Saturday, January 19, 2013

NOT a review: Dyson's Delves Limited Edition Hardcover IS...

Pronounceth Spawn:

I got my copy of Dyson's Delves, the limited edition hardcover version, the other day from Lulu. This isn't a review since I haven't used it in play yet. I've just been reading it and looking at it and walking around my house with it and enjoying the thing as a physical, non-computer-enslaved object.

Saying the work of Dyson Logos is awesome (or even AEWSUM!!!!1!!) is like saying water is wet, charcoal is black, bacon is delicious, and so on. The reader learns nothing new about the subject with such descriptions of the obvious. Hence this is not a review.

Why buy this book when you can just download many of his maps for free? you might ask. Aside from the new material he's added and the clean layout ... and the thing is handy-sized and lays flat, and there are so many sweet maps right there in your hand and you don't have to be looking at a fucking computer to use them ... well, perhaps in terms of a stunted marginal-utility theory there is no point in buying this book.

But seeing so much quality work in one small package rather than having it stretched out over years of blog posts is impressive to me. Much easier to flip through a book than flip through a blog. I'm so happy this book exists, because -- yes there's all the 'inspiration' you can get from it, and even multiple layers of nostalgia if you remember the original post or have played one of these dungeons -- you get to see one person's style and sense of the B/X paradigm concentrated in one object. And it's all The Goods and none of the BS: no polemic; no "The Way The Game Used to Be" essay; no "What's an RPG?" introduction; no "Rah! Rah! OSR!". Just balls-out quality stuff on its own terms. It makes me want to play B/X D&D because it's self-exemplary of all the best, most challenging and fun aspects of the system, while not being system-exclusive.

For me this book stands alongside other recent idiosyncratic works I'm stoked by, like The Dungeon Alphabet and Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. In the after-times when the e-media evaporate I may still have these books as I negotiate the post-apocalypse.


Friday, January 18, 2013

I'm Pro-Fun

Humor in games has been on my mind lately, since Cyclopeatron mentioned it in a comment to this post, and James M. discussed it quasi-recently on Grognardia. Humor is also a core feature of Tunnels and Trolls, which I have been promoting of late. I suppose I have always been a firm proponent of humor in RPG's, largely for pragmatic reasons: I am clownish by nature, favoring comedy over other modes, so I find it constitutionally impossible to resist placing "funny stuff" into the campaign in certain areas.

For example, I love funny names for places (Bull-Licker Terrace, Snotream Harbor) and people (Ox-Head, Fish-Breath). Or, another: I want combat itself to be deadly and for real stakes to exist, yet my descriptions of foe deaths are usually excessive and pretty grotesque and/or scatological, e.g.:

"You slice open his stomach, and his last three half-digested meals spray out onto the floor. As he scrambles around on all fours, screaming in agony as he tries to gather up his spilled intestines, your final blow kills him and he falls to the floor. He flatulates horribly as he expires."

I think the core REASON I enjoy deploying humor into my campaigns is because I actually believe in fun. I want my game sessions to be fun. While I acknowledge the truth and beauty in the ideals set forth by James Raggi in his seminal essay "I Hate Fun," I guess at the end of the day, I am a somewhat lazy, low-genre type of guy and I want my cheap thrills and I want my fun. 


Mind you, I am aware that Raggi's post title is meant to be provocative, and that his real argument is not against fun per se but more against players who feel entitled to certain types of comfortable, predictable, non-deadly fun. I am largely in sympathy with Raggi's "anti-fun" position, and by claiming to like fun in my RPG's I am NOT disagreeing with a passage like this one:

"People out there have gotten the idea that if their precious imaginary equipment owned by their precious imaginary man is taken away from them, their fun has been sabotaged!

"The clue phone is ringing, and it’s a collect call for these fun-seekers: YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LIKE IT. Goddamn, risk and challenge and failure are as much part of role-playing as prancing around like Errol Flynn… er, sorry, Legolas (sorry, wouldn’t want to make a reference that the average modern person wouldn’t know off the top of their head) or something. Shit out there is trying to KILL YOU and there are critters out there that will fuck you up but good if you’re unlucky or not careful.

"What part of, 'The giant spider bites you… oh, you blew your save… roll up a new character!' is supposed to be fun or heroic? Obviously the game was built on a different type of satisfaction."

This is well stated. I too believe in creating a dangerous campaign universe and letting the dice fall as they may and saying FUCK BALANCED ENCOUNTERS. But I also want there to be some levity and laughter and pure, unadulterated fun mixed into my experience at the gaming table. And I don't mean non-diegetic, out-of-game fun like non-gaming-related jokes and the like, which are okay but best kept to a minimum IMO. Rather, I mean IN-GAME-WORLD levity and funny names and comedic weirdness and silly fun. This is a FANTASY world I'm running here, people, and so it can be whatever my players and I wish it to be! In my case, that means a place that is to some extent Monty Pythonesque and silly.

I think most of my players enjoy this humorous style of mine but it may be that some just tolerate it long enough to get back to other more serious and/or exciting parts for them. Overall, my players and I co-create a wide array of gaming experiences at our sessions, including boring ones, and occasionally downright un-fun ones, but also epic ones, and harrowing ones, and brain-teasingly mysterious ones, etc. So it runs the gamut.

But at the end of the day, I am pro-fun.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Supported Deluxe T&T

Today was payday; after paying a few essential bills and buying some much-needed toilet paper, my next priority was to make a $28 pledge to the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Kickstarter campaign. The new edition of T&T has already met its funding goal, but I nevertheless encourage you to get in on the action. As I have discussed before, T&T is a delightfully fun, easy to play, and historically significant FRPG that really belongs in almost any gamers' collection. And at these prices, who can refuse? The Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Kickstarter page reveals that one can get a pdf of the new edition at the low pledge level of $14; or you can pledge $28 like I did to get the softcover edition of the book (plus pdf); or ratchet up to the $60 pledge level to get the hardback version (plus pdf).

The Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Kickstarter campaign ends on Tuesday, February 5th.

I am very excited about the new edition, and encourage you to read this blog post or this one for insight into what it will include. In brief (from the Kickstarter description):

"The minimum we intend to deliver is a book of at least 200 pages (and possibly a lot more) wherein designer Ken St Andre lays out new rules, including new options for character creation, better methods of character development, new playable kindreds, and new personas like Paragon, Specialist and Citizen.

"The book gets a complete graphic make-over, including new art and old favorites, and a new cover painted by Liz Danforth.

"The game will play much the same as it did in the 70s and 80s, and be backwards compatible to existing modules and adventures. It will still be fun, lightweight and customizable."

Wow! To me, the new Danforth art alone is worth the price of admission. Not yet convinced? Then watch this somewhat hyperbolic yet amusing video:

The take-home message: make your pledge to the Deluxe T&T Kickstarter, and see also Trollhalla, Ken St. Andre’s online home base for the T&T community.

Image copyright Liz Danforth

UPDATE: I'M IN THE VIDEO! Upon watching the Deluxe T&T promotional video a second time, I caught something: if you watch closely right around the 4:50 mark, you can see an image of me from OSRCon holding up my T&T 5th Edition Rulebook!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Carter's Appendix N


Inspired by Cyclopeatron, my new Upstate New York NEIGHBOR, I now offer my own Appendix N, which is kind of a deeper rethinking and synthesizing of some ideas I originally posted here and here:

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
As I have confessed beforeThe Hobbit and the LotR trilogy collectively constitute one of the strongest influences on how I view heroic fantasy and how I referee D&D. The Lands of Ara setting gets its single largest dose of "creative DNA" from Tolkien's Middle Earth. Like many Fantasy RPG'ers, when I picture a hobgoblin, it is The Hobbit’s hobgoblins I see. All of the action around Smaug's Lair -- the thrush knocking, Bilbo's sneaking in, etc. -- is totally iconic for me. And The Fellowship of the Ring's Mines of Moria are pretty much the scariest and most inspiring fantasy adventure locale I've ever read about -- note that Balrogs haunt my campaigns to this day. Thus, while I have always had a bit of gonzo in me -- especially where robots, dinosaurs, and inter-dimensional travel are concerned -- and also run things in a tonally lighter and more comedic vein than Tolkien does, I am forced to admit that The Professor's sense of his world, and the sense of history embodied by the races and setting of Middle-Earth, have been extraordinarily potent influences upon me as a sandbox-constructor.

Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles of Amber
Although I read these books awhile after my first early forays into sci-fi and fantasy, The Chronicles of Amber have exerted the second-strongest long-term influence upon me after The Lord of the Rings. Corwin of Amber is probably my all-time favorite fictional protagonist, and the first-person point of view and the gonzo setting of the Amber books simply can't be beat. These books deeply influence how I see magic and multiple dimensions working and interacting -- in fact, certain legendary Lands of Ara NPCs like Morag the Arch-Summoner* exist largely because of how captivating I find the concept of the princes of Amber and Chaos sneaking between dimensions via manipulation of Shadow. It rocks! And Zelazny's imaginative integration of mythical and folkloric beasts into the whole setting is damn memorable too. Hmm, perhaps it's time for a re-read?

Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars etc.
I read ERB's Barsoom books early, like in seventh grade or so, and I really loved them a lot. The world of Barsoom was so evocative for me; I can still see John Carter leaping around on those weird landscapes. Via ERB, I got into the whole science-fantasy mashup genre pretty early, though my D&D / LL campaigns favor an at least superficially Tolkienesque feel and look to them. Yet I nearly always throw a crashed spaceship or some aliens or some inter-dimensional travelers somewhere into my FRPG campaigns, and it's because I have always loved that blending of fantasy and sci-fi found in the Barsoom books (and in Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber).

T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Merlin is my third favorite wizard after Tolkien's Gandalf and Monty Python and the Holy Grail's Tim the Enchanter (see next entry). I enjoy Merlin a lot because he is often portrayed as quite Druid-y and pagan, as in The Once and Future King when he turns Arthur into lots of different animals (including an ant!). White's interpretation of the rise and fall of King Arthur is sufficiently epic but primarily human in scale; it is also very funny, as in the sequences involving King Pellinore. But what I like best about this novel, or consider most influential upon my gaming, is its conception of magic: Merlin, Morgan le Fay, and other arcane types in this book (and in the film Excalibur) show us that arcana is nature-based and way more powerful than any single individual's ability to control it. I like that. Magic should never be totally rational nor masterable, and I think I drew that idea largely from Tolkien and White.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, dir. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones)
Like it or not, I love humor in my RPG's. I love grotesque comedy in general, and have been particularly inspired by The Holy Grail's Black Knight fight scene. I love the extreme volume and distance of the blood spurts once the Black Knight starts getting dismembered by King Arthur, and have long attempted to emulate that feel when announcing the combat results in my campaigns: blood and internal organs spurt intensely and far, and a surprisingly large number of blows land in the genitals. As one former player put it, my campaigns seem to take place in a “high-pressure world” where everybody’s blood and internal organs are under a lot of pressure, so as to shoot out really far once pierced in combat. I attribute this trend to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Krull (1983, dir. Peter Yates)
Again, Krull's mix of sci-fi and fantasy always worked well for me; this movie was a particular favorite of mine when I was a young lad. It's very D&D ish actually, with its rag-tag party embarking upon a perilous mission across many strange lands. Great stuff! And that magical glaive thingy was bad-ass.

And to conclude, here are a few things I've read lately that I hope will influence my game:

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
Please see my review of this volume for more detailed comments, but in short, "HPL's command of written English is nothing short of dazzling. His prose manages to be just rich enough to paint a convincing picture of (creepy) set and (uncanny) setting without stepping over the line into overwrought "purple prose" a la many of Tolkien's descriptive passages or even our own beloved EGG. In short, I find HPL's language to be as evocative as Tolkien's but, at the same time, much more concise."

Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
I will defer to Cyclopeatron's description: "Style and language. Where fairy tales and dreams intersect. I want stars, moss, and woodsmoke at my table. Dunsany is peerless when it comes to fantasy imagery." Agreed!

P.S. Vance, here I come!

* As is briefly mentioned here, Morag the Arch-Summoner is a legendary Arandish wizard who has lived in total secrecy for the past hundred years. He may even be dead or residing permanently in another dimension for all anyone truly knows. Even before his disappearance from human society, Morag was thought to be quite insane. In more recent news, the party in my current Arandish Campaign have found and identified artifacts seemingly related to Morag's cryptic activities.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls on Kickstarter

As I recently learned from this informative blog post, Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls has begun its Kickstarter campaign, which ends on Tuesday, February 5th.  I had  the chance to hear some advance scuttlebutt about the new edition from its creator, Ken St. Andre, at OSRCon 2012 last August. I am very excited about the new edition and plan to make a pledge to the Kickstarter campaign after my next paycheck clears in a few days.

As classic (5th-Edition) T&T rulebook artist and editor Liz Danforth recently wrote:

"I talked quite a bit about the pleasure I took in reillustrating the venerable Buffalo Castle solitaire dungeon, now the all-new Château Bison. Steve [Compton’s] graphic skill made it shine, inside and out, bringing my black-and-white linework to living color.

"In fact, the new [French] edition of T&T was so glorious to see, the old team at Flying Buffalo was blown away. Me too. I don’t live in the Phoenix Metro area any more, but the experience was the same for all of us. No sooner had it arrived than we started talking (or in my case, emailing) about how we’d like to see a new edition in English that looked this good."

And that is what we're going to get with the Deluxe Edition of Tunnels and Trolls: newly revised rules (still basically compatible with all previous editions), NEW Danforth art, NEW background on Trollworld, and perhaps even some new Bear Peters maps.

Make sure to get in on the Deluxe T&T Kickstarter, and see also Trollhalla, Ken St Andre’s online home base for the T&T community.

Sci-Fi Updates

During my recent blogging hiatus, a couple interesting things happened on the science-fiction front:

1. Goblinoid Games' Starships and Spacemen 2nd Edition came out! I was one of the project's initial backers on Kickstarter, so my hardback copy arrived in the mail a few weeks ago.

Photo courtesy of Dan Proctor

While I would one day love to run a pure S&S game, right now I am so busy running Labyrinth Lord games that this fine product is most likely going to see immediate use as a supplement to the games I've already got running. That is, I will cherry pick robots and equipment and monsters and the like from the S&S rulebook for use in my ongoing Arandish LL campaigns. Remember that I warned you long ago about my penchant  for including sci-fi elements in my fantasy. Gonzo lives!

2. The 2013 Traveller Calendar also became available. I now quote from an email sent by Marc Miller to the Traveller5 mailing list:

"The annual Traveller Calendar was the brainchild of Andrew Boulton, who for the past several years has assembled a truly talented band of artists to produce the calendar, proceeds of which went to various good causes.

"Sadly Andrew passed away this year and it looked like the next calendar would not happen. But the artists would not let that happen: Ian Stead stepped forward to manage the project; the artists all stepped forward with truly great Traveller art, and all wanted to make this a tribute to Andrew.

"Everyone donated their time; the Traveller permissions and licensing (as always) was donated.

"Now you are the last link in the chain: we hope you enjoy this calendar as much as we enjoyed putting it together."

The print version of the 2013 Traveller Calendar is available at Lulu and the PDF version at DriveThruRPG

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Grognard Games YouTube Channel

Thanks to David Macauley, who posted about this a couple days ago, I have recently become aware of an exciting new OSR-related YouTube channel, "Grognard Games":

The channel only has an introductory episode up right now but the show as a whole looks quite promising to me. I recommend that you check it out!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Helmets Shall be Split in Twain!

Despite a rather busy holiday season so far, I have been keeping both of my main gaming groups going: the Skype-based "home" Labyrinth Lord campaign, and the campaign I run out of  Lift Bridge Books, the local book shop.

The latter group just met yesterday and continued its adventures marauding around in a parallel dimension dominated, on the one hand, by the vast, human-dominated city of Vornheim and, on the other, by a sinister Citadel commanded by a society of Dark Elves.* That gaming group is really picking up steam despite some wavering attendance over the holidays: yesterday our two regular core attendees were there plus two others, making a total of four players plus me.

A photo from a late November meeting of the Lift Bridge Old-School D&D Group.

During the session, one player made a pitch for an extension of the "Shields Shall Be Splintered!" rule, i.e., the "Helmets Shall be Split in Twain!" rule. It would work the same way as the Shields variant, but with only a 2 in 6 chance of working when invoked:

Upon a successful 2 in 6 roll, a helmet may be used to "soak" damage from a single attack, thereby reducing damage to zero. Soaking damage destroys the helmet; it is split in two.

* Once the group entered this dimension -- by opening a magical trunk in the underground lair of Zappo the Mysterious -- I had my first chance to use Vornheim, Zak S.'s fucking excellent city gaming supplement. (plans for a review in the near future). For the alternate dimension's Drow-inhabited lands I am mostly cherry-picking stuff from D3 Vault of the Drow.