About Me

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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Annual Review

Well, here we are, surviving 2012 despite the best efforts of prophecies, wars, raging lunatics, other lunatics that aren't politicians, and all the other things good stories are made of.

I started this blog at the end of January 2012 and now the year is over. It's not quite the end of a blogger's year but it still seems like a good time to look back. This is my 131st post for the year, far more than I thought would happen as I tentatively started out.

My most-read post this year was Unwritten Contracts of Gaming, primarily because a fellow blogger tossed it up on reddit. Thanks Shorty!

Also in the top 10 this year was another of my meta-rants, this one on Rule 00 - Don't be a Dick. I'm partial to that one as it was an early post, written in my second week, and I got to philosophize.

My most surprising entrant to the top 10 for 2012 was the playtest report, A Princess, a Dwarf, and a Gnome walk into a Mansion...  I didn't know so many folks were interested. The most commented-on post was Virtual Playtest, although that's just because Etoh kept rambling on about something or the other.

My least popular post this year? Mr. Blue's Tavern Chili. C'mon folks, you know you want a bowl.

The most common search term finding my blog this year was aurumvorax, so that's a fair indication you should use one in your next adventure. Next on the list were virgins and unicorns, so use those, too. What an adventure those three would make.

Finally, a shout out to my fellow bloggers who gave me lots of referral hits this year: Gothridge Manor, Dreams of Mythic Fantasy, and Dungeon Fantastic. You guys rock.

Here's hoping everyone has a New Year filled with fantastic adventures.

photo credit: balt-arts via photopin cc

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Concerns of ancient commoners

While too much anachronism takes away from a game, in small amounts it can add a splash of flavor and aid in suspension of disbelief. It's easy to think about basic survival needs as being the most important to an ancient commoner, but if we assume they had food, water, and shelter, what would be next on the list? What does the commoner NPC have concern over?

Maslow's hierarchy tells us that after physiological needs, next comes safety, then love (or belonging), then esteem, and finally self-actualization.

That's great but it doesn't help a lot in practical gaming exercise.

So instead of 20th century psychology, let's look at more direct sources - religious texts. Religions are designed to appeal to the basic needs of contemporary commoners, so by looking at what they cover, we can infer quite a bit.

Let's look long ago - around 35 centuries in the past - at the Book of the Dead.

See? This exactly proves my point!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Hobbitssessess

I got Legos for Christmas.

My Precious!

This is a great set with lots of little detail, very fun to put together if you like Legos. And if you don't like Legos, please stop kidding yourself and go buy a box of them. I also got a smaller set with Gollum on a boat with the One Ring in some rocks - from the Riddle scene.

Next, Santa gave me and BabyBat some nerf guns with glow in the dark ammunition so you can pretty much imagine how the place looked after a few hours of that.

And, of course, what's Xmas without some cuff links? But not just any cuff links.

The Final Frontier!
Yep, we do Christmas in style. Anyone else have a good Xmas out there?

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Class Design: Diablo 3 vs Torchlight 2

So I've played Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 both, like I'm sure many folks out there have. I don't want to get too much into an argument about which one is better - however, I do want to talk about the differences in classes from a game design perspective.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hobbiton is not on my bucket list

That's right, I've already made the sacred pilgrimage to the holy hobbit lands of New Zealand.  You may or may not have realized that Hobbiton is a real place, located on the north island of New Zealand, not far from Auckland.

BabyBat and I went there a little over a year ago, but at the time we had to sign NDAs that prohibited us from posting the images online.  That NDA has since been lifted.  So here we are!

Bag End's famous door

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cinematic Encounters I'd like to have played in a Tabletop RPG

Go ninja Go ninja Go!
photo credit: Lawrence Whittemore via photopin cc

I spent some time thinking about the cinematic scenes that most stood out, in my experience, as scenes I would love to have played out with fresh dice and well-worn paper.  So, this list focuses on small unit or personal combats only (not awesome big war scenes like in Return of the King).  Also by and large these are just the first things that came to mind, so I might have missed some great ones.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Design Good, Design Bad

With many creative endeavors, sometimes it is good to let a few ideas simmer for a while, and reduce them into a more tasty substance.

Phoenix RPG has a lot of great things going for it so far, and the simmer time has helped me isolate those things that work well, from the things that probably definitely need more work.

Here are some of my high-level notes so far.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Resolving Interference

Well, my day job has been preventing me from working on my gaming and blogging.  So, I am doing what any sane person would do.

I quit that day job.

Now I can spend lots of time playing with my toys.

photo credit: Brother O'Mara via photopin cc

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Real-life Paladin

Being a paladin isn't all about slaying demons and banishing the undead.  It's also about Truth by Example.  A paladin's everyday activities should inspire others to be more Lawful Good simply through observation.

The linked story below is about such an individual.

NYPD Boots (via USA Today)

This officer earns honorary paladinhood in my book.

photo credit: scoutnurse via photopin cc

Police officers take a lot of flak from a lot of jackasses - I know this firsthand, as I was a policeman for a few years in the 1990's.  I have always imagined paladins taking the same sort of flak.  But for paladins - and many police officers - it's worth it just for the chance to put a little good in someone else's life.

Next time a bonded mount or holy avenger quest comes around, think about incorporating simple stories like this.  Any fighter can kill a demon and add an extra notch to their sword, but a true paladin knows when to set the sword aside.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dam Dwarves!

There's nothing like a huge construction project to make me think of Dwarves.  I recently visited the Hoover Dam.

Copyright ME!
It's huge and stone.  And it took some new engineering principles to accomplish - using contemporary techniques, the cement would have taken around 100 years to cool.  That was obviously unacceptable so the "Dwarves" that made this came up with the new idea of putting pipes in the cement and running some serious cooling through them.

It's also probably the only construction project in America that finished 2 years ahead of schedule!

What really made me think of the short stout fellows was the Memorial Bridge that faces the Dam.

Mere mortals surely cannot create such things!
This bridge was really awe-inspiring, in exactly the sort of way I think Dwarven architecture should feel.  It has grand, almost caricature-like dimensions, built upon improbable circumstances.  It's a giant solution to an questionable problem.  Truly, only a Dwarf would try to cross a river this way instead of just using a boat!

I'll find it useful to think of such scenes when I describe my next Dwarven Stronghold.

Friday, November 23, 2012

I played some 2e today...

So I took a break from everything else and played a little 2nd edition D&D today with some friends and family.  I haven't actually played 2e since...  around 1999.

photo credit: Aztlek via photopin cc

The thing that struck me the most about 2e, as compared to more recent editions, is the class design.  Classes are far more important than attributes or racial selection, and they have a minimalist approach - only what is needed to accomplish the feel of the class is included in the class.

For instance, the "fighter" concept really just needs armor and the ability to swing weapons fairly well.  So it has a good THAC0 progression, can wear armor and shields, and gets a lot of weapon proficiency choices (with specialization as an option).

I found that approach fairly refreshing and the whole session did bring back some memories.  We played 3d6-in-order and I used a few house rules:
  1. All NWPs cost only 1 slot.  Why not?  And who thinks 3 slots for Weaponsmithing is worth it, anyways?
  2. Max HP at first level.
  3. Death is at negative CON with a 1 HP bleed out per round when under 0, unless an ally spends a round stabilizing the character.  A successful Healing NWP check on stabilization also restores 1d3 HP (but only once).
  4. The Rule of Assumption is in effect for food, water, and ammo.  Because I still don't want to track those.  If pressed, I'd let the rest of Phoenix's Rule of Assumption apply because, really, I don't care about counting torches or whetstones either.
  5. Instead of the 2e initiative system, I just used Phoenix Initiative cards.  The character with a high Dexterity got to use the Fast initiative method.  This worked great and let us have individual initiatives while avoiding extra calculations that go with weapon speeds, casting speeds, etc. in 2e.
The adventure was a mini-adventure from Dungeon Magazine #34 called Euphoric Horrors.  Pretty cheesy but, then again, it's Thanksgiving weekend after all!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My 2nd Edition "Hot Sheet"

When I ran 2e, I had this three page doc with me much of the time to help me remember the things I needed.  It wasn't so much a DM Screen as it was a reminder sheet for improvisation - it had basic treasure tables, alignments of various elements, spells for each character level (so I could ad hoc a caster authentically), and a list of all the Priest spheres amongst other things.

It may or may not be useful for you but here it is in the original glory.

Download [pdf] (right-click, save as)

(Note: "Sn" means Sun - same as a GP but campaign specific at the time)

Now I'm off to Vegas for a few days.  Don't wait up :)

photo credit: LasVegasInside via photopin cc

Monday, November 12, 2012

Search Terms to find this Blog, Part 2

Things have improved since last time, when frustrated kobold aficionados were anxiously searching for my blog.

Over the last month, the most popular search terms are:

I can only assume that Conan finally got his first computer...

Anyways, here's a little something for the next batch of googlers to hunt:

Robocop rode a unicorn into a gothic vampire loving forest to hunt virgins for his Twilight fan-fic festival.

You can find anything on internet.
photo credit: v i p e z via photopin cc


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ley Line Jumping

The Druids of Umbria are world-renowned for their deep understanding of nature's inherent architecture - ley lines.  Ley lines conduct the power of nature, and any who are well versed in how to use them can magnify their natural magic.  Druids, Witches, and other natural magicians have for centuries theorized about ways to temporarily meld one's self with ley lines, but the Druids of Umbria have gone further - they can use ley lines for rapid transit.

The Druids of Umbria keep the secrets of ley line jumping to themselves - but patient and well cloaked observers have seen them appear from thin air and have noted the patterns of this travel occur only on known ley lines.

Master of the Ley
photo credit: teobonjour - www.matteomignani.it via photopin cc

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gateway Demons - Happy Halloween!

Ancient carving of doom, courtesy of BabyBat.

Ah, a fire-breathing pumpkin.  The gateway demon to a cheerful holiday season.

They come from a story about a fellow named Jack, that tricked the devil into never taking his soul.  However, Jack was a bad man, and when he died, Heaven wouldn't take him either.

So it is, then, that Jack wanders the world with nothing but a tiny ember of light, which he has placed inside his favorite food in life - a carved turnip.  He keeps searching for his final resting place, but stands cursed to never succeed.

He is Jack, of the Lantern.

Sounds like a good Ravenloft Lord to me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2e Monstrous Manual Template

Amongst other old documents I found (such as the last post's 2e Character Sheets), I discovered my old Monstrous Manual template.

Back in the proverbial day, I really wanted my monster write-ups to look like the ones I had in my trusty MM.  It somehow made them more... official.

2e Monstrous Manual Template
This was another Word 95 (read: useless) document, so I converted it to Word 2010 docx.  No reason to make a PDF out of it, because then how would anyone edit it with their own monsters?

Download it here! [zip of a docx] (right-click, save as)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

2e Character Sheets

A long time ago - we're talking the 90's - I was running a 2nd edition D&D campaign with the skills & powers books.  What I affectionately call "2.5e".

Recently, I ran across some old files - blank character sheets I had created for the players to use.  I used to love working on such things, even though I wasn't all that good at it.

Main Page - 2.5e

I look at it now and find my font choices offensive, hate the kerning, etc...  but I'm still fond of them.  They took a huge amount of effort back then.  I even created a second page, specific to whatever class the players had.  I made a 2nd page for Paladins, Priests, Wizards, Thiefs, and even Psionicists...  no Fighter though.  Noone needed a second page for fighters back then.

I guess they look pretty good for Word documents.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Phoenix: Initiative Cards

I've talked before about how Phoenix uses cards for initiative, but previously I've used tarot cards.  This is ok, and I've found some great tarot cards, but at some point along the way I had to ask myself - why try to fit a square peg into a round hole?

So I designed my own Phoenix Initiative cards.  I designed them to be large - larger than a normal deck of cards, about 3.5" x 5" ish, give or take.

And I've done a test print proof, with a professional print shop.  Then I took a picture of them with my crappy cell phone camera, but I wanted to share nonetheless.

They came out great.  The feel like real cards, they look like real cards, and it's certainly pretty fun to have a professionally printed set of cards in my hands and realize, hey, I made these!

I also realize that these can be useful for lots of people that play a variety of games and want to speed up combat with a fun initiative method.  It's for those of us that like individual initiatives, but sometimes wistfully contemplate the obvious speed advantage of party initiative.

Once I get the logistics figured out, I might try to make these 36-card decks available to the gaming public at large, in some form or another.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Zombie Gnome

It's a great time of year to hunt Gnomes.  Check out my latest capture.

Mmmm.....  Kneeeecaaaaapppsssss....

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Devin Night runs a good project

A brief update regarding Devin Night's Kickstarter: in my opinion, his delivery has been run very well so far. He takes his estimates seriously and has lots of good meaty updates with production details and samples of the latest progress.  He instills a lot of confidence in folks like me - and I'm pretty demanding when it comes to this sort of thing.

As any good PM will tell you, good communication is key to successful projects!  So kudos to Devin Night for being pro.  If he runs more projects, I'll certainly be paying attention.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

When Guilds beat Governments

In my continuing coverage of the news, as it applies to fantasy gaming...

PCMag recently posted an article about Patent Peace. Basically, a bunch of technology giants are gathering in Geneva to talk about what effectively amounts to a peace treaty governing the enforcement of international patent laws.

So - a Geneva Convention for Companies?

I'm violating the trademark of the Trademark Office.  BAM!®

This is a great setting seed for a fantasy campaign.  Imagine a bunch of guilds getting together to agree upon which laws they'll actually enforce or obey - and imagine the governments involved are so weak they can't do anything to trump these powerful guilds.

Here's a few things the guilds might decide upon.
  • The Tanners' Guild will no longer follow those pesky rules on how far from the nice part of town their smelly workshops have to be.
  • The Assassins' Guild establishes that murder is now ok, as long as the contract is valid.
  • The Thieves' Guild is tired of picking locks - master keys must be provided by any locksmith changing a lock.
  • The Clockmakers' Guild expressly forbids the use of sundials in any park or square.
  • The Merchants' Guild will no longer charge sales tax.  Well - they will no longer pay sales tax, anyways.
  • Members of the Adventurers' Guild can no longer be arrested for any crime committed outside, under, or over a city.

What else might the Convention of Guilds decide upon?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Religious Hoaxes

Fox has an interesting article on famous religious hoaxes.

For example:

God Speaks to Peter Popoff Via Short-Wave Radio

One of the most prominent televangelists in the 1980s was Peter Popoff, who, during his services and revivals, would call out names and home addresses of audience members he'd never met. He even knew personal details such as family members' illnesses or their deceased loved ones' names. It seemed that Popoff got his messages from God or angels, and it greatly impressed his audiences and followers.

In 1986, magician James "The Amazing" Randi heard about Popoff's amazing abilities and decided to investigate. Randi noticed an apparently minor detail that most people missed: Popoff was wearing a hearing aid or earpiece. Using a radio scanner, Randi discovered that Popoff was actually getting biographical information about audience members from his wife (who had earlier spoken to the audience) using a short-wave radio. The scandal tarnished Popoff's ministry, but he eventually recovered and remains active today.

As I read this, I thought about how magic could make the whole earpiece thing a little harder to notice.  Although, I can't help but to believe that the average gamer, when faced with a similar situation, would immediately come to suspicion.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The USS Bandwagon

Given the recent hubub on Star Trek personality tests, Baby Bat and I decided to take the test.

Results for Mr. Blue:
You are Geordi LaForge
Geordi LaForge
Jean-Luc Picard
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Will Riker
Beverly Crusher
Mr. Scott
Deanna Troi
Mr. Sulu
You work well with others and often
fix problems quickly. Your romantic
relationships are often bungled.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

Results for Baby Bat:
You are Geordi LaForge
Geordi LaForge
Beverly Crusher
Deanna Troi
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Mr. Scott
Will Riker
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Jean-Luc Picard
Mr. Sulu
You work well with others and often
fix problems quickly. Your romantic
relationships are often bungled.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

Well, I guess I can see why we get along so well! And we've both been twice divorced so I guess the bungling part is pretty accurate.

Also, now I really want to play a sci-fi RPG.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Honoring the Fallen

Have you ever honored a fallen comrade, companion, friend, or family member with a memorial in your game world?

Given my recent loss, I have been thinking about this a little bit.  I know some folks will probably feel like in-game memorials are sacrilege, but I think it can be an expression of sincere remembrance if done the right way.

What is the right way?  I have no idea.  I've done in-game memorials to fictional characters like previous PCs, and maybe to famous figures like Gygax or Roddenberry or even Ben Franklin, but I have rarely experienced such a close personal loss before.

If you will oblige me, here is another picture of Shadow (AKA Pooper, Gooblet, Piglet, and many other affectionate nicknames):

As you can see, she loved the snow.  I'm thinking about putting a solitary black obelisk in the snowy reaches of the uncivilized northern mountains.  Noone knows where it came from or why it was built, and the single block of indestructible material it is shaped from appears foreign to this world.  Tribal humanoids in the region refer to it as "the Shadow Obelisk", because once a year in the early autumn it releases a mysterious wisp of shadowy energy that floats quietly into the clouds before disappearing.

What do you think - sacrilege, or sincere remembrance?

Feel free to share stories of your own memorials in the comments, whether in-game or not.  Think of it as group therapy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shadow (c. 1999 - 9/25/2012)

Shadow (c. 1999 - 9/25/2012)

My long-time friend and companion passed away today, resting comfortably in our arms.  She was mostly paralyzed for a few hours, and she passed while we were in the car heading to the vet.

Moments before she departed, she became suddenly aware and perked her ears up, looking into the distance as if she heard a call.  A family member shared the Rainbow Bridge poem with us:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

I like to think that what she was hearing at the end was my call, from somewhere in the future.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Princess, a Dwarf, and a Gnome walk into a Mansion...

Starting a new campaign can be quite exciting.  Noone knows what to expect - from each other, from the GM, or in my case even from the game itself.

The one on the left is the gnome.
photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

The players consist of a Princess, a gnome translator-dimensional illusionist-fortune teller, and a dwarf captain of the guard.  We started in media res - the Princess has an alter identity as the "Night Thorn", burglaring rich nobles who treat the poor, well, poorly.  It's pure vigilantism with a splash of Robin Hood, as all proceeds go to the mistreated.

When planning this session, I built it as an improv set of sorts, so that I could give the players plenty of latitude while I get to know their characters.  I wrote notes on:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Unwritten Contracts of Gaming

There's a lot of talk out in the blogosphere about the "right" ways and the "wrong" ways to design adventures.  Terms like Sandbox, Railroad, Power Structure, Balance, Player Agency, and many more are thrown around by folks as if they were chapters in some sort of modern-day Book of Revelation.

Look, if players have time to worry about whether their player-agency sandbox is having its balance disrupted by a railroaded power-structure, then a GM needs to find more effective ways to occupy player time.

Where's my choo choo?
photo credit: amanky via photo pin cc

Monday, September 3, 2012

Games that last Forever

I played chess this weekend in the Colorado Open - and won 4 of 5 games, placing 3rd in my division.  That's pretty exciting for me as I've never done that good before.

Rooks have all the fun.
photo credit: Alejandra Mavroski via photo pin cc

Some forms of entertainment last a long time, historically speaking.  There are stories being told now that were first told centuries or even millenia ago.  Some games have lasted that long as well - Chess was probably played over 1,500 years ago in some form, and Go was played in ancient china at least 2,500 years ago.  Connect-Four has been around for almost 40 years, and was first published the same year as D&D - 1974.

Clearly, the odds of OD&D being played in 4500 A.D. are somewhat similar to the odds of Liubo making a sudden comeback, but I'd like to think that the format will still be around.  Dice games, board games, token games - these game formats have probably been around since the dawn of humanity.  Roleplaying is a combination of drama and dice (and boards, cards, or tokens for some folks), so it makes sense that it will evolve and continue to live on as long as humans exist.

So it's great to be in at the early stages.  If I had a time machine, I'd love to see what RPGs look like a few thousand years from now.  Maybe they will take place in holodecks, or in little pocket universes created just to host the fantasy world.  I'd love either one of those - it's easier to roleplay being afraid of a dragon when the monstrous beast is right there in front of you, rather than your 13-year old kid brother pretending to be fierce.

Gotta watch out for those safety protocols though.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Crazy Times, Crazy Dice

I've been a bit slow at posting because I started a new job a couple of weeks ago, doing project management and solutions design. And I had to fly to California for a week. Which wasn't all that bad...

And I've shipped off the Phoenix playtest document to the playtesters, many of whom have made characters using the "complete" draft rules.  I'm encouraged by the feedback, most of which is that there were so many cool choices that players had a hard time picking between them.

Interior Title Page
click for larger view

Furthermore, and at the risk of becoming a kickstarter addict, I've pledged on another kickstarter campaign, and it is one that helps me solve a puzzling problem I've had with Phoenix.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Devin Night and Kickstarter

I've been quiet up until now about Kickstarter, but I am quite a fan like most of us.  It has really allowed for some great projects to take off, and is a good model for determining market viability prior to investment - something I appreciate financially.

Previously, I've supported the popular OGRE from Steve Jackson Games, which surprised just about everyone involved by raising almost a million dollars.  As a huge fan of tabletop games - not just RPGs, but all board, card, and dice games - I was ecstatic to see that a market still exists for this form of media.

Most recently, Cobalt Kobold has decided to support Devin Night's Monster Token project.  He's going to create a ton of monster illustrations, and hey - as it turns out, I have a variety of game ideas that need monster illustrations!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Leprechauns, Shoes, and Aquas Herb

These days, Leprechauns hang out under rainbows with pots o' gold in an excellent example of "monsters waiting for adventurers".

But were they always this boring?

"I sure could use a little rainbow in my life..."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Editing Process

Ah, editing.

I'm about ready to send the Phoenix RPG book to the playtesters, but before doing that my editor BabyBat and I have done a complete pass through the book.  The book right now is a little over 100 pages and in full print layout, so a complete pass takes a bit of time.  The book represents about a year of effort so far and clearly there is much left to do.  The more I do this, the more I appreciate the hard work that goes into game books before they are released.

Being from the software industry, we have treated this project similarly and created a defects log. Each defect has a status - New, Open, Fixed, Futured, or Closed. As I make changes I update the status and she confirms whether the defect is really fixed or not.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stone Shell

The aspect of Earth contains many spells players would normally expect, like earthen walls and sculpt.  This is one of the more unusual spells, primarily defensive in nature, but I'm curious to see it in use.

Oh no!  Dangerous wizards!
photo credit: celebdu via photo pin cc

Stone Shell (Earth Support)
Mana    10
Duration    Encounter, Special

You summon a thick eggshell of stone around yourself, protecting against attacks.  You are invulnerable to Martial and Elements attacks while the shell remains intact.

The Stone Shell has Defenses against these attacks equal to WIL’ + Level, and absorbs up to 1d10/level damage.  When this damage is exceeded, the spell ends, and the shell crumbles to dust.

While in the shell, you cannot move from your current location, or use Martial or Elements abilities unless they affect only you.  Additionally, this spell blocks line of sight as would any boulder, and you cannot see or hear through it except for loud noises or knocking.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gnome of Fiery Doom

A player in my virtual campaign requested a spell along these lines for our playtest campaign.  I like to oblige good ideas.

photo credit: hddod via photo pin cc
Gnome of Fiery Doom (Fire Attack)
Difficulty    Hard
Mana    10
Attack    Ranged 10 + WIL’, Special
Damage    2d6 + WIL’ + Level
Duration    Encounter, Special

You summon a highly volatile, gnome-shaped ball of fire that chases down enemies and burns them.  It appears in any empty location adjacent to you, and each round on your action (including the first), you can move it up to WIL’, ignoring threatened zones.  If at any time they are adjacent to a living creature besides yourself, they will explode in a Burst 1.

The gnome is immune to Martial, Elements [Fire], Energy, and Holy attacks.  It otherwise has Elements Defense WIL’ + Level, and can take 5 points of damage per level before being destroyed.  If destroyed in this fashion, the gnome does not explode.

It cannot at any time be further from you than the range given; if this happens for any reason then the gnome immediately explodes.

No more than one Gnome of Fiery Doom spell can be active at once.
(It can be augmented for more damage or an extra gnome, at the cost of more mana.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Archaeology is Fun

A large statue was recently unearthed in Turkey.  They say it might be a Neo-Hittite king.

My, what large eyes you have

Short?  Stout?  Bearded?  I didn't know "Neo-Hittite" was another word for Dwarf!

All it needs is a huge battleaxe and some Hi Ho.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Colorado Dragon Boat Festival

This weekend we got to attend the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival here in Denver.  The festival centers around the mostly amateur racing of dragon boats, which is a 2000-year old sport.  The boats are long and narrow, with about 20 paddlers, a sweep/steerer, and a drummer to keep stroke rhythm.

There's also lots of food stands and vendors.

My favorite part, though, was watching the Lion Dance by the Shaolin Hung Mei Kung Fu Association.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Actions, Reactions, and Bullet Time

Characters in Phoenix receive, by default, one Action and one Reaction each round.

The Action is along the lines of casting a spell, moving, or something like that.  This is the normal sort of activity that players of most RPGs expect in a combat round (although there is only 1 action per round, not 2 or 3 or 12).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mayan Temple Discovery

A new Mayan Temple has been discovered, according to National Geographic.

It is called the Temple of the Night Sun, and was "a blood-red beacon visible for miles and adorned with giant masks of the Maya sun god".  At some point it was abandoned and the jungle grew over it, hiding it, as the world forgot about it - over a millennium and a half ago.

Doesn't that sound like an awesome place for an adventure?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Batman in Denver

As I've mentioned before, I live in the Denver area.  Many of you have probably heard now that there was a big shooting here at the midnight showing of Batman, and a lot of people died.  I and my friends and family are ok, but certainly many of us are the kind of folks that would go see a midnight showing for a popular movie like this.  That could have been us.

I can't truly imagine the feelings of the friends and family of those that were killed or seriously injured in the shooting.  Basically, the shooter is a fucking nut-case that specifically targeted and killed innocent people who had no idea who he was, and had never done him harm.  Truly, this depraved act is the very definition of evil.

My thoughts and best-wishes go out to those who are suffering because of this horrible person.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Charge Attacks

I've been trying to figure out how to handle charge attacks (i.e., a hybrid action involving running towards someone and attacking).  So, I decided to see what other systems do.  I had a bit of fun commenting on some of them but rest assured it is all good-natured.

This list isn't all-inclusive, so if you know of other approaches, let me know!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Awesome Tool: Geomorph Dungeon Generator

I thought I had experienced most of the online random dungeon generators, but I should have known better.

Recently, I ran across Dizzy Dragon's dungeon generator, which uses geomorphs.  The results are pretty nice - here's an example.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Consistent Rulings in a Magical World

Monte Cook is one of the most experienced game designers in our genre, and quite probably one of my top 3 favorite designers despite the fact that I never really enjoyed Rolemaster.  I enjoyed his 2e modules - Labyrinth of Madness was very clever despite its mortality (it was clearly designed with that intent), and A Paladin in Hell was one I definitely enjoyed playing through.  I also enjoyed the Planewalker's Handbook.  I was a huge Planescape fan anyways, and sort of still am, but that book and one other (On Hallowed Ground by Colin McComb) are my favorites in that collection.  And yes, I still like the inner planes more than the elemental chaos.

Every paladin's wet dream.

In a lengthy post last month on his blog, Monte talked about logic in RPGs.  It hits a lot of different points and is a good read, if you haven't had the chance to check it out yet.

One of the pitfalls he talks about in having a "Rulings not Rules" game - which he reasonably equates with the OSR - is Consistency.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Manor #2

The Manor #2 is on sale now and I have a copy.

Doubles as a visual aid!

Here are some prospective awards for this issue, courtesy Cobalt Kobold Awards.  The prize is Death Metal - a block of blue metal that slowly kills whoever touches it.  Just ignore the hungry look from that Kobold in the corner.

Best disclaimer:  p. 1, let the cheetos be mourned.
Best new rule:  p. 21, "Freezing your ass off rule".
Best new item:  tie between p. 20, "Halfling Ring of Marriage", and p. 24, the precariously teetering bottle of urine.
Best Haiku:  p.25.  Bonus commendation for use of the word "cockroaches".  The Kobold approves.  And is more hungry.
Best Art:  p.10, "Heelin Poshuns Cheep".  That seems trustworthy...
Best NPC:  p. 14, Samuel.  I really want to know what happens to his puppy.

Lots of good stuff in here for anyone running a game.  For $3.50 it can't be beat.  Check it out.  Remember to get the print version if you are cool like me.  Or a PDF if you are almost as cool as me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What I want from the Martialist

The Martialist is sort of the fighter class for Phoenix - with a focus on "sort of".  They are a weapons focused class, but there are other weapon focused classes like the Conquestor.

If they were just a fighter, I'd call them a fighter.  Martialists are more - they are dedicated, trained warriors, who know advanced combat maneuvers and are capable of learning more through play.  A fighter is more generic in most systems and such classes generally only gain abilities when a new level is reached.

I've written and rewritten a Martialist class a number of times now and just haven't been happy with the outcome.  I finally sat down and forced myself to storyboard the class before diving in on yet another rewrite.

Here's what I imagine - cinematically, mind you, not realistically.  Realism != Fun, at least in my book.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Complete Evolution, Part 5

I don't like to complain too much.

It doesn't really get me anywhere and there's pretty much enough hate in the world to last forever.

So I'm not going to complain here.

I'm just going to post the undoctored picture that is the current home page background for D&D at Wizards, and suggest that a single warrior with no shield taking on what appears to be the largest red dragon ever made, with an aggressive and arrogant stance that says "yea I can take him", may represent some sort of theme.

For more on the topic check out this recent blog entry from wrathofzombie.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ninja meet Jedi

What's better than a ninja or a jedi?

Ninja Jedi.

Only thing that would be better is if they were fighting Ninja Turtles - over the carcass of a dead My Little Pony.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Mortal Ninja

Ninjas in Phoenix are fairly straightforward - in fact, they largely fill the "monk" niche that a lot of other systems offer.

Personally, I've never completely understood why "monk" became synonymous with "martial arts class".  I get that shaolin monks are exceedingly cool, so don't get me wrong here.  But when I think of a monk, I still think of cloistered students of theology known for hard work and discipline. Martial Arts optional.

Ninjas - now, noone can confuse them for meek theology students, unless that's what the ninja wants someone to believe, of course.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Mortal Conquestor

Conquestors were the first class I started design on in Phoenix, and they show it.  Having been through the most iterations, they are the class I feel most comfortable with.

I know that much of the OSR audience abhors complex mechanics for fighters, but I confess to liking some of that sort of thing, with the fundamental requirement that it is both fun to play and adds to the flavor of the class.

I don't much buy into the concept of encounter or daily types of powers for fighters, so don't be worried that I'm going all new-age.  My reasoning for not liking these is simple - I have yet to hear an associated explanation for it.  It seems 100% game-balancey to me and that's not a good enough reason, especially since I'm a big fan of not over-prioritizing balance in a co-op game.

So, what is a Conquestor in Phoenix?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Attacks of Opportunity do not solve the Problem

For those not aware, Attacks of Opportunity (AoOs) are free attacks earned when one character either disengages from, or moves around, another character in melee combat.  Well, there are other times such a thing can occur, but this is the most common, and what I'm focusing on in this discussion.

AoOs have existed in D&D officially for a number of years, and somewhat more unofficially for years past that.  Other games can have similar rules.  Lately the debate has risen up again due to 5e, which doesn't currently have them but probably will soon.  Neither proposal in 5e is effective to me, because it's either "nothing happens" or "roll extra dice that have almost no effect."

In fact, I've never really liked AoOs in most systems, because they don't solve the mechanical problem they are meant to address.

Let's do an experiment to illustrate my point.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What makes a Character?

A character or person is defined by what they are, what they know, and what they do.  This is formally defined in the US Army:  Leadership is defined in terms of Be, Know, and Do.  Characters in most campaigns are leaders.  They are the protagonists of the stories and have significant impact on the world around them.

When defining a game system, I've found it useful to organize my thoughts around this structure.  Each of these categories should enhance fun for players and provide storytelling opportunities.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Playtest Campaign

I am starting two campaigns, one OTB and one virtual, to do some more extended testing with the new Phoenix system.

I am full on virtual players, but if you live in the Denver area and think this sounds fun, go ahead and drop me a line.

Raiding the Clip Art gallery for "games"
is a little disappointing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Awesome Tool: Adobe InDesign

Some of you might already be familiar with it.  For those that aren't, Adobe InDesign is the professional page layout tool.  I really enjoying using it.  My game copy - formerly in word documents - is slowly starting to look less like a word document.

I recently upgraded to version CS6 (from CS5) and there are some interesting differences.  Most of it seems to surround enhanced capabilities for eBooks on readers like the iPad and the Kindle.  I've been slowly learning about things like Liquid Layouts, but mostly I've been working on page layout for Phoenix.

For instance, here's a low-quality image export of a chapter heading page in the current draft.

While this example may not express the most interesting content, I have to say it is pretty exciting to see the layout taking shape and filling with content.  Of course, I'm sure I have quite a few edits ahead of me, even on deceptively simple pages like this.  Tweaking feathers and fighting with the flattener are my new hobbies.  And, honestly, watching windows play with the flattener is actually kind of amusing....

... and next time I have some extra cash, remind me to get a Mac for this sort of stuff.

If anyone else out there is using CS6, drop a line and let me know how you're doing with it so far.  Maybe we can trade amusing font manager stories.  My email address is on my profile.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Will 'o' Wisp: Origins and Ideas

Some readers might realize by now that one of the things I enjoy is taking well known creatures in fantasy RPGs, and tracing them back to their historic or mythological origins.  I also like to build off of those origins to make new versions of the creatures.

Today, it's all about will o wisps, those little balls of light that like to make adventurers go for a swim in the local swamp.  A very long swim.  According to the 2e D&D Monstrous Manual, they feed off of the electrical activity of panicked folks.  So, of course, these malevolent entities want the death to be slow and horrifying if at all possible.

So where does this creature originate?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Random Thoughts on Software

The Wall Street Journal published an article on why many software hiring tools are hurting the US economy.

You can read the article here.

Or if you want the part that's relevant to my post today, it's this bit that caught my attention:

"A Philadelphia-area human-resources executive told Mr. Cappelli that he applied anonymously for a job in his own company as an experiment. He didn't make it through the screening process."

He had these problems because of the software.

I have 15ish years in software design, development, and management, and I am constantly amazed at the lack of basic concepts understood by some companies and engineers, to say nothing of my fellow managers.

Now, this isn't a business blog, so how does this relate to tabletop gaming?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Revisions to Weapons

Having simplified Defenses, I have been able to turn my attention to revised weapon groups.

There are no attack rolls in Phoenix, so the primary focus of a weapon group is the Damage dealt.  It's only partially the total die value - it is also the size of the die.  This is important to the feel of the weapon in play, because Phoenix dice explode.  When a weapon should rely more on these critical events to do its damage, it should use smaller dice.  When a weapon should rely less on critical events, it should have a larger die size.

Weapon descriptions themselves are left up to the players and the GM.  The weapon must be made in a fashion that intends it to be used as a weapon; otherwise, it is either reduced in die size or considered nonproficient.  Nonproficient weapons always do 1d6 and never gain a bonus from any attribute.

So, if a player wants an anime-sized scimitar, and the GM's okay with that, then so be it.  It's still a 1-H Striking weapon.  If a player wants to use nunchuks with his kung fu, then great.  It's still Martial Arts.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hidden Things

A fellow that played in one of my campaigns a little while ago has managed to trick HarperCollins into publishing his novel, "Hidden Things".

Great cover.

Check it out on amazon.

Baby Bat has a pre-publisher copy of the story from around a decade ago.  It looks a little different.

A lot of tabletop folk think about writing a novel, but for most of us it doesn't get this far.  How awesome is it when one of us not only follows through, but also convinces a major publisher that it's worth printing?

Well done.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Revisions to Defenses

I tried two approaches to Defenses in playtesting, and neither felt right.  I've since realized that at least one approach was attempting to be too simulationist.  I was trying to design a system that took into effect which weapon group was better at what sort of defense, etc., and in the end I've had to remind myself that Phoenix just isn't that type of game.

My original design goals were to significantly accelerate RPG combat, giving time for either more action or more drama.  Drama and gamism are the two focuses.  Another game can deal with simulationism, perhaps even one I work on in the future.

Having cleared my mind and gone back to the beginning, I've sorted out simpler Defenses for the next playtest round.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Phoenix Cyclopaeans

Thought I was done after Dwarves, Gnomes, Elves, and Humans?

I'm not completely boring.

Cyclopaeans are physically inspired by classical mythology.  However, in Phoenix, they are neither giants nor blacksmiths.  In the default setting, they live in hostile terrain - usually high mountains - and generally avoid contact with other humanoids.  They are a foot taller than comparable humans and a bit heavier.  Cyclopaean society tends to be clan based and semi-nomadic, with brute force required for survival.

Cyclopaeans have a special connection with The Rift - which will be described another time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Phoenix Humans

Oddly enough, humans have been written about in many stories throughout human history.

This might seem to make humans easy to write about - but in fact I find it is the opposite.  Humans in the real world have been every archetype, belonged to every culture, and accomplished everything that we have ever known.  Unless you're a scientologist, but I figure that's a discussion for a sci-fi RPG.

Four arms, four legs.  Is that a Scientology Human?

With many races, I have tried to create active capabilities.  With Humans, many of the abilities are more passive - this is on purpose.  Humans have the unique metagame feature of being the simplest to play, if that's what a player desires most.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Phoenix Elves

Elves are the classical RPG feminine match to Dwarven masculinity.  Thus, Dwarven females have beards, and Elven males are easily confused with Elven females.

Mythologically, Elves and Dwarves have common ancestry, dividing out into separate races somewhere along the way in Norse mythology.  Dwarves retained their Elvish proper names for quite some time after the distinction was established.

Elves, in one form or another, have been the subject of many western civilization stories, and modern gaming draws from several of these sources.  For instance, their famed proficiency with bows & arrows stretches back to at least the 16th century, where the discovery of neolithic arrowheads was attributed to elves, and a sharp pain was called an "elf-shot".

I've drawn upon these and focused on stories connecting elves with nature, as I already have races for Elements and Energy.

Before I get started, I have one promise about Elves in Phoenix:  There will never be a dark elf.  I've heard enough about them to last a thousand lifetimes.  Not convinced?  Let me put it this way: Dark Elves are roughly equivalent to Twilight in my mind.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Phoenix Gnomes

Gnomes are both popular and despised in many RPG games.   Some folks like to torment them endlessly, and some folks won't play anything else.

I find lawn gnomes humorous and pondered a little bit over what their culture would be like - while also dipping into the writings of Paracelsus and others.  The real-world mythologies of Dwarves and Gnomes crosses over quite a bit, and having two elemental-like races didn't sit well with me.  Thus, I decided to focus them on Energies instead of Elements.

Hopefully what I have created here will be amusingly independent while also obeying some of the more classic uses of the Gnome, and their Germanic origins.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Phoenix Dwarves

(Side note:  Passed my PMP Exam!  Thanks Grek!)

I've long had a personal fetish for roleplaying Dwarves, and this enjoyment comes through in Phoenix.

Before I get to that - let me talk a little bit about my approach to races in Phoenix.  For Phoenix, I want a largely classical feel.  Yes, that frequently means Tolkien-inspired.  I'll also draw from mythology - especially Celtic, Germanic, and Norse - for some aspects.

While I enjoy seeing some creative liberties with classic races like Dwarf and Elf, sometimes it goes too far for my tastes.

No.  Hell no.

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