Thursday, September 30, 2010

Introducing Gliese 581g

Astronomers may just found the first candidate for an earthlike planet. It 20 light years away and orbits an M-class start. It is larger than the earth and tide locked to it's star. Which means it's day is as long as it's year. It is orbiting right in the middle of the zone that supports liquid water.

Since M-class stars are so common this is good news to finding more earthlike world. The only bad part of the discovery is that the planet doesn't transit the star so they don't have any tools yet to analyze it's atmosphere.

Time for Traveller Fans to start updating their charts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fine Art Printing and RPG Maps

I am always on the look out for a way to print and sell poster size maps economically. Currently the only remotely practical solution I know of is Cafepress and that is just barely economically. You will be paying a premium even if I don't add any profit. I can always just count it as a customer service focusing on the profitability with the main book. But the other issue is that is not bundled with the purchase of the original item (PDF or hard copy). You have to setup another account and pay a separate shipping & handling.

So I keeping an eye on what going on with Print on Demand. In doing this I stumbled onto the world of fine art printing. The basic gist is that you scan or upload a digital image and a print is made on canvas or fine paper that is near museum quality. It is printed and it looks like a painting due to the quality of the ink, the printing process, and the number of ink types (some up to 12 instead of the regular 3 or 4 ink process) .

Giclee (jhee-clay) is one of these fine art printing processes. Giclee Printing Services is one such site. A Lulu like site can be found at Imagekind. Now these prints can be expensive for example a Giclee 17" by 22" print (wilderland map size) is nearly $50. But if you want the best quality map possible this is the way to get it printed out. Some offer scanning services for additional $$$.

This is probably not a viable option for anything in OSR publishing but for the individual gamer it may be a great way of preserving or displaying their own maps at the highest level of quality.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Review of Points of Light

Carnifex gives an informative review of Points of Light.

Appreciate the review and comments. I am glad people are still discovering this even two years after it's release.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon Tiles

The part of D&D Esstentials I was looking forward too is the new Dungeon Tile sets. I missed the initial run so I don't have all the basic and I viewed the three sets coming up as an excellent opportunity to finally get them.

I bought the first and it didn't disappoint. The most impressive feature is that the box itself is a dungeon tile. It breaks down into a two inch high platform 9 squares by 12 AND a 1 inch high platform (the cover) 9 squares by 12. The sides are printed with pillars/columns to add to the effect.

Inside there are ten sheets of dungeon tiles. The basics and a few from preexisting sets like the Hall of the Fire Giants. They have the same solid heavy feel as the rest of the dungeon tile series.

Overall this is a good deal at $20 and with the three upcoming sets you pretty much have all the basics covered.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Straight off the Moldavy Press, The Elf Lord's Temple

On Saturday the 25th I referred the final levels of the Elf Lord's Temple at the Gold Star Anime in Edinboro. I will have a play report later this week but for now I thought everybody would like to see the raw notes I used.

In earlier posts I remarked how minimal the early dungeon write-ups appeared to be. So using the Moldavy dungeon stocking rules I decided to give this a try. The random results were surprisingly easy to make sense of. Easy to fit around the few special locations I knew had to be in the dungeon.

Speficially I generated this using the Moldavy Dungeon Stocking rules level 3 of the Monster & Treasure Assortment for the Ground level, Level 4 for the 1st level of the Temple, and Level 5 for the 2nd level (Maze) portion of the temple.

I am not sure how it work out for a novice referee but as somebody with experience it was easy to look at the entries and come up with the details based on the general theme of the dungeon and the sparse description.

I am planning on fleshing it out for publication later in the year. Basically putting in the details that I come up with during my various playtests.

You can see for yourself by downloading this PDF. If you are planning to attend Erie Days of Gaming and play my events in November don't read this.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Fantasy Sandbox in Detail Part XVII

Thanks to Zachary of RPG Blog 2 for helping with yesterday's prank.
Part XVI

This is the seventeenth in a series detailing the 34 steps I recommended for making a Fantasy Sandbox Campaign. Today's post will cover part of the following step.
Pick the starting population locale and draw a full page map of the settlement. This is the "Home Base"
From Step VIII
0403 Mikva (castle, town) Human
This is a small castle town of 800 humans with several dozen Dwarves and Halflings. The castle itself sits on a bluff overlooking the bay. It is the seat of the current Baron of Piall, Argus Gervon. A several trading vessels stop here every week to pick up ingots from Southpoint. Before the fall monsoon season dozens of traders put in at Mikva to attend the Piall Fair. Here the island’s grain, and more importantly wool is traded for goods and supplies needed for the next year.

Currently the King’s Sheriff Tomar Revan is staying at the one of the wealthiest merchants in Mikva; the Honorable Orlon Beras. The Sheriff is currently using offices at the Mikva Trading Hall to conduct his investigation and any other Royal business. There is considerable tension between Baron Argus and the Sheriff.

For this post I will go step by step about how I create a town map. Roughly these are the steps I do for hand maps as well.

First I start with a blank hex map. I use .28 inch hexes at 40 feet per hex. This gives enough coverage to draw towns and villages. For cities I go a larger page size.

I start by turning the Coast layer and drawing in the coast line. At this level rivers are considered coasts as well. Streams, if any are drawn as lines on a separate layer. I try to make the coast line a complete shape that can be filled with white. The coast layer is above the hex layer.

Next I toggle on the water layer and put down a page size rectangle of 20% gray. I copy the coast I drew and copy it to a ground layer beneath the Hex layer. I fill it with white. You may want to look at River Secrets and adding a glow effect for shallow water.

Next I add in vegetations by drawing areas and filling them in with various terrain fills. I also added some cliff and steep contours. Finally put in cropland. By now you should be getting a sense of how the physical layout will turn out. All this on the vegetation layer and below the hex layer.

Next I add walls which are a major constraints on how a town is developed. For Mikva I choose to go with an early version of Chepstow Castle. I added wooden palisades. The reasoning is that Mikva isn't wealthy enough to build town walls but does wish to control access to the market. Hence a wooden palisade. All this goes on the Wall layer which is above the Hex layer.

Now all this is beginning to enough to suggest a network of road. I do this in two stage. First I just focus on the major roads. Later after I place the buildings I will work on minor roads. All of these are lines and filled shapes at 40% gray. The road layer lies above the hex layer.

I then take the population and divide it by 5 to a rough idea of how many building I will need. This comes from assuming there is an average of 5 people per household. This works out to 160 or so. Because Mikva is still developing as a town I decided that is about half are individual buildings. Most mud and whattle huts. I don't keep an exact count as long as I get close. What I care about is that it looks dense and big enough for the population.

All this goes on the building layer above the hex layer. Next I finished up the paths by looking at the placement of the buildings. I leave the keying of the map for later after I complete the next several steps of detailing the town.

By computer or by hand you will have a map showing the home base of the players.

Of course many of you are wondering what the heck is going and why this post is here. Well I was wandering around and since some folks have been having trouble distinguishing Bat in the Attic from The RPG Blog 2 I thought it would be just as well that I drop it off here.

Thanks to Zach for agreeing to this. He and I don't collaborate often but it is always fun when we do. (Thanks again for having me on the podcast). So I hope you, everybody else, and especially Jim enjoy our little prank.

That it for part XVII next is Part XVIII where we go into further detail about the town of Mikva and return back to the Attic.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Adventuring Group Charters

Hey guys! Zachary Houghton from RPG Blog 2 here! Since Mr. Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess can’t seem to tell Mr. Conley from Mr. Houghton, in spite of the fact that he deals with us both on a fairly regular basis, we’ve done a bit of a switch today. After all, we’re interchangeable in Raggi’s eyes!

There are a few key differences however.

Rob wrote the Majestic Wilderlands, one of the most entertaining takes on a setting in recent memory.

I…did not.

Rob is a wonderful cartographer, whose mapwork is rightly praised as being in an excellent, useful, and classic style.

I…am not.

Well, sure we could go on, but I feel like stopping there, don’t you? Instead, let’s talk about adventuring group contracts or charters. I’m not talking about a social contract, where the players decide things such as who brings food, how to handle disruptions, etc. No, this is a group charter, for player characters. Its main purpose to set a baseline in divvying up loot, treasure, and payment for services rendered.

For example, in a group of four, the charter might read the 20% of any profit from loot and treasure goes to each group member, with the remaining 20% going to group costs (resurrections, potions, lodging, supplies, etc.)

The benefits of a group charter are that everyone has an idea how treasure will be split up, leading to less argument, back-stabbing, and in-game delay. Here are a few possible ideas for your charter:

-Magic users can argue whether or not the cost of their components should be covered. Fighters and others can try to put in a stipulation that they are recompensed for broken/lost weapons or armor.

-Magic items can be split up by means of a rotation. If #1 gets the magic spear, great. He drops to spot #4, and the next man up gets first chance at the next magic item. If no one wants the item, it is sold, and the money is split.

-Magic items can also be bid upon, using the loot shares from the treasure haul. If the mage bids 5000 gold for that Staff of Power, that 5000 gold is spread among the other players.

-Roleplaying these negotiations when a new player comes in can be a lot of fun—do you give them a lesser share until they’ve proven themselves?

-How are henchman provided for? Do they get a few coppers for each expedition, or are they paid out of the common share? Be careful—pay them too little and you might be at the wrong end of the coup de gras on second watch!

Likewise, negotiating perks can be a blast, too, even if your character doesn’t survive the adventuring. Does your Adventurer’s Guild Charter include paying the cost of an elaborate funeral for a fallen member?

If you haven’t already, consider suggesting to your players that their characters take the time to write up a group charter. It can be as fancy or plain as you want, but if it saves time arguing over that +1 dagger or how to divvy up the dragon’s hoard, you might find it a valuable addition to your game.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Crazy Thought about Patronage

Over on the theRPGSite is a discussion about Internet patronage system. The basic gist a company or author will put a project and say that it will get developed and printed if so many people contribute to it. There are a bunch of variation on the scheme.

It's distractors call it the "Ransom" system. In it's most negative light it is saying "I won't produce X unless you give me Y dollar." And that appears to rub many the wrong way.

As for myself, I shrug and marvel at yet another way that the internet allows for things to be done. However I will say that a part-timer should think twice before taking this path because once you start taking money you are going to be committed to get it down. In the best case if things go wrong you will have egg on your face and your reputation takes a hit, in the worst well you looking at explaining yourself in front of a judge.

During the theRPGSite the original idea of patronage came up. A wealthy individual commissions an Artist to X for Y amount of money. That got me thinking up a crazy idea.

What if a bunch of fans, or folks who want to see something new out of an beloved author or designer pool their money in an attempt to give said author a commission to produce what they wanted. Some will say no but perhaps some yes. The difference between the other patronage system is that the payers are going to get the work they want instead of picking from a limited list. Popular authors may be able to get some nice pocket change by accepting commission.

Now I am not advocating this for me. I got enough on my plate for now between my cartography contracts and getting Bat in the Attic stuff out the door. But I range far and wide among different forums, blogs and other sites and I can see this happening in some cases to the profit (money and satisfaction) of both parties.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Odds and Ends

Thanks to Grognardia's Get Lamp post I found this collection of old BBS RPG text. AD&D 2nd Edition fans should find lots of goodies.

For those of you using Virtual Table top Devin's Gaming Tokens has a great selection that author generously made free. Although he does accept donations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

From the Attic: Lisal

A lot of people like the hexmap style of the Known world of Mystara. Hexographer is one of the best program to get to map in this style. Here is bunch of volunteers have put together a comprehensive collection of Mystara maps.

I too dabbled in the style. For a while in the late 80s I did some work on a campaign world that was completely my own work. I figured if I ever got a chance I would use this for publishing stuff as the base of the Majestic Wilderlands belonged to Judges Guild. It never worked out so it still sits in a folder. Many of you will recognize this as basic backdrop of the How to build a Fantasy Sandbox series.

Here is the entire map of Lisal as it was originally done.

The reason you don't see settlements or borders is because I had a separate folder full of historical maps. Some of which you can see here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More on Emirikol the Chaotic's Ride,

So now that I know that the the cityscape in the drawing of Emirikol the Chaotic was taken from the Street of Knights in Rhodes; I fired up Google Earth and the photo feature to see where the guy was heading.

In the picture in the right the red line represents the Street of Knights and the supposed path of Emirikol the Chaotic.

The crude X is roughly where the viewpoint of Trampier's picture is located.

A short distance behind the viewer of the ride is a small enclosed plaza ( I am sure there some technical term for it). It has a roof and archway all around it from what I can tell. It looks large so I don't think that would be a problem.

Until he stopped death raying his pursuers and turned around.

Looks like he riding right into the courtyard in front of the main castle. If he lucky (and skilled enough) he may be able to get out by a road going to the right of the enclosed plaza but given the breakneck speed suggested by the drawing and the fact he just 10 feet or so from entering said plaza that probably unlikely.

So into the main courtyard where the guards undoubtedly wait. If was in the Majestic Wilderlands they would have Knight Killer Crossbows as well.

Well Emirikol it was nice knowing you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Imagining D&D for myself.

To answer James question over at Grognardia is the below image of Emirikol the Chaotic. Not so much Emirikol himself but the detail of the city behind him. Made me go "I want to know this place where this kind of crazy stuff can happen.

Thanks to pseckler13 I just learned the cityscape in the drawing was taken from a real place. Namely the Street of the Knights in Rhodes. Thanks for sharing this.

Two cool sites with free stuff.

I mentioned these in passing in prior posts but I want to give them another shout out.

First is Dragonsfoot they have a huge selection of older edition material and support and it all free.

Likewise Lythia has a wealth of Harn material much of it usable for any fantasy RPG.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From really deep in the Attic: Medieval Admiralty Law

I found this interesting document that has one of the earliest codes for Admiralty law in Western Europe. It was promulgated by none other than Eleanor of Aquitaine the wife of King Henry II of England the mother of King Richard the Lionhearted and King John.

Her first husband was king Louis VII of France and she accompanied him on the Second Crusade. During this she was impressed at how the Byzantines and the Arabs handled maritime disputes and brought it back to her for use in the Duchy of Aquitaine. Later it became the foundation of Admiralty in England when she ruled England in Richard's absence while he was crusading.

Article XX may be relevance when the PCs are members of the crew. Hope two man parties work out for the group and that one day's ration last them.

Article XX

When a vessel arrives at Bordeaux, or any other place, two of the mariners at a time may go ashore, and take with them one meal of such victuals as are in the ship, therein cut and provided; as also bread proportionably as much as they eat at once, but no drink: and they ought very speedily, and in season, to return to their vessel, that thereby the master may not lose his tide; for if so, and damage come thereby, they are bound to make satisfaction; or if any of their company be hurt for want of their help, they are to be at such charge for his recovery, as one of his fellow mariners, or the master, with those of his table shall judge convenient.

Plot in your Sandbox Campaign

The nature of a roleplaying game means that the players are always doing unexpected things. Where the referee creativity comes in is planning out the consequences of what the players given the circumstances and the NPC's motivations. Not in writing a story that the players ride along with.

It doesn't matter what the results of the encounter is before it happens. What important is afterwards when you decide how the NPCs and the environment react and change.

A Story Arcs needs to be Plot Arc and it is a plan of action that will change after the PCs interact with each encounter. Think of your setting, NPCS, and locale as a bag of stuff. What mix get put out depends on where your PCs are, and what they did. With this you don't have to worry that a specific outcome must occur at a specific time.

The easiest way of planning the plot is to think of it as series of What Ifs. What if Darkon the Lich gets killed here, what if he survives? While it appears to be daunting in practice these What Ifs turn out to be limited. The interests of the players, and how they play, are strong clues as to what they would reasonably do. You can use this knowledge to manipulate the players as well to narrow the range of possibilities you have to prepare for.

Not everything is fluid either. For example if you had an volcanic eruption planned for two months into the campaign then it will generally go off. It going to be your call as to which part of the plot's timeline is like this. Also no wins are fine, if the players have plenty of warning.

If two sessions into a 13th century medieval Europe campaign, they decide to go and get Genghis Khan's head then it going to be highly probable it will be the PC's heads that will wind up a heap. But the saving grace of the situation is that likely the PCs will hear about the size of Mongol army and the nature of the Khan's guard well before they get to the point of no return. Put out the information and if they ignore it, let the dice fall where they roll.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stack Exchange RPG Update

The RPG Stack Exchange site is up and running. Not without a few issues. Some didn't like the fact that other can edit their questions and answers. Like all such things there is a learning curve among the participants and some will take to it and some will prefer the community of a forum.

I asked a couple of questions that I got good answers on. For example I was working on the city of Viridistan and was trying to figure out the immediate geography of the surrouding area.

The resulting answers helped a lot and ultimately led me to several places to look notably medieval London.

So even if you are not going to participate on a regular basis you may want to try asking a question or two for something that you are preparing or wondering about. We need more people that are knowlegable about other game systems to particpate as well. As D&D 4e questions predominate the questions.

The last bit of news is that I been one of the four moderators for the beta. So if you have any specific issue or question let me know.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Essentials of the D&D Starter Set.

It is not 4.5e. It is D&D 4e with new classes and some reworked powers (for example Magic Missile) Dealing with the changes will feel similar when getting cards with changes or errata in Magic the Gathering.

It not a full ruleset like Mentzer's Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It is designed to take somebody who hasn't played Dungeons & Dragons at all and teach them to play and referee. It has enough additional material to for a couple of sessions of play and for the referee to come up with his own adventures.

It is meant not so much to be read but to be used. From the beginning of the players books to the start of the last chapters of the Dungeon Master's book it is designed be read in order and has the reader doing stuff from the first couple of pages onward.

This places the Starter Set not in the Holmes, Moldavy, Mentzer lineage but in the various First Quest, and other beginning D&D set.

There is very little reference material, in fact for somebody experienced in roleplaying this books will seem tedious and confusing. Only references it has are the power/item/actions cards that are included and a small monster reference. They do get +1 for including two pages about Nentir's Vale in the back. I always like this mini-setting, felt it had great potential as a setting for a sandbox campaign.

The Twisting Halls is one of the places that the Starter Set shines. It is seven encounters that the authors made interesting and challenging. The dungeon for the D&D day is a follow up to this module. It includes a full color double sided battlemap with the Twisting Halls on one side and a some smaller encounters on the other. It has dice, some nice character sheets, and a full color set of counters to use for miniatures

Physically the box is one of the sturdiest I seen. There is a inset that you can remove that they use to package the contents. Once remove I can see that much of the D&D Essential line will fit into it. My D&D 4e referee screen likewise also fits.

The player book is setup in a choose your adventure style designed to teach a person about creating and playing one of the four iconic classes (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Thief). They use the standard array for assigning attributes.

The Dungeon Master is a more traditional read and has the usual 4e excellent advice on DMing followed by some encounters for a novice referee to try running, followed by the Twisting Hall, detail on creating your own encounters, the Monsters Reference, and finally two pages on Nentil's Vale.

The books are printed in full color magazine style as well as the paper (thick and glossy).

So what do I think about it. Well.... it not aimed at me, my friends, or the readers of this blog. They are not kidding about it being for 24 million players of D&D that are not currently playing. I can see a dad or a mom who hasn't played in 20 years going "oooo... this looks familiar" picking up the Starter Set and learning how to play D&D 4e. The Twisting Hall dungeon, shines as an example of 4e design filled with interesting and created encounters.

But I think it going to fail.

Why? It not because every single starter set failed where the Holmes, Moldavy, Mentzer, version succeeded. Because in the introduction they make the fatal mistake of taking D&D head to head with video games.
The Dungeons & Dragons game is the original pen-and-paper roleplaying game, the inspiration for generations of other games both on the tabletop and on computers and game consoles. If you've ever played Neverwinter Nights, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, or games like those., you already have some idea of what the Dungeons & Dragons game is about. With this book you're about to experience the game in its latest and greatest incarnation.
In subsequent paragraphs they describe how you going to enter a fantastic world of adventure, take on the role of a legendary hero in a world filled with ancient ruins, vast caverns, and wild frontiers.

And so what? I can already do that with those computer games and with a lot less hassle. So what makes Dungeons & Dragon different today. I give D&D a pat in the head for being the progenitor of we see today but those 24 million players are not going to put with the hassles of running a tabletop rpg you got to make a case for it. And they don't do that. Instead it leaps into the details of the mechanics the games which dominates the remaining 96 pages. Yes there are a few pages of player and referee advice. Good advice in fact. But they are overshadowed but the sheer bulk of the encounter and stat blocks. And all the encounters are about combat and direct conflict.

The singular advantage of roleplaying games is in the human element. The human referee, the human players. The infinite imagination and creativity they bring to the table. And that doesn't come across with only 2 pages (6 and 7 of the DM Section) devoted to stuff other than the mechanics of the game.

The encounters the authors made for the Twisting Halls are interesting and well thought out but without the larger picture they are without soul and just pieces on the board for the players to kill. I feel bad hammering this because here and there I can see the authors injecting things that are great hooks for roleplaying. For a novice or somebody hasn't played in decades these are not obvious and there nothing written on how to use them if they do notice them.

Because of this game feels like more complicated version of pushing chess pieces around. It not a problem of mechanical complexity but a problem of presentation. There are plenty of RPGs with complex mechanics that do a great job of promoting roleplaying as well as combat. In today's market the human element of roleplaying is the only thing that separates the tabletop game from it's computer version and starter sets need to pound on that to make a lasting difference for their parent game.

I give Mike Mearls and the 4e team an A for the Starter Set as a tutorial to use the D&D 4e mechanics. But as a introduction to the roleplaying game it doesn't do Dungeons & Dragons justice.

So how can this be fixed with the D&D Starter Set?

With apologies to Mike Mearl and the 4e design team but I had to do it being the grognard that I am.

I will have a follow up on the actual play. It was a lot of fun and I got to referee another person's first roleplaying game.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Refereeing the Maze

In the last Swords & Wizardry session at the Gold Star Anime I decided to try representing the maze in the dungeon a little differently. My goal was to represent it's confusing nature better. To this end I decided to use the Dwarven Forge set that I own. I would only show a single section. Adding to it as the party advance along tearing down the rear.

This is a picture of what it looks like in action.

Another shot a little further out.

The gentleman in the red shirt is Jerry Humes. He and his wife run the Gold Star Anime and make it a friendly place. I encourage everybody in the Edinboro area to give as much business as they reasonably can. They provided the game space and the above photos. It been a lot of fun running Swords & Wizardry for everybody up there.

Also I will be up there Saturday Afternoon running a D&D 4e Essential if anybody interested in coming.

No I am not turning to the dark side. So put down those light sabers and blast pistols.

I should be running another S&W game in a week or two. Jerry and I will work out the schedule and let everybody know.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

So you want to draw a really large dungeon?

Well you may want some really large graph paper to do it with.

There is this at Locally you may try to find a office supply place that sells drafting supplies. Somewhere they will have a rack that hold their large format papers. You want to look for a smaller shop as the big box office stores do not generally stock this stuff.

If you search around you can go up to 27 by 34.

I also recommend looking at Computation Books they are 9.25 by 11.75. The graph paper versions are generally 4 spi. Each page is numbered and there are blank flyleafs you can write on. (like a table of contents) I have one that still good after 25 years that has the majority of my old dungeons in it. It has a heavy cardstock cover which makes it durable.

This is the brand of the one that I had for 25 years.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

From the Attic: Star Wars, Star Trek, Galactica and oh what the hell add Battle of the Planets

James over at Grognardia has a good series of posts on his memories of pre-Empire Star Wars.

Likewise for me in the summer of 1977 Star Wars had a huge impact on me. Then in rapid succession we had Star Trek the Motion Picture, and Battlestar Galactica. The first anime cartoons were also being adapted for US televisions. While I loved the early 70s stuff like the Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of the Apes (move and tv series) These three movies were head and shoulders above what came before.

Coupled with reading Niven, Heinlein, Asimov, Pournelle, Piper, for the first time. The late 70s fired up my imagination just before I found a little game called Dungeons & Dragons.

I collected a good collection of 6 inch Star Wars figure. I had some sets but I also had a mix of other 6 inches stuff like a few micronauts, the Space 1999 Eagle (boy that was huge) and other.

I had to put together in some grand story like the sci-fi novels I was reading at the time. I threw some Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and even some Battle of the Planets. Even had a map which I used to set adventures I created for my characters. I used a compassed and I had a set of rules which I still remember after 30 years that I use to create it quickly on a piece of paper.

It started out as the United Federation of Planets as human dominated space faring civilization. The backbone of the fleet was the mighty battlestars which was represented by an upside down ship hull. There was a series of model kits you could buy to build a sailing ship. The base of the kit was a solid hunk of wood about 12 inches long that was carved in the shape of a wooden sailing ship.

For some reason this particular model never got built. So I inverted it, carved some weapons bays, a niche for the bridge, and there was line of holes intended for attaching hook for the rigging that became launch tubes for the vipers and x-wings based on the battlestar.

The Enemies of the UFP were the robotic Cylons, The Spectra Empire was ruled by the bad guy from battle of the planets. And the remains of the Benin Republic once the rival of the UFP. There was a bunch of small states scattered along the frontiers.

However not all was idyllic in the Federation and a coup occurred transforming it into the Imperial Empire. The Battlestar Galactica was trapped behind enemy lines and had to make an epic journey with all kinds of adventures to make it back to the last free remnants of the old Federation.

Before I turned to D&D and RPGs full time, the Federation was slowly coming back making headway against the Imperial Empire.

I had an elaborate backstory which proved excellent preparation for when I plunged into D&D and other RPGs.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Syrivald seemed better off when I was on vacation. Part II

Cast of Characters
Tim as Ashling a Elven Montebank, (Rouge, Magicuser type)
Dwayne as Eoleander a Half Viridian/Elven Fighter
Rusty Battle Axe as Syrivald Human Mage from the Order of Thoth.

recruited from the Tainted
Nasheen, Female Human Half Viridian, 3rd level Burglar, Charm Person - 23 years old
Avaria, Female Human Half Viridian, 1st Level Burglar Sleep - 15 years old.
Shaleen, Female Human Half Viridian 2nd level Fighter +1 shield +1 short sword Shield, Intense, Charisma 8, 17
Voris, Male Human Half Viridian, Thug +1 short short Ornate Eagle Short Charm Person Typical Thug, 19,
Plaive, Male Human Half Viridian, 2nd Mountebank +1 Ring of Protection 1/1st Level Sleep 1/lst sleep Scatter-brain, 20
Mal, Male Human Half Viridian Thug Light Typical Thug does what ordered, 18
The party rode north from Gormmah into the wilderness. They skirted the eastern edge of the Barradine Mountains until it started curving to the west. From there they headed north until they reached the small ridge where the hill fort laid. It was a two day journey and arrived there at sundown. The party decided to camp and rest there for the next.

Eoleander took the last watch. Prepared breakfast and tea and awaited the arrival of the dragon Maddas. After sunrise Maddas arrived and the party awoke from slumber. After breakfast, Eoleander asked Maddas to scout out the ruins.

It turned out that the grounds of the hill fort was occupied! After careful examination it appeared to be a band of Claw of Kalis cultists!* Unfortunately they appeared to be altered to the presence of the dragon and through the dragon the party witnessed the cultists prepare for battle with the women and children being herded into the hill fort.

Eoleander, Syrivald, and Ashling used a 2nd level ritual to turn them all invisible, and sent Nasheen and the other henchmen to go up the trail to the hill fort a 1/2 hour later. The party was carried near the cultist encampment by Maddas and dropped off. Note that Maddas did not enter the battle only saying "My participation will allow further intervention."*

Thanks to the judicious use of sleep spells the party quickly gained the upper hand. Only one cultist survived the run back to the hill fort. The party slaughtered the slept cultists and when Nasheen and the rest of the henchmen arrived put them to work going through the cultist's wagons and possessions.

The three had Syrivald turn invisible again and they made their way up into the hill fort. First they were confronted with the entrance which was a 10 feet by 10 feet hallway lined with murder holes on the ceiling and arrow slits on the sides. At the end was a stout wooden door. Luckily age made the door somewhat rotten.

Invisible the party crept in and Eoleander stepped in front of the door. He gave a mighty kick and smashed it off it's hinges causing it to fly over the table that was dragged behind it. (He rolled a 20 on his Athletics check which is the ability I use for smashing door). The party quickly swarmed in looking for targets. They were in the middle of a Great Hall with a roof extending up to the second story and a balconey 10 feet up running along three sides of the room.

There they fought the remaining the cultists. Syrivald notices one lurking on the balcony and webs him. However there was a moment when the battles started to go the cultists way. The Chief Claw stepped out and threw a white powder that caused all the invisible party members to appear. Then two unseen cultists got surprise attacks on Ashling and Syrivald. Both of them rolling natural 20s. (max damage) Ashling survived his shot but Syrivald went down. Rusty uttering the immortal line.*
Syrivald seemed better off when I was on vacation.
However Eoleander quaffed a haste potion and made short work of the Chief Claw. The next round he made a might leap up onto the balcony and cut down the remaining cultists except for two that ran. Eoleander gave chase using his haste to run them down. He cut down the first at the entrance to a circular stairwell running the height of the hill fort.

When he reached the third floor he was taken aback when confronted with the horror of a dozen giant centipedes feasting on the remains of the woman, elderly, and children of the cultists. Apparently they were fleeing the party making their way upwards when they ran into these creatures. Eoleander spots the last cultists climbing a ladder to the roof and cuts him down. Leaving before the centipedes could notice him.

Returning to the Great Hall the party looted the bodies and returned up to the third floor. There with the last sleep spell they downed the centipedes and then proceeded to kill them. That where the session ended.
*Dragons are creations of the gods in the Wilderlands. At the end of the Uttermost War they were charged as guardians of the nine chromatic crystals that warded the entrances to the Abyss. A millennia later some of them abandoned their post to follow the Black Lord. After the Black Lord's demise they became free agents wandering the Wilderlands pursuing their own plans. However it is said that when dragons get involved the gods are allowed a freer hand in intervening in the Wilderlands.

*Claw of Kalis get +1d6 per level of extra damage if they get a surprise attack.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

From the Attic: Traveller Errata

For those of you with older editions of Traveller you can find the latest errata here. It is good that Far Future on top of this and made good use of the fanbase. And yes I do think that 68 pages overall and 50 pages for the core rules was excessive back in the day when I originally found much of this on the GEnie online service.

GEnie was the original haunt of Traveller on-line fandom. Back then there were hourly charges so most of developed hit and run techniques to minimize the charge. You log on, dump the file listing, and log off. Read it or print it out, pick out what you wanted. Log back on, get what you wanted, and log off.

Believe or not I still have a copy of on such dump. It migrated as part of my traveller archive from computer to computer as I upgraded. It dates from February 1993. You can download the full file from here.

1435 DIASPORA SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890731 31500 56 10
Desc: Diaspora Sector UWP Data Listing
1434 DAIBEI SECTOR UWP DATA X J.FUGATE 890731 31500 61 10
Desc: Daibei Sector UWP World Data List
1430 MT CONF 7/29/89 X J.FUGATE 890729 22680 55 10
Desc: MegaTraveller Conference, 7/29/89
1420 WBH INDEX X J.FUGATE 890725 8820 73 10
Desc: World Builder's Handbook Index
1419 FORNAST SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890725 36540 53 10
Desc: Fornast Sector UWP data listing
1418 CORE SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890725 37800 77 10
Desc: Core Sector UWP Data Listing
1416 MAC UWP DECODE PGM X J.FUGATE 890722 41580 53 10
Desc: UWP Decode program for the Mac
1414 HINTERWORLDS SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890720 30240 60 10
Desc: Hinterworlds UWP Sector Data
1413 DAGUDASHAAG SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890720 39060 60 10
Desc: Dagudashaag Sector UWP data
1412 AS01.TXT 7 B.BORICH 890717 3780 25 10
1411 UWPSRC.BAS X W.WHEZELTINE 890716 15120 41 10
Desc: Scource code for UWP.EXE
1410 IBM-UWP.ARC X W.WHEZELTINE 890716 46620 50 10
Desc: Plant Stat Decoder for MegaTraveller
1406 GUSHEMEGE SECTOR 7 J.FUGATE 890715 37800 62 10
Desc: Gushemege Sector UWP data
1404 REFT SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890715 8820 61 10
Desc: Reft Sector UWP Data
1398 HIWG4103 7 B.BORICH 890709 7560 29 10
Desc: This is HIWG document 4103
1397 DEEP SHADOWS 7 M.MIKESH 890709 120960 53 10
Desc: MegaTraveller draft adventure
1394 MT STARSHIP DESIGN 7 S.OLSON4 890706 20160 86 10
Desc: A discussion of MT starship design.
1390 MEGATRAVELLER CAMPAIGN1 7 B.BORICH 890702 5040 53 10
Desc: This is an intro to the campaign
1385 HIWG1701 7 B.BORICH 890630 7560 44 10
Desc: This is HIWG pub #1701
1352 TROJAN REACH X J.FUGATE 890603 27720 79 10
Desc: Trojan Reach Sector Data
1351 DELPHI SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890603 25200 71 10
Desc: Delphi Sector Data
1349 VARGR.PAS 7 MBAY 890603 13860 24 10
Desc: Souce code for a Vargr word program
1336 M-TRAVELLER ERRATA 6/1 7 J.FUGATE 890527 32760 106 10
Desc: MegaTraveller Errata 06/01/88
1321 ANTARES SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890520 39060 74 10
Desc: Antares Sector data (MegaTraveller)
1320 LISHUN SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890520 42840 63 10
Desc: Lishun Sector Data (MegaTraveller)
1313 VLAND SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890512 35280 76 10
Desc: Vland Sector Data (MegaTraveller)
1312 CORRIDOR SECTOR X J.FUGATE 890512 18900 91 10
Desc: Corridor Sector (MegaTraveller)
1295 DENEB X J.FUGATE 890503 27720 102 10
Desc: MegaTraveller Deneb Sector
1290 SPINWARD MARCHES X J.FUGATE 890501 30240 118 10
Desc: MegaTraveller: Spinward Marches
Desc: beginnings of a magic sys 4 travellr

End of Directory.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

One hundred and seventeen pages of Errata!?

As a general RPG site the RPG Stack Exchange Site reflects the make up of the general population of roleplaying gamers. D&D 4e questions dominate the site as D&D 4e has the largest gamer concern. It been a while since I read anything extensively about D&D 4e and for the most part the questions are the usual type you find with any game. But occasionally I read about errata, and additions. What made it unusual tho is the degree of change the errata seems to be making to the core 4e game. So I popped over to the wizard's errata page and took a look.

Their current complied rules update is 117 pages! Wow. So I just look at the update for the core set. It been two years since I ran a campaign in D&D 4e so I wanted to understand what I am in for if I ever ran one today. Between all three core rule books there are 37 pages!

Immediately I flashed back 20 odd years to the debut of GDW's Megatraveller. It was intended to be the end all to be all update to Classic Traveller. However one thing that brought it down was the sheer volume of errata to fix broken and misprinted rules. Not just little rules but needed changes to fix the combat system.

I also went through similar experiences with Star Fleet Battles and Battletech. I can tell you it is a source of frustration and a barrier for new gamers playing for the first time.

Bob: What do you mean it doesn't work that what?
Alex: Yeah it was broken so they changed in the errata here.
Bob: Thanks

This is of concern because if the mainline RPG (D&D 4e) sneezes we all catch cold. I really hope that Wizards doesn't have to do this with D&D Essentials. Because this volume of errata for any game is just a millstone around it's neck.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

From the Attic: An interview with David Wesely

If David Arneson was one of the father of the roleplaying game David Wesely is the grand father. His Braunstein games inspired Arneson to create Castle Blackmoor which led to all that followed.

Theory in the Closet interviews David Wesely and what a great interview it is. I really related to the description of the Braunstein game as it was roleplaying with a bit of live-action (milling around talking to people). His description of being up to 2am and talking to people at various times during the game mirrors my experience of being an event director of a NERO live-action event.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Syrivald seemed better off when I was on vacation. Part I

The quote of the evening occurred after a bunch of Claws of Kalis ambushed the party in the keep of the Hill Fort. After letting loose with a web spell that ensnared a Claw, another came out of hiding and shot him with a light crossbow. The Claws get a special sneak attack ability of +1d6 damage per level, he rolled a natural 20 and dealt 21 points downing Syrivald in a single blow. Over the headphone through Skype came the immortal words.
Syrivald seemed better off when I was on vacation and unavailable to run him.
Read on for the rest of the story.
Cast of Characters
Tim as Ashling a Elven Montebank, (Rouge, Magicuser type)
Dwayne as Eoleander a Half Viridian/Elven Fighter
Rusty Battle Axe as Syrivald Human Mage from the Order of Thoth.

recruited from the Tainted
Nasheen, Female Human Half Viridian, 3rd level Burglar, Charm Person - 23 years old
Avaria, Female Human Half Viridian, 1st Level Burglar Sleep - 15 years old.
Shaleen, Female Human Half Viridian 2nd level Fighter +1 shield +1 short sword Shield, Intense, Charisma 8, 17
Voris, Male Human Half Viridian, Thug +1 short short Ornate Eagle Short Charm Person Typical Thug, 19,
Plaive, Male Human Half Viridian, 2nd Mountebank +1 Ring of Protection 1/1st Level Sleep 1/lst sleep Scatter-brain, 20
Mal, Male Human Half Viridian Thug Light Typical Thug does what ordered, 18
When we last left off the party was preparing to leave to explore an old hill fort they found near Gormmah. The plan, driven by Eoleander's ambition, is to claim it and use it as a center of a domain. First the party took eight days to train and scribe some new 4th level spells from the School of of Ancient Verities.

By the end of the week Nasheen came with her friends to swear loyalty to Eoleander. While the newly arrived henchmen were picking up gear from the party treasury. Ashling decided to put the Mountebank to the test. Tossing him an apple
Convince me to buy that for a gold crown.
Plaive then gave an inspiring speech on the virtues of the apple. Ashling applauded and replied.
Now take the apple, leave, and don't come back until you have sold it for a gold crown. You have three day before we set sail and leave.
The party finished up the studying and training. Then got their gear together. When Ashling went down to the kitchen the morning of the day they were due to he found Plaive, sitting with his feet on table, eating the apple. Then he tossed a gold crown on the table. When Ashling took the crown, Plaive spoke
Yep I can get a gold crown for this apple and kept the apple in the bargain.
Ashling smiled and sat down.

That nice, now get me breakfast and convince me is the best breakfast in Viridistan.
The smirk disappeared from Plaive's face as he got up and tried to put together a breakfast. Looking around he took some slices of ham and put them on a trencher of bread. Heated them up on top of the oven and the served them to Ashling while praising their virtues. Ashing looked at Plaive.

You do

And gave him half of the ham and bread.

Eoleander walked in while this was going on and quipped.
I sure don't want to be your Apprentice!
Ashling look at him and gave a look of mock surprise "What did I do?". Everybody laughed.

With the apprentice hazing out of the way. The party when down to the dock where their old friend Ithan Porvis, Captain of the Green Maiden, awaited with their chartered ship. It was a two day uneventful journey to Gormmah on the eastern shore of the Trident Gulf. Once disemarked Eoleander when to the local Chandler and later the Ostler. He bought supplies, gear, and horses.

Ashing said he had some unfinished business to take off and took off with Plaive. After a few minute to get their bearing he headed to an old basilica, where the Warden of the Madmen (the local thieves guild) lived. In front of the gate were two Madmen after being refused entry, Plaive slept them both. Then they went into the central hall where Ashling encountered the Warden before. There they found 15 odd madmen lounging around eating, drinking and gambling. Before they could react, Ashling slept, and Plaive followed up with his last sleep spell causing the left few to fall into deep slumber.

After not finding the Warden in the east wing (and leaving it's inhabitants alone), they went into the west wing where the found the Warden's apartment upstairs. After taking care of the guard at the top of the stair with the Ashling final sleep spell, they listened at the Warden's door. Heard sounds of sex.

They quickly opened the door, and Ashling cast polymorph other on the Warden's girlfriend. Transforming her into a large squid. Then he used Wave (gained in an expedition to White Plume Mountain) to command the squid to entangle the Warden. Plaive just stood there in stunned disbelief.

Ashling then walked up to the Warden and demanded his 150 silver. The Warden screaming in terror was able to break free of the squid's grasp and backed up to the wall. At which point Ashling transformed his Gagzitzam dagger into it's free form and sent it after the Warden to fest on his strength.

After a few round Ashling transformed the Gagzitzam back into a dagger. At which point the Warden shakily pointed at the chest where he kept some coin. After carefully counting 150 silver he handed it to Plaive.
You earned this keep it.
And then they left.

They met the rest of the party at the North Gate and proceeded to leave town. Heading north into the wilderness and the Hill Fort.