Saturday, April 30, 2011

A to Z. I did it.

I survived the A to Z challenge.
It took a bit and maybe I'll do a more indepth retrospective later.  Today's Z post was the one that made want to do this.  When I saw Z landed on Saturday, the day I do my Zatannurday posts then I figured what the hell.

Y was the hardest one.  I also almost didn't make my self-imposed deadline of 8:00am for this post.

Thank' to all the new visitors and followers.  I hope I give you plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

And I got another award in the process.


See all the winners at http://elizabethmueller.blogspot.com/2011/04/z-is-for.html

Zatannurday: Z is for Zatanna and Zullo

I have recently been turned on to Chrissie Zullo thanks to the wonderful "DC Women Kicking Ass" site.

I also posted her versions of Wonder Woman and Red Sonja too.

So a quick trip over to her Deviant Art page, and I find these fantastic Zatanna pieces.


There is an anime quality to this one I really like.  I wonder what she is thinking of.  Given how young she looks and that the hat looks too big on her, most likely she is thinking about her dad.



And this one is cute and sexy at the same time without needing to resort to cheesecake to do it.

And some more.




Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for YAFGC

YAFGC or "Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic" is a webcomic by Rich Morris and can be found here, http://yafgc.net/

I "found" YAFGC one night and spent the next few hours reading all the comics to get caught up.  I think I was done at something like 4:00 in the morning.  I was dragging hard that day, but very amused.

YAFGC, true to it's name, is a Fantasy Gamer comic and there are tons of gamer related jokes in the almost 1800 pages of the comic.  Too many to even recount honestly.  Each page is rough, but it is also daily comic, and a free one at that.  The stories are pretty clever, starting with a group of monsters (goblins, orcs, a crazy lich, drow and a beholder named Bob) and their extended family of friends, enemies and what ever Cap'n Fang is supposed to be to them.



It is gamer humor, but there are also pop cultural refs (but not too many to make it look dated in a s couple years) and a positive message about friends and family and the people you love.  Speaking of love, it you find inter-species love to be a bit squicky, then avoid this comic.  If you find the occasional same-sex relationship bothers you, then you might want to find other fare.  If you like good humor and occasionally poking a bit of fun at some of the tropes we use in a fantasy game, then this is a great place to be.

Favorite characters are Gren, the little goblin girl from the first strip. Arachne, the drow who has little patience for anyone and Cap'n Fang ("My sandbox is crunchy!").  But there are a lot of great characters too and a lot of different story arcs since 2006, many based on Rich's own 2nd Ed AD&D games.

Rich does a great job with this and I have not even talked about his other comics including on going Doctor Who ones!

So if you have a couple hours to kill and need a brain-break, then stop by, and read it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fortune favors the bold

A while back I mentioned that I had gotten paid to write a some D&D material for WotC, well that article is now up.  http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/drdd/20110427#viewSingle116268921

In it I talk about how my boys and I used the new D&D Fortune Cards while playing Moldvay/Cook D&D (Basic and Expert).
Also posted are other uses for Fortune Cards by other bloggers, all of which are pretty cool.

Have a look at their pages as well and see what they are saying.

http://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/

http://greywulf.net/

http://critical-hits.com/2011/04/27/i-am-fortunes-fool/

X is for X-Files

X-files

In the 90s everything was conspiracy theories, don't trust the government and the Truth was Out There.

On TV we had the X-Files.

There was a paranoia in the 90s.  Today it has boiled over into disgust about our government (believe I know, I live in Illinois, we have one ex-Governor in prison and another headed there).  But back then it was a general low hum of paranoia, suspicion and doubt.  It started with Iran-Contra, and moved on to movies like "JFK".  It was the climate that allowed the X-Files to grow.

It began on a start up station called Fox, long before they became synonymous for killing shows, good or bad, too early.  X-Files was their hit, their main show outside of the Simpsons really, and they kept it on for 9 years.

Let be honest here, the X-Files did more for genre TV than anything else. It was a cultural phenomena and most shows that we enjoyed in the 2000s and on are a result of this little show by Chris Carter.   People go on about Whedon, but Carter and the X-files has been nominated for more Emmys and the show had won more collective  awards.  Even in it's "worst" season X-files still had 3 times the views of Buffy.
Plus there is not an episode of Supernatural that doesn't in some way or another recall the X-files.  The Winchesters are this decade's Mulder and Scully.

I came to the show late.  I was working on my thesis at the time and I rarely watched TV.  Once I graduated I became a fast convert.  It became my Friday night ritual (I was watching them with my then girlfriend, so that is ok).  It was also one of the shows I did not invest in any of fandom.  I have an X-files CD and Mulder and Scully action figures, but I got them as gifts.  I really got into it the show all the same.  One of the first desktop "themes" I had for my brand spanking new copy of Windows 95 was an X-files one.

I loved the season long and multi-season long story arcs, I loved the characters, I didn't even care when my then girlfriend (and now wife) would go on about how hot Mulder or Skinner were.  That was fine with me.  I got to see Scully; hot and smart.

The trouble with X-Files is it was doomed from the start.  You can't keep the characters or the audience in the dark all the time and have a god show, and the more secrets you reveal the less the characters have to uncover.  They kept it up though for a good long run.

The same is true for any conspiracy game.  Conspiracy X, also by Eden Studios, is a great example.  You can totally run an "X-Files" game with it, but how often can you keep the players in the dark when they are looking for secrets?

The Godfather of the X-files is "Kolchak" and Darrin McGavin even made some guest spots on the show.  X-Files, while the "mythos arc" is lauded, sometimes worked the best on the "monster of the week" episodes.  Sure the aliens were great and those were the ones I got excited about, but the ones I recall the best, Flukeman, "Theef", the freaky weird family, the hallucinogenic fungus, the chupacabra.  Like Kolchak, X-files did it's best job when it dealt with "small stories"; episodes that dealt with a local myth, legend or monster and came at it with Mulder the one ready to believe anything and Scully looking the reasoned explanation.  I also liked the "spin-offs" Millennium and the Lone Gunmen.

One day I am going to go back to the world of the X-Files.  Back when Clinton was still president, freaky half-worm/half-man things lived in chemical toilets, cigarette smoking men and well manicured men sat in dark rooms with darker purposes, aliens kidnapped little girls and the Truth Was Out There

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Post 626

Todays post is brought to you by a monster.

Ok, just a little one.

I have a rather good relationship with the movie "Lilo and Stich".  It came out at a time when my kids were really little and loved to watch it over and over.  But I was working on a lot of game stuff then too, so watching the movie is very much part of the genesis of "The Dragon and the Phoenix" and even later "Ghosts of Albion".  So much so that Marion "Cobra" Bubbles made a guest appearance in one of my games.

Plus you have to give props to Disney on several points here.  First they used AC/DC in ads for this movie, I think that is a first ever for a Disney cartoon flick.  And Lilo is not your skinny little pale princess that Disney seems so fond of.  She is a normal shaped little Hawaiian girl, with issues.  And the soundtrack is full of Elvis songs.  How cool is that?  My boys loved this move and I can't say that I blamed them.

W is for WitchCraft RPG

W is for WitchCraft, and by that I mean C. J. Carella's WitchCraft RPG.

WitchCraft is, hands down, my favorite game.  Period.  Picking up a copy of this book back in 1999 was just like picking up a copy of the Monster Manual in 1979.  Everything I ever wanted in a game was right there.
Everything.

WitchCraft had such a profound effect on my gaming that I can draw a rather clean line between what came before and what came after it.  Granted a lot was going on in 1999/2000 both gamingwise and personal that may have added to the this effect, it was an effect all the same.

Back in 1999 I was really burned out on D&D.   I was working on my Witch netbook and reading a bunch of different games when someone, I forget where, must have been the old RAVENLOFT-L that TSR/WotC used to run, told me I really need to check out WitchCraft.  At first I balked.  I had tried Vampire a couple years ago and found I didn't like it (and I was very much out of my vampire phase then, see yesterday's post), but I was coming home from work and the my FLGS was on the way, so I popped in and picked up a copy.  This must have been the early spring of 2000.

I can recall sitting in my office reading this book over and over. Everything was so new again, so different.  This was the world I had been trying, in vain, to create for D&D but never could.  The characters in this book were also all witches, something that pleased me to no end, it was more than just that.  Plus look at that fantastic cover art by George Vasilakos. That is one of my most favorite, is not my favorite, cover for a game book. I have it hanging in my game room now.

WitchCraft uses what is now called the "Classic" Unisystem system.  So there are 6 basic attributes, some secondary attributes (derived), skills and qualities and drawbacks.  Like I mentioned Monday, skills and attributes can be mixed and matched to suit a particular need.

WitchCraft uses a Point-Buy Metaphysics magic system, unlike Ghosts of Albion's levels of magic and spells system.  Think of each magical effect as a skill that must be learned and you have to learn easier skills than harder ones first.    In D&D it is possible to learn Fireball and never have learned Produce Flame first.  In WitchCraft you could not do that.  But also WitchCraft is not about throwing around "vulgar magics".  WitchCraft is a survival game where the Gifted protect humanity from all sorts of nasty things, from forgotten Pagan gods, to demons, fallen angels and the Mad Gods; Cthulhoid like horrors from beyond.  WitchCraft takes nearly everything from horror and puts all together and makes it work.

The Eden Studios version was the Second Edition, I was later to find out.  The first one was from Myrmidon Press. I manged to find a copy of that one too and it was like reading the same book, from an alternate timeframe.  I prefer the Eden Edition far more for a number of reasons, but I am still happy to have both editions.

The central idea behind WitchCraft is the same as most other Modern Supernatural Horror games.  The world is like ours, but there are dark secrets, magic is real, monsters are real. You know the drill.  But WitchCraft is different.  There is a Rekoning coming, everyone feels it, but no one knows what it is.  Characters then take on the roles of various magic using humans, supernatuals or even mundane humans and they fight the threats.  Another conceit of the game (and one I use a lot) is that supernatural occurances are greater now than ever before.  Something's coming.  (dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria).

It is most often compared to World of Darkness, but I think it is vastly superior in nearly every respect.  Unlike (old) Mage there is no war between the (good) Mages and the (evil) Technocracy.  There is a war certainly, but nothing so cut and dry.  And unlike new Mage there are rarely clean divisions between the factions.  Yes, yes Mage players, I am being overly simple, but that is the point, on the simple levels new Mage dives everything into 5 because that is how the designers want it.  There are factions (Associations) and there are different metaphysics for each, but also overlap, and sometimes no clear and defined lines are to be found or given.  It feels very organic.

C. J. Carella may be one of the best game designers out there.  WitchCraft is a magnum opus that few achieve.  I took that game and I ran with it.  For 2000 - 2002 it was my game of choice above and beyond anything.  The Buffy RPG, built on Cinematic Unisystem took over till I wrote Ghosts of Albion also using Cinematic Unisystem.  I mix and match the systems as I need, but WitchCraft is still my favorite.
I ran my very first Willow & Tara games using WitchCraft and I still feel in many ways they are more at home there than anywhere else.  I also used it for various other media and book adaptations of witches, such as the Owens from Practical Magic (movie and book), Elizabeth Bathory (who was going to be the Big Bad) and the girls from Vampyres.

WitchCraft was also one of the first Wikipedia articles I ever worked on.  The images of the covers are scans of my own books.

But you don't have to take my word for it, Eden Studios will let you have it, sans some art, for free.
http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=692&it=1&affiliate_id=10748

Download it.  If you have never played anything else other than D&D then you OWE it yourself to try this game out.

My thing is I wish it was more popular than it is.  I love the game, I even wanted to do Ghosts of Albion as a WitchCraft game, but there were other, better reasons to go Cinematic with that.
Back in the day I did work on the Wicce Association book.  I would love to see that printed.  I also have on my hard drive "WitchCraft 3rd Edition".  Not complete mind you, but it takes the rules and re-organizes them and improves on what little I can improve on.

Links
Eden Studios WitchCraft Page, http://edenstudios.net/witchcraft.html
Mixing WitchCraft with Witch Girls Adventures, http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/2009/06/witch-girls-adventures-witchcraft-rpg.html
Get WitchCraft RPG for free, http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=692&it=1&affiliate_id=10748

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Vampire

V is for Vampire.

Not many people know this, but it was vampires and not witches that were my first love in horror.  Maybe it was my steady diet of Hammer Horror, Dark Shadows and the Night Stalker in the 70's that would later influence how I approached my games and later horror games.
My first character was a Cleric (an odd choice for an atheist gamer I know) but he described as a hunter of the undead.  I thought clerical turning was about the coolest thing ever back then.  I had written a number of "house rules" on vampire based on the books I would get from my local library and all the old Dracula movies I'd watch.  It also helped to have a mother and father that liked that sort of stuff too.

I recall one summer during high school, I had bought myself a VCR and hooked it up to my parents VCR and I did nothing but rent vampire movies and make copies.  Bad, I know. But in my defense...well I have no defense really I was just a kid.  But I copied everything I could and watched and rewatched them all.  I still have them oddly enough, 13 VHS tapes in black plastic cases with no names on them.  I would watch whatever I popped in.  I have versions of Dracula that have never made it to DVD as far as I know and some that maybe shouldn't have.  The tapes are nearly worn out now and my faves I have on DVD.  But that was not the end of my obsessions.

Read tons of books, most of questionable literary quality, and pretty much played nothing but Ravenloft all through college.  Yes I did wear a lot of black, had a black trench coat and liked to hang out at the only thing that passed for a goth bar in town.

And then one day I got tired of it all.  I kept the books, the clothes and the game stuff, but I was not as obessesed with it anymore.  In fact by the time that Vampire the Masquerade came around it barely got a notice from me.

Every so often I get that old itch.  I watched nothing but vampire movies for the first few weeks of October back in my Horror Movie Challenge.  I still post a lot of vampire related material here including the stats of the girls from Vampyres and Dracula, nothing like the stuff I was doing in the 80's.  Most of that is not even suitable to be re-read by me, let alone re-post for the public at large to see.  But maybe if I find something good.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Unisystem

U is for Unisystem, the game system that powers all of Eden Studios' games.

The system itself is rather simple.  Attribute + Skill +/- some Mod + 1d10 and compare that to a list of Success Levels.  Typically you want higher than a 9.  Simple right?  Well that is the point, Unisystem is designed to be simple and get out of the way.

Unisystem is divided into two basic types, Classic (which is used in WitchCraft, Armageddon, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Terra Primate and Conspiracy X) and Cinematic (which is used in Buffy, Angel, Army of Darkness and Ghosts of Albion).  Though all are 90% compatible system wise.

What I like most about it is that the system does get out of the way rather easily and allows you to focus on the story at hand.  Character creation is a snap and most people new to the game can get up and running in seconds.

One thing I think is has over d20 is that skills can be combined with any attribute and not just linked to certain ones.  Take "Art" for example.  To paint might be Dexterity + Art, to identify a particular painting might Perception + Art and to know something about that painting or painter might be Intelligence + Art.   All the other skills work the same way.

Skills, Qualities and Drawbacks are bought much in the same way has GURPS and other point buy systems.  But that is not what I think makes Unisystem so special.  It's the magic.

WitchCraft (which I'll get into later) has one of the best magic systems I have ever played.  I love how it works, how each "type" of magic is dealt with.  Conspiracy X uses a similar system, but bent more towards the mythos of the game.   Buffy uses a similified system for magic, but if I may be so bold, the magic system really shines in Ghosts of Albion.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what I like, what I don't like and how I want it to all work.   In GoA you have your spells, but you also have magical philosophies that say how you learn your magic and even restricts you from what you can or can't learn.  Magical defenses give you exactly that, a defense roll against certain magical effects. And what I might be most proud of the magical duel system.  Now your wizards and witches can stand 20 paces apart and duel like the Arch Magi they are.

The biggest flaw though in Unisystem is I own everything there is and the new material comes out at a snails pace.  I can't fault Eden for this, they are doing all they can, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I do know there is a new Zombie (AFMBE) book coming out for Free RPG day.  Hack/Slash is on the horizon and Beyond Human is all but done.

Maybe we will see more from Eden Studios and Unisystem this year.  Here's hoping!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for TROGDOR!!

T is for TROGDOR!!

If you don't know who Trogdor is (and to that I say "what?") then check out all his majesty here.
http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail58.html
and for more background, here, http://nodwick.humor.gamespy.com/trogdor/trogdor.htm.

Trogdor is dragon (or was he a dragon man? or maybe just a dragon) created by Strong Bad over at Homestar Runner (it's the "Dot Com!") while showing how to draw a dragon.   Since that time Trogdor has invaded video games such as Guitar Hero,  Super Smash Brothers and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.

Trogdor has even made his way back into D&D with this custom made Trogdor Mini.

The natural thing to do then, given Trogdor's ode to 80's metal and 8-bit gaming, would be some OSR-inspired stats for him.
The trouble though, how would you do it?  Trogdor is fire breathing, wing-a-ling dragon, with a huge beefy arm coming out of the back of his neck, but how powerful should he be?

Any stats would be viewed as too weak to the fans and too strong to anyone not familiar with the character.

So here is my suggestion.  Take a wyvern, give it a breath attack similar to a red dragon and then put an ogre's arm on his back.  While we have only seen Trogdor "burninate" I suppose he could punch things too.  Also Trogdor can use his breath weapon as much as he wants.  So maybe make the damage a bit less than a Red Dragon.  Plus you need to be running a certain kind of game to allow Trogdor in.  I could see a serious game mash-up of LL and Mutant Future where Trogdor would work now that I think about it.

Ah what the hell.

Trogdor
No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Fly: 210' (70')
Armor Class: 1
Hit Dice: 10*
Attacks: 3 (bite, burninate, big beefy arm)
Damage: 2d8, 5d6, 2d6
Save: F10
Morale: 10
Treasure: None, Trogdor burninates everything.

Now send him after the peasants.

Zatannurday: Sdrawkcab t'nsi ysae!

One of the complaints I hear about Zee as that she can do anything she wants, all she needs to do is say it backwards.

That's a lot harder than is sounds as this page from Zatanna #12 out this past week shows.



Yup, even Earth's Sorceress Supreme has to use flash cards to practice her magic.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Strahd

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on Ravenloft, I think I want to share some different takes on Ravenloft's most famous vampire, Count Strahd von Zarovich. Master of Baroivia.

Strahd is an interesting character for D&D, or at least D&D back in those days.  This is pre-Drizzt, pre-Lestat (well, Pre-Lestat popularity) and pre-Vampire the Masquerade.  Strahd was one of the first fully realized monsters as a character.  We were given his stats, his backgrounds, his motivations.  We knew more about him that the characters going through the adventure!

Strahd has been considered one of the greatest D&D villains by more than one source (Topless Robot, Dragon mag in it's final print edition).  I think it is because his story, forbidden love turned to dark obsession, is one that resonates with people.  People always want something they can't or shouldn't have.  Most never go to great lengths to get it, and hopefully none go to the lengths that Strahd did, but you can pick up the paper any day and read about someone that came close.

Motives aside, in D&D before you can kill the monster you need to stat him up.  Thankfully you don't have to be a complete obsessive compulsive type to collect everything ever made for Ravenloft (but it helps) to use Strahd in your games, you can go to Wizard's site where they keep Strahd hidden away for just such occasions.

You can see his original 1st Ed stats here, http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/alumni/20061027a
His 3.5 stats are here, http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/ex/20061006a&page=2
and in 4e he is found in Open Grave and is a Level 20 solo skirmisher.

Even looking at these you can see some power creep.  Each edition of the rules he had to be more powerful.  He wasn't just a powerful vampire, he had to be the most powerful vampire in the game.  I think that is a disservice to the character really.  Strahd was about power, but that was not everything he was.

I also stated him up for Ghosts of Albion, where I pictured him being played by Timothy Dalton.

Strahd von Zarovich

Motivation: To escape Ravenloft; to be reunited with his love, Tatyana.
Creature Type: Vampire
Quote: "I am The Ancient. I am The Land"

Attributes: Strength 9, Dexterity 6, Constitution 7, Intelligence 7, Perception 6, Willpower 6
Life Points: 98
Drama Points: 10

Qualities
Acute Senses
Age 5
Attractiveness +3
Hard to Kill 8
Hypnosis 3
Nerves of Steel 2
Magic 7
Magical Philosophy: Necromancy
Mesmerize
Protector of Barovia
Scale Walls
Soldier, Officer (Retired)
Supernatural Form (Bat, Wolf, Mist)
Vampire

Drawbacks
Adversary (all other Darklords, monster hunters, rival vampires, some gypsies) 8
Cruel 3
Haunted
Home Soil
Honorable 3
Love, Tragic
Natural Barrier (Cant leave Barovia)
Obsession (Tatyana) 6
Obsession (leaving Ravenloft) 6
Secret 2 (many, including a tome of his history; locals think he is human)

Skills
Acrobatics 7
Art 2
Computer NA
Crime 7
Doctor 2
Driving 2 (Coaches)
Getting Medieval 7 (Bastard Sword 9)
Gun Fu NA
Influence 6
Knowledge 9 (he has done nothing for the last few centuries but read)
Kung Fu 6
Languages 6, though all are "Ravenloft" languages.
Mr. Fix-It 2, limited to dark ages technology.
Notice 10
Occultism 9
Science 4
Sports 5

Combat Maneuvers

Name Score Damage Notes
Punch 12 18 Bash
Break neck 16 36 Special
Sword 13 36 Slash/stab
Sword, bastard 15 40 Slash/stab
Bite (vampire) 14 22 Must Grapple first; no defense action

Bat 20 -- +8 to Crime when hiding
Bite (bat) 14 8 Slash/stab

Wolf 20 -- Double movement; +3 to Crime at night
Bite (wolf) 14 15 Slash/stab
Claws (wolf) 14 15 Slash/stab

Dodge 13 -- Defense action
Grapple 15 -- Resisted by Dodge

Magic 22/24 Varies By spell

Using the Ghosts of Albion rules, Strahd becomes a Protector of Barovia, with the Drawbcak that he can never leave his lands. I upped his occultism and knowledge, but he is not really an occult scholar, just a very well practiced amateur.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quest of the Ancients Follow-up

I totally caved.

I bought the 2nd Edition copy of Quests of the Ancients.

I plan on reviewing it, coming up with characters and then maybe, just maybe, come up with a bunch of adventures for it based on Stevie Nicks songs.

Maybe I have been doing too many curriculum edits this week.

Watch this space.

R is for Ravenloft

Ravenloft. 

This might very well be the best module I have ever played, run or mined for ideas. I remember buying this at my then-FLGS (Waldenbooks remember) and then giving it to my then DM and saying in no uncertain terms "run me in this".   I went through it, nearly died, lost a lot of levels and got my ass handed to me many times by Strahd, but in the end I got out, Sunsword in hand.


Since then I have run it many times.  I will go as far as to say it is one of the few modules I have completely memorized.

Ravenloft was TSR's great experiment.  Take the central monster and make him a fully realized character.  Seems odd to ask to do this now, but back then, that was crazy talk.  Gothic Horror in Heroic Fantasy?  Crazy! But it worked.   Sure, Strahd can be thought of as a poor man's Dracula, but he has since become his own monster.

When I got to college and switched over to 2nd ed Ravenlof became my campaign world.  I had everything. All the boxed sets, all the modules.  Everything.  I never got to run it as much as I wanted too, but it more or less became my defacto world.  I even bought most, if not all, the Ravenloft novels.  Looking back it is amusing to see names like P.N. Elrod, Christie Golden, Tanya Huff and Laurell K.Hamilton among the authors.

For 3rd Edition I did get the Ravenloft books from Sword & Sorcery Studios/White Wolf and expected them to do, well, more with it.  I still enjoyed the books, but I didn't get all obsessive about it like I did before.
I also picked up "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft" too, but was fairly disappointed.

With 4th ed, we now have Ravenloft all over the place.  The Ravenloft board-game (which is awesome), Ravenloft as part of the Shadowfell (which is really cool) and now the Heroes of Shadow book which is full of Ravenloft inspired ideas.

Regardless of the system. Regardless of the world around it though Ravenloft is about adding a bit of darkness to your game.  To take that love of Hammer horror and mix it in with the likes of Conan, Elric, the Grey Mouser and Merlin.

I also played Ravenloft using other systems such as Black Rose, a Ravenloft/True20 mix and even tried doing it under Unisystem a couple of times (WitchCraft works REALLY nice for it, but I also like using Ghosts of Albion).

I'd love to run it for my kids someday.  I am not sure how well it would work under 4e, since it is more of a "mood" module than a combat one.  Maybe a one-shot special using OSRIC or True 20 or even Unisystem would work out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quest of the Ancients

Q is for Quest of the Ancients, an RPG I discovered back in the days when I was getting "out of" D&D and looking for something else.

Quest of the Ancients can be described as a D&D clone, a D&D add on or as a collection of someone's house rules.  The author, Vince Garcia, had some publications before QotA came out including some material for AD&D2 and White Wolf magazine.  So he was not a noob to this.


QotA fills that same slot of near-D&D that you will sometimes find other games living in. Similar to the Atlantean series from Bard Games.  Lejendary Adventures is one that comes to mind as well.

Why did I pick it up?  Simple, it was advertised as having the most complete Witch class ever made.  I forget where I read that, but I knew I had to pick up a copy.  So I did. I was a bit underwhelmed, but there were some good bits.

While the game certainly has it's impressive moments, it never struck me as bringing anything new to my table.  I liked the Gypsy class, the Witch class was interesting, but everything else seemed like a poor-man's copy of AD&D.  There were a ton of classes in this book, something like 15 or more, and a bunch of spells.

I want to talk about the witch class for a bit.  Now in general I liked the witch.  Garcia was obviously pulling from some of the same books I was when he wrote up his witch.  Also (and you can tell by looking at the cover) this was a thinly-veiled attempt to have a "Stevie Nicks" character class.  I can't say I disapprove of that.  There was also a gypsy class which was divided into Male and Female gypsy.  I kinda made sense, kinda didn't.  I see what the author was trying to do, but I don't think it worked out as well as he liked.

I have always wanted to pick up the second edition.  I don't know if much has changed in it, but the cover art is much better (featuring the same characters).


I like this cover to be honest.  The Witch looks more like Stevie Nicks than ever and the wizard looks like he has gained a few levels.

I have wanted to get this, but can't actually bring myself to buy it until I see what some of the differences are between the editions.  I am hoping that there is something here above and beyond the first edition, but I am fairly sure there is not.    In the beginning of the 90's this might have been a cool game to play, but today it looks a little a dated.  A+ for effort though.

Links
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quest_of_the_Ancients
http://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=8756

Buy
Noble Knight Games (best place to get it really)

ETA: And check out Jeff Grubb, also doing QotA for his Q post.  http://grubbstreet.blogspot.com/2011/04/q-is-for.html

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elisabeth Sladen 1948 - 2011

Elisabeth Sladen has passed today at the age of 63.

For those of you not in the know she played the character Sarah Jane Smith, companion to two different Doctors in Doctor Who.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13137674

Sarah Jane was one of my favorite companions and I loved seeing her come back in the new Who series with David Tennent and then in the Sarah Jane Adventures.   There was a time in my life that I seriously thought that if I even had a daughter I'd name her Sarah Jane.  Mostly cause I didn't want anyone picking on Romanadvoratrelundar Brannan.

She will be missed.



P is for Psychoses and Pet-Peeves

I have an undergraduate and a graduate degree in Psychology.  I spent three years working at a facility for the mentally ill that were trying to integrate back into society.   Most never had a chance in hell of doing this, but they still worked towards it.

So naturally you might think that I would like to see mental illnesses represented in RPGs.

Well that would be wrong.

Most of my pet peeves revolve around how mental illness or "craziness" is often represented in RPGs.  For a group of intelligent, literate people, this get bolloxed up more times than I can count.

I think Call of Cthulhu does it right.  I think the True20 "Shadows of Cthulhu" also does a good job on representing them and does a great job with their mechanics.  Many horror games make a good attempt, but others fall short.


Here are some of the things I hate the most.


1. Most severe mental illnesses are debilitating if not treated and cared for.  In today's world we have doctors, medicines and support systems so people with mental illnesses can live a relatively normal life.  That is not the case in many games.  In Call of Cthulhu for example characters often go shit-eating crazy and that is the end game.  But in other games people use it as an excuse to act like an idiot or an asshole, or both.  Often both.

2. Schizophrenia is NOT "Split Personality".  They are not even close.  Having schizophrenia is grounds for a character to removed from play.  Split Personality, or Dissociative Identity Disorder  is so rare that I can count the case I have know about on one hand and still have enough fingers left over to give you the thumbs up, the peace sign and show you my wedding ring.  A lot of games use this as an excuse to allow characters to do thing they could not otherwise do.  In that case, multi-class.

3. Chaotic Neutral is not "Insane". In my games Chaotic Neutral is not insane. Nor should it be in anyone's game.  Chaotic Neutrals should be loners, often anti-social, often assholes.  OR they could be happy go lucky, but if they are on the happy side then why are they not Chaotic Good?  Alignment is a moral and ethical stance, not a mental stability one.

4. Most games should not have Insanity Rules.  Players don't know how to use them, Game masters don't how to run them and I'll go a step further and say most designers don't know how to write them.  A rule of thumb. If you are playing in a time period that lacked mental health care then there is no such thing as insanity.  Yes there are mental illnesses, but insanity is a legal definition and often a societal one.
Fantasy RPGS like D&D should never have insanity rules.  Horror games should, but handled correctly.  Modern games can have them, but should avoid them; games like Spycraft and James Bond they might make good plot points, but avoid using them as a means to get points.

5. If you are going to use them, use them in the time they are given.  I said games like D&D should not have them and that is correct.  People were not insane, they were possessed by evil spirits.  A cleric with Remove Curse or something will clear that up.  If you are playing in a Victorian age game, then use Victorian notions of mental illness.  Talk about "floating organs" and then apply to appropriate remedy.

Now full disclosure time.

I have written a number of different takes on Psychoses for games over the years.  I have never been totally satisfied with any of them.  Most recent was one for Mutants and Masterminds based book that sadly will not see publication.  I like the mechanics of that one, but the representation was not my best work.  I did one for Ghosts of Albion too.  I tried to fit it to the Victorian ideas of mental illness the best I could AND still make it compatible with Eden's other books.
I also did one for Ravenloft that I liked at the time, but now see it as coming up very, very short of the mark.

And lets be honest here.  Player Characters are all insane anyway.
Rushing into dungeons, killing monsters in their lairs to get a gold piece here or there.  Digging through obscure and forgotten texts to discover not only are we insignificant specs in the universe but the universe is so freaking dangerous we should just hide under the covers or any of the other 100 things we have our characters do.

We don't need a game version of the DSM-IV, we all need therapists.

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Otherworlds Club

When I was first getting into D&D back int he early 80s there was an explosion of Sci-fi and Fantasy books to hit the shelves in it's wake. For me this was a great time and one I have talked about before: "Reflecting on D&D - Sometimes you can't go back".

Friday I was driving home past a closed Border's, the company that had bough Waldenbooks and it made me think of my now mostly underused Border's Rewards Card in my wallet, and all the cards that came before it.  But the first one, the one I was "proud" of, was my Waldenbooks "Otherwords" card.


For me being part of the Otherworlds Club back then was part and parcel of the D&D experience for me.  Back then my FLGS ("favorite local game store" for those new here) was Waldenbooks in White Oaks mall in nearby Springfield Il. This card (which my dad laminated for me) allowed me to get 10% off an Sci-Fi/Fantasty and D&D book I bought! Given the taxes at the time that pretty much meant I was paying just under the price on the cover.  Sure, not a great deal, but when you are 12 and the money for D&D books comes from your paper route then that is awesome.

The Otherworlds Club had a little newsletter call Xingals that I used to enjoy the heck out off.  I would have upcoming releases and I'd always be thrilled to see the latest D&D book on the back.

Sadly, the Otherworlds club is no more.  It was replaced by successive book clubs at Waldens till Waldenbooks itself was replaced by Borders.

It has been said that the Golden Age of Sci-Fi/Fantasy is 12-14.  Well for me that was 1982 to 1984 and the Otherworlds Club was my ticket.

Today I have frequent buy cards at two different game stores, discount cards for Borders and Barnes and Nobles and of course my RPGA card. But the Otherworlds card was the only one I ever laminated and carried with me all the time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Dragonslayers vs White Plume Mountain, Part 3

Today was a good day for adventurers.

The Dragonslayers continued on their mission into the White Plume Mountain.  The defeated the monsters of the inverted ziggurat and immediately distrusted the hooka smoking halfling to recover Blackrazor.  The boys were also extremely distrustful of the black blade and hid it away in a bag of holding.

They made it down the last hall and confronted the vampire Ctenmiir.  The Dragonborn Paladin of Bahmut had a few choice words with the vampire and the characters had made it out with Whelm as well!
Of course, there was more to be done.  The weapons in had they rushed out of the volcano only to have their wizard (with the bag of holding with Blackrazor) snatched up in claws of a undead dragon flying north.
The hunt for Dragotha has begun!

The boys did really great today.  They were able to solve the Prime number riddle with no problem and the sphinx riddle only slowed them down a little.  There is still the effrit to deal with though and of course one of the party has been kidnapped to be taken back to Dragotha's Lair where the final battle will begin.

I have been playing down the guardians of the weapons to lull the boys into a false sense of security. Dragotha and Keraptis are different matters all together.

I am also going to start planting the seeds for my 4th Ed game.  The boys will defeat Keraptis, this is a foregone conclusion, even if it is Dragotha killing him himself.  But as he dies he is going to utter "beware, the shadows".

During the next couple of adventures there will be other clues dealing with shadows.  I'll talk more about that later on, but I am very excited with the prospect of it all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Netbook

Say "Netbook" and today it invokes an image of a cheap micro-laptop with no optical drive and WiFi. Great little invention really. Get them under 100 bucks a pop and the world of education will be changed.

But that is not what I am talking about today.

Once upon a time Netbook meant a collection of various game related material, often originally posted to places like the AD&D LISTSERV or rec.games.frp.dnd on the Usenet.

It is hard to imagine it in today's post OGL and Creative Commons world, but there was a time when putting together a collection of D&D rules and putting them out there for others was a renegade idea.  TSR back in the day came down hard on any posting anything D&D related, despite the fact that D&D material had pretty much been on the internet since the earliest days.  Eventually TSR backed down (a little) and opened up areas for people to share original creations, via FTP sites like MPGN.

As Usenet, Listserves and ftp sites gave way to the World Wide Web, TSR gave way to Wizards of the Coast. Say whatever you want about WotC, they handled the entire internet issue and netbooks much, much better than TSR ever did.

The mid to late 90s was the Golden Age of Netbooks.  The web was growing and people wanted more material to fill their gaming needs.  Sites like Blue Troll, Planet AD&D and Olik's Netbook Archive grew to meet the need of people wanting to get more material.  These sites are still up (and PADND is still active) so you can download some of these forgotten treasures.

Sites like the Kargatane also grew out of a need for more support for a particular setting, in this case Ravenloft, and they began to produce netbooks that rivaled the quality of TSR/WotC.   Other sites like the Vaults of Pandius for Mystara are not only still active, but still producing material all the time.

The OGL in 2000 changed all of that.  Now you didn't need to post thinly veiled allusions to D&D rules, you could use the OGL and the d20 STL and post a "Compatible" product as long as you followed the rules.  There were still some netbooks produced under the OGL, the FANCC produced a large number of netbooks back in 2000 - 2001.  But all in all the Netbook fad shifted.

Now instead of a Netbook you can make a real book. With the OGL you had new rules that you could use and reuse as you needed.  With places like Lulu and DriveThruRPG you could put your creation up for sale even.

The entire OSR community is the spiritual decedent of  not only the Indie RPG movement, but the Netbook one too.

My Witch Netbooks
Of course I have to mention my Witch netbooks.  The first one is something I had started back in the late 80s and expanded on it through out college. It was originally for AD&D 1st Edition, but I shifted it over to AD&D 2nd Ed back around 89-90.  I remember printing my first copy of what I was calling my "Witch Book" back in '92 on a HP Desk Jet 500.  I expanded it more, read more netbooks online and finally on Halloween 1999 I Was going to release it.  I did.  Almost.  My son Liam was born 3 days before that!  I did get it out onto the web, but I followed it up with a second version on Dec. 22.

You can get a copy of "The Complete Netbook of Witches and Warlocks" from Google Docs. Let me know if there is a problem with the link.

A year later we got D&D 3.  I was given the play test files in Feb of 2000 and I picked up my copy of the new Players Handbook on Sept 11, 2000 (I have the receipt still).  I Had begun on my changes to d20 over the summer and with the new game realized I needed to redo the class from the ground up.  I joined the "D&D Community Council" later renamed to the "Fantasy Community Council" so I could get some input/advice on how to best re-do my witch.

I got a lot of help and in 2003 we published "Liber Mysterium: The Netbook of Witches and Warlocks".  You can also get that from Google Docs.

The two books have some material in common, but they are different takes on the same basic archetype.  For example in CNoWW witches are divine spell casters more similar to clerics and in Liber they are arcane ones.  Warlocks, such as they are, are also very different from each other.

Netbooks as a movement may be dead, but their spirit remains strong.

Zatannurday: Guest star in Power Girl #23

Guess who is making a guest appearance in Power Girl #23.




Of course Zee ends up getting tied to a chair. Again.


But I have to say I love that her ringtone is "Every Little She Does is Magic"! That's pretty cool.


And cause it is a good pic,

Friday, April 15, 2011

A to Z blogging, Half-Time

So here we are in the middle of the A to Z blogging challenge.  People are on L, M or N depending on whether or not they took Sundays off.

I have noticed more hits, a slightly elevated number of responses, a bunch of new followers and of course a lot of Spam.  Lots.  Like 10 posts a day lots.

I have seen some really cool posts too.  And every so often someone posts something that has me going "I almost posted that!"  or even "man I should have posted that!"

It's been a lot of fun so far and really stretching the creative muscles a bit.
Look forward to seeing what everyone does on the last half.

M is Monster Manual

I have said it many times. You can never be too rich, too skinny or have too many monsters.

The Monster Manual was the book for me.  The one that got me hooked.  The one, sitting in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL that I became the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddess and monsters.  So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy.  Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet.  So I borrowed his and read.  And read.  And read.  I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.


Look at it.  That is pure awesome still.

Since that time I judge a game book on the "Monster Manual" scale.  How close of  a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to the scale limit of holding the Monster Manual for the first time?  Some games have come close and others have hit the mark as well.  C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Since that time I also like to go to the monster section of any book, or get their monster books.  Sure I guess sometimes there are diminishing returns, Monster Manual V for 3.5 anyone?  But even then sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other game book.  Even the 1st DMG which is a work of art had to wait till I was older to appreciate it.  The Monster Manual grabbed me and took me for a ride.

Of course the real reason to my puberty influenced brain might have been the picture of a naked succubus.


So difficult to know for sure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Little Fears

Fairy Tales don't teach children that monsters are real, all children know that. 
Fairy tales teach children that monsters can be defeated.

Not exactly the quote from G. K. Chesterton, but close enough for today's letter.


Little Fears has the distinction of being one of only five games my FLGS will not carry.  I didn't press them why or ask to order it (they said they would order it for me, they just don't stock it), they are my FLGS for a reason and I have many other means of getting the books I need.
I had the original edition from some time ago and picked up the nightmare edition, promising the author Jason Blair I'd have a review up.  I still don't.  But I hope to fix that now.

LF is a game of Childhood Horrors.  Simple enough.  As a father I have been up many nights sleepily fighting one bogeyman or another.  Thankfully most bogeymen are terrified of my "huh? go back to sleep" speech cause I have never seen them.  But maybe once apon a time I did.  I am reminded of a Charmed episode where a little girl was being attack by little bogey like creatures and the Charmed Ones, being adults, could not see them.  They had to cast a spell to be more childlike (with accompanied wackiness) to see the threat.  That was the hook I was going to use to get my group to play LF one day.  Turn their characters into kids and to keep them off guard I was going to take their Unisystem sheets and give them Little Fears sheets instead and then not tell them all the rules.  The Little Fears book makes a big issue about kids living in an adult world and not knowing or understanding the rules.  Frankly I thought it was brilliant, but it never happened.

Little Fears plays like that.  Only more so.  Monsters are defined by the character's fear but also by their belief.  In some ways playing LF with adults is a bit like playing D&D with really young kids.  They want to be the player AND the DM.  In LF the characters and players can change the nature of the game in overt or subtle ways.

The rules are very simple really.  The system is a d6 dicepool based on abilities or qualities.  Monsters are built similar to characters though are tougher generally speaking.  The damage system reminds me of Mutants and Masterminds a bit and is also pretty simple.   Emphasis though in this game is not how many monster you can kill, but how well you role-play the monster you nearly escaped from and lived to tell your friends about (because they have seen the same monster, but have been too afraid to tell you).  Little Fears is one of the most role-play heavy games I have read in a very long time.  If you only like to hit things with pointy metal sticks or throw fireballs, then this might not be your game.  If the idea of playing something that is akin to "Kult Jr." or "C.J. Carella's WitchCraft Babies" then this is the game for you.

There is an over-arching malaise though over Little Fears.  I get depressed reading it I have to admit.  Maybe it is because I am a father and I know how those little kids feel to be afraid and alone and powerless.  I guess the counter argument is they are not powerless or alone really.

Given the mythology of Little Fears, I could easily adapt a couple of my Bogeys to use in the game.

Buttons the Bear
Buttons is either a Monster (but a good one) or a Hand Me Down (p 114).

Buttons the Bear began just like another childhood toy. He was a handmade stuffed bear given to a now forgotten child one Christmas morning in the early 1800's. As his child grew older Buttons (and this was not yet his name) was discarded for newer playthings. That is till he ended up as a donation to an orphanage. By this time Buttons had seen a fair amount of use, in particular his glass eyes were gone. The matron of the house, a young Irish nun sewed two buttons on his face for eyes; one green the other red. She gave him to a small child who had nothing and had never received a Christmas present before. It was there that Buttons felt the first tinges of Awakening, the love of this young child stirred up the spark of divinity that is in everything; even in a stuffed bear with mis-matched buttons for eyes.

An orphanage, especially one in what was now the mid Victorian era, was ripe for all sorts of bogeys. Generally these were the pestering kind, but every so often something more dangerous would prey on the unfortunates. Buttons (as he was now known) went from merely scaring them off to actively hunting them down at night. For many years Buttons protected the children here and in return he knew he had their love.
Things changed shortly after the Blight. Taking advantage of the suffering and death many demons moved into Ireland, one chose to use the orphanage as a staging area. He would hide in wait, corrupting the adults and torturing the children. It was not though till the demon had fully manifested itself and prepared to kill a child did Buttons attack. Though he was no longer a child's stuffed plaything; instead he had manifested into a towering black bear with razor sharp claws and a mouthful of teeth. He attacked the demon full on.

The demon, while still very powerful, was only expecting some starving children, not seven feet, 1,200 pounds of fur, claws, and fangs. Within a few seconds the demon was not only on the defense, but nearly ripped to shreds.

On the demon's home plane a portal opened. The demons there were awaiting their Lord's return to bring them the bounty from the orphanage. Instead the bloodied corpse of their lord was flung through followed by a huge bear with a fire red ruby for one eye and a burning emerald for the other. It let out a deafening roar; a clear warning to the demons. Since that time Buttons has killed no fewer than 17 demon lords and wounded many others. The orphanage suffered no more attacks as long as there was one child holding a tattered old bear with buttons for eyes.

Mrs. Cully Mully and her Pink Dog
Mrs. Cully Mully is one of the Good People (p 111)

No one is really sure who, or what, Mrs. Cully Mully is. Was she a human witch that became more imaginary over time. Or an imaginary friend that became more like a real human? No one knows for sure. Mrs. Cully Mully appears to be a woman in her 70's wearing a pinkish frock coat, horned rimmed glasses, and carring a small handbag purse.

She is known to walk the areas between Dream and Reality, between this world and the next one, and between childhood and the end of innocence. Always between worlds, but never in any one world properly. She will say thing to make you believe she was once human, like "when I taught kindergarten…" and things to make you think she is imaginary, or at least question her sanity; "…of course the sky was pink then and we had three moons."

She walks the "in betweens" helping those who are lost, or of need information. In her bag she almost anything the Cast could need, almost. She has no (and no use for) weapons. If the Cast is hungry then she might have their second-favorite sandwich (she is always out of their first favorite) or some magical bauble that may not seem to be useful now but will be priceless later on. She will of course claim she is just walking her dog.

Her dog, who is completely pink, will bark constantly in it's small yippish barks. It is only when it stops barking is there reason to fear. That usually means bogeys, spirits or demons are near.

She will try to hastily retreat, pulling the Cast in-tow. If she has to fight then her true nature (or is it?) is revealed. She has never been known to get into a fight, but in one case an occult scholar (who has since retired to working on a small farm) was lost in the in-betweens when he encountered Mrs. Cully Mully. He described her as pleasant, if seemingly addled. She agreed to walk the man home, since it was "on her way" when the object of the scholar's search appeared, the Great Demon Abraxas (so he claimed). Abraxas demanded the scholar's soul and threatened to kill everyone else. Mrs. Cully Mully, he then claimed, walked right up to the demon lord and called him by his true name (also, so the scholar claims) and proceeded to scold him like a schoolboy. She was stern, but never once raised her voice. The demon, angered beyond rage, roared and disappeared in a pillar of flame. She took the man's hand and told him that were taking a short cut, walked two or three steps and were in front of the man's home. She told him to give up this life, get a real job and find himself a nice quiet girl to marry.

Some say she is a good natured aspect of the Crone, Goddess of the Witches. Others say she is really the Goddess Ceriweden. And still others say she is a retired kindergarten teacher out walking her dog.

She does not engage in combat. She does have a handbag and small pink, yippy dog.


Using Little Fears
Little Fears works fine on it's own and you can do a lot with it.  But for me there are other great advantages to using this game.

1. Character Building Device
Want to know more about your character's history?  Then stat them in LF and maybe even run a session or two with them as young kids.   Imagine a supers game where you play Bruce at age 9. He is not the Batman yet, he doesn't even know that is coming, he is just Bruce a scared, lost and hurting little boy and these are the moments that define him and make the Batman.  This type of episode I call the Crucible Episodes, where the impurities of their character are burned off leaving only the hero you know will be.

2. The "Special Episode"
In my long running Willow and Tara game I was going to have a Season 3 that had an episode called "Hell is for Children" were the cast had to go into the Closetland of LF to find a monster preying on magical children.  To do this they needed to become kids themselves.

I think it behooves anyone playing any modern supernatural game to give Little Fears a shot using 6-12 year old versions of your characters.  It would be a fantastic experience.

Plus like I said, I want to run a Buffy/Little Fears crossover episode one day based on this image alone.



Little Fears might also be one of the most effective horror games I have ever played.  Chill, Kult, WoD, CoC, WitchCraft are all great and I love them all, but Little Fears is different and the power structure between what you can do and what you need to do is such that it is a scary, scary game.

Buy it. Play it. And even if you don't like it you will never look a butterflies the same way again.
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