Sunday, August 20, 2017

These Dice Ain't What They Used To Be

So, tonight I unexpectedly got to play in a 5e game. I was thrilled to do so and had just said to my wife "I really need to play D&D, it's been weeks and I miss it." Well, someone out there heard me and granted my wish. Thanks, Universe.

I made my character easily enough and we sat down to play. From 6:30 to about 9:15. Not a long session, by any stretch. But here's the thing - I had an absolute blast. For two hours and forty-five minutes, I was Dregnr Bloodbeard, Dwarf Barbarian, and it was pure fun. Never once did I feel fatigued or overwhelmed, nor did I wonder if gaming was "worth the effort."

I learned something about myself - maybe I ought to slow down in my "old age." Ten years or fifteen years ago, a four hour session was standard. We often pushed for six or even eight hours. But tonight's "shot in the arm" of gaming, really felt just right.

For a long time, I had considered getting away from the table both as a player and GM. Just focus on design and playtesting. But tonight taught me that maybe, if I take it a bit slower and in smaller doses, that it's still as much fun as ever - even after 30 years.

This also reenforced why I love the OSR (and particularly White Box) so much. With rules light systems, you can get a lot of active gaming in, in just a few hours. That way time doesn't feel wasted by looking up rules, modifiers, and outlying material. Just leap right into the game, and head off on an adventure. Man, it was nice to realize that I may not be as young as I used to be - but the spark is still there and adventure still calls to me.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Fault In Our Stars: Starfinder, ADnD 2E, and Repeating History

So I wanted to talk a bit about Starfinder and how I see it. Not as a game or in comparison to White Star, but as a business move and why I think Paizo chose to release a sci-fi adaptation of their juggernaut fantasy roleplaying game. But to do that, I have to go back to 1989 and the release of AD&D, 2nd edition.

However you feel about AD&D 2nd Ed, it was an absolute runaway hit. It made money hand over fist and sales had exploded far beyond expectations. The books brought slick, previously unseen production values to the game with full color core books that were priced to buy. By 1993, AD&D 2nd edition dominated the market and it was the game when it came to tabletop RPGs. Granted, tabletop RPGs get compared to D&D by default, but this was unprecedented.

It seemed as though there was nothing AD&D 2nd Edition couldn't do. The campaign settings were fresh as gamers explored Ravenloft, Dark Sun, and Birthright. The seemly endless slew of class and race books gave players new ways to customize their characters with optional kits and new equipment, spells, and sub-races. There was no end in sight.

Until there was.

The long and short is that TSR was on the verge of economic collapse because of the runaway success of AD&D 2nd Ed. They had to keep producing supplements to maintain an ever diminishing revenue stream. That's the nature of tabletop roleplaying games. Roleplaying games are a niche of a niche of a niche market. Most folks who play them do so casually, briefly, or out of curiosity. They borrow a book from a more active friend while they're playing, or they buy a single core book for their own reference. Maybe they buy the "core three" books, but never grab a supplement. They might grab a supplement which focuses on their favorite species/class if they're really into the game. But the fact is, most gamers aren't rabid consumers of every single thing published for a game line.

So, TSR had to keep producing supplements on more minuet elements of their flagship game to keep the money coming in. But as the product line bloated, the profit margins thinned. AD&D 2nd edition had more books released for it than you can count (I stopped at 250...) and let's face it, some of them were very narrow in their focus. (Did we really need Thief's Challenge, let alone Thief's Challenge II: Beacon Pointe?)

But, to keep these more tightly focused products viable, you have to keep much of the previous library of material in print, maintain storage space to keep unsold product, pay your employees, and keep the lights on. So, eventually, the numbers just didn't add up and TSR was on the verge of collapse. That's when Wizards of the Coast came in and bought the company.

Then came D&D 3E. There was a lot of backlash against it at first. So many people had spent over a decade chasing the dragon (so to speak) keeping up with the endless gamut of 2nd Ed books that they felt betrayed by the fact that D&D 3E was going to render all that time and investment invalid. While many players recognized that a new game being published did not obligate them to play it, I still understand their frustration.

But in the end D&D 3E and its OGL were a success beyond all predictions. So much so, that when it ended and 4E was announced in 2007 and released the following year many gamers decided not to invest in yet another itteration of the world's most famous fantasy roleplaying game. Enter Paizo's Pathfinder. Serving as as rallying point for those who wishes to continue playing D&D 3E, Pathfinder was released under the OGL with a few minor changes to D&D 3.5.

And it exploded. Pathfinder was a runaway hit, like AD&D 2nd Edition before it. It even managed to out-sell Dungeons and Dragons, the very game from which it was born. For a brief time, Pathfinder was the Rebel Prince, dethroning the king of all roleplaying games.

Pathfinder began to release supplements, as is expected. From the Advanced Player's Guide to Mythic Adventures, they left no stone unturned, no supplement unpublished. Soon the runaway success of Pathfinder ran away with them. Ten years later, and countless supplements later, Pathfinder feels its in the same place as TSR was in 1998. But, unlike Wizards of the Coast, my guess is that Paizo doesn't want to alienate the fans that have been loyal to them for the past decade by releasing a Pathfinder, Second Edition. So, how do they add longevity to their product line when the vein of ore that is fantasy seems tapped?

Starfinder feels to me like an attempt to extend the longevity of the Pathfinder product line and IP without releasing a second edition. But, I'm uncertain about it's potential for success. Yes, it sold out at GenCon - but there hasn't been a whole lot of buzz surrounding it that I've noticed. Admittedly, I'm over here in the OSR corner of the RPG community - but still, the tabletop roleplaying game community isn't exactly vast.

Do I hope Starfinder is a success? Absolutely. By all accounts Erik and the folks at Pathfinder are good people. Besides, even at its most successful, RPG publishing profits are razor thin. Given that many fantasy gamers aren't interested in sci-fi (and vice versa), I'm doubtful that Starfinder will be as successful as Paizo needs and that may create a rough road for Paizo in the days to come.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why I Don't Do Kickstarters

It's funny. When I tease a product one or two people usually ask when I'm launching the Kickstarter for this. The answer is always "I'm not." I don't crowdfund. That's not to say I never will in the future, but I can't imagine a circumstance that would warrant me doing so. Turning to Kickstater makes me feel uncomfortable, it makes me nervous. It's a great way to get your product out there and get support, but I don't think it's for me.

I did one crowdfunding, several years ago. I did an Indiegogo for Class Compendium, my largest project up to that time. But I didn't do it specifically to fund the Class Compendium. I did it because my computer was becoming unreliable and without a computer I couldn't publish at all. So, I did an Indiegogo with half the money going to art for the Compendium and the other half to a new laptop. Nothing fancy, just to keep myself writing. I made all this very clear in my pitch video.

I thought Class Compendium would be easy. It was almost done before I even launched. It was so close. But, to be safe, I gave myself an extra six months as padding for my deadline. That was a helluva lot of wiggle room, right? Wrong.

You see, one of my stretch goals was to add a spell index in the back. A complete spell index. That way any class in the Compendium would have instant access to spell details right in the same book. No flipping between books. Easy, right? Well, not so much. See, at the time I worked solo. I hadn't found awesome layout guys like +Jason Paul McCartan+Michael Herrmann, or +Thomas Novosel. From cradle to grave, it was a one-man show. Everything was done manually. Everything.

It took me all my padding time to get that damn index in place. I even went over deadline, though only by two weeks.

For me, that was unacceptable for several reasons.

First and foremost, I hate missing deadlines. It feels unprofessional. If you give a deadline, meet it. People even said "Two weeks isn't bad at all for a crowd-funding project." Didn't matter. Late is late for my releases.

Secondly, I'm very mercurial in my interests. As it stands at the time of this blog, I've got two large projects in the works (White Star: Galaxy Edition and Saga of the White Box), a large project I won't name, as well as four small projects, one personal project, a project I'm secretly working on, and am coming up on a freelance gig. It's like someone gave Attention Deficit Disorder a pen and a set of dice. This means that focusing on a single project for an extended period is very difficult for me. I get an idea and I want to grab it and run - then bounce between the many hollows of my mind.

That makes for a potentially disasterous crowd funding project. And that's not fair.

It's not fair to those who put their money in my hands. It's not fair to the way I operate. It's just asking for a train wreck and permanent damage to the good will the OSR has been so kind to grant me. So, I won't be doing Kickstarers or crowd-funding projects any time soon. I'll be patient, leaping from passion to passion, hoping folks are kind enough to accept the time it takes for me to get a project to the table. So far, the community has been quite kind in that regard - and I am appreciative of that grace.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Sharp Swords and Sinister Spells

+Diogo Nogueira is a work horse in the OSR. Known primarily for preaching the Gospel of Dungeon Crawl Classics and being an amazing artist, what some may not realize is that Diogo has published his own fantasy roleplaying game. It's not another retro-clone, though it shares some commonalities with traditional d20-based games. Diogo's baby is called Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells, and it's available in both PDF and digest-sized softcover on DriveThru and RPGNow. Did I mention that both the PDF and the physical are priced at Pay-What-You-Want at the time of this writing?

Nogueira's love of Howard, Smith, and other iconic pulp fantasy authors is evident in his product. The entire book amounts to 48 pages, but that page count could probably be cut in half if you removed the art. That's not a criticism at all. It's the art and how it's been carefully selected or crafted to evoke that Hyborian feel that really sells the game.

SS&SS really trims the fat, though the author's inspirations seem evident in reading the product. Diogo's love of DCC is obvious, but I also get a bit of a White Box vibe going on. I feel as though he took Dungeon Crawl Classics, D&D 5e, Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and Polyhedral Dungeon and ripped them apart of the Tree of Woe, then reassembled them to create something both familiar and different.

With only four attributes, three classes, and no skill system you'd think the game would feel a bit thin - but not so. The author is clearly trying to emulate a specific subgenre of fantasy and he stays laser-focused on that style. The system is pretty simple. Attributes (Physique, Agility, Intellect, and Willpower) are determined by your traditional "roll 3d6" method.

Tasks are accomplished by rolling a d20 against an attribute value. If you score under your attribute, the task has succeeded. The closer you get to the attribute without going over, the better you did. These tests can be modified by Positive or Negative Die, which works in a manner similar to D&D Fifth Edition's Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. If it's a Positive Die, you take the better. Negative, take the worse. Combat is actually resolved using the same attribute test mechanic, but the monster's hit dice modifies the roll - meaning a monster who's hit dice exceed a character's level are going to be harder to hit while those that are lower are going to be easier. Simple and elegant.

Some fast and dirty pulp spice is added by adding options to push your roll (ala Call of Cthulhu 7th edition) and a Luck option. Equipment and weapon ammo are also handled in a truncated, but intuitive and appropriate way.

Casting a spell? Intellect test. Trying to be stealthy? Agility test. It's all that simple.

Weapon damage is equally simple. Small weapons (whether dagger, short sword, hand ax, whatever) do a 1d6. Medium weapons do a 1d6, Large weapons do 1d8. Warriors automatically increase this die by one type (d4s become d6s, d6s become d8s, d8s become d10s). Any class can use any weapon.

Armor provides a form of damage reduction, but make you easier to hit by capping your Agility, while shields make you harder to hit.

Spells are simple, nasty and potentially dangerous to the caster. Casters choose the power level of the spell their casting, which modifies their roll. That means you can potentially throw a heap-nasty spell, but there's serious risk of things going south if you roll poorly. Men were not meant to know sorcery in SS&SS. Magic items are similarly powerful, but always with a cost.

Monsters all have one statistic: Hit Dice. They might also have specific special abilities, but given the player-centric nature of dice rolling and how hit dice of an opponent impacts combat, that's all you need.

Like I said earlier, where this game really shines is in its art and flavor. SS&SS requires characters to begin play with a Complication, which can be randomly generated if necessary. In addition, charts are included to generate on the fly adventure scenarios. These charts, again combined with the art, really give it that dirty sword-and-sandals pulp feel. What's so impressive that a lot of the art in this book is stock art that's been floating around for a long time - but when you get an artist to actually put a book together as a labor of love (which this clearly is), the unity of disparate parts really shines.

If I had to offer any criticisms, it's that SS&SS has a few areas where efforts to keep things brief make some explanations feel truncated or abrupt. Another sentence or so explaining a few of the rules would have clarified things quite a bit, but after reading over it a second time the designer's intent became pretty clear - so this is a minor issue at best. And for being PYWY in any format,  there are really no complaints. Another minor issue was that though the book included an ample list of monsters (35 or so), they did not appear to be organized in any fashion. Having them listed alphabetically or by HD would make for easier reference.

Long and short is that if you're looking for an ultra-light pulp fantasy game you can stuff in a backpack and run on the fly, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells is a must. Grab it now. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The White Box One-Sentence Background

So one of the common arguments I see regarding Swords & Wizardry White Box and White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game is that it's too narrow. Characters have no abilities beyond their combat or class related listings to give them any definition, background, or motivation. I regard this as a strength of the system as it keeps things simple - but I understand how it could frustrate some people.

So, I tried to come up with a solution that kept to the core of White Box's simplicity. I give you the One-Sentence Background.

The One-Sentence Background is exactly that. A character's background defined in a single sentence. This sentence must include some form of motivator and some kind of profession or skill outside the character's class.

Example One: Arki the Dwarven Fighter was a Blacksmith who wants revenge for the destruction of his clan.

Example Two: Jana the Thief is a former Woodworker who took to the road to search for her missing daughter.

The profession is something the character can attempt to use as is appropriate to the situation and with Referee approval. This can be narrative, or mechanical. If a mechanical system is used, I'd recommend having the character simply make a Saving Throw, but receive +2 to any saves tied to using their profession.

The background has no mechanical effect. It simply serves as a springboard so players can call back to their character's primary motivation and have a sense of how their character will act in a situation.

Simple enough?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

From North Texas to the Apocalypse

Thanks to the amazing generosity of the OSR community (lead by +James Shields and his sneaky GoFundMe), I had the pleasure of attending North Texas RPG Con last month. It really was a whirlwind of an event for me, in spite of being a small con. It was an absolute pleasure to put faces to familiar names and I had a really good time.

Unfortunately, while I was gone, things in the more mundane part of my life conspired against me and I returned to a seemingly parade of cataclysms. On my first day back home my wife came down with a tooth infection that had her laid up for the better part of a week. As soon as that resolved itself, my toddler daughter decided to get her sleep pattern seriously out of wack and put the whammy on both my wife and I for about a week. Just when that settled down, my home became infested with fleas (but not my dog, long story) and I was forced out of my home as we fumigated the house for the better part of two weeks. 

In short, it's been a rough month since I got back from Texas.

But, I can venture to say that things are finally settling down. White Star: Galaxy Edition is deep into layout and we should have the PDF available by the end of summer with the print version to follow soon after, White Box Gothic and White Box Compendium are both now available in softcover digest format on Lulu, and a new White Box-driven genre book is currently being drafted by yours truly. I won't go into any more detail than that on this draft, except to say that +Matt Finch himself spouted the title at NTRPG and kindly gave me permission to use the moniker he so elegantly crafted.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Custom Dice in Table Top Gaming

So we all know the standard array, right? d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, d4, and maybe a second d10 for percentage rolls. They're familiar old friends and they've been with us on many, many adventures over the decades. I've heard from many old grogs brag "I've got dice older than you, kid" and may have even made the boast on occasion myself.

Lately, with more modern games, I've noticed a trend towards custom dice. At first, I knee jerked against this and felt as though it was a cheap marketing tactic. But over the years, I've grabbed more than a few custom dice for some of the games I own. In fact, two of my favorite games use custom dice.

Fantasy Flight Games' line of Star Wars RPGs uses some pretty seriously custom dice. They use custom two types of custom d6s, two types of custom d8s, and three types of custom d12s. None of these dice are numeric and the game is all but impossible to play with standard dice of these types. Given that the game already has a $60 buy-in for a core book and $15 for a single set of these dice, I really felt it was as cheap marketing tactic. Now, a few years later I'm not so sure.

Star Wars Dice

Cubicle 7 Entertainment's The One Ring Roleplaying Game also uses custom dice, though theirs are not as extreme as FFG's. The One Ring uses custom d6s numbered 1 to 6, with the numbers 3-6 shaded and a little symbol next to the 6. It also uses custom d12s numbered 1-10, with the 11 replaced by a Gandalf rune and the 12 replaced by an Eye of Sauron. It's easy enough to remember these changes and use standard dice. That being said, the game does play a bit faster with the specialized dice and during the game's original release in a two-book slipcover edition, they included a set of one of these d12s and six of the d6s. Extra dice could be purchased, naturally.

The One Ring Dice

So, why is this not a cheap marketing ploy for me? Well, because of the thematic elements. When I pull out my big ol' sack of Star Wars dice, my local group knows its Star Wars time. At the table its almost become as symbolic of the setting as John Williams' classic score. When I pull our dice for The One Ring, their elvish script styling immediately remind everyone of the subtle changes that make Middle-earth unique. It might not seem like much, but along with character sheets and game books, gamers are always looking at their dice. Its a constant reminder of the setting, its tone, and the associated tropes. It can help keep gamers in the game, and I think that's both awesome and important.

Star Trek Dice
This all came to mind because I saw there is going to be a set of d20s and d6s for the upcoming Star Trek RPG. Now, I've zero interest in Star Trek, but in seeing the dice I immediately went "Now that's really cool! Really thematic!" It immediately got me into a Star Trek mindset.

I think that's the real value of little things like custom dice, especially for IP-based games. They remind you that the game you're playing isn't just D&D - its a specific universe, with a specific style. This can easily get lost because games are so constantly compared to the tonal flexibility of games like D&D. Pulling gamers back into that IP-based world is important, or else we'd just play a generic RPG where these things could be easily slotted in over the often high-priced official versions released by various publishers.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not Quite Lightspeed

I'll cut right to it. I was aiming to release White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying: Galaxy Edition in PDF by the beginning of North Texas RPG Con during the first weekend of June. Sadly, this simply isn't going to happen. This does not mean Galaxy Edition is going anywhere. It's coming, and this delay is being implemented to prevent releasing a rushed product.

We're now aiming for a Summer 2017 digital release instead of Spring 2017, with print to follow. Until that time, if you want to get an idea of what White Star is all about you can grab the original White Star and the White Star Companion at a Pay-What-You-Want price for both PDF and Print at and

I appreciate the support and patience everyone has shown the game and apologize for the delay.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Musings on Majesty

I love RPGs based on intellectual properties. These games provide fully fleshed out settings, backgrounds, tones, and are often filled with ready-made adventure hooks. A really well-written IP-based RPG that's created by folks who have a genuine passion for the material is a magnificent thing. But, what do you do when the rest of your group isn't as passionate about that intellectual property as you are?

I have a new local group and we've been gaming together for a few months now. They're great. Strong communication, mutual respect for one another, and a willingness to learn the mechanics of the game at hand. I really can't ask for more.

That being said, I've wanted to run a game of The One Ring for years - since the game's release really. I know Tolkien inside and out. I love the depth and majesty of his creation. I want to sing in the Hall of Fire in Imladris. I want to stand atop the Eagles Eyries. To shop in the great marketplace of Dale. I want to walk under the shadowed canopy of Mirkwood.

There is beauty and adventure beyond your doorstep.

I want my players to understand the depth and beauty of legends like that of Beren & Luthien. I want them to marvel at the foreboding magnificence of Orthanc. I want them to revel in the mead hall of Edoras.

Though they are fans of the Lord of the Rings films, they do not share my fierce love of Middle-Earth as a whole. So, how do I pass that on to them? How do I get them to buy into the subtle aspects of the source material that separate it from traditional D&D? How do I provide to them a genuine Middle-earth experience at the gaming table? Is it possible?

Just some musings and rumblings from a passionate fanboy.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: Tails of Equestria: The My Little Pony Storytelling Game

I'm a Brony.

How did this happen? Well, believe it or not, because I lost a bet. Back when I played way too much Lord of the Rings Online, one of my kinmates and I cut a deal. If helped me with a raid and we succeeded, I had to watch two hours of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Being a man of my word, I held my end of the bargain.

I have to admit that from the get go, I was surprised at the depth of world building - but it was still a show about magic pink ponies and there was no way it could be that good. Well, by the time I looked up, I'd watched a dozen episodes and had no desire to stop. I'd been corrupted. I was a Brony.

The thing is, the show really is pretty damned good and I've no shame in speaking on my love of it. It's show populated by cast of female leads who, though archetypal, all are engaging and interesting to watch. The show uses common elements from the Campbellian Monomyth and extensive elements from world mythology - particularly Greek mythology. Anyway, it's a good show. It doesn't talk down to kids as it tries to teach them the value of not being an asshole - or as they say the "Magic of Friendship." After much convincing, even got my wife to watch the show.

And she became obsessed.

Like seriously. She is a publish novelist and immediately dove headlong into the fan fiction community - even making so much of a name for herself as to warrant being a special guest at BronyCon (the biggest MLP convention in the country) for three years in a row (so far).

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, when an intellectual property becomes popular among the demographic of young men who are traditionally regarded as nerdy or geeky, then someone's going to license it for a tabletop RPG.

Enter Tails of Equestria: The My Little Pony Storytelling Game. I purchased a copy for my wife for Mother's Day and gave it to her when it arrived today. I have to say, I wasn't expecting much, and am pleasantly surprised.

The MSRP is $35 and for that you get a 150-page full color book with gloss pages, evocative layout, and a steady stream of stills from the television show. I've seen gaming books that charge $60 that don't have this level of production quality.

Now, the game is marketed from the get-go at the same audience as My Little Pony - young kids. It assumes that the reader has never gamed. Because of this, it as a simple, but functional system for character creation, task resolution, combat, and various unique elements of the setting material.

The game breaks characters down into three stats: Body, Mind, and Charm. They are rated at a die value ranging from d4 to d20. Contested rolls are made between opponents using the stat and the high roll wins. Characters also have Talents (like Knowledge, or Flying (unique to Pegasi) or Telekinesis solely the purview of Unicorns)) which have their own die value along the same scale. Some tests require the character to have a skill to even attempt it, while others do not. Roll Stat + Talent, take the highest single die, meet or exceed difficulty. That's it.

Combat is resolved in the same fashion. The winner of a combat test (which they call a "Scuffle," how adorable), does an amount of damage equal to their successful roll. Damage comes off a flat Stamina, and when your Stamina is reduced to zero, you have to rest and are exhausted. The game does not have character death.

It's a very clean and simple mechanic and excellent for introducing new gamers to the hobby. But where the game really shines is its clean mechanics for evoking the themes of the source material. For every player (including the GM) there is a pool of "Friendship Tokens" that can be used to re-roll dice, increase chances of success before a roll, or provide minor narrative manipulation. These tokens are earned by being a good person - being a friend. If a new player joins the game, they add a Friendship Token to the pool - but that token is not removed if that player cannot return to the table. Their friendship and the spirit of what they contributed remains. Absent, but not forgotten.

The game operates on a level system that runs up to 10th level. Each adventure (not necessarily session) results in every character gaining a level. When you gain a level you can increase a Stat, increase a Talent, or take a new Talent.

There is also your obligatory introductory adventure - but I have to say, its really well-written and surprisingly in-depth. Like everything else in this book it oozes with innocent charm and themes of the source material shines.

The truly excels as an introductory roleplaying and by tying it to a popular IP for the age range that many kids discover tabletop RPGs, I have to say that this game is a real winner. Not to mention the lessons it teaches are positive and very in line with the show. There's enough crunch and wiggle room to engage more experienced gamers, but the simple mechanics and approachable text make it perfect for young would-be dice rollers. I think it would be especially good for helping a parent whose child is into MLP get into tabletop gaming. The game is even playable diceless by full page drop-table for each die-type (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20). Simply close your eyes, and put your finger on the page. So it literally has everything in one book necessary to get kids gaming.

Supplementary material has already been produced with obligatory bag of Friendship Tokens. These, of course are sparkling purple plastic gems. Next up is a Box Set which includes several blank character sheets, a GM screen, a full adventure module, and a set of dice - all with an MSRP of $25.

I really think Tails of Equestria is an obvious purchase for any gamer who is a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or for any parent who has a child who is both a fan of the show and has expressed interest in tabletop gaming. Heck, my 2 1/2 year old daughter hasn't let it go since it came in the house - and she's just enjoying the art. Gotta get 'em started gaming early, right? Well, I can't think of a better game to open with.

Keep on the Borderlands: Game of Thrones Edition

So I started running the classic B2: Keep on the Borderlands using Labyrinth Lord last night. We had two players absent, so were down to three. A nature-worshiping cleric named Bjeorn and his war dog Fenris, a crude dwarf named Stonefuch, and a wily Magic-User named Castian.

They came up to the Keep, made their entry and began poking around the outer keep for news and adventure hooks. It wasn't long before they tried to get an audience w/ Baron Castilleian, Lord of the Keep. They were given a cold shoulder by the guard, who said he'd pass on their request for an audience. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the outer keep.

At the chapel they encountered the Curate, Brother Cort of the Cudgel. He is a robust, but zealous cleric of St. Cuthbert. Bjeorn was particularly interested in Cort and the faith of St. Cuthbert. Cort expressed to them his concerns about the nearby Caves of Chaos and that the Baron wouldn't risk his own men to deal with the growing threat.

At the Tavern and Traveller's Inn they hired the services of Hammish, a mute man-at-arms who was (by coincidence of random rolls) also a worshiper of Cuthbert, but no cleric. Hammish was a survivor of the dreaded Barrowmaze, a legendary tomb far, far away. He had been a non-beleiver and when a Cuthbertian saved his life and told him to never again blaspheme against the Cudgel, Hamish cut out his own tongue to show his conversion.

The PCs spent the rest of the evening negotiating with a pair of musicians, hoping to hire them as retainers - but that didn't really go anywhere, beyond good roleplaying. They retired for the evening at the Traveller's Inn - sleeping in the common room. Castian noticed one of the inn's residents was an elf and through good RP and reaction rolls, they traded spells - though the Elf got the better of the deal.

While Castian was doing that, Bjeorn wandered back to the chapel and after much discussion with Cort and asking about the Church of St. Cuthbert he actually converted to the faith - unbeknownst to the rest of the party.

Stonefuch and Castian continued to explore the keep, meeting with the Priest who lives in the large house inside the outer keep, whom I named on the fly Friar Duck. Duck claimed to be a worshipper of the God of Knowledge, and Castian immediately began to angle him to see if he had any magic-user scrolls. Duck did not, being a cleric, but did give Castian a book that would help him learn to speak and read/write Elvish.

As Bjeorn took oaths to St. Cuthbert, Stone and Cas learned the history of the Keep from Duck - the Baron was a weak man with Lizard Men threatening the keep to the south and the Caves of Chaos in the north. Duck believed he needed to be overthrown, and that Duck himself had even loaned the Baron 10,000 gold pieces to bolster the garrion several months ago - but other than hiring more troops the Baron had taken no action. Clearly, he needed to be replaced with a new Baron - a strong ruler, a wise ruler...

Cas and Stone were actually taken in by this and the three of them decided to go to the inner bailey and do just that. They were going to literally go commit a coup. Their plans were stymied when they saw Bjeorn exiting the chapel wearing the vestments of St. Cuthbert. They couldn't tell the newly Lawful Cleric they were going to overthrow the rightful ruler. So they told him they were going to go speak with the Baron and asked him to come along.

Duck, using his leverage from lending the Baron money, managed to talk their way into an audience. As the four of them, and two guards, sat in the Baron's chambers the PCs discovered a shocking revelation.

Baron Castellian was a 15 year old boy who had inherited the Keep after his father was assassinated 18 months ago. He was good intentioned, but indecisive and still mourning the loss of his father. He had no advisors and was burdened with indesision. But the Baron showed some steel in his spine. He told Duck, Cas, and Stone to leave before they could speak much, tired of Duck's machinations. Because the Baron trusted Cort, he allowed Bjeorn to stay and explained his situation to the Cudgelite. Bjeorn was clearly sympathetic and came out, and explained the truth of the situation to the party.

Cas and Stone immediately grew suspicious of Duck, who told them that he simply wanted a strong leader because if the Keep were attacked EVERYONE would die. It has a hard deed, but someone with strength needed to be in charge.

The PCs asked about the Lizard Men, who they knew nothing of. They learned the there is a loose agreement between Keep residents and the tribe. If the humans cross the river into the swamp the lizard men kill them, while if lizard men come north of the river they are slain by the humans. A harsh arrangement set forth by the Baron's father - but it has maintained a fragile peace.

The PCs get the idea that if they can somehow ally with the Lizard Men and get them to aid in defeating the Caves of Chaos, then two threats might be eliminated in one blow - but the Lizard Men are distrustful of humans and do not care for their affairs.

So as the session ends, the PCs are setting out to do some recon on the Caves and evaluate the threat, while Duck remains behind in the Keep to get a sense of how the locals feel about the whole affair.

The PCs are suspicious of Duck, of course - but have no idea he is a spy for the cultists in the Cave. Now as they head out to the Caves of Chaos (with Hamish in tow), Duck has sent messenger birds to the cultists in the Caves, and is considering traveling in secret to agitate the Lizard Men and break that easy peace - forcing the Baron to act (and hopefully fail), to make him look weak and position himself to take control of the Keep while the PCs are absent...

Not a single combat was had, but the entire session was tense and engaging for everyone at the table. The players love the intrigue and are invested in the moral complexity and the lives of the many NPCs they met. A fantastic opening session.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day 2017

I can say, without hyperbole, that Swords & Wizardry changed my life. I know that's a dramatic statement, but it's true.

You see, Swords & Wizardry is more than just a game. Somehow between the pages, the charts, the dice, the TPKs, and the critical hits, there really is a kind of magic - a kind of wizardry. I've read, and written, for most retro-clones on the market currently - heck, I even managed to publish one of my own. These are all great games in their own right, but there's something transcendent about Swords & Wizardry.

I can't explain how +Matt Finch and the folks at Frog God Games did it. When books get cracked, dice get rolled, and adventures are shared a bond gets formed. Something more than just "gaming buddies." Something more than even friendship. Swords & Wizardry is the foundation upon which the OSR community is built. My own company, Barrel Rider Games, wouldn't be what it was without Swords & Wizardry. Tenkar's Tavern, the local bar in this small town of grognards, would be just another bar without Swords & Wizardry. This singular game, and our love of both it, and the hobby, serve as the basis for much of our community. And like this community of ours, Swords & Wizardry is limitless.

With that in mind, I'd like to make an announcement...

White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying Galaxy Edition
Ace Pilots, dead-eyed Gunslingers, and irrepressible Star Squirrels blast off across the stars to save the galaxy from the horrors of the Void! Hellfire Mecha march across the battlefield, leaving carnage in their wake! From the galactic center of Omega Consor to the Marnash System on the edge of the universe, the galaxy needs heroes!

Endless galactic adventure awaits you in White Star: Galaxy Edition! Integrated and updated to include material from White Star and White Star Companion, White Star: Galaxy Edition integrates new rules, new options, and expands the original game. Now more than just a tool box, White Star Galaxy Edition offers you a universe full of thrilling adventure!

White Star: Galaxy Edition is set to be released in the Spring of 2017 in PDF, with softcover digest and hardcover digest formats to follow. The digital release will be available on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, while the print editions will be available on RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and Lulu.

It will integrate material from the original White Star core rules and the White Star Companion, as well as cleaning up and clarifying some rules, and adding a plethora of new material. This new material will include the following:

  • A total of twenty-five character classes!
  • Clarified rules for starships and vehicles, as well as new starships!
  • Complete rules for mecha - including customizing your own mecha and even transforming mecha!
  • Expanded options for mysticism, including Meditations, Gifts, Chitterings, and Etchings!
  • New Cybernetics, Advanced Technology, and Gear!
  • New rules, including Drawing Down the Void and Daring Deeds!
  • An expansion of the implied White Star setting introduced in the core rules and Companion.

White Star: Galaxy Edition is currently in layout. It's looking to be about 275 pages, all said and done. Credits include:

In order to maintain a thriving White Star community, I will also begin publishing the official White Star 'zine in the Summer of 2017 -

The Official White Star Magazine 

Star Sword will be a quarterly 'zine, available in both print and PDF formats on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. Submissions will be accepted beginning with the second issue. Contributors will be paid for their work as well as retaining the rights to any material submitted. This is, first and foremost, a magazine for and by the White Star community.

The future of both Swords & Wizardry and White Star are as bright as a sun that's gone nova, so please join me as we blast off to adventures filled with swords, stars, heroes, villains, and most of all - fun!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Reaver's Reef: An Experiment

So, I'm building a city to serve as an adventure springboard for a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, and when it comes to DCC my attitude is to be as over the top as possible. I've always liked the idea of a castle built from the skull of a dragon. But then I thought to myself, "No, let's go bigger."

So I came up with Reaver's Reef.

Reaver's Reef was created when a massive dragon crashed into the sea. Some say it fell from the stars. Some say it fell through ten thousand realities before crashing on this world. Others say Hell itself spat the beast up because it was too vile. When the dragon fell into the ocean waters, the seas began to boil and hurricanes formed around it. This lasted for days, weeks, or even years - depending on who you ask. When the seas calmed and the cloud parted all that remained were the creature's bones. A great, gaping maw. Sea water ran over the jaw bone, crashing against the towered fangs.

It was eventually discovered and explored by pirates, who began to use it as a cache to hide their plunder. The fear and superstition surrounding Reaver's Reef kept honest seamen and merchants from coming near. As more pirates came to the Reef, there were skirmishes between warring fleets and feuding captains. Eventually the worst came to pass: Laws were established and order began to take hold.

Fast-forward several hundred years and you've got a bustling city. Streets and stairs are carved into the great beast's bones. Its teeth have been turned into wizards' towers and multi-floor marketplaces. Rope and wood ladders criss-cross the city at various points. At its center is a massive harbor with all manner of trading vessels coming and going.

Now, I think this is freakin' cool. But, I don't really feel like establishing much more about Reaver's Reef. Its a bustling trade port out in the middle of a massive ocean. It's got all manner of seedy residents and transient ne'er-do-wells. That's really about it. I imagine there are all kinds of factions running around. From cults who worship the long-dead dragon-beast whose corpse serves as home, to pirate gangs, to mercenary companies, to some form of government. But, to be frank, I don't feel like fleshing the thing out.

So, I had the idea of intentionally leaving the details of the Reef as pretty much a blank slate. Make a map, but don't detail it. Instead, fill it out as the campaign unfolds. Base what's in Reaver's Reef on the actions of my players and their desires in the campaign.

Has anyone else tried this method of location "construction," and if so what were your results? I've never done it like this before and it makes me a little nervous, so I'm looking to the OSR community for their insight.

Thanks in advance, and watch your back. I hear the Fang Pirates have taken hold of the western docks and are press-ganging unwary fools into service...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Breaking of the Fellowship: When Fun becomes Stressful

So, I disbanded my local tabletop group today.

After writing that, I immediately though "What gives me the authority to do so?" But I can answer that pretty easily. In two years of regular, weekly games, and almost five years of periods where there was a regular game I was always the GM. Not only that, I was the logistic coordinator, the diplomat, and even the financier.

I ran every game. When I asked others to take up the mantle because I was burnt out (a few months ago), I was given the rebuff.

I coordinated where and when the game was run based on everyone's schedule, though another gamer was kind enough to always provide a location. I re-scheduled when things came up or life intervened. But "life" seemed to intervene too often - sometimes legitimately and sometimes under suspect circumstances and what felt like weak excuses.

I purchased books, dice, and materials for my players. Regularly. Hundreds of dollars over the past two years. My hope was this would motivate them to read the game books and learn the game - or perhaps even decide to run a game themselves. Nope. All it served as was a reference book they pulled out at the table during game time only. Purchases included copies of DCC, Star Wars (Fantasy Flight) core books, Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, Labyrinth Lord, often along with dice and even dice bags. I also purchased or made custom tokens for many games.

Yet, it only got more stressful. Certain games with mildly political elements (Shadowrun Anarchy) couldn't be run because there would inevitably be real world political arguments between players. People grew uncomfortable around one another talking about anything other than the game specifically. Then everyone involved would put me in the middle because they didn't want to confront the situation like adults. People even left the group over things like this, or over gamer ego rearing its head regularly at the table.

 In spite of playing campaigns over the long term I heard again and again "What do I roll again?" or "What's the rule for that?" - often while they held the very book containing that information in their hand that I had purchased for them.

Absences often came up at the last minute with little notice. I get that, to an extent, but sometimes it felt ridiculous. How long before you're allowed to call bullshit?

And yet, I kept trying.

I think I finally disbanded things because I felt like the others at the table didn't recognize the amount of effort it takes to organize, plan, learn, and run these things. Or worse, if they did, they didn't care. Maybe I take my hobby too seriously - but I feel like  I wasn't asking too much. It reached the people where the frustrations outweighed the enjoyment. But in my area, there are very few gamers so I kept sticking with it. Also, when shit did finally come together, it came together very, very well. All of the players, when everything else was set aside, are FANTASTIC roleplayers and genuinely enjoy gaming.

But, I guess sometimes that just isn't enough.

(Sorry if this sounds egocentric or bitchy, but I needed to vent.)

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.