3/31/13

Rusty Battle Kickstarter Is Almost Here...

The Rusty Battle Axe Kickstarter will be revealed tomorrow, April 1. While I cannot give out the details yet, I can say that it has been months in the making and it will unlike any other RPG product currently available. Better than a dungeon. Better than dice. Better than maps. Better than cards. Better than some dopey books (you can get those anywhere).

Not only is the core product absolutely awesome, you will want to drop some additional cash to get in on the stretch goals. So get out your credit card and get ready to spend.

3/30/13

Rusty Battle Axe Kickstarter

Hey, boys and girls, I'll be rolling out an unbelievable Kickstarter on Monday. It has a lot of everything and you are going to want to get in on it. Be sure to stay tuned.

3/29/13

Five for Friday 14: My Favorite Avalon Hill Wargames

This post is a sequel of sorts for my post, Five for Friday 13: Favorite Non-RPG Games.

Chess and Stratego are my favorite two player strategy games. However, I have a deep and abiding affection for the Avalon Hill games that I played as a high school goof before that fateful day I cracked open the Holmes D&D box. Once we started playing Dungeons & Dragons, we never looked back. However, back in the 1970s, Avalon Hill games reigned supreme. Growing up in a rural area and being in high school meant that I didn't have ready access to many opponents. I did have a cousin and two other friends who would occasionally play AH games. Later, the four of us would comprise my first D&D gaming group.

Here, in alphabetical order, were my favorite Avalon Hill games:
  • Panzer Leader & PanzerBlitz: These two games utilized very similar mechanics. PanzerBlitz was released first, focusing on the World War 2's Eastern Front. I mainly played Panzer Leader, which was a small unit tactical game that simulated combat and tactics on the Western Front. These two games were innovative in a number of regards, but the big RPG connection is that these two games pioneered the use of isomorphic mapboards that are now staples of dungeon fans everywhere.
  • Rise and Decline of the Third Reich: The grand strategy game of World War 2. This game takes into account economies, economic development versus armament production; international logistics, strategic bombing, naval activity, alliances, and, of course, combat. There are a lot of moving parts here but it is a fun, playable game due to the ingenius game design that involves a high level of abstraction and a thoughtful combination of differing game mechanics. I think this game, as different as it is from early editions of D&D, allowed us to quickly grasp the abstract concepts of hit points, armor class, and the Vancian magic system.
  • Russian Campaign: I bought this game right after it came out in 1976. It is my favorite wargame, hands down. The rules for "double impulse" allowed for a nice simulation of mass breakthroughs and encirclements that were bread and butter strategies on World War 2's Eastern Front.
  • Starship Troopers: I was a science fiction fan before I was a gamer, so I was excited to find out that Avalong Hill had released a game of one of my favorite sci-fi novels. I still think it is the best sci-fi game around and wish I owned it.
  • Tobruk: I only had a chance to play this once and I never owned it. I had borrowed the game friend, so it true gamer fashion, had read the rules multiple times. The game was released in 1975 and simulated combat in North Africa, circa 1942. It utilized even small units (infantry platoon and individual vehicles/artillery) than the PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader (company level) and I often think about this game while playing GURPS. Not that there is similarity in mechanics, but GURPS feels like Tobruk to me for some reason--lots of cool tactics and a simple mechanics to support them.
Avalon Hill produced hundreds of games during the heyday of board-based wargames. When I look at the list of games, there are a number of games I wish I had a chance to play, including: 1776, Afrika Korps, Jutland, and Midway.

3/28/13

My Favorite World War 2 Books

I am a big time history buff. My favorite topics include ancient Greece, Medieval (particularly Byzantium), the Reformation, Central Asia, and the 20th Century (particularly cultural history and also science). But WW2 has always been the big draw...maybe it was having two uncles in the war. Anyway, I have read a fair amount of WW2 history over the years. The following is not meant to be a bibliography or reading list--there are some holes in my list (nothing on southeast Asia, the Balkans, or small unit tactics for example). Here is simply an annotated list of some of my favorites, in alphabetical order:
My World War 2 To Read List
And when I retire (or win PowerBall) I will finally read Morison's 15 volume work on the U.S. Navy in WW2 and Winston Churchill's classic 6 volume history of WW2.

3/27/13

More Good Things in the Mail

Some goodies came in the mail over the past few days. The first was an Amazon box (with the smirky logo) and, after checking for traps before opening, I found The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelanzy. Thanks to Tim (Gothridge Manor) for recommending it (in the comment section of a recent post on my favorite fantasy series). I also have added Malazan Book of the Fallen series (Steven Erikson) to my wish list, recommended by JD (The Disoriented Ranger). JD also recommended the P.I. Garrett books by Glen Cook, so I put them on an Amazon wish list as well. Thanks, JD!

Tim also sent me some giant graph paper for giant maps of giant dungeons. They are 2' x 3', with 1/4 inch squares. Thanks, Tim, for being so generous. Maybe you'll find a giant roll  +2 paper of zine production in the giant dungeon.

3/26/13

Megadungeon Hall of Fame Post: "With New Old Eyes"

One of the down sides to living in the digital age is being inundated with information--information that is sort by what is newest, not by what is best. Social media (including blogging) presents us with lots of trivial ephemeral stuff (including nonsense random tables featuring elf farts), while good stuff gets buried.

Michael (The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope) posted With New Old Eyes back on December 5, 2008. It remains to this day the single best post or article that I have seen on creating and running a megadungeon. Instead of giving yet more guidelines and principles, Michael encourages to jettison anything that isn't helpful to actual play and having fun in the megadungeon. He does this by offering up these five points:
  • "Stop worrying and love the dungeon"
  • “Balance Realism and Fun, but when in doubt, Fun always trumps Realism”
  • “The Fantastic, when cranked up to eleven, somehow equals the Realistic”
  • “Never be afraid to say ‘no’ to the dice, but also never be afraid to say ‘yes’”
  • “Plant many seeds, but only tend the ones that grow”
I really like #1 and #5--running a dungeon should be fun. Those two points really help the GM/DM/LL/TK/CK/Ref remain focused on the fun and what is working. Point #3 is the point that I need to remind myself of...I forget how cool fantastic and weird are. If a dungeon must pass a realism test to be played, then playing in a dungeon is not the correct option for the GM or players.

What online posts or articles have you read that made a difference in the way you play? Are there dungeon/megadungeon posts or articles that I should add to my Megadungeon Links Page?

3/25/13

Monday Moodsetter 12

Viking Swords at Stavanger Sword Monument,
Stavanger, Norway
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

3/24/13

Random Table Top RPG Blog Topic Generator

Here is a repost from my old blog (with a few modifications). You'll need a D30 or you can just go here.
  1. My Favorite Color of Dice
  2. My First TPK
  3. Least Favorite Magic Item
  4. Which Monster Has the Best Sense of Humor?
  5. How To Make Dragons Tougher
  6. Random Table of Found Meals in the Dungeon
  7. How Dungeon Rock Types Might Impact Adventures
  8. The Use of Ships in Traditional Classic Fantasy RPGs
  9. Uses for Modrons
  10. Darwin Award for Player Characters: Your Best Self-Destructive PC
  11. Do Elves Fart?
  12. Does Your Campaign Setting Have a Magnetic Field?
  13. The Original AD&D 1e Bard
  14. Clowns As Monsters
  15. Lions, Tigers and Bears
  16. Three New Magic Items
  17. Clothes and Style for Player Characters
  18. The Best Names for Taverns, Pubs, Inns and Bars
  19. Fudging Dice Rolls as DM: Yes, No, or Depends
  20. Spells with Loopholes
  21. Monty Python References During Gaming Sessions: Pros and Cons
  22. Three Actual Historic/Geographic Settings that Would Make For Great Gaming
  23. New Monster
  24. Best Music Before a Gaming Session
  25. Snacks: Salty, Sweet or Healthy?
  26. What Were They Thinking?
  27. Names for Swords
  28. Five Things an Adventurer Should Never Be Without
  29. Oops
  30. Roll Twice and Use Both Topics in One Post

3/23/13

GURPS Newbie Post: Hindrances and Helps for Learning the Game

I can now state for the record that GURPS has become my favorite gaming system. I am not ready to run a GURPS game as GM, but I certainly like it as a player.

The challenge of GURPS, as it is for most gaming systems, is learning the ropes fast and well enough to have fun and be a competent member of the gaming group (some would argue that I will never be competent, regardless of system).

As I look back on my 9 months of GURPS, I have identified some things that were stumbling blocks (hindrances) as well as some things that moved me forward (helps). So here are my thoughts and what hinders and what helps the GURPS newbie.

What Hindered Me In Learning GURPS
GURPS Character Assistant: A wonderful piece of software. Really...it is way cool. But, for the GURPS newbie, it is like having your smart girlfriend doing your math homework for you. You may get an "A" but you didn't learn a whole lot. There is something to be said for creating your first character with paper and pencil, including "showing your work" (do kids still have to show their work in math class?). Had I done it all by hand my first time, I think I would have learned the game more quickly.

Fantasy Grounds: GURPS has a groovy unified mechanic that is so easy to grasp a caveman could play it...everything runs off of 3d6 rolls (except damage...and maybe some other stuff). However, there are a lot of dice rolling going on and a lot of modifiers. We use Fantasy Grounds II as our VTT. Fantasy Grounds does almost all of the math, once you have entered your character data. It is so sweet! But for me, the newbie, I did not get the intuitive feel for rolls and modifiers. The consequence is that I did not have an intuitive feel to make tactical decisions--which is the payoff as a GURPS player.

The Many Many GURPS Books: I went a little crazy buying GURPS book, which was fun for me (not so fun for my wife as part of one of our NYC trips was spend tracking down game stores with GURPS products). However, more books do not help the newbie. Less is better. I have learned that hours of GURPS Thaumatology, GURPS Horror, and even GURPS Fantasy, have not helped me play a 75 point dwarf. All of the GURPS books are great, but they are overwhelming all at once.

What Helped Me In Learning GURPS
A Good (and patient) GM: Rob has done a great job of explaining things while still making me, as a player, responsible for running my character. Rob has given me a lot of information. It really helps to have a generous and patient GM at the start of one's GURPS career.

Helpful Players: Tim has done a good job of telling me when to ignore Rob, as in "You don't need all that, you just need this for starters." (Tim and Rob have been gaming together for 30 years, so all of this happens during sessions...like an old married couple).

GURPS Lite: I wish I had spent more time with GURPS Lite and less time the other GURPS books during my first few months with GURPS.

Blogs and Online Info: There are a lot of great online resources for the newbie GURPS player. It is actually easy to be overwhelmed by it all. I have been finding more and more GURPS blogs. Here are a few posts that I found particularly helpful:

GURPS for Dummies: Yes, you laugh, make fun, and point at the newbie with his bumblebee-colored book. Taunt and mock me if you must, but the character creation section of this book was worth the few bucks I paid for a used copy. It addresses the one glaring weak spot in GURPS Basic Set: Characters, the introductory chapter on character creation (not a great spot to place your one weak explanation).

I know that there are many many more resources but, as a newbie, I want the right stuff, not all of the stuff. The key is to have "just enough info" to get the essence of GURPS and create a character. I think it is also vital that newbies do stuff "by hand" to gain an intuitive feel for the game. You have to roll up your sleeves and put in the work, but once you "get it," GURPS is awesome. Having an intuitive feel is critical to enjoying the awesomeness.

3/22/13

Five for Friday 13: Favorite Non-RPG Games

I am a fan of games--card games, board games, war games, to name some that I enjoy (I avoid video, online, and PC games as I have no interest in living a life of addiction, rehab, and relapse). Here are some card and board games that I enjoy (in alphabetical order):
  • Acquire: I first played the older edition back in the early 1980s. The current rendition is a Wizards of the Coast production.
  • Apples to Apples: My favorite party game.
  • Dutch Blitz: Moving to southcentral Pennsylvania (Amish Country) and marrying into a Mennonite family has given me a deep appreciation of this game. It is one of the few Anabaptist outlets for otherwise forbidden aggressive tendencies.* Think of it as a cross between Uno and MMA. It is not a game for polite lapsed Lutherans from the Midwest...I always have the most cards in the my hand at the end of the game. Keep your elbows out and tender parts in a safe place at all times.
  • Fluxx: A card game that is like Uno on streroids--the rules of the game are written on the cards so the game changes with each card played. There are lots of expansion packs: Family, Pirates, Zombie and Cthulu, to name a few.
  • Settlers of Catan: My introduction to European/German style strategy board games. I really like this entire genre of board and strategy games and wish I could play more than once every other year or so.
What are your favorite non-RPG, non-digital/electronic games?

*Someday I'll have to post about the surprising amount of fighting by the Amish in our local rec hockey leagues.

3/21/13

Playtest Sessions Mini-Report (Swords & Wizardry Complete)

I have been part of Tim Short's playtest sessions of The Last Candle, a campaign starter created by Greg Christopher. We are using Swords & Wizardry Complete for our ruleset. We just finished our second session tonight and I thoroughly enjoyed it (Tim's notes from the first session are here; Bard also has a short report from session one here).

The best part about the two mid-week playtest sessions is that we have lured Bard into our regular Monday night group (mostly GURPS, with a bit of Blood & Treasure thrown in). For me, the best part about gaming is the people I game with. I am thrilled to add another person to that list.

3/20/13

Mmmm...Bacon: GURPS Session in the Majestic Wilderlands

We ended our last session with the defeat of six wereboars at the hands of our party of four (plus our newly hired noncombatant innkeeper). Three of the wereboars remained after the quick killing of half of their group led to their surrender.

Delvin, my dwarf, was all for finishing off the other three. They gutted my pony, after all. I liked my pony. I judged my pony to be a better person than most people (at least most human people...and all elven people).

My mood softened as we heard the wereboars' tale of woe. They had been set up by their boss and captured by some sort of witchy woman. She was living in the foothills about 10 miles or so to the west of our current location. This caused a bit of concern, as we are preparing to build an inn just down the road. No one wants a witch or nymph or other troublesome female type, lurking around and turning men into pigs (well, okay, that is not really not much of a stretch when you consider it). We did our good for the day by sending the three piggy guys to the north with a few coins and the name of a temple that we hoped could help them.

Once they hit the road, we gathered  up the three remaining bodies and built a nasty hot fire. The more magically paranoid members in our group decided that leaving bodies of suspected lycanthropes lying around could come back to haunt us and our inn. You never know who might be looking for a meal and end up with a case of recurring indigestion every full moon. Yes, I did detect a note of bacon in the air.

The site for our inn was just down the road. It turned out to be an excellent location to build an inn. Plus, the natives like us. The dozen or so locals--freehold farmers and herdsmen--welcomed us. The prospects of prosperity and the tale of our victory over the wereboars won them over.

The next day, our master mason arrived. He and Kermit set about the site, doing whatever prep work needed to be done. Actually, Kermit and the mason seemed to be working on two different projects. There was a lot of bickering, so Durgo and I decided to ride out for a bit, making a circle around the inn to get the lay of the land. Bickering loses its interest when it cannot be settled by a well-timed axe swing.

We encountered a woman herding her flock. She threatened to plug us with an arrow. I wasn't too worried about our safety but we did want to make a good impression on our new neighbors. Wooing strangers does not play to my strengths, unless the wooing involves cleaving them from head to toe. Durgo is no social butterfly either. It was a bit awkward. However, once she realized that I was, in fact, a real live dwarf her countenance turned from hostility to an equal mix of wonder and greed. Apparently, here was another human who believed that dwarves, when held upside down by their feet and shaken, shoot gold nuggets out of our asses. Really...what is with you humans? After trying that trick on two of my cousins, an aunt, and our clan's priest, I can tell you flat out that it is an old elve's tale. I never saw a single nugget, although my aunt did let out a few poisonous toots.

We explored the handful of farms to the west of the inn site. Beyond that we could see the foothills and the likely home of the witchy woman. To the east, we found ancient stone megaliths and lots of cairns. Not surprising, given that we were on the western edge of the Plain of Cairns. Clever namers, those humans.

We arrived back at the inn site. We could hear the bickering long before we could see the bickerers. Fortunately, Kermit is a good sport and a quick learner. That boy has the magic touch when it comes to construction...something that I lack despite my dwarviness.

Alas, no fighting. However, the witch to the west and the cairns to the east promise plenty of future excitement.

3/19/13

OSR Mega Bundle Giveaway--Compliments of Tim at Gothridge Manor

Tim, of Gothridge Manor, is giving way lots of free--and very cool-- OSR gaming stuff in celebration of his 1000th blog post. First of all, congratulations to Tim. It is a very groovy accomplishment and proof that, with enough perseverance and lack of direction, we can reach the stars of our dreams while pondering sleestaks and pretending to be elves. Secondly, don't waste anymore time on my blog. Get to his blog, comment on his 1000th blog post, and consider yourself entered to win lots of great stuff.

Good Things in the Mail

I don't purchase a lot of gaming stuff, at least not compared to most tabletop gamers blogger types. So when I do open up my wallet, I like to make it count. Today, I was very excited to get Patrick Wetmore's ASE2-3: Anomalous Subsurface Environment in the mail.

I do purchase a lot of books from Amazon, including a lot of used books from third party venders. All of my purchases are sent to my workplace. My coworkers are used to lots of little packages showing up...plus the occasional big package from Musicians Friend or Carvin. However, they always give me a hard time when it says "LuLu" on the box. Little do they know what sort of goodness is waiting for me inside.

Of course, I scurried away to my office for a quick scan of ASE2-3. My first reaction was not "I want to run this dungeon." It was "I want to roll out a character and be a player."  

3/18/13

Monday Moodsetter 11

by Alan Tooth
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

3/17/13

Megadungeon Links

I have added a Megadungeon Links page to my blog. It is the sort of thing that will never be complete, but it appeals to the obsessive compulsive part of my personality. It has also been interesting to actually read the articles.

I could use your help. I want to either expand or add the following sections:
  • GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Key blog posts on design and play.
  • Random Generators and Tables
  • The Underdark
  • Published Megadungeons: I have ASE, Barrowmaze, Rappan Athuk, and Stonehell. Any others? I am trying to limit myself to big dungeons (as in really big).
  • Thread Posts: I generally don't read threads so if anyone knows of some good dungeon threads, let me know.
Feel free to suggest any additions to the Megadungeon Links page. Thanks!

3/16/13

Five for Friday (Saturday Edition) 12: My RPG Hardcopy Wish List

Work has been brutal lately...in the office by five a.m. and home after midnight. Fortunately, it hasn't cut into the gaming time but it has slowed down the the blog posts. Anyway, here is a post that I meant to do for Friday but didn't get done. It is my current wish list of hardcopy gaming stuff.

Everything on the list is pricey, with GURPS Powers at the low end ($25.24) from Amazon. Rappan Athuk weighs in at about $100 (ouch!!). My wife and I both work as nonprofit CEOs...with "nonprofit" being the operative and determinative term for our salaries. So, with kids in college, a money pit for a house, and four aging pets, I have to curb my buying of expensive gaming stuff. I also want a new bass guitar and amplifier...I should have mentioned that, too. I shouldn't whine about all this...I really do love my job, my wife, my kids, and most of our animals (sorry Pirate). The jury is still out on our house.

Here is my wish list of hardcopy game products:
I have tried to talk my wife into finding a very wealthy older man for a boyfriend (for her, just to clarify, although if he was rich enough I might be tempted...). I thought it was a good plan for us--and quite generous on my part--but, alas, even with all of my persuasive powers brought to bear, nothing has come of that idea. Bummer, for sure. For now, I will just have to create wish lists.

3/14/13

Montporte Dungeon Session 2 Notes (Blood & Treasure)

Introduction
So we made the switch from AD&D 1e to Blood & Treasure after deciding to add a once-a-month dungeon delve to our Monday Night Gaming Group, with me as GM/DM/TK/LL/CK/Ref. You can read my notes from the first session here. If we were playing every week, I might have been tempted to try GURPS Dungeon Fantasy but that seemed like a lot of work for 3 hours/month of playing (as I am a GURPS newbie, which would mean lots of additional prep). Anyway, I digress.

The Cast
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 1 Lvl Hunter): Tim
Duncan Kern (Gnome, 1 Lvl Illusionist/Thief): Dan
Leif (Half-Elf, 1 Lvl Mage/Cleric/Trickster): Josh
Spensol (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Ian (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Diana (Human): NPC

The Session
The brave adventurers had just finished killing a black floating amoeba type creature plus three orcs. They found a young woman, about 20 years old, lying on the floor in a catatonic state (Room #1 on the map above). After several unsuccessful attempts to revive the woman, Leif scooped up some of the cytoplasmic goo from the floating amoeba and wiped it on the woman. Much to the surprise of everyone (including me), the woman stirred and then slowly came to her senses (I gave this a 1 in 6 chance of working and then rolled a "1").

The woman's name turned out to be Diana. She remembered very little of her ordeal, only that she and some others were taken captive by a band of orcs. She had no recollection of being brought underground and had no useful knowledge regarding the orcs or the rest of the human captives. The player characters tried in vain to convince Diana to return to the surface, where she could wait with a few members of the adventuring party who were guarding the horses. She was unwilling to wander the dungeon alone so she the group assigned her the role of torch bearer.

The party then left Room #1, passed through Room #2, and encountered two orcs standing guard near the east end of #3. The orcs charged and were quickly dispatched. Leif discovered a trap attached to the door to the east--he was able to disarm a weighted axe designed to chop into the chest of the unwary.

After disarming the trap, the party continued east through the door to the statue in area #4. They checked the approach to the statue for traps and found a trigger in the floor. Upon closer examination, they discovered that the statue (made of bronze) had a lot of discoloration around the nose and the nostrils were actually openings of some kind. They guessed that the statue discharged acid or gas and that it was connected to the trigger in the floor.

The party moved north into Room #5 and surprised a group of giant rats who were feeding on the almost skeletal remains of two kobolds. The rats were put to sleep, dispatched to Cheese Factory in the Sky, and the kobold remains were searched.

The group continued north into an east-west corridor (area #8). They first opened the door into a small 10' x 10' room with two stone chairs against the far wall. Each chair had a hole in the seat with a ceramic bowl on the floor below it. They had little chance to ponder the potty chairs as there were two animated skeletons in the room.

The fight with the skeletons turned out to be the party's toughest encounter so far on this adventure. Rather than attempt to turn the skeletons, the party figured that they would make quick work of two skeletons. Because of the small space, the party couldn't go "all in" and so it was an even match. While the skeleton attacks were non-lethal, the party had no luck even striking the skeletons. Leif was able to toss a net over one of the skeletons, giving the party tactical advantage (-2 to the skeleton's armor class and attack role). The skeletons were finally dispatched.

The party then turned their attention to the door on the north wall. No traps were discovered and Adzeer opened the door, only to have a bolt zip by him and stick into the door on the south wall. A close call, meriting quick glare from Adzeer towards Leif and Duncan, the trap removal guys.

The room (Room #7) had a remnants of wooden barrels and crates, plus a small iron chest. Leif checked for traps and found a trap trigger but was unable to disarm it. He picked the lock and carefully opening the trap. His caution rewarded him with a near miss from a small dart. The box contained 5 rolls of silk. The bottom and top roll had some rust damage, but were partially salvaged. The middle three rolls were in great shape.

While searching for a false bottom in the box, a group of jinomes entered the room and surprised the characters. Jinomes are undead gnomes, with the ability to weaken their opponents through hideous songs and crazy laughter. Immediately, they got the jump on the party, paying particular attention to Duncan (the party's gnome). Recognizing the peril and fighting back his desire to destroy the jinomes in combat, Adzeer opted to turn the jinomes. His supplications were answered and the jinomes scurried from the room.

Leif went back to the iron chest, found a false bottom, and uncovered 10 silver bars. The party then prepared for the jinomes return, with Leif littering the floor in corridor (area #8) with caltrops.

Sure enough, as predicted, the jinomes returned and failed to notice the caltrops. The caltrops took their tool, which allowed the party to make quick work of them. This is where the session ended for the evening.

We had a late start and an early finish, but the party was able to do a bit of exploration this session. They only discovered two orcs and they failed to find any more humans, so they have a lot of work left to do.

Check out Tim's post on this session.

 

3/11/13

Monday Moodsetter 10

Utopia, Frogfolio by Victo Ngai
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

3/8/13

Five for Friday 11: Favorite Fantasy Series

A Fantasy Come True--The Castle of Books
I never connected with Game of Thrones, sad to say. I felt the same way trying to slog through Kate Elliot/Alis A. Ramussen's Crown of Stars series and some of the books by David Eddings. I don't really read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, at least not at the rate that I did while I was in my teens. However, there are some fantasy series that I do enjoy. Here are five (in alphabetical order), plus some "honorable mentions:"
  • Dresden Files: Jim Butcher's best-selling series was not love-at-first-read for me. I really struggled to make it through the first book and I wasn't all in until book 4, Summer Knight. Sadly, there was no love connection between me and Butcher's Codex Alera series.
  • Earthsea: I recently reread Ursala Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, plus the sequels, and found that they still do it for me.
  • Elric of Melnibon√©: Anything I write will only detract from Michael Moorcock's masterpiece. I am also a big fan of the Moorcock's other books, particularly the two Corum trilogies.
  • Newford: I am still working my way through Charles de Lint's sprawling Newford series. Set in a fictional North American city, his series features an overlapping cast of slackers, hipsters, and musicians whose lives intersect a powerful, yet unseen world, where Native American and Celtic mythologies run wild.
  • Tales of the Otori: A series of five novels by Gillian Rubinstein (written under the pen name, Lian Hearn), the Tales of the Otori is set in a land very much like medieval Japan. An added bonus is that the individual book titles all utilize Japanese poetic style (waka and haiku). You know me...I love me some haiku.
Honorable mentions: Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser; Terry Pratchett, Discworld; Glen Cook, The Black Company; Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian; Robin Hobb (pen name for Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden...you can see why), The Realm of the Elderlings; and, yes, J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter.

Hall of Fame: J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle Earth novels

What is your favorite fantasy series?

3/7/13

The GM/DM Gig: Preparation and Improvisation

Miles
Playing the role of GM/DM feels very much like playing live music. I have to put in the time practicing--whether it is bass, guitar, or mandolin. Scales, runs, chords, melodies and grooves. Plus working on actual songs. Sometimes fun. Sometimes toil and grunt work. That is the prep work.

The payoff is the live performance with other musicians. Being able to play off my bandmates--improvising-- while performing a song for the audience. Pure gold. But improvising, the making-it-up-as-we-go, only works when I have put in the hours of prep.

That is how it is for me when I am running a gaming session. How does it all work for you when you are in the GM/DM seat?

3/6/13

Into It (Or Not)

The Pre-Session Me
I was the DM/GM/CK/TK/Ref for our Monday Night Gaming Group as the guys adventured in the Montporte dungeon. On a typical Monday night, I am simply a player, which affords me the luxury of showing up to the session tired, grumpy, stressed, etc. When that happens, I can hang back a bit until the session gets going--and then I am ready to jump in with both hands on my axe. By the end of the session, I always find myself relaxed and ready to face the rest of the week. But that is my experience as a player.

However, when I am in the GM seat, my mood and energy level sets the tone for the session. Unfortunately, I went into our Monday night session like I had just been smacked around by a bunch of level-sucking undead. I am the CEO of a nonprofit that operates with significant federal funding and this is not a fun time to being counting on the U.S. government to make reasoned decisions. So, that brings a bit of stress to the workday. On top of that, I had been grant writing like crazy, cranking out reports, working on a bunch of sensitive negotiations with other agencies, keeping things going while some key staff deal with family medical issues, traveling out of state to speak at a conference, running a major fundraising event, and getting over a bad case of the flu as an added bonus.

So I went into the session surly and ill-prepared (which only worsened my mood). And, lo and behold, it was an okay session...maybe even a bit better than okay. Nothing to write home about but the guys brought some game to the virtual table top and turned it into a good time for all of us.

3/5/13

Book Bundle Giveaway

Hey, boys and girls! Who doesn't love giveaways and prizes? The Happy Whisk is giving away an ebook bundle in celebration of her 444th blog post. It includes Tim's latest issue of The Manor, but don't let that dissuade you (The Happy Whisk is Tim's wife...not sure how he engineered that). The other stuff looks really cool, too (3 other ebooks!).

3/4/13

Monday Moodsetter 9

Canyon Town by Kazu Kibuishi
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

3/2/13

Dungeon Design: The Sixth Way

This post represents a correction from a brain fart while writing the previous post. While writing that post, I could remember only four of the five paths I use for dungeon design. All I could remember was the Architect DM piece. While I like that bit of info, it wasn't a part of what I had intended to write. Here is what I originally intended to include as one of my Five Paths For Dungeon Design:

The 5 X 5 Method: This allows the GM to create some plot, setting and thematic connections for the players to follow while allowing players to make significant choices as to where they are going and how they will play. Basically, the GM identifies five different quests, locations, factions, etc. In turn, each of these five quests/locations/factions/etc has five episodes, modules, or actions associated with them.You can find a the 5 X 5 Compendium here (with links to a number of blog posts and articles) but the original article (here) and an an example of how this method was applied to The Temple of Elemental Evil (here) gives a nice overview of how this method can help to plan a dungeon campaign.

3/1/13

Five For Friday 10: Five Paths For Dungeon Design

Designing a megadungeon as the basis for an extended campaign is a daunting task. To start with, it is a huge time suck. And, even you put in a buttload* of time, the finished product might not support extended play. While there are no magic bullets, perfect shortcuts, or foolproof methods, there are some design tools and methodologies that I have found helpful. I use them as paths for dungeon design.

I have these in, what seems to me, a logical order. However, in practice I do jump around between them to plan ahead, solve problems, organize my thoughts and do whatever it is I need to do to come up with a fun playable dungeon design.
  • The One Page Dungeon: Here is a modular approach, popularized by Stonehell Dungeon (which utilizes a Two Page Dungeon) and a string of One Page Dungeon contests. Basically, the dungeon is mapped out in 300' X 300' modules (or similar size) with the map and the map key fitting onto one page (or two pages). Here are some early posts from Sham's Grog `n Blog (here and here), ChicagoWiz's RPG Blog (here), and The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope (here) that provide more detail and insight.
  • The Architect DM Series: This series of blog posts on Critical Hits are not profound, but they do serve as a good reminder that a dungeon is a physical space underground (two sample posts here and here). I try to include basic engineering elements, such as columns. More importantly, it is a good reminder to have lots of "black space" or solid rock to physically support the rooms and passages. Part of this is my own personal dislike of dungeons that have no apparent means of support the roof (you know, those dungeons where every space on the map has been used (like Gary's map pictured here). My undergrad degree is in geophysics, so I feel a suprising need to have structural integrity in my dungeon (but at the same time, I don't worry about what dungeon critters eat...go figure).
  • Map Flow/Decision Tree Approach: I wasn't sure what to call this approach to dungeon design. "Melan," in a now-classic thread post, analyzed a number of TSR/WotC adventure modules, by looking at the pathway(s) available to player characters as they physically moved through the module (you can find Melan's text here). While he restricted his analysis to modules (with smaller dungeons), his thoughts and observations have helped me think through how player characters move through space. I have found it particularly helpful in giving players opportunities for decision-making based upon the physical layout of the dungeon.
  • Node-Based Dungeon: Another way to diagram and plan dungeon areas, factions, and encounters. Keith Davies has several posts on his blog, In My Campaign (you can read some of his node-based dungeon posts here, here, and here). Dungeon of Signs also has this post. [Update 3/8/13: Keith added links/landing page for his Node-Based Dungeon posts; you can find it here]
  • The Dungeon, the Underdark, and Beyond: I am a big fan of the Underdark concept. I love the idea of underground cities, complexes, and sites connected by stairs, rivers, passages, and portals (like this and even this).
What approaches, tools, publications, or methods have you found helpful for dungeon design?

*Thanks to the Happy Whisk for providing me with this useful unit of measure.