to Carrot Meadows (the friendliest darn village in the realm) have died in quick succession, reportedly of natural causes. The Church has received information that something more sinister is happening, but has received this information from rather improper sources, so a member of the hierarchy decides to hire outsiders to investigate the matter, off the record of course...

Way of the Dragon
A truly modular segment for your larger dungeon complex: A multi-room puzzle to unblock the way to the next level (or a great treasure, or whatever you like) based on the colors of dragons.

I expect this to be 12 or 16 pages. The Sleepy Village and Ravencrosses? are good for level 1 and 2 characters, Way of the Dragon for levels 3 - 5.