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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