How Many Shuffles?

I read an article way back in high school and it mentioned six shuffles of a standard deck of 52 cards for randomization.

However, this video lays out three ways of shuffling, the riffle shuffle, where you take half the deck in each hand an shuffle it together, the overhand stacking method, and just mixing them up on a table.

Seven riffle shuffles is the most efficient, so six isn’t quite there. Surprisingly, the overhand stacking method requires about 10,000 times to randomize the deck. One minute of mixing on the table is required for the last method.

I don’t play a lot of card games, but I do like things randomized so I get fair results.

I’m curious how many shuffles are needed for big decks or cards that come in some games. How many shuffles do they require? They have other videos that go into greater detail, I’ll have to watch those to see if they cover those larger decks.

I’ve played one game of Dungeon Solitaire, which uses a standard deck of cards. I keep getting interrupted every time I try to sit down and play another game. I also have backed the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls, which has awesome art! I can’t wait to get it.

I also backed World Architect Cards, and I have a deck of the GameMaster’s Apprentice cards. While neither one is a stand alone game, it is desirable to have randomized results to minimize duplication.

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TSR Launches Multiverse

The new TSR has launched a website, Multiverse, with a focus on Analog Gaming in a Digital World. I am honored to be among the RPG bloggers asked to participate. How cool is that? I can now tell people that I work* for TSR.

This marks the third branch of the New TSR, the first is now TSR Games, that is taking the place of that magazine we won’t name, and the second is the TSR Podcast Network, so far with three podcasts.

While at Gary Con VIII, I approached +Jayson Elliot to get his autograph, because I was trying to collect all of the signatures of the guests pictured in the program. Jayson was all excited that I asked for his autograph. I mentioned that I would write about it on my blog, and he asked what my blog was called. Then he says, “Oh, I read your blog.” So now I’m the one geeking out. Then he says, “I was hoping to talk to you about something.” WHAT!?

So we find a place to talk and he shows me the in development portion of the site and explains what he is looking for. I can re-post articles from my site, or write original content on Multiverse.

Jayson says, “The two things we won’t do are mainstream comics, and video games. Our focus is Analog Gaming.”

I must say that I have learned some things that have me thinking how to re-structure the presentation of my blog and how I do some things behind the scenes. But that’s a sizable project for another day.

There’s already several articles online and more to be added daily. If there is something cool you’d like to see us discuss, PM me on G+.

*It’s not a formal position with TSR, but close enough, right?

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2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge – A Change Of Pace

I have participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge for the past two years. In 2014 I did the challenge with two blogs, this one, and my genealogy blog. Both were focused on introductory topics. Last year, I just did this blog and focused on building cities in a fantasy setting.

This year, I had not planned to do anything, but while putting together some ideas for a western themed RPG idea and a steam punk themed RPG, I came up with two lists. These are just lists of topics I came up with as an exercise to help me flesh out my ideas. I find making such A to Z lists to be helpful to flesh out one’s ideas. You can use them to broaden the scope of something, or to focus in great detail.

For example, I can make a general A to Z list to make sure I cover topics that really need coverage, if I am making up my own RPG. Similarly, I can use such a list for various things in my own campaign. I can also use the lists to focus on topics that I want to know more about or cover in greater detail, such as an A to Z of iron making prior to the blast furnace, Bessemer, etc, for a western setting.

I have a great many things on my plate, and have not gotten back to these ideas. I present them here as others may find these kernels helpful in their own games.

I enjoyed the challenge of the A to Z blogging challenge, but need to keep on task for the other things I have on my plate. I know that there are those who tune out blogs posting in the A to Z challenge, which I understand. The only thing I don’t like about the A to Z challenge is trying to make time to read the other RPG bloggers who post, let alone blogs for other interests. I don’t rule out a return in future years, but I don’t foresee a return anytime soon.

My western themed A to Z Topics:

A – ANIMALS – from the mundane to the fantastic. Can be from any where in the world.
B – BARRELS – Both dry goods and wet and water and alcohol were packed in barrels from keg sized to barrell sized, to even larger than a standard barrel.
C – COWBOYS – Somebody has to keep track of all the cattle.
D – DANGER – Danger on all sides, the environment, outlaws, etc.
E – ELECTRIC – Electricity – Edison (1870’s forward) & Tesla in 1880’s on.
F – FIRE – Mostly wooden or wood frame buildings could wipe out a town. Hand pump fire engines, bucket brigades, etc. Could be sparked on purpose, by lightning, or accident.
G – GAMBLER – Gambling in all its forms was common in the West. From gambling halls to riverboats to gathered around a campfire.
H – HORSES – The main mode of individual transportation, from being ridden to pulling. Lots of smells, see manure. Animals need good care to last.
I – INDIANS – Far more variation than the single word implies, and the stereotypes of novels, stage, and screen.
J – JUSTICE – From frontier every man and woman for him or herself to lynch mobs to the long arm of the law….
K – KILL – Sometimes the good guys have to kill others. Often killing animals is required to eat or survive danger.
L – LEATHER – Leather for shoes & boots, belts, saddles, bridles, reins, chaps, bags, firehoses, etc.
M – MANURE – Everywhere because of prevalence of horses, mules, and donkeys for transportation, and cattle, sheep and other herd animals
N – NAVIGATION – If not following a known trail, or tracks of the railroad, how do you navigate? See The Big Country, for the way Gregory Peck did it.
O – OUTLAW – Outlaws could move from outlaw to lawmen multiple times in their careers. Many people had multiple professions/occupations in their lifetime.
P – PRESS – Frontier newspapers were often one of the first signs of civilization. Every town of a certain size had their own newspaper. Telegraph (wire) extended the spread of canned news.
Q – QUALITY – Things tended to be built well and to last.
R – RANCHERS – Require lots of land for grazing and lots of water for huge herds of cattle.
S – STORMS – Wind, rain, flood, hail, snow, tornados/cyclones, lightning, etc.
T – TECHNOLOGY – Telegraph & Telephones 1840’s for Telegraph and mid 1870’s for telephones.
U – UNDERTAKER – The one man everyone has to see eventually.
V – VILLAIN – Every story needs a villain, whether it is the local bully, or some grandiose mastermind with an intricate plot.
W – WATER – Water is life. Water access was a big deal for people, animals, farmers, ranchers, etc.
X – X MARKS THE SPOT OF THE LOST MINE. Prospectors, miners, and those seeking the lost mine(s) are a good plot hook.
Y – YELLOW FEVER – Various diseases due to poor sanitation, spoiled food, insect born, and so forth made epidemics common. Diseases that have been tamed with antibiotics and vaccines were still rampant and many children died young. NOTE: Yellow Fever is mosquito born virus in tropical and subtropical areas. Hey – I needed something for Y….
Z – ZING – Bullets and arrows fly past your ear. How many different sounds or words for sounds to you need to describe the action.

My steam punk themed A to Z Topics:

A – AIRSHIPS – Blimps, Balloons, Dirigibles, Zeppelins, etc.
B – BRASS – Blimps – Bandoleers – Balloons
C – CALCULATORS – a la Babbage & Lovelace – Corduroy & Cardigan – Carapace –  CHIMERAS – CIRCUSES – CALLIOPE
D –  DETECTIVES – a la Holmes, Pinkertons, Scotland Yard – DISINTEGRATION/INTEGRATION, Dirigibles – DRILLS –
E – ELECTRICITY – Generators, transmission, Tesla.
F – FARADAY CAGES – Ways to fight electricity in addition to rubber for insulation. This was before synthetic rubber.
G – GADGETS
H – HOLMES (DETECTIVES)
I – INVASION – a la War of the Worlds
J – JOURNALISTS – This is the time period when journalists rose to be a big deal. Think of Stanley searching for Dr. Livingstone.
K – KALEIDOSCOPE – Multi-colored way of viewing the world, or controlling machines or others. KITES – For power, propulsion, or travel.
L – LOST WORLDS – Dinosaurs, Antartica, Hollow Earth, etc.
M – MONSTERS – a la Frankenstein, robots/Clanks, etc.
N – NICKLE PLATED (When there’s no chrome or brass.)
O – OSTENTATIOUS – The villain often has plans that are huge, and often the initial appearance of overwhelming numbers on his side.
P – POWER – Animal, human, water, wind, steam, electricity, exotic
Q – QUALITY – Things are made well and to last.
R – RADIO – How communicate and control things at a distance.
S – STEAM ENGINES –  Wind is still a primary power for ships and mills.
T – TRANSPORTATION – wagons & carriages, ships & boats, trains, submarines (20K Leagues Under the Sea), airships
Telegraph & Telephone
U – UNDYING – Villains might quest for ways to live on in flesh or machine or both.
V – VILLAINS – Without villains/bad guys/etc. what would challenge the players? Vampires?
W – WILD WILD WEST – TV Show & Movie – Crossover with Western RPG.
X – X-RAYS
Y – YARDARM – Either end of the yard of a square-rigged ship.
Z – ZOO – Zoological gardens were quite the thing in this time period. Zeppelins

 

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John Carlson – An Email Interview – 100 Sessions DMing AD&D on Roll20

I play in a weekly AD&D online game on Roll20. I have mentioned this before, most recently a couple of weeks ago when we hit session 100 and two years of play. Our DM, +John Carlson writes the blog, Dwarven Automata. He agreed to an email interview where I picked his brain about running a game on Roll20 for 100 sessions. This is the second interview posted here.

In my last article, about hitting session 100 on Roll20, I got a few responses on G+ that there were some that had lasted as long, and one that was over 200 sessions!

Last night was session 103, and John sent me his answers to my questions. I was flattered that he found it fun and was ready for more questions. I’m not sure what else I might ask, but I find it interesting and helpful to learn how other GM’s handle that role.

Some of my questions were spurred by conversations we have waiting for all the players to join the Hangout, such as the one about Cons.

I have two questions that are now standard questions for all future interviews, about having women players and women GM’s. This was spurred by an interrupted conversation about it with +Satine Phoenix at Gary Con VIII. I am hopeful that she will soon have time to respond to my questions for an email interview. I am interested in continuing that conversation.

What was your start in gaming?

My first experience with role-playing games happened when I was around nine or ten years old (in the mid-1980s). It was during school – perhaps a half-day – and the teacher said that when we finished our work we could talk quietly. There was this kid, Scott, who sat behind me and he asked if I wanted to play a game about adventures with magic and dragons he learned from his older brother. It sounded good, so he made some paper chits with numbers and had me create a quick character (probably a fighter).

It was a very short game. My character started on some foggy moor outside a village and soon ran across a terrible creature with greenish skin that kept coming no matter how many times I hit it – its wounds simply knit back together. While Scott kept reminding me I had a lantern, which seemed to me like an odd detail to fixate on while being clawed to death by an unstoppable monster, I had my character run for the hills. Not being nearly fast enough to escape, my character climbed a tree and hoped for the best. Scott continued to mention that lantern throughout all this, which was getting really annoying. Eventually, the creature found me and tore me to pieces.

I don’t remember if Scott explained what a troll was or why the lantern was important, but it didn’t matter. Even with that character’s brief and tragic experience, I was hooked on the concept of role-playing games in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Shortly after that, I picked up the full set of first edition AD&D books and convinced my friends to play the game with me as Dungeon Master. Our group occasionally grew to ten or twelve players (including Scott), but the core of it consisted of four and I was almost always the DM from day one.

When did you first DM?

That’s pretty much answered above – sometime around nine or ten years old in the mid-1980s using the first edition AD&D rules (as interpreted by a kid that age with no background in RPGs). All things considered, I did a decent job from the little I can remember. I was pretty quick at eye-balling a situation and assigning probabilities to outcomes, had a decent recall of the rules, and knew instinctively that making fair judgments and keeping things moving was more important than being 100% correct.

Our group transitioned pretty seamlessly into second edition AD&D when that was released and played consistently through eleventh grade with a short break occasioned by hormones and the desire to “be cool” in eighth grade. There was another member of our core gaming group who tried to DM – a smart fellow who ended up going to Harvard and becoming a lawyer – but he was a bit of a rail-roader and the other players took great delight in running his campaigns off the tracks. In contrast to that, my trick was to roll with whatever the players did and make it look like I had anticipated their choices from day one by weaving the consequences of their actions into what was planned ahead of time.

What other RPG’s have you played?

I have played surprisingly few RPGs that are not Dungeons & Dragons. A member of our gaming group in high school tried to get us into the Marvel RPG, but no one else was really interested in the superhero genre (or comic books, for that matter; we were oddly focused nerds). At some point in the 80s, I picked up the MERP core rules because of my love for Tolkien, but that went nowhere because of the overly convoluted tables for resolving combat.

More recently, I tried Metamorphosis Alpha in the game you ran on Roll20. Besides that, my knowledge of other systems is mostly theoretical from reading rulebooks – probably the non-D&D system I would be most interested in running is Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number, although that has a lot of similarities to basic D&D underneath the hood and perhaps shouldn’t count as a fundamentally different system.

Do you still play regularly? If so, what RPGs do you play? Do you play online, like with Roll20?

At the end of high school the pressure of college admissions (I went to a very competitive high school) brought an end to our gaming group and I stayed away from RPGs for the next ten years. I went to college, married a wonderful woman, had some kids, and started graduate school to study medieval English literature (an academic interest that grew out of my earlier fascination with Tolkien). I thought about joining a college gaming group, but didn’t have much free time. Or at least that’s what I told myself – looking back, I did find time for a lot of single-player CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape, etc., so perhaps it was a bit of academic snobbery and the need to keep up appearances as a serious scholar.

Fortunately, my wife was a casual gamer (tabletop and video) – she had actually tried playing with a group at our undergraduate college before we met, but did not have a good experience – and eventually got me playing D&D again. She moved with me for graduate school and took a job as a public middle school teacher for gifted students. When I picked up the third edition D&D books to check out the new system, she suggested I run an afterschool group for her students. I did that for several years before earning my PhD and getting a job in academic publishing.

Unfortunately, my job in publishing led to a pretty itinerant lifestyle with frequent travel that made running those afterschool games or finding any other in-person group almost impossible. That’s about the time I discovered and backed the Kickstarter for Roll20 (or rather Tabletop Forge, which was combined with Roll20), dug out my first edition books, and started playing and running games in earnest again. After a while, my travel schedule calmed down and I now run an afterschool game at my wife’s school in which my oldest son plays in addition to my online campaign.

Do you do board games and card games, or only RPG’s? 

My whole familywife and three kidsare pretty dedicated gaming nerds and we have a decent collection of board and card games (although we probably all spend more time and money on computer games). We have two full-size bookcases of games including Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Legacy Risk, Small World, Five Tribes, Lords of Waterdeep, various Munchkins, etc. When our schedules aren’t too crazy, we host tabletop gaming parties for some of the neighbors and teachers from my wife’s school.

Do you play any video games? If so, what games? Which is your favorite?

Video games (especially CRPGs and adventure games) were what I occupied myself with during that decade away from tabletop gaming and I have continued playing in the years since – heck, I had a Steam account within a week of the system going live in order to download Half-Life 2. I won’t list all the games I play or have played because that would be an incredibly long and boring inventory (I currently have hundreds of games between my Steam and GOG accounts). My favorites, though, include Planescape: Torment, the Witcher series (especially the third game), The Longest Journey, the single-player KOTOR series, Baldur’s Gate (really all the Infinity Engine games), the Ultima series (especially VII), Tie Fighter, Deus Ex, and the old SSI gold box D&D games. Currently, I’ve been playing a good bit of Darkest Dungeon, Elite: Dangerous, and Euro Trucker 2.

You mentioned that you have never been to a con, after our last session, do you ever think about going now?

I wouldn’t go to a convention for myself, although it might be fun to bring my sons to one. My first reaction when exposed to large crowds is to retreat inward, so those kinds of gatherings are not likely to bring out the best in me. In addition, my preferred gaming style involves a slow burn where events take on significance in retrospect as the campaign progresses – not something one is likely to find in those modules and scenarios suited to quick convention play. Seeing my sons enjoy such an event might make it worth attending one, though.

Are you surprised at the longevity of our weekly game?

It only surprises me in retrospect since week-to-week it just seems natural to show up Wednesday nights and run the game whether its session ten or session ninety. I think there are a number of factors that have helped the game last this long:

  • A core group of dedicated players (both experienced and not) who serve as the institutional memory of the campaign, bringing new players up-to-speed and making sense of the weekly madness in terms of the overall setting. This basic stability has made it possible for the game to survive several changes to the player roster.
  • A sandbox campaign design in which the only plots are those of the party’s enemies and allies that evolve over time and react to the changes the group makes in the game world. This also helps with the changing player roster since no PC is essential and no particular adventure hook needs to be followed or completed for the world to keep turning.
  • A very consistent schedule so that everyone playing knows that every week (excepting maybe one or two DM vacations per year!) we will have a four-hour game session Wednesday night at 8PM EST. My experience with other Roll20 games is that scheduling inconsistency and last minute DM cancellations kill player dedication and foster the attitude that skipping games without good reason or prior notice is fine.
  • A well-organized G+ community for the campaign with player written summaries for every game session and other documents to provide an ongoing record of the party’s triumphs and setbacks. This encourages the players to think about and anticipate the game between sessions.
  • A steady drip of information about the game world and its peculiarities delivered not via exposition or any other info dumps, but through the party’s interaction with the world’s factions, civilizations, and dungeons (i.e., the slow scratching away of the trappings of a generic fantasy setting to find the gooey center of weirdness underneath).

Do you ever get bored or burned out by it?

I don’t get bored or burnt out with my campaigns, although certain combinations of players (especially in my afterschool groups) can be tiring. Of course, specific activities in-game where the results are foregone conclusions can bore me in the moment (e.g., enemies trapped in web being slowly turned into pin cushions by archers); also, I tend to spread out my preparatory work since too much map keying or NPC creation in a single sitting can leave me itchy to move on to something different.

It’s likely that my feelings about the campaign owe something to its sandbox nature – it’s hard to get bored when I don’t know exactly what the players are going to do week-to-week and how those actions are going to impact the evolving plans of my various NPCs and factions. I can say that the idea of walking a group of players down a narrowly defined adventure path sounds like the stuff of nightmares, although I wouldn’t knock anyone who enjoys that style of play. I’m sure that just reflects my own weirdness, much like my complete inability to run a module or campaign setting written by someone else.

Do you play in any other online games on Roll20 or other outlets?

As I mentioned above, there is the Metamorphosis Alpha game that you were running last year on Roll20. In addition, there have been a couple of first edition AD&D campaigns run by other players in our Wednesday game – both first-time Dungeon Mastering efforts that I found particularly enjoyable. The thought that playing in my campaign has inspired others to try their hand at running a game is a flattering one and probably the best compliment possible for a DM. That same element of teaching and inspiration, given that the middle schoolers are almost all first-time players, is probably why I have stuck with the afterschool D&D club for so many years.

There was another fun campaign I played in for over a year on Roll20 – around the same time that our game began – that started with second edition rules and switched over to fifth edition after that ruleset’s release. That game focused more heavily on tactical combat than my own games, but it was nice to broaden my horizons in terms of what is possible with online play. In fact, the implementation of maps with line-of-sight and lighting effects in our campaign stemmed from things I learned playing that game.

Are you in any regular in-person games as a player or DM?

The only regular in-person game I have right now is the after school group for my son and his classmates. That campaign has run for almost two years, with frequent hiatuses to accommodate my work travel and school vacations. It’s quite a different experience from our Wednesday night games even though I am using the same campaign setting and house rules – the impetuousness of inexperienced players ensures strikingly different responses to the same situations when compared to more experienced players who are both cautious and accustomed to the conventions of tabletop gaming. Seeing these kids discover through trial and error the best practices for dungeon delving (i.e. , listen at every door, never split the party, always check the mouths of gift horses for traps) is great fun, as is being their introduction to RPGs and (hopefully) inspiring them to start building their own campaigns.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?

My childhood group didn’t have any women, although that might owe something to the fact that I attended a high school that was all boys. Since then, there have been quite a few women players in my games, but still a definite minority overall. Our own Roll20 campaign had one female players who stayed for ten or fifteen sessions towards the beginning (first-time player whose prior RPG experience was of the MMO kind) and there have also been a dozen or so in my after school club over the years. I suppose it would be fair to count my wife, too, since she played in a game I ran for my sons, so the total is probably just under twenty woman players. In practice, though, I haven’t noticed any real difference in play-styles between men and women so this is not something I bothered to count before.

Have you ever had a woman GM?

I have never been in a group with a woman DM, although there has been at least one female player in my afterschool group who went on to run her own campaign in high school. She was one of those players who you know will run their own game from the first day: a quick study with the rules, interested in the process of running a game, and full of setting ideas.

I like the scripts and other things you have shared on your blog. How long until we get to see some of the promised PERL scripts?

My intention is to have those posted soon. The holdup has been the last major script I wrote to prepare for our Roll20 campaign: it allows the user to generate the entire population of a city district using some of the demographic assumptions adopted in D&D supplements during the third edition era (there wasn’t too much official information along these lines prior to that). Unfortunately, that particular script uses versions of both the leveled NPC and commoner generation scripts as subroutines I have since improved and published on my blog separately. Ideally, I would like to tweak the district generator to use the most recent versions of those other scripts before publishing, but that involves combing through the code and remembering how it fits together.

At this point, I’m leaning towards just posting the current version of the district generator with a note explaining its limitations and my own decision to stop using that particular tool in favor of building up the generic NPC population of a city on-the-fly as gameplay progresses. Once I do that, I will publish the source code for all the PERL scripts on my blog for others to tinker with as they wish.

What does D&D mean to you?

This is not an easy question to answer without resorting to something glib – in fact, part of the reason I don’t grow bored with Dungeons & Dragons is that the game’s meaning to me is not a static idea. Sometimes I see it as a simulation engine that allows me to model both mundane and fantastical events, resolving their outcome through a combination of logic and random chance. At other times, though, it strikes me as a multi-faceted outlet for creative energies of all sorts, allowing one to dabble in illustration, improvisational drama, fiction writing, fantastic architecture, and other artistic endeavors. Perhaps it is ultimately that tension created when one explores the chaos of imaginary creations by imposing the rigid logic of mathematical formulae that fascinates me most. Such work is a Sisyphean task in which the reward (i.e., fun) comes from trying and failing and then trying again while sharing that experience with others.

THOUGHTS

This was a cool exercise and helped me learn a bit more about someone I have known online for over two years and would know his voice anywhere. But I don’t know what he looks like, as we are audio only for our Google Hangouts to improve performance. John is an interesting guy and has areas of knowledge and experience that make him a great storyteller. He has intricate descriptions and leaves us wanting more. John doesn’t do funny voices or make noises to move the story along. He role plays NPCs plainly, almost flat sometimes, but the content of what they say is relevant and fits the situation.

One of the players has recorded the audio of several sessions. John commented that he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice. I think most of us have that issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his voice.

I find myself being curious of one thing, what would it be like to play face to face? Being able to see his facial expression and body language would contain a lot more information. I think that after this long, I can tell from certain pauses and intonations a lot more than I would otherwise.

We use a theater of the mind style and early adventures the players did the mapping, but for quite some time, John has used the lighting features to reveal the map. This has sped things up and saved time trying to figure out the map.

I like John’s presentation with the breadth and depth of his world. I have learned a lot from him. I appreciate his way of making it work, and have learned some things from his interpretation of AD&D. He welcomes questions and explains where he is coming from. If we make a good point, he changes his mind. Be we have had rulings I did not agree with, but it is his game, and we move on.

A couple of times I have asked for the page in the DMG he used to make certain rulings, as I had no recollection of his interpretation. Sometimes, the way my brother and I, and our original group did things is nowhere near the way John does it. I find that I could be a rules lawyer without too much prompting*, but don’t like it. I hate interrupting play. It takes our group far to long to make decisions about actions. We’ll spend an hour of our play time arguing about how we want to do something. It is role played, not necessarily with voices, but with the attitudes and motivations of our characters.

I look forward to many more sessions, not necessarily with the same character, unless we survive our current predicament….

*How many have the guts to admit that? I think that is yet another argument for fewer rules and the players not needing to know the rules.

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Grimtooth’s Traps Finally Arrives

My Grimtooth’s Traps hardbound 460 page book finally arrived. I pledged $50 for the basic hardback.

05-20160328_130230

 

06-0160328_130145

July, 2015 was the original estimated delivery date. I received mine on March 28, 2016. It was good to finally mark that off as received. I have two other Kickstarters older than the rest I am waiting on. Only one of which, the City State re-print by Judges Guild, do I expect to eventually get the promised items. The other is in legal limbo the D&D Documentary #2.

It came well packaged to not bounce around in the box. A big plus compared to a couple of other orders from the Goodman Games website. There is some cool art on the box (not pictured), but the mailing label went smack in the middle of the big graphic, so it’s ruined. I am curious what it looked like pre-label.

It is the same height as my AD&D Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide combined. The Grimtooth cover is slightly wider, maybe 1/8″.

Three Core Books for AD&D vs. Grimtooth's Traps
Three Core Books for AD&D vs. Grimtooth’s Traps

My DCC 3rd printing is also 460 pages, but Grimtooth’s is slightly thicker, whether due to heavier paper or a thicker cover, I’m not sure.

The DCC cover is the same size.
The DCC cover is the same size.
DCC is almost as thick as Grimtooth's Traps.
DCC is almost as thick as Grimtooth’s Traps.

It appears to be well constructed, and of good quality.

I’m sure there are a lot of interesting bits in here. However, I’m not going to be reading through it just yet, as I have a bit of a backlog. I never had the original books. I only jumped in as I thought it was an interesting bit of nostalgia to have. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have pledged.  I really need to be more selective in my purchases.

I may do a review in the future when I have a smaller backlog of things on my plate.

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The Front – A Review

Here’s another new publication by +Mark Hunt, The FRONT, currently available via Lulu as print on demand (POD), and soon DriveThruRPG and RPGNow with PDF and POD. This is one of the many projects Mark worked on during nine months of chemo. In the interests of full disclosure, I am credited as a proof reader, and also put together the table of contents.

The FRONT is a bare bones RPG with a kernel based on the original roleplaying game. It has six 3d6 stats with a variation on the name so that Awareness is used instead of Wisdom. It is abbreviated AC, think of Awareness Check. It was easy for me to miss that. All other abilities are the standard. HP has different options for the GM to consider. It is a game with high lethality for characters. There are challenge rolls for combat, and d20 roll under rolls instead of saving throws.

Character generation is a quick 3d6 in order and swapping any two stats. There is a d20 table for pre-war career, which then leads to a page each for class.

There are four initial classes with various roles within the military, mainly geared towards the front lines. They are Combat, Intelligence, Leadership, and Reconnaissance. Each class has a section on what it has for combat training, abilities, special features, and starting equipment. Since this represents soldiers at war, there is no buying of equipment. On gaining a level, each class has a roll to requisition from the quartermaster.

Encumbrance is simple, a character can carry one piece of gear per point of strength.

Each piece of equipment has a usage die. If an item is used in a given turn, one rolls a usage die. If a 1 or 2 is rolled, one moves to the next smaller sized die. For example, a usage die might be a d12, each time a 1 or 2 is rolled the usage die is reduced, first to a d10, then a d8, d6, and finally, when a 1 or 2 is rolled on a d4, that item is used up. This is a simplified way to keep track of gasoline in the jeep, ammunition for a given weapon, etc. It reduces the amount of paper needed to track supplies. There is a usage die graphic on the included character sheet. As an item is used up, move the marker or usage die to the appropriate location.

Movement and distance is abstracted to close, nearby,  far away, and distant. For 0-5 feet, 6-60 feet, and 60-120 feet. This is part of the simplicity of the game.

Weapons are presented with a generic description, such as pistol instead of Colt .45 or 9 mm Luger. Each weapon is listed with its usage die and the number of dice for damage on hits. Weapons are further explained in the text following the table. There are hand thrown grenades and rifle grenades with different ranges, but the same damage. Machine guns come in light, medium, and heavy, with different crew size parameters, and bonuses and penalties for attacks.

Combat is also simplified with challenge rolls. It is roll low, so a 1 is great and a 20 is bad. A 1 on an attack deals double damage, and a 20 while avoiding an attack receives double damage. NPCs only roll to attack. PCs only roll to avoid attacks. Roll under STR for a melee attack, and under DEX for a ranged attack. Roll below STR or DEX to avoid taking damage from melee or ranged attacks. Advantage and Disadvantage comes into play when something is ruled to be particularly easy or difficult.

Saving throws are eliminated so that rolls are against abilities of STR for things that cause physical harm, such as gases. DEX is used for dodging things like a trap, or avoiding the blast of a flamethrower.  AC (Awareness) checks are used to avoid mental effects. I missed that AC was the short notation for Awareness on page 5. Being a long time gamer, I see AC and immediately think “Armor Class”.

Hit points can be figured in different ways depending on the style of campaign desired. Use the CON score as the number of HP and roll a d6 for each level, or for really gritty, roll a d6 each level. If a character is reduced to 0 HP one rolls after the fight is over, if the character’s party wins, to see what happened. Anything from MIA, POW, or death, to merely knocked unconscious.

Healing is slow. Certain things, like med kits help, but it still takes time.

Experience is low 5 points to get to second level, and 100 needed for 10th level. XP is earned for surviving one mission, major encounter, etc.

The section on campaigns offers up ideas for the major focus, such as partisans, resistance, elite (special forces), soldiers pressed into service from far off places, etc.

There are no frills, just a bare bones system for getting to play quickly. The classes and gear are focused on the GI, but one could easily port it to the forces of other nations. Gear is generalized, so that one can extrapolate any weapon desired. There is a suggested system for the GM to generate the toughness of enemy soldiers faced. A quick presentation of a possible weird war scenario is given with fantasy type creatures.

Big fail on the TOC, I didn’t get the pages numbers lined up very well. I was fighting Google Docs changing the formatting and messing up nearly all the pages. We ended up having me edit the Word Document, then send it back to Mark. I will have another article on my thoughts about collaborating on self published products.

What I liked:

You can be ready to play a session in a few minutes. The rules are a framework designed to work with most OSR type clones. Creatures and spells could easily be used unmodified. The difference in combat is minor. If you want a WWII scenario, you have a framework here to handle it.

One could easily port these rules to WWI, Korea, Vietnam, or even a more modern setting. These rules are even abstract enough to go even further back to muskets.

This is about as rules light as you can get in 48 pages. It is only 24 pages when taking away pictures, TOC, OGL, and other pages that are not rules.

What I didn’t like:

Using Awareness instead of Wisdom with AC for the abbreviation, was harder for me to make the connection. The direct connection is most clear where it is spelled out on page 5, and listed on the character sheet. It is slightly less clear when an AC check is used for avoiding mental effects. This is a minor niggle, and not of much concern, once it is clear what it is. A simple restatement of what AC is for on the part about attribute checks instead of saving throws on page 30 would avoid this.

[NOTE: Mark made an edit to change the abbreviation for Awareness to AW. He will use AC for the armor of vehicles in a new book.]

What I’d like to see:

Since consumables have a usage die, I would like to see a page of usage dice printed, with multiple rows of usage dice. For example, there is a row of usage dice at the bottom of the character sheet for ammunition. Filling a page in the rules with that might be helpful to some. One can use placeholders, such as dice, paper clips, coins, etc. to mark what usage die applies to which piece of equipment. This would be easy enough to do oneself with an index card and paperclips to track the usage die for different types of equipment.

[NOTE: Mark made a full page of the usage die chain available in the PDF.]

Conclusion

When dealing with rules light systems, one should not assume that familiar abbreviations mean the same thing until verified that they do. Terseness is the focus for rules light systems. If you need everything spelled out for you and lots of table and options to fill in all the details, this game is not for you.

This game is light enough that it should work well for story gamers that need fewer rules, and will work well for those who like more roleplaying. Obviously, it is great for those who just want to generate a character and start playing.

I just got word that the first supplement for the OSS/SOE is in the works.

[UPDATE: There is now a G+ Community for the game.]

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Gary Con Panel – Goodman Games – How To Write Adventure Modules The Don’t Suck

I have played a few DCC funnels at conventions and a few modules at the gaming table. I’ve even been a player in a play test of a module. I can’t mention that, but if my name shows up in the acknowledgements, you’ll know which one(s).

DCC seems to have a lot of interest in their modules, so I wanted to hear what their designers had to say. If I never have a published module, at least I can use the information to help design my own sessions, and games at conventions.

The panelists were Joseph Goodman, Michael Curtis, Jobe Bitman, Brendan LaSalle, and Bob Bledsaw, Jr. There were 20-25 in attendance, among whom were 3 women. When it came time to ask questions, only one of the women asked a question. That’s a significant ratio. What I wonder, is were the other two just there with their male S.O.’s, or were they really gamers with an interest in such things. Just my musings, no data to back up any of it.

What follows are just the transcription of my hastily scribbled and sometimes illegible notes. There are a lot of good points here for planning adventures in your own games, in addition to developing modules for publication.

Joseph Goodman started off by telling us that they have done this seminar multiple times before, and this time wanted to start off with each person telling what things inspire them.

1.) Things that inspire us to get a good output.

Michael Curtis

  • All writers are readers
    • Always have a notebook when reading – make note of certain words that evoke ideas, feelings, etc.
    • Follow up on ideas an author does not pursue.

Jobe Bitman

  • Movies, especiall humor.
  • Camping & hiking
  • New museum
  • New locations and feeling what the experience is like and relate to a fantasy world setting.
    • For ex. hiking is hard work, and there’s no way characters pack all the stuff they say that they do.

Brendan LaSalle

  • Big reader
  • Movies
  • Good TV
  • Poetry
  • Music – Heavy Metal Power Cords
  • Steals a lot of bad guy lines from comic books.

Bob Bledsaw, Jr. (Insight on how his dad prepared for campaigns & modules, from all the materials he left.)

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heilein, A. C. Clarke, poetry
  • Actually running campaigns
    • Notebooks filled with names of inns, NPC’s with brief designations, random monsters, and names & backgrounds for magical items.
    • Village book, fantastic weapons, Temple book, etc.
    • His father didn’t like to lead players.
    • Look at an inn as each class. How does a mage see this inn, a cleric, a thief?
    • What about a monster or obstacle is a problem for a cleric?
    • Leave world open

Joe Goodman

  • Goes to places with unique features
    • Elephant seal hatchery – they are 2,000 pounds and the size of a VW.
  • Monarch butterfly breeding ground – view through fantasy lens
  • Hurst castle
  • Wild zebras on beach near California coastal highway.
  • Alcatraz was a military island citadel before it was a prison.
  • Art and comic books

I think it was Brendan LaSalle who said these two things.

  1. Read Strunk & Whites Manual of Style once per year.
  2. Read what you have written out loud, or have someone read it to you with the Last Draft. If it doesn’t read well, it won’t play well.

A common theme was to playtest a module multiple times to get the flow and pacing right. You have to know how it will play out before you publish it. Someone said if it is a TPK every time, then it’s too hard. If about half the party survives, then it’s about right.

2.) One thing they love and one thing they hate.

Brendan

Love: Brilliant little detail, for ex. Legacy of Savage Kings has a dragon in a cavern with the coins of his treasure lovingly stacked along the wall.

Hate: No matter what happens, you can’t change what happens. He gave examples of NPC’s you can’t kill, or some other thing that no matter what they do it won’t change. It is better to think of what will happen if they kill this NPC, etc. Trust your DM (who will run the module). ALWAYS put the players center stage as the main characters of the story.

Michael

Love: Enjoys ambiguity to cause reader and player to imagine options, avoids set in stone. Leave it up to recipient to fill in the blanks.

Hate: Story should emerge and not be stuck in a narrative since it is a participatory game.

Bob

Be a storyteller, not a story dictator.

Jobe

Hate: Really long details with buried information the DM or player’s need. Make it easy to find.

Joseph

Players are the audience, but the GM is the customer. Word count for GM/Judge is wasted, 1-2 pages at most. Pages should be for the benefit of the players.

3.) How bring ideas together?

Bob – List of Hobbits, only with warrior sounding names. His father’s notes were rich in lore from the books he read.

Michael – Pick three things and create a riff on it. Then come up with a brief synopsis, elevator pitch.

Brendan – Do like Shakespeare – Steal/steal/steal. What if it is a murder mystery?
Take random ideas and throw them at specific thing for the background to see where it goes and what happens.
He is a firm believer in a crappy first draft, just get it done, then refine it.

Michael – If nothing else, do something that you enjoy and are passionate about. Find a way to make it an adventure.

Bob – Don’t let your own misgivings stop you from paying or publishing.

Joseph – Get practice, especially with random stuff.

Bob – Some people have favorite modules that are not what is the most popular. Someone will like it, even if not everyone.

4.) How break out of the linear mindset?

Michael – Don’t make decisions for the players, just set the scene.

Bob – If there is an intriguing hook, it will draw them in.

Mike – For publication there is a set word count. How might players overcome this obstacle. Come up with 3 or 4 things.

Brendan – Billy goat Gruff, but 25th level character. Create a setting and villains. You can’t cover all your bases. Trust your GM.

Joseph – Mental checklist of

  • Player choices
  • There is a chance for every player to shine.
  • Visual Descriptions – Use hulking humanoid instead of just saying orc.
  • No ziggurats – New and exciting ideas.
  • Good title
  • Good summary  – Focused enough to do a 2 or 3 sentence description – elevator pith.

5.) Bad guy development

Leave as many decisions as possible up to the players.

Base on someone you don’t like.

Don’t lock the front door to the dungeon.

Don’t leave necessary information in an inaccessible place.

No lock without a key. This can be a secret door, or another way around the obstacle. Always a way around it.

Brendan – Once you decide what he is, Imagine as your character or you personally. Such as a dragon or necromancer.
What will you do to stop adventurers?
What will you fail at?

Q&A

How get into the situation?/Start the setting for the adventure? (This was my question. I have trouble getting a good starting point for adventures.)

Brendan – In media res [In the middle of the action/story.] especially for a module, one-shot, or convention game.

Joseph – Robert E. Howard – In media res.

Brendan – Let the players screw themselves. Maybe they are all clerics, so they need hirelings to fill in the gaps. Always have a situation that requires dealing with magic.

Jobe – 1.) Be comfortable with system you are using, and just knowing the system might give you an idea.

2.) Avoid crating bottlenecks, have some secondary way to achieve the goal. A “key” to every lock doesn’t have to be literal.

Joseph – Easter Egg – Some benefit to players that test everything and one room *. Game changers – Players wreck the story line, handle it at the table.

Word count/size?

Brendan – Have a set number of encounters for four hours. For a convention setting, 6 to 8 encounters for four hours. Most modules can be played in four hours.

Jobe – Word count – Write as expressively as possible in the lowest word count.

Joseph – c. 10,000 words is about 16 pages in the format of Goodman Games’ modules.

How develop balance in a module? How do you know you have it right?

Brendan – Playtest/Playtest/Playtest as much as you can before publishing. Run at conventions, local game store with people you don’t know. A minimum of 3 times to playtest, once with friends, twice at conventions, no upper limit really.

Michael – Six months after it is released, you will know if the balance is right.

Jobe – If more than have killed, then still needs work. If less than half killed, then it’s probably pretty good.

Bob – Be prepared for anything. There should be enough source material to plan for unexpected things players do. Always leave a way out of a tough situation, but don’t make it easy.

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Ogre Island and The Black Crate – My Saturday Session at Marmalade Dog

Here is my promised follow up post to my write up of Marmalade Dog 21, about the AD&D session I ran using a scenario from my campaign.

Urman the great is an archmage who has a stronghold on Ogre island. He sends adventurers to get information and items from the ancient city that is overrun by ogres, pirates, and other things. In this scenario, the rumored black crate, was on a ship caught in the same storm that nearly took the ship the players were on. The black crate is a large steamer trunk that agents of Urman send special items to him. He hires the newly arrived party to go and retrieve it. He gives them a magical lock that will return the crate to him. It has been magically hidden, so he can’t just find it himself, and being an archmage, has other things taking up his time.

It was a fun session and +Laura Rose Williams drove from Lansing after a meeting and a birthday party, just so she could play in my game. That was so cool! Her druid decided to cast a spell against some giant spiders they found when they decided that they wanted to go check out the ancient college of magic. She lost initiative, and got bit twice, and failed her save versus one of the bites. That was in less than the first hour of play. Laura said, “What is this DCC?” Which got a big laugh, as many at the table play DCC. I met Laura last year at Marmalade Dog, and we both played our first DCC last year.

Mourning The Dead Druid
Mourning The Dead Druid

I let her use the magic user, who had a spell that ended up saving another player at the end of the game.

I was supposed to have pre-gens ready for the players, but I had technical difficulties. So I had an idea that everyone liked. I hand wrote character templates on index cards. I started with just the random magic I rolled up from the tables in the DMG. Weapons and armor, potions, scrolls, wands, and miscellaneous items.  I then figured out THAC0, number of hit dice, minimum ability scores, saving throws, and base abilities for thief and monk, and number of base spells for spell casters.

These were 5th level characters, and based on the experience points to get a magic user and illusionist to 5th level, the druid and the thief were 6th level. Other than one magic item I rolled that I did not remember being a cursed item, and another that required exceptional strength to use, the others worked out well. I re-rolled those two items. I then had the players roll stats, and if they rolled really bad, would have at least the minimum stat needed for that class. That gave it a bit of customizeability that the players liked. I let spell casters choose whatever spells they wanted. The players really liked the amount of things settled for them, but that they still had a hand in creating their characters. I didn’t time how long it took, and of course, most of the time was taken up by spell casters choosing spells.

With most of the choices they made, and certain magic items, a first level party could have played this scenario and completed it. They avoided combat for the most part, and did a lot of bluffing their way through. Of course, there were several key rolls I made for the bad guys that made it easier for them. One NPC just missed his roll to realize there was an elf and a cleric of the wrong religion present that really made things easier for them.

The players really liked that this was a sandbox scenario, that I didn’t force their hand. I let them go into the college of magic that is abandoned and full of nasty things. They lost the druid to giant spiders and decided to leave. A raging flesh golem crossed their path, but didn’t see them. A different roll, and they’d have had a fight. They just walked past a group of goblins arguing over guard duty, and bluffed their way into standing watch on the wreckage of the ship so they could explore it.

I told them that I didn’t come up with a good name for the wrecked ship, and The Storm Witch was suggested. What a great name! I’m keeping it! The crate wasn’t there, so they managed to go to the tavern that served the pirates and got a lead in the general direction of the crate. It was decided to use the ancient aqueduct system to travel above the city. This allowed them to avoid most encounters, and lookouts and others didn’t manage to see them up there running around.

They had an encounter with a harpy that charmed three of them, but the cleric used his wand of fear to drive off the harpy, and dispel magic to break the charm. They were sneaky and managed to avoid detection until they got in sight of the crate being guarded by 8 ogres. The illusionist used invisibility 10′ radius to get them close enough to use the two potions of ogre control that Urman gave them, and convinced 6 of the ogres to go check out a fight, and those six convinced one of the remaining two to join them.

Then they waited until those 7 were out of sight, and used a wand of paralyzation to freeze the last ogre. They then ran up and attached the lock before  they could be stopped. Goblins ran up and shot them, and knocked the illusionist to 0 hit points before the magic of the lock and crate took them out of range. It was a challenge to grab the illusionist and keep him from falling off without one of the one’s grabbing him also falling. After a string of hilarious rolls of failure to attempt to grab the illusionist, the last thing that worked was feather fall, cast by Laura’s wizard, and they completed the mission and were congratulated and thanked by Urman.

We got done an hour early. This was because they only fought when they felt they had to, and withdrew when the fight was going against them. Had they had more fights, or not been as sneaky, the outcome would have been much different.

I made them give back the index cards, because I plan to type those up and can make templates based on levels. That’s one thing I really like about OSRIC, that it groups all the information you need on a given class into one place. It has every class from the AD&D Player’s Handbook, except monks and bards. AD&D bards are too complex, I will use one of the other OSR bard classes going forward. I will reserve AD&D bards for NPC’s, as they will be rare.

I will write up a separate article on my templates, and have an example that is typed. In addition, a cheat sheet with limitations for each race would be needed. My goal is something small and portable, either index cards, or maybe a booklet with all the information in each.

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Marmalade Dog 21

Marmalade Dog 21 was Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 18-20, 2016, at Western University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had planned to attend today and play in the first slot, but I woke up with a stuffy nose and ear, and a sore throat.

We did not have an official OSR slot this year, like we did last year. I have decided that once we find out when Marmalade Dog is next year that I will step up and coordinate an OSR track. The exception is if it is the same weekend as Gary Con. Last year, the convention was in early February, so I asked if they know yet when it will be next year. The answer is that the university tells them what date they can have, or occasionally what dates they can choose from. So such a variable makes it understandable why it isn’t consistent with the month they have it. I live in southern Kalamazoo County, so am only about 20 minutes away from campus.

Normally the deadline for GM sign up to run games, and get free admission, for each day that they run a session, and a t-shirt, is December 31. I didn’t get signed up to run a game by then. In February, I looked and there were some OSR type games, but three sessions the first, fifth, and seventh, did not have any. So I signed up at the website for the first and fifth session, and was not automatically rejected. I never got an email for confirmation that I wasn’t rejected. So last weekend, I went to the website and checked, and my sign ups were on the list of scheduled games. I then hurried up and got ready.

Session 1: 3:00 pm on Friday. As with last year, no one showed up to my game. If things work out to coordinate an OSR track next year, we’ll have to drum up enough players to commit to a first session game.  I ran the same thing for Session 5 on Saturday.

Session 2: Friday was 7:30 pm – 11:30 pm. +Forest Ray ran a Swords & Wizardry Complete setting, called Muskets & Magic Users. It was S&W with muskets. We were first level adventurers hired by the town to go stop the pirates who raided their town. Non magic users got issued a musket that did 1d12, that fired once per round. Magic users got a wand of magic missile that had 5 first level spells per day and regenerated its charges overnight.

That was a fun little session, and my magic user used Charm Person to make a “friend” of one of the pirates that was on the raiding party that came into the tavern where we were. This made it easier to find the other pirates in the raiding party, secure their boat, and go out to their ship. We managed to take the ship and go clean out the pirate hideout, then go fight the dragon ship of the pirate queen. It was a fun game.

Forest always hands out goodies for his games, and we each got a bag of dice and a button with the name of his game, and the rules system. Forest came down from Lansing and got a hotel to run and play games all three days. In addition to swag, he brought 3 copies of Swords & Wizardry Complete for reference. I didn’t bring mine as I was already lugging three AD&D Player Handbooks, the OSRIC Player Handbook, and a DMG for my earlier session.

Muskets & Magic Users
Muskets & Magic Users

Charles, who played in one of my sessions of Homlett from last year, and was looking forward to my game Saturday night. He said he runs Swords & Wizardry sometimes. He actually lives in my town, but I lost his number. I put it in my cell so I can’t lose it. We also had a couple, Joseph and Priscilla, who played S&W for the first time and had a blast. They were both experienced gamers. He lives in a town about 15 miles south of me, so we are planning to get together IRL for gaming. She lives about a half hour away in the other direction. We had one other player, and I am blanking on the name. I did not think to take a picture of play at the table.

Session 3: 10:00 am on Saturday, I played DCC’s Frozen in Time as a 0-level funnel, by +Mike Carlson.  Mike came down from Lansing for the day. I played this funnel with him last year. Others had played it, but I didn’t remember most of the key details, so it was like a new adventure. I only remembered things as we encountered them. It was a good time. We had a full table with 6 players. Four of us were experienced gamers with DCC experience. The other two were a couple, Seth had RPG experience, and this was Gretchen’s first roleplaying experience. She had a good time. This couple lives about an hour away, in Benton Harbor, so they are having a challenge finding a group. +Clayton Williams from Lansing and +James DeYonke and his friend Dave, from Ann Arbor, one and two hours away, respectively.

DCC at Marmalade Dog 21
DCC at Marmalade Dog 21

Session 4: 3:00 pm, Saturday. +Forest Ray ran Da Orkz Iz Back, a White Star scenario. I meant to bring my White Star books, but didn’t think to set them out, or put in my bag before I went to bed. This was the first time I had played White Star. Mike Carlson joined in, as did Charles, Joseph, and Priscilla from the night before in Muskets and Magic Users.

Forest & Players White Star
Forest & Players White Star
White Star At Marmalade Dog 21
White Star At Marmalade Dog 21

This was a scenario that needed at least one Star Knight and one pilot with the rest mercenaries. I rolled up a very uncharismatic Star Knight, and we had two pilots and two mercenaries. We were hired to investigate the loss of contact with Altair 6, a relatively new colony. There was no contact with the Star Knight Monastery, the city, and the star port. We found that legendary orcs who were thought to be myth were real, and were working with a couple of Void Knights. My Star Knight couldn’t hit the Void Knight with his star sword. The rest of the party gunned down the other Void Knight and one of the pilots picked up his void knight sword and managed to stab the void knight I was fighting. In another combat, I finally managed to hit something with my star sword. I was much better when I was shooting my blaster pistol.

Da Orkz Iz Back
Da Orkz Iz Back

Session 5: 7:00 pm on Saturday. I ran a scenario based on an area of my home campaign that I wanted to flesh out – Ogre Island and the Black Crate. I will write up a separate article on this.

Sunday has two sessions, Session 6 at 11:00 am and  7 at 3:30 pm.

Session 6: Forest ran Mutant University using the Mutant Future system. I had planned to attend that before I woke up with a cold and no energy.

Session 7: did not have any what I thought were obvious OSR games. I was thinking of playing a game of Fate, which I have never played. Maybe next year.

What I learned from this experience.

  • I need to commit to this local con, since it is in my backyard. As long as it does not conflict with Gary Con or other things I want to do, I will go.
    • If it is the same weekend as Gary Con, I can still try to coordinate an OSR track, for any not going to Gary Con.  I can recruit an assistant to handle things of the actual weekend.
  • Last year, after I saw how much time it took me to get ready to run Village of Homlet, I decided it would have been just as easy to come up with my own scenario that I would know like the back of my hand.
    • This idea proved true. I used the opportunity to flesh out an area of my campaign I had been wanting to do for a long time.
  • People will drive from a couple hours away to come for Saturday. A strong OSR presence could attract a lot more people.
    • Advertising on G+ an other outlets could increase the attendance.
    • Keep the line of communication open with other players from the region.
  • If you run a 6 person game, you get one folding table that is just big enough. If you run an 8 person game you get two folding tables.
  • Swag is cool. Perhaps publishers would provide swag, or templates for GM’s to make their own swag.
    • DCC has some cool stuff with bookmarks, buttons, pens, pencils, and more.
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Mark Hunt – An Interview – The Return of GangBusters

I knew +Mark Hunt from G+ and just happened to meet him at +John Reyst’s Open Gaming Store booth. I recalled seeing a post about Gangbusters, but it had not clicked that it was back. Mark has a license to the GangBusters game! I first learned of Mark with his prolific postings of items for White Star. Many know him for his DCC setting Drongo.

Mark was signing a Gangbuster’s box, and it had the look and size of what I remember from 30+ years ago. The guy asked Mark to sign it and I was really puzzled, thinking it was an original boxed set, until Mark explained that it was his game.

We talked about collaborating on some things in multiple genres/rule systems, one of them being Gang Busters! Wow! I haven’t played in 30+ years, so I guess I need to brush up on the rules….

I did a phone interview with Mark on Saturday, March 12th. Before I started asking interview questions, he mentioned that he is good for the next 3 or 4 years of putting stuff out on a regular basis.

Interview Questions

When did you get your start in RPG’s?
Summer 1979. D&D Red Box and Blue Box. One day in Jr. High, we talked about it in the  Lunch room & met up after school.

What games have you played?
Call of Cthulhu, AD&D, probably hundreds since then. Powers & Perils, Champions, you name it, I played it. I have played every year since then. I once played Champions two years straight.

What games have you ran?
I have ran pretty much just about every game. Which helped a lot with game design, you have to play games and know what is out there, if you want to make games.

I’ve been running GangBusters since 1983. I have enough stuff on hard drive to fill a dozen books without even trying.

What games do you still play or run?
GangBusters, D&D, Swords of the Empire, DCC, Basic, Swords & Sorcery, C&C, Call of Cthulhu, and boardgames, just games, our group tries to keep playing.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?
Dozens, our first group had women back in 1979, and 3 or 4 at a time all the way to the present. It’s easy.

Does you wife play?
No

Does it cause problems?
No, she plays computer games, some are RPG’s, just not table top.

What does she think of your endeavors?
She likes it, especially when they start cashing in. I take what I make and roll it into producing the next game.

Have you ever had a woman GM?
Yes, a few. They are just like everyone else.  I’ve played all over the world so I had all the kinds of game masters that you can think of.

You played all over the world because you were in the Air Force?
Yes for six years and it included the1st Gulf War. We used to play Twilight 2000 in Germany back in the 80’s. A game where we go to war with Russia and get stranded in Europe when it happens. We used all the strategies and tactics we knew, and we had more authenticity than most people.

You seem to have an eclectic taste in genres and historical periods, do you find it hard to focus with so many different irons in the fire?
No.

Why not?
I like to read all kinds of stuff. I know a lot about this, this and this. If there is something you need to know, read a book. My dad says, They hide things they don’t want people to know in a book. A game designer should always be reading, and learning more stuff.

You got your start, at least in my experience, of publishing ships, classes, and supplements for White Star. Was that your real start?It was actually Drongo, then Planetary Transmission and some free items for White Star.

NOTE: Drongo is a DCC compatible setting.

I know you have a Napoleonic era game in the works, and other things, what can you tell us about that?
Swords of the Empire will be ready by the beginning of next month. People can follow on the G+ page and watch development of it, and see how it has changed and evolved. I revise based on feedback from others’ comments in the community.

The latest project seems to be a runaway success – GangBusters.
Is that a game you played back in the day?
NOTE: See above, he’s been playing and GMing it since it came out in 1983.

What made you decided to go for a license to GangBusters?
It was just sitting there and I just asked if I can use it and it went from there. If I like it, there has to be others that like it. If I can sell enough and it can pay for the effort I put into it, all the better.

Is it an exclusive license, that is, are you the only one licensed to do anyting with GB?
So far, I’m the only one out there. I’m working on several things, just making stuff work. I can’t go into more detail at this time.

How hard was it to get the license to do this?
More or less I just asked Rick Krebs and he was receptive. I can’t get into any details on that either. There is stuff [other famous IP] that people can probably pick up if they put in some effort to research it. It is not impossible, is the best I can say.

What did Rick Krebs say when you asked him, was he excited?
Others had talked to him and it never went anywhere, so I showed him what I can do and he purchased it and reviewed it. When the writer likes it and says keep doing it, that’s a seal of approval.

Why the twist with the “Weird Tales & Paranormal Investigations?
Actually it existed in the original setting. In Polyhedron magazine, they had an adventure with giant bugs that took over a farm. I did not create it out of thin air, it existed in some shape or form in the original game.
The original game talked about various ideas for how to expand it. All I did was expand it. I read all the articles where they mentioned GangBusters. I am making it modular so you can use or not, or expand or not, cause at the end of the day it is still a game of cops & robbers. If you can’t find an adventure after a night of watching TV, with so many police procedurals that are on now, I can’t help you, NCIS, X-files, etc. Warehoue 13, Thin Man, etc. There is so much that fits.
Me – It’s seeing the connections.
Mark – Exactly. I increased the book size to show what you can do with it. It doesn’t have to be just gangsters. You can do journalists. The Incredible Hulk is about new reporter chasing the Hulk cross country. The players  could be a pool of reporters in an Enquirer type organization.
Me – GangBusters is set in the same time period as H.P. Lovecraft was writing.
Mark – I’m staying away from the Cthulhu mythos, there is more out there than just that.
If you want to play Call of Cthulhu play it, it’s a great game. If you want to go in different directions, play my game. Play GangBusters, there is enough out there to keep you busy

I really like the NPC card decks, what was your inspiration for those?
Old police mugshots. I make cards with mugshots, with enough stats to run. I made the first 18, then another 18, and eventually I’ll have a full deck of 52 cards. Literally take a card and you are ready to play. At Gary Con I passed out cards, and said, this is what stats mean and we were up and running in minutes. NPC’s, bad guys, players, etc. They are small and portable. Once you know the rules that’s all you need. Keep it in your wallet and you’re ready to play whenever and wherever. [See this YouTube video for a sample of the cards.]

Me – They make a great tool for a pick up or convention game for pre-gens. There was a lot of buzz from those who played in the games Mark ran.

It’s been mentioned on the G+ TSR GangBusters Community, that you plan to do a Kickstarter. I know that you have a goal to have everything ready before the Kickstarter and to keep it manageable. How much can you tell us about that?
I’m still working on it. Eventually there will be a box set, hard back book, GM screen, and modules, plus add ons will all be figured out and done. So once we hit our goal and are funded, I will order and ship. I did a test run of box sets, and people are impressed with what I have now. Some have shipped to Spain, England, all over world now. I hope a Kickstarter will help it reach a bigger area.

When might we get wind of the Kickstarter?
Depends on when I get done with something in the background – I can’t talk about it – then preparing for the Kickstarter will start to speed up.

What is the secret to your prolific output? I ask, because it is an amazing story that just floored me. I was giving you a hard time at Gary Con to slow down because you’re making the rest of us look bad.
Last year was my last chemo – I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and going through treatments. I said to myself, “If this is my last year, I’m going to do what I want to do,” and I literally drove myself to do these games, even if only 5 words in a day. After a year, I had a lot. I just hacked it out piece by piece. “Never give up, never surrender,” as they say. Marks’ wife can be heard in the background: “He’s not going to do anything else. By Grapthar’s hammer….”
To the outside world it appeared like I was cranking it out fast, it seemed like a lot real fast. As they say, an overnight success is ten year’s worth of work. A lot of games that blew up were simmering in the background and no one paid attention until they got done.

You mentioned you were seeking a license to do a game with a big name, and well-know IP, but it fell through. 
Any clues to other IP’s you have your eye on? (Probably not, since you don’t want to spoil it.)
Exactly. I’m always looking for more stuff, but can’t mention them, so I don’t get scooped. If it’s not being used, why not? A Lot of stuff is just sitting quietly. It’s not hard if you do the work and ask. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Drongo for DCC is mine and I can always go and do a BX version. As long as I don’t compete with one of their [Goodman Games] products it should be OK.

Any hints about projects coming up?
Oh geeze, let me look at my hard drive. I’ve thought about one or two retroclones, but will mention those when the time is right. I don’t want it all at once, that is, I want to spread it out. Cloaked Avengers is a new class for GangBusters in the next month, like the Shadow. You can add to an existing GangBusters game with mysterious powers. I’m also working on a WWI alternate history for GangBusters.  I plan to stage so it’s not out all at once, and do one or two adventures to flesh out stuff  I already have.

Joe’s Diner was 6 or 7 pages, then 18, then 32, then I made little booklets. The PDF is automatically updated, so it’s done. The only way to get it in book form is in the boxed set.
Me – That’s a smart way to drive sales.
Mark – Exactly.

Have you seen all the talk about yesterday’s press release about the new TableTop Library site?
Yes. I’m thinking about trying to sell stuff there, it’s one more avenue for sales.

Anything else you want us to know about?
Hit me up on G+ if you see me, and help out get the word out, Swords of the Empire, GangBusters , Fantasy game – no name yet. Everything is just falling into place so fast it is ridiculous. I might have Boxed sets [of the yet to be named and released fantasy game ] at NTRPGCon.

GangBusters boxed sets and T-Shirts, and Swords of the Empire boxed sets will definitely be at North Texas RPG Con.

– – –

Mark is a really nice guy, easy to talk to, and inviting. Other aspiring game designers were asking him to look at their stuff, and he was looking forward to it. He knows game mechanics. Just wjile talking about general ideas, he had an idea for something. Being in his presence, I couldn’t help but be infected by his enthusiasm for games. If we lived in the same town, I’d find a way to play in his games.

Mark is enjoying life and riding this dream of designing games and having a blast while doing it. I expect to hear exciting things in the coming weeks.

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Ramblings of an Old Gamer