What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Yarr! The Pirate ArrPG

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Weekend R&R: Call of Cthulhu 7e

“Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” 

As I have written before, my first foray into the Call of Cthulhu ruleset was quite some time ago. It was over 20 years ago and I had played a bit of the fifth edition of the game. I had made a few characters for the game because bad things happen in this game and they result in one of a couple of things -- insanity or death. Sometime death would follow quickly after the character became insane. It was run regardless and I even had the chance to experience a chunk of the original 'Horror on the Orient Express' campaign. All in all, I didn't play for long and probably not much more than a couple of weeks. Yet the game had made it's mark on me and, after so many years, I returned to the game and began to run it late summer last year.

The main difference was that I wasn't running 5th or even 6th edition. Chaosium had finally delivered a 7th edition of the after a complicated and problematic Kickstarter fulfilment. It was born out of a crowdfunding campaign that was launched in May of 2013 and followed less than a year after the new, revised, and expanded Horror on the Orient Express campaign boxed set. Backing the Orient Express campaign was, in part, nostalgia. I had a copy of my 5th Edition rulebook so I figured I was good to go and the kickstarter offered tremendous value and the difference between the Canadian and US dollar was no where near as pronounced as it is now. But, when Chaosium announced the 7th Edition, it was a quick decision for me. It took over a couple of years for the first Kickstarter to materialise and much longer for the rulebooks from the second campaign to show up. A full three years in my case.

It was worth the wait.

The format of this newest edition took a few departures from the version editions of the game. The most significant being the decision to move away from one rulebook to two rulebooks. With 7th Edition, you now have an Investigator Handbook and a Keeper Rulebook. The Investigator Handbook has everything a player needs to create an investigator but, as far as rules are concerned, that's about it. The book is close to 300 pages and does have other things useful for the player and keeper alike. In particular, it has a lot of 'fluff' for playing in the game's default 1920's setting. A whole chapter is dedicated to the roaring 20's and the book also provides the complete text to H.P. Lovecraft's 'Dunwich Horror' and a host of other reference information. The Keeper Rulebook on the other hand is a beast of a book. Coming in to about 450 pages, it has all the rules the Investigator Handbook does not. All, the rules but just an overview of character creation. Notably missing from the Rulebook are the pages of occupations available in the Investigator Handbook. It's a bit of a shame since the books themselves are not inexpensive by any means. They are not overpriced either but gaming books these days are generally pricey to begin with. The lack of this might cause some hoping to save a bit of money just try and get by just buying the Keeper Rulebook but, unless you are are very familiar with the system, it is probably best to make the investment. The Keeper Rulebook also includes many examples to assist someone in running the game while offering a diverse amount of chapters on major different aspects of the game. The great things about these books? They are also in full colour.

What I like about a game like Call of Cthulhu is the decision to keep things relatively intact as far as the ruleset is concerned every time a new edition is released. Those familiar with past editions won't feel lost looking at this newest version but there have been a few changes and additions. The first thing those coming from previous editions of the game are the games in the numerical values of the stats. Whereas they once would range between 3-18 (a roll of 3d6), they are now converted to percentile scores. This helps streamline things making percentile checks much more universal than before. Related to this and the percentile based stats and skills are how checks are now conducted. Before, it was a static result but now, there are levels of difficulty (degrees of success) that also play factor. Aside determining success or failure when measured against the value of a particular skill, half that value is require for a Hard success and a fifth is required for an Extreme success. This system allows for a interesting way to do opposed rolls where the higher degree of success wins the challenge. That is how combat is generally handled.

Of course, Call of Cthulhu has gotten a reputation over the years of being a bit merciless towards player characters. Anyone who has read Lovecraft will appreciate the bitter end to many a character that appeared in his stories. The role of the investigator in this game is fraught with many perils. Fortunately, a couple of things have been added to the arsenal of the player to, perhaps, give a bit of a needed edge. Luck can be used a pool and spent to improve a player's roll and it is now possible to 'push' a check.  To push the check, the player gets to re-roll a failure with the understanding that another failure will bring with in consequences beyond simply failing the roll. Finally, there is also a bonus/penalty dice mechanic that is introduced which can improve the odds (or worsen them) as the situation demands. That sort of thing has recently been made popular with the Advantage mechanic in the newest edition of D&D.

Beyond these mechanics there are naturally other changes and additions but none of which are as important as the mechanics. There are new things like Chase Rules and an entire chapter is devoted to it and there is a section to roll up background info for your character. And so much additional background material but many will enjoy this sort of fluff.

Otherwise, Call of Cthulhu is a skill based RPG -- not a class/level based on. A character won't advance in 'level' upon attaining a certain requisite experience points. But they could advance in the skill they actually and successfully put to use in the course of a scenario. The isn't a boat load of health and it is entirely conceivable that a character will die easily if they go out of their way to get into a fight. Ultimately, it is a game of investigation and exploration with the purpose to piece together a story. Pacing and atmosphere will likely be very different from other games. It is also a very easy game to pick up and play and, this edition and these books are a great way to get into the game.

The books are readily available and the PDF version can be found HERE for $22.95 for the Investigators Handbook or HERE for $27.95 for the Keeper's Rulebook. Physical copies can also be ordered straight from Chaosium themselves for $44.95 and $54.95 respectively and they include PDF copies as well.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Update: Publishing Some Fiction

So... what have I been up to this week? This week was technically a vacation. By that I mean, I didn't have to contend with my usual 9-5 day job and I should have been having fun or relaxing. As it turns out, I wasn't really doing any of that but at least it wasn't the typical grind. Most of this week was spent prepping the first novel that Arcana Creations is producing.

At this stage, the completed novel has already been put through editing and layout. Actually layout had to be done twice since I was concerned that the margins I had set was could cause a few issues so I had to go back and re-work it. This more or less describes a lot of the sort of work I had been doing. I do it once and then, for whatever reason, I have to revisit it to correct a problem or oversight. While I've produced adventure modules before, a novel is a different sort of beast. The cover took longer than I wanted but that is mostly due to the fact that I'm using new software to do the work and I am pretty much learning as I go. After this is done, I'll probably go back and watch a bunch of tutorials to learn the program better.

With the production of something that is not gaming related, I decided create an imprint to publish these sort of books and I'm planning to do more down the line. With that in mind, I commissioned a logo which currently needs a last finishing touch before I start using it. I will have it sometime early Friday morning and, once I do, I'll be using it for the novel.

I fully expect that I will be ordering a proof tomorrow.

The next step will be to launch a small Kickstarter. With the project so close to completion, crowdfunding will be a great way to do a 'pre-order' of sorts. Beyond fulfilment, money raised will also help offset the modest costs of the project and help fund a small print run to do a small local book launch.  The campaign, once started, will run for about a month (like most Kickstarter campaigns) with fulfilment happening within a couple months of project end.  I guess that's what happens when you have most of the work done before launching a Kickstarter.

Here is a simple mock-up of the cover of the upcoming novel by Marisol Charbonneau titled 'Mother of Mortals':

That's all for now!


Monday, February 13, 2017

Weekend R&R: Tome of Adventure Design

The first adventure I ever created had me mapping out a dungeon on some graph paper and creating a chart of random encounters while sprinkling random treasure here and there. I don't even recall if there was a particular goal but I'm sure there must have been. I do remember that it was a high level adventure but, at the time, I didn't have many books and resources to draw from. All I had was a few modules, the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, and a lot of enthusiasm.

I also remember an entry on the random encounter table that called for '1d4 tarrasques'.  But hey, I was thirteen and I remember that my friends and I had a lot of fun despite the ridiculousness of it all.

In the months since that initial foray, my adventures became a bit more intricate and grandiose. They were not mere adventures but full fledged campaigns. Sometimes I would use a classic published adventure module to spring into a much more complicated and interlinked story line. I had an abundance of free time back then but as I got older, and became burdened with more obligations and responsibilities, this was no longer the case. Relying totally on published adventures, isn't ideal for some people either due to personal preference or simply not finding what would be a good fit.

Fortunately, there has always been resources available in one form or another. There are supplements, articles, and chapters dedicated to dungeon design offering methods to create a randomly generated one. The same can be said of aids to create brand new creatures or modifying existing ones for a variety of games. There is no shortage of tips offered to those looking for a bit of help and there have been great books that just contain pages of random tables for a myriad of different things either. However, in all my years of gaming and designing, I have few books that have impressed me as much as The Tome of Adventure Design published by Frod God Games.

The Tome of Adventure Design is by no means a new publication.  Portions of the book was first published by a smaller press called Black Blade Publishing around 2010. The present volume consists of four parts (or books) which focus on different aspects of adventure creation.  The first part is titled 'Principles and Starting Points' where as the second is simply titled 'Monsters'.  Both of these were initially published as separate titles though I was only nominally aware of the first one being a separate release. The second part of the book consists of a section on 'Dungeon Design' and the last for 'Non-Dungeon Adventure Design'.

In many ways, the Principles and Starting Points section is where the book takes its first, and best, step forward. It starts off with some very sound and basic advice on designing the adventure and basically discusses the importance of key elements to make the adventure not only stand out, but hold up. "A good adventure should maximize meaningful player decisions" is the first thing that is written past the introduction of this section and treats this as the cardinal rule of adventure design. With that in mind, it discusses the elements to making a key adventure starting off with concepts of backstory, location, and opposition and then exploring other factors.  However, what makes this section of the book useful is not simply talking about concepts but offering up tables covering various facets of all  these in many different tables.  There are over 35 tables and all of them have many multiple components for many different combinations. Some are percentile tables but others actually need a d1000 roll.

Usage might vary for the section section of the book dealing with Monsters. While the cover of the book for the newest printing describes this book as a tool to use with Swords & Wizards or Pathfinder, the truth of the matter is that the book is basically has no stats to use with any RPG.  Essentially, a lot of this material could even be adapted to different genres of gaming though clearly intended for fantasy RPGs. Tables break this section down to various categories and types of critters and through these, they are detailed enough to spark the imagination. Each category also has a helpful information detailing it giving a baseline understanding for the person using the tables. The closest supplement I've come across and liked to what this section provides would be The Random Esoteric Creature Generator by James Raggi and yet, this section is over twice as long. Imagine for a moment what you could whip up by using both of these resources together...

The other half of the book is on Dungeon and Non-Dungeon design and are the last two sections. Now, there are already plenty of examples and resources for a random dungeon design and even the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide for AD&D has some great tables for this in the back of the book. When I look through these tables, it feels that more effort and consideration has gone into these pages. It is important to point out that this section builds upon some of the material talked about in the first section. Tables are included to help further refine some of this material. Aside from tables for the actual design of the dungeon, it goes further with tables of oddities, special features, dungeon dressing, and contents. There are close to 185 tables in this section! The followup section adds another 100 tables to deal with everything that might happen elsewhere than a dungeon which is not something you see anywhere near as often.

If you consider the book as a whole, you have a few hundred tables which can all be used towards the same goal and that is to help you create a great and memorable dungeon with a minimum of fuss. It's a book that comes in at over 300 pages with a consolidated index to help find specific things. It's no secret that gamers do enjoy their random tables and these have always had a place in our tabletop roleplaying games. While many books have been published with a bunch of tables to assist a game master, this books stands out for specializing in a single task -- to create a memorable adventure. It is entertaining to look through and can equally be a quick fix to create something with a minimum of effort. It is also an attractive book (all black and white) to have on the shelf at a relatively reasonable price. You can order it direct from Frog God Games where the cover price of the book is $42 USD, or find it on the shelves of your friendly local game store or, save a tree and a bit of money and just get a PDF version over at RPGNow! over HERE for only $21 USD. It is, quite frankly, a book I wished I had many years ago.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hailing Frequencies Open!

Well, despite issues with Blogger.  I think I'll keep things going on here a while longer.  My website refresh I planned before the new year was not accomplished and with everything going on, I didn't do my usual year end / new year roundups as I have the past couple of years.

All of that matters not.

The book I had been working on (editing) has gone past that stage and has even gone through the layout stage. In other words, the majority of the work is done but a few more things need to be finished on that end.  I've already begun or resumed a couple other projects.  More on that soon.

I decided to get back in the habit of communicating here on the blog and the aim is twice a week.  One on Wednesday which will be when I dole out updates and info, or simply point the reader to something worthwhile or interesting.  The other will be the weekend which will see a return to some of my Weekend R&R articles (reviews basically), painting tutorials, or other bits of gaming goodness.

That's the goal but the work at Arcana Creations remains the priority in 2017.

Oh, speaking of which... Arcana Creations will be attending the tiny (yet growing) CanCon convention this Fall.  More on that as we get a bit closer to the date.

Signing off for now...


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Arcana Creations Update!

Arcana Creations has always been more of a hobby than a dedicated pursuit.  Over the past few years, there has never been a tremendous amount of output and, depending on the year, my efforts have shifted depending on what I saw as priorities at the time.  And of course, life and my regular 9-5 mean that all my hobbies -- gaming, writing, reading, painting, and the like all take a back seat.

With 2016 finally coming to a close, one of the reasons I have been quiet this year, is some of the work I've been doing.  Instead of writing reviews or chatting up on my blog, one of the things I've been doing is a large editing job on a novel.  At present, this is over 75% completed and at the current rate, it should have gone to layout before the end of the month with proofs being done shortly thereafter. Specific details on this release will follow just after the holidays.

That said, there is one title currently being worked on with the tentative title of 'The Shaman of the Mire'.  Troll Lord Games has just finished a short, three-day campaign to release two modules that take place in the Darkenfold in their setting of Aihrde for Castles & Crusades.  It was a very successful campaign that will also produce a boxed set with plenty of goodies.  Arcana Creations has pledged a digital copy of this new adventure to every backer ($10 and up) of the project.  Once my commitment to that project is met, it will be made available for general sale as well as a physical print run.  The delivery of TLG's kickstarter is slated for June 2017.

Arcana Creations plans for at least TWO other releases in 2017 but I don't want to get ahead of myself.  In the meantime, there is A LOT of work to be done but I am enjoying it.  However, one of the things that will need to be completely OVERHAULED before the end of the year is the Arcana Creations website...