29 January 2011

2011: My Year of BRP

Much to my delight, it looks like my role-playing activities this winter, spring, and summer will be focused on various Basic Role-Playing-derived (‘d100’) games.

1. I’ve been involved in an OpenQuest play-by-post game since September. Unfortunately, like any play-by-post game, it has been moving at a snail’s pace. But at least there are no logistical problems in keeping a play-by-post game going (i.e., finding a time and place for everyone to meet up).

2. My Call of Cthulhu campaign (‘Cthulhu Canada’) has been going quite well. We just finished the second adventure (“Mr. Corbitt” from Mansions of Madness) last night. Everyone is having a blast, and is keen to see what happens next. The plan is to have at least two sessions every month (until I return to Milwaukee at the end of August).

3. I’ll be a player in a RuneQuest II campaign (the current version of the game from Mongoose), starting in February. Excitingly, the GM is none other than Lawrence Whitaker, co-author of RQII, as well as author of the Elric of Melnibone setting book for RQII (and many other RQII books as well). The campaign will be set in the Young Kingdoms.

2011 should be a lot of fun!

(Hmmm … Elric looks a little too ‘buff’ in that picture, I think.)

27 January 2011

Novus and Firehawk Games

As mentioned in an earlier post, Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) recently underwent a significant change in management. Among other things, Tim Dugger (author of 'HARP' and many other ICE products) is not with the 'new' ICE. Instead, he has moved on to a company called Firehawk Games, and is working on a new RPG called 'Novus', the beta version of which is now available for free.

For more information on 'Novus', here is the explanatory e-mail message that I received from Tim earlier this week:

My name is Tim Dugger, although you likely know me by my more common internet handle, Rasyr. A few months ago, I started work for a tiny company called Firehawk Games. I have authored a new role-playing game for them. It is called Novus.

We are proud to announce that Novus has just gone live!

Firehawk Games has released Novus in an Open Beta format. In fact, there are two different versions of Novus. The Free Version and the Deluxe Version.

The Free Version is a no-frills PDF that contains just the rules. No bookmarks, no internal hyperlinks, no artwork, no extras of any kind. The Deluxe Version currently has bookmarks and internal links, and will be updated with an index, and artwork as the Open Beta progresses. Both versions will receive updates to the rules as any such updates are made in response to feedback from folks participating in the Open Beta.

Both versions are available from RPGNow at http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=410

Here is a brief overview of the system. I hope that you find it interesting.

Novus is a 2d10 roll-over TN system that incorporates exploding dice. What this means is that the GM decides upon a Target Number (TN) for a given task, and you have to equal or beat that number to succeed. By "exploding dice", I mean that if you roll an unmodified 10 on either die, then you get to roll that die and add it to the previous roll. There is no limit to how many times your dice may explode, thus allowing for the possibility of very high rolls. This also means that there is ALWAYS a chance for success.

Combat works just like normal task resolution. However, the TN for the attack is the foe's DEF (Defense), and sentient foes can perform actions that raise this (i.e. sacrificing some or all of their attack bonus to increase DEF). Shields add to DEF, armor does not. Instead, armor reduces the damage received (AR - Armor Rating). When dealing damage, you start off with a static base (Base Damage + Strength bonus for melee) and then you do additional damage based on how good your attack roll was. You can also earn "Boon Points" which you can then spend on dealing extra damage or on making additional attacks or even giving yourself a bonus of some sort in the following round.

Magic also works like other tasks. You have a single skill for casting spells, and you learn each spell separately (you purchase them via character points, same as with skills and talents). Each spell has its own TN and Spell Point cost for casting. And just like for combat, you can earn Casting Boon Points that allow for scaling up the power of the spell. As part of one of the first supplements we will be introducing a spell creation system that is designed to also allow characters to cast spells on the fly, creating them as they need them.

Novus comes with everything you need to begin playing today! Go get the Free Version from RPGNow, and give it a spin. If you like it, feel free to support Firehawk Games by coming back and picking up the Deluxe Version.

And if you would like to continue to receive updates about Novus, visit our website at http://www.firehawkgames.com and either sign up for the newsletter or join the forums. We hope to see you soon!


Tim Dugger
Firehawk Games
I wish the best for Tim and the Novus RPG, which I plan to check out once I have some spare time. Because of other commitments, though, I doubt that I'll be able to try out Novus in the near future. Nonetheless, I look forward to following its development, and will very likely purchase the final version when it is available.

25 January 2011

The Edge of Darkness

Cthulhu Canada – Session 1 – The Edge of Darkness*

Thursday, May 1923

It is a pleasant spring day in the city of Toronto, the second-largest city in the Dominion of Canada. Our protagonists – the surgeon Pierre Rioux [Peet] and the Egyptologist Nigel Blackthorne [Marcus] – are called to the bedside of their former mentor and long-time friend, Professor Rupert Merriweather, at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Professor Merriweather has been a lecturer of ancient history at King’s College** at the University of Toronto for many years. At first as exceptional students, then as friends, and, in the case of Nigel, ultimately as a colleague, the protagonists have known Prof. Merriweather for a dozen years. (Nigel and Pierre attended King’s College from 1910 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.)

Much to the dismay of Nigel and Pierre, though, it is clear that the professor is dying. Employing his medical knowledge, Pierre ascertains that cancer is eating away their former mentor.

Sensing that he is near the end of his days, Prof. Merriweather instructs his former students to take a small metal box on the nightstand by the bed. “Take the box,” he croaks. “All the aid I can offer you lies within. You must find a way to send that thing back to where it came. You must see that this is done. Do it for me.”

At this point the elderly professor begins coughing violently. The protagonists are compelled to leave the room by medical personnel attending to Merriweather.

Retiring to a nearby café, Nigel and Pierre open the small metal box. Within they discover a yellowed envelope containing the deed to a house (specifically, a farmhouse outside a small hamlet called “Ross’s Corners,” located midway between Toronto and London), a key, a small, sarcophagus-shaped gold box of ancient design, and a slim journal bound in leather.

On the top of the sarcophagus are some Egyptian hieroglyphics. Despite his training, Nigel cannot translate them immediately – he needs a couple of days of research. There are some odd carvings on the inside of the sarcophagus. They clearly are not Egyptian. Indeed, Nigel recognizes them as vaguely resembling other symbols attributed to the lost, ancient civilization of ‘Hyperborea.’

The friends part ways for the rest of the afternoon. Pierre reads through the journal, and is shocked by what he learns. Apparently Merriweather was once a member of a student group interested in the occult called the ‘Dark Brotherhood.’ The group purchased the farmhouse outside of Ross’s Corners to conduct their occult investigations (séances, summonings, etc.). After many failures, in March 1882 the group finally succeeded in their experiments. The Dark Brotherhood summoned a horrific entity from beyond the bounds of this universe. The alien entity slew one of the group’s members, and drove another mad. Fortunately, the leader of the Brotherhood – one Marion Allen – had had the foresight to carve various special warding signs over the doors and windows, binding the creature to the house’s attic.

According to the journal, the entity may be driven back out of this universe if the ritual is performed in reverse. Alas, no details of the ritual are included in the journal. Moreover, the journal makes clear that the creature will be freed once the last of the Brotherhood dies. And, sure enough, the ill Rupert Merriweather is the only surviving member!

Meeting up for a late dinner at the King Edward Hotel, Pierre relates his findings to Nigel. They decide to meet up at King’s College on Saturday to determine what to do.

Friday, May 1923

Taking care of their professional duties as quickly as possible, the protagonists spend the remainder of the day researching the contents of the small metal box, and related matters.

Pierre returns to St. Michael’s Hospital to learn that Rupert Merriweather has passed away. The creature mentioned in the professor’s journal – assuming that the entries within it are truthful – is now freed!

Saturday, May 1923

Nigel and Pierre meet at King’s College (where Nigel is a lecturer on Ancient Egypt) in order to discuss their findings. The translated hieroglyphics provide no additional insight. Research at the university’s library reveals that the gold sarcophagus once contained a piece of amber trapping an unidentified arthropod. Tales of the sarcophagus and the mysterious piece of amber date back to the age of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. Apparently the trapped arthropod was the focus of the original summoning ritual. The spirit contained within the arthropod supposedly was a friendly and helpful one.

Obviously, this was not the case…

Various other matters are discussed (inter alia, a newspaper clipping describing Marion Allen’s murder in Montreal in 1882). The protagonists decide to travel to Ross’s Corners on Monday (no transportation being available on Sunday).

Monday, May 1923

Nigel and Pierre arrive by bus at Ross’s Corners around 10 a.m. (unfortunately, no train passes through the isolated village).

At the farmhouse, the protagonists are surprised and assaulted by a maddened hobo. Nigel suffers a nasty blow to the head, and the hobo successfully flees.

Pierre and Nigel subsequently discover various interesting things within the farmhouse, chief among them an old cigar box. The cigar box contains: (1) a sheaf of yellowed papers describing the ritual; (2) a metal canister containing a coarse, brownish powder, which Pierre identifies as containing sulphur and an oxide of copper as its primary constituents***; and a small wooden box with a sliding lid holding a small amount of silvery talc (which the protagonists later identify as ‘Powder of Ibn-Ghazi’).

Returning to Ross’s Corners, Nigel and Pierre rent a room at the local boarding house, along with a pair of bicycles. They also purchase a rifle at the general store. Studying the yellowed papers, they decide to conduct the banishing ritual that night. It must be conducted in the farmhouse at midnight, and apparently will take two hours of concerted effort.

Before returning to the farmhouse, the young men learn that a local farmer’s wife went missing a day ago. Could the unearthly creature be responsible?

Upon returning to the farmhouse, the protagonists make all of the necessary preparations for the ritual (barring the doors, drawing the pentagram and associated arcane symbols, preparing the ritual dust, and so forth).

At midnight the ritual begins! Candles are lit, the brown dust is thrown into the flame within the pentagram, and there is chanting, chanting, and more chanting. The entity returns to the attic and tries to disrupt the ritual by making various eldritch noises. Undaunted, the protagonists continue. Outside the house they hear a woman crying out for help. With iron-like discipline, they ignore the pleas. They also pay no heed to the desperate banging at the backdoor that soon follows. In a final effort to disrupt the ritual, the entity causes vile, horrific ooze to drip from the ceiling, a drop of which burns the arm of one of our heroic gentlemen. Nigel and Pierre persist nonetheless.

Finally, the ritual is almost completed. At this point, a strange ‘whirlwind’ manifestation appears in the midst of the pentagram. Throwing the Dust of Ibn-Ghazi onto the manifestation, they see the creature for what it is, namely, a twisting mass of talons, grotesque maws, and long slimy appendages! [Some mild Sanity loss occurs.]

In the end, though, the protagonists successfully banish the creature from our plane of existence. Outside of the farmhouse, they discover the body of the farmer’s wife. Pierre discerns that she has been dead for almost two days, her heart neatly sucked out of her chest.

Tuesday, May 1923

Nigel and Pierre clean up the farmhouse (destroying the pentagram to avoid suspicion, and so forth). They return to Ross’s Corners and report finding the farmer’s wife to the police, as well as the assault by the maddened hobo. As respectable professionals (a doctor and university lecturer), their account is accepted without question by the local authorities, and they return to Toronto later that afternoon.



* I ran a slightly modified version of the adventure “The Edge of Darkness” from the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook (6th edition). The adventure worked very well as a campaign-starter. It helped introduce the world of the Mythos in a compelling way. I was somewhat surprised at how smoothly it went. The players discovered (almost) all of the relevant clues, and did not make any (major) mistakes. I’d recommend this adventure to other starting groups.

** King’s College is a fictional college that I’m using for this campaign. (Historical note: the original name of University College, at the University of Toronto, was King’s College. Peet, Marcus, and I all went to University College two decades ago. So having ‘King’s College’ play an important role in our campaign amuses us. Yes, we are dorks.)

*** Pierre’s Chemistry skill was only 1 percent. Peet rolled a 1!

24 January 2011

Finding the right RPG

I stumbled across this flowchart in the ethernet, and found it amusing enough to share it here (even though it's missing Chaosium's BRP and Stormbringer; grrr...).

The flowchart originally was posted at Inkwell Ideas.

22 January 2011

Son of Crom

Today is the birthday of Robert Ervin Howard (1906), creator of Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Solomon Kane.

"Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet."

(From The Phoenix on the Sword.)

A pity that the upcoming Conan film will not be based on any of Howard's original tales. But at least we now have the original stories in print, thanks to Wandering Star and Ballantine Books. (See: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan.)

20 January 2011

Interview with 'Conan' Screenwriter

In case you are curious about the forthcoming Conan the Barbarian film (to be released 19 August 2011), an interview with one of the film's screenwriters, Sean Hood, can be found here.

I'm disappointed about two things: (a) the film is not based on any of Robert E. Howard's actual Conan stories, and (b) the film will be in 3-D (ick).

But, yeah, of course I'll go see it this summer...

Brave Halfling Publishing moves to ‘Delving Deeper RPG’

No longer will Brave Halfling Publishing be responsible for the Swords & Wizardry ‘White Box’ game. Instead, it will be publishing its own ‘old school’ RPG, entitled ‘Delving Deeper.’

The official announcement (from here):

Brave Halfling Publishing is proud to announce “Delving Deeper RPG!”

Delving Deeper RPG closely emulates the rules of the earliest version of the world’s most popular roleplaying game. Go back to a time when every weapon did d6 damage, clerics could cast no spell at first level, only fighters could use magic swords, and if you wanted a locked door opened you had to bash the thing in! It is difficult to imagine in a world where multiple, weighty tomes comprise the rules; but the these three small books contain all you need to build a campaign that can span decades of real time! If you’re tired of trying to find the rule for determining whether your fighter is left-handed and is able to swim and just want to kill some goblins, have we got a game for you!

But wait, there’s more! While Delving Deeper is a solid, rule set that closely emulates the rules of the earliest version of Original Edition, it also has a toolbox aspect to it as well. Running throughout the game are two separate tracks of options – little tweaks to the rules that help DD also emulate the rules of the First Basic Edition (“Track #1”) and the rules of the Third Print Edition of a modern rpg inspired by Original Edition that I used to publish (“Track #2”).

Delving Deeper RPG will be released directly from Brave Halfling Publishing as a digest boxed set of booklets, dice, character sheets, etc. the first week of April and in your local game store in May. We will be supporting Delving Deeper RPG with modules, supplements and campaigns. A free trademark license will also be available for third party publishers.

But there’s no need to sit around and wait. Come on back next Monday afternoon for our weekly Development Blog. But do more than that, help us put this thing together! Not only will I be offering sneak peaks at the text and art, I’ll be asking for your input too!

It’s sad to see S&W WB go away (at least no one seems to be producing it anymore), but I understand John Adams’ reasons for going this way. Best of luck to him!

(Good grief, I've been posting a lot today! Time to stop procrastinating, er, blogging, for a while...)

Cthulhu Canada Campaign Index

This is the index for my current Call of Cthulhu campaign, set in 1920s Canada (initially, 1923 Toronto).

This post will be updated with relevant links to other posts concerning this campaign as it progresses.

Regarding the Characters:

Adventure Reports:

Miscellaneous Posts:

Photograph of 1923 Toronto (intersection of Queen Street and Bay Street; City Hall to the right of picture).

Cthulhu awakens:

Toronto 1923

I've begun running a Call of Cthulhu game set in 1923 Toronto, and came across this photograph of the city's downtown (intersection of Queen Street and Bay Street) from that year. Interesting how both familiar and different the area looks.

I hope to use this photograph (and perhaps a few others I can find) as 'play aids' in our next session.

19 January 2011

Upcoming Middle-earth RPG: Some News

A brief report on the upcoming Middle-earth RPG, entitled The One Ring, can be found here.

Alas, that report is in Italian. Fortunately, an English translation can be found here. I've pasted it below:
Crude translation:

The One Ring of Nepitello

We had already given a preview of the news about the new role-playing game inspired by
The Lord of the Rings, here. And we had pre-announced an interview with Francesco Nepitello on this ambitious project, here. Well, enough beating around the bush... here are the facts!

We had an interesting conversation with Francesco during PLAY, and now we really hope for this long-awaited title.

A bit of background... Francesco is asleep in bed one day when the phone rings and his Spanish contacts point out that nobody in the world has thought of making a new RPG of
The Lord of the Rings, now that the licenses are free. "But what do you think? The license will cost a lot..."

Some time passes, rumors circulate, contacts are contacted, and he gets another call, this time from
Sophisticated Games: "We liked your work on our Lord of the Rings games, how about also designing the role-playing game?"

In short: Francesco Nepitello finds himself at the head of the team developing the new RPG of
The Lord of the Rings, made by Sophisticated Gamesand published in England by Cubicle 7.

But now let's talk about the game itself. There is still little known. It's still in playtest, even if the rules have been decided and we are talking more than anything else about having to clean up and refine the details and errors that may have escaped.

The project is very interesting and follows, for better or worse, some trends in modern game design seen around for a couple of years now.

Starting from the outside, so to speak, the physical product may recall the recent Warhammer 3, as it is presented as a box containing two booklets of about 60 pages, the dice for the game, and various other useful accessories to match... but here Francesco corrects us, recalling that long before WH3, the very Italian (and his) Lex Arcana used a similar publishing model.

Another modern element is the "scope" of the game. As already in D&D4 and WH3, so also The One Ring offers the public a specific type of gaming experience, leaving behind the concept of "one game for everyone to do everything, but in a Tolkienian sauce" and choosing to offer a single thing done well. It will be a game structure essentially traditional, but with a number of advantages and potentials that no other game based on
The Lord of the Rings has ever had before.

But what is it exactly? In two words: historical reconstruction. Nepitello and his development team have made a deep and extensive research work on the original texts of the works of Tolkien to search for what the author really imagined, eliminating all distortions that the many different editions of the games inspired by them have introduced into the collective imagination.

From this clean canon, it was then decided what Tolkien wanted to convey with the stories he told, and based on this we tried to shape the game to allow the group to create and live exactly those kind of stories, with those issues and those particular characteristics.

The result?

The game is designed to develop in chronological chapters. The manual will provide as the basic setting the area of Mirkwood in the period immediately following the death of the dragon Smaug which occurred at the hands of Bilbo in
The Hobbit, and will focus on the adventures of the Free Peoples of the North. That's it.

Let me explain...

Behind this incipit there is a specific choice of game design. Tolkien's stories deal with themes of human heroism and sacrifice and struggle with the difficulties; the whole game is then directed to re-create these kinds of stories in the best possible way.

No need, therefore, to provide a complete atlas of Middle-earth when the only playable area is actually Mirkwood. No need to draw on the thousands of years of history of Arda if the only playable period is actually the time when, after Smaug died, the frontiers were opened to travelers with curiosity and hopes for an eventful life. No need to list statistics for unplayable races like the Numenoreans or the High Elves. No need, like the old rulebooks, to offer every possible option to do anything in any way, but then not be used, in fact damaging the playing group that was trying to deal with many different and often conflicting demands that almost always went beyond the style of the Tolken canon.

Therefore, a closed environment but very detailed and rich in opportunities for adventure, a pre-determined period of time but chosen for its potential to play; races selected for their effective usability issues within the "humanity" of the work.

But this is only the beginning! Where the base module lays the foundation, subsequent releases will carry forward the chronology of the story, expanding the available playable area, gradually darkening the tone and themes until you reach the period of the war and the events of Mount Doom.

In essence, the game features a world where Frodo and the original members of the company never existed. There may be players to take their place... or not. The great historical events go on, and players have the opportunity to influence them step by step, altering the great history of the world. All this while respecting the spirit, style and themes of the works of Tolkien.

Not only that, but every game rule is designed to evoke some aspect of Tolkien. For example, the characters have three basic statistics (the typical triad of values physical, mental and spiritual) that directly recall a phrase from Gandalf to Frodo, in which the text listed the qualities that the young hobbits would need to overcome the expected trials.

[?Skills improve the more you successfuly use them.] This rule takes on a very evocative value when we learn that with the passage of time and the accumulation of power they can "corrupt" the characters by increasing a value called Shadow, and all races react differently: for example, Elves (as Legolas) become increasingly detached from worldly matters physical and mortal, which is translated into rules in the gradual inability to use the bonuses stemming from abilities.

The game also plans to follow the life of the characters, to the idea that human players create a series of characters to simulate the fact that one grows old and retires and is replaced by his heir (biological or spiritual).

The game time is in fact divided into "seasons". Every great adventure is followed by a rest period (at a Safe Haven with their companions, or at their homeland with their family). In this way, the heroic abilities of the character, or its personal and family life, are developed.

It also presents a strict system of classes/careers with multiple choice also designed to ensure that the characters in the game reflect the typical heroes of the saga and Tolkien, and do not become super-rounded characters that would have very little to do with Middle-earth.

This is supported by a number of traits that confer special bonuses to the character and ability, but always with a view to increase the consistency with respect to race and class.

So expect to see this interesting and innovative project to mature, which seems to happen early next year. It's interesting to note that eventually more and more parts of the world of role-playing game is being slowly and often without self-consciousness, pushing in the direction indicated by the Indy games or so-called New Wave. A direct question, Francesco tells us that it was not at all inspired by these new models of design and indeed in some ways he wanted to get some distance.

But in considering the regulation, for the little that is given us to know, is known as the development team has analyzed the things that really make the players at the table and tried to influence them through the game mechanics, rather than simply determining if the imaginary world of imaginary physical game does cause a sword +1 or +2 points of damage, and in the end this is one of the real differences between traditional and modern design. Then we have already mentioned the design decision to offer a gaming experience is certainly more limited than usual (often unpopular choice) but in the face of much greater relevance to the fees chosen, thus defining a clear purpose for the game. And in this regard is Francesco himself (probably without suspecting any thing) to cite as a possible source of inspiration and comparison, the popular Pendragon, one of the few games "old" in which designers recognize the merits of the new wave. It would not be the first time a designer comes to the streets of all personal choices and solutions in line with the latest trends in modern design, without moving away from traditional style rendesene account that went for more in the last forty years. Dual therefore the interest in the release of this manual, remember, bring attention and prestige to the Italian scene play in the world.
Here are some of my initial thoughts:

I'm not sure what the author means by the "new wave" or "new models" of RPG design. The primary influence clearly seems to be Pendragon, and at 25+ years of age, Pendragon hardly can be considered a 'new model' RPG.

A Middle-earth RPG that resembles Pendragon actually sounds quite intriguing! It would be distinct form earlier efforts (MERP and Decipher's LotR), and could potentially capture the ethos of Middle-earth quite well.

My main concern has to do with the game's narrow focus. Northern Mirkwood during the late Third Age is a great setting for a campaign, especially for starting one up (it has lots of opportunity for adventure, but no high-powered foes ready to destroy a beginning band of adventurers). But it seems like a great mistake to provide information on only this region and era in the core box set.

It seems incomprehensible to me that a Middle-earth RPG would not enable players to create and run a Dunedan ranger or a Hobbit burglar! Likewise, surely Middle-earth GMs might be interested in running their adventures in the wilds of Eriador (perhaps as part of a 'ranger' campaign)? Or on Gondor's troubled Ithilien frontier? And then, of course, there are the different eras in which Middle-earth adventures could take place.

In short, my worry is that the focus of The One Ring RPG is far too narrow for a successful Middle-earth RPG.

Nonetheless, I'm happy to wait and see what eventually is released. Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised.

In any case, I remain quite fond of MERP, and have a pretty decent collection of old ICE Middle-earth campaign modules, so I'm not really desperate for new Middle-earth gaming material.

(One picky point: Bard slew Smaug, not Bilbo, contrary to what is indicated by the blurb's text.)

(Illustration note: I've posted another excellent picture by the incomparable Agnus McBride. It depicts a chase in the Rhovanion, which seemed appropriate, given the forthcoming game's focus on the northern Mirkwood region.)

(Thanks to Benoist for bringing this article to my attention in this thread.)

14 January 2011

Cubicle 7 Loot Arrives! With an unexpected ‘shout-out’!

I recently received two items that I pre-ordered months ago from Cubicle 7. Happily, I can report that both look excellent.

The first item is the third Clockwork & Chivalry adventure for MRQII, entitled ‘No Man’s Land’. I’ve only had a chance to skim it so far, but it looks like it lives up to the excellent standard established by the earlier instalments in this series.

Of note is the fact that ‘internet-friend’, master of d101 Games, and writer of OpenQuest, Newt Newport is quoted on the cover, saying:

“…quite simply in my opinion Clockwork & Chivalry is the best British fantasy setting since WFRP first ed.”

In addition, in the acknowledgements there is mention of yours truly! That was completely unexpected – and wholly unwarranted (all I’ve done is mention these fine books a few times at this minor blog) – but very nice indeed. Thanks, Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton!

The second item is C7’s Laundry RPG.

Using Chaosium’s BRP system, the Laundry RPG is essentially a variant of The Call of Cthulhu RPG, set in the ‘Lovecraftian’ (but not Lovecratft’s) universe of geek-agent Bob Howard, as described in a number of stories by well-known sci-fi author Charles Stross. In this fictional world, Britain’s valiant ‘Landry’ agency stands on guard against the Eldritch Horrors that seek to enter (and destroy, or at least render far less hospitable to human life) our plane of existence.

(Biographical note: I met Charles Stross a few years ago, I believe autumn 2005, at the Irish science-fiction convention ‘Octocon’. We were both discussants on a panel addressing the question of whether or not people would ‘survive’ being ‘downloaded’ into computers. I was acting as the token philosopher, trying to provide some insight into the metaphysics of personal identity. Stross struck me as a very nice guy, albeit someone quite impressed with himself.)

Cubicle 7 continues to impress – it is, I think, the best professional RPG company around these days.

10 January 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: Initial Thoughts

I received an e-mail message from Goodman Games last week (they seem to arrive every so often) which included a brief blurb describing their forthcoming 'Dungeon Crawl Classics' RPG . A quick visit to their forum uncovered this summary post:
What It Is, And What It Isn’t

What if Gygax and Arneson had access to the Open Game License when they created D&D? What if they spent their time adapting thirty years of game design principles to their stated inspirations -- rather than creating the building blocks from scratch? What if someone were to attempt just that: to immerse himself in the game’s inspirations and re-envision the output using modern game design principles?

That, in short, is the goal of the Dungeon Crawl Classics role playing game: to create a modern RPG that reflects D&D’s origin-point concepts with decades-later rules editions. For many years I have been a fan of old-school gaming, the history of TSR, and the lore of Appendix N, as reflected in many of the products I’ve published. When Dungeon Crawl Classics #1 appeared on shelves way back in 2003, Goodman Games and Kenzer & Company were the only publishers of “old-school” products. Over the eight years since, the “Old School Renaissance” has blossomed, and now a host of high-quality product lines and thriving communities offer “old-school” products. A subject of some controversy has been the proliferation and originality of “retro-clones”: is it enough to simply re-hash the past? Where my DCC modules once did just that -- dwell in a rosy-toned version of early-era D&D game style and art direction -- the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game goes much further. This is not a retro-clone: this is a re-imagining.

There is a lot to cover regarding DCC RPG, and in the next eleven months we’ll cover all of it. But let’s start with the basics. For those of you who have not read the various con reports and blog commentaries over the last year, this diary entry may be your first exposure to the game. Therefore, for this first designer’s diary, I’d like to establish the record on a couple basic facts. Here’s what the DCC RPG is, and is not:

It is not a retro-clone.

It is an OGL game.

It uses a rules engine derived from the 3E d20 system.

It is not compatible with 1970s/1980s D&D rules.

It plays like a 1970s OD&D session.

It is generally compatible with other d20-derived systems.

It does not include complexities like attacks of opportunity, prestige classes, feats, or skill points.

It does not utilize miniatures or a grid-based combat system.

It utilizes races as classes -- you can be a warrior, or an elf.

It utilizes six ability scores, including one called Luck.

It is built on the assumption that some characters will die.

It is built on the assumption that the strongest characters will provide long-term campaigns.

It is built for low-level, mid-level, and high-level play.

It does not require that you start at 0-level (though doing so is fun).

It does not use the traditional D&D spell system associated with memorizing spells.

It uses spellcasting rules influenced by the foundational authors of swords & sorcery.

It uses a Vancian magic system…if you use the term “Vancian” to mean “based on a reading of Vance’s original works,” not “what D&D does.”

It is grounded in the fundamentals of Appendix N.

It is a proud descendant of a long tradition.

It is an opportunity to showcase outstanding art in a classic fantasy style.

It is lots of fun to play.

It primarily uses the conventional dice suite: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20. Most combat and spell checks are resolved with a d20 roll.

It also utilizes Zocchi dice. All of them. Including the d5, d7 and d24.

It is, in my humble opinion, a version of what D&D could have been, if the early pioneers had access to an existing, robust rules engine to which to adapt their Appendix N inspirations, instead of dedicating their energies to building the foundational blocks from scratch.

It is, as Harley described it early on, “pre-D&D swords & sorcery.”

That’s all for now. Next time: more on, pre-D&D swords & sorcery -- or, Brought to You by Appendix N…

Of most interest to me was the following item: "It uses a Vancian magic system…if you use the term “Vancian” to mean “based on a reading of Vance’s original works,” not “what D&D does.”" I am genuinely intrigued to see what the DCC RPG magic system looks like based on this comment alone!

Overall, though, it's not clear what niche this game is intended to fill. It explicitly is not another 'retro-clone' (which certainly is not something that the hobby needs now). Castles & Crusades already fills the 'd20-lite-system-that-is-old-school' niche. Hackmaster is another 'new' old-school D&D-ish game. DCCRPG (yikes -- what an unpleasant acronym) clearly intends to take D&D's roots in earlier 'swords & sorcery' fiction (Howard, Vance, Leiber, et al.) seriously (hence the 'Appendix N' reference). That's intriguing, but I'm not sure how much demand there is for such a game (and, in my own case, I suspect that the forthcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea will satisfy this particular demand).

The 'old school' segment of the hobby looks pretty crowded now (all the retro-clones, C&C, Hackmaster, etc.), and promises to become even more crowded in the new year, with AS&SH, the re-release of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and now DCCRPG scheduled to appear.

A surfeit of options surely is to be preferred over a paucity of options. But I already have too many great games sitting on my bookcase to play. I'll certainly try to keep an open mind about DCCRPG and look at it when it comes out. Heck, I'll probably get a copy just to be able to sit down and read through the 'Vancian' magic system.

But I must confess that I don't feel especially excited about the DCCRPG.

03 January 2011

Happy Birthday Professor!

If Professor J.R.R. Tolkien were still alive, he would be 119 years old today.

Tolkien has given me more joy over the four decades of my life than any other writer of fiction. Not only have I been delighted and thrilled by his novels (including the comparatively unloved The Silmarillion), but many of my fondest gaming memories involve Middle-earth.

Thank you Professor!

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).