Top Secret NWO – Kickstarter Launch Date – June 19

This just in my inbox:

Top-Secret-logo-HAT

Top Secret: New World Order launches on Kickstarter June 19th

Hi !

This is Susan from the TSR crew. I want to thank you again for signing up for updates for Top Secret: New World Order, the espionage game from Merle M. Rasmussen. It’s an all-new RPG from the ground up, set in the modern era.

We have a lot of things planned for you over the next month leading up to the Kickstarter, including a giveaway with Elder Academy for a unique Top Secret NWO Hex Box for your dice.

Please help us spread the word!

Talk to you soon,
Susan Silver
Director of Community for TSR

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YouTube Series – Roll20 For The Absolute Beginner

A few weeks ago, I was asked to help the friend of a friend get started on Roll20. He planned to run a game for which there is no character sheet for the system in Roll20.

We had technical issues so I could not share my screen, so I ended up talking him through from signing into Roll20 to go here and click this, or type that. It was very tedious, but we finally got him enough to get started. I made the comment to him that I wished there was a tutorial for the absolute beginner.

That was the kernel for the idea that I have been simmering since then. After a previous acquisition of a better camera, I have been working to tweak settings, and determine the best way to do things.

It isn’t as polished as I’d like, but with practice comes improvement. I may sound a bit stiff talking to the camera, but I am working on that too.

I have just posted the introduction to the series and have the first episode ready to edit, and ideas for the next two episodes.

Research, scripting, and multiple takes to help minimize the effort of editing takes a lot more time than one would think. Some finished products make it look like it was easy, because of how well they are done. I aspire to such levels.

If you know some absolute beginners to Roll20, please send them my way. Also, I’d appreciate any suggestions for topics for absolute beginners. Most of it will be focused on GM’s, but I will point out things that are different or helpful for players.

UPCOMING EPISODES

No. 1 – The GM: Getting Started.

No. 2 – The Player – Getting Started.

No. 3 – The GM: Building Basic Character Sheets.

You can catch the introduction to the series here:

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New Blog Header by Del Teigeler

Today I get to unveil a new blog header by +Del Teigeler! Check out his website here.

It is so awesome! I really enjoyed getting intermittent updates over the course of this project. I contacted him at about the same time I asked Satine Phoenix to do a new header and avatar for my online presence. Of course, Del has lots of other projects he had already committed to. He also asked me to let him work with only electronic tools, for the practice. You may have seen him share snippets of this image on G+. I think the end result is awesome!

This image totally represents my character, Griswald, hiring mercenaries to go fight the bad guys and orcs, and almost always all being killed. On the left you see the happy and dedicated hirelings ready for battle, and on the right the results of following Griswald into battle. Griswald stands in the center. You can learn about Griswald’s story here.

I’ll leave Del’s version as the blog header for a while, then I will set the existing headers to rotate. I’m torn about whether I should add any text to this image, I don’t want to cover anything.

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A Much Bigger Problem – My First 5e Review

Cody Lewis, of Taking 20, William Thompson, and Daniel Lewis, working as Green Feather Games, have published their first adventure on DriveThruRPG. It is a 15 page PDF, after the cover, OGL, player map, and 2 1/2 page bestiary, there are 10 pages for the adventure and half page for the DM’s map. It is PWYW, so very affordable. They also have a version of it on Roll20 for $6.99, so you don’t have to do any extra work to be ready to run it.

Since this was published under the 5e SRD they have used creature art and 5e stat blocks. After the OGL, there is a link to the SRD. I almost missed the link, which is mentioned on page 2.

This is a third level adventure for 4 to 5 players. It can be a one shot or easily fit into an established campaign. It should give 3-4 hours of play, so time wise it would be a great scenario to run at a con.

The introduction “chapter” sets the tone and has a quick synopsis, a getting started section, and 3 suggested adventure hooks. This is about a farm harassed by “something” taking a farmer’s cows. It turns out to be a nest of ankhegs that has taken over a former kobold mine. If the first adventure hook is used, there is some read aloud text. The lair is an eight “room” cavern, easily equated with a mini-dungeon.

There is a possibility for loot and unexpected findings/happenings. More than one way to deal with the boss fight is presented.

The short bestiary presents two variations on the ankheg, the queen and hatchlings.

This is a great module for a first time publication. I’m not big on modules, as I have to do so much prep to run them, that I’m usually better served doing my own thing. However, this module doesn’t have extraneous details. It is laid out in a way that is easy to use and not get tripped up on details. There is minimal read aloud text that is between two lines and offset from the margins for the other text. It is also in a variation on the font. Two places have the words “Read aloud:” before the text, and another has read before the first line. I would prefer each occurrence of read aloud text to be handled identically.

What I Liked:

  • The title is instantly suggestive of more. What is it?
  • Great cover art.
  • Straightforward presentation of the module with focus making it easy to run.
  • Coded DM map and player map.
    • They could easily be used in Roll20. (NOTE: They have a Roll20 version on the Roll20 marketplace as mentioned above.
  • Bestiary
  • Link to SRD
  • The colored background did not impact the legibility of the text for my aging eyes.

What I’d Like To See:

  • Each read aloud text presented the same way.
  • The SRD link following the OGL needs to stand out more.
  • There was only one thing in the text that bothered me, they used a hyphen to split the word tremorsense with the hyphen after the first ‘s’. so tremors-
    ense.
    I had to stop and make sense of the word split in a non-standard way. This was the only such hiccup.
    I have a pre-release review copy, so it may be fixed in the released version.

    • I did not notice any other typos or layout issues.

Conclusion:

I liked this module and can see myself running it, or even being a player in it. It is simple enough that one who is not into 5e could easily transform it to use in other editions, such as various OSR clones. The presentation of the material makes it easy to just pick it up and run it. I look forward to future offerings from Green Feather Games.

 

I am dipping my toes into 5e, as that is what most new players that don’t meet an OSR grognard first will most likely be exposed to first. At last I have read the high points of the 5e PHB, and glanced through the MM, and read the high points of the DMG. I’m in a 5e campaign that went on hiatus before the first session because of a work situation for the DM. I look forward to playing in Lost Mines of Phandelver before I make an attempt to DM 5e myself. I hope to get word that we will be starting in the next few weeks.

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Review – Dave Arneson’s True Genius by Robert J. Kuntz

I ordered this book, and let it default to the faster shipping option, instead of letting it take a few more days. Normally, I don’t read other reviews before I write my own. However, I was struggling with what to say, and was curious what others thought of it. I found one strongly positive review by Paul Stormberg of The Collector’s Trove on Facebook. I found myself wondering if he had read the same book I had. I also saw a brief one on G+ by +Greg Gorgonmilk, where he admitted having difficulty trying to find something positive to say about it.  It is with some reluctance that I publish my first solidly negative review.

First Impression

I was very surprised when it came in the mail. I didn’t realize this $20 volume plus several dollars for mailing was only 69 pages long. That was a big let down. However, the introduction and footnotes make it clear that this is just a preparatory volume with a lot of the content in Mr. Kuntz’s upcoming full monograph*: A New Ethos In Game Design.

My initial impression of reading this volume is that it feels like reading 17th, 18th, and 19th century books. I’ve even read some 20th century texts written in this style. My background is studying history and theology, so I have lots of practice reading this style of writing. Basically, the sentence structure is archaic, and the length of sentences reminds me of my forays into studying German in college. Once I determined it was going to be that kind of read, I realized that I had to avoid distractions while reading, so no TV in the other room, and my granddaughter down for a nap.

This may just be the way that Mr. Kuntz writes. Many of my rough drafts have long sentences, and awkward phrasing. In some ways, I felt like I was reading one of my own rough drafts, or one of the “BS” philosophy papers I wrote in college. {I have a minor in philosophy to go with a BA in history. I mean no disrespect, I am just reminded of my own worst writing.]

In spite of the dense and complex way to say things, I was able to change gears from the lighter fare of most of my recent reading, and dig in.

Within these pages it is stated that Dave Arneson is the origin of roleplaying, and stating that David Wesley’s Braunstein or Gygax & Perren’s Chainmail are not true antecedents of The Fantasy Game, later marketed as Dungeons & Dragons.

Mr. Kuntz points out that original D&D is closer to children’s make believe than any other game. He argues that historians of D&D should look to systems theory and design theory to see that neither Chainmail nor Braunstein, on their own, have all the elements by themselves to play a RPG.

He concludes this monograph* with what some may consider a shot across the bow (An apt metaphor for a book about the creator of a naval warfare game.):

RPG historians should take serious note of systems thinking and design theory before making claims which paint unscientific pictures for public consumption and, in such cases, that are rife with errors of even the most basic kind. This form of historicity is not consonant with readily available scientific methodology but tends towards haphazard guesswork.

Mr. Kuntz obviously has a dim view on the historiographic** methods of many RPG historians. Perhaps the issue is a lack of primary materials from Dave Arneson and his players. In-depth interviews with the remaining first generation players would clarify this. As I have not delved into the methods and footnotes of all extant histories on RPGs and D&D, I cannot comment if that is the issue.

A more accessible presentation, i.e.  easier to read, would better serve Rob Kunt’s goal of expressing to the world that without Dave Arneson, there would be no D&D. It is clear that this is true. It is also clear, from what I have read, that without Gary Gygax’s collaboration, RPGs may never have taken off and would be an obscure phenomena limited to the original group of players.

Rob Kuntz is by many accounts a very intelligent man, and obviously widely read. From his many footnotes, it is clear that he is widely read in the theories of systems and design. Most of those footnotes read like his writing. Other reviews I have read have stated that he could probably say the same thing in one third the number of pages. I tend to agree.

The argument is stated that Dave Arneson’s vision of what RPGs can be is stunted and too strongly tied to what have become more and more rigid rules with each version of D&D. He thus seems to advocate what those in the OSR movement are all about, “rulings not rules”, and using the parts that fit what is right for you and your group. He points out that Gary Gygax advocated this early on, but for financial/profit reasons developed more rules to keep players tied to his version of the game, rather than getting by without rules. While this is demonstrably true based on Gygax’s own writings, it is not new.

However, I do not see how one can take the RPG concept further than “rulings not rules”. The upcoming book is claimed to answer that question.

What I Liked

  • A good reminder that without Dave Arneson, there would be no D&D.
  • Supports the OSR ideal of “rulings not rules.”

What I’d Like to See

  • A more direct and clear writing style.
  • Mr. Kuntz was there are the beginning of the Arneson/Gygax collaboration on D&D, and his personal insights add perspective to the early days. I’d like to see this more plainly explained. Perhaps it is his upcoming monograph*.

Conclusion

If you are one of those who researches the history of D&D, you will want this book for your collection.  Some who are completionists will find that they want this in their collection. Dave Arneson did not come up with his idea out of nothing. He was a long time game player, and had multiple experiences in different aspects of games, that one can see their impact on what he shared with his gaming group and later Gary Gygax. While it is helpful to have primary sources from those who were there, the writing style is far from accessible to the general reader. If this is the style we can expect from his upcoming book, then I seriously doubt I will buy it. His goal of raising up Dave Arneson would be better served by a more clear and concise presentation of his argument.

*Monograph – A fancy word for a book with one author.

**Historiography is the study of the methods of historians. It is in a sense, the history of the study of history. [The upper level historiography course was required for my BA in history.]

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Tell Me About Your Character – I Was Interviewed

I have the distinction of being the subject for the first episode of the third season of Tell Me About Your Character (TMAYC). TMAYC is an interview style podcast where +Steve Keller asks the right questions to get the context to help people share why their favorite character is their favorite.  I interviewed Steve about TMAYC and his favorite character over on Multiverse.

In my interview, I go into details about the character, Griswald, in my brother Robert’s campaign, that is the source of the name of this blog. I have written about these various stories in my interview here:

THE STORY BEHIND “FOLLOW ME, AND DIE!”

“THE RANCOR” – A CAUTIONARY TALE ON OUT-OF-CHARACTER OUTBURSTS

I noticed at the end of my interview that I mis-spoke and said that the other characters killed me, when I meant to say they killed the Rancor which had swallowed me.

All articles where I discuss Griswald.

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Is It Really The Ultimate?

I first wrote this draft over a year ago about an RPG product that I don’t recall or even what website I saw it mentioned. I kept it in my drafts folder not sure if I should publish it. Yesterday, Goodman Games emailed everyone who backed Grimtooth’s Ultimate Traps Collection that they were doing another Grimtooth’s Traps. Will they send out a sticker for our book, so it will now say, Penultimiate Traps Collection?  For some reason, that email just rubbed me the wrong way.

Every so often I see an advertisement for a product, movie, or something else that is proclaimed “The Ultimate Whatever It Is….”

Originally ultimate is from Latin and means last.

Ultimate seems in many ways to have morphed into a word for excitement, coolness, pizzazz, etc.

Language is fluid and meanings change, but when you know a bit about the roots of words and their meanings, and you have the “tradition” of a word means what it means, it can be hard to let go of and accept the new usage. I have studied four languages in addition to English. Words only have meaning in context of the sentences around them. However, I seem to have a mental block against that concept with the word ultimate.

I think I have an easier time handling the usage of ultimate when it means cool, because many who use it to mean last, don’t really mean last.

Sometimes they mean penultimate, which means “next to last”, or antepenultimate, which is “the one before next to last.” I took a semester of Koine Greek oh so many years ago, and these words based in Latin were used to describe which syllable of a Greek word has the emphasis.  Actually, penult means “next to last syllable in a word.” Antepenult – “third from last syllable in a word”. In both cases, “ult” is an abbreviated form of “ultimate”.

CONCLUSION

For me, the word ultimate has become a red flag that alerts me to an additional level of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Almost any product that calls itself the ultimate in our culture of new/improved/better/faster is just a marketing gimmick. I supposed I shouldn’t fault any RPG author or publisher for doing what it takes to market their products, but calling something the ultimate, when it isn’t will rarely sit well with me.

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2017 200 Word RPG Challenge

I took the plunge and entered the 2017 200 Word RPG Challenge.

You can also follow along with the 200 Word RPG Challenge G+ Community.

There is a formal submission process with judges and prizes.

My entry is Cat Wrangling.

Cat Wranglers earn experience gathering cats into their herd.

Start with 2d6 cats and one method. Each turn there will be 1d6 new cats in your neighborhood, and 2d6 cats attempting to escape.

Both ancient methods and new methods are used.

Ancient methods include fresh fish, canned fish, caged canaries, and catnip. Cats may be strays, or those stuck in trees. Each method attracts 1d6 cats.

New methods must be researched to maximize one's herd. Possible new methods are: cat yodeling, cat calling, breeding Andalusian catherd dogs, etc.

Developing new methods are adjudicated by the judge with a difficulty level. Any creative and entertaining method is permitted.

Enticements for cats to leave the herd must be negated. Threats include: big mama cat or old Tom on the prowl and frisky, mice on the periphery of the herd, song birds in the forest too near the ground, children with a laser pointer, stray dogs running wild, etc.

The health of your heard must be maintained by cleaning the litter boxes and feeding the herd.

Tick marks keep track of cats, food, and litter. Starting methods on index cards are assigned randomly.

Each dozen cats attracts a helper and gains a level.

CC-BY-4.0 License

EDIT: My submission on the official site. All 2017 submissions on the official site.

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Halloween Costumes Are The Closest I Ever Came To Cosplay

Way back in college I put together a couple of decent Halloween costumes, with a lot of help from Mom. She was always willing to help out with stuff like that. If she were still alive, I’m sure she’d help me make something.

Rogue

Here, the most difficult part was the hat. It wasn’t great, but it worked. Making hats is harder than it looks. We used red felt and some sort of stiff fabric between two layers for the brim and sides. (I bet the internet has tutorials on hat making.) The vest was the fake wool lining of an old winter coat. Mom added a layer of fabric on the now inside of the vest. For a cloak, we had several stips of cloth that made a decent cloak. We found some fake snake skin for a scabbard for an old bayonet my brother added a handle to that he let me borrow. The shirt and pants were from a pattern and Mom whipped those out in no time.  I don’t think I have a color picture of that costume. I have a thousand yard stare because I am very near sighted without my glasses.

October, 1985 - HalloweenParty
October, 1985 – Halloween Party

Cleric

For a monk’s robe we bought several yards of white muslin, and used Ritt dye to make it brown. It is not an authentic hood, it is all one piece with velcro to hold it closed at the neck and waist. I’m sure with the internet, we could have found a more authentic pattern. In the picture below, I have two of my 3 apartment mates, who were brothers. Carolyn was Curtis’ girlfriend, and they’ve been married close to 30 years.

October, 1984 - HalloweenParty
October, 1984 – Halloween Party

Doctor #4

Since I like Dr. Who, and my favorite color is blue, Mom made me a scarf years ago. It is way wider and longer than Tom Baker’s scarf, and it was crocheted, instead of knitted. I used that for an impromptu costume at the office a few years ago. I already had the hat and overcoat. A pen makes a good stand in for a sonic screwdriver. A tire gauge would also work.

4th Doctor
4th Doctor

I think most people would put time into a once a year Halloween costume. Based on what it took to make the rogue & cleric costumes, with a lot of help from Mom, I really admire those who put so much effort into accurate costumes.

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Solo Roleplaying

Solo roleplaying may seem counter-intuitive to many.  Playing an RPG solo instead of with a GM and other players. The idea goes way back to at least the late 1970’s, if not earlier. With the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, there are tables to generate random dungeons. One can use table to determine random encounters, NPC personalities, etc. Also in that time frame were the choose your own adventure books. The first computer RPGs were text based solo forays into dungeons or ruins.

Way back when, I tried to do solo play using the tables in the DMG, but did not have the patience for it. I have read other’s postings about their efforts in solo RPG play in recent years, and even follow the Lone Wolf Roleplaying G+ Community. Two people that I follow on G+ for other reasons, +Matt Jackson for maps & RPG ideas, and +Sophia Brandt who does great reviews and gives a non-US take on RPGs.

Today, I am home sick with no voice, and I watched a Hangout hosted by +Ray Otus, with Sophia as special guest on the topic of solo RPGs. While watching this and hearing the different perspectives, and discussing ways to handle the GM piece of the puzzle, I felt inspired to try solo play again.

My Approach

Since AD&D 1e is my go to game, and I focus my blog on the OSR, I got to thinking about the tools available to me. Use the standard hexcrawl model. Town is safe and not the place of adventure. Maybe ask the barkeep or some other person in town where one can find adventure. Use the NPC personality traits tables to flesh out the NPCs to get an idea of how helpful or expensive their information might be. Then use the hexcrawl rules to determine the surrounding terrain and weather. The dungeon/ruins/source of adventure is a certain direction and so many miles/days from town. Use the chance of getting lost, and if the character(s) know they are lost. This would require having enough food, or ability to forage for food. Have random encounters, etc. The monster reaction table and morale tables would come in handy. Use the random dungeon tables to determine the entrance to the dungeon.

One could use different tools for decision making, such as Rory’s Story Cubes, decks of cards, the d30 Sandbox Companion, d30 GM Companion, GM Emulator, etc. There are also many solo play engines discussed at the Lone Wolf G+ Community. There are so many useful tables out there in the OSR, that you can take your favorites to build your own solo play method.

Hexcrawl Practice

I see this as one way for a GM to practice running a hexcrawl and finding the method that works best for them. One could even use solo hexcrawl play to build a sandbox for future group play. For example, use this to build the back story of your region in the starting hexcrawl. Something along the lines of How to Host a Dungeon. I’m not sure how well that would work in practice, but I see it as a way for a GM to be a player in their own world.

One of the other common uses of solo play is testing one’s own game, adventure, or custom classes,  new monsters, or house rules. It would also be a good way to try out a new ruleset to make sure one knows it before group play.

You can roll dice, or use tools like NBOS’ Inspiration Pad, for quick results once your tables are built.

There are lots of free and low cost solo play engines. One could also use rules light systems like Swords & Wizardry Light or RISUS, or even FATE. As with all things RPG, find what works best for you. The only way to know is to try.

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Ramblings of an Old Gamer