Thursday, September 24, 2020

I've uploaded an SRD for "Retro Phaze." If you want it, you'd better download it while it exists.

Retro Phaze SRD (*.zip file, 1.8 MB)

Hopefully, this is the last I hear of it. I'm well and truly washing my hands of Retro Phaze with this. The source files are up, they're public domain, no need for any licenses or citations (in fact, please don't cite my name or Relative Entropy Games at all if you make a game out of this). Change the title, keep calling it Retro Phaze, whatever, I don't care. Just don't tell me about what you do with it. (I've never, ever liked anything that anybody has ever made out of game rules that I've invented. I always have a visceral reaction to it: "Why did you change that!? You didn't understand what I was going for at all!!!") Do what you like: it's not my thing to play with anymore. It's yours, everyone's, whoever's. 

I'm not going to link to this in the blog's sidebar; the SRD will only be available from this post, and only for as long as I forget that it's been uploaded to my cloud drive. Someday I'll probably remember that it exists and summarily delete it. So get it while you can if you care.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A First Look at "Shining Armour"

 It's just a little text file at the moment, but this should give eager readers a little idea of where things are going:

Shining Armour Introduction & Preview

I might actually manage to make some real headway on this game this upcoming weekend. I have the class stats, I have the game mechanics, I have sprite art… this may actually happen sooner rather than later. Color me as shocked as anyone.

Also, I'm trying something a little different this time around with Shining Armour. In the past, I've always done drafting and layout at the same time, using MS Word, setting up the formatting first and then writing everything up right there in the proper fonts and columns, tweaking as I go to avoid paragraphs running too long or short to fit into a column as I go. It's tedious, but it works well as a means of creating a nicely formatted book without having to know the first thing about layout-and-design software.

But for Shining Armour, I'm not doing that. I'm drafting the text in Word without paying any heed at all to how it will look in the final product. (Seriously, this is a novel idea for me.) Then I'm going to try and lay it all out using Scribus (because seriously, who can afford Adobe InDesign?). And maybe at the end of this process, I'll have learned a little something about how books are laid out professionally. Sounds fun.

I think I'm going to work on getting as much of the battle-mechanics as I can written up in the near future before I turn my attention to more character class progressions. That way, things will hopefully make more sense soon. (But feel free to ask questions about the little tidbit I've put out so far!)

E&E Retrospective: Castle Thadrian


The only adventure that I've ever actually published is Castle Thadrian, which hasn't been available either in print or as an ebook for many years now. I took it down for a number of reasons, some good and some petty.

• I first removed it from my Lulu page when I decided that I wanted Engines & Empires to be its own game, no longer associated with Labyrinth Lord. Castle Thadrian was dual-statted to work as either an E&E adventure or a generic LL/OD&D adventure with zero tweaking or converting. You'll notice that the adventure is labelled "B1": the old LL-based version of the Engines & Empires Campaign Compendium was actually designed to work with red box or 'Cyclopedia D&D, and it went up to 36 levels, explicitly defining each tier of gameplay as "Basic" (levels 1–3), "Campaign" (levels 4–14), "Dominion" (levels 15–25), and "Epic" (levels 26–36). My original and overly ambitious plan had been to release several adventure modules for each tier, so that E&E would have had a B-, C-, D-, and E- series of adventures (plus an A-series of accessory supplements). Obviously, since the standalone E&E Core Rules only go up to 10th level and no higher, this is no longer possible (or desirable, for that matter).

• The other major reason that I'm not revising and releasing Castle Thadrian now is that I long ago incorporated its 2½-level mini-dungeon into my favorite long-running mega-dungeon campaign, Shade Isle. So the adventure will still be republished; but it won't be as part of a small module. It'll be a whole chapter in a book that also contains an overworld island, a mega-dungeon, and four other small dungeons like it located elsewhere on the island.

• Finally, as originally designed, the titular dungeon from Castle Thadrian, the Tomb of General Tullius Maximus Diro, has issues. I drew up this dungeon over a decade ago, long before I had internalized any old-school game theory. The dungeon is highly linear, with only one pathway through the rooms in several places—and you have to pull a lever in the basement in order to open the portcullis to the upper level. I need to Jaquays the heck out of the dungeon-map before I can feel good about re-releasing it.

At any rate, here are the floor maps for the dungeon. They aren't the original hand-drawn maps I used in the module; rather, they're recreations (done up in MS Paint of all things!) that I put up on Obsidian Portal back when I was running the Shade Isle campaign for the second time (at the former location of the Dragon's Lair FLGS, here in Omaha).

I'll get around to revising these maps as part of my work on the Shade Isle campaign book for the new edition of E&E. I have… many, many, many more maps for this campaign and its several dungeons, in particular the twelve-level monster that is Shade Abbey. And for some reason, I'm excited about all of this again! 

In fact, the only thing that has me worried is art. I don't like the hassle of procuring proper art assets for RPG books, and I can't draw myself. But I think I need to start learning. High time and all that, if I really do want to commit to this whole small-time adventure-publishing racket.

Anyhow… onto the tactical skirmishing rules! Shining Armor stuff coming up next.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"E&E: World of Gaia" is revised and once again up for download!

Now, at last, this book is back as well! (It can also be downloaded from DriveThruRPG and printed via Lulu.) Having rushed all day to get this done, I'm… tired. Happy that it's over with, pleased as punch to have both my E&E books back up and in print again, and really very ready to do something else.

But, as promised, I'll still start working on a little Shining Armour preview tomorrow.

Quick Little Update

It's late, I'm sleepy, this post will likely be incoherent. Forgive me if it is.

Engines & Empires is once again up on as a print title. It took a bit of doing to figure out their new interface, but once I did, it was pretty smooth sailing. The thing is, Lulu no longer has an option for uploading ebooks in PDF format (they only do EPUB), so it looks like Lulu will only be useful for print books in the future. On the plus side, I was able to get the book back up for POD right away, and Lulu's printing options now include a premium title with 80# paper (which is bound to be a far cry nicer than the 50# that Lulu used to use for its printed hardcovers… my goodness, but those were trash).

E&E can also be obtained from DriveThruRPG now, just as a PDF download so far (it's the exact same file that I have linked to here on the blog, through the sidebar and the previous post). There's a whole process you have to go through to get print copies up and running on OneBookShelf, including ordering a requisite proof copy before sales go live. Which is cool, obviously that's the best practice, and I'm going through with it now. It's just… slow. At any rate, OneBookShelf's printer, Lightning Source, seems to have higher standards for its hardback book covers (but with some potentially dodgy color quality compared to Lulu according to what I've seen and heard), and the premium option for the interior paper is 70#, which is still better than what I was used to before. So I look forward to seeing what a DriveThruRPG copy of my book is like when I have one in hand many weeks from now. And then I can finally see how it stacks up against one from Lulu.

Wolrd of Gaia is approximately halfway through the editing process, and I think I'm actually managing to turn it into something I wouldn't be embarrassed to have people read and play with. Switching back to full-on demihuman race-classes in the Core Rules was probably the best decision I could have made for the sake of making this book worthwhile. Gaia has lots of demihuman races. And robots—did I mention the robots? There are now separate character classes for playing steampunk versions of Artoo, Threepio, Tik-Tok, Nick Chopper, and the Terminator!

At the moment, I am finished with the rewrites to the character classes and the setting lore, and 10% of the way through editing and proofreading and repaginating the remainder of the book (the descriptions of the ten countries that make up the bulk of the setting: Asgard down; Avalon, Elysia, Hesperia, Illyria, Midjard, Pohjola, Sylvania, Tirnanog, and Utopia to go). With a bit of time and elbow-grease, I should have a download back up by the day after tomorrow.

Once that's accomplished, I definitely need to take a break from working on this kind of stuff. Real life has demands too, after all. But I do want to turn my attention fully over to Shining Armour next: it feels like I can maybe make some headway on that project now that, at long last, E&E is very nearly back to where I want it to be again. And it just feels wrong somehow, to have Engines & Empires back in my life without also having something quick and video gamey to take the place of Retro Phaze.

So: it's still going to be a while before I can actually publish something new, but I think I can maybe put together a little preview. I'm thinking, an example of how Shining Armour's 4d20-based combat system works and the progression table for the Swordsman→Hero character class. (I'm still hung up on initiative, though. Still no clue how I'm going to make that work in this system. Group initiative, with an alternating Player Phase and Enemy Phase, like Fire Emblem? Or individual initiative, like Shining Force, where initiative is determined by each unit's Agility score plus a random roll? It'll take some thinking and some experimenting to find a combination of mechanics that works properly while also being simple enough and quick enough to use at the game-table.)

BIG OL' EDIT: OMG I'm almost done with World of Gaia. Just one country and the back matter left to go!  I've been rocking out to the gorgeous Arcanum theme music while working on proofing and editing, and it's just been perfectly atmospheric for a project like this!

Friday, September 18, 2020


The revisions to the Engines & Empires Core Rules are finally complete! Once again, the book is available for download as a free PDF file right here at this very blog!

Of course, it is at the moment ONLY available as a PDF file, because Lulu went and changed everything about how they work, so now I have to relearn how to publish for print-on-demand all over again. And I'll probably just switch over to DriveThruRPG anyhow, because that's a market where I'll actually find an audience. But I digress. It's 2 AM, and I can figure that nonsense out tomorrow. For now, take a look, peruse, read, enjoy. Me, I'll be refereeing a one shot for some friends and neighbors tomorrow. I can't wait to take the new rules for their first official spin!

I'm back, baby!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

I'm Editing Like a Madman, and My Hatred is My Fuel

I've finally finished editing the chapter on the Fae. I've striven to respond to good feedback and criticism wherever it's been given, and in this case my editing has focused on two main areas. The first is reorganizing the Fae creatures in Engines & Empires around my revised cosmology and alignment rules, which is basically a minor set of tweaks, just cleaning things up and making everything clearer and more understandable, while also making alignment even less of a deal than it was in the previous edition. (Because, seriously, fuck alignment and the Chaotic horse it rode in on.) 

The second is in response to Ynas Midgard's hugely appreciated review of the E&E Core Rules, which has been in large part the only source of constructive criticism I've received. But I've taken the opportunity to whittle away at the full page of linguistics, etymology, and terminology concerning faes and faeries that I had originally placed at the beginning of this chapter, turning it into a much more accessible glossary in a sidebar. All of the same information is still there; it's just off to the side and more digestible now.

But I've noticed something else in the past few days, as I've worked to batter Engines & Empires into the shape that I want it to hold forevermore—to forge it into the gaming equivalent of tempered Damascus steel. 

I've noticed that I'm being driven by my hatred.

It's not all-consuming hatred. It's just a quiet simmer of constant annoyance. Perpetual background ire, if you will. I've been catching up on and reconnecting with the old-school gaming scene again, and I find that it still bugs me. It's the usual suspects: the artpunk stuff, the so-called games and settings and adventures that are really just collections of pithy tables with some avant-garde illustrations making the whole book a dubiously-useful eyesore; the so-called hacks and mini-games that claim to distill the old-school experience down to ten pages or less; the more complete games that nevertheless aren't even vaguely compatible with OD&D or AD&D; and above all, the execrable historical revisionism that continues to this day to define the "OSR play-style." That stuff all still bugs the crap out of me, and for whatever reason, it's driving me to actually work on getting my game back out there and being the change I want to see in the world. It's petty and irrational, but it's constructive.

Hey, sometimes you've just got to take some
good advice from a creepy dude named Sheev.

On the bright side of all things old-school, Grognardia is back! Which is great—although for the life of me, I'm still not sure whether the word "grognard" should properly be pronounced like French or corrupted fully into English. On the one hand, I like corrupting my old-timey foreign words into English. I like to say "HAR-kuwh-bus" and "KWEE-ras" for harquebus and cuirass. I like to say (as English readers at the time did) "Don JOO-an" and "Don KWIX-it." But on the other hand… "nards." If you don't pronounce grognard like a grumbling Frenchman (roughly, "gw√£-NYAR"), you can't talk about grognards without constantly saying "nards." It's a pickle, and I'm not sure I have a good solution.

EDIT: Update on the E&E revisions, now humanoids are finally done. Goodness, but that took a long time. That just leaves three categories of monsters—planars, plants/oozes, and undead—and only undead need a major overhaul, with planars just getting tweaked to match the revisions to the cosmology and alignment, and plants/oozes being pretty much fine as they are (they're just getting an ordinary proofing and editing pass). After that, I can finally tackle the last major hurdle: magical items. So close now that I can taste it.
EDIT2: Nothing left of the monster chapter but undead now, which I'll save for tomorrow. Undead are the BIG one—whole new mechanics to add on here (in place of energy drain, which is just a pain in the butt to keep track of no matter what form it takes).
EDIT3: Monsters are finally fricking done. And now I have to stop and not work on magic items because society demands that I go be social and interact with people. UGH.
EDIT4: Half-way through magic items now. Finished potions, scrolls, armors, orbs, rings, and tomes. Have rods/staffs/wands, weapons, and miscellaneous magic still to go. Then there's nothing left but the book's back matter and covers to deal with! I might finish this tomorrow!!!
EDIT 5: That's rods and weapons done; just the miscellany left!
EDIT 6: The MAGIC ITEMS ARE DONE!  Working on the back matter now. Then it's just the index (*gag*) and the cover art…
EDIT 7: OMG now it's just the index and the cover left… so close I can fucking TASTE being done!
EDIT 8: …GROAN. THE GENERAL INDEX IS DONE. And the magic/tech and monster indices are so fucked-up page-number wise that it might actually be faster to simply recreate those fuckers from scratch. Don't wanna. Don't wanna do it. But it must be done, and I'm so close to finished with this madness.
EDIT 9: HOLY CRAP IT'S DONE, and a few minutes before midnight even. I did it; madman that I am, I actually finished revising Engines & Empires. Nothing left to do now but make some PDFs and redo the cover art. Expect a download (and a fresh new blog post) tomorrow!