Friday, July 31, 2015

Reprinting the Past

So a few years ago Wizards of the Coast started their Premium Reprint series. To my recollection, they reprinted the core books for the 1st and 2nd editions of AD&D. These products were well received by the community at large and I'd imagine there were more than a few OSR fans (myself among them), who were glad to see classic games on modern shelves.

My brother introduced me to gaming and did so through AD&D 1st ed, so I in my nostalgia-motivated furvor, I pre-ordered the core books when they were announced from my now defunct FLGS. I played them, enjoyed them and had a helluva a good time. I really enjoy 1st edition. Admitedly, that's certainly a game I see with rose-colored glasses. But nevertheless, when I get together over Skype or G+ with my brother and our old group from the halcyon days of gaming we slip right back into things as if almost 30 years never passed. I wanted more of that and more AD&D 1st edition reprints.

Much to my surprise, I got it! Wizards of the Coast announced a few months after the release of the premium releases that they'd be publishing three more books for 1st ed AD&D: the love-it-or-hate-it Unearthed Arcana, and two hardcovers that would feature the T-series of modules (Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to Barrier Peaks and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth) and the A-series (Scourge of the Slave Lords). Freakin' awesome, right?!

Now, I'm not ungrateful at all and I'm so thrilled these books are out there. I know it's a pipe-dream, but I really would have liked to have seen the trend continue. Oh, to hold The Temple of Elemental Evil or the GDQ series (Queen of Spiders), or (dare I dream?!) my beloved Castle Ravenloft in my hands again as shiny, new books with their class rules wrapped in memory and dream. Man, that would have been cool.

I'm not bitching at all, but just reminicing about my adventuring days of old. Man I had some good times - and I still do today. I know that all these products are available for purchase as PDFs through the D&D Classics webstore, but there's something different, something magical about holding those books in your hands. Still, I never thought I'd see AD&D 1st Edition ever in print again and that happened - so who knows?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Defiling the Undead

One of my favorite novels of all time is Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I read it as a teenager after seeing the 1992 Coppola film and fell in love with the book immediately. From the eccentric Dr. Van Helsing, the overwhelmed Johnathan Harker, the dashing Quincy Morris, and of course the iconic count himself, I loved all the characters. The locations were painted in a baroque poetry and the book itself was written in a style I'd never before considered: A collection of first hand journals penned by those who fell victims to the vile vampire.

My love of Dracula lead me to so many other things, especially in gaming. Ravenloft and Vampire: The Masquerade being the most obvious. Hell, I've got a tattoo from V:tM - that's the kind of impact vampires have had on me. Abraham is even on the short list of names my wife I have chosen should we ever have a song. We'd call him Bram of course. There's a kind of kismet between Stoker and I - or at least I like to think so. We were both sickly children, third in line and even share a birthday.

Well, in 2009 an official sequel was announced to the classic novel. It was written by Dacre Stoker, the senior Stoker's great nephew: Dracula: The Un-Dead. In all likelihood, it was primarily written by another, a co-author named Ian Holt - but given the quality of the novel, I can't say for certain.

I use the term quality loosely. The novel follows the principle cast of the original as they traipse around Europe and become inadvertantly responsible for major events of the late 19th and early 20th century. From Jack the Ripper to (I shit you not) the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic, Dracula apparently had a hand in all of it. The primary crux of the novel is that one of Dracula's female vampiric concubines is raising hell and Dracula, who is now painted as the misunderstood hero, has to put a stop to her evil ways. This female vampire is none other than Elisabeth Bathory, the Bloody Countess who, according to history, bathed in blood in the belief that it would keep her young.

Oddly enough, the novel begins quite strongly. We are introduced to a cast of characters whose life has been ruined by the events of the original novel. Mina and Johnathan Harker have a ruined, loveless marriage. Dr. Seward is addicted to heroin to stave off the memories of his experiences. Van Helsing is a crippled, broken old man who is considered a terrible person by the populous at large for performing experiments on corpses - oh, and Van Helsing is a vampire now and I can't even remember how. It's a believable and engaging first act as you see the lingering power of evil - except for the shitty Van Helsing thing. And young Quincey Harker, born at the end of the original novel, is now a young man bent on becoming an actor - much to his father's ire. He even apprentices himself to a dashing new figure, Basarab. The two have come to a Parisian playhouse to star in a stage production of Dracula directed by none other than Stoker himself. Basarab, is of course, the Count in the most poorly imagined disguise ever. Oh, and it gets worse.

A bunch of convoluted crap happens as Dracula hunts down Bathory - including Johnathan attempting to confront the count with (I shit you not) a katana - which gets him killed. In the end, Dracula and Bathory have their "epic" confrontation in the ruins of Carfax Abbey and the count is victorious. Mina witnesses it all and claims that she loved him all along, but married Johnathan because it was the proper thing to do. Oh, and Quincey is Dracula's son - not Johnathan's. Dracula decides he's too vile to live and in a grand, emo gesture, leaps from the heights of Carfax Abbey and bursts into flames in the rising sun. Mina, who has been bitten and turned into a vampire so she can be with Dracula, follows him into the sunrise.

Quincy, says "fuck this shit" and boards a ship bound for America - the Titanic.

This book feels more like a pulp yarn than a legitimate sequel to the classic novel. A tropey shlock fest that starts out strong, but gets worse with every word. It contradicts and re-writes the original novel. Feeling more like an attempt to get the name Dracula back in the hands of the Stokers or a money grab, it's a real insult to its source.

The thing is, it could be a fun book. An entertaining "what if" yarn. But claiming to be an official sequel ruins all of that.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

PC Classes vs. NPC Classes

So, I'm brainstorming on a Labyrinth Lord campaign and I debated for a long time about whether or not to use the Advanced Edition Companion. I like the additional classes, spells, and magic items - but like to keep things in the race-as-class style of gaming. That got me thinking about using those additional classes as "NPC" classes in the same way they were found in old issues of Dragon. But then I got to think about what it was like to read those NPC classes at the time. I was always like "Aww man, this is awesome - why can't I play it?" We had things like Bounty Hunter, Archer and Arch-Ranger, Duelist and countless others. Why did I have to be a plain ol' fighter when I could be a Bounty Hunter? Where was that fair?

So is it unfair of me to limit my PCs to the seven classes found in the Labyrinth Lord core book, yet have NPCs show up who might be Paladins, Monks, Illusionists, Assassins or others? I'm torn on the issue. I understand both sides, but I'm unsure if I made the right choice in chosing simplicity over extensive options.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Old Stomping Grounds

As I come to a close on Class Compendium and White Star is almost complete, I continue to find myself drawn back to fantasy gaming. White Star has dominated the six months of my gaming psyche, and before it I was writing up Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox stuff. Before that everything I'd done had been almost exclusively Labyrinth Lord - and quite a bit of it. Damn near 90 products for the Goblinoid Games classic. 

With all the problems I've had with Class Compendium I kept telling myself "I hope I never see another Labyrinth Lord product again." But there's the funny thing - after a few months of focusing on other things I did look at Labyrinth Lord again. I had forgotten my affection for the game that was my introduction to the OSR community. It was like a homecoming for me, if you'll forgive an overly romantic old man.

I don't see too many Labyrinth Lord products being produced by third party publishers these days. My own sales on LL products started to dip. I wondered - is it a dying game or was there always this solid, if not increasing, player-base for the game? I have to admit, sluggish sales on my own products helped turn me on to Swords & Wizardry

But when I look at my book shelf I see that I have four physical copies of the Labyrinth Lord: Hardcover, softcover, Braun softcover, and a PDF that's been printed and sheet-protected in a binder. I've got two copies of the Advanced Edition Companion, along with a plethora of supplements. Dolmvay, Lesserton & Mor, Amherth, Realms of Crawling Chaos, Barrowmaze, Larm, , and many others. That's a lot of money to invest in a game that one claims to "hope I never see again."

I'm finding my scouting around RPGNow looking for Labyrinth Lord products I may have missed over the years and for the first time in a bit I'm really excited at the prospect of playing Labyrinth Lord. I guess I need to remember never say never.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

There and Back Again: A Long Expected Blog Post

So it's been a few months since my last blog post and I've been a bit busy. White Star has been a monster success - way bigger than I ever expected. Its success and the G+ community for the game have kept me hopping from one foot to another and when you couple that with a few freelance irons in the fire and a toddler it makes for a busy man. Also, I'm delayed on getting Class Compendium available in print due to constant issues with the proofs. Hopefully this - the third pass - will put that puppy to bed.

Class Compendium has been a real beast too. It came out to 230 pages and the inclusion of a spell compendium appendix coupled with formatting errors through out really burnt me out. I was sick of Labyrinth Lord by the time I came up on the home stretch. I think that's what lead me to focus on White Star - which obviously turned out to be a good thing. Still, I was seriously burnt on fantasy gaming.

With both Class Compendium and White Star prints being finalized for print on demand service I have to admit that fantasy itch is coming back. I blame +Joseph Bloch in part. I was taking a look at his Adventures Dark & Deep and there's something about it that really has my interest piqued. I already have a plethora of OSR fantasy games, but the premise for AD&D looks like it'll add a touch of freshness to the traditional fantasy genre of RPGs. Besides, Mad Castle of the Archmage was a great product, so I've faith it'll be good stuff.

Close behind it is the Mutant Crawl Classics because it just looks so damned sweet. DCC blew the doors off for my gaming group and I suspect MCC will obliterate the room. Along with that I've also got Star Wars: Force & Destiny and Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. on deck.

Sure, there are some great games coming my way on the horizon - but the problem is when will I get the time to play them? As mentioned earlier, I've got a lot of stuff going on and even when Class Compendium and White Star are finalized I've still got a plethora of freelance work on my plate, the White Star Companion in draft (which I hope to get out before the end of the year - but no promises, at this rate), along with a 55 hour a week job and an awesome one-year old daughter. When I'm lucky I manage to squeeze in an every-other-week Star Wars game, I'd love to run or play something in the off week for that, but at this rate I feel like I'm writing too much gaming to actually game.