Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To the Stars...

In a few days, White Star: White Box Science Fiction will be eight months old. When I first announced the game during last year's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, I didn't do it with a lot of pomp and circumstance because frankly I didn't think it was that big a deal. What began as a twenty-eight page supplement for Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox grew in the writing until it became a 132 page game built upon the foundations of WhiteBox. I didn't really expect that when I sat down and started writing.

All I knew was that I was excited for the then unknown film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I really wanted a "Spelljammer OSR" game, and that the Flash Gordon soundtrack by Queen was amazing. So, I started writing. Between Freddy Mercury's cries of "Flash! Aaaahhhh!" and the glam metal guitars from the soundtrack of 1986's Transformers: The Movie I just had fun. I thought, "What would be cool and how do I keep it simple?"

In the end, the White Star came in at just over 30,000 words in a first draft that had been written in four weeks. More than I had expected, but still a small game. I talked to a few friends, and showed them some early concepts. I remember conversations with +Adam Muszkiewicz+Pete Spahn+Wayne Humfleet, and +Erik Tenkar. I showed them the early cover I'd mocked up and talked basic concepts. I was keeping it low key, like my other White Box releases. To my surprise, all of them were really enthusiastic about this generic pulp sci-fi OSR game with a bad cover.

Original Cover Designs
Then I showed it to +Jason Paul McCartan. And he said to me "Dude, this game is so much better than that." He spent countless nights helping turn White Star from that simplistic, crude thing you see above into the beautiful book that has exceeded my wildest dreams. He was meticulous, precise and has an amazing eye for detail. Pushing me, Jason refused to let my book be anything other than the best it could possibly be on my limited budget. He became more than a creative partner over these weeks - he became a close friend. But Jason's a nefarious man. His work was so good, raised the bar so high, now I had to hire him for every future product in the White Star game line. By the time I discovered his vile plan, it was already too late.

White Star exploded like super nova. I woke up the morning after it's late night release to find it at #1 on RPGNow, where it sat for about 3 months straight. I couldn't believe when it went Silver in a day and Gold in less than a month. Seriously, this all is weird for me. It all piled on fast. 

White Star changed Barrel Rider Games. Suddenly, I got noticed. It's intimidating, to be honest. I just tried to go back to what I preferred doing: writing. I started work on the White Star Companion and a few other larger projects - some BRG and some freelance. I've tried to release a few smaller products between the White Star core book and forthcoming Companion - little $1 products to let folks know I hadn't forgotten or fallen out of love with the little game. I promise, there's a lot more to come for White Star - both from Barrel Rider Games, and from third party publishers I suspect.

So yesterday I released one of those $1 products: the Combat Medic class. I was shocked to see today that the little book shot up to #1 on Hottest Small Press lists on RPGNow and #2 Hottest Title. Now what left me flabbergasted was the fact that the White Star core rulebook followed in its wake, clocking in at #2 Hottest Small Press and #3 Hottest title. Add to this the fact that White Star has remained in the top 10 Hottest Titles since its release and the whole thing is personally mind boggling.

I never thought my little sci-fi love letter to OD&D and pulp sci-fi would be so successful. What are the odds, ya know? I'm not not sure why the game has succeeded the way it has, but I've just come to appreciate the affection shown for White Star and how the OSR community has, by and large, embraced the game. Every time a third party product gets released, I get downright giddy. It's just so damned cool that people want to play with the toys I made. 

I guess this long, rambling blog post is just to say that it's been a long, strange, wonderful journey so far and I suspect it's just getting started.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Final Winner of the OSR Christmas is...

Well, my run at OSR Christmas has come to an end, with but one last book to give away. I reached into my Crown Royal dice bag, pulled out a name written in red crayon on green construction paper and found out that +Zach Glazar has won a hardcover copy of the Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord!

Thanks to everyone who participated and added some fantastic comments to the original thread. I hope the winners enjoy their prizes and I hope that everyone has a fantastic holiday season!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sixth Winner of the OSR Christmas is...

We're in the home stretch folks. We've only got two more prizes to give away. But, our winner today is +Matt Hildebrand! Matt has won himself a softcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying! There's only one prize left to give away so be sure to comment on the original post for your chance to win the final prize - a hardcover copy of Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fifth OSR Christmas Winner +Forrest Aguirre! Forrest snagged a softcover copy of White Box Omnibus! I've reached out to Forrest and once contact information has been received, I'll send the order along! Our next winner for the OSR Christmas will be announced soon. Be sure to comment on the original post for your chance to win!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fourth Winner of OSR Christmas is...

... +Travis Dreher! Travis has won a hardcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying! Travis has already been contacted and his order will be made today. Our next winner for the OSR Christmas will be announced tomorrow. Be sure to comment on the original post for your chance to win!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Third Winner of the 12 Days of OSR Christmas... +Keith G Nelson! Keith has won himself a softcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying. I'll be reaching out to Keith via G+ to get his contact information shortly. Until then, you can be a winner by reading and commenting on the original post!

Stay tuned for the next winner! IT COULD BE YOU!!!!!!!!

Review: The B/X Rogue

Necrotic Gnome Productions has quietly produced quality products for almost a year now. The Complete Vivimancer is, in my opinion, their strongest product to date and showcases author +Gavin Norman's ability to take the simple rules of Labyrinth Lord and really run in an entirely new direction with them. He doesn't gussy it up with flashy art or layout - just good ol' fashioned OSR content.

I heard some of the buzz around The B/X Rogue and decided to plunk down the very reasonable cost of $1.50. After giving it a read I can say that this product really brings a lot of options to the traditional "Thief" class, while keeping things simple and easily integrated into any B/X clone out there. It seems to be written with Labyrinth Lord specifically in mind. But, there's no reason it can't work for other OSR games on the market.

The B/X Rogue does something unique with the traditional thief class. The product is correct in calling itself "The B/X Rogue" and not "The B/X Thief." Instead of providing several abilities that are locked in and increase at a specific rate, a character selects a number of special abilities called "Talents" at character creation to reflect their unique skill set. This can include the traditional picking locks and hiding in shadows or things like being able to make a skilled retreat from combat or even cast minor magic spells. As a character increases in level they can learn new Talents. It's a simple system that works very well and is easy to understand.

This creates a kind of a la carte character, but always with a roguish flavor. Want a more bardic character, or an assassin, or a swashbuckler? The B/X Rogue does it all. At a buck fifty, its well worth the cost of admission and has me chomping at the bit in hopes that Norman gives Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings similar treatments. I'd really recommend this to anyone out there who plays a lot of Basic/Expert, Rules Cyclopedia, or Labyrinth Lord.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Second Winner of 12 Days of OSR Christmas...

The second winner of 12 Days of OSR Christmas is.... +Matthew Skail! Matt won a hardcover copy of the White Box Omnibus. Which has been ordered from RPGNow and will soon be in his hot little hands. That still leaves plenty of holiday gifts for other OSR gamers! Be sure to read and comment on the original post for your chance to win a physical copy of White Star, White Box Omnibus or a Class Compendium!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

First Winner for 12 Days of OSR Christmas is...

Alright, after careful use of a randomizing programs as precise as can be found in a Crown Royal bag, the first winner is.... +Sal Clarino! Sal won a softcover copy of the White Box Omnibus which has already been ordered! We've still got plenty of goodies to give away - so be sure to read the original post to see how you can win! The next winner will be announced tomorrow evening!

It's OSR Christmas Time!

Alright my fellow gamers, the illustrious +Erik Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern let you know that OSR Christmas has started so here's your chance to win a few items from BRG's line of print products. Here's what's up for grabs:

Class Compendium (for use with Labyrinth Lord) (hardcover)
White Box Omnibus (for use with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox) (hardcover)
White Box Omnibus (two of them!, for use with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox) (softcover)
White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying (hardcover)
White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying (two of them!) (softcover)

But if you want to win, you're going to have to earn it this year! You can only win once and you can only win one product! Here's how ya win: Comment on this blog post with why hobbits or ewoks are the best races to ever grace the pages of fantasy literature and sci-fi film. It's not a contest, but I want to know that folks read the post and didn't just blindly comment. Those who follow these simple rules will be eligible to win.

It's a difficult choice, I know!
One winner will be selected later today (December 9th), with a new winner selected each day there after until seven winners have been chosen. Unfortunately, because I'm not exactly rolling in cash I am forced to limit winners to the United States.

Update: Winners So Far
+Sal Clarino:
Day 1 Winner - White Box Omnibus (Softcover)
+Matthew Skail: Day 2 Winner - White Box Omnibus (Hardcover)
+Keith G Nelson: Day 3 Winner - White Star (Softcover)
+Travis Dreher: Day 4 Winner - White Star (Hardcover)
+Forrest Aguirre: Day 5 Winner - White Box Omnibus (Softcover)
+Matt Hildebrand: Day 6 Winner - White Star (Softcover)

Monday, December 7, 2015

What Just Happened?: Shocked and Flabbergasted

So, last night I ran an impromptu game of Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. I made an open post on my G+ feed and got some responses. As game time rolled around I only had two players, +Jason Hobbs and +Tony Bravo. Given such a small group, I asked them if they wanted to proceed and they said "Yeah, let's do something." They very quickly came up with the idea of playing two PCs each and in five minutes we had a party of four characters. Again, one of the joys of White Box's fast and light approach.

So, they enter a local village and have a conversation at a local lumber yard with the foreman of the site. After about ten minutes, a third player arrives a little late. No big thing, life happens. The guy arrived with his character already man, which is awesome and appreciated. He was playing a Sidhe from my own White Box Demihumans. The Sidhe are basically Tolkienesque High Elves or True Fey type characters with some minor magic and an aura of grandeur. So I quickly retcon that this character was present during their encounter with the lumber jacks.


The foreman (a rustic village dweller) sees the Sidhe and says "Ahh, a fey!" and spits on the ground and makes a religious sign to protect himself. I felt this was apt for a rural, working class guy who can't even read and lives on the edge of woodlands which are said to be ruled by "savage elves."

So what does the Sidhe do?

"I kill him."

The lumberjack's face mirrors the other players at
the table.
I paused in utter shock at this guy's choice of actions. The other two players clearly tense as the situation quickly becomes awkward. The Sidhe player is interrupting folks, scrambling to roll initiative, and generally itching for pointless violence. He gets the initiative and attacks, missing the lumber jack. The lumberjack retaliates, also missing.

As this exchange goes down the other two players (and their four characters) back away saying "We're not with this guy." Six other lumberjacks (remember, this is in a lumber yard full of workers) come rushing over, while several more run off to tell the town guard.

The Sidhe continues his attack on the second round, missing again. The lumberjacks attack and deal a solid amount of damage. The Sidhe PC says, when his turn comes back around, "I fall over and play dead."

OK, sure. "Are your eyes open or closed as you're laying there playing dead?"

He pauses in thought, "Open."

"OK," I say. "You see the lumberjack moving forward to raise his axe to chop the head off the mad fey."

So, laying on the ground, surrounded by six lumberjacks armed with axes he says, "I attack."

He misses and lumberjacks all attack, reducing him to exactly zero hit points.

There's a long silence. Sidhe Player finally says, "So... zero is..."

I cut in, "...dead. The character is dead."

"OK. Bye!" And he drops call. Gone in a flash.

There was a long silence between the three of us who remained and I just went "OK guys, none of that happened."

We merrily went on our way and they began to explore the village and descend into the well.

The whole night I was just in this kind of numb shock. It reminded me of gaming with an angry ten year old. The player was overly aggressive, didn't pay attention to the details around him (and didn't care when informed of them) and clearly saw nothing wrong with defaulting to deadly violence at the first sign anyone showed anything other than polite subjugation to his character. It was just mind numbing.

I would occasionally mutter about it through the night, but as a DM my job is to keep the game moving forward and give my players an opportunity to have fun. Among the OSR crowd, I've met countless gamers - all who have been respectful of their fellow gamers and not disruptive or destructive to the flow of this game. I had almost forgotten that guys like this were out there. He wasn't someone I knew well - a casual G+ acquaintance with whom I'd had a conversation or two. I just didn't expect that. 

Oh well, lesson learned. In any case, we're looking to get together and continue playing next Sunday. I'll just have to be a little more selective than an "open invite" in the future, I suppose.

Wheaton's Law, kids. Wheaton's Law.

Friday, December 4, 2015

D&D 5e: Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide Review

So, I've been following Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition pretty closely. I've grabbed every book in the line so far and been pleased with all of them. Thus far, we've got the standard issue "Starter Box," and trinity of PHB/DMG/MM that we've all come to know and love. But instead of inundating us with splat-book after splat-book of added rules and power creep, Hasbro has taken a different direction with things.

Instead of that we got massive modules peppered with setting information each told as a storyline event. Tyranny of Dragons, Elemental Evil, and Rage of Demons. Hasbro was smart about each of these storyline events. Instead of it simply being a "super module," they turned it into a multi-platform event. Elemental Evil (based loosely on the classic T-Series of modules) included an MMO expansion and a board game - neither of which required any experience with the table top RPG. Rage of Demons included a super adventure and a new video game. Basically, Hasbro decided D&D is more than just a table top RPG - it's an entire brand. They've started to treat it that way, which is good for everyone.

This ensure's the longevity of the table top RPG by allowing them to generate previously untapped revenue by marketing to a broader audience in new ways. It also slows down the supplement train so I'm not chasing the next splat book and draining my wallet every month. The core books for D&D have been out for fifteen months and we've seen five supplement books (Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, and most recently Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide). That's an average of one book every three months. Good for you, Hasbro! Way to learn a lot from the train wreck that was D&D 4e!

Now, that being said, I was a bit worried Hasbro had gone in the complete opposite direction from the previous editions and completely disavowed supplemental mechanics in their material. Extra feats, backgrounds, magic items, etc, were all going to be
left to the DM. After all, 4 large scale adventures in a row is quite a bit and really says a lot, if you ask me.

Then in walks Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Now, let me begin by saying I'm not a huge Realms fan. I don't hate it, but it doesn't thrill me either. It's a bit too high fantasy, too bloated with powerhouse NPCs, and just... well... over done. So, when this supplement was announced I was not terribly thrilled. But then I saw the page count: 160 pages.

Story time
I was expecting some bloated gazetteer and what I got was something that reminded me of the classic World of Greyhawk supplement. Broadly painted, loosely defined, and with a great map. The first hundred pages give an overview of the Sword Coast and the surrounding regions. I like that they stuck to this area in particular, as almost every FR game I ever played in ended up or spent the majority of its sessions in the region. So, it only made sense for them to do this instead of some massive "Tour of the Realms." These descriptions are painted in broad strokes with story hooks peppered through out. The book is clearly directed at the player, from the title on down - but any DM worth their salt will find a plethora of useful info in these pages.

The final thirty pages are dedicated to new character options. New class paths, new backgrounds, new subrace options - exactly the kind of stuff you'd expect. But it's clear this isn't the book's focus. The setting and in particular the setting as a malleable thing to be used as the DM sees fit to suit their campaign. The book seems more concerned with making the Realms your own, as a player and DM, than adhering to a bloated canon that's meandered through four previous editions.

This little guy is awesome.
For 160 pages, the book is a bit pricey at an MSRP of $39.95, but bargain hunters and online shoppers shouldn't have a problem finding a more reasonable price. Even at forty bucks, the content in here is pretty solid stuff. Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide made me want to play in a Forgotten Realms game, and that's something that hasn't happened in a long time.
shoppers shouldn't have a problem. I'd really recommend this book - even if you're not planning on running a Forgotten Realms campaign it's got an appendix in the back for adapting the new rules info to Dragonlance and Greyhawk. It's cursory, to be sure - but still a nice touch. All in all, if this is the direction that Hasbro plans on taking their non-adventure supplements, I'm totally on board.

"C'mon guys, it's Undermountain.
What could possibly go wrong?"
Addendum: There is a generally negative reaction to this supplement and I feel it's a bit unfair. It was billed as a kind of "Player's Guide to the Sword Coast" and that's exactly what it is. It provides a lot of meaty information to players adventuring in Faerun and the Sword Coast. But that doesn't obligate it to be full of fiddly bits and optional rules. About 20% of the book is exactly that, fiddly bits and options - while the rest is culture, history, background and source material. I find this to be perfectly in line with the product line of D&D 5e - they're not flooding the market with rules and options  and instead providing a bit here and there and leaving the rest in the hands of individual players - and I'm proud of them for having faith in the buyers to do it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To Weep for Joy at the Return of Summer

I've spoken often of West End Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game was my entrance into the world of roleplaying games. I have a deep and fierce affection for that game. It set me on the path I now walk today. It awakened me to the world of dice and paper, friends and dreams. I will be forever grateful to West End Games for this gift. But, I want to speak of another game as dear and important as my beloved Star Wars. It was not the game of my childhood, but the game of my adulthood: White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming.

In 1995 Changeling: The Dreaming was released in what appeared to be the final book in the World of Darkness line. It was a huge departure from the other games in the line. It featured full color fae torn from myth and legend, living in disguised skins among mere mortals. The danced to silence music and dueled with unseen swords. They dared to look into the darkness and scream for hope and love and life in a world of despair. Nevermind that their memories would fade. Nevermind that iron would steal their souls. Nevermind that their own mortal meins would one day reduce them to husks of their former selves. Today - Today! - there is hope.

This transformed me as deeply as any fae Chrysalis. It walked beside me as a boy transformed into a man. Changeling: The Dreaming was beside me when I abandoned all I knew to chase romance half a country away. Changeling: The Dreaming was with me when I swore an oath to defend my country. Changeling: The Dreaming was with me when I walked through the door and fell in love at first sight. Changeling: The Dreaming taught me that even when when there is no reason to believe, no reason to have faith, no reason to go on that dreams remain. As long as dreams remain, there is hope.

And that most simple of defiances - that hope - is more powerful than anything the world can throw at me. It has sustained me for as long as I can remember. Through failures both minor and cataclysmic. Through thoughts of suicide. Through months of homelessness. Through every struggle I've ever faced in my life. I dared to dream then and I dare to dream now, tomorrow and forever. That is what Changeling: The Dreaming means to me.

Changeling: The Dreaming will live on in my life forever. And summer shall return again to gaming tables with Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Edition. Won't you join me in the Dreaming once more?