Feb 27, 2016

Interview with GrottZine

I was recently interviewed by Swedish OSR fanzine GrottZine about Warriors of the Red Planet. You can get your copy here, though if you don't read Swedish it might be a bit difficult to grok.


Here is some art from the Swedish RPG Symbaroum. Has nothing to do with GrottZine (I think), but it looks bad ass.

Feb 22, 2016

Upcoming Books for March

It has been a busy year here. I'm working on a few new things to be released in March.
I've done sketchbooks in the past, but I want to start making it a regularly yearly thing. So I've compiled a bunch of recent sketches into a new book. It will make its debut at Silicon Valley Comic Con in San Jose, and then copies will be available online. I'm going to try and make it interesting this year with a special "gamer edition" that has some stats for monsters, some adventure locations, and other goodies for your original edition game.

Next thing in the pipeline is an adventure I wrote for Warriors of the Red Planet which I've run at a few game conventions. The first time I ran it the group was more of the "roleplay & diplomacy" type of gamers and I had written the adventure as more of a Hack 'n Slash, so it was, um, interesting how it played out. The good thing that came out of that is the adventure now has plenty of opportunities for diplomacy and roleplaying in addition to good ol' kill the monster and take its loot type gaming! It is 90% done, just tying up the loose ends and a bit of art and then it will be available. This cover is still a work in progress. Originally I had a bright yellow cover, but it was a bit garish. I also played around with a version that was themed like the new books with the tan old-school texture. Ultimately I decided red-orange was the most appropriate color to fit the genre.

And the other release for March is this book I've been working on that is lavishly illustrated with monsters and encounters. I always love monster manuals and just can't get enough. Something I wanted to do with this one was to not only have a menagerie of interesting monsters, but also some NPC's, some nefarious cults, and some other interesting encounters like traps and tricks. Hopefully it is a fresh take on the old book of monsters and you'll find good use for it at your gaming table. (The title was inspired by an old Jethro Tull tune).

Feb 12, 2016

World Quest of the Winter Calendar

I helped Steven Bean out with a couple of maps and some interior illustrations for his intriguing and very creative adventure module World Quest of the Winter Calendar designed for Goodman Games' ultimate old-school RPG Dungeon Crawl Classics. Check it out here:


Mystery Map: Underworld Cutaway

Those cutaway maps of dungeon levels that appeared in the early D&D books fueled my imagination with the potential for adventure in mysterious places, underground lairs filled with fabulous treasures, ancient secrets, and strange denizens. Maps are thought inspiring creative conduits that evoke an enchanted world. I took a little time this morning to make one full of ideas for adventure locations. Many of these locations were for the Hawkmoor board game setting I've been developing.

You can purchase a 12"x18" wall map here: Hawkmoor Underworld Cutaway Map

Feb 11, 2016

Dragon #92 Bridge of Sorrows

An inspiring Dragon magazine cover by the exceptionally talented Den Beauvais. This has been reimagined in a variety of media.

And check out this amazing 3d version!

Feb 10, 2016

Colonial Troopers Available in Print

A proof copy of Colonial Troopers arrived today and everything looks in order, if you've been waiting for the print edition it is now available on DriveThru and RPGNow.


In Case of Z-Day

This is actual Terms of Service from Amazon AWS, a service many companies use to host their website and services.

57.10 Acceptable Use; Safety-Critical Systems. Your use of the Lumberyard Materials must comply with the AWS Acceptable Use Policy. The Lumberyard Materials are not intended for use with life-critical or safety-critical systems, such as use in operation of medical equipment, automated transportation systems, autonomous vehicles, aircraft or air traffic control, nuclear facilities, manned spacecraft, or military use in connection with live combat. However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.

Source: https://aws.amazon.com/service-terms/ (scroll down to 57.10 near the bottom)

Feb 9, 2016

About Saving Throws

Much ink has been spilt on Saving Throws. Few core game mechanics have gone through as many changes throughout the history of DnD.

I started to write up a detailed post about Saving Throws, but then remembered this post on Blackrazor that does a much better job than I would have: http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2014/09/saving-throws-eh-who-needs-em.html

The definition of Saving Throw could be boiled down to "Luck". It is essentially a luck stat. It could be destiny, fate, serendipity, happenstance, but calling it Luck is the most succinct description. This is one of the reason I like the simplified ST roll in Swords & Wizardry so much. It boils it down to its essence so that each class has its own Luck stat. But...

As so often happens when things are oversimplified it can lead to situations where it doesn't make much sense. Why should a Fighting Man have the same 'luck' against petrification as against a charm spell?

In Warriors of the Red Planet the solution was to go back to the traditional multiple Saving Throw stats, but customized to the genre: Explosions, Mentalism, Energy, Poison, Falls, and General.

Colonial Troopers and Guardians use a different tact. They use the single ST stat, but then let the ability modifiers adjust it for specific circumstances:

Saving Throws Versus Terrible Events
StrengthCrushing Events, Disarm Events, Knockback Events
IntelligenceMemory Events, Puzzle Events,
WisdomPerception Events, Deception Events, Mental Attack
ConstitutionDeath, Deprivation, Disease, Endurance, Poison,
DexterityEvasion Events, Balance & Coordination Events, Speed Events
CharismaEgo Events, Emotion Events, Fast Talk Events

Which system works best? I'm not sure there is an answer to that, or if there is a perfect Saving Throw system. My experience in many games is that it is a great mechanic that facilitates great tension and excitement in the game.

Feb 8, 2016

Guardians print edition available

A hard copy of Guardians arrived today. Generally looking good for distribution.

Feb 7, 2016

Guardians Q&A

A few Guardians questions answered.
First, I love the game but some things seem to be missing. Traits like Robotic Body, Computer Brain, Undead, and Super Training are mentioned but I can't find a formal description. Also, are there any modifiers to initiative? Help!
Thanks! We love that you love the game (because we love it to, its the superhero RPG that coulda-shoulda-woulda been).

Robotic Body and Computer Mind are less an omission than an informal explanation, something of an OSR tradition, but are supported in the rules. They are not powers but rather the racial traits innate to the Cyborg and Robot origins.  That is, the qualities of having an electrical body and a machine mind. Their effects were not spelled out in any one place. Rather, there are several references in the rules to how powers affect characters who have these traits: under Electrical Control, Repair  HP, Illusion, EMP, Electrical Shock, lightning, magnetic control, neutralize power, transmutation, and sleep.

Undead is simply a descriptive optional trait you may take for a supernatural character that is included for the purpose of integration with other OSR games where certain characters have special powers against the undead (e.g., clerics, magic items that affect undead, etc.). As it's an optional trait , it has no 'cost'.
Will there be a print version of this? And for Colonial Troopers as well? -James
Yes. RPGNow requires the publisher to get a proof and approve it before making the print version available. This usually takes a week or two for them to print and a copy to arrive by mail. (According to USPS tracking a copy is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, if all is well I can make the print version available to the public. Colonial Troopers is still a few days away)
How does this game differ from similar OSR-like Superhero games like Hideouts & Hoodlums, Mystery Men! and Sentinels of Echo City?
I'm not familiar with those games you mention. What I can say is Guardians is very stripped down to the basics. It has classes, levels, HP's, AC and all the familiar stuff from 0e DnD. The closest game I can think of is 1e Mutants and Masterminds (one of my all-time favorite superhero RPG's), but it is very different in its treatment of the source material. David Pulver, the co-author, worked on the original Marvel Super Heroes and there are some similarities in terms of ease of use and distillation of the very complex nature of the myriad of superhero powers possible.

Feb 6, 2016

Colonial Troopers Concept

Star nursery in the Gemina cluster

Thank you so much for the overwhelming positive reception to Colonial Troopers! This is a project that goes way, way back and is the evolution of a sci-fi universe I imagined many years ago. Originally it was going to be a card game much like Dungeoneer (and still may be someday), but it developed into such an interesting collection of worlds and ideas that an RPG seemed to be the best expression for it. Then Steve added his own special take on the whole concept that got me excited to publish it and start supporting it.
A G+ community has already sprouted up and I've been receiving excellent feedback from various players. I'm actually caught a little by surprise. I guess part of it is there really was a missing hole in the OSR for hard sci-fi. I mean of course there is the classic Traveller. But Colonial Troopers is focused squarely on the military expression of the concept, which I'm sure many GM's appreciate as it can make adventure design a little more straightforward and easier to manage where players choose to go. For me that has always been the difficulty in running space adventure games is that players can just warp to whatever planet they feel like and it can be extraordinarily taxing to constantly have to come up with new worlds, NPC's, and adventures when you don't know where they may end up!
In the coming days and weeks I'll try to make sure Colonial Troopers is supported with adventure material and the like. I think the first thing I need to work on is a useful character sheet. I better get to work on that.

Feb 5, 2016

All About the Original Edition

Jon Peterson once again doing a great job taking us through the hallowed halls of D&D history.

Now this is a Hoop

This is what a Hoop would look like in real life!

(Yes, I know this is a kangaroo, but still...)

This illustration of Hoops, by the inimitable Dave Trampier, in the first edition Gamma World always informed my mental image of what the game was about.

Feb 4, 2016

Colonial Troopers

View of Kapa Nova in the Zim cluster
This leaked out a little earlier than intended. Steve Perrin and I have been working on a hard sci-fi game utilizing the Original Edition format. Just in case you don't know Steve Perrin is the creator of Runequest along with many other roleplaying games. His design work goes all the way back to the very early days of RPG's and he has a great handle on "old-school" gaming.

Robert Heinlein is one of my favorite authors and I've read every one of his books I've been able to find, some of them multiple times. In particular Starship Troopers. This book has been influential inspiring the colonial marines in Aliens, battle-mech games and shows, and was the first to have troops with powered armor, as well as being a brilliant commentary on the responsibility of citizenship. Contrary to its portrayal in the Starship Troopers movie the lead character is Philippino, not vanilla, and it does not glorify fascism. It does honor heroism and military service.

This served as inspiration for a re-imagining of the Original Edition as a hard sci-fi game. From the back cover:
What if the first RPG was inspired by hard Science Fiction as written by Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert instead of Tolkienesque fantasy?
Colonial Troopers is a science fiction RPG compatible with the original fantasy roleplaying game and subsequent editions, and other “OSR” games that follow in the mould of the original like Swords & Wizardry, Adventurer Conqueror King, Labyrinth Lord, Guardians, and Warriors of the Red Planet. If your tastes run towards battle hardened combat armor, some attention to real physics, and explorations of just what it is to be human, you’ve found the right book. As in the fiction of the above writers, the players are confronted with an unforgiving universe full of wonders and deadly quirks of science ready to astound and enchant, and cull the unwary.

I think Steve did a brilliant job on the book and meshed the source material together in a cohesive, compelling, and exciting game book. It is chockfull of great ideas and substance that you can play in this stand alone book or pull into your other OSR game. Just like Warriors of the Red Planet and Guardians it is fully compatible with the Original Edition fantasy roleplaying game and related systems.

The PDF is available now, the print edition will be available as soon as it is approved by RPGNow.


Feb 2, 2016

Guardians at #4

So far it is looking like OSR fans are enjoying Guardians! When I checked this morning it was at #4 on RPGNow. I know these standings move around quite a bit, but it was still exciting to see. Thanks for your support! And please tell your friends about it.

Murder of Crows - Custom Card Maker

Not really OSR related, but a fun game nonetheless! I made Murder of Crows a while back. A fast playing simple set-collection game where you spell the word MURDER before anyone else, first to do so reveals a unique murder story. Fun, quirky, a bit gothic in the Edward Gorey & Chas Adams style, easy to learn, and fast to play.

Atlas Games in conjunction with DriveThru cards has made an online custom card creator where you can make your own unique cards and put you or your friends pictures in as victims/perpetrators. Check it out if you're looking for a fun light game to add to your gaming night.


Feb 1, 2016

Guardians Now Available

I submitted Guardians to RPGNow.
Currently the PDF is available, the print edition is pending approval. If your chomping at the bit for some serious superhero action old-school style head on over and get the PDF now. The print edition should be available soon, I'll post here when it is.


Guardians - game balance, what's that??

Since the inception of roleplaying games from their roots in wargames play balance has been an important factor in the system designs. Magic-Users were denied weapons and sucked at melee so they were not more powerful than Fighting Men. Level progression was carefully balanced vs. the relative power per level a class would have. Monsters were given Hit Dice as a general indication of their fearsomeness so encounters could be balanced, and so on.
There was always a huge balance flaw in the original RPG that has persisted to this day. Rolling randomly for ability scores guaranteed that characters in the same party would not be balanced from their inception.
There have been a variety of systems to mitigate this, such as roll 4 keep 3, so everyone could have a chance at getting a 'decent' character. And of course with games like Champions and GURPS point buy systems have been developed, with ever increasing complexity, to make perfectly balanced characters.
In Guardians the approach has been to exchange careful game balance for variety and texture in character creation. If the players want a super hero group comprised of a radiated muscle-monster, a Norse god, an eccentric billionaire with a fancy metal suit, a super soldier at the peak of human ability, a trained assassin, and a human marksman then so be it. There is no balance in that group, but each plays a crucial role in the composition of the party. Balance is maintained by the game master.
As for ability scores that are such an integral part of character creation, there is nothing to compare to the excitement of rolling up a character! Guardians does give the option. I love the brutally straightforward method of straight roll 3d6 assign in order. You get such unexpected results and are forced to play a character you might otherwise not have chosen. The character generation system does give you a lot of options from that point on with your choice of Origins and Character Class that will allow you to modify some abilities into truly superheroic ranges!

Super-Alien Power-Wielder (4th level)
Str 9 (0) Int 10 (0) Wis 10 (0)
Dex 17 (+2) Con 9 (0) Cha 12 (0)
Gifts: 1 gadget point.
Powers: Electrical Aura, EMP, Superior Flight, Superior Lightning. Features: +2
Dex, +2 Str, Resist Electricity.
Limits: Depowered by Immersion in Water.
Issues: Enemy (the Mormog).
Gadgets: Force Field Belt (Force Field).
Equipment: None.
HP 18. EP 14. AC 12 (16 when force field up).
Yiz’s blue-skinned humanoid race, the Ryx, possess natural electrical powers. Her planet was raided by the Mormog, who enslaved her people as living power-batteries in the cores of each of their warships. Yiz was freed after the starship she was integrated into was shot down during a Mormog raid against Earth. Later on she captured a force field belt from an alien bounty hunter sent to recapture her. She can hide her blue skin with makeup.

Mars - Random Generators

Over on Spellbound.co.uk David Johnston has created some fun random generators that work with your Warriors of the Red Planet game.


Martian Male Names:

I also have some encounter generators for when you want a quick list of 10 potential encounters in the following terrain types.

Urban: http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpurban.ipt
Ruins: http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpruins.ipt
Underworld: http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpunderworld.ipt
Wastelands: http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpwastelands.ipt
Swamp: http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpswamp.ipt
Desert: http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpdesert.ipt

and an extra one .. for plant lovers.

Flora : http://www.spellbound.co.uk/ipp/wrpflora.ipt