Thursday, July 14, 2016

In the corner pocket...

I think it shows how tired people are of political wrangling that the absolute most-active post on my facebook page is about cargo shorts. If you're going to wrangle, make it about Wranglers. Fashion criticism of yours truly brought to you in Technicolor by my much-more-stylish spouse.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Fun Old-School Discussion with Moe Tousignant

Starting on July 7, I had an interesting discussion about the structure of a couple of retro-clones with Moe Tousignant, who is something of a games expert, running lots and lots of game nights in Canada, and thus extremely familiar with the general structure of games, how they work, and what makes some fun while others are less well-designed for fun.

Moe had started reading the Swords & Wizardry pdf, and had the following comment on facebook as he was reading:

"I'm finding it hard to see what makes this any different from the other games of its type. Every OSR game reads very similar," and then, later: "Found some bits I did like, multi-classing and dual classing seemed to be handled well. Alignment seems to be based on Mike Michael Moorcock vs. Tolkien (or wherever D&D got their alignment system). I dig the few extra abilities Fighters get. At least I'm finally starting to see some differences."

I happened to be in that sort of mood, so I jumped on the thread with some thoughts. Granted, I created something of a wall of text, but I came up with the following: 

Hi Moe, you're absolutely right that the system itself is extraordinarily similar to other OSR games, just because as a retro-clone it tries to reproduce a system that was very similar to the other D&D versions that came out prior to 3d edition. All the retro-clones are highly similar, and then you see the sudden massive shift in the 3E-based Pathfinder retro-clone-method. S&W is to some degree an outlier because OD&D (the S&W source system) had more areas that were basically gaps left for the table to rule, which is why the S&W book has lots of areas where "there's no rule here, but here are some of the historical ways that people ruled it." Initiative is the biggest one of these gaps -- there wasn't an initiative system in OD&D until one of the later supplements. What I tried to do with the book was to (a) codify and combine supplements, (b) present the system in a way that's more readable for people who learned to read an RPG book using the organizational presentation used in AD&D and beyond, (c) provide a pathway for people to begin an introductory game from what is at a more advanced level a welter of potentially-confusing options and gaps, and (d) offer those alternative versions of tested house-rules for when people essentially understand the game and want to try out the various other options. So if you're looking for what's unique in S&W as opposed to other OSR systems, it's actually the *gaps* that are the unique features, not so much the places where there's a firm rule. That's where OD&D really differed from the post-OD&D systems.

Most other retro-clones also have interesting design-backgrounds and author intents. Labyrinth Lord, which is a clone of Moldvay Basic D&D, tries to reproduce an approach that was (at the time) quite the opposite of OD&D -- namely, an emphasis on a more elegant rule-system that was internally very complete. Still open-ended and designed on a concept of a high level of DM fiat, but without the need to house-rule any fundamental portions of the rules (such as initiative). The rules of Moldvay basic, as reproduced by Labyrinth Lord, have a much more defined outer boundary than OD&D, and it was that outer reach where the house-ruling and the high-creativity are supposed to kick in, based on a firm foundation of a well-defined, elegant, clear system. In OD&D, the house-ruling and high creativity are required at the very fundamental level of the essential rules, which is nowadays probably considered bad game design. My "default introductory path" through the rules, in S&W, was intended to help people jump the gap over the vagueness of the basic rules, and then return to that creative-point once the basic functioning of the game is well established and people can be comfortable with the idea of options that strike right to the core of the game's basic rules.

It's these relatively subtle nuances that distinguish the clones from each other. As playable systems, resources for one retro-clone are almost entirely usable with another clone rule-set. As approaches to the "feel" of a game, though, they are quite distinct and nuanced. For those who aren't stalwart aficionados of the old games, a discussion of retro-clones sounds as bizarre as a wine-tasting discussion (or beer, as the case might be :) ). And frankly, those distinctions aren't really important at that level of subtlety to almost anyone. The "old school" experience generally has to do with the open-endedness of the rules, and all of them have that common quality.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kickstarter News: City of Bard's Gate Headed for Stretch Goals
If you like fantasy cities, you're probably already watching this Kickstarter, but the news of the day is that it has funded at the $70,000 level and is now headed into stretch goal territory with 60 hours left to go. It's hard to say how many of the goals it will hit, but Frog God Kickstarters tend to have a massive surge within the final 48 hours or so. At least another $10,000 will flow into this project before it finishes.

The cloth map is incredible, and the book is going to be massive in the tradition of Frog God releasing one or two giant, epic books per year. This will indeed be an epic book, in full color, and while it's perfectly usable as a stand-alone city in any campaign, it's also tied in to over a decade's worth of Necromancer Games and Frog God Games adventures. Basically, it's the "City State" of the Lost Lands world setting.

Very much worth taking a look.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Spawning of Haskins!

Chris Haskins of Frog God Games, Nord Games, and Tabletop Library is officially a dad! The baby is a healthy boy, and all of us are waiting impatiently for him to eventually join a gaming table in the footsteps of his illustrious and very tall father.

So here's to wishing Chris a good night's sleep at some point in the next couple of years, if he's lucky.

I am putting Chris's affiliate number into this link, so if you want to buy anything from Tabletop Library today (or at any point), go through this link (not the one on the side over there), and Chris will get an extra share of the amount of your purchases. ALSO: if it's the 4th or 5th of July when you read this, remember to put in the code HAPPY-4TH so you get the 25% discount for 4th of July.

I'd say it might give Mr. Haskins an extra bit of beer money, but it's all baby-formula money for a little while, Chris!


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Flashback to the Present (a new review of S&W)
It has been a while since there was a review of Swords & Wizardry, since the game's several years old now, but Endzeitgeist has just posted a review on the Tabletop Library site. This is actually rather important, in my view, because Endzeitgeist is known as possibly the pre-eminent reviewer of Pathfinder books, not old-school rule sets. So this represents another step into the mainstream gaming audience for old school rules. Obviously, that march has been going on for quite some time, but this represents a new piece of the mainstream terrain.

I've linked to the page (you might have to hit the "reviews" tab to see the review. The pdf is free, and if you haven't taken a look at these rules, I encourage you to follow Endzeitgeist's advice and do so. As he points out, this is Original D&D (as close as you can get, anyway) in a codified and re-organized format.

While you're on Tabletop Library, browse around and take a look at some of the other products, too. Publishers get paid a higher percentage here than they do at the big competitor.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bard's Gate Kickstarter: Final Week
Bard's Gate is a city of burgeoning political and mercantile power, filled with intrigue and danger. Almost every large book by Necromancer Games and Frog God Games has some sort of tie to Bard's Gate, since it's historically the "big city" of the Lost Lands campaign. The Kickstarter is for a full-color, greatly-expanded city book, and is available for Fifth Edition, Pathfinder, and (best of all) Swords & Wizardry!

If you're doodling around with a Lost Lands campaign, or if you want to import a city into your own home campaign, this book is a must-have. The Kickstarter is in its final week, so take a look now!