Thursday, May 21, 2015

Roman Aqueducts, Hell's Bells

Last month Lisa and I and the rest of her family took an amazing vacation through Barcelona and southern France. It was the first non-working vacation I've taken in a dozen years and there were so many splendid moments that attending an actual Barcelona game (vs. Almeria, league minnows) fell out of the top seven joys of the trip. I'll write some of those moments up eventually.

For now, a moment that came a few days after the Pont du Gard photo above was taken.

We were staying at a hotel inside the old walled city of Carcassonne. For ironic effect, Lisa had brought our copy of Carcassonne along in the luggage, but there were better things to do than play boardgames in the hotel, so the box ended up serving as a postcard'n'art storage unit!

Past midnight, Lisa and I decided to go for a walk all around the old city's inner walls, sometimes climbing up on the outer parapets where the floodlights showed the route. The walk alternated between long periods of silence and isolation dotted with bizarre moments of frenetic activity. Once a celebrating rugby team roared past on their own top-speed circuit of the walls. Later a small forest of birds chirped at full volume, fooled as intense spotlights aimed at the inner wall simulated morning.

Before the rugby team and the birds, in the quiet section when it seemed we were alone, we rounded a corner tower and stepped onto the longest straightaway. There was no one else in sight, only bats flitting overhead, weaving out of the towers under the moon. And then power chords started up in the distance. Da Da Da da-da-da Duh Duh DUH. Repeat. I knew the tune. Couldn't place it for another few steps. We were still hundreds of yards from the source but omg it was Hell's Bells, AC-DC.

Another few dozen steps and it was clear it was a live band. Deep bass thumping down from up high on the walls. Two-thirds of the way down the long straightaway we passed beneath the band's hole in the fortifications. Thirty-five yards up the thick inner wall of Carcassonne, blue and green light swirled out of an arrow-slit, accompanied by the best attempts of a French rock'n'roll band to scream Aussie lyrics.

A couple hundred more steps and we'd rounded the final tower of the straightaway and were back in the muted world of midnight between the walls.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Osprey's New Wings

This isn't a blog with new news. It's an appreciation.

A few years ago Osprey Publishing started publishing miniatures wargames in book form. This probably shouldn't have been a huge surprise, since Osprey's military history line has long been a huge resource for miniatures painters and historical wargame designers. So far my two favorites in the Osprey wargame line are Lion Rampant--Medieval Wargame Rules, by Daniel Mersey, and Andrea Sfiligoi's A Fistful of Kung Fu--Hong Kong Movie Wargame Rules.

The wargame line has notably moved away from the straight historical treatments that Osprey made its name with. Andrea's book, for example, is a skirmish wargame treatment of the territory Feng Shui arranges for roleplaying games. And with the launch of the Osprey Adventures line in 2010, Osprey has a full-fledged documentary fantasy project going, with books on everything from Hercules to Zombies to Werewolves and Ken Hite's The Nazi Occult.

The catalog of about-to-be-published Osprey books is a bit like walking into the history section at the bookstore and finding yourself at a gaming convention. Chris Pramas is about to publish Orc Warfare! Phil Masters is coming out with The Wars of Atlantis. Ken is putting together The Cthulhu Wars.

In a week, two friends have Osprey books coming out that I've already pre-ordered. Ryan Miller has a naval wargame, Fighting Sail: Fleet Actions 1775-1815. And Steve Long is publishing Odin: The Viking Allfather. The artist for Odin, a Spanish woman named a-RuMor, does great stuff, and I'm keen to see Steve's treatment of Odin-through-history and Odin-in-myth.

 


Friday, March 13, 2015

What the world needs now, is another freaking zombie

This newly arrived 13th Age zombie has two inspirations. 

First, I've been reading Jason Sholtis' compilation of The Dungeon Dozen: Random-Tables for Fantasy RPGs. "Reading" may be the wrong word, but I've definitely been picking it up and allowing photons from its pages to slam into my eyeballs. 

Second, I like the way one of the zombies in Cal Moore's Shadows of Eldolan adventure randomly ends up with a pumpkin stuck on its head and keeps on fighting, since hey, what does a zombie care? I started wondering if there was another interesting zombie I could insert into a crowded market-scene, and the mook below is the result. 

My guess is that the coin zombie is a necromancer's attempt to answer the age-old problem affecting most zombie attacks, which is that normal people start running away when zombies attack, and people run faster than zombies. A small expenditure of coins, an enchantment based on mortal greed, and you've got a zombie that magically convinces its targets to stick around and be eaten. 

If your PCs are the type who count every coin, feel free to let them collect coins of various denominations that add up to 1d4 gp per coin zombie after the fight. If innocent bystanders and NPCs ended up getting nabbed by the jackpot or sticking around to pocket coins, subtract a few from the loot. If your PCs are the type to track down every last coin . . . [[insert GM stage-whisper]], curse the coins. They did fall out of a zombie's guts, so they were cursed to begin with.  

Coin Zombie

We’re not sure where you got the idea that treasure falling out of dead monsters was a good thing, but it wasn't from this booby-trapped horror.

2nd level mook [undead]
Initiative: +2

Greedy claw +7 vs. AC—3 damage

C: Lethal jackpot +7 vs. MD (1d3 nearby enemies/bystanders)—3 ongoing psychic damage, and if target moves while taking ongoing psychic damage, it can only move to the jangling pile of coins that fell out of the zombie's crumbling body to cause this attack. 
     GM: If you're feeling merciful, say that a quick action to pocket some of the coins gives a +2 bonus to the save against the ongoing psychic damage. (This GM message brought to you by Jonathan-Didn't-Write-this-Monster.)
     Limited use: 1/battle per coin zombie, when that coin zombie is dropped to 0 hit points.

Headshot: A critical hit against a coin zombie cancels one mook’s lethal jackpot ability that turn, though if the crit eliminates more than one coin zombie, others will still trigger their own lethal jackpots.

AC      17
PD      12                       HP 8 (mook)
MD     16
Mook: Kill one coin zombie mook for every 8 damage you deal to the mob. 

Reaper Bones, broos, and frogfolk

I've been slowly unpacking my first ever box of Reaper Bones miniatures from Kickstarter. It's the Bonesylvania set. 

My first surprise came on day two. I'd pulled out one bag and opened it, taking out a mini or two whenever I needed a mental moment away from typing. I looked in the box for the second bag, pulled it out, and was surprised to find a third bag underneath. Oh! Right. 150+ miniatures, that's a lot. 

The other two pleasant surprises wouldn't have surprised me if I'd kept track of the contents. But all these months/years after backing the Kickstarter, I had no idea there were going to be such wonderful broo miniatures, and just in time for us to be working on the second playtest draft of 13th Age in Glorantha! Goat-headed Chaos monsters are just what I need right now.

So far I've found three excellent broo minis in the bags, they're pictured below next to metal Broo minis painted by my buddy Richard Bark. I think I've found my Champion of Ragnaglar at the left. If there are more broos in the bags, don't tell me. I'll find them soon!



And alongside the broos, we've got frogfolk. So far I've found three of them also, perfect for jumping into the Temples of the Frogfolk issue of the 13th Age Monthly by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan released a couple weeks ago. I love the skull helmet on the guy in the middle.


If you're not sure that frogfolk are your thing, here's a review of the piece from someone who was skeptical and then won over. I appreciate his notes about the article giving just enough information to spark the imagination and then stopping and letting the GM/players take over--that's the balance we're aiming for. As of today, Friday the 13th Age, Temples of the Frogfolk is also on sale at Drive-Thru RPG along with the 13th Age soundtrack and the Shadows of Eldolan 1st level adventure at 13% off. Offer expires Saturday the 14th. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Epic Spell Wars: Creatures of the Game Expansion Duel at Mount Tabletop



No, that's not the actual title of the soon-to-arrive sequel to Epic Spell Wars in the subject line. I don't actually know the title of the expansion yet. That's the kind of detail I'm OK learning as a surprise, and along with most of the card names, it's one of the creative elements Cory Jones adds while he and Cryptozoic are harnessing Nick Edwards' never-risk-an-underdose art.

Nick's art was a big hit on last week's episode of Tabletop. Wil Wheaton and friends (thanks, Boyan!) taunted, cackled, and romped through one Epic Spell Wars battle. It was a hilarious episode and perfectly captured the spirit in which the game is meant to be played.

I don't think we've released much information about Epic Spell Wars II yet, to the extent that this may be the first that some people know it's in the works. In the spirit of the game, here are Eight Fact-Like Factoids about Epic Spell Wars II. Unlike the Fact-Like Facts from Scott Bateman's Disalmanac, more than half of these ESW factoids are true. Five of eight truths, to be precise.

1.      Creatures that roll well for Power will stay around and fight for you again next turn.
2.      Food cards heal you and are even more powerful if you physically spill food or drink on them at the table.
3.      Game mechanics experiments with victory points didn't work out, but those mechanics morphed into a blood point system that add choices by providing a resource that can power up some spells. 
4.      The cardboard Standee included in the box now has gameplay relevance that may change your plans for a turn.
5.      The cardboard Standee in this set flies like a helicopter if you hold it upside-down and spin it real fast.
6.      This is a full stand-alone game, with spell cards and treasures and Dead Wizard cards and all the rest, but it can also be added seamlessly to the existing cards for Epic Epic Spell Wars.
7.      The physical rulebook is supplemented by an audiofile New Rules Summary read by Wil Wheaton in the voice of Krazztar the Blood'o'Mancer.

8.      The game is due out in May!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hillfolk won't wait




I don't think you can go wrong paying $6.95 at the Bundle of Holding to get hold of Robin D. Laws' Hillfolk and diverse series pitches from a weighty proportion of the skilled rpg writers in the world.

But you can go wrong if you wait more than twenty hours to take advantage of the offer. It ends tomorrow.

If you've been following Robin's games from The Dying Earth through Heroquest and Skullduggery, you know he's been on a quest for narrative roleplaying mechanics. Hillfolk is the culmination of the quest. Its expectations aren't like the procedural games I usually design and run, it's focused on stories about who wants what from whom and what the dramatic consequences will be, not who can slay who using which spells. It's certainly been good for my thinking to be involved with the game and its dramatic cousins, so if you've held off from dipping into Hillfolk because it's not the style of game you usually play, now is a good moment to experiment.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hooray for GottaCon!

GottaCon in Victoria, the first weekend of March, is a wonderfully balanced gaming convention I recommend to anyone in the Pacific Northwest.

By balanced, I mean that the convention manages to make roleplaying gamers, miniatures gamers, board gamers, and digital gamers feel that the convention is about them. Throw in a well-thought-out emphasis on diversity and a slate of fun panels and it's a convention I'm headed back to next year.

I said "yes" to attending as a guest before my current March Deadline-March for the 13th Age in Glorantha book became clear to me. I've had to turn down other convention appearances because I need these weekends for work. 

But I've got no regrets about GottaCon other than that Lisa couldn't come along to enjoy the boardgaming and the great room at the Empress. I made new friends, had some great talks with Seattle people I haven't seen much in Seattle, got a demonstration of Ryan Macklin's upcoming Backstory cards, ran a hugely fun session of 13th Age in Glorantha, and for maybe the first time in two years got to play a new boardgame without being the person who already knew the rules. 

The boardgame was King of New York. I'd played the early and final versions of King of Tokyo but wasn't entirely happy with the mechanical disincentives for doing the things that should have been the coolest monster stunts to pull off. I'm thrilled that King of New York fixes my qualms about gameplay in King of Tokyo. King of New York is a great game I'm looking forward to picking up soon. 

I'm not saying much about the 13th Age in Glorantha playtest session because it was the playtest scenario, and we're not talking much about the playtest in public while it's running. But I will mention one of the early scenes, when the character who was the greatest poet in the world wanted to try out his new poem at the toughest tavern in Alda-Chur. Alda-Chur is pretty much a war zone, and it's not the typical fantasy world with taverns everywhere, so the toughest spot in town turned out to be a Storm Bull bonfire where they'd unearthed a hidden cache of Lunar wine. The poet did his best (failing forward quite memorably), the trickster got the snot kicked out of him, and the players who were new to Glorantha (which was to say, nearly all of them) lamented that it would be extremely hard to be a successful poet in a world in which you couldn't write romantic lines about the moonlight (what with the moonlight being Red and Chaotic). 

A few pieces of GottaCon were recorded. I'm not sure yet about the Kickstarter panel Jonathan Tweet and I were on. Judged by how much I learned from the other panelists, Jordan Stratford (of the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency), Joanna Gaskell (of Standard Action), and Kyle Elliott (of too many successful Kickstarters to name), the Kickstarter panel was good. The earlier Creating Hooks 101 panel/workshop was also ton of fun and that recording is already available for your ear buds.