Monday, November 30, 2009

The Whimsy Factor

Preface - Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Recently I got to take part in yet another PbP RPG implosion. This time it was a 3.5 game refereed by a self-proclaimed novice, for which a small amount of the blame may be entitled, but the more I think about it, the game in general was lacking.

The ref is one of those guys who prepares for everything. Mind you I'm not saying that preparation is bad, but it is possible to take it too far and in the process ignore the players' needs to feel as though they are still in control of their own destinies. Furthermore, it is entirely possible to turn a fun game into too much work for both the players and the referee and spoil the flow of the adventure with the nit-picking of details.

Getting to the point, I have a few people who want in on some retro style PbP roleplaying, and I want to have a go at refereeing. I may very well fall flat on my face, or lose the players' interest, or a little bit of both, but I digress. Some of the guys who played in that ill-fated game with me expressed their own opinions of why the game came undone and it seems that for most of us, it was the encounter-to-encounter pace, the lack of opportunity for players to be spontaneous for being "still in combat rounds" and the general feel of being run through the gauntlet for the sole reason of letting the referee see how quickly he can kill the party.  While it is fairly well known that Challenge Ratings are not an integral part of old-style RPGing, there is such a thing as being the "killer GM".  There should be a balance between the real risk of losing a character and the players feeling as though they've been thrust into an unescapable encounter that they can neither fight nor flee from. Most of the  players also seemed to be quickly put off by all the bickering back and forth about various abilities and actions and just how or in what order things were to be done. And not one single player was happy with the referee's insisting that the players all use an online dice roller "for record-keeping purposes". The entire flow of the game was then at the mercy of a site that was often experiencing downtime, and when it was in working order seemed to have randomness issues.  I would provide an example for you right now, but as luck would have it, InvisibleCastle is once again 505. 

So, back on topic, a few of the players and I were chatting about retro-gaming and I kind of let them twist my arm a bit. One of the guys said he wanted something less serious and one of the girls said she just wanted to have some fun and maybe get the chance to do something with the really cool character she had made.  It seems people want from gaming exactly what I want from gaming, and that is to above all have an enjoyable experience, be part of a story, and not feel committed to a pile of books, rules, and books about game settings that have their fantasy environment laid out down to the very last paving stone.

What we all whimsy.

Before I go any further, if you are one of those uptight grognards who believe everybody should play old-school exactly the way Gygax did, you may with to click through to another blog. This might hurt.

My plan is to start up with a simple subterranean encounter for the players. It'll be like a training exercise in which they can learn their capabilities and how the game works while still having a good chance to escape or seek healing if things go badly..which they still can.  That in and of itself isn't so unorthadox, but I am seriously considering an option which will likely have folks like Red Priest coming round to my house to revoke my OSR Secret Decoder Ring.  I want to give the training exercise more of a short-term video game feel by allowing players who are killed to quickly return to the action and for new players to jump right in.  This will be accomplished by reincarnation.  Since the older games allow players to take along hirelings, there will be extra ready-made slots in the adventure party awaiting their chances to become primary player-characters as needed. I recall an article in one of the OSR zeens or blogs calling this the entourrage philosophy or somesuch, but it seems a good way to give the players a sort of safety-net of lesser-developed characters to fall back on rather than have to start completely from scratch.

This will also be a trial period for me. Not only do I get in some real-life practice in refereeing, but I get the chance to gauge the collective attitude of the players and see what style of adventuring they are suited for. They may very well decide they like a more hack-and-slay sort of game, or they might see the combat as nothing more than an interruption to inter-character theatre. And knowing these players, it might also turn into an episode of Three Stooges or Monty Python's Flying Circus. 

I'm also completly open-minded to working with players who want to play a character type that is not in the book. The most important sentence in the book I will be using is "Imagine the hell out of it",and that is the main rule I plan to abide by. A player should feel at least some connection to their new character from the beginning.  I'm also willing to hear out any players' requests for gear or spells that are not in the book.  Why should the referee get to be the only one doing the imagifications.

Hopefully, once the game roster has settled down to a core of dependable players who are having fun and who have learned the ropes and have survived past the "glass cannon" levels, I will graduate the game into the "real" world where dead is dead, the wrong word to the wrong NPC can get you thrown in the geol, and in the woods you better beware because "dragons happen".

This game will hopefully begin in January. I'll post again in the nearer future once I post up a game-gathering topic on the Reaper forum where I will run the game.

As for the 4e game I had joined, it is still in progress, but the GM's computer crashed and took with it all his game-resource files. Hopefully it will be resuming soon, as I was really starting to like it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The ubiquitous orc ventures fourth...

Okay I will warn my old-school buddies right up front. This blog entry contains me saying good things about D&D 4e, so if your grognard sensibilities are easily injured, go ahead and put the duct-tape on your head now before it 'splodes.

A friend of mine has been running several play-by-post games on the Reaper Minis forum, and recently had a slot come available in one of his games due to another player being unable to find time to post. I had mentioned early on that I would like to try out a 4e game so that I could at least offer up an actual educated rant on why the game stinks, but now that I have begun reading the player guides and building my character, my opinion has shifted somewhat.

Yeah we've all heard people say, "If you pretend it's not really D&D, it isn't so bad."

I believe that is a pretty fair assessment, but in all honesty the same thing could be said about 3e by the folks who had been playing 2nd and earlier. It's different, but not so different that I feel as though I'm learning a new game. It's like comparing Windows XP to Vista. It feels different and it runs different, but it's still has its roots in the same game.

And what about "It's D&D for dummies."

Having looked at the player guides I can honestly say that isn't true. Yes, there are some game aspects such as skills, alignment, and combat actions that have been made more simple. Yes the book is less populated with charts and tables, and yes the game relies more heavily on combat maps with tokens and powers-cards and other visual aides, but this does not mean that the GM and players are required to "dumb down" in order to enjoy the game. It seems that the game's creators have tried to make less work for the players and especially for the GM. I don't think a 4e combat encounter could be done using only narrative, but for many people (who I personally do not consider to be dummies), keeping up with spatial relationships between combatants while worrying about the actual fighting only bogs down the action.

Oh, and the AC is ascending.... for all the dummies like me. :D

But then, "It takes too long to make a character"

Yeah that is probably true if you are old-school and used to being able to put all your character notes on one index card. And of course like any other game system, your first 4e character will take longer because you are learning a new system. I'm guessing my second character won't take so long, but in my personal opinion, getting my head wrapped around 4e character building was easier than learning 3e. The player guide is far easier to understand and all but walks you through making your character choices and filling in the sheet. In addition, there is the free downloadable character builder on the WoTC site that lets you make characters up through 3rd level. I used both the book and the builder program while making my character so I could get a clearer understanding of why the program does what it does.

But "Do you really need a character builder? Are you an idiot?"

I like to think of the free character builder as a good proofreader. It is designed not to let you take options that are not allowed for your character, and most options display a description that guided you toward making choices that are best suited for your character. But what really makes it a nice thing to have is how it can output a simple text character summary for online play, provide a printable character sheet that includes a page of powers cards to help you keep track during encounters. I've not played face-to-face yet, but apparently the little cards are helpful in that regard. I believe advancing a character won't be difficult at all, but if I were planning on playing a 4e campaign with my game group, I'd probably subscribe to DDI at least one month of the year just to get the full version of the program and an occasional update.

Oh yeah I almost forgot, "But I don't like the limitations on characters and classes and soforth."

Uh-huh. I doubt anybody who says that will get too much sympathy from anybody who plays old-school. Yes, the various classes are somewhat "samey", but at least there are no advancement caps, serious drawbacks for certain race-class combinations, nor vast inequities in how XP is doled out. And no I'm not taking pot-shots at old-school D&D, but that is how the games differ. To each their own I say. It seems that 4e tried to move away from some of those prestige classes in favour of what they call paragon paths. There also appears to be a real move away from multi-classing and munchkin-builds.

But, "Every character is a munchkin now, aren't they?"

It would seem so. Everybody has all these powers and healing surges and stuff. I'd sure as heck not bet any money on my Oe or 1e character lasting long in the 4e world. Heck, my old-school characters are lucky to live as long as they do in their own turf. So yes, it's fair to say there has been power-creep in D&D.

And finally, "If I wanted to play a video game, I'd play a video game."

I can't honestly say that 4e is not closer to video-game mentality than other editions. The healing surges remind me far too much of the health-status bar that appears below your character in some of the cheesy online MMOs I've tried out. Who here has ever run up on the "boss", taken three whacks at him, then led him on a chase through the dungeon while your health points regenerated? Okay 4e isn't quite that gamey, but I can see how people make the connection. BUT in the defense of gameyness, it seems like videogames are becomeing more and more advanced with virtual reality so that soon somebody will say "If I wanted to play a LARP, I'd play a LARP." Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but you get the drift. In the defense of the game's creators, there is quite a bit of emphasis in the players manual on how to roleplay and use narrative during the game. It's up to the GM and players to set the tone for the game. If they all are roleplayers, then they will get a far different experience out of the game than a group whose prior game experience begins and ends with WoW. As for the gamey jargon, it is only a manifestation of the generalizations many D&D players have been making all along. I'm not real wild about it personally, but I suppose that is one of those things that comes with getting older and grumpier.

And finally, "I don't like the new races and classes."

Again, you'll not get any sympathy from this old-schooler. While I'm personally not wild about playing a gnome or a tiefling, I can understand others' excitement over the new diversity. In a roleplay-influenced game, the diversity can make for some real interesting group dynamics within the party.

In conclusion, I will continue to play the old-school games I enjoy. I will keep playing the 3/3.5 games I enjoy, and I will go into 4e with an open mind. After all, it's all really about friends, adventure and imagination.

So shuddup and go play.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Natural Born Orcs" - YouTube funny-de-jour

Pardon me for my whimsical departure from my ordinarily serious profound content. :D

Friday, August 14, 2009

And yet MORE big news for Reaper..AND for Paizo

This just went up on Reaper's front page, but in case anybody missed it, Reaper and Paizo are partnering up to produce miniatures to support the new Pathfinder RPGs.

My own experience with Pathfinder is pretty limited thusfar, but if Ed Pugh says it's good..then it's good, goshdarnit!


Monthly metal miniatures releases to support Paizo's new Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

August 12, 2009 (INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) – Paizo Publishing and Reaper Miniatures today announced a new partnership that will see Reaper produce monthly metal miniature releases to support Paizo's blockbuster new Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The line is set to debut in Fall 2009, with fantasy miniatures supporting the Pathfinder RPG, Pathfinder Adventure Paths, Pathfinder Modules, and the world of the Pathfinder Chronicles. All miniatures will be cast in the finest white-metal alloy and will be available through regular hobby distribution channels.

"We're ecstatic to be working with the fine people at Paizo Publishing," said Ed Pugh, CEO of Reaper Miniatures. "The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has set a new standard in roleplaying and gaming in our industry. We're proud to be a part of such a groundbreaking endeavor."

With the formal release of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook scheduled for tomorrow , on the opening day of the Gen Con Game Fair, Paizo has already seen its initial print run of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook sell out completely to gamers and distributors, with the presses working overtime on a new second printing expected in early November. The massive Pathfinder Bestiary, featuring more than 350 fantastic foes for Pathfinder heroes, debuts in October. The Pathfinder RPG is an evolution of the 3.5 edition of the world's oldest fantasy roleplaying game, and is released under the terms of the Open Game License.

"All of us at Paizo use miniatures in our games, and when it comes to marrying high-impact sculpts with excellent production and distribution, Reaper Miniatures stands at the very pinnacle of the hobby games industry," said Erik Mona, Publisher of Paizo Publishing. "I simply cannot wait to discover the incredible sculpts and dynamic characters Reaper will produce for its Pathfinder line."

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook and Reaper's extensive, award-winning miniatures line can be found wherever gaming products are sold.

Paizo Publishing®, LLC is a leading publisher of fantasy roleplaying games, accessories, board games, and novels. Paizo's Pathfinder® line of rules, adventures, sourcebooks, and campaigns combines decades of game design experience into one evocative system compatible with the 3.5 rules. Paizo's GameMastery® accessories offer easy-to-use tools aimed at improving the tabletop RPG experience. Titanic Games™, Paizo's board game imprint, unleashes fun, challenging games like Kill Doctor Lucky™ and Yetisburg™ that appeal to both families and casual gamers alike. Paizo's Planet Stories® line of science fiction and fantasy novels promise thrilling adventure of the like not seen since the legendary pulps. is the leading online hobby retail store, offering tens of thousands of products from a variety of publishers to customers all over the world. In the seven years since its founding, Paizo Publishing has received more than a dozen major industry awards and has grown to become one of the most influential companies in the hobby games industry.

Reaper Miniatures is a worldwide leader in the design and casting of metal science fiction and fantasy miniature figurines. Based in Denton, Texas, Reaper products are available in fine hobby shops around the world.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another big announcement from Reaper Minis

For those of you who like to game with miniatures, but do not necessarily care to spend hours painting them, this might be of interest to you.

>>>> Official announcement from Reaper's web site <<<<<<

Reaper Miniatures is proud to announce the creation of a new miniatures company: Asylum Miniatures.

Asylum Miniatures is an independent company wholly owned by Reaper focused on the creation of pre-painted miniatures, games, and associated products.

Under its own banner, Asylum Miniatures will launch with and supply the Reaper Miniatures pre-painted plastic line Legendary Encounters™. Asylum Miniatures will also pursue the development of products and lines outside of the Reaper Miniatures core brands.

Offered in an open, non-blind, non-random format, Legendary Encounters™ pre-painted plastic miniatures will be packaged in Asylum Miniatures blister cards. Both single and multiple piece packs will be offered.

Asylum Miniatures will continue to draw upon Reaper's vast miniatures catalog of thousands of metal models to expand the Legendary Encounters™ miniature line.

From Ed Pugh (CEO of Reaper Miniatures): "This new company solves several problems Reaper has been facing concerning the creation, marketing, and brand awareness of our pre-painted products. Allowing Asylum Miniatures to operate independently of Reaper Miniatures will give management much more flexibility to create, market, and supply pre-painted miniatures, games, and products."

Asylum Miniatures -- what you need, when you need it!

Reaper Miniatures is a worldwide leader in the design and casting of metal science fiction and fantasy miniature figurines. Based in Denton, Texas, Reaper products are available in fine hobby shops around the world.

For more information about Reaper Miniatures, visit the Reaper Miniatures website at

>>>> END QUOTES <<<<<<

I'm hoping that this will mean lots more new releases to add to the existing range of models we've seen in the Legendary Encounters™ line. Specifically, I'm hoping for MORE pre-painted orky goodness to further my plot of world domination...but that'll be our little secret.

Also drop by Reaper's store to get the freshly released (yesterday, as a matter of fact) Warlord 2nd Edition. I think you'll like it too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A bit of half-orc nostalgia

"I've been a half-orc almost as long as I can remember."

I started playing D&D during the reign of 2nd edition, and of course there were no half-orcs in 2nd edition, not even in the Monstrous Manual as I recall it. So I had to bide my time playing halfling thieves and human barbarian fighters and yes..even an elf wizard. It's all true. I have the dog-eared character sheets to prove it.

Of course 3e came along and with it came my favored race. I mean, what's not to like about being a half-orc. You get a minus to your INT and CHA scores right away.... okay fine.. so maybe that's a bad example..but you get Darkvision, right? do all the other non-human humanoids..but hey, you get Orc Blood. But wait..that's not a good thing either. Wow, being a half-orc kinda sucks...except for the STR bonus. Now that I put it down in those terms, I wonder why all those disenfranchised half-orc players got so vocal when they had to wait a few extra months for their 4e 2nd Player Guide to come along so they could get their game back on. Being a Dragonborn ought to be so much cooler, right?

So..let's have a look at a 4e half-orc, shall we?

I've been following a PbP 4e game on the Reaper forum because 1) I don't want to be counted among the OSR pundits who hate the game but have never really played or even watched it being played and 2) the DM and players are all excellent roleplayers and writers and it should be an entertaining story to read.

I personally don't own any 4e books, but might download the quickstart to get a better perspective on what's going on in the PbP. Anyway, here's the character stats for Kaanite the 1st Level Half Orc Two-Weapon-Fightin' Ranger who just so happened to have once been a cat burglar.
Str 20, Con 14, Dex 19, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 13.

Str 18, Con 14, Dex 17, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 13.
Huh? None of his scores even went down...and he gained DEX...and he has 31 HP starting out?!

And get a look at this!
Dungeoneering +8, Acrobatics +9, Perception +8, Athletics +11, Stealth +9, Thievery +10 (+12 w/ Thieves tools)
Acrobatics and Stealth? NO WAY! This guy's TOTALLY UBER! And I say that with the utmost respect for the player (Hi there, Orcsoul) and with no disrespect toward the game. If it works for you and it makes you happy, then go play.

WHIIIIICH brings me slowly round to the point that I alluded to earlier. Early in this blog's archives, somebody corrected me on my assumption that there were no half-orcs before 3e. I had always assumed that it was the not the way of any reasonable game company to giveth and then to taketh away.

Once I joined the old-school, I really had no good reason to look through the AD&D Players Handbook. I was content to play my homebrew-hafforc and call it good, but curiosity got the best of me and I decided to have a look at a 1st edition half-orc for nostalgia's sake. I've made a few observations.

It's a man's world

And by "man" I mean huMAN. Every other race (including half-orcs) has a glass-ceiling in the form of level limits. These limits are based on class of course, but even among the non-human-humanoids, half-orcs get the shaft. A half-orc Cleric can only advance to 4th level...a Thief only to 8th..provided his/her DEX isn't less than 17, in which case he'll get stuck at 6th. The only class that favors half-orcs, the Fighter, limits them to 10th..which is higher than fighters of other races...except humans, of course. THEY can do ANYTHING...pth.

And it's a MAN'S world

By "man" I mean hi-honey-I'm-home-what's-for-dinner-I-wear-the-pants-in-this-household....that kind of man. On the Race Ability Score Minimums/Maximums, it was for some reason necessary to break those scores out by male and female. As you might have guessed, humans are excluded from this table because...well..they're human. They don't have limitations. Also you probably guessed it... almost all women are an average of 1.6 points of STR below their male counterparts. I suppose as a self-liberated woman, I should at least be thankful that the gender difference is limited to STR. Even Gygax "knew better than to go there." Interestingly enough, the only race to NOT have weaker women-folk was the half-orcs. Yep, it kinda makes a girl proud. :D

It ain't no world for a half-orc girl, that's for sure
Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of
such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human
mongrels ore sufficiently non-orcish to pass for human. Complete details
of orcs and crossbreeds will be found under the heading Orc in
As it is assumed that player characters which are of half-orc race are
within the superior lo%, they have certain advantages
The description for Half-Elves is nothing like this. I mean, far be it from me to play a race-card, but this particular description about percentages and racial purity sound a lot less like the world of Tolkien and a bit more like the world of Alabama in the 1920s. Yeah I know it's only a game..a fantasy game at that, but in my opinion, D&D has certainly evolved in the right direction as far as sensitivity to race and gender are concerned.


So, now I have actually defended 4e and then spoke disparagingly of 1e. I can almost imagine the angry mob gathering outside now with their torches and pitchforks and descending ACs to roast me on a spit.

On the other hand, I've had fun looking at a bit of D&D history.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

RPG off-season and how to feed the need

Due to various family circumstances, friends taking vacations, work schedule conflicts and whatnot, it has been almost two months since our group has played any of our ongoing RPG campaigns. We've met a time or two since then, but for other games, one of which is still in closed beta.

Which brings me with unusual swiftness right to the point.

What do you do when you, for whatever reason, can't get a game on?

In the past, I've fallen back on play-by-post online web forum games. Providing the players are all enthusiastic and share a common style of play (be it narrative, hack-and-slay, or even the much discussed "roll-play" attitude), these games can be a great outlet to sate the unrequited need for high adventure. But often these games fizzle because one or more players or even the game-master loses interest. Granted the same thing can happen with a face-to-face group, but the yawning and fidgeting usually cues you in. A PbP can sometimes lag for days or even weeks even if all players are still eager to continue. Eventually somebody will post "Are we still playing" in order to snap the game out of its slumber.

Of late though, PbP gaming has lost its popularity to more flashy graphics multi-player games (not naming names here) that grant the player instant gratification and in spite of all those jokes about MMRPG online gamers having teeny spans of attention, they still manage to be able to play for hours. That being the case, there's always somebody online to game with, even at 4 AM on a Tuesday. I may not speak on behalf of all traditional gamers, but I just can't keep an RPG session going that long or start one that late, even with stockpiles of Mountain Dew and triple-fudge brownies. Besides, my relic of a PC probably can't handle the software...and yeah, my OSR friends would revoke my membership card and glow-in-the-dark secret decoder ring.

And then there's the real-time online option. Depending on how sophisticated you and your buddies' computers and internet connections are, there are programs out there that can provide you with a virtual gametable map and virtual dice. For the rest of us who aren't quite so well-equipped or technologically savvy, there's still the opportunity to run a game in any ordinary chat application. Of course the beauty of that plan falls apart when one or more of your players is a slow typist or worse yet, completey incoherent in chat rooms.


So..for the past weeks I've been filling my usual gaming time with miniature painting and a good deal of blog reading. But I just can't bring myself to post on a regular basis about playing the games I love when I've not actually played lately. But I do want you, the Esteemed Reader, to know that I've not lost interest, nor have any of the guys in our group. We've just been busy. Life does that to a person from time to time.

With the real promise that regular game nights will resume at the end of this month, I am thinking it is time to once again prepare for that little one-off adventure I blogged about a few months ago. It'll do me good to get out the books again and shake some of the dust off of my imagination. It's been rather underworked lately.

Until my next blog ... sooner or later...hopefully.... I wish y'all happy gaming.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

BIG news from Reaper Minis

As you may recall a LONG time ago (or so it seems) I posted here that I was going to ReaperCon out in Denton, TX for a weekend of mini painting, gaming and being around lots of cool like-minded people. As it turns out, I had a great time, did some old-school RPGing, a bit of Pathfinder, got to watch some 4e being played, took tons of pictures, and talked quite a bit about Reaper's own tabletop fantasy game called Warlord...which brings me to good news.

Warlord has been revised and is slated for release later this summer. This isn't yet another pile of errata or repack of the same old game, but a complete new set of new that it is being called Warlord 2nd Edition (no 1.5 here, my friends). There's a brand-new cover art so you'll know it's the new edition, and below that is a snippet from the official Reaper web site's news.

  • Uses the same RAGE combat system as previous versions of the game.
  • Completely re-invented magic system that allows spellcasters to choose their spells during the game.
  • We got rid of all the little rules that either didn't get used, or were unnecessarily complex.
  • Reduced number of damage tracks for faster play.
  • Includes the 10 core factions that the first edition rulebook featured.
  • Remaining factions, as well as 5 brand new ones, will be featured in a follow-up book later this year.
(end quote)

Warlord in its beginnings was meant to be a quick skirmish game with simplified d10 combat, simple easy-to-learn rules, and each game model (made by Reaper of course) would come with its own data card with all the vital statistics needed for game play. And it was great fun, but as things often seem to go, it needed some "fixing" in order to make the game more fair as well as to add in more new models and factions and subfactions and new rules and new-improved data cards and ..... you get the picture. During the past three years or so, the game underwent so many changes that many players, myself included, lost interest and moved on to other things. And believe me, moving on was not easy. I loved that game. My husband and I along with many from our gaming group were part of the original beta play-test group and up until the first major revamp we played almost every Sunday. Then, when the first major revamp came along, we playtested that also, but in the end most of us agreed that too much of the game's selling points had been lost. It seems others felt the same way too, and eventually enough voices let themselves be heard that the game developers decided to take a second look at what made the game so popular in its original form, fixed what needed fixing, tossed out what didn't work, and gave us what we wanted.

To quote my mother, "dance with the one that brought you"

Right now, Warlord 2 is in the very last stages of open beta testing. The book and faction data are both being checked and double-checked to be sure that this WILL be the LAST new edition you'll be seeing for a long time. I'm very pleased with what I've seen and although I had no real hand in the development of WL2 aside from two years of grumbling about the state of the game I love, I am once again proud to recommend this game to anybody looking for some good tabletop skirmish fun.

The game itself is simple. You and your opponent(s) buy armies using points. You have some models that are leaders, others that are grunts who require leaders, some who are elites such as mages or heroes and some who are solos such as assassins or monsters. Rather than the old I-go-You-go, players activate one leader and troop or one solo at a time and player activation is determined randomly with chances based on total number of troops per player. Combat is done using d10s versus the opposed model's defense number, and offensive and defensive strikes take place simultaneously. The point-cost of all magic-users includes their spells, which are chosen from spell-lists as the game is being played. All you need to play is a few d10s, a measuring tape or small ruler, a dozen or two minis, the rule book, a 4X4 table, half an hour to an hour to kill, and a friend to play with.

The softcover rule book will be available July 27th. A hard-cover version shold be along not too long after. There will also likely be a PDF, but I'm not sure when that will be released.


In other not-so-happy news, the reason I have been so long overdue in updating is that on May 20th, the day after we got back from Texas, Steve's father passed away of an apparant stroke. He died as he might've wished his own home at his rocker chair with a book nearby. Since then, we've had much work to get done at his house and at ours, therefore not much time yet for gaming.

Steve's dad was very supportive of all of Steve's hobbies as well as mine. Paint-&-Play was one of our pursuits he particularly liked, saying that "Anything that gets kids and their parents to do things together is a good cause."


I promise there's more exciting updates to come. I'm working on a fun paint project right now and there's some interesting RPG news in the works. I'll have more on both as soon as I can. I also hope to be doing a review soon on Mythmere Games' new Swords & Wizardry monster manual, which just came available on Lulu this past week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tips for photographing your gaming models

Okay, I know there's a few of you out there who don't use miniatures in your games, and that's perfectly okay. These tips and suggestions can be applied to any sort of closeup or "macro" photography, or even if you just want to upload a few images of some things you want to sell on eBay.

The most common problem to overcome for most beginning photography seems to be getting the light just right. Sometimes the subject of the photo is too dark or the backdrop too bright. Other times the whole picture takes on a yellowy hue no matter what colour backdrop you use or what sort of white-balance setting you set your camera for.

There are three things that almost EVERY experienced photographer can agree on.
  • Multiple light sources help prevent distracting shadows
  • If natural daylight is unavailable, then "natural daylight" bulbs are the next best thing. Most yellow or red shift is caused by overexposing the subject under tungsten lamps.
  • Avoid mixing the types of light if possible. This makes white-balancing much easier.
  • Diffusing the light helps prevent glaring bright spots or reflections on the subject
  • Do not use the flash if you can possibly avoid it
If you're not much of a DIY person, there are a good number of home studio lighting kits available online. This one by Digital Concepts is quite popular and affordable, though I'm told that getting replacements for the lamps is difficult to impossible. There's also the XPRO Light Cube and other similar products out there. Unlike the first style I linked to, the cube allows you to light from any direction including underneath. Of course the lamps are sold seperately.

If you're a bit more inclined to making your own, there are some darn good tutorials out there to help you. I've also designed one of my own, which I have posted on my photography blog. (Yeah, I have other hobbies too. LOL)

No matter what sort of camera you use (including a camera phone), there are a few basic things you can do to make better photos.

  • Use a tripod or some other sturdy platform rather than "hand-held" if possible
  • If your camera has a shutter timer or remote shutter control, use that instead. Shaky hands make blurry photos.
  • Know your camera. Read the manual and learn its capabilities and limitations.You might be pleasantly surprised.
Being aware of your camera's focal range is important. Most cameras have the macro function (the one with the tulip) that lets you get a bit closer, but in most cases, six or eight inches is as close as you will be able to go. Fortunately, most modern cameras have high enough pixel resolution that a photo of a single elf archer from two feet away can be cropped so that the subject fills a typical web 400X300 pixel image.

For taking photos of games in progress, the real challenge is to do so without interrupting the game unnecessarily. This is when you may find you need to use the built-in flash. A simple way to avoid overexposed washed-out or red-eyed subjects in those situations is to diffuse the built-in flash. I've used everything from a folded slip of waxed paper to a potato chip can lid and got decent results.

Again, a tripod always helps. If you don't want to be bothered with using a tabletop tripod, you can use a plain old soda can to steady your camera upon. (Chances are there's an empty soda can sitting around the gametable somewhere.)

BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to remember is that you are there first and foremost to play games. If your friends tell you to put that darn camera away, listen to them. Pictures are meant to capture a good time, not to spoil it.

Anyway, I hope this post can be of help to somebody. HOPEFULLY I will resume a more directly game-related pattern of posting after ReaperCon. There I'll be playing in several RPGs including one Swords & Wizardry advenure. I'll also be hob-nobbing with a lot of talented painters, fellow RPG enthusiasts, tournament gamers and nice folks in general.

Here's a picture made using my own light box.

orcs of ubiquity (Reaper Legendary Encounter pre-painted minis

And yeah...when I get back from ReaperCon, I'll be posting tons of photos.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mindless fun.... Ubiquitous Orc style!

..and JUST when you thought this blog was getting all booknosey and educated-like, I've found you a new time-waster.

When you finally have had enough complex plot twists, overdeveloped characters, laboriously-custom-designed game settings and all the multicultural and multinational intrigue they entail..and you just wanna go on a rampage, then Shotgun Orc's the game for you.'s free, and it's in my sidebar right over there. >>

You gotta scroll down, but trust me it's there. I just lost an hour of valuable house-cleaning time because of it.

Basically, you're an orc. You've found a shotgun, and because you're an orc with a shotgun, you get to shoot people..mostly knights, wizards, elves and the like....hopefully before they can get a whack or shot or spell at you. The game is multilingual so you can play in English, Swedish or Japanese. Sorry, elves. It don't speak Sindarin.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review - Orcs, by Stan Nicholls

Around a week or so ago, a friend of mine was in a Books-A-Million and saw a copy of Orcs, by Stan Nicholls, and in his own words "If I didn't get it for Spike, she'd kill me." ..and also in his own words was initially compelled by "the badass orc on the cover".

Yeah...I was smitten too. And that was without even reading it.

As the blurb promises, this book will change how you feel about orcs..unless of course you are like me..but then, few are. Anyhoo, this is a story of the Wolverines, an elite warband of orc fighters, who are sent on a quest by a particularly wicked half-human queen who needs a magical artifact in order to further her evilness. After an unexpected delay in returning the queen's prize, the orcs realize they have likely brought her wrath down upon themselves and soon find themselves branded as renegades. Next thing they know, they are on the run from everybody including a trio of bounty hunters, a band of human religious fanatics, and a small army of orcs who still remain loyal to the queen.

These aren't Tolkien's orcs, nor WoTC's orcs, nor Blizzard Entertainment's orcs. If you are expecting brutish thugs who kill for the sake of killing, have low Intelligence scores, and speak gratuitous Cockney, then you'll probably be disappointed. These orcs never say "WAAAAGH", nor "Zugzug", though they do freely drop some of the more choice four-letter words. After all they are still orcs.

Without giving too much away, the story's "plot" almost takes a back seat to the real story, which is in my opinion about different perspectives of race relations and intolerance. The world of Maras-Dantia is a place gripped by spreading chaos. Glaciers are quickly advancing upon civilisation and the world seems to be dying. Worse yet, the magic that once coursed through the earth in ley lines has been bled almost dry. And it would seem the humans are to blame. Of course there are many races of beings in this world, but the course of their history has pitted the elder races and their many gods against the humans and their one god. Of course not all humans are "the bad guys", and throughout the story there are plenty of situations in which various characters learn to put their differences behind them and work together. During their adventure, the Wolverines (including a dwarf sergeant) encounter gremlins, pixies, brownies, centaurs, goblins, trolls, friendly humans, bad orcs, and even a dragon or two.

The battle scenes are quite embellished; a good thing for those of you who enjoy the works of Robert "Two Guns Bob" Howard. And so are some of the vignettes concernign the bloody rituals of the wicked queen. This isn't a book for the youngsters or the faint-hearted. If you don't care for adult language and some adult content, you may want to pass this one over. I'd say it's rated M14 at the very least.

The book picture above is actually a trio of shorter novels bound into an omnibus publication. A second trio of books bound under the title "Orcs - Bad Blood" should be coming available right about now. and I for one will be on the lookout for it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Seven Minute Orc

For some, painted miniatures are an essential part of the role playing experience. Back in the Long-Time-Ago when old-school was still new-school and TSR was known for historical games, it was necessary to improvise and compromise, because very few manufacturers of miniatures delved into fantasy at all, and those that did ran a rather limited repertoire of models to pick from. Luckily, the hobby grew, and so has selection. Nowadays you can not only find just about any creature imaginable to stock your dungeon, but if you shop around, chances are there's a model that can represent fairly well just about any player-character a player can conjure.

Of course, not only have miniatures "grown up" a bit in the last 30 years, but so has the hobby of painting them. Once, you could slap a quick base coat of model paint on an unprimed mini, and so long as the other guys at the table could easily guess what your mini represented, then you had succeeded. These days, however, mini painting has become an art form, complete with its own "masters" and numerous arenas of competition such as have sprung up so that novice painters can have their self-esteem put into proper perspective publicly..for better or for worse. There are painters who sell single painted minis for upwards of $300 apiece and often sink 40 hours or more into the mini to do so. (Do the math... minimum wage?) But the craziest thing to come about in the world of minis is that people actually paint the darn things and then DON'T PLAY WITH 'EM!

Three years ago or so, on the occasion of an upcoming local "convention" my husband and I organized, it was decided by mutual insanity that we should have a massive miniature skirmish game involving a single unified orcish horde taking on all the other races of the fantasy world. It was just a few weeks until the Con, and we were a few score orcs short..and he went to painting. My kitchen table looked like some kind of Isengard assembly line with queues of unpainted orcs lined up waiting for their latex makeovers. And of course he started bragging about how fast he could finish one. "I can paint an orc in seven minutes..quicker than you can make cake-frosting." said he. "Put up or shuddup!" said I, and I got my camera and stopwatch.

When I uploaded the video (no sound, bad focus, old camera) to Reaper Miniatures' forum, I think it scared some folks. He might be what you call an old-school painter. He doesn't use any of those fancy-schmancy Liquitex additives. He don't wash his brush in between colours, and he paints straight from the pot..sometimes even mixing colours in the lids. If he were any more old-school, he'd be pre-school..using his fingers and wearing a plastic smock.

So that year, at ReaperCon '05, somebody (Reaper Kit, I think) asked him to repeat his seven-minute orc feat in a much higher quality video with sound and titles and narrative and all kinds of groovy things. A few days ago, I got permission to repost the video to YouTube. it is..... kinda like Saruman.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Magical item - Hammer-pants - +3 to bustin' dope rhymes

And you were expecting something enlightening and/or sophisticated here? No?

The topic came up on Mythmere's S&W message forum about the alleged negative impact of the term "old-school", in which I responded with my $.o2 concerning the culture I grew up in. Methinks some folks are missing the difference between "old-school" and "old farts". But then The Venomous Pau came in behind me and REALLY "took 'em back to school" on the subject.

Here's quotage.

by The Venomous Pao on Thu Apr 09, 2009 8:12 am

Spike beat me to the punch on mentioning the Hip Hop connotations of the phrase (nice work, Spike!), so I'll just echo the sentiment.


Old School is cool, I must insist,
not negative, nor exclusionary
Brothers are whack if they resist
and claim the phrase is too contrary

Step back y'all and roll the dice
The way they did in seventy fo'
Don't need no lists of skills and feats
Just play the game, let imagination flow

Yo elf! Whatcha class?
I'm a martial striker with seven ranks in rules lawyer...
No, elf! Whatcha class?
Um, I'm a Fighter/Cleric/Magic-User with nwops in rope use?
NO, ELF! Whatcha class?
I'm an elf, pure and simple
Don't need no incidentals
I kick it hard, the old school way
Tomorrow I fight but I cast spells today


Step back y'all and roll the dice
The way they did in seventy fo'
Don't need no lists of skills and feats
Just play the game, let imagination flow

East Austin Represent, Yo!

WHO SAYS there's no Bards in Original Edition!

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Perfect Campaign

For those of you who just dropped in from RPGBN or other quality places, there's no doubt you've already read the news about WoTC's move to pull all WoTC-related PDFs from the various download sites such as Drive-Thru RPG and Paizo...and you probably also have heard the sad news concerning the ailing Dave Arneson. The fact that the former event has had the poor taste to concur with the latter event only makes both seem worse.

Therefore I will not try to contribute any furhter commentary on either. To quote that song by REM, "Let's try and find a happy game to play."

So, how about a campaign that lasts a long time? Yeah, I suppose we'd all like something like that, so I'm not really bringing any new suggestions to the table here. I've been playing on-and-off for a little over ten years and have yet to get a character past 5th level, not because she gets killed or retires, but because the campaign just fizzles out. Sometimes it's because one or more players leaves the group, or maybe the GM just gets bored. It's hard to say, but it just happens. And it has happened so often that I actually have a sense of dread for my poor character who has just reached 5th level. Rather the same sense of dread one feels when the 3-year bumper-to-bumper warranty has just run out and there's a strange new noise coming from the transmission. But what makes this so funny is that in all honesty I really do not care so much about gaining levels as I care about gaining experience. And when I say experience I'm not talking about XP either. I mean real campaign-setting worldly adventuring experience of the kind that turn ordinary game sessions into memorable stories and perhaps legends.

So how about a campaign where more XP is needed to gain levels? Or maybe let XP only count half? Yeah sure it would make the game take twice as long, but think of the extra time spent as opportunity for character development and growth. If I had my way in that regard, the game referee would not need to spend near so much time coming up with "epic" level encounters to challenge the player characters. Of course after a while, players might get bored with fighting the same level of creatures, so it would be up to the referee to find new ways to make the gaining of XP more challenging without pouring on more creatures or badder creatures. Players who like "kobold bashing" or "grinding" probably would not enjoy playing in my Perfect Campaign.

So, how about lots of new traps, monsters never before encountered in anybody's 'manuals", and maybe some new and imaginative cursed items to place in the path of ambitious PCs? Okay, so there would be players grumbling about "killer referees" spoiling the game for them. So maybe the ref should find other ways to challenge the players besides with deadly combat. Maybe the players could face other challenges that involve non-combat abilities. Maybe these could even help earn XP for the players if they succeed. We could call them "skill challenges"...........or maybe not!

So how about skills? Yeah okay I can see a few of you fellow old-schoolers rolling your eyes at me for such heresy. But seriously, there comes a time in a well-developed character's career that he or she has scaled enough walls, picked enough locks, or practiced his lute enough that he deserves a small bonus whether his chosen class dictates so or not. Now I know there are folks that play versions of The Game in which skills are bought with XP..and that's fine, but so much can be said for the personal satisfaction of having earned a skill through practice and mastery rather than having paid for it via a game mechanism. And maybe the character does not even know when he's actually achieved mastery of a new skill. Maybe it's the ref's little secret and the player is left to figure out that lately something has gotten a little bit easier to do.

So how about a sort of character sheet for the ref? Now I see you new-schooler folks rolling your eyes at me (all theee of you) and wondering why in heck anybody would spend so much time developing a character just to give control of that character over to the referee. Of course the player gets to keep a character sheet. I don't want the ref having to do all the work, but there are certain things about one's self that most people do not know. Remember the first time you ever successfully hit a baseball? Did you know your batting average at the time? Okay, so sports metaphors might be lost on a few of us, since we gamers don't like to venture out of our social stereotypes for fear of being penalized as 'multiclass', but you get the point, right? To quote Han Solo (perhaps a more familiar icon to us), "Never tell me the odds."

And that, my friends, would be The Perfect Campaign. It might be winter of 2025 before poor Janara the *cough* Fighting-Man has her own Barony, but dangit, the getting-there would make for one helluva saga.

So in closing..tomorrow is game-night once again after a three-weeks layoff. Perhaps a Level Drain spell awaits?

Also, remember Dave Arneson and his family in your prayers or meditations. Like others have said more eloquently than I can, his contributions to our hobby are great and he deserves to be memorialized with the perpetuation of the game he helped create.

Fight on!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"More money than sense" -- Carousing Mishaps from Fight On magazine #4

For those of you not yet "in the know", Fight On! magazine is a quarterly fan-zine "for fantasy role playing campaigns played with pencil, paper, and your imagination". Each issue so far has been packed with campaign ideas, dungeons, character and class ideas, randomization tables and lots of artwork..the latest issue being no exception. it says in my blog's little credo in the margins, I don't pretend to be any sort of authority on the history of RPGs or have some deep insight into how the game has changed. Heck, I freely admit that I still haven't committted to memory the timeline of the evolution of The Game We Love from the little brown books to present...and I also stated quite recently and truthfully that THACO does my head in. I've never lunched with Gary Gygax, killed a purple worm, or even made it past fifth level.

BUT I know what I like in a game or game setting. I enjoy random and often stupid fun, whether it be at the expense of myself or some other poor player character. Leave it to Jeff Reints to come up with a random table for players who wish to spend their looted gold out on the town in order to build their reputations (and in theory gain a few experience points in doing so). The complete article can be found in Fight On! #4, so I won't spoil it for you, but I will provide a quick example of how it works.

Let us suppose that you, the Esteemed Reader, are a human barbarian named Gorn The Crusher*. Let us suppose that you have just survived a fortnight in The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin and want to spend all your hardly-earned gold on whiskey, whores and Texas Hold-'em..and maybe just waste the rest. Let us also suppose that a few hundred XP is all that stands between you and the power and glory that is fourth level.

First, roll a d6 to see how many hundred gold pieces you spend. This also tells you how many hundreds of points of XP you will gain through increased reputation IF you survive the night.

Much to real-life, tying a drunk-on in a larger city affords you the chance to double or triple your chance to earn reputation as well as empty your pockets.

And also true to real-life, if your character "can't hold his poison", then you better be ready for the worst....and of course "the worst" is defined by a random dice table.

So...our imaginary Gorn goes into town and spends 300 gold pieces .... but fails his saving throw against poison. "Shouldda stuck to wine coolers, aye?".

What happens next?

"13 - Target of lewd advances turns out to be a witch. Save versus polymorph or you're literally a swine."

Mind you there are also some good things that can happen to you too...but you'd likely have to hear about it second-hand because you can't remember a bloody thing after that last tankard of orcish mushroom elixer.

But who're now 4th level... even if you ARE a pig.

The entire Carousing Mishaps table is just as entertaining, and can make for some fun role playing opportunities in the hands of an imaginative game referee. This and other great articles are all in Fight On! #4. You might also enjoy the Dungeon Home Remedies article and the random table of Magical Weapon Drawbacks.

Get Fight On! #4 in printed format and help it reach first place in the Lulu monthly top-author contest. Right now the editor, under the name Ignatius Umlaut, is firmly ensconced at #2. Seeing pen-and-paper RPG stuff in the limelight makes me think we're maybe doing something good around here. :D

* Any relation to player-characters living, dead, undead, or otherwise is purely intentional.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Descending Armor Class ....Does ANYBODY still use it?

In my ongoing education toward becoming a game master (dungeon master, referee, labyrinth lord or whichever you prefer), I've been reading my Swords & Wizardry Core Rules book from front to back to be sure I'm not confusing my recollection of the rules I am going to use with tidbits from any of the other RPG systems I've played.

Then I got to the part about Armor Class and how to use ascending and descending AC charts in combat...and felt compelled to thank my lucky stars that our group has always chosen ascending AC whenever we have been offered the choice.

Okay..a quick refresher course in old-school weirdness for those of you who are late coming to the party and can't remember back to the times before there were Feats and when Half-Orcs were only allowed to be monsters.

For some odd reason, back in the early days of The Game We All Know, it seemed like a good idea to let the lack of armour be represented by 9, and the very best magical protection to be represented by a -9.

Uh-huh... less is more.... makes sense to me.

So in the beginning when there was combat, and you were a first level Fighting Person,and you wanted to attack an orc with an AC of 6, you consulted a table and saw that you needed to roll a 13.

Then along came THACO. (That's "To Hit Armor Class 0") in the 2nd edition of The Game We All Know, and suddenly each character had their own special "to hit" number based on what type of character they were and how large their group was. Of course there were tables provided to find your THACO number. Then, when facing an orc with AC 6, all you had to do was take your THACO number and subtract the orc's AC from it to know what you had to roll. This was ..and I'm quoting here.. "speed the play of combat greatly"

Ummm.. oookay... so I subtract... unless of course the orc is armoured like a tank with which case I add...right? Math is haaaard. I'm just a girrrrrrl!

Then somewhere around the end of the last century, some lazy person like myself got the bright idea to flip-flop the AC so that it goes up instead of down as you add on armour, and then to give your character a "Base Attack Bonus" instead of making you consult another table. I mean seriously... if we wanted to consult charts and tables all night long, we'd be playing Bosses & Board Rooms.

Well...getting back to the here and now..and closer to my elusive point...I was reading through S&W Core Rules and came across the bit about ascending and descending...and how you can either use the table as it was intended OR if you choose to use ascending AC, a simple formula..which I will quote.
"Here’s how it’s done: each character class gains
a base “to-hit” bonus as their levels increase. Add this
bonus to your attack roll, and if the result is equal to or
greater than the opponent’s AC, the attack hits."
And somewhere, some poor schmuck is going NOW WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT!

Now I normally consider myself to be just weird enough that I can actually find the bizarre logic behind just about anything, no matter how silly..but this one has me stumped. Perhaps descending AC is legacy rules from some old mothbally tactical historical game that TSR wrote back when TSR used to write such things..or maybe somebody wanted to make the math unnecessarily complicated so that non-nerds would shrink back in fear upon encountering such esoteric arithmatic.

But far be it from me to pontificate about which method of AC numbering is "right" and which isn't. I certainly don't mean to say anybody out there needs to change if they prefer the descending method...but I am genuninely curious as to why.


And for what it's worth, in the two years I played 2nd edition The Game, I NEVER was able to totally wrap my head around THACO. I'd just grin stupidly and allow the DM to tell me how badly I flubbed the attack and to which corner of the room my sword flew from my hand.

Friday, March 13, 2009

You want me to run a game? Are you NUTS?

As some of you may know already, my husband has been playing various RPGs for almost as long as I've been on this Earth, and is, at least in my opinion, pretty good at it. When he's not running our group's games, we have a second referee who I will hereafter refer to as Unglef, who has taken us through some pretty imaginative homebrewed adventures of his own. Being that I have as much fun as I do playing in the styles of games that both of them like to run, I have long wanted to try my own skills behind the game screen.

About two years ago, I finally got up the courage to start an online forum play-by-post game, and was thrilled to find four eager players. The adventure was one I had played in before, and was very well composed and seemingly dummyproof. I spent about two weeks getting together player handouts (html files, actually) and drawing up maps and other stuff, and the game got off to a fabulous start... but as unluck would have it, two of my players almost immediately dropped from sight, and I didn't have the heart to spend another month wrangling replacements.

That was two years ago though..and that was third edition. Since then, I've discovered retro-RPGs and am fortunate once again to have a few face-to-face friends who work reasonably regular schedules and who are eager to get a game in at the drop of a hat.

So I'm going to give it a try again. This time I'm picking a small low-level adventure from IridiaZine, an online weekly fanzine which features content on all sorts of RPGs both current and out-of-print. The adventure is called "The Abandoned Shrine of Weyoun the Wanderer" and at first read-through looks like it will suit our group's style just fine. I'm hoping that a face-to-face session will, unlike PbP, move fluidly and keep the PCs focused.

But there's one problem... and that is ME!

The guys in my group aren't nOObs. They're not powergamers either, but they know their stuff far better than I do. They know the tables and charts by heart and NOTHING gest past those guys. So I'm doing my homework, folks. I've downloaded OpenOffice so I can make use of the numerous spreadsheet game-aides available (Thnx, Chgowiz) and am reading through S&W Core Rules, adapting encounter stats appropriately, making game notes, and crossing my fingers I don't come off looking like a complete pea-wit.

I'm giving myself two weeks.

And I promise I will blog all about it... come what may. If nothing else, you all are in for some good old fashioned low comedy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Swords & Wizardry Core Rules-2nd Printing now available!

The post below is "straight from the horse's mouth"

Press Release
Swords & Wizardry Project
mythmere at yahoo dot com

I’m very proud to announce that the second printing of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules is now available for free download here: Free PDF of Core Rules and that print versions are for sale (and super-cheap) at at our storefront

Swords & Wizardry is an OGL “retro-clone” of the original fantasy roleplaying game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The Core Rules also contain some selected material from the supplements (1974-1978). With a thriving internet community and tons of support products, Swords & Wizardry is bringing back a lost style of fantasy roleplaying. Forget huge rulebooks - just play. If you can imagine it, you can do it in Swords & Wizardry. The rules are simple and quick to learn, and they are infinitely flexible and expandable. Take the basic framework and “Imagine the hell out of it!”

Swords & Wizardry is supported by Knockspell Magazine, the quarterly magazine of fantasy retro-clone gaming, and by the active forums at
We downloaded the free PDF today, even though we already have the older version (as many of my wisest readers do also)..and the new artwork is astounding. Some needed corrections and clarifications have been added as well as a little new as-yet-unseen material. If you've not updated yet, you should..and if you've not gotten ANY of the previous S&W products, you REALLY need to check this game out. It's just that good.

A fun blog-quiz for roleplayers

This one got sent to me years ago on LiveJournal..and is lots of fun, especially if you play a wide range of characters in a wide range of RPG systems.


Name 10 characters you have played in RPGs, before looking at the questions that follow. List your characters numbered 1 to 10, including the name of the RPG you played them in and maybe character class/race if applicable. Once you've picked your 10 characters, look at the questions and answer accordingly. (No peeking until you've picked your characters!)

.... peeking unless you've made your list already.


Who would make a better professor, 6 or 1?

Do you think 2 is hot?

2 sends 8 on a mission. What is it and does it succeed?

What is (or woudl be) 9's favourite book?

Would it make more sense for #4 ) to swear fealty to #6, or the other way around?

For some reason #5 is looking for a roommate. Should they share a studio apartment with #9 or #10?

#2 #7 and #3 have dinner together. Where do they go and what do they discuss?

#3 challenges #10 to a duel. What happens?

If #1 stole #9's most precious possession, how would they get it back?

Suggest a title for a story in which both #10 and #4 attain what they most desire.

What kind of plot device would you use if you wanted #1 and #3 to work together?

If #7 visited you for the weekend, how would you get along?

If you could command #1 to perform any task for you, what would it be?

Does anyone on your friends list resemble #5 (either in appearance or personality)?

If #2 had to choose sides between #4 and #5, who would it be?

What might #10 shout while charging into battle?

If you chose a song to represent #8 what song would it be?

#1 , #6 and #7 are having dim sum at a Chinese restaurant. There is only one scallion pancake left, and they all reach for it at the same time. Who gets to eat it?

What might be a good pick-up line for #2 to use on #10?

What would #5 ) most likely be arrested for?

What is #6's secret?

If #8 and #9 were racing to a destination, who would get there first?

If you had to walk home through a bad neighborhood late at night, would you feel safer in the company of #1 or #10?

#7 and #9 reluctantly team up to save the world from the threat posed by #4's sinister secret organization. #6 volunteers to help them, but it is later discovered that he/she is actually a spy for #4. Meanwhile, #4 has kidnapped #9 in an attempt to force their surrender. Following the wise advice of # 5, they seek out #3, who gives them what they need to complete their quest. What title would you give this story?


I'll likely post my own results up in a few days or so ... giving myself a chance to forget the questions so it doesn't skew how I order my list.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

More fun in the "City Stake of the Unvisible Ogre-Lord"

A few posts back I mentioned that our regular gaming group had begun a new adventure using Labyrinth Lord and the Wilderlands Of High Fantasy campaign setting. We all thought it might be fun to run an all-thieves campaign set in a city, and the City State Of The Invincible Overlord seemed like as good a place as any to find trouble.

First, a bit of additional character background. Gund is a rather gruff and mistrusting fella, even by Dwarf standards. But he's the voice of common sense in our group and therefore is sort of the leader..kind of like Moe of the Three Stooges...nyak-nyak-nyak!

Then there's Leif the mage and his watch-doggie Mylo. We do not yet know much about Leif except that he fancies himself to be a good-looking gent and a real ladies' man. He's right smart..but kind of unpredictable. I have no idea why he bought a guard dog, because then there's that ever-present problem of "Where's Mylo" whenever we are in a no-dogs-allowed tavern or worse yet, when we're trying to sneak in or out of a place.

Then there's Burzug, who prefers to be called simply "Zug". She's darn nimble, fairly strong and even somewhat clever... and wise... and has a decent constitution. Suffice to say Charisma is her dump stat, so she's got what you might call a face only an orc-mommy could love. She's not much for conversation either, and according to later more "rulesy" versions of Our Favourite Roleplay Game, would not be very good at intimidation either. Lucky for her she don't care too much for following the rules.

Finally, we have our newcomer, who calls himself Larry. He joined the plot already in progress, which as we all know can make for some interesting retro-continuity fixing or at the very least some awkward introductions. Larry is played by my good buddy Chris, who also plays with us under the name "Gavin the Archer".

So we're in a tavern right where we left off, and Gund has gone nosing over to another table to drop eaves on a couple of men in military dress who are revealing a bit more information about a plot-hook concerning a stolen horse. While Gund and the NPCs are chatting, poor Larry (Chris) is sitting at our table (on my sofa) casting odd glances at the robed human and the cloaked half-orc (looking at me and Shane with a bemused and confused look on his face as he oft does).

"Whoozat?", Zug asks the mage, hooking a thumb toward the non-conversant newcomer.

Then for the next ten minutes while Gund is entertained by the game referee, Zug and Leif argue back and forth over exactly how long "Quiet Larry" has been with the group. Zug begins to think that perhaps she has spent a bit more time passed-out-drunk than she had originally calculated. And then Gund returns to the group.

"Who be you?", he asks the newcomer, who promptly introduces himself as Larry. Then follows another ten minutes of trying to figure out whether Larry is one of Leif's old friends or just some nutty guy who has took it upon himself to do a bit of social networking at the tavern beginning with our table.

Eventually, however, we get around to the "truth" that Larry is also a thief..and he proves so by pinching the napkin from the dwarf's lap undetected. Now, far be it from me to further any racial stereotypes here, but a napkin?... from a dwarf's lap? get the picture too.

Surprisingly mostly of all to himself, he succeeds in doing so..and whether it be Larry's strange wit, the house mead, or the need to move things along in the game, we agree to let him join our little group, at which point Gund relates to us all that the men in military dress told him about the stolen horse, the other valuables that were also taken, and then speculates upon the possibility of a reward or at least something worthwhile for our troubles.

Fast-forward to a few hours later... well after dark...and our band of thieves..and don't forget Mylo.. are investigating the stables from which the horse was stolen. A city guardsman approaches the group and asks what it is they are looking for here at such a late hour. Larry, being the self-appointed spokesperson for the four, says "We're looking for beaver cheese!" *

*Beaver cheese is apparently one of the items on the menu at one of the City's more low-brow dining establishments according to the game-master's guide....a tidbit of local information that our game ref felt he had to share with us lest the adventurers never find that particular eatery on their own

Larry did eventually recover from a swift clubbing to his manhood by the guardsman, but maybe has learned how to better respect (or pretend to respect) the local authorities.

So, after the appropriate bribes are given, the guardsman reveals new vital information on the possible whereabouts of the horse thief we are seeking. The next problem is how to get out of the walled City in the middle of the night while the gates are all still closed. The laws don't look kindly on folks scaling the City walls, but the trail won't stay hot forever. The group hatches a plan to use one of Leif's Sleep spells to thoroughly neutralize a particularly slackish patrol and then make their escape.

"Where's Mylo?", Gund asks as the four prepare to climb over and out.

"Guess you gonna carry him?", Zug interjects, doubtful dogs can scale such walls.

Strangely enough, you can actually get a live guard dog into a backpack. Whether he decides to bark about it is entirely up to fate though. Fortunately fate was kind, and the dog behaved.. at least for that moment.

Well...they caught up to the horse thief in an outlying village. The group had found what they suspected to be his hideout and tried to sneak closer... but the dog started barking..and next thing they know one of the horse-thief's henchmen is staring us down and asking who we are.

So..what does a hafforc girl with a Charisma of 6 do?

"I'm with him", says Zug, pointing at Leif.

Meanwhile Gund thwacks the henchman upside the head with his quarterstaff and lays him out cold like a mackerel.

Not exactly what you'd call high strategy..but if you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, then you baffle 'em with bullstuff.

In the end, we were able to capture the horse thief and return the stolen goods (well..most of the stolen goods) to the righttul owners for a decent reward. Gund, under the assumed name of Barry, explained how it all happened to the city guards..conveniently forgetting to mention the sneaking-over-the-walls part or the part where they found a huge stash of stolen gold in the thief's hideout.

And what about the dog?

Poor Mylo tried to be a good war dog, but in the end gave his life to save the life of his master. Leif is now thinking of taking his share of the liberated gold and buying a more practical animal for his particular specialized line of work.. something like a trained weasel or ferret.

The group has survived another night in the City... but there are as yet hundreds of new beginnings to new adventures out there in the sandbox waiting. I'll be tagging this and all future related gameblogs with "Invincible Overlord". Hopefully we'll be playing that campaign on a more regular basis soon, as I am really enjoying the group dynamics of this one.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Song of Blades and Heroes - tabletop fantasy miniature skirmish game review

My husband is a self-proclaimed game collector, and a few nights ago he came across this gem of a fantasy tabletop game while surfing around Drive-Thru RPG looking for some new and exciting way to spend our tiny gaming budget. Being married to a self-proclaimed game collector, I am usually the one who gets to be his crash-test-dummy as he tries out the various games he has picked up through the years.... and having suffered not-very-quietly through some fairly boring evenings of pushing little metal men around on a grass mat while trying to figure out if it was still my turn or looking over a page full of stats trying to see if my leader failed his morale check... *yawn*.... you can trust me when I say this game is the best five bucks we've spent in a long long time.

After one session of play last night, here is what I find so exciting about SBH.

The only rules governing how you build your army are 1) the amount of points-cost-total that you and your opponent agree upon and 2) no more than 1/3 of your total army point cost can be spent on "personality" models such as leaders, special monsters or heroes. Also there is a huge list of characters to pick from and even more in other system suppliments.

The turns are not I-go-you-go, nor is initiative decided by drawing random markers from a bag. Each model has a "quality" number between 1 and 6. High numbers are better. Both players roll a d6 to see who goes first..then the one with initiative can choose to roll between one and three d6s to activate the model of his/her choice. Matching or beating the model's quality number allows the model a single action for each successful die rolled. Rolling two failing dice means the initiative goes to the other player on the next turn. Therefore there is a degree of risk in trying to take multiple actions with a single model. Making and predicting strategy is much more difficult, but then again, this IS a skirmish game, not Waterloo.

After several failed attempts to win in combat against a stubborn door, the goblin sneak succeeds in smashing down the recalcitrant barrier and finding the rope bridge.

Hit Points
There ARE NO hit points. You either get killed, pushed back, or knocked down, but you CAN get back up again (like the Chumbawumba song says) if you get the initiative and can roll a successful activation. Having no fiddly wound markers to keep up with lets you focus more on playing and less on tracking all your models' hit points.

You don't have to play on grid or hex paper or worry needlessly with how to measure movement around a corner. There is a simple movement measuring tool that works for all models in the game, and only one straight-line movement may be taker per model action. While this may seem to slow down play in a dungeon setting, the simplification is worth the slowdown.

The skeletons begin crossing the bridge after their archers fail to remove the green menace from the cavern on the other side of the chasm.

Other Stuff
I've not personally read through the rulebook yet. But my husband tells me there are charts for filling in all sorts of dungeon essentials such as treaures and traps; and that there are campaign rules that let my models become MORE heroic as they survive more battles.

Fast, Fun, Dummyproof
Our game took a little more than an hour to play, much more due to the mazelike nature of our cavern labyrinth than anything game-mechanics related. I had ten goblinoid models. He had ten (IIRC) assorted undead types. All the model data I needed was on one easy-to-comprehend player sheet, and I only needed my three d6s and my movement-measurer to play. After just a few turns I had the hang of how initiative works and how combat resolves, and after that, it was almost like roleplaying...complete with teasing, taunting, and obnoxious warcries from the ubiquitous orcs.

This orc bravely attempts to slay the recumbent wraith hero, only to later end up himself in orc-heaven while his surviving victorious compatriots drink to his memory and squabble over his gear.

The Song of Blades and Heroes game, as well as the game system, makes its web-home right here on Blogspot. There you can find links to buy all their PDF downloads as well as links to their Lulu print-on-demand store. If nothing else, you should go there just to check out the fantastic cover artwork.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing if I can somehow find a way to work my orcish horde into the Arthurian or Robin Hood legends. If I do, you'll definitely hear about it here first.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blogspot REPLY issue..and a temporary fix

Many of you have likely experienced difficulties posting replies to other peoples' blogs today. The "Captcha" word verification image never finishes loading.

For those of you who have had an unusual lack of comments on your blogs, but who don't care to dig through the piles of postings on the Blogger Help forum, here's a work-around until the problem is fixed.

The problem only occurs on blogs that have their comments-form embedded below the post, so go to your Dashboard, click the Settings link next to the title of your blog, and then click the "Comments" tab at the top of the Settings page.

Where it says "Comments Form Placement", select either Full Page or Popup Window. I'm personally in favour of full page as some browsers dislike the popups and try to block them.

This is a much safer fix than disabling the Captcha altogether and letting in spammers.

Anyway...I hope to have been of service to somebody....and my sincerest apologies for straying off the usual role-playing and gaming topic.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Announcing my new blog

As those of you who have been following the Ubiquitous Orcs know, my husband Garish (aka Steve) and I have been running a regular Sunday event I call "Paint & Play" down at our local hobby store.

The success of our little venture has gone far past what I was expecting, and I decided it was time we made an official online group bulletin board with an events calendar, announcements and such. A brief flirtatious trial-run on a popular social networking site proved to be rather lacking in versatility and more than a bit of a hassle to update, and then it dawned on me... USE BLOGGER! DUH! Sunday Paint & Play club now has a home here.... or HERE, actually. It's got a calendar, a list of good gamer resources including some of our favourite retro-clone folks, and eventually I'll be putting up photos and highlights of the events there.

As for what's in the future for the P&P club (not to be confused with a pimento and pickle loaf sandwich), we have a painting contest underway and more planned. We are looking ahead to introducing our players to outdoor adventuring and the fundamentals of character roleplaying, and hopefully someday to see Swords & Wizardry and/or some of the other Oe retro-clone products in distributorship at our local game store.

If any of you out there in the bloggersphere decide you'd like to contribute a new original article or post from your own archives that is appropriate for beginner gamers or painters, I'm more than happy to make it possible. Just send me an email spikepage (at) gmail (dot) com

Friday, February 13, 2009

It starts on the playground

I was just reading this article about character origin and the sexes over at Trollsmyth's blog, and was happy to see an entirely new line of thinking on this old and sometimes overdone subject.

The gist of the article is that female roleplayers tend to craft their characters with much more details concerning their relations, home, how they miss home and are seeking a new one, etc. Whereas male players tend to stick with the here-and-now and leave the family tree either minimally filled in, or completely up to the imagination (however sinister) of the gamemaster.

Trollsmyth's theory is that what we all read has much to do with the sorts of characters we play, and his point is quite valid. Ever seen a guy reading a book with a picture of Fabio on the cover? And have you ever met a girl who read Lord Of The Rings who did not want more Aragorn and Arwen and much less Boromir or Gimli?

But I'm going to pile another two cents onto Trollsmyth's thesis and say it starts much earlier. In fact, it begins at playtime.

Boys like to play action games. They play cops-and-robbers, cowboys-and-indians and an entire host of games that involve seeking and destroying monsters. Boys' games usually start out with the choosing of teams. "You be the Sherrif's guys and we'll be the Merry Men" or "Pretend the wood-shed is the O-K Corral and these sticks can be guns." There may be some bickering over who gets to be Robin Hood or Wyatt Earp, but beyond that, nobody cares about why anybody's character feels a certain way toward anybody else or which one had the worst childhood.

Girls do it differently..belive me. "Let's play house." sounds innocent enough, but in the spirit of post-2nd-edition D&D, character generation can take hours and cause much pain and suffering. "Ooooh I wanna be the big sister so we can pretend she has a car and is bossy and has a boyfriend and never does what mommy tells her to do...and you can be the rich Auntie who takes us all to Disneyland.... and somebody else can be the grandmother that's really a bad witch." But of course everybody argues over who gets to be the baby so they can be Mommy's favourite. And naturally, nobody ever says "Let's pretend we're doing our chores after school.". It's much more fun when the plot involves a huge wedding, twins being born, or the discovery that the middle-sister is really adopted and that her real parents are the King and Queen of Spain.

Yeah, it's not a perfect universal truth, and in spite of thinking of myself as the tomboy who liked to upset the applecart by enticing the boys into plotting a pirate raid or vampire invasion of the girl's playhouse because I was bored with being the spinster housekeeper.... I have been guilty of creating a few "shippy" characters in my roleplaying career. ('Shippy' - (adj) - abbreviated form of 'overloaded with sissy-girly relationship-centered rubbish)

Yes, even a half-orc with no recollection of her mother or father at all can fall into this category. She may be motivated to the adventuring life because she is out to prove something to the people who picked on her as a child..or she has become obsessed with finding her birth-mother..or she is embarking on an ambitious quest to outshine the fair-haired human sorceress in the party who she is convinced has caught the eye of the male half-orc NPC.'s true.. all of it..and I suppose I should be ashamed. But the truth is that the game never suffered for it, and it gave the GM something to do..and like our GM says, "One sure way to keep a character alive is to keep the dungeonmaster entertained."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Next Generation

As I mentioned in earlier posts, Garish and I have been doing what I call "Paint-&-Play Sunday" down at Hobbytown to introduce new people to the joy of painting miniatures and then using them in roleplaying games. So far we've had amazing success, attracting a regular audience of young people and their parents, who tell us they're glad to see their kids playing the same kind of game they started out playing back years ago when they were still in school.

These kids' intro to RPG started with a simple Oe-style character data card for one single model. We then let two kids take their models and a few dice and let the models have a fight. The simplicity of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox rules makes keeping up with model stats a bit easier so the kids catch on really fast.

So you can imagine how psyched those kids were the next week when we unpacked our fieldstone dungeon maze...wihch was awarded the official seal of "wicked-awesomeness" by one youngster. Their characters who had been pit-fighting at home all week now got to partner up and clean out a dungeon.

Honestly, it does a soul good to see kids getting so excited over anything that did not involve extreme speed, high sugar, or joining an online guild.

So they came back next week, this time with friends. Of course their characters had experience points now and a few weapon upgrades, and they "totally owned" the dungeon full of kobolds and rat swarms. By now they were coming to understand the concept of levelling up and getting more hit points, and a few of the parents were asking about how to make some of the terrain pieces we had been using.

This past Sunday, some of our kids showed up all ready to go, telling us that they had downloaded and printed both S&W rule sets and two even had found the character sheet download. They had also brought along another new friend who says he "never plays games,but it looks cool" and we put them through a new water-caverns maze (seen below).

A closeup of the water-caverns HirstArts environment with our local club's party defending a passage.

All we need now is cake and ice cream!

These guys did not want to go home they were having so much fun. One kid went so far as to say we "should do birthday parties too".

And that's how to ensure roleplaying has a future. Now we have two families..two generations of roleplayers, enjoying the hobby together. With the economy being what it is, families are glad to discover inexpensive entertainment, and thanks to the vast wealth of older-edition materials out there at places like Dragonsfoot and Judges Guild, they can expand their hobby as far and wide as they wish. And ultimately, imagination can take them everywhere beyond that.

Not so long ago, I posted a "challenge" on the TARGAtalk Yahoo group and TARGA Facebook group for people to introduce our hobby to somebody they've known for a long time but have never gamed with before. This can be a spouse or sweetheart, a co-worker, or even a family member...and that especially includes kids. ...because I believe that children are our future...

Oh good I've got Whittney Houston stuck in my mind.

... teach them well and let them lead the way....

Yeah..let them lead, especially if they've got lots of hit-points or are good at finding traps... and show them all the beauty they possess inside .... and don't forget the ten-foot pole!