Kicking It Old School at FLS

When I first got to Flying Lab, I talked about starting a lunchtime RPG group. Well, it’s taken me a year but I’m finally doing it. With the game content complete we have a little time to breathe, so it seemed like a good time. It was no great surprise to find out that the game they were most familiar with was D&D;, so I said the hell with it and decided to go with that. Call it a last hurrah for D&D3.;

I invited all eleven members of my department, figuring I’d end up with one good sized group. Ten of the eleven said they wanted to play. Since that’s way too big for a lunch game, I’ve split them into two groups and they’ll be adventuring in the same locale. This will allow for some crossover and the possibility of joint sessions for big events.

Two of the players have never played a tabletop RPG before, so I’ve decided to give them a taste of classic D&D.; For the first time in like twenty years I’m going to run a game set in Greyhawk. I’m adapting one of Paizo’s new modules, Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale, and working in other material (most notable Green Ronin’s Escape from Ceranir adventure). The adventure has a nice Keep on the Borderlands vibe and it’ll be easy to have two adventuring groups in the environment. I’m setting the game in the From the Ashes period of Greyhawk (hey, I’m a WFRP fan, I like Carl Sargent). Here’s the setup.
If this goes well, there’s plenty of adventuring opportunity in the liberation of the Lost Lands and the giant-haunted Crystalmist Mountains.

Chronicles of the Lost Lands

It is the year 585 in the calendar of the Great Kingdom. It has been dubbed the Year of Peace because the Greyhawk Wars have drawn to a close—and there’s a treaty to prove it. For three years war and chaos wracked all of Greyhawk. Nations fell, hundreds of thousands perished, and the forces have evil conquered vast swathes of new territory. In the Sheldomar Valley, the Kingdom of Keoland stands strong, but the nations of Geoff and Sterich were overrun by giants and savage humanoids. Now exiles from those lands and soldiers of Keoland have begun a campaign to reclaim these “Lost Lands.” They know that this is the Year of Peace in name only. A treaty may have been signed, but the war goes on and will do so until Geoff and Sterich are liberated.

The city of Flen is the center of the new military campaign. The soldiers there need tons of food and supplies to keep on the march. The economy of Keoland is straining to keep up. No only did the kingdom lose two trading partners, but also the influx of refugees from Geoff and Sterich increased the demand for goods and foodstuffs. The Yeomanry, whose citizen-soldiers defeated the giant and humanoid attacks, now has become Keoland’s key trading partner. Traditionally, such commerce has focused on the Javan River route, but this is a roundabout way to get to the Yeomanry capital of Loftwick. Not enough goods are getting to Flen and those that come take too long to get there. A faster route is needed.

It was Flen’s Merchant Guild that proposed the answer. Once there was a route through the mountains, they claimed, but it hadn’t been used for hundreds of years because it passed through the Bloodsworn Vale. A great battle was once fought there and it was said to be a place of ill omen. The guild masters convinced the military commanders that if the overland route could be reestablished, both Keoland and the Yeomanry would reap the benefits. The Freeholder of the Yeomanry agreed and so the plan was put in motion. Of course, with the military tied up in attacks against Sterich, few men could be spared to clear the vale of savage humanoids and other threats. So the call went out to mercenaries and adventurers to open the Bloodsworn Vale. They were promised gold, and the possibility of land and title. What adventuring party worth its ten foot poles could resist such an offer?

Tiger Army Never Dies!

I worked on GR stuff all day Saturday and Sunday, and then treated myself to a show last night as a reward. Tiger Army and the Street Dogs were playing at Neumo’s and I could not resist. I first saw Tiger Army a few years ago on the Punks vs. Psychos tour and they were great. Their first record has since become one of my favorites of the last few years. I had not had a chance to see them since though, because they only came to town supporting Social Distortion and that show was too expensive for my tastes (I instead chose to treasure my memory of seeing Social D at the Channel in Boston in 1987). Neumo’s was doing an all ages show and they did something strange to allow for it. They cut the room in half with metal barricades. The all ages section was down in front, while the 21 and over section was in the back (where the stairway to the bar was). I spent the show with “the kids” so I could be closer to the stage.

The opening band was Said Radio and they were OK. They said they were on Fat Records and that seemed right, as they had that kind of sound. Next up was the Street Dogs. I had just seen them in August, so their presence on the bill was just icing on the Tiger Army cake. Or so I believed before the show anyway. Now the Street Dogs always put on a good show, but last night they killed. Do you know the best time to see a Boston band that really loves its hometown? The day the Red Sox win the World Series. They were pumped, and their energy got the crowd whipped up into a frenzy. When a giant circle pit erupted, what could I do but jump in? I wouldn’t exactly say that the Street Dogs showed up Tiger Army, but the headliners certainly had their work cut out for them when they took the stage. Luckily, Nik13 and crew also delivered a high energy set with a nice mix of songs from all their records. They did play “Nocturnal” (which ENnies attendees would recognize as GR’s signature song this year) or “Outlaw Heart”, but otherwise I have no complaints. By the time they played “Fuck the World” the crowd was once again going off. “Never Die” about brought the house down. Other than the barricades, this was a great show all around.

Out with the Old

For months now Nik and I have been talking about taking a bunch of books to Halfprice Books. Yesterday we finally did it. We easily filled up 8 boxes and brought them in. The books were an eclectic mix, though only one was full of RPGs. That one had about 40 books, mostly old and crappy d20 books I never needed to look at again. We got a few hundred bucks for the lot, which wasn’t great but the more important thing is that 8 boxes of books left my house. Now other books can graduate from piles in inconvenient places to actual shelving. This is progress.

I know Nik was worried that I’d just replace those books with different books while we were there. I did have a chance to browse Halfprice Books while we waited for them to assess our lot. They had tons of 3.X D&D; books, so it looks like the dumping has begun. I only brought home 3 things though, and this was part of my project to reacquire game stuff I used to have but don’t anymore for some reason. These are things I loaned out and forgot about it, left in a dark corner of my parent’s basement, or just lost in one of my many moves. Yesterday I was able to get unpunched copy of the original Squad Leader game, a punched but in good shape copy of PanzerBlitz, and the original Unearthed Arcana for AD&D.; That cost me $50 of the money I had just made selling books I didn’t want anyway. Score.

A Sense of Accomplishment

I had to work at Flying Lab both Saturday and Sunday, so I didn’t have much of a weekend. I don’t mind though because today I wrote my last mission for the Pirates of the Burning Sea launch. Today the game is content complete. Each of the four nations has over thousand missions and I wrote at least a third of those. The format doesn’t lend itself to doing easy word counts, but I’d guess I’ve written at least 200,000 words in the past year. I had a real sense of accomplishment when I submited my final file. I’ve done work on RPGs, TCGs, minis games, and card games, but this is my first computer game. I’m happy that it’s a good one too.

Appropriately enough the pre-order box for Pirates of the Burning Sea should be in stores Tuesday. If you buy it, you get a couple of cool loot items (including a parrot) and you can start playing the game on January 7 instead of January 22 like the rest of the world. My team will be continuing to design new content over the coming months, but that’ll be for later updates. The content for the game’s debut is signed, sealed, and delivered. Now where’s that booty?

Operation Bunnyhug

When we were adopting Bonnie (the bunny), there was this guy at the Seattle Animal Shelter who helped us with the procedure. He was excited that Bonnie was going to get a home and was really keen on rabbits. How keen? Well, when he gave us his e-mail address we discovered it was Bunnyhugger77. At the time I said, “I don’t know what’s worse, that he’s Bunnyhugger77 or that Bunnyhugger1 to 76 were already taken.”

So today I’m reading Rick Atkinson’s new book, The Day of Battle (Volume 2 of his Liberation Trilogy about America in WWII), and one of the many engaging anecdotes Atkinson livens up the book with involves Winston Churchill and codenames. Apparently, Churchill would approve the codenames of operations to make sure they were butch enough for the military. On the list of banned names were jaundice, aperitif, and…bunnyhug. Yes, apparently without Churchill’s intervention there might have been an Operation Bunnyhug in WWII. I can’t really blame old Winston. I’m sure it’d be difficult to get your men ready to kick ass in Operation Bunnyhug.


The last couple of weeks have been hectic. First we had the GR summit. The day after that ended my parents came to town for a week long visit. Meanwhile Pirates of the Burning Sea is in its final sprint, so we are in crunch time. I haven’t had time finish things like proofing, I’ve been terrible about answering e-mails, and I’ve made no progress on any design projects this month. However, the summit is over, my folks are flying back to New England tonight, and though I do have to work at Flying Lab this weekend things should calm down next week. I think this means that next weekend I can relax a bit and try to get caught up on things. What I’d really love to have is a week long, honest to goodness vacation. One in which I don’t do GR work or read the internet. One without bullshit, drama, flamewars, deadlines, freakouts, and crises. I don’t think Nik and I will be traveling over the holiday season, so maybe that’ll provide an opportunity.

War to the World

I finally finished Hew Strachan’s The First World War, perhaps the best one volume treatment of the war I’ve read. Strachan’s work was the basis of an excellent 10 part documentary produced by the BBC a few years ago. The Military Channel runs it from time to time and it’s tone and approach are a marked contrast to most of what’s on that channel. I got a season pass for the series on Tivo and ended up watching the whole thing twice over. The book is a companion to the series and its ten chapters follow the pattern set by the documentary. What I like about Strachan is that he really tries to cut through the propaganda and challenge the accepted truths about the Great War. He also covers all theaters of the war, instead of concentrating on trench warfare of the Western Front as many histories do. You really get the big picture and a sense of how the war aims of the various countries affected their strategies in different parts of the world. My only serious disagreement with Strachan is with his assessment of the Treaty Versailles. He asserts that the real problem with the treaty was not its terms, but the Entente’s unwillingness to enforce them in the 20s and 30s. I think that treaty is a classic case of victor’s vengeance and many problems we still deal with today have their root in its short-sightedness. Still and all, both book and documentary are well worth checking out.

I also watched Ken Burns’ The War documentary recently, and that was quite excellent. It tells the story of America in WWII through the experiences of four towns spread across the country. As with Strachan’s work, The War tries to dispel some myths (like that American soldiers never shot prisoners). Nor does it shy away from showing some harsh footage, the types of images the government kept far away from the home front during the war itself. I got the companion book over the weekend, though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (it’s too big and cumbersome to take on the bus, where I read most of The First World War, so that ones for home I guess). I did laugh every time I heard, “Funding for The War provided by…” but that’s PBS for you. All in all The War is another feather in Burns’ hat and a worthy successor to the Civil War. In fact, it’s better in some ways because he was able to interview living people, many of whom were only now willing to talk about their wartimes experiences.

Tired of Spineless Pussies

When Lyndon Johnson went ahead with civil rights legislation, he famously said that it would lose the Democrats the South for a generation and if anything he underestimated the impact. He went ahead though because passing civil rights legislation was the right thing to do and it was long, long overdue. Today’s Democrat’s would never have the balls to do something like that, which indicates that they have no idea why it is that there were able to take over Congress. I am tired of watching these spineless pussies pretend that they are any kind of opposition party. They are so worried about looking weak on terrorism or weak on law and order that they continue to capitulate as the Bushies wipe their asses with the Constitution.

Hint to clueless Democrats: capitulation to bullying does not make you look strong. Actual defiance does. Maybe you should try it some time.

MMOs and RPGs

I’ve spent the last year working on both MMOs and tabletop RPGs. Here are some conclusions I’ve drawn.

Writing for MMOs Is Better Because Of…

Immediacy: You can write something one day and see it the next day’s build. That’s pretty cool when you are used to waiting 6-18 months to see a finished book.

Showing, Not Telling: You don’t have to worry so much about describing things because the graphics speak for themselves.

Filthy Lucre: The money is way better than what you can make doing tabletop RPGs.

Easy Updates: If you discover that your barbarian class is broken, you can just fix it in the next patch of a MMO. It’s a lot harder to fix when it has been printed in thousands and thousands of books.

Writing RPGs Is Better Because Of…

Variety: You are unlikely to spend 3 or 4 years working on the same project. It’s nice to do different things.

Unfettered Vision: As a MMO designer you’ll have lots of cool ideas that will never get in the game because the programmers or the artists say it can’t be done or they don’t have time to handle it. In a tabletop game, if you can write it, you can put it inside.

Fewer Chefs: Building a MMO is a real team effort. This has many upsides but it does mean that any game becomes a series of compromises between individuals and departments. It’s much easier to have a driving vision behind a RPG (well, except for post-TSR D&D;, which suffers from the previously described problem as well).

Failure Limits: One failed RPG book can’t kill your company unless you are really stupid. One failed MMO can, and put 70+ people out of work.

Pirates of the Burning Sea Launch Date

The launch date for Pirates of the Burning Sea has been set for January 22. Those of you wondering what I’ve been working on during the day for the past year can find out in just a few months. Pre-order boxes will be on sale later this month and if you get one you can actually start playing two weeks earlier. John “Cthulhu Built My Hotrod” Tynes, the game’s producer, tells you all about it here.

What’s the word I’m looking for here? Oh yeah: yaaarrrrr!