13 December 2007

Starships of the Galaxy Preview #2

Another preview has popped up for Starships of the Galaxy, and it's another of the ones that I penned. This time it's the Rebel Assault Frigate (two versions, no less). You can check it out here.

And no, despite what the page says, there are no deckplans for the Assault Frigate. Sorry!

I'm also reading that some folks have already found copies at their local game shops, despite the book's release date of 12/18. I haven't seen my contributor's copies yet, but I'm eager to. It's going to be one heck of a good book.

Now, back to the project at hand...

05 December 2007

MMO Marketing on a Budget

What not to do:


I think we'll be lucky if some concerned citizen doesn't call the police...

28 November 2007

The Son of Gaming at Mythic

The Mythic D&D game abruptly stopped a while ago. The reason was pretty simple, but I won't get into it. After several weeks of inactivity, I started the game back up again. That was the week before last, on 11/15.

In the time since, I've received Dark Heresy from Black Industries. Despite the fact that the game doesn't release until February of next year, it looks like contributor copies have already been sent out. Being as I'm surrounded by several dozen WH40k fans at work, many of whom are eagerly awaiting Dark Heresy, I was obliged to take it to work and lord it over them.

That was my first mistake, because now they want to play it. Nevermind the D&D game! Dark Heresy is the new hotness. They want to root out heretics and fight evil in the name of the Emperor. Given that the book is so damn fine, I can't say as I blame them one bit.

Truth be told, there's a small part of me who'd prefer running Dark Heresy to D&D. Just don't tell them I said that.

26 November 2007

Starships of the Galaxy Preview

Wizards has posted a preview of the Ghtroc 720 freighter, one of the ships included in the forthcoming Starships of the Galaxy.

The write-up includes the entire Ghtroc 720 entry, including a map of the ship (drawn by Chris West!). The map is the real treat for me. After all, I drew the one it was based on using pencils and graph paper!

You can find the preview here!

24 November 2007

Coffee Shop: Found

And so, almost five months after coming to Virginia, I've found a suitable coffee shop. I'm not sure how long it's been there, this coffee shop, but it's got a decent atmosphere, it's spacious, and -- best of all -- the wifi is blessedly free.

It's called Java Dave's, and it's part of a franchise (details here). The prices are pretty standard coffee shop prices, which is fine with me. The quality of the drink I ordered (a standard, ordinary, run of the mill latte) was about what I'd expect it to be anywhere else (including Starbuck's).

Best of all is its location: it's about two or three doors down from the local game shop, Game Parlor, in Chantilly. This makes it about a five minute drive away from my apartment, which is great.

Back home, I used to go to It's A Grind, which was a great shop. The people were awesome, and they never cared when I came in and sat for several hours at a stretch. Not sure if I've ever mentioned it, but they went out of business a couple weeks before I moved to VA.

In other news ... Thanks to Neil (Spicer), I'm dickering around with the idea of going to a couple of conventions in South Carolina next year. More on that when I've made up my mind.

I also hear that the Grimm RPG has been released. I didn't know that. I guess I'll be getting my copies eventually, which is always exciting!

20 November 2007

Rock Band

Working for a video game studio is interesting, to say the least.

You see, we have a lounge here on my floor. In this lounge, nestled amongst Ikea furniture, is a large-screen plasma TV, an Xbox 360, and a Wii. Today, the game Rock Band came out. Currently, there is a mob of developers, artists, and implementation staff yelling and clapping as my fellow employees make crooning fools of themselves. Somewhere, dogs are weeping.

I guess it's all plenty fun, but I'm not drunk enough to sing in front of anyone outside of my inner circle (that would be: Amy, Maddie, and Stephen). Perhaps that's the fun of it, letting yourself go.

I've done some singing in my time. I was the lead in the high school musical, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I can still remember some of the words to the kite song, but not much else. That was almost 20 years ago.

Twenty years. Twenty. Sweet Jesus, I feel old, now.

I don't think anyone plays TF2 around here anymore. I guess it's best that I didn't buy it, as I've got enough on my plate with the current project I'm working on for Wizards of the Coast. If I had new Half Life to play, I'd be worse than useless. I play too much WoW as it is.

Speaking of WoW, here's a link to some amusing adverts that Blizzard worked up, with Mr. T and William Shatner plugging World of Warcraft. It seems that things have finally come around, and more "normal" people are playing video games than ever before. It's not just for geeks, baby.

09 November 2007

Starships of the Galaxy News

I have been a bad boy. Not a single post during the month of October. Let's just say it wasn't a particularly exciting month (which isn't to say that it was a bad month, I just wasn't compelled to post about anything).

Anyway...

Wizards of the Coast has posted a page for the forthcoming Starships of the Galaxy, and you can check it out here. I'm quite excited about it, because working with Owen and Rodney was (and continues to be) a thrill. I really think that Starships will please the SW gamers out there.

Back to your regularly scheduled surfing. I'm going back to work!

20 September 2007

Like Working At a LAN Party

Since the Orange Box went on pre-order, just about everyone at work with a mouse and an itchy trigger finger has downloaded the Team Fortress 2 beta. These people spend their lunches in a blissful haze of bullets, fire, and pained screaming, punctuated by maniacal laughter as the smackdowns are handed out like door prizes at a dog fight.

I have not yet succumbed to the siren call of the virtual warfare that surrounds me. It's not that I fear what might happen to my co-workers when I finally pwn them all; it's that I'm suffering from a certain degree of culture shock. I'm surrounded by geeks, day in and day out. It's like being at a convention, only there aren't any booth babes, and the bodily hygiene of the attendees is somewhat above par.

I'm interested to see how long it takes for the novelty of TF2 to wear off.

In gaming news, the second session of Mythic D&D went off without a hitch. They managed to slog their way through the tomb they'd taken shelter in, and now they head off to bigger and better things. More on that later.

I'm tired. I miss my son (he's in California ATM). I have work to do, but I'm obviously not doing it right now.

07 September 2007

Mythic D&D Afterthought

I can hear you wondering aloud, "What happened at the first Mythic D&D game?"

To begin with, five PCs were introduced to one another, and thrown together by a remarkably unlikely circumstance. Well, at least they didn't meet in a tavern!

Overall, the initial session was a success. Without a rogue, they ended up using a combination of acid and a fallen tree to break open some locked doors; otherwise, it would have been an evening of infinite tedium. They got to kill some stuff, too, and the half-orc barbarian triggered a trap which ended up being ineffectual, anyway.

Since then, it seems that two more players have signed on, one of them professing an interest in being a rogue. This makes two rogues in the group, but as the other was absent from the last session (and will likely be absent from the next two), it just goes to show: you can never have too many rogues.

As with the game I ran at my last workplace (which was, admittedly, a wretched hive of non-gamers), this one will employ only published (or pre-written) scenarios, suitably modified by myself to make them more interesting. I'm not normally a lazy DM, but running such adventures is advantageous due to the lack of time I have outside of work to hammer away at the campaign. Plus, it requires that I carry a smaller pile of books to the game.

So that's that. More musings later. For now, work beckons.

30 August 2007

Mythic D&D

Tonight is the first session of the D&D campaign I'm running at work. This represents the first actual gaming I've done since I left California, almost two months ago. I'm interested to see how the player dynamics fall into place, because there all very diverse in their gaming experience and background. I'll be happy to post profiles later on (no time this morning), as well as the results of the first game.

I don't anticipate any PC casualties, but you never know. The dice can be fickle...

21 August 2007

Meetings and Milestones

For the past three years, I've been one of a privileged number of folks that gets to see what the future holds for RPGs, well ahead of time. Last Friday afternoon, I was sitting in a room filled with other freelance writers, many of their names well-known to you, listening to secrets that I am not at liberty to discuss.

At some point during this seminar (if you can call it that), it occurred to me quite succinctly where I was, who I was with, and what we were talking about. I reflected on how I'd gotten there, as compared to where I'd been four years previous. I'd gone from approaching these people on convention floors with stars in my eyes, to mingling with them like I bloody well belonged.

On Saturday, there was a smaller meeting. It was no less important. Many other things were talked about. Looking at the assembled crew, it was obvious that I was standing on the shoulders of industry giants.

I think that it's important that I occasionally dwell on these things. I need to keep my own role in this funny little business in some kind of perspective. It's not unlike the Great Oz's schtick: there is a man behind the curtain. The vast majority of the Emerald City's residents don't know that he is there. A smaller percentage do as they are told, and they ignore him. The few that remain are either in league with him, or they resist his machinations.

Who am I, exactly? How do I fit in? I'm still not sure, sometimes. I went to Gen Con this year, unsure if I really wanted to keep plugging away or not. I was without current business cards, and I promised myself that I wouldn't try to pimp myself out to publishers. Damn the ENnies, and damn the multitude of good opportunities that came my way, because there's no getting out alive between now and August of 2008.

This is what getting up to feed the baby at 5am gets me. I'm going back to bed for an hour or so, then I'll get up and go to work. Will I sleep? Probably. Probably not.

20 August 2007

Back From Gen Con

Gen Con was fun. Most of my time was spent doing the things I needed to do: discussing work, attending the ENnie Awards, and seeing people that I typically only see once a year.

Speaking of the ENnie Awards: Children of the Horned Rat won two Silver ENnies! One for Best Writing, and another for Product of the Year! How do you like them apples?

The Silver ENnie Awards for Best Writing & Product of the Year

I'm humble enough to admit that I wasn't the only one who worked on Horned Rat. Steve Darlington and Robert J. Schwalb were both instrumental in making that product so damn good.

Prior to last weekend, the closest I'd been to having my name on an ENnie Award-winning product was last year, when Template Troves III garnered an honorable mention for Best Adversary/Monster Product. I was proud then, especially considering that TT3 was the first product I'd written and designed by myself (and which was thereafter developed and published by the good folks at Silverthorne Games).

Saturday, I went to lunch with several good folks: Stan!, Sue Cook (Monte's better half), Owen KC Stephens, Miranda & Sean Horner, Keri Reynolds, and JD Wiker (not pictured).

(L to R) Stan!, Sue Cook, & Owen KC Stephens

I had to rib Sue a little bit, since Monte Cook's Ptolus took the Gold ENnie for Product of the Year from Children of the Horned Rat. I'm even more humbled by the fact that CotHR was placed second to a product as awesome (and awe-inspiring) as Ptolus.

(L to R) Miranda & Sean Horner, & Keri Reynolds

This Gen Con was also a time for another first: I finally got to meet TS Luikart, one of the folks who worked painstakingly on Dark Heresy for nigh on two years. He and I have been in contact with one another since before I made my little contributions to Dark Heresy, as he was the driving force behind the Terror in Talabheim adventure for WFRP.

TS Luikart, Inquisitor Extraordinaire. Confess!!

I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with my friends. There never seem to be enough hours where our schedules coincide with one another's. I also had my eyes peeled for other good friends, like Dave Herber (cyberpunk god), Tom Lommel (of NASCRAG fame), or Aida (from Gnymphs.net, the kilt girl from a couple years ago), but I didn't run into any of them. Perhaps next year.

There were a lot of good costumes this year. I tend to pay more attention to costumes under two distinct circumstances: either they're related to Star Wars in some way, in which case they stand out on my radar, or they're skimpy. I don't often snap shots of the skimpy ones, since it's a good way to get beaten up by Amy, so I try to focus on the Star Wars costumes.

Queen Amidala

This Amidala costume was very well done. I don't generally ask for permission to take pictures of costumed folks, but I made an exception in her case. I also saw no fewer than two Imperial Stormtroopers who were undoubtedly female ("Aren't you a little cute for a stormtrooper?"). I could only tell because they had their helmets off; with the helmets on, they looked like any other TK designation.

I'd like to shout out to my other friends: the crew at Green Ronin, including Nicole Lindroos, Chris "Famous" Pramas, Steve Kenson, Chris McGlothlin, Hal Mangold, and Rob Schwalb; the folks at Wizards of the Coast, including Rodney Thompson and Chris Perkins, amongst so many others; Hyrum "Tallfolk" Savage at Upper Deck; as well as anyone else I've forgotten.

A few faces were conspicuously absent this year: Marc Schmalz of Green Ronin and The Game Mechanics; Sean K. Reynolds; and Rob Vaughn. You guys were missed. Try and make it out next year, dammit.

I brought back a lot of books this year. I actually paid for them, thanks! As much as getting free stuff is nice and easy on the pocket book, I find that it is important to support my friends in the industry.

Well, there is a litterbox that needs scooping somewhere in this apartment. I suppose I better get to it before some disgustingly bad cat has another "accident."

13 August 2007

August Means GenCon

I'm headed to Indianapolis later this week to indulge in Gen Con once more. How many consecutive years have I been going? Since we discovered that Amy was pregnant with Stephen, at least, which was August 2004. So four years in a row. What makes this year different is that I've got a 90 minute direct flight to Indy, as opposed to a seven hour flight (including connections) from San Diego.

Another difference is that I'm not going under the Green Ronin banner this year. I'll be there as myself, without an exhibitor's badge, and with no booth work to do and no games to run. That, in and of itself, should be mildly interesting.

I considered not going at all, but I had to discard that idea. Children of the Horned Rat is up for three ENnies, so I'd like to be there to see if it wins. The pessimist in me seems to think that there's a snowball's chance in hell that the book will get a silver ENnie, much less a gold.

What does it mean to me? Just getting nominated is kind of neat, but I'm not sure where that puts me. The ENnies are a strange animal; they're fan awards, yeah, and I've heard a lot of folks complain about them for one reason or another. My opinion hardly matters, though I've never had a bad ENnies experience. I suppose I'm largely neutral on the topic, as a whole, though I do feel that the Awards go a good ways towards bringing some of the smaller publishers into the limelight. Everyone deserves the limelight, after all.

If CotHR wins, I'll be more than happy to stand on stage next to Rob Schwalb and Chris Pramas (and whoever else is there to accept the award). I am one of the authors, after all. Not that I like being on stage, particularly (my wasted high school drama days are long gone), and I still feel like an unknown in the industry. Then again, we're all unknowns most of the time, except to each other.

No gaming yet, though the Mythic D&D game has characters more or less finished. We look to play the first game on the 30th. Should be a hoot!

The Saga Edition Star Wars game I'm planning will probably go into action after I return from Indy. There's still a lot of work I need to do on that game that I haven't had the time for.

Work at Mythic continues. I can't talk about specifics, so don't ask. Let's just say that it's rewarding, and I don't lay in bed every morning trying to think of a good excuse so that I don't have to go in. The kids make it tough to walk out the door; no matter how good the job, I'd still rather stay home with my babies than go out and earn money. I suppose that's the toughest part.

03 August 2007

Coming Soon: Gaming, the Return!

It's official: I'm getting back into gaming. After over a month with nary a die to be rolled, I'm going to be starting two games: one at home (Star Wars) and one at work (Dungeons & Dragons). This won't be much different than what I was doing back in California, at least schedule-wise. I'll be using a module or two to structure the D&D game, but the SW game will be largely original.

I was initially worried that I'd have trouble finding players for the game at work. Yes, it's a computer game company, but that doesn't mean that people don't have lives outside of the office (though, in the case of some people, I guess it depends on how strictly you interpret the word "life"). Despite my initial concerns, I had six willing players after a day of asking around. Recruiting for D&D was never this easy at Ortho.

By the way, I know some of you Mythic folks are reading this. You're all wonderful people. You're not wacky or insane or anything I might've said in another blog entry. You're all completely psychologically stable, and I know that you're just trying to make me feel comfortable when you come down to my level (humor-wise). Thanks for making the FNG feel like he belongs!

I really should get moving, so I'll cut this post short.

19 July 2007

Hard Labor

We've been in our new place for going on two weeks, and we're still unpacking. It gets to a point where the piles of boxes become intimidating, and between work and two kids, the last thing you want to do is move heavy objects. Last night, I threw all that out the window and moved them, anyway.

The first stage involved getting the boxes organized. Boxes marked "books" or "games" (and believe you me, there are a LOT of those) went against one wall, anything else went against the other. My goal was to make enough space in our dining area to assemble the dinner table. You never know how important a stable horizontal plane is to your life until you don't have access to one.

In the end, it was Mission Accomplished. The table is together, the boxes are (somewhat) more organized. We moved some furniture around and breathed a little more life into our new place. All I want is to feel at home, and it's hard to feel that way when everything that comforts me is sealed away behind strapping tape and cardboard.

As to work, it's going well. I'm starting to feel like a productive member of my team. What a wacky group of lunatics has been given unto me. I am truly blessed.

I miss gaming. I put an update on my Sideshow In Barovia blog to let anyone who cares know that the game is officially done due to my move. I was having a lot of fun with it, too. I may have to bring it back to life here at the new office.

14 July 2007

About That "Free" Wi-Fi

Sneaky..!

Well, I actually think it's pretty clever.

So, upon logging in the first time, you get an hour of access at Caribou Coffee. Now, after that hour expires, you need to get a new access code, which requires a minimum purchase of $1.50. So, in other words, you have to get off your butt and buy something so as not to loiter.

So, technically, it's not free wi-fi. I'm going to need to do the math here. How much does internet access at another coffee place cost? Say, $30 a month. Now, if I'm coming in here and paying $1.50/hour for internet twice a week for 5 hours a shot, that's $15/week.

Of course, coffee costs more than $1.50 per cup. It's not like you get an access code for every $1.50 you spend, either. Something tells me that this could get expensive. Technically, I don't need internet access when I write, but it's nice to have the option to research what I need to research (or bitch on my blog about this, that, or the other thing).

So...my next stop is Panera Bread, probably tomorrow. They offer free wi-fi (or so I'm told) in a progressive restaurant atmosphere. Grab a sandwich and some iced tea and tap at the keys. Caribou is nice, but I'm a poor white boy who has been spoiled by the generosity of my last coffee house.

Plus, this place is way too cold. Turn down the A/C!

Back In the Saddle...Again?

Oh, have I got work to do.

At lunch yesterday, out with the Content Development posse at Mythic, we dropped into a local coffee joint, Caribou Coffee. "Free Wi-Fi" the sign said. "See you tomorrow," I answered quietly.

And here I am, ready to put digital pen to digital paper.

Back home, in California, my off-site office was It's A Grind in Vista. It was the only place I'd managed to find with free wi-fi, and it rocked. Not only was the place comfy, but the people who ran it were awesome.

Unfortunately, It's A Grind went out of business about a week or two before we hit the road for Virginia. I still miss the place and the people that made it special.

I'm not sure what sort of strings are attached to the free internet access at Caribou, though the server mentioned I had an hour of time remaining after I logged in. I wonder, does this mean I have to re-log in every hour? Or is there a more nefarious motive? As in, the first hour is free...anything else will cost me my soul (or, at least, a functioning credit card). Should that be the case, I guess I'm back to square one. We'll have to see just how devious these people are.

So, now I work.

10 July 2007

Children of the Horned Rat Up for 3 ENnies

I was going to post this a few days back, but I've been busy.

Children of the Horned Rat, the WFRP guide to Skaven and their ilk, has been nominated for three ENnie Awards this year: Best Interior Art, Best Writing, and Product of the Year. How cool is that? To have a product that I contributed to be nominated for an ENnie, especially in the last two categories, is a real morale booster. I've got my fingers crossed!

Voting for the ENnies opens up soon, so go and cast your ballots.

My First Day at Mythic

There's not much to say. It went well, I reckon. It's mostly about getting used to what I'll be doing, and meeting everyone I'll be working with. There are a lot of folks in that last category, by the way. I will have to practice my name/face recognition skills, methinks.

Fairfax is a nice enough town, but it's hot here. Not Needles hot, but hot (and humid) enough to make the sweat pop out on my brow within a few seconds of being exposed to it. We're in a nice location, centrally-located to a lot of convenient shopping. Traffic can be a pain, but being a Californian, it's not as much of a nuisance as I might otherwise think.

The movers are coming today to bring our stuff. Up until now, we've been residing in a nigh-empty apartment with little more than our laptops to keep us company. Stephen has been playing with the same handful of Hot Wheels since we got here, but his grandma sent him more in the mail and he was very pleased to get them. It's tough entertaining children without the modern conveniences you normally take for granted.

I'd have posted pictures by now, but we brough the wrong USB cable for our camera. Typical of Murphy's Law. I'll have some up once we find the proper cable in any one of the 300+ boxes that should be arriving today.

11 June 2007

Life Moves Fast

The days are passing by. My perception of time is blurred by the speed of its passage. I'm not entirely sure how all the cards are going to fall into place in the proper order, but I have to maintain faith that they will.

The move is only two weeks away.

Meantime, my days are filled with my old job (only 4 more days to go here), my family, my freelance project(s). And World of Warcraft. Can't leave that out. When I've extra time, WoW is a welcome diversion from my worldly concerns.

So, I've a copy of the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG. Haven't played it yet; I likely won't until after we've made it to Virginia and I'm settled in. It's on the top of my list of games to run once I'm entrenched in the geeky heights of my new position.

I'm also hankering to dust off my old World of Darkness titles. I blame Mr. Wiker and an all-too-short Ars Magica game he ran for Keri, Sean, and I on Saturday night.

There's also the question of the current game group, those whom Jeff B would call "the Master Class" group. We were well into the second portion of Expedition to Castle Ravenloft when all this insanity started. Odds are that I will not be able to bring the game to a suitable conclusion in the limited time I have remaining. It will have to drift, at least until such time I come back and dust it off.

Hey, it could happen.

05 June 2007

The Big News

Okay, so I reckon I'll post this now, since it's more or less official.

EA Mythic (formerly Mythic Entertainment) has offered me a Content Developer position on their up-coming Warhammer MMO, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. This means that my family and I will be relocating 2,690 miles, from San Diego, California to Fairfax, Virginia, within the next month.

To say I am happy about this is something of an understatement. I love being an RPG freelancer, but it doesn't pay all the bills. Working for EA Mythic, I'll be contributing to a product/IP that I believe in. Things will never be the same for me, or my family.

In order to follow this dream of mine, Amy and I will be leaving a lot of friends and loved ones in California. It's probably going to be the most painful part of the transition. We may end up coming back to California someday; heck, we plan on it. There's no telling when that will be, though.

So that's that. Wish us luck. We intend to be in our new place by the end of the month.

28 May 2007

World of Warcrack

Meet Corelle.

Corelle is my alter-ego in World of Warcraft. That would be "WoW" for short. I've been playing the game for a couple of weeks now. I even managed to suck Amy into it. I'd originally wanted to name the character "Coral," but that name had been taken. I went through a couple of alternate spellings before I settled on Corelle. It came to mind as she reached 5th level that Corelle is a brand of dinner plates. Egad.

I'm an RPer first, and an engine of monster death second. Still, running around killing stuff has an appeal that can hardly be explained. It's odd, but playing a female character gets you all sorts of attention. Though Amy expresses that she isn't getting hit on in the game, despite the fact that she's playing a female. Personally, I think it's because she's playing a gnome.

Edit: I've put in a new picture of the girl, mostly because the other one was too dark. I end up playing in the evenings, and since the game clock is dynamic, it's almost always dark.

25 May 2007

Waiting Patiently

It’s only natural that waiting for the things that really matter to us is so painfully done. There are plenty of things I don’t care about that I have no trouble waiting for. Dental visits, for one. Increases in the price of gasoline, for two. A most definite three would be waiting for Hastur to use the litterbox (or the carpet, as the case may be; disgusting animal).

I’m generally very patient. I worry, but that’s not the same as being impatient. There are similarities, true, and the two can certainly be joined together. I’d be a complete emotional wreck if I were both worried and impatient all at the same time. My wife would probably take my life in some agonizing, mediaeval manner. Garroting me while I fitfully slept, for instance.

So there’s all this vague talk about me waiting patiently. For what, you ask?

As is often the case, mum is the word on certain things. This is one of them. Were I you, reading this post, I’d likely find myself totally annoyed with it. I don’t feel bad about baring my soul, expressing my pain to the world, but even I have secrets. I am contractually obliged to keep most of them under my hat. The other 10% are more personal than I’d rather reveal. At least they don’t involve major surgery of any kind.

Unrelated: I’ve been reading George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. What a doorstop of a book, but it’s well-written. I’m finally getting the characters straight, more often than not.

Also, I heard from a fellow gamer on one of the local RPG boards that my name is, indeed, gracing the cover of Complete Champion. That’s great, says I. I have yet to see the book, much less hold it in my sweaty hands. Yet another of the many things I’m waiting for. It’s important, yes, but I’m not losing sleep over Complete Champion. As if I have that much sleep to lose these days.

20 May 2007

Twilight 2013

I'm helping with some design on the latest edition of Twilight 2000, and I thought I'd post a few links for anyone who is interested. The work I'm doing is fairly minimal at the moment, but it might expand (depending, in large part, on what happens in the next week or two; more on that particular can of worms when I'm able to say more about it).

On the off chance you've never heard of Twilight, let me tell you a little bit about the premise. The first edition was released by Games Designers Workshop (GDW) back in 1984. The plotline revolved around the collapse of society following a detailed account of World War III involving the US and the Soviet Union. Player characters were (ostensibly) allied soldiers who remained in Europe at the time of the collapse.

Things go so poorly that the war machine on both sides of the lines breaks down completely, and society is so damaged by the ravages of the conflict that you end up with a situation similar to what was seen in the oft-maligned Costner flick The Postman. While there remain some coherent elements of NATO and the Warsaw Pact remaining, they are islands in a sea of chaos that spans the entire European continent.

Enter the players, whose sole goal is to make it home, wherever that might be. Starting near Kalisz, Poland, the players must face their Warsaw Pact enemies, as well as local warlords, roaming marauders, and the threats posed by starvation, disease, and lingering radiation. Given that the PCs come from surviving units, they can be of almost any specialty, rank, or nationality, allowing for a great deal of character diversity in parties.

I bought the first edition to T2k many, many years ago, based solely on the box graphics. At the time, I was pretty young (fourteen?), and the game mechanics that were used eluded me somewhat. I guess they were more advanced than what I was used to. Re-reading them, I'm reminded of the level of detail involved. I'm still not real keen on the way that ammunition was represented, but it was (overall) a solid mechanical basis for a game of that scope. I was more interested in the human and historical information presented, so much so that I wrote a "history" report about the conflict for extra credit in high school.

Later on, in 1990, GDW re-released T2k with different rules (using the GDW house system) and an updated timeline. The line received a lot of support. I bought heavily into the game, picking up whatever I could, but I never did manage to run a campaign for one reason or another. Military-style games aren't for all players, after all. GDW eventually released a supplement for T2k, titled Merc 2000, which traded global warfare for scattered brushfire conflicts. Anyone who wants to play The Wild Geese should probably check out Merc 2000.

93 Games Studio is producing the latest edition of Twilight: 2000. Like the two previous editions of the game, this one will use a completely different set of system mechanics. The timeline is also different, though I can't say much about it.

Lately, 93 Games has been posting teasers and the like in order to generate some buzz about their upcoming release. So far, they've posted a background fiction piece titled Shall Not Perish in PDF format, and you can read and/or download it here. I've also been informated that a podcast has been posted on the 93 Games Developer's Blog, here. If you enjoyed the original T2k, or have an interest in the post-apocalypse genre, you might want to check it out.

14 May 2007

Complete Champion Designer Interview

There's an interview with designer Chris Thomasson up on the Wizard's site, and it concerns Complete Champion. Chris dispels a few of the rumors about the book, and talks about what it is and what it is not.

When asked about the prestige classes offered in the book, specifically as to his favorite, he responds:

"My favorite group is probably Pelor's Shadow Guard, and the shadowspy and shadowstriker prestige classes tied to it. The idea of the god of the sun having, basically, a secret service really makes me happy. This group just really does things to the interaction between the churches of Pelor and Heironeous that makes them more real for me. This group is going in my next campaign."

Thanks for the compliments, Chris! Those PrCs, as well as the organization they serve, were part of my writing assignment on Complete Champion. Granted, I don't know how much revision they saw during the editing and development processes, but I figure I'll know for sure in a very short while (as soon as my comps arrive). I guess I'll also find out if I made the cover of the book or not (see this post for details on that topic).

08 May 2007

More Complete Champion Goodness

Wizards has posted a lot of other previews for Complete Champion, including an art gallery! One of the things that I've always loved about writing is seeing my words transformed into art. I'm one of those guys who has trouble making sure the sticks are straight when I draw stick men, so I've always been awed by artists.

I'm sure I've talked about this before, but let me refresh those of you who might not know about a little thing called an art order. I never knew about art orders, back when I was writing my own game stuff and using it to make my players miserable. Since I've been fortunate enough to delve into the freelancer's lifestyle, I've probably done scores of art order entries. Maybe more.

So what's an art order? Simply put, it's a description for an artist to use a springboard for a piece of art that will appear in a product. It should be relevant, and it needs to be highly detailed without being overdone -- you've got to give the artist some leeway, after all.

Now, having done a lot of art orders, I can say that it's not often that I see a piece of art in a product I've worked on that I can look at and say, "Hey, I wrote that!" With Complete Champion, though, I can honestly look at these pictures and say, "Wow, that's my art order! And that one! And that one, too!" It's awesome to see these pieces of art and know that I contributed to them in my own limited fashion.

As for the previews of the product itself, you can check them out here. The spell lists and new feats are especially interesting to me, as I helped design some of the entries. So go and check them out!

I've got a good feeling about this book. A lot of folks tend to poo poo the Complete line of sourcebooks. To me, each one provides a toolbox for players and DMs. I don't think they can be all things to everyone, nor should they be. I'll always get more use out of some than I will out of others, but that doesn't bother me. Then again, maybe I'm biased.

05 May 2007

Aimless Drifting

I'm up early today. I have no idea why. Everyone else is asleep, including both children. When you have young kids, "Sleep when they sleep," becomes a mantra of sorts. I've been getting up early for work for so long now that sleeping in past seven or eight o'clock is a rare luxury. When it hits, insomnia tends to strike me after 3am.

No gaming scheduled for this weekend. Adam is moving, so we did Ravenloft last weekend, instead. I've had to weigh my options on the workplace D&D game, given that I've got several projects that are either due or coming up within the next few weeks/months. There are other logistics, too, that came into play, and I've ultimately decided to suspend workplace D&D for an indefinite period. It was fun while it lasted.

With the coming release of Star Wars Saga Edition, I'm interested to try the new game mechanics out. I'd like to see what my friends Rodney and Owen have cooked up. I've been role-playing Star Wars since the first edition of WEG's version came out. I stubbornly resisted the d20 edition of the game when it was released, but somehow I was eventually drawn in and converted to the ways of the New Order.

Saga Edition seems solid to me, based on what I've seen. There are changes, some subtle, that I'm not too sure about just yet. Not having played it, I can't say for certain how game play will be affected. I can only look at what has been done and hypothesize about how it might influence the flow of the game. It's supposed to be faster, and I suppose I can't really complain about that. As much as I might like a good fight in any d20 title, they can get bogged down.

Amy, my wonderful wife, has been making not-so-subtle comments as of late. While she is enjoying the Ravenloft game, she has an undeniable preference for Star Wars. "Why aren't we playing Star Wars?" she asked (though I daresay, it might not have been a question on her part).

"Because Saga hasn't been released yet," I said. "Once Saga is out, I'll be happy to run Star Wars again so we can try the new system out."

But what of Ravenloft?

I've got this horrible reputation as a DM/GM who starts games and campaigns, but rarely finishes them. It's a curse of DM ADD, or so I like to think. Though I've felt a pull to run other games in the time since Ravenloft started, I've had little real desire to. It's a lot easier to run a module than it is to create your own adventures, NPCs, encounters, etc., from whole cloth. I spend my off-hours writing freelance game material, so running Ravenloft is almost like taking a vacation from "real" DMing.

So, yeah, I'd like to run Star Wars when it comes out; conversely, I don't want to stop running Ravenloft as a consequence. Running two campaigns concurrently is a possibility that I've entertained, but that opens up a new can of worms regarding scheduling, time, and eventual player and/or DM burn-out. It's tough enough to get five people together every two weeks for a single campaign; trying to coordinate the same five individuals to show up for two games is like herding cats.

The schedule that might work is a two on, one off sort. For instance, Ravenloft one week, Star Wars the next week, and then a weekend of rest the following week. Repeat. This puts three weeks between sessions (which, admittedly, stretches the limits of keeping a game's momentum flowing), but I can't seen any other option being feasible.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: growing up sucks. There's never enough time to do the things you want to do. When I was a kid, running two games (each week, mind you) would have been more that just feasible; it would have been mandatory.

I'm going to lay down on the sofa for a bit and listen to the birds chirping outside, I think. Despite my waking up in the pre-dawn hours, I'm hardly well-rested. I'm still pretty tired, and I know that Stephen will be awake within the next two hours. I'm planning to get some work done this morning, which means I'm going to It's A Grind. But when..?

04 May 2007

Complete Champion Preview

Wizards has posted previews for up-coming products, including Complete Champion. Amusingly enough, a couple of the items I worked on are included in the preview.

You can check it out here.

30 April 2007

I'll Be There

Gen Con, that is.

Thanks to the kindess of others, I've managed to find a place to sleep while I'm in Indianapolis. I'm looking forward to the convention, because it's one of those rituals that has become necessary for me. It's a way to connect with my industry peers, to hear the latest rumors, and to see the latest goodies.

It doesn't keep me from feeling like some game industry hobo, though. I'll have one hell of a time fitting all my gaming materials into a bindle.

It's been a long day. I've been sick, Amy's been sick, the kids have been...kids.

Some exciting news today. Of course, I can't say squat about it. Forgive me my little secrets, as you have always done, and I shall be all the happier.

So that's it for this brief update. There will be more later, I can assure you.

29 April 2007

Work D&D

It's not so much "Workplace D&D" anymore, given that we play at Jeff's apartment and only two of the remaining players are co-workers. Over the past two sessions, we've had some new developments:

We've lost our rogue: Deana, claiming "short attention span," has decided that the game isn't for her. Though she won't be playing any more, her husband is liking it quite a bit and will continue to play.

Meantime, Roya is threatening to reprise her role as Raven the Sorceress in this week's game session.

In the past two games, I've worked on getting the party to the Valley of Obelisks, which is the primary setting for The Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde adventure. Along the way, they encountered a group of goblin bandits waylaying a wagon. After defeating the goblins and rescuing a small boy from their clutches, the characters continued their journey to Jewelford, the site of a local wrestling competition.

The boy, named Leto, is the son of a local cloth merchant. He was traveling north with a small shipment of cloth when the goblins attacked his wagon. With his companions dead, he has no one else to turn to except for the PCs. He has promised them a reward if they will take him back to his family.

So we'll see. I'm not sure what they'll do without a rogue in the group, but it's not all that important at the moment (though I gather it will be, eventually).

On the topic of Gen Con Indy, I'm still homeless. The closest hotels with available room are eight miles away from the convention center. I'm not too proud to consider such an option as a last resort, but I really don't want to be concerned with the logistics of getting to and from the convention on a daily basis. Taxis and hotel shuttles are all fine and dandy, but eight miles is a long way to go...

Tomorrow is Monday, and it marks the next session of JD's Liberty campaign. My character, Sahm, got to third level last game. He'll be going up another level of fighter, and taking Dodge as his third level feat. I'm not overly fond of Dodge, but it's an entry level option for some other feats I'd like Sahm to have.

That's it for now. More writing for me tonight, as well as laundry duty. Man, I hate doing laundry. We need self-cleaning clothes, I think.

22 April 2007

To Indy, or not To Indy

That is the question.

I'd like to go to Gen Con Indy this year, but I'm conflicted. For the past couple of years, I've tended to go to the con in service to a publisher (Green Ronin, to be specific). This tends to save me money and planning time on some aspects of the convention. The trade off is that I help man the booth, run games, or both.

This has never been a problem. I enjoy booth work, even though it means I'm in one spot for most of the convention. The folks from Green Ronin are awesome, and you can imagine that the other industry folks who stop by the booth to say hi to Chris, Nicole, Hal, Robert, Evan, and Steve give me an opportunity to interact with and meet new people. I also get to talk to gamers and fans, which I also enjoy.

Gen Con is in August...only three and a half months away. I've made no travel plans, haven't purchased a badge, and conversely, I have no idea if I'll have a place to stay. In order to reserve a room with one of the hotels in Indy, you first need to buy your badge. At this point, though, I don't know what room availability is like. I'd rather not buy a badge, and then find out that the closest available hotel is ten miles away from the convention center.

That's my first problem, which is (admittedly) due to procrastination on my part. With the new baby, it's been busy; with income tax returns due, I've also been a bit more worried about money than usual. It's a recipe for mediocrity, let me tell you.

The second problem is the new baby I've mentioned. Two years ago, I left my wife home alone with a five month-old baby. Last year, she and that same baby (17 months at the time) stayed home while I flew to Indy again. This year, I'd be leaving her here to care for a two year-old boy and a six-month old girl all by herself.

I'm not sure I can do that to Amy. Even with both of us around, it's still a lot of work to care for both of our children at once. Madeline will probably be less of a trial in three months, but I don't harbor any illusions that my wife will have an easy time of it if I decide to take off to Indianapolis for five days.

There's the personal conflict. I've been going to Indy three years in a row thus far. I enjoy seeing old friends, making new ones, and rubbing elbows with industry folks in an attempt to remain on proverbial radar screens. I'm afraid that by not going to the convention, I'll be missing opportunities to wrangle up writing/design work later in the year. I guess that's just insecurity talking.

I spoke to Stan! about it yesterday, and his take was thus: I'm more or less in with the folks I write for now, so they'll still know me and they'll still continue to ask me to work for them. The down side is that, as feared, I might miss opportunities to meet new people and publishers.

It's a tough choice. Even if I decide to go, I still need to figure out where I'm staying. I suppose I'll do some poking around for the time being and see if I can determine the lay of the land...

19 April 2007

Paizo to Cease Publication of Dungeon, Dragon

Yeah. More info on that development here.

I can't say I'm not disappointed. My first paid publishing credit was in Dungeon, after all. The two magazines have been a staple for D&D players for hundreds of issues apiece, and it will take some time to get used to not seeing them on FLGS shelves and racks.

I've heard complaints from some folks that say these magazines have become less useful as time as worn on. The complaints tend to gravitate more to Dragon than to Dungeon, but then again, Dungeon has a somewhat limited audience since it is geared more towards DMs than players. I've subscribed to both magazines at one time or another. I've always let the subscriptions lapse, for whatever reason.

The magazines are generally a mixed bag, depending on what the reader is looking for. I've never seen any magazine (regardless of title or publisher) with 100% content that I can use. Shadis (when it first started out) was close. On average, I might see one or two articles that catch my attention. Even if I don't use them, I tend to read the articles that my friends (and, dare I say, colleagues) have written.

So, there it is. I'll be interested to see the online format that Wizards is planning to go to, both from the perspective as a gamer as well as that of a writer/designer.

15 April 2007

Complete Champion Update

During all of life's chaos last week, I must've missed this. However, I do see it today: the back cover text for Complete Champion, my first product for Wizards. Not that I wrote the whole thing, mind you. My contribution was quite small. Still, one small step for me, one giant leap for...me. Ahem.

The text, if you please.

"Divine Power at Your Command

"Mastery of divine power is no longer reserved for the cleric or paladin. With devotion and dedication, any hero can become a divine champion and a force to shake the heavens. Your strength comes from the universe itself, and you can use your divine gifts to create, heal, or destroy. Your choices shape the world.

"This D&D supplement gives players and Dungeon Masters an unprecedented resource for using divine power and religion in their game. In addition to new feats, spells, items, and prestige classes, Complete Champion presents exciting adventure locations, affiliation mechanics for different deities and organizations, and a system for designing your own religions based on the cleric domain system. Alternative class features for every core class and more reserve feats provide extended options for players interested in creating or advancing characters along the road to divine power."

Still not sure if my name will grace the cover or not. Here's hoping!

02 April 2007

Brief Update

I'm punching along on one of two projects at the moment. The size of the project isn't precisely huge, but it's for a product line I'm very keen on. So there. More about that later.

As for the home-front, having two children is definitely a sure-fire way to get behind on just about everything you want and/or need to do. God bless 'em.

I updated Sideshow In Barovia last night with detailed descriptions of the game's NPCs. This is mostly for my players' information, but it was fun doing the little character capsules nonetheless. Thanks goes to Wizards for their PC Portraits, which provided the yummy pictures. Now, if only I could draw...

I'm off to JD and Keri's place tonight to play in the Liberty game. I missed the last session, which ended with a fight. As it is, I'm running late tonight, as 3/4ths of the household is asleep. I should be out of here in a few minutes, but they're all so damn cute that I don't want to wake them..!

Workplace D&D should be running this Thursday. We have yet to nail down the venue, but I'm thinking it will be Jeff's new digs. We shall see...

23 March 2007

A Busy Weekend

These days, all my weekends seem to be busy ones.

Tomorrow, I run the second session of Sideshow in Barovia, which is my Expedition to Castle Ravenloft campaign. I'm not sure what I'll be doing earlier in the day, but it will probably include caring for my children, maybe a nap. I've got some reading to do, on several different topics. I surely wish I had more time to read these days, because it's probably the most time-consuming thing I do.

Sunday we plan to take the kids to the Birch Aquarium so that Stephen can check out all the "Nemos." Yep, that's right: any fish is a Nemo. He's been there a couple of times, but I think that he'll have a much deeper appreciation for the fish this time around. After we get back home, I need to sit down and get to work on my latest writing project.

So, yeah. Busy. All that, and I want to try to get back into painting miniatures. Thing is, I'd love to buy just the right pack of Unhallowed and pick up a Strahd mini, but I doubt that's going to happen. I've taken matters into my own hands and bought a suitable vampire figure from GW, which I'll need to paint. This means going through my paints, seeing if they're serviceable or not, etc.

On the plus side, I don't guess the PCs will encounter the master of Castle Ravenloft for some time, so I'm not in a huge hurry to get the figure finished.

The work D&D game is also this coming Tuesday, as opposed to Thursday, to account for our newest player's scheduled visit to Vegas next week. I picked up a copy of The Shattered Gates of Slaughtergard, and plan to incorporate it into that game. It should keep them busy for a while. The adventure itself is pretty neat, and I like it overall. I don't think they'll get into the meat of it for two or three more sessions, but it gives me something to work towards.

All for now.

21 March 2007

Re-Makes

A friend of mine sent me an email last night to let me know that there will be a re-make of John Carpenter's Escape from New York. It's currently in pre-production, and scheduled for release in 2009.

When is enough enough? It seems to me that we've had a ton of classic movies re-made in the past few years: The Omen, Psycho, Dawn of the Dead, The Hitcher, The Poseidon Adventure, War of the Worlds, and The Fog, to name a few.

And don't get me started on The Ring and its ilk, taking perfectly good foreign movies and re-shooting them with popular American actors and releasing them abroad, almost as if they're completely original. After all, why would anyone want to see a movie with subtitles?

I'm not entirely anti-re-make: I'm more fond of the Dawn of the Dead re-make than I am of the original, for example. Yet it's tough to win me over to a movie's "re-envisioning" until I've seen it and given it my stamp of approval. (I've got much the same problem with cover songs.)

Escape from New York doesn't need to be remade, any more than The Breakfast Club did. Yet someone obviously feels that they can do it better, and win over a new generation of moviegoers in the process. Time will tell, I suppose.

17 March 2007

Lost a Sorceress; Gained a Druid

We've had our first casualty in the workplace D&D game. No, she wasn't torn to pieces by goblins or gobbled up by a gibbering mouther. The game just isn't her thing.

Our sorceress, Raven, has left the group. I'm proud that she gave it a shot, and played through two sessions. After the last game, I could tell that she wasn't as excited as the rest of the group. I talked to her about it on Thursday morning, and told her that if it wasn't her bag, she didn't have to play. Under the circumstances, I think it was the best possible outcome.

I've been involved in games that were painful to play -- and I actually enjoy the hobby. There's nothing worse than sitting through a game session that provides you with no stimulation whatsoever; where you find yourself looking at your watch more than you look at the DM or your character sheet. If you apply such a situation to someone who isn't a gamer at all, I guess the pain is probably worse.

So, yeah. I told her she could skip out if she wanted to, and she seemed relieved about it. "It's the most boring thing I've ever done!" she exclaimed. Under normal circumstances, I might feel bad about such a comment. Truth be told, the other three players are enjoying themselves, which leads me to believe that the game as a whole is merely not to Raven's tastes.

Onward and upward, I started discussing the game with another co-worker of mine, Toni, who had previously expressed interest in playing, but who has been too busy to participate up until recently. She's decided that she'll give the game a shot, and she wants to play a druid. Raven even gave her Player's Kit to us, so I bestowed it upon Toni so that she could read up on characters, druids, etc. I guess we'll generate her character sometime next week.

Speaking of the D&D Player's Kit, I can't say enough good things about it. If you pick it up on Amazon.com, you can get it for a song. It comes with a lot of things that an experienced player doesn't really need (booklets that detail the basic rules and methods for creating characters), but it also includes a set of nifty dice and a softbound edition of the Player's Handbook. The softbound PH is well worth the price, right out of the gate.

15 March 2007

The Adventure's End

So, we played the third installment of the workplace D&D game last night. It's evolved somewhat past the "workplace only" moniker, mostly due to the fact that a player's spouse has joined the group. Despite the fact that "iconic" parties aren't a strict requirement to good fun, the group was sorely lacking a fighter. Now they have one, rounding out the player base to four.

They managed to complete the adventure, which (for those of you who are interested) is available on the Wizards site under the title "A Dark and Stormy Knight." They have a little more ground to cover before they make second level, especially given the staggered introduction of the characters into the game.

We started the night by introducing the new player to the game. He's playing a human ranger named Kaiser. With his help, the rest of the group managed to destroy the zombie that they'd had so much trouble with previously. Knowing now that slashing weapons are the way to dispatch zombies, it was just a matter of getting the right attack rolls and making sure that all the damage counted.

The rest of the exploration including a battle with a giant spider, and a lesser vargouille (introduced in the adventure). The spider fight was somewhat touch and go, but the vargouille was taken down with a critical hit from Tobias' crossbow (right between the eyes).

From here, I reckon the characters can wait out the storm (which should end soon) and then make their way back to civilization in order to spend their hard-earned money. After that, I've got another adventure or three up my sleeve...

04 March 2007

Happy GM's Day

So it's GM's Day again. I'm still waiting for last year's gifts. This makes me think that the holiday hasn't really caught on yet. At least, not with my players it hasn't.

It's been quiet on Neuro-Suction for the past week or two. Reason is, my daughter was born last Monday, 2/26. We've been busy with her since she and Amy came home, adjusting to our new life as sleepless zombies. I figure this will be worth the eventual change to d12 hit dice. The single action every round kind of stinks, though.

23 February 2007

Of Zombies & Malt Beer

Your mileage may vary, but I have determined that Steel Reserve and D&D do not mix. Last night marked the second session of workplace D&D, with all three players present.

Roya and her puppy hosted, providing a plethora of tasty things for us to eat. Rolled tacos, gourmet pizzas, sausage, chips & salsa. I would expect no less of a menu at one of NikChick’s Ars Magica games.

Jeff brought the beer, the aforementioned Steel Reserve. I was polite enough to drink one can, but I made sure to savor it (if "savor" is even a word used to describe what one does when they choke down the stuff). The two things to understand about Steel Reserve are the price (cheap) and the alcohol content (high). This is the sort of stuff that winos drink out of dirty paper bags on dark inner city streets. It is not the sort of thing I would expect to see making the rounds at a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

We needed to bring Ms. Roya up to speed, so we didn’t accomplish as much as I might have liked. The presence of the rotgut, not to mention its effects on the players, contributed somewhat to the languid nature of the game. There were also a number of very bad dice rolls.

Even though I needed to leave on time, the game went on half and hour longer than I’d anticipated. There were two encounters (one with a nasty dart trap which Deana’s rogue disarmed, and the other with a zombie bugbear). The undead bugbear is a tough critter (which I kept looking at and thinking, "Man! This thing is only CR2?"), and the between the bad dice rolls and the fact that nothing they did seemed to slow it down, I think everyone was getting somewhat frustrated.

We ended somewhat abruptly at 8 o’clock. I allowed the PCs to pull back to the relative safety of a nearby chamber to regroup, with the bugbear in as hot a pursuit as a zombie can be in. Next time (if there is a next time), we’ll see if they can manage to lay the beast low.

Any veteran D&D player would know how to fight a zombie, even one this tough, effectively: what weapons to use, how to move tactically so as to use the zombie’s plodding pace to their advantage. These guys are rookies, so it’s going to be trial and error for them. I suppose I can give them some hints, and I probably will.

The next game is not scheduled yet. I’m thinking two weeks from now may be a little bit optimistic, considering I’ve got a new baby arriving this coming Monday. We shall see.

On the writing front, it’s starting to heat up a little bit. My current project is near to wrapping up, but it’s followed by at least two others (one of which I’m very excited about; mum being the word, you’ll have to guess).

As to Saam’s Tale, for those of you who are curious, that’s about as far as I’d gotten on it. I have one more section which is about half done, but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to finishing it off.

Until next time.

18 February 2007

The First Game

Logistically, I wasn't sure if the game would take off or not. Given the limited time I've had for fun lately, I'm taking all the short cuts that I can find in order to make sure the game goes on with a minimum of work on my behalf. For one, I'm using free adventures. For two, I'm running in the "default" D&D setting of Greyhawk, using only the three core books for reference.

The free mini-adventures available on the Wizards web site are a godsend. The quality of the ones I've read so far is good, and they're not so complicated (plot-wise) that new players will be put-off or overwhelmed.

By restricting the rules and options to those offered in the three core books, I avoid the risk of my players experiencing information overload. Face it, a lot of books have been released for D&D in the past several years, and put together they represent a lot of information and optional rules. I'd just as soon keep things simple. I can always introduce things piecemeal at a later time (if the game lasts that long).

So what is everyone playing? Party composition is nearly "iconic," but we've only got three players on the field. They're lacking a front-line fighter, which means that Jeff's character (a cleric) is the closest thing they have to a bruiser. Poor Jeff. The party break down is as follows:

As mentioned, Jeff is playing a human cleric named Tobias Goodfaith. He chose Kord as his god, feeling that the option gave him a little bit of flexibility. He's got good stats, and he spread his skills out somewhat to have a broader range of abilities. I figure that as he advances Tobias in level, he'll have a better idea where he wants his skill points to go.

Deana's character is an elf rogue named Ailean (pronounced "Ay-leen," not "Ay-lee-an"). She's young for an elf, but still almost six times as old as Tobias is. This doesn't stop Toby (as she calls him) from adopting her in a somewhat paternal/fraternal role. I get the impression that she accepts the protection and support, taking advantage of it a little bit (although she does return the favor). She's very proud of her masterwork theives' tools.

Roya is the arcane magic user: a female human sorcerer named Raven. We don't know much about Raven yet, given that she has yet to make an appearance. I suppose I'll update her profile here when I know more.

17 February 2007

Workplace D&D, Redux

So, about the workplace gaming group.

The players in the group (thus far) include Deana, one of my Purchasing Dept. co-workers; Jeff, who earns his money as a materials analyst when he isn't writing screenplays; and Roya, our Marketing Dept.'s product manager. We've been trying to recruit others (as discussed previously) with little luck. There have been a couple of folks (one of our QA inspectors, as well as a product engineer) who have gaming backgrounds, but their current obligations to family prevent them from becoming involved.

Even after going to the trouble of getting approval from Human Resources, the group decided that it would be better if we met somewhere that provided the freedom to imbibe reasonable quantities of fermented beverages, not to mention snack foods. Locations such as local bars and restaurants were discussed, but I ultimately discarded these ideas. Trying to keep a game focused in a public swillhouse or bar & grill, given the noise and nosy passersby, isn't my idea of a good time.

In the end, we settled on Deana's house for the first game. We can still use the meeting rooms at work, should we so choose to (and we may yet do that if all else fails for a particular session). It makes our choices a little broader, I think, having that option open to us.

Jeff's experience with D&D goes back to the Basic Set, which he and his friends played in junior high school. He even has his old books and dice (which require the numbers be colored in crayon). He hadn't done any gaming after that, so he's practically a fresh fish when it comes to "modern" RPGs.

Deana, on the other hand, attempted to play AD&D once, several years back. A friend of hers (referred to as "Flounder") convinced her to spend hours rolling up a character, only to kill her off with a malicious bit of PvP after five minutes of actual game play. The experience soured her on role-playing, but I somehow managed to convince her to give it a shot. I promised her that her character wouldn't die in the first five minutes.

Unlike Jeff and Deana, who have some point of reference to fall back on insofar as what RPGs are about, Roya had no experience whatsoever. She seems like the type of player who will want to lay waste to bad guys in an attempt to vent her day-to-day frustrations. This is fine with me; we all game for different reasons, be it fun, catharsis, or escapism. With me, I guess it's a little of everything.

As for the first game, it started off somewhat roughly. Due to unforseen circumstances, Roya had to bow out. There were some customers in town, and she had to babysit them and do some other related work that kept her in the office well past six o'clock. Deana and Jeff and I decided to go ahead with the game, and we told Roya that if she could get out of work by 5:30 that evening, that she should drop by and jump in.

More later.

16 February 2007

Workplace D&D

If I worked for a company that produces games and gaming material, I suppose that gaming in the workplace would be a common event. After all, I'd be surrounded by like-minded folks who wouldn't automatically assume that Dungeons & Dragons involves black magic, sacrificing small mammals, and wearing black hooded cloaks that are liberally decorated with fiendish crimson pentacles.

Thanks, Jack Chick, for your inaccurate (albeit comical) depictions of my favorite hobby. Likewise, I'd like to send kudos to Focus on the Family and the 700 Club for propagating similar stories in the past. Granted, I haven't heard anything overtly negative about RPGs lately, but the damage was done and the modern myth of Satanists crawling around in sewer pipes is unlikely to die out anytime soon.

I'd also like to send a big "atta boy" to the people who have made sure that gamers are considered to be antisocial nerds and geeks. I'm talking about folks who have never gamed, yet insist on ridiculing the hobby based on some sort of schoolyard estimation of what is and isn't cool. I'm also talking about those gamers who, for whatever reason, fit the stereotype and/or play it to the hilt. Yes, there are nerdy/geeky gamers; but there are nerdy/geeky types in every portion of society, from politics and manufacturing to dirt biking and coin collecting.

Okay, so I'm ranting again. Let me explain why.

Talking to a co-worker a couple of weeks ago, gaming came up. I made an off-hand comment about starting a gaming group at work, and before I knew it I had three non-gamer co-workers who were interested in giving it a shot. I contacted Human Resources, and was given the go-ahead to proceed. Mostly, this included permission to use free company resources (meeting rooms) to host games during non-work hours. There are some restrictions, but they are (more or less) common sense rules that are applicabl1 100% of the time, anyway.

Long story short, we met up to generate D&D characters last week. The next day, each of the three players expressed interest in buying the 3.5 core rules. I helped them to get their hands on copies of the D&D Player's Kit (an awesome value), and last night we played our first game (which went well).

A three-player group is fine as wine, but when you get right down to it, a cleric, a rogue, and a sorcerer are only 3/4ths of the pie. I can run a game for such a group, but they really are missing someone in the role of a front-line fighter. Last night's game was doubly troubling, since the sorcerer couldn't make it due to work obligations.

As such, I've been attempting to recruit at least one more player, with little success. Mentioning D&D to people here gets one of three responses: either they've never heard of it, they think it's wierd, or they didn't realize that people "still play the game." Either way, the general concensus is, "It's not my cup of tea," or "I'm too busy." At least they've all been polite about it.

Friends of the rogue player, upon learning of her involvement in a Dungeons and Dragons group, have ridiculed her mercilessly. All manner of comical (not to mention insulting) stereotypes have been invoked. One of her friends wants to play, seemingly for the sole purpose of mocking us by sporting a wizard's hat and not brushing their teeth. Uhhh...no. Keep them away, I say.

I plan to post a blow-by-blow of last night's game at some point, along with my own observations of how first-time D&D players become acclimated to the game, the rules, and the social aspect of the hobby. After last night, I have at least two of them hooked. Time will tell how long this will last, but I'm hopeful that I've been successful in drawing some new blood into a pastime that has been nigh-obsessive for me since junior high school.

More later...

07 February 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 7

He followed Kliner's advice and took some water with a piece of salty shortbread for his breakfast. He had no appetite at first, but forced a few small bites of the bread along with a sip or two of water before his rebellious stomach began to rumble hungrily. There were few places to sit that weren't in the way of the crew, so he retreated to the stairs leading down into his room. He sat with his back to the open hatchway, listening absently to the sounds of the men as they worked.

Graven didn't make a sound as he approached from behind, and Sahm had no idea how long the Halfling had been there before he spoke. "They say there's a sea of sand in the far south. That true?"

Sahm sat up, suddenly and embarrassingly aware that he was no longer alone. He turned and glanced at Graven, who was perched nimbly at the top of the stairway. "The desert, yes," he answered.

"Does it shine like diamonds in the sunlight?" Graven asked. His voice betrayed his youth, but his question was painfully sincere.

"I suppose that is one way of saying it," Sahm answered. "It depends on the color of the sands. There are parts of the desert that are red, like the blood of some great giant."

Graven was obviously in awe of this description. "A giant died in the desert?"

"I have heard legends that say such things," Sahm replied, nodding slowly. "Other tales say that it was a great dragon's blood that was spilled upon the sands. None but the gods can say for certain."

"I would like to see these deserts," Graven declared.

"Perhaps you shall, someday," Sahm said. He wasn't quite sure what to think of Graven. He certainly wasn't like the hawk-eyed Halflings of his homeland, that was for certain. He seemed somewhat simple of mind, naïve at the least, though that could be a clever act. But to what end would such a deception be attempted? Sahm wasn't sure.

Graven's eyes, distant with the thought of crimson deserts, cleared suddenly. He looked at Sahm and asked, "Why are you leaving your home?"

Sahm was taken aback by the question. Such a direct inquiry would be considered impolite in Uman, or anywhere else in the Southern Empire, for that matter. But he was no longer dealing with the more polite folk of his own lands, nor did he expect to for years to come. He had best get used to the rude ways of the northern folk, starting with Graven.

"I am seeking my fortune," Sahm replied guardedly. If the ship's crew learned that he was wanted in Uman, they may decide to turn the boat around and take him back. He doubted that the reward that was offered for him in the south was particularly large, but that would be little consolation if Kliner decided that it would make a nice addition to a profitable south-bound cargo.

The untruth went ignored by Graven, who leaned forward, his elbows propped up on his knees. "You have a fortune?"

Sahm chuckled. "Not yet, no. That is why I am seeking it."

A deep voice boomed across the deck. "Graven!" it called. "Where ya at, ya louse?"

Graven's eyes widened in horror. "Fallon!" he exclaimed. "He'll have my gizzards if he catches me loafin'!" The Halfling stood suddenly and scampered off, leaving Sahm to finish his paltry meal. The conversation had been a welcome distraction from his physical discomfort and the dismal thoughts that had haunted him since his conversation with Kliner.

(Special thanks to Stan! for the art. Thanks, Stan!!)

05 February 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 6

The small size of the attackers had not been due to mere distance; the bandits were of a tribe of Halfling nomads that roamed the deserts, and who rarely entered the cities of men. Tales had been told of these savages in many of the caravans that Sahm had escorted, but until that day he had not seen them in the flesh. They road their desert ponies with a deftness and skill that made Sahm's trained horsemanship seem clumsy by comparison, and the taught strings of their bows sang like crickets in the dawn as they loosed shaft after shaft at the fleeing caravan. Their nut brown skins were covered by sand-colored desert robes, cinched at the waist by black silk sashes.

"They file their teeth to points," Sahm had been told by a merchant who had purportedly been the only survivor of a Halfling raid. "They take anyone that they don't kill into the deep desert and feast upon the marrow in their bones. They feed whatever remains to their blood-hungry ponies, and use the sinew from their victims to string their bows. If ever you should face them, run and hide! Or, best yet, play dead! There is no hope for you otherwise."

Sahm had considered what the man had said, and had ultimately rejected it as a fanciful tale. Now, riding low with his bow in one hand and Asianne's reins in the other, he wasn't so sure. Qadil was two lengths ahead of him, his sword drawn and his robes fluttering behind him. The old man could fight, Sahm knew, but would this foe be too much for him?

Three of the Halfling ponies broke off from the attacking force and headed towards Qadil and Sahm. There was a piercing war cry from the tiny warriors that sounded eerily like an eagle's shriek. At fifty yards distance, two of them rose in their saddles, raised their bows, and fired arrows. Sahm jinked Asianne to the left as one of the arrows sailed by. He rose up in his own saddle, aimed at the oncoming riders, and fired back. Too high, the arrow flew well past the Halflings and shattered against the stone-like ground.

The remaining Halfling was armed not with a bow, but with a lance. It was obvious that he and Qadil were headed for one another, and naught but the gods could alter their course. At the last moment, the Halfling lowered his lance, plunging it into Qadil's horse, as the old man's saber cut through the air above the raider's head. The haft of the lance snapped audibly, and Qadil's horse stumbled and fell, raising a plume of dust high into the air. The old man rolled several yards, limp and apparently dead, leaving Sahm to confront the Halflings on his own.

As the three ponies passed Qadil's limp form at a gallop, Sahm brought his own horse to a sudden stop. With a graceful leap, he dismounted, smacking Asianne upon her rump, and sending her galloping towards the caravan alone. He could hear the Halflings turning about behind him, their bow strings twanging. A small arrow flew through his billowing robes before skittering upon the ground nearby. Sahm ran to the only cover he could see, Qadil's dying horse. The animal's breath came in pained gasps, and its blood fueled the thirsty ground beneath it.

Another small arrow whistled towards him, thunking into the belly of the dying animal. Its agony was such that it didn't seem to notice this new pain. Sahm, crouching behind the horse's bulk raised his bow in the direction of the Halflings and let fly an arrow. This time, his aim was unencumbered by Asianne's motion, and the shaft hit one of the Halfling archers in his chest. The little man cried out in pain and surprise, and he fell from his saddle onto the ground. His pony, now without a master, veered off and slowed to a trot, even as the remaining two increased their pace towards Sahm.

He had time enough for one last shot before they were upon him. Sahm drew another arrow and fired his bow at the remaining archer. The distance was short, perhaps thirty yards, and he could see the raider's eyes widen with shock as the arrow punched through his neck, spraying crimson blood into the air behind him. The Halfling dropped his own bow and brought his horse to a halt before sliding out of his saddle and onto the rocky ground. The Halfling who had killed Qadil's horse (as well as Qadil, or so it seemed, for he remained motionless in the dirt several yards away), rode his pony straight for Sahm. He had discarded his broken lance in favor of a small black scimitar, the edge of which glinted brightly in the rising sunlight. Sahm ducked as the Halfling's pony leapt over the horse's corpse. He heard the sound of the bandit's blade slicing through the air above his head, just before the desert pony hit the ground behind him and continued onward.

Sahm turned to follow the enemy with his gaze, his hands already drawing and loading another arrow into his bow reflexively. He drew the bowstring back, adjusted his aim, and fired. Like the two arrows before it, this one struck home, lodging itself in the Halfling's turned back. The small black scimitar flew from his grasp, even as he slumped in his saddle. The pony continued onward, oblivious to the fact that its rider was dead.

Qadil was bloody and bruised, but otherwise alive. A wide gash had been opened across his forehead, and blood had washed into his eyes. "Sahir?" Sahm ventured, reaching out a hand to roll his friend over.

Coughing, Qadil allowed Sahm to roll him onto his back. He opened his blood-filled eyes, then blinked them rapidly to try and clear his sight. "Did I get him?" he asked, a wry smile on his lips.

"You took his head clean off, sahir," Sahm lied, his hands deftly checking Qadil's limbs for broken bones. "I fear that he took your horse in payment."

"Better my horse than myself." Qadil sat up painfully. "What of the rest?"

"Dead, but for the half-dozen that swarm about the caravan." Sahm looked over Qadil's shoulder at the wagons. They were beset with raiders from all sides, and shouts and war cries echoed across the shallow valley.

Qadil used his hand to wipe the blood from his face, wincing at the pain when he discovered that his palms had been torn by his impact with the rocky ground. "Bring me my blade, Sahm," he instructed, "then go along without me and do what you can to save the wagons. Without that cargo, we aren't liable to be paid."

Sahm stood and fetched Qadil's saber from the dirt nearby, patting the old man on the shoulder. "Will you be well, sahir?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, of course," Qadil said, waving his hand dismissively. "Get moving! I'll join you when I'm able."

Sahm began to run towards the wagons, his breath burning in his lungs. Running wasn't something he often did, seeing as Asianne had always been there for him on these long ventures into the wilderness. His boots weren't made for it, and he stumbled several times on the rough, rocky, uneven ground. Somehow, he managed to avoid sprawling over the stony earth. The screams of the wounded and dying, paired with the sounds of his own panting, were all that he could hear.

31 January 2007

Intermission

I was planning to continue the fiction non-stop over the next few days, without boorish distractions from Real Life (tm). However, I have to post today.

Molly Ivins is dead.

Now, I'm probably more of a conservative liberal than anything else. I rarely talk politics here, mostly because I'm not really into arguing. I think that freely expressing our opinions is one of the greatest boons of living in the United States, and anything that threatens freedom of speech is a cause for concern.

It's not like I knew Molly Ivins, except through her editorials. I started reading her Creator's Syndicate column regularly about a year or two ago. I may not have agreed with everything she wrote (albeit, I did agree with most of it), but she was funny and insightful and scathing. It was love at first read. On more than a couple of occasions, I considered writing to her just to give a thumb's up, but I never did work up the nerve. Today, I wish I would have written to her, because now I'll never have that chance.

More about Molly can be read here, her last column can be found here, and a tribute to Molly can be read here.

So I'm somewhat bummed by the news. No, I didn't know her, but she certainly made me think on more than one occasion.

30 January 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 5

Yelling above decks caused Sahm to stir. He opened his eyes in the darkness and looked around in vain. The rocking of the ship was less pronounced, though he could still feel the waves beneath its keel and hear the creaking of the masts echo through the hull. His mouth was bitter and sour-tasting, and his head ached. He swung his legs out of the hammock and lowered himself gingerly to the floor. Taking a tentative step in the direction of the door (or so he hoped), Sahm's head swam and he slipped, falling noisily to the ground. He cursed himself, scrabbling through a wet patch that stank of vomit – his own, though he didn't remember throwing up in his humble, closet-like cabin – and crawled to the door.

Outside, the light of the morning sun was just peeking over the eastern waves. The wind had dissipated, the storm passed. The ship's crew went about their business, as if he wasn't even there. A couple of sailors glanced his way, their eyes yellow in the dim light, but they made no comment, nor did Sahm expect them to. He made his way to the bow of the ship, pausing to let a group of sailors pass by. One of them muttered something, but Sahm ignored it. He'd heard worse from his own people, let alone from this mongrel breed of men from the north. Their insults washed over him like a gentle rain.

Once at the bow, he removed his head-wrapping. The stained length of cloth was haphazardly wound, anyway, thanks in part due to the restless sleep he'd endured the previous evening. His dark hair, freed from the wrapping, fell to his shoulders in a lanky mass. Sahm faced the sun, knelt on the weathered planks, and made his prayers to the sky. He prayed for forgiveness, for he had many sins for which to atone. He prayed that his family be spared humiliation for the things he had done. Most of all, he prayed for her, that she be forgiven for their mutual transgressions. His prayers finished, he rose wearily to his feet and wrapped his head with his turban. Securing the end of the wrapping, he placed his hands upon the ship's rail and stared at the horizon.

He had not always been a religious man. The faith had taken him by surprise. Lonely men seldom forsook their gods, and Sahm was no exception. He had seen amazing things in his time as a caravan guard. Likewise, his single taste of massed warfare had reinforced the fact that he'd rather believe in something than to die a faithless infidel. Even if the crows picked out his corpse's eyes, and the ants burrowed into his guts, Sahm knew that his true essence would fly amongst the clouds, one divine wind amongst many. He could think of few things finer than that.

"Four more days," came a gruff voice from behind. Sahm recognized the voice immediately, and turned to nod to the speaker. Kliner was the ship's captain. He was a savvy merchant who had been sailing the oceans since Sahm was a little boy. The man was older than he looked. Underweight, was Kliner, with short brown hair, a pair of mischievous hazel eyes, and a face that somehow resisted the weathering effects that the elements ultimately brought to bear on men of the seas. "The storm blew us a wee bit off course, and now the wind has fallen to little more than a breeze."

Sahm nodded that he understood, and tried to hide his disappointment. He'd expected to arrive at his destination tomorrow. Four more days on this wretched boat; he didn't know if he could manage it.

Kliner smiled, as if he knew exactly what Sahm was thinking. "Don't fret none," he said. "Keep to drinking water, and you'll be fine. The boys may not like ya, but I doubt they'll let ya die on their ship. 'Fraid of ghosts, they are." It seemed that the heathen prospect of his ghost eternally walking the decks of the ship had kept the crew from taking their assaults beyond mere insults. Sahm was glad for that, suddenly. He also felt that Kliner, being an honorable man, had likely been keeping an eye out for him. "Get yourself a drink, maybe try and keep some bread down." Kliner winked, then walked off towards the stern of the ship. Several of the men nodded to him deferentially as he passed.

Graven, the Halfling, was amongst the sailors that Kliner had passed. He looked up at his captain with wide eyes, as if he were hoping to be noticed. Kliner walked by, offering little more than a curt nod to the diminutive crewman, but it was enough. Graven smiled to himself after Kliner had passed, but his mirth faded when noticed that Sahm was looking at him. His eyes narrowed as he returned Sahm's gaze, and then he went back to work.

Halflings. Sahm's father had once said that the gods had created the little folk so that men could feel like giants amongst them. Sahm was not so sure. If the Halflings of the north were anything like those of the deserts, then Sahm could only hope that he could stay out of their way.