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2016: The Year in (belated) Review

March 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Here it is, March already. How did that happen?

While a lot of the most popular posts on this blog are about the old days (and especially my Games Workshop days), I also like to keep readers up to date with what I’m doing now – so go to My Books and BUY! BUY! BUY!

Ahem.

Anyway, here’s a brief look at what came out in 2016.

GAMES AND BOOKS

Dawnbringer
Danish game developer Kiloo is best known for their hit mobile game Subway Surfers. They hired me to help develop the setting and characters for this high fantasy swipe-and-slash game for iOS and Android. You play a fallen angel battling demons in a ruined world, and searching for redemption along the way.
Kiloo’s Dawnbringer page
My earlier post about Dawnbringer

Of Gods and Mortals: Celts
The first army supplement for Andrea Sfiligoi’s mythological skirmish game, and yet another chapter in my ongoing love affair with Celtic history and myth.
Ganesha Games’ Of Gods and Mortals page
My earlier post about Of Gods and Mortals: Celts

The Investigators of Arkham Horror
I contributed five stories to this gorgeously-presented collection based on Fantasy Flight’s acclaimed Cthulhu Mythos boardgame.
Fantasy Flight Games’ page
My earlier post about The Investigators of Arkham Horror

Nazi Moonbase
All the Nazi super-science conspiracy theories I could find, collected and wrapped up in a unifying narrative that also explains the urgency behind the Cold War space race.
Osprey Publishing’s Nazi Moonbase page
My earlier post about Nazi Moonbase

Cthulhu Confidential
I edited the text of Robin Laws’ thought-provoking solo Cthulhupulp game, where the Mythos is arguably the least of the horrors.
Pelgrane Press’ Cthulhu Confidential page

 

ARTICLES

Pyramid 3/92: Zombies
I contributed “The Viking Dead” on Icelandic draugur and haugbui, as well as a systemless look at several varieties of “Indian Ghouls.”
Buy it here

Pyramid 3/87: Low-Tech III
“Tempered Punks” contains some systemless advice for dealing with gadget-happy players whose modern knowledge wrings unbalancing power from old-time technology.
Buy it here

Fenix, Kickstarter special edition
I contributed a systemless article titled “Mummies: A New Approach” to support this bilingual Swedish-English roleplaying magazine. It includes seven mummy sub-types based on the ancient Egyptian multiple-soul concept, along with descriptions of ancient Egyptian mummy amulets with powers to affect both the living and the undead.
Fenix Kickstarter page

Fenix #6/2016
My Call of Cthulhu adventure “Spirit of the Mountain” takes the investigators into the Wild West.
Fenix back issues page

Fenix #2/2016
“La Llorona” discusses the famous Southwestern ghost, with notes for Speltidningen’s Western RPG. I’m told that an English-language edition of Western is in the works: I’ll have more to say about that in the future.
Fenix back issues page

Aviation History, September 2016
I indulge my love of vintage aviation with “Aussie Battler,” tracing the rushed, post-Pearl-Harbor development and surprising career of Australia’s home-grown (and largely improvised) CAC Boomerang fighter.
Aviation History magazine

Freebies
I posted a couple of new pieces in 2016, including “Converting Between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic” (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and “A Green, Unpleasant Land,” which presents some previously-unpublished British Call of Cthulhu adventure seeds I wrote in early 1986 for Games Workshop’s supplement of a similar name.
Go to the Freebies page

 

 

Night’s Dark Terror – in Kislev!

March 2, 2017 2 comments

b10_nights_dark_terror
Remember the UK AD&D module B/X1 (a.k.a. B10) Night’s Dark Terror? It was written by Jim and Phil (with Graeme Morris) shortly before they came to GW to work on WFRP. I gave it a favorable review in White Dwarf #78, and I’ve always liked it as a campaign setup and adventure.
 
Well, Gideon at the Awesome Lies blog converted it for WFRP 1st edition recently, and set it in Kislev. Check it out here: https://awesomeliesblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/nights-dark-terror/

Chupacabra: A Mystery Solved

November 11, 2016 Leave a comment

This story broke several months ago, but today the BBC News web site carried the most thorough and cogent account of the chupacabra mystery – and its solution – that I have seen so far. Here is the link:

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161109-the-truth-about-a-strange-blood-sucking-monster

 

Image by Alvin Padayachee, from Wikimedia Commons

Image by Alvin Padayachee, from Wikimedia Commons

 

While I have loved mythology, folklore, and monsters from an early age, there are few things I find more satisfying than when science and common sense provide an explanation for something that was previously regarded as supernatural. To my mind, a scientific explanation does not make the world a duller, less magical place, and a myth is no less interesting or beautiful for being debunked: it still provides an insight into humanity’s lifelong struggle to explain and understand the world around us.

And of course, the chupacabra will probably remain a potent image in fantasy and supernatural fiction and games. Rightly so: it has earned its place every bit as much as any ghost or ghoul.

Here are some links to game adaptations of the “fantastic” chupacabra:

Game stats for the Pathfinder fantasy RPG, from Paizo Publishing.

The Chupacabra dice game, from Steve Jackson Games.

Rogue Games’ Colonial Gothic Bestiary includes game stats for the chupacabra as well as other legendary American creatures.

If you know of any more great chupacabra resources for gamers and fantasy fans, feel free to add them in the comments below.

 

Colonial Gothic en francais

June 21, 2016 1 comment

Amis francophones! Colonial Gothic en francais: aventures surnaturelles et de complot en la Nouvelle-France des XVII-XVIIIeme siecles? Ou Gevaudin, peut-etre?

(Et ouais, je le sais, j’ecris francais comme un ecolier anglais, ou peut-etre comme une vache folle. Une argument pro-Brexit, le franglais?)

HR3 Q&A: The AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook

June 7, 2016 5 comments

ADD Celts

 

Every so often, I get an email out of the blue from someone who is interested in some corner or another of my long and varied career as a writer for tabletop roleplaying games. They never fail to surprise me – people are still reading things I wrote twenty years ago or more? Inconceivable! – but last weekend I got one that surprised me more than most.

Tamara Rüther is studying for a Master’s degree in Celtic Civilization at Philipps-Universität at Marburg in Germany. As part of a study of how the Celts have been presented in popular culture, she wanted to ask me some questions about my work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook from 1992.

Tamara graciously agreed to let me post her questions and my answers here on my blog. I hope you find them interesting. As for me, I’m still staggered that anything I wrote could possibly end up as the object of academic study.

 

– My first question then would be, whether TSR asked you to write the Sourcebook or whether you approached them about it?

 

Here is how I remember it, although my memory may not be 100% accurate after all this time. When I went to GenCon for the first time in 1991, I talked to a lot of people about finding work, including someone at TSR. I think it was Bruce Heard, but I may be wrong. I mentioned my background in European archaeology and my long-standing interest in the Celts, and so I suppose I proposed the idea to them, although of course it was a good fit with their HR series of supplements and they may already have been thinking that a volume on the Celts would be desirable.

 

– Was it your first official attempt at writing mythology/history into a fantasy-based roleplay or were there others (and if so how was this one similar or different)?

 

It was not my first attempt. I had written a few historical and mythological articles already. Most were for TSR UK’s Imagine magazine, which had published two Celtic-themed issues (#5 and #17) as well as issues on Egypt, Asia, and the Vikings. When I left Games Workshop to pursue a freelance career, one of the first contracts I won was for GURPS Vikings, and GURPS Middle Ages 1 followed shortly thereafter. I wrote both of those in the months before I started work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook.

 

 

– Also, I read on your blog that you had started working on a Celtic RPG setting early on in your ‘Gaming career’. Did any of that material make it into the Celts Sourcebook or did you take a completely new approach on it when you started working on the AD&D Sourcebook?

 

I drew on the same pool of research, of course, but my embryonic game Fianna used a home-brewed game system and was set exclusively in the Ireland of the sagas, so it was not possible simply to copy Fianna material into the AD&D Celts manuscript.

 

– Possibly a slightly random question – but how much time did you put into research and how easy was it? (I’m asking because some of the books you mentioned are still used in Academia today and they’re not always easy to get.) Did you still have access to University libraries or did you have to find everything elsewhere – and how did it go?

 

When I started work on Fianna, I was still working on my never-completed Ph.D. project at Durham University in England. I had access to the main university library as well as the Archaeology Department’s library and my own college’s library. When I started work on the AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook, I had some photocopies of key passages from various books from those libraries along with my notes for Fianna, as well as my own copies of most of my undergraduate archaeology textbooks. While writing, I relied mostly on what was already in my head, although of course I paused to look things up as I needed to. The most research went into the monsters, I think, but I was working from books with which I was already familiar.

 

– Also can you think of any books that you used at the time that didn’t make it into the ‘further reading’ section, but that helped with your work? (And if there’s reasons other than space issues, why didn’t they make it into the further reading?)

 

There were some books that didn’t make it into the reading list: mostly archaeology textbooks such as Barry Cunliffe’s Iron Age Communities in Britain. I tried to focus the list on titles that the general reader would find accessible and useful.

 

– Did TSR have any specific requests concerning the Celts Sourcebook (i.e. its accuracy, for example whether things should be closer to the truth or easier to understand) or were you able to do whatever you wanted? And did they do much editing after you were done?

 

If my memory can be relied upon, I submitted a proposal with an outline before the contract was issued. I based the structure of the book very closely on that of HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook, and I do not remember anyone at TSR asking for any changes. They requested a few minor changes after I submitted the manuscript, but these were so minor that I cannot now remember what any of them were. The only editing that I remember is the omission of the rules for the tathlum (which I have since posted to my blog ). At the time I thought this was because the subject matter was rather gruesome, involving severed heads as it did, but I never found out the reason for the cut. Perhaps my rules were weak, too – this was my first attempt at writing for AD&D Second Edition.

 

– How closely did you work with the illustrator of the Sourcebook, or did you have any influence on the graphics at all?

 

I submitted detailed art briefs as part of the contract requirement, and the artist followed them very closely. I do not remember having any opportunity to approve the art before publication.

 

– I’ve seen you’ve written other games afterwards, which more or less touch on Celtic materials (Gurps Faerie, or the more recent Camelot-related games) – do you think the AD&D research has played into that a lot, or did you treat each of these topics seperately? Also, was the approach to the topic the same each time or, if not, what were the differences?

 

The AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook included a lot of material taken from the later folklore of the Celtic Fringe, especially Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. This was partly because the Irish sagas which made up my main documentary source contained very little in the way of monsters and magic and I felt that an AD&D supplement absolutely needed these elements. Since my earliest days of playing D&D, and then AD&D, I had turned to British folklore and faerie lore as a source of ideas, and at the time of writing the New Age movement, then in its early days, was beginning the process of coalescing Celtic traditions and later faerie lore into a coherent world-view.

 

To answer your question, though, I approached each project separately, but drew on the same well of education and experience – my academic background in archaeology, my lifelong interest in myth and folklore, and my emotional attachment to the history and culture of the Celtic Fringe – for each one.

 

– Compared to other Sourcebooks how popular was/is the Celts campaign? (is there anywhere I can get sales figures?)

 

I never saw any sales figures. My contract was work-for-hire (one-time payment with no royalties) so I could not even guess from how much money I made. If any sales figures still exist, I would guess that they are somewhere in the vaults of Wizards of the Coast, along with all the other financial data that came with WotC’s purchase of TSR. My guess, though, is that such figures would have been destroyed by now, or would be on 1990s-era media that are probably no longer readable.

 

 – The book itself is out of print by now, isn’t it, but I think the PDF version is still available, so do you know whether it’s still bought today and how frequently?

 

I have no idea. The only source of book sales data I have available is Nielsen BookScan via Amazon Author Central, and that tells me that no copies have been sold through that channel for as long as their records go back.

 

– Did you get feedback on how people found it? What they liked and didn’t like etc.?

 

I did not see many reviews at the time. I remember hearing from one German reader who was disappointed that the book focused so heavily on the insular Celts, and a couple of reviewers were pleased that I had distinguished the Druids and Bards of Celtic lore from the standard AD&D character classes of the same names. The enech rules (which I stole from AD&D Oriental Adventures) were also well-received, I seem to remember. A few people expressed disappointment that I did not cover all the standard AD&D character races: I remember one reviewer listing the choice as “human, human, or human.”

 

– Is there a specific age group that would be more likely to use the Celts Sourcebook more than others?

 

I intended the book to be used by anyone who played AD&D 2nd Edition. At that time most players were aged 15 and up, I think, although I heard of some as young as 8 – which may account for the cutting of the tathlum mentioned above.

 

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

March 9, 2016 1 comment

gamasutra_logo

 

Ubisoft’s AAA shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division is making a big splash in the industry, and this article from Gamasutra caught my eye.

It’s a question that becomes more significant as games become more photo-realistic: how to justify the gore and high body counts that are part and parcel of a high-end shooter. Another question, asked less often, is how to develop additional and alternative ways to create tension and challenge the player so that body count is not the only leg on the stool.

the division

It reminds me of a crossroads that tabletop games faced in the mid-80s.

D&D was all about kicking in doors, slaying monsters, and collecting treasure, and then Call of Cthulhu came out, in which combat was almost never a good idea and the focus was on investigation, uncovering a backstory, and figuring out the best way to resolve a situation.

For a while, the tabletop RPG hobby was split into “irvings” (a British term of the time, equivalent to today’s “munchkin”) who loved to boast about their best kills and the obscenely high level of their character, and “rolegamers” who loved to boast about how they gamed for an entire weekend and never touched the dice once.

Wfrp_logo

One of the things we tried to do with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and the Enemy Within campaign in particular, was to take the best of both worlds. The deadliness of the combat system was a major tool in achieving this goal, since it forced players to think of more creative solutions to problems. The other vital components were a game system (range of skills, character types, spells, and equipment) and a design mindset (communicated through scenario design and, in our case, advice to GMs) that gave players a wide range of potential actions to choose from in any given situation.

Now I know that there are some fundamental differences between tabletop games and electronic games, but it is very interesting to see AAA shooters facing a choice, as a genre, that tabletop games encountered 30-odd years ago. Maybe there are some useful ideas from that time that can be used now, and maybe there will be some new solutions that leave everyone stunned. I can’t wait to see.

 

Cthulhu 1776: Converting Colonial Gothic to Call of Cthulhu

December 15, 2015 Leave a comment

CoC logostacks_image_32_1

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago I posted about the release of the Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft sourcebook. The shadow of the Colonial period looms over much of Lovecraft’s writing, reflected in his descriptions of Innsmouth and Arkham and taking a more active role in stories like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dreams in the Witch-House. At an early stage in its development, Colonial Gothic itself was pitched to Chaosium as Cthulhu 1776. With the release of Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft, players can experience black-powder fantasy adventures against the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos.

With the return of Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen to Chaosium, the original Lovecraftian tabletop RPG looks set for a new lease on life. Based on Chaosium’s excellent Basic Roleplaying ruleset, Call of Cthulhu has been the leading Mythos-based RPG since it first appeared in 1981. Colonial Gothic is new by comparison, but the game’s core books can offer Call of Cthulhu players and Keepers the chance to explore the dark past of Lovecraft country.

One of my major concerns while developing Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft was ensuring that the game stats for the Mythos creatures were accurate and playable. I’m not ashamed to admit that I used the Call of Cthulhu rulebook as a reference, and while it was not the only factor in developing the creature stats, it proved a very useful numerical benchmark. I came up with the following rough system for converting between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic, and I am sharing it here because I think it could be useful to players of both games.

Download PDF version

Colonial Gothic to Call of Cthulhu

Using this system, the Call of Cthulhu Keeper can turn many of Colonial Gothic’s adventures and sourcebooks into resources for an 18th-century Call of Cthulhu campaign, or just for a time-traveling side-track from one of Chaosium’s established timelines. The following titles are of particular interest to Call of Cthulhu fans:

  • Second Edition Rulebook: contains general historical and setting information, equipment, prices, common character types, etc;
  • Gazetteer: describes each of the Thirteen Colonies up to 1776, with notes on local mysteries and other items of interest;
  • Boston Besieged: includes a detailed sourcebook on Boston during the siege of 1775-1776;
  • The Philadelphia Affair: describes the city at the time of the Second Continental Congress and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence;
  • Player Companion: includes detailed templates which are easily adapted to create period Investigator types for Call of Cthulhu;
  • The Bestiary: presents a range of non-Mythos adversaries for rounding out Colonial-era adventures;
  • Many other sourcebooks and adventures are available in print, PDF, ePub, and Kindle formats.

STR = Might * 1.67

CON = Vigor * 2.27

SIZ: generate from scratch, referring to similar characters/creatures in the Call of Cthulhu rules.

INT = Reason * 1.75

POW: generate from scratch, referring to similar characters/creatures in the Call of Cthulhu rules.

DEX = Nimble * 2.17

Skills and spells are hard to convert directly because of differences in the two game systems. However, with a little imagination an experienced Keeper should have no difficulty in coming up with numbers that work, based on the attribute scores, the overall concept and the relevant Colonial Gothic skill, spell, and Trait descriptions.

 

Call of Cthulhu to Colonial Gothic

A Colonial Gothic GM can use this system to help convert additional Mythos horrors from Call of Cthulhu sources: the copyright status of the Cthulhu Mythos is complex, and limited the range of creatures that could be covered in the Colonial Gothic sourcebook.

Might = STR * 0.6

Nimble = DEX * 0.46

Vigor = CON * 0.44

Reason = INT * 0.57

Resolution: generate from scratch, based on Reason score and POW * 0.5.

Vitality = (Might + Vigor) * 2.5, rounding down.

Skills, spells, and Traits can be adapted from Call of Cthulhu descriptions. Several new Traits, specific to the Cthulhu Mythos, are listed in the Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft sourcebook. The GM will find additional Traits in the Colonial Gothic Bestiary.

 

Converting Dice Rolls

The AnyDice converter provides a useful tool for examining probabilities: it converts the results of any dice roll into percentages. To see the probabilities for a 2d12 roll, enter output 2d12 in the top window and click the Calculate button immediately beneath.