Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Map 19 the Wild North Map the way it should be

Lulu's price of $40 for poster sized maps is a bit ... expensive.

Luckily I found a cheaper alternative at cafepress. With Calithena's permission you can now order a traditional sized (20" by 16") map of the Wild North or a mega sized version (35" by 24"). Because the Wild North was produced as part of a fan license generously granted by Bob Bledsaw Jr these are offered at cost.

You can access the store from here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Revenge of the Grenadiers

Inspired by Jeff's Post here. I present

Revenge of the Grenadiers

After 30 years they said they said it could not be done. But they are back... The most awesome
dungeon crawlers in the known multiverse.

The Grenadiers

They don't have powers, and only their only feat is teamwork. Trailed by their crack team of hirelings they have vanquished all challenges and encounter groups.

Now only one foe remains between them and the legendary Oracle of Yaxag

Will they triumph or will the last stat block standing remain undefeated.

Door Shot

Angle from the Levitating Mage

View from the Corner

Rob Conley

P.S. No lead or plastic miniature were harmed during this production. Any lost heads, arms, legs, misc. appendages, bags, broken weapons, broken staves, croziers, crosses, 10 foot poles was a result of previous incursions into dungeons.

P.P.S All hirelings were duly licensed and insured per order of King-Emperor Yarg in the Common Year 582. Only two were eaten during the a production a record low. So congradulations to the Grenadiers

P.P.P.S. Sorry Jeff Minga got disintegrated a couple of decades ago.

A larger overhead shot can be viewed here and here

My Impression of Mapping Software

Over here a lively discussion ensued over mapping software.

This is not an in-depth review but my general impression of software for RPG Mapping.

My opinion is that the market goes like this Professional Graphic design software (Adobe, Corel, etc), Campaign Cartographer, Dundjinni, Fractal Mapping, and the rest.

I use CorelDRAW while keeping current with Profantasy's Campaign Cartographer (I buy a add-on every six months or so, and the annual), I keep an eye on Inkscape, and seriously tried using Dundjinni, and Fractal Mapper.

CorelDRAW is my first choice TODAY, because of sheer interia. It was the first good windows based Vector drawing package (we are talking circa 1993 here) My fingers just know how to use it automatically. Plus I have over 20 years worth of symbols and templates that I created.

When Campaign Cartographer came out I gave it a serious shot. I have nearly the entire Wilderlands mapped out in a CC file. Something that not really possible with CorelDRAW. I don't continue to use CC because it is particularly difficult for me but because it not CorelDRAW (which true of all the alternatives I tried).

Now if YOU try to use Campaign Cartographer I will put a $1 up that 2/3 of you will go WTF! CC's user interface is definitely not windows standards. This is because it originated as a CAD program. Worse it originated as a DOS CAD Program. It was built on top of a program called FastCAD.

Back in the day's of DOS, graphics were limited. The UI adopted by nearly all CAD software was a BIG innovation. For one thing it worked well where the only input device was a keyboard and graphics capability was limited. However the CAD way of handling a GUI was not the way adopted by the Mac, Windows and later Linux. (CAD: command then select object, Windows/Mac/etc select object then command)

So hence nearly everybody enountering Campaign Cartographer or any CAD (FastCAD, AutoCAD, etc) for the first time is going to go WTF!

So why doesn't CC change? Well when software has a legacy, it is very very hard to change without a lot of severe consquence. I know because my day job involves developing metal cutting software that has existed since 1985. Lucky for me we made the right bet on how GUIs is going to turn out. So switching to Windows was not as painful as it could have been.

But Campaign Cartographer was not so lucky. But it did have was a customer base from it's initial DOS version. This was a good thing and a bad thing. Good because you have people that will buy your expensive to develop windows version. Bad because if you want them to buy you going to have to be compatible both in file format and UI with your DOS version.

Compounding all this is the fact that RPG Mapping is a limited market compared to the rest of the CAD market. So you have to make sure that the money and time spent is going to payoff.

Then comes long Fractal Mapper. Fractal Mapper is a Windows Program through and through. In addition it has the ability to draw complex land features easily because it uses the math of fractals introduce detail into what you draw.

Then comes the kick in the pants introduced by Dundjinni. What Dundjinni does very well is allow people to use individual bitmaps that are professionally drawn to make incredible looking maps. They had to develop several things other than a fancy stamp tool to make this happen (transparency, shadowing, etc). The results are stunning and allow ordinary people to make incredible looking maps. And on top of it, like Fractal Mapper, it used standard Windows conventions in it's UI.

The only limitation is that you are limited to the palette of bitmaps that you have bought. Also they have a very annoying license if you want to use the software for professional use.

Campaign Cartographer had some serious challenges to overcome. When you are a company that is staddled with the legacy of your older versions, the trick to overcome the competition is to do things that nobody else can. Another trick is to use your legacy to give depth to what your software can do.

Those two areas are the strength of Campaign Cartographer. CC and it's addons give more tools to use than any other RPG Mapping software. Just as important many of those tools are not found in other software. Finally while it still wrapped up in the CAD UI, it has adopted many of the features of Fractal Mapper and Dundjinni. The challenge of Dundjinni was the main reason for the release of Campaign Cartographer 3.

CC3 continues the race with Dundjinni by allowing a variety of lenses and filters to applied selectively to your map. So you can draw a simple curve for your coastline and easily apply a soft blur or a shadow effect to give the illusion of depth. More sophsicated effects allow you to create shaded relief maps perhaps one of the hardiest techniques to do right in cartography.

I admit I am a Campaign Cartographer fan. However I feel that the past couple of years has been a golden age for RPG Mapping Programs with a wealth of options. If you pick any of the leading three you are going to be making great maps.

If you are going to making professional maps You are better off learning to use a professional graphic software. That because if you use the DEFAULT tools of any of the three your map will have a distinctive look that publishers will recognize. In general the publishers don't like to have a map that looks like it was made with CC, Fractal Mapper, or Dundjinni. If you can spend the time developing your own symbols and graphics then you will be able to use any of the three on a professional level.

A final note is that AutoRealm is probably the best of the rest. Unfortunally it's development is stalled due to the author being in the middle of rewriting the base of the software. Which is a cautionary note to those of you involved in software development.

Campaign Cartographer
Fractal Mapping

Free professional style graphic programs

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sometimes obession is a beautiful thing.

The fact that editions previous to Mongoose Traveller have been focused on the Third Imperium has been cited by many as a turn off as the mass of canon grew due to official and fan activity.

But then you get this

Just use your mouse wheel to zoom and the left button to drag the map around. If you zoom in far enough you will see the Universal World Profile (UWP) for each world. Of course if you are an old traveller hand like me you have most of the codes already memorized.

Despite the mass of canon you should not feel intimidated by the mass of canon behind the Third Imperium. Because despite the quantity the developers of traveller did a smart thing. Nearly all of what considered canon is high level detail. So high that when you pick a subsector or sector to play you still get to create all the specific details. GURPS Traveller talks about Dark Imperiums, Grey Imperiums and White Imperiums styles of play and how they all work without contradicting the core material.

Only a handful of planets and subsector are detailed to any great extent. In the Spinward Marches this amounts to Aramis Subsector (the Traveller Adventures), Regina Subsector (various), Tarsus, Bowman Belt, Mithril, Vanejen, Fulacin, and a handful of other worlds.

However due to literally decades of work, you can find fan created material for just about any part of the Imperium and it's frontiers. This helps when you run short of prep time or ideas.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Decades of Darkness Ends

For those you use Alternate History in your games (for example GURPS Infinite Worlds) or just simply fans of the genre like I am. The Alternate History forum is one of premiere location on the internet to find great stories and discussions on alternate timelines.

Even in this excellent forum there are a few timelines that stand out. One of them is Decades of Darkness by Jared. You can view the full thread here or look at the website here

It start with the unexpected the death of Thomas Jefferson in January of 1809. Because of the political confusion the Embargo Act is prolonged longer than in our time line. This cause the New England states to become more embittered at the federal government than the case in our history.

In the aftermath of the War of 1811 (this is not a mistyping) the Five New England States (Maine was part of Massachusetts) plus New York and New Jersey seceded from the United States to form the Republic of New England under the protection of the British Empire.

The loss of many of our history's free states skews the balance of power in the United States toward the slaves resulting in a much darker history for this country. Ironically the histories of two nations; Germany and Russia turn for the better in this time-line.

700,000 words words later the timeline has reached the ending point in 1933. with a situation very different than what we saw with the inauguration of our 44th president.

Timelines like this are great because their authors approach them rigorously and solicit commentary on the plausibility of events. If you read the later posts you will be scratching your head as how this could possibility be. Start from the beginning you will see how the future of the Decades of Darkness was built brick by brick.

I contributed a series of posts that was accepted and edited by Jared detailing the early history of rocketry in the Decades of Darkness (better metallurgy lead to faster development)

I even started my own time-line and continued it for a few post until my writing time was chewed by the various Judges Guild and Points of Light projects I took on. You can read what I did here. Basically the challenge is to create a maximum United States encompassing nearly all of North Amercia without the brutality of the Decades of Darkness time-line.

Although frankly with the loss of South Carolina and Georgia in my alt-Revoluntary War I am not sure how things are going to play out if I pick up again. The general idea is that a solid American VICTORY at Guilford Court House keeps Cornwallis in South Carolina with his army. His grand plan to move into Virigina is scuttled as he recupurates.

The ending battle of the war is nstead in New York City where Geogre Washington force Henry Clinton to surrended with the help of Admiral DeGrasse Fleet. The resulting peace leave 11 colonies independent and South Carolina and Georgia in the hands of the British.

The great Loyalist migration after the peace does not go into Canada. Most head to Carolina and Georgia and smaller number lands in Nova Scotia. Resulting in a nearly empty Upper Canada and simmering resentment in Nova Scotia.

The problems that erupted under the Articles of Confederation in our time-line are magnified in this time-line. This results a new western state, a civil war in North Carolina, a genocide in Pennsylvania, and the shooting of Benjamin Franklin. Then to top it all off the United States has to fight the 2nd War of Independence.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Old School Association (we don't have to get along)

Here Zachary talks about the movement towards an association of Old School Publishers. Specifically the goal is to have a booth at GenCon showcasing the various products that have been released.

In the comments Gleichman points that various parties in the Old School revival will have trouble working together because of objections over content. This is referring to the recent controversy over the Carcosa supplement.

Quite simply any Old School Association should focus on Business. If people expect it to police content whether it for moral standards or just to anoint what is "officially" old school then it will quickly devolve into cliques and fragment the publishers.

The market will sufficiently punish people who stray to far in both circumstances by simply not buying the product. Right now the market is small enough that word quickly spread. Even if the current efforts are a total success we are talking thousands for a least next few years.

If the Old School Association gets off the ground I plan on joining. As long as it is focused on the business of getting our stuff into the hands of players and referees I don't care who else joins.

For those of you who write old school material and read this blog I hope you will seriously consider joining a business oriented Association. If we can bundle our products then we have a shot of getting the volume needed to get them into the distribution chain which will seriously increase our ability to reach the entire RPG market.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Weather

It cold here in Northwest PA, really really cold.

So cold that the bleach froze in groceries in the car.

On some areas on Mars it is warmer there than here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beyond the Ages of D&D

Grognardia gives a nice summary of the Ages of D&D here. While you can argue some of the exact dates his summary dovetails nicely with my memories of how the D&D changed over the years. One of the comments he ends the summary with is about D&D 3.0 and it successors.

The advent of the Open Gaming License associated with the 3.0 edition had several beneficial impact for fans of the original games. Many of these benefits took several years to realized but all of them contributed to the revival of Old School gaming.

#1) This point is independent of the OGL, D&D 3.0 succeeded in returning many people into the hobby. The impact on Old School gaming was that not only the number of gamers were increased but many were involved again who played in the 70s and 80s.

#2) The pool of potential old school gamers was not only increased in quantity but in diversity. A wider range of resources, skills, and talents were avaliable in the world of gaming.

#3) The OGL lowered the barrier of entry into the market but removing the requirement that you had to have your own RPG. Now people can focused on settings, adventures, races, etc.

The combination of the previous two paragraphs lead to the formation of many third party companies. Necromancer Games, Goodman, Games, Troll Lord Games, Green Ronin, etc. Several were founded explictly to cater to older gamers notably Necromancer Games. While others later started product lines that appealed to older gamers and sold well to everyone. (Goodman Game's Dungeon Crawl Classics).

Several author of old school products, including myself, got their start writing for one or more of these companies.

The big problems of using a out of print game is twofold. First there is copyright. In the US rule mechanics can't be copyright. This is great for something like Tunnels & Trolls or any other RPG that is similar but not the same as D&D. However there is the problem of trade dress. In the US the law frowns on competitors making items that pretend they are an offical part of another's product line.

However the OGL made nearly all of the trade dress that needed for a older D&D clone avaliable provided that your rules follow the OGL.

Castles and Crusades was the first major attempt at this and became the backbone of Troll Lordl's Product line. Dissatification with Castles and Crusades lead to OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and other retro clones.

Finally the continued rise of the internet made a PDF market viable. Not only further lowering the barriers of entry, PDFs can make avaliable older material that publishers feel are too unencomical to print. Within a handful of years nearly all of the material for the older editions were made avaliable.

The retro-clones are still useful even with the older rules avaliable as often they are easier to learn from. They also serve useful to publishers as the definition of what the boundaries are in reusing older content.

2008 saw a continuing expansion of NEW material for the older edition. Even a bit of controversy with the Carcosa supplement for original D&D. It been building up but somewhere in 2007 to 2008 everything started to click.

I see continual slow but steady growth in the market for material for older editions. I do feel that if we want to expand out base we are going to have to come up with RPG material that not found in any other market. Something that takes advantage of the strength of older edition but yet is completely new.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Luminous Nebula

One of the RPGs that I am a big fan but never get to play is Traveller. The latest edition, Mongoose Traveller, does a good job of presenting the original classic version and expanding it for the modern gamer. I am bit leery of buying the follow on supplement as they have the usual hit or miss quality that Mongoose has. This in combination with their high prices that always gives me a pause.

I will probably pick up High Guard and whatever supplement that has expanded world generation. I am looking forward to seeing how Babylon 5 works using the Traveller system.

We are getting a ton of snow up here in Northwest Pennsylvania so I decided to fool around with some ship design. The one I like best the Luminous Nebula 200 ton Jump-5 spaceship. A bit impractical but since when adventurers have practicality in mind?

Of course I couldn't stop there so I pulled out some CorelDRAW templates I used in the last Traveller game I GMed and finished it up formally. You can download it from here.

Have fun with it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

So a drunken, leper priest walks into the tavern.

Sounds like a beginning of a joke, but nope, that's my new Harn character. After reading Rob's exploits with his last Harn game I asked if I could roll up a Harn character because it sounded like fun. And if was for the first couple of hours. The third hour I was wondering if it was going to make me roll my shoe size and nose hair length. My concept going in was to play a soldier turned priest. In Rob's game you need someone who can fight or you won't last long. My rolls were underwhelming. My soldier ended up being the size of a nine year old, but did have some skills. Then I rolled four times on the (I forget the chart name) chart where you get 2 points to add to attributres but there is a good chance your going to get slammed with something. First two rolls nothing. Next roll, leper. Okay. Hmm. That might be interesting. One more time I tell Rob. Alcoholic. Rob seemed pleased with the combo and I thought this should be cool to play.

I have to say my first experiences with Hard were not fun. This time around it was a lot more enjoyable. Josh and managed to save a village from a big mean rock troll. Took us about an hour and half to collect the information we needed. We weren't sure what we were going to face and I know Harn can kill you with a stub toe. The combat was different and exciting. Any one hit can end you. It added a lot more suspense than subracting hit points and knowing healing surges were there just in case (okay one shot at 4th ed).

The strongest aspect of the game was the depth of the character that allowed me to role-play my drunken, leper priest who used to be a soldier character. I was able to conceal my condition from everyone so far including my Josh whose character fails every awareness roll. There is a depth here that I find lacking in most systems. Granted, it can be tedious and the extensive rules can bog down a game, but overall I am glad I gave Harn a second chance. I'm not sure when we will get another chance to play Harn again, but you can be damn sure I am transfering my character into what ever system I am playing.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I am not sure if I spelled the title of this post correctly. The term is used by many to criticize the approach Wizards have taken to the 4th edition D&D. A short summary of my opinion on 4th edition is that it is a fun RPG but it is not D&D. Over on the RPG Pundit's blog there has been a series of posts criticizing 4th edition.

Ryan Dancey had a long comment talking about the amount of playtesting 4th edition got. One comment stood out to me.

I haven't played enough 4E to know - what's the community cosensus on the monster powers and abilities? Does it look like a rush job, or is everything really well balanced?

My initial was "So what why this even a consideration for monsters?"

The emphasis on balanced encounters and adventure paths are almost the antithesis of my approach on sandbox gaming. Sure it is nice to know the math behind the monsters and treasure so you design the various locales of your setting to your liking. Whether a Level 9 Orc Solider is really 8 or 10 is meaningless in my book. As long as it is in the ballpark is adequate to decide how to use it in my setting.

Wizard making this the core approach of their RPG is a mistake. Most gaming doesn't occur in conventions, or tournaments but rather with a group of players having the undivided attention of a

In the past 25 years of gaming both tabletop and live-action. I found that the players have the most FUN when it is THEY that set the direction, the goals, and the destinations. To able freely wander and explore exploits the greatest advantages of RPGs. The flexibility of human imagination is an advantage over computer MMORPGs will have difficulty doing for a long long time.

That is as long we make realizing what the referees imagine easy and quick. That where I feel the strength of 4th edition lies. In the history of RPGs there have been several approaches to this. Many revolve around rule-lite systems. Original D&D was very rules light and many continue to play it to this day because of this.

However many players like rules with a more tactical feel where the combat options are part of the rules rather at a referees whim and recall. Many try doing this and often wind up with less than stellar results. It takes a very good game designer, like Steve Jackson of SJ Games, to make a solid set of rules that is through and easy to play. Yet GURPS has a fatal flaw in that it prep time is enormous compared to that of Original D&D.

Therein lies the appeal of 4th edition D&D for me. That it combines ease of play, ease of prep, but a tactically rich set of rules. The reason it works for 4th edition is that it uses Magic the Gathering system of a simple set of core rules but a lot of exceptions spelled out clearling in the descriptions of the powers. So everything can be combined on one card or section and you can play it without looking at the rule book.

This is just a toolkit for a referee to present a vision of his setting and adventures for his players. Of course the parent company, Wizards, is going to use the toolkit to present their own settings and adventures. And here one of the areas that Wizards fumbles the ball.

I agree with the RPG Pundit that all of their adventures are setup like they are going to be used for tournaments. The adventures suffer for this. In terms of content vs price, plot complexity, etc. Oddly enough most of the 4e Settings I read, Fallcrest, Nentir Vale, are written very much in the older style with sparse stats and lost of good content vs page count.

The adventures simply don't need to be written that way. If you need 4 Orc Soliders, 1 Shaman, and 1 Leuitenant. You can just pull out their cards and have every thing you need. I found in refereeing 4th edition that the monster stat block have everything I need and I don't have to go diving in to the rule book. A section of the DMG guide even talks about solo adventures where you have a stack of monster cards and use that as a random generator.

What I would be doing is making everything a drop-in add-on. Designed work in some random referee campaign. Need a Orc Lair buy O1 Lair of the Orc Warlord. Need a slum neighborhood complete with thieves guild. Buy TH1 Skullgrave Quarter. Do this from the small scale to the large scale like my own Points of Light. Make dozens of interchangable pieces that referees can combine to create their own unique setting Make each piece easy to use and understand.

If they ever get the GSL revised I may do just that.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why Points of Light?

The RPG Pundit reviews Points of Light here

More than the other reviews of Points of Light he goes into the connection between the title, the product and the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

And there is a story behind that.

Points of Light had it's genesis in the work I did for the Wilderlands of High Fantasy (by Necromancer Games and Judges Guild). Many of my motivations was due to being a fan of City-State, the Wilderlands, and Bob Bledsaw. However one thing really got me interested was being involved with ressurecting an older format. A product having maps with numbered hexes and detailing locations keyed to the hexes. Something that I always found useful in the 30+ years I been DMing. As grand and great the boxed set of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy was, it is too expensive for somebody new to the format to buy.

After Dark Tower by Goodman Games was released I was searching for something new to do when I ran across an image of the Outdoor Survival Map. So on a lark I transferred the image to my computer and made a Wilderland Style hex map for it. I was starting to get involved with the Original D&D forum and thought it would be a great submission for Fight On! or even a product in it's own right. Not only with a map but with a series of entries keyed to the hexes like the Wilderlands. It would be cheap and serve as a great intro to the format. Also appeal to a segment of gamers because of it's associatation with the history of D&D.

A helpful Wizard employee PMed me and directed me to the person to ask for permission.

They said no. It was a polite and nice email but still no.

For some reason this irked me. "Fine!" I thought. "I will make a new map, use my original notes for the entries and find somebody to publish it."

Since I had a good experience working with Goodman Games. I pitched to Joesph Goodman via email.

I didn't explain it well enough. He thought I wanted to publish a book of maps only. Tried again, I still didn't make it clear enough. So I wrote up half of what was to become Southland and pitched it again. That did the trick and he accepted it.

The original pitch was for a nostalgia project. However Joseph Goodman wanted to tie it somehow to the upcoming release of 4th edition. Somewhere in the conversation the Rich Baker article on Points of Light came up. Southland somewhat fit the idea of "Points of Light" and I could easily make the remaining three lands revolve around that theme. After a trademark search turned up nothing for Points of Light in reference to gaming. We had a title.

I understood the risks in this. I pitched this as a similar product to the Castle & Crusade, and 1st Edition modules that Goodman already offers. By tying this to fourth edition I could alienate the old school market. But you can't just ignore the world largest market of roleplayers either. Goodman Games has to make sure that their main line of products reach the largest audience possible. This especially true for something new and untested like my proposal.

I figured I would stick with the original list of monsters. What stats there are would be HD and Class/Level. These items would be almost surely be in the new edition and help with selling the product to the old school market. I was also active on various Old School Forums. Since the Old School market had it first resurgance on the Internet in the first place as long I made myself avaliable I could correct any misconceptions about the product.

Two my oldest friends and gaming buddies, Tim and Dwayne agreed to be onboard with this project. A lot of the "bit and pieces" I drew on in my writings had come from the games the three of us were involved with. Tim became my editor, while Dwayne handled the writing of Acheron and Wildland. I completed Southlands, the maps, and Borderland.

Despite Acheron being the only land directly from my campaign of 25 years, Dwayne's memory is way better than mine. He remembered more of the details of Sarrath, Artos, the Boglings, and the rest of Acheron that I ever did.

So in the end, with the help of my friends and Goodman Games, I was able to do what I wanted. Have a product that introduced people to a forgotten format. A format that not just some theory or abstract notion but one that proven to work over the years for many GMs.

Finally when 4th edition was released the first thing I did was opened the DM Guide to the setting of Fallcrest and Nentir Vale. After all the talk of Encounte4zation I was surprised to see how much of the entries echoed the work I did on Points of Light. The actual dungeon of course was very much the reported fourth edition style. But the town and setting could have been ripped out and be a chapter of my product with some minor touch up.

This was a big relief to me as now all I have to contend with is the bias against third party products by many gamers. I didn't have to waste time justify the lack of stats because "Hey! It the standard set by Wizards for their products." I don't have to worry about the mess of the GSL either as I am not copying anything from 4th edition.

While I can't release the actual figures, I got one quarter's result in and sales seems to be ok for this type of product. Enough so that there will be another Points of Light in the Spring. The reviews by Grognardia, Jeff Rients, and others certainly helped making people aware. I appreciate the RPG Pundit taking the time to tell it how it is.