The 24 Hour Rule

When I became a freelance RPG writer in the early 90s, the internet was young. When you had something published, it might be weeks or even months until reviews started to appear. Of course, as a creative person, I was always interested to see how the work was being received. I wished the reviews happened faster, so I could get that feedback.

You know what they say: be careful what you wish for.

Now, feedback happens with frightening speed. And most of it is not thoughtful reviews based on careful consideration. It’s off the cuff impressions, honestly emotional but often not factual. I have, on more than one occasion, released a new gaming PDF and started to see bitching about it 10 minutes later. I can’t tell you what a drag this is.

When you are working on a creative project of any sort for months, there is a feeling of triumph and satisfaction when it goes live. At last the thing you’ve been toiling on will get in front of an audience. Hooray! And you’d like to, at least briefly, feel good about the accomplishment of finishing a creative work and getting it out there. So when (often well-meaning) fans immediately pounce and start cataloging your perceived failures, it totally deflates you. It can make you feel like shit. Make you feel like you should be doing something else. That there is little appreciation for the work you put into that brand new thing.

I would thus like to propose the 24 Hour Rule. It is simply this: save your criticisms of a new creative work for at least 24 hours. More, ideally, but I know that’s asking a lot of the current internet. Give the people behind the things you like a brief period to bask in that feeling of accomplishment. Criticism will surely come (it’s the internet) but at least there will be one day they can savor the completion and release of their work. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

RPG a Day, Part 2

19th – Favourite Published Adventure: I’m still quite fond of Shadows Over Bogenhafen from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s Enemy Within campaign. This is a great adventure I’ve had fun both playing and running. And writing a sequel to!

20th – Will still play in 20 years time…: D&D and Call of Cthulhu I’m sure. 

21st – Favourite Licensed RPG: James Bond 007: Role Playing in Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Victory Games. Great game. We dusted this off a few years ago with my Monday night group and had a fun time with it. 

22nd – Best Secondhand RPG Purchase: Last year I ran across a Craig’s List ad for a huge pile of BECMI D&D modules for a super reasonable price (including a mint copy of X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield). The seller was local to Seattle, so we agreed to meet up. It happened in the parking lot of the Renton Transit Center and I’m sure it looked like a drug deal. Me pawing through things in a bag and then producing cash in exchange. Thankfully, no cops were watching. 🙂

23rd – Coolest looking RPG product / book: The Underground RPG from Mayfair Games blew me away with its great art and innovative layout when it was first released. I just got the two volume Guide to Glorantha and it is a seriously impressive piece of work too.

24th – Most Complicated RPG Owned: Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited. We actually tried to play this in college and it was a disaster. I believe this hit location graphic says it all. So granular it turns your brain to dust!

25th – Favourite RPG no one else wants to play: Sadly the same as my all time favorite game: Pendragon. You need to have the right group for a Pendragon campaign. None of my regular groups have had the right temperament for it. 

26th – Coolest character sheet: AD&D had these awesome golden character sheets. I only had one pack of them, so I ended up erasing a lot of characters so I could re-use them. 

27th – Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…: Towards the end of Green Ronin’s time on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Rob Schwalb and I talked over the way we’d want to do a Third Edition of the game. We thought we could take what we had built in Second Edition and improve upon it. That was never to be and Third Edition, when it appeared, was done by another company in a very different way. Sometimes I still think about what I’d do if I had another crack it it. 

28th – Scariest Game you’ve played: I played a Call of Cthulhu game one GenCon in the early 90s. The set-up was that we played 10-12 year old kids who have been dared to go into the creepy house at the end of the block. The GM was terrific and it felt like we were playing through a horror movie. 

29th – Most memorable encounter: I was running a playtest of a Freeport adventure for my Monday night group. In the scenario the PCs get a treasure map on which X marks the spot. It’s a lie, of course, and what’s really going on is that a necromancer is luring adventuring parties to his island to kill them. So the PCs get near the location and pause. Jess Lebow, playing a shaman, decides to make the whole party invisible. Then, rather than go to the spot with the X, they decide to go past it an investigate a cave they can see. Turns out this is where the necromancer is lurking, so at the start of the adventure they walk in invisibly and cap the guy. So much for that cunning plan! This is exhibit A in any discussion of players doing things you don’t expect. 

30th – Rarest RPG Owned: The one that springs to mind is 23rd Letter, a game about psychics fighting a secret war in the modern world. It was published by a company from Northern Ireland called Crucible Design, which I know nothing about. I found it in a Bay Area game store in the late 90s, and I’ve never talked to anyone else who owns it. 

31st – Favourite RPG of all time: Still Pendragon after all these years!

RPG a Day, Part 1

David Chapman started a thing on his blog called RPG a Day. It’s basically an excuse to talk about RPGs so, hey, let’s do that. August is my busiest month of the year, with GenCon and PAX happening. I’m thus going to do this in two parts instead of daily. Part 1 will take me through GenCon.

1st – First RPG Played: Dungeons & Dragons. This was 1979 and I was 10 years old.

2nd – First RPG Gamemastered: D&D again. I cannot not tell you what I ran. Probably a dungeon of my own devising. 

3rd – First RPG Purchased: The original D&D white boxed set. I can’t say I played it though. My brother and I brought it home and tried to make sense of it. There was obviously something cool there but as a 10 year old with no background in wargaming (yet!), how you actually played was unclear to me. We got the Holmes Basic Set and then the AD&D Player’s Handbook in short order and that’s when I really started to play.

4th – Most recent RPG purchase: I backed a Kickstarter from my pals at Pagan Publishing. It’s for Horrors of War, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in World War 1. Backing that was a no brainer for a history nerd like me.

5th – Most Old School RPG owned: OD&D white box. I might also add the original Chainmail game. It’s a minis game, not a RPG, but its “fantasy supplement” was the genesis of D&D.

6th – Favourite RPG Never get to play: That’s an easy one: Pendragon. Love that game, but I never have the right group to play it with. 

7th – Most “intellectual” RPG owned: Aria, Canticle of the Monomyth. I think the title says it all.

8th – Favourite character: Finn, my halfling rogue from my friend Bill’s long running AD&D campaign from college. Freeport fans may know him as the Crime Lord of the Eastern District. I decided that he had retired to Freeport after his adventuring days ended. 🙂

9th – Favourite Die / Dice Set: The recently released Dragon Age dice that Q Workshop did for Green Ronin. These are the first custom dice ever done for one of my RPGs, so they’ve got to be my choice!

10th – Favourite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction: The Horus Heresy line of 40K novels is better than it has any right to be. I do worry about it finishing in my lifetime though (30 novels and still going…). 

11th – Weirdest RPG owned: Many options, but I’ll go with Khaotic, a 1994 game from Marquee Press. This was a scifi game with a wacky premise. Player Characters were members of a “jump-team” that projected their minds to an alien planet. The twist is that the entire group inhabits the body of a sort of living war machine. Only one character can control the body at a time though! Much of the game takes place within its mind, as the characters debate about what to do and who gets to control the body. 

12th – Old RPG you still play / read: Well, I recently wrapped up a two year AD&D campaign set in Greyhawk. I started it because I wanted my step-daughter to get a sense of what D&D was like back in the day. One day she was looking through the 2nd edition Monster Manual and she asked me, “Is there a more recent version of this book with better art?” I had to laugh. 

13th – Most Memorable Character Death: I was in college and we were playing the module X2: Castle Amber. I had played it once before, when I was 12 or so, but I didn’t remember much about it. The GM describe the room we had just entered and it seemed familiar. I said, “Hmmm, I think I died in this room.” And then I proceeded to do so again!

14th – Best Convention Purchase: I got copies of the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor books (supplements 1 and 2 for original D&D) for $10 each in the bring and buy area of a con once.

15th – Favourite Convention Game: Before I got into the game industry, I spent four years running an Ars Magica tournament at GenCon. I put a ridiculous amount of work into it each year, but it was worth it.

16th – Game you wish you owned: TSR’s Empire of the Petal Throne RPG from 1975. I never even saw a copy until 1997. I was at a small con in British Columbia and a copy came up for auction. I thought, “This is a small con and maybe no one knows what it is.” I had recently moved to the West Coast and was trying to make a living by freelance writing, so I had little money. I thought I could I could go as high as $50. The bidding started at $20. Before I could even raise my hand, it was up to $200 and ended up going for close to $500. Turns out plenty of other people knew what Tekumel was!

17th – Funniest Game you’ve played: When Nicole and I used to attend DundraCon more regularly, we would play in Steve Long’s Special Violence Task Force game. The PCs were a group of especially violent law enforcement officers from various organizations who teamed up for ridiculous adventures. It was a hoot. This was technically a Hero System game but we barely even rolled dice.

 

Art of RPGs Gallery Show Looking for Artists!

Krab Jab

Last year I co-curated a show at Krab Jab Studio (my “office”) here in Seattle called The Art of RPGs. It featured a lot of great art and was our most popular show of 2012. This year we are doing it again. The basic info is below. We do an opening reception as part of the Georgetown Art Attack and artists are encouraged to attend if they are in the area. If you are an artist and you’d like to participate, drop me a line at pramas [at] gmail [diggity dot] com.

November 2013: The Art of Roleplaying Games

Description: Salon style exhibition of art from RPGs. Art must have been published in a game or a game periodical (such as Dragon magazine). Interiors and black/white work is acceptable. Digital work (in the form of giclee) is acceptable.

Confirmation Deadline: September 30th

Art Dropoff/Ship Deadline: November 4th

Curators: Julie Baroh and Chris Pramas

Dates: Opens November 9th, thru December 5th

Commission rate: 20%

Let me know if you have any questions. And feel free to share this info with any artists you know who might be interested. 

RPG Rarities and Author’s Copies Up for Auction

“One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”

-Aragorn

The past few months have not been kind to our bank account. I have a bunch of medical bills (don’t worry, nothing serious) and our shitty insurance is covering nothing (what am I paying for again?). Then the water line to our refrigerator burst in the middle of the night and the subsequent flood destroyed the rug in our living room and we’re in the process of doing the floor over. I’m trying to offset these setbacks by selling a bunch of stuff of eBay. This first wave is RPG focused, but there will be more.

There are some genuine rarities here. I’ve copied over the auction descriptions here, along with direct links. If you want to see my seller’s page, you can find it here.

In the US I ship USPS Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation. For international buyers, I ship USPS Express Mail. I will combine shipping if you win more than one auction.

Blood of the Valiant (Ronin Publishing Edition)

Blood of the Valiant is the Guiding Hand sourcebook for the Feng Shui RPG, and it’s also a great background book for players of the Shadowfist TCG. This is the first RPG book I wrote all of and I released it through my first company, Ronin Publishing, under license from Daedalus Entertainment.

The book was later reprinted by Atlas Games but this is the original release and it comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Blood-of-the-Valiant-Feng-Shui-RPG-Ronin-Publishing-Authors-Copy-/290793496194?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a49e82

Blood of the Valiant (Atlas Games Edition)

Blood of the Valiant is the Guiding Hand sourcebook for the Feng Shui RPG, and it’s also a great background book for players of the Shadowfist TCG. This is the first RPG book I wrote all of and I released it through my first company, Ronin Publishing, under license from Daedalus Entertainment.

This is the later Atlas Games edition and it includes some extra material by Keith Baker. The book comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Blood-of-the-Valiant-Feng-Shui-RPG-Atlas-Games-Authors-Copy-/290793497683?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a4a453

Children of the Horned Rat (WFRP2)

Children of the Horned Rat is the Skaven sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition. To the best of my knowledge, it was only printed once and is thus increasingly hard to find.

I designed WFRP2E and wrote the adventure in this book. It comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Children-of-the-Horned-Rat-WFRP2-Warhammer-Skaven-Authors-Copy-/290793501274?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a4b25a

Dragonlance Fifth Age Pre-Press Copy

This auction is for a rare pre-press copy of the Dragonlance Fifth Age RPG. It’s a bound printout of the laid out book (without art) that was sent out to reviewers before the game was published. You can see on the pictures that it was printed out on May 2, 1996 at 3:54 pm. Only a handful were made, which makes this a great collector’s item for Dragonlance fans.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Dragonlance-Fifth-Age-RPG-Pre-Press-Copy-Extremely-Rare-/290793503052?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a4b94c

Dragonlance Heroes & Fools

This is a very rare misprint of the Dragonlance Heroes & Fools fiction anthology. Here’s the story.

When this book came out in 1999, I was working at Wizards of the Coast and my group was right next to the book department. When a new book came out, they’d usually swing by and drop one on everyone’s desk. I put mine in a drawer and then missed work the next day. While I was out, they came by to pick up all the copies. Turns out the whole first print run had a misprint on the final page. Worse, it was in Margaret Weis’ story!

As you can see in the pictures, somehow the last section of a previous story by Janet Pack was appended to the end of Margaret and Don Perrin’s story. The paragraph that begins, “Monster and Solamnic sprinted for the ruined weapon,” and everything after it is from the anthology’s first story and has no business being there.

Most of this print run was destroyed. Only a few fluke copies like mine still exist. This is a great item for Dragonlance collectors!

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Dragonlance-Heroes-Fools-Misprint-Weis-Novel-Extremely-Rare-/290793509435?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a4d23b

Dune RPG Limited Edition

Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium is the only RPG ever published based on Frank Herbert’s legendary scifi series of novels. Wizards of the Coast published it in the year 2000 in a limited run of only 3,000 copies. It has never been reprinted.

I was working at Wizards of the Coast at the time of publication and this is my personal copy.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Dune-Chronicles-of-the-Imperium-RPG-Last-Unicorn-WotC-Rare-/290793515674?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a4ea9a

Freeport Trilogy Original Modules

This is a complete set of the classic third edition D&D modules The Freeport Trilogy. They were some of the earliest releases for Green Ronin Publishing and the d20 System as a whole. The adventures are Death in Freeport, Terror in Freeport, and Madness in Freeport.

I wrote Death in Freeport and developed Terror and Madness. These modules come from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign them for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer them without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Freeport-Trilogy-Original-Modules-d20-D-D3-Green-Ronin-Authors-Copies-/290793518753?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a4f6a1

4E Freeport Companion

Freeport is a city that can be dropped into any fantasy campaign setting and it’s detailed in full in Green Ronin’s Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. Expeditious Retreat published this companion for use with 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons under license from Green Ronin. If you love 4E and Freeport, this book is for you!

I created Freeport and wrote some of the material that was adapted in this book. This copy comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/4E-Freeport-Companion-D-D-Green-Ronin-Expeditious-Retreat-Creators-Copy-/290793522384?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a504d0

HARP Bundle

High Adventure Role Playing is a set of fantasy rules published by ICE in 2003 and descended from their Rolemaster RPG. This bundle includes the core rulebook, College of Magics, Martial Law, and Monsters: A Field Guide. Get everything you need to start a campaign in one go!

http://www.ebay.com/itm/HARP-RPG-Bundle-4-books-ICE-Iron-Crown-/290793524464?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a50cf0

Hong Kong Action Theater, 2nd Edition

You are bidding on a copy of the Hong Kong Action Theater RPG. The publisher, Guardians of Order, went out of business several years so it’s becoming harder to find.

I wrote the lengthy history of Hong Kong cinema and the movie reviews. This book comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Hong-Kong-Action-Theater-2E-Guardians-of-Order-Authors-Copy-/290793526933?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a51695

The Jade Hare (D&D)

The Jade Hare is an extremely rare D&D module published in 1992. This short adventure was given away with orders from the TSR Mail Order Hobby Shop in 1992. Most, like this one, came without a cover (I have one with a cover but I’m not desperate enough to sell it yet!).

I got this when the remnants of TSR’s old legal archive were put into the company store at Wizards of the Coast 12 years ago. I was lucky enough to be working there at the time.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/The-Jade-Hare-Super-Rare-D-D-Module-TSR-/290793530583?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a524d7

Liber Chaotica (Warhammer)

Liber Chaotic is the epic background book about Chaos in the Warhammer world. There were originally four separate books, one each for Khorne, Nugle, Slaanesh, Tzeentch. These were combined with a fifth book about Chaos Undivided and the Liber Chaotica is the result. This is the softcover edition, of which I believe there was only one printing.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Liber-Chaotica-OOP-Black-Library-Chaos-Warhammer-40K-/290793548270?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a569ee

Over the Edge RPG Bundle

Over the Edge is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so journey back to the 90s and see the original. This bundle includes 7 Over the Edge books: the core rulebook, Friend or Foe?, Weather the Cuckoo Likes, Player’s Survival Guide, Cloaks, Wildest Dreams, and the Myth of Self. Lose yourself or your mind on the island of Al Amarja!

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Over-the-Edge-RPG-Bundle-7-Books-Atlas-Games-/290793532828?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a52d9c

Realms of Sorcery (WFRP2)

Realms of Sorcery is the magic sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition. To the best of my knowledge, it was only printed once and is thus increasingly hard to find.

I designed WFRP2E and co-wrote this book. It comes from my personal collection. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Realms-of-Sorcery-WFRP-2nd-Edition-Warhammer-Authors-Copy-/290793491773?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a48d3d

Slavers (AD&D)

Slavers is the second edition AD&D sequel to the classic A1-A4 Slavelords modules of first edition. I wrote this with Sean K. Reynolds back in 1999 and it was one of the last releases for second edition.

This is one of my personal copies. I’m happy to sign it for you if you like (or not, if you’d prefer it without my scrawl).

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Slavers-AD-D-Module-Greyhawk-Sequel-to-Slavelords-Authors-Copy-/290793537226?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a53eca

 Wings of the Valkyrie (Champions)

Wings of the Valkyrie is the only Champions RPG release to ever be recalled by the publisher and is this quite rare. In the adventure, the PCs must go back in time to save Hitler and so preserve the timeline. This plot did not sit too well with many folks at the time, and this led to the recall.

This copy has never been opened and is in its original shrinkwrap. It comes from my personal collection.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Wings-of-the-Valkyrie-Super-Rare-Champions-Module-Recalled-by-Publisher-/290793538673?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a54471

Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards RPG Bundle

Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards is an acid trippy fantasy movie from 1977, but did you know it also had a roleplaying game from 1992? It’s true and you can get everything published for it in one go! You get the core rulebook, Scorch sourcebook, Montagar sourcebook, GM Screen, and Character Sheets.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Ralph-Bakshis-Wizards-RPG-Complete-Product-Line-/290793539950?pt=Games_US&hash=item43b4a5496e

 

The Art of RPGs: Curator’s Statement

This month and next at Krab Jab Studio we are featuring the Art of Roleplaying Games show that I curated with Julie Baroh. We had a great opening the weekend before GenCon and now on Thursday night we are doing another event. This one is a meet the artists mixer and it’s happening on the eve of the Penny Arcade Expo here in Seattle. Many of the artists whose work is in the show will be there, and there will be beer, wine, and snacks. For more details, see the Facebook event page.

Julie and I wrote curator’s statements for the show. For those of you who can’t make it down to Krab Jab, I thought I’d share mine here.

Curator’s Statement

From the beginning of published RPGs in the early 70s, art has played an important role. The words described the rules and evoked the worlds, but the art helped bring it all to life. I got into RPGs in 1979, when I was 10 years old. Certain pieces of art, like the cover of The Village of Hommlet and A Paladin in Hell in the AD&D Player’s Handbook, were burned into my brain forever. Later, I encountered artists whose work defined entire game lines, like P.D. Breeding-Black on Talislanta and Tony DiTerlizzi on Planescape.

In the early 90s I started my career in the game industry as a freelance writer. At first I had no say in the art that accompanied my writing. Then in 1995, when I was working on a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay book called Dying the Light for Hogshead Publishing, I got to write my first art order. It was exciting to conceive something in my mind and then see a talented artist interpret it in the final book. In my first company and then in the early days of Green Ronin Publishing, I had the chance to art direct many books and that was a new challenge. Not just writing the art orders, but recruiting artists and working with them to produce the final work gave me a true appreciation for the work that goes into a RPG book beyond the text. It also made me realize that while I could art direct a book, there were folks far better at it than I. That’s why I brought in Hal Mangold as a partner, and he has art directed and graphic designed almost every Green Ronin project for the last ten years.

When I joined Krab Jab in 2011, I was just looking for a co-working space to do my writing. I loved the idea of working in a creative space instead of a soulless cubicle. I wasn’t thinking in terms on curating a show, but one day I suggested to Julie Baroh that a show focused on RPG art would be awesome and we decided to curate it together. As far as I know, no one has attempted a gallery show like this before. The response from the artists and the public has been tremendous and I’m thrilled with how the show came together. We’ve got work from 30 years ago to today and from a wide variety of artists. Here’s the thing though: this show only scratches the surface of what’s been done in RPGs in the past four decades. RPG art has rarely appeared in galleries but I think the skill and imagination on display here make it clear that it should.

I hope you enjoy The Art of RPGs and get some of that inspiration I experienced as a 10 year old. Even more, I hope we get to do this again!

We Are 138!

It is common practice for writers and game designers to put Easter eggs into their work. They are often targeted at super fans, whose deep knowledge of the topic at hand lets them get the joke. I did this somewhat frequently in my early days as a freelance writer, except I put in things simply to amuse myself. In particular, I put punk references into my game writing with the full knowledge that few, if any, readers would get it.

“We Are 138” is a case in point. In 1996 I wrote an scenario for the Feng Shui RPG (and no, non-gaming friends, this was not a game about furniture arrangement, but Hong Kong action movies) that appeared in the book Marked for Death*. In the adventure the PCs go to the dystopian future controlled by the Architects of the Flesh and visit a town called Pride 138. They witness a legion of school children in matching uniforms marching down the street chanting, “We are 138! We are 138!” The adventure explains the town’s curious name:

“If anyone asks about the origin of Pride 138’s name, Footen tells them it’s a product of one of the Buro’s less successful campaigns. They sought to increase civic pride by naming new towns in rural areas Pride; needless to say, by the time they hit the 138th town named Pride, the campaign lost its novelty.”

“We Are 138” is, of course, a song by The Misfits, possibly inspired by the movie THX 1138. The old Misfits tunes are pretty well-known these days, but even so I never had anyone tell me they got the reference in that adventure. Same for most of my Easter Eggs, with the notable exception of the cloud giant pimp named Dolemite I put in the AD&D supplement Vortex of Madness. No one ever figured out that Krokus Behemoth, the ormyrr watch captain in the City of Glass from that same book, was a reference to the early stage name (Crocus Behemoth) of Dave Thomas of Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu.

The funny thing about Marked for Death now is that I can’t actually remember which came first, the idea of using the song in an adventure or the idea of the Buro naming hundreds of towns Pride. Since the ill-conceived propaganda campaign works whether you get the reference or not, I suppose it doesn’t even matter. 16 years later I am still amused.

* I pulled down Marked for Death when writing this to get the proper quote. I hadn’t looked at for ages and thought, “Damn, that’s a sweet cover. I checked the credits, only to discover that the art was done by my Krab Jab studio mate, Mark Tedin. Funny!

Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 2

Once again, this post contains spoilers for Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh. Stop reading now if you intend to play it one day.

When last we left our trio of adventurers, they had braved the dilapidated mansion of the “Mad Alchemist”, discovered it was not actually haunted, and smashed the smuggling ring they found operating in the caves beneath it. I picked things up a few days later, assuming they had spent that time selling their loot in Saltmarsh and turning that into coin. I had prepared a few rumors for them to pick up around town and passed those on.

Then two men came to see them at their inn. One was an older cleric of Pelor and the other a young man with a freshly shaved head and the robes of an acolyte. The latter turned out to be Jebbric, the smuggler they had shown mercy to back in the caves. He took the whole going straight thing seriously and went off to join the Church of Pelor. The older cleric had brought him to the inn so he could pass on some information about the smuggling ring and so fully repudiate his former life. He told them the smugglers were expecting a ship to come in just a couple of days. If they wanted to finish the job of destroying the smuggling ring, they’d want to take care of the ship. Kate thought to ask about the handout from the caves, so Jebbric explained the signaling system the smugglers used. This proved useful later.

I had given them two days so they could make any preparations they might need. The girls seemed pretty unconcerned about attacking a smuggling ship, so rather than prepare, they started chasing down the rumors they had learned. They visited a park and discovered that indeed frogs were croaking in unison in the middle of the night. They talked to some folks about a rash of burglaries that some blamed on Seaton refugees and others on the famous Keoland thief known as the Scarlet Thorn. Finally they went to see the city council and apprise them of the situation. It was agreed that two excisemen from Saltmarsh would answer the signals from the ship and begin to row out. Meanwhile, the adventurers would approach from the opposite side in another boat and board while the smugglers were distracted.

The plan worked out well. Kate slipped onboard first, backstabbing and killing the guard on the forecastle. Then Nicole’s plate armored paladin made too much noise jumping down to the main deck and the alarm was sounded. The NPC cleric took care of the smuggler in the crow’s nest with a well-chosen command spell (“Jump!”). Nicole assaulted the bosun, killing him and sending his body over the rail into the briny deep. Kate had a long duel with the ship’s captain but poor rolls kept her from prevailing. The paladin finally came to her aid and dealt the finishing blow. Kate was not only annoyed at the kill stealing, but also that the bosun had gone over the side before she could loot the body. She asserted that the treasure so lost was coming out of Nicole’s share, which cracked me up.

Descending into deeper into the ship they discovered three smugglers and a wizard playing cards. They should have come up on deck when they heard the fighting, but I totally forgot to do that so I decided that they were a little drunk and too into their card game to investigate the noises above. When I mentioned that one of the card players was a wizard, Kate went nuts. “I dive across the table and stab him!” she exclaimed. They won initiative, so this she did, hitting the wizard with both her weapons. The poor bastard only had 8 hp to start with so she nailed him to his chair before he had a chance to get up, never mind cast a spell. Two smugglers went down the same round and the last surrendered.

Down in the hold they encountered three lizardmen and dispatched them in a few rounds. Then they discovered three things: a pseudodragon in a cage, an aquatic elf chained up in a tiny room, and a cache of weapons that were being smuggled to a lizardman settlement. The pseudodragon is in the module and as it was total Kate bait, I let her bond with it. Their party can certainly use the help. The aquatic elf, Oceanus, explained that he was captured while investigating the connection between the smugglers and the lizardmen. He then agreed to come with them to Saltmarsh and talk to the town council.

We ended the session there. Next time they have to dicker with the council about the fate of the ship they captured, and then decide on a course of action. Are the lizardmen a threat to Saltmash? If so, what’s to be done about it? And what’s up with those frogs in the park? And is the notorious Scarlet Thorn really in Saltmarsh?

Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 1

When I moved back from Austin, one of the things I wanted to do was get a family RPG campaign going. Our long running game night only sometimes actually features games anymore (long story), and I could tell from various comments that Kate found it frustrating to spend so much time around gamers without getting to roleplay regularly. I tried to get something going with a Dragon Age game last year, but I we only played a few times. I was writing all the adventure material and since this was Dragon Age, it started feeling like an extension of work. I wanted this to be about the family just getting together and having fun, so I decided to take a different approach. Kate had heard endless discussions about D&D at game night, but her actual experience with it was limited. I was looking for a game with a lot of pre-written adventures anyway, so I decided to go all the way and run an AD&D game set in Greyhawk. Might as well give the girl a proper education!

With just Nicole and Kate playing, this was going to be a small party, so I had them create 3rd level characters. Nicole made a paladin and Kate an elf ranger/thief (yes, I bent the rules for her). I created a NPC cleric of Procan as a support character, so the party would at least be a trio. To open the campaign I choose Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, a classic adventure that I had actually never run before. I dug out my DMG II (from 3rd Edition) because it had a write up of Saltmarsh. Most of it was useable, though I dialed the year back to 576. My plan was to keep them in and around Saltmarsh for at least a couple of levels, so the town info would be useful.

Spoilers for Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh follow! Do not read on if you plan to play this module.

At the start of the first session, I told them they had traveled to Seaton at the behest of Saltmarsh’s Alchemists’ Guild to find and acquire some rare ingredients. The day before their arrival, a squadron of ships will yellow sails had raided the town. Hundreds of prisoners were taken and many buildings burned (including the shops they were to visit). The game picked up with the PCs at the Alchemists’ Guild, explaining why the raid had prevented them from completing the mission. The head of the guild said not to worry about it because something more important had come up. He found a letter indicating that an alchemist from the area named Turnbull had a copy of a rare text called Ye Secret of Ye Philosopher’s Stone. The man had disappeared 20 years ago and his ghost was said to haunt his dilapidated mansion. Would the PCs venture inside and try to find the book?

The module makes much of how you have to play up that the house may be haunted. I tried to do so, telling them local legends of the ghost of the “Mad Alchemist.” After they took the mission, I had the NPC cleric ask, “Do you think it’s really haunted?” Nicole and Kate both scoffed immediately, which made me laugh. Kate, so jaded at 16. Nicole quipped, “If I ran a thieves’ guild, I’d hide it in a supposedly haunted house.” I said nothing in reply.

The trio then went to the mansion to investigate. I thought the upper levels needed a bit of jazzing up so I added an encounter in the dining room. They came upon a table and next to each place setting was a severed hand. Kate asked if any of the hands had rings; I said yes. When she entered to loot the rings, the hands (in fact, crawling claws) leaped up off the table to try to strangle them. That was fun. Later they freed Ned the assassin and let him tag along for a little while. Right before he was about to get his clothes back, Nicole hit him with detect evil and the jig was up. They sent him packing wearing only his underwear.

In the basement they avoided the rot grubs by burning the dead body in plate mail straight away. I added the detail that the armor was engraved with symbols of Pelor. Nicole is playing a paladin of Mayaheine (yes, GH nerds, I’m bending the timeline slightly) so I thought it’d be suitable armor for her. Kate then found the secret door and got the drop on Jebbric, the smuggler inside. They interrogated him and tied him up. They then found the book they had been sent for and smashed the smugglers’ ring operating in the caves under the mansion. They turned four prisoners over the Saltmarsh watch, but let the one who gave them information go. Jebbric promised to straighten up. They then returned to the Alchemists’ Guild for their reward. So ended session 1.

Overall, it was a really fun time. Kate, who is soft-hearted in real life, was all about the ducats in Greyhawk. She took meticulous notes on every item of value they found in the house and tallied everything at session’s end. I can see some future adventures involving her thief side. Other possible hooks include the escaped assassin, the plate mail of Pelor, and the raiders that attacked Seaton.

We played session 2 last night. I’ll try to write that up later this week.

A Chronicle of Ice and Fire

I haven’t been doing any regular roleplaying since getting back to Seattle, as weekly game night at our place long ago devolved into eat, drink, and bullshit night during which boardgaming sometimes happens. And hey, that’s fun too but it wasn’t scratching my itch. Jon Leitheusser, Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds developer, was nice enough to invite me to join his group, so this week I trekked down to Renton for a kickoff session of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying (abbreviated SIFRP).

When people ask me at cons and such how SIFRP captures the flavor of the books, the first thing I tell them about is the house system and the campaign framework it provides. Before you make your character, you sit down as a group and generate a minor noble house. This is the glue that will hold the campaign together. All the PCs are members or retainers of the house, so you have both individual goals and group goals as the house engages in the game of thrones. It gives a real reason for your characters to work together, so you aren’t just a random collection of mercenary sociopaths (though if you want that, I suppose you could run a chronicle in which the PCs join the Brave Companions).

So Tuesday night Jon, Seth, Jason, James (by Skype), and I got together to generate a house and start character creation for the chronicle. We decided to roll up a couple of houses and pick the one we liked best. Houses have seven attributes (Defense, Influence, Lands, Law, Population, Power, and Wealth). You establish starting stats based on its location in Westeros and these can be modified in several ways throughout the process. You then get to make a certain number of rolls on the historical events table, which both modifies the attributes and gives you seeds to develop important events in the house’s past. Once the final attributes are determined, you can then spend resources to determine details of your holdings. When you’re done, you should have a good starting point for your house and an idea of where Player Characters can fit within it.

The first house we generated was in the Westerlands. That meant Lannisters, which I don’t think any of us were too keen on. Nonetheless, we went through the process so everyone could see how it worked. We ended up with a new house created after Robert’s Rebellion. We had small holdings in the hills with a hall near a river that passed through our territory. We had a lot of money (because hey, Lannisters) which we figured came from river tolls and our two mines. I had a feeling we weren’t going to stick with this house, so I suggested we skip detailing our banner house and military forces. We felt there were hooks here we could certainly use but overall it wasn’t what we were looking for.

The second house was in the Iron Islands and it was clear pretty quickly that this one would win out over the Westerlands house. Jon’s roll of 1 also meant we were an ancient house dating back to the Age of Heroes. This gave us a lot of rolls on the historical events table and plenty of stuff to work with for our house history. Our house was founded by treachery, for example, and other events made it clear it had had its ups and downs: defeat, victory, ascent, scandal, decline, favor. I suggested that defeat be the most recent event and we tie that to the Greyjoy Rebellion. With our resources were able to secure our own island and a small castle, but its dominant terrain was wetlands. We decided the house controlled a bigger, better island in the past, but in a period of decline we lost it to our rivals. As Ironmen we naturally opted for veteran warhips and raiders, as well as some sailors and a garrison for the castle. We brought in an artisan we we could have castle-forged steel, and used other resources so James could play the house’s heir.

At some point we decided that one of our ancient ancestors slew a sea dragon (or perhaps stole the credit for the deed, if we opt to make that the founding treachery). With that in mind, I suggested that we become House Greenscale and that our motto be “Cold Seas, Cold Blood.” We almost went with Seth’s suggestion of Highrock (he thought that’d be funny considering our wetlands) but Jon countered that it’d be a better name for the castle. We all agreed and so we became House Greenscale of Castle Highrock.

We still have some work to do fleshing out the history of the house, but this gave us a good framework to start creating our characters. Clearly court adventures and tournaments are not going to be our forte. We are a house of Viking raiders looking to revive our ancient glories. I’m working on my character now and will try to post something more when I flesh him out. I enjoyed the house creation session and I’m looking forward to getting the game going. Cold Seas, Cold Blood!

Originally posted on LiveJournal on December 1, 2011.