Tuesday, August 13, 2019

50 Shades of Vorpal review

Note on 50 sHAdes of VORpal. When I put my five bucks in the ring for this one it seemed like some seventeen olds wild ideas about how a game should be and was filled with strange and wondrous drawings from what seemed like a seventeen-year-old's school notebook. The stretch goals are a total hoot as well. There is an interview with the author during the campaign at this defunct blog save via Wayback Machine here Necropants Interview Link, Although the delivered .pdf was very rough it was about what I expected (and deserved given my suggestion when it was running late of just slapping the notes on a scanner and sending them out). My wishful thinking self kept thinking that the designer was actually going to take another pass and fill in the blank pages, but got an update on July 20 officially declaring it "dun". Checking the comments page on Kickstarter it appears that $50 backers have been receiving three-ring binders with a print-out of the same pdf I got two years ago all this month. With an original delivery date of December 2015, it is less than four years late (better than many NASA projects I worked on). In my darker moods, I envisioned this Kickstarter ruining the life of some seventeen-year-old too naive to realize what they had signed on for, so I was glad to see that the author actually brought the Kickstarter to closure.

I decided to take a closer look and review it page by page, but this proved to mostly fruitless. I understand the theory of bad formatting as part of the joke, but the practicality is that it renders much of the book unreadable. I don't even know to format a .pdf so that it splits pictures (and text) in half between pages. The deliberate spelling error joke gets old after a while. The continuing running dialog between the author, artist, and editor is hilarious. Most of the book is class descriptions and pictures. The pictures are unpracticed but evocative. The class descriptions are uneven in quality and completeness, but the names spark the imagination. My favorite names include Lowlings and Quarter demi halflings. Fighting uses a d30 but there is not enough description to actually play. The weapons table has some potential including a coolness rating for each weapon. The Monster section is fairly short but does include "Breaker, game (like a tarrasque only tougher)" as well as both "unassuming" and "vorpal" bunnies. I was disappointed the 1d12 hydracorn was relegated to a footnote on the last page, and that the awesome illustration of the hydracorn from the Kickstarter updates was omitted. The location section follows next. My favorite location is the uber dark. As all "old school" gamebooks this one ends with a random assemblage of unfinished thoughts.

Did I get my five bucks worth? I was disappointed that he didn't take another pass at the text. With even a minimum effort the author could have matched the quality of the Arduin Grimoire or even the little brown books of Orginal Dungeons and Dragons. However, this perhaps was not the author's goal. For an old guy like me, something that reminds me of my high school friends is probably worth five bucks anyway.

Here are some other peoples thoughts on 50 Shades of Vorpal.

Tenker's Tavern Nonreview Link

and the Hydracorn

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Kickstarter Update 2019

I received a note from Kickstarter citing me as a super backer of over 153 projects. I thought it was time I went through and checked on how they are doing, as I have been doing on an annual basis on this blog for several years. As always, I found one which should have been delivered but I missed the e-mail. A quick request for resending has once again resolved the issue. I remain amazed, considering the large number I support, only three are long overdue.

Projects I backed (note projects that I reported last year as complete have been removed from the list):

Not due yet

Fateforge: a 5th Edition Roleplaying Game
The King of Dungeons
Dungeons & Delvers: Red Book
Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot for 5e
Hearts of Wulin
Trilemma Adventures Compendium
Empire of the Ghouls: A 5th Edition Campaign vs. the Undead
The Koryo Hall of Adventures 5e Compatible Campaign Setting
Sea King's Malice: a 5E Adventure in the Deadly Depths
The Grande Temple of Jing V1 - For 5th Edition (and others)
The Folio #22 (1E/5E D&D Adventure)
Symbar - Mother of Darkness
Critical Core
Terrain Essentials
GODS - The dark fantasy RPG
Ruin Masters
The Isle of The Amazons - RPG Zine for #ZineQuest
The Tomb of Black Sand
The City of Great Lunden
Arcana of the Ancients, a 5E science-fantasy sourcebook             
Rise of the Drow: Collector's Edition for D&D 5E or PFRPG
Adventures Great and Glorious
The World of the Lost Lands
Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad Zine Returns!
The Ultraviolet Grasslands
A Rasp of Sand: A Roguelike Tabletop RPG Experience  
Reach of Titan
Mini-Dungeon Monthly: RPG zine for D&D 5th Edition
Monsters & Magic: a 5e bestiary and treasury
Treacherous Traps for 5th Edition!
The ADOM (Ancient Domains Of Mystery) Roleplaying Game
Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition): Maps and Print Run
Greg Stolze's Reign, Second Edition
Your Best Game Ever!

A bit late

Tegel Manor Returns! Estimated delivery Jun 2019
EMBERWIND: a new breed of tabletop RPG        Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Castles & Crusades: Den of Iniquity         Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Demon City: The Ultimate Horror RPG    Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Secrets of the Nethercity             Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Dungeons of Amara: Poems and Art of Monsters and Townfolks               Estimated delivery May 2019
SECRETS of BLACKMOOR: The True History of Dungeons & Dragons         Estimated delivery Mar 2019
Rise of the Demigods     Estimated delivery Mar 2019


John Carter of Mars - The Roleplaying Game
The Vagabond’s Cyclopedia: an OSR + PbtA Supplement
Desert Dwellers                Estimated
Humblewood Campaign Setting for 5e DND
Silent Titans Estimated delivery
Rex Draconis RPG - Rising Tides
Vagabonds of Dyfed RPG: OSR meets PbtA
The Midderlands Expanded - An OSR Setting Expansion
The Bane of Roslof Keep high level 1E & 5E gaming adventure
Trudvang Chronicles - Stormlands
Calidar "On Wings of Darkness"
Esoterica Tabletop Roleplaying Game
Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5e             
Dortoka: an OSR + PbtA City Module
Folio of Fiendish Monsters 1E monster compendium
Occult Secrets of the Underworld
The Complete White Ship Campaign 1E&5E mega-adventure
Make/100! Spell: The RPG & Spellbook Engraved Wood Box Set
YNDAROS: THE DARKEST STAR, award-winning Symbaroum campaign
Over the Edge: A Roleplaying Game of Weird Urban Danger
The Curse of Roslof Keep high level 1E & 5E gaming adventure
Confrontation – Classic The legendary skirmish game (note I just gave them a buck to read their updates)
The Dragon Heresy Introductory Set Fantasy RPG (5E-variant)
Rappan Athuk: Reborn for Fifth Edition! Go down the Well!
Tome of Horrors: Reborn for Fifth Edition
SYMBAROUM - Monster Codex
Forbidden Lands - Retro Open-World Survival Fantasy RPG
The Folio #16 & #17 Double 1E & 5E Adventure Set
The Folio #18 & #19, 1E & 5E Adventures
Lost Hall of Tyr: A 5e Adventure (Dungeon Grappling support)   
Luminous Echo: The Forgotten King extended campaign
Spire RPG
Artifices of Quartztoil Tower - 5E Adventure
Capharnaum - The Roleplaying Game
Sommerlund City Maps
Midgard Campaign Setting: Dark Roads & Deep Magic
Luminous Echo: The Forgotten King extended campaign 
Salt in the Wounds
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
Heroic Fantasy & Barbarian Conquerors Collection
50 sHAdes of VORpal (Officially declared "dun" 7/20/2019)*

Neverending Story

            Ryuutama (basically done but pledge contains permanent electronic updates)

Pieces missing

Rhune (one adventure short)

Please come home, I still love you baby (way past due, but I still want the item).

Marmoreal Tomb (Tons of beautiful maps are done, but no adventure yet)
Throne of night

*Note on 50 sHAdes of VORpal. When I put my five bucks in the ring for this one it seemed like some fifteen olds wild ideas about how a game should be and was filled with strange and wondrous drawings from what seemed like a fifteen-year-old's school notebook. Although the delivered .pdf was very rough it was about what I expected (and deserved given my suggestion when it was running late of just slapping the notes on a scanner and sending them out).

Friday, June 28, 2019

Greyhawk and me

I have been meditating on fantasy campaign settings and why there are distinct preferences for one over another. Some such as Dark Sun and Tekumel are unique. However many of them seem quite generic including Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Golarion, and Kobold presses Midgard. These start with a Medieval Western European base zone and tack on other cultural memes such as Viking, Arabian, and Asian cultures. Golarion and Midgard I understand, as third-party products they need a setting they can control. However, the three-way fight between Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk and Mystara, seems hard to comprehend. All of these are sufficient breadth and scope to allow a DM to insert whatever adventure they care to run. I am not an expert on any of these worlds, but they seem very similar when contrasted with Dark Sun. Greyhawk being the oldest perhaps should take the primacy of place. However, most of my recent experience has been with Forgotten Realms. As a start to analysis, I will in this post discuss my experience with Greyhawk.

I first encountered Greyhawk in the Greyhawk expansion to the little brown books in 1975. Although there were several pages of short adventure suggestions there was very little setting. I played "Descent into the Depths" as a tournament module at GenCon, but the Underdark has little relation to the surface kingdoms of Greyhawk. The next year was "Secret of the Slavers Stockade" with some actual information about the Pomarj. In 1980 came the famous Darlene Map and Gazetteer, however, a list of place names and dry facts is not something that captured my imagination. Also in 1980 I picked up and DMed the "Village of Homelet" which was going to be a campaign but fell apart after the moat house was cleared and the promised sequel the "Temple of Elemental Evil" failed to appear. By the time "Temple of Elemental Evil" came out I had moved on in my life. Rumor has it that Forgotten Realms was much more popular with the writing staff at TSR during the Gygax era because Greyhawk material required Gary's approval.

I followed the 2e restart, but the Greyhawk war never quite resonated with me. "Border Watch" is a nice beginner module. "Iuz the Evil" is a great explanation of  Iuz evil empire. "Vecna lives" is a marvelous high-level adventure, but is set in the Sea of Dust far from the main centers of action. The "City of Greyhawk" boxed set was interesting especially the side quest cards (a feature which has disappeared from modern design) however I disliked the main city map (better Greyhawk city maps are available on the web).  The disappointment of the various "Castle Greyhawk" iterations is a whole blog post in itself.

3e saw the rise of "Living Greyhawk". I was a bit late to the party starting in 2006. Living Greyhawk brought a great breath to the world, but everything was highly compartmentalized by real-world geographical region. In Ohio, I was restricted to Veluna. Getting actual Veluna modules were a bit hit and miss, requiring the third party volunteer coordinator to e-mail both the encrypted module and password key. However, in our group, I used the special adventures set in the "Bright Desert" (for Wizards of the Coast [WoTC] modules you could download them off the web site, and only have to request the password). Unfortunately, the intellectual property for most of the "Living Greyhawk" modules is a total mess with module rights reverting to the author, but Greyhawk content being retained by WoTC rendering everything unpublishable without removing the content of most interest to me. "Expedition to Castle Greyhawk" was the last flurry of 3e. I thought the book was well written for the most part, but I was annoyed that the upper levels were expected to be randomly generated. I did pick up some "Living Greyhawk" modules for the upper levels which I ran my nephews through (pretty good low-level dungeon crawls, but probably also lost in the IP meltdown).

4e cleared Greyhawk from the table. With 5e we are beginning to start to see a return with: the Greyhawk pantheon included in the player's guide; several classic Greyhawk adventures like "White Plume Mountain", "Tomb of  Horrors", "Against the Giants", and the "Hidden Shrine of Tachoman" updated; and the "Ghosts of Saltmarch" being officially set in Greyhawk. I have not played any of the new material yet so cannot say how well they play. Most of these so far seem to be drop-in adventures having very little to do with lore from the larger Greyhawk world. I also love the gorgeous map of Greyhawk made by Anna Meyer.

So where does this leave me and Greyhawk? I think modern play owes a great debt to Greyhawk marking both Mystara and Forgotten Realms as derivative products. However, the on-again-off-again publication record makes it less comprehensive setting than Forgotten Realms. The written works of Mystara cover a much broader range of cultural memes than the published  Greyhawk work. Although the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons hardcover book "Oriental Adventures" putatively placed Kara-Tur on the same planet as Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms very quickly absconded with it. I saw on the web a proposed conversion of Greyhawk to a points-of-light style setting which I found weird because to my way of thinking Greyhawk was always a points-of-light setting, to begin with. As I usually run my campaigns in one-horse towns seeming far removed from the central action of any campaign world (although in such places great evil festers and grows) any generic medieval western setting will do.  Perhaps I am still running a disguised version of my Village of Homelet campaign after all (although no hidden 10th level assassins for me, please).

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Garycon report

Hitched a ride with a couple of friends from the grognards podcast up to Garycon Last week. We ended up off-site at one of the myriad one-star motels that surround Lake Geneva. Unlike my friends who packed their schedules from 8 AM to Midnight. I tried to only sign up for a couple of things a day. Thursday morning was spent in the dealer's room, the afternoon going through the Garycon adventurers league first tier two adventure, and the evening listening to Larry Elmore pontificate. Friday I flew with the dawn patrol in Fight in the skies (Its a good system, but I hate flying allied planes in 1916) picked up the second Garycon adventurers league tier two adventure, sat in on the Greyhawk fan panel, and searched for the Source of the Nile. Saturday saw the third and final Garycon adventurers league tier two adventure, an Empire of the Petal Throne Dungeon boardgame variant (don't be picked up by the pale legion, you'll regret it), and watched D&D cartoons with Ernie Gygax in the evening. Sunday saw a trip through the Jakallan Underworld hosted by the head of the Tekumel foundation Victor Raymond. Because I had not booked my schedule full I was able to play in pick-up games of Index Card RPG and Ragnarok, watch people rolling up random treasure for First edition D&D (so much more exciting than treasure points) and chat with numerous folk (including Matt Finch and Anna Meyer) throughout the convention. Good times. However, I could have done with a bit more sleep than my gung-ho companions' schedules and our off-site location allowed.

Swag included:

Goodman Games:
- Into to the Borderlands (hardback)
- Isle of the Dread (hardback)
Kobold Games:
- Tome of Monsters (hardback; had the pdf already but find print more useful for Monster Books)
- Creature Codex (hardback)
Black Blade Press:
- Dark Druids (have picked up most of Rob Kuntz's modules in prior years, but "Dark Druids" was sold-out)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Rulenomicon the Reviewing

Started a few months ago to go through my Role Playing Game (RPG) collection and give a stars rating to each of the items listed on my Rulenomicon page. I just finished up with Zweihander, the last game on the list, today. Here is a guide to what I mean by each star

blank   - Not rated yet
*          - Not playing this one
**        - Might play this one if someone else is GMing and I have nothing else to do
***      - Interested in playing. GMing, or stealing ideas for my game
****    - Will be studying this one again and actively trying to convince others to play
*****  - RPG perfection I am dropping everything to switch to this (no games rated this yet)

My star ratings are based on a quick flip through of the games which are mostly pdf files on my hard drive. They are somewhat capricious based on my initial impressions. I wanted to focus this list on RPGs so I have not rated items that turned out to be board games, miniature games, card games, campaign settings, or anything else other than an RPG (I may remove these from the list in the future). I guarantee I have called someone's RPG baby ugly. However, I do have some specific things I am looking for. Overall I am interested in systems that generate characters quickly, have rules that are simple to learn, but have enough complexity to make the game interesting in the long haul. I am more interested in campaigns than one shot adventures so character advancement is important. "Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons (5e)" is my current go-to game, so an important consideration for any game is what does it do better than 5e. Since this is a review of rules I focused my attention on character creation, combat resolution, and spell casting. Rule sets vary in size from 1-page microgames to 400+ page tomes. Most of the games under 10 pages lacked enough complexity to sustain a long-term campaign and keep it interesting, so were rated lower. The 400+ page ones were treated more leniently as long I could find a core 20-30 page rules section which spelled out the base rules (a good table of contents helped with this immensely). The ability of the rules writer to explain things clearly and concisely without excessive use of acronyms and jargon was important. I have a great deal trouble with so-called "story games" as many of these reduce the resolution to a single dice roll, and also expect character reactions to be determined by dice rolls as well. One of the things I enjoy most about roleplaying is people working together to cooperatively solve problems, so games emphasizing intraparty conflict did not fair well in my ratings. I am biased towards fantasy settings, so modern and post-apocalyptic settings got rated a little lower (steampunk and hard sci-fi probably are somewhere in-between).

 I definitely have an opinion on which dice rolling mechanics are best. D20 is my favorite as the probabilities are easy to calculate and one can add a significant number of modifiers without skewing the rolls to badly. D100 is next although since most of the games I see are doing things in 5% increments so they would better just using a d20. 2D6 can work but probabilities here are no longer linear and adds greater than +3 seriously skew the results. A number of games are dice pool based, calculating probabilities for these games is a serious challenge which make them not my favorite. Dice pool games where all but the top few dice are ignored have some possibility. Dice pool games which count the number of successes by the number of dice exceeding a certain number seem workable as well, but don't try to sell me custom dice with plusses and minuses, or funny symbols. Rolling dice pools and adding them together seems the road to disaster as the chance to beat 1d6 with 2d6 is less than 10% adding more dice just makes it more likely you'll roll closer to average with each and decrease these odds. Some systems which limit the range from 2d6 to 4d6 with the assumption that the two dice roller is a novice who is going to probably fail and four dice roller is a master who is going to succeed are barely tolerable. Once you start throwing in extra dice when high numbers are rolled, low numbers canceling out high numbers, and different color dice doing different things calculating probabilities becomes challenging in the extreme, but it probably only slightly shifts the one die versus two dice inequality.

P.S. Blogger refused to accept my MSword formatted table, so you'll have to accept a text based layout for now.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Invisible Sun Unboxing

Since Monte Cook is launching a reprint Kickstarter, I thought this would be a good time blog my impressions about the Invisible Sun Box set I received in August. Invisible Sun feels to me like someone took Ars Magica, Over the Edge, and D&D Planescape put them in a blender and hit frappe. Everyone is a magic user a strangely dark and twisted realm filled with portals to other dimensions. As with many Monte Cook things, the pretention is strong in this product (see Jeff Rients I got your threefold model right here, buddy!). This time Monte has cranked it up to 11 with a custom box for the game and claims of all new roleplaying experience. Unfortunately, as a collector, pretention is one of my weaknesses. Although I was able to resist the first Kickstarter, once it became apparent last February that: first, they were actually going to deliver this game; and second they might sell out the first print run; I put my pre-order in. Unfortunately, this put me absolutely last in the delivery queue but in August it finally turned up (My Sooth desk showed up a couple weeks after I placed my order). Here are some pictures of the Black Cube and what lies within.

The Cube opens

The six-fingered hand (five was apparently not enough)

Miscellaneous Gubbins 

The Book I

The Book II

The Book III

The Book IV

Not pictured Character sheets, DM Ref sheets, cards, numerous wooden tokens, and a Sun Tracking mat for Sooth Cards (The Sooth Cards are sold separately). I have flipped through the rules, but as of yet have been unable to grok the system. It appears not to be the Cypher system since there appear to be only two stats in instead of three (I may have misread this). I will endeavor to probe the mysteries of this game further once my shoulder injuries from manhandling the cube heal (The weight of this cube put the former Monte Cook heavyweight Ptlous City by the Spire to shame). Was it worth the 300+ bucks I paid for it? In terms of owning something unique, my friends won't have yes. The pretention aspect is failed a little in the ability of the cardboard cube to withstand the weight of the items inside, mine is showing tears where some of the shelves join the walls of the cube. The game seems to have a few more moving bits than I like based on all the components included. Being that Ars Magica and Over the Edge are two of my favorite games if I can figure this one out it may be one of my favorites as well.

P.S. Not that surrealist actually require lots of rules, my friend Jeremiah's Fabulous Unknown City campaign was played nominally using 5e rules. I played a six-foot-tall white lab rat (descended from a sentient race created when one of the longer players alchemy experiment took an unexpected turn) barbarian who wore an Elizabethan ruff and a gold jumpsuit. It was no use mapping the City because it re-arranged itself every week. Jeremiah's far tamer Game of the North is available here (although the random items table does give you some of the Unknown City vibes).

Friday, August 17, 2018

Gencon 2018

Went to GenCon for Friday. Got to Gencon about noon. Spent a half hour for an open parking lot. Spent another half hour hiking the mile from where I parked. After another 15 minutes in the will call picking up my badge, I ate pizza for another 1/2 hour and hit the dealer's room. Started at the western end and stumbled out the eastern end when the room closed at 6:00 PM. Marched the loot out to the car. Was going to go to the ENies, but decided I was so tired I just drove home. Observations: The dealer's room is dominated by board games. Many of the roleplaying games I had already picked on Kickstarter. Purchases included: the three Forge World indexes I didn't already own, the rolling miniature case from battle foam, Knights of the Dinner Table and Girl Genius comics for she-who-must-be-obeyed. I picked up two 5e supplements on what to do with monster parts. Demoed a pirate card game and listened to a sales pitch for a gaming table (mostly a for a chair to sit in). Failed to connect with much of anyone (other than two random gamers for lunch). I am getting too old for a Convention this large.
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