Monday, May 25, 2015


Remember those who gave their lives, that we might be free.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Game shelf porn

I've recently engaged in moving my office into another room of the house, to allow my daughter to use the spare bedroom as a music room (drums take up a lot of space). In so doing, I had the opportunity to go through my game collection, reorganize everything, get rid of junk, and generally get everything ship-shape again. And in the process realized I needed a fourth bookcase to hold all the stuff that was piled on the floor, double-stacked on shelves, tucked away in other parts of the house, etc. Here's the result (click to embiggen):
Board games #1. Yes, those are SPI flat boxes on the bottom shelf. You can't see it in this photo, but above is Cthulhu Wars, which is huge enough that it would take up an entire shelf on its own.

Board games #2. Top shelf is books about games. And at the very top is Ogre Designer's Edition, which literally wouldn't fit anywhere else.

End cap. Those rolling carts are full of miniatures (Ogre, 15mm medieval and fantasy wargaming, 25mm RPG, 1:2400 renaissance naval). Obviously, judging by the boxes piled on top, I need another. And yes, that's a "Dogs Playing D&D" picture.

RPG #1. With some miniatures supplies on the bottom.

RPG #2. It's hard to tell, but that shelf second from the bottom is where a lot of the real treasures lie. Those are mostly RPGs from the 70's and early 80's. Lots are just loose pages printed on dot-matrix printers. :-) Unpictured: on top of the bookcase is the Metamorphosis Alpha Deluxe Hardcover Edition.

Close up of the D&D shelf. Is that the AD&D coloring book on the end? Yes. Yes it is.

Close-up of the Greyhawk shelf. There are actually the contents of two Gold Box sets in there. Just no boxes any more. *sigh*

Close-up of the miniatures shelf, with all those glorious Grenadier boxes.

Close-up of the hex-and-counter wargame shelves.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Innovation: settings, rules, or... what?

Just like the good old days, there's a debate flying around certain centers of the OSR blogosphere, and naturally I've got a thought or two. The debate is (yet again) about innovation in the OSR. Some people seem bound and determined to shoot down anything the OSR has produced as derivative and stale; "just another orc with a different flavor of pie", so to speak. Others seem to swing the other way, claiming that giving a fighter a +2 bonus instead of a +1 bonus is worthy of an Origins Award. (I exaggerate, but you get the idea.)

Concomitant with this is the question of where innovation from the OSR should or will come. Is it in new sets of rules? Settings? Adventures? Some combination of those? Or something else entirely? Empire of the Petal Throne and Tekumel are being bandied about in these conversations as the yardstick by which such innovations are measured.

Before I get to where I think the path to innovation lies (hint: it's a combination), I would like to point out that there has been plenty of innovation coming from the OSR over the years. Doesn't anyone remember Carcosa? Like it or not, there's a setting that was unlike much of what had come before, and had some interesting mechanics (something involving magic as I recall *ahem*) that reinforced what the setting was doing. And Yoon-Suin? There's some weird and layered and in-depth stuff going on there, to be sure.

What about Vornheim? There was a product (a setting/toolbox) that was innovative not only in content, but in its very physical design. The book itself was a tool you used to flesh out the city. And what about Adventures in Oz? Sure, Oz is hardly an innovative setting, but it's not something that had been done to death in the RPG field at the time, and there was an entirely new, kid-friendly and violence-averse (and yet somehow still quite recognizably OSR in its way) rule system behind it. Neither of those were Greyhawk or the Realms warmed-over.

And what about things like Realms of Crawling Chaos? Some would label it as "just a reskin", because it's made for Labyrinth Lord, but I don't recall any of those rules for insanity or the new magics or new races or new monsters in the original LL books. Speaking of monsters, there has been a boom in OSR monster books over the years; Teratic Tome, Lusus Naturae, Malevolent and Benign, Creature Compendium, etc.

So don't tell me there hasn't been innovation coming out of the OSR, both mechanically and in terms of setting (and even physicality). So when people complain "where's the OSR's Tekumel?" what I hear is "where's the OSR's Tekumel for this month?" They forget what has come before, and just want something new to slake their jaded palate, or it wasn't exactly what they were looking for, so they discount any innovations it might otherwise have contained.

Now, personally, I don't like weird settings that take months or years to get to know. I'm on record as saying that I like plain-Jane, Tolkienesque fantasy. Much as I respect and enjoy reading about Tekumel, I just don't like Tekumel itself. I personally don't find it approachable, and I simply don't have the time to get to know it the way it deserves. The same goes for a lot of other settings and rules (and board games, for that matter) that I'm sure are fine in their way, but I'm pretty stuck in my ways, and I want rules that I can relate to, that are similar enough to the rules I've been playing since 1977 to not have to invest gobs of time I don't have in learning them. 5th Edition D&D was an exception, partly because so much of it did feel familiar, but I digress.

As for where I see the next wave of innovation coming? Well, as I stated a few years back, I think we're pretty well served for core fantasy rulebooks, and we're now well into Phase II of the OSR. As I wrote then:
But while the first phase of the OSR has seen foundational works such as those mentioned above, what we are now seeing in the OSR is a flowering of material that take off in wild new directions. Now that the final holes in the retro-clone coverage have been filled (the basic game-play of (A)D&D 0E, 1E, and now 2E are covered by multiple products), the OSR as a whole seems self-confident enough to break off in new directions.
Personally I would like, and think we're going, to see different genres explored within the context of the pretty-much-stable corpus of OSR "core rules". That is, rules expansions to cover different possible facets; settings with distinctive cultures that have associated sourcebooks with relevant rules (new classes, spells, races, social or combat or whatever other rules, etc.), different genres (which we just saw with White Star, which some complain, again is "just a reskin of White Box", to which I would say that not all innovation has to be mechanical), different sub-genres (we've seen Realms of Crawling Chaos for Lovecraftian horror, but there are tons of other possibilities out there; how about a Pendragon-like supplement with rules for chivalry, Courtly Love, and multi-generation gaming? There are tons of similar possibilities), different planes of existence (you could literally make a whole supplement for each plane, each with its own weird physical, social, magical, and even mechanical laws), and I'm sure there are a hundred things I've not mentioned that someone is thinking of doing. Not so much new restatements of core rules, so much as toolkits to be used with the existing core rules that we have.

That's what I want to buy. Not a straight-out setting, not a restatement of core rules, but supplements containing new rules and new slants on existing rules, whether tied to a particular setting or not. I'm sure others have other priorities, and that's certainly their prerogative, but that's what the guy writing this post wants, for everything that's worth. And monster books. I'm always a sucker for a new monster book.

My advice? Do it. Don't worry what people will say about your work, or whether you're being "innovative enough" to please some folks. The OSR is all about the hands-on, DIY ethic when it comes to games. There's no DIY unless YDI.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Call for GMs - Dexcon/OSWARP 2015

Registration for this year's Dexcon/OSWARP 2015 convention is open, and proposals for games are being accepted now! Last year's OSWARP, held in conjunction with the huge general gaming convention Dexcon in Morristown, NJ was a blast, and this year's convention should be better still.

The sort of games we're looking for include:

  • Old-school RPGs (Basic, AD&D, White Box, BECMI, Metamorphosis Alpha, Boot Hill, T&T, Runequest, Traveller, C&S, FASA Star Trek, etc. etc. etc.)
  • OSR retro-clones and associated games (White Star, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, S&W, C&C, DCC, Barbarians of Lemuria, etc. etc. etc.)
  • Wargames (hex and counter types and others, like Afrika Korps, Third Reich, War in Europe, Campaign for North Africa, Kingmaker, Starfleet Battles, other AH/SPI/Victory Games/etc. - doesn't have to be from the 80's)
  • Miniatures (historical miniatures from any era, Chainmail (with or without the fantasy supplement), Battlesystem, System 7 Napoleonics, DBM, DBA, etc.)
  • Anything else you think would be appropriate for an "old school" convention

When submitting your proposal, make sure you select "OSWARP" as the game type, to make sure you're included in the special SOWARP convention schedule that we'll be producing. Click here to submit a game proposal for the convention. Deadline is June 6!

General information about Dexcon can be found here, and more OSWARP-specific information can be found here.

If you're in the general vicinity of Morristown, NJ over July 4th weekend, I hope I'll be able to see you there!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Last hours for Ral Partha's Chaos Wars

You've only got a few hours to get in on the resurrection of Ral Partha's late great "Chaos Wars" minis and game. This is a real blast from the past, and I'm so very glad to see it coming back. So if you haven't pledged, now's your chance!

Click here to see the Kickstarter.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

White Star: Commerce Raider and Raider Tender

The massive shipyards of Astor and New Austin, the premier industrial worlds of the Athena Sector, have been turning out spacecraft of all types and descriptions for centuries, many of which find their way to every corner of civilized space (and beyond). Here are some of the most commonly-encountered examples, statted for the White Star game and designated as Open Game Content under the OGL.

Commerce Raider

Armor Class: 4 [15]
Hit Points: 20
Shield Strength: 2
Movement: 15
Targeting: +1
Attack: Laser Canon (4d6) [pilot-linked]
Modifications: Cloaking device

Commerce raiders are used by pirates and those worlds that employ letters of marque against enemy freighters. Designed to be taken into the shipping lanes by a raider tender and deployed to lurk in wait for an enemy freighter or convoy, they don't have the punch of a stunt fighter but are quite adequate against lightly-armed and unescorted transport craft. When used in sizable numbers they can even overwhelm all but the largest escorted convoys.

Raider Tender

Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Points: 60
Shield Strength: 1
Movement: 9
Targeting: +0
Attack: Light Laser x4 (2d6), automated weapons
Modifications: FTL drive, can carry up to six fighters

Originally designed as a light fighter carrier, raider tenders were heavily used in the human-mr'rk'kog war. Since then, many have turned up in the inventories of petty despots and pirates, where they are used to ferry fighters used as fast-striking commerce raiders. Each requires a crew of twenty, plus pilots for the fighters.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I'm working on...

Deep in the heart of the Black Swan Nebula, mostly cut off from the rest of the civilized galaxy, lies the Cygnus Sector. Underpopulated, rich in resources, and wracked by conflict and religious strife, it is a magnet for the dregs of the Far Rim. Mercenaries looking for work, fanatics looking for converts, prospectors looking for the Big Strike, and colonists looking for a new home. 

Cygnus Sector is a “starcrawl” setting for the White Star RPG, offering numerous opportunities for players to find adventure, danger, and maybe fortune. They can choose from the myriad of different intrigues and plots they encounter, or go off and explore some unknown world. The choice is theirs.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (spoilers below the fold)

On Friday I took my daughter to see the newest Marvel film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even in the middle of the day on a weekday, the theater was quite full, but not sold out. We saw it in normal 2D, and I couldn't see any scenes where seeing it in 3D would have added anything, but someone who saw it in 3D or Imax 3D might have better insight.

(As an aside, if your local theater is an AMC, and you see more than a couple of movies each year and get popcorn when you do, it is so worth paying the money for the AMC Stubs card. It really does pay for itself many times over.)

I am an unabashed MCU fanboy, and I went into the movie with high expectations. And I have to say those expectations were not disappointed. This really is a worthy successor to the various predecessor films, especially the first Avengers. I put it in the top five of all MCU movies, behind The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Iron Man.

Some spoiler-free thoughts:

I found the plot to be serviceable. It does tie up some loose ends from previous films, and goes off in a fairly reasonable direction. Some people think it was over-complicated, but since when it comes down to it this is a comic-book movie, I do not go into it expecting Casablanca. It worked, and was reasonably well-explained.

What really sold me on the film was the interactions between the Avengers themselves. In the first Avengers movie, we saw Thor fight Iron Man, Hulk fight Black Widow, Iron Man bicker with Captain America, Hawkeye fight all of them... it got old. But in this movie, we see genuine character development. We find out new things about the characters, and the relationships between the characters really moved forward. They're not the same people at the end of the movie that they were at the beginning, and it was great to see. Those moments are used to break up the incredible action sequences, rather than gobs of tedious exposition. There was one Avenger vs. Avenger fight, which has been heavily teased in the trailers, but in the context of the film it didn't seem nearly as tacked on.

The action sequences are, of course, awesome. Although I did find the fight sequence at the very beginning to be a little off. The CGI in places was obvious, and there was some shaky-cam that I found distracting. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the bad guys; they were simply there any time an Avenger needed something to blow up or someone to kill. But the rest of the action sequences were terrific, and the shaky-cam seems to have really been used sparingly after the first twenty minutes.

James Spader's Ultron, as the central villain of the piece, was beautiful to behold. Seeing that very human dialog come out of that robotic face made his quips and sarcasm all the creepier. He was a much better villain than the Chitauri ever were in the first Avengers movie. The other characters are well-established so we don't need to go through the awkward "getting to know you" scenes, and the actors by this time are so comfortable in their roles that it seems effortless for them.

If anything, I take points away from the movie because it is so big. We see lots of different places in the world getting destroyed, and in a way that detracts from the interpersonal interactions that make this film so wonderful.

All in all, this was a worthy addition to the MCU, and most definitely worth seeing. There is one helping of schawarma halfway through the credits, but nothing at the very end. Unless the key grip is your cousin, no need to stay until the lights come up.

Spoilery thoughts below the fold:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Elements of a Homebrewed Campaign

I've been giving some thought lately to setting up a homebrew campaign for some 1st Edition gaming. I'm a big proponent of Gygax's "bulls-eye" method of campaign design; sketch out the broader world first, and then do ever-more-detailed descriptions of a given area, until you've gotten down to the individual village or town that the PCs will be starting off in. This gives you a good idea of what's around them, and makes it easier to write new things when the PCs start to move around.

Here are some things that I want to include (or am at least considering including) in this process:

  • Areas for at least five different civilizations (European Feudal, Chinese, Japanese, Middle-eastern, and Indian)
  • Remnants of an ancient and more advanced civilization, half-remembered, with the idea that there are constant attempts to return to that "golden age"
  • An area where there is a frontier, into which civilization is slowly spreading, requiring adventurer types to scout and clear regions before settlers begin to arrive
  • That frontier area may be linked directly to that lost civilization, or may not, depending on how it plays out in the design phase
  • Intrigue on a political as well as religious plane; true religious animosities and schisms should be present to provide difficulties and opportunities for the PCs
  • Perhaps have the pantheons of the different religions all be "echoes" of the One True Religion which the ancient civilization practiced (deities are similar, but not identical, across pantheons)
  • Opportunities for large-scale wargaming to be played out with miniatures
Comments welcome. Would this be the sort of world you'd like to game in?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Daredevil (spoiler-free)

A few weeks ago, Netflix released all thirteen episodes of their Daredevil series on their service, based on the Marvel comic (and having nothing to do with the 2003 film starring our new Batman, Ben Affleck). The series has already been picked up for a second season, even though its companion series -- Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders -- haven't even aired yet.

Based on the long-running Marvel comic featuring blind attorney Matt Murdock, whose super-powered senses allow him to fight crime at night in New York's toughest neighborhoods, the Netflix series captures the setting perfectly. The west side of Manhattan was one of my haunts in my youth, and the series has it perfectly, and is especially effective at capturing the tension between those who love the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen as it is, even though it is flawed and crime-ridden, and those who want to see it lifted up and gentrified, also out of love for the place.

The series doesn't go overboard in showcasing Murdock/ Daredevil's super-senses. They are obviously present, but there's no flashy "sonar effect" on the screen or anything like that; it's subtle, like playing a heartbeat in the background that is at first barely noticeable, and then bringing up the volume so you understand it's Murdock hearing it.

Charlie Cox absolutely nails attorney Matt Murdock. He's smart, charming, and even at times goofy, but always with a serious edge. He captures the character's blindness, and it's difficult to remember the actor isn't blind himself. The action sequences are long, and bloody, and that's deliberate, fitting in with one of the overall themes of the show that hearkens back to Murdock's father.

The other big star is Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, the "Kingpin" from the comic books, a powerful crime lord. Frankly, I didn't think he'd have the physicality for the role, but he pulls it off nicely. His performance was totally unexpected to me, but it worked very well for this character; he's not the supremely confident master of crime, but he's vulnerable, and downright shy and uncertain. That, too plays into one of the themes of the show, and is used to drive the plot forward in a very clever way.

The supporting cast is wonderful, both Murdock's friends (Foggy Nelson and Karen Page) and enemies (many and varied). There's a real chemistry between long-time friends and newly-minted law partners Murdock and Nelson, and when at times things become strained between them you really feel it.

The show definitely has a darker edge to it than anything we've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of the action takes place at night, and there's plenty of blood, broken bones, and brutality. Not what you'd expect on ABC during prime-time. But I like the fact that Marvel is taking the MCU into yet another direction; the dark crime drama. But, true to their form, it's not a relentlessly grinding grimdark show; there are moments of humor throughout that keep the episodes lively.

The show is firmly in the MCU; there are little easter eggs throughout (mentions of Killer Kreel from Agents of SHIELD, for instance, and the Roxxon Energy Corporation, from Iron Man 3), and of course mentions of the attack on New York that occurred in the show's recent past and in a way set the stage for the plot arc. It will be very interesting to see how and if some of the characters from this show make it into other corners of the MCU, and vice versa.

All in all, I highly recommend this show for anyone who's a fan of Marvel movies or the superhero genre in general, as well as those who like a good crime drama. I had a really good time watching this show, and powered through it in less than a week (for me, that's really damn fast).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD getting spinoff

Entertainment Weekly is reporting an exclusive story - Marvel's Agents of SHIELD is getting a spinoff show next year (which pretty much means a third season is a given). That, and there's a 60% chance that the excellent Peggy Carter will also be getting another at-bat, probably during AoS's mid-season hiatus (but that's a topic for another post).

Naturally, there's already a lot of speculation about what that spinoff show will feature, but the EW article has this to say:
We don’t know is which characters from the current series will be moving over to the proposed spinoff – so let the speculation being on that. There won’t be an implanted pilot episode this season directly setting up the spinoff, either (like how CW launched The Flash out of Arrow). However, story elements that are still to come on SHIELD this year will be used to lay the groundwork for the potential new series. So by the end of the season – assuming the details for this project haven’t already leaked, which is rather unlikely – the spinoff concept should be clear.
Now that's interesting: "story elements that are still to come on SHIELD this year." We know there are going to be 22 episodes of Season 2, and we know that 4 of those episodes are going to be broadcast (and therefore, presumably, take place) after Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. And it's been confirmed that there will be some direct tie-ins between the television show and the movie, not as drastic as the changes that Captain America: The Winter Soldier wrought, but they will be there.

So given those two elements, I think it's safe to assume that the spinoff series is going to have something to do with the impact of Avengers 2 on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The question is, what could that be?

We've seen all sorts of rumors about some major (female) character who will be introduced. And there were photos of Tony Stark, Captain America, and Thor conversing while a bunch of SHIELD recruits were training in the background (running on a track). So my theory, and it's just a theory and based on a whoooole lotta guesswork, is that by the end of the movie we're either going to see SHIELD reconstituted as a single entity, no longer on the run from the authorities, but no longer the omniscient and omnipotent organization it was under Nick Fury (there is precedent; Tony Stark was the director of SHIELD for a while in the comics, and doing that would nicely set up next year's Captain America 3: Civil War), or some sort of successor organization would be set up along similar lines (SWORD, for example), or both.

Now, in the comic books, SWORD is sort of like SHIELD, but deals more specifically with alien incursions and the like. That would fit in well with the idea that there is now a recognized "alien problem" (first the Chitauri, then the Kree-DNA-enhanced Inhumans, and then the Chitauri-technology-enhanced Ultron*), and would provide a nice symmetry with the parent show in terms of names.

"Marvel's Soldiers of SWORD." has a nice ring to it, and would also lead well into Phase 3 of the MCU's master plan, which looks to be more outer-space focused, with six out of the nine planned films having something to do with the galactic side of the MCU. Plus, it would give Marvel a chance to bring in a lot more of their huge universe of galactic races and characters (the Skrulls are unfortunately out, but there are tons of others, like the Badoon or the Dire Wraiths) including the possibility of giving some deep Kree backstory for films like Captain Marvel or Inhumans, which could then be spared the necessity of lots of exposition.

UPDATE: Nope. Looks like the spinoff is going to be about Mockingbird and her ex-husband. Although there's some mysterious third Marvel TV show in the works as well, apparently...

* Not a spoiler, just a wild guess based on what I've seen in the trailers.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Apparently this is some sort of holiday...

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. --Matthew 27:51-53

Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 7)

Boy, has it been a long time since I've done one of these. But we're not through the book yet, and there's plenty more to cover. This time: the Hall of Heroes.

The Hall of Heroes is a selection of fourteen NPCs with stats and in-depth descriptions and histories. Seven of them are in the City of Greyhawk itself (remember this was published at a time before the Greyhawk Wars, so it's still theoretically set in CY 576), and the rest are from further afield in the Flanaess.

The trouble is, most of these NPCs are not ones that the PCs are ever likely to encounter, at least on a regular basis. Thus, their inclusion in the book is something of a mystery. We have:

  • Nerof Gasgol, Lord Mayor of Greyhawk
  • Derider Fanshen, constable in Greyhawk (also a 12th level cleric of Pelor)
  • Sental Nurev, Captain-General of the Watch in Greyhawk
  • Org Nenshen, Master of the Thieves Guild in Greyhawk
  • Turin Deathstalker, Master of the Assassins Guild in Greyhawk
  • Ren o' the Star, Master of the Traders Union in Greyhawk
  • Jaran Krimeeah, lord of the Valley of the Mage
  • Tysiln San, First Protector of the Valley of the Mage
  • Korenth Zan, Father of Obedience of the Scarlet Brotherhood
  • Alesh Marin, member of the Scarlet Brotherhood (in Stoink)
  • Karll of Urnst, Duke of Urnst
  • Tang the Horrific, Prince of the Clan (from the Dry Steppes, but now a wandering mercenary barbarian)
  • Timitrios Spartakos, magic-user originally from the Great Kingdom, now in Greyhawk, and with a backstory tied to Jaran Krimeeah
  • Guiliana Mortidus, cleric and member of the Horned Society
Of these, the DM isn't likely to really need the likes of the Lord Mayor and heads of the guilds of the city of Greyhawk (especially when they are covered in the City of Greyhawk boxed set, which appeared the year after this book was published), or the Duke of Urnst. Figures like the Mage of the Valley and the head of the Scarlet Brotherhood are deliberately supposed to be obscure, and detailing them here destroys their mystique. 

The only ones that look to be particularly useful in a day-to-day sense are Derider Fanshen, Alesh Marin, Tang the Horrific, Timitrios Spartakos, and Guiliana Mortidus. Tang could be a terrific recurring character, one full of bluster and flash who storms onto the scene, steals it, and then bounds away. Guiliana could be a good long-term protagonist for a mid-level party (she's an 8th level cleric, and works as an agent for the Horned Society who's been sent on missions before, and has a band of underlings). Timitrios could be a good magic-user-for-hire; he's got some interesting quirks and a great backstory, with some built-in enemies that could spell trouble for anyone he's associated with (like the PCs).

On the whole, this is one of the least useful sections of the book. Five out of fourteen NPCs are useful in a day-to-day sense, which is a pretty bad percentage. Much of the art is recycled as well, which is doubly disappointing, but there are a few fun new pieces that do the job.