Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First Comments on Tome of Adventure Design

This book is so long and diverse in topics that I think it will be a while before anyone writes a full-length review. However, Duke Omote has written the longest commentary so far over on the Necromancer Message Boards (I am going to quote it in toto because it's not super-long, but it's here).

This is what Omote has to say (and thank you for taking time to write it, Omote!)
"So I snagged this gem the other day. The only review I can say at this point is how much great reading is packed within; not typical prose type of reading, but lists, and lists of pure idea-generating gold.

I started reading page-by-page and got to around page 40 before I put the Tome of Adventure Design down (well, it's an electronic copy, but you know what I mean). I comtemplated for a second or two about what I wanted to do with this book, and then just typed in random pages in the .pdf viewer. I can't believe how easy it is to instantly start generating adventure idea by flipping to a random page of this book! Simply look for a list heading, and voila, adventure ideas galore!

We've seen books tackle this type of subject matter before, but you can rest assured that never in the history of this hobby has this subject been more thuroughly... randomly generated! TOAD covers 4 types of "books." Each book within this single tome goes over a single aspect of the fantasy RPG game in the form of quick-tables. Cities, dungeons, etc., roll 'em up! But more then randoming rolling stuff, just reading down the lists themselves gave me some great ideas for a DragonLance game I am running this Thursday.

FGG is really impressing the industry and the fanbase as a whole with it's rash of spectacular releases (with Tome of Horrors Complete for S&W, PF) and Tome of Adventure Design is no different. This is the type of book every GM should have.

~O "

The pre-order page (you get the pdf NOW) is here. The price is $42 for the book/pdf. It's a hardback sewn in 16 page signatures (ie, super high quality). 300 pages of tables, 7 pages of indexing material.

There's a preview (this is a direct download) but it uses the old working title.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Big Announcement - my Masterpiece!

At long last, my Tome of Adventure Design (originally the Adventure Design Deskbooks) is up and ready for sale at Frog God Games. It's a quarter century worth of tables and a couple of places where I fleshed out some "Notes to Self" that were in the 3-ring binders along with the tables. People who have seen Deskbooks 1 and 2 know how it's presented -- the Tome of Adventure Design (ToAD) contains books 3 and 4 as well. The tables are what I think of as "deep design" rather than being short and weighted toward normal results as you have to do in a book of tables designed for rapid use during an adventure. This book is for when you're working ahead of time. There are a couple of exceptions - the first internal "book" can be used to generate the general concept of an adventure pretty quickly, either based on location, mission, or a villain's objective.

It's system neutral (for the D&D family, anyway, some of it uses concepts that were abandoned in 4e). So it's totally usable with AD&D, OSRIC, Original D&D, 2e, all the retro-clones, etc., etc.

The pdf is available immediately, and if you are pre-ordering the book you get the pdf right away.

It's 300 pages of tables and 7 pages of index (I worked hard to get a really good index).

Here's the link to the ordering site: http://www.talesofthefroggod.com/index.php/products/the-tome-of-adventure-design

Edit: there's a preview (uses the working title, not the final title) here: http://www.talesofthefroggod.com/files/UBADPre.pdf (warning: takes you directly to download)

EDIT: it's $42. Anyone know why?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Erol Otus T-shirt for Mythrus Tower

Every year at North Texas RPGCon I run several sequential sessions of my Swords & Wizardry megadungeon, and last year Erol joined the forces of loot-and-pillage on expeditions to the first and fourth levels of the dungeon. Afterwards he offered to design a t-shirt for the dungeon, and a picture of his design is up at the top of this post.

This particular t-shirt (which is on Zazzle) is a catch-up version for those who have already been on one of the expeditions, either last year or the year before. With as many as 8 walk-ins per session, I don't have a practical way of contacting all the players, so I'm putting this up on the blog in the hopes that people will find it.

This is for those who have already been on the expeditions -- there will be a t-shirt for the coming Con, but it will not say "First Expeditions" on it. At the moment I haven't made the design available for non-t-shirts because I think it's a bit excessive when a store offers a logo on everything from tea cozies to bondage gear, but if people want a few things like coffee cups or other non-wearable trophy items I can put a couple of them up.

Anyway, since there's going to be a t-shirt at the upcoming convention next year, this is a way for the veterans of earlier expeditions to strut their stuff by already having one that's a bit different.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Format for Throne of the Toad-King

After some consideration and with the kind advice given by people commenting in my earlier post on the subject, I have decided to change around the format of my two-module sequence, combining the two modules into a single, two-part mega-module. I'm estimating the page count at about 100 pages, although since I am still filling in details of the encounter areas in the second part, I might be off in that estimate. It's hard to tell at this stage.

Hopefully the module will be completed some time in middle to late October -- the biggest potential delay is the playtesting phase, since it can sometimes take playtesters a week or more before their gaming groups actually get together to try the module out. I'm pretty fast at making any necessary revisions from that point onward, though.

As I continue fleshing out the details, I'm getting happier and happier with the way it is turning out. My only concern at this point is to avoid having too many moving parts at any given time for the Referee to juggle. There are a lot of moving parts, strange things, and weird conditions interacting in the second part of the mega-module, and it's important for the sake of playability to keep too many of these from being involved all at one time.

I'll keep people posted if anything particularly interesting happens as I continue writing. Otherwise, it's just typetypetypetype from this point onward.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How to publish this module? Please advise!

I'm faced with this question for the first time. I have a sequence of two modules, one of which looks like it will be about 35 or so pages with maps, and the other one looks like it could weigh in at around 60 pages.

Here's the question. Do a mega-module of almost 100 pages, or do it (as originally planned) as two separate modules?

Here are the various considerations:
In favor of mega-module:
- A single book will have a lower price per page, since it means only one set-up fee at lulu.
- A big megamodule is cool.
- The first adventure is stand-alone, but it contains so many links to the second adventure that they are like D1 and D2.
-I wouldn't have to paint another cover. My painting skills are unpredictable -- it can take me several attempts before it comes out right.

Against mega-module (or, in favor of two modules):
-I am concerned -- and this might be a deal-breaker -- that a large book with two sets of maps might be cumbersome for use at the gaming table. In a book format, where you can't make a separate booklet of maps, the only place to put them is at the end. This means that either (1) your maps are in the middle of the book for the first module (because they're at the end of the first module, but there's a second one after that) or they are grouped in with the maps of the second module at the back. Neither one of those is ideal. At least with a single module, there's only one set of maps at the back of the book.

- While mega-modules have a nicely "significant" or "epic" feel to them, it's also nice to have the different phases more compartmentalized. D1 and D2 are highly linked, but the kuo-toa are totally different from the previous flavor/challenges of D1. This is a bit how these two modules work as well; the separate adventures are highly distinct from each other in their flavor, tactical challenges, and overall nature.

-Lower cost per book, even though the per-page cost is higher. Buy part one in October, don't buy part two until December, when you need it.

I can't be totally certain about the price information until I've polished the second module out into its full page-count; the price difference is measurable, but not huge. We'd probably be looking at two modules for $11-12 each or a big book at about $18-20. So it would be something like $4 or so in savings to purchase a one-book format.

Right now, I am leaning toward doing two books for the sole reason that I don't want the maps to be hard to find. I realize that most people make a copy of map pages for use in play (and I strongly recommend this if you don't -- separate maps are much easier). Nevertheless, the less paging around while reading a module, the better. With the old TSR modules, you just glanced at the separate map while you were reading. Can't do that with a book unless you're really on the ball and print a copy of the map before you even start reading.

Anyway, any suggestions are welcome. My first priority is making sure that the module format is optimal for use at a gaming table -- real-time usability in a game is the priority issue, even if it means that lulu gets a bigger piece of the money.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Broken sternum

Well, the kick to the chest I took in taekwondo a couple of weeks ago turned out to have broken my sternum; I gave it a while to see if it was just a bruise, but when it kept hurting I went and got it x-rayed.

So I'm banned from athletics for 4-6 weeks. Which means that the marathon and the ultra-marathon in November are going to be run after a not-very-good lapse in training. I plan on completing them at the slowest possible speed, then writing a book on how to run a marathon without doing anything but playing D&D and eating doughnuts for 6 weeks ahead of time.

In the interest of journalistic honesty, I will go kill and eat a doughnut in the near future.

Bizarre Confluence of Titles

I just read the latest issue of the Underdark Gazette (yay!) and was immediately struck by the fact that we've got a load of modules with a real tangle of similarities (they're all listed with links in there):

You've got "Kiss of the Frog God," from Postmortem Studios as compared to Frog God Games, the publisher

There's "The Fallen Fane" from R.C. Pinnell as compared to the "Fane of the Fallen" from Frog God Games earlier this year;

There's "Fen of the Frog King" from R.C. Pinnell, which is out before my "Throne of the Toad King" that I've been blogging about (darn it)

And then (less bizarre, but still in there) is "Bone Mountain" with the skull face mountain on the cover, as compared to Black Blade's "Skull Mountain," but frankly I don't think you can HAVE too many interpretations of Skull Mountain: it's the classic challenge to design. :)

Great minds think alike. Bummer about Throne of the Toad King, because it was a real pain managing to get the title into the cover graphic, and I may change the name to avoid too much similarity.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Please Stop Sending Bill Paypals with ToH Requests

Bill Webb is asking people to please stop sending paypal for the Swords & Wizardry version of Tome of Horrors (and for the PF second printing). He will get the sales button back up as soon as possible, but sending paypal payments without ordering through the computer makes things very complicated and will almost certainly lead to mistakes when he tries to organize the orders after doing the shipping of the current batch of books.


Pathfinder Tome of Horrors - the saga

Except for the bit at the end about S&W, this is most likely not of interest unless you're a spectator of interesting events in the new-school gaming community or the mainstream "industry," but we had a wild day yesterday with the Pathfinder version of the Frog God Games/Necromancer Games Tome of Horrors. I tell this story because there's a Swords & Wizardry version, and some of these events have indirect (probably positive) results on the S&W version.

See, Paizo had gotten 1000 copies of the PF book to sell directly, at the same time Bill Webb was selling another batch (500, I think) directly from the Frog God website. Bill had pre-orders for all the ones at Frog God, so that was basically a done deal as of a couple of months ago when the deadline for pre-ordering ended. However, Paizo opened up the book for purchase yesterday, announcing it by email to everyone on their mailing list.

They were quite clear on the fact that this was a limited print run -- we had no expectation that we'd be comfortable financing a second run of the book with a $40,000 up-front price tag. So we told collectors that it would be a limited run (which solidifies the print run numbers, because collectors are generally more willing to pre-order expensive books than regular gamers). Might as well, right?

So, the Paizo email goes out.

And all hell broke loose. Their website didn't crash, but they were selling at a rate of more than a book per minute. And the entire 1000 copies were sold out in something like 8 hours. A ton of their customers hadn't even read the email by the time the books were all gone. The action shifts to their customer service department and their message boards, with literally hundreds of people asking why they couldn't get a copy of it.

So, as WEIRD as it might sound, I was on the Paizo forums yesterday afternoon talking to Pathfinder players (and a couple of awesome Swords & Wizardry dudes who were there to gloat at the Pathfinder players, which wasn't very nice of them). Since Bill Webb was on the phones working up a plan for a second printing -- with that big problem that we'd said it would only be 1,500 copies -- it was me and a couple of the other members of the development team answering questions and reassuring people that we'd figure something out. Also explaining that, really, $40,000 is a lot of money and it would have been impossible to have printed more books than we did.

Finally Bill, Clark, Erik Mona, and Lisa (?) who is the prez of Paizo came up with a plan for how a second printing would be done, and raced out to calm the waters.

Crazy day. There will be a second printing of an "Unlimited Edition" to go beside the first printing, with the "Unlimited Edition" prominently showing on the cover.

This is all the Pathfinder version. There are still an estimated 50 copies of the Swords & Wizardry version available, but the sale button at FGG is turned off until September 26. The reason is that the money-taker thingy part of the website's brain is not reliably linked to the inventory-counter thingy part of the website's brain, so it would be possible to sell more copies than there are. And Bill's not going to be able to watch it closely, because he's dealing with 4 tons of books to ship out, plus everything involved with this second printing.

This does mean that I've got a good chance to make sure that an "unlimited edition" of the Swords & Wizardry books can also get done and put up on POD. That will require splitting the book up into parts, because POD doesn't do the super-heavy-duty stitched binding that's needed for a 700 page book (or whatever the page count is -- I forget). So this is a good thing. On the other hand, all this has made the S&W version, in an odd twist, into the most desirable collectible out of the lot -- because it's the smallest version of a "major event" printing. So if you really want specifically a single volume version of this, email Bill to make sure you're in the queue. Don't expect a response in the near term -- packing and shipping existing orders is the priority, and there will be lots of shipping-related email, not to mention people asking for second printings. It's going to be a mess.

If you don't want to pay $100 for a single volume S&W, you're probnably (I can't promise, but probably) safe to wait until those are sold and a POD version is laid out. If you desperately want a single volume, though, you should send that email and get on the list before collectors buy them up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Knockspell #6 Now Released!

KNOCKSPELL #6 cooks breakfast with Balrog fire!

If, like Led Zeppelin, you're going down to the Misty Mountains, you're going to need something to read on the way -- and not just that, but at this very moment, lulu is offering a 15% off sale. All's right with the world.

This issue rocks the house with two .. count 'em ... TWO full-sized adventures, one from Gabor Lux, and another from John Stater. Isles on an Emerald Sea IV and The Catacombs of Ophir await you. These are good adventures, people. Don't miss them. There is a ton more, of course -- here's the Table of Contents:

1 Editor’s Note Matt Finch
2 From Kuroth’s Quill #4 Allan T. Grohe, Jr.*
11 Random Orc Generator by Robert Lionheart
14 Isles on an Emerald Sea IV by Gabor Lux
18 Random Perks and Flaws by Stefan Poag
21 Fire and Other Eldritch Energies by Matt Finch
26 The Body in the Street: Fiction by Al Krombach
28 OUCH, My Brain Hurts! by Robert Lionheart
35 Catacombs of Ophir by John Stater
39 A Duet of Bards by Doyle Tavener and Tenkar
45 Locks and Traps as a “Mini-Game” by James Pacek
47 City Source: Byzantium by Matt Finch
56 New Magic Items (various authors)
57 Deadly Distillations and Fantastic Fermentations:
Alchemical Ideas by Matt Finch
59 New Monsters (various authors)

*Allan's article for this issue is the Shadow Master subclass of magic-users for AD&D, and it's a thing of beauty.

Put in the coupon code AWESOME305 in the checkout at lulu for the 15% discount.

Scry the pdf at lulu
Gate in a printed copy from lulu
Commune with the pdf at RPGNow

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Throne of the Toad-King

The vaporware solidifies! After playtesting, editing, and painting cover art, this long-awaited module is almost ready for release. It's the first of a two-part series in which the players discover some dark secrets in a really open-ended adventure deep in the subterranean realms. It has a bit of an underdark feel to it, although it is for lower level characters that shouldn't be wandering around in the real underdark.

Like Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, the adventure area can be entered from multiple possible approaches, depending on whatever adventure was just completed in the campaign. It's highly modular, and in fact could be dropped right into an existing megadungeon of any kind, if that's what you need.

I'm still waiting for some art, and then will do the layout. There might also be some more comments coming in from playtesters, who are now reading through the module with the changes that were made after the playtesting session.

This is a Mythmere Games module, and I'm the author -- it's been a long time since I wrote Spire of Iron and Crystal, so it's great to finally have another module completed and ready (almost) to rock and roll.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Toad-King Playtest Pictures

On Sunday, we did the first playtest on the module I'm pulling to completion, Throne of the Toad-King. One thing that was definitely demonstrated ... an area where tactical combat was designed to create an interesting situation.

The title of the above picture is "Russell fireballs the party."

Russell's explanation: "Most of them were mostly dead anyway."

Russell's return from the dungeon, rowed in a boat by 5 rescued prisoners:

Any adventure in which only the magic-user returns alive from playtesting is a good adventure!

Note: Where it says "Frog God" on the map, that should be "Halls of the Toad King." Russ heard me wrong when I told them the title of the adventure. I don't have a postable picture of the entire crew at playtest, because everyone is flipping off the camera.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New S&W Blogger

Just a very quick note to introduce a new S&W blogger, who also covers quite a bit of ground with other games as well. His latest post is a giant vampire slug, which, as he points out, you really can't go without.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

OSR the second wave

The OSR has undergone what I think is a radical transformation, stepping into a "second wave" that has been building gradually over the last 2-3 years. Here comes the necessary blah blah disclaimer about what I mean by OSR. I am one of the guys who means the entire community, not just the publishers. 'Nuff said, this isn't about defining the OSR -- if "OSR" hurts your head, just substitute "the old school gaming community that takes advantage of electronic communication." That's the group I'm talking about.

Okay, what is this second wave? People have been talking about second-generation retro-clones, which is a misnomer because the whole point of what they mean by "second-generation" is that these games are not clones ... in any case, this is not where I think the actual second wave is taking place. It's a good thing, for people to be producing innovative rules that draw upon the structural design goals of older gaming (as opposed to actually restating the out-of-print rules for preservation, cost reduction, publication support, or organization as the retro-clones do).

If they're the same thing, then the second generation of retro-clones happened before the first: Castles & Crusades broke the finish-line tape for using new game mechanisms in an old school game long, long ago. Whether they did a good job, which some people debate, is a completely different question -- they absolutely were the first to undertake the project of using different rules to target old school design objectives. The SIEGE Engine was a very new approach to target numbers, used in the context of a game with few rules and lots of roots in AD&D.

The two undertakings are quite different: one project is to build a better mousetrap, the other (retro-clones) are just trying to take the original mousetrap back off the shelf and get it working again.

Anyway, I'm not trying to start a terminology war, because goodness knows I think "old school" is too vague and lots of people argue with "Renaissance," and I think that whole sort of academia-of-last-week's-developments tends to miss the point. I bring it up only to emphasize that what I'm talking about as a "next step of the OSR" is completely different from the second-generation "retro-clones."

I'm talking about actual gaming.

Castles & Crusades, as the first simulacrum game, and OSRIC as the first clone (yes, I'm ignoring Hackmaster, I know) were both primarily about publishing. C&C was a vehicle for playing Castle Zagyg and allowing Troll Lords to publish AD&D resources under their proprietary brand name. OSRIC, although it morphed in a major way, was primarily about creating a shared brand name that would allow anyone to publish AD&D resources. C&C used purely the OGL, OSRIC added the use of some copyright law outside the OGL, but they were both oriented NOT toward increasing the number of gamers or building communications among gamers. C&C was to create a product line, OSRIC was to create multiple product lines.

Products. Resources is probably a better term, but the bottom line is that we aren't talking about gaming, we're talking about resources. As it happened, OSRIC accidentally turned out to be something that was used as a tool for introducing AD&D online to new players, but it wasn't planned that way and didn't affect the existing community of gamers. Actually, come to think of it, C&C also brought a lot of 3e gamers back to old school gaming too, although by a different process. These games expanded the community, but the way they enriched it was by increasing the number of resources.

Then come the conventions. GaryCon was the first self-described "old school" convention. (actually, this might have been TrollCon -- not familiar enough with the way TrollCon works to have an opinion on that, so I'll stick with GaryCon for the purpose of this discussion, but I could be wrong). There's no question that the critical mass for GaryCon came from the internet, and the ability of the internet to spread the word to a pre-existing community. Which is why I call it a product of the OSR as I define it. The primary driving engine of the OSR is the internet and the communication that it permits.

And then came North Texas RPG Con. Another old school con. A powerful one, with lots of attendance given that there was already another (and possibly 2 others) con out there with the same target audience.

What you see with the conventions is GAMING. Not resources, but actual gaming.

And now ... ConstantCon. using the internet to gather people together for online gaming. Yes, that has been a constant feature of the net for a long time, but this is the first umbrella organization for it.

So I submit this: I think there is indeed a new wave in the OSR. But it's not something that has to do with product-creation like the retroclones or the more recent "new-rules, old design prnciples" games. It is a larger sea change, because it is a new set of steps that are being taken toward gaming rather than toward gaming resources. Gaming resources are awesome, but actual gaming is obviously the real thing that the OSR has been striving towards.

Rebuilding a convention scene for older games, whether the convention is face to face or online, that's the real new wave that's going on here.

Next step after this one is to increase the number of people who can find face-to-face players nearby for regular games at home. But I think we'll need teleportation technology for that one.