Monday, April 30, 2007

The Price of Admission: The Post Modernity of ENWORLD and the Rise of Indie Roleplaying Games

Somewhere in the 80s, RPGs changed from fight the "dungeon" to fight the "DM." The adversarial nature of gaming became more and more apparent. Now, I missed this era because my group didn't play this way, but when I started working in a game store, I met lots of groups that played this way. They took on the anti-DM approach to gaming and from this thinking sprouted an entire subculture of RPGers (not unlike Knights of the Dinner Table and so on).

As gaming grew from books to video games, those seeking a more DIRECT approach to fighting monsters left the game table and those who needed the socialization of the game table remained in the RPG arena. I don't know the exact connection, but many gamers became more and more interested in the MINUTIA of the game. FASA was particularly gifted at making games filled with page after page of data so thick, only the most afflicted asperger sufferers could master the Street Samurai combo for 15 actions per round.

Through the 90s, RPGs suffered, as fast, easy-to-learn CCGs took center stage of the gaming industry. Those who tired of the 4-hour character creation process and the endless number-crunching of more obvious power-game RPGs (cf. Rifts, Earthdawn) turned their attentions to games they could play quickly, still capturing the tone and theme of the fantasy/sci-fi/horror/nerd gaming industry.

Soon, however, the bottom fell out as "casual gamers" were pushed away from play. Number-crunchers and college kids with too much time on their hands created unbeatable decks, exploiting the otherwise fun and loose games at their disposal.

As I see it, casual gaming lost a lot of ground in the 90s and it wouldn't be until the German Board Game wave hit, that casual gamers could collide again with competitive play. But in the mean time, D&D was hemorrhaging. Years ofSCA-focused 2nd edition releases had pushed fans of the game away from the center. Crappy rules made crappier by kit books only weakened any hold the company might have had on perennial gamers.

Then 3.0 hit and we all know what that did.

Theories abound, but an uncontrolled/unpatroled, free-license is among the highest reasons the industry was glutted. And 3.5 did a lot of damage in SPLITTING the fan-base in THREE. With board game sales climbing and rpgs on the way out, there was only one place left for RPGs... its eventual return to a hobby-form.

Pricing aside, with every recognizable genre ground into pounder by every 2 cent a word kid looking to get his name in a game book, the glut had spilled out of d20 into every corner of the RPG market.

The players were done.

The only route left, as I see it, was smaller, faster, simpler games with genres, topics, and themes people had done poorly before or had never touched before. Dogs in the Vineyard, Burning Wheel, and Primetime Adventures certainly stand at the top of the heap of games that not only did things well, but opened doors of "gaming communication."

I don't have a finale here. I wish I did. What started as an attempt to reconcile (for myself) how the industry got HERE, became a history lesson.

For me, the future of my RPG enjoyment is games like Warhammer Fantasy, Dogs, my own personal designs, and some new Indie product (like Agon) that promises fun with less prep time. My buddy Josh is working on something that COULD be pretty bad ass... but right now the game takes a little too long to explain. I'm hoping he/we can streamline it over the next few months... it could be as cool as Dogs.

Gaming should be whatever you need it to be. It's a hobby, like model trains. Attempts to make it an industry always fail and always leave people sad... "What happened to Game XYZ? I loved that." Because after all, it's not that XYZ isn't profitable... hell in the age of PODs, selling 10 copies is profitable... it's a matter of expectations of profit. And people are curious how to make millions doing this (not pennies)... and I think those days are over. There's no quick-start route to success anymore, because so many people are looking in so many directions for the perfect combinations, the true formula has been lost to postmodernity...

make a good product.

Let some bean-counter worry about demographics and thresholds and trend patterns and every other nonsensical marketing paradigm jargon and leave good game design to good gamers.

Relevent Thread

Thursday, April 26, 2007

City of Coil VI: Calender

Initially, Coil had a complex and well-thought out calender. But over the years, as the population grew and as more and more people entered the city, unable to read or barely speak common, the calender was replaced with a simple method of numbering the days and the months.

So, Monday February 12 is merely the 12th day of the 2nd month of the 2007th year.

All months are 28 days long and every 7th day is a day of rest.

Seasons are three months long. The year starts with Spring. And the first day of each season is a holiday. Beyond that, people aren't allowed much time off, except for important holiday's like King's Day and Soldier's Day.

The poor have to get back to work, after all.

Of course, the rich take time off whenever they like.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

City of Coil V: A List of Guilds, Part II

Abjuration Guild. Associated with the abjuration school of magic.
Abjuring Guild. An all encompassing magic guild involved with those who do not draw from the Silver Emote, but rather from a more archaic spell source.
Arcana Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of lost magic.
Arcane Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of magic.
Arcanum Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of man and magic.
Conjuration Guild. Associated with the conjuration school of magic.
Divination Guild. Associated with the divination school of magic.
Divining Guild. Associated with auguries and foresight, but not prophecies and omens.
Evocation Guild. Associated with the evocation school of magic.
Exorcism Guild. A guild associated with the eradication of possessive spirits. Because the guild wields a great deal of power, each year the criterion for possessive spirits widens, thus making mediums and shaman more unlawful.
Fellowship Guilds. More later.
Fey Magic Guild. Associated with an outdated and mostly unlawful school of magic. Members of the fey magic guild must also belong to the abjuring guild, mage guild, and divining guild. Fey mages speak with visible (fey) spirits. All elf wizard must belong to this guild (whether they practice Fey Magic or not).
Fire Magic Guild. Because fire magic can be so destructive in a city like Coil, may spells are regulated by a separate guild.
Fleshcrafting Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of fleshcrafting.
Glyphs and Wards Guild. Associated with abjurations specifically involving warding a settlement against intrusion.
Healer Guild. Associated with arcane and divine magic involving healing.
Illumination Guild. Associated with the magical lighting of districts.
Illusion Guild. Associated with the illusion school of magic.
Mage Guild. The mother of all guilds. The overseer of nearly everything in the city.
Medium Guild. Associated with an outdated and mostly unlawful school of magic. Members of the medium guild must also belong to the abjuring guild, mage guild, and divining guild. Mediums speak with invisible spirits.
Monastic Guilds and Orders. More later.
Necrology Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of undead.
Necromancy Guild. Associated with the necromancy school of magic.
Occultism Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of cults and the occult under direct approval and supervision of the church.
Prophecy Guild. Associated with divinations specifically involving future events.
Sangoma. Associated with an outdated and mostly unlawful school of magic. Members of the Sangoma guild must also belong to the abjuring guild, mage guild, medium guild, and divining guild. Sangoma are nothing more than archaic “tribal” witchdoctors, but very little is known about their practices. Speculation remains whether or not Sangoma priests practice ritual sacrifice. As such, it is watched over very carefully.
Scrying Guild. Associated with divinations specifically targeting another person.
Shamanism Guild. Associated with an outdated and mostly unlawful school of magic. Members of the shamanism guild must also belong to the abjuring guild, mage guild, and divining guild. Shamans speak with ancestor spirits.
Summoning Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of conjuration and summoning.
The Church of the Sun. More later.
The Created Guild. A guild associated with the academic study and application of golems, homunculus, and other created.
Theology Guild. A guild associated with the academic study of theology under the direct approval of the church.
Transmutation Guild. Associated with the transmutation school of magic.
Witch Hunting Guild. A guild associated with the hunting of all undead, with approval from the church, exorcism guild, hunting guild, mage guild, and necrology guild, occultism guild, and theology guild.

Monday, April 23, 2007

City of Coil V: A List of Guilds, Part I

Below is a list of some of the most important and prominent non-magical guilds in the city of Coil. There are of course hundreds more, but these rank above all others in size (cf wealth) and influence.

Accounting Guild. Involves higher math than the bookkeeping guild. Accountants must belong to both.
Alchemy Guild. Brewing potions is much different than mixing herbal elixirs.
Ale Guild. A guild specifically tailored to the brewing and quality control of ale.
Alloy Guild. An umbrella guild that oversees all alloys, such as brass, bronze, electrum, nickel silver, steel, and white gold.
Animal Husbandry Guild. Closely related to, but not the same as, the breeding guild. Does not include bees, birds of prey, cats, dogs, horses, or exotic animals.
Apothecary Guild. Because not everyone can afford a cure light spell to alleviate the pain stemming from black lung or any other ailment derived from living in such close proximity.
Aqueduct Guild. All those associated with the digging of wells and all manner of (locomotive) water transportation and drainage.
Armorsmithing Guild. Includes armor and shields.
Artisan Guild. An umbrella guild overseeing several dozen smaller guilds, including art, epics, frescos, mosaics, murals, plays, poems, pottery, sculptures, and the like.
Assassins Guild. There is no such thing in Coil.
Ax and Hammer Guild. Smiths that make all manner of axes, hammers, hatchets, mauls, sledges and the like. One must also belong to a woodworking guild, a smithing guild, blacksmithing guild, and metalsmithing guild to make axes and hammers.
Baker Guild. Because the poor cannot afford meat everyday, grain is a staple of every diet in Coil.
Barber Guild. Grooming (of people) and bloodletting.
Bard Guild. Includes singers, storytellers, and magpies (gossips), each of which has additional guild layer.
Barrister Guild. For lawyers.
Bartending Guild. Those who serve drinks. One must also belong to a guild for inns, taverns, ale houses, and the like.
Beekeeping Guild. A surprisingly powerful guild.
Beer Guild. For the brewing of beer only.
Blacksmith Guild. There are dozens of smithing guilds. The blacksmiths are the widest reaching, however, and cast an umbrella over all others.
Bookbinding Guild. Does not include the scribing of books, only the binding of paper to cover and spine.
Bookkeeping Guild. Involves lower math than the accounting guild.
Bounty Hunting Guild. A guild to which all bounty hunters must belong (in addition to the hunting guild).
Bowyer Guild. The making of bows.
Brass Guild. For the refining of brass.
Breeding Guild. Includes animal breeding, except for dogs.
Brewer Guild. All brewing, including cider, falls under this guild.
Bricklayer Guild. Masons specifically charged with bricklaying.
Bronze Guild. For the refining of bronze.
Butchery Guild. All animal slaughter for consumption. Butchers work closely with alchemists, apothecaries, and snake oil salesmen to ensure that the appropriate "parts" of an animal art not used as food.
Carpentry Guild. All manner of woodworking for construction.
Cartwright Guild. The building and repair of carts (but not wheels).
Charcoal Guild. Selling and dispensing of charcoal.
Chimney Guild. Masons specifically charged with building chimneys (from either stone or brick).
Chirurgery Guild. For those who cannot afford magical curatives, chirurgeons cut open the body, mend broken bones, and heal wounds, naturally.
Clothiers. Tailors, seamstresses, garment sellers, linen suppliers, and all manner of clothing services (including cleaning) belong to this guild. Each specialty has an additional guild to which further bureaucracy must be "honored."
Coach Guild. Anyone involved in the transportation of people.
Cobalt Guild. For the mining and refining of cobalt.
Cobbling Guild.
Coinsmith Guild. The single most-powerful, non-magical guild in the city.
Cook Guild. For those who cook and prepare food, but do not serve it.
Coopers Guild. Barrel making.
Copper Guild. For the mining and refining of copper.
Coppersmith Guild. For the smithing and shaping of copper. Does not include coins.
Cotton Guild.
Courier Guild. Anyone who delivers a parcel larger than four sheets of scroll paper is a courier.
Courtesans Guild. Not to be confused with the attendant, brothel, courtier, entertainer, and whore guilds.
Craft Guild. Any handcraft that is not covered by another guild falls into the craft guild. Collectibles, knick-knacks, costume jewelry, and the like are part of this guild.
Crier Guild. Coil is filled with every manner of town-crier, disseminating news and information to the people.
Curing Guild. Anyone curing animal skin, except cowskin for leather or sheepskin for vellum.
Demihuman Guild. More of a registration service than a guild, all non-humans in Coil are expected to pay dues to the DHG.
Dentistry Guild.
Digging Guild. Any and all manner of digging (ditches, latrines, etc.), except foundations, graves, and mining.
Dog Breeding Guild. A recent argument over the rules and regulations over the care and feeding of canines resulted in a separate arm of the breeding guild devoted to dogs.
Dowser Guild. Dowsers seek out and provide private sources of (clean) water for the elite Coil.
Drago Guild. Translators and guides.
Dyer Guild. Those who dye fibers and linen.
Entertainment Guild. Street performers, jugglers, bards, and the like are all entertainers. Anyone that performs a trade that does not generate a “final product.”
Export Guild.
Falconry Guild. For the training of hawks and falcons.
Fashion Guild.
Fletcher Guild. The making of arrows.
Flowers Guild.
Forestry Guild.
Fortune Telling Guild. While all non-magical divination falls under the category of “entertainment,” the divining guild insisted on creating a separate guild for “gypsies” and their ilk… in order to keep a better eye on them.
Foundation Guild. A construction guild associated with the digging and preparation of foundations. Works closely with the Mason guild.
Game and Gambling Guild. Once two competing guilds, a recent joining of these very closely related professions has skyrocketed gambling revenues across the city.
Gemcutting Guild. Not to be confused with the jewelry guild, which oversees the sale of gems and jewels.
Gold Guild. For the mining and refining of gold.
Goldsmith Guild. For the smithing and shaping of gold. Does not include coins.
Grain Guild. Involves all grains, including those sold to brewers.
Grape Guild. All wine must be purchased from guild-approved grape vendors.
Gravedigger Guild. The oldest guild in the city, the gravediggers work closely with the cadaver guild, mortician guild, funeral workers guild, and all manner of priests (who are always willing to receive a kick-back).
Grooming Guild. The grooming of animals, not people. One cannot comb a horse for profit without belonging to this guild.
Haberdashery Guild. Who of course purchase mercury from legitimate guild sources.
Horseshoeing Guild. A smithing trade specifically tailored to the shoeing of horses.
Hostler Guild. Those who tend to horses in inns.
Hunting Guild. An umbrella guild that covers every manner of hunting, except bounty hunting.
Import Guild.
Innkeepers Guild. Anyone who runs an inn.
Ironsmithing Guild. For the smithing and shaping of iron, including cold iron and the smelting of iron into steel.
Jewelry Guild. Some guilds, such as diamonds, emeralds, opals, pearls, and sapphires have their own rules and guidelines, more specific than just the guild rules for “jewelry.” As such, a jeweler may belong to as many as ten or twenty guilds, if he sells enough merchandise.
Knife Guild. Includes all hilted blades and non-hilted (but handled) blades shorter than 8”.
Lamplighting Guild. This is not a civic role in Coil, but rather a service provided to those districts and businesses that wish to have light all evening. Those who purchase magical light, must do so through the illumination guild.
Leatherworking Guild. Works closely with the tanning guild.
Linen Guild.
Livery Guild. Those who tend to horses in stables.
Livestock Guild.
Locksmithing Guild. Another important and powerful guild.
Lumberjack Guild. Lumberjacks cut wood, but do not transport it.
Mason Guild. All manner of stoneworking and bricklaying. This is an umbrella guild.
Mead Guild. For the brewing of mead, only.
Mendicant Guild. While few dues are collected, the guild does see over territory rights and disputes. Non-guild members have little or no rights when the police come through a poor district knocking over tents.
Mercenary Guild. Once the only guild for men-at-arms and the like, the sell-sword guild now competes for bounty hunters, rangers, soldiers, swordsman, and the like.
Merchant Guild. A now defunct and useless guild, nearly everyone in the city must pay dues to it, but it has become so riddled and choked with miasmic paperwork, no one knows its potential any longer -- including those at the top.
Messenger Guild. Anyone who delivers a parcel smaller than five sheets of scroll paper is a messenger.
Metalsmithing Guild. An umbrella guild that oversees all metalsmithing (copper, iron, steel, etc.)
Milner Guild. Grinding grain into flour cannot be done without a license... apparently.
Mining Guild.
Naprapathy Guild. Poor people are easily drawn in by all manner of cures, including the promise of healing through the manipulation of joints and ligaments.
Nickel. For the mining and refining of nickel.
Page Guild. Anyone who delivers a message verbally and does not run is a page.
Painting Guild. The guild associated with non-artistic painting of exteriors and interiors.
Paper Guild.
Parcel and Postal Guild. A more prestigious version of the courier and messenger guilds, members of the PPG deliver parcels under armed guard and uses abjuration magic to protect their client’s “cargo.”
Platinum Guild. For the mining and refining of platinum.
Platinumsmithing Guild. For the smithing and shaping of platinum. Does not include coins.
Poison Guild. Yes. Brewing and selling poisons is legal. Administering them is not.
Porter Guild. Anyone carrying more than 30 pounds. Works closely with the steamer guild, stage guild, and coach guild.
Potter. All non-artistic pottery.
Produce Guild.
Ranger Guild. Does not include foresters and woodsman, who are contracted to chop down trees.
Roofing Guild. A specific type of carpentry associated only with roofing.
Ropemaking Guild.
Runner Guild. Anyone who delivers a message verbally and does not walk is a runner.
Salt Guild. An unbelievably powerful guild.
Scribner Guild. Including all manner of clerks and secretaries, but not accountants or bookkeepers.
Scotch Guild. Higher end scotches and whiskeys must also register with the scotch guild. These are the finest liquors available in Coil.
Seamstress Guild. Men can now join this guild.
Security Guild. Anyone hiring a non-wizard to install security within the home must do so through a security guild approved business. Works closely with the locksmithing guild.
Sell-Sword Guild. Mercenary men-at-arms and other “guns for hire” are considered sell-swords.
Servants Guild. Butlers, maids, and non-cooking household staff are considered servants.
Silk Guild.
Silver Guild. For the mining and refining of silver.
Silversmith Guild. For the smithing and shaping of silver. Does not include coins.
Slaver Guild. Yes. Slavery is legal in Coil.
Smithing Guild. An umbrella guild overseeing all manner of smithing.
Snake Oil Guild. All non-church approved curatives must be registered with the Snake Oil Guild.
Spice Guild. Includes all spices except salt.
Spinning Guild. Works closely with the cotton, linen, and wool guilds to turn raw materials into something useful.
Spirits Guild. Liquor and alcohol. Not spirit magic.
Stage Guild. Anyone involved in the driving of horses to pull a stage, but not a cart.
Steamer Guild. While there are few waterways through the city, those that are wide enough for a barge can use water-borne transportation to deliver cargo. Members of the steamer guild cannot transport people.
Stewart Guild. Anyone carrying less than 5 pounds while tending to the needs of another. A personal serving wench, for instance.
Stonemason Guild. Masons specifically charged with stoneworking.
Stoneworking Guild. An apprentice guild to the stonemason guild.
Swordsmithing Guild. Includes daggers, long knives, stilettos and all hilted blades longer than 8”.
Tailor Guild. Those who design and tailor clothing. A seamstress is required to actually make the clothing.
Tanning Guild. Not to be confused with the leatherworking guild.
Teamster Guild. Anyone involved in the driving of horses to pull a cart, but not a stage.
Thieves Guild. There is no such thing in Coil.
Tin Guild. For the mining and refining of tin.
Tinker Guild. A very specific and easy to violate law of the guilds is tinkering. Anyone working on a “new” design that does not fit within the parameters of a guild’s approved list of constructions falls under tinkering law. Swords must be cut a certain way, etc. Only a member of the tinker guild can make a new design for a sword or shield, etc. Tailors and apothecaries are exempt from this law, but both must seek guild approval before working on a “new design.”
Tinsmith Guild. For the smithing and shaping of tin.
Toolsmithing Guild. A very important and specific guild associated with the smithing of tools that are not axes or hammers. The guild oversees the smithing and construction of hoes, plows, rakes, scythes, shovels, sickles, wrenches. It also includes rivets. One must also belong to a woodworking guild, a smithing guild, blacksmithing guild, and metalsmithing guild to make metal tools.
Valet Guild. Anyone carrying less than 30 pounds. Works closely with the steamer guild, stage guild, and coach guild.
Vintner Guild. Wine-making.
Vodka Guild.
Wainwright Guild. The building and repair of wagons.
Weaver Guild.
Wenching Guild. Those who serve drinks and food.
Wheelwright Guild. The building and repair of cart and wagon wheels.
Whiskey Guild. Includes mash, rye, bourbon, and scotch.
Woodsman Guild. Woodsmen cut wood and transport it.
Woodworking Guild. Any wood construction that is not a settlement is woodworking.
Wool Guild.
Wrecker Guild. Wreckers are hired to cart away debris from a business or home. They also purchase large portions of scrap metals.
Wright Guild. An umbrella guild that oversees many of the “repair” guilds.

Because Coil is not a port city, there is no call for the following guilds: bowsen, captain, deckhand, first mate, fishing, longshoreman, maritime, merchant marine, naval, navigator, pearl diving, sailor, and whaling.

I would appreciate additional ideas, if people have them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Zombie-Related Humor and some OOTS

Fido

Bonus: It's about time. Roy has HAD it coming in my opinion. I'm so sick of the good guys in this story, when the villains are so much smarter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Winterland

In the spirit of the season, I bring you a fantasy world of ice and snow... or something equally clichhed.

Setting: Cold. Cold. Icy. Cold. More importantly. It's desolate. The NYSS from the Iron Kingdoms belong in this setting.

To put this in fantasy game terms, imagine that the evil wizards of FR have won or the voice of a single god resonates above all others in the pantheon. The commoners live in a constant state of fear that someone will monitor their actions or thoughts. My personal favorite rendition of this game world has five-man wizard squads (each proficient in a different type of magic... one of which is divination), patrolling the streets and people going about their dutiful tasks without much clamor or aplomb.

The streets are eerily quiet, with the occasional sound of horse hooves or a blacksmith hammer. People sweep outside their shops, in a steady, unobtrusive fashion. Etcetera. Since there are a lot of world designs here, the strength of this setting eminates from the pervasive tones of oppression and overpopulation (i.e. human life is meaningless) so feel free to develop this world in whichever direction best suits your game-style.

Rules: A single race, class, ideology, alignment, or concept dominates the world. Depending what side of the law the PCs are on, this would determine the party make-up. Nothing would be outlawed, but I can't imagine gnomes being very useful in this setting. However, bards would finally have a role in this kind of game.

A bard PC on the side of "law" would be a mouthpiece of the system, while a PC on the side of "chaos" would be a proponent for change, speaking out against the establishment. The DM could even develop a system for "spreading the word," based on the ruminations of the PC bard.

World Logic: Law is everything. Obeying the "laws" (whatever they are) is tantamount to staying alive. Either through fear (in an oppressive Orwellian state) or mediocrity (in Harrison Bergeron). An exceedly fun game of DnD would involve a world where the laws are difficult to follow, but perhaps not to the point of being Paranoia.

Missions: Depending the role of the PCs adventures can revolve around either freeing "creature-kind" from oppression (ala terrorist acts) or squashing it via some pro-national commando raids (ala Equilibrium). Alternately, adventuring (and the art of dungeon-delving) could be a highly taxed enterprise requiring permits and tarrifs. All kinds of other laws surrounding the "venture" of adventuring could be imposed as well. Imagine PCs allowed to only keep 10% of what they take... how's that for a change in the adventure landscape?

DM Advice: Oppression of the masses is important here. Communist nations thrive when the people are

a. scared
b. hungry

Preying upon the more preternatural of emotions is sure to keep the populace in check. PCs raised in this world are going to become either ambivalent or angry.... or part of the system. Keep that in mind when building a fantasy world of Boltzmen bent on keeping free thinkers in line.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

City of Coil: Game Day I

Week One
We played our first session -- set in the City of Coil -- on Saturday.

And while the tone wasn't as dark as I'd hoped, we had a LOT of fun. Lots of laughing... too many Seinfeld moments.

No plot yet... at least nothing they know of.

We played through about 5 or 6 days of the characters lives... very different characters, too. Very difficult to justify them hanging together everyday (well Zaeph and Chloe have great reasons to hang out with one another, once or twice a day; and soon Amara will have a reason to see Zaeph, everyday).

Apparently, a fourth player will eventually show up who isn't playing a "funny" character. So around that time, we may have to shift style a little, with more potential plots showing up.

Great first 6 hours, though.

Good material to build from. Lots of ideas.

Items of Note
Poor people with bedrashes, black lung, and all kinds of minor problems that Zaeph can't solve.

The Church charges for healing, so poor people tend to die from simple problems.

The guilds are a miasma of bureaucracy. Bigger than I imagined.

The guard and witch watch have a lot of potential.

Once I get started doing a cockney accent for the NPCs, it's hard to stop.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Can we make the Industry Uglier?

Disclaimer One
I do not think game designers and writers should review other people's product. I won't point fingers at who has done this in the past, as that has nothing to do with anything. But as soon as you write and publish anything in the industry, you have an obligation not to trash someone else's venture.

Disclaimer Two
You can offer advice to make things better, but that's a gray area.

I have done this on my site, before, especially to illustrate a point.

Disclaimer Three
Generally, I am not liked by moderators on game-industry forums, as you can imagine, because I do not EDIT myself. So, while my intention here is to illustrate just how UGLY I think a product is, do not think I am trashing the material.

I need to make that distinction very clear, here.

Burning Sky Something
ENWorld is releasing a downloadable PDF of a game that hurts my eyes so much, I can't stay quiet about it. Not for their sake, but for the sake of others who may want to do the same thing.

I understand not having a budget.

I get it.

I have made a living out of making trash look good, because there was no money for art/textures/anything. I have been doing the production work on the local gaming convention's programs... about $1,200 worth of work (each con)... for 2 years now... for free... just so I can read the damn thing.

Can anyone read the title of this book? Or the logo? Or make out that blob behind the title?

There's a hundred ways to do this right. There's a hundred ways to present information. Even with my limited skill set, I can find hundred ways to make this image stand out on the inter-tubes. But I can't fathom how a WEBSITE, with access to cover art from every game in creation can look at this and say... oh yeah... that's as good as WOTC.

I've been very vocal about this SORT of thing in the past.

And I'm not trying to belittle anyone. But, I'm sorry. It's the 21st century. Multi-media noise is everywhere. There's free advice in every corner of the eschaton-like miasma that is the world wide fungus. Certainly someone could look up contrasting colors. Gradiants? Textures? Legible fonts? Highlights? Photoshop? Do any of these words sound remotely close to something that a book publisher might want to familiarize him or herself with?

Please. Before your strike out and make your own book, as someone for help. We won't laugh and point. We'll weep that you actually took the initiative to ask for help.

If you take anything away from this, I hope it's that help is just a click away.

Thanks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

City of Coil IV: Daily Toil

A Day in the Life
Since most people in Coil spend their hours working at mindless labor, the toil and drudgery of life can be seen on the faces of everyone. People mill about, traveling from place to place, as quickly as they can on the crowded streets. They rarely make eye contact with strangers and in the poorer districts people keep a weapon handy... or an armed guard. No one trusts anyone and the only thing people can offer one another is work or food.

Otherwise, you're useless.

Because of this anti-social behavior, most people turn to the solace of their family and friends at the end of the day, closing off their homes to the rest of the world. The average peasant works nearly 14 hours a day, trying to make a living for himself. There is little rest and if it weren't for the church, there wouldn't even be a "day-off" to go to church. And those at the top continue to trim a from each person's coin-purse.
To get a better sense of this in historic context, refer to Carl Marx's theories on the Industrial Revolution and the damage that non-creative, repetitive work does to the human psyche. Better yet, if you don't like to read, check out John Ford's How Green is my Valley.
The Government
Coil has a centralized government, but its role in the day to day life of the citizens is insignificant compared to the impact of the Guilds. The city levies taxes, like any government, but this money is used to keep city guard employed and roads paved (wherever they exist). What little else is left makes its way into the pockets of those looking for a handout.

While the bureaucracy of the guilds is beyond comprehension, the city offices aren't nearly as dense... or trafficked. It is necessary to obtain a license to do business in the city, or practice a trade, but the application process is painless and the fees nominal in contrast to the guilds' mafia-like taxation system.

Also, most public crimes are handled by the civil courts and not the guilds. The courts are as fair as they can be, having lost any ties to a system of feudalism or constitutional monarchy . The judges are elected, not appointed and the every person (that can afford one) is allowed a barrister. In this arena, the guilds have been unable to assert their influence, allowing one semblance of justice to remain in Coil.

But, for some, this system is no more honest or fair than any other in Coil. Anyone that has upset the wrong person or stolen from a powerful estate is better off dead, then in the hands of any court. While the guilds may not hold sway over everything, money and power are not ignored here either. Those who can afford a dozen barristers are in a better situation than the man who can barely afford one.

Of course, all this really means is that one is better off killing a city guard, then forgetting to pay his guild dues.

The City Guard
Mostly uneducated and unenthusiastic, the city guard go about keeping the peace through force, presence, and a forceful presence. Usually, patrols number four to eight guards, each wearing sturdy, but lightweight armor and armed with a fast bludgeoning weapon (like a mace). Guards that try to carry too much or who wear bulky armor can be taken down easily by a small gang that knows what its doing.

Certain sections of the city have been deemed "unworthy" of protection and others only see a guard once an hour, if not once a day. The more money a district has, the more taxes it pays, and the more protection is receives. The most powerful districts, however, require the least amount of protection because of The Watch.

The City Watch
Not to be confused with the city guard, the 'Witch Watch' (as it is sometimes called) is another force patrolling important portions of the city. Compromised of wizards from the various mage guilds, alongside warriors, and sell-swords, the Witch Watch roams the streets and secures the boundaries between important districts.

Of course, the City Guard also patrols these areas, but the Witch Watch has access to places the City Guard cannot go.

The Underclass
Because of the extent of poverty, many portions of the city are still underdeveloped and few ever see a guard patrolling their neighborhood. For these people, the city is nothing more than an elaborate prison and everyone has committed the same crime.

Those living in abject poverty, below the standards of the working class have slipped through the "social net" of the government and guilds. Devoid of notably skills or value to the upper class, the poorest people scrap out a life either through begging, crime, or worse. Their districts look war-torn and most spend their days preying upon one another. To the rich, this is how it should be and people killing one another to eat says the upper class the dilemma of what what to do with them.

The Underground
There are those who seek to undo this unnatural order of things. Orders, clubs, movements, secret societies. The names do not matter. Their objectives are all the same. To turn the power back over to the people and take it away from the guilds.

The Value of a Thing
While the price of goods is no different in Coil than any other fantasy city, the income of the average person is much lower, helping to increase the general poverty and deflate the value of people.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Writing Monsters I: Huecava


Artwork by Justin Cherry. Used without permission.
More of his derranged monsters can be found at nivbed.com.
Dear god, visit it with care. There's some damaged stuff on there.

DISCLAIMER: If you wrote the Huecava monster for WOTC, I apologize now if my post offended you. I'm not judging your skills as a writer, but rather the design of the creature. It was a convenient candidate to talk about this, but certainly not the most inane monster in this catagory.

Let me begin.
It was a dark night. Really dark. I mean you couldn't even see the black, it was that dark. And all around the darkness swallowed the otherwise empty blackness of everything.
Oh nevermind. Here's something to read:

In my opinion, there are five different ways in which a monster gets written by a game writer.

Version 1. Draw unreal creature from real mythology. Pegasi, Unicorn, Chimera, and so on. Sometimes these creatures look kick-ass in D&D form (newest version of Chimera and Manticore come to mind). Other times -- the flying horses for instance -- the creatures are just silly and lack any real potency.

Version 2. A creature is just plain dumb and seems to be made out of necessity instead of imagination. Magmin and Kuo-Toa come to mind. Belkar and Phatom Fungus are equally silly. The Monster Manual sequels are filled with many more.

Version 3. A beast made up of things beyond imagination. Aberrations come to mind. Anything from the imagination of Jim Pavelec. His brain is filled with many a beast that I would never have thought up. Check out his new books. Creepy.

Version 4. Slap two words together and make something from it. Night Hag, Plague Gaunt, Shadow Mastiff, and anything from the White Wolf Monster Compendium. This is one of my personal favorite ways to make monsters, but I'll get to that later.

Version 5. The final version is to take something people are familiar with (a skeleton, zombie, etc.) and change it somehow. Sometimes INCREDIBLE ideas come out of this. Usually, it's just dumb. The idea that comes to mind (mostly due to OOTS bringing this creature to my attention) is the huecuva.

Let me show you what I mean.
Huecuva are the undead spirits of clerics who were unfaithful to their faith and turned to evil before death. As punishment, their god condemned them to roam the earth as an undead creature.

Huecuva resemble robed skeletons and are often mistaken for such creatures.
Add in their special abilities of disease and change self and you have a weird jumble of ideas.

So. The question I have to ask, is why?

This is very close to be a version 3 monster, but it's not. And here's why. The creator of this writer (I have no idea who) has chosen to take a condemned cleric (a great idea, by the way), strip off his/her flesh, give him/her change self, and add in a disease ability. Because I only have the SRD material on this creature, I have to ask... why?!?!

Why would you take this magnificent starting point and then make it look.... just like a skeleton?!?

From an art perspective, that's boring... and a little trite. I won't bother listing the number of creatures that "look like skeletons," but there's three of them in the first Monster Manual... and one of them IS a skeleton.

Secondly, why does this creature have change self? Three times per day as a 10th-level sorcerer? For a CR 3 creature. That means no matter what, the creature is going to look anyway the DM wants and the level 3 PCs probably won't be able to see through it.

So. You now have a creature entry in a book that looks like a skeleton, can take any form, and ... gives disease to others?!?! Why does a condemned priest give disease? Wouldn't it grant negative levels? Reduce Charisma through boils and hemorrhaging?

In an attempt to take something ordinary, a skeleton, more interesting, the writer has added a jumble of abilities that one could generate with a dart board and a d34. The premise is off the chart good... but the application is much like factory farming... yeah... I like bacon... I just prefer it to injest it without an additional 100 or so antibodies.

Now. I can say, I'm sort of guilty of this myself. In my time at AEG I've taken a monster written by a writer and added ONE THING to give it a little twist. Sometimes, poorly.

But this is a creature by WOTC, for which there is an art director, a team of R&D folk, and a million checkpoints between conception and publishing. How did it get passed the editorial staff that this was ANOTHER picture of bone?!?!

So.

Because, I'm not a complete jerk, I offer you, my version of the Huecuva. And I recognize that this is A LOT of creative license, but this is just off the top of my head in 15 minutes. If I were working in a studio, I could bounce these ideas off someone like Kevin Wilson or Robert Schwalb.


This artwork is by William O'Connor, for the World's Largest Dungeon.
It too has been used without permission.
More of O'Connor's work can be found
at wocillo.com.

HUECUVA

Medium-Size Undead
Hit Dice: 3d12 (21 hp)
Initiative: +6 (+2 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative)
Speed: 30 ft.
AC: 17 (+2 Dex, +5 natural)
Attacks: Claw +4 melee
Damage: Claw 1d4+2 and disease
Face/Reach: 5 ft by 5 ft/5 ft
Special Attacks: Agony
Special Qualities: Undead, domain, sorrow, damage reduction 10/+1, turn resistance +2
Saves: Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +4
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 14, Con –, Int 4, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Hide +6, Listen +6, Spot +6
Feats: Improved Initiative
Climate/Terrain: Any land and underground
Organization: Solitary, gang (2-4), or pack (5-10)
Challenge Rating: 3
Treasure: Standard
Alignment: Always chaotic evil
Advancement: 3-6 HD (Medium-size)

Huecuva are the undead spirits of clerics who were unfaithful to their faith and turned to evil before death. As punishment, their god condemned them to roam the earth as an undead creature.

No two huecuva are the same. Most look as they did in life, but with their flesh mangled and scarred by a thousand years of flaggelation and torture.

COMBAT
Huecava are haunted by the memories of their failures in life... and the afterlife. It does not think in the same manner a human would. It's method of attack is to use its claws, raking and slashing at its opponents. It attacks relentlessly, but often changes tactics mid-stream, for no apparent reason.

If confronted by a cleric (or a cleric attempts to turn or rebuke a huecuva and fails) a huecuva directs all attacks at him (and those defending him) until either the cleric or huecuva is slain. In such an instance, the huecuva ignores all other opponents.

Agony: Those struck by the hand of huecava feel the concentrated anguish of the beast's own torment. Every time an opponent suffers damage at the hand of a huecava, he must succeed at a DC 14 Will save or be stunned for 1 round. When a huecava delivers a critical hit, the opponent also becomes shaken (if the save fails).

Domain: Huecava's are cursed by the god they once served. Sent to the earth to teach others the failing of the faithless, they are granted one domain power as determined by the god they once served.

Sorrow: A huecava is constantly tormented by his condemnation. As such, it is nearly immune to the will of others. It has, after all, been condemned by the gods. A huecava gains a +4 to all Will saves. This bonus increases to +6 when saving against an effect produced by a cleric.

Undead: Immune to mind-influencing effects, poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning and disease. Not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, energy drain, or death from massive damage. Huecuva have darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Artwork by Rich Burlew (from OOTS).
It has been used without permission, but more as an homage, than anything else.
Let me know if you can't find the Order of the Stick online.

Friday, April 06, 2007

there is something seriously wrong with me...


Because no matter how much I can't stand the RPG.net motivational poster thread, I keep going back. Don't assume anything by what I just wrote. It's not that the people are horrible or anything like that. But none of the posters are funny anymore. None of them follow the actual cadence of a motivational poster. And none of them are anything more than a recycled image of something semi-cool/funny/retarded.

The cats and guns jokes really need to go.

Of course, I'm not the core audience, so maybe I need to shut-up.

The thread stopped being hilarious about 20,000 posts ago. And (I even commented on there once about it), there's really only ONE post that I've read that followed the "principles" of a motivational poster.

And it was very funny.

I know this is lame to rant about this. I get it. I think it was funny when it started, but I keep getting sucked back into that damned site (it's my fault) and everytime I get tricked into thinking something funny will appear.

And it never does.

Sigh. Insert cliched joke about fumbling at something.

And then ignore me while I go back to writing something less important for some other blog.

EDIT: This was too funny to pass up.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The City of Coil III: Magic

Magic in Coil

Magic is everywhere. Magic enhances the lives of everyone in the city. Magic is the key to your happiness. Without magic, the City of Coil would not exist.
Magic is everywhere. Magic monitors the lives of everyone in the city. Magic is the key to our destruction. Without magic, the City of Coil would NOT exist.
Arcane Mark
Every citizen of Coil has an arcane mark, indicating his or her age, race, status, district of residence, and profession. Any city guard mage (known as the Witch Watch) can read these arcane marks with a glance and knows whether or not a citizen has clearance to enter a specific portion of the city.

Fraudulent marks exist, but are expensive to acquire and are not entirely reliable.

It is possible to get temporary access to various portions of the city through both legal and illegal means, but we can't talk about that here.

Artificial Life
Rumors exist that powerful mages from the Conjuring Guild are working on a spell to actually create human life. While this may or may not be true, the Church has outlawed the use of any spell that reanimates a body (including reincarnation and resurrection) except by their hand. Such magic would certainly fall into this class and would be subject to the laws of the Church.

Mage Guilds
More on this later.

Message
Perhaps the most oft used spell in Coil, message, sending, whispering wind, and all the other spells that allow the transfer of information without travel are beyond measure in their usefullness to the mage guilds. While not all communication is done in this manner, nearly every important mage and guild member has an amulet, brooch, medallion, ring, or talisman that allows for the quick and uninterrupted communication between two people.

Security
Those who can afford the magical application of glyphs and wards, can hire a wizard from the abjuration guild to come to their home and/or business and cast spells around the premises. Alarm is perhaps the cheapest spell to protect one's property with, but other more powerful abjurations can be used to protect a building from intrusion. Of course, all of the guildhouses are adequately protected and the richest in the city have constant wards on their homes against intrusion.

The Silver Emote
Magic is drawn from a pool of pure magic known as the Silver Emote. Energy from this pool is the purest form of arcane magic. Anyone trained in the art of casting spells can draw from this pool, but must do some through a complicated measure of rituals, hand jestures, and memorization. Only through practice (and approval of one of the dozen or so mage guilds) can one become a conjurer of magic.

Those who can draw from it without training are heretics, marked by demonic powers. Anyone displaying such prowess should be destroyed.

The energy that is drawn from the silver emote produces a slightly euphoric feeling. Some mages have been known to become addicted to this energy transfer process, casting minor magic over and over again. It is rumored that a very high-level spell exists that is so tantalizing to cast, that it transcends all levels of physical satisfaction.

Spells
The mage guilds are continually updating their lists of banned spells. And of course, buying licensed and approved spells is an expensive prospect in the City of Coil.

Unseen Servants
Walking the streets of Coil are hundreds and hundreds of vapid, emotionless unseen servants. While they lack reasoning or emotion, they possess the ability to monitor others and perform the simpliest of tasks. Because they are invisible, most citizens of Coil live in fear that they are being watched, which might actually be true.

Other spells, such as arcane eye and scrying, are reserved for situations requiring their imploy. There are far too many people in Coil to monitor and not enough high-level mages to go around.