20 Jun

Free RPG Weekend Sale

Free Stuff on DriveThruRPG.comTime to try some new games? Want to do it without crushing your bank account like you did with last week’s Steam Sale? You’re in luck because it’s Free RPG Weekend at DriveThruRPG! Use this made up, but still totally real, holiday as an excuse to browse the electronic aisles of DTRPG for free stuff! Along the way, support those publishers by picking up some of their other offerings at deep discounts or just showing some appreciation with the Pay What You Want option the site introduced a while back.

No matter what, you’re going to walk away with some new and interesting titles to bring to the table for your next gaming session.

Free RPG Weekend

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15 Feb

Review: James M. Ward’s Tower of the Scarlet Wizard

Eldritch Enterprises LogoTower of the Scarlet Wizard is an adventure put out by Eldritch Enterprises’ to be adapted to any fantasy setting. Written by James M. Ward, the writer of Dark Outpost (previously reviewed here), this adventure offers the unique twist of allowing a PC to inherit the dungeon after it is explored.

Eldritch Enterprises once again serves up an old-school, open-ended adventure that fits easily into any campaign and adapts to nearly any rules set you might use. It calls for “three or more players of moderate experience” on the cover and threatens a 60% fatality rating, although, at a glance, I think it is certainly more forgiving than several other Eldritch Enterprises offerings. Like all their products, it is a very easy matter to further increase or decrease the difficulty of the adventure and Tower of the Scarlet Wizard offers a number of encounters that are not based on combat alone. (Be warned, there might be some spoilers ahead.) Continue reading

6 Feb

Review: Tim Kask’s Curse of the Weaver Queen

Eldritch Enterprises LogoCurse of the Weaver Queen is Eldritch Enterprises’ latest adventure meant to be adapted to any fantasy setting. Written by Tim Kask, the writer of the Snakeriders of the Aradondo (reviewed here in January), Curse of the Weaver Queen holds to his philosophy of constructing an adventure around the fact that every group has a different style of play. The GM who runs it is expected to tweak it to the tastes of his gaming group.

A dungeon crawl that embraces Eldritch Enterprises’ typical old-school feel, Curse of the Weaver Queen can be integrated into virtually any campaign with one or two simple hooks. The cover identifies it as “a remarkably deadly adventure for 5 – 7 players of moderate level” and I would agree with that assessment. I do believe it can easily be modified, based on the system you adapt it to fit, to adjust for more or fewer players, but the GM should keep the danger level in mind (especially when reducing the number of players). Continue reading

22 Jan

Old School D&D in PDF Format

Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with my favorite folks over at DriveThruRPG.com and RPGNow.com to make a great deal of “old school” Dungeons and Dragons products available in PDF form. And I should point out that although I’m excited about the old school D&D releases, the PDF format books cover the range from Basic/Expert all the way up to 4th Edition material. So go find your favorites, even you weirdo’s who have this strange attachment to Second Edition D&D.

Behold! DnDClassics.com! (And your DriveThruRPG/RPGNow login and account are linked to this sister site already.)

Dungeons & Dragons Classics

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11 Jan

Review: Tim Kask’s Snakeriders of the Aradondo

Eldritch Enterprises LogoEldritch Enterprises has put out quite a few adventures meant to be adapted to whatever system you please. I’ve previously taken a look at Frank Mentzer’s Lich Dungeon Level 1 and also James M. Wards and Christopher Clark’s science fiction adventure, Dark Outpost. Tim Kask’s fantasy adventure Snakeriders of the Aradondo embraces the same old-school approach found in those other works. Those are all names you should know if you know your RPG history.

Better still, history is still being made as the OSR continues to develop and gather support with publications like the upcoming Gygax Magazine. But I digress… Continue reading

29 Oct

Weather in Your Roleplaying Game

Uruk-hai in the Rain
“Really? Not one of you brought an umbrella?”

In my roleplaying game campaigns, the weather is often an afterthought. That is, of course, if it isn’t the focus of the matter at hand. I usually don’t give consideration to the weather in my Dungeons & Dragons game until someone asks about it. In non-fantasy games, like Shadowrun, it’s almost entirely window dressing. Regardless of what roleplaying game I’m running, I’m trying to be more conscious of it now. And I think, in part, it’s because of my recent experiences with the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game. Continue reading

26 Oct

The Eternal Rest: A Creepy Fantasy RPG Supplement

RPGs or Twix?
“I’m just saying, maybe you shouldn’t eat all of the things.”

With Halloween just around the corner, everyone is clambering to add something dark, haunted, or zombie-filled to their usual game night. Of course, everyone is usually intent on the bags of candy that the DM tossed into the center of the table, and it isn’t because they want to dig their way down to the battlemat. By the time combat starts, the sugar crash has decimated the party. Often, it’s better just to have an atmospheric roleplaying session while people play terrifying sounds from their phones and discuss their favorite horror films. So why not pick up an inexpensive supplement to set the stage, and the hooks, for the following week’s adventure when that 3-pound bag of Twix is finally gone? Continue reading

6 Sep

Dungeon Master Tips – BYOB Means Bring Your Own Background

Neon Bar SignThe Dungeon Master usually has a lot on his or her plate. I know that I usually have maps to make, dungeons to stock, NPCs to name, and plots to devise. And, when it comes to the “big maps” such as the world, or even a prominently featured city, I often hand wave the details until they are immediately necessary.

For example, I never keep a list of the exact businesses that are present in a given settlement. I just determine if what a player is looking for is available if they ask. Plainly, it saves a lot of time because then I didn’t fully develop the cobbler’s shop and give him a cool back story only to discover that nobody in the party was not in need of footwear repair. That’s time I could have spent on a location they were more likely to visit. Continue reading

31 May

Minor Divination: Indecent Disclosure, Part 2

Wine pour
"Not sure what I think of it yet. Just keep pouring more glasses."

Upon reading the first iteration of the “Friends & Family” playtest set of rules for Dungeons & Dragons I was shocked. It reminded me of AD&D but also of Basic D&D, my old, familiar boxed set. At least, it did while I was reading it. When I was done reading it, there were still hints of 3E (and, yes, that’s means 3.5) and a subtle 4E finish. Having previously sampled those vintages as well, the interplay of flavors was unmistakable. And, sticking my nose back into it, I couldn’t help but feel drawn back to a time when I played 2E.

But it didn’t feel like flesh golem of parts stolen from a variety of graveyards. It felt whole. Granted it wasn’t complete, but it wasn’t presented that way. Pieces were clearly missing but the playtest was clearly concerned with focusing on the core of the rules, the fundamentals that most people claim are immutable components of D&D: the six attributes, hit points, the stock races and classes, and so on. Beyond that, it borrowed upon the best elements of later editions but it wasn’t outright theft. The rules didn’t take healing surges wholesale and drop them in but approached them as a good idea that needed to be reworked and integrated into a new set of rules. And reworking them might make them unrecognizable to a devout 4E player as much as their very presence might shock an “old-school” gamer.

D&D Expert Rulebook
"You're my boy, Blue!"

I don’t think the goal of the game is to give everyone what they want. That’s clearly not possible, not because of the limits of game designers but because of the limits of human nature. Instead, I think the goal is to give everyone a new game that they can all play.

The biggest treasure to me was the de-crunching of the rules. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that solid rules are crucial to a well-designed game. But as a DM I like generalizations that I can adjust based on the circumstances. My style of play doesn’t really require a page of rules for each corner case that can arise at the table. Just because I can commit a set of rules to memory doesn’t mean that I want to. Because while a player is arguing that he can climb a wall underwater using his climbing modifiers instead of his swimming modifiers, we could have been advancing the story after a quick die roll. To me, the “white space” around the rules is what lets them breathe.

The most contentious part of the early iteration of the rules at my table was the lack of a battlemat. I’ll point out that this was a conscious choice, not because the rules didn’t allow for it. In fact, I could easily see how the rules could allow for it. But I wanted to jump back to the days before I had a mat in front of me, not because I don’t like them but because I wanted to see if I enjoyed it as much as I remembered. 4E became so tactical that it verged on tedious at times. (Without going off in that direction I’ll just say that it had a habit of miring players in minute decisions causing them to overlook any actual adventure taking place.)

The two most vocal responses at the table were almost diametrically opposed. One player felt immediately more immersed in the game and felt his imagination was much more engaged than it had been in a long time. Another felt severed from the action and activity of combat and any situational awareness his character might have. I could see both sides and, as a DM, experienced both sides. I gained the time to discuss spaces and plot more descriptively as players engaged with their environments more (What do I see when I look here? What about there?). And I lost time when I frequently had to reiterate positions in combat.

AD&D PHB Weapon Versus Armor Table
D&D Edition Color Blindness Chart: does this image appear rose-colored?

When things came to a head with an argument over two PCs’ positions I did feel like the game had come full-circle. It had been a long time since I’d seen that. And it’s precisely things like that that keep the rosy hue off the lenses of my glasses. I don’t kid myself that the good old days were all good. I just feel its important to test the old notions from time to time to determine if they’re still a good or bad fit moving forward. I think that’s what the playtesting is all about: dispensing with assumptions and making sure that when you put all the parts together they work and represent the best possible effort.

I’ve already talked Vancian magic, several times in fact, and I remain a fan. But there’s still more to come regarding the early playtest before I dip into the public playtest. And I might start using the battlemat again… at least some of the time.

30 May

Minor Divination: Indecent Disclosure, Part 1

C130 Flame-retardant
As Henry David Thoreau famously said on the internet: "If you can't see the forest for the trees just go ahead and burn all that shit down."

Across the Internets, the truth is coming out. People are confessing that they were part of the deviously concealed “Friends & Family” playtest of the new iteration of D&D. By “deviously concealed,” I mean that most people seemed to abide by their Non-disclosure Agreements. And by “new iteration of D&D” I mean the game that is either the kindling to stoke the flames of the Edition Wars higher or the sort-of-orange chemical dumped out of the back of planes intended to shut people up fight forest fires.

For purposes of these early playtests, I was a Friend and/or Family. I’m not sure which, technically speaking, but I think freelancer roughly equates to relation by marriage rather than by blood. Or maybe it’s “friends with benefits.” Who knows?

Going into this whole thing, I set my expectations very low. I didn’t do so because I had no faith in the designers. That’s not the case. I did so because I knew what I was going to hold in my hands would not be a completed effort. I expected, and welcomed, a work in progress. To expect a fully completed and polished game from a playtest, particularly an early playtest, is the mark of an idiot. I say so without apology.

Famous Cabins in History, Volume 1
"That’s right, guy from Alaska with an internet connection: WotC is out to get you and moving to where you can see Russia from your house isn’t going to save you!"

My genuine expectations begin when I get hold of the finished product. A playtest is my means to influence the shape and direction of that finished product, even if it is only in the slightest of ways. Furthermore, I understand that if my personal suggestions go unheeded it could be for a variety of reasons none of which are “Ross wants this, let’s specifically leave it out just to slight him, one individual consumer.” To read some people’s reactions to the mere existence of a new edition you’d think Wizards of the Coast sent a letter, personally addressed to them, expressing their gleeful intention to specifically ruin the campaign taking place just off North Slope Haul Road in Deadhorse, AK (or whatever actual place they game at).

I have a pretty big problem with people who think their game is “OMG!!!Ruined!!!” when a new edition arrives. I really just can’t relate to that idea. Personally, I’ve seen a lot of editions come and go at my gaming table. And not just with D&D. Shadowrun is four or five editions deep now, isn’t it? Games Workshop seems to actively obfuscate which editions their supplements belong to but they sure don’t mind putting out more of them. But never once has a representative from a gaming company knocked on my door and demanded I surrender my previous edition. (And that isn’t just because of Pennsylvania’s “Castle Doctrine.”)

Nonaton
"I need you to give me your previous edition books. Also, can I use your bathroom because you really do live in the middle of nowhere and it's a long drive back to the Tower of Primus."

It’s true. When I opened my Fourth Edition Player’s Handbook a nonaton didn’t lead a pentadrone interdiction force to storm my library, seize my previous editions, and document my transgression with the regional septon. There wasn’t a modron in sight. In fact, nobody prevented me from playing any of my earlier editions. Well, technically, my junior high principal prevented me from playing but that had to do with that whole ridiculous “D&D is evil” hysteria several decades ago, an entirely different sort of idiocy. But, that aside, no ban on my books.

To me, a new edition is a new game. It often bears similarities to what has come before and might even carry the torch of an existing setting, but I neither want the exact same mechanics I had before or something entirely unrecognizable. And even if I get those things I’ll still decide if this new game is a game I want to play or not. Despite its radical departure at points from its predecessors, I can take a great deal of enjoyment from a Fourth Edition D&D game. That said, I have on more than one occasion, opened my D&D Basic set from the early 80’s and had a blast with it so many years after the fact.

What does all this have to do with the new edition of D&D? Nothing. And Everything.

I want to present the perspective I’m starting from before I wade in with my opinions. I want to expose my biases in that I am not a hardline defender of a particular edition. I want to make sure you know that I care about a game more than I care about a company, even if that company occasionally sends me a check in the mail. Finally, I want to point out that people are already building boxes to restrict themselves before they’ve even tried their hand at a game that’s only fundamental and unwavering rule throughout every edition has been “never limit yourself.”