Monday, June 11, 2012

Please Advise: The Effects of High Temperatures on TSR Products

A question that I think only the assorted RPG blogosphere could answer:

I'm having my current apartment heat treated for bedbugs at the end of the week. This entails heating everything in the room to a temperature of over 150 degrees F. I happen to have a fair amount of board games, RPG boxed sets and polybagged comics and modules about this apartment.

Does anyone have any experience with the effects of high temperatures on these sorts of items? I can seal them up in plastic bins and drop pesticide strips in them, but they'll have to be in there for a minimum of 3 weeks.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Retro-Stupid: The Ground Rules

Once I got this Retro-Stupid Dungeons & Dragons ball rolling, it picked up a lot of momentum. A quick poll of my friends via Facebook netted enough interest that I had to cap the number of players at SEVEN.

Seven assorted dudes with experience in a wide variety of gaming and role playing environments. Eight dudes (counting me) who have absolutely NO experience with Basic style D&D and all born after the release of the Mentzer Basic and Expert sets in 1983.

With that in mind, here are some of the ground rules that I'm following in the development of this game:

1) A Cut Above the Ordinary

I'm not super interested in running a meat grinder campaign. Though PCs may die or be horribly disfigured over the course of the campaign, they're still assumed to be a cut above the average spear carrier or pig farmer. That's not to say that humble beginnings aren't allowed, but there should be the spark of greatness in them.

2) A Whole Different Appendix N

None of us really grew up reading the sword & sorcery pulp stories that inspired so much of old-school Dungeons & Dragons. To the best of my knowledge, everyone has read Tolkein, but a lot of our gaming inspiration comes from sources from the last two decades. Common denominators include Magic: the Gathering, console and computer RPGs and adventure gamebooks, which I'll probably be talking about at greater length in the future.

3) History Is Written By The Players

There's not going to be a thousand-year history or intricate political alliances; the stuff that the PCs accomplish will help shape the world that they live in. If someone dies defending a village from some vicious wereboars, the villagers will remember their valiant struggle and returning adventurers who were present will laud their accomplishments.

4) Stick With The Core, Bolt On Some More

I want to try and run the game as close to Rules As Written Basic D&D as I can, with a couple of tweaks from Swords & Wizardry to speed things up at the table. I am going to try and make any house rules that I put into effect additions on to the base as opposed to wholesale modifications to the core mechanics.

5) Relax and Have Fun

This is not going to be a serious game. If I feel or the group feels like something is fun, we're going to do it, especially if it's stupid or anachronistic. Ultimately, we're all looking to kill some monsters, find some treasure and maybe save the world this summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Retro-Stupid: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Wing It

Now that I have a little bit of disposable income, I've decided to take a look at buying a few quality board games. On top of classics like Carcassonne and Dominion, I discovered a new card game called Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre.

The art for this game is the best kind of bonkers - weird Superjail meets Adventure Time fantasy with exploding heads and sentient testicles murdering people. On top of that, it is hella inspiring. It reminds me of the best parts of the Retro-Stupid style of Dungeons & Dragons practiced by a fair amount of people in the RPG blogosphere: anachronistic, tongue-in-cheek, and low-prep craziness. And it got me thinking.

I've been trying to muster potential players for the Vomorhin campaign that I have been preparing, but putting together a house-rule set for Swords & Wizardry, designing a city (which is by far the hardest fantasy setting to create) and work out political alliances and a thematically accurate world has frankly been a pain in the ass. So what would it be like if I just didn't care about how the world was put together?

I texted my friend Ethan about the idea:

8:11 PMme: Wanna play in a retro-stupid as hell D&D campaign? Basic Box style with weird video game-style boss monsters and magic that makes people explode?
Ethan: Yeah, you've been trying to do that a couple times now!
I wanna be an orc
Or an ogre
8:12 PM me: Gotcha. I will write an Orc class.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dispatches from Vomorhin: The 4 Scions of Creeshus

As one of the most powerful and least sane wizards of his time, Creeshus made a number of pacts with nefarious entities in his time as the ruler of Vomorhin. Some were simple transactions of life for power, some wanted artifacts or the delivery of prophesied do-gooders, but others were more... personal in nature. As a result of these consortings, Creeshus was blessed with four children of various monstrous heritages. But life in Creeshus's towers was often as unstable as the rest of the city. If he wasn't meddling in their affairs and trying to shape them in his own image, he was outright ignoring them or imprisoning them in a pocket dungeon dimension.

It was years ago that the four siblings came to their decision. Though their circumstances were vastly different, each knew that the city could not survive with their father as its ruler. However, none of his scions wished to take his place on Vomorhin's throne; the potential for betrayal and infighting was too great. So the decision was made to open the city to a new form of government, but one that could not touch the children of Creeshus. Each would have their own domain over the city, from diplomacy to city defense, where they exercise their influence over Vomorhin without ever officially ruling.

The new government of Vomorhin may be overjoyed at their new functioning economy and rising place in the world, but no one harbors the illusion that they are in control of the city. The whole experiment continues under the watchful eyes of the children of Creeshus and every civic leader knows that it could all be burned to the ground if they ever decide to change their mind.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Vomorhin Experiment

A full-time job and an impending move to a new apartment haven't really left much time for idle pursuits, including Dungeons and Dragons. But all work and no play has often left Jack a dull boy, so I've been thinking about getting back in the saddle for a few weeks now. In my current situation, tabletop gaming has been a great way to both stay in touch with distant friends and make new ones in the greater Philadelphia area. In preparation for this eventual calming, I've been working on a little experiment.

The City of Vomorhin is a project that I've been planning since I put my ideas together for the Cheap Minis Project: a city setting that utilized many of the strange, common or otherwise minor parts of the Dungeons & Dragons experience in order to craft a campaign setting. There's a place in the Vomorhin universe for kenku, grimlocks, troglodytes, krenshar, chaos creatures and constructs of all shapes and sizes. Taking all of these disparate elements and making a coherent world out of them has been a blast.

As of now, I have two potential gaming groups lined up and only a limited amount of time each week to plan for a campaign. So my plan is to run two different campaigns, two different rules systems, one central setting.

My online group consists of close friends from college spread out across both coasts of the country. For rules, we're going to be using a modified Swords & Wizardry, incorporating ideas from Akrasia and the most recent D&D Gamma World into the basic S&W framework. My in-person group potentially consists of new players and a pair of local friends. That game will be run with 4th Edition rules.

I have never GMed either of these systems, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the implicit rules of each work in a big fantasy city setting. The S&W campaign is more likely to be in the 'Heist D&D' millieu, with caper planning and specialist hirelings needed to pull off huge scores, while the 4th Edition campaign will be more like hard-boiled fantasy fiction where the players unravel conspiracies, butt heads with prominent factions and change the face of the city.

The vast majority of my campaign preparation will be system-agnostic and, through Fistful of Coppers, available to readers for free. When I do stat up monsters, NPCs, magic items and the like, I will try to do so in both S&W and 4E terms. In terms of fleshing out the city, I'm starting with the overarching story of the city detailed in my most recent post and trying to fill in details as I go.

The next dispatch from Vomorhin will take a look at each of the scions of Creeshus and their place in the city. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Brief History of Vomorhin

Vomorhin, the cosmopolitan center of trade and intrigue, is a city delighting in its first tastes of freedom after a century under a crazed despot.

Creeshus, the mad wizard king, ruled Vomorhin with unspeakable power and utterly bizarre whims. Everything from the city's laws to its physical structure could change on a daily basis. Cowed citizens shared their streets with vicious ogres, cunning tieflings and all manner of nefarious creatures who shared in Creeshus's schemes. That is, until Creeshus disintegrated them for condescending to his owlbear.

Sure, the city barely functioned and both man and monster despised Creeshus and his rule, but who could actually stand up to him? Uprisings were attempted, but the revolutionaries were generally turned into frogs or divorced from their skeletons before the gates could be breached. City leaders and merchants met in shadowed sewers to discuss methods of keeping the populace fed without incurring the tyrant's wrath.

In the end, the city's salvation came from within the walls of Creeshus's massive palace tower. The wizard's four children, powerful magicians by birth and training, surprised the city's secret parliament by offering them a deal: in exchange for places of significant power in the city, they would slay their father and bring stability to Vomorhin. It was a risky proposition, but just about anything would be better than the status quo.

It wasn't a public execution or a theatrical melodrama. Three days after the decision was reached, the city was rocked with a vicious earthquake and a massive explosion of magical power erupting into the sky. And like that, a new age dawned over the city. Creeshus's tower was demolished as a symbol of the peace that would hopefully last between man, beast, demon and monstrously powerful halfblood wizards.

That was 10 years ago. In the intervening time, Vomorhin has arisen reborn as a new hub for culture, politics and magic. That and organized crime.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Challenge Accepted (And A Quick Recap)

So, in passing...

1) Got a super solid full-time Reference Librarian position in South Jersey, which has understandably been devouring the majority of my time. Because of my new hours, I unfortunately had to leave fellow Jersey resident Drance's Castles & Crusades game, which will be much missed. Maybe Milo will swing his grappling hook in the name of truth, justice and reasonable reward once more.

2) Currently set up to run a Google+ or Skype D&D game with a bunch of my distant and disparate friends from college and pre-professional life. The whole 'Heist D&D' idea that I've had ever since I started reading up on Classic D&D and its variations just popped into my brain one night after work and a couple of friends expressed interest. Expect to see a lot of prep here in the future.

3) Jason Kielbasa's Wrestleworld is awesome and I'm going to play it.

4) I am really, really bad at coming up with fantasy names.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Friends and neighbors! Find me on Google Plus!

Seemingly 4 months after everyone else got on the G+ bandwagon, I now have an account! I'm looking forward to trying out the platform for gaming with friends and just general social networking, so add me if you follow Fistful of Coppers. I'm a great conversationalist.

LBSREAM (Library Book Sales Rule Everything Around Me)

Used book sales are one of my favorite things in the world. I love picking up quality mystery and fantasy novels for small amounts of money, especially when it benefits an organization like a library. Plus, every once in a while, you find something truly remarkable. A library book sale was where I found unopened copies of the Mentzer Basic and Expert box sets, as well as my early works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and a laserdisc copy of My Name Is Trinity (for curiosity's sake).

I was visiting a library where I am interviewing for a position in the following week, checking out the selection and space, when I noticed that they have a section in the back shelves for a Friends of the Library Book Sale. I felt it was my duty to check out their selection and see if I could find any gems. Outside of my standard searches for cheap Elmore Leonard and Terry Pratchett, I found some old sci-fi paperbacks that demanded attention.

I read my father's copy of Creatures of Light and Darkness when I was a teenager, but Jack of Shadows was a Zelazny work I'd always heard about, but never seen. I was glad that I picked up both of them.

Even at used book stores, I could only find the later Myth collections by Robert Aspirin, so finding the first three books in one volume was really cool and really cheap.

Oh yeah. And this pretty cool thing.

It's bright 'cause it's so awesome.

Five dollars! Five dollars for every single BECMI boxset rule and expansion packed into 304 dense-as-hell pages!

Honestly, I kind of feel bad that I picked this up for the price that I did, given that Rules Cyclopediae end up on eBay and Amazon for over $40, minimum.
But there's a lot of stuff to unpack in this thing and I hope you'll stay tuned while I do.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Fondue Plot, Part I

One of the most fun and simultaneously most terrifying parts of being a GM is when players throw you a curveball. This might be following a lead that you didn't really anticipate as part of the mission you had planned or taking a crazy action that has far-reaching consequences. As the person running the story, often your only option is to improvise like crazy and hope that what you come up with makes for a fun session.

Yesterday, I got together on Skype with a group of six close friends and ran a modern crime/cyberpunk game of Savage Worlds. The characters included:

- Mouse, a nebbishy disguise and security specialist
- Murray, an old-school corporate spy with a penchant for scotch and blackmail
- Ramirez, Green Beret and former private military contractor
- Ray, an internet libertarian techie who lives in a telecom van
- Slick, a spray-tanned con man and quick draw artist
- Theresa, ex-Fish and Wildlife agent turned ecoterrorist hired gun

In true cyberpunk style, the group was hired by a wealthy divorcee, Angela Horwitz, whose developer husband, Travis Blackwell, claimed she was unfaithful and that he wasn't responsible to support their son. She wanted the PCs to acquire a DNA sample from Blackwell, by whatever means they deemed fit. However, the tycoon's new residence was the Arcadia condominium development, a Burj-like monolith with in-house kitchens, self-sustaining power and its own private SWAT team. If the team can deliver the package to Angela and her lawyers, there are $10,000 in bearer bonds waiting for each of them.

After the meeting, Ray took to his van and hacked into Blackwell's personal email account (the business one was too heavily guarded), including his schedule for the rest of the week. At this point, the team divided into two groups. One assessed the security of the Arcadia complex, the other kept their efforts focused on Blackwell. Murray, using his Connections edge, was able to get Ramirez an interview with the Arcadia's security force; given his ex-military background, he was an easy choice. Theresa spent the afternoon sizing up the building's security personnel and Mouse, disguised in prosthetic nose and hunchback as a cleaning lady, took stock of the building's surveillance set-up.

Meanwhile, Murray, Ray and Slick made their way to a Brutalist gentlemen's fitness club, where Blackwell's calendar had scheduled a jai alai match that afternoon. With a little defensive driving on Ray's part, the team got a look at Blackwell's personal security: one ex-Marine bodyguard , Mr. Hart, with him at all times in an armored SUV and another pair of them either trailing or leading in a black sedan. Once they reached the club, the bodyguards entered with him.

It was then that the Blackwell group began to formulate a plan. Ethan, who was playing the role of Slick, had chosen a small high-tech holographic projector as one of his pieces of essential equipment during character creation. His idea was to use the hologram to simulate a jai-alai ball in sight and sound, with Ray's electronic assistence, to pass himself off as an athletics instructor and worm his way into Blackwell's confidence.

Now, this plan has two distinct ways that it could blow up in the group's faces. The first was that Slick barely knew what jai alai was, let alone how a champion jai alai player performed. Second, and much more crucial, was that the minute Blackwell attempted to scoop the jai alai ball, it would instantly be revealed as a ruse. I was completely prepared for this plan to be a complete disaster and to potentially blow their cover completely.

But somehow, it worked. Slick's mannerisms and confidence as Hans, the European jai alai champion (with a fantastically awful Austrian accent by Ethan) didn't convince Blackwell fully, but it was more than enough for his dimmer athletic partner Jackson and his poor Smarts rolls. Jackson may have been gullible enough to challenge 'Hans' to a match, but surely he would have noticed that the ball wasn't real, right?

Except Slick killed it on his Agility rolls. In Savage Worlds, direct athletic competition like this is governed by opposed rolls. While Jackson's roll of 4 against his Agility was nothing to sneeze at, Slick's d8 in Agility exploded, giving him an eventual roll of 10, enough for a Raise (a special situational reaction in Savage Worlds terms).

Jackson never even got his hands on the ball. Slick, through the holographic gadget and Ray's assistance, faked his way through the whole process, like something out of an episode of Leverage. True, I didn't really have a great grasp of the rules of jai alai and played it more like the schoolyard game of fireball/wall ball, but the truth was that I felt that this crazy plan, coupled with some solid rolls on Slick and Ray's part, deserved to succeed.

However, all of my gaming prep had to do with the Arcadia. Literally all of it. Security systems, level layouts, the elevator spindle down the middle of the building. In the heat of the moment, I had Jackson invite Slick to an early dinner at a fancy tapas restaurant in downtown Los Angeles with him and Blackwell to dine on little plates and maybe get lucky with some ladies.

Slick accepted. Why wouldn't he?

Next time: The Fondue Plot, Part II! In which the name actually makes sense!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dungeon Bastard Tells It Like It Is

Thanks to Jeff Rients for introducing me to the Dungeon Bastard. We're a small hobby as it is and division only makes us smaller.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Silver Age Service

This morning, my girlfriend and I went into Camden to volunteer at a community center providing some Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming for K-12 students with the day off. Among the highlights of the day was a 'Make Your Own Comic Book' activity for kids under 10. I helped the budding young artistes focus their story ideas and occasionally drew some hands and in return, I got some pretty solid Silver Age-style hijinks out of it.

Top of the list would probably be the Hairy Men, a crime-fighting family with progressively ridiculous beards and names (Bob, Billy Bob, Bob Jr., Billy Bob Jr., Billy Billy Fo Filly), who attempted to fend off the hair-snatching plans of the envious Bald Man. There were also a solid collection of alliterative superhero names, including Greatness Girl, Mute Man, Burly Boy and Wonderwind.

I guess you give a little and get a little, huh?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cheap Minis Project: Stats and Standouts

It's been a while since I've actually looked at the spreadsheet that I put together for the Cheap Minis project, so I decided to go through the list and see, in broad terms, what I have to work with, as well as any standout awesome minis that I have come across.

There are 303 Dungeons and Dragons miniatures that cost $1.50 or less at CoolStuffInc (the prices at Troll & Toad are fairly similar, but there are exceptions) across each of the 21 expansion series. The vast majority of these minis are Medium-sized, occupying a 1" square and around the size of a standard human. Only 15 of these minis are labeled as Large, or taking up 2x2" on a Chessex-style map.

As I somewhat expected, humanoids and monstrous humanoids take up the bulk of the monster selection: races like humans, elves, dwarves and the like account for 43% of the list and monstrous races like goblins and orcs account for another 23%. The remaining third of the minis include a fair amount of both constructs or animates and undead, outsiders and both mundane and magical beasts.

I'll tackle each of these sections in the future, but for now, I'll post a few standout minis that I think would be an inspiration for any DM looking for cool monsters or PCs.

Blood of Vol Fanatic

A great cultist model for any murderous sect.

Bugbear Gang Leader

I've always had a soft spot for bugbears and this dude totally reinforces that. Angry, well-armed and ready to wreck you.

War Ape

Just like it says on the tin. An ape that is ready for war. I really dig the spiked gauntlets/restraints on him. Maybe his race were forced into battle.


One of a number of great constructs and golems in the cheap minis collection. This one's a little more gear-driven than others, but that hammer hand really sells me on it.

Skeletal Equiceph

Some sort of awesome man-horse that's also a skeleton and has a big ol' spear.

There's plenty of cool stuff to work with, even when your price range is limited.

All miniatures are creations of Wizards of the Coast. Images from CoolStuffInc

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cheap Minis Project

Miniatures are expensive, no matter what form they take or what company manufactures them. From the detailed pewter of a Warhammer or Malifaux model to the most recent prepainted D&D or Heroclix boosters, it seems like the only way to acquire affordable miniatures in on the secondary market. When I used to play Warhammer 40K, eBay was a godsend for cheap(er) Space Marines built from other people's bits boxes and Rhinos on the sprue without packaging or instructions. For prepainted minis, the places to go are websites like CoolStuffInc and Troll & Toad, where you can find just about any monster released for any collectible game.

However, these websites also illustrate another upsetting part of the miniatures market: their once-collectible status. The randomized booster format of D&D miniatures means that there are 'common' and 'rare' miniatures that cost ridiculous amounts of money for the materials used to create them. Among these 'rare' minis are many of D&D's most iconic monsters: dragons and giants of all shapes and sizes, the beholder, owlbear and displacer beast cost anywhere between $5 to $20 to purchase. In order to play the typical game of D&D with minis, you would most likely end up spending more money on plastic than you did on rulebooks, which is really saying something.

That's not to say that there aren't affordable D&D miniatures, far from it. I think there's a wealth of awesome, weird and quality collectible miniatures out there that won't break your bank account.

Over 300 of them, in fact.

Before the Christmas holiday, I compiled a spreadsheet of every single available D&D miniature under $1.50 on CoolStuffInc, not only as a piece of bargain hunting, but as the basis for a worldbuilding project. Over the next few weeks, I plan to assess the miniatures that I've found on the secondary market and begin to create the structure for a campaign world around them. Instead of lamenting the lack of a cheap Black Dragon or Ogre miniature, I want to build a fantasy setting that is tailor-made to accomodate something like the Maug or the amazing Half-Illithid Lizardfolk that I have come across in the under $2 range. I think that working within this framework will at the very least inspire me to create some cool fluff and adventure ideas and might possibly lead to a campaign in the future.

Later this week, I plan to take stock of the list, its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to creature diversity. There's a lot of great stuff in there, from sword and sorcery looking cultists and warriors to a bunch of off-beat monstrous humaniods like bullywugs and a copious amount of troglodytes. Stay tuned for more!

Where'd You Go II: The Quickening

So, serves me right for announcing big things in Blogland before the winter holidays and a chunk of important job-related deadlines, right?

Never fear, cool things are just around the corner. That is, if there are still any readers out there.