Monday, February 20, 2017

State of the Halfling

So, I've been quiet for the past ten weeks or so. The reasons are many and varied, and don't really matter. I'm still around, still gaming, and still plugging away on projects for Barrel Rider Games.

I won't give any specifics away, but I'm working on something big for BRG. Really big. It's the biggest project to date for my little one-man show. It's so big, that I can't do it as a one man show. I've put together a crack team to help me bring this super secret project to life. +Jason Paul McCartan is bringing his keen eye to the Layout and Editing. +Art Braune is serving as a Proof Editor and Adviser. +James Shields (of +JEStockArt) is serving as both Art Director and Lead Artist. I haven't been this excited about a project in a long time and it's been almost a year in the making. I really hope those who are kind enough to purchase it enjoy it.

What is it? Well, that's a secret. I'll make the public reveal in a few weeks, and I've put a few teases in the Google Plus. My Patreon supporters will get the announcement a bit earlier than the rest, but all will be revealed soon enough.

I'll tell you this: It's looking at around 250-275 pages. It'll be available as both PDF and later in print (both hardcover and softcover). And, just to frustrate +Jason Paul McCartan, squirrels will be involved in some capacity.

Soon, my friends. Soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Box Set Day!

Today is December 26th, known in many nations as Boxing Day. Today, I'm starting a new tradition in the OSR gaming community. With that I wish you a happy...

That's right, Box Set Day. How does one celebrate Box Set Day? Well for me, that means giving away an RPG Box Set. This won't necessarily be an OSR game, but it will always be an RPG Box Set. So, this year I'm giving away a complete Pathfinder Beginner Box. While I'm not a fan of Pathfinder's endless supplement glut, the core game is a great RPG and the Beginner Box has more than enough to keep a campaign going for quite some time. Rule book, adventure, color cardstock minis, maps, four pre-gen characters with rules for taking them to 5th level, and a set of dice. It's very open-and-play.

This Pathfinder Beginner Box is VERY SLIGHTLY used. I took the shrink off, looking through the contents, and then shelved it. It can be yours, but you have to comment today, December 26th, and tell me your favorite RPG box set. I'll select a winner on the 27th. The contest is open to all US residents, and it will be shipped media mail.

I encourage you to participate either this year, or next year. Let's cap off 12 Days of OSR Christmas with a little extra punch. As for next year, who knows? Maybe a Star Wars Introductory Adventure Box Set? A D&D Adveture Game Box Set (circa '91 or '94)? Shadowrun Alphaware Box Set? Who knows? Heck, you could even put together your own "box set." Next year I might throw together a copy of +Charlie Mason's White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, along with Referee Screen inserts (and a universal screen), a few printed character sheets, and a set of dice - all in a plain white box. It's all about sharing the games and sharing the love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

12 Days of OSR Christmas

Today is the first day of The 12 Days of OSR Christmas. Simply leave a comment below (on this post only!) and I'll select one commenter each day to win a single random prize. Only one commenter per person, please.

But, there's a catch: You have to tell me why squirrels are awesome. If your comment doesn't include that, you're disqualified.

All prizes will be shipped via media mail and I ask that those who enter be residents of the U.S. 48, simply because I can't afford the insane international shipping rates.

This year I'm offering up the following prizes:
1st Day: Saddle-stitch copy of Blueholme Prentice Roleplaying Game (WINNER: +Frank Turfler!)
2nd Day: Hardcover copy of Swords & Wizardry White Box (WINNER: +Christopher Bishop) 
3rd Day: Softcover copy of Swords & Wizardry White Box (WINNER: +Jeff Scifert)
4th Day: Softcover Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe, 7th ed (WINNER: +Jim Cox)
5th Day: DC Universe RPG Roleplaying Box Set (D6 System) (WINNER: +Ragnar Hill)
6th Day: Smallville Roleplaying Game Hardcover (WINNER: +Edward Fadigan)
7th Day: Coil-Bound Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Player's Manual (1st ed) (WINNER: +Dak Ultimak)
8th Day: Coil-Bound Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Player's Manual (1st ed) (WINNER: +Vincent Florio)
9th Day: Hardcover copy of The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying (WINNER: +Jason Vines)
10th Day: Hardcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying (WINNER: +Dale Houston)
11th Day: Hardcover copy of White Box Omnibus (WINNER: +William Dowie)
12th Day: Labyrinth Lord Revised Hardcover & Labyrinth Lord AEC Hardcover (my personal copies with unique Tolkien-themed covers) ( +R.J. Thompson)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Long Live White Box

So, with the release of +Charlie Mason's White Box and the upcoming release of the inaugural issue of his associated 'zine The Wizard's Scroll, I got to thinking about Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox again. I think over the past two years or so the OSR community has really seen an explosion in material for WB and WB-based games - and that's awesome.

I say that not just as a publisher, but also as a fan of this rules light game. From its stripped down astetic, to its ultra-simple rules set, to its seemingly infinite hackability, I can safely say its my favorite game in the OSR. But I think my love of WB doesn't really come from any of the things I mentioned above. I think it comes from the seemingly boundless creativity it creates in those who design products using it as a base.

In addition to my little sci-fi game, White Star, there are also a shit ton of WB-based games that are bent to different genres. +Bill Logan's White Lies is modern espionage. Sleeping Griffon has published Skyscrapers and Sorcery, which brings modern fantasy into play. +Pete Spahn just released WWII: Operation White Box, a historic incarnation based around World War II. I think it's only a matter of time before we see Cosmic Horror, Cyberpunk, and other genres bolted onto the White Box design elements.

But at its core, Swords & Wizardry: White Box is a fantasy RPG and many releases don't go far from that. Whether it's a heavily modified and expanded version (like The Hero's Journey) or a cleaned up version of the original with excellent layout and a few expanded rules like Charlie's White Box, both games hold close to the fantasy origins of the game. +Vincent Florio and +Brian Fitzpatrick published a more Conan-esque collection of adventures in their Lost Age Adventures line of products - something which I hope they return to some day. I've also had some success with more traditional supplements for fantasy, with my own line of White Box products.

In short, I think we've seen Swords & Wizardry: White Box go from an oft-mentioned but rarely utilized game to an active force in the OSR over the past two years or so. Mason's White Box brings a professional design element to that game and I think he's leading the charge for this game. It's my belief that Swords & Wizardry: White Box has finally stepped out of the shadows and is a game that will be played and enjoyed for years to come thanks to so many creative people grabbing hold of a simple set of rules and saying "You know what would be fun to do with this?" and then doing it.

Oh, and I love the fact that the vast majority of White Box-based games put in print are done so in digest format. Easy to store, transport, and reference at a table - and they don't cost $22,100 on eBay.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Final Purge

As some of you may know, I recently had a rather sudden and expensive financial obligation arise that needed to be addressed very, very quickly. So, again, I sold off some of my gaming collection. OK, a lot of my gaming collection. Fine, I sold off damn near all of my gaming collection. I've gone for four floor-to-ceiling bookcases to two shelves on a single book case over the past few years - and one of those shelves is just Star Wars RPG books. So, to my mind, that really feels more like one shelf.

Image result for nerd rage
"What? Why would you do that, James?"

Well, because I had to. And you know what? I'm glad I did it. I still have a huge PDF collection thanks to OBS and as a player, PDFs suit me just fine. Aside from that I did some cold, logical thinking. My brainspace when something like this:

Brain: "Well, James, what genres do you tend to run?"
Me: "Sci-fi and fantasy."
Brain: "Alright, what are your favorite sci-fi and fantasy RPGs?"
Me: "Star Wars, obviously."
Brain: "Duh. What else?"
Me: "Well, everything else I'd want to run in an ideal world can be done using White Star or The Hero's Journey. They were written by me, so they suit my style of DMing."
Brain: "OK, so, what other books do you need?"
James: "Well, I should hold on to books for game lines I regularly freelance on. That's a workplace reference, if nothing else. Also, as a point of pride I'd like to hold on to The One Ring and Rocket Age, since I'm really proud of the work I did on those game lines."
Brain: "Makes sense. What about the other stuff?"
James: "I really like it."
Brain: "And do you stop liking it because you no longer own it."
James: "No, but-"
Brain: "But what? Your memories don't go away just because you don't own the books anymore."
James: "But the Rules Cyclopedia is so cool!"
Brain: "Yep. It sure is, and you haven't opened it in five years. Does you owning it make it somehow cooler?"
James: "No, but-"
Brain: "James, buddy, you're not a collector. You're a gamer and a creator. Stop trying to be a collector."

So, I did just that. And I feel good. I own the books for EXACTLY the games I want to run and no others. That reminds the obligation of my player saying "But we want to play <insert game on my shelf that I'm not into running>," and me feeling obligated to accommodate them. "Sorry gang. I run White Star, The Hero's Journey, and Star Wars. If someone else wants to run something, I'll play anything anyone wants to put on the table - but that's what I run."

It's very liberating.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why Can't This Be Love?

I really, really like Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition). Like a lot. It's a rock solid game that strikes a great balance between crunch, approachability (is that a word?), and ease of play. I've played several characters in 5e games and enjoyed all of them. I own a slew of books in the game line. My group is composed (except for myself) with players who all got exposed to the hobby after 3rd edition, though none of them played 4th. They're all glad to play 5e. Seems like the perfect fit, right?

Then why can't I run it?

I don't mean physically. I mean psychologically. I sit down with the 5e books, pour through these beautiful pages, think up all kinds of ideas, start letting ideas spin for an amazing epic fantasy campaign worthy of song and legend (or so my ego tells me). But when the time comes to actually do the work and put pen to paper, my resolve fades. I think, "Nah, I'd rather run White Box (or Basic Fantasy, or Dungeon Crawl Classics, or Castles & Crusades, or Swords & Wizardry Complete, or Labyrinth Lord, or The Hero's Journey, etc).

Why is that? What gives? I want to run 5e. Or at least I think I do. So, what gives? I know my players will enjoy themselves. I know I'll enjoy myself. I've got a plethora of material so a ton of prep isn't necessary. This has been nagging in the back of my mind for the past year, but in the past few weeks it' genuinely bothering me. So, what gives?

I wish I had an answer.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Simple and Classy

I love character options. Heck, it might even be an obsession given that I wrote over fifty alternate classes for Labyrinth Lord and published a hardcover collection of them for the same game. I did extra classes for both Swords & Wizardry Complete and Swords & Wizardry White Box. So yeah, it's a bit of a wheelhouse of mine, and probably always will be. There's something about designing a class that is just really fun for me.

But, I'm getting old and simplicity is becoming more and more appealing as the years accumulate. Lately I've been reading +Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game. Every time I read it, I like it more and more. It only features your "core" four classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief. Unlike other games which draw heavily on B/X-era D&D, BFRPG uses race and class, not race as class.

So, continuing to use BFRPG as an example, we have the following character options if we use just the core rule book:

Human Cleric
Human Fighter
Human Magic-User
Human Thief
Dwarf Cleric
Dwarf Fighter
Dwarf Thief
Elf Cleric
Elf Fighter
Elf Fighter/Magic-User
Elf Magic-User
Elf Magic-User/Thief
Elf Thief
Halfling Cleric
Halfling Fighter
Halfling Thief

That's 16 possible class and race combinations, using only the core rules. That's quite a lot, if you ask me. I can hear what you're saying now, "But what if I want to play a ranger, a paladin, or an illusionist?"

This brings me to my other issue. I'm a huge fan of Secondary Skills over Non-Weapon Proficiencies. You wanted to play a ranger? Sure, simply choose "Forester" or "Hunter" as your secondary skill. You're now a fighter who is also a forester. Want to track a creature through the woods? Ask your GM what you should roll. They may require an attribute check or give you an "X-in-1d6" chance, or a percentage chance. This could change based on level, circumstances, or both.

This encapsulates the "rulings, not rules" ethos of the OSR. The GM decides how it's handled - often on the fly. Instead of spending five minutes flipping through a book for a chart, a quick ruling is made and the game moves forward. To continue with the "Forester" example, a Thief who has this secondary skill might be a Robin Hood type bandit, while a magic-user might be a mysterious witch. A cleric who is a forestser? Druid much?

This can also make for some interesting combinations. Take an uncommon profession that's not even on a chart, but still evocative; Rat-catcher, for example. A fighter who is also a rat-catcher might be skilled at the training of dogs like terriers and others bred to hunt vermin as well as be quiet knowledgeable about the layout of local sewers. A magic-user with this profession must have a cat familiar who assists them in their profession and practice magic tied to plague and summoning small monsters - or even hunting magical vermin.

"But I still can't play a paladin," you say. Sure you can - and you don't even have to be Lawful Good. Heck, in BFRPG there are no alignments. Simply be a Fighter who was raised in the church and genuinely believes in their doctrine. You're not a paladin because you can Lay on Hands. You're a paladin because you believe in the holy word and crusade against its enemies. A magic-user raised in the church might act as a magical inquisitor - he knows and understands the arcane arts so often practiced by the enemy so that he can fight fire with fire. A thief might specialize in the acquisition and recovery of holy artifacts - or be an off-the-books assassin for high ranking clergy.

The point is that by combining a bit of character history with your class you get an endless list of possibilities. Your character concept doesn't end just because you chose a class. In fact, it's just the beginning...