Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Star Release Date Announced!

I'm pleased to announce the official release date for White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying is....


That's right, just three days from this announcement, you'll be able to get your hands on a digital copy via RPGNow or DriveThru RPG. Print copies will be available as soon as we get proofs back. It will be available in PDF for $9.99, while print copies will be available in the days to come for $14.99 in softcover 6" x 9" digest format and $24.99 for hardcover 6" x 9" format. Both softcover and hardcover will include the option to purchase Print+PDF bundles for an additional $5.00.

For those who want to get their hands on a PDF copy immediately and don't want to wait for the bundle to become available, a special discount will be sent to all purchasers of the PDF before the print on demand release.

At 130 pages, White Star will include seven new classes, rules for starship combat, modern technology, science fiction weaponry, fifteen new alien races, fifteen alien creatures, a mini-campaign sandbox, a starter adventure and advanced technology like cybernetics! All you need to have your own OSR Sci-fi adventures and 100% compatible with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. 

So ignite your Star Sword, fire up the faster-than-light drive and get ready for a galaxy of adventure!

Hardcover front, spine and back.

White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying is based on Swords & Wizardry: WhiteBox which was originally written by Matt Finch. White Star is written by James M. Spahn, with layout and editing by Jason Paul McCartan, cartography by Matt Jackson, and cover art by Jason Moher.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Swords & Wizardry: Lethality and Realism

Let's face it, hit points don't make a whole lot of sense. Yes, technically they're supposed to reflect a combination physical endurance, ability to avoid an otherwise lethal blow, luck and other abstract aspects of combat. But in reality it's often played as the simple ability to take damage. Shoot you with a crossbow bolt from point blank range? Eh, you'll be fine. Fall from a ridiculous height and lose half your hit points? No problem! Just became a front row viewer to Red Dragon's Fireworks? It's all good!
"It's cool, guys! I've still got 8 hit points!"
This has always kind of bothered me, but then again - that's the nature of fantasy. It's a fantasy, so of course you can shrug off heroic levels of damage. You're the heroes, right? Well what if you're running a grittier game and want a higher lethality rate? What if you want a soldier with a spear to be a genuine threat? What if players SHOULD run from a hoard of thirty orcs, even if they're all 10th level?

Well, a few weeks ago I had the honor of sitting down with +Adam Muszkiewicz, +R.J. Thompson and the amazing +Bill Webb be a part of +Drink Spin Run - An RPG Talk Show Podcast's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day special episode. And holy shit, it was fun.

Bill said something that really struck me as we were talking about DM fiat, house rules and a few absurdities in table top gaming: "I don't give my player characters extra hit points."

I was flabbergasted. Talk about brutal. But then as I heard Bill explain it, I understood his logic and to a certain degree, I found myself agreeing. So I thought about how to implement it in my own campaigns if I wanted to do something similar. Well, here's what I came up with...

Increased Lethality for Swords & Wizardry
The following rules are provided if referees want to create a more gritty or realistic experience in their Swords & Wizardry campaigns. These rules will seriously increase the lethality of a campaign where they are used. Combats will be quick and deadly, relying more on tactics and greater numbers than a few scant heroes holding off entire armies of goblins or facing down a fire breathing wyrm.
Hit Points: Characters roll their hit points for every level of experience they gain. In addition, characters no longer gain additional hit dice or increased hit points after reaching 3rd level. They can still benefit from magical items that grant a permanent increase to hit points, but they will never again earn hit points when they gain a level. No other abilities are restricted or reduced when they gain levels.
Armor & Shields: Instead of increasing a character's Armor Class, armor provides a small amount of damage reduction by protecting him with boiled leather, chain armor, plate mail - or whatever other armor they are using as determined by the referee.
Shields, on the other hand provide a bonus to armor class because they are specifically designed to avoid and deflect attacks. They do not, however, provide any damage reduction.
Armor Type
Damage Reduction
Armor Class Bonus
One Point
Two Points
Three Points
Three Points
Example: John is playing a 4th level Fighter. He has a total of 15 hit points. (Normally this fighter would receive 4d6+1 per Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, but because of the optional Hit Points rule notated above, he stopped gaining hit points after 3rd level, thus keeping him at the 3d6+1 total he rolled upon reaching 3rd level.) John's character is wearing plate armor and carrying a shield. Thus his armor class is 6 (or 13 if using the optional ascending AC rules) an he reduces the damage he takes from each successful attack by 3 points.
These optional rules will provide a certain measure of protection from many hand weapons like daggers and swords, but things like Fireball or dragon's breath still remain a force to be reckoned with. Even with the damage reduction provided by armor, characters will not have particularly high armor classes in most cases and will not have a large pool of hit points to use.

Finally, this system makes protective items such as Bracers of Armor or Rings of Protection highly prized for their ability to provide the rare increase to armor class.
Maybe these rules aren't for everyone, but I feel like they add an element of realism or at least help remove or reduce the "eh, I've got enough hit points - I can take a hit" mentality that invades so many games. In fact, maybe players will be even more cautious because of how hard they've worked to reach high levels and earn the power they have achieved. High-level characters become extraordinarily rare, because the exploits necessary to achieve these levels of power are increasingly deadly in a world where you don't get more hit points as life goes on. Player characters will have to be sneaky, tactful, and maybe a little dirty - but then again, that's s lot like real combat, isn't it?


Friday, April 17, 2015

What is White Star?

I've been humbled by the response when I announced White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying. I hoped folks would like it, but the OSR community has just been filled with excitement over this product and that's an awesome feeling. That excitement has lead to a lot of questions about the exact nature of White Star. I'm going to try to address a few of those questions.

When is White Star being released and in what formats will it be available?
White Star will be available as a PDF as well as digest-sized softcover and hardcover print-on-demand purchase through RPGNow and DriveThru RPG. The price point on these hasn't be determined yet. Release is planned for the PDF to be available in May, with the print versions to be available a few weeks later. This might get pushed back to June, but right now we're on schedule for a May release.

Is White Star more of a space opera, hard sci-fi, or exploration science fiction game?
The implied tone is one of sci-fi pulp, but White Star is like Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox in that it is designed to be a tool kit. The material in White Star can be used to create a science fiction setting that suits your individual group's needs - all in that old school style.

Can I play aliens or non-human characters?
Absolutely! White Star will feature rules for playing aliens and robots as player characters.

How does White Star relate to Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox?
White Star is based on the Open Gaming License material found in Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox and uses the same mechanics in play. All classes have d6 hit dice, gain levels, earn experience points, can use descending or ascending armor class and have a single saving throw. In short, White Star is 100% compatible with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, with no conversion necessary. A fighter from WhiteBox could blast off in a star cruiser, taking your campaign from the dungeon to the stars in an instant.

What kind of new rules will White Star feature?
White Star will include new rules for seven new classes, starship combat, cybernetics, statistics for sci-fi weapons like laser pistols - all written with the simple elegance of Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox.

What's the default setting for White Star?
There isn't one! The galaxy is yours to create! The core book will include a single adventure and a mini sandbox, which will allow referees and players to jump right in!

Will there be supplements for White Star in the future?
Definitely! There are plans for a supplement providing even more aliens to those already featured in the core rulebook, as well as a few adventures.. There's also quite a bit of brainstorming going on around ideas for starship books, equipment guides, and possibly even a campaign setting.

Will White Star be Open Content?
Yes! There are some specific portions that are closed content and product identity, but the vast majority of the content in White Star will be part of the Open Gaming License, giving publishers the option of releasing their own products in the future!

The Gift of Swords & Wizardry

    Swords & Wizardry has become my favorite OSR game on the market. Its three flavors (WhiteBox, Core and Complete) offer differing levels of complexity to meet the needs and wants of the individual gaming group - but at their core, they are simple, 1970s and 1980s era fantasy roleplaying. But I'm reluctant to call Swords & Wizardry a retro-clone because it does make changes to some of the core aspects of the games which inspired it. It offers a single saving throw, an ascending armor class option and the Hit Die Equivalent to easily determine a monster's skill in combat instead of basing it singularly on its actual hit die. These are the changes that stand out in my mind and I'm sure there are others, I just can't recall them at the moment.

     I'm not +Matt Finch and I didn't write Swords & Wizardry, but I like to think that these changes and options were offered to help streamline play and facilitate that feel of fast, free-spirited gaming that so many veteran gamers felt when they were in high school, college, or whenever they first entered the hobby. Swords & Wizardry is a game made as an act of affection for those days and the game itself. I really think the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming offers a lot of insight into Finch's mentality when designing Swords & Wizardry, and its well worth a read.

     But Finch did more than create the game. He did something greater. He gave it to us. Finch had the courage to walk away: "If you love something, set it free." And that's exactly what he did. In a few short years, Swords & Wizardry flourished. Supplements were released by independent authors and producers in a myriad of formats. We saw supplements in both PDF and print-on-demand service, and even on the shelves of our local game shops.

     A community sprang up around Swords & Wizardry. While other old school roleplaying games have more supplement support, I've never seen a more active community than the Google+ Swords & Wizardry Discussion group. Ideas are traded, banter is tossed back and forth, friendships are made. And in the end, that's what gaming is about. Strangers and fellow gamers become friends. This happens because gaming is a shared experience, and so is Swords & Wizardry.

     Swords & Wizardry is a gift.

     We are free to use it as we wish. We can add or remove rules, play with our wildest ideas and make this game exactly what we want it to be. Somehow, it remains Swords & Wizardry, and with that it still recalls those halcyon days of gaming. Yes, I admit my stance on this game is colored my nostalgia - but these are games about pretending to be wizards, elves, and knights - so I'm OK with that.

     To that end, my own one-man publishing house Barrel Rider Games, will be offering its newest release for Sword & Wizardry WhiteBox, White Box Demihumans, as a Pay What You Want PDF until midnight tonight - April 17th. It features seven new races for use with Swords & Wizardry White Box: Black Widow Elves, Dagonites, Deepstone Dwarves, Goblins, Greenleaf Elves, River Halflings, Sidhe and Sprites. After the Pay What You Want ends, it will become available for sale at a price of $1.99 for the PDF download.

     In addition, I'm pleased to announce the next major Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox product to be released by Barrel Rider Games: White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying. This complete roleplaying game will be available as both PDF and print-on-demand. It is a stand-alone product which uses the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox rules to tell fast and loose sci-fi stories in the style of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica. It will feature seven original classes, new equipment, new weapons, rules for ship-to-ship space combat, and lots of other goodies. And if you like some fantasy to go with your sci-fi, it's fully compatible with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox.

     That's the beauty of Swords & Wizardry. Matt Finch created the game, but we can make it into anything. So, have a great Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - and make something all your own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

OSR Gamers: A True Community

My previous post was about supporting OSR publishers because they're doing what they love and that's awesome. I wanted to take a minute to give a shout out to the OSR gamers - some of whom are publishers and some of whom are not.

Never in my life have I seen a subculture or community that is as generous as the OSR. It's not always sunshine and rainbows all the time - but it's damn good. As mentioned in a previous post, I own a lot of retro-clones. But, I'm always in the market for more. Maybe it's a Holy Grail quest to find the "perfect" OSR game (even though there's no such thing), or maybe its because I like to see what other publishers are doing in the OSR to help me understand their design process. Either way, I'm always in the market for another retroclone or OSR supplement. I reluctantly admit it: I'm a collector.

This week, through the generosity of other gamers I've managed to acquire copies of both Adventures in the Eastmark and Lamentations of the Flame Princes: Grindhouse Edition. Both trades were ridiculously reasonable and both traders were very, very generous. This got me thinking about how many other folks in the OSR community have been so very giving, over and over again.

Not just with stuff, but with their time and ability. I've had friends in the community provide advice on projects as I work on them, offer their skills to help me create great products, and spend hours and hours of their time to help me be the best creator I can be. And they've never asked for compensation when it's offered. I swear, it makes me feel guilty how giving this community is.

Yeah, it's kinda like this.

Then, a bit over a month ago, I had a plagiarism incident and the vast, vast majority of the OSR community was more supportive than I imagined. Folks I knew in passing or not at all were ridiculously supportive. I was, and still am genuinely moved.

The OSR is a genuine community and I try to pay it forward - but with the way I've been treated, I think that's a beautiful, impossible task.

Friday, April 10, 2015

OSR Publishers: One for All and All for One

There are a lot of retro-clones (or games considered to be retro-clones) out there. My collection alone includes: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, Swords & Wizardry Complete, Dark Dungeons, Deeper Delving, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Beyond the Wall, and probably more than a few others I'm forgetting at the moment. I just added +Chris Gonnerman's Iron Falcon to the list. This doesn't include what I call spiritual retro-clones. Games that have that retro feel, but are original. Games like Barbarians of Lumeria, Mutant Future, and Cryptworld.

Now, let's be honest. I work a full time day job, write 20-30 hours a week, am raising a baby, maintaining a wonderful marriage and doing upkeep on a century-old home. In all likelihood, there is no way that I'll ever get to play all, or even the majority, of these games. And to be honest, a lot of the retro-clones on the market have striking similarities. So much so that it can often feel as though you're rebuying the same product that's been reskinned.

So why by a game you either already own or are never going to play?

Because it's not about the game itself. Even if I never play Iron Falcon or get to use the d30 Companion that's not the point. The point is that +Chris Gonnerman and +Richard LeBlanc work hard to make quality products and they deserve support, as do so many other authors in the OSR community. We're all small, often one-man, operations. We don't do this for the money. We do it because we love the game.

So, yes, maybe I'll never get to play Iron Falcon or Deeper Delving, but the people who made those games love the hobby as much (if not more) than I do - so when I have the means I'll always put my money where my heart is.

You see, the thing is, I have no doubt that there are others in the OSR community who do the same for me - and I thank them for it from the bottom of my heart. This cavalcade of miscreant indie publishers are in it together, we're in it for love of the game, and we're in it for as long as that passion is there. We're sure not in it for the money. At least in my case, most of that goes to fund the next project or spend it within the community.

In any case, thanks to anyone who's ever purchased a Barrel Rider Games product. It's appreciated.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tilting at Windmills: The Quixotic Knight for S&W WhiteBox

Don Quixote is my favorite piece of classic literature and almost my favorite book of all time; only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings beat it out. The Quixotic Jedi is my favorite template in The Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Needless to say, I love romantic tales of knight errantry. So, I decided to do a Quixotic Knight for Swords & Wizardry White Box.
Quixotic Knight
     Whether educated noble or simple peasant, the songs and tales of knights in shining armor committing deeds of unparalleled heroics have are inspiring. Nobles dream of living up to the very word that defines their social class while commoners hope to rise above their station to become paragons of virtue. These stories are passed from parent to child for generations. History becomes legend and legend inspires the bold.
     The Quixotic Knight is the embodiment of the chivalric ideals that only truly exist in myth and fantasy. Unlike true knights, the Quixotic Knight has been so deeply moved by the stories and songs of old that they genuinely believe themselves to be the modern embodiment of these long lost heroes. Years of reading and singing has driven them to embrace fantasy as reality. They ride into battle astride pack mules whom they claim are great destriers. They give their bent spears great names and polish them as if wielding lances of shining steel. Common milk maids are courtly princesses and windmills are giants. There is naught but glory and beauty in the world of the Quixotic Knight. Only death will end their noble errantry, and in their eyes it shall be one worthy of song for ages to come.
     The Quixotic Knight may advance to 7th level.

Hit Dice
Saving Throw

Weapon/Armor Restrictions: Quixotic Knights can wield any weapon. They may wear leather or chain armor and use shields. Many Quixotic Knights will try to wear plate armor in an attempt to appear more chivalric, but they are untrained in the proper methods to wear this heavier form of protection and even when wearing plate armor, they only receive an armor bonus as if they were wearing chain.
Inspiring Fool: The sheer tenacity with which a Quixotic Knight is willing to face overwhelming odds is often inspiring to others. While a Quixotic Knight is either charging from atop a steed or fighting in melee, he inspires his allies and grants them a +1 bonus to all saving throws.
Errant's Luck: Many Quixotic Knights have an uncanny luck. Once per day, they may re-roll any failed saving throw or “to-hit" roll.
Squire (4th): At 4th level the Quixotic Knight attracts the service of a “squire.” The squire is typically a simple peasant or farmer and use the statistics of a Human (Bandit) as shown in Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. They arrive to serve the knight armed with a spear, leather armor and riding a mule. They serve loyally, and if slain a new squire will arrive in one year.
Saving Throws: Quixotic Knights are dedicated to their illusionary knighthood. They receive a +2 bonus to resist any mind-effecting spell that would cause them to act in an ignoble fashion.
XP bonus for Charisma: This class bonus is due to a high Charisma.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Swords & Ewoks

Disclaimer: It's 1 A.M., I've had a rough week at work and I'm really tired. So remember that when reading this. Anyway, on with the show...

OK, so Ultima III: Exodus (a classic computer RPG in the famous series) featured a race simply identified as a "Fuzzy" that you could play. You never know anything about Fuzzies, what they are, what they do, or what their purpose is. No sense of culture or history and they're never ever mentioned against in the Ultima series of games.

Well, in my head canon they were ewoks. Why? Because ewoks. So, it's late, I'm tired and so with that I give you "Fuzzies," a playable race for Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox.


Fuzzies are a diminutive species from an unknown realm. It is said that in there original homeland there was an ancient magic capable of creating "Moongates." Whether by their curiousity or by choice, Fuzzies (who have a different name within their own culture that is unpronouncable in most languages) came to their current homelands in which they dwell though one of these Moongates and have since established themselves as a tribal society typically found living in tree houses hidden in the deepest forests of the world.

Fuzzies are curious, eager and inquisitive. They love meeting new people and are natural explorers. Because of this, they are quick to join adventuring parties and see plunging into dangerous dungeons filled with horrible monsters as "fun." They have the appearance of three foot tall bear-like creatures, with large eyes and rounded ears atop their heads. Short fur covers their entire body, most often being grey, brown, or black in coloring. They typically wear leather or animal hide clothing and use primitive weapons.

Fuzzies may advance to 4th level.

Hit Dice
Saving Throws

Weapon/Armor Restrictions: Fuzzies come from a primitive society and have learned to wield clubs, daggers, hand axes, quarter staffs, short bows, spears, and slings. They can wear leather armor and use shields.

Small Size: Fuzzies are typically three feet in height with quick reflexes and a keen eye. Because of this they receive a +4 bonus to their armor class when they are attacked by a creature who is human-sized or larger.

Adorable: Once per day, when encountering an NPC who is not hostile the Fuzzy's teddy bear-like appearance and childish irrepressiblity allow you to mimic the effects of a Charm Person spell against that target. They must make a saving throw to resist these effects.

Underestimated: Most larger foes underestimate a Fuzzy's ferocity in battle. During the first round of combat against a foe twice the Fuzzy's size or larger, that target must make a saving throw or assume it are not a real threat in battle. If the Fuzzy successfully makes a melee attack against any foe who failed their save you inflict double damage. Anyone who has witnessed the Fuzzy use this ability is forever immune to its effects.

Primitive Engineer (4th): Once a Fuzzy reaches level four they are capable of constructing terrifying mechanical traps capable of damaging buildings, huge monsters, and other fearsome threats. The time and costs to build these constructs is determined by the referee and a trap can only be activated once before it must be completely rebuilt. These traps typically inflict 5d6 points of damage and the target may make a saving throw to take half damage.

Saving Throw: Fuzzies receive a +2 to all saving throws made to resist poison and death because they are hale and hardy.

XP Bonus for Charisma: Fuzzies receive an additional bonus experience points for having a high charisma.

(Post Script: I was informed by +matt Jackson and Clash Bowley that Richard Garriott's inspiration for Fuzzies came from the novel Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper. I had no idea and had never heard of this book, nor the author.)