Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dungeons Fantasy RPG for GURPS has arrived at the Attic!

As long time readers of this blog know I been a fan of GURPS for thirty years. Believe it or not there was a time when GURPS was the fourth or fifth most popular RPG on the market back in 2004.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is designed to make it easy for people to get into playing and using GURPS for their campaigns. It does this by being presented as a traditional fantasy RPG. It tells you how to make characters, how to handle encounters and combat, gives you spells, monsters, and treasures to use. Plus there is an adventure included called I Smell a Rat!

It not a new edition of GURPS. Everything here works with the core books as is. But gone are things not relevant to the Dungeon Fantasy genre. Added are things that are useful for fantasy campaigns with GURPS.

So what do you get?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bat in the Attic replies to Frank Mentzer

For those of you who haven't heard Frank Mentzer is hard at work organizing things to publish material for the Empyrea setting that is part of Oerth the world where Greyhawk can be found. Mr. Mentzer is the primary author of the BECMI edition of Dungeon and Dragons as well the author of numerous other works for TSR and Dungeons and Dragons.

Over on Tenkar's Tavern, Erik Tenker shares this interesting bit from a conversation he had with Frank Mentzer.
A common characteristic of most Old-School sites is adherence to one specific point in the Past, generally out-of-print game systems. Very cool. Nothing wrong with that, most systems have value to many. But of all the tabletop RPG fans, the OSR buys the fewest New Products. This is fine I want to give things away... strongly preferred in these circles of course. Culturally the OSR is unique and priceless, and I applaud it. But they have chosen to be irrelevant to the current market.
I am sure there are lot of people in this industry that would agree with Mr. Mentzer especially the last sentence. I am not one of them. Why? For several reasons.

The first thing that people need to keep in mind about what the Old School Renaissance is the reason why it exists. It is the interaction of several things. First a continuing interest in the classic editions of Dungeons and Dragons from the 1974 Boxed set to the ADnD 2nd Edition. Second the ability to leverage open content to support these classic editions with new works that can be shared or sold commercially. Third, a radical reduction in the cost of creating, and distributing written works and graphics (like maps).

These three facts are the foundation of everything that we see in the OSR today.

Of the three it is the use of open content that caused the diversity of the OSR to explode. Once Matt Finch, Stuart Marshall, and Chris Gonnerman demonstrated how the d20 SRD could be used to create near clones of classic D&D in the form of OSRIC and Basic Fantasy. The gates were flung open for anybody to realize their particular vision of what classic DnD can be.

Just as important this use of open content wasn't limited to specific editions of classic DnD. It also enabled the creation of hybrids or the adaptions of classic DnD mechanics to new genres. Freed from the artificial constraints on creativity imposed by intellectual property the use of open content flowered into full bloom in the publishing world of the OSR. Resulting in the bewildering range of works we see being shared and published.

What drives all this are the whims of the individuals involved. So in a sense Mr. Mentzer is right that there is a choice involved. A choice that for some doesn't take into account what is marketable but rather what one individual or a small group thinks ought to be published. And let the market be damned!

But note my use of some, because it not true for all. Many OSR publishers, including myself do take a hard look at what we think people and the market want. People like Kevin Crawford, James Raggi,  have put a lot of hours in publishing works that are not only have great content but a great presentation. And from conversations I had with both, they put considerable thought into how to make this happen. In short they each have a business plan for realizing their vision. And they both adjust things as circumstances change. There are others like Frog God Games, and Goodman Games. Some are individuals like my friend Tim Shorts at Gothridge Manor.

Doesn't sound much different than what traditional publishers do.

Keep in mind that the freedom of open content doesn't just mean that you get to realize your vision. It means that everybody gets to realize their vision. For some that means preservation. Places like Knights and Knaves, Aceaum, Piazza, Ruins of Mirkhill, ODnD Discussion Forum, and Dragonsfoot are devoted to preserving specific editions of classic DnD.

And while some criticism of these sites have merit, the one I find unfair is that they are backwards or resistant to new things. It easy to make material for these groups. You just have to target the exact editions they are interested in. Not something close, not some hybrid, but the exact edition as close as you legally can with whatever quirks and nuances it possesses. And if you are not willing or unable to do that then they are not your audience.

Last there been some recent drama associated with one of these sites in particular and Mr. Mentzer. It sad that it occurred but I am not interested in who is right or wrong. I will say that if you ever want to "win" an argument in the OSR the best reply is always to write your idea up, do the work to make it usable by others and release either to share or for sale.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Majestic Wilderlands Races for GURPS

With the release of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG PDFs during Gencon to the backers of the DF RPG kickstarter, my Thursday night group really wants to give GURPS a try. So I agreed to do a campaign later this year.

Most of the development of the Majestic Wilderlands was done using GURPS starting in 1987. So I accumulated  a lot of notes about how the setting works using GURPS. Some of which you can see here. But since then I did a lot of work on the Swords and Wizardry version of the Majestic Wilderlands. As well as ran a memorable 5th edition campaign in the Majestic Wilderlands. So I am updating my material and the first thing I got done was the Races.

You can download the races from here. Note that because GURPS doesn't have an open license I can't use the Open Game License. Steve Jackson does have a generous fan policy so I opted for a non-commercial Creative commons license for the text I wrote. For the details of various terms and abilities you will need to refer to the GURPS core books. Some of them can be found in the free GURPS Lite.

Majestic Wilderlands Races for GURPS.

Variant Character Creation Rule
There is a problem with GURPS Disadvantages and it is the same problem with DnD alignments. Either they are too static,  a source of arguments about proper roleplaying or they are not much of a hindrance.

I am sure folks are familiar with the first two but what is the third one about? Why it isn't hindrance to be honest or too have a code of honor? Well it is at first glance but then you realize that how you were going to play anyway. So in the end a 150 point campaign is really a 195 point campaign.

But not all disadvantages are the same. Some have immediate consequences for how the character plays especially the physical ones.  So what our group did over time was to stop counting most disadvantages. If you were bound and determined to play a one handed fighter than you could get the points for that as there were on-going game effects. But stuff like being poor or wealthy was discussed before the campaign started. And having a Code of honor was a written down as a note on the characters. Sometime Codes would factor in for specific aspects like clerical powers or paladins. But like when I ditched Alignment from then one, your character personality is however you played it.

Technically it not even against RAW as it clearly states that the campaign can set the total number of starting points AND the total number point cost of disadvantages. We just opt to set it to zero with a few exceptions.

So this brings me to the variant rule in the MW Races for GURPS. That is there is no cost charged for being of X race. Instead the traits of the race modify the base character attributes and the players proceed on from there.

Like for my Majestic Wilderlands supplement, a Elf or a Reptile Man has superior traits compared to a human. The thing to remember is that I emphasize roleplaying and the Majestic Wilderlands is human dominated. So for the most part characters of other races are treated as outsiders even those that are considered friendly. And if the party happens to be dominated by non-humans then there iare plenty of adventures to be found in the surrounding non-human cultures.

All this is not because I think the GURPS default is wrong, it just my changes reflect better how I present my setting as a living breathing world. If because of circumstance the player decides to act against type, I am cool with that if it make sense. I want to see that play out naturally and not have the player worry about the points on his character sheet.

So this document includes the option to treat characters as a fundamental modification of the base attributes rather than something else to be bought.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

It not a Harn Day but a Ivinia Day

Harn is part of a larger world known as Kethira. The island of Harn lies off of the western shore of the continent of Lythia which is home to many cultures (mostly human dominated). Ivinia was the first of these to be develop back in the 80s. It is Harn's equivalent of Scandinavia and home to several viking kingdoms.

Columbia Games re-edited, and re-formatted the original Ivina module and it has been released. Like most Harn product it is pricey but the quality is top notch. One big change is that each Ivinian realm now has a page devoted to it compared to the original.

You can get it in Print or PDF.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Vote Greyhawk! New D&D Survey up.

Wizards of the Coast has a new survey up and among the question it ask what DnD setting you are most interested in. While it not likely that there will be a Greyhawk revival in light of the Forgotten Realms juggernaut it is possible to get it listed as one of the approved settings on the DM's Guild. If that happen the fans can take it from there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Harnworld Master Module only $5

Columbia Games has been running periodic discounts on the different PDFs for Harn. There is a particularly good deal on the Harnworld Master Module for $5.  Now what this is a series of articles that provides an overview of the Island of Harn and it's history. It's companion is the Harndex which is a mini-encyclopedia of one paragraph entries on the various locations described in the Master Module. Of course the articles, like this one for Peran, flesh these locations out in far greater detail.

Finally Harn articles are designed to be placed in three binders. So if you were to print the PDFs out and punch them, you would get what Columbia Games sends out in print.

Note that the City of Coranan, the largest city in Harn, has a discount as well. Finally if you want to use the linked to take advantage of the discounts make sure you go to the last post to get the latest. They generally expire in a week.

Friday, August 11, 2017

My Axioms of Sandbox Campaigns

My axioms of sandbox campaigns

First off a referee has to be willing to let his players trash his setting. If you are going to get bent about the players taking out the Emperor or the local tavern keeper then a sandbox campaign is not likely going to be enjoyable. Assuming that the players are exhibiting good sportmanship (i.e. good manners while playing a game), what is the worse thing you can imagine the players trying to do? If it occurs can be you remain fair, and will the campaign still be enjoyable for you? If the answer is yes then you will succeed at being a referee of a sandbox campaign.

I loosely sort what I do for my campaigns into several categories, the Initial Context, the Bag of Stuff, and a World in Motion.

The Bag of Stuff
This is where I do world building. For me, the three main items I need are geography, NPCs, and locales. Of the three locales wind up looking like a traditional adventure after it written. I have two broad grouping of the stuff; the specific (for example the City State of the Invincible Overlord), the generic (random castle town of 500 to 1000 people). For NPCs specific (Llewellyn the Blue, wizard of City-State), or generic (Tharian Horselord 6th level fight equivalent to a knight socially).

When I use something generic and it something that the players will continue to interact with then I will make notes , copy and paste the generic writeup and make something specific out of it.

In general I have a lot more generic material than I do specific. In addition I use material from other setting constantly notably Harn and Ars Magica altering to what I need. If players keep interacting with the place I will gradually replace it with something similar that my own original work. Although I usually do this between campaigns not during a campaign.

I wrote a series called How to build a Fantasy Sandbox to help people to jump start their Bag of Stuff. For me what happened is that I started out with the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and keep running campaign after campaign in the setting. Over the years it morphed into it own thing the Majestic Wilderlands. It is my experience that most referee do not stick with any one setting for long. However with the way I developed the Majestic Wilderlands, you can start small with a bare sketch of the larger world and keep adding to it as you run successive campaigns. The "How to make" series start off with making that larger sketch and then narrows down to a specific area with the things you need in order to build a toolkit to handle whatever direction the players opt to pursue.

World in Motion
This is about what you do during the sandbox campaign to bring it to life. For me there are several things I try to do.

First I view the current situation from the PCs perspective, I visualize in my mind what they would be seeing if they actually were standing there. Then I use what I know about their interests, goals, and motivation to filter that into something that hopefully fun and interesting. I also rely heavily on stereotypes and assumptions to cut down on the verbal bandwidth needed.

I have to stress if you want to use stereotypes and assumptions, then you have to make sure they are true MOST of the time. For example a common issue I see that many players won't interact with NPCs because they all got plots and plans that at the very least complicate the PCs lives if not direction hinder what they are trying to do. I make sure that I roleplay most of my NPCs as people just trying to get on with their lives. That by and large they will be somewhat friendly and helpful if there no other reason to dislike the PCs. Especially for merchants. Keep a running count on a notepad if you have trouble with this.

Next the setting has a life of it own and doesn't give two shits about what the players want to do. To handle this I list out goal and motivations of the NPCs most likely to effect the PCs' circumstances. It can range from the King to the local barkeeper. Then I construct a time line of what will happen as if the PCs didn't exist. This timeline is used as a Plan of Battle. A plan of battle is useful because it provided a military force a framework in order to achieve its objective. However history is full of example of generals who lost because they were rigid about executing their plan. A good general will change and adapt as the circumstance of the war changes. So it is with this timeline.

The timeline is a framework which is meant to be changed after and during a session in light of the PCs did or did not do as their characters. In a sandbox campaign this where most of the referee creativity will be focused. When the PCs do something there will be a lot of possible consequences. With one or two being most plausible. You do not have to pick the most plausible outcome. Rather pick the outcome that is both plausible and interesting to you and the players.

Like with the example of the NPCs above, be aware of your bias. At first keep a running count of how you decide things and if you are bias to a particular type of outcome then make a chart to roll on to change things up. Most people can spot consistent patterns especially in social interactions.

Initial Context
Most sandbox campaigns fail. Why? Because of the lack of a good initial context. Many mock character histories and background but if you going to get a sandbox campaign you are going to need a least a half page of specifics for each players and a half page of general information for the group as a whole.

Players who enjoy being plunked down in the middle of a blank map and told "Go forth and explore" are few and far between. About as common as players who enjoy playing GURPS with all the options in play at once. Most players want to feel their choices have meaning. Picking one of the six surrounding blank hexes is not a choice with meaning. So work on the initial situation so that it is interesting and give the players enough information to make some valid decision of what to do.

This is the tip of the iceberg about a topic I been writing about for the past decade, here is a link to all my blog posts on the topic.  The main problem with sandbox campaigns is the initial learning curve and getting comfortable with the free-form nature of how it flows. Once you are comfortable with this type of campaign it gets a lot easier.