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.