Tuesday, December 26, 2017

D&D 2018: How I Wish I Could Roll

I finally have a bit of vacation between semesters.  No work and no school between Christmas and New Years, and it's glorious.  I'm sure once it sinks in, I'll find myself pulled in five different directions trying to decide which writing projects I want to catch up on.  But for the moment, I find myself just thinking about D&D.

Not Engines & Empires or Retro Phaze, none of my own clones or OSR games or adventures that I have in the works.  Just D&D.  I haven't properly run a role-playing campaign of any sort in several months now, and I'm seriously missing it.  I also know that for at least the next four or five months, I probably won't have the time to start up a new campaign, not with both a comp exam and a GRE on the horizon.

So all I can do is dream, and I keep on dreaming of running a more-or-less plain vanilla, straight-up, by-the-book D&D campaign, with no steampunk or other sci-fi weirdness added in.  None of my own alterations to the lore or any of my usual peccadilloes and affectations.  Something classic: knights, castles, dragons, all that jazz.  Something that leans into the traditional mix of Tolkien, Gygax, and proper medieval fantasy.

…Of course, for me, "by-the-book" would never be quite that.  I'm now so used to handling attack rolls and saving throws with a "roll low to succeed" mechanic that I don't think I could do it any other way.  And I sure as hell have no desire to go back to three or five saving throw categories when just the one will do.

But this insatiable yearning that I'm feeling (which still, after a number of days, has not abated) has gotten me wondering: what is the bare minimum I would need to do to run something quite close to recognizable, rules-as-written D&D?  Something that the groggiest grognard would have no quibble with if he were to sit down at my table and roll up a character, no questions asked?

In other words, what about D&D can I simply no longer abide, and what can I still stomach?  And this is what I came up with: I call it Dungeons & Dragons 2018, the absolute minimum set of changes I have to make to OD&D to make the game playable in accordance with my present-day sensibilities.  Take a look, and comment below!

And, hey, since I've got three weeks to wait until my copy of Barrowmaze Complete arrives in the mail (hey, it was on sale, and now I have Christmas money!), maybe-just-maybe I'll get to take these rules for a test-drive in the near future after all…

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"The Last Jedi" Teeters on the Edge of Pointlessness

I saw Star Wars VIII last night (words that I never in a million years imagined that I would have to string together), and at the end of it I didn't know to feel.  It's taken a full night's sleep and most of a day to process my reaction.  Eventually, I decided that I would have to see the movie again to decide how I really felt, and in that moment I found that I didn't care to bother.

That's my ultimate verdict on The Last Jedi: aggressive apathy.

I'll put the rest of this post below the fold, along with an implicit spoiler warning.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

1d6 + 1d8 + 1d20: The Universal Dice Roll

Sometimes I have these moods or kicks where I decide that I want pure minimalism at the game table: one rulebook (or no rulebook), no screen, no mat, no miniatures, and the smallest possible number of dice.

Right now, I seem to be in one of those moods.  It occurs to me that I could probably get away with running a game of D&D with just a d6, a d8, and a d20, and still feel pretty comfortable—and moreover, rolling all three dice at once, you can get a result for any common die size except for the d%.

I'll give you an example: I've just dug up some dice and rolled them, and I've turned up a 3 on d6, a 5 on the d8, and a 16 on the d20.  This is actually every die roll from d2 through d20!

d2: Read the d6; if it's low (1–3), 1; if it's high (4–6), 2.  I rolled a 1.
d3: Read the d6; some folks like the 1–2 = 1, 3–4 = 2, 5–6 = 3 method, and this "halve and round up" method does indeed seem to be the popular standard; but I find it easier to read the low range as it lies and subtract 3 from the high range—so in my case, I'd say I've rolled a 3 on the d3.
d4: Same as above, but for the d8: read it as it lies in the low range, subtract 4 in the high range.  I got a 1 on the d4 (5 − 4 = 1).
d5: Read the ones digit off the d20 and subtract 5 if it's in the high (6–10) range: I got a 1 on the d5 (16 is read as 6, and 6 − 5 = 1).
d6: Read as it lies, 3.
d8: Read as it lies, 5.
d10: Read the ones digit as it lies, counting zero as ten: I got a 6.
d12: Read the d6 and count the d8 as a control die (1–4 means +0, 5–8 means +6); I rolled a 9.
d16: Read the d8 and count the d6 as a control die (1–3 means +0, 4–6 means +8): I rolled a 5.
d20: Read as it lies, 16.

This could be extended to a d24 using the d8 as the base roll and the d6 as a three-way control die, and similarly to a d30 with the d20 (read as d10) for the base roll and again d6 for a three-way control die; but d% requires rolling the d20 twice.

Anyway, just a bit of fun.  I might have to try this out at my next game session!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Quick Note on Attributes

I've been thinking about attribute scores again.

When it comes to the way that character abilities are handled in D&D, there's some redundancy and misapplication that always bothered me.  It's why, in both Retro Phaze and now Engines & Empires, I've folded the six scores down to four, letting Strength subsume Constitution and having only two mental stats, one for Intelligence and one for Charisma/Willpower.

Losing out on Constitution does mean that there's no way to represent a character who's strong but fragile, or weak but tough; but (hobbits excluded) that's never really a thing that comes up.  With four scores representing, roughly, muscle/toughness, quickness/finesse, smarts/learning, and will/charm, you can still have the strong but slow guy, the skinny but fast guy, the absent-minded or socially awkward genius, and the vapid fast-talker.  Classic (if stereotypical) character types.

It's great for fiction, but it's hardly realistic.  After all, as others have pointed out, "dexterity" as it's portrayed in role-playing games (meaning bodily agility, acrobatic talent, and so forth) isn't really a thing separate from what we'd consider strength or athleticism; and we know from modern psychology that general intelligence (or "IQ") is bullshit, and that insight, perception, creativity, and charm actually tend to correlate strongly with reasoning ability, memory, and whatever ill-defined thing it is that people are talking about when they say "book smarts as opposed to street smarts".

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shade Isle Cover Mockup

It was high time I got around to working on this.  After all, it's been my most successful campaign and something of a go-to when introducing old-school to new groups.

I won't really begin in earnest until I've finished with Retro Phaze VI, but this project honestly has me far more excited.  After all, it's a hex-crawl, a mega-dungeon, and (let's see here… Diro's Tomb, Bruin Monastery, Melenkar Manor, Ruckberg Caverns, Ezulor Palace, and Rusttunnel Mines… six?) at least six more not-so-mega-dungeons spread out around an island full of plots and mysteries and all kinds of science-fantasy and demonic-cultish weirdness, on top of being a pœnal colony about three bungled steps by a group of adventures away from going to war with the fascist principality across the sea that planted it in the first place.

This might wind up being quite the thick book.  It's not a campaign setting, it's not an adventure, it's an entire campaign.

Honestly, the only think keeping me from working on this before now (apart from the fact that, you know, I really really had to revise Engines & Empires itself first) was a lack of artistic direction.  But now that I've figured out how I'm going to illustrate this puppy… let's just say that this book's interior is going to wind up looking quite different from the Core Rules and the Gaia setting.

And that's all I'll say about it for now.  Ain't I a tease?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hand Drawn Character Sheet for Engines & Empires

Mapping for NaCaCreMo continues apace; I'll write my next post when I have the region and area maps all done.  For now, a little something else I whipped up:

I can't remember where I found it now, but there's a D&D 5th ed. character sheet floating around the internet which was done in the style of one of Dyson Logos's dungeon maps.  (I don't know if it was actually Dyson's work or not.)  I never used it, but I never forgot about it either.  Then, today, I decided to slap together something similar for E&E.  (I purposefully omitted the Dyson cross-hatching background, though.  I don't have the patience for Dyson cross-hatching.)

But, hey, how I have a nifty-looking sheet that matches up with all my house rules and everything!

(…It looks nicer in print than it does on the screen.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

It's High Time 90s D&D Got Some Love

Has any old-school D&D blogger out there taken the time to review all of the Challenger Series adventures?  Thunder Rift and the Adventure Packs?  The two versions of the five-level introductory set?  If so, I'm not aware of it.  In fact, going by OSR blogs and forums alone, you could be forgiven for supposing that the Rules Cyclopedia was the only 90s D&D book worth discussing.

But it ain't so!  The Cyclopedia lived alongside boxed sets and adventure modules!  1992 and 1993 were especially prolific years for old D&D, just before its twilight—after 1993, the only two old D&D products to be printed at all were two iterations of the Classic D&D Game, in 1994 and 1996.

I think I need to do this.  It will be interesting to look at these adventures through fresh eyes, seasoned by a few years of tabletop-focused old-school play.  The Challenger Series adventures were board-gamey and rail-roady, but they have a unique charm.  (I probably won't get around to this until after I've finished up with National Campaign Creation Month, but look for it eventually.  This must happen.  Classic D&D needs to get the attention it deserves.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I'm Not a Grognard, I'm a Post-Munchkinist

I should have liked to continue my NaCaCreMo posts today, but I left my hex paper at home when I left for work this morning.  That means no mapping, at least not until this evening.  But I have had a related subject (of sorts) on my mind. Fair warning: this post is going to get überly navel-gazey.

When I first got into role-playing as a kid, I didn't really know what I was doing, and neither did the friends who introduced me to D&D.  This is a common story; you even hear it a lot from within the OSR.  "I got a Basic Set for Christmas and didn't really understand how it worked until older gamers showed me how to play!"  An old chestnut, right?  And we've all learned to laugh at our past selves, who made amateur mistakes interpreting the rules ("percent liar", anyone?) or who just plain didn't grok the concept of the role-playing game.  Our early, flailing attempts at adventures and campaigns are a source of comedy, not tragedy—because we eventually came to know better, and everything turned out all right in the end.

That's the likely story, anyway.  But is it a true story?

My contention, oft-argued of late, is that mainstream role-playing (RPG) and my preferred style of strict-sandbox old-school gaming (which I've given the intentionally-generic label "tabletop", TTG, purely as a matter of convenience for when I have occasion to blog about it) are two different but related hobbies.  I believe that this distinction has its origin in the grognard–munchkin generation gap.  And explaining this will require an intrusive digression on what these words mean and where they came from—which happens with surprising frequency whenever I want to discuss topics such as this.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express isn't my favorite Agatha Christie novel (that would be The Mysterious Affair at Styles), but it does seem to be the most frequently adapted into film.  It's been a long time since I've seen the 1974 movie, but I do remember enjoying it a great deal; and now that I've just seen the new Kenneth Branagh version, I have to gush.  This movie was good.  Damned good.  It was a hell of a lot more faithful than the Poirot episode from 2010.  (That series never failed to take annoying liberties with its adaptations).  Good screenplay, excellent music, plenty of fun little Easter eggs for Christie fans to notice, beautiful cinematography, and it's fun to see the all-star cast playing off each other (with Branagh and Pfeiffer being the highlights).

NaCaCreMo #2: Maps Within Maps

National Campaign Creation Month continues. In post #0, I came up with an idea. In post #1, I picked a setting. This short interlude will explain how I like to go about mapping the campaign. It's a primer on getting organized before starting to map and brainstorm.

Mapping the Wilderness: A Matter of Scale

In old D&D, a party moves through the wilderness at a pace derived from the slowest character's Full Move—namely, Movement Rate (in feet per turn) divided by five equals miles per day.  In practical terms, this will usually be 120', 90', or 60' per turn, which equates to 24, 18, or 12 miles per day; or, in leagues, 8, 6, or 4 leagues per day.  Just from these numbers, you can see that a scale of about a league per hex is ideal for when the party actually travels through the wilderness.  (I wouldn't use two leagues per hex, because that makes it harder to account for terrain and other scaling factors that can alter travel speeds by thirds as well as halves.)

Friday, November 10, 2017

NaCaCreMo #1: Setting the Game

Since I've dubbed this post "#1", I guess that retroactively makes my previous post on National Campaign Creation Month into "#0".  The last essay was all about spitballing for an idea; this one is about situating the idea within a setting.

Before I can go any further, I have to select a world in which to set the campaign.  For this one fleeting, joyous moment, the possibilities are truly endless: shall I fall back onto one of my already established settings?  Or do I invent an entirely new one?  When I was a kid, it wouldn't have even been a question: world-building for the sake of a new campaign was just something you did.  (My friends and I were too heavily influenced by JRPGs back then to ever consider carrying on multiple campaigns within the same setting!)  But now, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and constraints on my time dictate that I have to use a setting that I've already created.  I can take the opportunity to flesh out some small part of one of my pre-existing campaign worlds—but which one?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

NaCaCreMo #0: The Spitballing Phase

The Greyhawk Grognard has declared November to be "National Campaign Creation Month" (which doesn't quite roll off the tongue like NaNoWriMo, but it's close enough)—and since I said a few posts back that I needed to start working on a new campaign in order to demonstrate my process, I'll consider it a fortuitous coincidence.  Plus, it just so happens that I'm too busy with school right now to either write a novel or actually run a campaign—but if I can lay the foundations for a new campaign and have it it ready to go by the end of the year, well, that would really be something.

It's also been a good long while since I've been inspired to do this, and I really need to shake the rust off.

Okay, so what does a campaign need?  An idea, a theme, a timeline, several maps, and the contents of said maps (this includes NPCs and so forth).

"Thor: Ragnarok" is Fluffy Fun

I have to admit, I had been feeling the "capeshit fatigue" of late.  It took longer to set in with me than with movie critics, sure, and there's a good reason for that.  When I go see a superhero movie, it's time to turn my brain off and enjoy myself.

That changed with Spider-Man: Homecoming.  This was… a misfire.  Not a bad movie, not a bad Marvel movie, just a bad Spider-Man movie.  Yes, worse at being a Spider-Man movie than Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Because at least those movies had Peter Parker in them.  But Homecoming had this weird amalgamation of Peter Parker and Miles Morales as its main character, and frankly (since they weren't going to just retcon the Raimi trilogy into the MCU like they should have done if they were clever), they ought to have just gone all in with Miles as the MCU's sole, official Spider-Man.  Then it wouldn't have felt so mixed up and disjointed to have Ned (a.k.a. Expy Ganke) in the movie, and any reference at all to Ben Parker not in the movie.

Hell, the only thing to really like about it was Keaton, but (snowmen aside) when do you ever not like Michael Keaton?  I mean, come on—he was Johnny Dangerously!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I've Become Quite the Gaming Curmudgeon Lately

On Mainstream "Role-Playing" versus OSR Gaming

I don't really make any bones about the fact that I've come to believe that the mainstream role-playing hobby and the old-school D&D hobby are actually two completely different hobbies.  It's not a popular opinion, but at this point I would have to be convinced that I'm wrong.

I've also realized that existing terminology is probably inadequate to the task of dealing with this.  When I made another recent post that touched on this idea, I made the mistake of using some of the RPG Pundit's terminology, which I now see is just plain guaranteed to tick some readers off.  That guy likes to characterize old-school games as "role-playing games" because the players take a 1st person perspective (striving for immersion, making decisions from the character's perspective); and more modern, less traditional games as "story-games" because the players take a 3rd person or "authorial" perspective (they hover "above" their characters and participate in collaborative storytelling).

But if I'm trying to describe the difference between an old-school game like OD&D and a modern descendant of it like 3rd or 4th or 5th edition d20 D&D, I can't fall back on the role-playing game vs. story-game dichotomy.  The main reason for this is that "role-playing game" has come to refer not to old-school gaming, but to modern gaming (whether you choose to include "indie" and "non-trad" and "story-games" in that category or not).  Usage dictates that when someone says "role-playing game", they mean that hobby which includes FATE and Pathfinder and 4th edition D&D and Rogue Trader and Savage Worlds and Vampire and The One Ring and Apocalypse World, and if you try to say otherwise, they jump down your damned throat.

There's Mainstream Role-Playing and There's Old-School D&D

This post originally went up on May 17th, 2017.

Normally I don't pay any attention to cyber-drama, let alone the bawlings of some of the drama queens out there in the larger gaming community. So it's a strange thing to find that the latest little drama-bubble percolating in the OSR has actually led me to notice something.

First, the background in brief:
• Back in March, this utterly bizarre blog post about "mapping the OSR" (and characterizing the political leanings of its participants) ticked some people off, or at least set a whole bunch of people on edge.
• Then came this anti-OSR tirade from The Dungeon Delver which raised some eyebrows (NB, I don't actually disagree with a lot of what it says, more on that later, but I do find it at least a little bit narrow-minded).
• Then, as I was reading through the Save Vs. All Wands blog not long ago (I've been enjoying the author's analysis of Tunnels & Trolls), this inane Kotaku article was brought to my attention, and it was this article that made me notice something that I found personally unsettling.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Weird Epiphany: If You're Not Playing OSR, the Concept of "Railroading" is Might Just be Vacuous

I was lurking around on rpg.net and saw this thread about railroading, and I decided to read through it because the topic interests me.  The thread inevitably devolved into pointless argument about terminology, as all such threads on just about any forum I've ever seen do, but why?  Why can't gamers discuss the concept of "railroading" (or its close cousin, variously termed "DM illusionism", "the quantum ogre", or "Schrödinger's dungeon", wherein the DM cleverly hides the fact that he's railroading the PCs by quietly moving encounters into their path, regardless of the path that they "choose") without the discussion turning into empty wankery about what all the participants mean by words like "railroad" and "agency" and "DM"?

And I think that I've had a sudden realization that explains it: most gamers cannot have a coherent discussion about railroading because most gamers are playing games (or maybe a better way of putting it would be "most purported role-players are participating in activities") where railroading is not inherently verboten and doesn't really have a reason to be.  Simply put, most hobby-gamers aren't actually playing role-playing games in the strict sense, where choices matter and the GM isn't just pulling their strings like a maestro puppeteer.

Actual gears make the perfect tokens for a steampunk campaign

The major difference between the Engines & Empires Core Rules, which are intended to handle a variety of settings (ranging from early modern to pulp adventure), and the World of Gaia campaign setting specifically, is the way that non-human races are handled.  Both require that non-humans belong to a multi-class combination which starts out in that race's favored class, and both limit non-human progression to 8th level (or 10th if the optional epic-level rules are in play).  But E&E Core gives non-human player characters no particular special abilities; all of their inhumanity is otherwise supposed to be portrayed through role-playing alone.  The Gaia setting, however, puts into play an optional rule from E&E's Appendix A, known as "traits and tokens".

This rule grants each character one "token" per game session (or two per session if the character is 8th level or greater) which may be spent to re-roll a d20 roll; but it can only be spent on rolls that have something to do with things that particular race is stereotypically good at.  I decided upon this route because it opened the door to a single, simple, easy-to-remember rule that has much the same effect in broad strokes as the usual "+1 or +2 modifiers to these kinds of actions"—but without ever having to actually account for the modifiers, which itself can throw the math of the game off-kilter if you let it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Engines & Empires Core Rules and World of Gaia are now officially published!

Aaaand away we go!

The stand-alone (or as some folks might call it, "OSR third wave") version of Engines & Empires has been published.  Find it here—

« My Lulu Store »

—where the ebook versions remain free to download and the print versions are modestly marked up to nice, round, pretty numbers.

Needless to say, I'm pretty frelling stoked to finally have this all done.  (And hopefully Retro Phaze soon too.)  A steampunk dungeon-fantasy RPG that doesn't have game-breaking Vancian magic, but otherwise hews pretty close to the classic tropes and ways of the Grand Auld Game.

Feels good, man.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Retro Phaze VI update

So—after finally getting back into working on this, the character classes are finally hammered out.  I really like how I've tweaked the fighter.  And now it's time to move on to writing up the spell-like powers for the new class-promotions I've added to the game.

Here's a quick summary of RΦ6's new class structure and the major changes to the old classes:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Been a while…

Weird that I haven't touched this blog in so long, but I kind of fell away from gaming and all things game-related for several months there.

Today, at last, I finally finished editing my two E&E books and (hopefully) correcting the illustrations for the printers; another round of proof copies have been ordered, and if they look all right when they come in a couple of weeks, I'll finally be able to publish the print versions (at long, long last).

No idea when I'll get back into re-writing Retro Phaze, but I want to take care of that soon as well.  It badly, badly needs an update.  Anyway… grad school's crazy busy, so there's that; not seeing much free time in the near future either.  But maybe I'll squeeze in some more re-writing and editing when the next holiday comes along.

Uh, what else… oh, yeah, some neutron stars were detected colliding, that's pretty friggin' sweet.  The gravitational waves detected by LIGO (which now has a third detector in Italy, the VIRGO) matched up with the gamma-ray bursts detected by conventional means, which more than cinches the already pretty solid discovery of gravitational waves not too long ago.  Einstein vindicated yet again, w00t.   

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Watch This Space

Finally got some time off work, a little summer vacation to catch up on all my projects.  The rest of this week is going to be interesting…

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Made my own DM screen

Whenever I ref a game, I have two requirements for a referee's screen: I like it to be landscape rather than portrait, so that I can actually see and reach over it; and I need lots of room for notes and maps (I like to use big maps).

So I generally wind up using two four-panel landscape screens (the sort that were published for 4th and 5th edition AD&D), or one of those four-panel screens in combination with a customizable three-panel screen with pockets on the inside for tables and the outside for artwork (published ostensibly for Savage Worlds, but useful for pretty much anything). Still, it gets kind of annoying always having to schlep two screens around, and I don't have any particular use for 4th or 5th edition rules tables.

So I finally took the plunge and made my own screen.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Now is the summer of my discontent.

Final exams are over. (They weren't nearly as difficult as I'd imagined. They never are, and yet I always manage to work myself up into a tizzy of stress and anxiety. Go fig.)

And so now I must begin the long, tedious process of a hardcopy proofreading of my books, red pencil in hand. Ah well, at least it's far pleasanter than proofreading on a computer screen.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Holy crap. I found GRID!!!

When I was a much younger gamer, I used a DOS program for hex maps. For the longest time, I couldn't even remember what it was called. But then I decided to go hunting around on the ancient archives of the web 1.0, and lo and behold, I found it:


…and it even works in DOSBox!

I am going to have some fun with this (once finals week is over…).

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Got my proof copies in the mail today; good and bad

In broad strokes, the books look good. I still have to go through and read the physical copies, since that's always the best way to proofread and find typos. (Typos are mysterious that way. The only want to manifest themselves once the book is printed. They hide while they live in computer files.)

Some of the book's illustrations, though, did turn out looking kind of crap—a few are almost solid black on the page. I'm going to have to re-sample them, adjust for much higher brightness/contrast, and try again. Which means another 2–3 weeks before I can publish the print editions. Oh, well; them's the breaks.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Muchly of things to be happening now

A bunch of stuff all at once.
• My proof copies for E&E and Gaia finally shipped, supposedly to arrive next Monday (the 1st). Cool beans.
• Finally finished watching through MST3K season 11.  It was awesome, I can't recommend it enough, and I hope that they keep on making more of it forever and ever.
• That software I talked about having written for a final class project last post? I'm now using it to help fill in the setting for the next E&E campaign that I'm going to run, the Lenovia river-valley and the Bâlamont Bayou. Basically, think The Princess and the Frog (the Disney one) meets Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. D&D fantasy plus 19th century southern Americana. It'll be a real hootenanny.
• And, oh, hey, yeah, I'm finally graduating in two weeks. Ahem… w00t.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Stocking dungeons with Python (and I don't mean the 5 HD snake)

So this is fun... for my final project in my coding class, I've decided to write a suite of useful gamer tools in Python. I just finished the character generator last night, and now I'm working on a random dungeon-room content-generator. When all is said and done, I'll also hopefully have a working random wilderness (hex) map generator.

Lucky thing I just made up a page full of wilderness hexes to use for illustrating the E&E Core Rules, eh?  I'll bet that I could color 'em and have something pretty nifty here...

UPDATE: Well, it's after midnight (again...), but I managed to finish the whole project today. I now have a working character generator, dungeon-floor auto-stocker, and a random wilderness hex map generator.

And I can't stop playing with these little toys. So freaking cool... :D

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Holy crap, there's gonna be a new 'Alternity'

I mean, we all knew that a 2nd edition of 7th Sea came out, right?  That was kind of a big deal.  I haven't gotten the chance to check it out yet, but I really want to. I mean, come on, Théah was a pretty major source of inspiration for Gaia.

But I had no clue that Alternity was also getting a reboot!  I freaking loved Alternity back in high school!  For most grognards out there, Traveller is probably their main sci-fi RPG.  Or maybe the Star Frontiers purple box, for people who came to the hobby a little later, in the Moldvay/Cook/Mentzer era. But me, I'm a 90s kinda guy, and in the 90s, Alternity was where it was at.

The rules are complex, sure, but not ridiculously so. It's somewhere between AD&D 1e and d20 Future (or d20 Star Wars).  And, sure, these days I'd probably sooner go for White Star or Stars Without Number or even Retro Phaze for an actual set of rules to run a sci-fi game… but man, did Alternity ever have the right vibe. Like a gritty Mass Effect, it managed to feel both grounded/realistic and totally gonzo at the same time. Especially if you used the Star*Drive setting.

Man, I am gonna have to play me some of this…

Now I can finally watch some TV…

I'm sure I'll get around to revising Retro Phaze quickly enough. (After all, all I really want to do is tweak the classes to make fighters and rogues a little more playable.) But in the meanwhile, I've been working on E&E so long and so obsessively that I've forgotten about other fun things to do.

My wife watched through Iron Fist; I mostly half paid attention to it in the background. But I did really like the parts of it I saw, so I don't understand all the harsh criticism it's getting.  My wife also started playing through Mass Effect: Andromeda, whereas I haven't even been arsed to install a graphics card in my PC capable of running the game. (I have the card sitting on the table by the PC; I just haven't bothered plugging it in.)

I'm slowly but surely working my way through the new MST3K and loving every moment of it. It's freaking fantastic. And I'm sure that once that's done, I'll pick back up with season one of Star Trek: TNG. (I still can't believe I've never watched it all the way through.) But for today… today, I'm in the mood for some truly classic MST3K.

I think that today, I'm going to watch me some Pumaman.

"Hm… the Pew-may-mun." —Tom Servo

E&E Core Rules & World of Gaia are published

…as ebooks, anyway.  The print versions will, of course, go live after I have proof copies in hand.

Peace, all, and good night. (I mean good morning; good God, it's bloody 3 AM again—why does this keep happening?)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Whew. Okay. So that's done.

I decided to go ahead and cut the adventure out of the Gaia book and just make it more of a simple rehash of the original setting material. After all, the same reason I wanted to cut Gaia out of E&E (if I'm not playing in the setting, that part of the book is deadweight) applies to an adventure in a setting guide (if I'm not running the adventure, that part of the book is deadweight!).

That means, of course, that I'm essentially done with the 2nd book already:

World of Gaia Campaign Setting

And now I can worry about fixing Retro Phaze.  But maybe not until summer gets here. I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"World of Gaia" is half done already

In revising Engines & Empires and turning it into its own standalone RPG, it just seemed like the right move to separate it out from the Gaia setting. As I mention in the introduction to E&E's new edition, I invented Gaia for the sake of a fantasy novel; it just happened to be the setting that was on my mind when I was originally writing E&E.

But Gaia wasn't even a steampunk setting to begin with. The whole point of Gaia, as originally conceived, was a fantasy world ruled by an absolutely ridiculous variety of non-human races, with lots of magic and no technology, and with no humans whatsoever. To make that work as a game setting, I had to advance the timeline by thousands of years, introducing the "Third and Fourth Ages" of Gaia's history, making invading humans commonplace; and to make it work as the setting for E&E, I had to bring the technology level up to something approximating Earth's 19th Century.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The New MST3K is Good. Like, Really Good.

I don't really know what else to say. MST3K: The Return, up on Netflix as of yesterday (I skipped class to binge the first two episodes) flawlessly inherits the original. It nails the tone, the style, the humor, everything. It brings back that warm fuzzy feeling you got watching the show back in the day.

The last couple of episodes of MST3K aired on the Sci-Fi Channel back in August/September of 1999.  I was fifteen.  And the thing is, I totally remember watching those episodes when they aired: Danger: Diabolik and Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders.  Two pretty memorable MST3K episodes in their own right.

Eighteen years later, here we are, and MST3K feels like it's managed not to miss a beat.

I'm seeing a few critics complain that the humor is a little too polished, too referential, and (above all) faster—more jokes coming at you a mile a minute.  And the difference is noticeable, sure; but I actually find that I like the faster pace. I always was a sucker for quick banter (Groucho Marx is one of my favorite comedians of all time), and the fact that the new show is full of "nerd culture" humor—D&D references, call-backs and easter-eggs that refer to the old show, etc.—just makes it appeal to me even more. I found myself just plain cracking up multiple times during the first couple of episodes, whereas old MST3K was usually more apt to induce the same soft chuckle used by Kevin Murphy as he voiced Tom Servo during the show.

Anyway: if you haven't yet, check out the new MST3K. It's comedy gold and pure B-movie awesome.

Friday, April 14, 2017

E&E Core Rules has a draft file!

Check it out right here.

Of course I'm still not going to publish a print version right away. I want to read it a few more times and make sure that there are no major errors. And I want to have at least finished the separate World of Gaia guide (if not the new edition of Retro Phaze too) before I go ordering proof copies.

But, hey, a year's work finally pretty much done.  How frakking nifty is that?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Speaking of Retro Phaze…

There will be Dragoons. There will be Summons. There will be Geomancers who call upon the Planet. And the Bards will Sing and Dance…

Friday, April 7, 2017

I'm just going to use this post to track my progress.

Here's everything that's left to be done on E&E 2e:

Proof & Kern Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Appendices A, B, C
Index Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Appendices A, B, C for general topics
Spell Effect Index for Chapters 3, 4
Monster Index for Chapter 5 parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX

And then I get started in on updating the World of Gaia into its own separate book (which will be much, much easier than completely reinventing Engines & Empires) and publishing a few little tweaks and updates to Retro Phaze (hardly any work at all).

* * *

Incidentally, I think I've solved the spell-sheet problem.  I just went and made a blank one.  That way, the players don't salivate over the names of the spells that they don't know yet but think they obviously and rightfully ought to have as soon as they reach the right experience level.  I'll have to see how that works out in actual play with a crop of new players sometime, though.

* * *

Mon 4/10: Small delay in proof-reading chapter 4. I discovered that I'd neglected to add a few obvious inventions to the lineup, which necessitated reformatting the whole chapter and shrinking an illustration. But now low-level techs have access to a Tranquilizer Gun, a Vacuum Pump, and Night-Vision Goggles.

Tue 4/11: The technology chapter is done. Hot damn, that shit is fun to play around with. I simply don't understand why (a) there are people who don't like steampunk as a genre and (b) why RPGs that actually have a complete system of mad science inventions on par with their magic systems are so bloody rare.

Wed 4/12: All right, that just leaves two monstrous sections to proofread: chapter 5 (monsters) and appendix B (magic items). Uff da.

Thu 4/13: Finally finished a complete proof-reading. And indexing… is going pretty quickly. Not actually as sucktastic as I thought it would be. Who knew?
So, once this is finished and I can actually compile all the Word files into a single PDF, I'll give them one more read-through (you always, always, always spot more typos after you make the PDFs) and go ahead and publish the ebook version. (The print version, of course, must wait for a proof copy before going public.)

Fri 4/14: Well now. That just leaves indexing the last chapter & appendices. I think I'll save it for morning. Super close to the end now.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

And that's that…

…the actual "content" of the book is now all done.  All that's left is proofreading, making sure all the text is properly kerned, and building the index (and OGL entries) as I go. All very mechanical and editorial.

If I'm quick and careful with this, I could be holding a proof copy of the new edition in my hands in two weeks or so.  Not fast enough to beat Easter (never mind new episodes of MST3K), but still fast enough to be here before the 3rd Omaha Dragon's Lair E&E Campaign begins.  (Which I will have to post about once I have some spoiler-free material that I don't mind my players stumbling onto.  This one is going to be different.  Think: fantasy 19th C. American bayou.)

Designing Character Sheets

You know it's weird, but somehow I knew that I would just greatly enjoy designing (you can't really call it "writing") Appendix C.  I've Tetris'd together 14 pages of collected tables from previously in the book. (Really, there is no excuse not to include such a thing in any OSR game, looking up tables is one of the few reasons to ever consult the rulebook in the first place, and you're going to want them all in one place.) And now, the final few pages of the book (not counting the index and the OGL) will consist of record sheets.

I need to design:
• A character sheet
• A spell sheet & an invention sheet (although these days I'm reluctant to use such things: they seem make mage and tech players feel entitled to learn new spells every bloody time they go back to town)
• A general "stuff tracking sheet" for referees: I always use one behind my DM screen with spaces for NPC and monster stats, XP/treasure found by the party so far, and mini time-trackers
• Full time-tracking sheets for turns in a day and days on the calendar

In other words, the stuff I can't do without when I ref a campaign.

So now I get to do graphic design.  This is gonna be baller.

The writing is done. The formalities remain.

Holy crap—all of the text in the complete Engines & Empires Core Rules has been drafted, at long, long, very long last.  All that remains is formatting, proofreading, and indexing.

This is a glorious day. Er, night. I mean, 3 in the morning.

Ugh. I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

So Close to Being Done

• Contents
• Preface
• Introduction
• Chapter One: The Player Character
• Chapter Two: Adventures and Battles
• Chapter Three: Magic
• Chapter Four; Technology
• Chapter Five: Monsters
· I · Abominations and Eldritch Horrors
· II · Animals, Beasts, and Vermin
· III · Constructs and Automata
· IV · Dragons, Chimeræ, and Magical Beasts
· V · Faes and Nature Spirits
· VI · Humanoids and Giants
· VII · Planar Spirits and Elementals
· VIII · Plants, Fungi, and Oozes
· IX · The Undead
• Chapter Six; Rules for the Referee
• Appendix A: Optional Rules
• Appendix B: Magical Items
· Potions
· Scrolls
· Ætherium Crystals
· Armor
· Orbs
· Rings
· Tomes
· Rods, Staffs, and Wands
· Swords and Other Weapons
· Miscellaneous Magic Items
• Appendix C: Collected Tables and Record Sheets
• Index
• then proofread the motherfucker

So… close… to… being… done…

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Drafting the Appendices

I've finished writing Appendix A, which includes the following optional rules:
• Epic Levels (human characters 11th to 14th and demi-humans 9th–10th).
• The original E&E tech class, and a Vancian mage to match
• E&E's old Achievement Points and Favored Weapons systems
• How to keep the old Five Saving Throws categories
• Putting special racial traits for demi-humans back into the game, and a kind of fate-point/bennie/inspiration system to back them up

Now I'm onto Appendix B, the random magic item tables, and this one… is going to take a while. It won't be anywhere near as time-consuming as monsters, but it's still a pile of material to work through.  The main source of tedium is formatting the d% tables and tweaking each item's frequency of appearance.  It's still legitimately interesting, though, to finally have the opportunity to craft my own magic item tables, and to put my own spin on a full item system like this.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Oh, hey, look: it's "don't use the internet" day.

When did April Fool's Day go from being about cute pranks you play on your friends, to being that one day where everybody seems to have agreed that popular websites and news outlets need to be rendered suspect to the point of uselessness?

This shit hasn't been funny since, like, 2003. Cut it out.

—Signed, a curmudgeonly stick-in-the-mud

Chapter 6 is finally wirtten

This was a fun one. Dungeon and wilderness design and advice for referees running campaigns. Very practical and engaging to write.  (My only beef: drawing the legend of dungeon symbols and wilderness hexes took a whole goddamned day.)

Now all I have left to do is mop up the three appendices (it's more editing already extant material than drafting anything new), index the book, and give it a final proofread for typos and kerning.

So it looks like my previous estimate was spot on: look for the Engines & Empires Core Rules to appear in print sometime in April!  (Of course I'll post the finished pdf right here before then.)

Once that's done, of course, I need to give Retro Phaze another minor little update (mostly just fixing the confusing dice notation), the World of Gaia setting that used to be a part of Engines & Empires is going to get its own book.  But, again, nothing really new there.

After that, I think I'll be ready to take a nice long break from working on RPGs again.  (But I'll get around to publishing the Shade Isle campaign and the dungeons of Shade Abbey eventually!)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Another update: things are moving fast now

With a few sample encounter tables built and chapters 1–5 all re-kerned and proof-read and referenced in the table of contents, it's finally time to turn my attention to drafting chapter 6.  It's a short, easy chapter—the "DM's Miscellany" typically found at the end of B/X type clones.  Advice for the referee, hints at how high level play should work, that sort of thing.

Then it's just the appendices and the index, and it's all done.  Holy crap.

I just have to kick myself back into "drafting rules text" mode.

Huh; I wonder how I go about doing that?

At long last. Work on chapter 6 (the last chapter) finally begins.

I have statted up all the monsters there are to be statted.  Here's the final tally:

33 abominations
172 animals (kill me.)
47 chimeras and magical beasts
42 constructs
29 fae spirits
44 humanoids and giants
27 planars and elementals
24 plants and oozes
16 undead

434 bloody monster entries in total.

Holy fucking shit.

I should just re-title this book "The Steampunk Monster Manual" and be done with it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Undead: The Finalized List

I've finally begun to work on the last category of monsters to be found in the Engines & Empires Core Rules—the undead.  This doesn't quite finish off Chapter 5; I'll still need to mock up some encounter tables to truly put the last nail in this particular coffin-lid.  But at least I'm nearly done statting up individual monster-entries, at long, long last.

So, without further ado, here's what the last set of monsters to be added to the game will look like:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The finish line is in sight...

Okay, that puts the lid on planar spirits.  Now onto plants, fungi, and oozes.  This should be a nice, short, easy chapter.  (But bo-o-o-ring.)  Hopefully I'll be done with it by sometime tomorrow and onto the undead, at long last.  Undead are awesome.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Only three categories left…

Whew.  I've finally finished statting up all the faes and humanoids for the E&E Core Rules.  This was horrifically time-consuming.  I have to say that, while faeries are certainly interesting in principle, once you get down to the nitty-gritty of statting up individual monster entries, it becomes quite the repetitive slog.  "Oh, hey, look: another mischievous fae that doesn't grasp human morality or mortality, and, big surprise, it lives near water and probably turns into a horse for some reason(?), and it somehow uses that to try and drown people. which supposedly works because reasons; and, oh yeah, it doesn't like iron."

Writing about humanoids was at least fun, because they have cultures and differences—things worth writing about!  And it was pretty fun to suss out which ones would make good player characters and what their stats and classes ought to be.  (It really helps that my revised take on demi-humans is so clean and straightforward.)

So that just leaves Spirits, Plants, and the Undead.  Spirits (angels, demons, and elementals) is the only really long chapter I have left to write; plants and undead will breeze by in a day of writing each. In fact, since it's spring break now, I'm fairly certain that by the end of the week, I'll be done with monsters altogether and well on my way to finishing the last major chapter of the book (chapter 6, DMing rules and all the miscellaneous crap not yet covered—it's actually not that big of a chapter).

Meaning, I could just possibly have this baby ready to publish by sometime next month!  WOO-HOO!!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some Fae on the Way

A couple of days ago, I finally finished my first once-over of the new E&E rule-book's "written-so-far" material.  It's going to need more proofing and editing yet, but in the meanwhile, I've caught back up to where I was before school got super busy last semester, and I've started writing again.

The list of fae creatures populating the next sub-chapter has been finalized.  This is going to be fun, but also time-consuming: fae are complicated, with lots of little details and a quirky variety of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Honestly, I'm looking forward to just being done with this part and moving onto humanoids.  Humanoids have cultures, societies, cool shit to write about.  Humanoids are interesting.

Fae are fascinating, but too otherworldly I think to be truly interesting.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Black Sheep Sequels

Several months ago, I resolved to finally watch all the way through all of Star Trek, in chronological order.  I got through Enterprise (which I dearly love) and the original series (which had its ups and downs, but was mostly pretty awesome) and the animated series and the Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan (as good as everybody says it is) and Search for Spock (maybe my favorite Trek movie)… and just sort of ran out of gas before I could really get into The Voyage Home.

I'm sure I'll pick it up again soon, but in the meanwhile, I decided to break up my Trek time with a pure nostalgia kick: The Super Mario Bros. Super Show.  I was five when this show first aired… and to put into context just how strange it is that I loved this show so very much, my parents didn't allow my siblings and I to even own video games until I was at least twelve.  (If there needs to be some psychoanalytic reason as to why I've decided to collect every video game console ever, this would be it…)  But I really did love the Super Show, the Zelda cartoons on Friday, the live action segments with Captain Lou and Danny Wells—these guys basically were the Mario Brothers to the young me (and to millions of late 80s gamers too, I'm sure).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Have you ever tried to change the font-size of a half-written book?

Oy vey, what a hassle.

When I'm writing a book, I generally like to draft and format at the same time.  That is to say, I don't just type up all the text and then try to make it pretty on the page; I use a word processor to template out what the printed book is going to look like, and then I draft the text while fitting it into that template.  This allows me to edit on the fly, make word-choices that aid in justifying and kerning the text, and make sure that I can fit paragraphs or illustrations within a given page-count.

But as I've been merrily typing along, drafting the text to the Engines & Empires Core Rules, I've noticed how long the book has been getting, and how large 10-point font (for text) or 9-point font (for spell and monster descriptions) has looked on the page, and thought more than once about shrinking everything down by a point.  Then, once my load of schoolwork lightened up this semester and I took the plunge back into working on E&E 2e, I decided to go for broke and try it—after all, going over the book would be a chance to both proofread and revise everything, and a good memory-refresher.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rethinking demi-human classes

So now that I'm on my last semester as a physics undergrad (and it's an easy one, thank goodness: I made sure to knock out of my labs, projects, and physics classes last semester, and all that's left for me to mop up on this last go-around are the math classes I need to pick up my mathematics minor), I've actually found myself with a bit of time to get back into working on E&E 2nd edition again.

Before I got back into the nitty-gritty of drafting chapter 5 and all those monster stats, though, I thought that this might be a good time to go back over chapters 1–4 with fresh eyes and proofread, revise, and edit.  Some sections needed it badly; others, not so much.  But one of the big actual changes I wound up making to the rules was to implement yet a new take on how demi-humans work.