Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Bizarre Gaming-related Dream

This is a dream I had on Sunday morning right before I woke up (i.e., before being awakened by cats). I was teaching a college course on the history of role-playing games. The building reminded me of an older mid-century high school building. Two senior faculty members were observing the class. It was a tough crowd of students, not very engaged and not interacting, perhaps a freshman level course. I was talking about Tékumel at the end of the first class (which I wouldn't plan to discuss on the first day of such a course, but hey, it's a dream) when I was interrupted by a student with a question.

"This is all very interesting, but we can't afford to play any of these games."

I told the class, "Not a problem. There are many great RPG products available for free, even complete games. You can enjoy playing them without spending a dime." This changed the tenor of the class. The mood of the room improved completely and they were alert and engaged to the end.

The class was over just a minute later. As I was leaving the classroom, a turtle and a duck jumped out of the trash can. One of the observers -- who looked very much like John Rhys-Davies -- closed the door slowly behind us, saying "Don't worry, we'll take care of it."

I told you it was bizarre.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Photo-palooza

Grading homework assignments has been keeping me busy the past two weeks. In lieu of something original today, here are some images of interest. Identify them all and win a shiny new No-Prize!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Link: Playing AD&D, then and now

Beedo put up a great post yesterday at Dreams in the Lich House about playing straight out-of-the-book AD&D 1e today. His group's observations about the game are informed by the years of play since 1e and modern retro-clones -- particularly OSRIC -- that have smoothed over many of the bumpy spots. It's worth taking a look at what they discovered, especially with the limited edition 1e reprints on the way. And I love the Gygax quote he found.

Monday, February 13, 2012

GURPS: Conan now available in PDF

You have probably already read the news that Steve Jackson Games is re-releasing the GURPS Conan sourcebook and 4 adventures as PDFs. Perhaps this is a great side-benefit to their licensing for Munchkin Conan, and Mongoose no longer owning the RPG rights.

It's good to have these available again, at least for a short time. The sourcebook is a great starting point for anyone running a Hyborian Age RPG campaign, for use with ZeFRS or any other rules system. The map is as good as those done for Mongoose's Conan RPG. I've never read the adventures, so I'm eager to see them without paying used and rare prices.

Even so, the sourcebook does tend to be L. Sprague de Camp- and pastiche-centric, particularly the story chronology and the bibliography, which was the nature of the Conan Properties license at the time. All the pastiches and re-edited stories were jammed into the timeline as "official". de Camp wrote the sourcebook's introduction. He praises Howard's writing style more here than usual, which is welcome. However, de Camp does include a paragraph of his amateur psychoanalysis concerning issues that have been "deBunked" by Howard scholars in recent years.

It would be great to see the bibliography updated with more recent publications like the Wandering Star/Del Rey series, Mark Finn's excellent Howard biography, and others, and then available on the product webpage.

Check out a preview of the sourcebook PDF here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Zak's GM Questionnaire

I printed the questions and wrote down answers as they occurred to me over the course of a few days. Maybe I'll come back to some later, as they are all worth further exploration.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

My film noir/Red Scare 1950s setting notes for a Call of Cthulhu one-shot, "Atomic Noir". I should redo the layout and post it here.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

I ran the Dragon Age quickstart module during the first week of January.

3. When was the last time you played?

Last Friday night.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

Gothic D&D fantasy mashup of Warhammer Fantasy, Ravenloft, and Hammer Horror movies.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Think about the possible outcomes for whatever things they are doing and planning, and how it will affect later scenes.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

I usually don't [when I am the GM] unless we are taking a break. Sometimes I'll sneak something I can eat quickly, like cookies.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

It can be, especially if I've done many different NPC voices or we've had a big combat to keep track of.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

In our fantasy/steampunk/magical school campaign, my gentleman thief character rescued his apprentice from a deathtrap simulation (for our Death Traps class in school).

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

Not the entire setting. I don't mind, it's all fun. I think making jokes about situations and NPC names is a way to have fun and reduce tension.

10. What do you do with goblins?

In my last long-term campaign (Freeport), we had a half-goblin PC. The player took the lead in realizing the goblin culture of the setting. I also like Pathfinder's goblins.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

The final location in the Freeport campaign was a serpent-people temple on a sunken island based on the Mayan pyramid at Tikal.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

We had quite a few "that's what she said" moments at the Freeport table.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

A friend let me read his hardcover copy of Graham Walmsley's Stealing Cthulhu. Good stuff...I need to get my own copy.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

Someone who's work evokes the ideas behind the setting. The illustrations give the reader a sense of the place, and inspire adventures or at least cool things to include in the game.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

Horror is difficult to do. I'm still working on it.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

It's been quite a while since I ran an published adventure straight though as is. Mostly I mine them for ideas. That Dragon Age module was a lot of fun.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

A well-lit office meeting room, with a large table, comfortable chairs, whiteboards, a projector, sound system... but honestly I like the comfort of my house or those of friends. Or this.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

It took me some time looking over my shelves to make a decision. Ultimately, I went with these two items that were sitting right next to each other: Suppressed Transmission 1 and 2, and 10 Million Ways to Die.

The Suppressed Transmission books are collections of Ken Hite's alternate history columns from Steve Jackson Games' Pyramid Magazine. Each book is stat-free and has a metric ton of inspiring ideas from history usable for any RPG.

At the other end of the spectrum, 10 Million Ways to Die is six pages of universal combat system based on Rolemaster, followed by 100 pages of detailed attack, fumble and critical strike tables with conversions for a dozen different RPGs.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

The classic random-table, DIY ethic of the OSR, combined with the "Yes, but..." shared-narrative-control of indie story games.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

Someone who is understanding that things don't always go as planned; is willing to suspend disbelief; plays well with others, that is, someone who works to include everyone in the fun.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

In some way or another, all my experiences have informed my play styles. I can't think of a specific experience I incorporated directly.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

Customizable plastic miniatures available in bulk using a 3D printer. Design it, print it, done.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

I usually only talk about RPGs with other people who have played. When someone asks about what I do for fun, I mention "gaming", usually explained as "tabletop games, board games, video games", then I wait for the social cues from them if they are interested in knowing more. I want to be a better gaming ambassador. I could probably do better at that.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Conan: Queen of the Black Coast Issue 1 now available

Yesterday I picked up Dark Horse Comics' Conan the Barbarian #1: Queen of the Black Coast Part One and gave it a quick read late last night. This is the first of a planned 24 issue run adapting the events of the story and filling in adventures only hinted at therein.
I can't do any better at describing it than Aaron Duran's review at Newsarama. I wasn't sure what to expect from the creative team of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. I've mentioned before that I know Wood's previous work, and Cloonan was new to me. I wasn't disappointed -- mostly. For two pages near the end, I thought to myself, "Huh? What does that mean?" Overall, however, I think it's off to a good start. I'm eager to see what they do next, particularly "unseen" scenes from the story such as burning the Stygian port of Khemi.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Monster Stock Art & Minis project on Kickstarter

I'm sorry to see the Monster Stand-Ins project at Kickstarter has been cancelled. However, the new project might have a better chance of being funded.
Monster Stock Art & Minis is a library of stock art covering the most common creatures from the 3.5 SRD. Backers can get a PDF of the art designed for printing as paper miniatures, and laminated cardstock miniatures are available at another level. The creators hope to include more SRD monsters depending on the funds pledged.
This project is close to the funding threshold and appears more likely to succeed. Best of luck to the project designers!