Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Owlcon 2016!

It's that time of the year. Time for me to try and figure out what I'm going to be running at Owlcon this year.  As per usual, what you see below is the entirety of what I've produced for either game at this point. That said, I don't see myself having the deadline nightmares of last year.  Here are this year's submissions:

"In The City" (for Mutants & Masterminds 3e)


NYC in 1979 ain’t pretty. It’s dirty, violent, & nearly bankrupt. The Avengers are too busy saving the world to worry 'bout their own backyard, so it’s up to heroes like you to try and keep a lid on things. You’re not doing half bad either. Sure, the gangs are a problem, but you can handle those suckers.

Until tonight. Now, things are weird. The gangs have gone crazy, & you’re off your home turf.

Something’s up, something big & bad.

Can you dig it, hero?

"For The Queen!" (for Honor+Intrigue)
To the honorable recipient of this note, I bear dark tidings. Once again, my friend, Her Majesty needs your sword and skills to put paid to a horrid plot that imperils the Realm. You and your extraordinary companions, gentlemen and women all, are the only ones she can trust to this task! Meet us at the accustomed venue.

I remain,


I'll try to post occasional updates on my progress. The convention is in mid-February, so I've got plenty of time to put them together.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


When I turned on comment approval to deal with my ongoing spam problem, I failed to put in an email address for notifications of comments requiring approval. So, I thought the comments on this poor little blog had totally dried up.

That's fixed now.

Friday, September 4, 2015

My "Appendix N"

One of the cooler things that came out of the OSR was the recognition of "Appendix N" of the DMG, entitled "Inspirational And Educational Reading." It was and remains a source of discussion and consideration.  For my part, I've read quite a few of the recommended books, many of those based entirely on their appearance on the list (keep in mind, I was 16 when the DMG came out -- fantasy and science fiction were tiny subsections of bookstores, provided you had access to a bookstore).

Of course, in OSR circles, "Appendix N" has come to be shorthand for a certain style and approach to gaming.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  But it's not necessarily all to my taste (nor should it be).

I've lately found myself thinking about my personal "Appendix N."  The books that inform my particular taste and style of D&D-shaped fantasy.  As I've been re-reading some of my prime influences of late, I thought I'd devote the occasional blog entry to this topic.  While I'm at it, I think I'll add TV, movies, and  even music, because those have certainly impacted my gaming aesthetics as well.

That's the idea, anyway.  So far, I've only finished one of the books, and I discovered most of the others aren't available as eBooks, so I'm going to have to go searching through my piles (librarians have stacks, I have piles) to find them.  But, it seems a decent idea.

Of course, I've also got to finish my read-through of Mind Games eventually.  Maybe I can do that in between these entries.

Monday, August 31, 2015

RPGaDay2015: The End

Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing

I'm going to go with the consensus and say all the people in my life who might not be there without gaming.  Doing a quick eyeball of my Facebook friends list, less than 10% of it is composed of people I didn't meet via gaming or the SCA (which I would never have found and joined without gaming), including my wife (and, by extension, my son). Thanks Gary, thanks Dave.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day Thirty

Favorite RPG playing celebrity

John Rogers.  Dude makes awesome TV shows ("Jackie Chan Adventures", "Leverage", "The Librarians").  He's a straight-up, card-carrying, proud member of the gamer nerd tribe.  He also writes funnybooks (the Blue Beetle relaunch for DC and IDW's awesome D&D comic) and occasional RPG stuff (the Feywild for D&D 4e, Crimeworld for FATE, and the forward for Feng Shui 2).

I first became aware of him on ENWorld, where he posted a long-running Dark Matter D20 actual-play called "Drunk Southern Girls With Guns."  At some point along the way, someone asked him if he was the same John Rogers that was writing "Blue Beetle," which revealed his secret identity.  Yes kids, the dude was posting on a gaming board about his personal campaign, not because he was trying to sell something, but because it's his hobby and he liked hanging out and talking about it with other hobbyists.

Dude's legitimately one of our own.

Honorable mention goes to Kurtis J. Wiebe, author of the awesome "Rat Queens" comics.  If you haven't read the Queens and you've felt a lack of foul-mouthed R-rated D&D-inspired adventure with a kickass all-female cast, then you need to catch up.  It's awesome.  Mr. Wiebe is also a gamer; he used to post on RPGnet back in the day and is currently podcasting a foul-mouthed R-rated Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game.

One more day to go.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

RPGaDay 2015: Day Twenty Nine

Favorite RPG blog/website

Well, obviously this one, right?

Actually, I'm going to go off-script here and pay tribute not to a blog or a website, but to my first online home: the Red October BBS.

Back in 1992, if you wanted to get online, you used a modem and a land line to dial in to a bulletin board.  Despite having a career in IT now, at the time I was anything but a computer guy.  That changed when my girlfriend moved in with me and brought her IBM PC-AT, which was equipped with a modem.  The first BBS I logged onto was the legendary Illuminati Online, but after about twenty minute of looking around (and accruing long-distance charges), I couldn't figure out how to navigate it.  My next attempt was another Austin-based BBS, Red October, which Adventurer's Club Magazine said was the electronic home of Hero Games.

RO was a lot easier to make sense of.  The community was friendly and operated by rules of civility I now realize were hardly the norm.  Of course, the best thing was the line-up of regular posters: a veritable cornucopia of Hero writers, editors, and high-profile fans:  Aaron Allston, Allen Varney, Scott Bennie, Bruce Harlick, Wayne Shaw, even occasional visits by George MacDonald.  Later on, such luminaries as Sean Patrick Fannon, Steve Long, Steve Kenson, and Mark Arsenault became regulars.

Did I mention this was a friendly community?  I really can't stress that enough.  Folks were happy to discuss rules minutia, campaign ideas, and just shoot the breeze.  In order to keep my phone bill from killing me, I learned to use Silly Little Mail Reader and PKZIP/UNZIP to log in, grab my mail, and access it offline.  With that sense of accomplishment, I began my first forays into using word processing and spreadsheet software.  Those skills snowballed into greater knowledge and are directly responsible for my career.

But mostly, it was about talking games, particularly HERO Games. It saw the earliest "publication" of Scott Bennie's Gestalt Earth setting.  It hosted an early Fantasy Hero version of Sean Patrick Fannon's Shaintar. It was just the best community for me to find.  There are connections and friendships I made there almost 25 years ago that remain to this day.

Of course, it couldn't survive.  AOL succeed RO as the home of the online community, and AOL was surpassed by mailing lists and dedicated web forae.  I've been a part of each incarnation along the way, but none quite match Red October.

Friday, August 28, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day Twenty Eight

Favorite game you no longer play

Probably Champions/HERO System. It's the game I've played more than any other.  It's been part of a host of terrific memories.  Almost my entire gaming career and style can be viewed through my relationship to that one game line. I still keep touch with the community, but it's not in the top three for any genre I'd run today.

Until it is.  Because I do go through phases, and it's entirely possible I'll give the old girl a try again.  But if I do, I'm far more inclined to use 4th edition than the current incarnation.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

RPGaDay 2015: Day Twenty Seven

So far today, I've had to jump start my wife's car at a gas station near our house, saw a dead horse by the side of the road on my morning commute, and had a dental "deep cleaning."  How's your day?

Anyway, on to the show...

Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games into One

I have no idea.  Seriously.  That's just not my thing.  I've adapted rules to genres/settings they weren't designed for (a Harn hack for Pendragon, and using Feng Shui to run "Keep on the Borderlands" or "Heroes of the New Wave"), but I'm not one to mash two entire games together.  Boring, but true.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RPGaDay 2015: Day Twenty Six

Favorite Inspiration For Your Game

Well, it kind of depends on the genre, doesn't it?  I mean, when I'm doing a wuxia game, mainlining Power Metal videos is probably counter-intuitive, right?  Pair the inspiration with the need, says I.

Okay, that's kind of a flippant answer, but I do have a better one for the genre I do best.

When it comes to my Supers games, for many years my primary inspiration has been animated superhero shows.

While watching "Batman: the Animated Series" on a daily basis during a period of unemployment in the mid-90s, something just clicked.  Even though I'd been running successful supers games for over a decade by that point, it was like discovering an entirely new language.  I developed what I call my "Champions: the Animated Series" approach to playing the game.  Studying the show and it's successors ("The Adventures of Superman," and my beloved "JLA"), I learned the ins and outs of how they stripped characters down to their iconic core and used that to tell stories.

Since then, pretty much every supers game I run is an animated series or movie in my head.  It's how I visualize the action, it's how I describe things.  It's my GMing vocabulary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day Twenty Five

Huh. I think I'm going to get through this.

Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

Working from the premise that something doesn't have to be new to be revolutionary, I'm going to say Points-Based Character Creation.  The whole Hero/GURPS unholy union and their many, many spawn.

Honorable mention to Skill-Based Rules Systems.  That was a mighty big eye-opener for me, back in the day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day Twenty Four

Favorite house rule

Hmmm...I've got two, both from Champions, and one was less of a house rule than just an experiment.  That was adopting a no initial points limit approach. Instead of building a starting version of the hero and trying to make everything balance out with Disads, we built the hero we wanted to play, chose the Disads that were appropriate, and got on with our lives.  The interesting side-effect of this was that we stopped worrying about character advancement, XP, etc.  Along the way, we developed some interesting ways of keeping the game engaging, and those turned into my first ever paid RPG work (an article in Digital Hero Magazine).  But it wasn't much as house rules go.

The other one is my "SPD = Spotlight" rule for Champions, which has served me well through the years.  Given its simulationist roots, it's pretty common to treat a character's Speed score as a concrete simulation of how fast he or she is.  But really, it's a measure of spotlight time and all PCs should get the same amount.  So, I lock PCs at a SPD of 4 in my supers games, 3 for non-supers.  NPCs, I leave alone.  They can almost always use the extra phases for defensive actions, and the heroes typically have numbers and plot on their side.

"But what about speedsters?" I hear you ask.  Or Bruce Lee level martial artists?  I counter by noting that Speedsters in M&M only get a single action and no one complains.  Champions is full of ways to attack multiple opponents, cover lots of ground, and go before everyone else without taking seven or eight actions in a twelve-second game turn.  Be creative!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day Twenty Three

Perfect game for you

There is none.  Game are like tools: there is no perfect one for every job.  Some aspire to be (Generic games), and I'm even rightly fond of a few (Hero System, Cinematic Unisystem, BRP).  But none can manage all the nuance of a finely-tuned, narrowly focused game.

It all depends on the circumstances.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Unfortunately, I'm going to have to start moderating comments.  I have a persistent spammer who simply won't give up.  Since Blogger doesn't allow me to outright block people, my only choice is to go the moderation route.

RPGaDay2015: Day Twenty Two

Perfect gaming environment...

Man, you've got me.  I've never found it, not 100%.  I can tell you for sure it's not in my house; the dining room is too crowded and, while my living room has comfy chairs, it lacks a central focal point.

My friend Greg has a nice sized gaming table for his Master Maze 4e game.  But it's also got space issues.

Back in my apartment-dwelling days, my living room as actually pretty good, except for one corner which was occupied by what we called "the chair of despair," so named because whoever sat in it seemed to have a bad experience during game play.

My Tuesday night crew (who I'm currently on-hold with due to work conflicts) plays on-campus at Rice University.  For several years, we had a terrific space in Herring Hall, with a huge table, lots of privacy, and chalkboards.  The negatives: parking and scheduling.  We eventually got scheduled out of it by an evening class.  We've used other rooms on campus and they're generally as nice, but I miss that one in particular.

A local acquaintance who built (and sells plans for) what he calls the Ultimate Gaming Table (it is quite nice, if utilitarian) did a full conversion of his detached garage into a gaming space.  It's quite nice, but a lot more effort/money than I could put into my hobby.  Extending the air conditioning alone would be massively expensive.  And honestly, I'm not fond of those overhead light fixtures. :)

I guess my dream game table would be something like Bilbo's dining room in The Hobbit, big but cozy, with a full-service kitchen adjacent.

Friday, August 21, 2015

RPGaDay2015: Day Twenty One

Favorite RPG Setting

This is an easy one.  And it’s not Glorantha or the Young Kingdoms, or even Scott Bennie’s amazing Gestalt Earth.  It’s a setting that, like Prog Music and “The Malazan Books of the Fallen”, is almost certainly guilty of every accusation of excess laid at its feet.  But that doesn’t diminish the warm place it occupies in my heart.

That place is Faerun, the good old Forgotten Realms.

In the early 80s, I thought I’d put D&D away for good, thanks to RQ and Stormbringer.  But, in 1984, I got a job working in a bookstore that carried some RPGs (mostly TSR stuff) and got Dragon Magazine in every month.  I initially grabbed a copy to have something to read on break and soon was picking it up as it came in.  After all, there were articles for Marvel Super-Heroes in there, I told myself.  Over time, D&D wormed its way back into my heart and for Xmas of 1985, I spend all the gift certificates work gave me as a bonus on a complete set of AD&D books, to replace the ones I’d gotten rid of.

Somewhere in all of that, DragonLance came out.  I read the books and looked at the modules, but they weren’t really for me.  The novels felt like they were aimed at a slightly younger audience (I was in my 20s by this point, and reading “important” fantasy, like Katherine Kurtz and Raymond Feist. :p).

Greyhawk was kind of in its dotage, Gary Gygax having departed TSR, and to be honest, that setting wouldn’t get its hooks into me for another fifteen years or so.  So I was kind of adrift when it came to places to set a game.  I worked half-heartedly on something I thought be cool (it wasn’t) and mostly played Champions.

Fast-forward a couple of years.  Ads from TSR start appearing on the backs of comic books.  These don’t have comic strips, they show a parcel of parched ground, with a footprint that can only be from a dragon.  The ads read something like “It’s Coming”.  I couldn’t find one online.  I’m sure if I go digging in my long boxes, I can find an example, but that smacks of effort.  Each month, they revealed little more detail.  It was a great ad campaign.

I grabbed a copy of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, aka the Grey Box as soon as it came off the truck.  Hell, I might have snatched it out of the truck.  The insides remain my gold standard for a boxed set:  multiple books, multiple maps, and that cool transparent hex map overlay.

When I read the books, I saw a setting that spoke to me in ways no D&D world had before.  It simultaneously embraced the crazy of the game while making sense of it in odd ways.  It felt lived-in, in a way Krynn and Greyhawk didn’t (unsurprising, considering its history prior to publication).  It was mature without being titillating.  It had wide-open vistas and places for the PCs to matter.  A place with ancient history and epic yarns of swashbuckling adventure.

In short, it said “Play Me.”

Nearly thirty years on, a lot of those wide-open vistas have been filled in and altered by official canon.  The Realms probably have the worst examples of Pet NPCs you can find.  But back in the day, that slim grey box, packed full of stuff, was a breath of fresh air.

Even in the bad times of overpowered NPCs and goofy metaplots, I’ve loved the place.  I’ve played there many times, run there on occasion.  It’s probably the only game setting I can think of where if you told me, "OK, we’re in Faerun, you’re playing a [CLASS] from [Place]," I could make a go of it just on that information and feel comfortable doing so.  I won’t get the details right, but I know I’ll be playing to the spirit of the setting.

I could go on.  And maybe I will, later.  For now, I leave with a quote that sums the place up for me entirely:

“We face death every day,” Ferostil said with a shrug, “and treasure’s guarded the world over.”

That’s the Realms I love.