Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oh no, we lost Canada and Australia!

I just saw this very cool population density map that shows the population density of the world in dots of different sizes and colors. The interesting thing to me is how much of the world's landmass is covered by black and gray, especially the majority of Canada and Australia. Sometimes it's easy to forget how much sparsely-settled wilderness there still is.

This could also be a great alternate Earth map. Just redraw the coastlines to conform to this map, maybe eliminating a color or two, and you have something that's close but not too close to the current real thing.

Maybe Canada and Australia were the first countries to fall when the other primates took over and nuked everything. Or maybe those countries and most of Russia broke up and sunk due to a combination of global warming, resource grabbing, and deep crust mining...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Professional self-publishing

A lot of people out there in the OSR blogosphere are talking about self-publishing right now. The basic argument is that you should put whatever you have been developing into the public eye, thereby spreading and expanding the hobby and maybe making a few bucks. Sounds great! I would love to see a lot more things that people are doing and creating.

Some people are trying to distinguish hobbyist and professional publishers, but I think it's more important to distinguish amateur and professional publishers.

Almost everybody in the business of publishing things for roleplaying games is a hobbyist in one sense. I say almost everybody, because I'm sure there are some people that edit, produce art, do layout, or provide some function related to RPG publishing that do not play the games. But the people developing the content, writing the adventures, and creating the stories and characters are people that play the games and participate in the hobby of gaming. If they didn't or hadn't played the games they are writing for, they wouldn't understand the mechanics well enough to write for them. In that sense, then, we're all hobbyists.

When it comes to publishing, some people have made the distinction that a hobbyist publisher is someone who doesn't make any money from what they are producing. They produce content and distribute it solely to advance the hobby, rather than a particular material interest. A professional, on the other hand, produces items for money, regardless of how much or little they actually make. Well and good. Hobbyists work for free, professionals work for money. That doesn't really get to the heart of the matter when it comes to publishing in the gaming community generally and in the OSR community specifically.

The distinction between amateur and professional is more appropriate to the discussion at hand. Amateur productions tend to be unpolished, have significant typos or regular grammatical errors, have no or poorly-executed art, have little or no distinctive layout, and often lack organization or effective execution of the idea of the product. Some good examples of amateur efforts include the original D&D boxed sets (the LBBs), early 'zines (definitely not Loviatar), and the typed campaign notes I have from back in the day.

Professional products, on the other hand, have few typos and grammatical errors, have appropriate art, have distinctive or at least clean layout, have organization and polish, and effectively communicate the ideas in the product well. There are plenty of good examples of professional material, but some that have particularly struck me out of the OSR are Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Labyrinth Lord and the supplements produced by Goblinoid Games, and Woodland Warriors. All of these meet the requirements of professionalism both by being for-profit and by being well-made. Some others that are professional-quality without being produced for profit include Dyson's Delve and Challenge of the Frog Idol from Dyson Logos, Joseph Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage, and the DungeonWords, DungeonWords d30, WilderWords, and WestWords PocketMods that Risus Monkey puts together.

This brings me to the point of this post. If you are producing something for someone else to read, regardless of whether you are making money from it or not, it should be as professional (non-amateur) as possible in execution. That doesn't mean that it has to have glossy covers, full-color art, or a shiny slipcase. It does mean that it should be clear, well-organized and presented, have a minimum of spelling and grammatical errors (preferably none), and be accessible to the audience.

I love when I find a great product that has been produced to this professional level, and I generally go back to the people that produce these products when I want something new. It doesn't matter if it's free or it costs me some money, if the product is well-produced, I feel better about owning and using it.

I hate when I find a product that doesn't meet these minimum standards. Honestly, if you don't take the time to seriously proofread and edit your copy, including having it read and marked up by someone who is a good proofreader, I don't want to spend my time reading your material. I'm willing to let it go on a blog or a forum, but not in a published product. If I have to pay for it, it's even worse.

That is my biggest pet peeve about gaming publishers, and it applies equally to the "professional" publishers as it does to the "hobbyist" publishers. A lot of gamers can't write well, don't edit what they write, and sell it anyway. I won't even look at books from particular publishers because of how poorly they edited books I already own.

So, at the risk of sounding like your high school or college English teacher, before you put your work together and publish it, make sure that your writing is as professional as you can make it. Get a style guide or two and read them. If you have problems with grammar, get some good grammar and usage books and look over the things that give you trouble. And above all, have someone else read what you write and edit it. Bonus points if you have your old English teacher do it.

The same thing applies to layout. Layout should make something easier to read and understand. If your layour gets in the way of the comprehensibility of your text, you're doing it wrong. That doesn't mean that you have to always use the same old fonts, two-column layouts, blue-gridded maps, or anything else that is necessarily traditional. Look at the design decisions that Zak made in Vornheim. Some are traditional. Some are completely new. But they all work to make things easier to understand and use at the table. They contribute to the goal of the book.

So definitely keep publishing new material. I'm looking forward to seeing what people put out. Just please try to make sure it's readable first.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

For everyone, whether you're in the US or not, Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful to be a part of the RPG community and especially for all of the people that have spent so much of the last 34 years with me creating incredible imaginative entertainment. I hope everyone had an abundant and creative day!

Friday, November 18, 2011

More world building

Yesterday I got the settlement pieces out and did some cleaning on them. I also combined a couple of town pieces to make a larger city piece to use on the map. For ruins I took the existing town and castle pieces and chopped on them a bit with my clippers and a razor knife.

Today I broke out the primer and got a few of the settlements done. Here are some pics of the castles and a couple of ruins stuck into the board. One of these is probably going to end up being the setting for a retooling of B2, the module that started me back into this whole crazy thing.

A keep surrounded by farmland and a ruin by the lake
A keep on the northern borderlands and some ruins deep in a forest
A keep on the southern marches near a mysterious crater

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

World building

This is a blurry picture of a project I've been working on for the last couple weeks. This is going to be the wilderness map for some things I'm tinkering with right now. It's made from two full sets and a few of the special Mighty Empires tiles from Games Workshop mounted on a full-size cork bulletin board. I still have to add the settlements and some other details and seal it, but it's coming along. I'll post better pictures once I get it completely finished.
I saw James' results on Underdark Gazette and decided to give it a whirl.

I Am A: Lawful Neutral Human Cleric (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Neutral A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs him. Order and organization are paramount to him. He may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or he may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government. Lawful neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot. However, lawful neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it seeks to eliminate all freedom, choice, and diversity in society.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

I guess getting that theology degree made sense after all. Check it out yourself, if you're so inclined: http://www.easydamus.com/character.html

Friday, November 4, 2011

Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About

Noisms made a post listing Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About - TRPBTNTWAs. I'm going to use this as a way to get a quick post in without taking a lot of time away from other projects I'm working on today, like the Iron Chef Adventure Challenge and casting a bunch of blocks with my Hirst Arts molds. I'll have more about those projects either later tonight or tomorrow.


1. Book Binding.

I like books. I especially like well-made, hardbound books with solid, stitched and glued signatures, heavy facing paper, and well-made covers. Unfortunately, there aren't too many gaming books that measure up anymore. Most gaming books now are glued instead of sewn and just don't hold up to heavy use at the table. The first offender I remember in this regard was Unearthed Arcana, but most of the 2E Complete books had the same failing. The glue was too rigid and not deep enough to hold the pages, so they fell out after a short time. I still have my much-taped copy of UA, but it doesn't see a lot of time off the shelf anymore.

The game books I use the most now are either electronic or copies of old-school D&D that have survived the ages. The one exception is my copy of Labyrinth Lord, including the Advanced Edition Companion and Original Edition Characters, that I printed two pages per sheet and had spiral-bound at FedEx. The book is slightly larger than my index-sized OD&D books, and it lays flat, opens easily, and was fairly cheap to make.

In the future, I'd like to see more books professionally done like that - heavy pages, spiral binding, solid plastic covers.

2. "Doing a voice."

Nope, not really. I do it occasinally when I'm reading aloud or acting, but not when I'm roleplaying.

3. Breaks.

I generally let people take breaks as they need. Ocassionally I've had groups that wanted to take regular breaks every couple hours, but generally I don't schedule them. They occur naturally during play. If someone's character isn't involved, they can take a break.

4. Description.

It all depends on the game. Normally I use enough description to get the players into it without trying to sound like a Robert Jordan novel.

5. Where do you strike the balance between "doing what your character would do" and "acting like a dickhead"?

I strictly enforce the Wheaton law in my games. If most of the people think you're being a dick, you are, regardless of whether it's "in character." Fortunately, most of the people I game with don't need to be reminded of this. The ones I continue to game with most not only don't need to be reminded, they enforce the Wheaton law on their own and happily vote offenders off my gaming island.

6. PC-on-PC violence.

I don't have a problem with it, but everybody has to agree to it. Generally, my players have threatened it a lot more than done it. Still, as long as everyone is having fun and nobody is violating the Wheaton law, we're good.

7. How do you explain role-playing to non-role-players?

I don't. I'm not really a good gaming evangelist.

8. Alcohol at the table?

I'm ok with it if everybody can handle it. I don't drink at the table myself, because I'm dumb, belligerent, and absent-minded enough without it. Why make it worse for myself?

9. What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent?

Anything the player agreed to when they started playing the character. Normally that means they just sit out or become a non-participating zombie for the session. Except the cleric. Clerics are heal-bots that deserve whatever happens to them. (Sorry, Dave!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Iron Chef Adventure Challenge, part 3

In between cleaning my desk and avoiding Halloween, I've been working on more of my adventure for the Iron Chef Adventure Challenge. I'm working on stat blocks and descriptions for the characters, some site-specific encounters, and a couple of maps. The first map is Nana's Glade.

Nana, short for Renata, is a half-elf druid that has lived in the wild since her earliest childhood. She speaks no human or demi-human language, but seems to have a natural ability to communicate with any animal she encounters. She normally wears clothes woven of grass or wildflowers. She has a simple gold ring on one finger with her given name engraved on the inside. She lives in a secluded glade.

Nana's glade is surrounded by dense woodland. The trees around the glade include a few species of oaks, northern pear, apple, and walnut, among many others. Most of the trees are deciduous. There is a dense stand of cedar nearby, and the smell of the trees is noticable from the glade on warm days when the wind is right. Medicinal and edible plants flourish in the area as well, and characters looking for common plant-based material components will be able to find almost everything they need without much trouble. Rarer plants may (20%) be found in the area as well.

The glade itself is bordered by a raspberry patch on one side. Wild strawberries, daisies, bluebells, and other wildflowers are plentiful here as well. Where there are no flowers, the ground is covered with soft, low-growing creepers, so that walking in the glade feels like walking on dense, soft carpet. The glade catches a fair amount of sun during the height of the day but is otherwise shady and cool. A deep creek runs along the side of the glade opposite the raspberry patch.

A. Hidden under a particularly thick raspberry bush is a badger sett. This is the home of Ludda, an old male badger that has lived in the glade for years. He is generally inactive during the day, but he will attack anyone other that Nana trying to enter the sett. Otherwise, he is not very territorial compared to most badgers. When the weather is too cold or wet to sleep outside, Nana often sleeps in the sett.

B. On one edge of the clearing is a pile of old logs and brush left by a forester some years ago. The pile is infested with thousands of bees. Any character that disturbs the pile will be attacked by the bees (treat as an insect swarm with 6 hit dice that causes 4 hp damage per round against armored characters or 8 hp damage per round against unarmored characters, LL p. 83). Ludda is particularly fond of the honey here and is not affected by the bees. Nana occasionally eats a bit of the honey when she can convince the badger to dig out a bit of comb for her.

C. The creek here is deep and fairly quick. The bottom is rocky, covered with pebbles and coarse sand. Occasionally, small nuggets of gold can be found here, washed down from a dense vein in the nearby mountains. Nana collects these when she finds them. Fish are plentiful, and Nana occasionally tickles one out for dinner.

D. There is a large, flat stone in the middle of the creek. Nana often sunbathes on the stone in the afternoon during the summer. Under one edge of the stone is a deep, dry cavity. Nana uses the cavity to store some of her treasures: a handful of gold nuggets (30 gp value total) and a variety of fancy river stones (including 2 gems that would fetch 50 gp each if polished).

Renata "Nana"
Low: AC 7, Druid 1, hp 6, #At 1, Dmg 1-6 (quarterstaff), S 10, I 13, W 13, D 9, C 11, Ch 15
Spells: detect snares and pits, pass without trace, shillelagh
quarterstaff, ring of protection +2

Medium: as above except Druid 3, hp 13
Spells: detect snares and pits, locate creature, pass without trace, shillelagh, charm person or mammal, cure light wounds, hold animal

High: as above except Druid 5, hp 20
Spells: animal invisibility, detect snares and pits, locate creature, pass without trace, shillelagh, charm person or mammal, cure light wounds, find plant, hold animal, snare

Low: normal badger (LL p. 106), hp 7

Medium/High: giant badger (LL p. 106), hp 14

The map of Nana's Glade is copyright 2011, Robert Morris.

Renata is based loosely on Layla Necuurluf from the 1992 set of Advanced Dungeons & Dragon Trading Cards (TSR, Inc. (1992), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Trading Cards, card # 454, Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, Inc.). Used without permission.

LL stands for Labyrinth Lord produced by Goblinoid Games. AEC refers to the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion also produced by Goblinoid Games. References to spells and magic items are to either Labyrinth Lord or Advanced Edition Companion, as appropriate.

This post contains no open content other than these references.