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Showing posts from August, 2012

The Advent of Player Control in RPGs

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When I first started gaming the DM was God. You rolled dice. The DM indicated what happened. When the DM rolled the dice it might be behind the screen and you took what you got and you didn't get upset. Now that I think back to it, in 1st edition of AD&D combat tables and saving throws weren't even in the Players Handbook - rather you had to go to the Dungeon Masters Guide.

I'm trying to remember what the first game I encountered that injected some narrative control into the players' hands. I believe it was Victory Games' 007 James Bond RPG, first published in 1983. This isn't to say it was the first such game - I'm willing to bet it wasn't, but I'm pretty certain it is the first that I encountered. In the 007 RPG your success was rated by a quality rating. The game gave each player a certain amount of Hero Points which could be used to shift quality ratings up or down, allowing a player to improve his or her own quality ratings and reduce those…

Fiction Review: "Nine Princes in Amber" by Roger Zelazny

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For whatever reason it's taken me forever to really begin reading Roger Zelazny's Amber series of novels. My primarily knowledge of it was from flipping through my brother's copies of Phage Press' Amber Diceless Roleplaying books. My brother raved about both the RPG and the novels. Back in 1999 I picked up The Great Book of Amber omnibus collection of all the Amber novels but I couldn't get into it.

While browsing Audible.com I noticed that all ten of Zelazny's Amber novels were available in unabridged audiobook form, the first five (the original books) narrated by Alessandro Juliani and the latter five by Wil Wheaton. Juliani, probably best known as the reimagined Battlestar Galactica's Felix Gaeta had previously narrated a short story in METAtropolis, a narration I enjoyed, so I decided to give Nine Princes in Amber another try.

I'm probably the last fantasy fan to have read Nine Princes in Amber but just in case I'm not I'll do my best not t…

Thoughts on Digital Hobby Products

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At GenCon a few days ago Wizards of the Coast indicated they would again be making the back-catalog of older edition products available in "electronic format".  This doesn't indicate what that digital format will be - i.e. will it be pdf, epub, mobi, require a live internet connection, etc. This got me thinking about the nature of digital gaming products in general.

First, a little about my gaming library. I've been gaming since the early 1980s. That's an opportunity for a lot of gaming products. Prior to having kids expanding shelf space wasn't that big an issue but with these little people in the house I began putting rarely used gaming products into basement storage crates. With the advent of tablets I've begun preferring digital products over physical ones. I still buy the occasional gaming book, particularly for core books of games that I play or plan to play. I initially tried using a Kindle DX to read gaming pdfs but the performance of the Kindle …

Jules Verne Translations That Don't Stink

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Shortly after I graduated from college R. Talsorian published their fantasy steampunk RPG, Castle Falkenstein. Having missed out on Space: 1889 when it first came out this was my first steampunk RPG, though I had been exposed to the genre by Gibson and Sterling's novel The Difference Engine (a novel which, though I though I found the setting compelling, I did not particularly care for - must reread some day).

Jules Verne was one of the authors in the inspirational reading section of Castle Falkenstein. Heck, the game also made him into France's scientific advisor, having him responsible for their massive Verne Cannons which formed a sort of nuclear deterrent. 
With that in mind, one Sunday afternoon I was at a Barnes & Noble bookstore my new girlfriend (now my wife of nearly 16 years!).  On a whim I decided to pick up a Jules Verne novel. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That night I started reading it, never having read any of his works before but having vague memories of t…

RPG Review: The Ghost Tower of Inverness

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For whatever reason, I don't think I played C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness more than once or twice. Part of the reason, now that I think of it, is my grandmother needed the picture of the seer within it as a model for the Halloween costume she sewed for me - my grandmother was quite the seamstress but not particularly familiar with the fantasy genre.

The Ghost Tower of the title refers to the central tower of the castle of the dreaded wizard Galap-Driedel. The entire  Castle Inverness was magically lifted "from the very foundations of rock upon which it rested." Within the central tower was said to be the "Soul-Gem" which "dragged the souls of men screaming from their mortal flesh and trapped them within its many facets." When one day the wizard failed to return an angry mob (presumably with pitchforks and torches) stormed the castle and tore down the central tower. Though on fog-shrouded nights the central tower can supposedly still be seen (a &qu…

Story-Based Adventures

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Both my current and immediately previous campaigns could be considered "old school" campaigns. Right now I'm playing Dungeon Crawl Classics and my previous campaign was of Call of Cthulhu, something of a living fossil in that despite being in its 6th edition it is very close to the game it was when it started.

Despite this I don't necessarily consider myself to be an old school player and this blog has discussed newer games in addition to the older ones. I've enjoyed both flavors.

Reflecting on this has made me think of the transition from old school to new school gaming. In the 70s and early 80s most adventures, at least for D&D, had the slimmest of plots. There was typically a dungeon and sometimes there was a bit of a plot and reason for you to go there but these were usually easily changed. In his Grognardia blog, James Maliszewski has referred to this transition as the Hickman Revolution. Tracy Hickman wrote the Desert of Desolation series of adventures…

RPG Review: Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul

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I've a confession to make. Every time I think of the title to this game I keep visualizing it as "Villains Fowl" and expect something out of Howard the Duck...


With that mental image now in everyone's mind, let's talk about Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul, henceforth written as CC&VF. I've talked about the difficulties I've had in running a good superheroes game. Or more to the point, a good comic book superheroes game, one that feels like something out of comic books. For example, Wild Talents is an absolutely awesome game but what it excels at is, at least in my experience, more of a gritty superhero universe. The Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy would fit in perfectly in such a game as would Alan Moore's Watchmen. Where I've had problems is in trying to emulate the genre conventions of your typical superhero comic book. For example, having a story where Batman and Superman adventure together as equals. Managing a game where a fragile …

The Fine Art of Combat Avoidance

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"He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."

- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I've seen it mentioned on other blogs but I got to experience it myself in last night's Dungeon Crawl Classics game. It is something of a lost art to have characters not plunge into every encounter.

Starting with its 3rd edition, D&D is geared towards balanced encounters. This doesn't mean that an encounter is easy. Rather it means that for any given encounter the Dungeon Master has a pretty good idea what sort of challenge the encounter presents. Moreover, in a bit of meta-gaming, your typical player will know that any encounter is something that the party can reasonably expect to defeat.

In my earlier gaming days this was not always the case. First of all the idea of balance wasn't quite so prevalent in the games which I played. If you were trying to build a reasonable encounter you'd have to eyeball it, there were no real metrics as to what was reasonable aside …

Fiction Review: "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

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"Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end."

- Voice in Shadow's Dream, American Gods by Neil Gaiman


I've been on a bit of a superhero kick over the past few weeks. While that's certainly one of the things I wanted this blog to be about, it seems an appropriate time to segue back towards fantasy. A good way to do that would seem to be with a writer who has made that very journey. Initially known as a comic book writer, most notably for his landmark Sandman series, published by DC Comics from 1989 to 1996. I'll likely cover that series at some point in this blog. Around the time of the death of Superman stories I had begun tiring of superhero comics - it was around that time I discovered Sandman. Though the series had already begun it was one of the first series which regularly collected its previous stories into paperback and hardcover volumes. The S…

Personal Note

Been a little lax in posting this week. It's been a rough week. My wife, who has been a partially employed teacher (some long-term sub positions but nothing permanent) for two the past two years received an offer only to have it rescinded.

This is a brutal, brutal economy for people in the public sector.