Thursday, January 31, 2013

Deathwatch: The Ark of Lost Souls

Fantasy Flight Games has found my weakness: Deathwatch - The Ark of Lost Souls, is what appears to be a campaign/scenario book for the Deathwatch Warhammer 40K RPG (of which there seem to be many with different themes). But this one is about the deathwatch marines, I guess, and it's latest scenario book sounds like the Space Hulk game properly translated into an RPG environment. Space Hulk was one of my all-time favorite minis/board games twenty years ago. Damnit....I may be buying both soon....

I'm really not into Warhammer 40K, but the idea of space marines exploring derelict, haunted vessels filled with gene stealers has always intrigued me. Thus why I snagged MaschineZeit recently (about which I plan to write more on, soon).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Neverwinter Nights Stick-Em-Up

I just received an email which points me to the splash page for early buy-in on the Neverwinter Nights MMORPG looming close on the horizon. Neverwinter Nights is being developed by Cryptic, which in turn was purchased by Perfect World Entertainment, one of the more successful MMO-focused companies out of Korea. No one has accused Perfect World of being out of touch with how to market a F2P experience that generates income, although I seem to recall that buy-in on some of their games can get quite expensive.

My primary experience with the monetization process of PW games comes from Blacklight: Retribution, a very fun game with a crappy store which sells you overpriced and mostly very temporary items with an eye toward encouraging random equipment packs that are often far less useful than you'd think. Blacklight: Retribution also encourages purchases in a sort of "pay to win" feel although it can take many hours playing it before you begin to realize this is going on.

I also of course have played a fair amount of Champions: Online since it went F2P, though the majority of my purchases in that game were during the opening weeks when they converted to F2P and had massive sales, all of which was before PW's ownership. Since PW took over Champions has had some overall improvements, but a massive increase in the volume of "things you'd really like to buy" in the store as well. I can't fault this approach, however, because I can still more or less enjoy Champions without buying all that stuff; it's all prestige, coolness and looks you're buying into there, with (so far as I can tell) very little or no buy-to-win content. I may be wrong, I don't play it often enough, but for a casual drop-in the game feels pretty robust.

Neverwinter Nights was on the fast track to a rush-job and shoddy finish in true Cryptic style when Perfect World bought them whole cloth and forced the studio to slow down and do a good job of it all (i.e. not like Star Trek Online). This was a good thing. Now, however, we finally get to see some opening pricing on the game. Bear in mind that Neverwinter Nights will be F2P as its core model, but I think looking at the pricing structure for people who opt to buy-in to the game's prepackaged goodies is telling as to just how much money PW and Cryptic is hoping you will spend:

The Founder's Pack "Hero of the North" is $199.99 for the chance to play a drow renegade (which sounds suspiciously to me like the characters in NN will be packaged similarly to the prebuilt options in Champions), a spider mount, panther companion, costume set and 13 other items and features ,including 750,000 astral diamonds which....assuming that's cash shop currency...might be a lot if the pricing structure is similar to Champions: Online's system. All of PW's other games were converted to a "Zen" currency so I don't know if in fact these astral diamonds mean anything.

$200 for all of the above sounds like a lot to me, but according to the web page its actually a discount down from a $549 value. No kidding.

The cheaper package is the "Guardians of Neverwinter" pack is for people who still believe that $60 is a maximum value buy-in point for video games, and comes with a medley of ten more conventional non-drow-themed stuff, along with 125,000 astral diamonds.

FInally, for the cheap end of the pool they've got a $19.99 "let me on the bus" package with three items that don't really seem worth twenty bucks and no astral diamonds.

It seems to me that Perfect World is staking a lot on the expectation that gamers who are willing to buy in to Neverwinter Nights are just exploding with cash and a desperate need to spend it. This is probably true of the "whales" in the F2P monetization process, and while I might have questioned just how many of them actually exist out there, the truth is that F2P seems to be a viable market (ergo why everyone is doing it) and then you have things like the Pathfinder Online Kickstarters, proving people will dump tons of cash into pipe dreams. At least PW is offering genuine virtual goods for a sure thing to come this year.

Right now these packages seem seriously overpriced for a game no one's even played yet, and worse yet you get a paid-beta access as part of this buy in, so the only way to try before you buy is to wait until the game pops out and the special founder prices presumably set to the crazily more expensive defaults.

Another theory I have: this founder approach with a big ticket entry price is actually the F2P model's way of trying to figure out how to get those "Lifetime Subscribers" to keep giving big bucks. I know of a few people who saw a game....say, Champions or DDO, and bought lifetime subs when the games were still subscription based. PW must know those people continue to exist, and is trying to figure out how to snag them.

I suspect that this deal would actually look good if they could do two things first: 1. show us a sample of the cash shop pricing, and 2. confirm that astral diamonds are in fact cash shop zen currency. If I knew that information, I'd be more inclined to take the founder packages seriously.

Exploring Kicktraq as a form of Haruspicy


I can't help but notice some interesting figures parked over on Kicktraq, the site which thrives on analyzing Kickstarters to death. For the remainder of today's post I shall pretend that each Kicktraq report is like a scrumptious divinatory liver and I am the haruspex portending their weal or woe...

For the top example, the one I am presently invested in, Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe, is sitting comfortably at $81K right now, about 314% of goal today according to Kicktraqs. It's trending toward a 400% hit. T&T Deluxe is a niche game by RPG standards, but a persistent one which I know from personal experience has held a long time fan base that has remained dedicated to it through thick and thin. I also think it benefits a bit from overlap with the more traditional D&D-focused OSR crowd, because T&T is a venerable member of that club, even if it isn't a D&D-like, precisely--it has, more specifically, remained true to its roots and has deviated little over the decades from the original T&T.

So T&T has 7 days to go, but its trending at $81K with 1219 backers as of today. The buy-in for a decent return is $60, and everything on top of that is gravy.

Next we have the recently completed Razor Coast campaign, which is Frog God's latest deluxe hardcover set of modules designed for either Pathfinder of Swords & Wizardry Complete. We have a piracy-themed setting that looks pretty fun, actually, but the buy-in for a decent print set is $150.00. The KS did finish successful, at $164% of goal with $123K and 709 backers. At $174 per backer, that's pretty impressive. It makes me wonder what they would have earned if the books offered had included a more budget-minded lower price break (i.e. a $60-$80 price just for the two books in soft cover or something). As it was this was too rich for me, but a lower price point would have snagged my money. The ones offered were, alas, for pricey PDFs instead. I have enough PDFs I haven't read yet, no need to add some very, very expensive ones to the virtual pile!

Then there's FATE Core which is basically dynamite fishing toward success. It's got 7 hours to go as of this writing (which means it will be done by the time the blog sees print), with 9,584 backers and a ridiculous success rate so far thanks to $413K in contributions. On the other hand, they started asking for a meager $3,000 and clearly underestimated the interest for their product. At nine-and-a-half thousand backers, with the basic buy-in for a print copy at $30, and the average backer pledging at $43? Yeah, I have to say FATE as a system is clearly a Big Thing in gaming. It may not be for me, but clearly there's a large interest in it.

Of a far more niche nature we have Codex Celtarum, which I sure would like to back (conditional to some tax return money showing up before the KS closes). It's a new book for Castles & Crusades from Troll Lord, with a Celtic focus. It's at 171% of goal today with almost $7K in contributions and 109 backers. C&C is apparently very niche compared to some other more venerable products out there (or bigger name affairs tied to Pathfinder like Razor Coast) but its fanbase is hardcore about keeping up with it.

It looks like the Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition is getting more books, specifically The Hunters Hunted II, a revision of an older book that is apparently quite popular with 501 backers and $31K having just met its goal. I wouldn't know...I've never been that into the White Wolf games, and even when I tried recently my wife, who once was so into them that she got a tattoo of Sasha Vykos on her left arm, asked me not to. That was a bandwagon she didn't want to get back on, apparently (or fall of of, not sure which). So I remain curious at a distance.

So are there any other big hits out there? Browsing through what Kicktraq is following there are some apparently doomed projects, either faltering due to a drying of the RPG money well, or obscurity, or perhaps their pitch just doesn't resonate. For example:

The Endless Blue  is an RPG of a water world. It sounds interesting, but there's little to go on outside of the KS page, and the author's prior writing credits boil down to "lots of internet blogging." Which really might be a decent qualification but it's not something which serves as a good benchmark for a production-to-publication process. Actually, his credits mention several other minor works, but its nothing unusual in this hobby...we've all got a few writing credits rolling around in obscure RPG publications.

That's a problem with RPGs, unfortunately; our corner of the hobby world is top-heavy with people who all aspire to be game designers and writers, but very weak on professional oversight. That said, I sort of like the concept he's got going here, but maybe tone down the music just a tiny bit in the video?

And how about Broken Earth, a post-apoclayptic RPG that's just starting (34 days to go) but looks to be trending to success (thanks in part to a very modest $3,000 goal). It's a Pathfinder-compatible book, and in glancing through the description it looks Matt Hanson has done some work before, although nothing huge. Still....I may back this. I'd like to finally see someone produce a post-apocalyptic game powered by Pathfinder, maybe he can do it where others have continued to fail.

Aside from that, Kicktraq's listing has a lot of board games, but the RPG listings are a bit on the lite side.

So is there some means of prediction about the way the RPG hobby is trending? In a sense I suppose that yes, you can spot a few interesting trends. Obviously there is an interest for the hot and new (FATE Core) and there is also a dedicated fanbase for the classics (T&T Deluxe), while other games appear to have found their audience and can rely on them to garner support (Razor Coast, Codex Celtarum, Hunters Hunted II). Meanwhile a game with an entirely new concept, system and pitch from untested authors and artists languishes in obscurity (Endless Blue).

Personally, I think that every success on Kickstarter is a boon to the hobby (at least for now) for the simple fact that it shows that there is a dedicated core following for each game, one which is able to  stave off immediate gratification for a long term prospect. If our hobby was suffering for health, this might not be so typical. In fact, I'd suggest that a weak hobby might lead to plenty of KS failures right out the door, but that's clearly not the case. The only real failures appear to be the untested and the unknown.

The problem, unfortunately, will arise if too many past Kickstarters fail to deliver over time...or if the quality fails to match the hype (also known as the "great videographer, terrible writer" conundrum). Too many failures, broken promises or undelivered goods will lead to shaky confidence in the process.

Any Kickstarters you know about that I don't? I'd be interested in hearing about them.

(And now for my obligatory semi-weekly rant about old age, an aging hobby, and the lamentations of lost youth: Yessshhhh, we're all getting really long in the tooth in this hobby, aren't we? I know it's probably "just me" feeling this way, because I'm A: a very late father in life, B: still in the middle of a mid-life crisis, and C: my nostalgia for the old days is also strongly embedded in my memory of youth (i.e. being young at the time) and therefore I experience a persistent disconnect between my "sense" of the hobby and the reality of it each time I see yet another oddball forty-something (or older!) dude pitching his lifetime pet project. Gaaaaahhhh what the hell happened to me. Frickin' old age.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dungeon of the Bear and a T&T GM Screen

Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe has ripped on past the $80K mark and two new stretch goals are available, which I am buying into both of: The GM's Screen ($5 add on) and the reprinted Dungeon of the Bear ($6 add on). I happen to have a couple copies of the original Dungeon of the Bear, a module I'd actually love to run again one day, but a new one is always a good thing. The GM's Screen is just a "thing"....I like getting game screens (just got the Labyrinth Lord GM Screen the other day, actually) so its a no-brainer for me. Also, I'm curious to see what would go on one, since T&T is a game that is remarkably easy to run  sans-screen. Not a lot of charts in this system.

I'm hoping the Kickstarter passes the $100K mark, which would be cool. Kicktraq thinks its trending that way, so who knows? I mean, if Pathfinder Online can scrape past the finish line, maybe the Trolls can jump the chasm and keep on running...

Either way, I think I need to break out some 5.5 or 7.5 T&T soon and run a few adventures. 2013: a good year for classic gaming so far!

MMOnday: The Grind Problem

It's been a few weeks since I talked MMOs, but since I need something for Monday...why not!

In the world of MMO land I've found a nebulous stand-off in my personal interest between Rift and ...of all things!... World of Warcraft. I recently fell back off the wagon, caving in and buying my wife a collector's edition copy of Mists of Pandaria and resubbing for a month myself. I didn't snag MoP for my account....I left my human warrior at level 82 and my horde warrior at 83, with the former stuck in the fishbowl world of Vasj'ir and the latter at the tail end of Mount Hyjal's never-ending quest chain. I'd love to see what an actual 3D topographical map of Azeroth looks like must be rather ominously deep and tall in two distinct regions.

That said, I've apparently been playing Rift for so long that in a weird turnabout, WoW actually feels a bit "weird" to me. It also hammers home the subtle but persistent change in play style and feel over time in WoW, something made sharp in contrast with Rift, which for all its innovations still rests squarely in an older style of older, slightly more brutal style which demands just a bit more of its players. Even when Rift shifts toward more "friendly" mechanics (or lack thereof) it still maintains a slightly more dangerous, sometimes grindy approach to play, something WoW only really embraces at the endgame level now.

When (probably a certainty) I do get Mists of Pandaria, it may be with the intent of powering through the newer game content once all of the grindy elements have been lifted by Blizzard in the wake of a new expansion. I've noticed that its with an absolute certainty that Blizzard will revamp the leveling pace of the previous expansion to accomodate getting people more quickly to the next new thing on the horizon. A person like me, who hates grinding and maximizes rest state health, finds it almost punishing to buy into a new expansion on day one, where the leveling process becomes a tedious lesson in slogging through what should be fun content, but instead is tainted by the need to pad it as much as possible. The irony of this padding process to slow players is it never, ever seems to work. There's always that French guy and his guild doing it in 24 hours, or my wife, who usually does it in one week (and even with a child to slow her down probably pulls it off in two).

Rift's Storm Legion expansion has the same problem, but lacks a certainty that Trion will, like Blizzard, eventually make the leveling process quicker. They actually did something akin to this prior to Storm Legion's release: they ramped up world events and instant adventures tied to the Storm Legion invasion, which in turn provided insane levels of XP, allowing for a fairly quick progression for most through level 30 at least.....probably beyond, although by then it was too mind numbing for me to want to keep up with. It's a tough issue for MMOs, where they can have plenty of great content that's fun and interesting, but is subsequently ruined by its own level and pacing mechanics.

I experienced a level of frustration of an entirely different sort in Champions Online Sunday morning as well. First, something I knew was a bad idea and still tried to attempt due to the eagerness of my wife to get me involved: a run through the Serpent Lantern Adventure Packs. My highest level character in Champions is 15th, because my experience with Champions is broad (12 characters) but shallow (all level 10-15ish). Champions is a lot of fun for me, but after a point it's combat mechanics and style start to feel weirdly button-mashing. There's a strategy and approach to it, I am aware....but the jargon and style of the game turns me off, becoming an impenetrable wash of gobbledigook mixed with quests that contain some of the most insultingly (albeit amusingly) retarded nonsense you'll ever see in an MMO.

Ummm....anyway, so the point was this:

1. Don't try to run an instance with a 14 month old in the house, especially one who's primary fascination right now is with Taking Things From Dad.

2. Don't try to run Serpent's Lantern unless you're unemployed and have no life. We were three hours in, I was getting ready to fake a D/C and tell my wife my computer had croaked...anything! get out of this endless grindy attack on a jungle base run by the incrdibly inept and near-sighted Venom organization when one of her guildies informed me that we were at the half way mark and maybe we should call it, restart again next week. "Restart?" one of the other players who, like me, may have been unwittingly suckered into this experience asked. "We can't pick up where we left off? How much is left?" We were just at the halfway mark, he was informed....and nope, the instance resets itself. No progress on this one.


So I'm feeling a bit annoyed with Champions right now. Such a lovely character generator attached to such a weird and awkward game engine. Still, I've enjoyed it more than poor dead City of Heroes.

But back to Rift and WoW! I've been enjoying my return to WoW, but who knows for how long. It seems like they've cleaned up the graphics a bit more recently. Still ass-ugly an cartoony, but at least now it looks like an ugly ass in hi-def 1080p. Playing WoW made me realize just how much Blizzard keeps the older content on "speed run" mode, to both get players up in level as quickly as they can, and also I imagine to cater to the endless wave of slow casuals like myself who spend 95% of their play experience below level cap.

It has made me appreciate Rift (pre level 50 Rift, anyway) all the more. It has also made me wish Rift didn't employ the same grindy slow-pacing level process in its expansion. Here's some advice I learned, though: if you are in Storm Legion, avoid Pelladane unless grouping is your thing. Cape Jules is much friendlier to the solo player, I discovered.

Meanwhile, The Secret World languishes in its own darkness, a game with fascinating levels of content that do not belong in an MMO shell, thus delegating it to the backburner once more. Likewise with Guild Wars 2, which for all of its innovation and impressive graphics still feels to me like  a game about running around and filling up hearts on maps.

Anyway.....more later....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Voice Over

Vimeo constantly amazes me with the awesome stuff hosted there. Voice Over is a serious treat....enjoy:

VOICE OVER (English subtitles) from Kamel Films on Vimeo.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Elder Scrolls Online - Latest Trailer

Fresh for the beta announcement, the following "Alliances" trailer is all FMV but nonetheless I really like the decidedly distinct Elder Scrolls feel to this. I grow increasingly interested in this game and look forward to when it is officially released (I learned long ago to avoid beta testing):

St. Vincent - Marrow

I've become a real fan of St. Vincent after discovering her by way of her collaboration with David Byrne on "Love This Giant." Here's one of her own, "Marrow:"

The Gods of Astrophikus

   Astrophikus has literally thousands of gods, religions and belief systems in place. That said, there are a handful of gods that are worshipped by everyone, and universally accepted as the “principle deities” of the world in question:

Etah, the Golden Voyager
Lawful Good
   Etah is the god of knowledge and civilization, and a revered patron amongst most Astrophikans. He is believed to have been the one who led them on their voyage in prehistory to Aastrophikus and salvation. His teachings espouse that all mortals can ultimately attain godhood through the embrace of divine virtues.

Draeggaros the Star God
True Neutral
   Draeggaros is the Star God, and his worship began early on with the deceipherment of the greta obelisks that speak of his venerable heritage as the prison keeper of Sulziddaran. He is a mysterious and sometimes malevolent deity, who care nothing for forces of good and evil, but only balance. The communion with his spirit is only possible through living sacrifice. His greatest temples are found in Vulmeadea.

Sulziddaran the Imprisoned
Chaotic evil
   This primal, malevolent deity is said to have been one of many spawned by the elemental Chaos itself, sent to destroy reality and remake the world in an image more pleasing to the formless domain of chaos. Sulziddaran is a potent and ever-present force on Astrophikus, dwelling in slumbering imprisonment at the heart of the world, manipulating susceptible minds in to erratic and dangerous behavior, as it seeks eternally a means of escape.

Lawful Neutral
   Kothe is a revered ancient god-spirit and patron lord of the eladrin of Astrophikus. Kothe is believed to have been a neverable eladrin who achieved immortal transcendence, and has long since been revered as the patron overseer of the race.
   Kothe’s edicts are one of superiority over all, and the dedication of the spirit to the evolution of the mind and soul. Much of the eladrin culture has embraced this philosophy, and used a mixture of the primarl Feywild’s potence and alchemical means to attain higher states of being as they seek to evolve their spirits in to something greater.

Chaotic Neutral
   The nature of Susurus is a mystery, a great watery beast in the southern waters which some claim can be seen physically. It is believed to react to worship, and to allow safe passage for those who are sufficiently reverent, while sending storms and beasts to destoy those who do not. This god is primarily revered by the barbarian cultures of the coast who are practiced seafarers.

Chaotic Good
   The benign goddess of love and beauty is revered among the elves, who adopter her worship centuries ago from interaction with the elves of Lingusia. Phonatas is a deity who embodies lust, love, strength and many other raw emotions that are considered deeply empowering by the primal elves of Astrophikus.


Lawful good
   Elisin is the goddess of peace and culture, and also imported for worship by the Astrophikan elves. Elisin is regarded as the calm counterpoint to Phonatas’s wild lusts, and the wizards and scholars of the elves pay homage to her.

Neutral Good
   The god Ningada is an ancient deity, worshipped by the ancient elves of Astrophikus since time immemorial. He is believed to be an angelic seraph who ascended to godhood after the destruction of his ancient city upon the moon, and some tales say he brought about the birth of elvenkind from his own blood.

Lawful Good
   The mysterious Metatron is worshipped by very few, but his existence is rarely debated. It is believed that if you quest deeply enough beneath the ruins of the moon Metaros you can find him, meditating, awaiting the time when he must rise forth to stem the tide of chaos once more. His followers are usually reverent inquisitors and paladins dedicated to thwarting chaos by any means necessary.

Neutral Evil
   The god of blood and thunder, a vicious primeval brute who relishes in warfare is strongly regarded by the northern barbarians of Nordravar, and though his worship has all but gone extinct in Lingusia, he is strong here on Astrophikus. Though many on Lingusia regarded him as a deity of order, he is widely regarded as a beast of both powers, with elements of order and chaos permeating his being. The Nordravari priests of Hargameth are potent soldiers in battle, and many barbarians swear by him.

Chaotic Good
   The lord of the hunt is a strong deity and his worship has been with the natives of Astrophikus since the stone age. Zingar represents the spirit of the hunt, the ultimate power of nature and the interaction between man and his environment. Cults of rangers and barbarians are dedicated to him throughout the wilderlands.

True Neutral
   Wolfon has a strong following among the many beastmen of Astrophikus, from the gnolls and orcs to the minotaurs and beyond. The Shadow Wolf is said to roam the Shadowfell, and sacrifices of sufficient greatnes by his followers will call upon his might.

Chaotic Evil
   The vile Staddak’Zuthul is said to be an ascended immortal, who achieved power stolen from the raw Chaos itself. His cults are numerous and surprisingly work at odds with the chaos cults, for Staddak’Zuthul does not want the slumbering darkness at the heart of Astrophikus to awaken, but instead for his own cult to subjugate and ultimately gain control over the many civilizations of the world in his own name. Rumors abound that the wizards and necromancers who follow this god work hard to make him the chief deity of the realm, and that he seeks to siphon away all of the chaos energies of the trapped Sulziddaran for his own. Staddak’Zuthul is said to d well in a powerful fortress on the plane of shadow.

Cthulhu by Nathan Rosario

The Eleven Divine Spirits
Various alignments
   The eleven immortals of Shinjiki Koru are said to have been elder gods from the old world, a faith so ancient and ingrained within the people of this land that they have always been with them. Indeed, Etah himself is considered one, the twelfth member of the Divine Hierarchy.

Lawful good
   The benevolent Tyrnada is a beneficient deity who was imported from a remote world some thirteen hundred years ago, and over time her following spread to the four corners of the world. Her clerics are dedicated teachers and healers, and her message is one of peace and tolerance. Though her followers are often tortured and killed in regions where chaos gods are worshipped, she is nonetheless still popular, even in secret.
   The miraculous cures and blessings of Tyrnada’s priesthood are at least partially responsible for her popularity. The charitable priests of her faith will free do all they can to mend wounds, heal the sick and cure the ill in whatever way they can, and many are blessed with divine magic to aid them.

Neutral Good
   Karzak’Hadon is one of several ancient deities that existed on Astrophikus before the immigration times, and was worshipped amongst the ancient stone age cultures. He is a deity of primal earth and air, and said by some to be the entity in charge of insuring that the great prison of the world is never weathered such that it could be broken. He has a small but dedicated following, consisting of militant templars who serve his cause by destroying demonic influences that could corrupt the prison of Sulziddaran.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time Travel in Fantasy Gaming

I've tried this approximately four times now, and each time it gets more interesting. Time travel as a plot driver is something I tried in the mid eighties on a lark once, and then grew interested in (but found difficulty pursuing) after TSR released the Chronomancer sourcebook (a tome I will definitely buy when it pops up at I loved the concept, but despite a lot of useful advice and a decent class it was hard back then to conceive of just how to make a time travel game that was significant or meaningful. So you time travel from "medieval fantasy land now" to "medieval fantasy land then." So what? Big Deal! How are the players going to feel vested in the event? This was something that I never felt comfortable with constructing back in the 90's when this book came out, despite my interest in the concept, so I kept it on the backburner and plowed on with more conventional plot structures.

The core conceit of time travel in a fantasy setting is ultimately one of contrast. "This is what the world is like now," vs. "This is what the world was like Way Back When." Or maybe a contrast with the future. As it turns out, I think I hit on an excellent formula for time travel as a campaign driver: player familiarity. This is a side effect of a consistent group with a devoted appreciation for the campaign world, but it can work well enough so long as you establish context. The most recent foray I've engaged in has successfully gotten my players massively engaged with the puzzle of figuring out why they traveled back in time, whether or not they should take advantage of this event to enact change on their world, and also sparked curiosity at the stark contrasts of where they come from compared to what has come before.

It helps to build a setting where there is an inherent assumption of "the different" in the past (or future) that is so distinct that regardless of a player's familiarity or interest in game history, they will still experience a sense of the strange or wrong by virtue of the environment itself. I my Realms of Chirak campaign, for example, there's a legacy of a near-extinction-level event in which the gods had their own final Ragnarok, involving all of the ancient advanced civilizations of man. For two decades Chirak's campaign focus has revolved around tales spinning off of the legacy of this past, so starting a campaign that leads to a time travel event to this lost era of greatness, putting the players in an ambiguous era that seems to be right at the tail end of the apocalypse, in which they know something apocalyptic is close on the horizon but the people of that lost time have no clue, makes for some fantastic role play and story telling. The fact that most of my players have a long-term investment in my campaign setting is helpful, too. Some of these players have been in my campaigns for many years now, so when I mention names and details that click with them from the "present day" era of the campaigns, it's especially intriguing to them to piece this all together.

I used time travel in my Warlords of Lingusia campaign to retcon some old plots that had spun my setting off into a strange direction, as well. It was a necessary requisite to that campaign that I be willing to accept whatever decision the players made....including making no decision at all!.....before I employed that story arc. In the end, the players made choices that were both different and favorable toward a new direction for the setting, causing me to revise and respawn the Warlords Era of that campaign, which went from a "glimpse of the future that changes the past" to the default permanent current timeline and location for campaigns in that world.

I think that I could have employed time travel in the mid nineties when I first considered the concept after the Chronomancer book brought the idea to my attention, but at the time I was still very much in a world-building mode with a heavy emphasis on my at-the-time studies in archaeology. My interest then was more about the experience of scenarios modeling the finding of relics and lost cultures, but it wasn't necessary to deploy a time travel trick to visit such cultures when you could make them real and contemporary in the setting. My campaign worlds were also a lot younger then, and lacked quite as much history as would spin out of the many scenarios I would later run. It is only with many years and editions later that my campaigns grew large enough and elaborate enough that the idea of different eras in the campaigns as actual locations for elaborate time travel plots, as opposed to props to add mystery of history to current era adventures, became more viable.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Beyond Red Crater is out!

Mutant Epoch gets a new sourcebook! Beyond Red Crater is available in PDF on Rpgnow and that means it ought to be available in POD at Lulu (yep, it is).

I had no idea this was scheduled for imminent release (for shame!) so it missed my recent PDF/indie buying spree, but I'll snag it soon, I promise! Mutant Epoch was a game I wanted to run a lot more of last year (only managed to get in a couple one-offs) and it's still on my list as a game I'd like to run a good 10-15 session campaign with. Maybe soon?

Atrophikus - Gazetteer of the Lesser Kingdoms

“The Barbarian Kingdoms”
Patron God: various, especially Hargameth, Wolfon and Zingar
Ruler: Various, though the warlord Drogas is most prominent right now
Capitol: no single capitol, but the main trade port is Tholios
Population: a good mix of  human, half orc, werefolk, dragonkin, elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome and orcs.

Shinjiki Koru
“The Jewel of Astrophikus”
Patron God: The Eleven Divine Spirits
Ruler: The Shogun Mishigi Arayu
Capitol: Khozakan
Population: mostly human and dragonkin, with some dissident eladrin, elves, dwarves, werefolk, lesser giants, goblins, and samsarans

   The empire of Shinjiki Kuru is as ancient as all the other civilizations founded by ancient immigrants, but has long held to a different culture and focus, which grew increasingly isolated and aggressive over time. Shinjiki Koru was last among the great empires to succumb to the lure of orichalcum, and only adopted planar and etheric trade as a means of sustenance within the last thousand years.

   Shinjiki Koru is ruled by a shogun under whom numerous samurai clans serve, although they engage in constant ritual warfare with one another and their barbarian neighbors.

Toskolian Steppes
Patron God: Phonatas, Elisin and others
Ruler: no single ruler
Capitol: no capitol; the region is dominated by nomadic tribesmen
Population: the region is dominated by human, elvish and giantkin nomads

   This vast region of grassy windswept steppelands is dominated by nomadic tribes of elves, humans and others, and no permanent settlements exist, though there are several regions of prominence where the clans migrate yearly for trade and commerce. The nomads of this land have stood strong against the efforts of the Vulmeadean empire to lean on them for mining labor, and fight the empire at every chance they get. They are also found frequently warring with the city-states of Hed’Zimmet to the north, which also delights in using the nomads for slave labor.

Patron God: Staddak’Zuthul and his horde of gold-children
Ruler: numerous lesser rulers throughout the city-states of the land
Capitol: the largest city-state is Kadak’Hinil
Population: although humans are dominant, significant portions of the population include dragonkin, werefolk, half orcs, elves, and ogres.

   Hed’Zimmet is a collection of city-states united by their worship of the dark god Staddak’Zuthul. Some claim that Staddak’Zuthul was not a true god, but one of the Immortals of Ashetnur who was lured away thousands of years ago to begin his own cult, after suffering the temptation of Sulziddaran’s dark dreams and promises of power.

   The Hed’Zimmeti are very territorial, and when they are not warring amonst themselves or rival clans and tribes in the greater expanse of the Jungle of Lost Souls, they are seeking slaves from the Toskolian nomads or even venturing east to raid mining towns from Vumeadea to steal the precious orichalcum. Several of the Hed’Zimmet cities are able to field their own spelljammers in battle, and have begun to explore the possibilities of trade, commerce and perhaps even war in the planes and etheric regions.

   The region north of the Hed’Zimmet territories is dominated largely by uncivilized lesser kingdoms, barbarian tribes and hidden mysteries. It is said that one of the greatest ancient empires, lost to memory but indicative of an older prehuman race that existed before the immigrants arrived ten thousand years ago can be found in this region. The ancients are called the Karkosans, and little is known of them, save that their mysterious ruins sometimes yield fabulous ancient magic.


Patron God: Susurus, the Sea God
Ruler: the high king Drymarkion
Capitol: Mylkarianos
Population: mostly human with small local populations of demi-humans

   Hydakenos is a southern coastal empire of local barbarian tribes who have been hammered in to a strong kingdom by a line of sophisticated leaders. They have united the southern coast of the Gulf of Oblivion in to a united land for more than a century now.

The Darklands and Inatras
Patron God: chaos gods
Ruler: none; Drow ruled by the Grey Queen, Siddratha
Capitol: none, although the free port of Daggerspell sometimes serves as a center of commerce; Drow capitol is Ulviridien
Population: humans, drow, orcs and other monstrous chaos beings

   This region is unique in its lack of dominance, at least partially due to the fact that the barbarian tribes in the region are devoted to the chaos gods, and practice profane and charnel ways. Beneath the surface of the Darklands in the vaste region known as the Subterrene Realms rests the hub of the drow empire, called Inatras.

   The main local center of trade and commerce is the free port of Daggerspell, where all sorts of scum and villainy thrive. Much of the illegal planar and etheric trade will channel through Daggerspell, and many who wish to travel to the more malevolent domains of the Elemental Chaos can find passages to such domains through this city.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

D&D Classics is up

Assuming you can punch through the server overload, D&D Classics is now an official thing. The PDF storefront is being managed by OneBookShelf (Drivethrurpg and rpgnow) and is dedicated to all things officially Dungeons & Dragons, for all editions. I haven't checked out any PDFs yet, but I hear that the quality is better than it used to me, which may justify the increase in prices for many books. Probably going to cave soon and get some of the HR-series historical books for 2nd edition, those always were among my favorites.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Astrophikus - Ashetnur and Tanatsanu

Eladrin Eyed Mage

“The Empire of Immortals”
Patron God: Etah, the Golden Traveller
Emperor: Hath Hamanid the Divine
Capitol: Khoshet
Population: human, tiefling and genasai in equal numbers, with a smaller percentage of lizard men, devas, minotaurs, gnolls, elves and dragonborn.

   Ashetnur is ancient, even more so than Vulmeadea, and its historians claim the oldest civilizations of Ashetnur go back 5,000 years. The immortal god-kings and queens of this empire are given to a sacred magical elixir that sustains their life for centuries, or even longer, until at last their mortal husk can no longer sustain their souls and they ascend to the Astral Sea, where they become gods. The local religion worships Etah as the greatest of these spirits, and that the tradition of ascencion to immortality was taught to the kings of Ashetnur by the Golden Traveller.

   Ashetnur is located in a vast desert, a cold and dry location of the world with only a few life-sustaining rivers and large lakes. As such, its people are hardy and sometimes fatalistic, with a strong caste system in place. Despite this, Ashetnur is a strong center of history and scholarship, with vast libraries dedicated to the study and recording of local and planar history.

   Ahsetnur is also weak in orichalcum. Most of its trade comes from the planar gates, which are easier to maintain over time, unlike spelljammers, which eventually exhaust the magic potential of the orichalcum. Because of this, Ashetnur has many good available found normally on the planes, and a population of greater diversity, including a large number of tieflings, genasai and even devas.

“The Fey Kingdom”
Patron God: Kothe
Emperor: Yndradda the Eternal
Capitol: Ethylios
Population: eladrin high elves only, with some subjugated races

   The Eladrin (high elves) of Astrophikus have dwelt on this world since before the arrival of the Astrophikan immigrants, and they are an ancient kingdom steeped in mysterious traditions, ancient cults and their strong tether to the Feywild. Few Eladrin cities seem terribly impressive on Astrophikus, until you enter and discover their dual existence in both this reality and that of the Feywild.

   The eladrin as a race are haughty and exhibit barely restrained contempt for most lesser races, including their close elvish kin. They despise the drow, and seek to eradicate these chaos worshipper whenever possible. Eladrin, though holding only a nominal territory in the north, are considered a potent force due to their much larger presence in the feywild.

   Tanantsanu has a strong alliance with Vulmeadea, but cool relations with Ashetnur. They are perpetually at war with the barbarian kingdoms of Nordavar, and the city state of Hanacal, which is deep in the mountainous territory they consider their own. The corrupted city fo Hanacal was founded centuries ago by a cult of followers to the mad prophet Koldragas, who still lives today, and claims to channel the dreaming voice of Sulziddaran himself. Indeed, the entire city is populated by disparate followers from all over the world, who have been seduced by the promise of power chaos offers.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I check Vimeo every few weeks, but this time there are a lot of noteworthy films. For example...CATZILLA....

CATZILLA from Platige Image on Vimeo.

R'ha -a six minute space opera

More amazing stuff onVimeo...a six minute vignette of what I wish were a real movie:

R´ha [short movie] from Kaleb Lechowski on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Another awesome short on Vimeo, this one a post-apocalyptic snippet of an especially interesting future earth:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Astrophikus - Vulmedea, Empire of a Thousand Stars

Vulmedea, Empire of a Thousand Stars

   The following provides a concise summary of the major forces on Astrophikus:

“Empire of a Thousand Stars”
Patron God: Draeggaron
Emperor: Eskaton VIII
Capitol: Gyldarion
Population: human dominant, with a healthy mix of demihumans, especially tieflings, eladrin, halflings, gnomes, goliaths, and dwarves

   The Vulmeadean Empire is the largest in terms of political, military and mercantile power on Astrophikus, and it is over four thousand years old according to its own historians. Centered around the vast Inner Vulmeadean Sea, the empire is represented by three great cities: Gyldarion (capitol of the empire), Hedareden, and Nythtilien. Dozens of smaller rural townships and numerous mining towns dot the region. Vulmeadea has several satellite baronies in the wilderness, centered around mining activities as well.

   Vulmeadea’s ancient history includes a conflict about three thousand years ago with dragonkind. As the tales goes, the dragon lords migrated through space to Astrophikus during this period, and waged war against the early empire to attempt its subjugation. The empire drove the dragons back, and the ancestors of those dragons who settled upon the world now dwell in the greater wilderness, often ruling over barbarian tribes that have sworn fealty to them.

   During this war, many humans were swayed to the cause and worship of the dragons. Interbreeding with the dragons led to the creation of the Dragonborn race. About three centuries ago, dragonborn descendants attempted a coup against the empire once again, though they failed. Today, dragonborn are a persecuted underclass in the empire, and most choose to dwell in their own fortress enclaves in the wilderlands. Once especially prominent dragonborn house is the former royal house of Zyma, which still seeks to actively overthrow the empire and institute the rule of dragonkind. It is unknown which dragons are behind this movement.

   Vulmeadea has nearly as many planar portals as it does spelljammers, although the bulk of its trade comes through the passage of the magical ships. The planar portals allow passage to several demiplanes and dimensional realms throughout the planes, and as a result of this connection, a large population of planar beings can be found engaging in trade and commerce in the fantastic cities of the empire.

   The largest temples to the Star God exist in Vulmeadea, but as the hub of so many cultures across many worlds, there is a strong embrace of openness to all religions. Every major city has a Temple District, for example, in which dozens or even hundred of temples and cults prosper. Gods from the thousand stars can all be found worshipped here, and only those gods which would exchew the ultimate faith of Draeggaros are banned or considered heretical.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More D&D releases now up: 2nd edition reprints, Dungeons of Dread S Series cover, and more

Wizards of the Coast updated their product lineup for 2013, so we can officially see what the S-Series module cover will look like, there are now actual entries for the 2nd edition reprints of the core rules (yay) and the first "Sundering" module from Ed Greenwood is now listed for an August 20th release.

It's interesting, as the module seems to very specifically avoid mentioning system's just for "D&D," so I wonder if they plan to release it in a manner compatible with any of the editions that are now (or will be) back in print? Wonder if 4E will be overlooked here, too.... Either way, the fact that it doesn't specifically talk about serving as a lead-in or intro to 5th edition suggests the module will be designed for cross-edition functionality, but without actually saying that, its all just the usual conjecture and speculation.

Anyway, here's what the Dungeons of Dread S series cover is going to look like:

Nice. It's now slated for a March 19th not too far away. I may have decided that 1st edition and I just don't agree with one another, but the modules are a different story, and I'll be able to use this just fine with the 2nd edition rulebooks.

Speaking of which, the three 2nd edition rulebook cover images look like placeholders--please, please PLEASE let them be place-holders, because the DMG/PHB images shown are from the black-border reprints circa 1995ish and those were some notoriously butt-ugly covers. The Monstrous Manual, however, was always a pretty decent cover so I won't complain if they recycle that one.

No cover yet for "Murder in Baldur's Gate" but read the description here. Between this module and the recent release of Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition for PC and Mac (I'm holding out for the android edition), we will be able to party like it's 1998 all over again!


Also, MIke Mearls is talking details about the "core" or simplest version of the game (here), on which additional rules/options will layer. It's interesting stuff, not least of which because the core rules he's describing sound about as old-school and "back to roots" as D&D can get short of the reprints...and maybe moreso, since this will be a refinement of the game that does a redux and dispenses with both the modern layered complexity to simplify its core, and also the old school complexity that arose from the stitched-together rules-bedlam that was common in the early days as the game began to grow.

Still More Cool RPGs

Since I can't just settle on the seven or eight RPGs I bought in book or PDF form this week, I added a few more to the mix. I had to mention them because this second round of dabbling hit on some really cool stuff. First....

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea may be old hat to many old school RPG fans by now, and certainly to those who backed the kickstarter a year or so ago....but it's new to me. I've been thinking I was burned out on fantasy, tired of all the retro (and not so retro) clones out there....but AS&SH proves me wrong, as this is a fantasy RPG using Dungeons & Dragons as its springboard, but doing so in the coolest most interesting way possible. I really, really got a genuine "this is cool, must buy" vibe from this product while reading it. Not a "walked into the gamestore today, circa 2013" vibe. I mean a "It's 1983 and I just made it for my once every six months trip to Wargames West, and I am still 13 years old" vibe. Seriously....this is a cool game. I will be speaking more on it soon, gotta go order the boxed set on the website as soon as possible. Will not link to the print edition (PDF here), I don't want them to run out before I get my copy!

Survivors of the Fire is so full of cool vignettes and interesting post-apocalyptic stories that I've barely begun to absorb the system, but I've already gotten my money's worth. I have the original here, as apparently Matt Frisbee is releasing a stand alone set of rules and each setting will then be a separate sourcebook. So far it's seriously good stuff, a post-apocalyptic tale that started in 1974, and we get to pick up circa 1980, six years after a straight up third world war has decimated the planet. Get it here for $1.99 right now.

Although AS&SH and Survivors of the Fire have been sucking my time away, Cosmic Patrol also beckons. The intro story is great, and I am looking forward to delving more deeply in this retro SF extravaganza. Only $4.99 right here. More to come!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Legend: The Spider God's Bride is Out

Just in time for my recent bout of spending madness on RPGNow, Legend: The Spider God's Bride is at last available in PDF format. I'll read it in more detail when time permits, but for those of you who (like me) have been waiting for this one, snag it now! It's $17.50 in PDF....a steep price? I don't know anymore. As my reading and collecting habits continue to migrate almost entirely into electronic format, my ability to discriminate the worth of a product based on its physicality in meatspace is disintegrating rapidly, so I'll let you decide for yourself (or wait for my review when I finish reading it).

Speaking of "RPGs optimized for a tablet experience," Legend is definitely one of them.


This isn't exactly a surprise to me as I was familiar with Xoth a long time ago when it was a D20 resource for Hyboria but seriously...Morten Braten has outdone himself.

Look, I don't really like other published fantasy settings for the most part, and among those I do its more to pillage the interesting bits and try to make them my own. I really don't like most published adventures, and have used only a handful of the horrid things in my lifetime, almost always with regret as I find most published modules lacking, or too rail-roady, or whatever.

None of the above applies to Morten's Xoth and the Spider God's Bride. This is a book, a setting, and a string of modules that I would run as-is, no questions asked. It's the flavor, the genre, the style and the feel that I want in my fantasy.


Matt Sprange at Mongoose indicated that if you preorder the physical book on their website they will send you a coupon for the PDF for free. I did this all backwards...oh well! Anyway, details are here.

RPG Firehose: The Stuff I'll be Reading and Playing in 2013

2013 has so far been better than average in terms of my outlook on the year ahead. I've cleaned out old stuff, and decided its time to bring in some new, fresh and interesting bits to grab my interest. I'm realizing I need to force myself to broaden my RPG habits a bit, move away from overdosing on fantasy as I have been for a few years now (and D&D-likes especially) in favor of a broader range of games. To that end, I just grabbed the following, and will discuss much more about them in the coming weeks:

SciFi20 is Quiklink's reimagining/revision to what was once called Traveller20 (T20), the D20 edition of Traveller that was part of the fantastic glut of D20 era games in the early 00's. I happened to like much about this particular iteration, and was tempted by the lure of a "all purpose" generic D20-based SF system, so I snagged the PDF bundle on RPGNow. I've loaded it on the Nexus for reading (and the Nexus has some very smooth apps for reading PDF files, by the way).

Getting the PDF of Dark Conspiracy is a bit of a cheat; I actually played a lot of Dark Conspiracy back in the early 90's, along with Cyberpunk 2020; together they were my go-to games for a while. I had long since given up my old books, but missed this game; it was well-written, and a lot of fun. By accident I discovered that Game Designers Workshop was mysteriously back in RPGNow and offering up scans of vintage products....including Dark Conspiracy 1st and 2nd edition, for purchase. I went ahead and snagged this in a bundle along with two newly written scenarios and the "collectors guide" PDFs they offer, which is pretty cool of them to do. I will probably get more. Anyway, I plan to revisit this game and will talk about the experience soon, as well. On top of all this, I subsequently discovered that the third edition of the game is already halfway through its release cycle for the core rules with Conspiracy Rules, the mechanics for the newest edition of the game. Sweet.

This one was discovered at random while browsing RPGNow for interesting RPGs, and after reading the description and some reviews I decided to buy the print+PDF package. It looks good on the PDF file, and I eagerly await the print on demand edition (a Birthday present to myself, heh). What's it about? Basically it's abount haunted space stations and scifi survival horror. As I read more I'll report further down the road.

Being on a roll in searching for interesting and random games on RPGNow I also snagged this one, a game about a forlorn land littered with the apocalyptic remnants of giant robots from long ago. The premise was tantalizing, the reviews were all filled with glorious praise, and after ordering the print+PDF bundle I am pleased to see that the PDF is optimized for tablet reading. Looking forward to exploring this one!

I picked up this horror system based on the text description alone, and the graphics also looked good. So far its a bit hard to say if I'm really going to like it or not....I'm a bit of an old crusty sort when it comes to horror RPGs (never recovered from the unholy trinity of CoC, Kult and Unknown Armies, which together define horror RPGs for me). Still, I'm reading through it and its two free scenario packs and will discuss it in the coming weeks.

I actually downloaded Novus a while ago but plan to explore it in more detail as part of my "discover new RPGs" project for the next few months. Novus is written by Tim Dugger and it has some specific roots in HARP (which in turn is a derivation of Rolemaster), but Novus is far enough removed from its inspirational predecessors that it actually looks really fun and interesting to me.

This was a shoe-in...a SIEGE-powered pulp adventure game? Hell yes, sign me up! I've been planning to get it for a while, snagged it via Discount Games (one of my favorite Ebay sellers) and am looking forward to checking it out. My print copy is on the way, but the PDF is also available here. I really hope this game has all the right bells and whistles for the genre, as I think the SIEGE mechanics could make for a great pulp system.

Maybe if Amazing Adventures succeeds it will motivate the Trolls to repackage Star Siege into a similar format...I think Star Siege suffered from its format and style a bit when it first came out, and the Trolls have gotten so much better at layout, design and editing on their products ever since.

Next up, not exactly a "new" system to me, but one I have wandered away from due to the prodigious size of the last couple editions' core rulebooks. Champions Complete is an experiment from Hero Games, apparently, a return to the days when one book could give you the rules and material for an entire genre. I hope this experiment succeeds, and that we can look forward to stand-alone editions of Fantasy Hero Complete and Space Hero Complete in the future. I'm not that up to speed on the 6th edition of Hero System, either, so this will still have some new surprises for me, as well. I picked this one up in print, but it is also available in PDF here.

I bought In Flames and its two sourcebooks a while back in print form but am including them in this as I would really like to finish reading the game and maybe even run it. A strange universe of transhumanism with overtones of voodoo mythology as the premise for a sort of "higher space" from which loa-like transhuman entities are cast out to do penance in the mundane realms of normal human space? Powered by the D6 Engine? Sign me up!

Anyway, I plan to pick up a few more new RPGs in the coming weeks, and will make 2013 my "year of new RPG exploration." Who knows, maybe I'll finally get a chance to play a few, too!