Sunday, December 19, 2010

Kids These Days

This one's been coming for a while, folks. I'm pretty sure the same ground has already been tread by many other bloggers, but as both a gamer and someone who's going to be working with kids professionally some day, I just really needed to get this off of my chest. Bear with me.

One of the most common complaints that I've seen throughout the Old School blogging and forums community is about the monolithic 'Kids These Days.' They're too soft to accept that they automatically die if they touch the big demon face. None of them have the attention span to dedicate to 4 hours sitting down at a table without going crazy from digital withdrawal. Video games have spoiled them and now no one can use their imagination to play real games. Tabletop role-playing just isn't bright and shiny enough to drag them out of their technologically induced haze.

I'm sorry, but fuck that.

Back when I was in elementary and middle school, me and my friends were big old nerds. We played Magic, read Tolkien and Expanded Universe Star Wars novels and made our own comics set in both these worlds and our own. And before any of us got our hands on a codified rules system, we were doing our own story telling role-playing games. But we were also on the fringe of our age group. We were a minority of kids interested in fantasy and imaginary play and it stayed that way for a long time.

Right now, the most popular books for kids in America are a series of 7 fantasy novels starring a trio of young wizards fighting against an overwhelming evil while still trying to maintain grades at a magical academy. In the 13 years that the Harry Potter books have been in print, they have sold over 400 million copies, better than every edition of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit published over a combined 70 year period. There are hundreds of fantasy series available for kids and teens at every library and book store across America.

On top of that, kids actually have an existing framework for what role-playing games are, thanks to console and computer RPGs. Even across cultural lines, the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda are pretty universal. Kids as young as 6 already have an idea of how hit points, initiative and experience work thanks to Pokemon, the most popular portable game ever made. Even the most recent book in the popular children's series about cats beating each other up, Warriors, has a miniature Lone Wolf style 'Adventure Game' written into the back.

So why do people think that Kids These Days aren't primed and ready to enjoy tabletop RPGs? Probably because Kids These Days wouldn't want to play their kind of RPGs.

So let's not dismiss kids off hand because they wouldn't want to inch their way down a dungeon corridor. Role-playing games are really born out of the creative influences of their time and as a result, games made today are more likely to attract kids born today. Instead of bemoaning the fact that their D&D isn't like my D&D, complaining instead of participating, we could be showing kids how cool tabletop role-playing is in a milieu that they're interested in. I can't fathom a middle schooler picking up a Jack Vance or Fritz Lieber paperback today, but if your campaign world was influenced by Avatar: the Last Airbender and One Piece, you'd have a line of kids out the door who are ready for adventure.

Let's cast a wide net, folks.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This is what I want every game of Call of Cthulhu to be like

These pictures are so awesome that I have lost the capacity for description. Courtesy of Something Awful's Strange Fanart thread.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mixtapes: I'll be your garbageman

Got three pages of my 5th grade pathfinder to go then I gotta start working on my thought paper on media literacy, so here's a bunch of music from Scott Pilgrim.

Metric (w/Brie Larson) - Black Sheep cause they won't let me embed it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gamma World: A Delicious Melange

Nothing is more fun for me than anachronism. I've been trying for ages to put together my campaign ideas for a western campaign inspired by Desperado, Hard Boiled and the Spaghetti westerns I've talked about before: a game where it doesn't matter that the bad guys are coming into town on a combination of horses and old sidecar motorcycles because you've got to Fonzie slap the jukebox in the saloon into playing Misirlou before you flip-cock your Winchester and get ready to shoot someone through a plate-glass window.

(God damn I want to run this so bad)

Regardless, that's the way I feel about Gamma World. It's fantastic because of this wildly fluctuating technology level. Some communities might have a still functioning slushie machine in their local cantina and as a result, that's what the town's known for! Firefly-esque prospectors with laser rifles! Tribes of robots with rebar spears! A group of Programmers worshiping a crazed mechanical digger!

I love this machine and the post-apocalypse makes it even better

And that's why I really like the new Gamma World rules. Albeit, I've never played any of the previous editions and I'd like to get my hands on a copy of 2nd if only for the map of post-apocalyptic Allegheny County, but I like the feel. The rules support that anachronistic melange in a way that I didn't feel that Mutant Future does.

One of my favorite additions to the new set are the generic weapons (Light One-Handed Melee, Heavy Two-Handed Ranged, Light One-Handed Gun, etc...) because it levels that playing field. Under the rules, a crossbow can be as effective as a hunting rifle or a harpoon gun made out of car parts, depending on what you decide its stats are. It feels a lot more natural than either limiting characters to medieval weapons at the start or ending up dropping your trusty spear completely when you pick up a plasma rifle.

By its nature, the post-apocalypse should be off-beat. Chuck all your favorite influences into it, let 'em simmer and season with gonzo or serious to taste. But for Pete's sake, don't make it prosaic.

Picture from Six-String Samurai. If you like Gamma World and haven't seen this movie, what the hell are you waiting for?!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gamma World: The Road

There's only one Road. Only one good one, anyway. Chances are there was a whole network of Roads once, criss-crossing and connecting the entire West. But a lot of things have happened since then: wars, disasters, dimensional incursions, robot wars...

The Road we've got is probably pieced together from the good bits of a bunch of different ones, judging on how some stretches tend to go on beyond the turns. Most of them are either bombed out, booby trapped or overgrown enough that you couldn't get anywhere on 'em without rides built special for navigating the terrain. No way in hell that the Tankers could make their way over those cobbles. And that's why we have the Road, and the reason that it can't be broken.

Sure, you can drive your pick-up or dune buggy or hover-boat around wherever you please, but none of those things can haul worth a damn. If you really wanna get things from Point A to Point B, you gotta use something big, like one of the old tankers or a gravity barge, and if there's one thing that all those Big Rigs need, it's space and stability. But once you've got that, you need to keep it that way.

That's where the towns come in. Most of them sprung up Roadside as soon as the lines from the Coast to Vegas were being reconnoitered, but each of them soon learned the drill. If you keep your chunk of the Road free from raiding parties, burrowing sharks and giant robots, you get trading rights for the cargo coming down the Road. Depending on what Rigs are rolling, you could get anything from clothing to food to construction supplies to Dr. Goggles' Tank-Aged Frontier Whiskey. The promise of first dibs on these treasures is enough to keep the crossbows loaded and lasers charged most Roadside settlements.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December's really the cruelest month

So I'm most likely not going to be blogging for at least the next week, probably more. I'm literally at the point where I've either got to write 1,000 words or read an entire book every day and I'm not really sure where leisure activity fits in there, let along leisure writing.

Godspeed, y'all. Send me your best vibes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I am weak and have poor impulse control

So here's my new Gamma World box set, purchased with a Black Friday Borders coupon and cracked open outside of the plastic. Clearly, Hermes is very excited.

Just for fun, I rolled up a series of Origins and tried to see what I could make of them.

Mind Coercer/Plant: A dryad-like plant woman with hypnotic pollen. Most likely named something like Rose, Tulip or Violet.
Gravity Controller/Speedster: A density-altering mutant
Mind Breaker/Telekinetic: A psychic Russian agent from a parallel earth where the USSR won the Cold War.
Giant/Electrokinetic: A Frankenstein's Monster-like conglomeration animated by a car battery embedded in its back.

And my personal favorite, Android/Doppleganger, which I decided represented an sentient vending machine wearing a cowboy hat a la The Tick's Eastern Bloc Robot Cowboy, who can vend smaller utility robots from a core base block.

I think this game is gonna be all right.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Nothing's worse than being sick on a holiday. I guess the supposition that you only get sick when you can afford to, which I guess is the case. Fortunately, the ibuprofen and Mucinex seem to be working and I'm staying hydrated.

Still, I'm thankful to be home with family, helping them make the Thanksgiving feast. I love my parents and my sister, the cats and the dog. I'm hoping that my girlfriend makes it through her 10am-10pm EMS shift stress-free. On top of all that, I'm hoping I'll be able to make a full recovery by tomorrow and get working.

There's a lot in this world to be thankful for. It's for the best to focus on that, rather than the stuff that gets you down. Do as much as you can to make the world around you a better place to live and don't stress the things you can't change.

And remember, the Bond marathon is on Sci-Fi this year. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Uresia, One Piece and the importance of whimsical fantasy

I'm not the only blogger to have sung the praises of S John Ross's amazing Uresia: Grave of Heaven. Jeff Rients (do I say this guy's name enough or what?) has often doted on the setting in his early Gameblog posts and SirLarkins of The RPG Corner made an attempt at a mechanical conversion for Rules Cyclopedia D&D. It's a dynamite little book, lean on population-density data but chock full of plot hooks, adventure seeds and character ideas. Each continent and civilization has the important cultural details and maybe a few cities sketched out in the descriptions but the book gives GMs more or less free reign to make Uresia a setting of their own based on the building blocks set out by the author. It's a fantastic approach to a published setting that really inspires and if I ever get a group together with the right mindset, I'd love to give my Culinary Adventures campaign a try. Because really, there's gotta be groups of adventurers that have to go out and track down the secret ingredients for the Dreed fighting chefs, be it hunting for giant beasts on Trolllander islands or climbing the Laochrian mountain ranges for a chance to harvest the rare Winter Thyme.

But I think the thing that really sticks with me about Uresia is the whimsical, light-hearted nature of the setting. So much of the role-playing community, old-school or not, is obsessed with increasing doses of grittiness and dystopia in their gaming experiences. Now, I'm not saying that no one should play gritty games: after all, my favorite system of all time is still Unknown Armies and I've had great times playing Cyberpunk and Call of Cthulhu. But the games I really remember are the ones where everyone is having fun and the setting supports that fun.

I'm a huge fan of the shonen manga series One Piece for a multitude of different reasons. I've been reading for six years and over 600 chapters now and I can honestly say that I'm as interested in reading more now as I was when I first started, which I NEVER say about most lost-lasting shonen series (Naruto, Bleach et al.) Honestly, I think it's because the series has maintained a consistent tone of whimsical adventure since it started. Times have gotten dark, situations have felt hopeless and struggles have been overwhelming but at the end of the day, it's still a series about a young boy wanting to become the greatest pirate ever with the help of his friends. No matter how serious matters get, there's always hope and camaraderie to rely upon.

I know that I haven't done a great job of explaining how I feel about this 'style(?)' of gaming, but in the campaign idea that I'm working on for my potential library D&D game, I'm trying to capture this whimsical and hopeful feeling for a group of completely new roleplayers. There are a couple of established settings outside of Uresia that really hit that mark for me, chief among them Shane Lacy Hensley's 50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds and the core-books-only approach to Eberron, which is fortunately made much easier in its new 4th Edition format. But in all honesty, I think that I want to create something using the core assumptions of 4E and frame it in these whimsical ideals.

I want their characters to believe that they can change the world. And goddammit, they should be able to.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Acquisitions Incorporated and Old School Podcasting

Whenever I've felt uninspired or unsure of the direction that my campaign ideas have been taking, I've found myself coming back more and more to the series of Acquisitions Incorporated podcasts that Wizards of the Coast produced with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulic of Penny Arcade and Scott Kurtz of PVP and joined in later podcasts by your friend Wil Wheaton. The first podcast hit the Internet just as 4th Edition was being released and not only introduced the gaming public to the new rules set, but introduced Krahulic to tabletop roleplaying. Needless to say, it was an utterly successful conversion.

Each podcast 'series' is an actual play session involving the adventuring group Acquisitions Incorporated, chronicling their exploits in the Nentir Vale, the implied corebook setting of 4th Edition. The group dynamic between the three (or four) players is absolutely wonderful; listening to the players argue, strategize and cooperate makes for great radio and a lot of the table talk and banter reminds me of games that I've played. On top of that, it can be gutbustingly funny sometimes, especially when things go wrong. The group's reaction to a series of back to back 1s has to be heard in its entirety.

There are a couple of podcasts out there for older editions of Dungeons and Dragons but frankly, I really don't like them. The Roll For Initiative and Save Or Die podcasts are both steeped in the kinds of frustrating Dragonsfoot-style antagonism and edition warrior machismo that gets me absolutely goddamned steamed. In one of the episodes of Save or Die (the podcast focusing on Basic/Classic D&D), a discussion of campaign lethality had the three hosts tripping over each other to brag about killing stupid players, and "not letting the characters walk all over my world."

No kidding. Actual words that came out of a DM's mouth.

But the real pity of these podcasts is that they're preaching to the choir. The best thing about the Acquisitions Incorporated podcasts is that, on top of the humor and camraderie, it was teaching both the players and the listener how 4th Edition works. I learned the back and forth of the game, alongside how new mechanics like healing surges and skill challenges worked. When Roll For Initiative or Save Or Die goes through their different spotlights and segments or talking about how their old DM did things, it really feels like their audience are the folks who've been playing AD&D or Red Box for decades. As someone who just started looking into older editions of D&D, I was frankly lost.

I think that an old school actual play podcast in the vein of Acquisitions Incorporated could be a wonderful introduction into the strengths and quirks of games like Swords and Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. I Hit It With My Axe is probably the closest thing to a flagship series out there but even that's been contentious. All I know is that I'd love to hear what James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount or JB's Baranof games are like around the table and maybe it would help new players understand what draws folks to these old editions.

Acquisitions Incorporated picture by Mike Krahulic of Penny Arcade

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Further thoughts on Mutant Future

So, after last week's Mutant Future post, I printed out a copy of the rules at the school's computer lab and have been checking them out when I have the chance. So far, an extended look at the rules has mostly verified my suspicions from last week: still a whole lot of Labyrinth Lord in those rules. I'm mostly afraid that in trying to run the kind of game that I want to run in Mutant Future, I would have to hack out and house rule an inordinate amount of stuff, write up my own equipment lists and probably my own monsters, mutants and robots, too. I don't want to feel like I have to rewrite the entire thing to get it to work for me.

So what would work? Frankly, the more I've been hearing about the new D&D Gamma World, the more inclined I am to pick it up. It seems to be able to do what I want it to do right out of the box, but I've been trying not to spend money on gaming stuff.

Totally awesome mutant pigs vs. PCs picture by Chance II of the Something Awful forums from his Roadhogs and Rednecks Gamma World Let's Play.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Holy shit, next time I don't have anything to do with my friends, I'm just going to whip this game out, put on the Showdown in Little Tokyo soundtrack and play ALL OUTTA BUBBLEGUM!
All Outta Bubblegum

This game is copyright 2001, Michael "Epoch" Sullivan and Jeffrey Grant. If you want to repost it or whatever, drop me an email.

Characters in All Outta Bubblegum have one stat -- Bubblegum. It's technically a number which varies from 0 through 8, though the designers highly, highly recommend that you don't do anything so banal as write down a number, and, instead, pass out actual sticks of bubblegum to the players. This will also help when you play All Outta Bubblegum drunk, which is, let's be blunt, probably the only time you'd even consider playing this game.

Bubblegum always starts out at 8.


Any action which does not fall under the broad category of "kicking ass" is resolved by rolling a d10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the amount of bubblegum the character has left, then the character succeeds in his task.

Any action which falls under the broad umbrella of "kicking ass" is also resolved by rolling a d10. However, in this case, you wish to roll greater than the amount of bubblegum that you have left.

Losing Bubblegum

Whenever you fail a non-combat roll, you lose a stick of Bubblegum. You may also sacrifice a stick of Bubblegum before the roll to ensure success.

Bubblegum also rates your damage. If someone else succeeds in a roll of asskicking against you, you lose one stick of bubblegum.

Zero Bubblegum

When you lose your last stick of bubblegum, you are officially all outta bubblegum. You may no longer attempt any kind of non-asskicking activity. Simple devices like, say, the handles of doors confound you (eerily enough, you have no problem field-stripping a .50 caliber machinegun to clear a jam in 15 seconds flat). However, you automatically succeed in any asskicking-related activity. You are a nearly unstoppable ball of bubblegum-less fury. When someone else succeeds in an asskicking roll against you, they roll a d10. If they roll a 10, you are knocked out. If they roll a 1 through 9, they've only succeeded in making you, if possible, even more angry.

However, bear in mind that it's relatively easy to trap a zero-bubblegum person in a situation he's totally incapable of dealing with.

There ya go. Think up your own damn adventures and campaign settings.
Seriously, it's genius. Like Trollbabe for 80s action movies.

Mutant Future Inspirado: Sabata

A lot of my post-apocalyptic inspirational material is pretty straightforward. The Road Warrior is obviously at the center of it all, surrounded by its like-minded brethren like the Fallout games, Interstate '76, Six-String Samurai and Fist of the North Star alike. But there's a fair amount of idiosyncratic influence that also inform my idea of a post-apocalyptic game. Over the next couple of days, I'm going to talk a little about what's informing my latest post-apocalyptic shenanigans.

Sabata (and other ridiculous Westerns)

I've said before that the post-apocalyptic genre feels right for me when it's close to being a western. The Road Warrior, the keystone film of the post-apocalyptic genre, fits the redemptive anti-hero western model almost note for note, only with cars replacing horses. Me, I've been watching westerns since my parents showed me Silverado when I was 5 years old and the genre is still very dear to my heart, not to mention my gaming. The Deadlands campaign I ran for my college friends was probably the most successful piece of gaming I've ever done.

The poster for Lee Van Cleef's Sabata has been my background design ever since I started this blog and for good reason. I mean, just LOOK at it! Explosions, dynamite, doing it, a BANJO that's also a GUN! People seem to have this idea that Spaghetti westerns were all gritty, violent and intense affairs, primarily because every Spaghetti western they've seen has starred Clint Eastwood and was directed by Sergio Leone. There's a whole world of Italian westerns out there and most of them are wacky as hell. Sabata and its sequels are fantastic primarily because of this over-the-topness. The banjo gun is just the tip of the iceberg: the series has everything from ball-bearing throwing shoes to suspender slingshots, Yul Brynner's faaabulous fringed black leather ensemble and director Gianfranco Parolini's obsession with finding ways to get actor Aldo Canti to jump off of rooftops onto trampolines. Seriously, the guy's in every Sabata movie as a different character who jumps off stuff.

You can watch Sabata for free on Hulu and Adios Sabata on Netflix Instant. Unfortunately, Return of Sabata isn't available in any easy streaming format, but it's constantly on Encore Westerns and other cable channels that show Spaghetti westerns off and on, so that you too can hear the totally awesome Return of Sabata theme.

EDIT: I can't believe that I didn't actually finish that sentence.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mutant Future: How 'bout some zipguns!

While scouring the internet for pictoral inspiration for post-apocalyptic weaponry, I came across a blog posting from EnglishRussia detailing a whole load of self-made weapons confiscated from Chechnyan rebels.

I can easily see any of these being built by a post-apocalyptic gunsmith, alongside compound bows and compressed air-powered spearguns.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My first impressions of Mutant Future

In the past few weeks, I've been on a pretty serious post-apocalypse and western kick, so I've been trying to find a fun game to scratch that itch. From the posts that I've read about people's Mutant Future games, it seemed like a sure bet. Fun random mutations and lost technology in a gonzo post-apocalyptic wasteland. What's not to like?

Except there's this weird assumption in Mutant Future that the technology level of the post-apocalyptic society is going to go straight back to default D&D medieval level, with literally what seems like the entire Labyrinth Lord equipment list reprinted verbatim, manacles and spyglasses alike. The book is full of illustrations with weird, weapon-wielding mutants, but then tells you about hiring longbowmen and light cavalry. Does this strike anyone else as a little weird? Maybe 'post-apocalypse' is a bit like 'pulp fantasy' in the sense that it can mean radically different things to different people. For some it may mean Thundarr-esque wizardry, to others it's far-future dungeoncrawling for high tech artifacts. For me, it's always been a weird, far-flung western, with bandits, trains and six-shooters alongside mutants, killer robots and Mexican wrestlers.

I guess it's just hard for me to fathom a post-apocalyptic setting with no cars. Is Gamma World (any edition) better about emulating that kind of western post-apocalypse feel? Or should I run with Mutant Future and just add the elements that I want to it? I think that the system's probably pretty solid, I just feel like I'd have to rewrite the entire gear section until I like it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

So there was a Descendents show this weekend

Nothing gaming related about it. Milo definitely looks like a biochemistry professor, though.

Also setlist. They played Uncontrollable Urge! How cool is that?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A further note on the Mixtapes column

For the foreseeable future, I am going to try and find as much of the music for the Mixtapes column on streaming services, like YouTube videos or MySpace and Bandcamp pages. In the case of YouTube videos, this may mean that the video attached to said audio may be of some anime series or a skateboarding video or a fish decaying on the street. Pay no attention to it, unless you wish to.

I'd feel bad about just posting MP3s since, all in all, I'd like people to support these artists if they really like the music. But if it comes down to it and I can't find anywhere on the whole Internet where you can hear this song, which may be the case with a couple of these records, I'll post it on Mediafire.

Carry on...

Mixtapes: Wreck Stuff

So, Christian wrecks stuff to Keith Morris-era Black Flag, Scott does it to Bad Brains and the Gorilla Biscuits and Zak S does it to the blackest of metal...

What have I been listening to that makes me want to wreck stuff?

Lightning Bolt

Seriously, they may look like the biggest hipsters in Hipstertown, but Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale TEAR IT UP. Armed with only a drumkit, a bass with a banjo top string, an array of distortion pedals and a telephone mouthpiece strapped to Chippendale's face by the neon balaclava that has become his trademark, Lightning Bolt will probably make you go deaf if you're too close to them.

I've always thought about revisiting Cyberpunk 2020. One of my favorite games that I played as a teen was in a friend's Cyberpunk game, where everything went wrong (as it often does) and our team had to improvise our way out of a parking garage filled with Yakuza thugs. But honestly, I could only really do Cyberpunk in two ways: go straight 1980s nostalgia future like the indomitable Doctor Rotwang's Lightstrip (of which I've been enamored since I saw it on RPGnet like three years ago) or just set it 5 years into the future.

We've got cyberpunk technology. Sure, there's no neural interfaces or full conversion combat borgs, but we can access a global information network from our goddamned phones (anywhere from 400 to 800 ebs in Cyberpunk, which is about how much you pay for a fully automatic shotgun). Dubai and Hong Kong are pretty much cyperpunk cities already. Corporations are bigger and meaner than ever.

And who's going to be playing behind those Heat-style shootouts, blending with the echoing blasts of automatic weapons fire?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mixtapes: The Streets of Shrapnel

Mixtapes is a new column that I'm going to try and do every week about the music that inspires my gaming. Many folks on many blogs have gone into great detail about what books, movies and artwork have fueled their campaign worlds and play sessions, but a relative few have discussed music's role in the inspirational process. That's not to say that no one has: early in the history of Playing D&D With Porn Stars, Zak S posted a fantastic list of Songs Useful in D&D Games Renamed To Reflect The Situations Wherein I Have Used Or Plan To Use Said Music, which among other things got me into the Sword, and Christian and Scott, my two favorite guys on the Net, both tend to share my tastes in music and have included choice tracks by Fugazi, the Specials and the Hold Steady in their postings. But music is such an integral part of any campaign or character preparation that I do that it would be amiss for me not to do a column like this. So without further ado...

The Streets of Shrapnel
Soundtrack provided by: Guignol and Mischief Brew - Fight Dirty

Guignol are a punk/Gypsy/klesmer band comprised of members and ex-members of the Hold Steady, the World-Inferno Friendship Society and just about any collaborative musical project in the Tri-State area and have maintained a long and collaborative friendship with Erik Petersen, the frontman and occasionally only member of Philadelphia's Mischief Brew. I occasionally have issues with Petersen's lyrics, as I do with most anarchist songwriters, but I really appreciate his closer kinship towards labor radicalism rather than banal 'smash the state' rhetoric and when he writes a song, he can write a goddamned song. The two groups first collaborated an a song on Mischief Brew's first full-length and finally released a joint record called Fight Dirty, which consists of both Mischief Brew songs backed by Guignol's rhythm section and Guignol songs with Petersen's guitar accompaniment.

When I first started thinking about the Swords and Wizardry game that would later become the Motherlode campaign, the first element that I visualized was the city of Shrapnel. An urban metropolis built on a swamp, Shrapnel was my first fantasy city in the vein of Lankhmar, Sharn and Ankh-Morpork; a place where all sorts of urban adventures involving guilds, taverns and ever-thrumming furnaces underfoot. But it's not just a noir city in fantasy dressing: there's plenty of room for adventure, comedy, class warfare and all sorts of set pieces. It's the kind of city where bodies turn up in interesting places all the time, where you can start your night in a high-end restaurant at the top of the Stairs and end it fighting to the death in an underground gladiatorial fighting ring.

Sugar Park Tavern Death Song was the first song that struck that inspirational spark in me. To me, it conjures up images of dimly lit streets, solitary Chandleresque 'knight errants' smoking short stubby cigarettes and keeping one hand gripped on the long knife strapped to their lower back. The intertwining harmonies of Peter Hess's clarinet and Franz Nicolay's accordion are the backbone of Guignol's sound and they are on full display in this track. I liked the feeling that it gave me, so I kept listening and sure enough, the ideas started coming. Pete Merak has this amazing sleazy klezmer vibe that would be welcome background music in a multi-faceted den of ill repute and Dirty Penny's Pogo sounds like it could be played in a crowded open-air marketplace while people shop, eat and dance.

As I kept Fight Dirty playing during work, trips and walking home, the songs really started to define the feel that I had for Shrapnel. There's a series of about four or five tracks that would make fantastic chase scene music, from the up-tempo Gonzales, The Explosive Chilean to the screaming guitar of Create Destroy to their cover of Iron Maiden's Hallowed Be Thy Name. Even though Shrapnel was a corrupt fantasy city, there were still going to have to be people and organizations unflinching enough to require chase scenes through city streets and buildings, on rooftops, anything that allowed for the kind of manic energy and atmosphere that these songs provided.

I finally settled on the idea of an Arbiter, a 'body of justice' completely independent from the myriad corruptible guilds and councils of the city, much closer to a vigilante organization than a police force. The Arbiter's watchmen and guards are seemingly men on the outside, but that's where all similarity ceases. Their eyes are constantly covered by blank metal visors that don't seem to impair their vision, their speech isn't in any natural cadence and they cannot enter any building or structure unless given specific permission. No one in their right mind would report a crime to them or ask them for help; they enforce justice on the Arbiter's terms, which are utterly unknown to the public, but incredibly dangerous just the same. Thus, taverns, brothels and even temples have become the default locations for dirty dealings and if you do decide to murder someone in a back alleyway, make doubly sure that you're not alone. So characters in Shrapnel have to deal with criminal organizations, corrupt guilds, fickle nobles and on top of all that a nearly unstoppable police force that cannot be bribed or reasoned with. How do they survive?

Fight Dirty.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Because sometimes, when you're at the end of your rope...

...tedious assignments for class are somehow made a little better because you're doing them about Swords and Wizardry monster blocks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Top 5 Reasons That I Haven't Updated Fistful of Coppers In Over A Month

So, yeah...

I hope you folks who were interested in my stuff initially are still out there so I can explain myself.

#5 The Distance

My prospective gaming group was located two and a half hours west of me, in my old college stomping grounds. The only way that I would be able to commit to a game was by calling off of work on Saturday, driving into Oberlin in the evening and hoping that everyone there hadn't decided to do something else in the intermittent time. I would rather go out to Oberlin to visit my girlfriend and spend a quiet weekend together where we can cook, work and spend time with each other, which have become few and far between.

#4 The Ol' Gamer ADD

After a prolonged four-month period of old school fantasy influence, my imagination began to crave something new for inspiration. I've been reading the Dresden Files, Raymond Chandler and John Dies At The End, watching old 60s Westerns and 80s action movies, both foreign and domestic and listening to Man Or Astroman?, Bomb the Music Industry! and episodes of Yours Truly Johnny Dollar. I'm not really sure what my next idea for a campaign will be. Maybe I'll revisit Bullets and Tequila, play around with Mutant Future or go to my old standby, Savage Worlds. Maybe I'll unpack 4th Edition to do a ridiculous Scott Pilgrim-like game with D&D tropes replacing beat-em-ups. Maybe none of the above.

#3 GM Burnout

It happens to the best of us. All this prep, prep, prep towards an eventual goal that may never occur. For as long as I can remember, I've always been the GM. It's probably been 6 years since I've played in a game and even before then, the games I joined never really lasted more than two sessions. As a result, I found myself both a little disenchanted with the process and really, really wanting to just play a game. I think that the Motherlode game really suffered because I was trying to run a game that I had never experienced from the other side of the screen and I fear that something similar might happen with anything I try to run.

#2 No One Around Here Seems To Want To Do It

I've only really started making friends here recently and so far, none of them seem to be too into the role-playing idea. I sent out emails to all of the people who were so supportive of my Library D&D game to see if they wanted to play something, but never heard anything back. I'd love to run something for my new library school folks, but it's a little daunting, given that we've only known each other for a few months


Seriously. School takes up pretty much all of my free non-work time, what with project meetings, message board postings, papers and reading about 3-4 books a week. It's been impossible to even fathom finding the time to get a game together. But hell, if David at Tower of the Archmage can keep up his posting regimen, then I can too!

I'm going to try and start updating this thing again as I catch up with the blogs that I haven't read in a month. I hope that folks are still willing to take a look back at the Fistful of Coppers blog. I feel like I disappeared at a time when people began getting really excited about my stuff and I'd hate to disappoint the people who gave me the confidence to keep posting. I feel like an asshole for accepting Scott's setting creation type challenge in September and then dropping of the face of the planet, so hopefully I will be able to rectify that with more detail on the Motherlode campaign, along with some musings on a potential gonzo kitchen-sink Western game and another potential column called Mixtapes.

So, from all of us here, it's good to be back.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Motherlode: Five Point Plan

Alright, Scott, you're on.

Since most of the stuff that I've been using for the Motherlode game has come from other blogs that I've read over the past few months and not in-store purchases, I'm going to choose five (5) things to game with from there. As said before, we're using Swords and Wizardry. I really like the streamlined Saving Throws and the way that Ascending AC and To-Hit bonuses are already worked into the text. As someone who started out playing D&D in 3rd Edition and is running a game for people who've all played 3rd Edition, it's a good place to start for that base old-school feeling, but with some tweaks that make it easier for me and my players to accept.

So, without further adieu...

1) Beyond the Black Gate's Thief Class: Probably my favorite iteration of the old-school type thief class. The single Thievery percentile skill both simplifies the classes' multiple skills issue and helps 1st level Thieves feel a bit more useful.

2) Jeff Rients' Deck of Stuff: I love this fucking thing. The random items that they drew helped my players flesh out their character, whether it was giving them a flavor (like the wheel of stinky cheese convincing Joe that his half-elven magic-user was 250lbs.) or was something that they could use in a pinch (Mike's silver dagger, which he hurled into a crossbowman when he realized that he didn't have any other ranged weapons)

3) Jeff Rients' Carousing Rules: Because that's the kind of silly shit that I want to encourage in this game.

4) Tales of the Rambling Bumbler's Super-Simple Combat Maneuvers: Literally, the best way I've ever seen to adjudicate called shots, knock downs and the like.

5) Trollsmyth's Shields Shall Be Splintered: Makes having a shield totally awesome.

And to top it all off, liberal application of my newly acquired copy of the Moldvay Basic box set.

Everything else, from here on out, is going to be pure me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old school D&D my way

In the past few months, ever since I started looking at earlier versions of Dungeons and Dragons, I've been immersed in reading the opinions, examples and modifications of dozens of bloggers, forum posters and retroclone authors who all seemed to be having a blast with what they were playing. Having never played an edition of D&D before 2nd, I took all of these examples to heart and tried to make my eventual campaign as much like the games I saw Jeff Rients, Zak S, James Maliszewski and Al Krombach playing.

It didn't go so well and I think I know why. There wasn't enough me in it.

I have still never run a dungeon crawl or a sandbox campaign. I know that for many of my fellow bloggers, these are the types of games that they grew up on and what they associate with D&D. A person who never stopped playing B/X or 1e or an old hand returning to a game that they loved would be able to wing a fun, old-school romp because they know how it goes. They'll remember what they loved about these games, be it the exploration aspect, the fact that death could be around every corner or the game worlds that they almost lived in. When I ended up running it, I tried to play a game that I had never played before like a person who's been playing it for years, if not decades. Needless to say, it didn't feel right.

So what do I like in my role-playing game experiences? I'll have to think on that. The games that I've run with the most success have mostly been westerns, cyberpunk and modern supernatural hunting. I'll have to think on it before deciding anything concrete.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't bury me... I'm still not dead

And today, we got one more potential player.

I was shelving the African American Fiction when LeeAnn called me over to the desk to meet a girl who was interested in the D&D game. Her name is Jamilah and she was unfortunately unable to make the Wednesday afternoon time slot due to classes, but she noticeably brightened when I told her that the game was pretty much on hold for this semester and would hopefully start in January, once everyone's schedules could be recalibrated.

So, in tribute to the wonderful platonic ideal of this Library D&D game, here's the Riverboat Gamblers. I always kind of likened them to a combination between the garage punk of the Hives and Dillinger Four's driving rhythm. If that doesn't mean anything to you, they're a solid melodic punk group with a pretty incredible live show. :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My unfortunate realization

Talked with LeeAnn again today at work. Apparently, she had gotten some more complaints and disapproving comments about the D&D program from the religiously minded folks in the community at Homewood's local community fair. Once again, no one but Tai showed up. As much as I'd hate to admit it, I really don't think that the Homewood Library is really the place for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The people I've met there have been wonderful and kind, but D&D hasn't really had a great track record with God's people over the past few decades. I can assume that the last time any of these folks have heard anything about D&D, it was coming from a pulpit in the mid 80s. I don't think any amount of earnest proselytizing on my part will ever convince them that there isn't something sinister about rolling dice and kicking imaginary monsters in the face.

In a way, I'm kind of glad that the game fell through. The increasing amount of work and reading that graduate school has been heaping on me has honestly felt overwhelming. I don't think I could have kept up school, work and a weekly campaign session without cracking. But the sheer outpouring of support and encouragement that I've received from local Children's and Youth librarians has been astounding. They've inspired me to continue working on the Motherlode campaign, despite my initial misgivings about the first session and tonight, I sent out an email to all of the folks who've encouraged me asking if they would like to like to start up an all-librarians game of Dresden Files.

Yeah, I know it's not D&D, but LeeAnn loves the Dresden Files and she said she'd go halfsies with me on the books. :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

And another thing...

So far, the library game has only garnered one sign-up, the aforementioned Tai. But my mother, who is teaching at a local public school, has been talking to a couple of her new students who seem like they'd be interested in the game.

However, the outpouring of support and encouragement from other children's and youth librarians has been unbelievable. When I went into work on Wednesday, LeeAnn, the children's librarian, handed me this:

Everything in this box is perfect: the book, the Keep on the Borderlands, even the dice and crayon for coloring them in. I have never met this Steve, but apparently he found this copy of Moldvay Basic in a friend's attic and decided to send it to me.

That's fucking awesome.

So we played some Swords and Wizardry last weekend

And I'm still not really sure how it went.

I had told my friends at college that I wanted to run a really informal pick-up D&D game for anyone who wanted to play. Last Saturday, I drove up to Oberlin for Labor Day weekend with a bag full of dice, the Deck of Stuff that I'd put together and a half-finished, randomly-generated dungeon map. The following day, I was able to get a nice chunk of folks together for the game, including my girlfriend Jamie, who's been incredibly supportive of this whole D&D kick since I started this summer, my good friends Mike, Ethan and Joe (who all worked with me on the noir radio drama that we did at college) and a new freshman named Daniel who I'd never met before.

Character creation was where we first started having problems. I'd gone for the 3d6 for each stat, can switch scores around method and as a result, a couple of my players were incredibly unsatisfied with their characters (nothing above a 12 and a 6 at the lowest.) I tried the lines of reasoning that I'd heard over this: that stats weren't as important in old-school D&D and that they're not what defines your character, but it still chafed them to feel like their characters were somehow behind the curve. Both of their characters were behind that Raggi Curve (more penalties than bonuses), so I let them reroll to much better results.

However, the resulting characters were hilarious. A fighter with a Constitution of 6 carrying a bizarre assortment of cheap weapons and a mule. An ogre fighter who ended up spending all of his money on a set of ring mail. A 250 lb. Half-Elven magic user (who pulled the 'Wedge of very stinky cheese' from the Deck of Stuff). A dwarven cleric of Granitenose, who entreats his believers to keep what is theirs and acquire more. A goblin thief who was probably the best prepared character I've ever seen in terms of random equipment. We started out in a tavern called the Irish Deer in the mining town of Motherlode, a rough and tumble place filled with what looked like Aragorn stunt doubles. There, the PCs bought a map to the ancient ruins of Myrmidia from a slightly dodgy Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler type and ventured out into the wilderness to find the caves, complete with a passel of 6 henchmen hired by the Magic-User, courtesy of the Meatshields! hireling generator.

Turns out that the only thing the map led to was an ambush courtesy of a group of bandits that the swindler was in cahoots with. In the combat that ensued, one of the Magic-User's men at arms was killed and the dwarven cleric nearly got it with a well-aimed crossbow bolt. However, the party managed to pull one of the bandits off of the cliff by his foot, hurl a warhammer across a chasm into a crossbowman's face and utterly dismember the rest of the bandits, thanks to the ogre's stick full of nails (and ridiculous damage bonuses) and the surviving goblin man at arms, who must have taken a level in badass at some point, because he ended up killing three guys and taking 1 hp's worth of damage in the process.

Naturally, everyone wanted revenge, so they returned to Motherlode in search of Holsten, the snake-oil salesman, eventually chasing him to Looter's Row. The fighter kicked down the door to the house, only to be hit with a crossbow trap that fortunately didn't take much out of him. The group entered the house cautiously It was then that the bugbears came out of hiding, wielding crossbows and doing the standard thug threatening. Once again, combat ensued, with another hireling falling to their death at the bugbear's hands and the Magic-User flinging his Sleep spell over all but one of the goons, who decided that discretion was the better part of valor and fled. The party entered Holsten's basement, where the sneaky little bastard escaped into a hatch in the floor.

The room search went well and it didn't go well. Our ogre fighter smashed open the locked chest next to our forger's workstation and got hit with a poison dart trap. Even with a bonus against poison, he failed his save and started taking damage. He was incredibly upset by this turn of events and particularly at me for putting it there. I honestly didn't know how to react. As the cleric carried him off to the local Church of Antra to help slow the poison, the rest of the team continued the search much more carefully.

Once all of value could be looted from the workroom, everyone made their way down into the hatch, torchbearers first. What they found was the corpse of their erstwhile swindler surrounded by spiders, who attacked first and poisoned the cleric. I don't know why I chose the spiders, given the negative reaction I had just gotten from the poison issue, but it happened anyway. Once the spiders were dealt with, the PCs brought the cleric to the Church of Antra again, where the priestess was decidedly less than happy that two poisoned folks had been brought before her within five minutes and charged them accordingly. And with that, the game was over for the night.

I'll try and post more later tonight on my reactions, but it's been a little difficult dredging up this stuff and I'd like to take a little time to think.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cleric Divine Intervention Table, incomplete as of yet

So, I know I'm no Zak S, but my Clerical Divine Intervention table is as of yet incomplete. I'm still looking for a minor and severe negative effect for the bottom end of the table. If anyone would be willing to help out, I'd be much obliged to them.

Divine Intervention
Usable at any time. Subtract 1 from the result for every time you have rolled on this table today.

1. Smote instantly. You dead
2. Your god grows tired of your pleas. You are struck dumb by their might, affected as per a Feeblemind spell. You cannot cast any spells or turn undead until this effect is dispelled.
4. God revokes powers for 1d6 days
5. Rebuked! Cleric is affected by one of the following:
1 Cause Light Wounds
2 Darkness
3 Fear
4 Blight
5 Hold Person
6 Continual Darkness
7 Disease
8 Curse
7. The voice of your god fills your head. Lose the rest of your turn.
8-12. God refuses to answer your prayers
13-14. Fortune favors you. As the effects of the 'Bless' spell
15-16. Regain one use of any prayer you know
17. Casts a random spell of your highest spell level
18. Casts a random spell of level 1d6.
19. You are imbued with the righteous fury of your god! Your Strength and Constitution magically raise to 18, any weapon attacks you make now count as magic weapons and you gain a bonus to hit, damage and AC equal to your highest spell level.
20. Your god manifests their awesome might against your enemies. Acts as a 'Symbol' spell with differing effects depending on the domains of your god.

There's a first time for everything

So, I'm starting the (hopefully) bi-weekly Swords & Wizardry based Old School mash-up campaign tomorrow. The situation is this:

The campaign will take place on the still-unnamed continent detailed in this cool map I drew.
Pictured: cool map

The PCs will be adventuring in the northwest portion of the map, the area tentatively called the Valley of Dead Gods. It's kind of a combination between California during the Gold Rush meets Egypt in Raiders of the Lost Ark. A few years ago, the Valley was devoid of civilization, only dotted with trading posts and caravansaries for travelers and merchants making the journey to the sea ports of the north. That all changed when an archaeological expedition from the City of the Cathedral discovered the ruins of Myrmidia, long thought to have been an ancient myth. When the ruins were discovered, it launched a massive pilgrimage of tomb robbers looking to loot a quick fortune, scholars and magicians looking to expand their knowledge of the ancient world and merchants looking to make some money off of both of them.

In the boomtown of Motherlode, prospectors, scholars and fortune hunters alike meet to buy supplies, rest after escaping from certain doom and drink themselves into oblivion after cashing in their ill-gotten gains. It's home to a dozen taverns; a temple of Antra, the goddess of the underdog; a claims office sponsored by the Cathedral College and a stretch of street called Looter's Row, where robbers and snake-oil salesmen alike sell artifacts of dubious quality.

Alongside this prep, I've got my Deck of Stuff, supplemented by the recent purchase of Fight On! #5 for Jeff's expanded Deck list and my own creations.

Quinne's Quartzcaster courtesy of Chris Lowrance. I told you I'd fit it in somewhere.

Now I've just got to create/find a handful of dungeons for them to explore. If anyone knows of any free dungeons that would fit a locale like the Valley of Dead Gods, let me know.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wherein Jamie works on a random table for the first time ever

So, yeah.

I've been working on a pair of tables to be used by magic-users and clerics, respectively, when their spell slots run out. Lately, I've been thinking that the standard spell progression stuff covers what a magic-user or cleric can safely cast. Once their spell slots are expended, they can still attempt to tap into arcane forces or call on their god for aid, but what happens as a result is all up to fate.

I'm trying to make each table distinctive, representative of my take on each of these classes. For the magic-user, harnessing magical forces beyond their control is pretty much an all-or-nothing scenario. It either helps them or harms them; no matter how minor or major that effect is, it can never be neutral. On the other hand, my cleric table has a wide 8-12 space consisting of nothing but 'your god does not hear your prayers.' It's much more of a bell curve, with your god striking down great vengeance at the top and smiting your needy ass on the bottom.

Resulting product will be forthcoming for analysis and criticism as soon as I finish with 'em.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Frustration of Map-Making (Or Established Settings vs. Homebrew)

I'm really hit or miss when it comes to making maps. My method can basically be condensed into "Start drawing and see where it takes you." If I don't like the way something looks, I erase and redraw and generally, that's worked out for me. But with the deadlines for beginning both of my D&D campaigns (Library 4th Ed and college friends S&W), I have become incredibly frustrated at my inconsistency.

I've been working on my campaign worlds for both of these games: the aforementioned Discworldian darkly humorous fantasy world and a more console RPG-inspired one for the 4th Edition game. Progress has been slow going on the library game. I've drawn a handful of maps that have yet to fit my specifications and with my first week in library school starting today, I've been looking more and more at the published campaign setting of Eberron. I'm a huge fan of Eberron and its pulpy, high adventure feel. I like the appeal of an established campaign setting as a ready hook for adventures and inspiration, not to mention that I appreciate that Eberron is a world definitely inspired by the kind of games that these kids have already experienced. But I'm afraid that it will be an overwhelming prospect, with dozens of character options and the framework of an entire world to lay out in broad strokes.

Right now, I'm kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of an established campaign world, but my attempts to jumpstart my own setting have been lackluster at best. I just feel that if I can get one good continent map out, the whole Library D&D world will fall into place. But right now, I'm just not sure if I have the time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Come slay a fucking dragon at your local library!

Here's the poster that I put together for recruitment purposes. Hopefully, we can post them at other library branches around the city where other kids can see them. At this point, I'm going to cap recruitment at 8 players, just for time purposes (we've only got about 3 hours and I'd like to do something cool every week)

Anyone with graphic design experience like to offer some constructive criticism? I'm still not quite sure about that address at the bottom of the first box.

Art by the indomitable Wayne Reynolds.
Logo by Wizards of the Coast.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And here goes the ball...

Cross posting from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Teensburg blog:

My name is Jamie Albrecht; I work at the Homewood Branch of the Carnegie Library, and I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since I was twelve years old.

I don’t know what it was that first got me interested in roleplaying. Growing up, I had always enjoyed reading fantasy novels, from JRR Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander to Brian Jacques and the Lone Wolf series of Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks. I loved the worlds they created: full of danger and wonder, monsters and magic. I even tried to write some myself, which turned out about how you’d expect. The first time I played D&D, I thought, “This is amazing. I created this character (a human paladin named Sir James, naturally), fought goblins and wererats and returned the stolen magic orb to the elven village! I feel like I’m in Middle Earth!”

Thus began a love affair with roleplaying games that still persists over ten years and dozens of systems. Through playing and running games, I’ve created fantastic worlds, made wonderful friends and done amazing things. I learned how to think critically, cooperate with other players and invent creative solutions to problems, not to mention a ton of mental math (quick, what’s 16 plus 8?) And now, I’m bringing all that adventure and excitement to a weekly Dungeons and Dragons game for teens at the Carnegie Library. This isn’t the first campaign to be run at the library. I fondly remember playing in a D&D summer program at the Main Branch before I went off to college (Hi Scott! Hi Joseph!) But it’s the library’s first ongoing campaign, with adventures every Wednesday afternoon at the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library. We’ll be using the recent 4th Edition of the Dungeons and Dragons rule set and NO PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED! The library will be providing the materials, including rulebooks, dice, character sheets and token miniatures.

The program starts on September 8th and will run every Wednesday from 3:30p to 6:45p.

So there's the first barrage of program advertisements away. Now all I have to do is finish the poster, create 8 or so pregens and write the first adventure.

No pressure. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Homebrew for me and you

Right now, I'm balancing the prep work of two games: my library 4th edition game for new teen gamers and a potential old-school sandbox game for my college friends back in Ohio. None of us have ever played anything older than AD&D 2nd Edition, so this is going to be a learning experience for everyone involved.

The campaign world that I've been working on over the past few weeks is very much inspired by Jeff Rients' Cinder, Terry Pratchett's Discworld, Indiana Jones, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and other similarly pulpy adventure stories that don't take themselves too seriously. It's a little divergent from typical fantasy canon, but I'd like to think that it still has that 'D&D feel' to it. Just a little rougher. :)


I'm kind of using a Basic Fantasy-esque approach to races. Basically, "the Dwarf here represents a dwarven fighter-type. If you want to be a dwarven thief or a dwarven cleric, let me know and I'll whip something up for you."

Humans: As per usual. The populous movers and shakers of the world. Can be any class (Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Thief)

Dwarves: Kind of like the Amish, really. Hard-working, closely knit communities, whether in the fields or in the cities. Encourage their young sons and daughters to experience the world before settling down, usually in the form of adventuring. Even if they don't return with riches and glory, returning alive is what matters most. Can be fighters, clerics and thieves.

Half-Elves: The elves of my setting are capricious and alien, heavily inspired by the 'Lords and Ladies' of the titular Discworld book. As a result, half-elves are often the product of a cruel sense of humor. Born to seduced or coerced parents, they retain the strange, magical nature and the fey features of their elven side. But almost everyone has heard stories of elves kidnapping children to serve as royal handmaidens or trapping hardworking people in Faustian bargains. Many of the older generation had friends and relatives in the kingdom of Bastian, before it was swallowed up by the woods one fateful day and claimed by the elves. Half-elves have to rely on their wits to survive, from the alleys of Shrapnel to the court intrigue of the City of Games. Half-elves use the same stats as standard S&W elves; they can choose between being a combination of fighter/magic-user, thief/magic-user or just a plain magic-user. Half-elves cannot choose to be non-magical. It's in their blood.

Goblins: There are, of course, two types of goblins. Your country goblins are the stereotypical 'let's kidnap all the village's livestock!' type. They're dangerous, unpredictable and often mindnumbingly stupid. But your city goblins are clever, efficient, blue-collar type guys who've gotten a lot of undue shit over the years. Occasionally, they can be really sneaky, mostly in shady cities like Shrapnel, where they've slowly but surely taken control of the city's underground utilities and many of its essential services. Country goblins can be clerics, fighters and thieves; city goblins can be fighters, magic-users (generally with a bent towards alchemy) and thieves.

Ogres: Just like people, some ogres are nice and some ogres want to destroy your village, set it ablaze and take everything of value back to their cave where they eat whatever didn't run away screaming. Most of society tends to judge the former by the latter's behavior. Which is a shame, as many ogres are actually quite affable, if a little thick. Most people tend not to point this out when you're 8 feet tall and have hands the size of hamhocks. Ogres can be fighters. Maybe clerics if you have a reeeally good backstory.

Dopplegangers: Inspired both appearance-wise and thematically by Eberron's Changelings and the 4th Edition version, as opposed to the Grey-looking earlier versions. Dopplegangers are natural spies and sneaks. Hell, if you can change your face to suit any occasion, you would be too. But oftentimes, the business of being other people will weigh heavy on the heart. Many dopplegangers in the big cities remain in their natural, pale-white and alien form, comfortable in the knowledge that even if people fear and mistrust them, they have an identity of their own. I haven't quite worked out the class restrictions on dopplegangers, but I know that I'll have to write up new experience tables regardless. Change Shape at-will is a doozy.

More to come...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Catalog of Clockwork Creations: Cinder Spiders


Cinder Spiders

Beneath the streets and sewers of the city of Shrapnel lies the Furnace, the red-hot heart of the city's industry. The Furnace houses all of the machinery that powers the city's infrastructure, as well as the forges and engines that enable Shrapnel's massive industrial production. The Furnace is gigantic, and requires near-constant maintenance. That's where the Cinder Spiders come in.

Created by one of Shrapnel's countless journeyman artificers, cinder spiders are single-minded clockwork creations whose primary concern is the stoking of the fires and upkeep of the Furnace's mechanisms. Their carapaces are treated with a fire-resistant resin to withstand the heat of the Furnace and their 'thorax' contains a canister of flammable fluid attached to a mouth spout that the spider uses to fire forges and boilers, or in worst case scenarios defend itself by spraying a gout of fire at anyone who would dare sabotage the Furnace.

Cinder Spider: HD 1d6; AC 4 [15]; Atk 1 flame spout (1d6); Move 9; Save 17; CL/XP 1/15; Special: Immune to Fire, Sleep, Charm, Hold Person

Friday, August 20, 2010

We will never escape it

Yesterday, I met with the mother of one of my potential players for the library Dungeons and Dragons game. She had sent me an email a week or so ago saying that she did not want her son playing in the campaign for somewhat cryptic reasons (having to do with 'leveling up (?)' and 'not their kind of game').

After clarification, she told me that it was for religious reasons. What she and her husband knew of Dungeons and Dragons was that it was a gateway drug into unsavory, non-christian activity and that kids who played couldn't distinguish fantasy and reality. Thus, it was something that she wanted to keep her kids away from.

I can't say that I'm not disappointed. As much as we would hate to admit it, Dungeons and Dragons still carries a stigma among most people that it will never get away from. If anything, the game's disappearance from the public eye has ingrained these assumptions among mainstream America. So far, since I've started asking kids who visit the library if they'd be interested, I've heard about its age, its nerdy nature and now its unchristian associations. In order to break these assumptions, you've just got to be as honest and open as possible. I told the kid's mother that role-playing games have been a really positive, creative influence on my life in the 10 or so years that I've been reading and playing them. I may not agree with her decision, but I respect it and I hope that she'll at least think about it more positively in the future.

In closing, I'd like to post the Dungeons and Dragons controversies page from Wikipedia, which is what I showed my boss after we talked with our concerned mother. We may think of stuff like Dark Dungeons and Mazes and Monsters as ridiculous, but we must always, always remember that for some, this is all that they know about D&D.

It is up to us to challenge that perception.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What post-apocalypse means to me

Zak S's totally fucking sweet recaps of his TMNT/Mutant Future game are the kind of games that I wish I was running. Not only because his players are totally rad, but because we seem to like our post-apocalypse the same way. Two of the most formative games of my high school years were Jared Sorensen's Inspectres and octaNe. Inspectres has been bar none the best money for enjoyment that I've ever gotten out of a roleplaying game and octaNe... octaNe was a kick in the junk.

The years of 14 to 18 were full of a lot of weird fucking movies. My parents had given me the ability to rent R-rated movies on their account at Heads Together Video, a cult video store in Pittsburgh that's sadly no longer in business. They had a phenomenal selection of Hong Kong action, independent strangeness and B-movies galore and I spent most of my money renting movies like Six String Samurai, Big Trouble in Little China, Repo Man, Versus and Shaolin Soccer. They were bizarre, entertaining and utterly over the top, which was totally cool to the adolescent mind. Combined with a burgeoning interest in ska, punk and hardcore and my existing nerdy qualities, it meant that on the whole, people had no idea what I was talking about most of the time. octaNe somehow synthesized all of my interests at the time into a neat little package, which also included one very cool rule:

The Rule of Rock n’ Roll
Before we even get started, I need to make one thing perfectly clear: the Rule of Rock n’ Roll states that when playing octaNe, you MUST be playing rock n’ roll music* of some kind. Consider it The Law, and disregard it at your own peril.

You heard. A game soundtrack is fucking mandatory. This is probably the reason that I ever thought about game soundtracks and as a result, I've had wonderful ideas for game settings come from songs as diverse as Fugazi's 'Full Disclosure' (kind of Burn Notice meets the Invisibles, filtered through the corporate superheroics of WildCATS 3.0) and Slim Cessna's Auto Club's 'This Land Is Our Land Redux' (Desperado as an actual Western, complete with man portable Gatling guns)

This is what my post-apocalypse sounds like:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Gaming White Whale

Have you ever created a character, city or setting that inspires you so specifically that any attempt at actually playing the damn thing never turns out like it did in your mind?

Mine's called Stray Dogs.

I think that the whole thing got started on vacation, like a lot of my good ideas. My family tends to vacation in distant locations where all you can really do is read, hike, canoe and watch the Nero Wolfe mysteries or Jeeves and Wooster on a (usually) available TV. It was the summer before I left for college back in 2005, before mp3 players were as ubiquitous as they are now (and before I owned one). I had brought my customary CD wallet with me, with the new addition of Flogging Molly's Within A Mile of Home. I'd been a fan of Flogging Molly since I'd heard 'Salty Dog' on college radio five years previously, though with each further release, it seemed like the band was rapidly becoming less Celtic and more pirate. When I popped in Within A Mile of Home, my suspicion was basically confirmed. When I listened to these songs, it conjured the image of a crew of punk rock pirates recklessly sailing the deadly seas of a post-apocalyptic world and I liked it.

I don't know when I started thinking about the idea as a concept for a campaign setting, but along the way, I had gotten a hold of Against Me's Searching For A Former Clarity and, most importantly, Tom Waits' Rain Dogs. Against Me's Even At Our Worst, We're Still Better Than Most is still the unofficial title track of the setting, but if there's a single record that has influenced this whole endeavor the most, it's Rain Dogs. Songs like Clap Hands and Jockey Full of Bourbon sounded post-apocalyptic, full of improvised percussion, eclectic instrumentation and the fantastic guitar work of Marc Ribot. They conjured images of small boats paddled like gondolas through the sunken streets of New York and rickety bars lit by bare hanging light bulbs, a single harsh electric guitar playing guttural blues in the background. And so the game began to coalesce: some sort of disaster (nuclear bombs, global warming, meteor impact, etc...) has caused the oceans to rise and flooded the coasts of countries. The mainland is irradiated and many of its inhabitants have moved to the coasts, where settlements are created in the ruins of cities and on the new coastlines that the disaster has created. Cue jury-rigged sailing ships, junk cannons and searching for ancient ruins in the drowned cities of the Eastern Coast.

As the setting progressed, punk and ska music not only encompassed a thematic soundtrack for the post-apocalyptic future, it became part of the world. Most of this influence has come since I met my girlfriend, former teenaged veteran of the early 2000's New Jersey punk scene, and her stories about shows that demolished roofs, running from the cops and the fourth major musical influence on Stray Dogs, the World/Inferno Friendship Society. World/Inferno's Red Eyed Soul is up there with Rain Dogs as far as single album influence goes and is chock full of wonderful music. Alongside general survival and treasure acquisition, characters in Stray Dogs needed to navigate the alliances of pirate crews on the Eastern Coast. Some survive through piracy, others scavenge from unwilling donors, others protect a community for tribute.

The setting seems pretty wonderfully realized, yes? But every time I've tried to play it, it's never turned out the way I've wanted. Most of my attempts have used Savage Worlds, my go-to cinematic system and probably the one that fits the game the most. The first game was pretty much doomed to fail. I had 8 players, half of whom had never played any tabletop games before and not much prep time. The result was a 4-hour game session that rapidly lost steam as it continued and ended with us stopping the game before it really got anywhere. Disappointingly, this was where I left it until I began running a Play-by-Post game on the RPGnet forums in the setting. However, PbP games are notoriously slow to get going and combined with player drop-off and the beginning school year, it died a pretty noble death (I'm still kind of surprised at my Black Lagoon PbP game, which is still going after 55 pages and a period of lacking inspiration).

My most recent experiment with the setting game came with my final semester in school, working on my own system as a senior project that was heavily inspired by indie games like Spirit of the Century, Wushu and Lady Blackbird. As fulfilling as it was to conceptually work out a game with my adviser (what I wanted it to play like, how different mechanics influenced gaming, etc...) it still didn't capture what I really wanted from it: a low-tech, high adventure cinematically-influenced game with enough fiddly bits to make ship combat and chases interesting. But as much as I've hemmed and hawed over what system to use (note: I think it'll be Savage Worlds), the setting is really what defies understanding.

When designing a campaign setting, it's tempting to try and map everything out beforehand: cities, power groups, where the treasure is. It's especially tempting when you really want to give your players a cool-ass map of the setting, done redrawn road-map style and let them go crazy. Unfortunately, I think that Stray Dogs has really defied description for me. I can't map it out beforehand: I know that New York has to remain in some form, and I'm pretty sure about Jersey coastal cities like Asbury Park, but where to start making your own shit up in a post-apocalyptic setting has always been really hard for me. If I ever work this out, I think I'm going to have to create all the towns of the Eastern Coast from scratch, no real-world equivalents at all to make me worry about accuracy in trade goods and attitudes and that kind of bullshit.

As a final treat, I'd like to post some pictures by Becky Cloonan, who seemed to have had the same idea as me in 2005. The only difference is that she actually wrote and illustrated a cool graphic novel called East Coast Rising, which never got a second volume but has nevertheless been incredibly influential to Stray Dogs.