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Friday 31 July 2015

Who Saved D&D?

Some people have apparently gotten upset that Zak S has made a Gencon shirt saying "Zak S saved D&D"; itself an imitation of a shirt someone wore at last Gencon saying "Zak S and the RPGPundit Made D&D Better".

Someone's suggesting I should sell similar shirts; but to be honest, first, I have no problem with Zak choosing some cheap self-promotion. Fuck, I invented cheap self-promotion! Who am I to judge? And shit, anything that pisses of the Swine (the ones who despise Zak as much as they hate me) is fine in my book.  And seeing people going around Gencon with those T-shirts will drive them into conniption fits of pretend-triggering, so more power to Zak for doing it.

Even so, if I were to say who "saved" D&D I wouldn't be putting myself (at least, not myself alone) on the T-shirt.

Someone else has suggested that Ryan Dancey is the true 'savior' of D&D. Ok, cool, I think praising Ryan Dancey makes good sense, especially since so many gamers have shit on him and the very important thing he did 15 years ago. But to be fair, he was the one who saved D&D the last time around, after TSR had ruined it. Not the one who saved it this time around.  Yes, without Dancey, the OGL wouldn't have happened and thus the OSR wouldn't have happened, but that was never Dancey's actual goal, or the point of why he supported what we used to call "open source gaming" at that time.

And there's someone else, more recently important, who I think has more credit than other people for having "saved D&D" (with 5e): Mike Mearls.

He had the sense to want to return to old-school roots, and to hire people like me to do it. And to a very slightly lesser extent, Zak.


EDITED TO ADD:  Zak has just won the Best Writing ENnie for Red & Pleasant Land.  I'll have something to say about that in my next post, but for the moment, my heartiest congratulations to him.  I am eagerly looking forward to all the bitter bitter tears and wailing from the Swine and the Pseudo-activists.

Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Solitario Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Thursday 30 July 2015

Traveller Campaign Update: Fall of Gallifrey Edition

In today's session, the PCs were still doing the trippiest cosmic-flashback ever, living out the lives of long-dead Ancients.  They first got to see the final culmination of the world they'd been carefully guiding, the civilizations they were directing the evolution of, over 5000 years, reaching its fulfillment as "That planet of the empire that produces drawings of one square on top of another square".  Yes, the Ancients were so powerful that they dedicated unimaginable levels of time and resources to tailor-engineering a planet of cubists:

(there's no accounting for taste)

The governor of this whole sector, guiding light of countless worlds, scourge of the daleks and war-hero saviour of the Empire is this guy:

Half the PCs are working for him.  One of them is basically his chief henchman.

(you get to play the closest thing Traveller has to a Time Lord, and you still end up being this guy)

Now, this guy finally showed up too: a cameo, for like 5 seconds.

Then the Sun started to blow up.

The PCs pretty quickly figured out that it was actually the Master; not out of some kind of senseless evil but out of simple total disregard for lesser beings. He needed to blow up the sun to try to master space/time in order to defeat the high council and the other Antients if he was to become undisputed ruler of the galaxy, and the cubists meant nothing to him.

The PCs were then stuck in a race to get out of the system, but there was another twist: a subversive group on the planet revealed to a couple of the PCs that they'd stolen the secret uplift code that could turn any of them into the mental and psychic equivalent of Ancients.  When some of the others figured this out, they went and told the Master, and meanwhile had to decide (once the Master's plans became clear) whether they were going to be on the side of the Master, on the side of the High Council, or just in it for themselves.

There was a lot of secret conversations using this sort of thing:

And after a while, as the session progressed, it became less like Traveller and more like this:

With super-powerful near-immortal PCs vying with each other for power and survival in the ultimate contest of intrigue and guile, with the fate of the universe at stake.

It was awesome.

In the end, the PCs finally came out of it, back into the present and their real lives, and it became clear that the whole thing was some sort of test Grandfather Paradox made for them as some kind of test of character (though for what purpose remains unclear).

Now, Grandfather is there, and the Master is there, and they're about to blow each other all to shit, and maybe the PCs with them. Things ended, as usual, on a cliffhanger.


Currently Smoking:  Italian Redbark + Image Latakia

Wednesday 29 July 2015

My Albion Books Have Arrived!

Astoundingly (because it was raining this morning, and one does not expect mail to be delivered in Uruguay if it rains even a little bit), today my Dark Albion author copies finally arrived!

That is, for the hardcovers.  And man do they look great!   Both the regular cover:

And the Variant cover:

Now, I was a huge proponent of the variant cover, and it is freaking gorgeous, but I do have to admit that in-person, the main cover is also extremely appealing.  I think that it is more appealing in a physical book than its computerized-image on jpg or pdf would really lead on.  In a book in your hands, the main cover really hits its stride.

Anyways, they're BOTH fantastic, and I strongly advise you to pick them up.  The hardcover is, I think, well worth it (if I say so myself)!  You can get them both from Lulu: the main cover here, and the variant cover here.


Currently Smoking: Italian redbark + Image Latakia

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: Made-Up Conservatives Edition

The thing is, the right and the left have fundamentally different views on what "truth" is.  And that means that the right might sometimes make mistakes about what's true or not, might exaggerate the truth, or might just misinterpret the truth; but the left of these last few years has again and again proved that it doesn't have any problem with just outright making shit up.

That includes making up fake-conservatives for them to fight, both on paper, in (fake) personal redemption stories, and sometimes in literal cases of fraud.

Check out the link above for the article, and go comment, share, re-tweet or whatever else you do in social media.  Thanks!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Half-Volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday 27 July 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: First Influences

I read a comment today that I suspect is paraphrased from some famous quote, but I can't find the source for it; though I'm positive that in my academic years I had heard it somewhere. Basically it said this, on Christians: If they tend to base their Christianity on quoting the Gospels, they're fairly tolerable human beings. If they quote the Pauline Epistles then they're usually intolerable assholes, if they spend their time quoting Revelation, then they're utter and absolute nutcases.

I've found that to be generally true, and it got me to thinking also about the old Jesuit statement: "Give me a child before he's 7 and I'll give you a Catholic for life".

So our foundations determine what sources we will use to guide our perceptions, and our early experiences determine our foundations, which mark us for life.

I know from personal experience that these foundations can be "Undone"; but that its very difficult, and only pretty exceptional people making pretty exceptional efforts can overcome this.

Just as it is with religious instruction, so it is with RPGs. I think that our earliest experiences with RPGs probably mark us for life inasmuch as the rest of our career as "gamers" is concerned. Whatever our first gaming experiences are, those are the ones that in one form or another we are always trying to perfect or re-produce thereafter, or if we are on a rejection kick those are the foundations we are blindly thrashing against and trying to overthrow. Only those who come to terms with their origins and embrace them without being limited by them can really be free of them.

Am I free of my early influences? I think in many ways I am, of the negative aspects, but I have cleaved to the positive elements of those early influences.

My "early influences" would come down to three major sources: 

First, Basic D&D. The old red box. This game to me defined D&D, and defined what a good RPG should be; it also defined the "median" of my own personal rules-light/rules-heavy spectrum (ie. anything heavier than D&D basic is rules-heavy, anything lighter is "rules-light").

Second: Advanced Fighting Fantasy. This game was my first major influence for "rules light" and for simplicity, even before Amber. It was the first game that taught me not to rely entirely on rules as written, and to be ok with making some of it up as I go along, and looking at rules as suggestions and not ironclad structure. It also defined a lot of my sense of fun, since some of my first and most enjoyable campaigns were with "Dungeoneer". The world of Titan was my game world before I really got into Mystara or the Realms.

Third: Palladium's Robotech. This was the first major Sci-fi RPG I played. It certainly defined how I think a Mecha game should be. The rules didn't make a huge impact on me compared to D&D basic (if anything, the similarity between the systems just keyed me into the idea of the possibilities of universality), but the material and the construction of the rulesbooks defined a lot for me about what I would like from a gamebook, moreso than the other two sources. I like lots of good images, I like lots of cool stuff. And I'd rather have a sourcebook with a lot of usable material than a pretty sourcebook with a lot of useless crap stuffed in. Palladium's books are always chock-full of material that can be played with, say about them what you will.

Those were the three RPGs of my first two years as a gamer, and yes, I would say they did a lot to define me; both in the sense of defining what I like, and teaching me lessons about what can be better. And that's part of the trick too. If you look at it all dogmatically, you will only come away with a fixed dogma of what you want and end up with some massive blind spots about problems in games, that you will keep carrying with you.

Overall, I was pretty lucky. I'm not saying "brain damage" or anything like that, but its clear to me that people who's first RPGs were Vampire or other Story-based games will have some serious hurdles to overcome if they're going to be able to free themselves of the kinds of bad habits that create problems with enjoying RPGs as straightforward fun.


(Originally posted August 2, 2006)

Sunday 26 July 2015

The Postman Always Rings Twice... But Not For Albion

So I'm a guy who stays up really late when I'm at my peak working period.  Like, as in, I go to bed at dawn.

As such, I'm usually asleep when the mailman comes by.  Fortunately, I've instructed him that if I have a package, he should ring the doorbell and wait a bit as I'll probably be waking up, and he's very good about that.

So these last few days I've been eagerly waiting for the arrival of my author copies of Dark Albion.  I should have two potential packages about to arrive: the hardcovers from Lulu or the softcovers from Amazon.

I thought there was a chance Friday would be the day.  So I wasn't shocked when the doorbell rang, and I got up fairly fast to get it... only to find that it wasn't Albion at all. Instead, it was a review copy of the Day Trippers rulebook and Gamemaster's guide; which looks kind of interesting but (and this is no burn on the game itself, which obviously I haven't even started to read yet and thus have no judgment on yet) I was certainly disappointed at what it wasn't.

So back to bed I went.

I was lost for a time in a fugue of sleep, and suddenly get woken up by the doorbell, again.  I was surprised, I wasn't expecting anyone else.  Through the intercom I mumble a demand to know who it is, and I hear "package delivery" on the other side.  I'm surprised, but this is not unheard of, and so again I rush through the courtyard of The Abbey and to the front gate, where the delivery guy has a thick looking package for me... could this be it?

No.  I was doomed to be disappointed, for a second time.  Only this time, and again no offense to Day Trippers, I was a little more blown away.  The game I got woken up for the second time that day was called Walkure. It's another Spanish RPG; the authors having asked if they could send me a review copy after my review of Puerta de Ishtar was enormously successful at drawing attention to this game in the English-speaking part of the hobby.  And holy crap, I don't know what's up with the Spanish-RPG crowd these days, but fuck is the production quality impressive.

The book is thick, and in stunning full-color.

I haven't read it yet either, of course, but it is apparently based on an alternate-history where the second world war ended in a kind of draw, and now you have Nazis, the U.S., the Soviets, and the British Empire duking it out in space, or something along those lines.

I don't know yet if the game is any good, but it's made by the guys who did Marca del Este, Spain's own OSR box-set game inspired by BECMI, which got translated into Adventures in the East Mark.  So it'll probably be at least decent.  And I can already say it's gorgeous.

In spite of all that, I still wish it had been my Albion books...  I'm off to bed now, but there's no mail delivery on Sunday.  In this country, you're lucky if there's mail delivery three days a week. Here's hoping for Monday (though Tuesday is more plausible; mailmen often take Monday off, especially if they deigned to actually work on Friday).


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Brebbia no.7

Saturday 25 July 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: Calidar: In Stranger Skies

This is a review of the setting book Calidar: In Stranger Skies, by Bruce Heard.  It is a review of the print edition, published by "Calidar Publishing", featuring a softcover with a full-color cover of a flying galleon leaving a city port.

The book is 130 pages long. My review copy was accompanied by a pair of stunning full color maps (the kind that used to come in D&D-setting Boxed Sets), one featuring the larger setting and done in a style reminiscent of Forgotten-Realms maps, and the other of a more localized region of the big map, this one done in the hexmap format of all the great Mystara products of the old days.

The interior is mostly black and white with a few color illustrations.  The style and layout of the book is to me very reminiscent of later-era TSR products, specifically the Mystara Gazzetters and Forgotten Realms books, right down to the art style and coloration of paper.  The nostalgia is strong in this one.

And of course, there's good reason for that. Bruce Heard was one of several guiding lights of the old TSR Mystara setting.  Specifically, he was the guy who did the spectacular "Voyage of the Princess Ark" series that appeared for years and years in Dragon magazine, and who detailed some of the more peripheral and most fascinating places of the Mystara setting, the really weird locales that didn't make it into the main area of the GAZ series or boxed sets (at least until Heard's material was finally gathered together in a couple of boxed sets that proved to be the swan-song of the Mystara setting).  So I'm obviously pretty inclined to think well of his work; he was one of the best writers of my favorite D&D setting of all time, the one I spent more time running campaigns in than all the other D&D settings put together.  At a time when I never seriously imagined I'd ever get to do something as cool as write RPGs or have my own worlds published, he was like a celebrity superstar to me.

From what I understand (and the author may feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken about how this played out) the Calidar setting came to exist mainly because Heard spent some time trying to obtain permission from WoTC to write new material for the Mystara setting, but was ultimately denied that chance.  And Calidar is very obviously a setting heavily inspired by Mystara, and specifically by the part of Mystara he was best known for.

But does it stand on its own two feet, or it is just a pale imitation?  And does the product itself prove to be worthwhile? Let's find out.

OK, so taking it from the start: I get that Mr. Heard is a storyteller, and I surmise that this is something important to him.  I also get that a big part of the popularity of the Princess Ark series was the way that it told the tales of the Princess Ark's voyages (those of you who were around when it was being published in Dragon will recall that each entry took the form of an story accounting some adventure the Princess Ark crew went through on their travels, and then a section of setting material of the area they were travelling through).
But an RPG book is different from a serial in an RPG magazine, and I have to say I think it was something of a mistake to spend the first 51 pages of the Calidar book on a novellete.  In this case, it's his Princess-Ark-Substitute (the Star Phoenix) and its captain (Isledemer Drak Hieronymus d'Alberran).

Frankly, the story, while not bad, and providing a front-loaded set of literary details of the setting, does not really capture my imagination in the same way that it did all those years ago when it was the Princess Ark.  And it reduces a 130 page RPG-book into an 80-page RPG book with a 50-page block of game fiction at the very front. I don't think it was the right call for the format he's working in now.  If he really had to include fiction, it would have been better to have made it shorter, interspersed it with setting material, and probably to start with an introduction to the overall setting and then get into the story-time.

So, as to the game material itself:  what we get first is an overview of the entire solar system of the setting.  Yes, you are not only apt to have adventures on the titular Calidar, but also various other worlds, like Lao-Kwei, Canis Major, Draconia, or Ghule.  Most civilizations in the system have the ability to travel between worlds, by various methods (one example being the Calidarian Skyships).

Each of the major races of the setting have their own 'homeworld' of sorts.  Curiously, Calidar is originally the homeworld of the "fellfolk" (which are the halflings of the setting, which, much like the halflings of my DCC setting, are feral sharp-toothed barbarians); however Calidar has also long since had a region settled by offworlders.  The settled area is called the Caldera, and in a fit of cheekiness, Heard says that people describe this region as "Calidar's 'known world'".  Get it?

Calidar has three moons, and these were the actual original homeworlds of the humans, elves and dwarves.  The elves are kind of fascists, and "most skilled at deceiving others", so we're dealing with the "Asshole Elves" archetype here.  The Dwarves are a warrior culture that are now desperately looking for other races to fight, having unified their own world.  Humans have apparently wrecked the environment of their moon (*yawn* for stupid 1990s cliche), and are skilled at both diplomacy and warfare but are traders above all else.

As for the other worlds: Draconia is, you guessed it, homeworld to dragons.  Lao-Kwei is a mars-like world that was once prosperous but now has become a water-starved desert with some radioactive wastelands.  There's a native race ("Kahuulkin", who once had super-science but are now reduced to primitives), but it also has a longstanding population of races from the other worlds here.  I guess it's meant to be a cross between Barsoom and Dark Sun with a trace of Gamma World.

Canis Major and Felix Minor are dwarf planets, that have... wait for it... a population of doglike humanoids and catlike humanoids respectively.  I don't really have a problem with this, or with Draconia, since it's part of the whole dreamy PG rated simplistic-but-fun late-'80s/early-'90s fantasy style that Calidar is meant to recreate from Mystara; so much so that remember that Princess Ark also had dogmen and catmen.

Finally, Ghule is a giant dungeon-world created by outsiders and populated by goblinoids.  A 20000-mile-circumference dungeon, it orbits on an ellipse that brings it near to the other worlds only once every 5 years for about two months, during which time the goblins, ogres and trolls come out to raid and steal slaves and treasure.

Oh, and there's also the "Varangians", who are space-vikings that live on asteroids.

The metaphysics of the worlds themselves is also very interesting (and, I think, not in any way connected to Mystara, at least from what I recall of it): every world in the setting has a "world soul".  That is, the worlds themselves are alive and have a personality.  The health of a 'world soul' is entangled with the life on the world.  So Lao-Kwei, which is dying world, has a very poor world-soul.  The world-soul of Calidar is very strong, but feels under threat from those aliens who have been trying to settle and civilize it, and thus its unsettled areas are particularly savage as a protection. Only the area of the caldera is relatively safe.
Souls are linked to the world-soul on which they were born. So if you were born on one of Calidar's moons you'd be linked to that moon and return to that world-soul after death, but if your kids were born on Calidar they'd be linked to Calidar's world-soul.  People who were basically good, when they die, get united to the world-soul for a while and later reincarnate (unless you were really connected with one of the Deities, then you might go serve them instead).  People who did harm to the world-soul will end up with their souls trapped in a substance called seitha deep underground; this 'seitha' is also the fuel that powers Calidar's sky-ships.  Yup, the flying ships in Calidar run on the liquid souls of dead criminals. The undead are usually a result of curses or evil deeds in life,  and they crave seitha also, drawing out the material to feed and reproduce (which in turn harms the world soul); but if slain their souls become seitha.

Gods in Calidar were created by the belief of living beings; and gods need believers to keep existing. Also, epic heroes can start on the path to godhood as well, by gaining fame and having people believe in their legend (hmm, very much like being an "Immortal" is the endgame in Mystara). Gods get together in pantheons (which are apparently the divine equivalent of mortal cultures).  Pantheons help protect a God in the sense that they're more likely to keep being believed in as part of a Pantheon than off on their own, but the head of a pantheon also gets to claim one-tenth of every other member's power for himself.  Some gods have more than one name/visage and belong to more than one pantheon.  Nine deities are presented in the book, each with description and titles, divine domain, places worshiped, symbols, pantheon, and what he does for followers and for "priors" (that is, special servants).  There's Soltan who is the Sun of the solar system and oldest and mightiest of the Gods, whom many humans (including all those on the human-moon) venerate monotheistically. There's also Istra, goddess of adventurers; The Gate Keeper who is a deity that kidnaps people through cosmic anomalies and then sells them off to deities (who is explicitly described as being here as a method to bring in characters from other campaign settings over to Calidar); Delathien the hunter (head of the Elven pantheon); Khralia the All-mother who heads the dwarven pantheon; Odin - yes, that Odin - who of course is the chief god of the Space-Vikings (who Heard notes is not actually the Odin from earth, but came into existence when a group of Earth-vikings were brought to this reality by the Gate-Keeper); Sayble the dragon queen; and the Great Turtle (who rules the Lao-Kweian pantheon).

The section on the "world of Calidar" details in general terms the larger area of the planet, including a beautiful two-page planetary map spread in full color that covers the major terrain types and the wind currents of the planet, two polar maps also in color, and in more detail the area of the "Great Caldera" (again, with a two-page full-color map), the region that holds the civilized "colonial areas" settled by off-worlders. This includes Alfdein which are the elf-lands that have a variety of different elven states organized into a feudal confederacy; Araldur, which is a mountainous island held by the Dwarves; Belledor which is the last fellfolk holding in the Caldera where the natives are less feral and have taken on some "Calderan" customs; Caldwen whcih is a constitutional magiocracy (with shades of Alphatia and Glantri from the Mystara setting); Ellyrion, which is a theocracy that is considered heretical by the main faith in the human-moon of Calidar; the Emirates of Narwan, which is a dry land with an arab-style culture; Nordheim, which was settled by space-vikings; Osriel, which is a great merchant state; and Phrydias, which is populated by half-elves and is a semocracy (a state ruled by oracles).  You can certainly see various parallels toward a number of kingdoms found in the Known World of Mystara here.

There's also a lengthy timeline (5 pages worth) detailing the history of Calidar.

Finally, there's an even more detailed section on the island-kingdom of Meryath, which is the section taken up by the separate hex-style map that came with the product. This is a kingdom of adventurers, ruled by heroes, obsessed with dragon-slaying, and has aspects of Mystara's Karameikos.  Because of the dragon-slaying thing, Meryath has an ongoing conflict with the Knights of Draconia (evil human knights from the world of Draconia that serve Sayble the dragon-queen).

You get details on the four islands of Meryath, its size, population, economy, their calendar, military stats, local politics (Meryath has no aristocracy, instead that role is taken by popular local heroes), political circumstances, customs, and festivals.  You also learn about the local power of "Eternal Glory": just as belief grants gods power, heroes who gain great notoriety can become "epic heroes" and as a result cease to age.  Heard suggests a mechanic of "notoriety points", which would be awarded based on the successes or failures PCs have in their adventures.  Since spending a long time without adventuring can start reducing notoriety (and lead to a hero beginning to age again), there's a built-in motivation for even wealthy high-level characters to continue going out in search of new adventure and the fame that comes with it. Heroes that gain a truly great number of Notoriety Points could be on track for becoming demigods.

After this we get a set of descriptions (no stats included here, but added in a later section) of the crew of the Star Phoenix, from the novella at the start of the book.  It's about three pages, and then there's 3 pages of villains as well.  The former is I guess slightly useful for NPC purposes, but really only if you plan to specifically include the ship in your game.  The latter is at least a little bit more useful, if you want to know some potential significant bad guys. There's also descriptive information guilds & brotherhoods, like the Coral Ring (a native secret society), the Dragon Slayers (if you're a 'professional dragon slayer' you need to get a license from the Guild), the Soul-Eaters (which are a kind of Halfling-supremacist terrorist group), the Assassin's Guild (secretly controlled by the Draconic Knights), the Hall of Heroes (which is actually a government organization, as it is here that heroes vote to elect counts and monarchs and other important offices of this hero-cracy), the Ivory Tower (a kind of merchant's guild that wants to subvert the hero-cracy by getting important heroes into serious debt so they can control them), the Red Masque (a 'secret service' that protects the crown from subversive groups), the Royal Conservatory (which licenses actors, bards, printers, circus-folk and monster-handlers), the Seitha Constabulary (which control and regulate the trade in this valuable dead-criminal-soul-juice that powers the flying ships), and a couple of other politically-themed conspiracies.

Then we get an 11-page section on the city of Glorathon, the capital. Most of this section details sections/areas of this bustling port town.  We also get a lovely full-page full-color city map. Aside from the Skyport, this city could fit easily into the Forgotten Realms or most standard fantasy settings; the presence of the Skyport and it's general style however, makes it again most similar in my recollection to the cities of Mystara.  On the whole, the material on the city is more in the style of descriptive flavor than plot-hook or random-encounter type stuff.

There's also a section on "Creatures of Calidar", which is one area where we get into some serious creativity (not that the rest of the book isn't creative, it is, but it is laregely very similar to what one is already used to).  The monsters are not like what you find elsewhere: for example, the Draecan, which is a cross between a red drake and a pitbull. The Gron are these bizzare giant space-worms that the orcs of Ghule use as their interplanetary vessels. Giant Seagulls (I kid you not), which are large enough to cause trouble for skyships.  Merelings are hideous short humanoids which are artificially created by the rulers of Draconia from those who betray their rule.  Sewer Mouthers are sewer-dwelling giant carnivorous fungi.  And the Garnese Vultron is a kind of vulture-headed griffon.  The section itself only provides descriptive information on these monsters, but their stats, alongside those of the major NPCs from Heard's novella, are found in the very next section (the stats being provided for the Pathfinder system, the only part where the alleged system Calidar is made for actually rears its head).

This last section ends with the system license information, which gives the impression that the next part is a kind of appendix, but if so it's a pretty important one:  SKyships of Calidar.  This section provides details about how skyships work, how they navigate, and what the skyships from different worlds look like. Included in this are some spectacular deckplans (again full-page and in color) of some sample ships (Elven, Dwarven, a few human ships including a space-viking ship, and of course the Star Phoenix). There's also rules including speeds and maneuvering.  What is not included is any kind of ship-construction rule, detailed stats, or ship-combat rules. I suspect those are for some other Calidar sourcebook.

So, all in all, what can we say about Calidar?  I think that if you were a fan of Mystara, or for that matter Spelljammer, there's a lot to like here.  However, the material is also stretched quite thin for all that it wants to cover in so few pages.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, as there's tons of blank space a GM could creatively fill in if they wanted; and I presume the plan is for there to be more Calidar products in the future.
It's definitely the case that a lot of Calidar is imitative of Mystara and specifically of the Princess Ark stories, but it is not so much that the product would feel pointless.  There's plenty here that gives you a Mystara-esque world but with some of its own unique qualities.  You could certainly imagine it being part of the same "universe" as Mystara, but a different place at the same time.

The production quality is top-notch.
The writing is solid, but in my opinion having 50 pages of fiction was a bad call. I'd rather have had 10 pages of fiction and 40 more pages of setting material.

As a whole, Calidar is at this time a setting that demands a lot more material; I expect Mr. Heard will produce it shortly. But it's a good start.


Currently Smoking:  Mastro De Paja Rhodesian + Image Perique

Friday 24 July 2015

Handling the History in Dark Albion

So Dark Albion is doing quite well, and getting some rave reviews.  Included in this is praise for how thorough the historical detail is in the game.
Said detail may in fact be more than some readers guess: obviously the timeline/chronology is historical, the NPCs are also historical; but what some readers might not immediately grasp is that the historical detail doesn't end there.  You might pick up that a lot of the information in the gazetteer of Albion and the lands of "the Continent" are full of historical detail, but it may be less obvious that the chapter on Law & Justice is based on real medieval concepts of crime and punishment, that the section on currency and equipment tries to be as accurate as possible based on known price lists of the period (which leads to what seem like some odd choices compared to the standard price lists of D&D equipment), and of course that the section on demonology is based on real ideas on medieval demon-summoning from the grimoires of the period.

Now, some people might be concerned that all this history is a bit of a double-edged sword.  In particular, at first glance the lengthy and detailed year-by-year history, and the chapter full of the noble houses and important members of those houses might seem a bit overwhelming, in terms of just how to manage it all as a DM.

(even the crests are are based on real history, and not just greyhawk-style stuff)

So, assuming most of you aren't blessed with a History degree, I'm going to give you a step-by-step set of pointers for how to manage all this without really having to get befuddled with too much historical detail:

1. look over the NPC section. Pay attention to the families with a lot of entries: the Lancasters, Yorks, Nevilles and Percy being the most important ones.

2. If you're playing in a specific region of Albion, read the Gazetteer section, and check out which nobles are important in that region. If you are playing a game where you're travelling around Albion, whenever the PCs go somewhere new, check out the names associated with that area.

3. If you're playing a game that moves along in the chronology, pay attention to the entries in the chronology and look up any names that you weren't already familiar with.

You do NOT need to learn every character from the NPC section, especially since depending on which year you're playing in some of them won't even have been born yet (or will already be dead)!
Just use it as a resource to look up as you go along.

If you're using the PDF, you can also presumably search the PDF by region in the NPC chapter, to catch any extra details.

Remember ultimately the NPCs are there to add flavor, not to get hung up on with their various subplots, unless you're running a campaign where the PCs are constantly hobnobbing with the nobility. Conversely, if you're running a game where the PCs are mostly low-lifes (at least, for now), you won't need to know anything except the royals and the pretenders and your local lord's family.

So there you go, it's pretty simple really: use what you want to use.  Don't sweat the rest!  Happy Albioning!


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Solitario Rhodesian + Argento Latakia

Thursday 23 July 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Discovering the Alchemical Secret to DMing

(answering a set of questions presented by Levi Kornelsen) 

1. Is there anything you want to tell us about your name, age, how long you've been playing, anything like that?

RPGPundit, far too old for this, gaming for an astounding 19+ years now.

2. How would you describe your style at the gaming table?

DMing focused very heavily on characters first (PCs and NPCs), with emulation of genre being the principal goal, as God intended RPGs should be.

3. Do you think of yourself as any specific kind of gamer - powergamer, immersion-lover, storyteller?
I'm the RIGHT kind of gamer.


4. What was one moment of gaming, during play, that was a really great for you?

There have been so fucking many of them. But really the best ones have all been ones where I have drawn my players to going in some direction with their character that was beyond anywhere they'd been before.

5. What about that moment was so great?

That it wasn't just me showing off "ooh look what a cool scene i can do"; it was a situation where the scene itself was cool, but was made cooler because of how the player got into it and transcended his previous definitions of his character.

6. If the way that the social dynamics of your group work (being formal, informal, competitive, whatever) helped make it great, how did they do that?

I don't know much about this "social dynamics" bullshit you're talking about; but if you mean "how does your group work"; it works like this: I'm in charge; but I'm fair (or try my damnedest to be).
If the DM isn't in charge of the game, the game goes all to hell.
If the DM isn't fair, you get Storyteller games, or other kinds of situations where the players might as well not show up and the DM might as well be talking to himself.

7. If the game that you were playing helped make that happen because of it's rules or setting, how did it help?

The rules and setting do not help your game work.
Game rules and setting can help of hinder emulation; they can do fuck all to help or hinder player group stability. That's something you theory boys really have to get through your head; and no amount of gimmicky mechanics are going to help a group be "more cohesive" or whatever the fuck you're talking about.

A couple of lines of good advice in a game book, like, say: "don't bitch at the DM just because you didn't get your way", and "Occasionally buy pastries for your players", are probably worth shitloads more than all the gimmicky methods to create "group satisfaction" in the fucking universe.

8. Have you had moments before or since this that were similar, and about how often?

I have those kinds of moments all the time. I can think of a couple from very recent games: Jong's debate with Tertulianus or Federico's rhetorical philosophizing with Titus in the Roman campaign; or the way the entire squabbling Warhammer party went from being a group of argumentative individuals into being an actual real Party when they were sent to recover the Bronze Skull of Chaos and they had to bring out the best in each other or end up dead.

9. What do you think you could do to help make something like that happen again?

There's nothing artificial that can be done to "Make" those things happen. They happen naturally, and happen more frequently when a DM gains in experience.
I'm a 17th level Dungeon Master. Fear me, bitches.


10. What was one moment of gaming, during play, that was a really awful or boring for you?

The only moments that are really "boring" to me as a DM are when a player is caught up dithering getting stuck in something that isn't really important, either to his character or the plot of the game. Worse still if its not even really very important to the player. Then no one is doing anything that interests anyone.

11. What about that moment was so bad or dull?

See above.

12. If the way the social dynamics of your group work (being formal, informal, competitive, whatever) contributed to making it that way, how'd they do that?

Its got nothing to do with social dynamics. Its got to do with players occasionally getting too fixated on minutiae; sometimes because the GM isn't thoughtful enough to give them something meaningful to do (or because he can't give them anything meaningful to do without breaking emulation in a very gross way).

13. If the game that you were playing partly made that happen because of it's rules or setting, how did it do that?

Nope. Quit looking for the answers to these things in "rules or setting". It won't happen. Goddammit, no one is hiding the magic pixie dust from you! There's no super-secret alchemical combination of game rule and setting that will let you instantly create a functional game! You are looking for a philosopher's stone that doesn't exist. You're trying to derive velocity from a sausage. You're not even looking in the right places.

14. Have you had moments before or since this that were similar, and about how often?

Bah, I am sick of answering your pointless questions that are meant to give you the wrong information to try to find an unfindable answer to the wrong question to be asking in the first place!

15. What do you think you could do to stop something like that from happening again?

Fuck's sake, Man! There's no such thing as the perfect game! Get that through your head first of all.
Second: the near-perfect game is not to be found the way you're thinking its found.
There's no easy way out; its found by being a DM with balls, and having the experience to slowly run better and better games every time.
That's it! The will to have the courage to be in charge, and consistent hard work and practice. There is no "secret key".

16. What's the single best piece of gaming advice you've ever been given, or that you've ever given out?

Hmm. Best I've ever been given: "Don't try to think it all through beforehand; instead, just make sure you make it LOOK like you've thought it all through beforehand". That's paraphrased from Erick Wujcik.
Best I've ever given: "Fuck's sake, Man! There's no such thing as the perfect game! Get that through your head first of all.
Second: the near-perfect game is not to be found the way you're thinking its found.
There's no easy way out; its found by being a DM with balls, and having the experience to slowly run better and better games every time.
That's it! The will to have the courage to be in charge, and consistent hard work and practice. There is no "secret key"." -me, about five seconds ago.

17. Since you've put all this effort into answering these question, and you've got our attention, is there anything else you'd like to say here?
Yeah: if you spent one-tenth of the time and energy you do trying to find the alchemical holy grail of game theory to make the mythical "better game" or the legendary "better group" into just making sure you had a group of people who show up every week and are socially tolerable, and ran more games, you would get much farther at the "Being a better GM" business, which is what I assume is your goal in all this.
And hell, if you spent one-hundredth of the time and energy you devote to theory to listening to me, you'd already be a fucking genius GM by now! I AM the philosopher's stone, motherfucker!


(Originally posted July 22, 2006)

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Dark Albion's Cutest Review

Ok, so here is the latest, and by far the most adorable 'review' of Dark Albion.  Also, meet the Pundit's youngest fan!

I like how he points out that "it's got bow & arrows, and castles"; indeed it does!

That there is a copy of the Amazon softcover version of the book.

You can of course get it on hardcover and PDF too; to see your options and get a preview check out the publisher's page.

Dark Albion: its fun for all ages!


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Dark Albion Tuesday: The Reviews Keep Coming!

Today, instead of a political post, I'm going to share yet another excellent (and as far as I know, unsolicited) review.

This one is from Corey Ryan Walden, who is working on a Master's Thesis on the subject of "identity formation in Dungeons & Dragons communities", which sounds just a bit Swiney.  And yet, he's clearly no Swine, since he loved my work!  Good on him!

If for some reason you don't want to read all the great points he brings up, here are some of my favorite highlights:

"Dark Albion is a new book, but it feels convincingly old. I feel like I've stepped inside a history book; except a history that is not our own. "

"Dark Albion's unswerving commitment to detail truly staggered me. Some RPG supplements are evocative and original, yet are lacking in overall substance. Honestly — and I say this without any sense of hyperbole — Dark Albion may be the most thorough and detailed RPG product I have ever read. "

"Buy this book for the content. I don't care what anyone says about Dark Albion, the complete commitment to detail, and the immense volume of work is worthy of commendation. Seriously — and I cannot stress this enough — it is absolutely excellent."

"No one with a firm grasp on their sanity would dispute the staggering amount of work that has gone into this product. That the work is impressive and comprehensive is beyond an understatement. There is no half-assery here. Blood, sweat, and tears have been poured into Dark Albion, making it an 100% effort. It is easy to cut corners when quality, literary consistency, and excellence are concerned, but no such liberties have been taken in Dark Albion. With maps for days, 285 words of useful content, and all the artwork you could possibly want, Dark Albion delivers on its promises, and more."

So, there you have it!

After reading all that praise for Dark Albion, make sure to go buy it!  You can get it in hardcover, variant hardcover, softcover, or PDF!


Currently Smoking:  Savinelli Oom Paul + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday 20 July 2015

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today's famous pipe smoker was really really fucking famous for smoking a pipe.  So famous, in fact, that he got a whole style of pipe named after him.

He also apparently did some stuff during WWII.

Yup, its Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Now here's the thing:  I'll leave it to others to decide whether he was a great military commander or not, or whether his politics were sound or not, or whether he was batshit crazy or not.  But I will, for my part, tell you this:  his favorite pipe is a shitty, shitty pipe.

NOT, mind you, because its a corncob.  Corncob pipes are actually pretty great.  They're one of the least expensive pipes you can buy, and yet a corncob will definitely smoke BETTER than a briar pipe of up to three times the same price.  The "Missouri Meerschaum" is a magnificent invention.   A decent briar pipe costs at least $75; spend any less than that on a wood pipe and you're almost guaranteed to get a shitty experience.  But a good corncob costs between $10-25, and smokes wonderfully.  This is so consistently true that while I recommend someone serious about taking up pipes to bite the bullet and spend that $75-150, if someone is on a really limited income, or is not really sure yet whether pipe smoking is something they want to seriously engage in, I will definitely recommend that they get a nice corncob (like the ones in the link above) rather than a cheap briar.

But here's the problem: MacArthur made the "MacArthur" style of corncob so famous that almost everyone who considers getting a corncob wants to get that pipe, his pipe, the one in the photo.  And it's pretty much the worst possible model of corncob-pipe you could possibly get.

If you look at it, you'll see that the MacArthur is really thin and really tall.  That's not a good model for a pipe, and it's especially bad for a beginner.  The main problem a beginner at pipes has is how to pack it and light it so that it's easy to puff on and will stay lit for relatively long periods of time; the most frustrating experience for a newcomer to the hobby is to have a pipe that keeps clogging  or keeps going out.  And a tall thin pipe bowl is the very best way for those exact problems to happen.

So take my word for it, kiddies:  try a corncob, but make sure it's NOT a "MacArthur"!  I would suggest something more along the lines of the "diplomat", "Mark Twain", or "morgan" from that website; the shorter and more squat the better.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday 19 July 2015

RPGPundit/Dark Albion Q&A transcript

So Friday night's Q&A live chat session on #rpgnet-chat (not affiliated with the forum of a similar name), hosted by Dan Davenport, went very well.

In lieu of posting my own entry today, I'll share with y'all the log/transcript of the chat, which has a lot of interesting details, questions, and responses from yours truly about Dark Albion.

Don't forget to check out Dark Albion, which you can now get in hardcover, variant-cover hardcover, softcover or PDF.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Image Latakia

Saturday 18 July 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: "I was a Teenaged Proto-Swine"

Ah To be Young and Stupid...
or "I was a Teenage Proto-Swine"

You know, a few years back I had a grand old time mocking my little brother (who is ten years younger than I am). He had gotten into that late-teenager stage of thinking that he was a "revolutionary"; getting big-time into punk, and criticizing the "fakers" out there who listened to pre-fab punk bands. Of course, his definition of punk itself left a lot to be desired.

He actually stated at some point a boisterous claim about being the "real thing".
My answer was: "Dude, you live in the basement suite of your parent's 7-bedroom house in the nicest suburb in town. But yea, sure, you're "revolutionary"".

But anytime any of us are tempted to be too hard on the youth, we have to remember that we ourselves were young and stupid at some point too; we were convinced at some point that we had all the answers, and that we were the "real thing" and we all desperately wanted to be avant-garde.

And yes, I too had my moments.

When I was in my mid-teens I listened to The Band's seminal self-titled album for the first time. At that time all I could hear, because I did not truly have the maturity of ears with which to discern greatness, was a bunch of "dumb country-rock" played by some bearded fat guys. I certainly couldn't get that The Band's music was a response to rock's drifting into ever more abstract and disconnected psychedelia, or that in simplicity you can find profundity of theme.
At that time, I cast The Band aside, and thought that this sort of music was vastly inferior to the truly great and avant garde music of my age, like The Cure, The Smiths, the Blue Aeroplanes, or even more "mainstream" but clearly revolutionary musicians like Guns N'Roses. Certainly, the "cutting edge" was this: the boys who wore makeup and sang about killing themselves, or even the long haired screeching guy. Definitely they were more "revolutionary" than the fat bearded guys that sounded like they were from Wisconsin or something.

What can I say? I was an idiot.

If you've noticed my preference of bands, you'll note I was also quite the little proto-swine. But of course, I grew up. I realized that those musicians were really not all that radical, and while I still enjoy listening to the Cure from time to time, or get sentimental for my youth when I hear "Sweet Child of Mine" in a bar, I realize now that those songs appealed to me because they are made to appeal to the gross, unrefined emotional content of the young.
And hey, there's nothing wrong with that!
The problem is if you start to think that what you're hearing is "revolutionary", and that you are revolutionary for being a "part" of it. When you clearly lack the discernment to recognize the difference between really significant things and utterly insignificant things, and lack the discretion to shut up about it.

And even all of this is to be forgiven, but only in the young.

After a certain point in life, if a person hasn't matured past this kind of idiocy, you must accept that you're dealing with super-annuated emotional infants; who's brutal lack of perspective is really indicative of an utter failure to grow the fuck up.

So I'm kind of praying that Joshua Newman is, like, 15 years old. Then he can be forgiven. Then he isn't just an emotional retard for really and straight-facedly comparing the Forge to the Beat poets of the 1950s

I mean, if my then-16 year old little brother were to have suggested that Ron Edwards is an "artist" like Ginsburg; and seriously, honestly believed that 30 years from now people would be reading Sorcerer or My Life With Master the way people today regard Howl or Naked Lunch or On The Road; I could laugh at his face, called him an ignorant little fucktard, and then forgive him. Because, after all, he's 16. He has no sense of perspective. He doesn't understand the crucial difference between a bunch of guys who really did something utterly radical and risked everything falling out of a system they despised to produce works of genius, and a gang of cretins on the internet over-intellectualizing roleplaying games. That's just the kind of stupid shitheaded foolishness a 16 year old is prone to get up to; and I know eventually he'll grow out of it; like I did.

My brother eventually did too, by the way. He's a cool guy now that he's older. Just about the only member of my family I truly get along with.

But somehow, I'm guessing Joshua isn't 16. The train to "growing out of it" has long since left the station for him, I suspect; and I know it has for most of the others who seriously believe the unabashedly pretentious and utterly shit-splittingly moronic assertion that "Storytelling is fucking cutting edge. What we’re doing now, making systems for storytelling, is the application of actual social technologies directly to our nervous systems. The effects we generate, the gnarliness of the stories themselves, the bang:buck is huge".

Yea, ok, cutting edge, suuure. Right, because of course Dogs in the Vinyard is something utterly radical. A gang of dumbfucks telling each other stories is something that clearly no one has ever conceived of doing, and its certainly not the same shit that we collectively as a species has been doing for, oh, say the last two hundred thousand fucking years. Fuckwit.

Listen here. You are NOT radical. You are NOT cutting edge. You are definitely not "opening fresh wounds in the hide of the mediocrity that sells itself to us, that would purport to sell us meaning". No one gives a fuck about you. Ron Edwards isn't Lou Reed just because he went to Berlin. You only think that your poorly-conceived poorly-executed RPGs are "psychedelic" because you utterly fail as a human being when it comes to scope and depth of experience.

"Psychedelic" is taking four hits of acid at a drop and watching Yellow Submarine, or consuming a good sized bag of magic mushrooms and running mad through the woods. Try it sometime, and then at least you'll understand the real meaning of that word.
What you guys are doing is just taking a perfectly good and natural human practice, storytelling, and mixing it up with a perfectly fun and exciting hobby (RPGs), and utterly fucking both of them up. Fucking up the storytelling by imposing totally unnecessary structure on it, and fucking up the RPGs by trying to make them into something they're not and were never meant to be.

"Opening fresh wounds in the hide of mediocrity" is what dudes like Alan Moore do; or Hunter Thompson, or The Band. Its not what some dudes on an internet forum about RPGs do. You see, to open fresh wounds in anyone's mediocrity, you'd have to do enough for society in general to give a fuck about you, and you'd have to do something a bit more radical than writing a roleplaying game where you're only allowed to play milkmaids and the players get to flip coins to decide who gets to boss the GM around.

Not to mention, that the guys who really open the wounds in mediocrity, like all those mentioned above, are the ones who go against the grain of the "fashionable"; who's work is a criticism of what is considered the "avant garde" of the time.

You guys are just the fake artist├ęs of gaming. And I mean, of fucking gaming. That's not Ginsbergian, that's so fucking pathetic that there isn't even an Alan Moore or a Hunter Thompson to pop the balloon in your avant gard bullshit. You guys aren't Lou Reed; you're the 14 year old who listens to his uncle's copy of a Velvet Underground album and thinks he's the "first person EVER" to really understand how incredible the Velvet are, and thinks that makes him a very special person for realizing this great secret. Then he rushes off to write bad poetry about drugs he's never tried, and masturbates.

Which is fine, because that's what 14 year olds do. None of us were cool at 14, even though most of us were convinced we were (and a few of us may have revised our own mental history to try to still believe we were). None of us were "radicals", even though we were sure we were the "cutting edge".
But when a supposed adult doesn't show the capacity or the will to go beyond that phase that should be left behind with pimples and ridiculous pants, then they really just become pathetic.

Oh yea, one more thing: You know who can even come close to saying they were on the fucking "Cutting Edge"? The ONLY guys who could say it in the RPG industry? Gygax, Arneson and company.
They're the only guys who actually did something new and functional, invented something that was a true work of genius, and not derivative. Yea, them, the fat bearded old guys you mock, whose creative capacity utterly dwarfs you. 
There have been other smart RPG designers since them (Erick Wujcik, against whom the entire Forge crowd are like ants compared to a lion; or Jonathan Tweet, who has more creative capacity in his little finger than Edwards, Baker, Nixon and co put together), but the ONLY motherfuckers who can claim to have been "revolutionary", as in, created something truly original that changed everything and that people gave a shit about, were the bearded fatboys from Wisconsin.

So suck that up, dipshit.


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja Rhodesian + Image Perique

(Originally posted July 27, 2006)