Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Review of OtherWorld Creations' Strike Force 7 by Caias Ward & Hyrum Savage

Strike Force 7
Caias Ward and R. Hyrum Savage


In effort to maintain full disclosure, the following review is based upon a complimentary copy of the PDF, however this was unsolicited and with no expectation of favoritism. The following is based upon unbiased opinion and review.

In fact, it should be noted that this PDF product was an after-the-fact holiday present that was in response of an article I wrote on my livejournal, which can be found here, where I was waxing nostalgic about a foundation element of my childhood - G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. You see, I was obsessed with G.I. Joe as a boy, I still enjoy the comics and toys today, even the cartoon is a modern guilty pleasure of mine, thus I felt the need to talk about it in my journal.

All of which brings me the OtherWorld Creations product known as Strike Force 7, by Caias Ward and R. Hyrum Savage, which is Spycraft variant and alternate history take on the modern anti-terrorism activities with healthy super heroics similar to popular comics and cartoons, such as G.I. Joe or S.H.I.E.L.D.. Now Spycraft, originally Published by AEG, is a espionage role-playing game using a variant of the d20 rules that is currently in the 2.0 edition of the rules and published by Crafty Games.

As with G.I. Joe and S.H.I.E.L.D., the perspective of Strike Force 7 is very American-centric, even though it is a joint strike force with international elements, but that is also its target audience and they creators hit a fairly solid mark with that choice. Within the 72 pages of this PDF, not only are you treated to an interesting variant on the Spycraft version of d20, but you are also presented with an alternate history for the last 50+ years of American military history, intrigue, and its impact on the foundation of the clandestine military force that was recently brought out into the public light.

Right off the bat, Strike Force 7 starts to put you into the feel for this science fiction/fantasy genre of super heroic military action. Not only the foundation elements of background, who you are and why you are in SF7, but also which "Team" you are a part of, which determines ability variation and bonus feats for your team member. There are five teams total, four of which are overt and a covert fifth team that is a secret from many of those within Strike Force 7. Be it the rank and file of the Military Operations team, the hard hitting Counter-Terrorists, the skilled techies of the IT team, the charismatic Media Relations, or the infamous Furies, you will be much more than an average soldier.

In addition to the Teams, there are also two prestige classes, one that is heroic and one for the villains; they are, respectively, the Strike Force 7 Commando and the Anubis Warrior. Be it the ultimate soldier from a cadre of ultimate soldiers, which would be the SF7 Commando, or the technological tyrant who is the Anubis Warrior, these two prestige classes are not only full of flavor, but interesting crunch, too.

Speaking of Anubis Warrior's, it is time to talk about the enemy against whom Strike Force 7 came out of the ammo bunker to fight publicly, which is Skorpian. As an analog for various enemy and terrorist groups, both in fiction and, to some degree, in reality, Skorpian is themed off of Ancient Egyptian lore and mythos, which adds an excellent cultural feel, as well as trope familiar to comic book fans. Not only is this organization ruthless, but they have been attached to some of the more savage moments in this alternate history's view of media laced terrorist. On a global level, Skorpian terrorizes the world with vicious, focused violence that can slow even the heroic Strike Force 7, thus drawing them to even deeper acts of valor.

All in all, Strike Force 7 is an enjoyable piece that could make for an enjoyable range of super heroic military campaigns or one-shots, be it as the expected character types, the heroes of SF7, or the unexpected, as members of Skorpian. The only thing that could make this comfortably priced PDF, currently discounted at $6.99, down from $10.00, would be for it to have full color on the interior and, perhaps, more internal artwork, specific to the trademark weapons and imagery of the characters. But, that would be more icing on the cake, than it missing sugar in the mix, so it is not too bad of an issue.

Currently you can find this product at, here, for $6.99.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review of Rite Publishing's The Living Airship by Soren Keis Thustrup

The Living Airship
Soren Keis Thustrup


In effort to maintain full disclosure, the following review is based upon a complimentary copy of the PDF, however this was unsolicited and with no expectation of favoritism. The following is based upon unbiased opinion and review.

The Living Airship, by Soren Keis Thustrup, is an adventure for 4-6 player characters, ranging in levels from 7th to 10th, in a campaign that uses Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved. Usable in any setting using the Arcana Evolved ruleset, the Living Airship is easily converted from the Diamond Throne with modest tweaks, be it for your own homebrew or Heroes of the Jade Oath, the in-development setting by Rite Publishing, under the Patronage model. For more information about Rite Publishing and their Patronage projects, visit here and here.

While the concept of the adventure is enjoyable and interesting, where Vallorians steal a faen airship, to twist to their own machinations, the designer and developer, Soren Keis Thustrup, in addition to the normal seeds and plot hooks, adds a personal touch by commenting how the adventure was in his original campaign. While it is not an in-depth walk-through, full of anecdotes, it is a nice touch that gives an interesting feel to the adventure.

In addition to the personal touch, Soren also puts the adventure in a place that seems unusual, as the player character's are seeking a hijacked airship within a far away mountain. With a title like the Living Airship, images of swashbuckling amongst the clouds, instead you are swept deep into a subterranean realm. Using the Vallorians, the reclusive, malevolent race of subterranean masters of living weapons and armor, is a nice twist on the "living" in Living Airship, as the idea of this secretive race, with a hatred for the surface, possessing living airships should scare any party.

Wrapped around the classic trope of a dungeon crawl, the Living Airship challenges the player characters to traverse the subterranean realm, overcome the unusual foes within, in a hope to recover the stolen airship before the villainous Vallorians twist the technology into their own vile means. An enjoyable romp through a classic fantasy event with a new twist, The Living Airship is a welcome adventure for Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, joining the modest, yet well received, list of adventures for the system.

You can find the Living Airship here, normally listed at $9.99, the adventure is currently on sale for $6.99.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kobold Quarterly's Behind the Spells

Now, just when I thought Kobold Quarterly had come up with one of the coolest ideas to date, Wolfgang and company comes up with, yet again, something pretty cool and interesting. That something cool is Behind the Spells, which launched its self with Color Spray, and is pretty darn interesting.

Kobold Quarterly is hoping that other gamers are like me, too, with respects to our wonderment at where spells came from and from whom these interesting spells sprung, not to mention the state of mind that helped the creation. While there are memorable spells with the names of their creators attached to them, so well known are these folk that I do not need to mention them, so I will not, but you know of whom I speak.

Maxolt Alberiim, a "human" fighter-mage, walks use through the unknown histories of some tried and true spells, of lore unknown, forgotten, yet we know exists because spells had to have come from somewhere, someone, right? Maxolt, voiced by author Bret Boyd for the color spray article, walks us through not only the history and usage of the tried and true spell, but also strategy and alteration of the spell's focus and effect.

Once again, in my not so humble opinion, Kobold Quarterly has hit it out of the park, again, in an article that is free on their website. While KQ has been a much heralded replacement for Dragon magazine, they are quickly cutting their own path and surpassing the legendary periodical, and well they should.

So, people, go and enjoy Kobold Quarterly's Behind the Spells, I know it is part of my regular habits, now.

Addendum: Tricky Owlbear Publishing is the publisher of the Behind the Spells series, by Bret Boyd, author and company president, as well as the series Behind the Monster. So, not only can you see Behind the Spells articles at Kobold Quarterly, but you can also find the series at Tricky Owlbear Publishing. My apologies for missing this important detail, it was not intentional.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review of Rite Publishing's Items Evolved: Conflict

Items Evolved: Conflict
Steven D. Russell


In effort to maintain full disclosure, the following review is based upon a complimentary copy of the PDF, however this was unsolicited and with no expectation of favoritism. The following is based upon unbiased opinion and review.

At the low price of $1.99, this 9-page release, third in the Items Evolved series, introduces us to items of conflict, a common theme to Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, with which it fits nicely. Conflict gives us 13 items that could easily be dropped into an existing Arcana Evolved campaign, either as an interesting, yet simply reward or as an interesting twist, side quest, or sojourn. Whole sidelines could be designed around each item, adding a depth to a planned adventure, enriching the game play for your players with new items.

Each item has the basic information of cost or cost modifiers, body slots, caster level, and so forth, as well as a flavorful description, but we are also presented with a detail object loresight listing, as well as a source for skill-based checks and difficulty class with specific information attached to it, as well. Be it an article of clothing, a weapon, a piece of jewelry, or stones, precious or otherwise.

If you are looking for more items of note and power, so as to inject a bit of flavor into your campaign, then Rite Publishing's Items Evolved: Conflict is an excellent, low-cost PDF of good quality with interesting items. Overall the quality of the layout of the PDF is good, with the need for errata or corrections low, in fact one of the only issues that was noticed was a missing difficulty class number for lore check on the Belt of the Ghi-Nammor Chrysalis, which is probably a 25, anyhow.

All in all, Items Evolved: Conflict adds an enjoyable flavor to any Arcana Evolved campaign, cutting down on the preparation time for the DM/GM with the interesting object loresight provided for each item, plus the author provides us with an insight into the method for generating the loresightings in the design notes on the credit page. It is well worth the modest price of $1.99, which can be found here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Paizo's doing it again...

...and I'm not talking about convincing me to spend what little mad money I've got left on their awesome products, but I'm talking about Paizo doing another Open Call for writers to work on some of their products. Although not as complex as RPG Superstar, we're still talking about a potentially awesome opportunity for someone who would love to be a freelance RPG designer and developer, if they're not already one.

Now, I'll admit, I'm a big fan of open calls, as two of my three published credits came from open calls, one from Sword & Sorcery Studios and DragonWing Games (actually, it was Bastion Press, before it's IP was moved to DWG), and I feel that they give the fan, as well as semi-profession and even professional writers, a chance to make a break into the role-playing game industry and follow their passion. Wizards of the Coast even did an open call, with their setting search a few years ago, which gave us Keith Baker and his setting of Eberron, a setting that I enjoy, a lot.

Not only is it an opportunity for the winner of open calls, when they are in a contest form, but there is opportunity for those who participate, if they catch the right person's eye during the contest. It is an excellent way to make a good impression on people in the industry, as they will attach your name to good work, or if you do it badly, well, then there is that bad impression, but the risk is well worth the reward.

So, I wish those of you who look into this open call, or other open calls, all the luck in the world, however I cannot, in good faith, wish that you win, since odds are I'm competing against you. Enjoy yourself, though, and see you on the other side.

Monday, November 10, 2008

D&D Insider - The Character Builder Beta

Okay, first off, as a slight caveat, I know that the Character Builder is in Beta, as well as what it means for software to still be in beta. I've worked in the customer service and information technology industry for over a decade, be it as a customer service technician, corporate help desk, or field services, so I'm familiar with the concept of  beta and its expectations.

Now, with that said, the only real displeasure I found with the D&D Insider Character Builder was the installer, as it was not that user friendly and had a major hanging point with the confirmation of the web install of Microsoft .Net's 3.5 SP 1. It'd just get to the end of what should be a normal install point and hang, seemingly forever, before giving up and telling you that your net connection was the issue. But, after a quick run to Microsoft's .Net website, as well as a download, I just re-installed the Service Pack and all was well.

But, it really shouldn't be that hard, the install package for software is the one thing that a company should always have down pat, since it is one of the more memorable parts of the software experience, when things go wrong, and heavily effects a customer's view of the software, right or wrong. While the Character Builder is a beta software, it is a beta that people are technically paying for, at least with respect for D&D Insider subscribers, so you'd expect the installer to be a bit more tight than it is. However, glitches are to be expected in a beta and, hopefully, Wizards of the Coast are paying attention to this and it'll be fixed, or tightened up, down the line.

We shall see, but now onto the more pleasurable aspect of  this beta, the usage of the Character Builder.

Overall, I'm really enjoying the Character Builder, as it does what it is expected to do and it does it quite well, almost seamlessly. While there are some layout issues with the window, such as it not working well with small displays on laptops that are a bit older and running at a modest desktop size, even on a more modern laptop (convertible to a tablet), the Bug Report link, from the bottom left, is a bit out of sight. But, as said, it is a beta, so these things, more than the installer issue, are expected and should be understandable, so long as they're fixed.

Usage of the character builder is quite impressive, as it walks through a standard character build, step by step, including options from releases outside of the initial core, such as Dragon content and the Forgotten Realms. Also, there is the ability to select a portrait for your character from a minor list of art from the core books, but there is the obvious fact that you could add your own images to the gallery, too. One of the biggest "It" factors for me, though, is the finished product of character building, the character sheet.

With the Character Builder, not only do you get a filled our, detailed, and useful character sheet, but it also includes your power cards in what is quite obviously a print out that promotes cutouts. While the install had some issues, the usage of the application, thus far, is going quite smoothly, doesn't seem to have any math issues (that I've noticed, yet), and produces something that a lot of folk have wanted since the release of 4e, which is detailed, printable power cards.

If you're someone who is sitting on the fence, with respect to buying D&D Insider, the Character Builder beta is a good selling point, currently, and would easily be worth a monthly subscription to check it out, if not a full year. One good thing to think of, too, when it comes to the DDI, is that the subscription pays for further development and features. Now, all WotC needs to do, is tighten up that install so that folks don't have to need customer service and tech support without even getting the software installed.

Friday, November 7, 2008

D&D Insider - First Blush

Recently I was gifted with a D&D Insider account, as I had moved to an area where I am having trouble finding a group of players and the gifter knew I was into role-playing games, especially D&D, so the offer was presented and I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. It is interesting how things came together, my being asked to help form a group and that they would like to play 4e D&D, all of which led me to decide to make my first world creation effort since my entry in the D&D Setting Search that Keith Baker won with Eberron.

Like many of you, I had heard about the Digital Initiative back when 4th Edition was announced, as well as experienced the wide variety of marketing that let up to D&D Insider being released as a work in progress. I saw the rise and fall of Gleemax and some of the struggling points of the D&D Insider's suite of offerings, but all of that said, I cannot say that I am not pleased with what I have seen, thus far.

For what amounts to just under five bucks a month, if you pay the full year in advance, you get access to a digital version of Dungeon and Dragon magazine, which is cool, although I still miss the feeling of the pages under my fingers. Access to the D&D Compendium, which at first glance is a player's dream, let alone a dungeon master's, with a burgeoning bounty at your fingertips. Plus, there are the ever useful monster and encounter builders, as well as the ability score generator, all of which can make a DM's life much quicker and easier, not to mention empowers their ability to adjust things on the fly.

For years I have wanted something that would enhance my DM screen, that extra "umph", so to speak, and a laptop as provided it to some degree. Prior to the release of D&D Insider, Microsoft OneNote was the one tool, on a laptop, that I felt added to my gaming experience, be it as a player and/or a DM, but I think that D&D Insider is jockeying for position.

Sure, it is not yet complete, as we are still missing the character builder and visualizer, as well as the dungeon generator and digital game table, but those are still going to be there, just not yet. Instead, they are offering access to what they have now, which will then fuel the continued development, similar to what Blizzard, or other MMO houses, do with their fees. We pay monthly fees for game play, those fees go into the upkeep and development of the game.

Although I feel we have only seen the glimmer of what D&D Insider has to offer, I am more hopeful now than I was previously, with respect to what that potential offering will be. Technology is expanding, computers, be it laptops, tablets, or desktops, are growing more common at the game table, be it as a DM aide or a player aide, be it for campaign notes or a gaming soundtrack, and I think that this offering from Wizards of the Coast has the real potential to enhance the game in very positive ways for a long time to come.

Sure, 4th Edition D&D is different than what we have been use to before, not to mention that there are folks out there who will keep 3.5e alive (such as Paizo), but that does not mean that the industry cannot, should not, survive the splitting of the d20 fanbase. In fact, if D&D Insider is a look at what may potentially come from this schism, then perhaps the fracturing of the fans is a good thing.

If the usefulness of an unfinished product like D&D Insider is a sign of what the next few years are going to be like then I am all for it, since it will enhance my 4e experience and play, for what amounts to a few dollars a month, less than I pay for an MMO or magazine subscription and way, way less than my subscriptions to the variety of offerings from Paizo. 

I say this, if you play 4th Edition D&D and enjoy it, yet would like a few more options, a few more utilities, especially the ability to quickly search for any entry containing the word "drow" or "goblin", then D&D Insider is worth a look, if not for the D&D Compendium alone. Buying a one year subscription is cheap, while a quarterly subscription is a little bit more expensive, and the monthly just a little bit more. But, regardless of if it is $4.95 a month or $7.95 a month, DDI is worth the month, now. Imagine what it will be like once they have finished it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Homebrew Campaigns

Although there have been plenty of industry created campaigns, usually attached to a specific setting, if the ability to add up all the campaign settings that exist, from the past, to today, and into the future, I have a feeling that the homebrew campaigns will far outnumber those made by the industry. Notice that I said industry made, not professionally made, because while many homebrews are made by amateur developers and designers, much of their work happens to be as good as if it were made by folks in the industry. Also, some of the most famous settings came from someone's table, first, before it came from the industry.

But, my focus today, is on the allure of designing your own world, crafting a world within which player characters explore and adventure, a dungeon/game master to narrate, and for evil hordes and righteous armies to march across and do battle while the heroes clandestinely save the day. The idea of all of that occurring withing something created by a fan of the genre, system, or what not, has always impressed me, even if I rarely did it myself. While I am a creative person, I sometimes struggle with motivation, more so because my brain often looks at all that lays ahead, instead of focusing on starting small, thus I handicap myself when it comes to world creation.

Whenever I talk with game developers and designers, with respect to what it takes to design a whole world, I have often been told to start small and work my way outward, as if I was walking the paths of the world its self. It seems almost antithetical, starting on a small level, since you feel like you need to make the world first and then the location, but it's the opposite, so I have been told, so I thought I would give it a try myself.

Recently, after I moved back to Oregon from Idaho, I found myself without a gaming group, but eventually I met game from EN World and we decided to form a group and use 4e as its ruleset, since I had played it before and he was really interested in playing with it. Once I had set my mind to work on designing a campaign to use the 4th Edition of D&D, as well as polled some folks at EN World on advice, I decided to create my own homebrew world, give it a shot and see if the "start small" method worked.

So I started off with a geographic idea in mind, a secluded valley with two major ways into it and a handful of minor ways, with mountains to the southwest, southeast, east, and northeast with some minor and major lakes, nearby but out of side, that feed into a major stream to river tributary system, which made it easy to pick the location of the main village. Plus, it made it easy to fix some locations for the various races, including both kinds of elves, dwarves, dragonborn, and so forth. After awhile I looked at the map, seeing where everything was, and realized that by keeping it small I made for an intimate world that had 30 to 40 miles between one small village and this trading post or that keep, with the larger enclaves of the world known to be hundreds of miles away, and it gave the map this frontier feel that reminded me of Keep on the Borderlands, which was cool.

Plus, it left me with the one thing that I loved the most about Greyhawk, which was all of this territory that was left for the players to discover and illustrate more with their action and adventure, it gave me this world were I felt more in control, for obvious reasons, but also this sense of there being so much more to discover. It was then that it hit me, I was only working in an area of a thousand or so square miles, an area roughly the side of Rhode Island, so of course I felt like there was more to discover, because there was a while world out there to work with and it was all mine.

When I thought about the way I use to try and make worlds, by making all the planets and continents first, I realized that, at least for me, I was making it harder than it needed to be. Sure, there is more out there, everywhere, but why should I focus on their being so much for the players when, at first, I can just give them this hint of flavor and start them out hungry to find more. Cosmopolitan worlds can be fun, with thousands of peoples and cultures mixing together, but, I realized, so can wilderness campaigns of seclusion and remote dangers, too.

But, that's been my experience, what's yours been like?

Character Portraits in Gaming

When I was a boy, way early on in my role-playing odyssey, I'd flip through the pages of those early Dragon magazines and look at the artists' ads where they offered to draw a character portrait for $17, at least that's the one I remember the most, and I'd just wish I could afford one. But, instead, I'd often spend hours at a table drawing a picture of what I felt my character would look like, except my internal vision rarely matched the external one.

To say that my artistic ability left something to be desired is akin to saying that Mountain St. Helen's had a slight geological history. However, it has always felt important to me, as a gamer, to have a solid visual to my character, in addition to whatever narrative that I supplied, and I think a lot of folk felt the same way.

After awhile, it seems, it become common place to say, "Oh, well he/she looks like [INSERT ACTOR]." While the imagery of what was worn, how it was worn, was relegated to narrative, the face and build had more of a real attachment to it, but it was nothing like having that picture and gamers seemed to know that, which has led to a revival of the artist seeking patronage.

Recently I decided that I wanted a picture for a play-by-post character that I've on EN World, the picture is by J. Cayne and I could not be more pleased. Although my character was well described and fleshed out, I knew I wanted to have that portrait, which was well worth the fee of $50. Not only do I have a smaller version for posting, but I've a larger version for printing that is just very well done.

If you check out EN World's Marketplace, specifically the Art Services, you will find others offering their services, so you should be able to find artists that fit what style you're seeking. Also, there are plenty of artists out there who aren't on EN World, such as Sean Kennedy, an old DM of mine, perhaps the best DM I've ever had, who happens to be a phenomenal artist and drew quite a few of my earliest portraits.

Personal gaming illustrations have always been so connected to gaming, so desired, that many younger folk who do fantasy art probably got a start by doing their own portraits and illustrations, which is pretty cool, too, when you think about it. How do you feel about character portraits, are they important to you or could you live without them?

Here is Kael Saern, as visualized by J. Cayne:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Rite Publishing previews Mandragoran from Heroes of the Jade Oath

Recently, Rite Publishing put up a preview of the Mandragoran race from Heroes of the Jade Oath, which should give those on the fence about joining this patronage project something to chew on and help them make a final decision toward joining. The preview gives us an interesting insight into the project, its teammates, and the unique setting from the mind of Frank Carr.

The preview its self is well laid out, upon a white background with golden title lettering, as well as golden Kanji upon a jade colored leather page-edge border. However, for those more ink conscious, RiP also offers a printer friendly preview, too.

Prominently features upon the Heroes of the Jade Oath cover, in the brilliant artwork of Wayne Reynolds, the Mandragoran are humanoid species with very plant-like qualities, abilities, and dependencies that can add an interesting species to any campaign, but also add a unique element to this Asiatic flavored role-playing game. Not only do they fit the classic elements of Wu Xing, but these methodical people have a Taijiquan feel to their slow confidence.

Slow and steady is an excellent way to describe the Mandragoran, however those who gain false confidence from their cautious nature will soon learn the follow of their ways. As they are quite confident in their ways, yet not crippled by them, and their word is their bond, if you have it on paper. Mandragoran are in a caste bound society that is male dominant, which obviously is an excellent source of inspiration for a character choosing the life of an adventurer.

Bet they merchants, philosophical warriors, determined priest, truth seeking witches, or an infinite combination of things, these verdant beings will not disappointed, even under the harshest of sunlight. While there may be potential hazards for their race, they are definitely an enjoyable race to contemplate, as well as an excellent sign of things to come from the Lands of the Jade Oath.

My suggestion, visit the Rite Publishing site and checkout the preview, as it is not only an enjoyable read, but it will help you decide whether you'd like to offer them your patronage. I know I have and it's an excellent community, too.

Kobold Quarterly Presents - Funny Friday: R.A. Salvatore

Now I've heard tales before, second, third, and forthed handed about a Wand of Wonder story that some would say is one of the best, the funniest, and it is known as the Wubba Wubba Story, however I've never heard the full story told by R.A. Salvatore until, thanks to Kobold Quarterly, tonight.

While the audio quality varies, I found it better by putting the headphones into my audio jack on my laptop, the story is quite audible, enjoyable, and worth hearing several times, as it is good gamer schtick told by a fine storyteller with a Massachusetts brough in his voice. The audience loved it and, although it make suck KQ's bandwidth dry, it is definitely worth a listen to what is, perhaps, one of the best Wand of Wonder stories that I've ever heard.

But, of course, it inspires me to share my own Wand of Wonder story, from my tragic misspent youth when I was a much more comedic role-player, in the world of Krynn upon the lands of Ansalon, where there was a kender named Friadoc (this was the third time I used that name, by the way, all other times was for, and has been since, a halfling) who put it lightly.

Friadoc the Kender wanted to entertain everyone, by everyone I mean the party, their foes, and anyone or thing that happened to be within earshot. As players many of us were young, our ages ranged from a youthful eight to a venerable twelve and our dungeon master was an adult, the older brother of one of the players and in community college. He was a kind DM, in hindsight he put up with a lot of the oddest stuff, some of which was my fault and by my fault, I mean Friadoc's.

Derek, that was the DM, placated to the younger crowd, often throwing in some oddities that you'd have found in the Dungeons & Dragon cartoon, such as a pool that saw into the "real world" and stuff like that, which is what put Friadoc on the path to insanity, as he looked through that pool once and something stuff. The Kender saw a spaghetti western on a television, as well as an unshaven man wearing an odd blanket, talking husky, and people feared this man. Friadoc thought it was cool and set about to mimic this man, Clint Eastwood, as only a weird kender with delusions of grandeur could.

Eventually Friadoc, dressed as a spaghetti western cowboy, with an amulet of theme music that played a very familiar tune, and with a Wand of Wonder in a sheath upon his hip found himself in front of the dragon who had captured the party, save for Friadoc who had been off finding coins that someone had misplaced in a very disorganized pile. But, he was helpful and put them into a more orderly sack, which he stowed away until the owner was found.

Friadoc walks into the room with his friends, who are caged by the dragon, who is now trying to menace the kender, who is tough now, as his theme music tells him he is, so he wipes out his Wand of Wonder and points it at the dragon and just as he dragon's maw goes to bit him, the kender presses the activation button.

Butterflies rushes from the wand into the small space of the dragons mouth, which was now closed around the wand and Friadoc's hand.

What do you think happened?

Yeap. It was very messy, very weird, and very funny to a bunch of tween gamers, downright the best moment of our young gaming lives, at that time. In adult hindsight, which can suck all the fun out of things, I know there was no rules to really cover that, but Derek was cool like that, very cool.

If you've Wand of Wonder stories of your own, why don't you fly them over to Kobold Quarterly's Forums and share them with the folk there, I know Wolfgang would love it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Patronage and the Role-Playing Game Industry

Patronage, according to a definition found at Wikipedia, " is the support, encouragement, privilege and often financial aid given by a person or an organization." During previous eras various artistic and engineering feats and projects occurred under the act of empowerment found via a patron or group of patrons, such as City-States and religious groups. Michelangelo and de Vinci both had patrons, several, throughout their years who fueled their endeavors with monies, resources, and even places to create at, and look at the wonders that came from those times.

Yet, over the years, the act of patronage turned more and more into employer and employee, with less and less freedom of the previous eras and a more modern mercantile thought applied to various creative projects. Society often changes a concept, yet there are still exceptions to those facts and there are still patrons today, yet they apply more and more to the arts like music and painting, with the occasional author in resident seen from time to time.

It's been over two years since Wolfgang Baur brought the patronage concept to the RPG industry and, I think, it's quite evidently a success for Baur, as well as a torch that others in the industry are looking at or, in the case of Rite Publishing, a torch to be touched from and carried on their own. The patronage model has obviously been kind to Baur, as he has not only worked with others on projects, but he's also launched Kobold Quarterly, an analog and digital gaming magazine that has taken residence in the niche that Dragon magazine once filled.

Recently, Rite Publishing has decided to use the patronage model to bring Frank Carr's Heroes of the Jade Oath, a setting powered by Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, to print via two levels of patronage, patron and senoir patron. Originally, Lands of the Jade Oath was a homebrew, yet it's fan popularity and interesting flavor has brought it quickly to the land of (soon to be) published RPGs. How many other new worlds are waiting such a launch to prominence and are they more likely to see the light of day due to the patronage model?

At the height of the d20 boom, self-publishing brought a new age to the small press RPG designer and developer, especially with services like Lulu enabling them to go to print, as opposed to just PDF. Not only were these designers and developers successful in the digital world, but many of them soon found success in the analog world, too. Which brings to question, what and who will the patronage movement bring to the forefront?

Thus far the patronage movement has had no real stumbling or examples of misuse of trust of it's patrons, which is a good thing and, hopefully, will continue for some time to come. If folks follow Baur's example and professionalism, not only will the patronage movement take a firm hold in the industry, but it could bring a new age to the RPG where people get the exact product that they've hoped for, tailored to their needs and desire. Not only will this add a desired product to their patrons' gaming tables, but it will also fuel the creative engines of the companies that use the model, but bring an interesting level of freedom to game designers and developers who would like to work outside of the mainstream industry.

Although some of the higher levels of patronage are of a higher cost level than most products, they bring with them extras such as manuscript and art review, creation process updates and articles, as well as a hands on tutorial in game design and development. In addition to producing custom products that their patrons want, the patronage movement is also training new designers and developers who might use the same model to bring their own work and ideas to gaming tables. While some could look at this as adding hairline fractures to a multi-faceted industry, a more positive outlook is that it is an excellent training ground for future professionals who are taught by experienced veterans using patronage to supplement their own income and lives.

While the patronage model is new to the role-playing game industry, with few examples of its success, these existing examples are so strong that the potential benefits outweigh any, as of yet, theoretically misgivings. Not only is the patronage model a boon to the individual game designer and developer, as well their patrons, but I feel, in the end, it will show to be a boon to the industry, too.

But, that's just my thoughts, what's yours?

Monday, October 27, 2008

How To - Play by Post Role-Playing

Life is about adaptability and gamers are no exception. Not all of us have the ability or time to have a regular tabletop group, it could be due to life changes, work, or that the local pickings for fellow gamers is slim and far between. For many of those folks, myself included, there is the option of PbP and PbE, also known as Playing-by-Post and Playing-by-E-mail, both of which are descendants of the Play-by-Mail offerings that we use to see as ads in Dungeon or Dragon Magazine, back in the day.

However, unlike the Play-by-Mail games of the day, most options for play-by-post/e-mail are free for game masters and players, alike. Although there are some membership sites that gather much of what could be needed for a PbP(E) game, most all of the tools and utilities are out there on the Internet for free. Be it using the offerings of sites like EN World, which has dedicated areas within their forums for PbB(e) games or creating your own private group on a place like Google's Groups, or even on blog sites like Blogger,  there are plenty of places to host your game.

Of course, one of the first questions that pops into the minds of some folk are, "What about the dice?" Fortunately for us, there are sites like Invisible Castle and Irony Games that have us covered, with secure dice rolling options that have archived results and multiple methods of sharing those results with both sides of the screen. With shared links, e-mail results, and other options, dice rolling worries are not something that should be worried about.

Now comes to the hard part of PbP(E), perhaps even one of the most important, which is communication. Text-based online gaming has been around for years and while it is enjoyable, it does remove a key component of tabletop gaming, a subtle one that we sometimes forget about, and that is emotional subtext to ones words and actions. As most experience folk on the Internet have seen, misunderstandings turn into flamewars rather quickly, which sometimes are worked out when it was realized that the perception of what was said did not match the intent. The same can be said for online gaming, so it is important to note what is going on with both in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) text and statements.

Clear and concise communication is just as important as timely postings, good spelling and grammar, and a solid grasps of the game mechanics. Due to the lack of seeing you as you do or say something with you character, people often have to assume the meaning behind the words, which can lead to a lot of fireworks. So, when playing in an online venue always remember to be patient and seek clarity if something strikes you in a bad way, the worst that can happen is that th worst thought is true. But, odds are, the worst will not be true and you kept yourself from being the fool.

Whether playing or running a PbP(E) game, it is always best to know what sort of time frame is expected by everyone involved, how many posts a day or week, or just a good outline of a frequency for the game, that way everyone involved is on the same page and enjoying themselves. While some folk like a faster pace game, others prefer slow and steady, so it is good to make sure that everyone involved knows what to expect.

You will also want to have three threads to keep track of while playing in a PbP(E) game, which is a Rogue's Gallery, an OOC Thread, and the IC Thread of the game. Now the Rogue's Gallery is where the character sheets, background, and related information is kept. The RG is an excellent resource, in that it allows players and game masters to check needed information, including making a roll for a missing player, or making silent rolls on the GM side of the screen.

In-Character and Out-of-character threads are a way to separate the normal activity of the gaming table, as it occurs online, which is the story side of gaming (IC) and the socialization of the players (OOC). Also, the OOC Thread is a good place for asking the GM questions that are less immediate then a rule clarity or encounter-based question. The OOC field would be where you would ask about which books are used and not used, potential development for your character, and other type questions.

Due to the sheer volume of information that you are potentially exposed to in OOC threads and the Rogue's Gallery, it is important to keep out of character and in character knowledge separate, as it is not only fair to other players and the game master, but it makes for a more enjoyable game, too. So get out there and have fun!

Also, if you'd like, feel free to share your own thoughts, tips, and comments about PbP(E)s by commenting in this article.

Kobold Quarterly's Monday Monsters

Folk are creatures of habit, there are things that we do and do not do when we get out of bed in the morning. Some folk like to get up, get dressed, and go for a run, while others like to relax, drink coffee, read the morning paper or watch the news. Regardless of what, we all have those habits and one of my weekly habits is Kobold Quarterly's Monday Monsters.

Monday Monsters is a series of free articles from Kobold Quarterly, which is both a website and periodical, for those who do not know, that is, to quote Erik Mona, "the spiritual successor to Dragon Magazine." In Monday Monsters we are shown a variety of monsters, many of which from urban legend and folklore, that can be dropped into many a campaign, be they contemporary or period fantasy. 

Whether you are working behind the screen, looking for a new foe for your players, or a memorable encounter, a developer or designer who enjoys monster articles, or just a fan of a well-crafted monster that can be dropped into a campaign, you will love KQ's Monday Monsters. Not only are they an interesting take on some traditional tales of myth, legend, and mystery, but it is a good place to see new faces in the halls of game design and development, like John E. Ling and Joshua Stevens.

Thus far, Kobold Quarterly keeps hitting them out of the park, with both their analog and digital offerings, and Monday Monsters is no exception, it is an example.

Welcome to Emerson's Bookshelf

Welcome to Emerson's Bookshelf!

Yeah, I know, the name is a bit vain, but so is the assumption that folk will wanna hear my views on all things role-playing game, so why break the trend. Hehehe.

It is my hope that you'll enjoy your time reading this blog, where I take my close to thirty years of gaming experience, mostly playing the games, but also as a freelance writer. Here I plan to offer my opinions, editorials, reviews, and interviews, all about traditional role-playing games, across all systems, genres, and other delimiters that I'm not thinking of right now.

So, sit back, enjoy the ride, and feel free to participate.

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