Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meet the characters

I know I've been babbling on about my Play-by-post D&D game more than most of you are probably interested in, but hey, I'm still on the honeymoon with it, so you'll have to indulge.

Here's the PCs I've got, in alphabetical order:

1) Lash: a hobgoblin fighter/rogue, whip specialist. A down-on his luck hobgoblin version of Indiana Jones. Fairly steady, except when a get-rich scheme comes to mind, with a brash exterior and control issues. A natural leader.

2) Nixzaliz: human rogue. A young orphan woman who grew up on the mean streets of Zin and is out trying to make her fortune. She's got a bit of a cynical bite and has occasional bouts of extreme luck... both good and bad.

3) Ricardo Murciélago: human swashbuckler. All smooth, all the time. Ricardo can't ever seem to see past the nearest feminine face, and his sowing of wild oats reaches epic proportions. And causes him most of his trouble as well.

4) Scritch: shifter ninja. Rat-like savage assassin and quiet guy; keeps his thoughts to himself.

5) Shautha Voksdottir: Half-orc lady who thinks that maybe she's beautiful (she's not) but is constantly searching for male companionship.

6) Vuukran: Hobgoblin soulknife who served in Xoth-Sarnath's legions and who may have been hit in the head one too many times during combat training.

You can get the full picture of everyone right here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

AWOL Player back

My AWOL player is no longer AWOL, and it looks like we're in business. I've got her character introduced to the rest of the group, Ricardo's already flirting with her like mad, and I've sent some really creepy critters coming up out of the Mist to screw with them.

Fun times!

I actually re-read the entire game thread last night; it's surprisingly a really good read. These characters and their interactions really make it good, though. It's like the perfect storm of gaming awesome.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Demons in the Mist 3

Well, the first "scene" of my Pbp is over. It was a meeting with the patroness of their little adventure, that turned into a wild and crazy chase scene as they found a spy eavesdropping on their meeting. The players all rolled really terribly, which made for a lot of unintentional comedy. One player said that the game resembled every single Robin Hood and Three Musketeers movie ever made; in some ways it seemed to more resemble Robin Hood: Men in Tights. All in all, a highly entertaining kick-off.

I'm one player short; one of them never posted her character and has been AWOL for a few days. I sent her a private message and if I don't hear from her in a day or two, I'll go tap the first alternate to see if he's interested in taking over.

Gardens of the Moon

For what it's worth, I'm finally starting to really get into Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the "Malazan Book of the Fallen" by Steven Erikson. Who may be spelled Stephen or Steven or Erikson or Ericson, but I'm not going to the trouble of checking right now.

I checked it out from the library a long time ago, and about 100 pages in I turned it back in (because it was due) and I was really struggling to get into it. I had had the series recommended to me too many times to give up that easily, though, so I bought a copy and figgered that way I could take my time reading it. Why would I want to read a book that I was struggling so much with in the first place, you might ask. Good question.

I've actually been told by many that it's the weakest book in the series (ironic for a series opener, and unfortunate) and that it improves as it goes on. I'd even been told that Gardens itself improves as you get into it. So I decided that I needed to swallow it like a really big pill and trust that it would improve. Seems like maybe it finally is. I'll write a full review of the book here when I'm completely done. With any luck, that'll be sometime this coming week still.

Friday, October 24, 2008

New logo

You like it? I do!

I started (officially) my Pbp today. I mean, just a few minutes ago, really, so not much to report yet. I do really like the Spirit of the Century rule for chargen that I borrowed; each player writes for his character a small vignette that represents a novel or story that happened in the past; his own pulp adventure novel, if you like. It's not supposed to be long; a couple of paragraphs tops. Kinda like the dust jacket or back cover blurb on a real book.

Then, when everyone's done that, you randomly assign that character to two other players, so that everyone has two players and everyone was picked twice. They in turn write a couple of sentences emeshing their character in a supporting role in the backstory vignette of another character.

This way, every character has a connection to, at a barest minimum if the randomized picking comes up bad, two other characters in the group, more likely three and possibly four. This 1) gives them a reason to work together, because hey! they have in the past and know each other, and 2) have some instant roleplaying hooks to latch onto within the group.

So far, I'm not 100% sure how it's working out, but it was fun to try anyway. I like the process and will probably use it from now on.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book queue

Just recently I made a pit stop by my two local used bookstores that I frequent, and picked up a few. Then, this morning, I decided I'd make a list of books that I own, but haven't yet read (or at least, I haven't read them since I bought them--some of them I've read before, just not as an actual owner of the book.) I included all the new ones I just got, naturally, but I had a few others too. I was surprised how many books it came to.

In no particular order (other than that I'm starting with the book that I'm currently in the middle of) I've got:

Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Aliens vs Predator: Hunter's Planet
Aliens: Rogue
Predator: Big Game
Predator: Cold War
Splinter of the Mind's Eye
Transit to Scorpio
Prisoner of the Horned Helmet
Lords of Destruction
Tooth and Claw
The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Books of the South (actually three Black Company novels consolidated into a single volume)
The Ginger Star
The Hounds of Skaith
The Reavers of Skaith
Warrior of Llarn
Thief of Llarn
The Black Arrow

Also, although it's not on my bookcase, somewhere kicking around in the house I've got a copy of Stan Nicholls Orc: First Blood that I haven't read.

So... I doubt I'll be spending too much time at the library for the next few months. I've got plenty to read already. As you can probably see, that's a fairly wide-ranging selection (well, relatively speaking.) I've got everything from the Classics (The Black Arrow) to formulaic write for hire books (the Predator and Alien titles) to disposible sword & planet hackwork (the Llarn and Scorpio books) to reasonably serious fantasy novels (Locke Lamora and the Malazan titles.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Demons in the Mist 2

I've created a new wiki: to cover the new Pbp I'm going to be running. I've invited everyone who's playing to have membership (and therefore editing rights) but so far only barsoomcore's signed on. Which is OK; barsoomcore and I have a demonstrated 95+% shared brain functionality, so I completely trust any edits he makes, assuming he makes any, to be almost exactly what I wanted to do or even cooler, anyway.

Anyway, check it out. I'm pretty excited about the campaign premise, and naturally, the game is made up of solid Circvs Maximvs A-listers.

Demons in the Mist, by Jango Dall

I've decided to try my hand at running a Pbp game again, mostly because I've been caught up in a strange campaign idea that Rel had with an otherwordly (and toxic) mist that blankets the world at lower altitudes, meaning that only mountain tops are habitable. I actually decided to make super-plateaus, sorta like the tepuis of Venezuela, only sometimes even bigger (I've got two side by side that are nearly the size of Puerto Rico or Jamaica, for example). The mist covers solid ground, but it's incredibly dangerous solid ground, rife with demons and monsters, and the mist itself will kill you.

I also wanted to see what I could do with running a D&D game that didn't feel at all like D&D because it had a bunch of different racial and class choices. So any class with a spellcasting progression was specifically disallowed, while psionics was specifically encouraged in its place. I used a few other house rules too, but I can get to those in a later post.

Mostly, I wanted to post my map. I did a search of "archipelago" in Google image search, and one hit was this picture of the British Isles, but with the sea level raised, giving it a very different coastline. I took that, faded it somewhat and added a bunch of names. I'll include a Gazeteer of those names later, but for now, here's the map.

Also; assume that this is all about half the size of the actual British Isles. You'll probably need to click through to get the full sized image if you want to actually read any of the names.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp

I have a funny relationship with these two men. Not that I know either of them personally (both have been dead for a number of years anyway) but I have a weird relationship nonetheless.

Today, Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp are mostly known for making a hash out of the Conan stories, revising them (badly) and putting them in print in a badly expurgated form, and maintaining that state of affairs for many years until Del Rey recently stepped in and "saved" us by publishing original versions.

However, both were notable science fiction and fantasy writers in their own regard, although both also wrote a number of really derivative works. Lin Carter in particular aped other writers, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs with his Callisto series (like ERB's Mars books), his Green Star series (sorta like ERB's Venus books), his Zanthadon series (very similar to ERB's Pellucidar books), his Mysteries of Mars series (very similar to Leigh Brackett's Mars books), his Prince Zarkon (very similar to Kenneth Robeson's Doc Savage stories)... well, you get the idea. L. Sprague de Camp wasn't above doing it either with his eight book Planet Krishna series (very similar to Barsoom) and his Pusadian Series (marked similarities to Howards Hyborian Age.)

The difference between them is that Lin Carter was probably a less accomplished writer, yet he made up for it with his unabashed, earnest "fanboyism" of his source material, which made his poorly done copies somewhat endearing rather than annoying. L. Sprague de Camp, on the other hand, didn't really seem to understand what made those original works fun in the first place, and had the off-puttingly elitist attitude of "I'm going to get it right!" by "correcting" what he saw as literary absurdities in Howard's and Burroughs' work. His own, then, had a kind of dry lecturing taste to it, with faint hints of self-congratulation lurking in the corners.

That said, I kinda get the concept of being a fundamentally less talented yet enthusiastic fan of something and attempting to recreate it to some extent in your own image. I tend to think that I'm not exactly innovative and imaginative when it comes to generating ideas, but I do have some modest talent for synthesizing various elements, shamelessly borrowed, and putting them together into an attractive repackaging scheme.

So, in that regard, I find I can summon a fair bit of sympathy for L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. In spite of their rather pointedly second-rate "original" fiction. In spite of what they did to the Conan stories for decades. In fact, I wish I could be as successful as they've been, even if their success has turned out to be ephemeral. I'd take ephemeral success in a heartbeat for my own work, frankly.


I've probably blogged about this in the past, but the question came up again and I've been giving it some thought.

Psion questioned, on TheRPGSite, the wisdom of using d20 for a planetary romance game, after finding that his Mars d20 game didn't exactly live up to his expectations. He's been running the genre with Spirit of the Century more recently, and been happier. At the same time, I was convinced to start another Pbp in a slightly unusual D&D-esque mileu. I'm using 3.5 with a few custom parameters. In doing this, though, I grabbed a concept that Rel came up with and is going to be running for his regular group using D&D 4e. So, the question is, why?

The answer comes in several parts, and one of those is quite simple: I'm lazy. I just don't have any interest in playing around with new systems anymore. When I was younger, system experimentation was fun, and I did it on purpose. Now, I'm more than happy to stick with a system that I know well, even if it doesn't do everything I'd like perfectly. Don't underestimate the benefit of system familiarity either; it's nice that I know d20 well enough that I can run it on the fly without much (if any) prior preparation to make sure I know what I'm doing. I also know it well enough that I can run it fairly fast and loose; utilizing the skill system to enable almost anything that you could think of as a player to attempt. Big benefit there.

Another benefit is the modularity of d20. Because of the open gaming license, tons of top notch game designers have tried their hand at d20, making up alternate rules that you can use for all kinds of reasons. Wizards of the Coast themselves put out a book of "official" house rule options called Unearthed Arcana that has a lot of cool options in it. The end result of this is that many of the things that I don't think d20 does well have already been more than adequately patched by someone... in many cases, I have more than one suitable patch to choose from, even. I'm not a huge fan of levels and the massive power discrepancy between low and high level, but if you run a game in a more limited setting, that problem takes care of itself (I rarely start at 1st level, and rarely run higher than 7th or 8th level before wrapping a game up.) And the E6 houserule set "officially" eliminates my level problem. I don't like how there's no AC progression to match To Hit progression, but UA has a houserule to take care of that. Various Action Points, Hero Points, Fate Points, etc. take care of many of my other problems with the system. Incantations and other alternate magic systems give me a magic system I like when the D&D default doesn't please.

A related benefit is the huge library of compatible material. This benefit is very hard to turn away from; I have access to literally thousands of feats, spells, classes, monsters, and everything else to choose from to use. In fact, this reason alone would be sufficient to keep me turning to d20 first, but the others ensure that I really have little interest in any other system most days. d20 may not be the literal "Holy Grail" system that does everything for me exactly the way I want it to, but I've had a really difficult time finding any other system that comes closer, and the other benefits of d20 give it the lead every single time I turn to run.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Not that long ago, I had the opportunity to pick up the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting, a new OGL product from Paizo where they elucidate the details of the setting they invented to house the Pathfinder Adventure Path modules.

I'm a setting fan. I like settings. I don't really use them, per se, but I liberally steal from them. Therefore, even settings like the Forgotten Realms, which I cordially (sometimes) dislike are still of use to me, and settings like Eberron or Iron Kingdoms are goldmines. The Paizo folks, by and large, had impressed me, so I came into this setting book with high expections. As you'll see, they were more or less met, or even exceeded. This is a high quality product that offers something a bit unique to me; a setting that is both iconically D&D and yet very strangely attractive to me.

See; typically I don't like iconic D&D that much. Like I said, I don't like Forgotten Realms. I don't like Greyhawk. I don't like Blackmoor. I don't like Mystara (the Known World.) To me, they feel tired, bland, and even when they were new, they weren't that great. Pathfinder somehow manages to tap into everything that was good about those kinds of settings while simultaneously eliminating the stuff that wasn't. It feels very pulpish and classic fantasy (making obvious nods to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and others) while at the same time very modern.

That said, it wasn't a perfect book. It's pretty… it has a nice Wayne Reynolds cover, nice interior art, it's full color, quality paper, and attractively laid out. It's pricey, though. Cover price is $49.99 and it's got about 265 pages or so. The Eberron or Forgotten Realms books, on the other hand, sold for $39.99 and were at least fifty pages longer. Also, full color, with attractive cover art (also Wayne Reynolds even, in the case of Eberron) and attractively laid out. So right off the bat, I was a bit stung by the price. Indeed, the price probably introduced significant delay in me picking the book up. Once I committed to the plunge, though, I'm glad I bought the book.

It's got five chapters, and almost half the book is made up of Chapter 2: the different countries and regions. Chapter 1 is a little bit on races, cultures, classes and whatnot. Not my favorite type of material, but arguably important to include. I could take it or leave it. I did, however, appreciate the fact that they differentiated (at least in fluff, if not crunch---arguably that's the best way to do it anyway) between many different human cultures.

Chapter 2 is the real meat of the book, though, and I'm going to brush over it with a bit more detail. I can't comment on all the countries/regions, but a few highlights struck me. Absalom, for example, is the cosmopolitan port city where you can have it all if you like urban, intrigue type adventures Fun, decadent place. Cheliax, the "Nazi devil-worshippers" was a very interesting idea. Although described as in decline, I can easily see that nation poised like Germany shortly after the Nazi takeover, soon to be expanding at the expense of its neighbors, and causing all kinds of adventure possibilities in the meantime. Druma, the land of bizarre merchant-cultists make for intriguing and interesting patrons. Hermea, the land of the "eugenics dragon" is interestingly morally ambiguous (that's actually common in this setting… it may not have ditched alignment, or even officially downplayed it as Eberron did, but it's got that real amoral Sword & Sorcery vibe going all through it). Irrisen was another favorite; the ice kindgom of Baba Yaga and her heirs. Katapesh is another amoral merchant society, but much more alien than Absalom. The Mwangi Expanse was one of my favorites, as it is a catch-all for a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughsisms: a combination of Tarzan's Africa and the Land that Time Forgot all at once. I especially liked the gorilla kindgom. It's almost begging to have Opar buried in it somewhere, though. Osirion is this setting's Egypt, and they've decided to give it a kind of 18th century vibe, with the leaders having invited "archeologists" to come and raid their tombs for profit. Qadira is an interesting combination of the more liberal and progressive Islamic caliphates, the Persian Empire, and anything else interesting from the Middle East, with a nice, spooky bit where Asmodeus has caged the an even worse evil in a gigantic fissure in the ground. Ustalav has a nice gothic horror vibe going on; it's like Transylvannia of Stoker turned into a fantasy setting. Varisia is a large frontier region with only regional city-states separated by wilderness. The Worldwound is where demons sprout from the ground, inspiring crusades of varying effectiveness from its neighbors.

In the next chapters, gods and cosmology are discussed (which feels familiar to longtime D&D players, but not exactly the Great Wheel either), organizations like the Red Mantis assassins, the Hellknights (the SS of Cheliax) and the Pathfinder Society (adventurer patrons, mostly). The book finishes up by talking about all kinds of miscellany: a timeline, the Darklands (I guess the Underdark is a trademarked name; this is essentially the same thing), some mechanics (feats, prestige classes, etc.), Languages, trade routes, weather and climate.

The setting is designed to be used, of course, as is, but it's also easily raidable for use in any other setting, or homebrew. Like I said, as a bit of a D&D sceptic, who prefers a different take on fantasy than D&D usually has, I still found much to appreciate in this setting, and frankly, it made me kinda appreciate D&D a lot more. It showed me, if nothing else, that classic fantasy can be done in D&D without the overly intrusive D&Disms that tend to intrude.

As an aside, there are a few minor areas where the few mechanics it has do not exactly match the Pathfinder RPG. Technically this is an OGL product, presumably for use with D&D 3.5, that just happens to also be compatible with the Pathfinder RPG. It's a little less compatible with 4e even if you ignore the mechanics, because it frequently references classes and races that are not part of the 4e package to date, and you have to find a way to work in things like the Dragonborn, for instance. That said, the tieflings and Cheliax seem like a match made in …er… Heaven.

Fluffwise, there's no reason why you couldn't run a 4e game in the Pathfinder Setting with only a little work… either eliminating the dragonborn or finding a place to put them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


After a bit of delay, here's the last settings I meant to cover. Some of them are iffy---not D&D settings at all, but d20 settings that are really meant for slightly different games. But what they hey; this is my last post on the subject, so I figgered I'd go all out.

Freeport: This is one of my favorite d20 settings, although ironically the in print and best Freeport book is system neutral and could be used for any system (there are, in fact, companions designed to "port" the setting into d20, True20, Savage Worlds, and Castles & Crusades, as well as a blog post at publisher Green Ronin that gives some suggestions on using Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying.) That said, the setting is pretty iconically D&D, and obviously so, even though it doesn't have any system. The setting assumptions have elves, halflings, gnomes, dwarves, orcs, goblinoids, etc. and the presence of arcane magic users and clerics who perform their roles exactly as in D&D are inherent setting assumptions.

What I really like about the setting is that it very successfully ported D&D into the Golden Age of piracy. It did away with simplistic notions like alignment, and is pretty gritty, dirty, and yet still very interesting and fun.

Dragonlance: This was licensed and published by Sovereign Press, which is the company of (among others) Margaret Weis, co-creater of the setting in the first place. Decent setting. It always struck me as more appropriate for novels than for gaming; but I could be biased by the terrible earlier modules that were published by TSR back in the day. In any case, the setting has the annoying tendency to "blow up" regularly and get completely rebuilt from scratch. It's got some notable differences from "default" D&D, but bizarrely, rather than being a help, it's a bit of a hindrance in this case, in my opinion. The setting is too D&D to accept these differences with good grace.

Planescape: Maybe I'm cheating a bit by including this one. Technically, it hasn't been published, but in actuality, Planescape was pretty much folded into the core setting (it was also originally built on the core setting back in the day, too) so a number of core books get pretty close to recreating the setting in a 3e milieu anyway. I like it. It's wide open and somewhat crazy, but it pulls that vibe off with panache.

The Wheel of Time: One of the first alt.D&D's built off the d20 engine, the Wheel of Time game is the setting for the Wheel of Time book series, naturally. This is another one that has some interesting things about it, but isn't a good setting to use for gaming. The big story's already being told in the novels, obviously, and the heroes of the novels are the heroes of the story. That makes using the setting difficult. Add to that that the author is, again, "blowing up" the setting and rebuilding it as he goes, and the setting has some things that are worth borrowing, but it isn't a good one to use as is.

Star Wars: Now I'm really far afield, but this is a favorite setting of mine. It's pretty wide open, if you remove your game from the events of the movie somewhat. I like moving it forward a few hundred years in time, but the Knights of the Old Republic video game proved it could be done moving backwards a few thousand years too.

Traveller: Again; a not-D&D setting, and the "T20" book doesn't actually have much setting in it, but it's a fun setting. Another "wide open" one that actually encourages an awful lot of GM creating, and gives you good tools to do so.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fantasy settings continued

Here's the next wave of fantasy settings I'm commenting on. Probably one more post on this topic too.

Dragonstar: Briefly in the early days of Third Edition D&D, Fantasy Flight Games put out this setting, which was essentially "D&D in space." And I don't mean that in the Warhammer 40,000 sense of having "elves" and "orcs" and "dwarves"; I mean that in that it is literally Dungeons & Dragons in space. On spaceships. Casting spells and everything.

Kinda a fun idea; honestly I was never really sure what to do with it, though.

Urban Arcana: This one is a little iffy; technically it's a d20 Modern setting, not a D&D setting, but d20 Modern and D&D are already essentially the same thing to begin with system-wise. This setting was more explicitly D&D in modern times though; it even has drow fer goodness sakes. For my money, I'd rather play this as a kind of Dresden Files meets Buffy meets Shadowrun.

Sovereign Stone: This setting was most notable for 1) being written by Margaret Weis of Dragonlance fame, being illustrated by Larry Elmore (of all kinds of older D&D product cover artwork fame) and having a pretty nifty new magic system to replace the D&D default.

Sadly, other than that, it fell pretty flat. So the elves are samurai and the dwarves are Mongols... that's not original, that's just swapping one tired paradigm for one that's silly. I bought these books on the cheap from an old Wizards of the Coast outlet store in the mall back when they were closing all those stores, otherwise I probably wouldn't have bothered. Other than the magic system, there's not even anything worth borrowing here.

Northwall: Not so much a setting as the seed of one included in FFG's Darkness & Dread book, which is otherwise a book of alternate rules and GMing advice for running a horror fantasy game. Northwall is a chapter near the end that serves as a kind of mini-campaign setting. As a setting itself, it's not that interesting, original, or fleshed out, although it is kinda nice. The book is really more notable for the alternate rules.

Scarred Lands: Famous for getting a monster book out before the Third Edition Monster Manual was on sale, this setting is kinda interesting. The premise is that there was a war between the gods the titans a la Greek mythology; except that instead of happening in the distant past, it just got over with a few decades ago. The world is still scarred from the conflict (hence the setting name) and it's got a bit of a fantasy post-apocalyptic vibe going through it. Sadly, the setting is difficult to encapsulate in a single product; the Gazetteer being the closest thing to an actual setting book. Rather, it trickled out via various products over several years.

It's got some great things to borrow; tons of original monsters, Hallowfaust, d20 "skaven" and more, but it's a little difficult to run coherently on its own, I think. Plus, it's kinda weird, frankly. And not always in a good way. Too many "out there" ideas rather than a few well developed ones lead to a scattershot feeling setting.

Rokugan: Technically introduced as a D&D setting in the Oriental Adventures product, this was also released as a setting book by AEG as well (I have both.) Sadly, although Oriental Adventures was an easy read, I have struggled to get all the way through Rokugan, even thought the setting appeals to me. It's a kind of sorta ancient China, samurai Japan and D&D all rolled into one. The AEG book starts off with a lot of alternate rules, which have been handy for borrowing, no doubt, but which also make the book extremely difficult to read.