Showing posts from 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 Instrument of Surrender

I thought I'd be able to catch up on this year's RPGaDay upon my return from Manhattan but I've come down with a cold that I'm fairly certain is Captain Trips from The Stand. I've been alternating between sleeping and painful coughing. This has also caused me to miss out on some grad school work. Once I'm feeling a bit better that will need to be my priority.

Star Wars D6 Lives

On August 11, when describing the Dead Game I'd Most Like to Return I nominated the original D6 Star Wars. Yesterday, just five days later, while waiting for a subway train I received an email from a player in our gaming group sharing with me the news that Fantasy Flight Games had just announced a limited edition reprint of the original D6 Star Wars game and its first sourcebook.
I'm going to live with the illusion that someone at Fantasy Flight Games read my post and made the arrangements in record time.
In all seriousness, I'm quite happy with this news. I've played D6 Star Wars recently and it has aged remarkably well. 

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 7 - Most Impactful Session

I'm going to be a little loose with my definition of impactful. I've made some friendships in games that are older than my kids, and that's certainly impactful. Though friendships grow and diminish over time typically.

Probably for me though was when a bunch of us got together in the apartment my wife and I used to live in in the late 1990s. It was me, her, and two of her co-workers, gathered together to play Star Trek by Last Unicorn Games. Though I'd gamed off and on throughout the 1990s with family and friends, I hadn't had a regular gaming group since the 1980s. That game kicked off a series of campaigns that has had me playing pretty much constantly, albeit with hiatuses here and there, since then. The members of the group have changed and it's transitioned to a pure virtual group, but I've been fortunate to have regular gaming since that point.

#RPGaDay 2017 Days 14-17 - Catching Up From Vacation

I just spent a few days with my eldest daughter in New York City and was way too exhausted to write at night... So here goes a super-quick catch-up...

Day 14 - RPG For Open-Ended Campaign Play I like Call of Cthulhu for an open-ended campaign. While characters do advance, they tend not to ever get so powerful that they have nothing to fear. Indeed, as characters learn more magics they may find themselves close to insanity. Death, insanity, and retirement take many characters out of play but it is possible to add replacement characters to a group, to the point where there may be no original characters yet the campaign continues.
Day 15 - RPG I Enjoy Adapting the Most I've done well using Fate for Star Wars and I've begun thinking of other ways it could be adapted.
Day 16 - RPG I Enjoy Using As-Is I've found Call of Cthulhu works incredibly well as it is. It fits its genre well and has begun adding dials to make for pulp style experiences.

Day 17 - RPG I've Had the Long…

#RPGaDay 2007 Day 13 - A Game Experience That Changed How I Play

For me, possibly the most transformative experience was shifting from a physical to virtual table. It's something we did in stages, but the first stage was probably the most important - a simple webcam connecting us with a player who moved away but wanted to keep gaming.

Over time we added bells and whistles - discovering tools like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 but the actual act of managing a remote game for the first opened a doorway for me and my group - a group which has people scattered east of the Mississippi River now...

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 12 - RPG With Most Inspiring Interior Art

This is more of a "show, don't tell". For me, the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide has the most inspiring interior art. From dramatic to goofy it sets the stage for an AD&D game. An almost-but-not-quite medieval society, with the influence of magic and monsters clearly evident.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 11 - Dead Game I'd Like to See Return

There is still a Star Wars RPGbeing published - three actually, by Fantasy Flight Games. I ran a campaign with Edge of the Empire and found it to be a perfectly enjoyable game. But for my money the incarnation I've the fondest memories of is the D6-based RPG put out by West End Games in the 1980s and 1990s. I literally played my first game of it the day I got it. It was so easy to play and so easy to GM - and it felt like Star Wars.

The system wasn't perfect - I can see areas where a 3rd edition might have cleaned some things up. The Force rules worked well for wanna be Jedi type characters like Rey and Luke prior to being trained by Yoda. It required a bit too much dice rolling in combat. I found the stats for major film characters to be a bit over the top.

But I played a game a few years back and it still played just fine. I know sometimes licensees get permission to republish old versions of products that they didn't make. For example, Marvel has republished Star Wars

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 10 - Where to go for RPG Reviews

Well in the 1980s I was fond of Dragon Magainze's RPG Reviews column. In the 1990s and early 2000s I often went to I still pop in to every once in a while but I tend to get a lot of my opinions off of Google+. Often there will be links to blogs and other websites for more details. Yog-Sothoth is a pretty handy source of reviews and opinions for Cthulhu. You can decide if I mean the god or the website...

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 9 - Good RPG For Around Ten Sessions

Ten sessions isn't a bad length for some campaigns. But from my recent experience Fate Accelerated works really well for something around ten sessions. The characters are pretty competent to start with - if you wanted to you could pretty much ignore advancement. If you do go for advancement your characters will advance pretty quickly, a nice way to model Luke Skywalker going from a farm boy to a Jedi Knight in a few sessions.
I think Fate Accelerated would work fine for something a bit longer, though you'd want to slow down the default advancement. Dresden Files Accelerated gives some options on how this might be done.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 8 - Best RPG For Quick Sessions

I've managed to play in a game or two of No Country For Old Kobolds, based on the Apocalypse World engine. It was a fast-paced game - we made our setting, characters, and played a quick scenario in under an hour. I died a horrible death. It's fun being the little guy.
It's probably worth noting that nowadays most of my sessions are around 2.5 hours long...

Film Review: The Dark Tower

I liked it.
I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting to. The reviews and word of mouth for the film adaption of Stephen King's The Dark Tower were not just bad, they were awful. But King' Dark Tower series is one of my favorite reads of all time - I was going to see it for myself.
I was feeling rather under the weather on Saturday, still getting over some nasty head congestion, but with such awful reviews I was a bit concerned the film would be in for a very brief engagement. My 12-year old, Jasmine, was very interested in seeing it. She's just about finished reading The Gunslinger. Of my two daughters, she's the geeky one, the one into comics, the one who has already read some Jack Williamson. 
Much to my surprise, I really liked it. Idris Elba made for a great Roland and Matthew McConaughey was a villainous delight as Walter/The Man in Black. It was critical to get someone good for Jake Chambers and Tom Taylor did a fine job.
These were not quite the characters w…

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 6 - I Can Game Every Day For a Week - What Would I Do?

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I don't know if this is actually something I'd want to do - if I had that much free time I'd probably use some of it for gaming, but I'd also want to do other stuff with that time. Some stuff with family, some geeking out - I think I'd be sneaking in a marathon Civilization game... Don't get me wrong, it's a hobby I enjoy a lot but it's hard for me to imagine having that much time, which might make answering it a bit difficult.

But to stay to the spirit, I'd probably be interested in running a session of whatever regular campaign I'm currently doing and then finding time to sit in a variety of other games. I'm going to want someone to teach me how to play Shadowrun...

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 5 - Which RPG Cover Best Captures the Spirit of Its Game

For me the RPG cover that best capture the spirit of its game is from the game that got me into the hobby - the Erol Otus D&D Basic Set cover. The treasure. The weird environment. The bold adventurers. And the dragon emerging from the water. It was very clear what the game was all about. 
I've two close runner-ups. The first is the first edition AD&D Players Handbook. Like the Otus drawing above, it captures what the game is all about. These aren't necessarily heroes, they're after the gemstone eyes.

Finally, Call of Cthulhu has had some great art. My own favorite is the cover to the third edition.We've got a mysterious castle/house the investigators are approaching. These aren't hardened warriors. Even without the slithering horror it's a creepy scene, full of menace.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 4 - What RPG Have I Played Most Since August 2016

Yog-Sothoth is the gate folks. The past year has been a little bouncy, but I believe if I tally all sessions it'd come out with the most for Call of Cthulhu. That said there's been some variety. I finally had some success at GM-ing a Fate game, using Fate Accelerated for Star Wars. I also had a chance to GM the old D6 Ghostbusters which was great fun. I've had a chance to actually play some Apocalypse World Engine games which was a nice change of pace for me.

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 3 - How Do I Find Out About New RPGs

This is going to be a shock, but I find out about new RPGs mainly through the internet.

I suppose I can be a bit more specific. Once upon a time the answer would probably have been sites like and I remember visiting Eric Noah's website to get news about the upcoming 3rd edition of D&D (there was much talk about this "attack of opportunity" thing, though I believe I first encountered the concept from FASA Star Trek).

Probably I see the most from Facebook and Google+. Also within my gaming group we'll often share RPG news - the Top Secret Kickstarter caught me that way...

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 2 - RPG I'd Like to See Published

As a fan of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, I'd love to see an RPG published that captures this series. There's a few Age of Fighting Sail RPGs out there, but I haven't yet found the "perfect" one. I'd want something that captures the feel of life at land and at sea, the social aspects of the era, and provides for exciting ship combats. It would need to manage the advancement of characters while also having a way to keep a group together. It would need to handle the passage of years, though for gaming purposes I'd be fine with it also making the year 1813 last as long as it needed to, much as Patrick O'Brian did. And it would need to appeal to people who aren't perhaps a tad obsessed with the genre.

I keep thinking that Pendragon could be reskinned for this purpose. A game that expects a campaign of many game years. Perhaps living long enough to see your son take your place might be a bit much, even with a long 1813, but one coul…

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 1: Published Game I Wish I Was Playing Now

We'll take this for a spin again in 2017, though I imagine my posts will be a little briefer than last year's given my grad program has shifted its schedule and I'm in the middle of a class this August...

Given I've just kicked off an Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea game that's in one sense my answer - I'm not so flighty as to immediately wishing I was doing something else. I've probably clocked a ton of AD&D in my life so I'm looking forward to playing a game with a setting inspired by my favorite authors (Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, HP Lovecraft, etc.) with some rules based on AD&D.

However, let's assume the answer is something I am not not currently playing. I've begun receiving material from the Cthulhu Dark Kickstarter that I'm really itching to try. To be honest, if I ever have a game with just two players I think I'd whip it out for a one-shot, something Cthulhu Dark seems very well suited (thoug…

3d6x6 Character Generation

For the first time in a while my group rolled up some OSR characters as Krom intended, 3d6 assigned in order. We actually did a slight variation - with two characters per PC we rolled four sets of stats with each player picking two. Purple Sorcerer's DCC Character Generation Tools proved handy for this, even with us playing Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

What I noticed is it led to some interesting choices. I'd grown a bit used to later character generation styles where characters can be optimized fairly perfectly. With this method I'm seeing characters whose prime requisite are not their highest stats. A character with a high Constitution, decent Dexterity, but a mediocre Strength might still be made as a Fighter.

First level characters are pretty fragile in OSR games, so it's often best not to get too attached to them. Character generation didn't take too long - not lightning quick, though for all of this these were our first AS&SH char…

Mapping Hyperborea with Worldographer

In preparation for a Hyperborea campaign using Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea I've been working on getting a more detailed map. I've a bit of lead time as we'll be doing character generation and then some adventuring in Khromarium but at some point I'd like to unleash a bit of hexcrawling.

AS&SH has a very nice fold-out map and the upcoming version will have a color one. However, the scale is a bit too small, at 24 miles per hex, to truly facilitate hexcrawling. Most examples of that go for a 6 miles per hex scale.

The new version of Hexographer, also named Worldographer, is currently in Beta. I recently purchased a beta of it and have been making use of it to develop my own hex map of Hyperborea. While I generally prefer mapping using Campaign Cartographer 3, Worldographer works very nicely for hex maps. A nice feature of it is it allows for 2 lower levels under the main one. It labels the three layers World, Continent, and Kingdom. It allows…

Game of Thrones and OSR Domain Play

I remember being so excited in 1984 when the D&D Companion Set at last came out. I'd been promised it for years. Well it wasn't really that long, given it was first promised in 1981 with the then-current editions of the Basic and Expert rules. That's less time than some Kickstarters are overdue...

One thing I really liked was the idea that PCs could rule their own domains. Of course it provided me with quite the education in feudalism as a result, a nice supplement to my middle school social studies classes. There have been a few OSR games and supplements devoted strongly to such ideas. It's baked into Autarch's ACKS and Sine Nomine's An Echo, Resounding. ACKS is its own B/X-based RPG with a ton of detail about building domains. An Echo, Resounding is a supplement for Labyrinth Lord and other OSR games - it's quite a bit lighter than ACKS.

I find it a bit interesting is that domain play tends to be the province of high-level characters. From an advance…

Historical Gaming without Magic or Alternative History

If I see a game based on the Old West it's a pretty safe bet that the Confederacy is still alive and kicking. Similarly, there have been games set in the Roman Empire that have vampires and or beasties of the Cthulhu Mythos.

What I'm writing about is the tendency of historic RPGs to take place in an alternate past, usually with some fantastic elements. It's not a universal tendency - for example, TSR had both Boot Hill and Gangbusters, covering the Old West and the Prohibition-era. But I'm pretty sure that's a minority. And to be fair, there's not a lot of games set in the modern age that don't bend reality pretty hard - typically with a heavy dose of the supernatural or of superpowers.

I get the inclination to play with history and add the magic - setting a game in a historical era can feel a bit overwhelming and changing the past gives a lot more leeway for historical inaccuracy - "what do you mean you're upset that Perceval is listed as becomin…

A Woman as the Doctor

With Jodie Whittaker announced as the Doctor there have been a variety of reactions. This isn't too surprising - pretty much every new Doctor announcement has been met with reactions ranging from "this is the perfect Doctor" to "Doctor Who is ruined".

Unsurprisingly, the fact that a woman has been cast as the Doctor for the first time in the 50+ years of the show has a higher percentage of "Doctor Who is ruined" folks out there. It's definitely a big change in casting. I recall Usenet discussions in the 1990s about a hypothetical woman Doctor - and it should be noted there were people who questioned whether there could even be a non-white Doctor. Similarly, as the cast of Star Trek: Voyager was announced, some people went a little nuts at idea of a black Vulcan - Tuvok, as played by Tim Russ. It's worth noting that for me, Russ was one of the bright spots on what I saw as a fairly mediocre show. (I also greatly like Kate Mulgrew as an actress…

OSR Innovations

One thing I've enjoyed in the OSR is how it's allowed fresh looks at the games many people first picked up in the 1970s and 1980s, taking those games in directions that were, at best, rarely explored in their original era.

Probably the innovation I've enjoyed the most is the emergence of products to support sandbox play. It's one thing to advise a GM to let the players wander the "map" freely. However, that isn't always all that easy in practice. Enter a number of products designed to support free ranging players. Companies like Sine Nomine Publishing, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Autarch, and many others have all released products designed to give a GM tools for such adventures. Now that I think of it, this has even entered more "modern" style games. For example, The One Ring and Adventures in Middle Earth both have tools for wilderness adventure that have that old school hex crawl feel to them.

Old school D&D style games have also …

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker is a high school sophomore in Queens. He's also Spider-Man and has just returned from a trip to Germany, recruited by Tony Stark/Iron Man to help in a superhero conflict against Captain America and his Avengers faction, as seen in Captain America: Civil War. [Note I'll try to steer clear of spoilers in this review but I'll of course have to say something about the plot to do a review...]

This dichotomy, between the big and the little, is at the heart of Homecoming. Peter wants to be an Avenger. However, Tony Stark keeps him at arm's length. One gets the sense that Tony is perhaps rethinking the wisdom of having brought a kid into the super-powered big leagues.

While waiting in vain for "the call" Spider-Man is keeping his friendly neighborhood safe. He stops bicycle thieves and carjackers. But he soon discovers some ATM thieves packing some superscience hardware.

In parallel to Spider-Man's street level tale we have that of Adrian Toomes/the…

Mapping the Dungeon

It's been a long time since I've made a dungeon map for D&D or similar games. I suspect my copy of Campaign Cartographer was rather sleepy when it got taken for a spin for a dungeon map.

I love maps - which in gaming can be a blessing and a curse. I was the kid who tried his hand at making his own track maps of the New York City subway (and making suggestions to my grandfather as to places we should go based on that).

So I like maps as entities unto themselves as well as serving as tools - whether in real life or in gaming. In the living room I'm writing this I can see hanging on the walls a 1970's New York City subway map and a map of Colonial-era New York City. When I was a teenager there was a map of the World of Greyhawk hanging up on my wall.

That said... my own artistic ability is crap. I've seen some absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn maps that absolutely fill me with envy. I've even supported some cartographers via Patreon. Over the past few years I…

Adventuring in the Partially Abandoned City of Khromarium

During the Roman Empire, the city of Rome reached a peak population of around a million people. However during the Middle Ages its population dropped to the tens of thousands of people. One source I've seen says 20,000, another 50,000 - in any case, a monumental decline). The Coliseum at one point served as a landfill.

I've been thinking about this as I prep for a campaign in Hyperborea. There, the largest city is Khromarium, with a population of around 30,000. However, a reading of the Referee's Manual for AS&SH shows how much Khromarium has fallen from its peak. Depopulated twice - once upon the advent of the Ashen Worm, with Khromarium buried under ice. The second time, in more recent history, in the aftermath of the Green Death.

Having once been the capital of the Hyperborean Kingdom - for "untold millennia" I picture it also having once had a population in excess of a million. Reduced to 30,000, that is perhaps 3% of its former glory. Page 208 of the Re…

Colonial Gothic July 2017 Bundle of Holding

I don't think I've ever pitched a Bundle of Holding before but I'd encourage people to check out the Colonial Gothic Bundle of Holding, valid for the next 15 or so days. Richard Iorio II, owner of Rogue Games, is donating 100% of his proceeds, to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Richard lost three friends in succession to suicide in 2015. Having dealt with mental health issues and a daughter dealing with depression and suicidal ideation it is a cause quite dear to my heart.

Colonial Gothic is a great reference for gaming in Colonial America in the period of and around the American Revolution (with expansions covering other periods). Even if the rules don't grab you it provides a massive amount of information and inspiration for gaming in the period. The rules and supplements cover Native American and colonist characters, French North America, British North America, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, etc. And of course there's a supp…

Reviewing Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea in Preparation for a Campaign

It's been a while since I've done an old school D&D style campaign. I'm in the process of prepping it, aiming to kick it off some time later this month (or early in the next).

We'll be using Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. AS&SH is awfully close to 1st edition AD&D, at least mechanically. However, there's a number of key differences I'm keeping in mind:

The game is closely linked to the Hyperborean setting. This is strongly inspired by Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean stories (no real surprise there), with some good does of Robert E. Howard, HP Lovecraft, and Fritz Leiber (among others). It wouldn't be impossible to pull from the setting, but the setting is a great old school setting, one which on its own is very flexible and easily fine-tuneable by the GM.All the characters are human, though there are different human ethnicities or races.Like the Holmes edition of D&D, there are five, not three or nine alignments. T…

Revisiting Hyperborea

Revisiting is a strange word, as I've never actually played Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH). I reviewed it several years ago and I liked what I read, though I wound up using ACKS and Dungeon Crawl Classics. It's been a while since I played an OSR game but as I evaluated options for our upcoming game, I found myself coming back to it a lot. There's a new edition of it due within a few months but this new edition is designed to be fully compatible with the first edition. I will confess that I'll miss the boxed set and coil-bound rulebooks but as a backer of the Kickstarter I'm definitely looking forward to it.

When I first reviewed AS&SH I wasn't particularly familiar with Clark Ashton Smith. However, over the past several years I've read a number of his works and his writings have had a large influence on my Call of Cthulhu gaming. The Book of Eibon had an important role in my campaign as has his creation, Tsathoggua, As my…

Looking for the Perfect OSR Game

Objectively, of course, there's no such thing. So what's perfect for me?
I'm giving it some thought as my gaming group will embarking on an old school campaign this summer. There's a few I'm considering - links go to reviews on this blog. 
High up on the list is ACKS - Adventurer Conqueror King. I've had a lot of fun playing it in the past. It's based on what is probably my favorite version of D&D, the old B/X variant, but adds the sort of crunch that I like. It operates on the premise that characters will eventually become movers and shakers in the world, with rules for running domains, thieves' guilds, etc. On the negative side for ACKS advancement takes a while and it does require a bit more prep than most OSR style game. Prep time is something of a premium for me, as after a break of a few months I'll be resuming part-time pursuit of my Master's at Brandeis this July. My own experience is the prep time does yield excellent dividends, gr…

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: The Haunted Landscape of Ka'tori

Tuesday, June 15, 1920. Kingsport, Massachusetts

Evelyn Mercer, director of the Mercer Art Gallery had engaged the services of one of her occasional artists, Fredrik Tardiff, to solve a mystery in line with his experiences. Tardiff had been recovering from bouts with the supernatural - he'd returned from Greenland about a year ago after uncovering signs of the lost Hyperborean civilization. Spending the next six months pouring over the Book of Eibon he'd acquired was perhaps not the best idea for his mental well being but he had spent the past several months focused on mundane painting. Unfortunately, most of his former companions were unavailable - some having wisely retired from supernatural investigation, others taking advantage of Prohibition to pursue a life of mundane crime. He'd made the acquaintance of an antiquarian but he was apparently spending time abroad, currently in a yurt in Mongolia uncovering the history of an ancestor who had spent time living among the…

Fiction Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

This is a little out of scope for my blog but I'm aware a number of my readers are the same age as me - somewhere in their forties or fifties with adolescent children. This is a review of Jay Asher's novel which is the basis for the Netflix series of the same name.

Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide. She left behind a set of thirteen audio tapes, explaining why she killed herself and the people who contributed to that. She claims the recipients are being watched and if they don't listen and pass them on the tapes will be released publicly. The novel follows the most recent recipient Clay Jensen, who does not understand why he is considered part of the reason she killed herself, as he cared about her though was never as close to her as he wanted to be.

Hannah feels trapped and betrayed. She has the reputation of a slut, despite having only gone so far as to kiss a few boys and nothing more. She feels betrayed in fr…

Musings on Cthulhu in Colonial America

I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe; by the Which I mean, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to answer, and shall commande more than you. - HP Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
I was talking with one of the players in my gaming group about Call of Cthulhu in Colonial America - specifically the 17th and 18th centuries. Sixtystone Press has a Colonial Lovecraft Country on their production schedule but it is likely safe to say it is a ways out so any Keeper is on his or her own.

I wrote about general gaming in Colonial America last year whilst in Colonial Williamsburg - Another Bucket List Setting - Colonial America. Not a lot has changed on the material available gaming in Colonial America. As I see it, the main products currently usable include:

Colonial Gothic - A game dedicated specifically to gaming in British North America.…

Adam West Was My First Batman

Like many, I was saddened yesterday when I read of the passing of Adam West. When I was a young child, I have to confess I never saw the 1960s Batman series as campy. I treated those zany adventures with absolute seriousness. Of course I laughed, but much as one might laugh in a modern superhero movie with its funny moments.

A large part of that had to be how much Adam West put into his role of Batman. The show itself was awesomely campy but Batman always was serious. A noble crimefighter who would make certain he contributed to the healthy development of his young ward. Who would always do the right thing.

It was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s to rail against the old Batman show. How Batman wasn't really like that, but rather he was a grim avenger of the night. I couldn't really get into that - I love The Dark Knight Returns and similar takes on Batman but I had too fond memories of the classic 1960s show to ever speak against it. When Adam West spoke at the UConn…