Wednesday, August 5, 2020

OSR Nostalgia & Candy Bars

R.I.P. Steve Z
This post is riffing on or continuing some thoughts I had here and here. It's a bit rambly. Skip if you like.

Way back in the ancient times of the 1990s I was deeply involved in the small press comics and zine scene. By the early 2000s the internet had came along and killed that scene almost utterly. Yes, I know people continued to publish and people continue to publish today. But the scene I knew in the 90s is long dead, killed by the internet, rising costs of mailing, and ready availability of cheap alternative publishing methods. Hell, we photocopied shit because it was cheap and we didn't have print-on-demand.

Anyhoo... this is analogous to the G+ gaming scene and the OSR. To me, anyway.

G+ was where it was at. Games, communities, conversations, news, everything. In the 2010s if you weren't on G+ you were not keeping up with the pulse of the OSR and indie games movement. It's a god damn fact. Everyone was there, even if they didn't want to be. And it was fantastic.

That time lasted about 8 years or so, then Google stuck a fork in it. Now it's dead and the OSR and indie scene splintered as a direct result. It's fucking true. Don't argue with me. Yeah, some of you might have been existing on the fringes, ignoring G+, and nothing much has changed for you. Goody gumdrops. You are very special.

So anyway, G+ died and took much of the OSR's mystique with it. Of course it wasn't just the death of
Blood in the Controversy
G+ that gutted the motherfucker. You spend enough time with a group of disparate people connected tenuously by a common interest in a hobby and you're going to develop rivalries, controversies, and enemies. Peoples' true colors come out over time and they are judged for it. Bad shit comes to light, battle lines are drawn, factions formed, actions taken, communities fractured.

It is inevitable. So I'm not really arguing that the death of G+ was what killed the mystique, it was just the final blow to an already bloodied combatant.

When I started messing around in the OSR sandbox around 2012 or so there were a few tentpole circles that I remember. Lamentations, Tenkar, DCC, Dragonsfoot, Story Games, Podcasters... I'm probably missing some. These are just the tentpoles I remember the most. There were smaller ones too, such as BFRPG's community.

Fast forward to 2020 and you still have remnants of these same groups plus new ones that have grown
This got me started, honestly.
in the interim. They are more rabid and polarized now. Some groups have drawn hard lines in the concrete and do not mix with other groups on any level. Lamentations is certainly in a hardcore stance at the moment in response to various controversies. Story Games has morphed a lot and is perhaps more diffused. I have no idea if Dragonsfoot is still breathing nor do I know if Tenkar's corner of the OSR world is still alive. DCC seems to be trucking along much the same, though I haven't heard of any big Kickstarters in a while so maybe it's losing steam? You also have some other smaller groups/circles, such as the Hydra Collective that have amassed some oeuvre since 2014 or so. You've got the Troika! community. There's a pretty robust collection of RPG circles on Twitter, though that's where you'll find the most intense battle lines. The OSR Anchor podcasting scene came on fast and hard and I think is still going. Of course there are the Outer Circles of the movement where we sometimes send the unwanted, and I generally ignore most of that shit because I've got enough on my plate, thank you very much.

A very tasty jam
It's a funny thing to realize that you feel nostalgia for a movement that was itself largely based on nostalgia. And the OSR was most definitely nostalgia-driven. At first I resisted saying that because I didn't want to say that a thing I loved was "just nostalgia". I've come to a different understanding of it now. Nostalgia is as legit and viable a reason for loving something as anything else. It's all about time and space, distance and personal connections. It's also a neutral term, isn't it? You can have nostalgia for Marathon candy bars (good) or for Confederate flags (bad). Nostalgia itself is neutral without context.

Nostalgia for D&D or Traveler or MERP is good, generally. It's fine. It's wonderful.

At this this point I have logged many more hours playing Labyrinth Lord than I ever did with all versions of D&D combined. Hell, I would say I've played more hours of DCC RPG than I ever played of D&D. For me, 2012-2018 was a golden age of gaming. So many wonderful games and books, so many good times, so many new friends.

That era is over. But as with most good things, something new emerges. We're in a new time. I'm still enjoying myself in gaming. I'm still publishing books, which is the great love affair of my life. I have positive vibes for the future, despite some of the negative energy that has pervaded the scenes in recent years.


The RPG Folder from the Pits of Tartarus

A continuation of this erudite series.

Hack: the RPG is an RPG hack written by Eric Bloat, lifted from his zine Valor Knights. It is basically an amalgam of The Black Hack and The Blackest of Deaths.

Eric's idea here is to provide a really basic, loose, fast RPG framework from which you can hack your own games, worlds, and adventures.

The core mechanic of this game is to roll 1d20 vs. a target number. At the same time, roll 1d6. If the d6 is a 1, there is a Hindrance. If it is a 6, there is a Benefit. It's an elegant way to establish a non-binary resolution mechanic that isn't too fussy. Most of the time that d6 is ignored because it'll be 2-5. And hey... if that bugs you, then you can create your own house rules for what 2-5 means. Right?

In Darkest Warrens by Scott Malthouse is a "minimalist fantasy RPG". It lives up to the title.

In the most basic sense, this is D&D with massively simplified rules. It uses totally different names for stats and things but it's the same basic concept. You have attributes, classes, and levels. Everything is resolved by a 1d6 roll. The game is 5 pages long and includes all the rules, advanced rules, magic, monsters, an adventure, and a setting. And it has really great art plus a map by Dyson Logos, no less.

Metahumans Rising is a superhero RPG by T. Dave Silva.

I literally have never looked at this or head of it. I clicked it open and I have to point out that the first thing I see is the PDF contents tab showing me the word "offensive" twice in a row as the first two items listed. This is a link to page 61 of the PDF describing boons or something related to offensive powers. Funny little editing snafoo I guess.

First impressions are that this is a labor of love. It starts with a memorial to St. Julian Perkins Jr, R.I.P., who was one of the game's playtesters. Very nice to see this right up front. It shows that this is truly someone's love project.

Ok, so the text formatting is not good. Lots of gaps between words on the memorial page. Perhaps that was just a last minute addition and didn't benefit from a second pass. Dunno.

The chapter headers are not attractive. They remind me of cheap desktop publishing. I would prefer to see this simply with big bold words instead of the generic header images. But I'm being mean about the aesthetics.

Lines and Veils... is a great idea. I don't know if it is original to this game or not, but I dig it and I'm happy to see it here. Basically players decide at the start what are the Lines and what are the Veils. And I'm guessing these can be updated. A Line is something that does not happen in the game. So I'm guessing maybe a player might say that any depiction of rape or child murder is a Line. You don't cross the line. A Veil is softer... it's something that can be referred to, but not "shown". Like... the villain Mad Mad Daddy might have blown up an orphanage, killing a bunch of kids. But this isn't experienced at the table, just referred to. This is a great rule to have right up front.

Ok, so this is a fairly detailed, dense game. I can see by skimming it that there are ample examples of character creation and design of setting. It's a game that seems to encourage you to create the comic book universe you want to create. Lots of stuff related to the various ages of comics, and so on. What I'm not seeing much of is game mechanics. The crunchy dice rolling bits don't seem to be mentioned until page 80+, and even then I don't readily see how it works. Not necessarily a gripe, I just haven't invested the time and energy into reading all of it.

The art is not bad. My overall impression is that this is a heartfelt supers game with a lot of love put into it. I feel like it's a bit bloated and the organization isn't entirely intuitive to me. But that's me. If you're looking for a supers RPG I believe you should give this one a look see.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Labyrinth Lured or Not?

I might have posted about this before, but one of my many unfinished projects is a Labyrinth Lord resource book that compiles all my unpublished, forgotten, lost, and neglected LL ephemera such as classes, monsters, and spells. The silly working title is "Labyrinth Lured".

In recent times I have considered shifting gears on this and making it Old School Essentials compatible. In this guise it would be a setting book, not just a collection of resources.

The jury is still out on what I will eventually do.

Here's a list of the classes I know of that are slated for this collection. Some will be stricken from the list because I've already done a version, probably in Black Pudding. I italicized the ones that are probably going to be cut from the list.

Arcane Savant
Dwarven War Priest
Elf Warrior
Elf Arcanist
Neanderthal Shaman

Of course making this a Labyrinth Lord resource book instead of an OSE setting book has a very strong appeal for two important reasons. First, it would be easier. And I need to practice biting off things I can chew. Second, given that OSE makes LL a bit obsolete, it would be a nice send-off to my favorite game of the OSR movement. It is entirely possible I'll never do anything specifically for Labyrinth Lord again. No shade at Dan Proctor... he did a major solid for the entire RPG world by publishing his retroclone. It's just that the benefits of OSE outweigh my already powerful nostalgia for LL. I feel a great need to give LL some love.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Thief! Stop, Thief!

Sorting old shit leads to finding little lost gems or little lost turds. Here's a lost gemlet I found. I might have posted this on G+. I can't remember.

This is an alternate thief skills method. I have never used it, but I can't imagine it would suck too bad. The big caveat is that I didn't consider classes or races that have great saves. So if you're playing a game where race and class are separate, the smart player will always go for a halfling or dwarf thief to take advantage of this method.

Of course I was thinking of B/X when I wrote this... like I usually am. So with that system, I believe this would work quite nicely.

It looks like I wrote this in June of 2017.


Why not use saving throws to handle Thief skills? It’s a d20 roll, it has a built-in target number, and it scales by level.

There are seven Thief skills. Five of them have percentile ratings that are roughly on the same level, starting as low as 10%. One of them, Climb Sheer Surfaces, has a much higher percentile rating. The last one, Hear Noises, uses a d6. To use the five categories of saving throws for Thief skills we’re going to condense these seven skills into five skills as follows. Yes, we’re basically ignoring the differences in some of these skills in order to have a clean system. I don’t think we’re losing much, to be honest.

Open Locks and Remove Traps
Move Silently and Hide in Shadows
Pick Pockets
Climb Sheer Surfaces
Hear Noise

Now, for my taste, I actually prefer something like the following, which adds some more range to the Thief’s skill set. But your tastes may vary.

Breaking and Entering (Open Locks/Remove Traps)
Stealth (Move Silently/Hide in Shadows/Pick Pockets)
Climbing (Climb Sheer Surfaces)
Awareness (Hear Noise)

On the character sheet next to the five saving throw categories leave some blank lines. Have the player write in the names of her Thief skills next to the categories she wants to link them to. When a skill is used, make the save. Add the ability score modifier that makes the most sense for the skill.

A Thief’s best save is Paralysis, so the player would put the skill she likes best in that category. It is followed, roughly, by Death Ray/Poison, Magic Wands, Spells, and finally Dragon Breath.

Using this method the worst skill begins at 20% and the best skill is 35%. But the character’s ability score bonus, if they have one, can push that up 5 to 15 percent...much better than 10% starting out. Sure, the climbing skill is seriously nerfed but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. And if you want to preserve it or Hear Noises as they are they simply leave them as they are.

What I like about this idea is it uses an existing system that scales by level, it isn’t too far off track from the original skill levels (but still better), it utilizes the PC’s ability score modifiers, and finally it grants the player the freedom to focus on certain skills over others.

Album Law

Using my free time wisely, I created a sophisticated system for ranking music albums based on music + cover art. This is important work. Here is my system, which I have dubbed Album Law.

Albums have 4 stats.
2 of the stats are ranked 3-18 (you know how that shit works).
2 of the stats are derived from the other 2.

Music (Mus): This is how much I like the sound. Ranked 3-18.

Art (Art): This is how much I liked the album art. Ranked 3-18.

Disharmony: This is how closely matched the Mus and Art are. Like descending AC, you want a low number. It is the absolute difference between Mus and Art, rounded down.

Level (Lvl): This is the album's overall power. Ranked 0-9 where 0 should stay home and 9 is name level, lording over a keep. It is derived from a secret forumla based on Mus and Art (add them, average, round down).

In my head, albums ranked in this way are PCs about to embark on a deadly adventure such as G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain. But it strikes me that an adventure for levels 6-8 would work better. I just need to think of a good one.

Example albums:

Slift "Ummon"
Mus 17
Art 18
Dis 1
Lvl 8

Greyhawk "Keepers of the Flame"
Mus 9
Art 6
Dis 3
Lvl 3

I feel like I accomplished something this morning.

EDIT: I changed "Harmony" to "Disharmony" since that is what I was actually going for. The idea is that if the art and music score the same, then they are in perfect alignment. The higher the Disharmony, the less the art and music are in synch. This is important.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Black as Hell Tees

Just a friendly reminder you can get a Black Pudding tee shirt and some other goodies at this link right here.

Blogger Ch-ch-changes

So we're going to be forced to use the new Blogger interface. For the record, I hate it. You click on "create new post" at the top right and you're taken to the main page where you have to click "new post" again. In the Japanese auto industry this is called "muda" or waste.

In the old version, I could click on edit after I publish and then be taken straight into the post to make changes. Now I click edit and I'm taken to the dashboard where I have to "revert to draft" and then edit. Muda. Waste.

When you typed a label in the old version it just worked. Now you type it, click it, then you have to type over it to do the next one?? Or choose from a list, I guess. SUCK ME.

Those are my biggest gripes. The other stuff is just that things look a little different on the dash. And yeah yeah yeah, things change. I know. But I'm really grumpy about it. I get used to using a tool and I just want to use the tool. I don't want to change the tool. But I can relax on this one... things change and we roll with the changes. Stagnation is bad.

But muda is fucking annoying. Fuck your extra clicks, Blogger.

The RPG Folder That Killed Hitler

A stalwart continuation of this series.

The B/X Rogue: Before he was occupied with producing the best version of B/X since the original, Gavin Norman published a series of cool books for use with B/X and Labyrinth Lord. This one is a character class - the Rogue - that basically fixes the old Thief. We've all taken stabs at doing this. I did it in Black Pudding and on my blog and probably on a napkin somewhere. You can tell when a class is fundamentally broken: everyone almost to the person attempts to fix it. Let's face it... how often did you try to fix the Fighter? Not as often, I'd wager.

Anyway... Gavin succeeds here. You get a robust B/X style class full of all the goodies that thieves and rogues are known for. You get options. You don't suck at things. Gavin avoids the trap of those pathetic low percentile skills by taking a different approach. You have a certain number of "talents" and you can pick from a list of over 30. Each level you gain a few more. And instead of having an ever-increasing skill rank, you can do your talents pretty much at a high level of skill from level 1. For example, climbing a difficult surface requires a Dex check... and most Rogues will have a decent Dex score so you're going to succeed a lot. If the surface is easier... no roll required.

You can select from picking locks, reading scrolls, deciphering languages, bashing people over the skull, fancy fighting, and loads of others.

Good stuff.

Operators is by Kyle Simons. It appears to be a Fate-based game from 2018 focused on, I guess, military ops. Not at all my cup of tea. But this RPG Folder Project is not about focusing on games I like, it's about randomly opening files and looking at them.

I won't say much about this one. There are lots of photos of military type stuff. I'm not a fan of that, generally, and I'm also not a huge fan of Fate. But I want to stress that I'm not opposed to either of these things - just not attracted. I don't even know why I have this... unless it was part of a charity bundle, maybe? The book appears to be competently composed and I'm sure it's a lovely game to play. No criticisms from me, just not my bag.

I did note that it was part of The Gauntlet community and I enjoy their Fear of a Black Dragon Podcast quite a bit. So that's cool.

The League of Seekers by J. Lasarde (and others) is an RPG about... something. What is it about? I only just opened the PDF and read the first text I came to, which seems to be a kind of intro. But it doesn't actually say anything about what I'm reading. It tells me this is a TTRP and that is has something to do with history. It's basically a disclaimer stating that if some history is missing, that's not a big deal. This is fiction, after all. And it has no political message. Ok, fine, but what is this?

The art so far is super cool and creepy. So this is a game about monsters? The table of contents reveals some thematic stuff. History, Vampyrs from the East, Seekers.

So at this point I'm thinking in this game you play the role of a Seeker. But what is a Seeker? I would expect to see a clear description or some kind of clear signal as to what a Seeker is, at least in the next few pages.

There's a badass Cthulhu-esque drawing... then we get into Histories. And these are little paragraphs on a timeline, starting with a 730 CE (AD in the book) event near Damascus. Nothing about a Seeker. You gotta read?? This is a timeline... I gotta read this to know the game? Hmm.

Ok, 8 pages of timeline then a really badass art page of maybe souls looking through a door? Then we get our Introduction... and it's more prose and a paragraph about percentile dice. Then we immediately go into the game's resolution mechanics. Then a supremely awesome Cthulhu drawing. Then our Genesis chapter, which I think is chargen.

More prose. Then something about 18th century social classes. Ok, so this is where you decide which class you come from. Ok. What am I? What is a Seeker? No definition. No clear statement on what a Seeker is or what I'm supposed to do in the game. Lots of atmosphere with the great art and lots of prose text which... admittedly... I detest. Not this prose in particular, but this sort of thing in RPGs in general. Not a fan at all. Call me basic.

The book then seems to dive head first into various life paths and other chargen stuff. Looks like you can be a Vampry. Cool. But what's a god damn Seeker? Piecing together clues from the text, I would hypothesize that Seekers are people who know about or suspect supernatural stuff and they seek it out. To destroy? To catalog? Not sure. Let's do an experiment. I'll ctrl+F and look for "Seeker" from page one and see what I can see.

Ok... on the Contents page I can see that Seekers are reborn as "avengers" defending the people. So maybe Seekers are like reconnaissance super heroes. I'm now thinking League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Maybe.

League of Seekers is formed in Paris, 1699. So that tells me a starting point. And I see that Seekers are sent to hunt monsters and map dungeons. So the picture emerging to me now is pre-Victorian clerics going on dungeon dives. Maybe.

The game book layout is ok. It's a bit 90s desktop publishing to me, perhaps in the Vampire-era aesthetic. Not my cup of tea, so I'm not a fair judge. I just know that it didn't grab me. The art is really cool, though. I really do like that.

But this game meanders and it's organization is confusing and baffling. This game tells you that you are a Seeker in a TTRPG but doesn't tell you what that means. It either wants you to do a lot of work to figure it out or it never actually reveals it to you in concrete terms. I think this is a serious problem that could easily be solved. That initial intro page, the one claiming no political agenda... that's a perfect spot to have a clear, concise sentence or two spelling out in no uncertain terms what the game is about and what a Seeker actually is. Because the awesome art alone doesn't tell you this and the prose is going to be skimmed or skipped by half the people who find the game, I promise.

Huh, this installment felt a bit negative. Sorry about that. I'm trying to be as honest as possible. I never want to be a dick so I want to qualify that my aesthetic taste is my own and if your game doesn't suit me aesthetically, that's not on you. I try to make that very clear. But there are some criticisms that are more objective in nature and I will call those out as I see them.


Monday, July 27, 2020

CMH Cover Art: Sketch, Ink, Color

Three stages of a drawing. I often sketch in black. Sometimes blue or sepia. It actually doesn't matter much to me since I'm drawing digitally. If I was drawing this on paper, I'd sketch lightly in pencil.

Here's a side by side of Supercalla and Cozmic Metal Heads. Now I gotta make this a trilogy, right?

Sunday, July 26, 2020