Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Busy at work haven't posted hopefully soon but MIAMI VICE Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD AIIIIEEEEEEEEE WHERE DID JANUARY GO?!

Monday, March 17, 2008

(The Shareef Don't Like It) Prepping The Sandbox

Get it? Ha ha ha!

Ha...! Uh...


...right. Okay, Devin, I got your back! Recently, in a post about sandbox play, you commented thusly:

"I love the idea of the sandbox approach. I really like being able to afford the PCs freedom to go where they will, do as they please, etc. I like the idea of having numerous plot threads and subplots that they can encounter and become involved with to whatever degree they choose to (or not at all). "My only hesitation here is the amount of prep-work this would appear to require. Any thoughts?"

Yes. Yes, I do. I will share them with you, and anyone else who reads this damn thing.

It can require lots of prep. But can isn't must, so you know what I do?

I prep very little.

My key is to prep as little as possible, really, and just add little bits here and there. The game I'm running for my wife, f'rex, started with her character's hometown, a nearby forest, some ruins, a tower and not a lot else. I scrawled a quick map, Amber made a character and I mulled over what might be in the ruins. (I eventually changed my mind on it, by the way.) I let her decide which potential adventure site she wanted to hit up, and I let a combination of charts and old-fashioned spur-of-the-moment BSing do the rest.

That was enough for one short evening of exploration, and in between games, I added a few other details, from NPCs to adventure sites. Using the old Wilderlands of High Fantasy idea of five-mile hexes, I started developing the land around the home hex, little by little: A town here, a lake full of monsters there, a forest, a pyramid.

Yes, a pyramid! It's useful to throw things on the map, at whim, and then explain them later. I still don't know what the hell a pyramid is doing in a pseudo-European vanilla FRPG setting. I can pencil in details later, though. Stick names on things and explain them on the go.

So I have a little sandbox. And every now and then, as I think of something, I lay the bait for it: "While in the inn,you hear a bard singing about the nearby Forest of the Mystic Kings." "When she mentions Dukesbourne, which you know is west of here, you think about that weird pyramid just south of it." She'll bite when she's ready.

In the meantime, I build out of spare parts. In one box, I have all the random, incidental crap that I get off of charts. Recently, an NPC has developed from randomly-rolled street-peddler encounter to a recurring character -- one who has provided a brief encounter hook already, and who may be much more. Another got himself kidnapped and his rescue provided a whole adventure!

In addition to random bits, I have old and unused ideas. I cannibalize my old notes for other games and use stuff that's interesting -- or just convenient. Months ago, I wrote up a 2nd-level female elven wizard, with a few character notes and a physical description. Guess what type NPC I ended up needing last night?

In summary: If you play your cards right, you can let the prep do itself.

Oh, yes. I could do more. So much more.

But you know what?


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rogue Mistress

Now and again, my FLGS gets some used stuff and puts it up for sale and I, lover of old RPG stuff, go running like a fat boy in lead shoes to see what I can see. One time, I found Stormbringer 4th Ed. and a companion campaign book, Rogue Mistress. I'd seen ads for it in old Dragons and had no idea what the hell it was about, but my wife liked the look of it and we had some extra monetary units so WHAM.

"The multiverse", says a description of the product, "is a complex system of intertwined universes, each unique, with peculiar physical laws, varying influences of the gods of Law and Chaos, and differing in the degree to which the use of magic and technology are effective.

"Heroes of sufficient cunning and ability traverse the physical barriers between these universes by means of special devices, spells, or magical portals. Risking their very existence, such heroes reap the reward of fabulous magical knowledge or exotic technological weaponry.

"The Rogue Mistress is a vessel able to navigate among these million universes - a pirate ship of ancient origin, captained by the beautiful Maria de Tres Pistolas who leads an exotic free-booting crew gathered from across the Million Spheres."

There, now we all know about the same amount about it.

The other day I was looking over it. There's a lot to read, so I was really just skimming. However, I keyed in on a few vital points about this campaign:

1) It's a Multiverse-hopping campaign, presumably taking PCs from one reality to the other in search of some MacGuffin;

2) The Rogue Mistress is a multiverse-hopping sailing ship, on which the PCs travel; and

3) It has a laser cannon on it.

Forget the busty gunchick on the front, man. "Multiversal sailing ship with a laser cannon" got my blood pumping. She's not that good-looking anyway.

I've never run a game that spanned multiverses, but I was really keen on the idea as a teenager. A lot of my angsty teener "Someday-I'll-Make-This-Into-A-Movie" story idea revolved around multiverses and realities and blah blah blah, but I got over it and kinda stuck the notion in a mental box somewhere and then I think I piled up some old blankets over it, or a burro, or something.

Looking over the book, though, made me go, "Hmmm."

The way I see it, I have a few options for using this thing.

A) I could learn Stormbringer, and run it in its native environment;

B) I could convert to another system, and still use the plot at least; or

C) I could take inspiration from it and run my own damn thing with my own damn techno-magical anachronism Bustass-Wagon.


What would Thrazar do...?

Most importantly, what if instead of a ship, it were a Damnation Van...?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sandboxes, Paradigm Shifts, And The Fake Lamborghinis They Sometimes Contain

There's a thread on The RPG Site about sandbox-style games. "The Sandbox - Real Or Illusion?" asks Seanchai. "Personally, I don't get it. From what I heard, sandbox style play seems to be, well, just like regular ol' play," he says. "It seems to me that the differentiation between sandbox style play and any other type of play is largely semantics."

I thought my reply was relevant enough to the blog that it ought to be cross-posted. Don't worry, it's in English.

For me, there is a distinction and it's very important.

Mainly, it's because I let myse-- no no, no, I suckered myself into the notion that a good RPG was fun, but a great one had plot, mise-en-scene, mood, themes, pacing...all the things that make a great movie, say, or a great book, or a thrill ride.

At one point, an influence came at me from an unexpected angle, and I set about rethinking my playstyle, my GMing, everything.

The catalyst: Grand Theft Auto - Vice City.

I got really into playing that game, and became enraptured with the free-roaming, exploratory nature of it. It was an open world, with a few ground rules; it had definite plot threads to follow, sub-plots and side-plots, mini-games and great tunes.

I started thinking of Vice City as a fun (if not exactly safe) place to inhabit, and started thinking things like, "Why not do this on a table-top?"

Then, I noticed my Intercomputerweb gamer cronies talking about "sandbox"-style gaming, and I heard that GTA:VC's designers took a "sandbox" approach, and then I went, "Aaaah, sandbox. Yes, this is an idea that I like."

Then, on a trip out of town, I bought this solo RPG at a discount bookstore, and it had a map in it, and the first part of the solo said, "You wash up on shoe; which way do you go?" And I was, like, "HOLY CATS, THIS IS WHAT I, AS A GAMEMASTER, HAVE BEEN MISSING OUT ON."

The idea of sandbox-style games, therefore, is definitely of importance to me because although it's not new or revolutionary or even all shiny and neon and light-up and thumpy like New Order's "Blue Monday", it's the idea that re-energized me as a GM.

I'm gonna cross-post this to my blog.


Monday, March 10, 2008

My Favorite Judges' Guild Cover EVER

You recognize it immediately, don't you?

Of course you do. Because even if you've never seen this product before, you know exactly where you've seen that guy before -- it's Luke Skywalker.

Okay, okay, it's a drawing based entirely upon a still photo of Mark Hammil as Luke Skywalker in The Best Movie Ever Ma- uh, The Empire Strikes Back, only the artist changed his features a bit and added a background and sharpened his lightsaber a bit.

In a sense, you should, by rights, look at this picture, recognize El Skywalkero, and be immediately yanked out of the fantasy. I mean, I was, at first, anyway.

But today? Today I look at it and I think, Man, some dude got that art assignment and said, "I'm gonna put Luke Skywalker in there, HA!"


Suddenly, Gypsies!

Totally! I had no plans for gypsies to roam around in my new FRPG world, but -- hell, I rolled on the chart and there they were, randomly being encountered by my wife's PC while on the trail of a missing priest.

Of course, one of 'em looked like a young Steven Van Zandt. He had to, because --

Here, look at him. Only, uh, picture him smiling:

"Aaah, good day, my damsel! I am Anselo,
and you are most fortunate that our paths have crossed!"

Fortuitous, indeed -- the caravan was a trading caravan, and they had a nice shortbow to sell, thing which Amber's character was wanting to own, being that she just had her +1 elven longsword (which came from an animate skeleton in the ruins of an elven keep, not The Cleft of Forgotten Swords, incidentally) and nothing for range.

An older gypsy woman offered the bow for sale, along with a quiver full of arrows -- made of the soft leather which I decided these particular gypsies have lots of. "How much?" said Amber's character, Orsala.

"Here you learn," I said to her, "that asking a gypsy 'How much?' is rarely a wise thing to do."

"I had no way of knowing," she replied.

"Of course not. The woman, " I continued, "simply smiles. 'Oh! But I leave that up to you!'"

Already on her guard because -- well, because gypsies --, she declined to haggle over the nice bow, which I described in detail and everything. No problem; it was just a random encounter.

But it turned into a role-playing encounter, and a world-building encounter. Because now, we know that my world has gypsies, that they have a bad rep, that they work a lot with a soft, pliable leather, and that there's a culture somewhere called the Ath...uh, the Art...I forget, but I wrote it down -- ANYWAY, that there's a culture somewhere that carves ascending spiraled ribbons onto their bows. We also know that Orsala isn't comfortable with haggling, and that she doesn't want a bow that badly.

Because I rolled up a caravan of gypsies on a chart in Castle Zagyg.

How else do you define a winning situation?

Let's top it off with another benefit of my new world element:

Not much use to my wife's character. But, fellas, I know you thought of it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: No offense is meant to any real-world gypsies out there. These are fantasy-archetype gypsies, really just based on, you know, the romantic notion of gypsies in movies and cartoons and such. We're all of us friends here, 'cept some of us look better with scarves on our heads.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

In Memory Of Gary Gygax

By now, we all know -- Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and, by extension, every dang thing that came after it, has died.

He have expressed our shock, we have mourned, we have wept...we've all done what we have been moved to do.

As an agnostic, I'm only certain of one type of afterlife: What you leave for others to experience. By this measure, E. Gary Gygax is pretty well assured immortality, and as others will derive joy from what he made, I guess that puts him in the, what? Neutral Good pantheon?

For my own part, I observed his passing by playing Castles & Crusades with my wife last night, and using his Castle Zagyg encounter tables to boot. Nothing fancy, nothing epic; just a dungeon crawl with some clever kobolds and insidious ancient traps of elven make. It was her character's third attempt to finish the dungeon, and she decided to make a tactical retreat for now. There's plenty of other world for her to explore outside of those dungeon walls, anyway, and at the moment, a missing cleric to track down and possibly rescue.

So here's how I will pay tribute to E. Gary Gygax: by doing what he did. By playing a fantasy game and sharing the joy it brings me and making stuff up and looking at everything as a possible adventure, a tale not yet told, by happily using anagrams and generally being master of the fun dungeon.

My world has no name yet, but it will have a few anagram-named NPCs. I don't know who Sire Cauvo is, yet; I just came up with the name a few minutes ago.

But the ladies will love him, or at least, he'll think they do.

Rest In Peace, Mr Gygax. I will treasure what you left me and honor your memory by sharing the joy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Spot On, 'Cept I'd Looker Dumber In Heels

I took this quiz today.

Your Score: The Swashbuckler

You scored 79% flamboyance, 72% honor, and 73% urbanity!

You are a swashbuckler, quick of wit and quicker of blade. A defender of the weak and a force for justice, you nevertheless enjoy the finer things in life -- a glass of wine, a gorgeous cloak, and the company of the opposite sex.

Link: The 2nd Edition AD&D Warrior Kit Test written by thealmightyajax on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(thealmightyajax)

I think it's cool the picture they chose was a girl, though. Girl swashbucklers rawk. That bit about the glass of wine is WAAAAAY off, but the rest...?