Archive for March, 2012

31
Mar
12

Roleplaying Family Trees

"Out in the Streets ... 1972-1979". Rock family tree by Pete Frame

As is often the case, I come away from GaryCon all fired up about a project. In this case, it’s making a comprehensive family tree of gaming groups, modeled on the Seattle Band Map: a community-driven effort to document every local band that ever played a show or recorded a single, and demonstrate how they interconnect.

I’ve been fascinated by these kinds of lineages ever since seeing Pete Frame’s rock family trees in college. The specific impetus for me to pick this up at Gary Con was playing in the Dungeon! boardgame with Dave Megarry and thus getting to meet one of the two people who form the original branching of Dungeons & Dragons’ family tree: Arneson and Megarry traveled together to Lake Geneva to introduce Blackmoor and Dungeon! to Gary Gygax. I’ve learned a great deal from others who moved between the two groups, like Michael Mornard, and members of Arneson’s original gaming circle like Maj. Wesely and Ross Maker, and many others have worked on tracing the members of the earliest gaming groups.

I don’t think this should just be a backwards-facing enterprise, however. Someday the connections between our contemporary gaming groups will be just as interesting, and a lot easier to trace accurately. And the Seattle Band Project, like other genealogical efforts,  shows that filling in the gaps between the small and knowable origin and the huge and knowable current gaming scene is a doable task.

Does anyone out there in Muleland have skills that’d help make this project a reality? Experience with genealogy would be invaluable, of course, but there are a lot of database and visualization components involved as well, and probably there are lots of things I’m not even thinking about yet.

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25
Mar
12

Zombies Don’t Have Gender

Image

The other day I was reminded that I never posted how things went when Javi was DMing at Anonycon.

The quick summary is that he had a great time and was eager to do it again this weekend. He has not yet learned practical aspects of the craft: if you let the players buy dragons at the ride shop in town, or pour the M&Ms GaryCon’s DM concierge service brought him onto the table and say “everybody take four”, it will take a long time to get everyone to focus on the dungeon again. However I am filled with pride that he knows that dragon-riding and candy-coated chocolate are good ways to awesome up your players.

Quote from the player of the druid Layla, sitting to the left of the GM screen: “Skeletons don’t have gender.”

Quote from Javi, boasting to a spectator: ‘I’m draining levels!”

Javi played in two other all-kids games earlier at GaryCon. Friday’s was very expertly run by the player of Sir George, identifiable in the picture above by his black gm lanyard. Saturday’s Haunted Keep was run by Paul Stormberg, who taught me that bringing a treasure chest full of coins, jewels, potions, wands, and cloaks is a great way to awesome up kids especially; he kept them enthralled for seven hours (!).

23
Mar
12

Manifesto of the Hickman Revolution

A common theme in the old-school renaissance is that there was a “Hickman revolution” that ruined everything in the development of D&D. There is no doubt that the TSR modules Tracy and Laura Hickman helped create sold like crazy because they met a demand that hadn’t previously been satisfied, that this commercial success helped set the publishing priorities for the expansion of the RPG industry, and that we are still experiencing the consequences.

However,  neither the way that their work was marketed nor received can really speak to the Hickmans’ original creative intent. Thanks to the generosity of Scribe from the Tome of Treasures who let me take some pictures of the works in his collection, and Tim Hutchings who took me along to be awestruck by said collection, I was able to get some insights into the values that Tracy and Laura created Daystar West Media to pursue. From the introduction to their version of Pharoah, which was intended to be the first in a series of NIGHTVENTURE products:

The first two of the four requirements that NIGHTVENTURE endeavored to meet – a player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing; an intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself – certainly can be seen as containing the seeds of what we now know as the “Hickman Revolution”.

The fourth – an attainable and honorable end within one or two sessions playing time – speaks to one of the creative tensions that emerged with the Dragonlance series. Many gamers wanted and still want to strive toward an end that will provide a satisfying dramatic resolution to the events being played out. At the same time, as genre fans, we always want more of the same. Our desire to have the adventure continue on and ever onwards led as surely to the trend of sequelitis which Dragonlance came to exemplify as did TSR’s commercial motivations in feeding that desire. It is interesting to consider whether an independent Daystar West Media would have maintained the goal of having an end never more than a few sessions away, and whether a Hickman revolution and OSR-style counter-revolution would still have occurred if so.

The goal I found most striking when examining the original Pharoah , however, is the third – dungeons with some sort of architectural sense. Scribe told me that Tracy had been trained as an architect, and each section of the module begins with a beautiful cross-section illustrating which area of the pyramid is being described:

Some of this architectural sense is visible in later Hickman modules like Ravenloft, but the layout, cartography, and visual presentation in Daystar West’s version of Pharoah is, to my mind, far superior to that in its later TSR release. I think that this idea of complex, fantastic architecture is the virtue that the old-school renaissance is most ready to celebrate – it’s certainly one of the things that I admire so much in Paul Jaquays’ work.

Might there have been a different kind of Hickman revolution if more people had been exposed to this virtue of architectural sense, both by having it stated directly and elegantly displayed?

22
Mar
12

There and Back Again

Timothy Hutchings has a gallery show at I-20 opening tomorrow night, Thursday March 22. I’ve noted before that Timothy is

known to White Sandbox players as the dwarf Mallo Beer-bane and to others as (among other things) the curator of the Cursed Chateau exhibit, the editor responsible for the animation wizardry in the Kickstarter video for Adventurer Conqueror King , a panelist in the Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art discussion, and one of the Doomslangers artists.

Since then Timothy has also been been part of the role-playing-themed art show Big Reality, where he exhibited his own work as well as selections from the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive, which he created and curates. Folks who are following the Dwimmermount kickstarter have also recently heard from Mr. Hutchings, on the subject of why the donation of materials from James Maliszewski’s home campaign to PlaGMaDA matters:

Tabletop role playing games completely revolutionized game play. Our multi-billion dollar computer game entertainment industry is built on the shoulders of pen and paper RPGs. With the popularity and overwhelming cultural presence of computer games comes the need for their academic study, and academic study demands original sources for research. The materials preserved by the Play Generated Map and Document Archive and other collecting institutions are being held in trust for those researchers and the important work they have just begun, and just as importantly these materials are disseminated back into popular culture so that the gamer of today can see the traditions and innovations that developed into the contemporary landscape.

Like many of my posts do, this one makes a blah blah sound. Here, then, are some charts Tim and Ezra Claverie who I am proud to call our mutual friend came up with for a game of Burning Wheel that I didn’t get to play in, but sounded delightfully old-school and Dwarf Fortress-inspired:

Inspired by:
http://joeskythedungeonbrawler.wordpress.com/

a giant’s poop contents chart

  1. Giant poop worms.  Like rot grubs but they don’t kill you so easy. The worms burrow into the PC’s flesh, reproduce, then send thousands of progeny out each end of the character’s digestive tract.  If this happens in front of NPCs then get an Infamous trait with that group.
  2. Gold coins.  Why would the giant eat gold coins?  1D of cache.
  3. A knife.  And bloody poop!  Ha ha, dumb giant pooped out a knife.  Is the knife magic?  On a 1-3 roll on the “what’s with this sword” chart, on a 4 it’s proof against acid, on a 5-8 then no – it’s not magic.
  4. A humanoid skull.  Bury it for a reputation 1D Friend of spirits
  5. A living troll arm, it makes half-hearted attacks. (I love this.)  Only fire can destroy it.
  6. A perfectly intact head sized egg.  (it was planted here by something else)
  7. Poop eating giant centipede.  Agility test or your probing arm gets bitten.  Yes you get an armor roll.  Learn that you don’t push your arm into the poop, you dork.  If you said “Oh yeah I was wearing my armor!” then you have poop all over your armor too.
  8. A bunch of springy worms.  Each worm’s belly contains a pearl-like gem (value, properties to be determined by GM).
  9. Seeds.  Are they magic?  Are they giant?  Are they just giant tomato seeds?
  10. A giant’s tooth.  This giant got beat up in a fight and swallowed his own tooth.  1 in 6 that it has a silver filling or is gold or whatever.
  11. An idol!  Geerwyn the Unfortunate.  This poor idol has the worst things happen to it and it’s possessors, but it also gives them help in getting out of these situations.  While carrying Geerwyn, any random thing that can happen to the possessor does, the more bizarre the better.  But, Geerwyn will Help the possessor out of these same situations with +1 or +2 Advantage dice, depending.  Geerwyn will also halve random damage from the bad stuff he causes, trading off injury for shame – rather than a B10 burn from the irate fire toad, the character will receive b5 but will have his beard burned off.  Bearing Geerwyn automatically gives the holder a 1D “pathetic bumbler” trait.

What does that worm pearl do?  (Gem Appraisal or whatever)

  1. Crap, it’s a worm egg and will hatch in your gem pouch.  And it eats gems!  Which become worms!  Will only hatch when there are other gems around.
  2. It’s a pill.  +2D to your next health test.  Good luck figuring out that this thing actually does that.  Maybe you noticed that it was an exceptionally healthy worm.  If taken the pill stays inside of you until you die, you don’t actually digest it.
  3. It’s actually a gem worth a little bit of money.
  4. Invisible things are reflected in the gems surface, but the surface is so small and round it doesn’t help much.  +1D to seeing invisible things, but you must be working Carefully as well.
  5. It’s a unique gem the likes of which adorn the crown of the dwarven prince.  If it gets around that the prince’s crown is adorned with worm poop pearls, it would cause quite a ruckus.

What’s in that egg?  (did you let it hatch?  If not then you might just get goo)

  1. It’s hardboiled, magically, and is delicious.
  2. A baby harpy, full of spite and can fly as soon it’s hatched.  It will flutter after the PCs cursing and drawing attention to them until killed or frightened off.
  3. The yolk is solid gold!  (worth 2 cache)(everyone make a Greed test)
  4.  It’s full of molar teeth?  What the hell?  (if you plant these they’ll grow into chickens)
  5. Rotten, cracking it open gives you and your stuff the Stinky trait for awhile.
  6. A tiny, perfectly formed homonculi.  Who does it resemble?
  7. It’s not an egg but a solid piece of ivory.  (worth 2 cache)  If you crack it open there’s a miniature, living elephant inside.
  8. Nog!  How bizarre.  (works like regular nog)
  9. The liquid inside the egg shines with the brilliance of a wizard’s spell for 1d4 days.  If you drink it your eyes and orifices all glow.
  10. A tiny dead looking guy in robes run through with a tiny sword and stuck with tiny arrows.  He has miniature everything a wizard adventurer would have.  (worth 2d of cache to middle aged lady collectors)  He will rot away once removed from the egg.
  11. The egg is full of pearl bearing poop worms.

Tim gave me permission to post these charts a while back. He perhaps didn’t mean “at the same time as mentioning an occassion in which he is doing a serious artist thing”, but as I am the kind of person who would pay a Joesky tax with stolen Joesky-inspired coin, clearly nothing is beneath me. Tim and Ezra made many more tables like this which I will post the next time I get behind on the taxman!

I will not be able to make the show’s opening tomorrow night, as I am taking my son to his first GaryCon, but I hope to make it after we get back.

16
Mar
12

M.A.R. Barker Dead

Professor Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker, creator of the classic old-school D&D spinoff Empire of the Petal Throne set in his seminal role-playing setting Tékumel, passed away today, March 16, 2012. He was a key figure in the early days of the hobby; his work offered a solid base for development of both world-building and non-Western fantasy themes, and he continued to run games in the setting for close to 40 years, providing a window into the past of the hobby — yet another such window that has now closed.

His family has requested that donations go to The Tékumel Foundation.

16
Mar
12

Dungeons & Dragons Metal Messiah Radio

For your Internet listening pleasure, tune in to Metal Messiah Radio tonight from 8-10 and enjoy a musical interpretation of the sound orc skulls make upon brutal contact with one’s warhammer.

Don’t let the 4e-style logo fool you, I suspect it was just chosen for extra blood-and-gold metalness. Neither DJ Hoyt’s old-school cred nor his dedication to the rock gods are in doubt. He is one of the GMs who will be running Dwimmermount at Gary Con, and yet in order to bring you and I this D&D metalness tonight he is giving up the chance to play in James’ G+ session and learn the dungeon firsthand from its creator . Truly, this act of self-sacrifice is worthy of a metal messiah.

16
Mar
12

Last Chance to Back the Adventurer Conqueror King Player’s Companion

Cover for the Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion. Art by Michael C. Hayes, design by Carrie Keymel.

The Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion ends today, Friday March 16th at 10 pm EDT. After Autarch’s crowdfunding campaign for the Adventurer Conqueror King System wrapped up, we often got comments from people saying they wished they had known about it while the Kickstarter was still going. I hope that this announcement can help save people from a repeat of this terrible fate!

It’s worth noting that, if you haven’t picked up ACKS yet, by backing the Player’s Companion backer you can choose rewards that’ll get you both the core system and its first expansion. Two Sought Adventure gets you both books in PDF, each of which has a coupon that’ll give you a discount on a future upgrade to its hardcover equal to the price you paid for the electronic copy. Pair of Kings gets you ACKS in hardback + PDF and the Player’s Companion limited edition softcover pre-release, shipping together as soon as they’re available (weeks before they’re in stores), after which you’ll get the final Player’s Companion in hardback + PDF once it completes its final development based on feedback and playtest reports from backers. You can also add to your Player’s Companion pledge to get various other combinations of ACKS and its new expansion, including using the coupon in the ACKS PDF you may already have for a hardback upgrade. Email support@autarch.co if you have questions about how to do this!

Yes, you may say, but what is this Player’s Companion of which you speak? Good question! It’s an expansion for the widely acclaimed Adventurer Conqueror King System, designed to give players new tools for creating the kinds of characters they want to see in their campaigns. Because ACKS builds directly on the legacy of the original fantasy roleplaying game, the material in the Player’s Companion will also be useful to groups playing other variants of that lineage. No conversion should be necessary to use the Player’s Companion with Moldvay/Cook’s original B/X and its inheritors Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, and adapting the material to other TSR-era editions and their retro-clones will likely present no problems to those hip to the essential similarities between all OSR systems.

Here is what is in the pre-release version of the Player’s Companion that we will have at Gary Con IV. Thanks to the backers who helped us reach the first three bonus goals and thus enabled this list of contents to be much more expansive than originally planned!

  • 16 new character classes to expand your campaigns, including the anti-paladin, barbarian, dwarven fury, dwarven machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, paladin, shaman, Thrassian gladiator, warlock, witch, and Zaharan ruinguard.
  • 238 character generation templates with pre-selected proficiencies, spells, and equipment options to create archetypes such as the Aristocrat Bard, Buccaneer Thief, Gladiator Fighter, or Runecaster Shaman.
  • A host of new spells, including never-before-seen dweomers such as dismemberearth’s teethand trance, as well as ritual spells including cataclysmplaguetemporal stasis, and undead legion
  • A point-based customized class system that lets you create the perfect blend of fighting, thievery, divine, and magical power. The custom class creation rules are 100% backwards compatible with every class in the ACKS core rules and all of the classes in the Player’s Companion.
  • Additional equipment and proficiencies to provide options for character classes new and old, plus prices for building traps to defend your stronghold
The final edition will have still more content, including guidelines for creating new spells through magical research and a system for side effects from experimentation we’re developing using Gygaxian democracy.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Player’s Companion is the explosion of player-created content it’s heralded, either because it gives many tools for custom creation to the user, or simply because it coincides with the ACKS PDF having been out there long enough for people to start sinking their teeth into it. Every game designer wants to know that their stuff is being played with, so it’s really gratifying to watch this happening. Check out the Autarch forums for a sense of the creative ferment that’s out there!



Past Adventures of the Mule

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