Monday, February 28, 2011

The Fantasy Trip: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

While most of you were busy playing Dungeons and Dragons as youngsters, my go-to games were of the microgame variety.

Microgames like Melee, from Metagaming -- a rules-light, man-to-man (as well as beast and monster) fantasy combat system. Or Wizard, Metagaming's follow-on game, where you played a magic-user.

We played the heck out of those microgames during our lunch breaks, while attending middle-school back in the late 70's/early 80's. The entire Microgames line was touted and renowned for its' speed of play, and most of the early microgames had significant replay value.

Metagaming's line of microgames were reasonably popular during that company's heyday. Metagaming published at least five editions of Melee, before it was finally retired in favour of Advanced Melee. Pictured above (from my microgame collection) are the first, fifth and second editions of the game. The cover illustrations for those Melee editions are by Liz Danforth, Roger Stine and Clark Bradley respectively. I always preferred the Clark Bradley cover illustration, on the right. Not because it was in color, but because it captured the adventurer-party spirit of role-playing, while still retaining a look, unique to The Fantasy Trip, and apart from the Dungeons and Dragons art being promulgated at the time.

You may be asking why I could possibly need three copies of Melee. Hello, different artwork! :D

The Melee boxed set with the Stine cover is in the centre. I was never a big fan of his Melee and Wizard covers, nor of his covers for Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard and In The Labyrinth. Yes, with those covers, you knew what game you were playing, but the hyper-realism and plasticity of the figures in his illustrations was simply not my cup of tea.

As for owning four copies of Wizard, three of which are exactly the same, I really have no excuse. In my defense, you can never have too much of a good thing, and those three feature Clark Bradley's cover art.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Red Planet RPG

There are several things that I feel very strongly about.

One is that "hobbyist" game designers are producing games and game accessories that are just as ground-breaking and note-worthy as those produced by the so-called "professional" game designers.

Another is that people deserve to be recognized and compensated for their work.

Which brings me to Red Planet RPG. That game was written in 1990, and updated in 2005 (presumably to add the OGL, accompanying the current version of the game), by Clovis Cithog of Jasoomian Dreams. The cover illustration is by Elton Robb of The Atlantis Blog, with interior illustrations by Kris Todd and Patric Moore.

While not the first role-playing game to be based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian Chronicles (arguably, that honor goes to TSR's Warriors Of Mars), this early implementation of rules for a Barsoomian role-playing game is equally true to the source material, and will cost you significantly less to purchase.

For those of you familiar with the John Carter of Mars series, all of the recognizable Barsoomian elements are included: the races (red, green and yellow martians, therns, and black pirates); measurements (tals, xats, zodes, sofads, ads, etc.); weapons (radium weapons, rapiers); fliers; and, monsters (apts, banths, and white apes).

Red Planet RPG appears to be a very faithful adaptation of the Martian Chronicles, going into great detail regarding the setting, the peoples, culture and history of Barsoom.

Clovis has elected to utilize both class and skill systems for character generation and differentiation. I have no fatal objections to that approach; after all, that approach is basically how Traveller works, and Traveller is beloved by many old-schoolers. The classes and skills in Red Planet RPG are well-suited for the setting: classes include scientist, trooper, criminal, warrior and priest. The skills are likewise well-suited to a science-fantasy setting, with both fantasy and high technological skills included in the list.

Red Planet uses six abilities as the basis for character generation. Those abilities (Strength, Agility, Tenacity, Reason, Intuition and Persuasion) are roughly analogous to the six abilities in D&D. Hit points are also employed, along with saving throws and levels. Therefore, those familiar with the basic workings of D&D will have no difficulty grasping and employing this game almost immediately after digesting the flavour and setting of this game.

The combat system is more elaborate than what you will find in early iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. The combat system includes, for example, four separate critical hits tables, for blunt, energy, piercing and slashing weapons respectively. Though the combat system is a bit more detailed than the one I typically employ,this certainly adds some interesting cinematic (for lack of a better word) elements.

Red Planet includes spells for Priests, despite the fact that the author acknowledges that most priests in the Martian Chronicles are either frauds or charlatans. But what would a fantasy role-playing game be without spell-casters!

At 72 pages, Red Planet RPG is a lot of game, packed in a small package. As a hobbyist game-designer and publisher, Clovis Cithog is humble about his creation, and offers it at the bargain price of $10 to US residents. As I said at the start of this review, I feel strongly about trumpeting the remarkable achievements of the hobbyist game designers in our midst, and seeing them fairly compensated for their efforts. This game is a steal at $10.

If you are, or are contemplating, playing an RPG based on Burroughs' Martian Chronicles, this is one ruleset you should give serious consideration to.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dungeon Entrance To Die For, Part 2

Several weeks ago, I posted some illustrations and photos of the famous Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe, Le Puy. In my post, I mentioned how much I would love to get the floorplans to that Chapel, to use it as the entrance to a megadungeon.

The amazing Albert, of Catalonia, and Rorchach Hamster both sent me the link to the floorplans of the Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe, Le Puy. Much appreciated!

Considering the actual size of the chapel (based on the scale that accompanies it), i've doubled the size, so that the main chapel area is 30'x30', instead of its actual 15'x15'. That will necessitate a doubling of the size of the mountain's base and height, which means it would be over 500' high.

That's a lot of steps to climb.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Really? What's The Point?

Playing DnD 4E

Yes, it's true. I played DnD 4E on Sunday. The occasion? Some friends purchased the new "Essentials" line of DnD products for their son, and were looking for some players to try it out.

Here is a picture of the easel pad sheet taped to the wall, providing the rules for character actions. Having that sheet taped to the wall as a reference felt a little like being in a brainstorming session at work.

There were three 200-page rule books at the table (the Rules Compendium and two different Player's Handbooks) and I believe our friend also purchased a Dungeon Master's Kit. Having not already been familiar with the contents of those three books, it was a touch overwhelming, and we seemed to spend a fair amount of time refering to the rulebooks during combat.

We played through 3 combat encounters, and visited the local town for rumours, all in four hours of gaming time.

I enjoyed spending time with our friends. The DnD experience itself? Sure, i'd play the game with them again, but I find 4E to be too mechanical and combat-centric for my tastes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Claustrophobia: Better Than Ravenloft and Ashardalon?

I've missed most of the hype surrounding the new Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon Dungeons and Dragons boardgames. I'm hearing, though, that they are quite popular, with WOTC having to do a second print run on Castle Ravenloft due to its' popularity.

During the course of my recent surfing, I came across a dungeon crawl game out of Europe called Claustrophobia. It's a dungeon crawl game, in the vein of Heroscape and the new DnD boardgames, with lots of shiny bits and playing tiles to move your heroes around on.

What I found very attractive about Claustrophobia were the troglodyte minis that came with the game, who accompany the demon the characters must kill. While they are represented by a single pose, they had a very "Sahuagin" look to them, particularly when painted up with purple paint, as they are in this photo.

The Claustrophobia game has some very interesting mechanics, which make it pretty simple to track the health of your characters. As they are wounded, you eliminate certain combat and move options each character has. Once all of those options are eliminated, the character is dead.

It reminds me a little of one of my favorite games, Magic Realm. In Magic Realm, as you become wounded or fatigued, the same basic mechanic is applied: you lose certain fight, move and spell abilities. Once all of those abilities are gone, you are dead. It makes the health of your character, and her related abilities, easy to manage, as they are represented by counters that you set aside as they are wounded or fatigued.

I'm tempted to buy Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, along with Claustrophobia, although the price-point on all three are somewhat prohibitive.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Card-Based Dungeons And Dragons

Though not precisely old-school, A Pack Of Gnolls is one of the blogs on my reading list, as Sully makes some interesting observations and seems to appreciate the old-school aesthetic.

He recently published this Magic Mouth spell-card, which was designed for D&D 4E. In that version of the game, non-combat spells seem to have been reclassified as "rituals", which can be used on those rare non-combat situations.

It seems like a year or more since I last blogged about my D&D resource cards project. That project was my attempt to create small, 1" x 1.5" cards that could be used for resource management at the game table. Those cards included magic items, equipment, spells, rumours, and spell components.

I have not spent much time on that project of late, but the recent developments with 4E have me thinking again about this.

Would I love to have a set of spell-cards for Dungeons and Dragons, similar to the one designed by Sully, and accompanied by old-school artwork and descriptions of the spells? Absolutely. It would be great fun for the players to actually play the cards when they want to cast the spell, flipping it face-down when that spell has been used.

I think 4E adherants misunderstand the objections of many old-schoolers to the recent 4E resource and ability cards distribution. It's not the idea of cards at the table that has many of us shaking our heads. It is the blind, collectible format, where players must spend significant amounts of cash to ensure they collect the ultra-rare cards. The inevitable rebuttal from that crowd is that the cards are optional. Today, perhaps. The same can probably be said of M:TG cards. After all, I suspect it is not too difficult to print a copy of a rare M:TG card and place it in your deck, if you're simply playing a friendly Magic game with your friends.

If someone designed a set of D&D spell cards, for old-school tabletop gaming, i'd be all over those. I'm just not interested in buying them in a blind, collectible format.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

David Trampier And The Giant Spider

Here is another black and white David Trampier illustration, a full page treatment of an adventuring party and a Giant Spider. This illustration appears in the 1977 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.

I love the off-camera character, on the right side of the illustration, pointing at the giant spider, with the halfling beside him displaying a stunned or horrified look.

The rest of the party is clearly oblivious to their imminent doom, instead focused on some other off-camera dungeon feature, and only vaguely interested in the sticky web barring their way, with the fighter lazily attempting to cut through the strands. Or perhaps the magic user and dwarf are cautioning the fighter against or encouraging him into using the torch on the web.

Note that the fighter is not your buff, plated superhero, but looks to be rather modestly furnished with a backpack, sword and scale or chainmail armor. The dwarf seems to be wearing splint mail and has a shield strapped to his back. I think its also interesting that the fighter is the party member carrying the torch. Did it get passed to him just before the events depicted in this picture?

Another fine example of implied narrative from Tramp. How will this scene resolve itself? Will the party be surprised, and the fighter felled by the poison of the Giant Spider? Or will they notice the spider lurking above, and succeed in defeating it and collecting its treasure?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stock Ticker And Verisimilitude

Dungeons and Dragons is great fun, but sometimes you just want to play a game, right-out-of-the-box, without having to spend a lot of time preparing.

We've got a shelf-load of old-school board games that get a regular rotation at our house. Among those is Stock Ticker, which, like Monopoly or Payday is heavily governed by chance.

Still, there is an element of strategy to this game, and teaches those people playing a very important lesson about investing.


In Stock Ticker ,there are six investment categories: grain, industrials, bonds, oil, gold and silver. The movement of the investments are completely random, with one six-sided die determining which of the six investments is affected, one which determines the quantum of the change (5, 10 or 20), and one which determines whether the investment is going up, down, or paying dividends.

Because the movement of the investments is completely random, the player who puts all her money in one investment risks going completely bankrupt, if that particular investment goes bust.

In playing Stock Ticker, I have found very few games are won by players investing heavily in one, or a few investments. It is generally the player who has positions in all of the investments who wins.

This diversification strategy is generally true in the real world of investing, but is a near-absolute truth in the game of Stock Ticker. There is no way, prior to the start of a game of Stock Ticker, to predict which investment will perform better than another. Thus, it is illogical to select a Stock Ticker strategy that heavily favours one investment over another.

Part of the charm, and fun, of Stock Ticker is that the game moves fast, and there are few rules to remember. Roll the dice. Perform the action dictated by the dice. Buy. Sell. Repeat. At one point, to add some complexity to the game, we decided to create random event cards. But they were no less random that the dice-rolls themselves, and needlessly bogged down the game. Does Stock Ticker perfectly model the real world of investing? No, but it does communicate a valuable message about the value of diversification, and is fun to play at the same time.

A lot of game designers want to add verisimilitude and complexity to their games. You could do that with Stock Ticker. You could add features that allow the players to research which investments are likely to outperform others. Perhaps they can hire an investment manager, resulting in one or more re-rolls of an investment result the player dislikes. What about adding bull/bear features to the game, the knowledge of which allows the player to move gold or bonds up, every time stocks go down? You could introduce hedging rules, increase the number of available investments, perhaps even introduce market cycles.

At what point does a game cease to be an enjoyable diversion? I can think of myriad games that collapsed under the weight of their rules additions. Starfire was a great little starship combat game. Squad Leader was a fast and fun WWII combat simulator. Melee allowed you to run some simple man-to-man battles over lunch. All of those games saw their designers add more and more features and rules to the games. But as the level of verisimilitude and complexity went up, the enjoyment I derived from the games went down.

Reality is great. But if I want to play a versimilitudinous game of Stock Ticker, I might as well "make it interesting" and go and buy some real investments.

Mid-Winter Blues

The sky is gray, it's cold outside, and the snow is piled high around the driveway. The perfect prescription for the mid-winter blues!

This coming Monday (February 21) is Family Day, a provincial holiday created back in the early 1990's when the-then Premier of Alberta (your U.S. equivalent would be State Governor) discovered his son had been arrested for drug possession, and wanted to do something to encourage closer families.

Prior to that, it was quite a stretch between the holidays of New Year's Day and Good Friday.

Now, if they could just come up with some excuse for a statutory holiday in March...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Old School Monsters: Displacer Beast

At the risk of attracting the Hentacle and cosplay crowd, i'm going to post about the tentacled Displacer Beast (apparently the pet of the Dirty Pair), a criminally underutilized Dungeons and Dragons villain.

The Displacer Beast is no ordinary old-school monster. Simply describing the Displacer Beast as a monster fails to do justice to the Displacer Beast's potential.

The Displacer Beast is a fascinating addition to the DnD universe, appearing very early in the bestiaries of the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. The Displacer Beast dates back to the 1975 Greyhawk D&D supplement and is based on an antagonist created by A. Elton van Vogt in 1939. That creature is the Coeurl, and appears in the story "Black Destroyer". It, along with the Ixtl from van Vogt's "Discord In Scarlet", provided inspiration for the Aliens Movie cycle.

In Dungeons and Dragons, the Displacer Beast is described as a black, six-legged, puma-like creature, with at least two tentacles sprouting from its back. The original 1977 AD&D Monster Manual does not tell us how big it is. However, it has six hit dice, suggesting that it is fairly large.
In the DnD mythology, the Displacer Beast and the Blink Dog are described as mortal enemies, not surprising since Displacer Beasts are evil and Blink Dogs, good. Pictured above is a pack of Blink Dogs, chowing down on a dead Displacer Beast. This looks to be a David Trampier piece, but someone can correct me on that score. The bottom illustration from the 1977 Monster Manual is definitely Trampier.

The image below is from Tony DiTerlizzi's blog. He was the illustrator for the 1994 Monstrous Manual Displacer Beast. In the Monstrous Manual, we discover that the Displacer Beast is eight to 12 feet long. It's notable ability is that it appears to be "displaced" several feet from its actual position. A rather banal ability, which simply makes it more difficult to hit in combat. Yawn.

I say that the Displacer Beast is an underutilized villain, because the creature on which it is based makes for an interesting denizen within the first three levels of a dungeon. To give you a sense of its potential, I give you a passage from a review of Voyage of the Space Beagle, from The Quill & The Keyboard:

"Coeurl (the Displacer Beast) tries to pass himself off to the Earthmen as an animal worthy of study, but his insatiable hunger, criminal nature, and contempt for the primitive visitors exposes him to suspicion after he murders one of the crew. Soon it is a battle of wits as Coeurl keeps the Earthmen guessing while the explorers try to determine the alien's guilt and the extent of its incredible powers."

Not all dungeon denizens are meant to be fought, at least not initially. In the case of the Displacer Beast, this creature is better utilized as a source of adventure hooks.

In Voyage of the Space Beagle, the Coeurl needs to feed off the id of its' prey. What if the id is analogous to hit dice, and the Displacer Beast gets more bang-for-the-buck from those with higher hit dice?

To use a mathematical analogy, suppose that the satisfaction the Displacer Beast derives from feeding is the square of the hit dice. So a player, or monster that the Displacer Beast feeds on, that is 3rd level or three hit dice, provides nine times as much satisfaction to the Displacer Beast as a 1st level or one hit dice monster. He needs to eat nine first-level players to get the same satisfaction as one 3rd level monster.

The Displacer Beast then, rather than killing a party, encourages them to capture high hit dice monsters (say, a couple of Ogres that "stole and item from him") and bring them to him. The Players need not know that the Displacer Beast is using the party to feed his evil hunger.

The Displacer Beast may promise them rewards for doing so, and may be a reliable source of information, so the players acquiesce to the Displacer Beast's requests that they capture and deliver monsters to him. Eventually, however, the players should discover why the Displacer Beast is doing that, or they get to a sufficiently high level that the Displacer Beast views them as a tasty meal.

To protect the Displacer Beast from harm, at least initially, I would suggest that the Displacer Beast be able to create a field of darkness around itself, from which it parlays with the adventurers. Hints as to who is speaking from the darkness may be dropped, by occasionally having a tentacle wave from the darkness, and allow the dispel magic, light or dispel darkness spells to interfere with this creature's field of darkness ability.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dungeon Entrance To Die For

Among the fantasy tropes used to begin a megadungeon campaign is the abandoned monastery.

Legends tell of an abandoned monastery that was founded by an ancient order of warrior monks, who were tasked with the responsibility of containing some evil presence found beneath the site of the monastery. Over time, the monks either became complacent and abandoned their posts, or were corrupted by the evil they were charged to contain.

Now -- years, decades, or centuries later -- the evil beneath the abandoned monastery has grown to proportions significant enough to come to the attention of the players or their benefactors.

The players travel to the site to determine the threat posed by said evil presence and, if necessary, eliminate it.

The above illustration would be a neat hand-out, to present to the players as an illustration of what they see as the approach the abandoned monastery. But why use a black and white illustration, when you can hand them a photo of the actual freaking chapel!

This is the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel in Le Puy-en-Velay, France and was built some time around 962 A.D.

The entrance can be reached by climbing up 268 foot-high steps, carved on the exterior of the basalt extrusion that forms the mountain beneath the chapel.

Imagine having to climb that mountain every time you intended to begin your dungeon delve.

I would love to get the floorplans for this Chapel, and use it for an entrance to a megadungeon, with the dungeon proper following some endless staircase driving deep into the basalt extrusion and far beyond.

You could make the "endless staircase" the centerpiece of the dungeon architecture, with various levels hiving off, spoke-like, around a central staircase, complete with bottomless pit at its centre.

Zen And The Art Of Reciprocity

This whole business of follower maintenance has me thinking about the Art of Reciprocity. While waiting to get a haircut, I was reading an article on reciprocity, and it's application to business. Reciprocity is defined as responding to a positive action with another positive action. The Rule of Reciprocity states that when someone does something nice for us, we feel obligated to do something nice for them.

Reciprocity is a powerful concept, and is something that most of us learn without ever having to be explicitly taught it. The example used in the magazine article: your 10 year-old daughter is celebrating her birthday, and invites a child who she otherwise never plays with. The reason? "Because she invited me to her birthday party." Your 10 year-old understands reciprocity.

Now, to the whole issue of followers. As many of you will already know, i'm a populist. I believe in democracy, that everyone has something to contribute, and I believe in the power of collective action. Being a populist, I'm all for the encouragement of discourse, disclosure and the open exchange of ideas. The more we are talking, explaining, discussing, the more likely we can arrive at better ideas.

One of the ways I can encourage people to share their ideas on old-school gaming is to click on that little follow button, when I come across their blog. Why? Because by declaring that I am following someone, I am saying "your voice deserves to be heard", "you have interesting things to say", and "you matter."

That small act is very likely to be reciprocated in ways far beyond my simple click. That person is likely to continue blogging, since they are getting positive feedback through the follower tool. Through their blogging, they may post something that I can use in my game. And all it cost me was a 3-second click on the follower button.

Cyclopeatron and Tao of DnD make some excellent observations about what it means to be or have followers. I guess my point here is that, while what they say has merit, I will continue to publicly follow new blogs, without shame and without expectations, because I prefer more dialogue, more voices and more democracy. And since I understand the Rule of Reciprocity, i'm confident that my small act of generosity will be reciprocated in the future. So pay it forward, folks.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dungeon Scenery

I've posted before about my new-found interest in Dungeon Scenery. Dwarven Forge is well-known for its pre-painted dungeon scenery and tiles. Perhaps lesser known, but equally good, is Thomarillion, which sells unpainted scenery and other gaming elements and hails, if I understand correctly, from Germany.

Despite its continental location, it appears to also supply to North America. Here is an image from the Thomarillion website. It is a picture of five treasure piles, one of which would be fun to place in the corner, as a placeholder for whatever treasure is in a particular room the characters are exploring.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Creepy Music To Play By

I mentioned my use of the Diablo soundtrack in a recent gaming session report. I find few things creepier than a music box. So coming across this track on Youtube was fortuitous. There may be a creepier music box track out there, but this one has its own unique menace.

And here is a classic music box track, from "For A Few Dollars More." The great thing about music box tracks are that as the music slows down, the tension builds.

And finally, here's a music box track that is probably too familiar ... the Davy Jones / Calypso theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. More wistful than scary, though I think it could be used to amp up the tension by having it be a trap that must be disarmed, otherwise it springs once the music stops.

One idea would be to have a trapped music box where there are three dials, each with the letters A-Z on them. You need to spell the word "BOX" with the dials, and press the stop button before the music ends. Seems simple, but will players figure it out, with the music playing in the background, and the clock ticking down?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

DnD Minis Sets Cancellation And 5E

I've been on hiatus for the last six weeks, so I missed this news, about the cancellation of the DnD Minis sets. I'm reprinting the news here, simply because I find these news-content pieces often get moved or archived, and I have a hard time finding them later. This news item is taken whole-cloth from the website, and is credited to Michael Tresca.

Wizards of the Coast has announced that it will no longer release prepainted Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures sets. According to Bill Slavicsek in Dragon #395:

"We have made the decision to depart from prepainted plastic miniatures sets. Lords of Madness stands as the final release under that model. We will continue to release special collector’s sets (such as the Beholder Collector’s Set we released last fall), as well as make use of plastic figures in other product offerings. Check out the Wrath of Ashardalon board game next month for the latest example of this. Moving forward, we will continue to explore more options for players to represent characters and monsters on the tabletop, including Monster Vault and other D&D products that feature monster and character tokens."

Scott Thorne at ICv2 is not entirely surprised:

"I can actually understand the cancellation of the miniatures line. The rise in oil prices has driven up the price of plastic and the D&D Miniature line is not as hot a seller as it when the company promoted and supported it as a stand-alone product line. Though sales have remained respectable, with some stores I know reporting sales of several thousand dollars a year of the product line, movement of the product is nowhere near as large as it was two to three years ago."

What Thorne objects to however is an announcement buried further in Slavcsek's article:

"The Heroes of Shadow product, originally scheduled for March and presented in digest-sized, paperback format, is moving to April to accommodate a change to hardcover format. Additionally, three D&D RPG products have been removed from the 2011 release schedule—Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and Hero Builder’s Handbook. While this means fewer books, we plan to deliver just as much great content for players this year through other formats, including board games, accessories, and digital offerings. I’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest releases each month as we go along."

"Say what?" asks Thorne:

"Cancellation of an entire product line and three planned releases for the D&D line is something that should get announced to retailers directly, not second or third hand through a buried article on the WOTC website...The problem is the lack of communication. Retailers did not have any indication of this turn of events. During WOTC’s presentation at the Alliance Open House last fall, every indication was full steam ahead on the D&D Miniatures line, with a release of a new set of miniatures once a year and a full slate of D&D book releases. Now, less than 4 months later, no more miniatures line and a third of the promised D&D books will not hit the shelves until 2012 at least. This could be a good thing, if it increases demand for the scarcer releases but is also worrisome."

The new Dungeons & Dragons film was also announced in the Ampersand article:

"We just wrapped up a contest tied to the new Syfy Original Movie Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness. We’ll announce the winner shortly, and that lucky individual will get to play his or her D&D character in the film. Our own Dungeon Master to the Stars, Chris Perkins, has been consulting with screenwriter Brian Rudnick and helping to get the D&D details right."

The drastic change in Wizard of the Coast's production schedule has sparked speculation that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is on the horizon. George Strayton, a D&D blogger and closely affiliated with WotC as playtester, and co-writer of the new D&D film mentioned above, speculates that 5th edition will be announced on GenCon this year and released in 2012.
Strayton admits this is largely conjecture, but his opinion carries some weight due to his credentials:

"As for a source, I honestly don’t have one. This is my conjecture based on having worked as the high levels of a big RPG company, the current state of affairs of the hobby (with the splintering of the game), my knowledge of Hasbro (including all my work on the TRANSFORMERS films), the recent announcement by Bill, and my gut feeling."

I'm not shocked by the cancellation of the D&D Miniatures Sets line. The fact that they cancelled the D&D Miniatures game reduced the demand for the miniatures, in the prior blind, collectible format. That was compounded by the subsequent and confusing changes in the delivery method, release delays, a perceived drop in value/quality and increases in price-per-mini. Is it possible they will be re-tooling and selling the minis as themed sets, for specific adventures? That's something I would be interested in seeing, depending on the implementation.

The random painted WOTC D&D minis were convenient, if you could purchase them from re-sellers who broke apart the cases, but there are other minis out there, like the Reaper pre-painted minis line, and unpainted miniatures. This announcement will provide additional impetus to get back to painting my several hundred unpainted minis!

As for speculation that 5E is in the works, i'd like to believe that a system re-boot would be an improvement over 4E, but if the new fortune card-based system is any indication, 5E will be even further removed from the type of Dungeons and Dragons i'm interested in playing. Thank goodness for the OGL and the OSR.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Playing DnD With Tween Stars

I mentioned the other day that I ran a 6-hour Dungeons and Dragons session for my son's 12th Birthday party. Here is a photo of that gaming session.

One of the important responsibilities of the Dungeon Master is to know his/her audience, and tailor the adventure to the interests of the participants. In preparation for the DnD session, I was coursing around for a suitable adventure to use. I struck upon the idea of mining some of the Disney and other animated movies, as source material for the adventure, but work and household responsibilities left me with little preparation time. As the day of the birthday party loomed, I had about 40 pages of notes and no prepared adventure.

Pre-packaged adventures to the rescue!

I decided to run an adventure that had been calling to me, ever since I bought it several months ago: Tower of the Stargazer, by James Raggi. I find that adventure attractive because it appeals to my particular style of game-play. I like exploration and tricks/traps, and generally distain combat-oriented adventures.

I ran Tower of the Stargazer for 7 participants: my son, eldest daughter, and five of my sons tweeny friends. All but two of his friends had played DnD before, and after rolling up characters (a ghost, baby dragon, three fighters, a wizard and a na`vi) we got down to the adventure. That is where things went sideways. While I presumed the tweens would like an exploration and problem-solving game, most quickly got bored, one throwing himself down a set of stairs to kill himself, another wandering off to the food table, and three others engaging in some in-game hi-jinks. Only two were interested in the exploration, having a great time playing with the equipment at the top of the Stargazer`s tower. After two TPK`s, we took a 15-minute break to sing Happy Birthday and eat some cake.

Back to the table, we rolled up some new characters, and played The Dark Vale adventure instead. The Dark Vale is published by Dark City Games, and is designed for the Legends of the Ancient World game, a The Fantasy Trip (TFT) clone. It is combat-heavy (at least half of the events are combat-only), which gave the tweens lots of opportunities to roll dice, experiencing the highs of timely hits, and the agony of misses. It`s also a straight-up scavenger hunt, with the players given explicit instructions at the beginning of the adventure about the four items that must be gathered to complete it. This seemed to work better for the tweenies, rather that the open-ended, non-explicit goals of the Tower of the Stargazer adventure.

I`m still very fond of the Tower of the Stargazer adventure, but i`m going to have to find a different audience for that adventure, one that has more focus and inquisitiveness, and is less enamoured with dice-rolling.

I was happy to hear, from the parents of several of the attendees, that the kids had a great time, and the two tweens who never played DnD before have been begging their parents to buy them more DnD game materials. While we sent all the kids home with a miniature, a Swords & Wizardry whitebox players handbook, Mike's awesome S&W reference sheets, a set of dice, a deck of Piazo item cards, pencil, eraser and character sheets, they want more materials.

The tweens left the party on a high-note, as they had located one of the four items needed to complete the adventure. All of them expressed interest in continuing the game, so hopefully we can gather those kids up again and finish it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Old-School Gaming: Playing Diablo

Last weekend, in recognition of my son's 12th birthday, we bought him a copy of Spore, a game that is all the rage with his contemporaries at middle school. His two sisters, meanwhile, bought him an old-school crpg game, Diablo, in battle-chest form, which includes Diablo's I and II.

I've mentioned before that during my hiatus from D&D, Diablo was one of my favorite computer games. Released in 1997, I remember playing the heck out of this game, prior to my son's birth. If I remember correctly, we lent that game to one of my spouse's work colleagues, and it was never returned to us.

The arrival of another copy of Diablo into the house provided the opportunity to play Diablo once more. I suspect my spouse enjoyed more Diablo screen-time over the last week than I, but I did finally manage to wrestle the game from her, and fight through the first four levels and attain 12th level as the Warrior.

Even after all these years, Diablo does not disappoint. The graphics, though somewhat rough by today's standards, provide enough realism and interest to keep me engaged. Looking at the scenery makes me want to get out my Hirst Arts molds and cast and build some walls, stairs and floors, in homage to the look of Diablo.

As part of the birthday celebrations, I also ran a six-hour D&D session for my son and 6 other pre-teens. I played the music from the Diablo Dungeons levels while we played, and the kids were freaked out by it, even though they've never played Diablo, and there were no scary images accompanying the music.

Goes to show the power of that early Diablo soundtrack, that even without the images, the music can still evoke fear and discomfort.