Archive for July, 2012

31
Jul
12

Learning from the LotFP Campaigns

Looking back at my recent posts I see that a lot of ’em have been about Kickstarter campaigns and suchlike crowdfunding projects. Many of these have been ones I haven’t even been involved with, so crass hucksterism alone can’t explain the phenomenon. It’s not just me; crowdfunding has so caught the attention of everyone professionally or semi-professionally involved in RPGs that the Fund Your Game Project With Kickstarter panel I’m part of is just one of three such seminars at Gen Con. I know for sure lots of “industry insiders” are intensely interested in Kickstarter right now, and since I have been and will be talking about ’em a lot I hope there’s an audience who shares this interest.

My pet theory is that as RPG types we’re specifically excited by the potential of crowdfunding because we have a lot of experience launching campaigns. When I moderated the panel on roleplaying games and theater during the run of SHE KILLS MONSTERS, it seemed to me that RPGs are a performing art where you can bring in as many or as few elements of a theatrical production as you like, and do ’em all yourselves. In college I knew a number of people who were actors or directors or costume designers, who always seemed to be having a better time than I was as an audience member. RPGs offer a unique degree of involvement – everyone at the table is simultaneously creating the production and enjoying it as a spectator – and you can bring to it whatever creative talents you want to exercise. If you’ve got someone who’s a ham actor, and someone who likes building scenery, and someone who likes drawing character portraits, there’s room for all those things to enrich the gaming experience. But unlike a theatrical production you can get involved in all of those things; they’re not designated, inflexible roles. Or no one can do any of ’em, and the show will still go on.

Working for an established game company is like having a job in a stage production. As a freelancer, I’d be given a script and a date by which I’d have to have my lines ready. There’d always be some degree of room for improvisation, but not for stepping into a different role; marketing and art direction and everything else is someone else’s job. Starting your own company gives you a lot more latitude to wear different hats. Something I really enjoy about Autarch is getting to do so many different things and add my two cents to the way our game looks, reads, and communicates with its fans. But a business is still like a theatrical production in that some parts are non-optional. You can’t just decide not to worry about taxes or fire codes.

Launching a crowdfunding campaign is much more like starting its RPG equivalent. You just put up flyers for whatever you think will be cool, and if enough players or backers show up you’re good to go. I think this anarchic, DIY spirit appeals to us personally – kicking down any restrictions on player agency is a big part of the appeal of the schools of roleplaying I belong to – and is a natural continuation of the indie movement, for which “creator-owned” has always meant “no one gets to tell me what to do because I’ve got new technologies for reaching customers directly.” For the Forge, that meant desktop publishing, print-on-demand, and direct sales via your own Internet webstore; nowadays it’s Kickstarter,  IndieGoGo, and the like.

With all that said, let’s check up on the LotFP Grand Adventures Campaign, which is ending today around midnight, and see what things can be learned from it as per my earlier musings on why the campaign matters.

Here is how the funding stands as of the time of writing:

Pledges   Adventure Title Author
$6,865   Seclusium of Orphone Baker
$6,590   Broodmother Sky Fortress Rients
$4,693   Horror Among Thieves Green
$2,355   Towers Two Brockie
$2,176   We Who Are Lost Kreider
$1,630   Of Unknown Provenance Curtis
$1,390   Unbegotten Citadel Cook
$1,220   House of Bone and Amber Crawford
$870   Machinations of the Space Princess Desborough
$710   Depths of Paranoia Steen
$690   Strange & Sinister Shores Bingham
$650   Normal for Norfolk Seppälä
$645   Escaping Leviathan Alfrey
$540   Dreaming Plague Vuorela
$500   Land that Exuded Evil Miller
$470   Red in Beak & Claw Särkijärvi
$440   Pyre Pett
$340   Poor Blighters Sparks
$320   I Hate Myself for What I Must Do Pohjola

Stuff to note:

  • Two authors have already met the funding limit – Jeff Rients and Vincent Baker. If you’re looking to pick up an adventure by either of these guys, you can pledge for it now and be sure of getting it. My guess is that their success is a mix of subject matter and communication skill. Both dudes have earned a loyal audience of readers, and picked compelling topics for their adventures that are either just what you’d want from them (the gonzo Broodmother Sky Fortress) or a revealing glimpse of a previously unseen side (the Vancian Seclusium of Orphone).
  • Backers want to know that they will get the thing they’re pledging for. Kelvin Green’s Horror among Thieves is doing well enough to have a shot at making the $6K target, and without seeing the curve I’d bet that it saw a big uptick when Green promised to deliver the adventure whether or not it gets funded – which in the latter case would mean giving it away for free to backers who had their pledges returned at the end of the unsuccessful campaign.
  • Backers are not strongly motivated by getting free things that are different from what they’re pledging. Monte Cook is offering free PDF copies of his magnum opus Ptolus to $100+ backers of his adventure The Unbegotten Citadel, but it’s still not doing as well as Kelvin Green’s – a disparity that’s all the more striking given that every D&D player knows Monte’s name and I only know Kelvin’s because I’m a Fight On! fan. Likewise, the global offer of a free sandbox by Rob Conley and an adventure by James Raggi to all backers at certain levels doesn’t seem to have had a big impact; these things are undeniably cool, but adding more guaranteed-but-different flavors to the smorgasbord doesn’t seem to have brought many extra people to the buffet.
  • An unspoken part of wanting to be sure you get the thing you pledge for is trusting the author to deliver it. Professional experience in RPGs would seem to me to be the best guide here, but it doesn’t seem to factor into backer decisions. GWAR guitarist Dave Brockie has zero previous gaming publications, but Towers Two still has more pledges than Monte Cook who’s designed more successful projects than you can shake a stick at.
  • The synergistic effects of running multiple campaigns simultaneously are balanced against the negatives of making the audience choose between backing so many horses each with uncertain chances to win. By my count, the Grand Adventures Campaign has raised $33,094 in pledges, more than twice the LotFP Hardcover and Adventures Project‘s $16,240. Although it seems likely that many of these pledges won’t be collected because they were for adventures that won’t meet their funding goal, this still reflects an overall increase in LotFP’s audience and crowdfunding power. I don’t think that the Grand Adventure Campaign represents an ideal way to deal with the various problems of shipping and ordering multiple crowdfunded projects, but it does look to me that with this one Raggi has lost many battles but still won the war.
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28
Jul
12

dark sun meets ACKS

in case you were wondering

Kalak, the mad tyrant of Tyr and the most notorious sorcerer-king of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, probably weighs in as a Level 10 Magic-User in Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACKS).

I may not be doing the math right, though.  I’ll show my work in a minute, but I want to blither about Dark Sun for two sections.

(Disclaimer: several of my friends–Tavis, Paul, Chris H., Chris N., and Tim–have worked on ACKS in one way or another.  I apparently was an unwitting playtester.)

 

what’s dark sun about?

With some of our indie games wrapping up or on hiatus, I’m thinking about running some D&D that fits my work schedule and is distinct from the other New York Red Box offerings.  “Hey, maybe I’ll do a domain-level end game using 2e in Dark Sun!”

Digging around on Dragonsfoot revealed dissent about what the setting was “all about.”  Granted that the only material I ever cared about was the original Dark Sun Campaign Setting by Troy Denning, I’d say the setting involved three core elements:

  1. Brom’s pictures of a fantasy world gone horribly wrong.
  2. Kirby-ish social commentary about environmentalism and politics, a sort of Sword & Sorcery meets Green Anarchism thing.
  3. Weird mods to the D&D 2e rules, like 4d4 +4 for ability scores, new races, new classes, a huge dollop of psionics, and monsters with embarrassingly dumb names.

This may not hold true for the later supplements, but it’s my take on the original boxed set.

i want my masochism without so much fun, please

In 1992 the changes to the rules seemed exciting and x-treem.  But twenty years later, as I sink into middle age, the changes mostly seem like a headache for little net benefit.

You’ll likely have a higher Strength score, to hit more often for greater damage – but your weapons are mostly made of bone or obsidian, so they’re less accurate and weaker, which probably zeroes out.

Most items are sold at a 99% discount – but copper pieces have replaced the gold piece as the standard medium of exchange, so that zeroes out too.

But mostly my gripe about Dark Sun is that the psionics muddy up a perfectly fine metaphor.  The key setting detail in Dark Sun is that the irresponsible use of magic as a route to political power has led to an ecological catastrophe.  That clearly sets up a conflict between the corrupt Defilers and the benign but somewhat inhuman Druids.  Introducing a third source of supernatural power, one which has no bearing on the central conflict of the setting, seems unnecessary at best.  (Plus, 2e psionics make monsters a bit harder to run, because of unfamiliarity and bookkeeping.)

So my idea shifted from, “Let’s run Dark Sun out of the box” to “Let’s simplify Dark Sun a bit.”

  • Ditch psionics, because it doesn’t add much other than gonzo
  • Ditch the elemental Clerics, at least as PC’s, because they aren’t very interesting
  • Replace the Athasian Bard with the 1e Assassin, which may have been the original intent
  • Merge the Templars with the Defilers; thematically Sorcerer-Kings are just “big” Defilers
  • Replace the Templar/Defiler types with Necromancers
  • Give the monsters a good once-over and maybe a redesign
  • Ah hell, get rid of most of the non-human races (because marathon Elves and workaholic Dwarves are dumb)

And then I realized, “This removes everything that is gonzo and crazy about Dark Sun.  Plus the whole idea was to avoid extra work.  I’m an idiot.”

But the idea would have been to run some 9th level guys struggling to keep Tyr together in the aftermath of Kalak’s death, scheming against ambitious aristocrats, suppressing slave revolts, exterminating Thri-Kreen raiding tribes, and bringing war to neighboring city-states.

what’s this about ACKS again?

What follows is some demographic analysis under the ACKS system, to figure out what the Tyr region looks like under that rules-variant.  The upshot is that the Sorcerer-Kings, far from being world-conquering bad-asses, are more like speed bumps to the mightiest adventurers from more heavily populated worlds.

Behold the Tablelands, the “campaign level” map of the Dark Sun setting, by Diesel.  It’s 120,000 square miles, weighing in at “kingdom” size per ACKS.  Assuming a relatively sparse 30 people per square mile, that would be 360,000 people in the Tablelands as a whole, at the very lower bound of the “kingdom” band.  This population figure is probably rather high: much of this map is uninhabitable.

A kingdom has enough space, and enough people, to support up to six “principalities,” and there are seven city-states in the Tablelands.  Close enough!  Maybe a city-state is a principality?  If so, Kalak, the tyrant of Tyr, is probably around 12th level in ACKS.

Except, a principality in ACKS means a certain amount of territory and people under your control, and the city-states likely come in much smaller.  Here’s a hexographer map of the Tyr region at 6-mile hexes, based on Diesel’s map (I made a few approximations).  Tyr, the city in the center, probably asserts a claim to all of this territory, but (per the text) its actual sphere of control is much more limited.


This map contains approximately 300 hexes, of which about half are either sand dunes or the ungovernable jungles beyond the Ringing Mountains, leaving about 150 available.  If you figure Tyr controls about half of those, it would hold sway over about 75 hexes.  Or, just eye-balling the map, Tyr obviously controls everyting within a 2-hex radius; let’s be generous and say it’s a 4-hex radius instead.  (It likely wouldn’t be a perfect circle: Kalak might cede some of the mountainous territory to control the scrubland to the southwest.)  That works out to just under 1600 square miles, about 70 hexes at 22.5 square miles per hex.  So we’re in the neighborhood of 70-75 hexes.

Let’s say the area around Tyr has about 250 families per 6-mile hex, or 8 families per square mile.  At 70 hexes, that’s 17,500 familes, or 87,500 people.  This territory and population is just at the lower bounds of a “duchy” in the ACKS rules, which is smaller than the principality-sized domain I’d discussed a few paragraphs ago.

What about the city of Tyr?  With 17.5K families, the largest settlement would normally be a large village.  However, ACKS has some rules for adjusting this based on population density.  Societies in Dark Sun tend to be urbanized due to the dangers lurking in the wilderness, and the city-states are highly centralized, so that probably shifts Tyr into a “small city” of about 1250-2500 families.  This matches up pretty well with Kalak’s personal domain of 1500 families, if he’s running a duchy.

What level is Kalak?  Well, he rules a “duchy” of just under 90,000 people.  ACKS suggests that puts him somewhere in the Level 9-10 range.  And if Tyr were a starting city, situated within a populated realm, the minimum level of its ruler would be Level 10.

Level 10 seems a little weak for a world-shaking bad guy like Kalak, but

  • Relative to maximum level, Level 10 in ACKS (capped at level 14) is probably like Level 15 in Second or Third Edition (capped at 20)
  • Dark Sun is a fallen world, where the great achievements of the Green Age are forever lost.  This could mean that there simply aren’t any truly high-level adventurers around any more.
  • Kalak enjoys a lot of infamy, but really, he owns a dying city in the middle of the waste land, in a tiny section of the planet.  He might boast about his power and everyone lives in fear of him, but in objective terms he’s simply a local warlord with a (literal) cult of personality.

If you really want to power him up, you could say that Kalak is a leftover from the time when Tyr really was a principality and had the population (and high-level adventurers) that comes with it.  This would put him around Level 12, a few levels higher than almost anyone in the present era could hope to match because the economy has tanked so hard, largely due to the ecological ruin brought on by Kalak and those like him.  In that sense, the Sorcerer-Kings’ history makes a lot of sense: rise to power, and then completely destroy the economy so that no one can ever rival your might.

is there anything useful I can take from this?

Yeah, maybe.

The assumptions of Dark Sun–D&D 2 tha xtreem!!!–aren’t necessarily a great fit for ACKS, which strives for internal consistency.

ACKS achieves that self-consistent goal impressively well.  Since consistency isn’t Tavis’s strong suit as a GM (indeed, a delightful inconsistency is his watchword), I assume Alex Macris and Greg Tito did the hard work, with help from many editors like Blizack.  The system is fairly easy to use, and everything looks plausible and workable.

The themes in Dark Sun are actually accentuated by this treatment: under D&D’s instrumentalist ethics, genocide and ecological ruin are bad because they make it harder for you to level up!

Being level 10 (or, I guess level 12) is awesome enough to start a cult that worships you (your henchmen, their henchmen, and your apprentices), conquer a city, and force its inhabitants to live in fear.  And maybe make plausible claims to have destroyed the world.  If you’re approaching level 10, Kalak is one of your peers.

23
Jul
12

Some Spells

Here are a few spells or spell-like effects that could be found in a spellbook, as a one-time device or scroll, or as an effect or trap somewhere in your dungeon.  Add spell level to suit your campaign.

Expedient Quartermaster

This spell conjures, for the caster and up to six companions, a supply of personal gear appropriate to thier occupation and the surrounding environment. Each gains a fortnight of rations, a suit of clothing or armor, and general items useful to the situation. A cleric in a dungeon might gain plate, shield, mace, and a pack including spikes, rope, holy symbol, lantern and oil. A fighting man out-of-doors could expect chain, sword, bow, horse, and saddle-bags with foraging and camping gear. A magic-user in a castle would find courtly robe and hat, staff, scroll case, and portable desk full of writing materials and spell reagents. The items are always of the finest quality but are never magical in any way. Those supplied by each particluar casting of the quartermaster will appear as a matching unit, with armor or clothes of similar style and color. In certain situations a group item may also appear, for example a group near a body of water will be provided with a suitable boat or raft.

Byzal’s Windy Conveyance

The caster and up to six others grasping – or grasped by – the caster are instantly swept into an extradimensional whirlwind that transports them to the location envisioned by the caster, up to one mile away. No matter the destination, the travelers are tossed in the wind, completely out of control, for thirty seconds. All torches and lanterns will be extinguished and travelers have a 50% chance of dropping whatever they are holding. On arrival the travelers must spend a full minute regaining balance and breath before capable of anything else.

 Larkajanur’s Ominous Valediction or The Curse of Inconvienient Attention

Save versus spells or opponents faced with a choice of targets will always choose to attack you above others. Lasts until dispelled.

Ekhion’s Inflexible Reprieve

The inflexible reprieve is a one-time displacement triggered by an eminent danger (thus preventing damage from a successful attack by an enemy, exploding fireball, etc.) or the spell’s duration, whichever comes first. The spell lasts ten minutes for every two levels of the caster. Unwilling targets of the spell may save versus magic, but once the spell is successfully applied it cannot be removed. To determine the character’s new location roll d8 for compass direction, d100x10′ for distance, and place the character into the nearest unoccupied space.

 Almetor’s Petulant Arms

Will affect 1d6 beings; those who fail a save vs. spells will find weapons writhe, turn, and jump in thier hands. Those with uncooperative weapons should subtract 3 from to-hit rolls. The spell lasts for one turn.

The Mercurial Spirit of Prabacor

Casting this spell summons a mischevious, uncontrolled unseen servant-like spirit that will remain for a turn per level of the caster. Roll for reaction.

2-4: Resentfully harasses and distracts the caster, preventing spellcasting, tying shoelaces of his friends, slamming doors and so on.

5-9: Spirit neutral towards the caster, but will look for excitement at someone’s expense. In this state the spirit can be offered goods or services in exchange for favors. What could it want? Otherwise it may wander off, become interested in someone or something interesting, or simply wait to be returned wherever it came from.

10-12: Independently provides help by, e.g., opening doors, harassing or distracting enemies, setting off traps, etc.

20
Jul
12

Watch Out for that Fjord: More on Wilderness Encounters and Spotting

Yesterday I talked about wilderness encounters I had while hiking along the Naerøyfjord during a recent trip to Norway, and how the experience matched up with the rules for spotting distance and terrain in the Adventurer Conqueror King System. Today I’ll continue this investigation and look at how creature size affects when creatures become aware of each other.

My second wilderness encounter came maybe ten minutes after the previous wandering monster (three sheep). The local terrain changed as the trail emerged onto one of the infrequent areas of flat land – in most places the ground rises sharply up from the water of the fjord. Here’s Rudy’s picture of a similar area:

As I walked out into this expanse, the cry of a bird alerted me to its presence; looking up I saw it already taking wing. ACKS would say that the bird achieved surprise on me, made an “unfriendly” reaction roll, and used the advantage of surprise to flee. I paced the distance to the rock on which the bird had been perching: seventy paces or about 60 yards, a plausible result for the 4d6 x 10 yards specified for mountain terrain – especially if we imagine that the bird’s more adventurer-like spotting abilities had me pegged some time before its decision to flee gave me a clue that it was there. In my defense, I’ll note that I am man-size but the bird was not.

ACKS notes that “Larger creatures can spot and be spotted at greater distances”; rules are given for increasing the spotting distances for larger than man-sized creatures. Judges could easily reverse these rules to account for the difficulty I experienced in sighting a smaller creature. (ACKS also points out that having a higher vantage increases spotting distance, such that adventurers in a tower can see farther than those on the ground. In clear terrain, a giant’s ability to see above obstructions in the landscape, further over the horizon, etc. will counteract the fact that its height will also make it easier to be seen, increasing encounter distance bilaterally. Rough terrain which gives concealment to smaller observers might enable them to spot the giant’s head standing out of the landscape well before it was able to see them in return.)

A deeper issue is that it seemed to me that the bird reacted first not merely because it was more alert (as a city dweller I likely suffer a penalty on wilderness surprise rolls) but also because I was easier to spot. In ACKS, the determination of surprise and spotting distance are separate and unrelated procedures. Especially in cases where one party is larger (bigger, taller, or more numerous), it might make more sense to roll modified spotting distances for each side separately. The group that achieves the greater distance would then effectively have surprise, which would last until the other party closes to the spotting distance rolled for their side – so long as nothing changes like the first party hiding, making noise, etc.

Using this rule would cause surprise to happen more often – since ties for spotting distance will be infrequent, it’d basically mean that almost all wilderness encounters start with only one side aware of the other. I think it’d be wise to roll the usual surprise checks. This would make characters’ modifiers to those checks meaningful, and allow for the possibility that both sides are distracted and bump into each other at the standard spotting distance rolled once, rather than once for each side. If neither side achieves surprise, instead of going to initiative, have each roll for spotting distance. The group with the larger distance will act first, with the other side still unaware of their presence.

I think that having disparities of awareness (like you normally get from unilateral surprise rolls) happen more often in wilderness encounters is beneficial. Setting the distance at whichever of two rolls is greater would mean that most wilderness encounters will happen much further away than in the dungeon. I’d rule that most things that could be done to take advantage of first awareness – closing with the foe, casting spells – would make enough noise to potentially alert the other party, going back to the regular initiative procedure.

In old-school D&D, wilderness encounters can be famously lethal, and ACKS is no exception. Unlike the dungeon encounter tables, which are scaled to the depth at which the encounter occurs, the possible results in the wilderness are all over the map. Having the small adventurers spot a large dragon before it sees them can generate suspense and (perhaps) avoid a TPK. Contrariwise, a wandering monster that is too puny to hope to challenge a large and well-prepared party can, if it can spot them first, avoid combat; this is both sensible and avoids wasting time at the table (since the Judge can quickly resolve the monster’s attempt to bugger off unseen, without invoking initiative and all the other standard encounter procedures).

And in new-school D&D, wilderness encounters are infamously hard to stage as a combat sporting event. The ability to set up an interesting battlefield full of the sorts of hazards and opportunities that make detailed-resolution combat fun is limited by the randomness of the encounter, and the wilderness situation makes it susceptible to the party “going nova” and firing off all their resources, confident that they’ll have time to rest before the next encounter. Making unilateral awareness more likely can help with this situation. If the party spots the monsters at a greater distance, they can plan their approach, making the encounter a more satisfying example of “combat as war”. If the monsters become aware of the party, they can retreat to a fortified position and send out a few of their number to lure the party into an ambush, while the others go for reinforcements. The result can be a encounter with the kind of tactical depth and multiple waves of enemies that you normally don’t get from a wilderness wandering monster.

19
Jul
12

Wilderness Encounters with the Adventure Cartography Society

Members of the Adventure Cartography Society seek to deepen their understanding of imagined events in RPGs by mapping and measuring similar phenomena in the real world. A few weeks ago I interacted with some animals while hiking along Norway’s Naerøyfjord, and in support of the Society’s mission I recorded data on the encounters. Here I report these findings and see how well they correspond with the guidelines for wilderness encounters in the Adventurer Conqueror King System (and, likely, B/X D&D which I don’t have handy).

Encounter: The path was passing through a forested area on the slope of the mountain above the fjord. I heard a noise, likely from a fallen rock – there was lots of scree on the slope. I looked around and didn’t see anything, but a moment later an ewe strolled onto the path and stopped to regard me. Two lambs hot on her heels rushed in to suckle as soon as she stopped moving. I started pacing the distance between my position and the point where we’d sighted one another, and about halfway there – nine out of eighteen paces – she trotted away, with the lambs still trying to get in there for some more milk.

In ACKS terms: This would be an encounter in which neither side achieved surprise and the reaction roll was “neutral”. ACKS notes that “wilderness encounters can take place in a variety of terrain types with greatly varying line of sight.” The actual encounter distance in this case – about 15 yards – is roughly average for the 5d4 that ACKS specifies for “Forest, Heavy or Jungle.” It’s also within the lower end of the range of 5d8 for “Forest, Light,” which might be more appopriate given that I was walking along a clear five-foot-wide trail and only spotted the sheep once they crossed this path. We might well expect me to achieve a below-average spotting distance, since a blogger on a solo hike is likely less alert to wildlife than an adventurer who tends to travel in groups and can expect spotting other creatures to be a matter of life or death.

However, my 15 yard encounter distance was well outside the possible results for the 4d6 x 10 yards ACKS specifies for mountain terrain. This is problematic because if I was making a hex map of the region I’d definitely enter Naerøyfjord as a string of mountain hexes. Here’s a picture SF author Rudy Rucker took on a similar trip in 2009:

Does Google also give you Rudy’s blog as the top search result for Naerøyfjord, or does it somehow know he officiated at my wedding in 2001 and thus directs me to his site?

Seen from the perspective of a real-world visitor rather than a hex map, of course, many wilderness areas are a mix of terrain types which can alternate quite quickly. Rudy writes: “In most spots the fjord walls are at least partially wooded. Up above them is an undulating highland of gray-brown mountains, patchy with snow even now in midsummer. It’s like Norway has only two elevations: sea level and 1 km high, with a labyrinth of steep cliffs connecting the two.”

Suggested House Rule: The Judge should consider the micro-scale terrain an encounter will take place in and use that, rather than the macro-scale contents of the hex, to guide the determination of spotting distance. When I roll a random encounter, sometimes the kind of monster tells me right away what kind of landscape it’ll be in, especially since I know the details of how the party is traveling. In the White Sandbox, a mounted contingent of the Grey Company once encountered giant weasels while traveling through a plain hex; I immediately decided that the weasels had dug tunnels in an area of low hills and sandy soil, with the attendant risk of a horse’s leg breaking when it steps into one of the tunnels.

The choice of local terrain may be guided by considerations of what would make for an interesting combat encounter – if it had been giant apes, I might have had the party riding through a rock formation and used the mountain spotting distance as the apes rose up from among the boulders. Since reaction rolls and player choice mean many wilderness encounters won’t actually be combat, scenery chewing is another important consideration. If a low-level party encounters a roc while traveling through a forest, I am likely to decide that they spot it while cresting a ridge or entering a large clearing – in part so that the spotting distance won’t put them abruptly face-to-face with such a fearsome beast, and in part so that I can describe more of the majesty of the landscape as long as the possibility of death has focussed the player’s attention.

In terms of prep rather than improv, Judges who prepare random encounters ahead of time (e.g. ACKS’ dynamic lairs) will likely want to specify the local terrain and use its spotting distance, rather than that of the hex in which this terrain/encounter package might appear. In preparing a wilderness map, it might also make sense to draw up a chart of sub-terrains within each grouping of hexes. The Dark Woods and the Barrens might both be made up of forest hexes, but the d6 chart for the dark woods might be 1-5 heavy forest, 6 light forest, while the Barrens might be 1-2 heavy forest, 3-4 light forest, 5 hills, 6 plains. Adventuring in the Dark Woods will thus be more like a horror movie with creatures almost always popping out of the thick bushes right in your face; travel through the Barrens will tend to be more suspenseful, as the scragglier trees allow foes to be seen and evaded or approached at greater distances.

11
Jul
12

Hoping to See You at Gen Con

In hopes of getting together with Mule readers at Gen Con 2012, here is a rundown of stuff I’ll be doing at the convention:

  • I’ll be running an Adventurer Conqueror King mini-campaign Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening after the exhibit hall closes, going as long into the night as our stamina permits. It’ll be a casual, open-table affair, with easy drop-in/drop-out. I’ll have pre-generated characters at all three levels, or you can bring your own Adventurers, Conquerors, or Kings rolled up using the rules for starting characters at higher level. For that matter, you can bring characters from whatever other RPG you may have, subject to the usual “your ring of wishes doesn’t work on this plane” revision. Folks are welcome to play for one or multiple nights. Location TBD; leave a comment if you’re interested, and I’ll keep you up to date on where we’ll wind up.
  • During the exhibit hall hours, I will typically be at the Old-School Renaissance Group booth, #1359. I’ll be glad to sell you a copy of ACKS, answer questions about upcoming projects, and share enthusiasm for all manner of cool gaming stuff.

The major exception to my general plan to be at OSRG booth while it’s open will be the seminars and panels I’ll be doing as part of the Industry Insider track. Here are a rundown of the ones I’m part of, presented chronologically & with links to their info:

Can’t make Gen Con this year? CONcurrent will be running during the Best Four Days in Gaming to provide a host of gaming sessions and related discussions using G+; register here if that looks like fun. I won’t be taking part myself, but I will be doing another panel via G+ hangout about Kickstarter and Indie Game Development between now and then. You can watch it live this Thursday at 7 pm EDT, and the video of the session will also be posted on YouTube.

07
Jul
12

Why the LotFP Grand Adventure Campaign Matters

Yesterday I talked about how Charlatan, Ryan Browning, and I were going be part of the insane, ambitious Lamentations of the Flame Princess effort to crowd-fund nineteen different adventures at once, and why that didn’t happen. Here’s why I think the effort is admirable and well worthy of your close attention.

  1. Diversity. I mentioned how some of the creators James Raggi has gathered together into a nineteen-headed hydra are considered by some to be ideological enemies of the OSR, including one of the leading inheritors of the Forge’s legacy and some of the key figures in WotC-era D&D and the Paizo adventure path. Mule readers are no doubt much too cool to be down with this particular divisiveness; certainly I feel no shame in proclaiming myself a fan of Vincent, Monte, and Richard. What’s really remarkable is that Raggi has brought together worlds that I hardly even knew were into RPGs; you’ll find here adventures from GWAR’s lead singer and the drummer for the doom/death metal band Eminent Remains, plus some eminent representatives from a Nordic scene that I’m really excited to have been learning about recently. You could say that the fact that all these different folks are interested in writing an adventure for LotFP means the OSR has won. You could also say it’s a sign the OSR is no more; I think a key indicator of a dead subculture is that it no longer has efficient cell walls with which to exclude “outsiders”. Let’s say instead that it’s a remarkable tribute to the inclusiveness and far-reaching appeal of LotFP’s version of the old-school aesthetic, and the boldness and energy with which Raggi has communicated that vision to so many corners of the world.
  2. Innovation. Crowd-funding is so new that there is still no consensus on the best way to handle lots of fundamental things. One of the more important is how to combine orders into a package for the mutual benefit of the backers and publisher. The Grand Adventures campaign is an ambitious new approach to that problem, which has the extra benefits of breath-taking scope and attention-getting audacity.
  3. Visibility. The professional field of role-playing games is hindered by the fact that business data is so hard to get (outside of exemplary cases like Evil Hat). One great thing about crowd-funding is that it creates transparency for some of the key things you’d want to know. This is wonderfully leveraged by the insane ambition of Raggi’s grand scheme. Is there an audience for an old-school adventure by a designer from (just about any background you can think of)? Does it help or hurt to run 19 crowd-funding efforts simultaneously? Instead of just wondering, we can look at the IndieGoGo pages and find out.

In the above, I’ve been talking from the perspective of a scene-watcher and OSR theorist. I assume that is of at least some interest to you, gentle Mule reader (or else that you tl;dr past many of our posts). More importantly, though, you and I are also gamers and lovers of fine gaming products. I’m confident that some great ones will result from the Grand Adventures campaign. Which you’ll be attracted to is a matter of taste.

For my part, I’m particularly interested in ones where the artist is also the illustrator, which I suspect is part of the genius of Jaquays’ work. I’m going to back Strange and Sinister Shores because I was intrigued by Jonathan Bingham’s illustrations for ACKS and want to see the stories he has behind them. I’ll pledge to that one because I especially want to see it succeed, but I’ll choose the Faithful reward level so I get a copy of every one that does make it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how to register at IndieGoGo.




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