Monday, December 31, 2007

Raavnia: Closing the Book

I have about two more posts sitting around waiting to be FINISHED on the subject of Raavnia. So if you've been waiting for anything on it, I can tell you that I have ideas for it, but I lack the motivation to finish them.

On the other hand, I would love to put together a quick 100-page PDF on the game world, for people who want one.

I think there's enough meat and/or notes there to justify $5-10.

Not sure why I posted that, but I needed some make it clear that I have little intention of writing again on this (or maybe even Coil), so 2008 can open with strong new ideas, unfettered by the ghost of incompletion.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Looking Back I was just looking at my game shelf, at games I haven't played in years or never found people to play with. I saw a few cool books that I wish I could have gotten more excited about. And a few that fell short of their potential. I noticed a lot of weird games that I never cracked and a few that I played too much of. I spotted 3 extra decks for TORG, five copies of Twilight 2000, another three copies of James Bond, and 50+ game screens, most to games I don't even play.

Mostly, I see a history of loving something that I don't get to do anymore.

Sure, I play a board game now and again and we gather for roleplaying once a week at James' place for Mutant's and Masterminds or whatever the soup du jour is... but I don't see a lot of "projects" on my shelf, like I used to.

I don't see any notes about unifinished game worlds or adventure paths I'd like to run for whatever fantasy RPG people are up for. I no longer collect odds and ends that will never end up in a campaign, but I hope they will. It's been 3 years since I cracked a Central Castings book, or thumbed through a Better Games design document.

Looking backwards, I see a lot of stuff I'll never get to do with gaming, ever again. And it makes me wonder what the future of gaming is for me...

Looking Forward
It's tough looking forward at the idea of tabletop gaming and what it means. Everyone is in a holding pattern, waiting for the next big thing, but I think the industry is OUT of next big things. CCGs, pogs, clicky-bases, 3.0s... I think we're out of new ideas. Every time a new one comes along, people clamor around it, like vultures, trying to make a few pennies on their new idea... eventually killing interest in it prematurely.

WoWs dominance of everyone's attention has certainly curbed any chance of people gathering around a game table anytime soon and the writer's strike is sure to kill any chance of people gathering in front of a TV, either. There are no more gathering places. No more hangouts and clubs for people to enjoy their hobby. Even the internet sites are a hap-hazard array of angry kids, stoic idealists, and confused consumers all biting to be part of a community... any community... eager to taste that fruit they once bit into as adolescents.

But that's the past.

2008 is the future. A milestone in this, and every industry, as America and the West tries to make sense of variable-rate mortgages, globalization, outsourcing, recession, election fraud, global warming, entertainment, Gen-Y buying habits, and whatever new problems arise in the next 12 months.

How are people going to spend their free time? Their entertainment dollars? Their energies? What are we going to devote ourselves to?

Bigger $100 board games ala Fantasy Flight Games?
Small $10 card games ala Fluxx?
Cheap CCGs?
Halo 3.14159?
WoW expansions?
GTA 4?
Virtual reality pets?
Live Action Experiences of the dependable kind (Universal Studios)?

What is left?

And where are we going?

ASIDE: Holy crud. The WLD thread on is now over 100,000 views.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Rock Band

Okay. So my wife got me ROCK BAND for the 360, which was a total shock, since we promised not to buy each other gifts. I only played two songs on the guitar this morning, since we have so much to do. And we haven't unpacked the drum set, yet. But the highlight of the present was watching Yun pretend to sing with the microphone.

Oh dear god.


You can read over at Chris Pramas' site, the story of naming his ROCK BAND.


Movie remakes rarely live up to their potential and a majority of sequels in gaming have failed to be as fun as the original.

Traveler 2300 was no where near as fun as the original, D&D 2nd was riddled with problems (NWP... c'mon!), Top Secret/S.I. was made by people who never played the first one, and Shadowrun has yet to produce a playable version of this incredible game world. Crimson Skies has also suffered from the cool game world, disconnected rules associated with many FASA products.

Nonetheless, here's a short list of games that will always suck money out of my pocket, (unless they use photos for art).

Blood Bowl. While not an RPG, it suffers from edition syndrome and is among my favorite games, ever. The latest edition is easily the best and I always sign up when a league forms, even if people insist on playing with the very very very broken Star Players.
Boothill. Not sure why. Call me nostalgic.
Call of Cthulhu. No brainer.
Car Wars. Tell me again why this game's popularity died?
Cyberpunk 3. Desperately in need of a careful editor (who understands nomenclature), I would love to play this game.
D&D 5th. I think they'll get it right by then. I hope.
Dogs in the Vineyard. Have I mentioned yet how much I love this game?
Earthdawn. I would love to see a version of this game that actually felt like the game world and that addressed the xenophobic and agoraphobic themes in the world, as well as the frontier aspect of the story. It was sad that you weren't really "exploring" in Earthdawn the way that Lewis and Clark did.
Gamma World. I've always wanted to love this game, but if someone did a really smart version of this, perhaps using some of the INDIE design models, I would jump on that grenade.
James Bond. The original by Victory Games is still among one of the best and most underrated RPGs of all time. It's still good by today's standards and it made playing a SuperSpy viable, long before anyone found a way to do it.
Kult. In my top 5 of RPGs. 2nd Edition was ugly and impossible to read, but I still love this game. Dying to play with a smart group again.
Legend of the Five Rings. Of course, I'm biased. I would like to convince Todd that a 4th Edition is needed, with rules for Ji-Samurai, Cinematic, Epic, and Strategic levels of play.
Star Frontiers. See boothill.
Torg 2.0. Also in my top five game pile, I eagerly await this one. In lieu of that, a book that detailed that stuff would be awesome.
Twilight: 2000. Still my favorite RPG. A 3rd edition would taste good right about now (so long as they made is 2010 or something). I actually love the original system, but Spycraft is a good foundation for it.
Underworld. Ray Winninger has made some incredible games, even when his mechanics are ludicrously exponential, I still love playing them.
Warhammer Fantasy. I love what Chris Pramas and Robert Schwalb did with this latest version and would hate to see a new edition, but if they made one, I would be on board.

Anyway. It's late. I can't sleep and here I am rambling about an XMAS wishlist of games that might never be.

Peace, Noel, and all those good feelings you see in the Hallmark store.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Religions in Gaming: A Fallacy

All Art by William O'Connor. Copyright AEG.
Used without any kind of permission. See for more.

One of the inherent flaws of religion (especially in fantasy gaming) is this notion that only Clerics worship gods. This mindless interpretation of human analysis is futher codified by a lack of understanding of nations as well, as though England, France, Germany, and Spain didn't all pay homage to the Catholic Church for 1,000 years. Even the Eastern Empire paid homage, even if to their own Pope or own view on Orthodoxy.

So it would seem, this lack of understanding about faith, would permeate gaming on so many levels that only Clerics worship and the only true role of a Cleric in a game is to heal wounded PCs too stupid to run away from the things that stick in this.

To give you an idea of how important religion (still) is in the world, imagine that 95% of the world has access to the Old and New Testament, in their native tongue. Consider that the word Koran means recitation and that the goal of EVERY Muslim is to learn the entire recitation. The Bagavad-Gita, one of the longest books in the world, details some 100,000 Hindu gods.

In a global census, conducted in 2001, people were asked what was most important to them from a list of five things. Freedom to practice religion ranked #1 in every nation of the world except the United States, Canada, and England. In some countries, 96% of the population considered religious freedom more important that personal freedom.

And this numbers are not unique to the 20th and 21st centuries. This data can be applied to nearly every time period of human existence, perhaps alarmingly more extremely the further from the Age of Reason you get.

So. If these number even have a +/-10% of error, that means as little as 85% and as much as 100% of a (fantasy) population worships one kind of god or another. That means 8.5 out of 10 adventurers worship a god. And if you extend that logic to other fantasy (and not alien) races, you can see an alarming trend that is vacuous in gaming circles -- devotion and worship.

Now, some people might say that worship has no place in a game about killing orcs, trolls, and dragons and others might argue that a fantasy game doesn't need to mimic the real world. Fair enough. Without derailing from the topic, too much, let me propose this. If a gaming campaign's primary goal is escapism, combat, and fun, what purpose does a cleric have, other than to heal. Why not just give wizards access to healing spells and move on? If a gaming campaign's primary goal (as some people have told me) is to be just and defeat evil, then where does this moral center extend from? How can a society have good and evil, without a clear metaphysical explanation of where these morays stem from?

Remember, societies define themselves by Law and Chaos, order and disorder. People define themselves by their actions - Good and Evil, moral and amoral. These concepts stem (usually) from a religious center that condemns some actions and approves others (it is just to kill in the name of your god? those who oppose us are our enemies.)

Fantasy games are not alien excursions into impossible worlds that defy physics, gravity, logic, and every tenet of reality we expect. Fantasy worlds are rooted in what we know, added elements of what we don't. They have humans who speak "English," use two hands, breathe air, sleep, and engage in normal human activity with the added bonus of +1 swords and maximized fireballs. If they lacked these core components, what could we expect from the game by misless random chance perpetrated by events that spin out of our control at every turn.

Why play?

Religion, while not a component of everyday life in America for every American, is still something we see and recognize in the world around us. Look around you. I suspect there's at least 10 churches within a 5 mile radius of your home, right now.

Religious Enlightenment
It is the aim of all peoples (except atheists, I guess), no matter how devote, to seek the approval of their god, and church. It has been like this for centuries. In fact, most people before 1500 AD gave an excessive level of wealth to the church in order to get a better seat in heaven. Enlightened or not, these precepts need to be recognized in fantasy game worlds.

Now. I've been vocal about my opinion against Hack and Slash munchkin gaming. Frankly, I don't see the point. But I'm not going to judge that, today. But I am going to say, that it does really apply to anything I'm saying from here on out.

Because roleplaying games are self-centered (not in a bad way, we sit down and play our character, not the world), our exposure to the morality of the game world comes through the actions and behavior of the characters. If the PCs resort in murdering NPCs at every turn, that means (whether the GM intended it or not) the world is a dangerous place to life, where life is cheap.

Should the PCs in that game world be murdered while helpless, they cannot act surprised.

The inverse example is also true. PCs that help the sick and infirm, defend small villages, and turn over bad-guys to the authorities probably live in a world where law and order are just as important as charity and goodwill. While less realistic, these kinds of game are probably more commonplace than the previous example.

So in order to maintain a semblance of religious reality in a gaming world, the characters cannot go about their days ignoring Thor and Zeus and Kali. In fact, in many instances, they can't even go a few hours without another prayer session or moment of silence and reverence.

Obviously stopping every two hours to pray to the gods of the four winds is no way to keep a campaign moving. But only cutting mistletoe from a tree on winter solstice with a silver sickle is no way to play a stoic druid who reveres nature above all things. There should be a happy medium.

Having each character select a god to worship (regardless of class) is a good start. And before someone tries to say, "even my savage fighter and barbarian characters?"


Even soldiers in William Wallaces Scottish renegade police force worshipped god.

Hell, even the Nazis thought they were doing god's work.

And let's not forget, before the corruption of the Templars and the Catholic Church in the second crusade, religion wasn't something normal people were jaded about. Even while they were getting their thumbscrews tightened until they said, "Uncle," most people considered holiness and eternal life in the hereafter more important living itself. In fact, so afraid were people of dying and wandering purgatory forever, the number one fear of the black plague wasn't dying, but dying without a priest administering the last rites.

How then can we believe

Now. You'll notice. Since 99% of all fantasy games are either an Arthur (usually Morte d'Arthur) or Tolkien derivative (and the Lord of the Rings was surprisingly low on bishops and priests), these game worlds lack "god" as a primal focus of how the world was created. It's no wonder why they have no place in gaming.

And the Forgotten Realms is even worse.

With over 100 gods to choose from, it's impossible to keep track of. It gets so ridiculous, that a city like Waterdeep has 50+ chapels with no chance whatsoever of eliciting legitimate response to their respective causes.

So, obviously the world needs to reflect the attitudes of the GM and the player's equally. Which probably starts with people talking about exactly what it is they want from a game...
Playing the Part
Which brings me to roles.

Now. I'm not going to tell anyone how to play. That's just silly. What good would that do. If you want to play godless dirt-worshiping heathens, go right ahead. But for those of you with paladins and clerics in your games, it's sort of important to figure out what they stand for...

... and why they are here in the first place.

For starters, if a cleric's only role is to heal the other PCs, then give those spells to the wizard and/or give them more healing potions. Problem-solved. Stop reading now.

And if a Paladin's only game plan is to be annoyingly judgmental prick about every action the part takes, let any of the PCs take PRICK as a feat and give the mount ability to him or her. And since Smith Evil can be found on every third bad prestige class, there's really no cause to play this class for it's abilities.

So. With that in mind, let us design these classes the intelligent way. What is their role?

Cleric [Ignoring for a moment that every god should have its own specialized Cleric class.]
Well. Certainly priests and ministers need to heal the sick, perform marriages, christen babies, negotiate disputes between neighbors, proselytize, perform miracles, and when they have time convert "sinners" to their cause, especially in proactive religions. That can mean a wide range of things, but the majority of those non-adventuring abilities can fall under the same umbrella -- perhaps a Rituals skill that a Cleric can increase at will, regardless of level.
You've got to get father Zybron to perform your wedding ceremony. Not only was my mother in tears at how beautiful it was, but my dad claimed to hear angels speak to him. I kid you not.
Obviously, this will create a greater range of abilities for Clerics and make them a sought after character to play for people who want to "roleplay" in addition to killing things.

Clerics need to heal stuff, but I don't think they need all the BUFF spells that come with the class. Wearing armor and fighting with an improved attack bonus is benefit enough in my opinion.
Want a real challenge, have a fifth level fighter take on a fith level cleric who already has bull strength, magic vestment's cast on himself before the combat starts and then uses his spiritual weapon and inflict spells in place of a weapon. Make the situation worse by having the cleric be an orc with Strength 20, virtually guaranteeing his touch attacks. When its time for the orc to heal himself (if it goes that long), he can hold person the fighter, while using his 1st-level cure spells until he's ready to pull out his warhammer and finish the combat. What does any of that have to do with being a cleric, again?
Now, the rest of their abilities can be pulled right out of AEG's Secrets, which details acts of faith and miracles that clerics can perform as part of their "job." Obviously these need to be personalized, but I think this is an excellent place to start designing a new, more appropriate cleric class for your realistically designed metaphysical cosmology.

Paladin [Ignoring for a moment that every god should have its own specialized Paladin class, that it should be a prestige class, and there shouldn't be an alignment restriction.]
Paladins are soldiers of god. They are the most virtuous and most dedicated of the "Pope's" retinue, doing (without question) whatever must be done in the name of Poseidon, Loki, or Shiva.

So. What are they doing adventuring with money-hungry dwarf mercenaries, halfling pick-pockets, murderous assassins, and one-trick pony clerics?

Those of you who followed the design of Raavnia some months back, may recall that Paladins were entrusted with the role of hunting down heretics. And while that might not be the right job for every campaign, its a place to start for determining what paladins in your campaign do.


Let's examine the class.

Smite evil. Detect evil (for free). Mount. Lay on hands. Excellent saving throws. Aura of courage (book-keeping for Munchkins). Turn Undead (a useless ability on adventures without undead; and an abusive ability in an adventure with a few undead). Special Mount. Remove Disease. And after 6th level... nothing.

Let's not forget a code of conduct (yawn) and an alignment restriction (stupid).


Not only is that a random assortment of abilities, but that's just boring.

Okay. So let's try to make this class more useful, shall we.

Delete the alignment restriction. Check with everyone at the table... can bob play a Paladin this campaign? Is that going to conflict with any character designs? No? Okay, there's your code of conduct.

Paladins hunting heretics need to be able to detect ALL alignments, cast zone of truth, and sense motive at a level no one else can. Their "smite" needs to be a damage bonus to all attacks against all heretics equal to their Wisdom bonus. The special mount is easily tied to their "bounty hunting" style. Turn undead makes little to no sense. Aura of courage is gone. And lay on hands doesn't seem to fit this design.

This version of the Paladin needs more Skill Points, access to more skills, good saving throws, lots of money and resources, and the ability to exorcise demons/devils. Once all of that is pulled together, you can slap around some bonus feats here and there and make this class comparable with a fighter, ranger, or rogue in terms of power and utility.

Your experience may vary.

Tying it All Up With a Pretty Bow
The key ingredient, before mechanics and world design, is getting the players on board. If the players resent the notion of religion sneaking into their kill-fests, then ignore everything you've read today. But if the players want to try something new, with more realistic overtones, giving the players "gods" to worship and a reason to worship them is paramount.

Religious people attend church, which builds community, which gives people access to contacts and even information/discounts from people they trust. Followers of Odin can probably get access to really nice weapons and worshippers of Dionysus know the best places to carouse, no matter what city they are in. Followers of Vishnu can crash for free in one his temples, anywhere in the world. Even followers of Brahma and Krishna might let you stay for free as well.

While game benefits are excellent boon to give players for choosing a god, the environment needs to reflect that sort of thinking. Games like Dogs in the Vineyard encourage intellectual discussions and impassioned debate about the "Laws" and what is truly just, creating a unique game experience that cannot be paralleled with a roll of a d20. Characters that worship similar gods (from the same pantheon) give themselves room to debate what sort of course of action they should take against a lich, giving them a moral dilemna, rather than just... kill the lich, which requires no decision-making whatsoever.

This article went a lot longer than I originally planned. What started as me talking to myself in the shower about the metaphysics of the modern world, grew into a 3-hour long write-up (complete with phone interruptions, data research, and art manipulation) that spanned modern and ancient religions, bad character class design, munchkins, and new abilities for PCs that may or may not be exploited just as much as any other bonus.

Thanks for stopping by and we'll see you next time on Great Cleave.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


So. Now that the shock has worn off... what am I doing back at AEG?

Good question Mr. Moderator. Let me try to answer that for everyone (and by everyone I mean the six people, not including my mom, who read this blog).

For starters, I am the Creative Director of AEG. Which could mean a lot of things down the road, but right now it means, I'm the writer/art director on Phase (a new CCG coming out) and the guy you finishes up the Board Games for Marcelo's new Board Game division.

I will have more information in the coming months, as this blog becomes more and more active with news and pictures from the various games we're producing. I still intend to do my own stuff on the side, but I've been swamped the past 6 weeks with work, so I hope the new year brings more energy and structure to my posting schedule.

Demolition Man?!?!

I love Order of the Stick. I love the in-jokes. The story. Most of the characters. And the constant twists and turns that a simple stick figure artist seems to muster from his wacom tablet.

However, I can not abide where this very very very very poor story is going. Are we to believe that Haley, Belkar, and a few sub-characters are going to somehow retake the city from an Army of Hobgoblins, Red Cloak, and Xykon?

I mean, wtf?

I know. Whatever. Sit back and wait. But this is one of the dumbest fiction tropes there are. Just arm the peasants. That'll work. Right? Just send in Steven Segal. That's work. Right?

Name a movie or novel that did this... and was interesting or believable?

Stargate? No.
Mad Max 3? No.
Waterworld? No.
Demolition Man? No.
Ewoks? No.
Seven Samurai? Yes. Especially because this is the very plot of the movie and not some hackneyed attempt to solve a poorly structured plot.

And order of the stick is not Seven Samurai. Not even close.

Btw. I just watched the Golden Compass (damn fine movie/spoiler coming) and near the end (before the monologuing gets really cheesy), there's a fight between nameless guards, a polar bear, a horde of Gyptians, Sam Elliot's rifle, and... children.

And not a single child or Gyptian is hurt. Yet the guards (who outnumber everyone) are killed to a man.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

Writing 101: There can be no tension without consequences.

Writing 309: Just because your comic is funny, does not mean that slap-stick plots are.

UPDATE: Go bad guys!

Monday, December 03, 2007


As of December 3rd, 2007, I am back at Alderac Entertainment, working as Creative Director and Production Manager.

A moment of silence, please.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Assassin's Creed: Week One Point Two


It just wouldn't be a mediocre gaming event without a glitch/bug at the end of it.

So. I've killed 8 of the 9 people I'm supposed to kill. I get to Arsuf... or the beginning of it anyway. And in no time I'm having all kinds of issues with the screen. First the archers ignore me. Woohoo. That's to my advantage. Then the screen says "Cannot Access this Memory" despite the fact that I'm on the only road you can travel in the game and there's no where else to go.

So. I walk back, fall through a PIXEL crack and die after 20 seconds of freefall.

I spawn with the DUAL ASSASSIN glitch that everyone is talking about. I got this in no time and immediately started fighting myself. After dying. I respawned four more times as a double, before finally giving up.

I turned it off. And an hour later came back to it.

I read online about similar problems and I tried removing the second controller. I was able to walk through the Blocked Memory, but there were still TWO ASSASSINS. However, this is the best part, when I was ambushed by the 20 or so bad guys, the second assassin helped me out. We died anyway, because the screen was jumpy (with two assassins) and I didn't know which one I was controlling, but it was still hilarious.


Until there issue a patch, I don't think I'll be finishing this game.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Assassin's Creed: Week One Point Six


Finished the game. Story ending was excellent.

And in typical completist fashion, I am restarting and trying to get one of everything.

I have all 20 flags from Maysaf and 65 King Richard Kingdom flags, so far.

I've also killed 16 Templars.

I have a busy week coming, so I won't be back to the game for a while.

In other news, a super secret project that I'm working on is coming along nicely.

Assassin's Creed: Week One

I've been playing Assassin's Creed everyday since it came out.

This is my kind of game, in many ways, which is why I rushed out to buy it (something I never do).

While I won't go too into detail about why I love it (Prince of Persia meets GTA meets Splinter Cell), I do want to say a few words about some things that annoy me.
  • As I'm sure you've heard, the game is repetitive. Where GTA has specifically tailored missions that might be similar, they are most definitely different. Because of the repetitive nature of AC, I don't even listen to the NPCs anymore and I just wait for someone to stab.
  • There are literally only 3 kinds of missions and 3 kinds of extra-curricular activity.
  • Also, the flags are a cheesy gimmick. Collecting them in three minutes has nothing to do with the crusades.
  • Holding two buttons to run and jump across roof-tops means there's no timing or strategy to getting around.... which was 1/2 the fun of Prince of Persia.
  • I am tired of saving citizens and fighting guards.
  • There are some PIXEL issues, but in a game this big, that's bound to happen.
  • Killing Templars is cool.
  • The Horse Riding is really well done. Great design.
In all, the game needed about 3-6 more months of design and development. The foundation for a great game is there, but it's like Region A of the World's Largest Dungeon. We didn't vary up the design, and it gave people the impression that the entire book was like that.

Once you enter the second city and all the missions are the same again, you realize that this game is 9 times the mediocrity.

I give it a B-, because giving it less than that is just reactionary and mean. But it did not live up to the hype.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

d20 Recycle

I like this book the first time I wrote it, called Relics. I'm sure the White Wolf guys have done it even smarter and better than we did 5 years ago (we wrote, edited, and designed the whole thing in 2 months), but I'm still not a fan of 100% recycled ideas.
You hold in your hand a codex of almost limitless potential. Each and every artifact within contains not only a detailed description of its powers, but also a rich and inspiring mythology, adventure seeds, and the various consequences and downsides of use that make artifacts such a mixed blessing. Better yet, the Tome of Artifacts also contains new spells, new monsters, new feats, and a tool to aid you in creating your own artifacts, a random system capable of generating literally millions of unique artifacts!
Okay. I'm looking at my copy of Relics right now, and while I don't see the phrase LIMITLESS POTENTIAL, that certainly sounds like something I might write. Moving on... Each and every artifact within contains not only a detailed description of its powers, but also a rich and inspiring mythology, adventure seeds, and the various consequences and downsides of use that make artifacts such a mixed blessing. The back of Relics reads: Each comes complete with a background story, ideas regarding its current use and location, and adventure seeds for creating campaigns or encounters involving the artifact.
Now. My marketing text is VASTLY inferior to theirs, but the similarities are uncanny.
Brought to you in partnership between Necromancer Games and Lion's Den Press, the Tome of Artifacts contains contributions by some of the industry's best known names, including fan favorites Keith Baker, Rich Burlew, and Patrick Lawinger. Includes a foreword by David "Zeb" Cook!
Holy Crap. That's a lot of people involved in one book about Relics. Let's see... Michael Tresca, Steve Crow, Andrew Getting, Gareth Hanrahan, Andrew Hudson, Patrick Younts

And there's is $40 and ours was $25.

Granted this book is probably longer and hard-back... and has bigger names associated with it... and probably better art... and... maps... and it looks like a few monsters... and... um...

Okay. Nevermind. Move along.

Actually, the book looks cool and I'll check it out, but since I don't play d20 anymore, I probably won't be picking it up. But it would be nice to see some new ideas for D&D soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


This cover is one of the best WOTC covers in a long time.
I'm sure the committee machine butchered the original sketch,
but that didn't stop the artist (whoever he/she is)
from making
a kick-ass version of the Marilith.
It has its issues (see below),
but that won't stop me from posting it without permission.

I have no idea who painted it.

WOTC's new monster book is all about Demons, which for my money are inferior to devils. However, a good piece of art, can change a lot. And this one is probably one of the best paintings I've seen in a long time on a WOTC book.

And let me explain why.

While it has its share of compositional and anatomical issues, it attacks the core of a gamer's soul... the cool factor. This is not only a monster you would WANT to fight, because the art is "bitchin'," it's also a monster gamers would want to be.

And I think that speaks to the heart of good gaming art and why bigger budgets always draw in bigger crowds.

Ironically, WOTC is spending more on art for books than TSR did in the 80s, but is selling less than 5% of what TSR was selling then. In a similar twist, video games sell the same amount now that they did 5 years ago, but the cost of producing art for video games has gone up 400%.

One last thing to think about.

Presently 7 Million people play World of Warcraft Online.

In the 80s, at it's peak, 7 Million people played Dungeons and Dragons.

This has nothing to do with the Marilith, but I wasn't in the mood to write up alternate abilities for this art tonight.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Magic Spells

There's a website that generates random names for everything and I clicked on the useless spells catagory and I got...

Speak With Boyband a spell title.

I thought to myself... only gamers will appreciate this, so I better post that joke.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Chain Golem

I just saw a post on ENWorld about a chain golem and immediately my mind started doing cartwheels thinking of all the second-hand material that golems could be made from.

To explain my thinking, usually a golem is made from a primary material... clay, wood, stone, flesh, bone, and so on... although clay is drawn from sand and a sand golem would kick ass too.

But what if golem's could ONLY be made from discarded items, things that people had forgotten about or lost their connection too.

The longer they'd been left unattended, the more powerful they would become.

Dang. I'm onto something here.

Okay. I'm cutting this short and really going to do something cool with this idea.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


My pirate name is:

Bloody Sam Roberts

Every pirate lives for something different. For some, it's the open sea. For others (the masochists), it's the food. For you, it's definitely the fighting. Two things complete your pirate persona: style and swagger. Maybe a little too much swagger sometimes -- but who really cares? Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
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Justified Infiltration Machine

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Journeying Artificial Machine Engineered for Sabotage

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rogue Games Deluxe

As of today, my working relationship and contracts with Rogue Games have been severed. Bearing in mind that I was basically working for free, I have been "let go." Rogue Games was of course going to publish several of my games, but opted out for "publishing reasons" and has chosen to go with a new layout person/art director for "creative reasons."

I wish I could provide more information, but that's all I know as well.

James and Richard have some solid projects coming and I wish them luck, but I would be lying if I didn't say I'm a little bewildered by it all.

The timing was awful. And the impact a little jarring. My initial reaction was not pleasant, although I'm well over it now. However, I'm left with that bitter taste in my mouth that I often get when dealing with the "gaming industry."

I'm not sure what my RPG publishing future is at the moment. I'm going to step away and focus on writing other things. I am presently working on a project with AEG again, and that's all I can say.

Friday, November 02, 2007

City of Coil: Epilogue

Due to scheduling conflicts and bad news from a publisher, my Coil campaign has come to a close. I will post further information when it comes.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

News Coming Soon

Sorry for the long absence. News on the 4th.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Here's a board game combination that I'm not sure we'll ever see again.


Thanks to Erik Yaple for the link.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Guitar Hero II

Not only am I way behind on writing up games, posting on my blog, and in general getting any sort of work done... I am also way behind on cool video games.

Guitar Hero II has been in my possession for one month and I am in love.


Everyone already knows and plays it tirelessly. I get it.

I'm only just now mastering Medium (I may not bother with Hard and Expert).

But man, am I having a blast with this game.

Hanger 18 (of course) is my favorite song ... and solo 8 is my favorite part of the song. YYZ is also awesome, and well as half the songs in there. And I have somethat I hate, but that's to be expected when there are 48 songs from all walks of "rock."

And Guitar Hero III is just around the corner.


Here's my list of song suggestions for GH4. Feel free to add your own.

AC/DC Hells Bells or Back in Black
Bad Brains (anything)
Black Flag (cripes. greg ginn is amazing. pick something.)
Chet Atkins *considered the greatest country guitar player of all time
Circle Jerks (anything)
Dead Kennedies (i'm partial to Banzai trees, but everyone loves Holiday in Cambodia.)
Deep Purple (anything)
DRI (anything)
Dream Theater (anything. most definitely for the best players of the game.)
Eric Clapton (anything)
Fastway (something off their first album)
Fates Warning Fata Morgana
Foghat Feel Like Makin' Love
Foo Fighters My Hero or One by One
Great White (something off their first album)
Husker Du Broken Home, Broken Heart
Iron Maiden Where Eagles Dare or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Judas Priest Demonizer or Painkiller (super difficult)
Kiss Detroit Rock City
Krokus Headhunter
Limp Bizkit (not a fan, but I recognize that his songs are fast)
Lynkyn Park (one of their faster songs, but nothing new)
MC5 Kick out the Jams
Megadeth Holy Wars... the Punishment Due or Wake Up Dead
Metal Church Rest in Pieces
Metallica Creeping Death
Ministry (anything)
Molly Hatchet (anything)
Motorhead Ace of Spades
Nirvana (the obvious choice)
Pantera (anything)
Pennywise Alien or F**k Authority
Peter Frampton (how is he not in this game? the same goes for jeff beck and stevie ray vaughn)
Prince When Doves Cry (oh please. you know that ending rocks.)
Queen Stone Cold Crazy
Queensryche Queen of the Ryche
Quiet Riot Metal Health (i hate this song, but someone somewhere likes it)
Rammstein (pick one)
Ramones (again. how was this missed.)
Ratt Round and Round (Warren DiMartini is an incredible guitarist... just watch his fingers)
Rush Freewill or Limelight
Sammy Hager Heavy Metal
Saxon Crusader
Scorpions Coast to Coast or The Zoo
Slayer Reign in Blood
Soundgarden Black Hole Sun
Styx (anything)
Ted Nugent Cat Scratch Fever, Stranglehold, or Wang Dang Sweet Poontang
Tool (anything, particularly The Pot, Jambi, Bottom, The Grudge, Eulogy or 46 and 2)
Triumph All the Way (for one of the easier levels)
Van Halen Panama
Whitesnake Still of the Night
ZZTop Tush

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Coil Magic

Since COIL will not be a d20 product when I release it, I am brainstorming magic system ideas.

At present, I have a dice mechanic that supports five, at tops six, different magic styles.

In order to capture the level of fear and trepidation in the game I am thinking that Divination Magic is prevalent and the easiest magic to cast. It is everywhere in the city and allows people to watch everyone's movement.

Wards are also everywhere (a second kind of magic).

Enchantments are a useful tool of the "church" and internal negotiations of the guilds.

Lightning is the offensive magic of the realm, used to keep others in line. The guilds have learned to shape it as well, creating walls of lightning. Because the city would be ravaged by fire, magical fire is outlawed and punished by death.

Finally, there is shadow magic, guarded and protected from other "lower" classes of mages. It is a tool of assassins and mages that come into the homes of those who oppose the state.

Comments? Suggestions?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Portland Dogs

I ran Dogs in the Vineyard last night (here in Portland) for a few friends. I'm still up here on vacation, but I'll try to post an actual play in soon.

Complicated story with lots to do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007


I'm heading to the Pacific Northwest (Portland and then some) for a week.

I will be back on the 20th with news and information about upcoming projects.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

City of Coil: Act II

We've had a huge shift in tone and players recently and the campaign has taken a weird turn.

The story is sort of heating up... but not completely... it's hard to define.

In some ways, it's become a traditional "get the mission" sort of game, which I was trying to avoid. And in other ways it's stumbling through the difficult second Act.

Which is funny, because I had intended about five Acts of escalating complexity. But it looks like it might just be a two or three act story, now.

We'll see.

Colby, Brian, and Adrian are joining or have joined the game.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Instead of our regular game....

Players: Aaron, James, Joel, Jim, jim, and Richard

I ran a 6-player session of GC last night for players who are usually enjoying D&D Iron Heroes or Mutants and Masterminds. The session, for all it's hic-cups, was pretty good and one of the players offered a lot more than expected. It was interesting to see them wrapping their heads around the idea of no GM and competing for "attention" (which is essentially what complications are).

Aaron opened the story with 12-year old Mike (who hated being called Mikey). He lived in an old subway bathroom and ventured out for food every morning. A lone six-year old had fallen through the dilapidated ceiling a pack of three dogs were circling him like food. Mike grabbed a massive rock to smash one of the dogs with, but a fourth dog approached and scared Mike. Thinking the situation a distraction, the six-year old fled down the tunnel and the pack of dogs chased, mauling and feeding on the child. Mikey failed to get food.

Morris (11-year old played by Richard), slept in a catwalk above the tracks, miraculously spared from the collapse of the ceiling. Morris worked his way down and sneaked away from from the chaos to get a ho-ho out of a vending machine hidden deep in the subway. His shoes were worn and Richard spent a lot of time describing the environment around him. Morris was able to get the last ho-ho out of the machine without it closing on his hand.

Jim played a 10-year old named Johnny who woke that morning from inside the trunk of a parked car. He walked the streets, looking for food, uneventfully. He would prove to be a huge thorn in Morris' side all game long.

Joel played a 9-year old (named Zeb) with a simple desire to stand out from the group and eat ice cream, which he never discovered. He was a pampered child who lived inside his parent's home, even though the parents were long gone. He fell during breakfast trying to get to the last box of cereal at the top of shelf of the kitchen.

I played an 8-year old (something I hadn't done before) named Tommy who wanted to kiss a girl, but suffered from delusions. He lived in an orphanage and escaped into the city wearing a labcoat from the orphanage.

James played Cletus, a 7-year old boy with a penchant for fun.

Highlights of the game include:
Morris was an absolute bully to all the kids.
James grabbed a fistful of quarters from the ashtray of a parked car and some big kids chased us off. James later used those quarters to ride the helicopter ride outside the Wal-Store.
Finally finding a shoe store that only had women's shoes.
The realization that Tommy wasn't from an orphanage but a mental ward. He fell asleep on the ground next to a dead dog at the end of the story.
Jim broke the social contract and had Richard's character die.
The strengths written on the character sheets were extremely creative.

This one a really strong demonstration of the game, overall, but the play style was VERY VERY different from what everyone was used to. Jim expressed interest in playing again sometime and Aaron and I had fun, as always, playing the game.

The size of the group did limit our ability to play to five glory (we stopped at three) in a short amount of time and I'm sure a second playing of the game might change everyone's ability to relate to a game that is so different from the standard non-indie paradigm.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Coil: Playtest

By the end of the week, I will have a working model for a playtest of Coil, my multi-character, macro-style, chapter-drive, urban, social, fantasy (how many more descriptors can I fit here) game.

I would be interested in sitting down with some people to work out the kinks and/or sending out the playtest document.

Of course, I assume the LA crew will want to play it when were done with the present game.

Anyone that would like to look at it, let me know.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition

I really don't have a strong opinion about 4th, one way or the other. I'm glad that gnomes are gone and that they'll be fixing grapple.

But I think a 4th edition needs to be an overhaul, not a retrofit.

And the covers, while painted well, are boring and the new logo is lackluster for a game with this much history.

But we'll see. I wouldn't expect the gates to rumble when stores open with 4th edition on their shelves.

Monday, August 27, 2007

City of Coil, Speed Bump

David has left the group and we are down to two players, which will work for a session or two, but if someone lives in Socal and wants to join the game, let me know. We could use a player or two.

More later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

GenCon 2007

See you in one week.

If you're at GenCon, look me up at the AEG, Green Ronin, Rogue Games, Zietgeist, or the art show.

ADDENDUM: It took 11 hours to get home from INDY. Northwest sucks.

All airlines suck, why qualify it?

The show was great. Really amazing. Best one in years. Even without a single GRAND SLAM product in the entire building. Everyone was in great spirits.

But I'm exhausted and I have some projects to write up before tomorrow. I hope to have an interesting post soon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cease and Desist at GenCon 2007

Rogue Games received a Cease and Desist notice from Midway games over the title Stranglehold,

We have to change the name of the game four days before GenCon and try to get new copies printed in time.

Wow. Now that's a tight turnaround.

Come by Booth 1535 at Gencon to get a copy of the (tr)ashcan edition of XSW: Impact.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

City of Coil XI: Act II

Much of the city has been designed and developed on here, with loose notes whenever possible.

A lot of ideas float around and when it comes time to make this into a REAL game world, I hope a few friends can help with the writing. I have mechanics ideas ready to playtest.

As for the story I'm running on Saturdays, here's a recap.

Twelve high level people in the city are actually members of the Circle of Midnight, spell casters who are not wizards (some of whom masquerade as wizards0. They all held high places of power and made a pact to secure a place in history for the Chosen One. However, when the chosen one was born, they forsake their duty and clung to their power. A ritual, created by the forsaken chosen one has killed all but one of the Circle. The second most powerful Evoker in the City reels from the attempt on her lift, weakened by it. However, others around her squabble for power, like vultures. waiting for her to show a sign of weakness. Already the Evocation tower is in disarray.

Two days of rioting and looting as the city under a state of martial law. Certain regions of the city have been walled up. The prisons are filled with criminals of all kinds.

A small gathering of lizard men at the temple of Nyoss (God of Whispers) convened for several days before leaving shortly after midnight of the new year. The PCs are unaware of this event's significance.

The Divination Guild is bidding its time, waiting for the appropriate moment to strike. Someone from their order has approached Zapheous, asking him for the Medusa coin.

The Necromancy Guild has been quiet for some time.

Chloe is slowly becoming something of importance... a creature beyond her human form. She, of course, needs to know everything now. She is also anxious to kill people.

Amara is in fact a half-succubus. Her brother is a rakshasa. Her father was a tiefling (he and all his clones are dead). Her mother was a... we don't know yet.

Zapheous has had so many brushes with death. But his days are numbered now. He has fewer and fewer allies. And the people he can blackmail are weakening.

Simon is a speck on the horizon.

We have now entered a second era of PC "enlightenment."

ADDENDUM: We are playing again on the 11th. Two of the player may be making an addition character each, to highlight stories and issues going on in the city that their characters can't be involved with (there's only so many hours in the day).

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

D&D Skill List

Here is the official skill list of a jim pinto D&D game. And of course every class's skill selection would also change. Effectively everyone would become a 3+Int (except rogue which becomes 6+Int). And their choices would change too (so fighters and sorcerers can do stuff).

Athletics (replaces Balance, Climb, Escape Artist, Jump, Swim, Tumble)
Craft (replaces Craft, Profession)
Disable Device (replaces Disable Device, Open Locks)
Knowledge (replaces all knowledge)
Notice (replaces Listen, Spot, Search -- allows for Scent)
Religion (includes understanding and performing rites and rituals)
Ride (replaces Ride and Handle Animal)
Social (replaces Appraise, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate, Perform, Sense Motive)
Speak Language
Stealth (replaces Hide, Move Silently, Sleight of Hand)
Subterfuge (replaces Bluff, Decipher Script, Disguise, Forgery)
Survival (replaces Heal, Survival, Use Rope)
Theory (includes all non-ephemeral Knowledge; replaces Spellcraft, Use Magic Device)

I haven't considered yet what is MISSING from the game. Essentially, skills are a patch for the rigid class system anyway. But, to streamline the game and reduce paperwork, this is my list. And I think you'll find it does NOT break or change the game you are playing.

Try it.

Oh. And synergy bonuses are gone. Feats only give a +3 to one skill. That's it. "Keep it simple, stupid" as the saying goes

Theory could also be used to decipher scripts and runes, I supposed. Depends on your style of play.

Monday, July 30, 2007

D&D Social Interaction II: A Response

I don't think 2nd Edition or 3rd Edition are really "D&D." They are games that try to emulate D&D, but both have so many "patches" to cover the wholes in regular D&D, that effectively, it's not the same game anymore.

3.0 would have been an earth-shattering product in 1990 when 2nd edition released. Now it's a tiring game that is losing steam because the momentum that got us into 3.0 is slowly fading... and it isn't enough to keep us there.

Too many bad ideas in too many 3rd party products have splintered the idea of what d&d potential is, that no one publisher is really making the dark, assyria-inspired, fallen kingdoms, d&d of the 1970s.

A game, even without a world, must have flavor. 3.0 didn't have flavor, but the ADs in charge of the game are slowly adding one to all the 3.5 products that come out.

The flavor is transparent. They call it "punk" in their style guides and as the artists to add more warhammer-inspired imagery to the game.

But this has little to do with 1/2 the mechanics of the game, which are mired in minutia. The rules for attack of opportunity and grappling have to be the stupidiest things i've ever seen in a professional product.

These need to be fixed. Badly.

My concepts for fixing the social system actually make the game more D&D than ever. 1st edition has almost ZERO rules for interaction, bluffing, diplomacy, and so on. Certainly gathering information was a seat of the pants exercise by DMs with little to no understanding of game balance.

Even to this day, charisma is a useless stat, maybe even more so than the original game which gave my followers a bonus to morale saves. Now it modifiers six skills that i would never put on any character sheet in 3.5.

D&D must remain slightly generic in order to maximize sales. Thousands of fans already have their home-brew worlds. They don't need Eberron (and really... who does?), or Grayhawk or Earthdawn or these other products.

But it must also inspire flavor. There must be a theme. And that theme should enhance game-design whenever possible.

If we remove specialized classes from the game (bard, barbarian, druid, monk, paladin) and pull back the point of the remaining classes, we see that Cha and Wis have no place in the game. We see that none of these classes cares about "Bluffing" guards or rolling a die to see what they overhear in a tavern.

The players of these characters might, but the design of these characters (to date) has not. Clerics have a WIS bonus to spells, in order to distinguish WIS from INT. Otherwise, they are the same stat. And clerics are a whole 'nother discussion for another time.

While my ideas cannot help all D&D players, I believe they can help most. They streamline play without changing the game into something else. Yes, I realize that a character sheet with CHA on it doesn't feel like D&D, but four different skills to interact with people doesn't feel like D&D either.

Look for more ideas from me in coming months, especially as 4th Edition gets closer.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fellowship of the Lost

Below is a post I made to the forum. I am reposting it here, because the Fellowship post (at the end) was kind of juicy.

Let me use three examples of TYPES of games I run (as I try not to use the same methods over and over) and maybe that'll frame the conversation a little differently.

Let's say I'm running Warhammer Fantasy (or something similar). The PCs start as complete neophytes. This is purposeful. WHFRP's entire game world is built on this model. Life is cheap. Social darwinsim. All that. Eventually the PCs start caring about the world around them and grow in power so they can affect the world around them. This isn't for everyone, I recognize.

Now. At the end of any of my game sessions, there should be numerous dangling plot-threads, NPCs that have gotten away, and plenty of questions that the PCs want answered. This is how i run. It's not how everyone runs the game. The campaign ends when I see it's time to end it, and I start building momentum for the finale. The game always end with at least two villains to thwart and not all of them within arm's reach (no time to kill everything). Its very possible the characters can die trying to "win." It is very likely, they will be affected by the story.

Now. Let's say I'm running an Indie RPG. Dogs is a good example. Because I really like it and I have enough command of the rules to tinker.

I love to tinker.

In dogs, the PCs make their characters ahead of time, from home, and we roleplay the first few days of their campaign lives through e-mails and when they finally meet, they have more command of their character's voice. Unless your gaming with actors, most people (I've found) need a few hours to really find their voice. The PCs meet, through the church/mission/temple and are told... spread god's word. They aren't told how. They aren't told where. And they aren't railroaded or shoehorned. Hell, if I do my job right, I've made 10 towns for them to visit and I let them choose one. But I probably wouldn't do that much prep-work.

Seeing what the PCs are doing, I'm likely to throw subplots at them, tailored to their characters. I'm likely to distract their "plans" with minor moral inconveniences (timmy fell in a well? and he's a sodomite?). I'm likely to expose them to events outside the "walls" of their world. I'm likely to drop them on the edge of a civil war or some large scale event that's about to affect their world in meaningful ways.

And with the right players, I'm likely to do nothing and just sit back and watch them take over.

Because I believe (and this is just my POV) that dogs cannot be campaigned forever, at a certain point I need to start wrapping it up, which means ratcheting the tension and abbreviating the amount of things they can do with their time. This is all administrative folderol. There's no way to write rules for it. You just have to sense what your players can handle and what they need.

Now. Let's say I'm running Vampire (or any city-oriented game). My city games are massive relationship mapping undertakings (not that I ever used this term until I met Josh). It's sort of like playing a tabletop version of Elder Scrolls (or whatever that video game was called). But instead of worrying about hit points and skills, you are concerned about standing and ambition. Other characters in the world are moving just as fast as you are. They are not just sitting in a night club somewhere waiting for the stereotypical meeting with the heroes while strippers giggle behind them in some Michael Bay-esque self-efacing charade. Instead, the NPCs are out collecting friends, buying stolen weapons, importing drugs, stealing candy from babies, and essentially upsetting the balance of the game's ecosystem. If the PCs sit back and do nothing, the world is still going to change. If the PCs get involved, the world is going to change more.

Short of ziplocking me right into a game box, though, I've yet to find a way to do this... but I'm working on it. COIL will be my first attempt at multi-character storytelling and city-wide roleplaying.

With the exception of Dogs, my games do not have a set "plot." I have world laws that I must adhere to (so I can't cheat anyone) and a paper-mache story framework that I can tear apart and mold into something else at a moment's notice, but I rarely have a plot the first night we game. In other words, imagine you wake up one morning and you don't want to go to work... what do you do instead? The game is a blank canvas. Once the PCs begin to poke and probe the game world do I get a sense of what they really want to do and how I want to pace the game.

And even with dogs, I don't force-feed them anything. But I build a settlement for them to explore.

These styles, do not play well in 4 hours. A lot is lost when you only have enough time to reveal characters, unearth the plot, uncover one or two complications, and footrace your way to finale.

That's my impression anyway.

Although, I hear the 8-hour Mountain Witch games at the local con are great, however. Because they have more "stages."

And of course, combine all of this with... I write RPG material (both mainstream and smallpress), fiction, essays, poetry, comic book scripts, movie reviews, and game convention adventures... all to completely different audiences... you can understand why I would ask these questions.

Finally, to address your comments about the Fellowship. This game isn't about winning and beating Nezzeroth. In a lot of ways, they can't fully win. But that's sort hard to explain without saying too much. Essentially, the game is about, what do you do... when you've spent 26 years of your life failing over and over and finally you get a lucky break and then that lucky break starts to smell like all the other lucky breaks... when do you say, enough? when do you say, where has my life gone? when do you say, the world isn't worth saving? why should i do this when no one cares? The world of Raavnia (the one I built that it's set in) doesn't hail adventurers as savoirs, but instead treats them with scorn, because they always bring more trouble then they are worth. The PCs (despite their valiant quest... and it's quite complex... the character sheet is 4-5 pages) are just another band of opportunists.

In short hand, imagine a fantasy version of Wild Bunch, where no one has ever seen the Mexican army, and William Holden is an indecisive idealist, Ben Johnson is an eastern orthodox priest who has turned his whole life upside down to be part of this fruitless quest, Warren Oates is repressed and outcast dwarf ashamed of his and Ernest Borgnine is Steve Buscemi in Ghost World (providing some of levity to the tone of the game). There's one more character, but I don't have an equivalent for her.

Legolas is a virgin in my game. Does that count for anything?

Now. Taking a step back. The Fellowship of the Lost follows all the criterion of a story-game (in my opinion... last time we played we rolled dice four times in twelve hours), but it has none of the schwa of an indie game (although I could very easily run it with mountain witch). Does that forsake it from being playable con game fair because neither the SG nor non-SG crowd find it in their comfort zones?

Does playing a vampire game where you're not answering to the prince and being handed quests every session detract from the vtm model enough? or too much?

Is fantasy so passe and/or apocryphal that any game with spells is going to be ostracized out of hat?

Is there a theme that would capture your attention in a convention book (or anywhere) to steal 14 hours of your time that isn't World of Warcraft?

If these questions aren't relevant to you, can you see how they might be relevant to someone you know? Does that influence your fun?

(I'm really just typing questions now. I've written a lot here and I hope you feel comfortable addressing more than just these last questions I've raised.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

D&D Social Interaction

As everyone knows by now, I want to remove Wis and Cha from D&D. In fact, if I could, all three MENTAL attributes would be removed from the game and be replaced with a Social token system.

Weapons and magic would become skills, so the more skill points you spend on magic, the better you are at casting spells. This is the equivalent of a spell bonus from a high INT.

In order to emulate the loss of Charisma, everyone gets Social tokens (at least 1), based on how many point you put into this state during character creation. You can't have more than 5. The Social tokens are used anytime the PCs are engaged in a social situation. They are effectively a WIN of socializing. But they are also used in place of knowledge (arcana) and all those other useless skills that get rolled once per session.

They help with languages too.

We need to know where the orc camp is. I ask around. Spend a token. Ah. Found a map.

Talk to the guard over there. See if he'll let us in. Spend a token.

I know a little bit of the orc language. It sounds like their inviting us in for cookies. Spends token. Nope. They want to eat the gnome. My mistake.

Can you cut the price on this sword by 10%?

Hey. Monster. Look over there.

These runes look familiar.

I have a friend in BlackGard that knows a guy who lived a girl who owned a shop that sold those magical components. They also took in black pearls in trade and even blessed magic items. No lie.

And so on.

It's just theory at the moment. I'm redesigning it as we speak.

ADDENDUM: Check out this thread on enworld.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Marketing to Gamers: A Theory

Paul Tevis and I were "chattin' it up" today in an all anime catgirl chat room .... er... um...

moving on...

We were discussing Convention attendance and what sorts of games people play.

I asserted that people wanted episodic Buffy-style games, with little depth or planning. Most people wanted to minimize their exposure to new ideas, even though they wouldn't mind playing a NEW game. Dogs, for instance, might draw in players because of the theme or mechanics, but the game SHOULD and MUST adhere to a typical THREE ACT RPG session, lest people be confused. The villain must be clear cut and the decisions on who to kill and who to save be obvious.

Anything else might leave people wondering if they had a good time.

Paul contended that people want to have fun, but they don't want to risk have just a little fun for a game that is radically different from their "comfort zone." (I'm paraphrazing. Paul's a big kid. He can make his own assertions.)


Imagine the following scenario. GM lists FOUR games in a local convention catalog. Maybe his name is even listed next to the events. Doesn't matter. All of the descriptions are pulled directly from the backs of the rulebooks. All identical to the last time he ran games at the con. All with zero or little prep and most requiring the players to make characters when they sit down. It's not unrealistic and I know some good GMs that do this on a regular basis.

My opinion is three-fold.

One. I think people like rolling dice. It does not matter how compelling a story is. If they get to roll dice and take umbrage with GOOD and BAD die rolls (especially good), then they have "won something" somehow. This means that games with little-to-no die rolling may not be received as well as token, freeform, diceless, experimental, or "arbitrary" games [Mark Valiantos' Satanic Mills uses no dice and it's awesome.]

As an aside, every gamer knows the guy with the "worst die-luck ever." Yawn.

Two. I think gamers would rather be "pacified" with their entertainment, rather than risk something with a high good/bad ratio of fun. This extends to all nerds. Comic book fans. Anime fans. Check out Marvel comics or any robot anime. How many people just want a solid movie, rather than risk seeing something like Ghost Rider or Fantastic Four which has SUCK written all over it, but might have a gem. Okay. Bad example. How many people would watch an Anime named HIDE AND SEEK instead of an anime named GUNDAM 7000XYZ.

HIDE AND SEEK (to me) is the best anime I've ever seen. GUNDAM 7000XYZ is the same tired old crap GUNDAM always makes. But it's safe, because you know how it's going to end.

To use a gaming analogy, imagine an RPG session where the PCs have to kill an NPC, but they don't know which one is truly evil... everything is hearsay and conjecture. The game is no longer a morally BLACK/WHITE game with an obvious LICH adversary.

How unfulfilled would a gamer feel, knowing that his/her decision might have far-reaching and unpredictable implications?

That's HUGE.

Which brings me to my final point.

Three. I think people are very concerned about their own fun, but maybe not the fun of everyone they are playing with. They might even show up for selfish reasons. This is not an attack. Additionally, many people lacks the skills necessary to evaluate and explain why they love or hate something. They just do... and they form opinions quickly... that cannot be changed. D&D Sucks and that's the end of it. Mad Scientists ruin games. End of discussion. Charisma is a useless stat. Move on.

Game industry companies deal with this ALL THE TIME.

It's a fascinating phenomenon. I doubt Pepsi has this problem.

You have a consumer base that can form opinions without tests, without evaluation, and without education. I don't need to know how to write a story, but I can certainly evaluate that THIS ONE is stupid.

And it basically means you have to always be perfect, all the time. Or at the very least mediocre. You can't risk telling a new kind of story and you're unlikely to expand your threshold of acceptability. Mixing mediums is acceptable, so long as the story ends the same way a D&D game would. Otherwise your book on halfling druid machine monkey men not be taken as seriously as it should.

Anyway. This is not a slight against anyone. But it's slowly becoming a more important part of making/running/enjoying games with others that I find limits my exposure to big ideas or unconventional stories.

This is an unofficial observation/theory. No lab tests were done. No formal studies were conducted. No panels were developed to investigate how accurate these opinions might be in relation to the real thing.

No animals were harmed in this post.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Stranglehold to Release

I've been pretty quiet about this game, because I wasn't sure if I'd get it done in time for GenCon. But I'm in the home stretch, so I'm going to jink this project by announcing it on here.


Stranglehold is my new wrestling roleplaying game. And yes, I realize there are TONS of wrestling games out there (good and bad), but this is the only one that allows you to RUN a league and emulate an evening of wrestling. Instead of roleplaying a single wrestler, you are the booker who manages a stable of wrestlers, taking on the role of each during important points in the evening.

Stranglehold is about SMACKDOWN, it's not about the Hulkster.

It's the first step in my move to create more and more Macro-oriented games.

Anyway. I'm only printing 50 copies for GENCON ($20 each) and the official edition will be out by the end of the year.

More news soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tide of Iron

I just purchased Fantasy Flight's TIDE OF IRON today, without having ever played it.

Purely on theme.

It weighs almost 15 pounds (I think).

It'll be a while before I get the time to open or play this game, but I think it's gorgeous. The cover is well-rendered and the back of the box hints at some pretty pretty pieces.

I'm sure I could have gotten a deal at GenCon from any of the kids at FFG, but then... how would i get it home?

Anyway. Looking forward to playing it in late August. Ha.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gamer Bling is Up

I made this logo about a year ago. But the site is finally up. Go to the about page to read a joke about me. And pass on Bolme's site to everyone you know.

D&D and You

The more you know.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Order of the Stick Question

okay. if you read OOTS and you read this blog, answer this question for me...

why isn't Roy's death more dramatic?

is it because death isn't final in fantasy settings? because healing fixes everything?!?!

twice now (end of 473 and 474), Roy's death has been the punch line of a joke.

instead, the drama has been deflated and Roy's become the "punk" of the story... i'm not sure if this was intended or not, or if because FANTASY settings in games are filled with so much magic, life and unlife aren't really dramatic events any longer.

i don't even see people on the boards talking about it in that context.

am i missing something?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Theory: The Orc Wars

We had a good session of M&M last night and afterwards James, Joel, Aaron and I stuck around and talked about game design for about two hours.

It's interesting to talk with people who AREN'T designers about what they like and why... finding out how many people still love the tick-tack nature of dungeons crawls and killing orcs.

I'm always amazed that games like World of Warcraft don't satisfy this ADVANCEMENT craving that exists in gamers and that stories and game style haven't evolved beyond "rescue the princess" or "kill the orcs."

When people talk about the "demise" of gaming, I always point to this as one of the causes. Gaming didn't grow up with the consumers. It didn't mature or evolve. The process of "counting" in gaming can be done so much faster in WoW or Everquest or Diablo or whatever you're playing, that tabletop gaming needs to emulate something else other than round after round of sword swings in order to resolve a mere fight with an orc.

The stories aren't more evolved than a Kevin Sorbo movie. The published material is more ego-centric than ever. And the small-minded nature of gameplay is getting smaller.

Before someone gets offended by that last statement, let me explain.

If someone released an RPG where you were a KING of a country, the majority of players would (within hours of playing) begin abusing their power and eventually want to get off the throne and kill something.

This sort of game probably wouldn't sell well if it were about ACTUALLY rulership.

However--this is just an estimate--90% of books publishing under the 3.0 and 3.5 dynasties were targeted at PLAYERS and not GMS, indicating a shift in marketing and publishing to garner more money from the consumer (make more books about the PCs and you can sell 3-5 times as many books).

And this shift leads to an more egocentric role where the books are written about NEW CLASSES and NEW FEATS which benefit players and less source material and world information which benefit the story.

I don't think I'm talking about anything new here.

But I think when you hear people talking about the industry "dying" you have to take that with a grain of salt... weigh that against an industry that hasn't grown up at all and that expects a game to sell, simply because they put it on a shelf somewhere.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Chris Grun's Artwork

A friend in the gaming industry who's portfolio is just skyrocketing now.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Transformer's Review


It's 1AM on Tuesday. The movie came out 2 days early. Not sure why.

Anyway. I got to see the 8 PM showing of the movie most kids waited 20 years for.

Let me start by saying I was a GI Joe fan as a kid and I had passing interaction with the Transformers craze. I know the characters and that's about it. But, I was really really really excited about this one.

Stupid me.

This film is so good and so bad at the same time... the effects are amazing and the movie goes by quickly. Sadly, you can see Speilberg's AND Michael Bay's stink links all over it... and all at the same time. The main actor (Shia LaBeouf) steals (and carries) all 2.5 hours of this film, even when Turturo and Voight are choking on the ass gas emanating from Bay's poor direction and inability to rewrite crappy dialog.

You know... considering Turturo's career is almost over as an actor, he should probably reconsider these sorts of poorly thought out and poorly executed characters.

Just a suggestion.

The number of Bay/Bruckheimer stereotypes going on inside the GOVERNMENT in this film made me think I was watching Enemy of the State (directed by Tony Scott, but certainly with a little Bruckheimer-Devil on his shoulder twisting Scott's vision, much the way he twisted Bay into a D-class director).

But I digress.

The film opens chaotically, but fairly. In no time, we are pushed from character to character, trying to make sense of the ADD-riddled non-sense that Bay calls a scene. He can neither point a camera, nor direct an actor. What exactly was his function on this film?

Soon enough, we learn that there are ROBOTS on the planet, but we don't know why yet.

Mystery is good. That's fine. Continue.

Sadly, the mystery is blown in a ubiquitous exposition scene and the rest of the film is just masturbation.

So. Without talking ad nauseum about the story, let's talk about the film's vapidness.

The Decepticons don't get any screen time except when it's time to fight and I have no idea who any of them are, indicating the production team's "inexperience" with special effects. And when the Autobots get screentime, they either can't talk (Bumblebee for instance), are ghetto (Jazz is black so all the negro children will buy his toy), or are bumbling idiots (everyone else but Optimus Prime). Making me think that perhaps no one that made this film was ever a child.

And apparently neither ILM or Speilberg has ever made a film with robots in them.

The Decepticons are nothing more than "bad guys" with no motivation, no dialog, and no names. A piece of information so evident that apparently at hour 1.9, someone in the editing room said... um... we should put their name on the screen as the Deux ex Machina rolls out for Act III.

Of course, there's plenty of sappiness in the film, too. The set-up for the finale is so obvious, I don't know what to say. If you don't see it coming, you need to return your brain for repair. And since no real emotion can emanate from the film, all you get are disingenuous feelings from everyone except Sam. So many human characters get shotgunned at the screen, so quickly, I don't recall a single name in the movie, BUT SAM... and you certainly don't care about anyone but Sam (not even his parents or his girl).

Having considerably grown up since working on HOLES -- when Prime and the rest of the "cast" introduce themselves to Sam, asking about magic glasses (god, I wish I were making that up), they all take on really insipid 10-year old marketing antics -- Shia must have felt right at home with the immature and insecure character "introduction" with annoying sickly and saccharine nicknames.

"I'm Jazz, because I like Jazz. I'm Tugboat, because my ass is fat. I'm X-Ray because I've got one eye. I'm stinky, because... I stink. I'm Michael Bay, because I'm a tool."

So many moments when you were supposed to be on your feet cheering, the film is merely "ho-hum." Bay misses every important emotional beat. Either because he can't focus what the movie is supposed to be about, because he can't choose what tone to give the film (it literally flips every 10 minues), or because the graphics and fight scenes are pretty much the same over and over... with no mounting tension. Every robot moves the same way and they all dodge bad guys the same way.

Does Bay know what a storyboard is?

Hell. Megatron is supposed to be the BAD GUY of the film and he gets ONE mention an hour into the movie by Optimus Prime and then we don't see him until hour TWO. At which point he utters five barely memorable lines and battles Optimus Prime in the same tired melee you've seen five previous times in the film between two other clumps of CGI.

Frankly, I'm confused as to why I said this film was good. It was enjoyable, but it barely qualifies as a movie. It has sounds and lights and noise that comes out of things that scream and bleed, but that's about it. There's no real cohesion and nothing resembling quality.

It's like a bag full of moist crap and everyone is marveling at the moisture.

The only true satisfaction I derived from this film came, when the first DECEPTICON (I think it was Soundwave or Buzzsaw or whoever the Helicopter is... yeah the movie was the inarticulate about it's content) came on the screen and transformed.

My wife grew up in South Korea and didn't come to the states until 1989, well-past the expiration on Transformer's fandom. So. She knew nothing of what was coming.


And her surprise and excitement was well-worth the price of admission.


My advice to you.

Take a retard or caveman with you, so you can watch him enjoy the film.

Monday, July 02, 2007

City of Coil X: The Package

How it works together.

While I am presently running the City of Coil using D&D (we roll dice twice a session), I actually intend to develop a complex system of social interaction for a MASSIVE CITY, MULTI-CHARACTER RPG.

The details are sketchy at the moment, but the system will be fluid enough to do anything you want with it and allow NUMEROUS NPCS (technically infinite), while offering nothing in the way of complex spell lists or weapon lists.

More later.

I've also been bouncing around the idea of doing a POD/PDF book called D&D Lite. Or something similar. A stream-lined set of rules that mesh with everything you are presently using, but that make the game easier and faster to play... so you can get right into the story.

Comments or suggestions? Thoughts?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Podcast Interview I

There's a podcast interview on Boardgame Babylon involving Eric Burgess, Boyan Radakovich, and myself. The link is here.

Be aware that there is a long intro by Eric and most of the discussion is about Boardgames, but anyone that wanted to hear me prattle on about graphic design can give it a listen.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Raavnia Reborn: Footsteps of the Fallen

I will once again be running by Marathon (12-14 hour) Fantasy RPG game... Fellowship of the Lost at GATEWAY 2007 in Los Angeles.

I am coordinating with the RPG staff now and I will post more information as soon as I know it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

D&D Campaign: DIPLOMACY and RISK

Strategic Level D&D Play Combined with Personal

This is a multi-level style of Dungeons and Dragons (or any fantasy game) play that I really love.

Take any Risk map you like... the Lord of the Rings variant is recommended. Each player (and the GM) in the game commands an army as well as a character. The characters all work together on an adventure to do X.

X can be taking the ring to Mt. Doom, killing a lich, retreiving a lost weapon, hunting down enemies of the king, or whatever. It should involve a great deal of overland movement, but a campaign set in the HUB of the empire can also be great.

At the end of each game session, one or all of the players takes a turn at Risk, building their armies and changing the landscape of the game world as Armies march across once peaceful villages.

The GM, of course, is expected to note these changes in the game world and demark who and what is in each portion of the world. Occupation forces would obviously be left behind and certain swaths of land would be burned, etc. by battle. Cities would be sieged and so on.

The possibilities are endless.

The game ends when the PCs are in the same region as the largest army on the board (minimum 8) or the PCs succeed in reaching their destination. Or whatever end point the GM/Players set.

Comments welcome.

This same thing can be done with DIPLOMACY or an MASSIVE STRATEGY LEVEL BOARD GAME.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Order of the Stick, Again

Xykon took the city. Roy is dead. Haley can talk again. Okay. Two for three isn't bad.

The series is in a down-spiral at the moment, because Rich hit some MAJOR plot points in the last four weeks.

Great stuff. Not sure how much more self-righteous gamer-think banter I can take, but I know these next few EXPOSITION issues will be necessary evils.

If Rich has plotted this thing correctly, we are hopefully only 2/5ths of the way through this adventure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


You may or may not have already heard about this.

But did you notice the company name?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Looking Back

When I started this blog 150 posts ago, I really wanted to provide new ideas, monsters, spells, and whatever else to gaming that I could.

I was working at a tool company at the time, slowly dying, and I needed a creative outlet.

Now that I'm working IN the industry again, but not garnering a pay-check of any significance from the industry, I find that my patience for some of the industry's decision wanes.

I know that's not very insightful, but that's the best face I can paint on it.

You have companies that I absolutely love the product of, but that I would never work for. And you have companies I love working for, but I would never play their product.

I have done work for over a dozen companies, I've made enemies of people I could care less about, enemies of people I wish I hadn't, and enemies of people who I didn't even know who they were.

Corner me at GenCon, I've got a funny story about that last one.

Then there's my new "partnership" with Rogue Games, a company I want to see succeed on every level and a company I want to grow with.

Not because we're going to produce the next Hero-Clix, but because we are having so much fun doing what we're doing. Not because we want to own the industry, but because we want to do thing our way for a change. Not because we hate how most books look, but because we want to make books that are designed a little differently.

I'm just the art director and a small contributor to the team, but if more companies were involved like this, I would be that much more excited about what's going on in our industry.

I've had arguments with game designers over things as simple as an exclamation point and the times new roman font... things that no smart manager would ever dig his heels in on.

And I've had two-hour discussions with Patrick Kapera of Crafty Games about the the state of the industry, so insightful and intelligent, they should have been turned into podcasts.

I got into this industry by accident. I was working as a Tech Writing for a communications company and John Zinser approached me about a job. Maureen Yates, at the time, was the office manager and she and I had met a year earlier about a job with an environmental firm.

When the Shadis Magazine editor position opened up in 1996, I fell into the job. Two years later I wrote an Origins-nominated expansion book for L5R. And a year after that I was the Art Director for AEG (with no prior training).

By 2004, I had written and released the largest book in gaming history, I'd commissioned over 11,000 pieces of art, and been involved with some of the most successful game lines in gaming history.

During that time, I averaged about $9 an hour ($4 an hour working on WLD) and missed out on everything that most college grads get to experience (house, kids, medical insurance).

I couldn't have planned for any of this and I don't regret any of it.

But I have to sometimes look back at why I chose to have a voice on the internet with the gaming community when for 9 years at AEG I was silent. And I have to remind myself that while things about this place bother me, I love the fans. And I love that my work has been put to good use.

By someone at least.

I will never be the most popular guy in gaming. I will never be a success story larger than what I've already created. I will never get people to stop using the Papyrus font. And I will never live to see an industry devoid of kilts, chainmail bikinis, ren faire assimiliation, and princess bride quotes.

But for some stupid reason, I will always keep a big toe in the industry, even if that means doing the graphic design on a free download pdf for Lonely Silent Whisper Loser Gaming Design Group With Pimples, LLC. (SWLGDGWPL)

I get mad at myself when my posts sound angry, when I have another place to vent. This blog is about what I can do BETTER, not what someone else can do worse.

So. I hope I can continue for another 300 posts to make fun posts for gamers who like fun... and not those icky anime fans who want more tentacle lust.