Tag Archives: OSR

Razor Coast Kickstarter

Bethany Razor Works It

Bethany Razor Works It

Razor Coast, the mega-adventure by Paizo fan favorite author Nick Logue, has had a long and checkered past. But Frog God Games has it now and is running a Kickstarter to get it out the door finally! It’s in Pathfinder, but they also have Frank Mentzer (Red Box, fools!) himself working on delivering it for Swords & Wizardry too at the same time.

Razor Coast is set on an untamed coastline, with home base being a colonial power’s city and it surrounding plantations. Just on the land you have slavery, hostile natives, crocodile men, volcanoes, and monster-infested jungle to contend with. But Razor Coast, like Skull & Shackles, has a strong nautical component too.  Ply the waves and fight pirates, or be a pirate and fight the navy – plus weresharks and sahuagin and other demented denizens of the deep! (You can get a sneak preview of the maps for RC on Sean MacDonald’s site!) It wouldn’t be Nick Logue if it didn’t reveal the worst side of human nature and end up in various shrieking bloodbaths.

Pele, Goddess of Fire and Wrack

Pele, Goddess of Fire and Wrack

The good news is that the content is pretty much all done.  I was a volunteer editor originally and still am; this adventure (and all the related Indulgences and extras and whatnot) are in the can and just being fine-tuned.  I just finished another round of editing the various Indulgences to make them even better. So there’s not much standing between this and release, unlike other Kickstarters that are being done completely from scratch.

Yes, it’s pricey.  The hardback level is $110, but you are getting a huge tome and a lot of extras for that.  Lou Agresta explains the value and all what you get on the Paizo boards if you’re interested. FGG uses a very high quality textbook printer, made in the USA, so you are paying more but get a book that won’t fall apart and whose binding isn’t mixed with the tears of child laborers. Check out the higher Kickstarter levels too, they have sweet ship models and other cool swag. They’re 2/3 of their way to goal with 19 days left, now’s the time to get in on it! If you preordered back in the day from Sinister, they’ll honor that preorder, so no worries there. You can pledge some to get other bennies though.

Dajobas, Devourer of Worlds

Dajobas, Devourer of Worlds

I’m going to be running Razor Coast as part of my Pathfinder pirate campaign (“Reavers on the Seas of Fate“) soon! Actually, I already ran one of the Indulgences that were available back originally to kick off the campaign, and you can read the extended session summary here to get a feel for the kind of adventure we’re looking at!  (Well… I did zazz it up a bit myself.) I’ll be setting it south of the Shackles with Port Shaw as a Sargavan expansion port.

Do note that you don’t have to be  a pirate for Razor Coast, unlike with Skull & Shackles – it works for good parties as well. In fact, it starts at level 5 (and goes up through 12+), you could capture and impress your PCs with the first chapter of Skull & Shackles and if they end up being goody-goody and don’t want to go pirate, they could flee to Port Shaw and slot right into Razor Coast!  I actually used the first two chapters of Second Darkness to start my Reavers campaign and went pirate from there, out to Azlant and now to the Razor!

Maybe my PCs will see you there… Kickstart now to become on of their many victims!

Reaper Kickstarter Or OSR Manifesto?

In an interesting move that’s almost a political statement, the Reaper minis kickstarter that’s going crazy ($2.5M, 13,590 backers) is giving away a Swords & Wizardry PDF with the big set of rewards now.

The weird thing about that is that the Swords & Wizardry PDF is already available for free.  So this is less a giveaway and more a promotion.  And it’s likely to be a successful promotion; I don’t know how many people have downloaded Swords & Wizardry ever but I think another 13,500 is a very significant percentage of that number.

I think it’s interesting that a minis company would push something like that basically for no real business benefit (they are selling Pathfinder branded minis, so some giveaway there wouldn’t have been as much of a surprise – or heck, it’s 3e/4e that have pushed miniature use in general a lot more than earlier D&D did, but the financial give-back from any OSR promotion is likely to be in the “maybe it’ll buy a latte” range).  I know some of it’s just personal interest, here in central/north Texas there’s a lot of OSR going on, but one can’t help but reflect during the D&D Next playtest what the implications of a lot of new blood getting their hands on the old rules might mean.  Positive things I hope; Next is starting to bloat during playtest from Basic to 4e very quickly, perhaps people will get a taste of a more stripped down ruleset and realize they don’t need all those layers of rules for fun.

My verdict – ballsy, interesting, good on you guys!

Myth & Magic Playtest Underway

Myth & Magic is a 2e retroclone under development and it’s looking good!

In retrospect, the much maligned 2e was probably, in my opinion, close to the best version of D&D. Shocking claim, I know.  But a lot of the stuff in 0e (race as class?) certainly deserved to die, and 1e was pretty Byzantine. 2e cleaned it up but was still light enough that people could house-rule and “ruling, not rules” reliably. I was really sold on 3e when it came out, and it definitely had some nice bits, but over the years it led to some mighty undesirable things (CharOp, Christmas Tree Syndrome, etc.).  A cleaned-up 2e might just do it for me!

You can download the Myth & Magic Player’s Starter Guide and GameMaster’s Starter Guide for free (forum registration required) now, they’re a playtest covering levels 1-10.

Player’s Starter Guide

It’s not just a slavish reprint of 2e, which is good. They’ve adopted the to-hit bonus and AC ascending from 10 from d20 instead of the less intuitive THAC0.  And they’ve added a seventh stat, Perception.  I think this is just wonderful; I ran with a Perception (and sometimes Luck) stat for most of 2e’s run. In general it’s 2e but cleaned up.

They also add “class talents” which are kinda like feats but scoped down a lot and limited to specific classes. You can spend proficiencies on them. I like some things about that approach, though I worry that powergamers will just take those and not actual NWPs.

There are still some wonky bits I’d like sanded off, like different XP tables per class – that’s just complexity that adds no value.  I don’t require classes be “balanced” but let’s avoid those different-for-the-sake-of-it bits that littered early D&D. If you want thieves to advance X% faster, give them the same XP table and just give them X% more thief skill points a level. Voila, same effect, less complexity.

On the other end, the only modernization I’d remove is the point buy character creation.  That is the gateway to optimized character builds, which in turn are the root of all evil. Yeah, it was an option back then, it was still bad.

GameMaster’s Starter Guide

The GMSG kicks off with the usual but keeps it short instead of meandering in for hundreds of pages, and even includes the first raft of monsters, which is good. It goes bad, however, when it incorporates the 3e approach to balanced encounters – ELs and XP budget.  “The XP budget tells you the maximum amount of XPs you can tally to an encounter.” That’s some 4e bullshit right there and needs to go.

On the monsters, they have a “CAM” (Combat Ability Modifier) which seems overly simplistic – it’s a single modifier for all skills and attacks and physical attribute checks in combat. It replaces all the stats but Int and Per. I’m about streamlining but that’s a little much, it makes monsters too homogeneous. Everything’s as strong as it is dextrous as it makes Will saves. And it’s always equal to the monster’s HD, which begs the question of why it needs to be an additional separate stat with an oblique acronym in every listing.

It does have random treasure determination tables; I get pissed off every time I run Pathfinder and want one, so props there.


The art is sparse but good,the graphic design is simple but good, and it’s copyedited better than many pro products I’ve bought.

The game is definitely a good innovation on and return to 2e; with some more work I could see it being competitive with e.g. Pathfinder which I really like. And I like it better than the 0e clones, I never got that, 1e is the first real edition, and even in a cleaned up version like Castles & Crusades there’s still a little bit too much “Oh I’m a first level cleric and have… no spells.  I suck.”

Open Gaming Triumphs In The End

Back in 2008, Mike Mearls wrote about whether open gaming had been a success… Right before Wizards pulled the plug on it.  Death to open gaming was their clear intent, especially when they added a clause to the new very non-open GSL forbidding use of the OGL by people looking to use the GSL.

And now, by Wizards’ own  numbers, the people playing D&D has gone from 6 million in 2007 to 1.5 million now.  So is D&D dying?

Grognardia brought to my attention this post by Ryan Dancey (archtiect of the OGL) on the Paizo forums about his view of how the OGL succeeded.

In the end, D&D isn’t dying – it’s free.  Hasbro can jack with it now all they want, but it was freed once and for all by Dancey, and so Paizo and the OSR and everyone else can play D&D and spread it far and wide, regardless of what kid film licensed property some suit wants to push this year.

Let Hasbro make all the soda and tennis shoes they want, and we get to play D&D and safely disregard whatever flavor of the month they are peddling.  Power to the people!

Player Empowerment or Player Entitlement?

I’ve been reading a couple things lately that all seem to center around one of the most fundamental changes in gaming, and especially in D&D (which drives most other gaming because of its stature in the industry, like it or not), over its nearly forty year lifespan.  And that is the reduction in the role of the gamemaster, placing more of that in the hands of the rules in an effort to give it to the players instead.

The first thing I read was Ari Marmell’s ENWorld blog post on how he doesn’t house rule anymore, and the forum thread it spawned.  I love the 3e line of D&D stuff and still play Pathfinder, but I’ve mused before on some of the ill effects the D&D Second to Third Edition transition caused.  A lot of the Old School Revival movement is less about those old crufty rules actually being better, but about bringing back “rulings vs. rules,” code for re-empowering the gamemaster at the table.  A lot of that power has been stuck into the rules.  (Side note, the indie game scene has tried to do the same thing by giving explicit narrative control to the players while still maintaining light rules.)

There’s also a Paizo forum thread about point buy for ability scores and ability score inflation.  It seems to be infected with a sense of player entitlement to have high stats, as high as they like, and especially the ability to craft your character down to the finest detail.  That was definitely rubbing me the wrong way in my new Pathfinder campaign – I tried to convince the players to roll for stats, but they were all, “Ewww no we want big point buy!  Randomness means we’re not all not super optimized!”

And then I read the interview Steve Kenson, Mutants & Masterminds designer, did with Comic Hero News.  Most of it’s about about the upcoming M&M 3e and the DC licensed game they’re putting out, but he also talks about a smaller game called Icon he worked on.  He says:

While it’s easy to understand the desire for a good, simple superhero RPG, compared to the significantly more complex games like Champions, GURPS, and Mutants & Masterminds, why did Kenson go for a random character creation system? “ I got inspired to work on it again when I was thinking a lot about the process of random character generation,” Kenson explained. “One of the things that I really liked about some of the old-school superhero RPGs like Villains & Vigilantes and the original Marvel Superheroes game was that random character creation system. While it tended to sometimes be kind of wacky, it would often times be very inspirational. And I liked the idea of a character creation process that was fun in itself… I had been talking with somebody about the Planetary profiles for the old Traveler game and how, like with all random generation systems, you get some weird corner cases and some seeming contradictions and things like that. Like with the Traveler thing, you would end up with a planet that had a really high population and no atmosphere, or something like that. And the way some people chose to view it was ‘Yeah, sometimes those oddities crop up,’ but it was also a really interesting creativity challenge to figure out how does this work? Let’s assume that this is in fact the case. How do we get there? And that was often the case for these superhero characters too. You’d end up with this weird combination of powers, and it’d be like ‘Really? Ok. How can I make this into a coherent character?’ And it was funny, because it really does force people to be creative, and often results in characters that they would never have created on their own if you just sat them down and said ‘Make up a superhero.’ The popular example that cropped up early in the discussion of Icons was Saguaro the Man-Cactus, who was an actual playtest character.”

Kenson went on to describe how the player took the rather random mixture of superstrength and some sort of damage aura, and developed the idea of a spiny humanoid cactus. “And he had a blast,” Kenson concluded.

That resounded with me.  I always liked crafting a character out of the stats I was given rather than vice versa.  Rolling stats right down the line was always fine with me.  I fondly remember a bard character of mine that I used all these cool tables in the 2e Bard’s Handbook to roll up random appearance and personality traits for.  Even though they were ‘random’, I came up with a more fully realized and realistic character than, I daresay, any of the others at the table.

It seems to me that the culture of player entitlement – of course you should be able to play whatever you want, with whatever stats you want, and do whatever you want – is certainly fine from the power fantasy point of view but nowhere near as satisfying from the game challenge, simulation, or horizon broadening aspects that are in my opinion good things I got out of playing early D&D.

Of course as a gamemaster it’s hard to militate for that because it seems like you just “want the power.”  Seems undemocratic, right?  Why isn’t everyone else’s vision as valid?

Well, because democracy in art – “art by committee” has always sucked, as has “art by the numbers.”  If you have a vision, take a turn running a game.  But when I’m GMing, and I say “X happens,” when someone says “Oh but that’s not what the RULES say” it immediately pisses me off.  The rules aren’t crafting this game for you; go play World of Warcraft if that’s what you want.

Trying to turn D&D into a commodity experience instead of allowing GMs (the ones who do 90% of the work, I’ll note) to craft it is one of the surest ways to eventually kill it.  D&D by the rules is “shitty World of Warcraft.”  D&D with a vision can be great.

This standardization is always cited as “the way to get more people into the game.”  And people complain about the bad GM experiences they’ve had over time, where the GM’s vision sucked and therefore their game sucked.  But there’s a reason millions more people played D&D back in the old days as opposed to the number that do today.  I know WotC hopes that standardization and mediocrity will bear the same dividends it has for McDonald’s and WalMart, but I say “screw that.”

Not to put the blame all at WotC’s feet; it’s not like Pathfinder is doing anything about that except “not becoming as bad as 4e,” which is a low bar to aim for.

I really don’t like the crufty old rules, but it’s the conceptual direction that is making the blogs I read more and more OSR-centric.

So what do you think?  Are you all about the new age of player empowerment?  Did your DM touch you in a bad way back in the day?  Or do you want to see less “the rules are right” and more “the game is right?”

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

You recall my recent post about the “D&D With Porn Stars” blog?  Even WotC covered it!  Well, apparently there’s some OSR group called “TARGA” out there.  One of their weekly link roundups linked to the blog.  Apparently this twisted the nipples of two guys mainly, this guy (who apparently was also sad his latest brilliant blog posts weren’t included in the links) and this guy.

This had a lot of fallout, including Chgowiz pulling his blog down off the Internet totally in a fit of pique.  And the guy who was doing the link roundups left the organization.  And primary complainy guy left the organization.  And lo did Joesky speak out upon the subject.

My point isn’t that some of those involved are douchey.  It’s that organizations like this are inevitably douchey.

Some of the worst times of my gaming life have been as a result of my involvement with nonprofit gaming organizations.  I was involved with the RPGA as a Living Greyhawk Triad – that sucked.  I started a Memphis gaming group (the FORGE – still going strong!  No, I hadn’t heard of the Ron Edwards thing at the time.).  That was horrific in its early stages, when my roommate and I had endless conflicts with the demented wife of an RPGA staffer; she even raised her hand to hit my roommate once during one of her psychotic rants.  (Once we said “screw you guys” and got it going on our own it worked out fine.)  I was a officer of the Christian Gamers Guild, until the neverending power plays and schizophrenic threats drove me away.

Politics are never so vicious as when the spoils are pathetic.  It’s why bosses at nonprofits are about 25% more sleazy and awful on average (a made up but completely true statistic).   Organizations like that (and to a similar extent, the cabals “in charge” of things like RPG forum sites) inevitably devolve into a self-serving nest of narcissists and empowering cowards.

I refuse to participate in such “organizations” (a strong word for random mailing lists with self-proclaimed “Boards” of 5 or so random people that decide to waste hundreds of man-hours of time working out policies that can only alienate and never help anyone) anymore.  And I’m a lot happier.

Heck, even the RPG Blogger Network went through some of that.  Let me tell you what you need in terms of detailed power structure, unless there’s real money changing hands.

1.  One moderator/owner guy, who will be very tolerant, and generally tell everyone to just calm down and ignore it if someone’s twisting their knickers, but in extreme cases warn or ban people who are being total asshats on the forum, mailing list, or whatever.

2.  One person per real initiative (like an e-zine or whatever) who organizes/runs the initiative and includes submissions based on their sole prerogative.  Other people can step up to do another “whatever” if they disagree with that person’s vision.

That’s it.  You don’t need a “constitution.”  You don’t need a “board.”  Every single one of those you’re doing is a bunch of jacking off that will look pretty stupid to you in ten years when you’re wondering where your youth went.

On a similar note, if someone says something on a blog or mailing list or forum you don’t like – do feel free to ignore it.  Some people act like every post is a missive solely directed at them.  Unless it begins with “Dear X, you are a loser” it is not, and you can safely ignore it, let it go by, and life will go on.

This has been a public service message.  Wise up.