Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Toad Hydra

From one of the modules I've been working on today:
Hit Dice: 7
Armor Class: 7[12]
Attacks: 4-6 bite (1d6+3) or tongues (grab)
Saving Throw: 9
Special: Regeneration 2hp/round
Move: 6 (Swim 12)
Alignment: Neutral
Challenge Level/XP: 9/1100 + 1/300 per head over 4.
Toad-Hydrae resemble giant toads with multiple heads, although the body is somewhat longer than that of a toad, and the mouths of a toad-hydra are filled with nasty, sharp teeth. These creatures have one attack per head. Each head can attack either by biting or by flicking out its long tongue in attempt to grab (and later swallow) prey. A toad-hydra will not usually attack with more than two of its tongues; if attacking with three tongues, all of the tongue attacks are made at -1, if with four tongues, all the attacks are at -2, etc. If, however, the toad-hydra hits with one of its tongues, the victim is immobilized and the hydra may begin trying to gulp it down in the next round. Gulping attempts are treated as attacks, but rather than dealing damage in hit points, success means the victim is swallowed whole and will die in 1d4+3 rounds. Immobilized opponents can attempt to break free (successful saving throw at -5).

Two Modules Aborning

So yesterday, in the middle of thinking about how I really needed to get started getting ready for NTRPGCon, I had the idea for a pair (possibly a trio) of linked adventures.

"Imagination," I said, "now is not the time for this. I have a great deal to do. We have to get ready for NTRPGCon. In fact, I expect your assistance with that."

"Fine," replied my imagination. "I'll just throw all this stuff in the recycle bin and forget all of it like we forgot Jeanette's new phone number when you were ten and had a crush on her and they moved away from down the street. How about that?"

"Okay, fine," I said. We'll just write down a quick skeleton outline of the new ideas and then we'll get on with prepping the megadungeon, seeing as how the parties almost made it off the map last time."

Well, that was several hours ago, and the outlining continues. The fact of the matter is that when you're on a roll you might as well stay on the roll. I did, at least, notice one interesting thing about the process that got followed when my subconscious mind decided to derail me from Mythrus Tower onto these other two projects:

1) One of them began with the monster, followed by the physical setting of the adventure, followed by more and more detail about the backstory as I filled in some details on the map.

2) The other one began with the simple fact that I needed a second type of bad guy for the first adventure. For whatever reason, even though I didn't immediately think what sort of monster that would be, it created a good adventure title. And from there I started sketching a map, which is, as with the first adventure, giving me ideas for the backstory.

What I find a bit strange here, and I can't recall things going in this order before, although maybe they have ... it's odd that the physical map (and a few VERY basic notes on where the monsters are) is creating in the case of both modules a relatively detailed backstory.

You'd think that the backstory would come from somewhere other than the physical features of the map. There's some feedback going on where the elements of the backstory have started to feed the map, which is more the normal pathway for me.

Odd. One of these, by the way, is shaping up to be really unusual and cool. The other one has a good backstory developed from its still-not-perfect map. But both the backstory and the map are getting better as they continue developing.

Getting Ready for North Texas RPGCon

Well, the time is almost upon us, and I need to finish up the expansions and some re-population on the Ruins of Mythrus Tower, not to mention packing and getting things set for the family so I don't get a call in the middle of a game session asking if there is a secret stash of bread or light bulbs hidden somewhere in the house.

Getting ready for a con is a lot less fun than actually being at the convention, which I guess goes without saying. Nevertheless, actually getting on the road is a real relief, and I can't wait. Mostly what I'll be doing at the con is running the series of Mythrus Tower dungeon expeditions, but I hope to get enough time free to watch the charity game, go to the K&KA social, and watch Erol Otus do some drawing!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

OT Taekwondo - wish me luck ... because I sucked

I just took a belt test for the next taekwondo rank. And I totally hosed it up. I am pretty sure I passed, but I think that ONLY because I didn't get the third try I would have been permitted on the form if I'd done it wrong twice already. So the second try must have been good enough.

My son (the one with Aspergers Syndrome) was taking the test and standing next to me, and he took off like a rocket at the beginning ... which made me think "oh god, he can't be chambering for those strikes if he's going that fast ..." and that's the last thing I remember about doing the form. It totally went out of my head, and I was operating only on muscle memory. I didn't know what I was about to do; my body just moved into the next position. And apparently I had it down well enough to do it on autopilot like that, but with no technique whatsoever.

Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked. I am never going to test standing next to my son again -- it's too distracting because I worry about how he's doing instead of concentrating on what I'm doing.

Anyway, apparently my cerebellum learned enough taekwondo to get me through when the cerebrum shuts down, but I suspect that this was the raggedy-assed D- of all time.

What really annoys me is that I'm actually really, really good at this form. I can do it in my sleep. Which is basically what happened.

Sorry for the non-gaming post; I had to vent.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Honkin' Big Sale on S&W Core Rules!

In addition to the 25% off lulu sale (coupon code: CYBERMAY305), I have cut the price on the books by $1 each. So the effective prices should be as shown below. The prices can now be measured in terms of how much you'd pay for lunch -- bring a sandwich to work tomorrow instead of going to the deli and you've virtually financed the softcover right there (depending on where you live).

Softcover: $14 with my discount ($15 normally) Price would effectively be $10.50 with lulu discount

Hardcover: $24 with my discount ($25 normally) Price would effectively be $18.00 with lulu discount

I will probably keep my $1 discount going for a month or so after the lulu sale, but obviously the lulu sale is where the real discount lies -- my $1 off is just to add some additional kicker.

If you're buying 5 copies of the same book at lulu, they give an additional discount of 5%. So if you're buying for a gaming group it's better to have one person order the copies for everyone instead of having everyone buy separately.

Also note that this doesn't reduce shipping costs, only the cost of a printed product.

You can only use the coupon code ONCE, so your first order should contain everything you want.

Edit: the lulu sale ends on May 31.

Lulu sale - Best time to buy Core Rules

Lulu is having a really good sale at the moment, with 25% off. If you've been thinking of buying a printed copy of the Core Rules 4th printing, now is a good time. Most of lulu's discount sales are more in the neighborhood of 10-15% off.

The coupon code is CYBERMAY305

EDIT: Dropped prices by an additional $1 - lower price shown below

Softcover: $14 with my discount ($15 normally) Price would effectively be $10.50 with lulu discount

Hardcover: $24 with my discount ($25 normally) Price would effectively be $18 with lulu discount

If you're buying 5 copies of the same book at lulu, they give an additional discount of 5%. So if you're buying for a gaming group it's better to have one person order the copies for everyone instead of having everyone buy separately.

Also note that this doesn't reduce shipping costs, only the cost of a printed product.

You can only use the coupon code ONCE, so your first order should contain everything you want.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Big Announcement: Core S&W Books!

Copies of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules are now for sale on lulu.com!

Free pdf

Softcover: $15

Hardcover: $24.99

It's even possible (but right on the edge) that someone ordering today would get the softcover in time for NTRPGCon. I think the hardbacks take longer for lulu to make (and would delay delivery of a softcover if in the same order). So I think I missed that deadline by a whisker, although it's possible it might still work.

My only real fear with these things was that the words on the spine would ... miss the spine. I'm not the best graphic designer in the world. But it worked, and the words are in the right place. Sweet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Free advertising in Knockspell Magazine

As per normal, I'm offering free advertising in Knockspell magazine for blogs and publishers of "OSR" materials. To get your ad into the magazine, you need to send me a 300dpi graphic of the advertisement in jpeg format, and it should be roughly a quarter page. Send it to mythmere at yahoo dot com. Please don't include anything time-sensitive like special prices or announcements that a module has just been released, because (a) my publication schedule is not exactly predictable, and (b) since it will stay on lulu and rpgnow, some people will be buying this months and months after the publication date.

You can also send me a description of your blog, product, or company to be included as a classified ad: these should bot be longer than 25 words.

Any submissions are subject to being rejected, although so far I haven't ever rejected anything since I started doing free advertising in the magazine years ago. But I retain the right to reject things that are for 3e or any other objection I might have.

Out of caution, please get these to me before June 15th, which is my newest extended deadline for the magazine.

Even if you have sent me an advertisement before, please send me a graphic, even if it is the old one. I have no idea which of the blogs I have on file may have folded, which publishers have sold out of products they mentioned, and whether the graphics are 300dpi (which has become a lulu requirement, now).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hurdles and Whining: Knockspell Magazine #6 Progress Report

I just did a word count on the unedited articles I have in hand for Knockspell #6, and discovered that the total word count stands just shy of 18,000 words. It's projected as a 64 page magazine, and since the words per page will be around 650 (that's a rough average, taking into account that many pages contain art, and that maps often occupy a full page).

This means I'm about 23,600 words short of a magazine. Some of that I'd be writing in the normal scheme of things, since I've got the editor's introduction, and I usually write some of the magazine's material anyway.

One possibility is just to get on the keyboard and start filling that in myself. I'm a fairly prolific writer. However, my goal with Knockspell has never been to use it as "a bunch of Matt's ideas," even though it usually includes "some of Matt's ideas." Rather, I've conceived of it as a compilation of the ideas of several people, brought into one place with some editorial smoothing (a second set of eyes does wonders for pretty much any manuscript). I've also viewed it as a place to see aspects of the so-called OSR through journalistic eyes: material that isn't necessarily a gaming resource. I did an article, for example, describing a visit to Lou Zocchi's booth at Owlcon in Houston -- a humorous piece that focused on events rather than resources.

It's a different feel, and a different take, from most of the other old-school media out there. Obviously, it's closest to Fight On! Magazine, although Fight On! tends to focus very heavily on game resources. I'm also told that Calithena and Ignatius have a fairly different editorial style which shows in the two magazines. I'm told I'm like early Dragon, whereas Cal and Ig emerge with something that's got a more Judges Guild feel. I don't see that, actually, but it's a very common comment.

It's also unlike John Slater's NOD magazine, which is predominantly John's unbelievably prolific work. John's insane productivity requires more outlets than just a blog -- he needs a magazine as well to keep his creative juices from going right over the top of the levy. The diversity of authorship in Knockspell distinguishes it from Land of NOD.

Note that I'm not criticizing either Fight On! or Land of NOD here, I'm just talking about differences and variety between them. and Knockspell. This stuff is neutral; it's about approaches and presentations; although various people might prefer one approach or the other. What I'm getting at is that if I'm going to remain true to the original, planned editorial goals of Knockspell, I still don't have enough material at the moment, and unless I'm going to alter the ratio mix of me-versus-other-writers, I have to bring in some more articles and resources.

Another consideration is the expanding presence of old-school blogs, which I think is actually the reason why it's getting more difficult to bring in articles. Lots of the creative energy that once went into articles is now being channeled into blog posts. The magazine is definitely distinct from blogs in that blog posts are usually somewhat shorter than true "articles," not going into all the nooks and crannies of a particular topic, and in that blog posts generally haven't had a second pair of eyes reviewing them. Any author worth his salt will admit that editors almost always improve the quality of the final product, even if they also produce a bunch of poor suggestions as well. Again, this isn't a condemnation of blogging; blogging is simply a different medium that produces a different end result from a magazine. Offsetting what I DO actually see as a lower-quality average blog post as compared to an edited article, blogs have the advantage of being dynamic, with multiple comments that aren't present in a magazine article, and also with their immediacy. Articles, even the best ones, tend to have a certain gravitas that blogs (with their direct me-to-you feeling) lack. That's a distinction in style that could cause some people to prefer blogs, and some people to prefer articles, and even for those with no particular preference, gives blogs and magazines a different "feel" from each other.

So, what do I do with a word count that falls short of the goal? I should mention that there's a structural issue here: since lulu charges a high setup fee and a low additional page fee, you've pretty much GOT to have a decent page count in order to deliver value on the lulu print option. I really don't want to solve this problem by dropping the page count, because it will increase the price-per-page considerably. And while I don't think price-per-page is a very valid way for a buyer to choose between two products, it's a major consideration for the guy who actually produces the product, because you want to produce the best product you possibly can, in every respect including the cost.

I've got one advantage here in that I'm going to re-introduce free advertising. I didn't do that in Knockspell #5 because I was waffling over the issue of media mail. In the USA, magazines aren't allowed to ship media mail, and even if I'm the only guy in the country this has happened to, I once got a mailing returned to me because it contained the advertisements (this is the measure of it). I am now basically committed to the idea that Knockspell is going to be shipped through lulu only. I don't make enough of a margin to sell it through any means other than POD. Fair enough: that might be a retrenchment, but I'm comfortable with it. Those advertisements, which I'll formally announce in a later post, together with the parameters, will have the incidental effect of reducing the word count per page. It's not a matter of creating filler, it's that I think advertisements actually add to the value and feel of a magazine (I read the advertisements in Dragon Magazine almost as much as I read the actual content). Plus, it's a venue for advertising in a world where blogs and low-profit products can afford it. Free is affordable.

Anyway, I'm still accumulating articles and other material, so I don't plan on discontinuing the magazine or anything, but as a matter of interest I thought I would share a few of the travails that a publisher faces -- the invisible difficulties that aren't apparent once the thing is actually done.

It's whinging, I guess, but that's another of those things that distinguish a blog from a magazine too. Blogs often show the internal side of things, the secrets, and things behind the scenes much more than a magazine really does. I thought it might be interesting to give a progress report that doesn't conceal the difficulties in order to put on a purely rah-rah face. This is a hobby, hobbies aren't always smooth. On the other hand, part of the joy of hobby publications is that they are more authentic than slick. In some way or other, I know, the issue will come together.

By the way, to all the authors who have contributed so far, you guys are heroes!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Grimmhaus walk-through review of S&W Core

Josh's review of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules (Core4, as it's getting called) is into 4 installments now, starting here.

For spotting where there are changes between earlier printings and the new one, this review is a lot better than any description or log that I have managed to make, so if you're interested in knowing about the changes, I strongly recommend Mr. Sherrer's step-by-step walkthrough.

I don't do facebook

Since several people have tried to friend me on facebook since starting this blog, don't be offended if I don't get onto facebook and accept those friend requests -- I don't use my facebook account almost ever. I don't like the interface and it turns into just one more damn thing to try and keep track of.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I wish I had a picture of this thing: it's like a zombie, only with this flopping, horrible, enormously long tongue that probably drags on the ground. It's a 3e monster that I converted to old school.


Hit Dice: 10

Armor Class: 0[19]

Attacks: 1 fist (1d8) or tongue (paralysis)

Saving Throw: 5

Special: paralyzing tongue

Move: 12

Alignment: Chaotic

Challenge Level/XP: 13/2,300

Mohrgs are the animated corpses of mass murderers or similar villains who died without atoning for their crimes. They resemble zombies, but are far more dangerous, being somewhat more intelligent, much faster, and much stronger a zombie.

Due to a morhg’s blinding speed, these monsters will always attack first during a combat round unless squared off against an opponent using some sort of magic that increases the character’s own speed of motion (such as boots of speed). Morghs have two possible methods of attacking. First, the morgh’s tongue extends five feet, and has a paralyzing effect. A saving throw at -2 is permitted to avoid this effect, but victims failing the saving throw are paralyzed for 1d6 turns. The morgh’s second option in combat is to strike opponents with its fists. When the morgh hits with its hands, the strike not only causes damage, but allows the morgh to hold on if the victim fails a saving throw. A character who is so held cannot attack, and if the morgh with its tongue in a subsequent round, the tongue will hit automatically (although the victim is still allowed a saving throw to avoid paralysis). Any held character may break free with a successful saving throw during the character’s attack initiative.

Any character killed by mohrg will rise after 1d4 days as a zombie under the morhg’s control. Thus, morghs are often found accompanied by 1d6 zombies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Black Blade at NTRPGCon

I don't have any direct connection to Black Blade Publishing any more, so I'm free to be a fanboy. :)

If you're going to be at North Texas, Allan and Jon will be there and have a table like last year, and it's going to be worth checking out. They will have OSRIC books and Monsters of Myth, and will also have Robert Conley's Majestic Wilderlands Campaign (and the shorter Blackmarsh setting as well). I think they will also have copies of Jeff Talanian's excellent Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent, too. The available numbers of books will likely depend on the capacity of Jon's car, since he drives it all to the con.

It's true that you miss part of the Black Blade Publishing experience if you don't order by mail -- Jon Hershberger packages books apparently on the assumption that battle tanks will be driven over them, and you will never see such sturdy packaging. It's built for Ragnarok. Nevertheless, it's really cool to see real new AD&D books lying side by side for sale on a table. Definitely stop by and check it out while you're at the con.

If need be, you can spot Allan at a distance. Look for the tie-dye t-shirt.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Effect of deadline for ordering Tome of Horrors

June 1 is when the pre-ordering for the Swords & Wizardry Tome of Horrors will be ending, and it's a somewhat important deadline because not very many additional books are going to get printed. The up front cost of these things is so high that we're only going to sort of "round the number up" from however many are ordered. There might be as many as 49 extras, but there might be fewer. So if you are planning to get the book, make sure you order it before June 1. There will only be a very few additional copies for sale to those who don't order in advance.

Note: this is only about the print copy - the pdf will remain available afterwards in the beautifully unlimited quantity that the internet allows.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Josh Reviewing the S&W Core Rules

Josh over at Grimmhaus is doing what looks like it will be a multi-part review of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. Josh is a particularly good person to be doing this in terms of comparing the earlier versions to the newest version because he is a long-time fan of the earlier Core Rules. Hence, if there's a critique, he'll have it ... fortunately for my peace of mind he's sounding satisfied so far.

People who use the original D&D rules should find that this printing represents a much closer clone than the earlier printings, too. I think that for most people with this objection it's not theoretically or legally possible to ever satisfy them with a clone game at all -- which is fine. The last thing in the world I want to do is to tell someone who truly plays OD&D that he's "doing it wrong" or that I've got a better alternative. Swords & Wizardry is a tool for OD&D, not vice versa. My real reason for nudging it closer isn't to satisfy criticisms about how close or far the clone comes to the original, it's to satisfy my own view of how the game needs to orient around the source material.

I see it as a host of options and possibilities that surround a "Basic book" which offers a fairly clear and easily understandable "pathway" to get a new player started easily. You have to get started with the basic pathway before you can appreciate what those options permit. And once you're ready to start tweaking and building, you're off the basic pathway and into the real spirit of OD&D. I think one weakness of the original OD&D books was that they didn't take the novice reader very well into account, and given the goal of S&W, to spread the word, I've tried to do that a bit more clearly in S&W.

So hopefully I've managed to create an improvement over the earlier printings in terms of presenting the original game as a pathway with a host of rich options branching out from the main path. I'm eagerly awaiting Josh's views on this, and I'm interested to see (since that whole "pathway" thing is a big deal for me) how he thinks it compares to actual OD&D as a starter booklet for a new player. He might not be planning on covering that, but I'd like to hear how well this printing functions as a Basic book for OD&D, compared to how the last printing did.


I'm starting to gear up for North Texas RPGCon, and realizing that there's a lot to do. I already slipped my deadline for finishing the Core Rules in time to have some at the Con, and now I'm looking at other crowded deadlines I'd set for myself ... Knockspell #6, two adaptations of modules from PF into Swords & Wizardry, and most importantly, re-loading Mythrus Tower and probably extending the map for when the parties explore deeper into the dungeon this time.

Plus, I'm working with Robert S. Conley on a campaign, and I don't want to drag feet on my side of that project.

Fortunately, real life's not throwing curve balls or fast balls toward me at the moment, but I'm getting a constant barrage of slow pitches that I still need to hit. Getting kids to band practice, to choir, to work, and to Tae Kwon Do. Running the polls at the last city election, etc.

So, I offer a very quick feature for a dungeon or outdoor adventure, which is "busy ants."

Busy Ants
Busy ants are busy carrying various items in a random compass direction (d8). If a busy-ant encounter is rolled, there will actually be 1d4+3 times that the party finds some. Each time, roll for the item being carried:
1) Bits of flesh, (2) little sticks, (3) parts of what appears to have been a painted canvas, (4) long pieces of string, (5) feathers, (6) pebbles.

Since the ants are always headed in the same direction, and since you are rolling to see what they are carrying, these encounters may, as they accumulate, cause the characters to believe that something important is going on. In point of fact, the ants are just busy.

... unless, of course, they are building an animated colossus out of string, flesh, pebbles, feathers, etc. Or bringing sacrifices to one. Or making a nest for some huge ant. One never knows.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

S&W Core Rules - FREE for all!

The fourth printing of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules are free for all! You can (and definitely should) download them from THIS PLACE RIGHT HERE AT RPGnow, so you can start enjoying them right away.

For those who will be playing in my Mythrus Tower game at NTRPGCon, these are the rules I will be using for the great dungeon delve into the megadungeon!

There is also a 2-page snapshot of my campaign, including the area around Mythrus Tower itself, included in the pdf (I had pages to fill to make the page count work out to a multiple of 4).

(Not to sound like P.T. Barnum, but this is the event of all time. You should hear this in an Archer voice. If you don't know what Archer is, it's a cartoon that's freaking hilarious on some cable channel).

Note: until I take them down, the books are available at Lulu but DO NOT BUY THEM unless you are a risk-taker because I haven't received my test copies yet. They should be fine, and I know some people may want them in time for NTRPGcon, and today is still a big lulu special using the coupon code, so they are currently available for those of you who are cool with taking a slight risk.

I have yet to decide if I've got enough cash to buy some extra copies to bring to the con or not.

Edit: at lulu.con the link is http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/swords-wizardry-core-rules-%28pdf%29/15718826

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You, yes YOU, are on the S&W Cover

This is from Razberry Ranid, his suggestion for the new title and cover for the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. I just about died laughing when I saw it. Clearly,the attitudes expressed by the characters in this cover picture are not only system neutral, but one of them is you as a player. Which one?

Note: you may have to click to enlarge the picture to read their comments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Free Advertising in S&W Core Rules

If there's a publisher out there who is doing almost exclusively Swords & Wizardry materials, I am putting together the information page at the back of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, which is highlighting blogs and third party publishers.

If the circulation of the free pdf follows previous patterns, there will be several tens of thousands of downloads on this, although I have no idea how many of those will actually be unique users, and of those how many will actually read the full pdf rather than just foldering it for later (never) reading.

Still, it's a really, really freakin' big number: this clearly gets into the mainstream audience, and with the addition of Frog God Games into the S&W mix, the numbers could be higher than anything I've seen before on the earlier versions.

I already have NOD, S&W Companion, S&W Quickstart, Ruins & Ronin, and World of Onn. I'm checking other publishers too (Backswords, Hoodlums, GM Games, etc), but please don't assume that I'll catch everyone. Let me know if your product line or blog is heavy enough on S&W content to be appropriate for listing in the rules as a place to direct people. No slap intended to non-S&W publishers, but since this is going into the actual rulebook as a resource list specifically for this game, I'm not creating a general list of old-school resources here. I still plan on putting together a free download of "compatible" materials with a much broader scope on the S&W site, but last time I tried that I didn't get any publisher responses to help out with it, so that's delayed.

Please contact me by email (mythmere at yahoo dot com) if your site is primarily dedicated to S&W materials.

Monday, May 9, 2011

No Core Rules Today :(

Pursuant to my last post, in which I optimistically opined that I might get the 4th print Core Rules out today ...

I never even made it close to the uploading part -- first I realized I hadn't put page numbers into the table of contents yet, then I realized I hadn't done the character sheet, and then I checked the formatting and SOMETHING had screwed up the page location of the iron golem, and although that turns out to give me space for an illustration of a grey ooze (YAY I can actually draw oozes), it also means that as a matter of being a perfectionist I now need to draw a grey ooze...

And then I will be back to where I thought I was this morning. Two steps forward, one step back.

S&W Core Rules Today?

Well, I'm going to spend the day (probably the whole day) trying to get at least the free pdf of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules (I think this will actually happen) up onto RPGNow, and also the books (which I think might take more than a day).

I have put pdf files up on RPGNow, but I have never attempted a POD product, so it's going to be quite a ride. The last time I looked at the setup for a book on RPGNow, it made my eyes glaze over.

Here we go....

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Underground comix approach to OSR art

Once again I'm going to riff on something Stefan Poag has written on his blog, because it's about art and I like art as a topic. Stefan posed this question at the end of his post here:
I don't know if I think the OSR is going to diverge from 'mainstream' RPGs like the current edition of D&D and become a kind of 'alternative' aesthetic counterpoint like the weird and perverse underground comics once provided for the more wholesome mainstream comics from Marvel, Dell, Gold Key and DC. But I think that would be a viable alternative vision of what these publications can be for individual members of the OSR to pursue if they choose.
I think we have already diverged. So far, with the exception of Zak/Raggi, that divergence isn't particularly deliberate or forward-looking. That doesn't make it bad, it's just that a lot of it has been driven by some other factors. These: (1) we generally started on lulu, even though we may generally be starting a move to RPGNow, and lulu's price on interior color pages is very high. To keep prices affordable, we've de facto gone with b/w interior art. (2) We generally have been looking to aesthetics defined by Trampier or Otus back in the day. By definition, we're a retro community, and that has been reflected in the art. (3) With small expected sales, investing in color art for internal pages would never recoup the cost.

In a sense, that harks back to an interesting effect. The art style and subject matter coming from Trampier and Otus is actually very close to underground comix. It's not on the weirder side of it, but it's not exactly mainstream. Which means that by being retro we have actually moved into an artistic forefront ... what's old is new again, and we are the new black. Again.

Will the OSR become a platform for a more avant-garde underground comix type of aesthetic beyond the extent where we're already there? That's an interesting question, but I really think it's worth noting that:
1) We already have a different underlying type of fiction that we're adapted to. Our talking heads are pretty sword-and-sorcery oriented rather than high-fantasy oriented. I don't know if we shouted down the high-fantasy guys with internet punditry, or if this represents a real trend in the OSR.
2) My guess is that even the high-fantasy guys in our community see head-shop hobbits in the mind's eye rather than the slim and trim ninja halflings. Take a look at some of the 1970 art having to do with Tolkien, and remember how people interpreted the hobbits' love of pipeweed and mushrooms. Tom Bombadil's hippie love. Go ask Alice about Tolkien when she's ten feet tall.

When you've got a different underlying story, you get a different underlying aesthetic. So we might not be at the "movement" type of point where Stefan sees the potential for us to go, I just want to point out that we're already more than half way to what he's describing.

I'd not be interested in seeing our art get into some of the realms explored by the underground comix, but in terms of the style, technique, and basic subject matter, we've already become almost avant gard, almost by accident.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thumbs Up? Thumbs Down?

This is the illustration I did for the "staff" section of the magic items for the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. It's hard to evaluate one's own work, so I'll toss this out for the question of "is this good enough to be put in a rulebook?" I think it is, given that it's just to flavor up the page describing staffs, but I'm biased.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Limited edition modules for conventions

Stefan Poag of Aldeboran offers an interesting question about whether it's good for a publisher to release a limited edition module that can only be purchased at a particular convention. The convention in question is North Texas RPGCon, and the publisher is Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games. The discussion that sparked Stefan's attention is on this page at the Acaeum.

To frame the issue, Bill (Barsh, not Webb -- I have no relation to this Bill) is putting out a limited release that was originally going to be available only to attendees at NTRPGCon and is now going to be available to people who are signed onto his mailing list or something -- I didn't understand the acronym he used.

The Underlying Arguments

Below is a post from someone not happy with the original plan:
The drawback with a publication like this is that it breaks the customer/publisher chain. Snap! Broken.
If there is an edition of a Pacesetter module only available at NTRPGCon, it automatically and permanently makes my Pacesetter collection incomplete.
As a loyal Pacesetter purchaser from the beginning, my reaction to this publication is considerable chagrin both for myself and for Pacesetter.
And Bill's response:
I am working on a fix. I have to admit that I have received more than a few emails regarding this. (thanks to everyone!).
I will be sending out "fix" directly to our CLP members. This way, those who are loyal customers and run the complete collection, will have an opportunity to purchase this module in the convention format. It will be a strict order system with a fairly tight buying deadline. This will be a very limited release.
In Stefan's blog about the matter (linked above), he doesn't attack Bill's approach, taking essentially a middle road:
I don't know what to think about books and games being produced as "special edition collector's items." On the one hand, I suppose it's good for the people who publish game books (and probably anything that can create positive cash flow ought to be tried... well, nearly anything). On the other hand, I can understand the "completeist's" frustration at the creation of artificial scarcity.

Conventions, special editions, cash flow, and artificial scarcity
So I wanted to write a bit about conventions, special editions, cash flow, and artificial scarcity. It's an important issue to me for a few reasons: I'm a big fan of Bill Barsh, I'm a big fan of NTRPGCon, I publish stuff (so I have a working relationship with cash flow issues), and I got hit with an unexpected "artificial scarcity" issue with the hardcover of the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook. So Stefan's question happened to resonate with me on several levels.

Cash Flow
The first point, I think, is that I doubt Bill's real issue here is cash flow. Granted, modules don't sell in huge quantities in the first place, and granted, that rate of sale seems to have decreased a bit over the last six months to a year. So it's entirely reasonable to see this plan as a sales gimmick, but I think it's NOT a sales gimmick that Bill is employing on his own behalf. I think it's a gimmick that he's employing on behalf of someone else, namely NTRPGCon. And that, to my mind is something entirely different.

Why? Because conventions need support. We saw Cyclopeatron addressing the internal organization of an old-school convention here in recent days, and his post highlights the issue for an old-school convention: because there aren't droves of people attending, a reasonable cover price doesn't come close to covering the costs. Cyclopeatron got blasted by a bunch of people who decided to be jacka**es and pontificate about the old-guard TSR guys being at conventions, and who thereby managed to derail the point of his post, which is the practical matter of how to fund a successful old-school gaming convention.

Except for those people who assert that they hate and boycott anything that doesn't comport to their desires on every line-item point of its minute details, NTRPGCon is basically an incredibly cool event, and it's funded almost entirely out of pocket by the organizers. As an event, it loses money, and as an event, it is awesome. Someone else is funding that awesomeness for me, out of generosity to the gaming community as a whole.

And so, I do everything I can to "give back" to the convention, whether it's donating material for them to auction off (which we're doing with some rare Necromancer Games items) or whether it's running games (which I'm doing), or whether it's bringing the convention to people's attention on net (case in point) or whether it's putting items up for sale through the convention so that they get a cut (doing that too).

Good Gimmicks and Bad Gimmicks
Bill Barsh's approach was to create a special "convention-only module" gimmick for the convention. Clearly, that's aimed at making the convention a big event for D&D collectors rather than providing a resource for the gaming population at large. D&D collectors are the "other group" at the convention. They are gamers too, obviously, but they've got that additional side hobby of collecting. It's natural to look at Bill's plan as a gamer, and object to it a bit. Why not make the module available for all time? Why let it disappear from sight if it's a good module? The answer, I think, is that it's a way of supporting that same convention which is so much fun for the gamers in other ways and areas. Yes, there's a trade-off there, and yes, it's addressed to the collectors in a way that disadvantages the gamers (and collectors who can't attend the con). But every once in a while, that's exactly the sort of thing to make a convention into a big event. Hoopla. Scarcity.

Artificial Scarcity
Which brings us to scarcity. In general, I think scarcity isn't a good thing. Promoting someone else's convention by using artificial scarcity in a good cause isn't something that would bother me. I already know that there are plenty of gaming things I can't afford to buy, and plenty that I might be able to afford but won't get the opportunity to buy (e.g., bargains on ebay have so long eluded me that I no longer waste the time searching for them). In fact, I would bet that virtually none of us really object to scarcity, artificial or otherwise -- it's the REASON why something was made scarce. That reason tells us something about the person who created it. In the case of Bill Barsh, I think the reasoning was to help someone else's cool convention achieve a higher level of hoopla and publicity, and probably to put some cash in the convention's pocket (he wouldn't be getting all the profit from that module - the convention would get a cut). That's a good reason, and a generous one.

The Collector is Indirectly Your Friend (Other than tax collectors)
But the thing to keep in mind about collectors is that they actually subsidize the production of most modules and other resources if you're in a position to have collectors focus on you. For example, there are several people who collect Frog God Games material (not so many for Mythmere Games, sadly :) ). Anyway, these guys create a certain quantity of guaranteed sales. What's maybe not obvious to someone who doesn't publish is that since we're not really in this to make a bundle of money, the pricing of modules is heavily weighted toward thinking about avoiding risk, not maximizing profit. Knowing that you'll have a certain number of sales as a minimum allows you to offer the module at lower prices. This is clear from the fact that Frog God games can sell modules in the $9 range instead of the $12 range. The risk is lower, because Bill knows he can pretty much expect to recoup the cost of the print run, and doesn't have to add in extra profit to offset the potential risk of unsold modules. The value of the certainty that collectors give to a publisher is returned, in many ways and to varying degrees, to the entire set of purchasers. Their hobby subsidizes regular gamers.

So while it might look up front like Bill's original plan (and possibly still his existing plan depending on how limited that edition is) caters unfairly to collectors and convention attendees, it's worth keeping in mind that (a) conventions are a huge benefit that need some gimmicks to be successful, and (b) collectors indirectly help the general gaming community, at least in terms of general pricing and for some publishers -- true, they might slightly raise prices on OOP materials, and they only affect the larger publishers in terms of a guaranteed sales base, but on balance, collectors are a boon to the hobby. One could certainly disagree, but from the publisher standpoint -- and I don't mean the profit side of it, I mean the ability to keep prices lower or to fund a print run that you couldn't otherwise afford -- their presence supports the non-collector gamers.

So, while Stefan's on the fence about how to think about the issues he raised -- cash flow versus scarcity -- I come down with the opinion that Bill's approach, even though it's not the way I would have pursued the same goal, is totally valid. Helping to create zing and hoopla for a cash flow negative gaming convention is a laudable goal. And even though it does so by creating artificial scarcity for happy collectors, that's an acceptable price, now and then, for the corresponding benefits it gives to the rest of the old-school gaming world, albeit indirectly.

Hearts, Minds, and Lawns
In our little world, sometimes it's more important than anything else to notice when someone's heart is in the right place, and Bill Barsh's heart is definitely in the right place on this, regardless of whether it was a bit of a public relations stumble. As bloggers, publishers, gamers, convention goers, convention organizers, whatever --- nobody's perfect all the time in every way. Unlike the world of big business, this is just a hobby, and the measure of us all is in the heart, not the sanity of what we do. We're hobbyists: we have a right to be eccentric, we have a right to make some mistakes, and we have a right to flip off anyone who bitches about our hobby. And tell them to get off the lawn while they're at it.

Saving throws: matrix vs one category

In the fourth printing of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, I'm doing the same thing I did with the WhiteBox and Complete Rules, which is to reintroduce the traditional saving throw matrix, although as an alternate rule. In the original versions of the game, I used a single saving throw category (basically just a "saving throw") for legal reasons.

Those legal reasons are a bit complex, but basically it's that the saving throw matrix involves a formatting and relationship between several concepts. When you pull in various copyright-law concepts, the saving throw table happens to be a place where several issues all come together. Since one of the copyright tests is the overarching "similarity of appearance and presentation," and since it's a matter of first impression how deep that test would drill down in an RPG, I considered the saving throw table to be a high-risk area even though each of the parts of applicable copyright law would pass the test. It's the problem, under that SAP test, whether the whole of the table became more than the sum of its parts.

Rather than make any sort of big changes inside the matrix, I figured for two reasons that it was better to go with the method I used in the earlier printings of S&W, namely, to use one saving throw category, but to give a fairly broad bonus to each class (well, not to fighters: I used them as the baseline, so they didn't need a bonus). The result is that there is a distinction based on character class, but it's not as detailed as the small distinctions made in the full matrix. To me, this is the overall target of the saving throw: to have general distinctions like "magic users save better against magic" rather than distinguishing the classes at the detail level of how they save against being turned to stone. The finer distinctions would virtually never come into play in terms of the decisions being made by the players.

The second reason was that a single saving throw category didn't cause a real problem when being used with original materials. The original materials almost never bothered to list the category - they just said to make a saving throw. Obviously, they still meant "in the appropriate category," but one can read an original module (or even the AD&D monster manual) without banging into something that isn't in the S&W rules. "Make a saving throw" written in an original resource still works just fine if you're using S&W rules, and if you're using the original rules with an S&W module, "make a saving throw" written in the S&W module is no different from what you see in the original materials.

However, the saving throw matrix is clearly something at the heart of the game for many players. I should have realized this during a conversation with Philotomy Jurament (Jason Cone) when I mentioned the single saving throw and the rationale (doesn't affect actual player tactics), and Jason still sort of wrinkled his nose and drank some beer. That should have been a warning, but I carried on with the original plan.

I'm still of the opinion that the single saving throw category actually works better than the matrix on a couple of levels, but that wasn't really the objective. The objective was to avoid what I considered to be an unacceptable legal risk. Since that time, I've found a particular format and approach to the saving throw matrix that removes (or at least drastically reduces) the chance that a judge might drill the SAP test down to a granular level instead of applying it at the "whole document" level, which is how I think it should work. But since this would be a matter of first impression, there's not a precedent right on point for me, and there wouldn't be one for the judge, either.

In any case, the saving throw matrix is now (or will be when I get the 4th printing done) in all of the Swords & Wizardry versions, as an alternate rule. And it will remain an alternate rule, because I still believe that integrating it into the "official" rules of a retro-clone presents a high legal risk of a copyright violation, depending on how some of the tests are interpreted on a matter for which there isn't clear, on-point precedent.

This is all just so that anyone interested can get an idea for why the matrix was originally excluded, why it is back in, why it's an alternate rule, and why I still prefer the single saving throw category for my own games. Overall, I think that knowing a bit about the background of this (alternate) rule in S&W may give players the freedom not to feel bound by this issue either way. Everything in S&W is a matter of choice, although I've tried to offer the real alternatives that have been used instead of just saying "if you don't like it, change it," without any suggestions. I think it's obvious that in any RPG the rules are a matter of choice, but it's one thing to just say that in the introduction, and it's another thing to deliberately organize the information to support not only this knowledge but also to point out where the major choices are, and the directions in which one might make house rules.

Anyway, this post was originally going to be more about the comparison of the two approaches and less about legal issues, but it turned out the way it did. That's what I get for composing in the new post box instead of writing and editing beforehand. And since a red bar just appeared at the top of the screen for a second, I'm going to hit "publish."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The cleric illustration for Core S&W

Jason Sholtis has sent me the cleric illustration for the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, and I was going to post it, but he beat me to it.

It's a really, really cool mix, with some traditional medieval-type armor in the same scene as an idol that I can't define as being anything other than a mix of Aztec and Mesopotamian. It's a really cool illustration.

Here's the link to Jason's site.

Wilderlands and the Eastern Med

I've been working on my article for Knockspell, which is about Byzantium/Constantinople as it can be used in gaming, so I haven't done any blogging today or yesterday, but in the course of writing the article I was once again reminded of how the Wilderlands of High Fantasy map is essentially the Eastern Mediterranean rotated counterclockwise by 90 degrees.

In the image above, I have rotated it back. :)
The image below is the real-life western Mediterranean:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Swords & Wizardry in Europe: LotFP

Jim Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess is now selling Swords & Wizardry books from his secret lair in Finland. That's a big deal because as long as you're ordering more than 10 euros worth of books, your shipping inside Europe is free.

Here is the page with the Frog God Games Swords & Wizardry products.

I'm really glad Jim is doing this, and since he's just basically become the S&W European distributor, I want to support him as much as possible. So, if you're in Europe and you haven't bought any Swords & Wizardry stuff because of the USA-Europe shipping costs, now is the time!

Draft S&W Core Rules Available for Open Comment

I've finished the basic text and layout for the 4th printing of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. There are still some illustrations to be added or swapped out, and I haven't added in the cover yet, but this is basically what the inside pages of the document will look like. Any comments are welcome, and that definitely includes critiques!

This is a link to download the document.

PLEASE do not distribute this, because it is a DRAFT VERSION ONLY. The final product will be available for free later on.

Capsule Review of Deskbook #1 at lulu

bubbavader has posted a nice capsule review of Deskbook #1 over at lulu, which I'm copying in full since it's short enough.

By bubbavader
This book is very interesting and quite fantaastic. I am using it as a tool for story ideas with a student of mine along with Kellri's CDD#4. It generates evocative concepts such as: Granite Pit of the Undead Spider, The Flesh Gallery of the Wounded Mage, Prayer cages, The Screaming Dome, Mutation Crown, etc and provides 1000 patrons or targets as well as adventures hooks ideas, and majordomos of the the BBEG (and their motivations!). There is really a lot to love and it is well worth the asking price. I am looking forward to the compiled edition for even more ideas. I have printed out Kellri's netbook and this to make an awesome bible of story creativity! This for big picture, and Kellri's for details.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Still Looking for Knockspell Articles

Now that I'm pretty much done with the revisions to the S&W Core Rules, I'm working on putting together Knockspell Magazine #6, which is a task I've neglected a bit while getting the blog up and running and working on the Core Rules. As a result, it definitely looks like I'm still short on material, so if anyone has a cool idea for an article they might want to write, or has some spells, tricks, traps, magic items, etc that they'd like to see in the magazine, contact me and let me know. My email is mythmere at yahoo dot com.

I look forward to hearing from people!