RPG Book Club

I’ve started an RPG Book Club over at UK Roleplayers. It’s like regular book clubs in that each month we pick a book that we all commit to reading, hopefully playing, and then we come back to discuss it on the forum.

See here http://www.ukroleplayers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=18672

There’s a few takers already, which is heartening. Feel free to join in. The first pick is Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE for short) which is readily available at Pay What You Want.

We start the chat first week of April. After that, who knows? Could be Phoenix Command, could be Lasers & Feelings, could be Dragon Warriors. It’s up to Club membership which is a browser click to join. See you there.

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Dark Days

It’s been a rum old couple of months recently. Work has conspired to utterly destroy any disposable time I would normally enjoy, and gaming has been the biggest casualty. I’m now basking in the rays of a few precious days off, and all the gaming goodness has come flooding back in. First I’ve had some excellent work to review for some projects that should see the light this year. It’s a rare treat to get an editorial voice on things at such an early stage. I liked that.

I’ve also had the chance to sit down with my notebook and get properly stuck in to my game prep for the redoubtable Seven Hills con. They say pre-published scenarios are great for the time pressed. I spend so long reskinning and hacking them that arguably I’d have been better off starting from a blank sheet. Trouble is, I need a spur, and that’s what I pay for I guess. At least it’s coming together nicely. I’m running three games of D&D, all linked in a loose trilogy. The grunt work has been generating five PCs, each at three different levels (3, 7 and 11) and transferring them onto decent character sheets. The cool work has been drawing and annotating maps with felt tip and pencil.

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In the free stuff pile I won the UKRoleplayers lucky dip and picked up The Chained Coffin for DCC. I never bought into the Kickstarter, but I do love me some DCC scenarios, even if the chance to actually play through them all remains unlikely. And the maps, oh Lord the maps…

And then this morning I get a delightful surprise through the letterbox from my old friend Dan Sell who has been kind enough to let me have hard copies of his excellent zine The Undercroft. I really should return the favour and send him some of my scribblings and etchings. But that might have to wait for another week off work.

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Ready Player One

Just finished this. Reviews are ten a penny everywhere, so I’ll simply say this. If you’re a gamer, of a certain vintage, then this will suit you down to the ground. I really enjoyed it. Get it before Hollywood makes it all wrong.

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The decent writer in the house delivers the goods

About five or six years ago I convinced the missus to try this old role playing game thing I’d been banging on about forever. She gave it a go, and played a brilliant PC for four years. She’s been “too busy” to play since then because she’s been busy writing a book. And now it’s done, and it’s apparently bloomin good (I wouldn’t know. I’m not allowed to read it in case I pick apart all the tropes. As if!)

So if you like fantasy adventure, from a fresh faced and hungry author (who knows her Fireball from her Hold Person) then you could do worse than point your browser and wallet in this direction.

Claire says thanks. As do I.

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Setting out a new stall for 2015

I’m full of good intentions, though mindful that real life has a tendency to get in the way of those. There are a few things I’d like to achieve for the coming year, so I’ll set them down now so I can at least get them out of my head and onto a screen.

D&D. Always my fallback position, but I’d like to get something going with 5e this year. I’m very tempted to stick to the three core books and cook up a homebrew campaign. I realise that’s the default set up for many, but I’ve always been attracted to published stuff in the past. Doing my own thing will scratch a creative itch, and save me a few quid too.

For that to really work I’ll need to get the gaming gang back together in earnest. We’ve become too distracted by other one shots in recent months to get a regular game in, but with 5e in particular, I think we could pull a campaign together.

Playing. G+ seems to be the place to try things out as a player.min recent times I’ve had a go at Delta Green and Numenera. I think I’d like to do more, as its low on investment and high on output. I can’t shake the feeling that it might be exactly the right format for something Gumshoe, and I’m glancing at Eternal Lies for Trail as I type.

One shots. I’m already signed up for the Seven Hills Con in April, and that will be here before I know it. The theme this year is ‘Steel’ and I’m tentatively thinking of a Red Steel game to run. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m going to get some Club action in, or possibly some pub meets, and they’ll provide the impetus for some scenario writing too.

Speaking of writing, I still have a few columns for UK Roleplayers in my mental pipeline. These are always well received, and I love having them done and up on the site. By their very nature they’re about nostalgia and reminiscence, but I think I can broaden the scope a little to more current projects.

Where I might do less is posting on fora. RPGnet has stopped being a must read for me for a while now. I think the posters on there are (like policemen) getting younger, and I don’t follow the same styles and ideals as they do. Even UKRP, which I’m a huge fan of, is sometimes a bit of a one way street. I put quality time into posting, and I think it might be more fruitfully spent being creative on actual gaming content. Dunno.

Reviews. I’m blessed in that people are sending me more and more stuff for review (I’ve got about five products in the pile right now) It’s a dilemma at times though. If it’s something I’m not massively interested by (or impressed by) then I don’t want to post negative comments just out of a sense of completeness. I’d rather say nothing. On the other hand, when it’s good stuff, then I like to think I can put together a good case for it, and my reviews are always the most visited part of the blog. Either way, they can be a real time sink. So, you tell me, reviews, or not reviews?

Art. If painting minis counts (and I think it does) then I’ll get some of that done. My Island of Blood set is coming along, and if I get free time, I’ll set about it again. Actual drawing though? I’d like to do more, and illustrating scenarios is the most likely spur to that.

Publishing. I’ve messed around with some zine stuff recently, and really enjoyed that. Perhaps I’ll dig around in the archives and polish up some stuff for printing. Treehouse Annual? A scenario compilation?

So loads of possibilities, and posting this is step one. Work and family demands are always pressing, but gaming is my passion, and that’s where I’d like to get more done. So I will.

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Dungeon Masters Guide: Chapter by Chapter

Now that’s done, here’s the individual chapters all linked in one place. Let me know how it went for you.

Chapter 1: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/dmg5-chapter-one-reviewed/

Chapter 2: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/dmg-chapter-2-creating-a-multiverse/

Chapter 3: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/dmg-review-chapter-3-creating-adventures/

Chapter 4: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/dmg-reviewed-n-to-the-p-to-the-c/

Chapter 5: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/dmg-review-save-the-environment/

Chapter 6: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/dmg-in-review-inbetween-knights/

Chapter 7: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/dmg-review-its-another-kind-of-magic/

Chapter 8: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/dmg-review-open-the-box/

Chapter 9: https://rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/dmg-reviewed-hackers-guide-and-the-conclusion/

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DMG Reviewed: Hackers Guide, and the conclusion

Chapter 9, the final chapter, and it’s time to tear up the rules and reassemble them in a manner of your choosing. This is where all the options reside for your 5e campaign settings (with a small s). There’s quite a few. Here’s the list:

Proficiency dice
Skill variants
Hero points
Honor and Sanity
Fear and Horror
Healing
Rests
Firearms
Explosives
Alien Technology
Plot points
Initiative
Actions
Cover
Cleaving
Injuries
Massive damage
Morale

That’s quite a list. Some of the options are very obvious to be honest. For example healing and rests. Simply changing the timing and durations of these takes you from Epic to Gritty, and you don’t have to be a games developer to work that out. On the other hand there’s some weird stuff, like Speed Factors for initiative, which is up there with Facing for sheer who the heck asked for that? And then there’s the little surprises, like Plot Points which are a pretty modern device to see in D&D, and Trait Proficiency, which basically turns the game into Fate. Well, mostly, but it’s still a big step for this traddest of trad games.

There’s definitely some things I’d use from this menu, and some of them I saw back in early playtests. Other things are mutually exclusive (strangely the sanity rules don’t mix with the fear and horror rules), or a bit out there for regular campaigns (alien tech anyone?). This isn’t the kind of thing I imagined back when the designers were talking about a modular approach where fans of every edition could sit next to each other and play the same game happily. It could never have been that, it was an impossible goal. It does give the DM some levers, and if used will absolutely colour their campaign. But let’s not kid ourselves, these are optional hacks, not replaceable modules.

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For the inveterate tinkerers there’s now a meaty section devoted to custom building your own 5e content. Without any news on an OGL or fan policy, this is largely for the home DM or more likely the person with the collection of old stuff they want to convert. This gives us the maths behind monster creation. Does it work? Don’t know, I don’t have the time or inclination to try it out to be honest, and with all the monster manuals I have to hand, I doubt I ever will. Similarly with magic items. Given that this very book contains hundreds of the buggers, I can’t see any pressing need for me to add to 40 years of D&D content. Same with classes, backgrounds and races, for similar reasons. Look, it’s all there and it appears to go into some depth if that’s the sort of thing you like. Bet you liked the crafting stuff from earlier too right?

And that’s it! Almost. Just a few appendices to go.

Which is exactly where they manage to take book that had started great and then been slowly downgrading to merely good over its course, and make it awesome. Here’s why.

This book has been like a chat with a DM mentor for the past 300 pages. Often it’s been a bit scholarly, and sometimes maddeningly vague. It’s given us loads of further reading, and told us not to worry about anything except the story. It’s had lots of tables, but hasn’t shown us what they can do. Finally, in the appendices, we get the bits that make the whole game work. For starters, random dungeons. When these appeared in 1e, I tried and tried to make them work, never could. These tables do work, and they produce actual maps, that make sense, that you can play with. And they’re a little game themselves for the lonely DM. Such fun. It’s not just there to fill a sheet of graph paper either. It gives you all the things to stock the place with. Essentially, it takes all the starting advice from Chapter 5 and goes bigger (monster motivations) and smaller (contents of a container) at the same time.

Appendix B pulls a similar trick, except this time it makes your previous purchase of the Monster Manual entirely worth while. These are the lists by terrain type, and by challenge rating. Now you know what to do with all those beasts, and where to find them. This was a shocking omission from the MM, but seeing it here, it all makes some sense now. It’s the right place.

Speaking of which, Appendix C gives you 9 unkeyed maps, of various generic locales. For the harried DM these are gold dust. Yes, the Internet is full of amateur efforts (and strangely this DMG makes zero reference to the online world) but these are the real business. Useful, and bound to appear in a lot of home grown campaigns.

Lastly (excepting an index) Appendix D is a sibling to the original Appendix N from AD&D, the inspirational reading list. It’s only a page, and although I don’t recognise many of the titles, the ones I do see, I can’t help but agree with. You see, since the original DMG we’ve had near 40 years of GMimg advice, and it’s become something of a well documented art by now. I don’t think this DMG will ever turn a poor DM into a good one (you need the 4e version for that) but at least it knows it’s limitations and feels confident enough to steer you towards other works on the subject. Good for them.

I feel like this book should have had a foreword/afterword. I’d have liked to hear directly from the current custodians of the line now that the core trinity is finished. I know they did some last minute work on this book, but I hope it made it better. I actually think it could have done with a light trim in some areas, and expansion in others, but hey, we’re all armchairs editors when it comes to D&D right?

My final thoughts? There’s so much to admire here. It’s not perfect, and that shows up most starkly when it tries to be all things to all DMs. Which is 5e all over. But it does do exactly what it says on the back cover “entertain and inspire your players”. To achieve that, first of all the book had to entertain and inspire me, to which I can do nothing but admit, it did. Welcome back, D&D.

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