Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dragons & Chess

In the eighties I remember being particularily attracted to the chess themed covers by artist Dennis Beauvais for Dragon magazine. I remember starring at these for hours while I was a kid and letting my imagination run wild.

Clockwise from top left: Artwork for Dragon Magazine 83, 118, 89, 86

Recently a new cover was commissioned for Gygax magazine and it looks like it was pulled out of the vault as it fits in so well with the previous work. Actually it's technically and compositionally superior but still very evocative of the earlier works. 

Queen Captures Queen

A few evenings ago I discovered a video of a commercial that reminded me of the Beauvais works.
Created in 1991 for the U.S. Marine Corps by ad agency JTW, I can't help but wonder if it was influenced by Dragon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Blue Dungeon Tiles

Anyone reading this blog might have noticed that some old school looking grid maps were at my table during JimCon 4. These of coarse were the Blue Dungeon Tiles from Red Kobold Games that I received shortly before the convention. They are a recent Kickstarter project that I was drawn to due to their apparent versatility, old school look and generic appearance.

Start setup for Dungeon Crawl Classics

I didn't get as much use as I had hoped at the convention due to a low turnout at the table where I was going to use them the most. I did get to use them to great effect in another game that for the most part was designed to work in the theatre of the imagination. That of coarse was "The Future King". As the adventure progressed I found it got more complex. I started using one of the tiles to keep track of initiative and survival points (HP). Then a complicated melee at a ford with a river monster had my players wanting to visualize where everyone was. We didn't even use miniatures, we just marked where everyone was with a dry erase marker and made adjustments when needed. It worked out great.

Used tactically for a complicated river melee and to track combat.

I found the tiles quite versatile. You can make up small areas on the fly which is very convenient and if you're taking them to a convention you can pre-plan on what specific tiles you need and just bring those ones. They work with dry erase, non-permanent (some people call these wet erase) and permanent markers (you need to draw over with dry erase markers if you use these). In my set up for my DCC game I found I was drawing a lot of lines on the joint between the tiles. Don't do what I did which was to try to speed up my cleanup and use a dry erase cleaning fluid on the tiles to remove my permanent process blue marker. The fluid ran over the laminate on the edge and wicked into the paper  stock of the tile leaving a small blue stain. Stick with using a dry erase marker for removal of permanent markings as its less messy. 

The tiles arrive.

One drawback I found with the tiles was that all the pre-designed features are practically useless for replicating RPG maps in adventures (at least the ones I seem to own and other old school designs). That's because the walls are drawn in as a filled in grid width and walls just aren't drawn in that thick in most older adventure designs and in quite a few new ones as well. They are great for creating structures on the fly (like shops, towers, forts etc.) or for designing buildings and dungeons for custom scenarios. That being said the backs of most of theses tiles are just a grid with no features so you can easily draw in what you need yourself making the tiles themselves far from useless. 

a lot of tiles!

In terms of tiling these on the game table I found that they work best if you can assemble portions ahead of time with blue painters tape. You can use the tape to create custom map features on the top or place it on the bottom to simply keep tiles together. As with most tiling systems keeping the tiles from moving apart can be a bother, but all the tiles are square, uniform and flat which makes things as easy as you can get without having some sort of interlocking system like Tact-Tiles.

A treasure in tiles

Overall I'd say Blue Dungeon Tiles are a 4 out of 5. I really like them and will likely be using them at the table for years to come. I'm also planning on using them to assist in the design of some of my forthcoming custom dungeons for 5e. I can see these being super useful if you were to utilize Appendix A: Random Dungeons from the 5e DMG.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

JimCon 4

JimCon 4

For some reason I'm posting again about events that happened weeks in the past. I could just let them be events in the past but this is another one that I would like to talk about here.

Once again JimCon lived up to its promise of being "Winnipeg's Table Top Games Convention". Held again at the Bronx Park Community Centre which is for the most part a great place to play with plenty of room and is a fairly new building. Here are my personal highlights of JimCon4.

Friday November 14
This turned out to be more of a low than a highpoint, but such is the way of volunteering to run games at cons. I was running the level 1 DCC RPG adventure "Rat King's Maze of Death" from the back of the 'Chained Coffin" module. Adventure prepped: check, weird dice: check, maps and minis: check, players: nope. Looks like no one signed up to play any DCC this year though its been relatively popular in the past and I've run it at the previous year's JimCon and the last two KeyCons. Turns out that there was interest after all as I found out later but players were too enticed by 5e D&D or were involved with Pathfinder. So maybe not enough interest? Perhaps Friday isn't the best time? I'm thinking of running some DCC next year but only if I notice some genuine interest over the coming year. In any case I eventually ended up playing Star Wars Age of Rebellion and generally socializing.

Weird Dice: check, Players: nope.
Saturday November 15
So I slept in and missed playing the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game Tournament. But alls well that ends well because I got to finally run something I've been wanting to play for some time. Tom Moldvay's "The Future King". The following was my write up for the adventure.

From the author of the 1981 D&D Basic Rulebook and adventures such as “Isle of Dread”, “Castle Amber” and “The Lost City” comes Tom Moldvay's 1985 RPG adventure “The Future King” Play one of six historical heroes: Doc Holiday, Nostradamus, Bruce Lee, Harald Hardraada, Owen Glendower, and Cyrano de Bergerac who have been gathered together out of the mists of time. Their mission is to find and wake King Arthur, for it is time that he again don the mantle of kingship. All the rules to play are included in the adventure itself. Rules light and simple to learn and play.

It took about 5 hours to play but it was one of the craziest adventures I'd ever seen. Somewhat more of a railroad in format than I am used to but still full of wonder the players and myself enjoyed. Two Players ran all six characters to great effect. Many surprises and an ending that satisfied beyond expectation. Clearly Moldvay is a master of the craft.

Nostradamus and Bruce Lee quest to resurrect King Arthur

Sunday November 16
Another short day (Friday is in the evening only and Sunday in the morning and afternoon) and this one was spent playing Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space. We played the recently released "Cat's Eye" scenario about an alien hive mind that takes over a group of feral cats that are sharing an abandoned building with a community of squatters.  I recruited a couple of guys that were planning on playing Dungeon World,  that appeared interested in playing Doctor Who. One played Amy Pond and the other was Craig Owens, the Eleventh Doctor's Roommate. Everyone seemed rather excited see how a game without the Doctor would turn out – it was brilliant. After the main investigation and initial conflict another person was interested in giving the game a try and they jumped in as the Doctor just in time for the climax. It was a really good ending and the surprise appearance by the Doctor really helped add the finishing touch. This game is always a crowd pleaser when I run it and I always have players that have never played it before so I'm actually surprised I haven't seen it being played in public anywhere. This game also made me observant of the fact that its fun to be able to sit down at a table of strangers, play a game and get up from a table of friends.

Overall a great time once again at JimCon. In fact this year there were more interesting games to play than I could fit in to the three days. Next year I'm sure will be just as good.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

D&D 5e Addresses Pathfinder's Strange "Core Assumption"

The following is a previously unpublished commentary from several years ago on aspects of game design and the design principles inherited by the designers that carry on with the 3e tradition.

A reinforcement of individualism rather than group play based on the false idea that players have to have the same advantages built into their characters as other (opposing?) players in a game with no winners or losers. Why build fairness into a game where fairness has no advantage?

Instead this creates a disadvantage requiring a way to customize the character in order for them to not be essentially similar to one another. The current myth is that the traditional class system of older editions with its advantages (strengths) and disadvantages (weaknesses) between classes creates cookie cutter characters. I hold to the idea that in some way your character is how you play it - thus a roleplaying game – not a stat driven character game. In truth this balancing approach leads to the need for specific customization and larger than life heroics to differentiate one class from one another.

Superpowers (AKA Feats) and Imagination Discouragement.

3e and its descendants like Pathfinder assume balance and discourages the creation of magical items and spells that replicate the abilities of other classes. At the same time the feats grant those same abilities to the other classes.

Here the DM is discouraged from creating "unbalanced items" and pruning his imagination in order to preserve balance and the status of the games super powers

Seriously there is no reason why you wouldn't be able to wear ten magical rings, WTF.

In the Post TSR era the fantasy roleplaying game has become a game that uses the rules to make it a players game and bully the DM into creating his campaign to conform to the rules rather than the dictates of the imagination.


How things have changed in the world of RPGs since then. It's great to see that the creative team behind the new D&D has shifted the balance of power back into the GMs court. There is no need for bizarre game mechanic based magic item limits because you can't simply go purchase magic, you need to find it/earn it. Character customization is achieved through a choice of class and background. Class features are prominent again because skills are limited to proficiency that ranges from +2 to +6 (in addition to bonuses provided by class features) and feats are optional, limited and designed to represent expert training over time and not manifest as an almost superhuman ability beyond the abilities of the most highly trained human being. Once again level 1 characters are not heroes, they're adventurers and their status as a hero can and should be determined by their adventures and how successful and heroic they perform. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gameplay Update - Ghostbusters Halloween 2014

So I promised that I would write about this session so here it is.

Currently I am playing in a group that meets every Wednesday evening at out FLGS. At the time we were playing Star Wars Edge of the Empire. Because Halloween was coming up and I had been thinking about doing this for years now I suggested that we take the Wednesday closest to the 31st (that being the 27th) to play a one shot of the WEG/Chaosium Ghostbusters RPG. Everyone agreed so I got the process started. I had about a month.

Didn't get a chance to read it

I wanted to make it present day and I wanted to make it local (Winnipeg, Manitoba).
Step one involved printing out a PDF of more contemporary equipment cards that I had downloaded some years earlier. Next I had to come up with a plot and I wanted it to somehow involve local hauntings. That wasn't too hard to research as there are plenty documented. There is a tour that someone organizes that I had wanted to go on previously to research this but I just couldn't make the time. A new book on the subject come out the day before the game day unfortunately allowing me little time to utilize that. What I ended up with was a combination of historic sites and local themes that I rolled into a mass haunting event based in the tone of two Ghostbusters movies. Watching these on Netflix made up my final step before getting down to the writing.

The plot centered around a once in a millennium event that sees the nature spirit Manitou manifest at the convergence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice (Halloween). This time however something is different. The construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building (constructed 1913-1920) about 1200m from where the two rivers meet has drawn Manitou to the occult energies contained in the structure. Manitou is unable to completely materialize, instead the energies of the spirit start to enhance the haunted locals of the area.

Hotel Fort Garry

The Ghostbusters Winnipeg franchise have been called to the Hotel Fort Garry to conduct an inspection for the hotel on behalf of a wealthy Philanthropist - Mrs. Mueller-Spears who wants to make sure her departed husband's ghost won't be appearing. Mueller-Spears has just ridden herself of his haunting spirit a few months ago. His ghost would appear in their home stinking of liquor and rambling on about the annual Halloween fundraising event he would put on every year (his favourite social outing). This is the first time Mrs. Mueller-Spears will be putting on the event without Mr. Spears and  she want's to make sure it goes off without a hitch. 

The Hotel manager Winston MacKenzie is loath to call in the Ghostbusters after he hired them several years ago to remove the ghost in Room 202. The destruction and chaos they caused has left a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to Ghostbusting.

The players selected one of several pre-gens to play, gave them names and selected equipment.  The Hotel, located between where the rivers meet and the Legislative building is currently awash in ectopresence because it is Halloween and Manitou is manifesting tonight.

The player characters, Cherry, Danny, Manny, Cory and Craig start investigating the hotel when they run across the ghost of Mr. Spears and a group of his ghostly buddies who are basically obnoxious drinking and smoking business men. Playing music in the room causes a number of ghostly strippers to appear. Cherry eventually conga lines them into a ghost trap. During the attempt the group manages to explode a proton pack and destroy one of the hotel's ballrooms. Phone calls come in from Edwina Richardson, their secretary regarding reports of paranormal occurrences close to where they are. One is of a spectral horseman and several nineteenth century footmen across the river in St.Boniface and another is of the 5.25 meter tall Golden Boy statue from on top of the Legislative Building coming to life and heading down Broadway toward the hotel. Meanwhile a portal opens up behind the false fireplace in the Hotel's "Gateway Room" where Mr. Spears's Ghost and his buddies emerged. Likely a magical circle hidden in the room from some past occult gathering, the portal is now a rip in spacetime created by the stress of the paranatural displacement caused by the Legislative Building's lightning rod effect on the materialization of Manitou.

Golden Boy (Eternal Youth)

Cherry then has to deal with the lounge waitress Kerri Romanchuck who is an ex-girlfriend. The rest have to deal with the hotel manager and the newly arrived Mercedes Kuntz from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Needless to say they don't want anyone else to see the portal or the destruction the've already caused. 

The game concluded with discovering a possible way to close the portal and send back Manitou for another thousand years. Conversing with Paranormal Presenter and hotel guest Doctor Glau along with Mrs. Meuller-Spears, they find out that the silver dream catcher she used to get rid of her husbands ghost at home is just the thing needed to banish Manitou into the portal and close it. The problem is that the Golden Boy is just outside the Hotel crushing  things and the Horsemen and his footmen - now identified as the ghosts of Lois Riel and a number of Red River Rebels -  have taken over the site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the site where Mrs. Mueller-Spear's dreamcatcher resides after being donated.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

With a little luck and the assistance of their Eco-Van and Overly Eager Policeman Donald MacConnel, some of the Ghostbusters are able to keep the Golden Boy from advancing any further while the others break past Louis Riel and grab the silver dreamcatcher. 
Firing a proton blast throught the dreamcatcher at the Golden Boy, they are able to trap Manitou's spirit from inside and send it into the portal, closing it. 

There were a lot of laughs at both successes and failures during the game and everyone had a good time playing. I'd like to do something similar next year.

During my research for this I discovered Ghostbusters Resurrection, a podcast of a group playing this game. They also have a page of resources if you want to get into this amazing (out of print) RPG yourself.

Get these while you can.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gameplay Update - Cosmic Patrol, Valiant Universe, Shadowrun, Star Wars and Numenera

The previous few months have seen continued play of Castles & Crusades, Dungeon World, Dungeon Crawl Classics and even some Pathfinder. C&C is utilizing the Tainted Lands box set, Dungeon World concluded a story arc based on "Keep on the Borderlands" and explored a new campaign concept in some side sessions. I was able to run various DCC modules and am participating in the Reign of Winter adventure path for Pathfinder.

This post is however not about these games but the selection of new games I've had the opportunity to play with a weekly gaming group at my FLGS.

I had a chance to play Cosmic Patrol (Catalyst Game Labs) after our FATE super-hero game concluded. It was a one shot evening before we transitioned into the new Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight. 

Martian Amazons Included

Cosmic Patrol was amazing. Its super loose on the details and does a great job of pushing the story forward. It's a little zany but that's a bonus for a game based on classic science-fiction. It's essentially a GMless system with the story being adjucated and pushed forward by a player that takes on the role of Lead Narrator, a designation that rotates amongst the players as the scenes of the game change. It's very seat of your pants and perfect for those that like open ended play styles and have a strong imagination. Having been exposed to books, films and television in the related genre goes a long way here but isn't a necessity.

I'm not even familiar with these characters but it was a blast.

During Free RPG day I had the opportunity to play Catalyst Game Labs "Valiant Universe" quick start game based on the super-hero characters published by Valiant Comics. It utilizes the same rules system as Cosmic Patrol. I ran this game too as a one shot at our weekly game when the regular GM was absent but maintained the role of lead narrator for ease of play and to facilitate moving the story forward as easily, smoothly and quickly as possible. Also a very fun experience. Many of these open ended style games are very rewarding for me as both a player and a GM because they never fail to surprise and entertain. Also at Free RPG Day I got a chance to play Shadowrun. Its not a game I've taken any interest in previously but it was fun to play.


Fantasy Flight's Star Wars Edge of the Empire had some good moments but I found it a little difficult to immerse myself in the game. I'm not a super big fan of their proprietary dice system although it works pretty well at providing an interpretive environment that can generate some satisfying cinematic results. I just think that overall the game might be a little too complicated for my tastes. I'm not sure exactly what it was but I just didn't find this game to be very fun. That combined with the fact that the rest of the books in this role playing series (Age of Rebellion, Force of Destiny) add very few new rules but are very pricey (59.95 cover price in US dollars and up to 67.54 Canadian at my focus will likely turn to other gaming systems.

Think Thundarr at the End of Time by Monte Cook

Right now we are playing Numenera my Monty Cook Games. I'm quite impressed with this game, especially considering Mr. Cook's past endeavours fall among what I consider some of the poorest examples of RPG design. This is a true RPG that facilitates great characters, has an intriguing setting and is full of mystery and wonder. Its a science-fantasy adventure that appeals to modern concepts of sci-fi and takes influence from some really impressive sources. I played this last year at JimCon but have an even better appreciation for it since I've had time to go over the rules and read a little more about the setting. This is a game I could devote more time to despite the fact that it's books are at a similar price point as the Star Wars materials I discussed earlier. Interesting new materials and value for investment is a good motivator. I'm even interested in taking a look at Cook's new game 'The Strange" based on the same rules system.

How do I convert this to Lords of Creation?

My next post will be about the "Halloween Special" game session I had with this FLGS group. It deserves a post all to itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The RPG Rule Book — A Modern Illuminated Manuscript

A recent post from Chaosium regarding its Call of Chuthulu 7 Kickstarter got me thinking about what other books containing such a depth of both copy text and details existed in this world. The only thing that came to mind was perhaps medieval illuminated manuscripts of the Bible. 

Chaosiums graphic designer Badger relayed an interesting account of his process in laying out the rule book for CoC 7.

He talks about researching other modern rulebooks to learn about what is and what is not working with their design.
A quick bit of research regarding contemporary illuminated manuscripts resulted in finding the Saint John's Bible project.

The blog I was reading that lead me to the Saint John's Bible asks "what other works do we consider to be worth this sort of treatment?"

I had to ask myself, if RPG rule books seek to emulate this style of design; what one set of RPG rules would I consider important enough to be transformed into a one of a kind art object as was done with the Saint John's Bible commission?

In a previous post I talked about how the orignal LBBs reminded me of indie publishing like punk zines from the 80s. How do we go from zines to illuminated manuscripts? Full colour rule books basically start with the WotC d20 Fantasy rules they marketed as D&D Third Edition. That however was not the beginning. 

During the mid to late eighties TSR moved toward a graphic design decision of emulation. One only has to look at elements and products from games such as Top Secret, Conan and Adventures of Indiana Jones to see some examples. This trend I believe started with the Greyhawk Boxed Set and pretty much ended with the full colour pages of the Forgotten Realms Boxed Set, the latter of which I would guess was used as inspiration by the Magic The Gathering pool of artists and designers as a reference when designing d20 Fantasy. 

1983 Greyhawk Box Set
1983 Greyhawk Box Set (Interior)
1983 Top Secret Operation Orient Express (Interior)
1985 World of Hyboria (Conan RPG)
1987 Forgotten Realms Box Set (Interior) note the parchment emulation here foreshadowing  3e

Between these two ideas (conceptually though not chronologically) RPG rules books including D&D Second Edition (TSR) and Star Wars (West End Games) seem to have been influenced by the clean and attractive design of the James Bond 007 RPG by Victory Games that incorporated a blue highlight colour. This was pretty much the end of the completely black and white era.

1983 James Bond 007 RPG (Interior)

1987 Star Wars Sourcebook (Interior)

1989 AD&D (2e) Players Handbook (Interior)

As for what rules set I'd personally want to see made up as an illuminated manuscript, that hard to say. I'd hope it to be many things. Iconic such as AD&D, Elegant as is Tom Moldvay's Basic, Genre Neutral like Basic Roleplaying or FATE. Perhaps if someone actually created an amazing universal RPG system that would be the one (nice try Amazing Engine, but not quite).