Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fighting On

I'm happy to announce that issue #5 of Fight On! (the fanzine of the old school renaissance) is available now from Lulu. Along with a bunch of other cool stuff, this issue contains the "Dungeon Motivations" random table Bret Woods and I put together a while back, greatly expanded from Jeff Rients' original.

This is the second gaming product I've managed to get my name on. (The first was the errata document for the new version of Dragon Warriors.) I hope people are able to get some use out of my goofy little contribution.

Maybe I'll use this as an excuse to reorder that copy of Barbarians of Lemuria that I had shipped to the wrong address...

I feel pretty good about this. Movin' on up!

Thief Of Names

I recently found that I have a nasty tendency to steal names without even realizing it. When I first started working on my eternal back-burner setting project, the Freed Lands, I unknowingly stole the name of one of the major civilizations from RuneQuest's Glorantha, gave my lizard men a name swiped from Etruscan mythology, and named another culture after a city in Cyprus. Even though I doubt anybody would have really cared, I felt like I had to go back and change them, and I still catch myself thinking about them under their original (stolen) names.

As I continue to read A Distant Mirror, I'm struck by how awesome the names of some of the cities of medieval France and Switzerland were. If I wasn't being careful not to pilfer real-world names, I'm sure Thann, Olten, and Solothurn would pop up somewhere.

These days, I've resorted to cribbing stuff from the random word verification system used right here on Blogger... and have gotten some pretty awesome names, I might add.

(And since I don't have any relevant images, please enjoy this nice Angus McBride orc attack I had saved on my hard drive for some reason.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review: Ultimate Toolbox

I am a big fan of random rolling. Don't get me wrong: I like making stuff up whole-cloth as much as the next guy, but if there's one thing that I've learned over my years of gaming, it's that rolling randomly often gives me fun results that I never would have come up with on my own.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I jumped on AEG's new supplement, Ultimate Toolbox, as soon as I learned it was available. The back cover blurb describes it as "400 pages of the best charts, tables, and seeds of gaming adventure." It's a massive expansion of their well-received Toolbox sourcebook, released for the d20 system several years back. Ultimate Toolbox cleans that product up, removes the d20 gaming statistics, and adds a whole lot more random tables.

As can probably be gleaned from the book's cover, which appears to depict a cleric of the new default D&D death goddess, the Raven Queen, Ultimate Toolbox is still aimed at those running and playing D&D-style fantasy. The book organizes its charts into seven chapters: Character, World, Civilization, Maritime, Dungeon, Magic, and Plot. Each chapter contains around one to two hundred d20 charts that can be used to generate a bewildering variety of useful information that one might need to produce on the fly (or any time inspiration is needed). Here are some sample tables that I've randomly flipped to:
  • Druidic Orders (Character chapter)
  • National Calamities, Magical (World chapter)
  • Power Behind the Throne (Civilization chapter)
  • Ship Names (Maritime chapter)
  • Potion Tastes 2 (Dungeon chapter)
  • Command Words, Healing (Magic chapter)
  • Gossip About a Group/Guild (Plot chapter)

Naturally, the real question here is "how good is the stuff you can roll up?" Well, they're generally pretty good. Results can be dull ("Ranger" under Ranger Titles), anachronistic ("Bring it on!" under Battle Cries 1), ornate ("Scarlands of the Bladed Earth" under Desert Names), or inspired ("Pretty wife of an ugly man said to be magically animated statue" under Local Legends 1). There is a lot of material here I would probably never use, but I think the point of this book is to help you out when something you thought would never come up in your game suddenly does. I found that the World and Plot chapters, especially, would be useful if one needs to whip up an adventure background when their player characters elect to wander off the map.

As far as drawbacks, there are a few. Ultimate Toolbox is a project that likely exhausted its authors, and while most of the results you can roll up are pretty interesting, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes you can roll up a dud. This is probably inevitable when you have three people creating over 700 charts, but it should be mentioned. Also, as in many RPG products, I noticed quite a few typos that easily would have been caught with even a simple spell check - "steppe" is consistently misspelled as "steepe", for example. If you're a person who likes a book packed with glossy artwork, look elsewhere - there are a few pen and ink illustrations here and there, but nothing that will knock your socks off. Finally, the book is pricey - $49.95 for a black-and-white softcover.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I picked up Ultimate Toolbox. It isn't perfect, but it does deliver what it promises: piles and piles of random tables. If you're the type of gamer that enjoys such things, as I am, it's a purchase worth considering.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gutting The Rules Cyclopedia

I have previously mentioned my love of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia here on Dungeonskull Mountain. I did recently acquire the much-admired Moldvay/Cook D&D sets from the early 80s, and they do have a lot of charm, but the RC remains my favorite incarnation of "basic" D&D, mostly because it's got literally everything you need (and then some) in one place. It collects pretty much all of the info from the Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal series (except, sadly, the art and layout, which is a step down from both Moldvay/Cook and BECMI).

Still, it's far from perfect. There are tons of things there that don't make much sense to me. I imagine Aaron Allston, the person who compiled the RC, might have been tempted to fix some of the problems, but that wasn't his job. Many people houserule old-style D&D pretty heavily, usually supplementing it with stuff from AD&D. I'm no different: there are a lot of things that I would tweak, rearrange, and dump entirely. Off the top of my head, here are some changes I'd make:
  • As written, neutral fighters can become knights at 9th level. You get nothing for being a knight, other than having to do what your king tells you. Compare that to what lawful and chaotic fighters get, and the knight quickly looks pretty lame. If paladins and avengers get neat tricks, knights should get them too. Maybe look at AD&D's cavalier for ideas?
  • Dump the cleric and the magic-user as written. Put all their spells into a pile, then divide them into "white" and "black" magic. Write two new classes - let's call them "magician" and "sorcerer" for now - based around those revised spell lists. Make sure neither of them are armored holy fighting guys... that's what the paladin does.
  • Rework thief skills somehow.
  • Either let the demihumans reach the same level as humans using the optional rules in the appendix, or drop them entirely. None of this half-assed "enforce a human-centric world by dicking over non-human player characters" garbage.
  • Give elf characters access to the druid's spell list, instead of the magic-user's.
  • Either drop the druid, or make it a class you can enter at first level.
  • Drop the mystic class. It's mechanically borked and doesn't really have the right feel anyway.
  • Write up a ranger-type class - probably one without spellcasting abilities.
  • Tone down weapon mastery a little, but KEEP IT. Maybe make it exclusive to fighters, or make it so knights get more masteries?
  • Keep skills, but make the skill list about 75% shorter.
  • Define alignments as sworn allegiances to the otherworldly powers of law or chaos. The vast majority of humans are neutral. Change the alignments of a lot of the monsters accordingly.

And that's just for starters! Judging from what I read of other people's "basic" D&D campaigns, I imagine the choices I'd make aren't the ones many would go with, but that's the beauty of houseruling.

(On an unrelated note, I got my DragonRaid boxed set yesterday. I haven't read any of its contents yet, but I can say that it is BIG.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Revenge Of The Boxed Set

That staple of the 80s and early 90s RPGs, the boxed set, may be making a comeback.

Back in what some like to call "the day", a lot of the RPGs on the market came in boxes. You'd usually get a couple of pamphlets of rules, maybe a map or a cardstock character sheet, possibly some dice, and some ads for whatever company published the game. It was pretty awesome.

Boxed sets were shrinkwrapped. I think I bought a lot of boxed sets specifically because I couldn't see what was inside them. I flipped through plenty of rulebooks for perfectly good games as a youngster, but didn't get them because they looked boring. (I passed over getting the "deluxe" RuneQuest book multiple times for this very reason.) With a boxed set, I was never sure what I was getting into. That element of not knowing was maddening, and I often ended up buying something just for that reason. Sometimes they led to hours of play (TSR's Marvel Super Heroes, for example), and other times they led nowhere, but to this day, I still pick up old boxed sets just on the principle that they look cool.

Anyway, for whatever reason - most RPG companies cite manufacturing costs - boxed sets have more or less fallen by the wayside. I think that's a shame, as there was something about them that made first-timers want to try them out. A couple of smaller publishers, like Troll Lord or Fiery Dragon, still do them from time to time, but the "big" guys almost never did... until recently.

Wizards of the Coast have a boxed module called Revenge of the Giants due later this year, which is a change from their previous policy of only using the boxed set format for their sorta half-assed D&D Basic Sets. White Wolf recently published Dreams of the First Age, a big boxed expansion for Exalted (though apparently it didn't do as well as they'd hoped). Green Ronin's recently announced Dragon Age: Origins tabletop game is going to be a boxed set aimed at new gamers and distributed in book and video game stores. Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG is going for the same demographic and distribution pattern.

It obviously remains to be seen if any of these boxed sets will be met with any enthusiasm or success, but one can hope, right?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Work Of Demons

The book I'm currently reading, A Distant Mirror, is proving to be endlessly inspiring, especially for quasi-medieval games like Dragon Warriors. The following passage from Tuchman's book is a near-perfect summary of the mindset that I believe the setting of Legend seeks to evoke:

"People lived close to the inexplicable. The flickering lights of marsh gas could only be fairies or goblins; fireflies were the souls of unbaptized dead infants. In the terrible trembling and fissures of an earthquake or the setting afire of a tree by lightning, the supernatural was close at hand. Storms were omens, death by heart attack or other seizures could the work of demons. Magic was present in the world: demons, fairies, sorcerers, ghosts, and ghouls touched and manipulated human lives; heathen superstitions and rituals abided among the country folk, beneath and even alongside the priest and sacraments. The influence of the planets could explain anything otherwise unaccounted for."

Of course, in Legend, the flickering lights really are the work of goblins, the seizures are the work of demonic forces, and the fissures in the earth lead to underworlds dreamlike and nightmarish.

Must... run... game... now...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sealed In The City

Sorry for the lean posts lately. I'm engrossed in reading A Distant Mirror, and it's a dense read that leaves little time for reading RPG books. It is, however, an excellent examination of the medieval world - in all its glory and nastiness - that is greatly intensifying my itch to run Dragon Warriors.

But hey, I've been picking up some pretty decent fantasy place names from lyrics lately. Thanks to my iPod, I've got:

  • The Tower of Pride
  • The Tower of Strength
  • The Temple of Lies
  • The Corridors of Desire
  • The City of Nine Gates
  • The Chasm Gaping

These all seem like they would fit on the Divine Right map pretty easily. Best of all, none of these come from the metal genre (that would be too easy) or songs having anything to do with fantasy themes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I was wondering where my copy of Barbarians of Lemuria ended up, so I checked Lulu's website out of curiosity. Lulu had my old shipping address stored, and I didn't notice. It was sent to the wrong house.

With the way USPS operates in my area, it's unlikely it will ever make its way back to me. So, that's... what, about $25 (including shipping) down the drain?


Monday, May 4, 2009

News From The Front

I am happy to report that I finally managed to win a used copy of DragonRaid, the evangelical Christian RPG released during the height of 80s anti-roleplaying hysteria. I anxiously await its arrival. Rest assured that I will be giving it a thorough read, unless I find its content absolutely unreadable - an unlikely prospect.

If nothing else, it looks like the game's artwork is pretty good, and might even be useful to me as inspiration for a quasi-Crusader "order against chaos" campaign idea that is forming in the back of my head, this time sparked by thoughts about B/X D&D alignments, my current reading of the classic Keep On the Borderlands module, the historical narrative A Distant Mirror, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and Scott's new setting, the Ordained Dominion of Vologes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Inspiration Dump

These images aren't doing any good just sitting around on my hard drive!

Arthur Adams draws himself a mean sexy snake-lady. I was thinking of writing up D&D stats for this one, but then decided that between lamias, yuan-ti, mariliths, and succubi, it'd be pretty redundant.

This is a prehistoric animal whose scientific name escapes me at the moment. The image is called "Suthirinodon", but that was from a Japanese site, and they always butcher scientific names when translating them into katakana and then back into Roman characters. Anyway, "moleratpig" seems like an appropriate description. An animal like this would be the ancestor of the snuffling, tusked, xenophobic dwarves of the Freed Lands setting.

Jeff Rients posted this bad boy long ago. I am a big hobgoblin fan, but more than that, I love the Miyazaki-esque feel to this guy. This is literally one of my favorite RPG-related images, ever, and I wish I could find out who drew it.

Found this guy on a Russian-hosted site about a Forgotten Realms campaign. Looks like it might be D&D 3e art, but it looked vaguely Central Asian/Eastern European to me, so I saved it for Freed Lands inspiration.