Monday, May 2, 2016

Thrones of 'Mail (Redux)

So, after some reconsideration I am probably NOT going to do any type of Chainmail mash-up with Game of Thrones. Probably. And for a couple reasons (neither of which has anything to do with me lacking the time, or having too many projects as is). No, instead I've realized:

A) The project has limited usefulness considering my actual resources. Which is to say, I have neither the money nor the time to purchase and pain hundred of different minis of different Westeros armies, much as I might like to. Even using a Chainmail scale of 20:1, we're talking about battles featuring thousands of troops on both sides. I mean, who runs that kind of thing? Well, war gamers (obviously), but I've never been that hard core. And folks who are tend to be pretty devoted to a single genre, historic time, and/or game system. And I'm just not that devoted to GoT.

B) Despite its popularity as a television program, a lot of fans quite frankly "don't get" what the show is about. And I don't mean "blood-and-soft-core-Tolkien-porn;" I'm talking about the overall story of the show.

Take my wife as an example. She is a very smart lady. She is a fan of the show and has watched every episode. After watching last night's episode (twice...something we tend to do as we'll often miss parts of the first broadcast while putting kids to sleep and whatnot), we had a brief conversation and I realized she has almost no clue as to how the whole backstory-plot ties together. She didn't know why the blonde girl is on the other side of the world, or who Ned Stark's sister is, or why those Dornish chicks seem so upset, or...well any of the setting's history, really.

Which is fine: you don't need to know this stuff to enjoy and be a fan of the show. There's plenty of Hatfields-McCoys stuff to latch onto ("You killed my brother/sister/father/child/cousin, so now I must kill you.") She knows Ramsey is an asshole. She thinks Jon Snow is the hero. She thinks Tyrion is great (though she doesn't get why he's helping the dragon lady). She knows Cersei has problems with the religious zealots.

Etc. There's plenty of engrossing, immediate things going on to keep one's interest. But when you ask "do you know who these people are" or "what their relationship is" or "why are they doing these terrible things," my wife is like, huh, I don't know. Hadn't thought about it.

And honestly, I would probably be the same way if I hadn't read the first two novels of the series and spent a ton of time surfing the A Song of Ice and Fire wiki researching Martin's world and characters for various projects over the last couple years. That to me is the most fascinating part of the fantasy epic: the fictional world, its history, and the complex way in which its history unfolds.

[the wife's special area of interest is actually in the technical side of filmmaking...she can tell you all the gaffes and editing snafus that occur in a show, which such things go right over my head]

But as I said, you don't really need a "deep understanding" to enjoy a thing. One of the few memories I have from when I was five years old is the first time I got to go over to a school chum's home without the presence of my parents. My best friend at the time, his name was Eric Foy...no idea what happened to him, he left the school the following year and I never saw him again. Anyway, we spent the morning watching Spectreman on a television in a shady basement, then emulating the show the rest of the day. To this day, I honestly don't know any more about Spectreman now than I did then...some guy turns into a giant (hero) robot and fights giant monsters, generally by flying around and shooting bullets/missiles out of his fingers...but, really, what more do you need to know? Do you like giant robots shooting bullets at giant monsters bent on destroying the Earth? Here you go!

It's the raised arm that gives
you the "Shazam effect."
[I realize there was a similar, more popular Japanese import called Ultraman, but that was a show I never did get into, and thus no little about. Why not? Because I already had Spectreman...duh!]

[on a mostly unrelated note: considering how little I actually remember from when I was five...the same age my son is now...I wonder if our years spent in Paraguay will leave more than a handful of memories in his mind. I don't know. My parents were never ones to rehash the past and retell old stories, whereas Diego's father is an excessively long-winded dweller on "what-has-gone-before" and spends a lot of time conversing and reflecting with the boy. Who knows. He just went over to his best buddy's house (Seba) a week ago...the first time he's been allowed to go on a playdate solo]

SO...(getting back to Game of Thrones)...while for me, Chainmail (or something like it) might be a good way to model the basic (fantasy) war-game of the setting, I'm really not sure it would appeal to anyone but me. People fascinated with history and war (and war-games) often could care less about a fantasy world like Martin's, and folks interested in fantasy worlds like that in Martin's books don't need to recreate the fiction they're enjoying.

I'm a strange duck.

Painted by a different strange duck.
I would also like to say, for those who did read my last post on the subject, that I was talking out of my ass when I started talking about "Braunstein sub-plots." I don't know shit or shinola about Braunstein...other than what I've read about its part in the historic origins of the hobby. However, a game that could be used to model the political machinations and alliances of Game of Thrones (as an add-on to a war-game) can be found in the old Dragonriders of Pern board game (which, in the past, I've compared to a kind of "proto-RPG").

In fact, if I did change my mind about doing something with GoT, I would probably START with Dragonriders of Pern (rather than Chainmail), as there are some strong similarities in its premise: like Game of Thrones, it features a world of bickering, feudal lord types who must find a way to resolve their differences to combat a greater, world-threatening menace.

[yes, they both have dragons, too, but they're not really used the same...]

Yeah, that's an idea...but NO, no, no it still doesn't change my points A and B above! Plus, my copy of Dragonriders is back in Seattle so there's no way for me to cannibalize for rules at this juncture. So I'm going to stop talking (and thinking) about it now.

Really.

Well, I'm going to try to stop anyway...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Going Ape

Oh, how the winds of change blow...

Sometimes (in this little hobby of ours) a game or product gets announced by a designer or company that, sight unseen, simply fires the imagination; consider White Star, which got considerable hype even before it was available. I've been on the receiving end of such attention myself, back when I was first working on my B/X Companion, and while it can make one a little anxious (hoping to live up to expectations), I generally think such anticipation is a good thing. Not only does it get one much needed publicity, but it confirms that you're not the only person interested in the project (sometimes designers have self-doubts that can lead to slowdowns and roadblocks) and the "communal excitement" can light a fire under one's ass to get things done.

Two words: Sheer Awesomeness
So it is, that I want to mention the (announced) upcoming release from Dan Proctor and Goblinoid Games, APES VICTORIOUS. Proctor was, of course, the guy responsible for Labyrinth Lord, one of the favorite retroclones of the OSR, and Goblinoid has brought us a number of B/X-compatible games, including Mutant Future and Startships & Spacemen. Personally, I'm not a believer in the "one-size-fits-all" theory of Unified Gaming (GURPS cured me of that abused notion years ago), but it does allow folks who want to model cross-genre mash-ups a way to do so with ease...and some systems (like B/X) do lend themselves rather well to multiple genres.

So...Apes Victorious. Proctor's latest greatest (currently in the play-testing stage with an intended release date of summer...well, summer if you live in the northern hemisphere) is a fairly obvious homage to the Planet of the Apes film franchise. We're not talking the most recent reboots (Rise of, Dawn of, etc.) chronicling the chronological evolution of Earth into "Ape World;" no this belongs squarely in the realm of "astronaut-travels-through-time-and-finds-a-hideous-future-ruled-by-monkeys," typified in the original French book (I read a translation years ago), the first two movies, and two abbreviated television series in the 1970s (one of which was animated).

This isn't the first time a Planet of the Apes-inspired product has hit the market. Terra Primate from C.J. Carella is a "setting-less" RPG that provides a toolbox for creating a number of different campaigns involving intelligent monkeys using the Carella's Unisystem. While I've owned Terra Primate for more than a decade (I purchased it when it first came out), I've never had the chance to use it...haven't even read the thing in years. I don't find the Unisystem particularly inspiring.

Not like those Albedo games.
However, the reason I picked it up...and the reason I'm so excited about Apes Victorious...is that I am a huge Planet of the Apes fan. Being born in '73, I'm too young to have seen the original film...or any of its sequels...in the theater, but my first exposure to Apes was the Heston classic on television, sometime circa 1979 or '80. Which, for those keeping score, means prior to my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Planet of the Apes left a profound and indelible impression on my young mind...one that, growing up in the years of Reagan's "new" Cold War, engendered a love of post-apocalyptic fiction, even if also struck the Fear of the Bomb in my heart. Later, with the advent of cheap VHS machines and video rental stores, I was able to watch the entire series of features and later (one glorious summer, probably in '84 or '85) the made-for-television live-action series over a special week-long re-broadcast. I should also probably mention that my uncles (teenagers during the 60s and 70s) had left behind various PotA merchandising paraphernalia at my grandmother's house (drinking cups with Urko's image and whatnot), that I took great interest in during our twice annual trips to Montana.

I've always found myself inspired and interested by the Planet of the Apes franchise. I can remember reading the novelization of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (long before I ever watched the film) and being astounded at the color-coded clothing worn by the ape servants, and how that had (down the centuries) translated into the traditional species-specific garb worn by the Heston film simians; a little bit of silly sic-fi pseudo-anthropology that made me felt like some crypto-archaeologist making "discoveries." I remember the Ape Nation comic in the 90s (a mash up of two 20th Century Fox franchises: PotA and the James Caan film Alien Nation), and how (despite its ridiculous absurdity) it suggested all sorts of possibilities: Planet of the Apes meets Predator or Planet of the Apes meets Terminator (Dark Horse started publishing its various film crossover titles shortly after the release of Ape Nation).

[I should note I always though Ape Nation as a title was both clever AND hilarious]

But even though I've watched...and enjoyed...the recent reboots of the franchise (even the Tim Burton film to a lesser degree), I don't find them nearly as inspiring as the original stuff. Even if the "apes" don't look much like real apes, I don't find the original films to feel terribly dated. And for whatever reason (nostalgia? scarring of the childhood psyche?) I find many of the images from the original series to be incredibly powerful, emotionally. Maybe it's just the tragedy with which every one of the films ends? Perhaps.

Cool...but I prefer my apes with pants.
So now we have Apes Victorious, which I will probably buy. I find myself excited for a Goblinoid Games release in a way I haven't been since...well, ever, really. And not because I find myself interested in running a mixed party of gorillas through a dungeon or something. For me, there's the possibility of doing something like Gamma World (or rather, Mutant Future) but in a way that is much more focused. Yes, talking apes and psychic mutants are pretty "gonzo" but by limiting...by directing it...one can play (and run) a post-apocalyptic campaign in a way that offers more engagement, than your average laser-breathing toad RPG.

In my opinion, of course.

Plus, look at that cover! That may be the coolest RPG cover art I've seen since Vampire the Masquerade. I'd pick this up in hardcover just to have it sitting on my shelf. I'm hoping that option is available when the thing is finally released.

You see, it's projects and products like this that make it very hard for me to stay "monogamous" to a single RPG system or setting. I love the idea of stranded astronauts in a primitive PA world being hunted by gun-toting gorillas and trying to use their wits to survive, thrive, and possibly rebuild some semblance of a "human society." I know there are folks who share my enthusiasm for the subject matter. Just figured it was worth giving a shout out on Ye Old Blog.
: )

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zweihander of Zeal

[over the course of the month of April, I committed to posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. While I was sorely tired of the challenge after only 15 days, I am trying to "stick to it." Our topic this month? Magical weapons for a B/X campaign. All such weapons are +1 to attack and damage rolls unless, unless specifically noted otherwise. Each of these weapons should be considered unique items]

Z is for Zweihander of Zeal. 

The zweinhander is the two-handed greatsword popular with Swiss and German mercenaries of the 16th century. For B/X play it is treated as a standard two-handed sword in all respects.

The zweihander of zeal empowers its wielder, transforming her into a nigh unstoppable force. In combat, the wielder is unaffected by mind control (like sleep, charm, and hold spells) and is immune to any type of paralysis or petrification effect. Even the complete reduction of her hit points will not stop the wielder of the zweihander of zeal; she will continue to fight until her body is completely destroyed (reduced to -10 or less hit points)...mangled and hewn to pieces.

When combat ends, the animating effects of the zweihander of zeal fades. If its wielder's hit points are zero or less when this occurs, she collapses and dies.

The final word in melee combat.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yari of Yowling Spirits

[over the course of the month of April, I committed to posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. While I was sorely tired of the challenge after only 15 days, I am trying to "stick to it." Our topic this month? Magical weapons for a B/X campaign. All such weapons are +1 to attack and damage rolls unless, unless specifically noted otherwise. Each of these weapons should be considered unique items]

Y is for Yari of Yowling Spirits. 

The yari is a Japanese spear, and one of the premier weapons of the ancient samurai; from what I've read its mastery was considered #2 in the ol' book of bushido, a bit behind the yumi (#1) and a bit ahead of the katana (#3)...but katanas get all the love because they're, like, the samurai's soul, right?

Personally, I prefer the yari...they're awesome. But I'm weird.

Anyway...the B/X yari is treated in all ways as a standard spear (though I hope you'll treat it with respect...). The yari of yowling spirits is a ghost slaying weapon: any incorporeal creature (shadows, wraiths, specters, or vampires) struck by the weapon takes double damage and must make a save versus spells as if targeted by a dispel evil spell (including the -2 penalty). Failure to save results in most spirits' ties to the material world being cut and their "bodies" harmlessly dissipating (for all intents and purposes killing the creature). Vampires are a special case: a failed save reduces the creature to zero hit points, forcing it to assume mist form.

Spirits that observe a fellow spirit's disruption at the hands of the yari of yowling spirits must make a morale check (with a +4 penalty!) or flee the vicinity of the weapon's wielder.

So simple. So effective.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xiphos of Exasperation

[over the course of the month of April, I committed to posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. While I was sorely tired of the challenge after only 15 days, I am trying to "stick to it." Our topic this month? Magical weapons for a B/X campaign. All such weapons are +1 to attack and damage rolls unless, unless specifically noted otherwise. Each of these weapons should be considered unique items]

X is for Xiphos of Exasperation.

The xiphos is an ancient blade that perfectly fits the bill for "short sword," being under 60cm in length and having a one-handed grip. For B/X purposes, it is treated as a short sword in all ways.

The xiphos of exasperation was crafted for a gladiator that was renowned for both his prowess and his cruelty when it came to toying with his opponents. No damage dice need be rolled for the weapon; it is enchanted such that it never inflicts more than minimum damage (2 points, including its +1 value), though any damage bonus for high strength is also added on a successful hit, accounting other punching, gouging, head-butts, etc. that might occur in the thick of melee. The original owner wanted to ensure (magically) that he would always exercise maximum restraint in his fights, drawing combats as long as possible to better entertain his admirers.

In addition, in any round where its current wielder inflicts damage (i.e. makes a successful attack roll), the xiphos of exasperation confers a limited immunity to its owner: the opponent damaged by the blade automatically misses any attacks aimed at the sword's wielder. This special protection only lasts until the end of the round in which the xiphos struck...in other words, it is only effective if the wielder of the xiphos of exasperation both gains initiative (gets first attack) and lands a blow (makes a successful to hit roll). If the xiphos strikes at the end of the round, it does not confer immunity in the following round.

Similar to a Roman gladius, at least in form.

Back to the Beginning

Do you ever feel like you're getting stupider?

I'm not talking about the senility that sometimes accompanies the aging process...more that
"over-thinking" can lead one to forget the epiphanies of the past. This is (perhaps) a standard problem of writing a long-running blog: after nearly seven years of posts, I can read back over the archives and see that many of my earlier thoughts and ideas were "smarter" than my later ones.

Of course, this isn't always the case. Enough so that I've come to the conclusion that every time I want to write on a particular topic, it would probably be wise to take a good, hard look at what I've written before. Especially with regard to gaming and design.

But that's not really what I wanted to write about (nor the reason for the title of this post). No, I've been thinking a lot lately about the origins of this hobby...and of my personal history with the hobby...and how I want to proceed with it going forward. And when I say "hobby" I'm not just talking  about playing RPGs in general or D&D specifically; I'm talking about the whole blogging/designing thing which is part (and a serious part) of the hobby.

I keep coming across little design notes to myself, stashed in various corners of my laptop hard drive, that all say the same thing. There's a pattern here: things I think about, ruminate on, jot down, and promptly forget for weeks or months or years...until the next time I start thinking about (or over-thinking) the same system or mechanic or game element. It's irritating. I'm not usually a "forgetful" person (well, my wife might disagree), but I'm often so focused or preoccupied with one line of thought that...well, shit, maybe I am forgetful. Stuff just gets pushed out of the forefront of my brain and falls out my ears.

With regard to gaming (and design), I think that this stems from two issues:

1) I'm not gaming. I haven't been gaming, certainly not on a regular basis for 3+ years. Living in Paraguay has been a real bitch in this regard. The fact that I'm not gaming...that I can't game...means I'm not "in the thick of it." I'm not practicing my own stuff...I'm not able to test the practicality of ideas and concepts. I'm not "in touch" with how the game works, how it plays, how it runs. If I ever get back to a gaming table, I'm sure I'll be rusty as hell. And while I'd almost be willing to turn to on-line gaming to get back on track, the timezone thing is just a really crappy deal. My evenings are not free...period. But who's available to hop on-line at 9am (U.S. time) in the middle of the work week? I suppose there's someone living in the middle of Asia who'd be on board, but my ability to even schedule a decent chunk of time is...well, it's really tough.

2) Too much "testing." Even before I moved to Paraguay I was spending too much time play testing my own designs. Testing is a good thing, it's a necessary thing (when designing), but the fact is I'm not a guy who has a bunch of time for gaming and "testing;" it's really just one or the other. And the fact that most of the folks I gamed with were looking to play, not test some new concept...well, I know it put a strain on the folks at the table, constantly "shifting gears" and preventing any real continuity for occurring/developing. They didn't sign on to be guinea pigs.

At the moment, I've got a couple-few thoughts buzzing in my head of what I'd like to do moving forward. This has nothing to do with "writing projects" I'm currently working on, by the way (I hope to get some of those completed eventually), but rather how I want to approach my "hobby:"

  • I want to create a baseline set of rules. This is nothing so elaborate as a retro-clone or new version of D&D Mine (FHB). I'm talking about a document along the lines of Philotomy's Musings or Original Edition Delta...something that simply establishes the D&D edition I intend to use as a base (yes, Im going waaaay back to the beginning) and any house rules to the edition that I want to cull from this blog or elsewhere. It may be a "living" document (that is, something that develops and changes over time), but I want to have it...a gaming Bible of sorts that I can simply refer to rather than over-analyzing the same shit over-and-over. 
  • I want to develop a world setting for play. When I look around the hobby (whether at published products or the various blogs), I find the best settings...the best games...come from folks who have created intensely personal worlds that cater to their own vision of "what is fun." I haven't done this. My campaigns have sometimes had elaborate geographies, histories, rule variations, or whatnot, but they weren't created with the purpose of pleasing myself for long-term play; instead they were aimed at being "interesting," or developing cosmologies that justified the inconsistencies of D&D, or that catered to a particular style, or were supposed to test certain rule principles. An lo and behold, none of 'em lasted...regardless of whether I put a lot of prep into 'em or not (trying to grow the thing "organically"). The fact is, I didn't have enough passion for my worlds...certainly, I had passion for some of the adventures I wrote, but I had (purposefully or not) avoided creating attachment to the setting itself.

Which is kind of a recipe for failure. Look at Gygax's Greyhawk. Look at Arneson's Blackmoore. Look at Barker's Tekumel. Look at Kyrinn's Urutsk. Look at Hill Cantons and Gus L's Fallen Empires and Alexis's Europe and Raggi's weird New World. These are all wonderful, lovingly created settings because they mean something to their creators. They are personal to their creators. Those of us who have had the pleasure of exploring these worlds (through play or reading) have found ourselves intrigued or tickled or amazed just at the amount of soul that's been invested in these worlds. Their creators have not felt the need or desire to create new campaigns, to play/run in other worlds, because their worlds have been specifically built to create and meet their individual creator's needs. That's what I need to do.

  • I want to keep using this blog for something, but I'm not sure what. Hawking books I suppose. Airing my thoughts on various subjects, surely. But I'm not sure if I want to continue it in the same way I've done. I'm not sure if these first two points (establishing a baseline system, establishing a baseline world) are going to be best described here...I'm even considering a new blog...but I don't want to shut down Ye Old B/X Blackrazor. I said in the beginning that this was partly supposed to be something of a memoir, something of a snapshot showing my development and "gaming evolution" over time. That work will continue (so long as blogger remains free to use), though I'm not sure it will be as interesting to others as it is to myself.
  • Finally, I think I'd like to have a different medium from which to hawk my various gaming wares: an actual web site with links and forums for discussion. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to make any real money (i.e. "livable wage") off of writing and selling books...not unless I learn to draw and do my own illustration...but the links to various products are getting a might crowded over on the side of the blog. There's definitely some sort of clean-up/reorganization that needs to occur, if I'm going to continue pursuing the design part of this hobby.

All right...now y'all know where my head's at. Expect the latest alpha posting sometime this afternoon or evening.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Whip of Wounding

[over the course of the month of April, I committed to posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. While I was sorely tired of the challenge after only 15 days, I am trying to "stick to it." Our topic this month? Magical weapons for a B/X campaign. All such weapons are +1 to attack and damage rolls unless, unless specifically noted otherwise. Each of these weapons should be considered unique items]

W is for Whip of Wounding.

This flexible weapon can be used by any character class save magic-users. It inflicts only minimal damage (1D4 points) and no adjustments are applied for strength. Attack rolls with a whip are modified by a wielder's dexterity instead of strength, though it is only used in melee.

Damage from a whip of wounding fester painfully and cannot be healed except by magical means (cure spells, potions of healing, etc.). The weapon is single-tailed and approximately 7' in length.

Good weapon for evil clerics.