What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Immortal Figures: Gods of Olympus

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Do You Recharge?

Well, despite my 'full' schedule, I have to take a break now and then just like anybody. However, taking a bit of time away from whatever projects (or the job) doesn't necessarily 'fuel up the tanks' so to speak. When I'm not simply exhausted after a day's work or don't have my weekend entirely booked with other commitments, I try to pursue simple things. Sometimes it's just to take my mind off of things and other times it's with the hope to 'inspire' me. If I'm lucky, I manage to get both done.

One great way to take a break for someone like me is just to play a few games. These can sometimes be a boardgame amongst friends (usually 'eurogames' and other light strategy games or simply computer and video games. If I'm really lucky, I get to play in a good old pen-and-paper type RPG. Unfortunately, these for me are actually few and I'm currently playing in Supers-RPG a couple of times a month. Of course, I could always run my own game (once more) which is a rarity these days. However, I don't necessarily consider running a preparing a game exactly a break from the sort of projects I do with Arcana Creations -- sometimes it just feels like an extension of it. Playing is always a different matter. I do run stuff and it will be stuff that I am developing for publication and it's always nice to see player reaction to something we have just released or about to publish.

I think in a lot of cases, the key is play.

For me, playing a good deal of StarCraft II when it came out got me really charged up about Sci-Fi. Recently, I've been playing an RPG on the X-Box which is very 'Classical Greece' and it's gotten me thinking of actually running a mini-campaign in the Golden Age of Ancient Greece. Of course, reading great books and movies are also a great way to recharge but I feel that the time spent with those is proportional to the amount one will 'get back'.

Of course, the other way to keep you going is to work on different projects. Right now, I'm working on a couple of projects dealing with the Superhero genre. This is not my principal preferred genre but both are different enough (and one of the two is a short term project to help out). This certainly helps. Of course, if inspiration happens to strike with something else, by all means get some of that out of your system! It might have a great way to motivate you on your original projects and make you feel good about all the work that you are doing.

M

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Which Way the Wind Blows?

I've realized that it's been quite some time since the last update... a month in fact.

I noticed in part by the number of books I have read since my last update.  :)

In all seriousness, things are progressing albeit slowly.  I initially hoped to have the Victorious Quickstart out by the end of July but life threw me a few curves.  Nothing bad... just been unusually busy.  At this stage, as opposed to giving a hard date, I will say that it's coming soon and the same goes with the main rule book for the game.  Despite the busy schedule, I am also helping ' Zenith Comics' with their first RPG product which is geared towards the Super Hero RPG genre.  Thankfully it is a smaller role that the typical work I do for some of the Arcana Creations projects I have done in the past and it's not taking too much time away from Victorious!

As far as recent projects are concerned, a week ago I was pleased to see a review on the Grognardia blog for our release, 'A Trick on the Tain'.  If you are interested in reading the review, it can be found HERE.  My thanks to James on his great review of the product!

All this said, I feel Arcana Creations is at a bit of a crossroads as far as its future is concerned.

I love to game.  I love reading about it, being involved with it, and discussing and designed material for it.  It was the primary reason for the work and effort I have put in to Arcana Creations as I strive to create a product that I would be interested in buying as a consumer of gaming material.  I think, with the few releases that I have realized for one of my games of choice, I have done a good job doing so.  Each release has been better than the last and I was more than happy to put in the investment (both time and money) to turn some of these ideas into physical reality.  Right now, Victorious is the 'big' project but I've got something planned which is a bit bigger.  I've also noticed and have experienced the volatility of the market and despite the strong sales of our very first release, the sales of the other releases which have followed have not measured up well it and are in general decline.

It could be simple economics... interest in the type of material we have produced thus far... or even the system Arcana Creations chose to support.  Whatever the reason, I have no choice but to take notice and adapt.  Victorious is continuing and will not be affected by this.  On the other hand, the 20-24 saddle-stitched material we have been producing are being relegated to the back-burner as our focus and format shifts.

As we advance further along with Victorious, a clearer picture of what's to come from Arcana Creations will be provided but nothing beyond Victorious is written in stone.

Thanks for your patience and keep them dice rolling!

M

Friday, July 23, 2010

Quick Updates...

Nothing much to report... work is still progressing on the Victorious Quickstart which should be finished soon. As most of the work I do after my regular 9-5 job, it's a give and take in terms of the actual time available to me. I had hoped to have it ready for Troll Con which is this weekend but it won't be making that deadline after all.  It will be done very soon and before Troll Con East which happens shortly before or after (can't remember which) GenCon.  ;)

Aside from this project, I'm also looking over the material for the actual Victorious Rulebook.  Little else for the moment but I've got tons of ideas for other projects which will be tackled once Victorious is done.

M

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why Stick With C&C?

People who come to C&C do so for a variety of reasons. Often these are tied in to a sense of nostalgia and a great amount of compatibility with older AD&D and D&D material and, to a good degree, even the newer d20 material being derived from the SRD and OGL itself. While C&C might have been the first to essentially re-create or at least emulate an older ruleset or style of a game we were already familiar with, it wasn't the last.

Newer attempts were made to better capture the 'various flavors' and incorporate the little differences that made a particular edition of a game stand out. Other attempts were to simply improve upon an already existing model. As more options become available, people invariably come into the game only to find something similar but more suited to their tastes or fond memories.

Castles & Crusades is something of a gateway though. Just this weekend, I was visiting a neighboring city and happened to pop into the local game shop. Now, this store is something of an institution and has been there for at least 20 years. When TSR still reigned supreme, they carried their material as well of those of all the 'big names' and a few of the smaller outfits. In short, they have witnessed and have been part of the golden age of roleplaying games.  The selection of material has certainly changed since I first visited the store about 17 years ago and a lot of this has to do with the current interests. There are certainly more card games since the advent of Magic: The Gathering and the past few years have also seen a drastic increase in board games. However, D&D is still a big seller and various brands by other companies do see shelf space. C&C is one of those products.

When I first got into C&C, a lot of the material I bought was from that store. Other friends also got their C&C material from that store and, as the demand was clear, more and more C&C releases found their way to their store shelves. Of course, the books still don't have prime shelf space but at least it's carried and restocked more frequently than it used to be.  Part of that isn't just sales alone because a game store that tries to offer a selection will usually carry it. TLG has also produced other material besides C&C which might have been ordered at one point of another such as the earlier line of d20 products they used to do for D&D. In short, after ten years, TLG has gotten at least enough 'street cred' to be part of many a store's lineup.

The same cannot be said of the multitudes of other (what many people will call) 'OSR' games that are out there. With small publishers relying the internet as the principal means of sale and, more often then not, decide to operate on a POD model it might be harder for them to break into conventional retail distribution.  Even then, it can take years of sustained releases before certain stores and their regular customers begin to take notice. It would be foolish to assume that all gamers get their information from the net first and there will always be those that chose to buy from a retail store as opposed to an online purchase.

I struck up a conversation with the owner of the store and one of the many things I inquired about was if they had or were bringing in any products from Brave Halfling Publishing. The person hadn't heard of them but automatically assumed it was another internet-based, POD operation. In response, that they had started putting material through retail distribution (and the distribution company that was representing then). That drifted to the owner asking what sort of stuff did BHP release and, when I mentioned that a couple of C&C modules had been put out, the perception already began to change.

In short, it was just a matter of time before they started stocking BHP material on the shelves.  The reason for that was C&C.

From a business standpoint, it makes sense for Arcana Creations (with BHP) to support a game like C&C. By that rationale, it makes a whole lot more sense to do material for Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D. But if I want to do material for the sort of game that I grew up playing (AD&D in this case), C&C is the closest 'success' for me to actually do this with.

I really like C&C but it isn't perfect. I have seen a lot of products that TLG have done which have disappointed me for one reason or another and others which have been absolutely fantastic! Despite flaws that some may perceive from it, the game is generally commercially available. The only other game of the sort that can make that claim right now is Labyrinth Lord (and naturally I'm referring to games that are like classic D&D and AD&D here). Others are just not 'there' yet and many will never be. However, as I've stated in the past, there is a lot more things in common with these games and others in the OSR movement than there are differences.

In the end, I stick with C&C as a publisher because there is genuine recognition of the brand which exists in the retail market. The fact that it also enables me to create material which can readily be used with a lot of other game systems makes me really happy as well. I'm pleased to see and hear that the products that Arcana Creations produces are already being used in this manner.

I think this is just an extension of houseruling and tweaking a game and this is the sort of thing that I've always done. As to C&C itself, it just happens to be close enough to the game I've always played anyway. This is why I've adopted as my game of choice in the first place.

M

Monday, July 12, 2010

Site Updates..

The site itself has finally been updated.  Mostly it involves a new look while keeping things relatively simple and clean.  More downloads and links than before... and a couple of surprises among them as well.

I had optimized some of the load time for a few things but realized that a couple of my beloved fonts were getting 'nerfed'.  I had to make them into graphics instead to preserve the look.  At some point, I imagine I will go back to what I had before but use some common fonts instead.  ;)

And the work continues...

M

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Temporary Respite...

Well, absolutely no work was accomplished on anything that Arcana Creations is involved with.  The heat wave hit Montreal rather hard and everything was put on hold.  It's good that "A Trick on the Tain" is out and shipping though.  Before the interruption, I was involved in a slight re-design of the Arcana Creations website.  There are still a few things that need to be fixed before I upload the whole thing.  Hopefully the newer look will prove to be pleasant to visit and navigate.  Aside from that, I still got a few things to do for the Victorious Quickstart which I'm still planning to have available this month as a free PDF.  That is assuming the respite from the heat holds a while longer -- just enough for me to get caught up and finish a few things...

M

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh the Irony ...

The Brave Halfling Publishing Storefront is down today ... upgrades and maintenance.  The day that I finally get around to mentioning on my blog that the "Trick on the Tain" was available for purchase is the day the storefront is taken down.  ;)

The good news is that a link will be immediately available upon purchase to download the PDF while you await the physical product to arrive.

M

Oh ... By The Way ...

The most recent project completed by Arcana Creations, "The Trick on The Tain" is done and available for to order HERE. It was completed on June 14th (a week after my last post) and went on sale on June 19th.  Initial comments have been positive.  For those of you who rather support their local game store, in is only entering the Distribution network sometime in July -- probably mid-July at the very earliest.  However, by ordering straight from BHP, you will beat the stores and also receive a complimentary PDF version of the module.

Now that this project is behind me, I can say that I've already am working in putting together the Victorious Quickstart which is now in layout and editing.  This one looks like it will be a 'tight' 20 pages and, while it is intended to be a FREE pdf release, there will be a limited number of copies printed up.  Details are still being worked out with how many and in what capacity the printed versions will become available but I will be sure to post this on my blog here.

Aside from that, I've been meaning to revamp the Arcana Creations website.  This will likely be done sometime over the next couple of weeks.  As it is right now, the site has been 'a forgotten stepchild' and left untouched for months.  In fact, it hasn't been touched at all this year.  It probably needs to be kept simple but be more integrated with my regular practices.  I'll have to give it some more thought but it needs to get done by the start of July.

M

Monday, June 7, 2010

Progress ... Progress ... Progress !!

A handful of people are 'in the loop' when it comes to some of my work and projects with Arcana Creations.  I've decided to let those who read my blog in on my latest progress with Keith Hackwood's "A Trick on the Tain".  The thing is done.  Well... 99.5% done.  I'm about to go through it once more to spot any of those little typos that might have escaped my attention and once I am satisfied, two other people (one being the author) will also be reviewing the document to make sure everything is as it should be.  The information has been passed along our distributor and July is the official release as far as retail stores are concerned.  However, friends of the Brave Halfling will be able to get their copies sooner.  Aside from the final read through, the only piece of work that needs to be done is the quick reference table for the potential encounters in the module.  Those who have seen the full sized version of the "Secret of Ronan Skerry" will be familiar with what this looks like.  For those who haven't -- it's a one page sheet at the back of the module that gives a rundown of the encounters in a condensed format.

This all means that the material will be going to print in a matter of days.  As soon as this project is delivered, pre-orders will open up.  The regular price for this module is $9.95 but ordering it through Brave Halfling Publishing also means you get a PDF copy of the adventure as well as the hard copy.  And, like other BHP releases, you pretty much get the PDF upon purchase.  As soon as a link is available, I'll be posting it here.  Of course, similar announcements will find their way onto the TLG boards, Dragonsfoot, and the BHP forums themselves.

You know, I had worked on other projects before this one and, for whatever reason, this one was the longest.  Personal life took a few interesting twists... project was started on a different computer than the one I am using now.  I also shifted from various pieces of software I'm using for my various publication efforts.  Lastly, I had to replace my only monitor that chose to die on me a few days ago.  There have been a lot of change and I'm sure there will be more.  Hopefully, things will keep on rolling and various projects at Arcana Creations seem to have picked up a bit of speed of light.

Thanks for the support!

M

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Innovation vs Reorganization.

A recent thread on the TLG boards has irked me.

In short, it's a case where some people are in support of various retro-clones and those who are not.  Reasons will naturally vary from person to person and no one was out right trashing a particular game.  To me, some people just don't seem to get it.

FACT: With the lack of availability due to how a large company has decided to market the D&D brand, older iterations of the game are no longer available in any legal format.  This decision results in two things... an increase in piracy of this older and out-of-print material as well as the these newer 'simulacrum games' that seek to emulate a classic form of D&D.

If WOTC / Hasbro decided to do a series of reprints and made them available (even in a limited fashion), interest in the retro-clones would diminish somewhat and it may even curb some of the various pirating efforts.

In no way would these stop though... just diminish somewhat.  ;)

That said, there are games that will reorganize and present a set of rules to be as close as legally possible to a particular version of D&D and those that take a step more and try to introduce some sort of innovation to the game.

I don't care much for games which are pretty much clones of an existing ruleset.  I think they are great as a reference document and have a valid place given the lack of any other option.  However, given that there are so many of them now, it sometimes seems like the choice of one or the other might boil down to how well it is written and how nicely presented it comes off as being.  I mean, there is so little difference between some of the games if you consider the system mechanics.

On the other side, a game that takes the familiar and adds or changes a few things to does a much better job at catching my eye.

Jason Vey's excellent "Spellcraft & Swordplay" is a great example.  James Maliszewski (Grognardia) has an interesting review of the game and describes it aptly as a 'fascinating work of speculative game design' which effectively plays out as a 'what if' design scenario'.

Naturally, there is Castles & Crusades which is arguably the first OGL derivative of an older D&D style game.  There was some innovation there too.  Nothing big but the game retains the feel of an older frame work and adopts a few newer mechanics introduced in 3rd edition as well as the Siege mechanic.  As such, it effectively bridges various editions of D&D.

There is also Basic Fantasy RPG which does an interesting job of 'mixing things up' but doesn't adhere to a particular incarnation of D&D.  A fine system in it's own right and, like Spellcraft & Swordplay, often overshadowed by various retro-clones.

All three of these games utilized the d20 SRD to a degree and they are all OGL compliant.  None of these are an attempt to emulate a specific game and I think they might even be stronger for it.

That is not to say there aren't some great retro-clones out there.  I like the general direction that Labyrinth Lord has taken -- especially with the Companion.

In the end, all of these games exist because of our respective love for the games we play.

M

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mapping...

One of the last things I tend to work on when it comes to a project such as an adventure are the maps.  I love maps and I also love the 'old school' maps that TSR provided with so many of its adventures.  I know I'm not alone in this regard.  This is one of the reasons I try to give particular attention at how some of the maps are done.  When I did the C&C conversion of the Ruins of Ramat (available NOW in digest format HERE), I took a look at the maps that a talented person who works closely with Brave Halfling Publishing did up and decided to take a stab at it.  The result was stark black and white maps reminiscent of the old style present in many of TSR's iconic adventure modules and a style which was continued professionally in the various Dungeon Crawl Classics by Goodman Games.  The maps I did up seemed to do the trick and everyone seemed to be happy with them.  They were nothing fancy... but then again, those style of maps were not intended to be fancy.

Well, now I'm finishing up Keith Hackwood's "A Trick on the Tain" which was a module (I'm sorry to admit) I thought would be going to print today.  I guess it's still just a few days away as I'm still at the mercy of my overlords which have kept me busy at my regular 9-5 job.  Don't get me wrong, I like getting a regular paycheck but sometimes I could use a bit more time off for my other projects.  ;)  At any rate, the maps in this module call for some overland work.  Once again, having a fondness of an 'older yet functional style', I knew from the outset the sort of maps I would be using.  I didn't bother getting an artist to do the maps since I already had pretty much what I needed.  The author provided me the reference maps to use (nothing fancy but unsuitable for publication), I made sure I had all the various bits of software to achieve what I wanted, and some time.  Well, time admittedly is the one thing I seem to never have enough of... but the job is done.  Since I don't map on a regular basis (aside from quick sketches for my own games that I run), it took me longer than I thought it would.  That said, I'm happy with the work I've put together and I hope the fans will be equally happy.  The end result are a couple of 'old school' wilderness hex maps.  One is a closeup of the area the adventure takes place in and the other is a much larger area which could be used as a springboard for other adventures and material -- some of which I imagine will be coming out of Arcana Creations.

As for the module itself... just a couple of more days before it REALLY hits the printers.  ;)

M

Friday, May 28, 2010

General Thoughts on C&C

This is largely inspired by Josh Sherrer's interesting posts over at the Grimmhaus the past couple of days.  The posts I am referring to can be found HERE and HERE.  I have been a solid supporter of the game and also come from an AD&D background that was largely influenced by TSR's 2nd Edition.  I understand where Josh and other fans and critics of the game and company that produces it.  I have my own thoughts on the issue and the direction where I would like to the see the game and company go.

The Player's Handbook

Josh believes that the PHB could be expanded and I agree.  The fact that the 4th printing was expanded brings about a different issue which I will touch on again further on.  I believe that explanations of the equipment listed would have been a great idea and a better explanation on the functionality of illusions for the game.  I do not think that the inclusion of 'spell schools' or additional spells are necessary.  What might have been great and almost a novel concept for this type of game is a guide to spell creation and balance.  I'm not saying that schools are a bad idea... in fact, the spell creation system could even go as far as discuss schools and the relation of spells to those of an 'opposing school'.

Part of the philosophy of these sorts of games is the idea of making the game 'your own'.  I say the game would be better served at providing us with some tools in order to better do this.

As far as the SIEGE mechanic is concerned... I think it's great.  Does it handle absolutely everything?  No... nor is it expected to.  People seem to want to use it for every single instance that a roll could be done.  If you look at the earliest editions of D&D, how were skills handled?  What if you played OD&D and didn't use any of the supplements?  How would you have your 'Fighting Man' climb a wall? I could be wrong, but I don't remember the 3 LBB's covering something like that.  I'm sure people playing the game figured something out though.  ;)  Granted the Siege Engine is just not really well written and lacks a lot more guidance in the text.  What it boils down to is this: It provides a system to handle task resolution without the need of a detailed skill system.  It uses that same framework for saving throws.  Two birds with one stone.  However a lot of people I have seen play the game tend to rely more on that system than they should.  Other approaches to how it could be effectively used should be suggested.  If you really want to make the game your own but would rather have an itemized skill system, the Siege system for task resolution still becomes a valuable too that your NPC's or critters can use if you need to put something in the game on the fly.

Keep the Siege Engine... but it's strengths need to be explained clearly and suggests on how to get around some of the system's weak spots would be fantastic.  As for the Save system... I briefly mentioned it and I think it can work.  However, as opposed to just arbitrarily assigning 'old school' save categories to various attributes, a clearer explanation and logic needs to be applied.  I 'get' why everything is assigned to the various stats and I like the fact that it helps eliminate the 'dump stat'.  I think a low attribute could create an interesting circumstance where the player could assign that attribute to be a prime to help 'compensate'.  Basically -- the character has actually worked to overcome his weakness.  I think this is cool.  However a better understanding of how the various attributes related to various parts of the game, the saves, and task-resolution is in need of a more detailed section.  This would serve a new player very well.  As an aside, the Charisma being assigned the Death saves is a hard one to explain.  I tend to explain it away as the force of the personality and strength of character -- very much tied in to the concept of the 'Will to Live'.  My players seem to have accepted this.  ;)

As for the inclusion and exclusion of certain characters, I suppose one needs to remember that the classes are supposed to be archetypal.  While an 'Assassin' is basically someone who is paid to kill a a specific target, there is also an archetype.  The "Assassin's Creed" games are an interesting look at that archetype.  Things like the Knight, the Monk, the Barbarian, and the Illusionist are just as valid.  The question one needs to ask is whether the present classes supplied (there are 13 of them) accurately do or is it just that they followed the model as brought about with 1st edition.  Personally, I didn't mind the class of the illusionist but the recent spell additions diminish the class and how one goes about in trying to define and differentiate it from the Wizard class.

As far as the book model is concerned... I think the 2 book model was a good one (mention of the CKG never should have come about).  In truth, there is no real reason for a player to ever need anything that's in the M&T book and I think a lot of people like that idea.  While I loved the D&D Cyclopedia and would love a Cyclopedia version of the C&C ruleset, I would much rather they 'tighten' up the material in the PHB and M&T.  Once the material is 'satisfactory', I can see a special edition (collector's edition with faux leather) do well among some of the fans.

The Monster & Treasure Book

I think expanding the book slightly would have been nice.  I don't want a 'zillion' critters but not including some basics like a Giant Centipede or Beetle seems shortsighted.  A few more basic staples would have been great.  That said, a few more utilitarian sections on the use and design of magic items and the creation of new critters might have been really handy to have.  Choosing to omit such things like Demons to put in a more specialized work is perfectly acceptable as long as it gets down properly.

The Company

Well, I have to agree that the choices made in some cases are not my own.  As a publishing partner to Brave Halfling Publishing, I can understand some of the delays and choices.  There are also many others which are examples of lost opportunities in my opinion.

Aside from product issues (which I won't go into), the question of an SRD specifically for C&C is an interesting one.  I do not believe it is needed since it is largely dderived from the d20 SRD already.  If a publisher wants to develop material for the system, then they need to approach TLG and ask permission since, C&C and the Siege Engine are trademarked terms regardless if everything else is 'open' or not.

As for the support for the C&CS is concerned... well... they meant well but clearly dropped the ball.  TLG's vision was a society of gamers and fans that would play and showcase the game.  This was to start and things are still at a starting phase.  I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that things are just very slow.  On the upside, they have put together a box set which can be gotten for free if you are holding an event or doing a demo.  That's got to count for something right?

Now I'm not trying to over-simplify the issues but at the end of the day, TLG is just a very small company.  Unless there is significant growth, it is likely to remain so.  Such is the way with RPG publishers.  If they can release material that people will like and buy, then more power to them.  If they continue to have some mishaps, the company will simply stop to prosper and possibly fold.

I would have done things differently and the game would be different as well.  But I think any passionate gamer would think the same right?

My thanks to Josh for a thought provoking set of posts.

M

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Zenith Comics Presents!

A friend of mine has been putting more and more effort into his project entitled 'Zenith Comics Presents!'  For those who are interested in a 'Supers-type' RPG, you may want to check some of the stuff out.

First (and foremost), there is the main SITE.  This is your portal to the Zenith Comics Presents universe.  From there, I recommend checking out the BLOG.  The blog follows the thoughts, work, and campaign as ran by Andrew Collas.  A wonderful treat is the podcast which has just started up and worth a lesson.  The first, and presently only episode, is really an interesting listen.  The guest on the inaugural episode was Jeff Dee who may be best known for his artwork with TSR and his various gaming design efforts including Villains & Vigilantes and TWERPS.  You can download this first episode of the podcast directly HERE.

If any of this happens to be your thing and you decide to check it out, I hope you enjoy!

M

Back in Black

In the past month and a half, I've taken a step back while things have just gotten busier in my life.  It just so happens that between my 9-5 gig, and regular commitments, as well as a bunch of unexpected ones, I wasn't left with time to take much of a breather these days.  I did take a bit of time to celebrate my own birthday a couple of weeks ago and May has kicked off rather nicely in the sense that things have started to calm down and I have been able to think about getting back to business...

While I haven't been able to get much work done on current projects with Arcana Creations, I have been keeping tabs at some of the things that have been going on in the gaming community.  I have also been taking a hard look at various trends and changes.  I have also witnessed a local game store shutting down and noticed attitudes changing as the gaming landscape continues to evolve.

Depending whom you ask, you will get a variety of thoughts and opinions on why that is.  Some will be quick to blame 4th Edition and others simply the slow Economy.  It could be the growth of POD publishing efforts or it could be a general dissatisfaction of the current situation and what's actually available.

I'm not really sure if any of it matters too much.

The key is being able to evolve and respond.  TLG has made a few shifts in terms of its own general business strategy -- the $5 module initiative is a primary example of this.  Other companies are trying to different things and Arcana Creations will also be making certain adjustments.  This may become more apparent as we get closer to 2011.

In the meantime, where is Arcana Creations at?  A few people had been been asking and next up is still the C&C module entitled 'A Trick on the Tain'  That project is very nearly ready for completion and *should* be going to print within the next couple of weeks.  Following on the heals of this release will be the new Siege-based game entitled 'Victorious'.  The release for this project will be two-fold.  First we will release a free Quickstart as a free PDF which will be followed later this summer with the core rulebook for the game.  I've had a chance to play around with it a bit and I'm eager to see it out in print.  Hopefully people will embrace this Victorian-era based Super Hero RPG and enjoy the system approach.  After the dust settles on that, we will follow with the release of the 'Foamy Tankard'; an accessory for C&C and other FRPG's.

Beyond that, I've decided to keep future projects under wraps for now.  Things are in the works though and I expect to make an announcement as the Fall starts closing in.

This weekend is Victoria Day weekend here in Canada which means I will be able to play catch up and get a bunch of work wrapped up all going well.  For those who follow the blog regularly or who have been asking for news, thank you so much for patiently waiting.

M

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Speaking of Time...

I might end up with an abundance of it. I've heard unfortunate rumors of a possible layoff -- mine. If I'm lucky, I'll be spared the axe. If not, then the good news is more blogging and more work on material and projects connected with Arcana Creations and BHP. As for the bad... well... I'm sure we all know what that could possibly entail.

On a completely different note, today is my spouse's birthday. Instead of dwelling on the bad, I'm trying to focus on the positive and tonight we are celebrating.

She is so wonderfully supportive and, despite the challenges we both have had to endure in the past few years, she has managed to keep focused and 'stay the course' so-to-speak. May the time between this birthday and the next see your wishes fulfilled.

M

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Limits of Time

When I was younger, I took for granted the sheer amount of free time I had. With a lot of this time (especially during my high school years), a lot of this time was devoted to gaming. As I got older, an increasing amount of responsibility and commitments meant less 'game time'. A few years ago, it meant next to no time spent on these sorts of pastimes.

As an adult who works a 40 hour workweek and who may have commitments which may include childcare or other necessary duties, it's easy to lose these little luxuries as other things become priorities. Add to that other friends who shared some of these hobbies who also have similar responsibilities or commitments and you may end up in a situation where games and game books collect dust on the shelves.

A few years ago, I managed to re-enter a hobby that I hadn't been a part of for a few years. Being a player is easy enough and the only requirement is devoting a bit of time on a regular basis. This could be once a week or even once every second week. However, the key here is to MAKE the time in order to get this to work. Sure, it won't always work and sometimes life will invariably demand your attention elsewhere. Gaming is a diversion but it shouldn't be used as a replacement. It's not hard to make a commitment and it shouldn't be too difficult to keep it.

If you think you are too busy to game, the first thing to do is to take a good look at your average week. See if there is a spot where you don't seem to do much or don't have something planned. If you do, how much time do you have to spare? Depending on what you do or play, you'll probably need 3 hours or so at a minimum. If you have more time available, then that's even better. However, it's better to game a solid 3 hours a week than none at all. If you can make that commitment on a regular basis, then you could be on your way to gaming regularly.

Aside from that, as a player, you don't necessarily have to worry about much else but participating. If something happens and you can't make a particular session, let your GM know as soon as you can. See what sort of requirements they need for an ongoing campaign? Do they have someone else play the character while you are absent or is the character taken out for play for that session.

If you can't do face to face, consider trying a game over the internet using Skype and other computer gaming aids. You can save a lot of time and get in and out of a game pretty quick if all you need to do is log into your computer. It is also a great way for friends to play over great distances and, even if everyone is local, is a way to avoid travel time.

Now, what if you are short on time but you want to actually run something yourself? This can be done as long as you keep a few things in mind. First keep it simple... play a game that is rules-light and don't get wrapped up in trying to design an enticing locales and NPC's before the fact. Consider published material for your adventures or take something you like and tweak it to suit your needs more. Do not create more work for yourself than what is needed.

When I stumbled upon C&C, this is the approach I took. I didn't worry about trying to create my own fantasy world or even overly develop my own adventures. I grabbed a handful of adventures which we played through and basically considered them as 'episodes'. Key things or questions which become a focus for the players and their characters in one adventure might create a hook or different angle for the new one. This will add to a more uniform feel to a series of adventures that were not originally linked as long as you allow it to develop naturally. Players have wonderful imaginations and all they need is a bit of inspiration for it to take off. In this way, the players help color the adventures you are putting them through and there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of that. Sometimes a great twist will be result of an action that a character makes or an idea that the player is trying to follow through on. Use it and enjoy gaming in the moment and it may go a long way to help reduce time to prepare for a gaming session.

Another idea is rotating the GM responsibilities if the group is generally limited when it comes to time. This doesn't work for everyone but some groups have had some success at sharing some of these responsibilities.

Of course, as I mentioned before, there are times when schedules conflict and nothing can be done to get out of certain plans. For me, April is proving to be a busy month. I'm currently involved in a BASH game that plays every two weeks and I was looking forward to playing a game of Victorious (currently in development) over Skype this Thursday. Circumstances have forced me to advise fellow players that I won't be participating in either game. That said, I have one C&C session I am running later this month but I will still try and get some general gaming here and there with a couple of friends between now and May.

It's important to make to make a bit of time and put in a bit of effort for the things you enjoy when you are able to. Seize the opportunity when you can and may your dice keep on rolling.

M

Monday, April 5, 2010

TLG's New Marketing Plans

It's been a couple of days since Steve over at TLG made a public announcement with regards to what will be happening soon with the company and one thing discussed was pricing. The post he made on the forums can be viewed HERE.

There was quite a bit of news for some fans to be excited about and while some may have mixed feeling whether or not the news about the CKG can be believed, others may have noticed the notion of the $5 module. This isn't the first time that a shorter or less expensive module was released into retail distribution. In fact, I believe the release of "Lure of Delusion" and "Dwarven Glory" modules was in effort to 'test' retailer perception and acceptance. You see, at a the price of $5, a retail store doesn't make much money on the sale at all. The reasoning is that a lower price point might generate a bump in sales and any 'loss per unit' might be made up by a greater number of units sold. It could also possibly increases the sales of material sold at the time of the purchase of the core books. These core books are also probably under priced when looking at other similar gaming products on the market.

There are a few issues with the strategy though. First off, by offering these books at a cheaper price, you may end up devaluing the line. Some customers who sees the average price of gaming books may view this as a bargain version of something 'better'. Cheaper doesn't always mean an increase in sales. However, assuming that sales are maintained and none are lost, what you end up with a much narrow profit margin. This means less money to develop larger projects which may not be a negative thing if they are altering their business model along with their marketing plans. It does mean that the company is restricting its own growth potential and could essentially starve itself out of business if the small releases are not regular enough.

One issue that I immediately found with this plan is how it effectively can screw with the possibility of third-party support for the game. Admittedly, there isn't much third party support currently but by selling certain products at cut-rate prices, a third-party company may be less inclined to even consider providing support for the game. If a third-party company can't afford to price an a product to be close to other items in the same line by TLG, the sales could suffer causing the product to be a loss.

All that said, some of the motivations behind this decision might be because of the new 'Old School' type of games hitting the market in retail distribution. Castles & Crusades had an advantage of being one of the only commercial options that was widely available. However, with WOTC re-considering its own strategy, Goodman Games doing its own thing, and interest generated by Dragon Age and the new Hackmaster, it may be trying to 'dig in' a bit better. This is probably the reason why the CKG is being pushed out as soon as it can.

If this book is released as suggested along with the other "Monsters of Aihrde" book, it could really help TLG out of a bad position if combined with the slashed pricing.

M

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Last Minute Gaming...

My plans yesterday evening were simple enough. Do a bit of work on the computer, watch an episode or two of Lost (I'm watching the series for the first time and I'm partway through Season 4 right now), and post my thoughts on Harvester on my blog (as I had committed to doing).

Just prior to the end of my workday at my 9-5, a friend asked if I would be willing to do some gaming. He was inviting a couple of other people over and providing the pizza. I decided to go for it. I should point out that 'gaming' in this case didn't involve any RPG but a variety of card and board games. This is cool for me... it's a great way to relax and chat while managing to have a bit of fun. I also like trying new games when the opportunity arises.

I was the last one to arrive and my friends were already in a game of the "Adventurer Card Game" (using both expansions). A great game to play to kill time, it is also easy to grab a hero and just join in. The main game we played that evening was "Small World". The game is one that is currently published through "Days of Wonder" who also produce "Shadows Over Camelot" and "Ticket to Ride". I had seen the game before but wasn't too interested from what I saw of it. I'm glad that I gave it a shot though as the game is simple to learn and play but hold enough of an interest for people who are frequent gamers. I came very close to winning and it is a game which I believe can get 'GF Approval'. By this I mean that my loving partner will likely enjoy the game and be willing to play it when the situation arises. After that game, we killed a bit more time by trying a very simple game called "Castle Panic". This is also an amusing game which involves a combination of luck and minor strategy. It is also a co-operative game where the goal is to beat off a hoard of invading monsters (notably Goblins, Orcs, and Trolls). A very fast paced game and one that can be enjoyed by younger gamers.

As the evening came to a close, one of the people there pulled out "Three-Dragon Ante". Now I have the card game and bought it about a year ago in the 'as-is' section in a local bookstore of a large chain for about $5. I considered myself fortunate since the contents were still in shrink despite the box was pretty much destroyed. That said, I had never tried to play the game or even sit down to read the rules of play. It was the last game of the night and it was already very late but I decided to give it a shot.

I was surprised at how fun this game turned out being. It's almost a shame that this game has the D&D name/logo associated with it since it is a stand-alone game and the only concept it really borrows from D&D are the color associations of the dragons. Pretty much this boils down to metallic dragons being good and the color dragons being evil. The game can best be described as a combination of elements of a few 'classic/traditional' card games (like Poker) with a couple of twists. Nothing overly complicated and it proved to be a great way to finish off the evening.

So... I didn't get to write about Harvesters... I got home really late and I'm on about 5 hours of sleep right now after a week that has already been quite tiring. I had fun though and it was well worth it.

M

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Question of Variety

Well, with Garycon behind us, I've been hearing a few things about Goodman Games new 'Old School' game and I've also started hearing a bit more on the "Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea" game. These will represent just a few more RPG entries in a sub-set of a fantasy genre that is starting to get a bit too crowded. Now, I haven't seen these first hand and I do think there is a place for a certain number of these games. At least up to a point.

A game like the whitebox edition of "Swords & Wizardry" is a perfect example. It seeks to provide the basic ruleset (a 'clone') of the original D&D set which many fans and collectors will refer to the 3LBB's. I'm happy to see these efforts to keep older rulesets and editions continually available. That said, I find the many various clones that exist for the various permutations of D&D (or talks about doing one) disappointing. Let's face it: a lot of these games are largely the same and contain a handful of changes which could be best compared to a set of houserules in some cases. This goes for the 'clones' as well as game which is 'compatible' to certain games but with a few twists.

I'm also aware that Castles & Crusades could easily be lumped in with the rest of them save that it was one of the first. When C&C hit the market, there were no 'clones' and the 'OSR' hadn't even really started yet. The only other old-school 'throw back' was probably Hackmaster but I think it stood on its own well enough for what it was.

Personally, I love a variety of games but I'll be the first to admit that I tend to stick to a particular set of rules for a certain genre and style of play. Though I adopted C&C as my primary Fantasy based RPG, I own many other FRPG's including "Pendragon", "Stormbringer", "RuneQuest", and "RoleMaster". I 'bridged' to Stormbringer and RuneQuest from my exposure to Chaosium's "Call of Cthulhu". My exploration into RoleMaster (well, properly RoleMaster Express) resulted from my fondness of "MERP" (Middle-Earth Role Playing). Likewise, the only reason why I came to C&C in the first place was because of my history and love for the various permutations of D&D.

I don't mind that all these games are coming out but it seems like some of these are just not offering much of anything new. Instead of a new game showcasing a handful of rules and options, I would like to see better support for existing rule sets that have recently come out. A fine example of this is the approach that Labyrinth Lord seems to have taken. Their "Advanced Edition Companion" is just that... a rules book supplement to the core rule book is exactly the sort of thing I would like to see more of.

Speaking of Supplements... I have finished going through TLG's "Harvesters" but I still have to find some time to put my thoughts into a written form. This will likely happen tonight or tomorrow at the latest.

M

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Picked Up a Couple of Things

I recently heard that a LGS had got a few things in stock which are of some interest to me.  This prompted a quick little detour on my way home from work to possibly pick up an item or two.  Aside from the necessary hardware and software I've recently shelled out for, I've been trying to keep other expenditures to a minimum.  Going to a hobby shop is REALLY low on my list of things I should be doing so, knowing myself all to well, I haven't been frequently them much at all.

That said, TLG doesn't have a heavy production schedule and it frequently is cheaper to buy locally that pay the steep shipping charges to send something from Little Rock in the States to Montreal up here in the Great White North.  With the exchange rate being particularly close, I typically end up paying cover price these days anyway.

The two things I wanted to check out:

The Umbrage Sage box set and Harvesters.

What also caught my eye... a second hand copy of the Chill rulebook by Mayfair Games for $8.  Invariably, the longer I stick around, the increased likelihood that I find other things of interest.

So... I cut my own trip short.  As fascinating the Chill book was, I didn't need it and the book didn't look particularly inviting either.  I admit that it was in nice shape and very sturdy -- something you don't see much of anymore.  On the other hand, as I put it back, I did notice a copy of "Kobolds Ate My Baby" for $1.  I picked it up and I ended up getting the Harvesters books as well.  I didn't see a copy of the box set there though and I figure that it probably is in someone else's possession.  Not much of a loss, I was more curious to see the box set than anything else as I already own the original modules that make up the set.

The trip to the store cost me just under $20 all in all.

I only have had a brief chance to flip through the Harvesters book which is a nicely put together little book.  There were things I saw that I liked by other things which I was a bit disappointed with.  In the next few days, I'll have a better chance to go through it and will happily share my thoughts on this blog.

M

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Star Siege

Following the success of Castles & Crusades, Troll Lord Game made the decision to branch out in other directions. Star Siege: Event Horizon represents the first in a new line of 'Siege Engine Games' showcasing the versatility of core mechanic used in C&C. This new game offers to tackle a completely different genre than the one we are accustomed to seeing from TLG. We leave behind a realm of classic sword and sorcery to enter the many dimensions of science fiction. For many, 'sci-fi' represents a very broad genre that suits the tastes of many people. From Flash Gordon, to Star Trek, to things like Bladerunner, science fiction can be anything from an entertaining diversion to a complex commentary on the human condition. With the many popular movies and books exploring this genre, the decision to publish this game was an obvious one.

What makes this game a bit more unusual is the approach taken with this project. Star Siege is released as a boxed-set and everything you need to play is included in the one box. To be clear – this box set could easily fit the needs of a group that might just want to try something different. Included in the box set are 1 copy of the Operations Manual (the GM's guide), 4 copies of the Field Manual (the Player's guide), a sample setting called Victory 2442, and 4 double-sized reference sheets printed on laminated cardboard. These reference sheets are called 'broadsides' and contain some of the more common charts used for creating various things for the game. On top of all that, a couple of twenty-sided dice are thrown in the box for good measure.

Operations Manual

This book contains a lot of information to digest and, unfortunately does not include an index or table of contents. Though the organization of the book is well done, the best thing to do with the book is to read it cover to cover. Once done, don't put it to far away since you'll likely end up reading it again.

The Operations Manual begins with some preliminary material about running a game, the Siege Engine, and how to use it effectively. Like C&C, understanding this game mechanic is the key to playing this game and this is very clearly explained. Another nice feature about the rulebooks are the occasional boxed texts scattered throughout them. These are included to highlight a particular rule or provide certain explanations. New rules are also introduced in the game and some of these can even be adapted in other games if one was so inclined. There are other sections in the book that many would associate with science fiction and they cover such things such as mutations, psionic abilities, and cybernetics. However, the larger part of the book is rightly devoted to building and creating everything that you might need for the game such as equipment, aliens, and even planets. All of the material in the book is serviceable and there is little superfluous content. That said, a game master seeking to run an in-depth campaign using this rule set is best advised to carefully read this particular manual and try to build and create using the guidelines it contains.

Field Manual

When looking through this manual in particular, it becomes clear that Star Siege makes many departures from the formula established in Castles & Crusades. Where as C&C focuses on a class-based system based on various fantasy archetypes, Star Siege does not. Instead, it adopts more of a skill-based approach for character creation. You still have a variety of different races to choose from but the notion of character classes are gone. Instead of selecting a class, the player chooses from a list of skill bundles in order to achieve the character concept or profession desired. The system of traditional level-based advancement and the notion of hit points are also gone. Hit points are simply replaced by a Wound and a Stress Track. Naturally, Star Siege is not the first RPG to make use of some of these game concepts but the game manages to remain simple enough when it comes to generating a character. Because of this approach, you are left potentially with something of a looser framework which can be both a strength and a weakness. The book, though relatively short, adequately covers character creation and covers the basics of play keeping to a rules-light philosophy. A small selection of weapons and gear as well as a sampling of special abilities is provided at the end of the book.

Victory 2442

To help give Star Siege the sense that it is truly a complete package, the inclusion of this book provides a brief campaign setting to use. The book is the shortest in terms of page count when compared to the other two books in the set but it serves its purpose. With it, there is little to prevent those who wish to jump right in and start playing from actually doing so. The setting gives details on three factions (or species) and a history detailing the conflicts between them. Additional notes are also provided concerning technology, rule modifications, to running a campaign. A variety of star crafts used in the setting are found at the end of the book and these provide excellent models if you decide to build other vehicles and technologies. At the very least, Victory 2442 is an excellent example of a setting if one wishes to go about creating their own.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Star Siege provides excellent value for your gaming dollar considering one set could easily accommodate a gaming group. It provides an excellent alternative to Castles & Crusades system but keeps the same streamlined mechanic for skill and task resolution. New rules are also supplied and these can be used with a minimum of fuss in either game. However, while the rulebooks are written in a very concise manner, some of the material may be a bit too concise. There are sections that could have easily been expanded upon with greater detail or more examples. Where as this might not be an issue with an experienced gamer, this could just as easily be a problem for a newcomer. For some, the lack of selection for equipment, abilities, or powers might also be an issue. Even the inclusion of a few templates to help build more complex equipment would have certainly made a difference. But is any of this really necessary or does the lack of these things diminish the value of the set? Not in the slightest! If you're looking for a science-fiction themed roleplaying game and you don't mind doing a bit of work to make this game your own, Star Siege is a good addition to your shelf.

[Originally written for Domesday - Vol.4.  Star Siege was published by Troll Lord Games in 2008 and written by Josh Chewning.]

M

Arcana Creations... Up & Running!

Well, after being sidetracked and delayed with the new computer setup, I'm happy to say that things are pretty much running the way they should now.

Most of the work was finished up on the weekend and I'm glad that this is behind me now.  May the next few years be a smooth ride as far as technology is concerned.

;)

M

Review: Engineering Dungeons (SG1)

It is the weekend and you have the plot, characters, and the hook all ready. The first of the players will arrive in just a few hours but you still haven't had time to map out a dungeon with trappings and treasure. For those game masters who lack time or are running a bit short on creativity, TLG has released the first accessory of the Siege Gear line entitled “Engineering Dungeons”. Some time prior to the release of this work, I had the pleasure to play test what could best be called an early draft. In short, Engineering Dungeons provides a step by step process to help an enterprising game master design a dungeon or other complex of sorts for their game. Though written to be used with the Castles & Crusades game in mind, it is also a relatively simple task to adapt this for use with one's fantasy role-playing game of choice. What is even nicer about the accessory are some of the details and numerous little surprises packed within a mere 28 pages. This product is written by Robert Doyel and was released by Troll Lord Games in 2007.

Dungeon Basics:

Too often, the simplest details are overlooked when planning out a devious dungeon for your players to delve into. The first section covers the basics for the dungeon. With a few simple tables, you can quickly determine why the complex was built, who the builders were, and where this is situated. Each of these has appropriate sub-tables to provide a bit more depth. The section also covers size, entrances, age. Overall, this section is very self-explanatory and covers all the necessities and the tables are laid out clearly enough. In my own uses of these tables, I've slightly modified the Intelligent Races sub-table for the Builders to accommodate a few different entries more suited to my campaign... However, the tables as they stand right now are perfectly fine.

In order to help impose a limit to the size of the dungeon, a simple chart is used. Naturally, like all other tables in this work, this one can be used in the manner that one chooses. The elegance is revealed in its simplicity as the chart functions by determining a result for each axis – the depth or height (as in the number of levels), the width, and the length. I have seen a more than a few dungeon generators but none that quite helps limit the scope of the dungeon as simply as this one does.

Drawing the Map:

The next section deals with drawing the actual map. I found a few things I didn't completely expect when I was first exploring this section of the work. It starts off by offering a couple suggestions with regards to the placement of the main entrance and a brief explanation on how to progress in terms of the design of the dungeon-proper. Six templates are presented to use as a starting point. Each of these has openings where you determine if it opens up to a room, a hallway, or simply comes to a dead-end. A table for the passageways is provided to help determine the style, direction, and if it sloped or not. A different table is given to determine sizes and shapes of the various rooms and other respective exits from the room. All of this is pretty much standard and what one would expect with perhaps the exception of the provided designs for the hallways themselves. This isn't a bad thing mind you... just a bit different from what I have seen before but just as effective. I'm more used to the idea of a table providing all necessary variables for a hallway such as the length, width, and length. Then again, this sort of thing could potentially be more time consuming that what is provided here. That said, there is nothing stopping the designer from altering aspects of a hallway pattern.

A Few Words on the Features:

By far, the strongest elements in this accessory are the tables detailing various features to dress up the chambers in the complex. You want the dungeon to come alive? Look no further that this book and you'll find charts detailing things that draw on the senses – whether it be sight, sound, or smell. Doors, locks, traps, and treasure? Not a problem, there are tables for everything. The inclusion of a difficulty generator when factoring in things such as the locks or traps is a nice and often overlooked addition. But the real gem is the collection of monster tables set up for various encounter regions which fills a wonderful gap left open by the Monster & Treasure book. Suffice to say, there is a chart for most things you might looking for, including one for magical pools – a hallmark of classic dungeon crawls!

If that wasn't enough, as a bonus one will find a selection of maps ready to be populated and used for their own adventures. It would be a fair assessment to assume that these were designed using the system provided.

Final Thoughts:

Engineering Dungeons can easily inspire a game master to add more depth to other dungeons and adventures or be used to create some form of complex from scratch. The accessory does a great job to provide ample material which enterprising designers can use for years to come. It provides what is needed and functional and easy to use – plain and simple. Personal preferences aside, the only issue was a slight oversight when it came to the text and layout. This has to do with the header located on page 7 called 'Drawing the Map'. If this is meant to be viewed as a new section, and it should in my opinion, then this text needs to stand out more. The editing, art, and production values in the rest of the work are nicely done. This accessory is well worth the price and provides something for everyone – regardless of the game you play.

[Review originally written for Domesday - Vol.3. Engineering Dungeons was published by Troll Lord Games in 2007 and written by Robert Doyel.]

M

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Slowly...

Things are very slowly coming together with the new system.

The hardware seems to be solid though part of me regrets an 'onboard' solution for my computer's sound.  Windows 7 (I've got 64 bit Home Premium flavor) is taking me a bit longer to get used to and one of the scanning features from my network printer doesn't seem to want to talk to the computer -- despite the updated 64 bit drivers to permit me to do so.  But hey... it's a printer and it printers just fine.  Thankfully, the printer also has a USB port so if I'm eager to scan a stack of documents to PDF, I can do it by loading it on to a flash drive.  A simple work around though I would prefer things to be one step closer.  ;)

The OS itself is taking some getting used to.  It's weird to say but Windows 7 (I skipped the whole Vista thing) seemed so counter-intuitive for me.  Many people rave about the new version and some of those people are not computer-literate.  Maybe that's the problem.  I am so used to doing thing the 'old way' that I spent the first few hours cursing up a storm as I faced the surprises and horrors that Windows 7 had in store for me.

It's been a work in progress though one piece of software installation later forced me to resort to a System Restore Point as it inexplicably screwed my network settings to a point they couldn't just be 'undone' or reset to default.  Sort of a one step forward to steps back I guess.  ;)

That said, I have a lot to be thankful for and I am eager to do some proper work on this rig in the coming days ahead.

The dungeons and perils of editing await me!

Until such time I have something a bit more worthwhile to post (probably another few days), I will throw up a couple older reviews I had written up.  Re-reading some of the material has me thinking that I really want to write a few more for the blog...  Some new stuff naturally as well as some old classics that keep on getting mentioned.

Thanks for reading!

M

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Migration & Purge

Wow...

A good part of this evening was spent sorting through file: music... pictures... videos... and documents.  I have accumulated a crapload of stuff electronically and when I was in the process of gathering these all together to dump onto a portable hard drive, I was really surprised at the sheer number of files which I was going to be backing up.  Thousands as it turns out... about 90 gigs worth.  Sure, videos and music might take up quite a bit of space but as it turns out, it looks like only about a third is actually made up of this stuff.

As I think more about it, I guess it makes a bit of sense.  Moving from computer to computer, it was always easier to back things up to migrate with the availability of media to fascilitate this.  In the late 90s, I had access to a CD burner.  This gave way to faster computers and faster ability to create discs.  Then came the DVD burner and burn speeds also improved.  Flash drive sizes began to grow and prices drop and even something like a portable hard drive makes backing this up quite easy.  During all this time, the volume of information I keep and transfer from system to system also grows till one begins to realize how ludicrous this is all becoming.

While I am not inclined to spend all the time necessary to go through thousands of files in the next couple of days, I believe I will take the opportunity to move just the things I will actually be using (and little else) when the new computer is set up.  That way, I hope to have a bit more order with my electronic filing -- even if the new hard drive is a terabyte...

;)

M

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: Tainted Lands

In the summer of 2008, Troll Lord Games began branching out from the fantasy genre to other games and genres while utilizing the same underlying mechanic called the 'SIEGE Engine.'  Star Siege was the first of this line of 'Siege Engine Box Sets' and was met with mixed reactions.  It was a very different game if one considered the design but provided everything needed to play.  However, it didn't provide the gaming experience that some were looking for and some people began to view it as more of a toolbox than a game itself.  With the Tainted Lands box set, Troll Lord Games decided to concentrate on proven design and provide a game that could be played and enjoyed straight out of the box.

When looking through this box set, one will quickly realize how Tainted Lands was designed.  The material is set up to use Castles & Crusades as a base.  Amongst the contents of the box, a manual entitled the Castles & Crusades: Rules of Play is included.  There are three other books in the box and these are titled, The Keeper's Tome, The Lollygag Inn, and the Player's Compendium.  Also included are a set of dice and 4 character sheets. The overall presentation of the material is nice enough and all the softcover books are perfect bound which was a bit surprising considering that three of the four books were under 30 pages.  Each of the books share the same cover art that the box does but the interior sport a variety of pieces throughout its pages.

Castles & Crusades: Rules of Play

The Rules of Play provides the framework and is the lynchpin for the rest of the Tainted Lands material. Since one of the principal aims is to provide an all-inclusive game, this books needs to be both complete and yet concise enough to provide all that is strictly needed.  Can someone who doesn't have the Castles & Crusades books pick up and enjoy Tainted Lands?  The book is only 26 pages and judging by the material, it is mostly derived from the C&C Quick Start.  Most of the book is devoted to the creation of the character and it presents four basic character classes (the Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric).  Unlike the Quick Start, it expands the list of playable races to match the compliment found in the C&C Player's Handbook and provides 7 playable races.   The book will guide a player through this process to the end of character creation. Explanations are also given with regards to how the game is run.  The primer seems to present the basics of the game in a straightforward manner and anyone who has played a FRPG game before should have little problems with any of the material.

The book is not quite perfect and certainly isn't meant as a substitute to owning the Castles & Crusades books.  Though complete in itself, there are several references to the Player's Handbook for C&C and some, such as the Turning reference, are unnecessary.  In at least one of these circumstances, the page reference given wasn't even correct.  I thought the inclusion of the 7 playable races an excellent choice but I was a bit disappointed to see the progression of the 4 classes stopped at 4th  level.  By that logic, there is no reason to have even included the 10th level Fighter ability of 'Extra Attack'.  Even the included adventure, The Lollygag Inn, is designed for characters of at least 4th level.  Illustrating a few more levels for the purposes of the primer would have made a significant difference in terms of value when comparing it to the C&C Quick Start.

Player's Compendium

The Player's Compendium is 28 pages in length and really is meant to serve as the first glimpse into the Tainted Lands. The book opens up with some notes from the Publisher, written by Stephen Chenault and an introduction by the author, James Ward.  Both are great to read and help place the intent and mindset behind this project. The book introduces 2 new attributes to help bring about a flavor to the game as well as 4 new classes. While reading through this material, I found much of it inspiring and giving me plenty of ideas.  Both the new attributes are somewhat linked – one is 'Supernatural' and the other is 'Psychic'.  Each present a variety of powers and abilities as the character possessing them increases in level.  These, like the regular character attributes, function as the others would for the purposes of the Siege mechanic.  There are a couple of differences as a result of the new additions but the way the system works is generally the exact same. Of the four new classes, two are associated with each of the new attributes.  These four new classes are the witch hunter, the metals master, the portal keeper, and the vampire.  Each of these new classes are more powerful if compared to the base classes but offer interesting alternatives and twists to the archetypes we are already familiar with.

The text for some of this new material could stand a bit of clarification in a couple of instances but nothing presented causes a general problem save for a couple of instances.  One thing which was a bit peculiar was with the Vampire class.  The book states that a character may become a Vampire if they lie 'dead under the night sky'. Aside from a couple of indications and guidelines, there is little to guide a player or castle keeper on how to go about and 'changing' the character's class.  We are simply informed that they retain former abilities but no longer advance in them and instead start advancing as a vampire.  Another issue may be with the Portal Keeper.  This class has all the abilities of a Wizard, far superior Hit Dice and Base to Hit progression, a few of the abilities of a Rogue with some bonus daily spells.  Despite this, the class actually has an Experience Point Progression which is lower than a regular Wizard.  Either the new class is worded in such a way that requires further clarification or the EPP might need to be adjusted.

The rest of the book gives details on equipment, both magic and mundane, as well as some of the gods that oversee the realm.  Some people may not understand or agree with the organizational choices made and the inclusion of magical items and artifacts could be seen as a problem by a few. While these items were likely intended as being commonly available for barter or sale, there appears to be no mention of this in the player's book. As for the few pages devoted to the deities, I was thrilled to see that the format was in keeping with how the new 'Of Gods & Monsters' book is setup.  Again, I'm not sure if the player's book was the best place for some of this information and the details given.

The Keeper's Tome

A total of 42 pages is given to The Keeper's Tome.  A brief introduction on the nature of the Tainted Lands is given and the section that follows is dedicated to horror in a role playing game.  This part is enjoyable but seems a bit short and I would have preferred a few more pages on the subject given the nature of the set.  The suggestion given for hit points was excellent but more methods to instill some of the feelings and sentiments that the author was talking about would have made a good section even better.  Other examples could have been provided which may, or may not, have included other game mechanics (sanity being one used in other games).  This is followed by an examination of the two new attributes discussed in the previous book. Largely, this is simple repetition and brings some to question the arrangement of the material contained in the books.  Unlike the “Player's Guide” though, the organization is a bit better in this book with the definition of the Supernatural attribute being given before the effects on the undead (the Player's Guide has this information in the reverse order).

The next section of the book deals with the Tainted Lands themselves.  A brief glimpse is given for the various key locations on the map (the land mass looks like a skull). I was very please with this part of the book.  The information is brief and supplies only basic information leaving the castle keeper to flesh it out as they need to. This approach makes it easy to use the Tainted Lands as a springboard.  Brief information is given such as the seven Liches that appear to control the domain as well as they 'gypsy-like' people called the Ruse (whose stats are inexplicably given in the “Player's Guide” but not included here).  Following this part is a section on the undead and various modifications which can be made to them. This in itself is a fantastic little utility and can give some variety to spring upon unsuspecting players as a way to add a bit of spice to certain encounters. You also have a complement of new undead to add to your arsenal.  These are given along with shortened stat blocks of the undead found in the “Monsters & Treasure” for C&C.

The book ends with a selection of magical items which differ from those given in the “Player's Guide” and some new spells.  The inclusion of the spells here is another example of something that might better belong in a different book.  The spells are available to spell-casting characters which are native to the Tainted Lands but they are given in the “Keeper's Tome” instead.  There are new spells for the Wizard, Illusionist, and Cleric.  There are unfortunately none for the Druid but this appears to be in keeping with the setting.

The Lollygag Inn

This adventure is a great little scenario to kick start a campaign in the Tainted Lands.  It puts into practice some of the concepts covered in the “Keeper's Tome” as the module effectively showcases 'horror elements' for various parts of the inn and serves as great examples of the sort of things that can be used elsewhere.  If the “Keeper's Tome” was the 'theoretical' part of the box set, then this is the 'practical'.  The notes at in the first couple of pages of the book will be instrumental to successfully running the scenario.  In many ways, this scenario is the best feature of the set.  It is simple but promises to be a lot of fun if even only a little care is done
to generate the sense of despair and horror that the set demands.

Final Thoughts


Though the Tainted Lands can provide for a fun and different experience from the standard fantasy game, it probably won't be for everyone.  This is not a comment against the set itself, but rather a reminder to consider one's own preferences and tastes.  There is nothing stopping anyone from just running Tainted Lands as another regular 'stock-fantasy' game but you risk losing too much of the flavor by doing so.  Conversely, there is nothing to prevent one from just having a lot of these horrific elements in your regular game to begin with.  If you do, what other appealing factors are there to consider with Tainted Lands?  Thankfully there is enough new game-related material and the inclusion of the module can still make this box set a very nice accessory to own for Castles & Crusades.

[Originally written for Domeday - Vol.5]

M

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arcana Creations Gets An Upgrade!

In the past few months, the sorry state and age of my computer hardware and peripherals was becoming all too apparent. The computer itself has a small degree of hardware failure impacting its performance and the work I do with random and sudden system reboots, program and system crashes, and I've suffered more instances of the blue screen of death in the past year than the previous decade with incarnations of Windows prior to XP.

Scanner was also well past its prime but all the hardware I've had gave me a few good years. For those who don't really know me, when I get a computer system, I tend to put the money to stretch the lifespan in terms of usability and usually a system replacement is necessitated by a lot of rigorous use and bits of hardware 'giving up'. Actually my last system died a bit prematurely which necessitated the use of my writing laptop for a few months till I could get a new one.

This time, it was me being at the end of my rope in terms of sheer frustration that pushed me to invest into something new which Arcana Creations would benefit from. Initially I was hoping to last till the Fall but, as crashes were becoming more frequent, I had to push ahead and get one with the aid of credit (paid over 36 months). Well, I just received notification that it has been shipped via Purolator and I should be receiving it any day now.

This bad boy features:
  • Intel I7-920 chipset (Quad Core @ 2.66 Ghz)
  • 12 GB of DDR3 SDRAM
  • 1 TB Serial ATA 2 Hard Drive (1 TB = 1000 GB approx.)
  • Nvidia Geforce GTS 240 (nothing fancy here but functional for work. It has 1 GB of Ram on card)
  • Dual Optical Drives (one Blueray one regular DVD ... both with burn capability)
Along with this, I got myself a new scanner which happened to be on sale ($100 instead of $150) and a monochrome laser printer with duplex capabilities that also has scan / fax functions with it. To be fair, these peripherals were made possible thanks for my supportive family who sees the potential in the work and projects I've been pursuing.

I'll be plenty happy to receive my rig and thanks to a large and handy portable harddrive... I'll be able to easily dump the contents of my old computer onto the new one. I don't think there will too much of a 'honeymoon phase' with the new system as I really need to push through with some work in the coming days and weeks ahead.

All of this is encouraging though.

M

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Of Gods & Monsters

Of Gods & Monsters is one of the key releases that was part of the 'Fourth Crusade' advertising campaign. The Fourth Crusade in this instance is a reference to the 4th printing of the Player's Handbook. There was a great deal of anticipation for this book considering the name attached to it. James Ward is no stranger to this sort of material and he was involved with the original D&D supplement, “Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes”. Fans of Castles & Crusades were equally curious at what Ward might do and how this would suit the game.

The book, presently only available in softcover format, spans 162 pages in total. Amongst its pages, 15 pantheons are examined and a host of new spells, magic items, and monsters are provided. The art is tastefully done but will differ in style from section to section. This is only natural given the amount of artists who have contributed to the project. In terms of the material itself, there is plenty to look through and digest. The book starts with a few words written by Steve Chenault and his thoughts on the project followed by the Preface written by the author.

The Introduction offers the first glimpse into the rest of the work and you are already presented with some interesting game material which expands on some from the Player's Handbook – notably the God-like Attributes. The Introduction also talks about avatars being used by the various deities and hints at the general motivations for them. This section closes off by a few words regarding the various granted abilities given to the followers of the respective gods. Now, while I like the approach used and the concept of avatars, some of the rationale given to why certain things are the way they are aren't particularly well developed. When briefly looking at an avatar's attributes or hit points, it is stated that they could be anything that the deity wished but they were limited in the fashion illustrated out of a sense of fairness. For someone who loves mythology, the notion of 'fairness' may not make a whole lot of sense when considering myths and legends. None of this takes anything away from the work and this is just a detail colored by opinion rather than technical merit. However, the question of editing does come to mind in a couple of instances – once of which is in the Introduction. In this instance, an explanation on the listed armor class of an avatar is given twice in the section.

The rest of the book is devoted to the various pantheons. Every pantheon opens up with an introductory paragraph on the given culture followed by various entries for that grouping. Each entry for a given deity gives the name of the god, any titles and symbols associated when them, the province (area of influence), and any ceremonies, taboos, and granted abilities for their followers. These abilities, as well as the ceremonies and taboos, can be seen as the 'spice' of the work. While there doesn't seem to be a strong inclination to provide hard and fast rules for the granting or denying of some these abilities, there isn't a need for those either. As with all things for Castles & Crusades, the decision on how to exactly implement this material will be in the hands of the person running the game. These concern the gods after all … and they can be a fickle bunch. All of these things can present fun opportunities for great role playing and storytelling. This material is followed by a brief blurb about the deity in question and lists any relevant artifacts and details the stat block on the avatar of the god. All in all, each section with its art and text gives a very basic impression of the culture behind it.

Looking at the various pantheons, I found that there remains an issue of consistency which some readers may observe when going through them. In the case of the Celtic Pantheon, this part actually has the header that reads Introduction when this is missing from other Pantheons. The American Indian pantheon actually has a few headers in the introductory portion which goes as far as defining portions which are common in each deity entry such as the Deity Province and Taboo. This sort of general explanation may have been better placed in the General Introduction of the book or, more likely, was supposed to have been removed and this section or chapter
served as a template for the other pantheons of the work.

Beyond this, the book also goes further to become more than just an accessory dealing with the gods. Many spells and monsters are provided to help bring to life the various sections that the book outlines. Nevertheless, when it comes to considering this book, it's hard not to compare it with similar works which the author himself has worked on with TSR. It is understandable that certain expectations that people held for this book were rather high. While there are significant differences that makes this an improvement on similar gaming books, this work doesn't quite go far enough to break out of this mold.

On the one hand, the book manages to surpass expectations given that it is not simply a book on gods and the stats for their earthly hosts. It contains many new creatures, spells, and items as well as providing ways to integrate divine magic, ritual, and religion into ones campaign from entry to entry. It is a book that will provide tons of ideas and see more use at the gaming table than other books of this type. It also provides sufficient mythologies to explore beyond those drawn from the various cultures of the earth and gives adequate support for a fantasy realm filled with beings other than human. Fans of TLG's own setting will be happy to know that a section is also devoted to the cosmology of Aihrde and some of those gods.

On the other hand, while expected, people may still be shocked to see that certain iconic deities were simply not included for one reason or the other. While it is excellent to see that Greek and Roman pantheons have been treated separately, only including 10 of the classical 12 Olympians for the Greek pantheon (as an example) was a very odd choice. Naturally, one cannot do a 'full' treatment given the scope of this book but the lack of certain deities may disappoint some – especially considering other books of this type. Anyone also hoping that this book may serve as some sort of mythological primer will also be disappointed as this is clearly not the intention of this work.

Final Thoughts

'Of Gods & Monsters' is a good book. It tries to be more than just a book of gods and goddesses for the game and succeeds in doing so at least partially. The inclusion of abilities as well as the ceremonies and taboos for the various deities and their followers is a welcome addition. These could give one's game a new level of detail and offer new venues for the players to explore. The book offers more monsters, more spells, and more magical items and artifacts compared to other books of its type. Finally, for someone who isn't interested in earth-inspired mythologies, the book also presents 6 fantasy mythologies to explore – a separate one for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, and Humanoids as well as a section devoted to the cosmology of Aihrde.

For some, this book will simply be measured up against others and while it does try to be more than a gaming book focused on mythological beings, it remains the main focus of the work. It is intended to facilitate the involvement of the gods in the affairs of the people in your fantasy campaign. If you are not interested in a deeper sense of involved mythos in your campaign, then this book will simply not see as much use at the gaming table.

[Originally written for Domesday - vol.5]

M

Reviews

Shortly after delving into Castles & Crusades, I found the vibrant fan community over on the TLG forums.  It didn't take long before it got me talking about various products nor was it long that I starting creating material myself.  One of the community efforts I had been part of was the Domesday which was a fan-based ezine focused on C&C.  I submitted some of my writing there and one things I regularly did were reviews for the various products that TLG was publishing.  Sadly, two of those reviews written and submitted months ago still haven't been made available to the public to due a variety of issues and delays.  I've decided that these, as well as other reviews should not go to waste.  I also think I will continue doing them though they will be shorter in scope compared to the original review articles I've written.  I won't release them all at once but rather I will present them gradually...

I hope these prove to be interesting to read.

M

Monday, March 8, 2010

AGP Fades Off Into The Sunset...

It is with regret that I see that AGP is officially closing shop and James Mishler has decided to call it quits. You can read about the announcement HERE.

I think it is a real shame. The material that Mishler has put out was, in my view, top-notch but I think the setbacks it has undergone early on resulted in a fragile foundation to build upon. I like to think that AGP was finally moving ahead and was managing to get some momentum. Truth to tell, I haven't seen the last supplement he has put out (100 Street Vendors) he mentions in his blog... but I'm one of the subsrcibers waiting for a copy. I'm happy to say I own at least one copy of everything AGP has put out, with the exception of the continental map (which I am supposed to get with what now looks to be the last AGP release).

Now, I don't know all the ins and outs of some of the challenges and difficulties he has had to face but I can imagine full well what some of those could be as Arcana Creations is also exposed to some of these issues and concerns. Thankfully, being partnered up with Brave Halfling Publishing has been an extreme blessing and I've had a couple of lucky breaks here and there. So, while it is easy to speculate on what he could have done or should have done to avert this decision, it just isn't that simple.

It is my sincere hope that it won't be long before we see new material by James Mishler in the near future -- even if it isn't through Adventure Games Publishing. I know that I would be happy to help publish some Wilderlands material for C&C through Arcana Creations.

Best of luck James and I'm sorry you've had to make this decision.

M

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hitchcock vs Michael Bay

No... I'm not talking about the attempt to do a remake of the Hitchcock classic 'The Birds' by Michael Bay's production company... I'm talking more about the style and feel of a classic Hitchcock movie and those brought to us by Michael Bay. More specifically, I was amused at some recent comments and comparisons made about my most recent C&C session a couple of weeks back.

As I commented about half-way through last month, I was preparing to run an interesting campaign session in the city of Freeport. The players wanted a shift in gears from the sort of adventures and material that we had been doing and, always one to listen to my players, I moved the campaign to better provide them a different sort of experience. Of course I didn't just 'drop' them into the city, the party gradually travelled there and the previous session served as the 'bridging' session getting the players to the new location.

The session was a complete success and I had woven in three adventures with elements overlapping each other and providing the seeds necessary for them to follow up on any one of them. To be fair, a bunch of the source material was published material but the integration, implementation, and additional twists were my own. I will often use portions of published material as a time saver but the final implementation always ends up being true to my own unique vision. The players took a while to catch on to what was going on but only because the style of game was a bit different to what they were accustomed to.

At the end of the session when I got their feedback, one of the things that surprised them was the pacing and nature of the adventure. As one player put it, my style of game was typically so much more 'Michael Bay' while this adventure was more 'Hitchcock'. At which point, the other players agreed but were quick to point out that this wasn't an insult. They felt that some of my previous games were more action-oriented and combat-heavy with a solid 'meat and potatoes' storyline. In other words a plot that was nice and basic and a lot of my sessions were focussed on just having some fun roleplaying and rolling some dice.

This last session I ran had a much more involved plot and required a lot of NPC interaction. They had to assemble an array of clues and were essentially piecing a puzzle together. A good city-based mystery. Another player thought it reminded her of CSI because of it. There were two battles in the entire adventure session (I guess it was an 8 hour session) and neither took a huge focus away from the story that I was trying to build. The players had fun but they didn't expect the sort of adventure I threw at them.

Then again, we had largely been doing a lot of dungeon-style exploration and the game had a lot to do with survival and sometimes odds which seemed a bit overwhelming. Everyone seemed to agree that shaking this up was probably a good thing.

I have found out that there are only two sessions left in the current campaign though. One of the players is moving to the States which means this 4 year campaign will need to be retired. Two sessions... two strong seeds that can be explored... and a bit more action. While, the players did like the last session, somehow our final session together will need a bit more of 'bang'.

I guess this also means I'll need to start up a new C&C campaign.

M