Top Secret NWO – Kickstarter Launch Date – June 19

This just in my inbox:


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

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.


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:

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.

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-
    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.


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.

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*.


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.]