Friday, November 14, 2014

It's heeeeere!

Well look what just arrived!

Dwimmermount Book and Illustration Book

I've only had a brief chance to flip through it but so far it looks like a really well put together book. The binding feels good so far, and I haven't seen any odd printing issues or anything like that. This book is big! A bit over an inch thick, but well laid out and so far it looks pretty well organized too. I'll read through it more over the next few days and then maybe give some more concrete impressions. But so far I like it.

The Illustration Book is smaller than I expected. That's not really a bad thing, just a little surprise (I probably shouldn't be surprised I'm sure the size was listed somewhere). The illustrations are pretty cool, with a lot of different artists with different styles represented.

Now I just have to wait for my physical copy of the Dungeon Tracker to arrive (I've been told that'll be coming in a separate shipment) and the project will be complete for me!

If you're interested in Dwimmermount, but didn't back the Kickstarter, you can get PDF's of all of the books at Drivethru RPG. All the different books are between $5 and $10 there, which I think is a pretty good deal for a dungeon this big!

I believe physical books should be for sale to the general public in the next few months as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Star Wars (finally)

Well I've been meaning to write this for a long time, and I've been talking about it for the last few entries, but here it is finally, a post about the Star Wars game we've been playing for the past few months.

We're playing the current Fantasy Flight Star Wars Game (using both Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion). We've got several of the supplements and we're using those too. Some supplement books seem to be better than others (and some are bafflingly absent, like why on earth is there a supplement about Colonials, but NOT one for Scoundrels?!).

While I'm talking about the products themselves, I really wish they had a license that let them sell PDF's there are certain things that'd be a lot easier to find in those big books with a simple text search. Hopefully when the license comes up for renewal (and hopefully Fantasy Flight will be able to renew), maybe they can negotiate PDF rights.

The system itself is a bit of a mixed bag for our group, but on balance I like it, as do most other folks in the group. The game uses sets of custom dice of various shapes (d6's, d8's and d12's, as well as some d10's that are only used occasionally for force related stuff). They also sell a dice rolling app and the book has some info in it on using traditional numerical dice, but it feels like that'd be pretty clunky. At first when I heard about this it sounded like a cash grab to me. "Hey if you want to play this game you'll have to buy some dice from us, or buy our dice rolling app!" But as soon as we played our first session (on Free RPG day in fact! We picked up the Age of Rebellion beginner box and gave the very on-rails adventure in that box a spin), I realized this was not just a gimmick but actually a pretty interesting way to adjudicate an RPG system. You create dice pools based on your skills and the GM adds negative dice to those pools to represent complications and the general difficulty of tasks. There are mechanisms to upgrade or downgrade both the positive and negative dice. Once you have the final pool figured out you roll, and then start looking at which symbols came up. Different symbols cancel each other out and in the end you are left with the final pool, representing success or failure, and any advantage or disadvantage you might have (you can fail with advantage, or succeed with disadvantage). This opens up a lot of interesting narrative possibilities to explain the situation, though the game also gives you plenty of spelled out mechanical options for how to use your successes, failures, advantages and disadvantages.

The game has an interesting class system (they call them careers) which gives characters a lot of
defined options, but also doesn't really pen anyone in too much. Multi-classing is incredibly easy and even without multi-classing any skill is available to anyone, though it's cost in XP (the system has players spend the XP they earn to buy new skill ranks, or special abilities called talents) might be higher if it's not a career skill. It's pretty easy to build any sort of character you want from the generalist jack of all trades to very specialized characters.

Most of the major alien species from the Star Wars universe are present (and more keep coming out in new books), and all feel pretty well put together mechanically. The species you pick gives you some small changes but isn't generally central to how your character plays which I think is about right for a Star Wars game.

There are some ambiguities in the rules that have caused problems for us as a group. There are also some parts of the system that seem to want you to play the game in a very crunchy rules-heavy way, and other parts that are very open to interpretation with very few rules of any kind attached. That's not a terrible thing but sometimes the tension between those two approaches and especially the places where a really rules heavy section of the rules interacts with a very rules-lite seciotn can make things a little weird and hard to adjudicate at times. But overall I really like the system and I've been enjoying playing with the group of outlaws we've put together. Overall I'd recommend the system!

Have you played this game? Played any other Star Wars RPG's? Got any questions about the system? Let me know!


Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dwimmerount is (basically) Complete!



It's been a bit since my last update, but just as a quick update, the Adventurer Conqueror King System version of  Dwimmermount and the Dungeon Tracker are both now available in PDF formats. At this point All of the Dwimmerount products promised by the Kickstarter can now be found on DriveThruRPG.

I haven't really dug into the ACKS version of Dwimmermount just yet. My print copy is at the printers and I kind of want to wait to really dig in until I have that. I'm very excited to have the dungeon in my hand and to see an example of a mega dungeon (and surrounding area, including towns and villages and such) fully statted out for ACKS, with trade routes, market classes, the whole shebang. Statted out by none other than +Alexander Macris no less! I also think the additional monsters, spells, and items from this dungeon will be useful for the ACKS community at large.

Dwimmermount Dungeon TrackerThe Dungeon Tracker looks like it'll be SUPER helpful in running a dungeon like this and I think could provide a pretty good model for accessories for future megadungeons. Each level of the dungeon get's a two page spread, on one side is a map of the level keyed with lots of useful information (like the location of traps, monsters, hideouts for factions, and other items of interest), on the other side is space to track what the party did in the level, information on the various factions and other items that require a bit of explanation, as well as a short bit of history about the level that might help inform how a DM describes things (like the general architecture and such). It's also got space to keep track of the actions of the factions, and rival NPC parties, and how they interact with one another and the party. It's even got charts for possible quests and other such things. I'm very excited to get my print version which will have laminated pages so it can be written on using wet-erase markers. I really think something like this'll be very helpful in keeping track of everything that happens while a party explores the mega-dungeon. We'll have to see how it works in practice, but I hope others take note of this product.

(And I'd also like to point out to +Tavis Allison and +Alexander Macris that you now have a model to work from for this sort of thing, you should consider making up new trackers for any future dungeons you publish for ACKS.)

Anyway, I should soon have my print copies, and then this project will finally be complete! It's been a long road, but I'm excited to get the final products. This really does look like a fun dungeon, and a cool mini-campaign setting. I think it should be fun to run pretty much as is, but it should also be a gold mine for ideas and things to take and move elsewhere.

Though I know it was a long hard road, and caused no small amount of pain, everyone involved should be proud of these books. +James Maliszewski should be proud. It was his ideas, his drafts of the dungeon, and his imagination that the dungeon came from, without his work and imagination this product would not exist in any form. Of course everyone from Autarch should be very proud too. They took James' ideas and drafts and really turned them into something very well polished and impressive. They took a project that was in trouble for a while, and turned out a set of very fine products.

I look forward to running it some day, hopefully soon!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Gates of Dwimmermount are Open!

I'm several days late on this but birthday celebrations and being on vacation have taken up the time I'd have normally put into this sort of thing. But it's a rainy day here at the lake so I've got some blogging time.

The last time I talked about Dwimmermount I was hopeful it'd still get done, but things were still pretty grim.


Although it took over a year from that point (and around 2 and a half from when it was originally scheduled to come out) it looks like my optimism wasn't in vain! Dwimmermount is finally here! The version for the Labyrinth Lord system is done and available for purchase. You can get the PDF at the link above, and the print copies should be in stores soon. The PDF's of the Map booklet, and the Illustration book are also available. 

The version tuned for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (the one I'm getting in print as a Kickstarter backer) should be coming out next month, as should the mega-dungeon tracker, which looks like it'll be a great way for a GM to keep track of the party's progress through the dungeon and what all the various factions are up to. The mega-dungeon tracker also includes maps of each level, so it's possible, if you're only planning to use the maps for your own purposes as a GM you might want to wait and get that rather than the map booklet. Once I have them both I'll be able to say a bit better on that though. The mega-dungeon tracker may also be most useful as a print product. I'll write more about it once I have everything in hand.

Until several months ago even I had begun to lose hope for this project, as the slow but steady progress on it seemed to come to a halt several months back. There had been somewhat frequent updates and videos of production meetings between +Tavis Allison  and the others working on the book, but at some point those seemed to come to a halt. We didn't hear anything about the project for several months.

Then, several months ago we got lucky and +Alexander Macris got some time to work on the project after working on Domains At War. Suddenly we weren't just seeing meetings about how to proceed, we started seeing completed drafts of chapters, and lots of them. In a few short months the project was more or less done!

The Labyrinth Lord version above is probably closer to +James Maliszewski's original vision (though not exactly, a lot of work went into completing it after he left the project, though I hold out hope that he may some day return to the project and give us his "auteur" version), but I'm personally most excited about the ACKS version. The ACKS version is in layout now and if things go according to schedule, I expect it'll be out around the middle of September. This is the version I'm most excited about. I think having an example mega-dungeon, and surrounding area with towns and domains all charted out will be very valuable and useful for people trying to get a handle on how ACKS really works. And even better since we'll have both that and the LL version to compare we also get an example of how to convert something from one system into ACKS. Finally, I think the new monsters, spells, and other such things that this project will be adding to the ACKS repertoire will be really useful.

I've read the LL version of the dungeon in bits and pieces as the drafts were completed but I haven't ready the whole thing together as a completed project yet. I'll be doing that soon (though I may wait for my print copy of the ACKS version to do a real review). But from what I've seen, even though the dungeon is fairly vanilla, especially at the beginning (it get's weirder and more interesting as you go deeper), it looks like a lot of fun. There are definitely some interesting mysteries to be solved and some fun looking encounters in there. I'm a player who really enjoys exploration and I think this dungeon would be something I would be really excited to explore as a player.

Anyway, if you're interested in a huge, interesting, somewhat traditional, dungeon to use in your campaign or even just to read and pull ideas from I think you'll find Dwimmermount worth picking up. More to come as I delve further into it.

Good gaming!
-The Duke of Brandonshire

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goodbye to ACKS (for now)

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. Gotta get back on doing that.

So last time I wrote I think we had just started, or were about to start our Adventurer Conqueror King campaign. Well now after several months of play we're moving on to a Star Wars game (using the current Fantasy Flight system), and after that we'll likely give King Arthur Pendragon another try. I'm pretty excited about the Star Wars game which should start next week. But first I want to do a bit of a shore retrospective on ACKS and what I liked and didn't like about it.

Let me start by saying I'm still a pretty big fan of ACKS. I think it's a good system with a lot of fun tools in it, many of which can easily be ported into other game systems. I like the balance of simplicity and complexity in the character classes and I LOVE the system for making your own character classes. I think the system worked pretty well, though maybe not GREAT for our group and for the campaign we were running.

The biggest problem with the system isn't a problem with the system per se but with it's presentation. The main book is somewhat confusingly organized, and many passages are fairly ambiguously written. You have rules that are spread out all across the book. A few examples: if you want to figure out your movement rates in different situations you'll have to look in several different parts of the book to get each kind of movement, and it's not always clear where those bits of information will pop up. If you want to figure out when your character will get proficiencies, you won't look at the level progression charts. Instead, you'll have to read a very confusing passage about when different classes get them, and then ignore what it said, and look at a chart which lists the classes and when they get different types of proficiencies.

Now I'm sympathetic to how this happened. This is a system made by a group of semi-pro's with day jobs. The main book was, from my understanding their first project. I doubt I could have done nearly as good a job as they did if I were asked to make a game system book. And they are improving. The Players Companion isn't perfect, but it's much better organized and information is better consolidated in it. A lot of the info for classes is better consolidated in this book (though still strangely not the proficiencies). Then there's the fact that surprisingly often the answer to questions about the system (like information on encumbrance for some non-humans) is found in another book entirely, (Domains at War, the wargame supplement, in the case of the encumbrance question). Some day I hope they put out a revised edition which consolidates and reorganizes the books, and clears up some of the ambiguous writing of some of the rules. I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

The other issue I think we had was that our campaign was sort of built on a few premises that partially conflict with some of ACKS's assumptions. We had a stable of characters and occasionally switched them out depending on the adventure which meant our XP and treasure was spread out a bit more than I think the game assumed. This wasn't fatal at all, just caused a bit of weirdness here and there. We also started out almost immediately going to a big city, rather than starting out on the hinterlands and working our way up to bigger cities. This mean that even as 1st and 2nd level characters we didn't have much trouble hiring fairly large groups of hirelings. Again, this wasn't fatal to the game at all, and we had a good time, but it became pretty clear pretty quick that this wasn't really the assumption the game was based on.

One thing that did work reasonably well was trading off GMing duty. That was a lot of fun and mostly worked pretty darn well once we worked out our own houserule for how much XP the GM of a given adventure would get to give to one of their characters.

Again, I'm still very impressed with and a big fan of ACKS. I hope some day to run another ACKS campaign, using the lessons learned from this campaign and trying to run things a bit more "by the book." I might use the ACKS version of +James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount, (which looks like it will finally come out in the very near future!). It'll be great to see an example of an ACKS megadungeon put together by those who know the most about the system.

Heck, I think people were happy enough with the game that we might some day come back to the campaign we just ended. We did end on a cliffhanger!

Anyway, it's been fun playing ACKS. I think I learned a lot about the system, and could do an even better job with the system next time. I'll be back to it some day!

Now on to a galaxy far far away...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Catching up!

It's been a while hasn't it? Oh well.

So since I last posted quite a bit has changed in my gaming life! Our space game wound down thanks to summer vacations, baby's and lots of other life happening. We started playing Dungeon World for a while in a viking heavy setting, and have now moved on to playing Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) in another part of the same world where our Dungeon World campaign took place. We've only had a couple of sessions of actual play of ACKS but I'm enjoying it quite a bit so far.

We're playing the game in an Arabian Nights inspired setting, using the map, though not the actual setting, from Al Qadim (we're taking a number of elements from it but not everything). One of the things I really enjoyed that we did for this setting was to play a modified game of Microscope to come up with the background and history for the setting. We've got a pretty interesting history set out for this corner of the world, and a lot of interesting cultures as a result. I highly recommend taking a look at Microscope if you're interested in collaborating as a group to make a game world.

It's also quite refreshing to play a game with rules and character generation this quick. The books aren't as well organized as I'd like, but now that I've learned where to find all the bits of info I need to make characters it's pretty fast, especially if you use the templates in the book.

I'm also enjoying the rules from the ACKS Players Companion for making custom classes and races. We've already decided that there aren't really any dwarves in this setting (well there might be, but they're uncommon and they'll have come from the south, the same viking inspired area we played in for our DW mini-campaign), and we've simply modified the dwarf template a little to replace them with Gnolls. We're also working on creating our own version of the Sha'ir class from Al-Qadim for ACKS. It's a neat system.


We're really just getting started on this campaign but its been fun so far. I'm hoping we'll actually make good on our plan to rotate GMing duties. I've already downloaded the Dessert of Desolation series from dndclassics.com to peruse and I'm thinking about other possible adventures for the stable of characters to tackle. Should be fun!

What are you playing?

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire

Friday, August 30, 2013

Looking at 4e again

I haven't kept up with my resolution to write here (at least) twice a month, but I'm back and recommitting.


When I first started GMing a few years ago I was running a game of 4th Edition D&D. I liked, and still like the system. It made it easy to start out as a new DM, but it certainly has it's issues too. By the time that campaign ended I was definitely seeing a lot of the weak spots in the system. Playing a whole bunch of other games just further emphasized some of these issues. The game is pretty big and bloated in a lot of ways. There's a lot to keep track of, and things can move pretty slowly.

But! I've been playing the game again somewhat often recently and I'm also seeing a lot of the good points again.

Due to vacations, weddings, and other things I haven't had a chance to play with my Sci-Fi game group for about a month. Luckily I've been able to drop into my friend's D&D game. It's a 4e game. I've been an occasional player in that game for a while now, at first just running other players characters when they weren't there, or running npc allies to the party, and then making my own character (a Psion btw). I've recently changed up characters again (to a Berserker Barbarian), and been able to make it to three or four sessions in a row and it's been a ton of fun.

I do enjoy the tactical nature of the game. There are lots and lots of ways to combine moves and actions that are fun and interesting to try to use to the greatest effect. There can be a lot of really fun teamwork in the system where one person can set up another person to be extra effective. My new character is particularly fun in this regard because he can change his role in an encounter from defender (locking down enemies and taking hits from them so others don't have to) to striker (doing lots of damage).

The other big factor is that my friend is running the game particularly well. He's really kept up with what the "state of the art" is in 4e and has put a lot of great advice into practice to make the game flow much more quickly than most 4e games I've seen.

For Combat he's taken a lot of advice from the way Lair Assault games are set up to make combat encounters exciting and challenging (but not necessarily unfair), and with a real sense of danger to them. He's been picking his monsters well and the hit hard, but don't necessarily take forever to defeat. It's really made things run more quickly. Combat is still by no means fast (particularly when players, and I'm referring to all of us here, let themselves get distracted between turns, which of course just makes everything take even longer), it is still 4e we're talking about, but things flow much more smoothly and generally it doesn't feel like the combats drag toward the end the way they so often can. Things move, and there's always something new and exciting going on.

Out of combat he's put a lot of good advice into practice to get us as players to think more "in the fiction" than just looking at our sheet and trying to figure out how to use our numbers to get things done. He's also introduced a lot of cool characters.

The group has some good houserules too. Action points as they exist in the regular system have been replaced by two action points that everyone gets at the start of the session and don't carry over to the next session (like bennies in Savage Worlds in fact), so you're encouraged to use them freely, and there's nothing to track to figure out if you should have one. They are also a bit more useful. They can be used like a regular Action point or they can be used for a re-roll. We've also let "milestone" powers and abilities work if you've spent and action point that session. These do make action points more powerful easier, but in practice that just means the DM  can make everything harder for us. It's a good balance, and it's fun for our group.

I'm still not sure how much I'd want to run another full campaign in 4e (I've got plenty of other systems I want to try out, plus my current favorite of Savage Worlds) but I have been toying with running a few short games some time soon. I recently got my Dark Sun books back from a friend who was borrowing them, and got a hold of the Ashes of Athas organized play adventures so I may try to run a few of those for some friends some time soon once I've read through them a bit more.

It's been nice to be reminded of all the parts of this game I still really like. Only playing occasionally it was easy to focus on the issues the system has and not the parts I like so much. I really do enjoy the system, warts and all, and I'm glad I'm getting to continue to play it.

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Space Combat Systems

So one of the things I like best about our ongoing space game (admittedly it's also sometimes one of the things I like least, but mostly best) is that we're always experimenting with new systems and ways of doing things.

The highest level of this is of course what I've talked about in the past where we changed up the base system for the game several times before settling on Savage Worlds. But we've done it with subsystems and other things a lot too.

A few systems have changed a lot as our game has gone by and I'm sure many more will change too, but today I want to talk about the space combat system. We tried out a system last night that I think is the best we've had yet and I'm guessing may be the one we finally stick with (I'm sure we'll tweak it a bit but I think we've finally found the basis system we'll stick with). It's my understanding that it's taken from the game Stars Without Number, with just a few modifications to make it work in Savage Worlds. (Edit: Turns out it's more specifically from one of the supplements to Stars Without Number, Skyward Steel). Previous systems we've used have attempted to use miniatures (many of them home made and very cool!) which had some advantages but I think ultimately limited us as a group. It made things a little too literal for us and moved the focus to the ships themselves rather than the characters. As a result most of the systems we tried in the past tended to lead to a few people making most of the important decisions and others either only able to help in minor ways or not really having anything to do at all.

Previous systems also had a lot of different things to keep track of which at least some of us had trouble doing.

This new system does away with all of those problems. It's much more abstract, there are no mini's or even any real worry about where anything is in relation to one another. It puts the focus on the characters and what they're doing. Everyone has interesting and important things to do and interesting trade offs to any action they might or might not take.

It feels like an episode of Star Trek where for the most part during a battle the camera will shift from one area of the ship (say the bridge) to another (say engineering) and focus on what the characters you care about are doing more than where the ships are in relation to one another. Or even much of what's happening outside the ship directly. Stuff happens outside the ship, the characters are constantly reacting to those things and doing things to effect the things outside the ship, but the focus is on the characters more than the ships.

There are also only a very few things to keep track of, and most of them are things everyone is keeping track of together.

We tried it for the first time last night and I was really impressed with it. After the first round I think everyone basically had it down and we were all making strategic decisions about the various sections of the ship we were in charge of.

I've always heard a lot of great things about Stars Without Number but haven't yet gotten around to getting and reading it. I'll have to remedy that soon. This system for space combat is simple and evocative, but has enough depth to be exciting and engaging.

I'm very excited about this new system and I think we've finally found our system for space battles.

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire

Monday, June 10, 2013

New gaming schwag!

This actually happened a little while ago but I never got the entry posted. I got a new dice bag! It's from Dragon Chow! I'm really excited about eventually filling it up with the Rocket Dice I'll be getting eventually, and using them all for the sci-fi campaign I've been playing in for a while now!
I've got some pictures of the bag and all the fun that Lyndsay Peters (the owner of Dragon Chow) puts into getting one of her awesome dice bags.

The fun starts with the envelope!




The bag itself:




Inside the bag was more fun! A new d20 and some fun cards!




I really like the bag. If you need or want a new bag I would encourage you to take a look at Dragon Chow's products!

Monday, May 6, 2013

A little more on Savage Worlds (Part 2)

So here is the long awaited (or not) second part of my Savage Worlds appreciation posts. This one started out as a section of part 1 that I wanted to wait to write until we could play a little more with a group of characters of mixed experience levels. We've now gotten several sessions in that way and I feel ready to write about it.

The short answer: Having characters of (wildly) varying experience levels works just as well as I'd originally hoped it would! I'm not terribly surprised by this of course. In our last Savage Worlds game (set in Ancient Greece) we had several low level NPC followers who don't even get the advantage of a wild die (PC's and major NPC's usually get to roll a d6 in addition to whatever other die they're rolling and take the higher of the two results) who were nearly as effective in combat as the PC's. If they can be just as helpful as high level PC's it's no surprise that low and high level PC's can coexist together in battle and other situations just fine.

We've had a few close calls (the GM is pulling no punches just because the group is now composed mostly of lower level characters), but we've all pulled through battles and it hasn't felt like anyone was totally out of their league at any point (and most of those close calls have involved players doing things that'd probably be crazy no matter what character they were using). The game is working just as well now as it did when the group was made up of much more experienced characters.

This is not to say that there's no reason to gain experience. Higher level characters have a lot of cool options and can get pretty good at different tasks, and are just generally a more powerful. But they aren't SO MUCH more powerful as to make it unfun for anyone else playing with them.

What this also means is that experience points can be given out to the players who are at any given session and there's no real need to worry about those that missed sessions falling behind. Falling behind on experience and levels just isn't that big a deal in this system. There's still an incentive to gain XP and to gain new abilities and such, the draw of getting better at things is still there, but you aren't going to break the game or leave anyone totally out of their depth by not awarding experience to everyone equally. If someone new joins the group there's no need to have them roll up a higher level character just to "keep up" with everyone else. This is especially good for folks who are new to the game system as they can start with simpler characters and learn the basics before jumping into a character with a lot of extra options.

As always this system continues to impress me the more I play it.

That being said, we've had some good interlude sessions (in the same world but using different characters) using different systems that I'll talk about soon.

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire