Monday, August 31, 2015

Call for Artists - fast turnaround needed

Let the word go forth from this time and place, that I am hereby looking for artists to work on my next project - a book which is a blend of of Mythic China (including Chinese mythology, folk religion, and the like) and classic Wuxia movies. The book will be Kickstarted, and I'm looking for folks with a hole in their schedules for the first part of Q4 of this year.

This bit is important. There will be hard deadlines that must be met in October and November. You'll get specific assignments in mid-September. If your workload will not allow you to make those deadlines, please do not apply. If you commit to a deadline and fail to meet it, you will not be paid. If I have to do without a piece of art on a page, I will do so, rather than let the project deadline slip.

Sorry to be such a hardass about this, but I need to get this book out in 2015 (which is a must, for tax purposes, if I collect a bunch of money via Kickstarter), so I have to get the books printed in December (again, taxes). That means I'm not waiting for art.

Art will consist mostly of quarter-page b&w line art (3.5" width, 4.5" height), and a couple of one-eighth page pieces (3.5" width, 2.25" height). There will be no full-page pieces. There will be a single 7"x7" color cover. Obviously, this being a China-themed book, you'll be expected to produce figures in Chinese armor and clothing, and etc. Please make sure you know the difference between Chinese and Japanese armor and clothing. No ninjas, no samurai.

Please email me at if you're interested, include your rate for a the sizes of art you're interested in doing (and link to samples of your work, if I haven't already worked with you in the past), and please feel free to spread this out to all your artsy friends.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Know any programs make maps that look like this?

An appeal to all my friends out there who do a lot of mapping. I'm looking for something very specific, and was hoping that someone out there might know of a cartography program that can make forest terrain that looks like this:

That's a scan of one of the old SPI wargames from the 70's, and I'm pretty sure they used the old Letraset rub-on transfers for their terrain, back in the days before computers, and this was a standard pattern used in cartography and architecture.

Anyone know of a modern program that will create the same sort of effect?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Games I'd like to run

Every once in a while, there's a wave of "games I'd like to run" posts across the blogs. It does seem like a neat idea to get down what I'd like to run, but haven't, so here goes. I'll leave out the "wuxia game set in the Celestial Imperium of Suhfang in western Oerik" because, well, I've done that recently for playtesting purposes. Please feel free to describe your own ideas in the comments.

1. Temple of Elemental Evil, expanded.

This is a theme I've been exploring here on this blog for years. In a nutshell, I'd like to run a version of the ToEE where the PCs have to take a while spiraling in on the Temple itself before even realizing it was the central menace. There would be several bandit groups, and outworks of the Temple other than the Moat House, and villages riddled with agents of various Temple factions, spies from the surrounding kingdoms, and so forth. And the lower level of the published Temple would be scrapped and replaced with one that has a real incursion by the Elder Elemental God. (and a way for the PCs to free it, naturally).

2. Iron League.

Again, something that long-time readers will probably recognize. Set against the backdrop of the Great Kingdom's invasion of the Iron League in CY 577-8, this would feature a lot of political intrigue, maybe with the PCs as agents of one or more powers, trying to obtain and transmit sensitive information, all while trying to stay undercover. And some naval action into the bargain.

3. Metamorphosis Gamma

A mix of Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gammarauders, and Gamma Knights. Take your typical Gamma World setting with all those wonderful cryptic alliances, throw in either a returning starship or hitherto-forgotten space station or moon base all of a sudden sending agents to Earth with hitherto-unknown mutations, and giant mutant dinosaurs with cybernetic weapons implants. I think this one sort of writes itself.

4. Classic Star Trek

Just a simple, straightforward you-are-the-crew-of-a-starship game, probably using the FASA rules. We did this a couple of times in high school, and it was a lot of fun. An underpowered, overworked destroyer or cruiser, out on some border territory, exploring strange new worlds before the Klingons get there first. Could be loads of fun.

5. Known Space

Using the Ringworld/BRP rules (basically the same game engine as Call of Cthulhu), a game set in Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe. We did this once, long ago and it was an absolute blast. Puppeteers, Pak Protectors, Kzinti, and dolphins. Nary a ringworld to be seen, but just knocking around in a battered General Products hull getting into trouble at planets like We Made It. Man, that would be cool.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Secondary skills in Adventures Dark and Deep

One thing that I'm discovering as I'm writing the Mythic China/wuxia book is just how flexible and powerful the secondary skills are. As they appear in Adventures Dark and Deep, they're an expansion of the skill system that Gygax wrote for the Castles & Crusades game (specifically for use with his Castle Zagyg project), specifying relevant attributes rather than relying on "prime attributes" (which ADD doesn't have), and dropping the categorization in favor of specifying an x.p. cost for each skill. In ADD, if your character's highest attribute isn't the relevant one for that skill, it'll cost more x.p. to pick up a skill level.

The system works in general by saying, when you earn experience points, you have the option of spending them on learning a new secondary skill, rather than earning a new experience level. Once spent, those x.p. are lost, although a character can of course re-earn them in the normal fashion.

Adventures Dark and Deep uses this system to not only give a set of generalized skills that might be useful for adventurers, but also as a means to convert specialists such as blacksmiths, sages, etc. into game mechanics which suddenly become available to player characters, if they wish to spend the x.p. Some character classes, like the savant, automatically begin the game with a secondary skill (scholarship, which is based off the old AD&D sage rules).

In practice, the skill system works sort of like the 3E system of "taking a level in another class", except the skills are very micro-targeted, rather than giving the character all the benefits of a multi-classed character. Advancement in the secondary skill is also optional; you can spend the x.p. to gain a skill level in espionage, but nothing says you need to spend more (twice more; x.p. costs are per skill level) to get a second level.

In the new Mythic China/Wuxia rulebook, I'm taking this to a whole other level. While there are, naturally, new secondary skills that are appropriate for a Chinese-based setting, the system as a whole is the basis of the new kung fu rules.

You want to learn kung fu? You spend x.p. to learn a particular style, and you'll get access to benefits in combat, some of which require a skill check (based on the relevant attribute), and some that just give you an automatic bonus in combat. You want to get better at a particular style, and learn new moves that open up new possibilities? Just spend the x.p. Oh, and find a teacher willing and able to instruct you in the new moves...

I think this is incredibly elegant, and really demonstrates the power of Gygax's original system, if taken to its logical conclusion. Kung fu moves don't "stack", unless you spend yet more x.p. to learn Kung Fu Mastery, which allows you to combine certain types of bonuses, so the risk of someone becoming some unbeatable killing machine is somewhat mitigated by both the need of spending extra x.p., as well as the specific restrictions. But the system in general allows you to recreate many of the really cool martial arts skills that you've seen in the movies, if you're willing to forego advancing in level to be able to levitate or jump backwards over an enemy to strike him from behind.

It's like 3E feats, but fitted into a 1st edition aesthetic. And damn, it really works well.

Working on this book has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the secondary skill system in Adventures Dark and Deep, and I daresay its one of the several things that really makes this game stand out in the pack of retro-clones.

Rather than needing to create an entire sub-class for some specific function in a particular setting, a GM could simply create an appropriate secondary skill and decree that members of the Royal Guard in his setting need to learn it. In that instant, he has created not only a mechanical device to add distinction to the royal guards (who might be experts in the use of the one-handed halberd, or whatever), as well as providing an in-game roleplaying mechanism (you can't learn the skill unless you can find a teacher, and you can't become a member of the King's Guard without it, so you better find a way to learn it from someone if that's your character's ultimate dream). I could see race-specific skills, too, being defining traits of sub-races and the like. It's really a powerful system, and it really works smoothly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Metal Band Name or Game Title?

Bonus points if you can figure out
what this says without looking at
the image name.
A little fun on a Wednesday morning. Let's do a quick quiz! Without looking it up, can you tell whether each of the following is the name of a metal band or a tabletop game (board games and miniatures both count)? Answers in a day or two.
  1. Alkemy
  2. Attila
  3. Black Death
  4. Bladestorm
  5. Blitzkrieg
  6. Celtos
  7. Forest of Evil
  8. Frostgrave
  9. Frostveil
  10. Godflesh
  11. Godslayer
  12. Hell Dorado
  13. Malifaux
  14. Mordheim
  15. Necrocide
  16. Necromunda
  17. Warbringer
  18. Warcry
  19. Warfire
  20. Warlord

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Convention Report: Shore Leave 37

The First Doctor
This weekend saw me at the Shore Leave science fiction convention in Hunt Valley, MD. I went with my 14-year old daughter (the wife stayed home to enjoy some much-needed alone time), whose main experience of conventions has been NY Comic Con. Shore Leave is, as might be imagined, a much smaller-scale, and to my mind more enjoyable, convention. I used to go to this con regularly with my wife and friends, but hadn't been there in a decade, so this was a bit of a homecoming.

One of three dealers' areas
There are several programming tracks available throughout the weekend, including the usual panels on science fiction, fantasy, and superhero topics, as well as an excellent science track (the location of the con means that a lot of genuine NASA scientists and astronauts are able to make it), a large gaming room (more about that in a sec), a costume contest, and ballroom presentations by big-name media stars.

I'll start with the latter, as John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, and apparently some sort of villain on Arrow) was the headline guest, and the chief reason my daughter wanted to go. I went to both of his presentations and I have to say he was fantastic. Absolutely hilarious. He spent his hour taking questions from the audience (including one from the afore-mentioned daughter), but it was a lot more than that. He'd answer the question, eventually, but the time was spent riffing on the question and questioner, telling amazingly funny and touching stories, even singing a little. He was really excellent.

An R2 unit
The game room was always hopping. I played in a demo game of the Honor Harrington space battle miniatures game, and while it was a lot of fun to play with someone who knew the system inside and out, and who could basically translate my tactical decisions into game-mechanic-decisions, the thing was a lot more fiddly and had a lot more bookkeeping than I am really comfortable with. Mostly having to do with the three dimensional aspect of the game; ships can climb and bank and flip over on their sides and do all sorts of other antics that require you to be able to picture the 3D situation in your mind to properly plot movement and fire, and it was really just beyond my old brain. Folks were doing miniatures, RPGs, and card games throughout the weekend.

Some troublemaking Dr. Who fan
The panels were excellent. Some of the standouts were run by the USS Chesapeake, the local chapter of the Starfleet International fan club, which also hosted a party on Friday night. (Alas, in the good old days, there were really wild parties that went on late into the night, where guests would often make appearances, and which annoyed the hotel no end; those parties are a thing of the past.) I have to give a specific shout-out to Lorenzo Heard, who is a writer with no end of stories about pitching Star Trek scripts to Paramount, the personalities of and behind-the-scenes insights into the production and writing staff of the various shows, and similar things. I could listen to him go on with war stories for hours (and did, now that I think about it...).

Cobra Viper
The Masquerade (costume contest) was a hoot, and there were plenty of great cosplayers throughout the weekend. It made me regret not having a costume myself, but I did try on some of my old Star Trek uniforms, which unfortunately seem to have shrunk in storage. Alas.

On the whole, Shore Leave was a great convention. Because it's fan-run, it doesn't have the feel of one of the professional cons like Comic-Con or Creation, to its credit. I'm looking forward to going back next year.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amazon: up to 50% off strategy board games today only

Amazon is having an absolutely amazing sale on strategy board games, today only. Get 50% off titles like 7 Wonders, Smallworld, Catan, Tsuro, and tons more. Definitely worth checking out even if you're just a casual board gamer, and some RPGs even snuck in there as well. Click here for the deal.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Talking About Games reviews

A few weeks ago, Abraham Zetina of the Talking About Games YouTube channel asked for some review copies of the Adventures Dark and Deep books.

I dutifully sent along the pdfs, and he's come out with a series of very nice, in-depth reviews of the three core rulebooks. He's got quite a number of other informative and interesting videos on the channel as well; I recommend checking it out.

In the meantime, here are the three reviews collected in one place for easy viewing...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why no Nations in Gamma World?

I've been doing a little preliminary work on my massive Gamma World/Metamorphosis Alpha/Gammarauders/Gamma Knights (new element!) campaign, and something occurred to me.

Why in the Gamma World default campaign setting, does it seem like there aren't any large nations? We're centuries past the Big Oops, but it still seems like the only signs of civilization are tiny little hardscrabble villages and towns like Far-Go. There doesn't seem to be any sense of a trade network and the communications that go with trade, no religions (!!!), and no governments that extend farther than the size of a city-state.

Now, maybe this is something that's dealt with in later editions of the game (you know me, I stick with older versions of stuff whenever I can), but it seems entirely unlikely that in the centuries since the bombs fell, government hasn't spread past the tiny village stage.

This seems doubly unlikely given the fact that we have the cryptic alliances out there, supposedly spanning the world (or at least the North American continent). How are they organized? If they have agents in those hardscrabble villages, how do they communicate with one another if there aren't any trade routes?

For that matter, why aren't there any nations? Have them separated by hundreds of miles of mutant-haunted wastelands, but surely there should be cities, and land to feed the cities, and towns to collect the produce of the land, and so forth. And with that comes manufacturing, at least at some level. Sure, maybe the secrets of the Ancients have been lost, and nobody knows how to make powered armor or artificial intelligence any more, but firearms should be easy enough.

The first edition rulebook does give this question some attention:
There should be a minimal number of cities in GAMMA WORLD, as there are simply too few survivors, and there hasn't been time though, since the Shadow Years, for any great new cities to have grown. All of the old cities lie in radioactive ruin, or have been completely obliterated or swallowed up by the rising seas. What cities there are will generally be situated on a coast or river, and are near the few remaining robot farms (explained later). City populations should range between 5,000 to 50,000 humans, mutants, intelligent plants. etc.
In both the first and third editions of the game, the interval from the holocaust to the present day is 170 years or so. I submit that, population or no, that's enough time for someone to extend their influence beyond the boundaries of a city-state, especially if they have populations reaching 50,000.

These nations needn't be too large, but even a city of 50,000 humans is going to need farmland, and that farmland needs villages to support it. Assuming there aren't any handy robotic farms or computerized food factories handy.

I think adding that level to Gamma World would be a terrific way to add a whole layer of play to a campaign. Not only do you have local authorities, and agents of the cryptic alliances, but there are also (probably distant) rulers who have to be taken into account. And naturally those rulers go to war on occasion, which gives an excuse to have your bioborgs and associated popcorn assault an enemy town. It would also give those cryptic alliances a sandbox in which to pursue their schemes. I kinda like the idea, and will be incorporating it into my long-dreamed-of campaign.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

One Giant Leap

On this day in 1969, American Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. What an achievement of the American spirit and the human will. Let us follow up this great achievement and spread humanity to other worlds.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Ant-Man (spoiler free)

I saw the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man today. As a rule, I don't do 3D, so I caught a showing that was plain old 2D. I promise no puns about things being small.

I have to say, after the BIG BOOM BOOM show that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man was something of a palette-cleanser, which is suitable for the final film in Phase II of the Marvel Master Plan (mua-ha-ha). It's a much more personal movie, with only two big fights, and it's probably the second funniest Marvel movie after Guardians of the Galaxy.

The basic plot, shown in the trailers, is that ex-con Scott Lang takes on the mantle and suit of Ant-Man, and needs to stop the villain from developing a similar technology for military purposes.

You have probably heard that this is a "heist film" and it is structured that way, but first and foremost this is a comedy. Michael Peña steals every scene he's in, as Scott's idiotic and over-eager ex-cellmate, and most of the characters in the film know that "ant-man" is a ridiculous idea. And that very self-deprecation is one of the things that makes it work. I liked the character arcs that we saw Hank Pym, his daughter, and Paxton go through, although it did seem like Scott himself was pretty much the same guy he was at the beginning of the film. Which is okay, but in a movie like this a little character growth from the titular character was sort of expected.

The film is firmly tied to the rest of the Marvel universe, moreso than many other films we've seen. There are all sorts of call-outs, both subtle and hit-you-over-the-head unsubtle, to things and characters we've seen in other films and television shows. And look for a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by Saturday Night Live alum Garrett Morris driving a car. I don't know why, but that really made my day.

As might be expected, the effects are so seamlessly well done it's almost not worth mentioning at this point. But a special call-out to the de-aging effects used on Michael Douglas at the very beginning of the film. It's like they actually filmed it 25 years ago and just kept it in the can until they were ready to make the rest of the movie. Amazing. And the ants... the ants are filled with personality, if that can be believed. Beautiful to watch on the screen. The shrinking effects are similarly well-done, and you get a real sense of the vertigo-inducing weirdness it must induce to actually be in the ant-man suit.

On the whole, this is quite a worthy entry. It's no Avengers, but it's not meant to be. It's a very funny, very well-put-together film. Definitely better than some of the more strained sequels we've been seeing in the MCU lately, and it is well-served by the relative toned-down pyrotechnics.

Also, there are two helpings of schawarma at the end. Make sure you stay through to the very end of the credits.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Step Right Up and Spin the Wheel!

Lately, it seems that every year there's some sort of politically correct outrage coming on the heels of GenCon. This year, with GenCon slightly more than two weeks away, I thought I'd save everybody the trouble and just let the SJW's take a spin on the Wheel of Outrage to figure out what they should be offended by this year, and save some time and trouble. So put up yer nickle and you may win fame and fortune! Well, fame anyway...

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Last summer and fall, I went through a big spate of painting some old-school figures; mostly Grenadiers, but there are Ral Parthas, TSRs, Citadels, Minifigs, and others in there as well. I finally got around to painting them, mostly because I'm about to start another round of painting, and wanted to get a look at what I had already done. Some are specifically Greyhawk by the paint job, most are just generic, following the description in the Monster Manual wherever possible.. I'm not a great painter by any stretch, but I'm pleased with the way most of them came out.

A bunch of Baklunis from the Sultanate of Zeif

Gnomes (presumably from the Gnarly Forest)


Warriors of Celene

Monks of the Scarlet Brotherhood


I'm particularly pleased with these. Every time I'd buy some
Grenadier figures, they'd come with yet another one of the
flag-bearer skeletons. So now I have one for the Horned Society,
one for the Scarlet Brotherhood, one for Iuz, and one for the
Temple of Elemental Evil.

The whole bunch. Doesn't include pre-painted plastic figures.

Pig-faced orcs, which you've seen before.

On the whole, I'm quite happy with the lot so far. And many more to come.