Published on 12/25/2011 Written by 0 comments

Merry/Happy (please insert your prefered inoffensive generic politically correct word here)

Now for some kick ass Santa pictures...

Have a safe and happy holiday and all the best in the new year from everyone here at Rule of the Dice.

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Published on 12/01/2011 Written by 8 comments

Playing by Blog

One of the greatest things about our hobby is its progressive nature. And I'm not talking about elven politics or any such malarkey. No, I'm talking about how the hobby thrives as more and more options to play are made available.

Whether you play face-to-face, or via email or forum, or even through a service like Google+, there are more ways to get your roleplaying fix than ever before.

And now you can add play-by-blog to that growing list.

For the last couple months, I've been in a play-by-blog game run by the packmaster of the blog A Pack of Gnolls, called The Ruins of Empire and running Microlite74 in 4E's Nentir Vale setting.

Playing by blog means setting up a blog specifically dedicated to the game in question; the gamemaster makes the main posts that drives the game forward, then players post their actions in the comments section of the blog, and generally it acts a lot like play-by-forum. It's slow, but since it doesn't require a massive time sink, it's far easier to fit into a busy lifestyle.

But there are downsides to every dungeon and playing by blog is no exception. For every chest of gold, there's a gelatinous cube waiting in the shadows.

Because nothing says "Dungeon" like a giant slime that wants to slowly devour you and every possession you own.

Pros for play-by-blog:

  • It doesn't take much time out of your day. Just like play-by-email and play-by-forum, gaming by blog is slow and meticulous, giving you time to respond and think about your actions. This can be a downside for the impatient, but for those of us with jobs, families, and things that squeeze our gaming time to a bare minimum, it's a lifesaver.

  • It puts the focus solely on the game. This is great because sometimes forums lead to distractions. You say you'll post your response but then get caught up in a debate on cockatoo training or some such nonsense and, before you know it, you're late to your own game. With a blog, it's one lone thing to check with few, if any, distractions along the way.

  • And we all know how quickly cockatoo training discussions turn into flamewars.

  • You don't need a bunch of separate accounts. There's a really good chance that if you're reading this you have everything you need to be a player in a blog-run campaign. Instead of creating a new forum account, most blogs allow for commenting with all kinds of different logins, so there's almost no restrictions on entry.

  • You can trim your blog however you like. Even if you just use a standard Blogspot blog (and really, why not?), you can set the blog up however you want. Pages for maps, NPCs, anything goes, and it's a snap to add pictures wherever you want.

Cons against play-by-blog:

  • It takes planning. As gamemaster, you'll have a lot of the work to shoulder. You may have more time in which to plan things out, but you'll need to work twice as hard as a face-to-face game to get everything situated just right. After all, you can't bribe your internet players with nachos and Mountain Dew.

  • "The cans don't fit through the USB ports."

  • Combat needs to be carefully coordinated. We're in our first major combat in The Ruins of Empire and it's been a little messy. Even if you aren't running a tactical combat simulator and have no need for maps, you're going to want to carefully explain where the enemies are. For old-school games, a list of visible enemies is probably as much as you need.

  • It's slow. I know I expressed this as a pro, but it's also very much a con. Some people don't want to devote weeks, months, and maybe even years to one ongoing game.

Personally, I've had a really good time with play-by-blog. It has a different feel than play-by-forum, though shares a lot of similarities, and fits in really good with my busy life. In fact, I'm thinking of running a game using this format, as I have a few players in my group willing to game online, but not willing to sign up for a site like rpol.net.

How about you? Have you ever tried playing by blog? Or does it sound like an absolutely crazy idea to you?

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Published on 11/26/2011 Written by 0 comments


DIY RPG/D&D people, you need to read this

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Published on 11/17/2011 Written by 4 comments

Teach your kids to game week

In case you missed it, it's Teach your Kid to Game week, an idea that I 100% approve of, even if the idea of an entire week to it seems a bit unnecessary.

What's next? A week to remind us to breathe?

However, on its intended purpose, I can lavish nothing but praise. I've had the opportunity to run games for young kids before and, let me just say, that it was highly rewarding and actually quite fun. Very imaginative children will think of solutions to problems that no rational adult could ever conceive, whether or not said solution is physically possible.

There are plenty of tips and advice out there for running games with kids, but let me just reiterate a couple of points I feel need mentioning as often as possible.

#1: Don't play for hours. Kids get tired, have shorter attention spans, and basically will burn out faster than you will. Limit the game time to two hours at the max, maybe even cut it short to an hour-and-a-half. You can get in a little adventuring and try to end it on a cliffhanger so the kids actually want to play again.

#2: Tone the violence down. I can't stress this enough. If you want to keep the younger set comfortable, you'd better run a level of violence appropriate to a Saturday morning cartoon. It seems like an obvious thing to give as a piece of advice, but I've seen some GMs who don't consider killing to be too adult a theme for young kids. Sure, if you're playing with teenagers, start with the chopping, but if you're running a game for younger kids, say in the pre-teen range, you've got to tone it down. Knock out the bad guys, maybe hurt them a little, but don't do anything that would make the kids (or their parents) uncomfortable.

#3: Pick the right setting. Selecting a rules-lite system is easy. Selecting a setting that won't bore pre-teens to tears is a challenge. Some might like fantasy, some might not. Talk with the kids prior to the game and try to find some common ground. Light fantasy works best, especially with a touch of humor. A setting like Redwall (with its animal protagonists) or the early Harry Potter (with its lighthearted take on magic) are good ideas to mine inspiration from, as are superhero comics, especially with the boys.

As for what system to run, if you're running a game for pre-teen kids, say in the 9 to 12 range, you might not want to bust out the 4th Edition books. Try rules-lite. Free is even better because then, if the kids show an interest, they can get a copy of the rules for themselves and read it at their leisure.

I'd be likely to pick Risus (for any setting really), the Tunnels & Trolls sorta-clone Tunnelquest (for a fantasy game), maybe Microlite74 (for the slightly older set), or the old B/X Dungeons and Dragons (with plenty of house-rules to keep the kids from an untimely death). Board game half-RPGs, like the ancient Hero Quest game, are an even better idea, as most kids have experience with board games, so it won't feel as weird to them.

Some good advice can be found from Escapist writer Bill Walton and Drive Thru RPG has a bunch of kid-friendly selections available.

How about you? Have you ever run a game for kids? Maybe your nephews or nieces, or even your own children? How did it go and what advice would you share?

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Published on 11/10/2011 Written by 0 comments

Let loose the Dogs of WAR

When I was fourteen or so, I discovered my dad's old collection of paperback men's action novels and spent an entire summer reading them, from the adventures of American super spy Nick Carter, to the sardonic violence of the Destroyer, I devoured them all with a fresh zeal, with my favorite being the violent adventures of the Executioner, who would later serve as the basis for Marvel's Punisher. Soon I'd continued on to classic pulp adventure series like Doc Savage and the Shadow, but the men's adventure novels of the 70s and 80s have always held a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.

So to find a game supposedly patterned after those novels filled me with excited trepidation. Dogs of WAR, by Simon Washbourne, is based around the Bolanverse series (the long running series consisting of the Executioner, Mack Bolan, Pheonix Force, Able Team, and Stony Man, three series of which are still being published as of today: www.mackbolan.com ) though any actual knowledge of those books is largely unnecessary. If you like 80s action movies you'll get along just fine.

The Guts

A caption would only tarnish the majesty of this snapshot

The system is an adaption of Simon Washbourne's own Barbarians of Lemuria ruleset. Essentially you roll 2d6, adding bonuses and subtracting difficulty, to try and score over 9. If you do, it's a success, if not, it's a failure. It's quick, simple, and I will admit that I've always liked the idea of rolling over a set number for success every time.

Creating characters sees you assigning some numbers to base attributes, combat attributes, and then finally selecting an occupation. Occupations describe what Boons (essentially Feats) you can choose from and what specializations (skillsets) you can select.

It makes it easy to create characters and doesn't limit as much as some might assume; the occupations actually serve their purpose well enough and help to keep you in the mindset of action characters. Besides, it's easy enough to create new occupations if needed.

As for combat rules, everything's decidedly less tactical than the current incarnation of D&D, but it's not as loose as Badass. You won't need a grid, certainly, and you won't find realistic approximations of a hundred real-world firearms. It is, after all, about being action heroes. But it does have rules for weak mobs of enemies, bonuses and penalties based on specializations, and some other basic combat information you're likely to need. Including a very interesting critical hit mechanic that involves spending Exploit Points (your catch-all luck/hero points) to turn any potential roll into a critical and any roll of double 6 into a mega critical.

It also does away with equipment lists, assuming that you will have anything appropriate on your person. If you have explosives training, you can probably rustle up a little C4 out of your pockets, if you're a sniper, you've likely got a rifle somewhere nearby, and so on. If you need something you don't have, you'll need to ask a PC with the Leadership specialization to call HQ for you and scrounge something up, or risk finding a shady contact to search the blackmarket for you. It works to eliminate the tedious doling out of equipment at the start of every mission.

The weakest aspect of the rules is, in my mind, the leveling rules. You buy upgrades with experience earned each mission, advancing your attributes and specializations. Frankly leveling doesn't really fit into the theme of being a hardened soldier, vigilante, or Sylvester Stallone, it feels a bit tacked on and would eventually result in nigh-superhuman levels of power. For my games I might only allowed players to level up specialties and force them to keep their attributes at the starting amounts, but we'll see once I actually get a chance to run the game.

Stallone, well before he hit Level Old

On the Surface

The PDF itself is nicely laid out, with clear, easy to read text in a two-column format. There are a few serious editorial gaffes, including references to Boons that are not in the document, some Boons that aren't used in any of the occupations though they exist in the master list, and at least one reference to an incorrect page number. These flaws are irritating, but hardly kill the overall product.

The art is clean, though the stock art is jarringly out of place when compared to Chris Schieffer's interior work, which is almost lightly comicbook in style and tone, with one or two great pieces and a number of average ones. In any event, the art isn't extensive, and it's used fairly well. At least it won't drain your ink if you decide to print a page or two.

You also get some detailed 70s/80s setting information, a premade crew of hardcases, two sample adventures, some ideas on alternate settings, and an extended description of a number of terrorist groups. It's a bit of fluff padding, but it's nice to have it included nonetheless.

Overall, from my readthrough, would I say Dogs of WAR warrants a purchase? Well I don't like making definitive statements without a playthrough and I hope to do that next week (I'll be sure to tell how that goes), but I will say that if you plan on getting Barbarians of Lemuria, the two-for-$10 bundle on RPGNow is pretty hard to beat. Otherwise, if you really like the A-Team or, unlikely as it may be, if you're a Bolanverse fan like myself, then there's really no question that DoW is worth the $7.50 in PDF. It's a rules lite system that looks like it does exactly what it advertises, no more, no less.

DoW is also available in print form via Lulu.
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Published on 11/01/2011 Written by 9 comments

Why I Love Nu-Skool D&D

 A few weeks ago I raved about how great Old Skool D&D is.  At first glance, you may infer therefore that I believe Nu Skool (and 4E in particular) sucks.  While it's really easy to make fun of 4E, I don't actually believe that it's bad. The two games are very different and fill completely separate rolls and niches.  I love them both in different ways, like my iPhone and my wife.

The cool thing about old versions of D&D is that's it's simple, random, and open to endless interpretation and tweaking. That's also one of it's greatest flaws.  The reason many people make up their own house rules is because the rules, as written, don't make a heck of a lot of sense.  And they're stupidly unfair.  Sure, having a wizard with 2 hit points who gets killed by a stray cat is funny the first time, but after dying 8 times in two sessions, that shit gets old. Especially when a significant portion of those deaths were caused by the same f***ing cat.

Three attacks per round.  AC 5. This things' a low-level PC grinder.
Similar annoying stupid rules include over-powered demi-human classes with level restrictions (that most people just ignore), fighters who have literally no abilities outside of swording, and first-level monsters and traps with save-or-die attacks. (What, I got killed by mould again?  Ah, man, if I wanted to be exposed to poisonous mould, I would go hang out at my old high school.)  Fourth Edition fixes these issues by introducing a strange and mysterious thing called Game Balance.  Say what you will about WOTC, they at least tried to make the game more fair and sensical.  This is not a bad thing.  That have made it so structured and well-crafted that when a flaw or imbalance does happen to pop up, the trolls rise up from their dark smelly basements with murder in their eyes and Cheetos on their breath screaming "BROKEN! BROKEN!" until WOTC errata's them back down into their caves.

Structure, in many ways, promotes creativity.  Having more rules forces you to think about how to get the most out of those rules, as well as how to get around them. Figuring out cool combinations of feats and powers can be great fun (albeit, by the definition of people who find algebra fun - and I know a lot of gamers that fall into that category).  The mathematical precision is comforting because you can always calculate what will be better for you in a given situation.  Part of the "game" is the puzzle of making the numbers work they way you want them to.

Of course, if you don't like math, you can, also, you know, just play an elf cleric because the picture in the book is sexy. I know players who have picked characters exactly that way.
People love video games.  They love building their characters in just the right way.  Nu Skool lets you do that, too.  You can plan your character's advancement over time, pick the gear and powers you want, and work towards acquiring them.  You are not constrained by the whim of your DM or the fate of random treasure tables.  You make a kick-ass hero to be proud of.

Random treasure can be fun, but really, how many Apparatuses of Kwalish do you really need?

That's something else that's stressed in Nu Skool:  You ARE a hero.  In old versions of the game, you start out as just some dipshit with a sword, or a newb wizard who knows one spell.  In 4E, even at low levels, you wield considerable power.  You can pull off crazy moves called things like "Inevitable Shot" and "Unstoppable Ninja Killing Strike of Super Awesomeness" (I think I made that one up... I think).  You can take huge amounts of punishment and get right back right back up and brush yourself off.  Hell, even dying is only a temporary inconvenience, since get resurrected only imposes what, a -1 penalty to attack rolls?  (I don't even remember, I've never actually had a character die).  Can you imagine, years ago, if someone told you that your D&D fighter could have hundreds of hit points, crazy magical weapons and gear, and could roll FISTFULS of dice for damage? Fourth Edition is the game that hard-ass old schoolers dreamed about.  Until they got it, of course, and then decided that they were too hip to play corporate-made games.

Whatever.  Though it's a very different game, 4E has its own strengths and I love it for its own merits. I love older editions for the same reasons, B/X in particular.  It's okay if you like something different than me.  It's also okay to like both.  There's way too much hate in the OGBloC. Can we all just get along, rather than argue about our games?  Especially since there are enough people outside the hobby who look down upon or make fun of us for what we do?  There's really no need for us to fight amongst ourselves.

We should be focusing our fire on the boss monsters.
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Published on 10/25/2011 Written by 4 comments

D6 Zombies


In honour of Halloween and the second season of the Walking Dead (not to mention the soon-to-be-released Issue Three of d6 Magazine featuring material by yours truly), I thought it was time to revisit d6 Horror and share with you some of my designs for everyone's favourite brain-devouring, drooling masses of near-human monstrosities... ZOMBIES!!!

You thought I was talking about YouTube comment writers, didn't you?

I love zombies and horror survival games.  So much so that I broke my own rule to never buy another Kevin Siembieda game and picked up DEAD REIGN when it came out a couple of years ago.  It was a ton of fun, though admittedly I had to tweak the hell out of it to make it playable (when my players realized that the zombies had the strength of Superman, and kept coming after being shot in the head four or five times, it really killed the excitement for them).  All that tweaking eventually led me to the d6 system, which I also mangled to create a custom d6 Horror games (some of the rules of which will be appearing in the afore-mentioned d6 Magazine Halloween issue). 

A zombie game needs zombies to kill, but the question is, what kind of zombies?  Do we go with our classic slow, stupid, shambling zombies from Night of the Living Dead?  How about the rage-fueled fast zombies from 28 Days Later?  Or even the super-powered, life-energy sucking mega zombies from Dead Reign?  (Seriously, you need a rocket launcher to kill the goddamn things)

Is your grandmother ready for the zombie apocalypse?
This might be sacriligious, but in a game setting I prefer the style of zombies from the Resident Evil games - that is, a variety.  The bulk should be standard, slow, old-fashioned zombies like your daddy used to headshot, but every now and then you need to mix it up with zombie dogs, zombies with ranged attacks (acid spit?), fast runners and even giant mutant zombies the size of a tank.  Fighting (or running from) endless hoards of identical monsters is fun for awhile, but personally I feel you need a wider selection of baddies in order to customize individual encounters and battles.

Besides - eventually your players will get really good at killing run-of-the-mill zombies, so you need to have surprising FUCK YOU options to throw at them.

A zombie kitten is also unexpected and oftentimes hilarious.
Without further ado, here are a few zombies of different shapes and sizes, ready to drop into your very own d6 Horror game.

This is your standard Romero-esque zombie.  How the zombies are created (whether alien virus, ancient curse, biological warfare, whatever) is entirely up to you and your campaign, and may not even be important.  Sometimes it's just about survival, and the players don't need to know where the zombism comes from.  You can also choose how contagious the infection is that spreads the disease (does a victim have to die from an attack?  be bitten by the monster?  get a speck of blood on their eye?).  Either way, here's what a zombie looks like when it's coming at you:


Health Levels: 4
Speed: 6
Horror: 3D

Natural body armour - Shamblers have a natural 5D to resist all forms of damage except fire, to all parts of their bodies except their heads.  Damage to their head is inflicted normally, though a called shot to the head always has -2D to hit.
Mindless - Shamblers have no Willpower stat because they are effectively mindless and immune to all forms of charm, persuasion and mental fatigue
Dormant - If a shambler does not sense a human for an extended period of time (a couple of days), they will tend to find a sheltered area to crawl into and go dormant.  This could be under an abadoned car, in a storm drain, under a porch deck, etc. The zombie basically remains in a state of hybernation until it is alerted to the presence of living humans (by loud noises or a human passing within a few feet of its location).  The zombie will then awaken and lash out at th nearest living thing, possibly surprising its victim.
Undead - Shamblers do not need to eat, sleep, or breath, and thus the lack of any of these necessities do not harm them.  They are also immune to poisons, gas and toxins.  They are immune to pain and thus do not suffer wound penalties from damage, though severe damage (such as severing a limb) will obvious impose penalties at the GM's option.

Grab - Shamblers generally try to grab and hold their victims, to make them easier to bite.  Because they are so weak and clumsy, most normal humans can easily avoid/escape these grabs.
Bite - A shambler's bite inflicts 3D damage, and usually requires the victim to be grabbed before it can be attempted.  At the GM's option, the shambler may forgo the grab if it surprises the victim (on a hide check).  The bite may also inflict the zombie infection upon the target. The exact details of infection is left up to the individual GM (based on their favourite movie), but it is suggested that if the bite inflicts Wound-level damage or higher, the character must make a Very Difficult Strength check or become infected.  An infected character will die and be reborn as a zombie within 2D hours (or rises in 2D minutes if killed before the initial time runs out)

A runner are those terrifying zombies that come from the back of the pack and move at twice the speed of the regular shamblers, able to easily outrun a human and are generally much harder to kill (if only because, unlike most zombies, they sometimes try to avoid attacks).  In a setting like 28 Days Later, all the zombies may be runners.

AGILITY 2D, Dodge 3D; APTITUDE 1D; INTELLECT 1D, Sense Humans 3D; STRENGTH 2D, Brawling 3D, Jumping 3D; WILLPOWER *

Health Levels: 5
Speed: 11
Horror: 3D

Same as the Shambler, except depending on the setting the DM may remove the 5D resistance to attacks.

Bite - same as Shambler
Pounce - A runner will usually try to jump onto its victim and hold it down while the other zombies catch up, though it may certainly attempt a bite or two in the meantime.

Brutes are your tougher-than-average zombie.  Often this is simply due to increased mass - the zombie was a body builder or simply obese during life, so in undeath they are a big, heavy slab of reanimated flesh.  In certain settings, perhaps they could be specially created as elite bodyguards or enforcers, or perhaps they are infected with a difference virus/parasite than the others.  Whatever the case, Brutes can take - and inflict - significantly more punishment than standard Shamblers.


Health Levels: 7
Speed: 6
Horror: 3D+2

Same as the Shambler, except increase the damage resistance to 6D.

Grab - Same as Shambler, except because of its better strength it is much harder to escape from its grasp
Bite - Same as Shambler
Crush - Sometimes, instead of biting, the Brute will simply try to crush a grabbed victim, then suck out its brains once the victim stops squirming.  A brute can inflict 5D crush damage to a grabbed victim every turn until it escapes or the brute is killed.

Depending on your game setting, Hulks may represent a "boss" style monster, or they may not exist.  Hulks are huge abominations, around 3 metres tall and almost as wide.  In a fantasy setting, they would be considered a zombie ogre.  In other games, they would have to be created specially by the evil corporation/alien task force/maniacal wizard behind the zombie apocalyse.  They will obviously not be appropriate in certain settings, but in a game where you want a super-powerful beastie to throw at a particulary tough group of players, or you just really want your PCs to shit themselves, toss them one of these guys to deal with.


Health Levels: 10
Speed: 10
Horror: 4D+1

Same as the Shambler, except increase the damage resistance to 9D.

Slam - A Hulk will usually just smash anything in its way with its huge fists.  Roll 7D to attack, and 7D for damage.
Grab - Same as Shambler, but good luck getting away.
Crush - If the Hulk grabs a victim, it will usually try to crush the poor sap in its huge hands. The hulk inflicts 8D crush damage against a grabbed victim every turn until it escapes or the hulk is killed.


So what do you think?  Feedback is always welcome, and please feel free to add your own favourite zombies in the comments section, below.

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Published on 10/18/2011 Written by 2 comments

REVIEW: Resident Evil Deck Building Game

I was walking past a FLGS* last week and noticed a new Resident Evil board game in in the window. Now, I am a huge Resident Evil fan, (at least of the original and RE: Zero for GameCube) so I had to check this out. Turns out it wasn't a board game so much as a card game, but it was reasonably priced and I was intrigued so I picked it up.  I got the "Alliance" intro set because it specifically said it had rules for single-player, which is always a plus for me.

*Quick Aside: It actually not "my" Friendly Local Gaming Store.  I was downtown visiting my real estate lawyer (man, that feels weird to say, but we bought a house, so I had to get a lawyer) and I walked past Fandom II, a popular gaming store here in Ottawa.  The shopkeeper wasn't particularly "friendly," but they have a good selection and a strong customer base.  My FLGS is actually the Comic Book Shoppe, which has some of the best prices on gaming stuff in town.  One of these days I will have to write a column about game stores in Ottawa. End aside.

For those not familiar with it, being a "Deck Building Game" means that customizing your deck is actually part of the game play, unlike most collectible/customizable card games where you bring in your deck pre-built.  The object is to build a deck of weapons, ammo and "action" cards, which allow you to search the "Mansion" and kick some zombie ass.  The simplest way to describe it is a cross between Munchkin and Magic the Gathering, but I admit that is huge generalization.

The game is straightforward.  Each player chooses a character card at the beginning of the game, each representing a familiar face from the RE Universe (Leon, Claire, Chris, Krauser, etc). Each turn you draw 5 cards from your deck.  You can play Action cards (which usually let you draw more cards or add damage to your weapons), Item cards (usually herbs to restore your health), and you can play your Ammo/weapons and go "explore the mansion," which is played out by drawing a card from the "Mansion" deck, which is usually a zombie or zombie-like enemy.  If your weapon does enough damage to defeat the monster you gain Decorations (victory points), but if not, the monster card goes back in the deck and you lose health (based on the monster's health).  You can also buy new cards to add to your deck, which are chosen from a wide field of playable cards that are laid out on the table at the beginning of the game, thereby "building" and customizing your deck as the game proceeds.  The Winner is the player with the most Decorations when a certain event occurs - either a set number of turns pass or a special "boss" monster card is drawn and defeated.

I didn't realize that Wesker was actually the lovechild of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

So what did I think of this game?  Let's find out.

The Good:

The game is actually pretty simple and quick to learn.  The number of steps and possible actions during a turn is pretty low, so there isn't a lot of nit-picky timing steps to remember.  I figured it out after only one solo game, and then taught it to my regular gaming group, who picked it up very quickly.

There are many different "game modes" that you can use to keep the game fresh and varied. This is great, as because the rules are so simple you need the different options to keep up the replay value.  It works with any number of players from 1 to 4, there are team options, player vs. player, as well as many different combinations of "characters" you can play, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  The neat feature about the "Alliance" version that I picked up is that it has rules for playing two characters, playing into the common trend in RE video games of having a partner character to help you out during your adventure.

The cards are well made, have a clean, simple layout and are visually appealing (well as appealing as bloody corpses and horrifying monsters can be), and capture well the look of the Resident Evil universe.  The fact that there are several expansions to diversify your gaming experience, without going into full-blown MtG madness, is a nice option as well.

Other Good News: There are no cards based on the Resident Evil movies.  The Bad News: The fifth movie is currently in production.
 The Bad:

The game is very abstract - it's not as simple as "you pick up a gun and some bullets" and go zombie-hunting.  Your deck often ends up with all kinds of odds and ends, and as you randomly draw a new hand every turn you never know what combination of guns and ammo you will end up with.  While fine from a game play stand-point, thematically it's hard to justify (and I'm big on theme, game play and logic all working together).

The main resource card, called "Ammunition" is labeled wrong, in my opinion, and it causes some confusion when you first start playing.  Whenever you play an "Ammunition" card, you gain both bullets AND gold (which you later use to buy more gear).  You get the gold whether or not you fight and defeat any enemies, and if you use the card to provide ammo for one of your weapons, you can still spend the gold from the same card later on in the turn.  Confusing?  It is at first, though it becomes second nature after a little while.  It still doesn't make any sense though. Where does the gold come from?  And how they hell are you spending it to buy new gear inside a haunted mansion?  The game play is fine, I just think the naming conventions are stupid.

It takes a bit of work to set up all the different card piles at the beginning of the game, so to make your life easier the publisher provided a box with neat little slots to sort all the cards into piles when you put it away, so that you can just pull them out and be ready to play next time.  It sounds helpful but unfortunately the cards don't really fit into the slots.  It's a time-consuming and aggravating process to try and jam them in, and it feels like doing this repeatedly will damage the cards.  After only a few games, I've already given up and just stacked them neatly in the box.  As long as you put them back arranged in bunches, it's just as easy to sort them out next time.

The Ugly:

Remember how I compared this game to Magic: The Gathering?  The thing that has given MtG such staying power is that it works well on two levels.  You can play it casually, with whatever cards you have lying around, and you can also play it competitively, devoting serious thought in strategy and deck construction.  The problem with the RE Deck Building Game as I see it (and this may not be a problem for other people) is that it ONLY works on the competitive level.  The strategies are specific and necessary.  If you don't build your deck very carefully and around the character you're playing the game becomes frustrating, boring, and takes a long, long time.  You can totally ruin the whole game if you mess up your first five turns or so.  For instance, one of the guys I played with couldn't figure out how to work around his character's drawback, so he would often do nothing for turn after turn while he tried to figure out what he was supposed to do.  He played for over an hour before he even killed his first zombie!  I have since figured out what he was doing wrong (none of us had a clue at the time), but I don't know if he'll be willing to play again.  The game is not noobie friendly, is what I'm saying.

The Verdict:

Overall, I really like the game.  Once you get the hang of it, it plays fast, and I like a card game that provides in-depth strategy without requiring obscene financial investments.
Fuck you, Richard Garfield.
The Good far outweighs the Bad, and the Ugly is very specific and may not apply to your gaming group.  We like games that you can pick up quickly and can have fun at with little skill, but have a lot of depth and replay value too for those who really want to get deeply into it (Munchkin and Settlers of Catan are two of our favourites that fit that criteria perfectly).

Has anyone else played the RE: Deck Building Game or have any thoughts on the matter?  There's a comment section down there.  Use it.


Ages ago I wrote about Wrestling RPGs and the long-lost art of Fantasy E-Fed Wrestling.  Well, I've been feeling nostalgic lately, and I started a new league.  We're still looking for more wrestlers, so if anyone is interested in signing up, check out C.L.A.W. (Canadian Lucha Action Wrestling)!

We're a laid back group of players just in it for fun.  Besides me, all the handlers are brand new to e-fedding.  Looking for guys (and girls) with a good sense of humour and a who enjoy crazy wrestling characters, not necessarily hardcore players with tons of experience.

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Published on 10/11/2011 Written by 14 comments

Dames Don't Belong in Dungeons (unless they're bound and scantily-clad)

A few weeks ago (yeah, I'm really behind on my blogging) there was some debate floating around in certain dark corners of the Onling Gaming Blog Community (which I affectionally like to call the Ogbloc) about how closely role-playing games (and by extension, "fiction" and "history" in general) should or should not adhere to historical accuracy.  A quick glance at these blog posts - here and here, paying special attention to the comments sections - will either make you laugh with the absurdity of the argument, or cause your blood to boil with unbridled academic nerd-rage. 

Not writing for a while gave me the advantage of time to mull over my response to this phenomenon (or maybe just made me miss the boat completely). Originally I wrote a scathing, satirical argument about the whole thing (I won't tell you which side I took), but the light of reason (ie, my wife/editor) showed me the way back up out of the hole where the Internet trolls ply their trade, and I rewrote my post to be a little more balanced.

The main supporter of protecting history, actually made a valid point.  We often do forget elements of the past in our quest for a simplified, antiseptic and fun present and future.  History is full of ugly stories of the crimes men (and women) have committed against other men (and mostly women).  In our current world where scantily-clad heroines fight monsters and kick ass on a regular basis, we sometimes forget that for centuries in our own western society, the lady-folk were treated as little better than cattle.  If a woman actually showed up in battle, pretending or trying to be a knight, she would expect to be sexually assaulted, tied to the back of a horse and dragged back to her hovel where she starts cooking, spitting out babies and dying in childbirth where she belongs.  Ditto for open homosexuals, Jews or non-Caucausians.

We want our RPGs and history like we want our mayonnaise - white, bland, non-kosher and made by a woman who knows her place is in the kitchen.... I think I messed up that analogy somewhere.
Should we forget that such elements of our history exists?  Of course not! But do we need to be reminded of it constantly?  I really don't see why.  Games, stories, movies - they're all meant first and foremost as forms of entertainment.  Yes, they can be educational, and yes, it's nice when they treat topics truthfully and respectfully, but oftentimes it's much better to just have fun with the material.  Sure a game with a female warrior-empress of England or anachronistic weapons may not be accurate, but it could be a lot of fun.  Pirates of the Caribbean probably wasn't a particularly accurate depiction of pirate life in the 18th century, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to enjoy it.  And hey, if Dan Brown's books and movies float your boat then more power to you.

(A little aside about Dan Brown:  When the Da Vinci Code hype exploded years ago, I was one of those guys who bitched and complained about him, about how the book was over-rated and his historical references were ripped-off, dumbed down and in many cases, wrong.  Over time, however, I have developed a healthy dose of respect for Mr. Brown.  This is a guy who has taken a so-so thriller and not only made a fortune off of it, but has pissed off countless people in doing so.  People have made careers out of debunking this guy, not to mention all the spin-off documentaries and copycat thrillers that have come out since then.  All of us wannabe writers should wish we could be like Dan Brown - a successful writer, instigator of employment and economic growth, someone who has single-handedly jump-started a generation's interest in art history, and the biggest fucking troll on the planet.  Let's see John Grisham pull that off.)

Also, anything that gets Audrey Tautou screen time is A-OK in my book.
I do think that with a mature audience, dark unpleasant topics should be dealt with from time to time.  Whether that's stereotypes, or being treated unfairly, or whatever, I'm sure it would make for a riveting game.  It makes for great books and film when done correctly.  But if the players don't want their character to have to deal with that, then they shouldn't have to. Again, it's a game.  You should have fun, not be made uncomfortable.

A long time ago I suggested that people should find like-minded people with which to play games, and I still believe that.  Some people like playing heroic, non-historical, anachronistic settings where a gay black Sir Galahad beats the tar out of Robin Hood.

And if you could somehow make Robin Hood a fox furrie, all the better.
Other people enjoy when every detail of their game is perfectly and historically recreated. They may feel you are not qualified to run a true medieval role-playing game until you have at least a PhD in European history and several published papers.  That every detail of shitty peasant life must be painstakingly recreated.  That every cousin and bastard child of every king has to be included, fully-fleshed out and statted, and role-played with the proper intonation, accent and colloquialisms for his social standing and geographical location.

For some people, that's fun, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Some people have weird definitions of "fun."
I think both opinions and styles can co-exist in this world - in fact I think they need to.  We need the fun, creative, entertaining and sometimes frivolous games and stories to make us forget the shitty stuff we need to deal with in our daily lives.  But we can't actually ignore the bad stuff in the past either, whether that's political history or those old-fashioned games that grognards like to play.  We need to recognize these things in order to learn from them and improve the future.  We need a healthy mix of irreverence and somber realism in order to maintain both our sanity and our intelligence. 

Feel free to agree or disagree - that's what the comments section is for.  I probably would have gotten more responses with the original post, though. ;-)

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The Heavyweight Champion and the #1 Contender TEAM UP in the Main Event!

We are still accepting New Wrestlers! Sign up today!

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Published on 10/07/2011 Written by 2 comments

Steal This Other Map

Everyone seems to have enjoyed the free map I posted a while back. It's made the rounds, been awesomed up and found a place in the Dragonsfoot forums. So I decided I may as well post another one.

I was going for a kind of comic book style with this map. It was an experiment, mostly hand drawn on a wacom tablet in photoshop. It turned out pretty good.

You could pretty easily use it for some northern wilderness setting thing, at least that's the vibe I was going for, but feel free to use it for whatever you want.

If you use the map let me know.

Both of the maps are free for anyone's personal use at the game table or for anyone's free DIY RPG products - I only ask for a link back or a credit as the maps creator. 

Several people have inquired whether they could my maps in their commercial (for profit) projects. The answer is: No, you cannot use these maps for any commercial project. Read the creative commons copyright below.

But, if you are a DIY RPG person, with little to no money, and really want to use one of the maps for something that you're working on, that might earn you a bit of money, let me know. We can talk, and if I like your thing, I will most likely let you use my maps for free.

Creative Commons License
This work by John Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.

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Published on 10/06/2011 Written by 4 comments

Looking at Microlite74

Microlite20, the ultra slim version of the d20 SRD, has been available for some time now, and it has been modded up and down so many ways that you can find a hundred different games using the same basic ideas, from westerns to space operas. It's nice, I've played it, but it wasn't until I sat down this last weekend and gave a version called Microlite74 a try that I truly appreciated its flexibility.

Designed by Randall Stukey, Microlite74 is a game with the familiar d20 conventions, but with an old-school flavor. Coming in three distinct booklets, each with a small overall page count, you can enjoy Microlite74 Basic, Standard, or Extended, each playing under different assumptions.

In Basic, you can play as Humans or the classic three Demi-Humans (Elves, Dwarves, Halflings) and there are three character classes, the Fighter, Cleric, and Magic-User. That's right, no thief (or rogue for those politically correct 3e players).

Or Bruce Campbell, as my players like to say.

Standard increases the player races and classes, adds some extra combat rules (firing into melee, allowing a shield to be destroyed to negate all damage, etc.), and adds a bunch of new spells.

Extended has even more rules for combat, an alignment system, adds even more classes (Warlord? New bestest class ever?) and plays more like a trimmed down 3.5 than a modernized B/X.

Damn it, now I want to run a Warlord game.

And, included with these three rule subsets is a well-written book of variant rules. Optional rules like Vancian magic, a virtue system, a catch-all Adventurer class (recommended for swords and sorcery games), and even a basic Feats system and Psionics rules, each recommended for a different version of M74.

Overall, it's a charming package, well-written and clearly well-tested. The newest revision came out on October 1st and I did my best to scrounge up a quick game as soon as I was able. Gameplay was exceptionally easy to get into, although there was some unease about the idea of Magic-Users employer their HP to cast spells. In practice it worked very well, replacing that severely limiting per-day casting ritual with a more organic flow, yet still retaining most of the tension about whether or not to spend the HP now or later.

I ran Standard with some of the variant rules in the M74 Companion and it was very reminiscent of B/X with more of a modern flair in certain aspects, which my group liked a lot.

It won't be taking over our regular campaigns any time soon, but I might use it for my next play-by-post game, thanks to its availability and ease of use. I'm also thinking of having it replace B/X (through the Labyrinth Lord retroclone) as the game I use to introduce potential new gamers into the hobby.

And if you really enjoyed it, or just have a fondness for TSR-era D&D and a penchant for a decent cause, you might want to consider making a donation to Randall Stukey's cancer drive; he's offering some old TSR-era goodies for the highest donors.
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Published on 10/04/2011 Written by 7 comments

Why I Love Old-Skool D&D (OR: The 58-Year Old D&D Virgin)

So a few weeks ago, after much debate and discussion, we finally introduced my father-in-law to the intricacies of Dungeons & Dragons.  He's played World of Warcraft for several years, and he loves anything fantasy-related (I've often said he will read anything with a sword or a dragon on the cover), so he was long overdue to be initiated.  He's been listening to us talk about table-top RPGs for awhile (my regular gaming group consisting of his two adult daughters and their husbands, so he's heard plenty about it), and he's seemed plenty interested.

The question was, what to play?  We taught him to play Munchkin and Magic: The Gathering a few years ago, both of which he enjoyed but struggled with the rules (probably because we didn't play regularly enough, and to be fair, MtG has a lot of stupid fucking rules). We were unsure of asking him to join because our experience with MtG.  Not to mention we were playing 4E at the time, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.  Still, I hated the idea that there was someone out there who wanted to play D&D but wasn't get the chance, so I kept bringing it up until my wife and the rest of the group agreed to play a game with him.

There was no chance in hell we were playing 4E, so I decided we should go WAY back to what I learned to play with, the Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D set.  It's simple, open-ended and (in my humble opinion) ridiculously fun.  I only have the book that came with the intro starter set, so I borrowed some material from Labyrinth Lord as well, but that's more than okay.  It has been many, many years since I played Basic D&D, and it seems I had forgotten exactly how fun it was.

It started off smooth.  I laid out the adventure hook, my players did their research looking for rumours about the dungeon, and we went right to work.  They learned that the goblins liked to ambush adventurers on the road, so they came prepared and snuck up on the goblins first.  The thief miraculously made her 10% Move Silently roll, masterfully creeping up behind the goblins without a sound, and then botched her attack roll (natural 1, FTW!).  The goblins hit her with two sling stones on the counter attack, killing her dead.

Yes, Virginia, characters CAN die in D&D, even from a measly sling stone.  And yes, this character was played by my wife.
It was all good.  She quickly rolled up a new character and was back in the fray before the battle was even over.  The party survived that encounter, snuck into the mine and stole some treasure.  There was only one more casualty in the process, the poor wizard (my brother-in-law) who thought it was a great idea to single-handedly face an ogre when everyone else ran away.  (To be fair, he actually hurt the beast pretty badly by dropping a heavy barrel on its head.  Unfortunately he tried the same stunt again, missed, and discovered that 1d4 hit points do not last long against a pissed-off ogre).

How did my father-in-law do?  Not only did his cleric survive, but he played creatively, and really got into the game.  He described his attacks, openly suggested bad things to happen when he botched an attack roll, and tried interesting and plausible solutions to in-game roadblocks to keep the adventure going (he was the one who alerted the ogre to their presence by tossing rocks down a dark tunnel, but still, he tried).

Seriously, I know it's hard, but just don't throw rocks at it.
 The best moment though, was when faced by the charging goblins after they killed the thief.  The wizard cast shield on himself and ran away.  The fighter turned to face the monsters, assuming the cleric would back her up.  Then, my father-in-law responded with the line of the night:

"I play dead!"

I gave him a surprise attack on the goblins once they got close enough.  I think it was more than worth it for the laugh we all got out of it.

Why do I love Old Skool D&D?  I played 4E for about two years, and never had half the unpredictable, fun and funny things happen that took place in just a couple of hours of Basic D&D.  When was the last time someone played dead, ran away, or even actually DIED in a 4E game?  I had a new player jump in making up fun stuff right off the bat.  Most new players in 4E spend their first several games just staring at their character sheets, paralyzed with all the words and numbers staring back at them, and wondering how to use them "properly."  In Old Skool, there is no "properly."  If you want your wizard to cast his only spell to shield himself, and then proceed to run away and avoid combat altogether, that is a perfectly valid set of actions.  In Nu Skool, you would call that "an inefficient use of character resources."

This is either the US Government's Economic Bailout proposal, or a 4E Character Sheet.  I can never be sure.
That's really not as much fun as "I play dead!"

(Before I get a bunch of comments bitching about me hating on 4E again, I just want to let you know that I have another column planned which will be called "Why I Love Nu Skool D&D."  Yes, like Sookie Stackhouse, I can have more than one love in my life.)

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Battle Royal for the CLAW Heavyweight Title!
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Published on 9/27/2011 Written by 7 comments

How to Screw Up a Game of Thrones Campaign in 3 Easy Steps

I'm back!

It's been awhile.  So long, in fact, that Blogger seems to have finally caught up with the 21st century while I was away.  Mobile-compatible sites?  Updated, more user-friendly post-editor?  I guess I don't have to bug John to switch to Wordpress after all.

But enough about Blogger.  What have you missed in my gaming world??

Our PBEM Battlestar Galactica came to an abrupt end when I died (see, I was right to be afraid) and the other characters ended up on a cliffhanger Mexican standoff (with each other) as the Cylons were just about to attack.  Nice ending, and I would love to go back to it some time, but the truth of the matter was it was growing a bit stale and we needed a change.  Through no fault of the DM, it was hard to keep people interested when he was competing with summer vacations, kids off school, visiting relatives, etc.  It's understandable.  So, wanting to shake things up a bit, I offered to take over and run a different game.

That was mistake number one.

I offered to run A Game of Thrones (the old Guardians of Order d20 version, that I talked about here).  I figured with all the hype around the recent TV series and new book, people would really dig it, and be able to get excited about playing again.

That was mistake number two.

Then I sent everyone some background and told them to make characters, explaining the changes to the d20 system used in the game.

Strike three and I'm out.

I'm not really a sports guy.  Three strikes, right?  Or is two-strikes, ace, touchdown?
What I'm getting at is that my AGOT game is not really running as smoothly as I would have hoped, and I think it's mostly my fault.  Allow me to explain:

Mistake Number 1:

We had already burned out playing BSG.  People were busy and distracted and we probably should have taken a break (and we did, sort of.  It was a couple of weeks between the end of BSG and the official start of AGOT, but it still felt like I forced it).  I thought by changing things up I would re-invigorate the group. I was wrong.  I think people needed downtime to cool off and recharge.  It sounds silly to say you need a "vacation" from playing "games" but it's true.

Mistake Number 2:

When I announced I would run A Game of Thrones, I had 6 people immediately jump on board (the most I've ever had for a PBEM game). Then one dropped out.  Then I discovered that another had only watched a couple of episodes of the series and knew little about the setting.  Then I found out that a third (my brother-in-law) has not watched the series OR read the book, and knows even less.  He has no excuse, either, because he's heard the rest of the family talking about it for years.

SPOILER: Don't get attached to ANY of the characters.

I've had no response or contact from a fourth player.  Planning to cash in on the AGOT hype just did not work.  We started playing with only three active players, and it just doesn't seem to have the "oomph" I was hoping for.  Maybe it will pick up, maybe not, but I'll keep trying for a little while.

Mistake Number 3:

I had forgotten how stupidly complicated the Guardians of Order AGOT game is.  It takes the basic d20 frame, but then adds a dozen extra rules to combat in hopes that it will keep you from engaging in any.  Not only do you have armour class and hit points, but you have damage reduction, defence rolls, shock value (the amount of damage you can take in one hit without passing out, a number which by the way is laughably low), fatigue value, etc.  Sure, it captures all the flavour of combat in Westeros, but because of the way it's set up most characters, no matter what their level, are going to go down after a single solid sword slash, so all those rules seem redundant to me.  Then you add in background feats, and house feats, and reputation and influence, and suddenly you have this massive, bloated, complicated character creation process as bad or worse as anything in 4th Edition.  I'm trying to trim down the rules and make it simpler, but I'm worried I've already scared my players away.  Like I said, I only have three who are now actively playing.

On top of that, before we started playing, I wrote a lot of background material.  Like, alot alot.  You know how many characters GRRM introduces in every book?  I basically did the same thing for my game.  Want to know what the first email looked like?

"You are in the Lord's Great Hall, surrounded by people.  Here is a list of all 50 of them, with a brief description of who they are.  Who do you want to talk to?"

Yeah, that went over well. It killed the mood faster than taking off your pants and telling the girl "Oh, by the way, I have herpes."
So what do I do now?  We keep playing but it feels a little forced, without any of the excitement of previous games.  Anyone have any suggestions?  Should I just keep playing and hope that it picks up?  Should I scrap everything and try a different game system or setting?  I have a couple of players who really want to play, but some of my other regulars are just too busy to play now, so maybe I should find/invite some new players?

Of course, there is at least one other option... (lemme know what you think of that one, too...)

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