Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kubla Con Report II

I got to play with Eric Wujcik this weekend. He ran an RPG session for us. Time travel thing.

I've said too much.

Eric and I were also on a seminar panel about getting published in gaming.

Amazing stuff. I've gamed with him once before and he's probably one of the best GMs out there. Simply amazing. And too smart for words.

Actually. I hate him.

Why am I saying nice things about him?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Kubla Con Report

As is typical in the gaming industry -- certainly as my experience goes -- my events (all four of them) did not appear in the onsite catalog for the convention, rooms were not provided for my games, and a badge was not there.

I stopped helping my local convention years ago because of these sort of rampent errors. I've made numerous posts about these kinds of stories and it is the scourge of nearly every volunteer organization that someone falls through the cracks in this manner.

The fact that it happens to me more than 50% of the time is probably indicative of the state of work ethics in California, but that's a dicussion for another time.

What's fascinating about this passed weekend's endeavors is that someone actually took ownership of the problem... someone actually admited fault... someone actually... gasp... apologized.

Now. Japji (owner of the con) may be one of the nicest people in gaming. He's amazingly humane and caring... and generally the exact opposite of me when it comes to deportment and manners.

He's the mother theresa of con owners.

Brian, the head of RPGs, actually came down, apologized, and then after finding out who I was, made every effort he could to correct the situation.

He bent over backwards for me.

And while I only ran two games instead of four, it was still a great compromise and I was absolutely speechless. I've never seen such dedicated service (I just bought a new car and I didn't get treated this well)... and I've certainly never witnessed it in the gaming industry.

The rest of the con was amazing as well. Well-attended. Well-organized. Well-behaved.

Not sure what that last one means.

Amazing.

Just amazing.

Okay. I've apparently worn out my adjectives.

Kubla Con gets an A+++ (or whatever grade people are giving stuff on ebay these days) for effort and an A for execution.

Fantastic.

Expect me to continue attending what I consider to be the best con on the West coast.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Murdercycles, Playtest One

Set in tumultuous and fictious 1960s sweden, Murdercycles is an RPG of motorcycle gangs run amok. The last days of the Devil Dogs (or whatever gang) is captured in this fast and deadly game of gang members alpha dogging one another across the scandinavian landscape. Steadily, the law gains on the gang members as they draw closer and closer to their end. Run without a GM, the game is almost an antithesis of George's Children, telling instead the story of youth gone wild.

Tonight was my third attempt at playtesting this. This is my first post about the game.

Playtesters: Aaron, Colin, Josh, Mark, me.

The game opened tonight with the death of the previous gang leader (as is normally the case; the players fight for "dominance" in the leaderless gang). During a turn, the active player sets up a challenge for the entire gang. The player who rolls the best for the challenge describes the failure of the person who rolled worst. And the person who rolled worst suffers "damage" getting them closer to being caught by the law.

This person then becomes the active player and sets up a new challenge. This continues again and again, as the story escalates.

While we had an "okay" time, there were a number of flaws with this design... which I am ironing out.

If you continue to fail, you'll never really be involved in the story and while I wanted an alpha dog-like design reflected in the game, this was too much.

So. I'm going to be fixing that.

The game needs a reward system, even if everyone dies at the end. Which presently, it does not have.

And there needs to be opportunities to affect the story, even if you're not "involved." Which I'll also be adding.

Hopefully, I can get more feedback on Saturday at Kubla Con and then have a better read on the mechanics.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Convention Attendence, Memorial Weekend

While I am a big supporter of the local convention (strategicon) -- I'm the art director for it, after all -- I have not attended Kubla Con in sometime. And since Japji (the organizer) is a great friend, and I have "people" in SF that I don't see much, I'll be at the SF con this memorial weekend.

I'll be driving up and running a few of my new game designs (George's Children, Stranglehold, and Murdercycles) throughout the weekend and playing some board games as well. When time permits, I will eat and sleep... and maybe hang out with some friends.

Who knows?

I'm swamped all week, so don't expect any other posts until I get back.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Slaughtergarde Disappointment

Since I refuse to REVIEW someone else's product, let me at the very least express my disappointment with the follow-through on WOTC's new $24 adventure... Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde -- an adventure title that is [ ] this close to be stupid.

I bought this (along with a short goblin adventure) for less than $20, based on the advice from a friend whose opinion I value on books. After all, he's bought plenty of MY books. So, I assume we agree on content.

I eagerly awaited the book, not knowing anything about it... ordered online... we don't have game stores in Los Angeles.

When it arrived, I was stoked to find out that it was a 1st to 6th level "campaign" presented in a slightly "Night Below" format... among my favorite D&D adventures.

However, not only is this adventure written for 12-year olds, with its remedial style and boring set up (you are hired to guard a caravan -- dear god). But this adventure is really nothing more than an uninspired background used to link together about 60 encounters that really have nothing to do with one another.

If you like mindless dungeon crawls using the DnD minis, then this adventure packet is for you. It's awesome for something like that.

But it's not an adventure... it's barely even an idea on a bar napkin.

The worst part... is the player's guide, which details waayyy too much about the world, in my opinion, and talks to the players like children. "You can be a wizard from a local tower, or maybe someone who has wandered into the valley."

Wow. Thanks. Not sure I could have come up with that one on my own. You guys rock. I'm scrapping all my D&D books now. You've made them obsolete.

Very disappointing... especially given the amount of time spent on the presentation.

Loads of potential, but just ... wow... obviously not made for a gamer like me.

If anyone wants to buy my copy, let me know. It's going fast.

Or... i'll send it off to you if you know of a good 1st through 8th level campaign THING that would get me excited about D&D again.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing Monsters II: Rakshasa


Art by Malcolm McClinton. He doesn't know I have this posted here. So be quiet about it.
Here's more of his stuff.

Now. I may be all alone on this, but I think Warhammer Fantasy is a fantastic RPG. Perhaps one of the smartest designs in a long time. I love the mechanics and some aspects of the game world. Even wrote on one book (briefly). Sadly, if you're not into the Warhammer game world, you probably skipped this one on the shelf.

And while I would love to tell you why Warhammer might be superior to D&D in almost every way. This article is about Monsters and more specifically, why the Rakshasa has been so poorly handled.

Let me recap by saying that monsters like the Cyclops, Dread Wraith, Ettins, (some) Fae, Ghoul, Lich, Manticore, Medusa, Mohrg, Mummy, and Rakshasa are among my favorite creatures in D&D. If I could, I would write any entire gameworld where those are the only beasts that PCs ever face... those and some variation of them.

Anyway.

Here's something hilariously stupid and utterly brilliant (at the same time) about the Monster Manual.

Templates.

Someone on the design team figured out that something like a GHOST is just a template placed on another craeture/class/monkey. This is an important step in RPG evolution. Amazingly important. So, in 2000, when the R&D team was still arguing with the M:TG marketing team about whether or not Dragons would be allowed into the Dungeons and Dragons game (I'm not lying... real conversation), someone over there came up with the brilliant concept of Monster Templates.

It was probably Pramas. I hate him so much. He and his fine game designs.

Anyway.

The genius that came up with Templates was saddled on a team full of people who apparently weren't going to be running or playing D&D, because they missed the full potential of this tool.

Instead of making Ghoul a template that you attach to a dwarf barbarian-ranger, it's a flavorless patchwork of stats and abilities that never fluctuate.

Now. I get it. The one on page of 97 of the MM (3.0) can be used with zero prep time. I get it. I do. But that doesn't mean that every monster in that book couldn't have been a Template with SAMPLE CR 1, 5, and 9 versions that you can fight right out of the book as well.

Trust me, there's a lot of white space in that book. And it's only 2/3rds the size of the PHB. I re-wrote the entire Warlord Monster Manual in a month while doing another job (and recooperating from the WLD). And I suck.

There's no reason a team of writers at the largest RPG company couldn't have done this correctly... at least for the 3.5 version... and a lot better than I could have.

Speaking of... did anyone notice that the Balor has a five-round "Battle Plan" on it and no other monster in the book does? That's because just before the book released they changed their mind about creating FIVE-ROUND Battle Plans for every monster in the book.

But apparently someone in graphics missed a monster.

I find this funny on so many levels, just because it's an example of poor follow-through and decision-making.

Which brings me back to Warhammer Fantasy. This game got it right. Everything is a template. Everything can be mixed together.

Everything.

There's no complicated math to mix and match races and classes and demons and advanced careers.

When I wrote on the Compendium for this game, I even petitioned to create SURVIVOR templates (classes you can only get by surviving a battle with an undead... Vampire Survivor, etc.).

Elf. Barbarian. Rat Catcher. Spy. Trickster. Derelict. Whore.

Now there's a character I'd want to play.

Well... everything but that Elf part.

But D&D missed their chance and the Monster Manual (versions I through Rocky VI) is half the product it could have been. Now, when I want a Medusa-Orc-Sorcerer-Ghost I need to recreate something from scratch.

Not that I ever would. But you get my point.

Instead of taking FOUR separate templates and adding them together, I have to make something from scratch all at once.

So.

What does all of this have to do with the Rakshasa in the title?

This.

The Rakshasa may be among one of the coolest monster IDEAS in D&D. It has so much history and myth to it, one mention of the creature's name sends shockwaves through magical communities (if mages actually have communities). Yet. It's just another spell-list. It's just a list of stats, some prepared abilities, and really no flavor whatsoever.

Now. Obviously someone at WOTC noticed that the 3.0 was a gimpy little nothing and the 3.5 version is on steroids in comparison. But I really think the Rakshasa could have been a much smarter Template or Race or concept turned on its ear.

Below is my crappy attempt to write a Rakshasa Template without spending too much time on it. [Now watch. Someone's going to point me to some esoteric Dragon article where this was already done.]

Rakshasa
CREATING A RAKSHASA
“Rakshasa” is a template that can be added to any humanoid creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature).
A Rakshasa uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.
Size and Type: The creature’s type changes to outsider. Size is unchanged.
Hit Dice: Increase all current and future Hit Dice to d8s.
Speed: Same as the base creature. Rakshasa can fly at their base speed. Their manueverability is good.
Armor Class: The base creature’s natural armor bonus improves by +9.
Attack: Steal from vampire template, adding claw and bite.
Full Attack: Steal from vampire template, adding claw and bite.
Damage: Steal from vampire template, adding claw and bite.
Special Abilities: Darkvision 60 feet.
At will — change shape, damage reduction 15/good and piercing, detect thought, invisibility, true seeing, spell resistance equal to 27 + base creature's Hit Dice.
Spells: All Rakshasa are innate casters and gain spells as though they were a sorcerer of the Hit Dice of the base creature. Therefore a 10th-level rakshasa fighter would also cast spells as a 10th-level sorcerer. Rakshasa do not keep familiars.
Abilities: Increase from the base creature as follows: Str +2, Dex +4, Con +6, Int +2, Wis +2, Cha +6.
Skills: Rakshasa have a +4 racial bonus on Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Hide, Move Silently, Perform, Sense Motive, and Spot checks. Otherwise same as the base creature.
Feats: Rakshasa gain Alertness, Improved Initiative, and Lightning Reflexes, assuming the base creature meets the prerequisites and doesn’t already have these feats.
Rakshasa speak Common, Infernal, Sylvan, and Undercommon.

I think a Rakshasa Orc Cleric would be ideal as the sample class here.

[I also think the Feral and Spellstitched Templates from MMII are amazing and should be recognized for this same level of "out of the box" thinking. It was MMII, right?]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

City of Coil IX: Cast of Characters, Part I

So far, some pretty important people have appeared in the story already, despite the fact that the PCs are all 5th level. We went from WEEK 1, which was a series of unrelated events, to WEEK 2 which was CHARACTER-DRIVEN, STORY-INTENSIVE, ROLEPLAYING.

Great session.

The cast of characters grows.

Lord Legarin (not sure if I'm spelling that correctly). Father to Amara (Shawn's character). High-level wizard who holds seats on three magic guilds, including the Conjuration Guild, Divining Guild, and Mage Guild. Unseated from his position on th Conjuration Guild (his highest). Was about to lose his seat on the Divining Guild. Died at the end of the last session.

Absalom Hikara Deramus. Second highest-ranking Evocation wizard in the city. Holds numerous seats in various guilds. Openly opposed Legarin. A duplicate of the Absalom appeared at a Mage function, spewing venomous insults toward Legarin.

Thurnon. Important wizard in the Mage Guild. Is in a position to help Amara, but lost interest after the fiasco at the Mage "party."

Elijah. Medium ranked Witch Watch Warden. Has gone on two dates with Amara. Is genuinely interested, but places duty above emotion.

Nathanial. Amara's dead ex-lover. Was carried away and tortured in the Conjuration tower by Elijah and three guards.

The Stag. Local hangout in District 11. Known for good jokes and music, cheap drinks, and a bouncer that keeps out the trouble.

Garim. Bartender/Owner of the Stag. Friendly to the friendly. Does not tolerate trouble-makers. Hence the bouncer...

Warhain. Bouncer at the Stag. Has a crush on Chloe.

Barrick. Jack of all trades. Was imprisioned alongside Chloe. Dead.

The Broken Mug. Dirty run-down bar in District 13.

Rezug. Orc fixer. Has a scam going with Chloe... which Chloe recently rejected... which is going to bite her in the ass.

Orgar. Muscle for Rezug. Alongside T-Bone and Khiern (the former of whom Chloe stabbed in the thigh).

Lucan Vohlis'sharr. One of the central Patriahs in the Brotherhood of Men "gentleman's club."

Mother Veka Lhesparan. Leader of the Cult of Dagos.

Arrig. Zaepheous' "brother" in the Cult of Dagos.

Aidan. Creepy goth guy in the Cult of Dagos. The most diligent member.

Zurir of the Spire. A well-known street prostletizer. Considered insane. He stands in front of the Cathedral of Cerul everyday, spouting the words of the end of mankind at the hands of Magog. Arrested daily.

Lake Pangal. A place of reverence to the Cult of Dagos.

Silveranvil Order. Dwarven smith secret society.

Crimson Axe Gang. A mostly human and elven gang that is slowly spreading it's strength through various pockets in Districts 12, 13, and 14.

Craghand Clan. A militant, racist gang of unskilled dwarves who attack non-dwarf gangs en masse.

Blackheart. A high-level and well-connected Bard/Fixer. Recently cut Zaepheous out of his life.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

City of Coil VIII: Church and State

Cerul

Cerul

God of Everything

God of the Sky and the Sea

God of Eternity and Nothingness

God of Birth and Death

God of Now and Forever

God of Honor and Valor

He is the beginning and the end.

He is the King of all Kings and the Leader of all Faiths.

Those that walk in his shadow shall never fear. Those that stand beside him shall always know righteousness.

Those that oppose him shall die a thousand times in the flames of eternal betrayal.

Cerul. God of Gods. Lord of Lords. Master of all.

The Church
It is one thing to spout religious dogma and force others to adhere to your faith. The Church of Cerul is a mixture of acolytes, believers, non-believers, bishops, bureaucrats, cardinals, clerics, evangelists, ladder-climbers, missionaries, nuns, paladins, priests, proselytizers, scholars, and thugs, xenophobes.

Some believe everything they are saying. Most use the voice of the church to extend their power. Instead of healing the sick, clerics expect a tithe for their services. Instead of feeding the hungry, the clergy asks for absolute faith. Instead of righting the injustice, the church has is just another coil in a city ripe with power. What should be the most influential and most power arm of the city, is just another guild, looking for handouts.

Cerulean Orders
There are those, in the church, who serve higher aims. And there are those who serve selfish aims. The Cerulean Orders serve both.

Paladins hunting down heretics and defilers serve Cerul with absolute faith. Cardinals bargain favors with inner circle members, extending the power of the church.

There are orders dedicated to everything from ridding the world of disease to feeding all the animals to making sure the sun rises and sets each day. All of these orders have sacred rites and rituals that only the most devote know about... only the most influential can attain.

Think of the best and worst features of the Catholic Church -- amplified -- and you've got it.

Religious Holidays
Every seventh day is a day of rest. Every first day of a season is a holiday. Every saint has a day of the year associated with him or her. And everything has meaning.

I did a lot of work on the church for Raavnia and I don't have it in me right now to brainstorm too much more about Coil's faith.

Monday, May 07, 2007

End of the World

I love post-apocalyptic stories... but who would have every thought that A Boy and His Dog would have happened because of Bees.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Erfworld: Why I stopped worrying and learned to love the blog

As regular readers may know, I love the Order of the Stick. I've been reading since issue 16 and I think Rich has a great gift for characters and in-jokes. Lately, it's gotten a little stale, but the medium of a 16 panel comic three times a week doesn't allow him to do all of the things he wants to do.

The recent issue of Roy falling shows what CAN be done, but the average issue has become the same patter and banter, crescendoed with a fierce one-liner or maimed with a mild joke or inane pun.

Rich is still amazing, but I have my concerns.

And I want the villains to win.

On the other hand, I've stopped reading Erfworld. I gave that comic 40+ issues to try and grab me. And for a while, it sort of did, but the BLOGS are dumb. They are insulting and dumb.

They show a total lack of understanding of writing and/or dialog. It is, in essence, the opposite of OOTS... which only resorted to EXPOSITION once when the SECRET of the universe was exposed by the now-dead Lord Shojo of Azure City. Let me add, it was also drawn differently and the story was nearly 300 issues in before this long-winded story approach was taken.

It was contrived, but albeit, the best method of conveying information to the reader at the time.

The writer of Erfworld has chosen a FISH OUT OF WATER story. A classic trope designed to give the reader as much information about the world as the main character. Everything is "discovered" at the same rate for reader/protagonist.

The first Amber novel is a great example of this story type.

Half of my D&D campaigns are fish out of water stories.

The Erfworld writer, however, has chosen to short-cut this process with BLOGS and long-winded explanations of ever bit of minutia that has nothing to do with HAMSTER BOY winning the war and getting how.

I don't care. The reader's don't care. Hell, the characters in the story don't seem to care. The story is slow and tired.

And I've stopped reading.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

City of Coil VII: The Districts

Coil is made up of 18 or 19 districts (depending on your point of view), with Districts 7 and 8 sharing the honors of being both the largest districts and the central hub of the city. District 19 is unpatrolled and left to vagrants. Three more districts exist outside the city walls, but these too are unpatrolled and are nothing more than degenerating levels of shanty towns fighting over the garbage.

The higher the number, generally, the dirtier and poorer the neighborhood. The slang for poverty throughout the city is "living in the 19" or "he only has 19 silver."

While the elite name their districts, regions, suburbs, and neighborhoods with fantastic descriptions, the poor generally refer to the block they live on and that's about it. As such, there are numerous Death Alleys, Hell's Kitchens, Skid Rows, and Torturers' Ways.

Because we have played two sessions now without a map, it's time to make one. Since I am at work, this is the best I'm going to be able to make in Adobe Illustrator for the time being. Please ignore the garish colors. This was done quickly.

Ugh. I'm already embarrassed.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

News II: George's Children


Today is National Child Safety Day and Jon and I are proud to release this game.

A Print on Demand copy is available for $20 on lulu.

Please feel free to also make a donation to the charity of your choice if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

News

I have formed a partnership (of sorts) with Rogue Games. You can read about it, here.

Rogue Games will be releasing three (maybe four) of my games this year. George's Children is not among them, but is schedule for release tomorrow.

Stranglehold and Cookie Jar are my GenCon releases. Murdercycles is a fall release.

If all bodes well, a fourth game will be out by year's end.

Stay tuned for more news.