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Showing posts from 2017

On Realizing the 1980s Have Become a Historical Setting

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Back in my day we didn't have cell phones or text messages or Snapchat. If you wanted to make plans with someone you called their house, maybe asked their parents or siblings to get them on the phone. And you had to plan out where and when to meet like you were planning an amphibious assault. And we liked it. We loved it!

I've been looking through some old 1980s games, either old ones from my collection or new acquisitions. I've realized if I were to, for example, play a game of 1st edition Chill or Top Secret, my inclination would be to run it as a historical game as opposed to running it in the present. Chill has a modern day 3rd edition and a new, modern day version of Top Secret is being made. But to me, those classic games really feel rooted in the eras in which they were made. That's not to say they couldn't be adapted to modern times - and Chill would also work great as a Victorian-era game.

Not all games from that era scream their time periods as much. For…

Chill 1st Edition First Impressions

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It's very strange doing a "first impressions" type of review of a game from 1984 but Chill was one of those games that I never managed to get ahold of when it first came out. I remember the numerous advertisements in Dragon magazine at the time for Pacesetter Ltd. RPGs - they all looked interesting to me but alas, my middle and high school funds to did not allow me to pick them up. Though for some reason I was sorely tempted to splurge on Chill so I could get the Elvira adventure compilation. I suspect puberty may have had something to do with that...


I've recently had the opportunity go through the original game. It's definitely an old-school game, based around percentile-based ability scores and skills. There are two types of task rolls, general and specific checks. A general check is a straight percentile roll, looking to roll equal to or below your stat. With a specific roll you do a lookup on a table to see how well you did, using your margin of success to …

Saltmarsh in Hyperborea

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In our Hyperborean campaign I've been adapting the AD&D 1st edition Saltmarsh series for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

There's spoilers here for the entire series so if you're unfamiliar with the adventures and have reason to want to stay that way, you might want to hold off reading.

Alrighty... So the Saltmarsh series is marked by a series of discoveries:

A "haunted" house is being used by smugglers.Those smugglers have been selling weapons to a group of lizard men alarmingly close to Saltmarsh. The lizard men were kicked out of their original lair by sahuagin. Who also pose a threat to Saltmarsh...The lizard men have been assembling an alliance of aquatic folk against the sahuagin. So how does this fit in Hyperborea? With its long winters, Hyperborea is a horrible place for cold blooded creatures like the lizard men. I posit they must go into a long torpor as their swamps freeze over. 
In the current 13-year cycle, these lizard men ha…

Adventure Writeup: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Part Two

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Based on the TSR adventure of the same name written by Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull. Tweaked to fit in the Hyperborean setting.

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 26
Cast of characters:

Aaron Cèampach, Kelt WarlockHoom Feethos, Hyberbrean ThiefMorrow, Pict DruidSaratos Ochôziakos, Ixian FighterSarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian WitchWilliam "Billy" Welsh - Common Human PyromancerHenchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê:


Tai, Medium InfantrymanZell, Heavy Infantryman
Random tied-up dude found in the upper floor of the house: Ned Shakeshaft, "thief" (or is he?)
See also Part One.
Peeking their heads up in the attic the adventurers didn't find anything of interest (and in so doing, avoided a nest of stirges hiding up there) and went down to the basement. The basement was a wine cellar, though alas all the bottles and casks were broken. Investigating a dead body, Tai was infested by a rot grub which, despite Billy's pyromancy, proceeded to kill him. Searching further, they…

"The Last of Us" from an RPG Perspective

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With a two week break between classes at Brandeis, I had a little bit of time to goof off and make use of the PS4 I received as a birthday gift last month. I finally made my way through Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. This isn't really a review of the game, there's about a gazillion out there on the internet - though I will give a brief overview of it. I'll also note there are spoilers about the game in this post so if you've not played it and want to play it unspoiled, you should read no farther. A bit unlikely for a game released in 2013, but just in case...

The Last of Us tells the tale of Joel and Ellie in a post-apocalyptic world. Joel is a survivor of the original outbreak in his late forties. Ellie is 14 and for unknown reasons, is immune to the infection.

In September of 2013 a mutant Cordyceps fungus wipes out civilization. Cordyceps is a real kind of fungus and is a parasite, with some species able to alter the host's behavior. Luckily for us, Cordyceps…

First Impressions of "The Orville"

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I'd not really been plugged in to the fact that Seth MacFarlane had created a science fiction show until I started seeing people on my Facebook feed talking about The Orville - some people claiming it was the "real" Star Trek show as opposed to Star Trek Discovery. 

The Orville is a comedy-drama science fiction show strongly inspired by the original Star Trek. That's not surprising given MacFalane's well known love of that show. I'm not a huge MacFarlane fan - I've probably only caught an episode or two of Family Guy though I will acknowledge Ted as a guilty pleasure. I'm sure Mila Kunis starring in that had nothing to do with it...

As of this writing, The Orville has aired four episodes, so it's still a little early in the run. It is about the crew of the exploration ship Orville - no big surprise there. Her captain is Ed Mercer, a once up and coming officer whose career stalled after his divorce. The only first officer available to him is his ex…

Actual Play Review: Cthulhu Dark

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With a brief break from our Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea game taking place due to some travel going on in our group, we recently had the opportunity to try out Cthulhu Dark. It was just three of us, myself and two players, which in my experience can work pretty well for horror games.

Cthulhu Dark is designed for Lovecraftian horror. It is about as stripped down a set of rules as I could imagine. Your investigator has a name, a description, and an occupation. He or she has one stat, Insight, which begins at 1. If it reaches 6, your investigator is pretty much insane. Game over, man.

How do you resolve tasks? It's pretty straightforward. If your task is something a human could do you doll a d6. If it is related to your occupation, you roll another d6. Finally, if you are willing to risk your mind to succeed you can roll an Insight Die. You pretty much always "succeed" unless Failure Dice are bing rolled. Your overall roll is the highest of all your d…

Thoughts on Final Frontier Gaming

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It's been a very long time since I've played a Star Trek RPG - around a dozen years I'd estimate. I'd flirted with the idea of playtesting the new Star Trek RPG but we were in the middle of a campaign I was rather enjoying. With Star Trek Discovery about to premier I've been flipping through some of my old Star Trek stuff as well as the new RPG.

There's a lot to recommend the Star Trek universe for RPGs. The original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation are great examples of episodic adventures. While I often dream of a 200-part campaign of tightly interlinked adventures, reality tends to make such things difficult in the extreme. A Star Trek campaign offers characters a mobile "town" that can visit adventure locations. One adventure can be high-octane adventure, the next can be an exercise in diplomacy, the next a murder mystery.

Deep Space Nine showed that a 173-part campaign is possible in the setting of Star Trek, as an outpost becomes the…

What's Shiny? September 2017 Edition

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Continuing the occasional series of shiny stuff that is capable of distracting me...

The fortunate thing is there's a new edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea that just came out. It's good when the shiny is actually what you are currently playing - and that it's backwards compatible.

We're going to be down to just three of us for a few games in late-September early-October so we might be doing a standalone adventure/two-parter. I've been giving some serious consideration to Cthulhu Dark as I'm curious how we'll find the extremely lean rules system.

I've been doing a lot of espionage viewing and reading over the past month or so. It's resulted in me flipping through Top Secret a lot - though I am finding the hand to hand combat rules a bit tough on the brain. I've also been thinking about Cthulhu and company in such a setting. There's a bunch of games and/or supplements designed just for that... I've been reread…

First Impressions of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition

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I just received my backer PDF for the 2nd edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Often when a backer PDF is released I'm playing something else so sometimes it may take days or even weeks until I get around to downloading it. Since I'm actually GM-ing an AS&SH campaign currently, I actually downloaded it right away.

I've given the original version of the game a review as well as a more recent actual play impressions. This isn't a full review of the new edition - I've only had time for a quick skim. But from that skim it's worth noting that the game hasn't changed - there's some rearrangement here and there, some tweaks, and a bunch of additions. So it's important to note that my earlier reviews are still very much applicable. Indeed, unlike many games, the fact that this is a new edition isn't even advertised on the cover. This reminds me of the way revisions to the D&D Basic and Expert sets were released in the…

Film Review: The Falcon and the Snowman

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I was discussing grittier spy movies with a member of my gaming group and this film was recommended to me. It's one of those movies that I have a vague recollection of - it might be from hearing the basics of the events this film is based on or it might be from catching it on television. Released in 1985 it is based on events that happened in the 1970s (which is when it takes place).

Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn play Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee, young adults who have a friendship going back to childhood back when they were altar boys together. Boyce has just dropped out of the seminary and his father gets him a job at RTX, a government contractor. Despite having only a high school diploma, Boyce is very bright and does well at the company - and having an ex-FBI guy as father helps. He eventually gets assigned to the "Black Vault" stores top secret documents and receives secret transmissions. Boyce becomes very disillusioned as CIA teletype transmissions are occasi…

Reflections on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

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A few weeks ago, my older daughter Victoria and I paid a brief visit to Manhattan. Vicki's been giving some thought to going to New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (still a few years to go for that) but one thing we wanted to make certain of was that she'd be comfortable with the city itself - she'd only been there once before, and that almost ten years ago.

Overall it was a great trip. She fell in love with the city. I got to meet someone from my virtual gaming group for coffee - it's always nice to really meet with people I initially get to know via email, social media, and webcams. I'm looking forward to meeting a number of people next June at North Texas RPG Con.

One thing I wanted to make certain we did was spend some time at the World Trade Center. For Vicki  (and her younger sister, Jasmine, who chose to stay home in Massachusetts with mom), 9/11 will always be a matter of history. We first found out Vicki was on the way on the Saturday after 9/1…

Adventure Writeup: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Part One

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Based on the TSR adventure of the same name written by Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull. Tweaked to fit in the Hyperborean setting.

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 26
Cast of characters:


Aaron Cèampach, Kelt WarlockHoom Feethos, Hyberbrean ThiefMorrow, Pict DruidSaratos Ochôziakos, Ixian FighterSarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian WitchWilliam "Billy" Welsh - Common Human Pyromancer Henchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê:
Tai, Medium InfantrymanZell, Heavy Infantryman
Zell told his employers about the legend of a haunted house near his hometown of Saltmarsh, a fishing town located about.a day's sail from Kromarium. There might even be a reward from the town council.

Seeking adventure, the band traveled to Saltmarsh, a moderately sized town of approximately 2,000. To quote the original adventure...


Four miles east of Saltmarsh, just inland of the old coast road and looking out to sea, stands the Haunted House. Until twenty years ago it had been the residence of an aged alchemist/magi…

Random Thoughts on Stale Beer Espionage Gaming

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“Intelligence work has one moral law - it is justified by results.”
― John le Carré, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
With John le Carré's A Legacy of Spies coming out this week I've been rereading his George Smiley novels. Doing so has been getting me thinking about espionage RPGs.
I don't have a ton of experience running or playing in espionage RPGs. I've been involved in a number of one-offs using Top Secret, Top Secret S/I, and James Bond. Back in my middle school and high school days of the 1980s such games tended to emulate the James Bond movies - some investigation/information gathering, with a lot of thrilling chases. 
A lot of Call of Cthulhu gaming over the past several years has taught me that gaming can be quite exciting with a high degree of tension with minimal combat. In Call of Cthulhu combat is dangerous. If you need to fight someone, your best bet is to ambush. A fair fight is dangerous, even for someone with a high degree of military training.
I…

On the Use of Henchmen in OSR Games

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When I first starting playing D&D in the 1980s, Charisma was the most common dump stat. We pretty much ignored the rules on hirelings and henchmen.
From what I've read online, our experience was not unique. However, I've also seen for many groups henchmen were an important component of the early game and the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide bears this out, with considerable space dedicated to the acquisition and loyalty of henchmen.
In our AS&SH game, one of the players had two characters, both of whom had high Charisma scores. He decided to use some of his starting cash to hire some mercenaries. It wound up being an extremely good investment - giving the party additional firepower while at the same time giving the monsters additional targets to aim for. I suspect should the henchmen survive up to the point where the characters make it to second level, I might allow the henchmen to gain a little bit of experience and reach 1st level, with an eye towards allowing them…

RPG Review: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

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We're currently working our way through The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh in our AS&SH game. It adapts pretty well and at a later point I might write up about adapting the series. This post however is simply a brief review of the adventure itself. If you're in my group it's probably best to hold off in reading this until we're done, though I'd not be surprised if some or all of you have played or run this in the past, as it is a fairly common adventure from the 1st edition...

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is an adventure from the UK branch of TSR, copyrighted to 1981. It has a bit of a different feel from most adventures of the period. It has a bit of a heavier plot than most adventures back then - it's not like later adventures which sometimes go so far as to render player decisions moot. Rather it has a set of NPCs with their own agenda who aren't likely to sit waiting for the PCs to arrive.

Saltmarsh is a two-part adventure as well as being the firs…

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea: Actual Play Impressions

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Including a character generation session, we had our third session of AS&SH last night. I reviewed it over four years ago but sometimes there's a world of difference between reading a game and playing it. So how does it play?

As I've mentioned, as far as the rules go it is in many ways a cleaned up version of AD&D. A bit more complicated than Swords & Wizardry but nothing anyone with gaming experience would have trouble with.

Having played it a few sessions there's a few things that I've noticed in play. First, despite being based on AD&D, the lack of demi-humans makes a big difference, even when you aren't going for deep immersion characterization. It definitely gives off the swords & sorcery vibe that the game is going for. While it lacks multi-classing, it does give some sub-classes that represent a number of fantasy and swords & sorcery tropes. For example, it is possible to play the traditional fighter/magic-user as a warlock. They fav…

Adventure Writeup: Rats in the Walls

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This writeup isn't designed to be a work of fiction, it's primarily an aid to my group to summarize what transpired in our adventure. Based on Jeffrey Talanian's adventure of the same name, which was in turn inspired by HP Lovecraft's short story "The Rats in the Walls".

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 4
Cast of characters:

Aaron Cèampach, Kelt WarlockHoom Feethos, Hyberbrean ThiefMorrow, Pict DruidSaratos Ochôziakos, Ixian FighterSarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian WitchWilliam "Billy" Welsh - Common Human Pyromancer Henchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê: Tai, Medium InfantrymanZell, Heavy Infantryman
Our bold adventurers had paid a visit to the dockside tavern of the Silvery Eel in Hyperborea's greatest city, Khromarium. They'd heard it was a place to find adventure - even that the tavern keeper might have work he needed doing.
They learned that Xill Vuntos, tavern keeper, was dealing with an unusual rat problem. Rats, many of these rodents b…

#RPGaDay 2017 Instrument of Surrender

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I thought I'd be able to catch up on this year's RPGaDay upon my return from Manhattan but I've come down with a cold that I'm fairly certain is Captain Trips from The Stand. I've been alternating between sleeping and painful coughing. This has also caused me to miss out on some grad school work. Once I'm feeling a bit better that will need to be my priority.

Star Wars D6 Lives

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On August 11, when describing the Dead Game I'd Most Like to Return I nominated the original D6 Star Wars. Yesterday, just five days later, while waiting for a subway train I received an email from a player in our gaming group sharing with me the news that Fantasy Flight Games had just announced a limited edition reprint of the original D6 Star Wars game and its first sourcebook.
I'm going to live with the illusion that someone at Fantasy Flight Games read my post and made the arrangements in record time.
In all seriousness, I'm quite happy with this news. I've played D6 Star Wars recently and it has aged remarkably well. 

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 7 - Most Impactful Session

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I'm going to be a little loose with my definition of impactful. I've made some friendships in games that are older than my kids, and that's certainly impactful. Though friendships grow and diminish over time typically.

Probably for me though was when a bunch of us got together in the apartment my wife and I used to live in in the late 1990s. It was me, her, and two of her co-workers, gathered together to play Star Trek by Last Unicorn Games. Though I'd gamed off and on throughout the 1990s with family and friends, I hadn't had a regular gaming group since the 1980s. That game kicked off a series of campaigns that has had me playing pretty much constantly, albeit with hiatuses here and there, since then. The members of the group have changed and it's transitioned to a pure virtual group, but I've been fortunate to have regular gaming since that point.

#RPGaDay 2017 Days 14-17 - Catching Up From Vacation

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I just spent a few days with my eldest daughter in New York City and was way too exhausted to write at night... So here goes a super-quick catch-up...

Day 14 - RPG For Open-Ended Campaign Play I like Call of Cthulhu for an open-ended campaign. While characters do advance, they tend not to ever get so powerful that they have nothing to fear. Indeed, as characters learn more magics they may find themselves close to insanity. Death, insanity, and retirement take many characters out of play but it is possible to add replacement characters to a group, to the point where there may be no original characters yet the campaign continues.
Day 15 - RPG I Enjoy Adapting the Most I've done well using Fate for Star Wars and I've begun thinking of other ways it could be adapted.
Day 16 - RPG I Enjoy Using As-Is I've found Call of Cthulhu works incredibly well as it is. It fits its genre well and has begun adding dials to make for pulp style experiences.

Day 17 - RPG I've Had the Long…

#RPGaDay 2007 Day 13 - A Game Experience That Changed How I Play

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For me, possibly the most transformative experience was shifting from a physical to virtual table. It's something we did in stages, but the first stage was probably the most important - a simple webcam connecting us with a player who moved away but wanted to keep gaming.

Over time we added bells and whistles - discovering tools like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 but the actual act of managing a remote game for the first opened a doorway for me and my group - a group which has people scattered east of the Mississippi River now...

#RPGaDay 2017 Day 12 - RPG With Most Inspiring Interior Art

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This is more of a "show, don't tell". For me, the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide has the most inspiring interior art. From dramatic to goofy it sets the stage for an AD&D game. An almost-but-not-quite medieval society, with the influence of magic and monsters clearly evident.