Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Rising Dark

Much to my amazement I somehow managed to launch a project I've been working on for the last year. "The Rising Dark: An Introduction to Agraphar" is a side project I've been messing with since around February last year, when I had an opportunity at the time to contribute to another publisher's project (Peryton) for the Tunnels & Trolls RPG. After a month or so it became clear I wouldn't have the time to work on the project, but in the course of writing out ideas I developed a small sandbox-style region for a setting called "Calithar." Anyway, I couldn't really let it be, and several months later I had slowly developed the concept from a scenario setting into its own mini-campaign world.

The first iteration of the setting was designed for use with Tunnels & Trolls. The second iteration was tentatively going to work with OSRIC. Somewhere in August I re-adapted the whole thing over to 4th edition D&D and utilized the scenario elements in an ongoing campaign. By January of this year I had discovered Swords & Wizardry Complete (still can't stop talking about it!) and decided that this was the system that deserved to play mother to Agraphar.

I have a 4th edition version more or less complete (still needs editing work) but the Swords & Wizardry edition, as well as a free first issue of something I'm calling "The Sun Fury Gazette" are now up. I'm looking forward to seeing if there's interest in this sort of a product, and it seems that the OSR/S&W crowd is much more interested in setting, scenario and campaign content then the more modernized gaming market. I'm also interested to see how this format (50 page book plus a series of 6-10 page regular supplements priced very reasonably) works. If it seems to have legs, I may try to adapt my other settings to a similar format. The PDF market for role playing games is a weird thing, as it seems like gamers are far more likely to spend $2-3 on a 10-20 page sourcebook featuring one or two topics, than they are to spend $10-20 on big (200-300 page) sourcebooks loaded for bear with content. I won't argue...the preferred model makes content worth more over time, but its hard to break the habit of writing large volumes of interconnected material that's all meant to work together, in one package. Anyway, it's an experiment, and Agraphar is a new setting for me, one which has lots of exploration yet to come, so I look forward to it both as a writing and gaming challenge to evolve this little beast in to something bigger.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Week Two: On Various and Sundry-Swords & Wizardry, Singularity and 2020 sooner than we thought

Okay, blog entry week two. I'm going to try and keep it focused on short and simple, some observations and/or comments on things of interest in the last week.

First up: on a matter unrelated to gaming (as such) but very much in the spirit of cyberpunk fiction, I've been really fascinated at the real-life cyberpunk stuff going on involving Anonymous and HBGary. Looks like 2020 is getting just a bit closer than we all thought...Ars Technica has some fascinating articles on the matter including a view from the Anonymous side and a look at the HBGary spy games that led up to the whole sordid matter.

Swords & Wizardry

I've grabbed a ton of S&W publications in PDF form and a few ordered in print form. I hope to review them all, but I am really impressed with John Stater's Land of Nod and Pars Fortuna, being both fun reads and full of inspirational content; even if you're not a fan of 0E D&D or S&W the world of Nod is basically a vast hexcrawl style setting that practically demands to be used, no matter what ruleset you adapt it to. Pars Fortuna meanwhile does for S&W what Arcana Evolved did to D&D 3rd edition, turning it on its head and reimagining the default setting in a decidedly non Tolkeinesque/non western fantasy context. Once I have my print copy (also got the PDF) I plan on providing a more detailed overview of this book.

My wife ran session #2 of her Swords & Wizardry adventure on Wednesday. It was a fun experience, although we ran in to a hard wall with a crack down memory lane...specifically, it was a shocking experience to be reminded of just how vulnerable characters could be in the early days, how important it was to "run in, kill the goblins, run away and spend days recuperating; repeat." We secured a clerical henchman to aid us in basic survival...a house rule to prevent instant death at -1 hit points was handy. It was an interesting experience overall, and reminded me that every iteration of D&D has both its virtues and its flaws.

Oddly, playing such a mixture of different editions of D&D over the last couple months has led me to realize that each and every one of them has something cool to bring to the table, as well as quirks and bugs. With S&W you have classic down-and-dirty adventuring where you start off as pathetically weak and strive over time to hack, slash bluff, bluster and sneak your way to power and wealth. With Pathfinder you have surprisingly competent characters but fate can be fickle at times. In 4E you have much more robust characters overall, though the world at large gets a power-up too (at least at Heroic levels of play), where resource management is rule number one, but in a completely different manner from older editions. Arrows, food...those are quibbles of the DM if he sees fit to implement them, but its all about managing your dailies, encounter powers and surges instead.

Simulating Near Death Experiences and Recovering Wounds in 4E

4E characters will hardly ever look as ragged and run-through-the-lawnmower as 0E characters potentially can! I am actually thinking of a rule to adjust that a bit, something that will reflect the dangers of suffering heavy damage over time. The idea is simple: each time a character hits 0 hit points, he of course starts making saves to avoid death marks. Whenever this happens, the character gets a "Death Mark" automatically, checked next to his surges. To remove this mark, he must spend all (maybe half?) of his newly recovered surges immediately after his next extended rest. He has the option not to, but so long as he doesn't, he retains that mark. Each time he reached 0 HPs he gets another Death Mark. When he gets his third mark, then there are no more saves, and he's dead. It's an idea, anyway. Death Marks could provide penalties as well; the first one could penalize skills and attacks at -2; the second bumps it to -5 penalty; the third one's penalty being death requires no modifier, of course...

Computer Games

I played and finished Singularity over the weekend. All in all it was about twelve hours of compusive gaming, compulsive I say because it was "just good enough" to complete but not good enough for me to really feel like I didn't waste my time. The average reviewer seems to be unusually generous in my opinion on this game; I think Yahtzee had a remarkably better assessment of the game's numerous flaws and missed potential, however.

I'd summarize it in a nutshell: the developers of Singularity clearly had this plan to make a better version of Halo, Half Life 2 and Bioshock, but missed the point of the games they were trying to emulate. In doing so they overlooked the amazing potential of their own concepts (the time reversal gimmick) and ended up gimping what could have been a really fun, sandbox-style experience. Imagine...oh...I don't know...Just Cause 2, but with the time glove and thematics from Singularity. That would have been a much more interesting game. Instead of a game with an amazingly interesting gadget, you had a game that gives you a finnicky puzzle unlock key.

Just for one example: imagine if you could use the time glove (or whatever it was called. All a blur now) to restore dead opponents. There are a lot of dead bodies lying around, and it's hard to see how the ability to reverse the wear of time and damage to an object would be any less successful or compilicated when applied to a human (hell, the game lets you do it to certain plant life). Imagine being able to build up a repertoire of henchmen who are thoroughly dedicated to you for reversing their deaths, or at the very least being able to save some of the countless people who perished on the island where the game takes place.

Anyway, Singularity was an average game with a huge amount of missed potential. I can't comment on the online experience; it was too dead for me to get a read, and honestly I'm not that fond of pvp styled non co-op online gaming anyway.

Okay, post two done!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blog #1: Who am I?

And so I enter the world of blogging! If I've learned one thing from reading countless blogs, its that short and sweet can count for a lot (but rambling incoherence makes for a sort of passing-by-the-train-wreck kind of entertaining experience, too). Pictures count. And links. These are fun. Vast blocks of text suck...sometimes. I will try not to transgress too badly, but will also try to make up for it with interesting stuff and cool links. Promise!

Really quickly: I'm a gamer, whose primary muse is paper and pencil gaming, though I indulge excessively in computer games as well. In the Real World I am an accountant by trade (if not choice) although my educational background is in archaeology and my general interests lie in all things science.

I have an unhealthy addiction to Fallout and all things ruinous and post-apocalyptic. Which is why I found this link at The Guardian depicting the wrack and ruin of old and abandoned buildings in Detroit, Michigan to be fascinating. Thanks to Trollsmyth for finding it!

When I'm not playing Fallout 3 or New vegas I do partake in MMOs. I am on break from WoW right now (I am a casual player, although my wife is a diehard) but I am a committed player to DDO (Dungeons & Dragons Online) and most recently have jumped in to the Champions Free for All. A year ago I was firmly entrenched on the opposition's side to Free-to-Play MMO models with microtransactions; after DDO and now Champions I am a huge advocate of the model; I really enjoy the buy-in play anytime component; if you anticipate playing such a game for a lengthy period, the odds are it will be just as affordable to take the money that would have gone in to subscribing and buy the features instead; you pretty much get to play the game until the servers shut down, and I like that approach much more than renting it, basically.

Anyway, I engage in a little bit of self publishing here and there. You can find my POD page at lulu on  Xibalba, and I offer a range of PDF books over at (hopefully I can get set up soon for their new POD program, as well). Prior to self-publishing I have done other work in the gaming industry, including some modules for the sadly OOP Conan RPG at Mongoose Publishing as well as prior ventures including Fast Forward Entertainment when it published magazines in the early days of the D20 explosion. I published The Sorcerer's Scrolls for approximately 7 years and 41 issues back in the 80's and briefly revived it; I have since handed it off  to Jeremiah Griffin who is now managing it here. One thing I learned about the traditional magazine format and PDF publishing today is that it's not a good mix; I hope Jeremiah can take it to new heights in print, however!

On paper and pencil gaming these days I am obsessed with Swords & Wizardry, the youngest champion of the Old School Revolution. I also greatly enjoy Pathfinder, the alternate reality sequel to Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, as well as various and sundry other role playing games including Atomic Highway, Mutants and Masterminds, Traveller, Runequest II, GURPS and more. In my 30 years of gaming I've played hundreds of games; I am not a man content with just one system!

I do, however, love settings. Specifically, I love the settings I create. The title of this blog is for my labor of love, The Realms of Chirak, which currently has a print edition for use with 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons (and a Pathfinder edition in the works). It is a pulp-fantasy realm involving themes of fantasy post-apocalypse, the death of the gods, the rise of young cultures from the ashes of the old, and all that stuff. There are a number of campaigns being run for it out there, and I love hearing about them. I've been working on a sequel that will focus heavily on some of my favorite cultures and clashes within the setting.

Cover art by the talented Simon Tranter!

My other setting that's in print is The Keepers of Lingusia, which was the original setting in which I started my gaming hobby. The original KOL started as a continuation of my first D&D adventures, strung together to make a sort of coherent whole over time. By the late 80's I made efforts to unify everything in to something that made sense. When I was in college studying anthropology I did a massive rewrite of the entire setting to add in somewhat more authentic history and cultural identity to it all. Years later I assembled all this stuff I had written and managed to extract a decent book out of it, aimed at the Castles & Crusades system. In the last year I have been doing a new revision, a modernized reimagining of the original setting that winds the timeline all the way back to "day one," so to speak. That project got complicated as I also worked out the distant future for the setting, and found a rather strange way to tie the ancient world of Lingusia in with the future world of Lingusia. Right now I'm running two campaigns in the setting using Pathfinder, each set 1,500 years apart in game time. The plan is to release a series of system-neutral sourcebooks, each supported by a system-specific document, one aimed at Swords & Wizardry and the other at Pathfinder. We'll see how it goes. The original will still stand on its own as a sort of "alternate timeline" edition.

I have other campaign worlds that never see print, or which languish in various stages of completion. Some have been devised for stories and novellas I am working on, but some are just exercises in world-building, a past time I do way too much of. Maybe I'll reveal more about these settings in the blog: Agraphar, Astrathon, Isomular, Aichwod, Dark Stars.....lots of stuff floating around on my hard drive that needs some sort of web presence, I guess....!

Okay, I have officially rambled extensively enough for Blog #1. More later!