Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing Schemes on Realms of Chirak

I've been thinking about focusing --at long last-- on completing the revised Realms of Chirak campaign setting. The last one I published was in 2010ish and was statted for 4E. I had an unpublished document for use with Runequest, and an unpolished version for use with D&D 3.5 that was later modestly updated for Pathfinder. I never felt comfortable enough with my "stat block fu" to release a D20 Pathfinder edition of the setting, unfortunately.

I do feel confident enough to release one for D&D 5E, however.....but I also feel like getting it properly updated to D&D 5E is one of the hang ups I have had. Eight years ago I had a nice job but lots of free time, too. Eight years later I have a better job, ownership buy-in as a shareholder, and I'm a dad with a six year old at home. Finding time to write, let alone game, is something of a herculean task!

That said, a majority of the writing to be done is still on the order of "update the text, clean up the text, edit the text, organize the text." Stat blocks are almost secondary, and in many ways I could separate the lore of the setting from the mechanical elements and simply publish a system neutral book, followed by a "D&D 5E" book and a "Pathfinder" book (maybe for 2.0, who knows!) that work in conjunction with the system neutral core book. I think this is not unlike the format Green Ronin went for with their Freeport setting, and it looks kind of like what Kobold Press is doing with Midgard now.

I think I'll try messing around with the working draft to see if making a distinct delineation between "setting" and "rules" in the content will work well. I could simultaneously release the "Realms of Chirak system neutral setting" along with the "Realms of Chirak 5E Manual" and thus have both bases covered. One book would tell you all about animates, Sabiri, Zodiac Stones and so forth; the other gives you the stats for such.

If anyone knows a really good artist for some interior work that you'd like to recommend I would love suggestions, too. When I originally published this book in 2010 I used Simon Trantor for the cover art but used stock art for the interior. I like Simon's work a great deal, but would love to have a range of unique interior art. My personal budget for this vanity project would be larger this time, so paying for some quality original art would be my preference.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Spelljammer is Returning?!?!?!

According to these two posts at ENWorld about the GAMA Trade Show presentation from WotC, it was strongly implied that the upcoming Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes will have Spelljammer favorites like the hippo-like pistol-packing giff, and that this is because the next world that will be revisited in D&D 5E is Spelljammer. I'm a bit floored.....I'd sort of assumed that Spelljammer would remain forever an artifact of curiosity from the 2E era, too interesting and weird for more conservative WotC to explore in this day and age. Maybe Starfinder's success motivated them to bring it back....but that doesn't seem right, given that Starfinder is much closer to 3rd edition's Dragonstar in theme than it does the strange alternate reality Ptolemaic/Copernican space fantasy of Spelljammer.

Either way....I'm stoked that this could happen, and would even suggest that Greyhawk fans (all 700 of you) should take heart....if they'll rekindle Spelljammer, then maybe even Greyhawk has a chance!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Maybe Just System Fatigue!

And so it was that I talked the group on Wednesday in to trying out Starfinder. And lo, the GM's interest was suddenly rekindled, and we had a brand new and very pathetic group of level 1 androids, humans, skittermanders, and a odd frog out grippli on a rough and tumble adventure like only a bunch of amoral thematic outlaws could go for.

So I've shelved the D&D 5E books for a while and have quietly dragged out all my Pathfinder stuff again....I think getting my Wednesday night group to play Starfinder is a victory in itself, but the future of the other gaming nights has yet to be assessed....Call of Cthulhu will eventually need to take another break....hmmmm.

Gaming Fatigue or D&D Fatigue?

It happens! It's happened to me a lot over the last few years, on and off, for various reasons. Lately it's hit me harder than I've ever felt before. I might actually need a real, genuine D&D break. I don't think it's a total gaming burnout, though....thank I still feel keen to continue my ongoing Call of Cthulhu and periodic Starfinder games, but in many regards my interest in D&D style fantasy is cripplingly low. It doesn't help that real life has dramatically lowered my free time to prepare and plan for games; without that time (or interest) I can only sustain a game for so long before I feel like the law of diminishing returns has kicked in. For reasons I haven't fully identified, that has most definitely happened to me with D&D right now.

I could speculate (and have) but the truth is, it might just be a genre thing. For those of you thinking this sounds crazy, keep in mind I've been more or less running (as GM exclusively) two weekly games for almost 11 years straight now, and prior to that still on averaged managed 1-2 games per week prior to that, going back to like 1989. That's a lot of gaming.

Most of the gaming has been absorbed by D&D and its relatives, so it stands to reason that it might be the genre I have most deeply drunk of. I am pretty sure (but not 100% sure) it's the genre and not the system. One way to test this would be to break out of D&D 5E and try some other fantasy games. I recently ran two sessions of Mythras to hold Saturday over while I found time to prep the next Call of Cthulhu arc. It was fun, but then Mythras didn't have prep time, either, so it became less fun as a result. The problem is, even when I have the prep time, I'm having trouble finding the interest....fantasy is really, really REALLY played out for me, I think. Not much genre wise left for me to explore or be surprised by.

One thought is: let someone else run games on Wednesday for a while, see if that rekindles my interest. Truth is, I'm so "jaded" from being a GM for decades that being a player is hard and ultimately disinteresting...but taking a break has inevitably helped me to recharge the old GM engine, so maybe that would work out, anyway.

Anyway, I'll work out some sort of plan, maybe tonight as I wrap the D&D game. I know I'm not completely burned out as a GM, because I have lots of interesting ideas I want to explore in other genres, using Starfinder, Traveller, Savage Worlds, White Star, Call of Cthulhu and even Cryptworld. My plan is to convince the group to try one of these. When I'm ready, maybe I'll dive back in to fantasy with something a bit nonstandard, such as Fantasy AGE or Symbaroum.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Return to the Crypt of the Everflame Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest Summary

Jason Bulhman, author of the very module playtested as well as lead Pathfinder designer provided an interesting blow-by-blow summary of a recent playtest he ran using an adapted version of the Crypt of the Everflame module (click here for the playtest report). That was one of the few published modules I ran for pathfinder 1.0 as well (it was the first in the line for the new PF system back then), and it's a halfway decent dungeon slog and introduction to classic Pathfinder. As such, this playtest report helps in framing some of the information revealed.

Interesting bits I noticed:

1. Perception is now treated as a proficiency/class/level thing that works like a skill but isn't.

2. Shield defense is a reaction and apparently fighters can go through a lot of shields using it.

3. Apparently somatic and verbal are discreet actions you must spend toward completing a spell?

4. flanking now grants flat-footedness which is also a -2 penalty to the enemy rather than a +2 bonus to the attacker. This one doesn't surprise me as it's consistent with the underlying redesign of many features in Starfinder, where the net effect is the same, but the wording/approach is essentially simplified or tightened up.

This summary was from a listen to the Glass Cannon Podcast which I concede I have not actually listened to because I don't have enough time or energy in my life to listen to podcasts, so I appreciate Jason's efforts to summarize this.

As these little bits and details roll along I concede, it sounds really interesting. I'd love it if the game managed to retain the "D&D feel" while also making combat more nuanced and lending weight to things the game has traditionally taken for granted (still thinking about what it means to spend an action on a verbal and somatic casting...)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Pathfinder 2nd Edition Playtest Announced

Just in time, too...I had been seriously thinking about jumping back in to Pathfinder at least every other Friday (Starfinder is a gateway drug I guess)....those Pocket Rulebooks demand to be played!

I might still run some Pathfinder 1.0, and plan to migrate over to Pathfinder 2.0 Beta when it becomes available in August.

If you're even remotely interested in Pathfinder, D&D alternates, or game design in general then check out the announcement, here and the blog announcement, here. There's a lot of interesting information to unpack.

Most interesting to me is the discussion on the new action economy. Maybe it's just because I've been running Mythras lately, but this sounds a little....familiar....:

"After initiative is sorted out and it's your turn to act, you get to take three actions on your turn, in any combination. Gone are different types of actions, which can slow down play and add confusion at the table. Instead, most things, like moving, attacking, or drawing a weapon, take just one action, meaning that you can attack more than once in a single turn! Each attack after the first takes a penalty, but you still have a chance to score a hit. In Pathfinder Second Edition, most spells take two actions to cast, but there are some that take only one. Magic missile, for example, can be cast using from one to three actions, giving you an additional missile for each action you spend on casting it!

Between turns, each character also has one reaction they can take to interrupt other actions. The fighter, for example, has the ability to take an attack of opportunity if a foe tries to move past or its defenses are down. Many classes and monsters have different things they can do with their reactions, making each combat a little bit less predictable and a lot more exciting. Cast a fire spell near a red dragon, for example, and you might just find it takes control of your magic, roasting you and your friends instead of the intended target!"

I doubt it's anything truly like the action point/combat action mechanic in Mythras, but it bears some interesting similarities...and to be honest, the new concept outlined above sounds like a major improvement to the mechanical process of the D20 system.

Either way, this is pretty exciting. The only game I've run more of than D&D is Pathfinder, and that's without analyzing the lineage of those systems, so seeing Pathfinder get a 2.0 upgrade is going to be really exciting. Official playtest books in August!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Auctions Auctions Auctions

If anyone is interested in some of the weird stuff I am dropping on Ebay, check it out here. I'm migrating my hoarder's collection to the status of "someone else's problem," as part of a personal resolution this year to move away from the hoarder lifestyle and closer to the minimalist life style. I'll never actually get there....but I can try!

Some of the more interesting stuff on the page includes T&T modules I've hoarded since I was literally eleven years old....I'll be posting B/X some stuff up there soon, too. My goal is to stop harvesting and then secreting away good stuff when it could be better enjoyed by others, essentially.

Fantasy Age Companion out in PDF and Pre-Order Status!

More on this as I read through it, but I am very excited to at last have the next Fantasy Age book: The Fantasy Age Companion. Green Ronin has a pre-order special here where you get the PDF for an extra $5 if you order the physical product.

Five Genres That Game X Can Handle (But You Might Not Have Thought It Could)

There's a tradition among some gamers to find a game they like, then change it utterly and irrevocably. "This is the fantasy game I want...let me just modify the rules until my houserule index is longer than the rulebook." Or, "This is an amazing world and setting for fantasy, but I think these rules would be much more interesting if I modded it out for my dystopian future SF idea I have."

This list is not about that; it's about pointing out some games that actually provide a sound structure (without modification) for running some alternative genres that you wouldn't necessarily expect to see in the game's advertising. No rules changes necessary! No elaborate system hacks required. This list eschews game systems that traditionally brag about their multi-genre emulation. Here goes:

White Star is Actually a Really Good Mecha Anime Game

White Star Galaxy Edition isn't just a decent OSR space opera game. I turns out there are plenty of rules for giant mecha, their pilots, talking and transforming robots, plucky sidekicks, and any other number of genre tropes that you will find fit comfortably in your own emulation of Gundam, Armored Trooper Votoms or Robotech. White Star has you covered!

Traveller is a Perfect System for Lovecraftian Horror

Although you could cheat a bit by simply grabbing Cthonian Stars, which is an actual emulator for science fiction horror tainted by the mythos, the truth is that Traveller has all of the necessary bells and whistles to pull this off. Indeed, the fact that Traveller traditionally encourages an extra or customized statistic by race allows you to effortlessly add a Sanity score to your UPP without ay need to modify the mechanic. The rules for creating alien denizens are just another fancy way of creating terrifying flora and fauna in your mythos-tainted Travellerverse.

Call of Cthulhu is An Ideal Play-It-Straight Historical Emulator

Not only does Call of Cthulhu have nearly endless supplements focusing on different locales and time periods, it's designed to be a realistic game from the ground up, and there's a general agreement among most CoC Keepers that the best way to run the game is to "play it straight" for as long as possible before introducing the horror and ramping up the sanity meter. Indeed, if you want to simply eschew any real need for anything other than the horror of the human condition, in any time period you like, Call of Cthulhu has got you covered.

13th Age Is a Secret Super Hero RPG

The core conceit of 13th Age is "larger than life fantasy heroes who are at the center of the story," and it works exceedingly well. You could, with no actual mechanical changes, reskin the base classes and create a perfect emulator for super hero gaming. Seriously! Take a look and think about it. Weapons are less important in objective terms, but rather in effect terms. Abilities in the system are named but not defined beyond their mechanical relevance. The GM's side of the table is ridiculously easy. This might sort of break the rule up top about not changing the mechanics or setting, but if that's a concern, simply play the game straight from level 1 as a game about demigods (and simply remind the players to incorporate something about their demigod status in their One Unique Thing.) It handles this conceit remarkably well.

Zweihander is A Grim Historical Dark Ages Emulator

It is! And it's not even really a hidden trait if you read through the GM's advice in the book. Zweihander appears to be built not only to emulate the grim world of Warhammer fantasy (or a suitable clone), but to emulate the dark ages of Europe in it's most inglorious form. Even the core setting appears to be aimed at a sort of "alternate medieval Europe" which is even closer to the mark than the faux Europe of classic Warhammer. Using this as the core while riffing from a couple Medieval manuals and atlases seems almost trivial. How much (or how little) you want to involve supernatural elements is entirely up to your own taste.

That last one feels like a bit of a cheat, so here's a bonus suggestion:

Dungeons & Dragons 5E can do Post-Apocalypse Just Fine

Go read up on the advanced weapon tech options in the DMG, then look at each character class and modify their spell choices to reflect only spells of a psychic or potentially psychic nature. Only allow magic items and options which could reflect future tech interpreted through the superstitious view of primitive distant survivors, and either pick monsters of appropriately mutated nature, or reskin to your heart's's actually easier than it sounds. Or just play it straight and run a Swords of Shannara style future apocalypse in which magic is the source (or product) of the end times.

Extra Bonus: White Star is Star Wars In All But Name 

It's fairly obvious that White Star will work to serve as a Star Wars RPG emulator in a pinch; I'm considering the possibility of using it for exactly that purpose while I draw on the Star Wars RPGs for source material.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Light Post Week: A Very late Comparison of the Playstation 4 Pro to the Xbox One X

This week I upgraded to both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X (don't ask; I just couldn't make up my mind to upgrade to one). Here is what I have noticed, for the tiny portion of you in the Venn Diagram who are both in to tabletop RPGs and also own consoles with enough interest to read this!

For those wondering why I bothered: last year I moved the household to 4K HDR-capable smart  televisions, and the only device I have which can utilize this resolution at all is the Xbox One  S right now.

Initial Upgrade Experience:

PS4 Pro upgraded by having me connect the new PS4 Pro to the old PS4, and it proceeded to copy over all the relevant files on to the new system, which took about 2.5 hours (the old PS4 was a 500GB HDD edition). Contrary to information online, I was able to detach my external hard drive and plug it in to the new one (once it finished the transfer) with no issues. 

Xbox One X  basically required some OS updating and then moved my account over while online. I took about an hour to migrate all games off of my old Xbox's internal hard drive to my 2TB external drive, but once that was done it was plug-and-play.

So both experiences were not bad to perform the account/game migration, but Xbox One X was a little faster and easier.

The 4K Movie Experience:

Ps4 Pro is apparently not designed with UHD Blu Rays in mind so I didn't even bother. Xbox One X is specifically designed so you can watch UHD Blu Rays as intended. It works...when I insert one of the few UHDs I've shelled out money for, it plays, and looks good. Not like "holy cow" good....all those people talking about how shocking the upscaling effects are, or the UHD quality or the HDR and so forth are all apparently gifted with more precise vision than I am (or only recently discovered this high def phenomenon), but the resolution feels "right." One thing for sure...anything less than a 1080p Blu Ray feels like an awful viewing experience these days. I need to upgrade my Star Trek film DVD collection some day!!!

The 4K Gaming Experience:

PS4 Pro is more like a "PS4 1.5" incremental upgrade. It has more power, and can render and process the games better, but everything I've read indicates that the console balances between graphical performance and framerate for the best experience. The result is games which you can (usually) tell are more enhanced than 1080p resolution, and often with smoother running experiences. I found this most notable in Destiny 2 and Watchdogs 2, and Horizon: Zero Dawn continued to look great, but some other games (such as Star Wars Battlefront 2) didn't look all that improved. Overall my experience so far has been, "Hmmmm....yeah, I think this looks a bit better. Wait, what did I pay for again???"

Xbox One X is not an incremental improvement, it's a hot new blazing machine and it's not bashful about showing this power off. Every game I've looked at so far which is on the "Enhanced for XB1X" list isn't just noticeably better, they're all shockingly better....running at a smooth framerate at 4K resolution. Games like Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, and Halo 5: Guardians are simply amazing to look at. Halo 5 in particular is so sharp that playing it at the higher resolution is a huge contrast graphically to  my prior experience.

The enhancements for 3PP games on XB1X are a bit dicier so far, but there's no denying the performance improvements. Most notable is all of Ubisoft's titles: I have not seen Ghost Recon: Wildlands like this before, with 4K native resolution, smooth framerates and all the graphical bells and whistles turned on (that game still vexes and tantalizes me at the  same time, though). I could not achieve this on my PC (and to ugprade my PC to get this would cost a lot more than the Xbox One X did!) Titanfall 2 also looks amazing at 4K. 

So: if you only need one console to provide a 4K experience, Xbox One X is it. Hand's down, it's the better overall experience for the "current gen" console systems. PS4 still has a lot of love, but for the foreseeable future, until Sony catches up, Xbox One X has effectively become my new top dog in terms of gameplay power and performance.