Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stupid graphic software :(

I wish I still had a workable version of Photoshop. I'm all done with drawing the map of my new module, on a letter-sized piece of paper. I can't add the numbers to it using GIMP, because adding text in GIMP is the weirdest and most unusable functionality I have perhaps ever seen. So I try adding numbers using Paint. Paint, for some reason, decides that my letter-sized map is really huge (probably because of the 300 dpi) so it will put in the numbers ... at a size based on its concept that the map must be three feet by four feet in dimension or something. 12 point font is miniscule when it's added.

Sometimes the whole process of trying to put a module together is an exercise in bashing one's head against a wall.

EDIT ps, if anyone knows how to do this, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Re-Release of Spire of Iron and Crystal with review links

Periodically I try to catch up on reporting the various Swords & Wizardry releases (compatible with all old school games, blah blah) that are coming out as regularly as clockwork from Frog God Games. Since I wrote this, links to much more objective reviews are at the end of this post:

I wrote this module myself, and first ran it (other than playtesting) at North Texas RPGCon 2009. As it happens, I think this is the best module I've ever written. The Frog God version of it is basically unchanged except for a better map and the addition of illustrations -- the original version, I think, might only have had two pictures in it. If you already have a copy of the module, there's no need to buy the new one, although I think it has been much improved by the additions of great Robert Altbauer maps and some eerie illustrations by MKultra Studios. If you don't have a copy, all I can say is that I personally like this one best out of everything I have written over the years. I'm trying to top it with the ones I'm writing now, and although I'm really liking what I've got in the works, I'm getting less and less sanguine about actually being able to beat this one. We shall see. In the meantime, this one still stands as the best module I've done to date.

The blurb:
Deep in the wilderness stands the legendary Spire of Iron and Crystal, a bizarre structure of twisting iron and four enormous crystals that seem to grow from the very ground itself. The fabled riches of the Spire have never been plundered, for no entrances have ever been found.... until now. Your party of adventurers has discovered the long-hidden secret of entering the Spire.

An adventure for 4-6 characters level 5-6. Tournament scoring and characters are included (note: playtesting indicates it runs best without the time pressures of a tournament format).

Grognardia gave the original an excellent review with 9 out of 10 for creativity:
"this is an excellent mid-level adventure module for referees looking for a slightly more outré locale into which to throw the characters in their campaign. I suspect it will prove a very difficult challenge for many players. Finch pulled out all the stops in writing this one, creating both a truly memorable environment and filling it with obstacles to test even experienced players."

Philotomy Jurament's review is also awesome:
The Spire offers a unique and challenging adventuring environment that feels very alien in nature. Some elements of the dungeon are reassuringly familiar (there are cooridors, rooms, et cetera), but even those familiar elements have bizarre differences from the norm. Other elements are far from the norm, and often quite unexpected. When running my PC through the Spire, I had the feeling that anything could happen, and that I had crossed over into an uncertain world, almost like another dimension. The Spire possesses genre-bending weird-tech elements, but the presentation and the play feels natural (i.e. not jarring) and very suspenseful (fear of the unknown). I think the best way to describe the feeling I got, adventuring in the Spire, was that it reminded me of the anxiousness and uncertainty I remember from my earliest D&D experiences, going "in search of the unknown" and not having any idea what I might find. For a jaded gamer who has played since the 70s, that's quite a thrill.

Jeff Rients said (again, this is about the original publication, but the text is unchanged):
"So yesterday I read The Spire of Iron and Crystal, a Swords & Wizardry adventure from S&W guru Matthew Finch. Man, this is great stuff. The Spire compares very favorably in tone and content to module B4 The Lost City, by the late great Tom Moldvay. "

Dreams in the Lich House (that's Beedo) says:
"Let me just say up front, I found this to be one of the strongest adventures that's been published by the OSR. "

The printed module is $11.99 (includes the pdf as well), and the pdf alone is $4.99.

Monday, August 29, 2011

OD&D, AD&D, and ToH monster stats

Something interesting was brought to my attention today by Razberry Ranid on the Swords & Wizardry message boards about Tome of Horrors. From his perspective it was a negative, from my perspective it's roughly neutral, but it set me thinking about monster formats (or thinking about it again, really, because I gave a fair amount of thought to some of these issues when preparing the S&W Monster Book).

Here was the observation: several of the monsters that don't fit the normal combat mechanisms of the game have the "stat block" omitted in Tome of Horrors. For example, the "bookworm," which eats your scrolls but can be smooshed with a finger when you find them, does not have a columnar presentation of hit dice, armor class, etc. The non-standard way in which they are handled is contained in the text description.

This was clearly an editorial decision (I was not the editor, and I'm not sure I would have had the balls to use two formats like this, although I'm not against the decision) to stick with the way these monsters were formatted in 3e. In 3e, such monsters are considered "hazards" rather than true monsters, since they aren't killed by normal means. One that will be familiar to everyone is green slime, which is not in ToH because it was in the SRD already. But green slime is simply killed by fire. Hit points aren't the issue, armor class isn't the issue: green slime poses a risk and has a solution that lies outside the combat rules. You just set the f***ker on fire with a torch. I think it was a bit anal-retentive of 3e to subdivide monsters in this way, but it does make sense.

AD&D, of course, went ahead and provided a standardized stat block for such monsters, just putting "nil" or "not applicable," or "see below" for all of the entries.

What struck me was the question of whether 3e had actually returned, almost certainly for different reasons, but still returned, to an approach that is actually more typical of Original D&D than Advanced D&D. The Original D&D books, I have always thought, de-emphasized the statistics of a monster -- even keeping them separate from the text descriptions on a different page. The descriptions seemed to me to have a lot more power that way. You were reading the "reality" of this game world in evocative prose, and only later would you bother to look up stats.

In fact, this is the reason why in the S&W Monster Book I went for putting the monster stats into a linear stat block rather than a list of headings at the top. I wanted to emphasize that text description over the stats. The stats are there, of course, but they aren't the salient visual piece that they are in AD&D, they're secondary.

And then yet another thought struck me after I decided that the Tome of Horrors might actually be following the OD&D type of descriptive method. I have no idea if this was true, or if it was even really thought about by anyone at TSR, but ...

In a wargame, you might definitely see monster stats the way they are handled in the OD&D books: a table of stats for the monsters all together. With some details in the ... FOOTNOTES?

It would rock my world if that whole "the text was the important part, which is why it's separate and has no stats" assumption of mine is actually turned on its head. A wargamer looking at that book might very well perceive the chart of AC, HD, etc. to be the "real" part of the monster description, the specifics of how it interacts in combat. And the descriptions, which do indeed occur later, to be the footnotes with the additional data and "historical" information.

That would be a paradigm-shifter. It wouldn't change my preferences any, but it would sure be weird. And as any OD&D player can tell you, if you don't find SOMETHING weird in OD&D, you probably aren't doing it right ... :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Freebie Downloads at Frog God Games

Frog God Games has posted three free downloads at the FGG site.

The first is the text of all the lair material from the Compiled Tome of Horrors. If you have the S&W version of the book, you already have this, but it's a good preview, if you don't have the book, of what you get in addition to the monsters descriptions.

The second is a listing of the Tome monsters by terrain. This is nice additional material even for those with the S&W Tome already.

Third is a teaser preview of the compiled Deskbook series, which now has the sexier title of "Ultimate Book of Adventure Design." Since it's not specific to a ruleset, the same printing is being sold to both the old school and the Pathfinder markets without a change in text or cover, which makes it less expensive to product (only one setup fee at the printer). I haven't downloaded this yet to see which tables were selected for it.

Commentary on the 1974 Freaky Fantasy Gamer Guild

I have had several emails about these papers that I've described in the last couple of posts, in the interests of academia. I would like to remind everyone that papers described like this on the internet should be treated with great suspicion as to their legitimacy and authenticity. GREAT SUSPICION. That being said, I will continue to keep everyone posted on what I discover in this treasure trove of unquestionably bulletproof, totally believable truth that I have stumbled upon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

More Papers of the 1974 Freaky Fantasy Gamer Guild

In my last post I mentioned how I stumbled across some extremely, extremely authentic D&D papers that seem to span from 1975 to possibly as late as 1985. So far I haven't managed a good scan; my printer/scanner doesn't like light purple, and the handwritten pages are barely decipherable.

I did quickly type out one of the articles, I think from about 1980? (?) The mimeograph appears to be dot-matrix, though, not a typewriter, and I don't know when that started.

This editorial appears to be an entire issue of the 'zine unless there are some missing pages or loose pages that I haven't matched up. As the man says at the end, "Peace in D&D." Enjoy.

I’m still on the road trip, females and males of planet Earth, taking a break from all the things that went down at the wargaming club last week over how far a tirailleur’s musket can shoot accurately, you know? The whole scene was a drag, but it’s giving me a chance to get down with the underground D&D movement across the nation, and I’m grooving on that opportunity. As the man says, the moving pen has writ, and all your tears cannot wash out a word of it. Sound words.

So I’m hangin loose at a temporary crash pad, and just in case there’s a friend of the bears – if you know what I mean -- on the mailing list I won’t say what city I’m in. And I’m in touch with some cats that play D&D, cause you can always find that scene if you know where to look for it. Interesting story, kind of weird: I’m at the local wargaming club (Napoleonics, mostly, some Civil War) and I meet this young-looking cat with one of those new Advanced D&D books, reading at it, and I’m like, “Hey, whoopie-cat,” and he’s like, “pleased to meet you.” Which isn’t what I expected, because he’s got the beard and the ponytail, and a bandanna. Pleased to meet you? And so I’m, “Got that Advanced D&D there?” and he’s all “Yes sir.” So I’m starting to think maybe he’s fuzz, and whether I parked the blue minivan in a legal place. But then he’s like, “It’s good, but I think maybe it’s not the right teaching tool for the game.” So, okay, he’s not fuzz, maybe just not ready to let it all hang out. Maybe he thinks I’m fuzz, cause you find them checking out the underground D&D scene for the man. So I’m hip, whatever. “Teaching tool?” And he sort of curls his mustache into points like Snidley Whiplash in the cartoon, and says, “Yeah, what you really need is a series of books that gradually introduce the gamer to the concepts all the way up to … well, I guess you could do it all the way up to when they become immortal.” So I’m backing away slowly through one of the bead curtains, but there’s this overalls-with-nothing-under chick in the way trying to put up a Keep on Truckin poster, cause there’s only about seven on the walls already. She’s blocking the way out, so I say to the guy, “Man, why would you need books for all that? You can just make it up, man!” And he looks at me from under his bandanna, and he says, “I know I could.” Kind of like Clint Eastwood. Like, shivers, you know? And he says, “I’m on my way to Lake Geneva, man. I’m tired of this underground D&D, hiding and running all the time. I’m going to shave my beard and get a job out there.” And there was like, this charisma, even though the guy was kind of short and way too polite. So I follow him out into the parking lot and he walks up to the VW van parked next to my very own mobile bachelor pad, and opens up the door. “I’m going to Lake Geneva,” he like repeats. “Win competitions. Hit the big time, not like this” … and he gestures over at the club, with its lime green paint and the “Condemned” sign that the man puts up wherever revolution stirs. “I’ve got all my worldly possessions and I’m going to truck over to the real scene.” I’m looking in the van, and he doesn’t have many worldly possessions, just an old guitar, a broken lava lamp and what I think was an EZ Bake Oven. But that van, I don’t know, man, it had the feeling of destiny somehow, like when you see the dude who’s going to win the SCA tournament, and you think to yourself, “That dude is going to win the SCA tournament.” So I’m still there when he fires up the VW van in a big cloud of smoke from the engine and a roar like a red dragon, and just as he puts it in gear, I get that sense of destiny again, so I walk up to the window. He’s trying to fix the coat hanger antenna he’s got powering his hi-fi rig, and he doesn’t notice me, so I reach in and bang on the orange shag carpet on the van ceiling. “Hey, man,” I ask him, “what’s your handle, anyway?” He looks at me, and with the roar of the VW preparing for take-off I can barely hear him, man, but just as he lurched the van out of the parking space and headed off onto the road I could hear him shout, “Name’s Mitzer! Bank Mitzer!” And he puts the pedal to the metal, on the way to his dream.

So, all you whoopie-cats out there in the underground D&D scene, reading the zine of the scene, throw some peace and love out there for Bank Mitzer. Whether you like the establishment or not, man, sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your dream. He’ll probably never have a long beard and a ponytail and a curly mustache again now that he’s going pro. But that’s his dream, and I guess if he succeeds at it, he might even make himself some real bread.

Peace in D&D,

[Signature that looks a lot like “Steve Colbert,” but Steven Colbert of the Colbert report is too young to have been the author]


Papers of the 1974 Freaky Fantasy Gamer Guild

One benefit of being married to someone who works in the court system is that they are guarded by constables, who know all sorts of interesting things. This is how I learned about some cardboard boxes being auctioned off as part of the stuff taken in a drug bust by federal marshals. Due to whatever strange bureaucratic procedures and jurisdictions these things follow, the boxes apparently made their way from somewhere in California over to the auction block in Texas. They were lumped in with some other junk (lava lamps and beanbag chairs, or something, judging from the overall nature of the things being auctioned). Anyway, I cut a deal with the scrap dealer who was buying the non-paper part of the lot,and got the boxes, because one of them contained a boxed set of OD&D, which was worth the $50 I traded off for the boxes.

As I looked through the other papers in the box, though, I realized that what I had here is a historical artifact of considerable interest. Along with what I really hope is not the mummified tail of a cat wrapped with pukka beads, there are several sheafs of yellowing paper entitled "1974 Freaky Fantasy Gamer Guild." All manner of maps, and what appears to be a mimeographed newsletter-zine. The date on the first of these is actually 1975, so I guess the "1974" in the group's name is the date they were founded.

There is a wide variety of stuff here -- this is the authentic voice of early gaming, like Encounter Critical and other such rediscovered gems from the 1970s.

The first issue of the actual zine is entitled "Zooooom, The City of the Yjhakfdghn." Lots of pot dealers and a Cthulhoid monster that streaks naked through the city at night, causing possible insanity for anyone carrying a lantern or other light source. It's ... unusual.

I will report more in coming weeks, as I have a chance to decipher some really bad handwriting and blurry mimeographs. I am really trying to figure out if the name on one of these things is what it appears to be, because it really looks like it could be "Steve Colbert." But ... it couldn't be.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tons of Tome

I'm still working too steadily on a bunch of projects to write any long posts (missed out on the DM Creativity meme and am now missing out on the merit badges) but here's something really fun.

Never let it be said that the Tome of Horrors is not officially a "weighty tome," as Gygaxian prose might have it. When Bill Webb takes delivery of the Tome of Horrors from the printer, the total weight of the order dropped off at his house will be ... drum roll ...

Four and a half tons.

Friday, August 12, 2011

More Info on Tome of Horrors

Current estimate of ship date (to buyers) is September 15. The printer is doing set-up right now, which will then lead to galley proofs being sent for approval, and then it is printed, bound, and shipped by truck. Readers pointed out about 30 typos or errors from the pdf, and those were fixed before printing (which is why it is only just being set up). Obviously, if there's a problem or a delay with any of those steps it will cause a delay, but right now we're estimating that Bill will start boxing and mailing books around September 15.

Also, and this is for the Swords & Wizardry version ONLY, we ordered more books than we had pre-orders because of the way the printer pricing breakpoints worked out. There will be 500 copies of the S&W Tome, and only roughly 400 are actually reserved. Some of those reserved ones are allocated to be sold at NTRPGCon next year, but there are roughly 100 copies that are actually inventory.

Since we've got some actual books that will be "in stock," and again this is NOT for the Pathfinder books, it frees us up to do a thing where people can buy the pdf, look at it, and then decide if they want to get the printed book once they have had a chance to look through the pdf. Here's how this works -- if you buy the pdf, and it MUST be from Frog God direct for us to do this -- and you put "Hold me a Book" in the title line of an email to Bill, then you have 30 days to decide whether you want to buy the printed book and get the price of your pdf discounted back to you.

It doesn't create a discount, because if you buy the book you'd be getting a free pdf anyway, but it lets you decide if the price of the printed book is worth it to you.

Since there are only about 100 copies in play, this plan cuts off as soon as it looks like people have "reserved" most of them. Even though a lot of people will decide they don't need the printed copy, we have to be careful not to reserve more books than we have.

I don't think this is going to blow through all of those 100 copies -- my feeling is that it will take about 6 months to sell through them -- but I could be wrong about that. I'm just giving my sense of it, not a promise. They might disappear fast, they might hang around for as long as a year before they're sold out: it's really hard to predict.

Again, this is only for if you are getting it direct from Frog God, because we can't "refund pdf money" on a pdf we didn't sell. And it's not for the Pathfinder books at all, those are all gone.

Gaming with Brand New Players!

Last night I ran a game for 6 young folks who, with a couple of exceptions, had never played a roleplaying game before. They adventured into the Ruins of Mythrus Tower, choosing to stay on the first level, but they did manage to run into a pretty deadly encounter with a carrion crawler. With all four of the armored characters paralyzed, the two magic-users evaluated the situation using their magical training and fled.

The second carrion crawler followed them to the dungeon exit, then returned for a snack. I actually told the players which character got eaten, but then remembered that when I rolled, I forgot the additional body in the area: the carrion crawler they had killed earlier. Rolled again, and it was the carrion crawler that was eaten rather than a character. Result? All of the abandoned party members survived, although each one had the unpleasant experience of being paralyzed and wondering which of them was being eaten.

Then the abandoned party members drew their swords and headed up to the surface to find their magic users.....

They decided not to kill the robed runners, but they did confiscate all the gold.

Really fun session!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

YouTube Review of Tome of Horrors

Edit: Tenkar informs me that this is a review of the S&W version, which I didn't realize.

This is probably a review of the Pathfinder book, although I'm not sure because I haven't seen it yet (no speakers on my computer). Still, it may be helpful. Apparently it's a really good review, but, as I said, I haven't seen it yet ... so if the guy calls me a dick or something, post that in the comments. :)

The link to the video is here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Value Comparison Tome of Horrors

I happen to hate expensive pdfs, mainly because I hate pdfs in the first place. So I tend to get sticker shock about the price at a pretty low dollar figure, and without thinking much about how many pages I'm getting for the dollar.

However, the enormous page count on the Frog God Games Tome of Horrors made me curious, and I took out a calculator. First of all, I took a look at the price per page -- and yes, I don't usually calculate value based on price per page, but it makes some sense here. On the printed book, with 688 pages in the Swords & Wizardry version, the cost per page on $100 is $.145. As a comparison, take a 128 page book being sold for $25, which is a pretty good price. The comparable price per page is actually higher than it is for Tome, at $.195. In other words, while it's perhaps not a super blow-out bargain, Tome of Horrors, even with the high sticker price, is actually a better deal than one ordinarily finds. The OSR has cheaper books out there, but ToH isn't at much of a premium, especially since it has binding that is sewn in 16 page signatures, a way higher binding quality than lulu.

The pdf is actually an enormous bargain, as I discovered. Take an OSR module priced at $3.30 for 32 pages -- this is REALLY cheap, because they can run $4.95 for only 16 pages. But let's make the comparison based on the really well-priced module. The price per page on this module is $.103. By comparison, the Tome of Horrors pdf, at $29.99 for those 688 pages, has a per page cost of $.043 per page. In other words, the price per page on the pdf of the Tome of Horrors is an incredibly good value compared to going prices in the OSR. It's less than half the expected price (and that's the expected price on a really inexpensive module, too).

So it probably depends on how much one hates (or loves) pdfs, and how you would value a module as compared to a monster reference book, but overall I just got a lot happier about the pdf price on ToH. Up until now, I was getting sticker shock because the total number is higher than I expect to see for a pdf, but it's actually really, really cheap when it's compared page by page.

Full disclosure: I think virtually everyone reading my blog knows that I'm working with Frog God Games on the Swords & Wizardry materials, so this is not an objective observer's view. But it's the view of a guy who doesn't set the pricing levels. I just got more comfortable with them, being someone who still has a tendency to value things using 1980 dollars instead of 2011 dollars.

And quick warning -- if you go to the FGG page and order the pdf, MAKE SURE you're hitting the button for the Swords & Wizardry version. The Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry buttons are on the same page right next to each other.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Heavy Metal and D&D

Back in the day there was a definite link between heavy metal and swords & sorcery (and thus with D&D). About half of us were metalheads to some degree or another, although about not everyone in school was (I'm talking about middle school). Heavy Metal magazine, album covers, etc.

I'm not sure whether the question is, "Why did Heavy Metal have such a strong S&S influence," or if the question is, "Why did D&D have such strong links to heavy metal?"

The link between gaming and metal seems to be much less strong thirty-odd years later, although the link between metal and S&S seems (although I'm not current on heavy metal any more) to be pretty much just as strong from the bits and pieces of more recent metal stuff I've seen on YouTube. Medieval imagery is still in there quite a bit.

Anyway, that's my navel-gaze of the day, with no answers offered, because the dilithium crystals apparently aren't sending any power to the sonic speculator this morning.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Knockspell #4 added to RPGNow

I had a lot of people point out to me that it's odd to be selling Knockspell 1, 2, 3, and 5 on RPGNow, and not selling #4. It's not that I had any particular reason for not having #4 on RPGNow, I just never got around to it somehow.

In any case, this probably isn't a "sit up and start clicking" announcement for anyone, but just to let people know, the pdf of #4 is now up with the others on RPGNow as well as lulu. The RPGNow link is THIS LINK HERE.

EDIT - Quick note that this is NOT #6, which will be the latest issue, this is just housekeeping with an older issue.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

S&W Necromancer Tome of Horrors pdf released

The pdf of Necromancer Games' Tome of Horrors has been released for Swords & Wizardry (and also Pathfinder). The download-bandwidth of a 230MB file being downloaded by hundreds of people almost simultaneously ... promptly crashed the servers both at Paizo and Frog God.

The Frog God server is back up again as of 2AM Eastern time, the Paizo server was still being untangled when I talked to Bill Webb this morning.

For anyone who didn't buy the physical book, pdfs will be available for independent purchase soon, but both Paizo and Frog God have temporarily removed their "sale" buttons until the downloads from book-buyers have slowed down a bit. When the feeding frenzy subsides, the sale buttons will show up again at both sites (I don't think Paizo is distributing the S&W downloads, so it's only the FGG server that's relevant to us).

Anyway, for the S&W Tome downloads, the problem is now fixed, but I wanted to let people know the status, and for those who plan on getting the pdf without the book you should be able to do so soon. I do not know the exact definition of "soon" in this context, but ... soon.

EDIT: Tenkar's first impressions are HERE.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Knockspell #6 is in Layout at last

I sent the materials for Knockspell Magazine #6 to Jim Kramer yesterday, so the process has at long last moved into the final stages. There's still a placeholder for one illustration, and most likely there are still the un-caught errors that always exist before reading the laid-out version, but we're finally on the road to getting this issue done.

When we get a bit closer, I'll post the cover art and the table of contents for people to look at. Right at present, though, I am catching up a bit on the real-life tasks that got shunted aside to let me finish this issue.

You and me, lawn. Head to head, this evening. The weapons will be lawnmowers. Loser gets bagged up and left at the curb. I'm here to mow the lawn and chew bubble gum, and I'm all out of bubble gum.

Also, I didn't get selected to be on a jury. Again. When you have a law degree it is a completely worthless exercise to turn up for jury selection. There's always one side that really doesn't want a lawyer sitting in the jury room.

But I digress. Knockspell #6 is in layout, the lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn, and all's right with the world.