Category Archives: Spotlight

OSRCon 2014 Toronto

The fourth annual OSRCon is going to be held in Toronto again this year. Unfortunately, I will not be in town when it will be going on, but I attended the past two, and enjoyed both. In the first, I played a magic-user that explored Dwimmermount. In the second, I played a Pathfinder adaptation of White Plume Mountain and ran an OD&D game set in the Fight On! community mega-dungeon, The Darkness Beneath.

My understanding is that this years event will be far more casual, more like a game day, without panels or guest speakers. The details are being coordinated on a Google Plus community, and the specific event can be found here. It is happening on saturday, august 23rd. So far, I see LotFP, AD&D, Basic D&D, and DCC games already scheduled. I wish I could make it.

OSRCon 4 2014 IMG_4762

Detect Magic

Detect Magic is a blog by Daniel Davis, just started this year. If I had to select an appropriate pigeonhole or tagline, I might say: “older D&D through the lens of Apocalypse World with lots of useful tools and also rules hacks,” though like all such summaries that sells it somewhat short. If those things are your bag (and they are certainly mine), I would recommend heading over there to check it out and maybe adding it to your regular reading list and/or blogroll. Old standby blogs are regularly slowing down or ceasing posts entirely, so it is always good to see new folks jumping in.

Here are some posts you might want to start with:

  • Faction wars procedure
  • Conquest: making control of territory a gameable thing
  • Fisticuffs: dueling or brawling for trad D&D using stakes setting
  • Pathcrawl: an interesting wilderness exploration procedure

Also many of the table sets are automated using Logan’s excellent generator of generators.

Lusus Naturae

Monstruct color draft

Lusus Naturae’s monstruct

My favorite new RPG book that came out in 2013 was perhaps Rafael Chandler’s Teratic Tome. I do not know why I have not written more about it before, but I should. It is fantastically creative and professionally done. In addition to being probably my favorite new RPG book of 2013, it is also one of my favorite bestiaries in general, up there with the Fiend Folio and the Bard Games Atlantis Bestiary. For me, it has only one real flaw, which is that the physical production (being a print on demand “casebound” hardcover) is only middle tier. Would it not be fantastic if Rafael were able to produce a monster book to a higher physical production standard? Well, Lusus Naturae will be that.

The name means “freaks of nature,” and it is intended to be a collection of 100 horror-themed monsters for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (and thus compatible with most traditional fantasy RPGs). This thing has already funded, so there is very little doubt that it will exist later this year (and Rafael has been one of the most reliable producers of small press RPG material recently, so risks on that front, even of mere delays, seem minimal). Needless to say, I have backed it. There are several more days to go, and if it hits $16660 before then, all the images will be done in color (this is the only stretch goal, though Rafael was recently wondering if he should maybe do something else special if the project reaches 666 backers).

I should also probably mention that the Teratic Tome is now pay what you want in PDF. So if you are not familiar yet with Rafael’s work and want to see what you might be in for with Lusus Naturae, you can check that out. Not directly related, but if you are interested in the above mentioned Bard Games Atlantis Bestiary, the Sorcerer’s Skull has a post about that.

Contest winners

NIN Closer video frame

NIN Closer video frame

At the end of last year, I held a contest where the theme was the Nine Inch Nails song “The Becoming.” I got some submissions. Then I took a long time to actually read and evaluate all of them (apologies!), but as of last week the winners were determined and notified. Prizes were ordered and mailed out. If you did not win, thanks in any case for participating.

First place goes to Mark S. for his Black Ziggurat. Mark chose a copy of the 2013 LotFP Rules & Magic hardcover. The Black Ziggurat is a fantasy bronze age dungeon module which is filled with creative hazards and memorable details. The setting itself is a nice change of pace, without being too alien (it could easily be used as a ruin in a more traditional fantasy setting). The traps, even when they are reminiscent of old standbys, are presented with interesting variations (for example, consider The chamber of spears we guard for eternity, which is a great play on the classics of animating skeletons and spear traps). The theme of transformation is also nicely realized through the person of Naaresh the sorcerer, who was changed by his contact with the void (and effects related to this show up in numerous places within the module as well). Overall, an excellent effort that I think would be good for several sessions of play, and all of it fits on 4 letter-sized pages. There are not many ways I can think of to improve this as a module. If I had to pick something, I would say maybe a few more unique monsters would spice it up.

Second place goes to John M. for his Millennial Worm. John chose a copy of the Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities book. This adventure scenario focuses on the final stage of a dimension-hopping worm’s life cycle. The creature itself is also the adventure location. In addition to the concept itself, there are some interesting mechanics presented for how to actually handle adventuring inside a giant creature. This is not a case of just calling room one of the dungeon “the stomach” and leaving it at that, which I appreciate. Each area also has a mechanical “shift effect.” As for potential improvements, though all the encounters are atmosphereic and creative, the dungeon map itself is somewhat simplistic and linear. I do not know if this is really avoidable though, as the design is somewhat constrained by how digestive systems work. Perhaps some map complexity could be introduced by creating a more fantastic anatomy or integrating built structures into the creature’s body. (Note: if you print this one out, you probably only want to print the first nine pages, as everything after that is license legalese.)

Several other entries can be found on other blogs:

Discussion of other submissions will have to wait for a future post, however.

New 52 Wonder Woman

Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman

Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman

The most recent revamp of Wonder Woman is one of the most enjoyable comics I’ve come across in a while. It reads like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman by way of Image’s recent Saga. I first noticed the series because of this fantastic cover (issue 24, october 2013), and promptly burned through the first three collected volumes on Comixology in two days. It is, so far, the only comic other than Rat Queens that I have considered buying individual issues of as they come out, rather than waiting for the inevitable compilations.

There is a kind of Lichtensteinian feeling to the art that is reminiscent of some stylized comic golden age, but it also feels recent and fresh (I think this is because of the color and writing). The character designs are also continuously enjoyable. I found myself looking forward to how each of the Olympians would be realized (the only one that I didn’t really care for was Poseidon). For a flagship book, there is a surprising amount of graphic violence, including a horse’s head being severed with a centaur’s upper body erupting from the hole, and Diana’s arms drenched to the elbow in blood from combat. That said, it somehow manages to avoid seeming gratuitous and instead supports a sense of mythological seriousness. In fact, I would say that the art by Cliff Chiang is almost without misstep. The work by Tony Akins (issue 13, 14, and 17, at least) is not as successful for me, and Goran Sudzuka does the penciling for some of the newer issues that I haven’t gotten to yet, and so can’t speak to, but overall the art situation is pretty amazing.

The story itself does not read like a superhero book, which to me is a positive. I have warmed slightly to the superhero genre, but in general I prefer other types of story. As I mentioned above, Gaiman’s Sandman is actually the first thing that I though of when reading through the recent Wonder Woman. This is the story of the interactions of cosmic personalities, many of which are not clearly heroes of villains (though Apollo serves as a main villain proxy to some extent). Like the Olympians of mythology, the dominant feature of most of these characters is a sort of myopic selfishness coupled with tremendous power. There’s also some situational humor that I appreciate (mostly involving Hera).

I will leave you with a few image selections. All images are scaled screen captures from the digital Comixology compilations.


Cliff Chiang's Hades

Cliff Chiang’s Hades

Cliff Chiang's Hera

Cliff Chiang’s Hera

Wonder Woman with a Lara Croft Vibe

Wonder Woman with a Lara Croft Vibe

One Page Dungeon Contest 2014

Bygrinstow's Arena of Blood

Bygrinstow’s Arena of Blood

The time has come again. This year, the torch has been passed from Alex Schroeder, who ran the contest for the last few years, to Random Wizard.

I think most people would agree that the results of the previous One Page Dungeon contests have been some of the most interesting content to come out of the DIY RPG community. Also, because of the terms of the contest, everything must be creative commons licensed, and thus free to use and remix, which ends up being a tremendous resource. Visit the new domain for visualizations (such as slideshows) of the previous entries and winners.

There is a new domain with more info. The deadline this year is April 30, 2014. This is a 100% volunteer and community effort, so it will be as good as we make it.

Dust off your graph paper and spread the word.

Break!! RPG

Reynaldo M. (of Akenia and Barovania) and Grey Wiz (of Mysterious Path) are teaming up to create an RPG. Full disclosure: I sometimes play in Rey’s online games.

Break!! will likely be familiar in many ways to players of traditional fantasy RPGs (for example, there are checks, saves, and contests; I bet you can guess about how all those things work without any explanation). There are some interesting variations, however, such as ability scores being replaced by a trait system. Which is not to mention the wonderful, vaguely JRPG aesthetic projected by the art of Grey Wiz:

Game Master Book concept (source)

Game Master Book cover concept (source)

And check out this slick layout mockup:

Break!! RPG Character Creation (source)

Break!! RPG Character Creation concept (source)

I am certainly going to keep my eye on this.

Final Fantasy IV iOS

Final Fantasy IV (originally released as FF II in the west) just recently became available (iTunes store link) for iOS. It’s on sale right now at $8 for I’m not sure how long (which is 50% off, I think). The sequel Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is also coming to iOS sometime this november, which means I don’t have to pick up a PS Vita at some point to play it. Final Fantasy IV was #5 in my Appendix NES list.

This is a remake with new graphics, not just a port, which has both upsides and downsides. I haven’t played that much of it yet, but the controls are excellent. The old sprites left more to the imagination than the new 3D character models, which detract from the mood somewhat, but that is just a minor complaint.

This is probably my second favorite Final Fantasy game (VI being the best), and IV might have an even more inspirational setting for tabletop RPGs. Something about the setting of VI seems more appropriate for the telling of an epic story, whereas I can more easily see adventurers exploring the lands of IV. Also, IV has underworld tank dwarves (Google image search pointed me to Papers & Pencils, hah).

VI will also supposedly be coming as an iOS remake (finally!), if the IV games do well.


Final Fantasy IV iOS remake (personal iPad screen captures):

IMG_0438 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0439 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0440 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0441 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0446 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0449 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0451 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0452 Final Fantasy IV iOS

Original SNES presentation, for comparison:

SNES Final Fantasy IV (source)

SNES Final Fantasy IV (source)

Ryuutama

Ryuutama is a Japanese tabletop RPG that is being translated into english. It looks somewhat like what you might get if the Miyazaki of My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away created a fantasy RPG.

The full-color Japanese PDF can already be downloaded for free (this is legit; the author made it available). Check out that PDF for a sense of the scope and aesthetic. I have also included some art that I extracted via screen shots from this PDF at the bottom of this post that I think showcases the style.

This is being Kickstarted by Andy Kitkowski, who ran the Tenra Bansho Zero translation project and Kickstater. He has a good record delivering on his promises and creating quality products. I also have personal experience with his integrity. Though I was not aware of the TBZ Kickstarter when it was active, I later bought a copy of the hardcover TBZ set. It arrived damaged, but Andy sent me another copy without any hassles and free of charge, despite the fact that this is not a cheap set of books and sending a replacement required sending another package to Canada.

Ryuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.25.51 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.24.51 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.27.56 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.29.06 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.29.26 PM

 

LotFP Referee Book

From the upcoming referee screen (source

From the upcoming referee screen (source)

The crowd funding campaign for the revised LotFP Referee Book is almost over. At the time of this writing, there are about five days to go. If you follow this blog, you probably already know about it, but I am still going to write why I think it is worth supporting. It has already met its funding goal, and so is definitely happening, but some of the unmet stretch goals may still be of interest, and I also want to discuss what makes this campaign different from many others.

First, let me talk about what I like about this campaign. Most crowd funding efforts end up being a complex preorder system that guarantees a market floor, with exclusive extras to sweeten the deal for early supporters. There is nothing wrong with this kind of approach (and it certainly has its upsides, especially for a small niche market like the one for traditional fantasy tabletop RPGs), but it does not leverage the unique benefits available from crowd funding, which include an opportunity to make something better than it otherwise would be. This campaign, however, does allow supporters to more directly make the final product better, and in fact most of the stretch goals have this character. For example, indexes (covering both core books), and paying for an external, professional editor, have already been met. Additional full color art plates and a color layout in the manner of the hardcover Carcosa are still outstanding. Which stretch goal becomes active is determined by a supporter vote every time a goal is met.

Additionally, extra content, in the form of sample monsters and commentaries by other RPG designers, can be funded directly. The new monsters will be designed by either Aeron Alfrey or Rafael Chandler (author of the excellent Teratic Tome, one of the best RPG bestiaries yet produced). The commentary will be from Frank Mentzer, Zak S, Michael Curtis, and Kenneth Hite. Individual backers can choose which of these things they want to make happen, so you know your $50 (or whatever) is paying for a new Chandler monster (I funded one of these) that will then be available to everybody forever in the final book. This sort of thing is the way crowd funding should be done, and it is what makes the design of this campaign stand out, in my opinion.

There are also some pure extras that are less about improving the book for everyone, such as a slip case that will fit the revised Rules & Magic book (not included) along with this new Referee Book, a referee screen (which has spectacular art by someone I had never heard of before, Matthew Ryan), special LotFP dice, a poster walk-through of The God That Crawls by Jason Thompson, and so forth. Some of these extras still might be of interest to you, even though they are not so much about the Referee Book itself. I am personally pretty excited about the Thompson piece, based on the work he has recently done for WotC (for example, Isle of Dread, and he also created similar pieces for the recently reprinted S Series of modules). This option was a late addition to the campaign, so if you pledged earlier and are interested in it, you will need to add another pledge (I still need to do that, myself). There are also stretch goals for printing revised versions of some previous LotFP modules, and the one for Death Frost Doom has already been met (it is getting at least a new map and new layout).

From a consumer’s perspective, there are several aspects of the campaign that are somewhat suboptimal and potentially confusing. First, shipment is not included in the pledge amounts (you are basically pledging for a voucher that can be used in the LotFP store once the products become available, though some of the products will be exclusive to backers, such as the book with limited edition cover). While I understand why Mr. Raggi structured the campaign this way (to decrease the risk of unpredictable shipping rates), it still feels a bit half-baked. Second, only some of the pledge money is considered toward the stretch goals, and I don’t understand the strange accounting voodoo involved at all. But stretch goals keep getting met as more people pledge, which is what matters, I suppose. Keep these things in mind when you pledge so that you know what you are getting into.

Unfortunately, the new standard cover is much less attractive (in my opinion) than the cover of the older Grindhouse version, though the limited edition version (only available to backers) has a better cover. I still like the old Mullen piece more, however. If you want the limited edition cover, you will need to support the campaign though.

Despite the flaws, as is probably clear by now, I am pretty excited about this book, and think it is worth supporting.

Slipcase art, in progress, I think (source)

Slipcase art, in progress, I think (source)