Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Planning a Real Play Podcast

Those of you who have been reading/following Advanced Dungeons and Parenting ever since the Cinerati days know that I used to host a podcast called Geekerati with Shawna Benson, Bill Cunningham, Eric Lytle, and Wes Kobernick. We had a great run for a couple of years and were able to book guests like Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (DRAGONLANCE), Tim Minear (FIREFLY, ANGEL, AMERICAN HORROR STORY), Rob Long (CHEERS, KEVIN CAN WAIT), David Goetsch (BIG BANG THEORY), Brandon Sanderson (MISTBORN, ALCATRAZ Vs., STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE), Susan Palwick (FLYING IN PLACE), Matt Forbeck (BRAVE NEW WORLD, ENDLESS QUEST, BLOOD BOWL), Shane Hensley (SAVAGE WORLDS), and many more. It was hard work, and we were never able to catch the fire we hoped, but it was an experience I wouldn't trade for the world.

Recently, I've gotten the podcasting bug again. After chatting with friends with similar interests, we decided that instead of trying to relaunch Geekerati that it would be fun to create a real play podcast of a 5th edition D&D campaign. Our group won't be the first to do this, there are several excellent podcasts and streamers out there, but it's something that we think will be a great experience for a number of reasons. First, it might just catch on and we might be able to connect with people who have similar groups to our own. Second, we think that it will make our own role playing skills better. After all, knowing that someone might be listening might get you to focus on how much role playing your are doing. Finally, we are noticing that it is forcing us to thing about world building since we all agree that it might be more fun to create our own setting and share that with the world.

I've got a great group lined up, but we are still in the planning and logistics phase. We don't even have a name for our podcast yet. We do, however, already have a number of ideas for our setting and I will be sharing those over the summer as it gets flushed out more. I'll also be introducing you to some of our players and their characters. First here, then on a website for the podcast.

Speaking of's about time I started moving the Geekerati episodes over to my personal website at instead of having them only on the Blog Talk Radio site.

For those of you interested, here is a quick glimpse of a VERY rough draft of the country where our campaign will take place.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Look Back at CHAMPIONS 1st Edition.

With the recent announcement that Ron Edwards was teaming up with Hero Games to produce CHAMPIONS NOW, a game that hearkens back to the first three editions of the game, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at those older editions.

The CHAMPIONS super hero role playing game is one of the best super hero role playing games ever designed, and the game to which all super hero rpgs are compared.  CHAMPIONS wasn't the first role playing game in the super hero genre, that honor goes to the game SUPERHERO 2044 which I discussed in an earlier blog post.  CHAMPIONS even builds upon some of the ideas in SUPERHERO 2044.  CHAMPIONS used the vague point based character generation system of SUPERHERO 2044 -- combined with house rules by Wayne Shaw that were published in issue 8 of the Lords of Chaos Fanzine-- as a jumping off point for a new detailed and easy to understand point based system.  CHAMPIONS was also likely influenced by the melee combat system in SUPERHERO 2044 in the use of the 3d6 bell curve to determine "to-hit" rolls in combat.

While CHAMPIONS wasn't the first super hero rpg, it was the first that presented a coherent system that allowed a player to design the superheroes they read about in comic books.  The first edition of VILLAINS & VIGILANTES, which predates CHAMPIONS, did a good job of emulating many aspects of comic book action but the ability to model a character in character design wasn't one of them.  CHAMPIONS was released at the Origins convention in the summer of 1981, and it immediately captured the interest of Aaron Allston of Steve Jackson Games.  Allston gave CHAMPIONS a positive review in issue #43 of the Space Gamer magazine, wrote many CHAMPIONS articles for that publication, and became one of the major contributors to the early days of CHAMPIONS lore.

Reading through the first edition of the game, can have that kind of effect upon a person.  The writing is clear -- if uneven in places -- and the rules mechanics inspire a desire to play around in the sandbox provided by the rules.  George MacDonald and Steve Peterson did more than create a great role playing game when they created CHAMPIONS, they created a great character generation game as well.  Hours can be taken up just playing around with character concepts and seeing how they look in the CHAMPIONS system.

There are sites galore about CHAMPIONS and many reviews about how great the game is, and it truly is, so the remainder of the post won't be either of these.  Rather, I would like to point out some interesting tidbits about the first edition of the game.  Most of these will be critical in nature, but not all.  Before going further I will say that though CHAMPIONS is now in its 6th edition and is a very different game today in some ways, the 1st edition of the game is highly playable and well worth exploring and I'm glad that Ron Edwards has picked up that torch with CHAMPIONS NOW.

  • One of the first things that struck me reading the book was how obviously playtested the character design system was.  This is best illustrated in the section under basic characteristics.  In CHAMPIONS there are primary and secondary characteristics.  The primary characteristics include things like Strength and Dexterity.  The secondary statistics are all based on fractions of the primary statistics and represent things like the ability to resist damage.  Where the playtesting shows here is in how players may buy down all of their primary statistics, but only one of their secondary statistics.  A quick analysis of the secondary statistics demonstrates that if this were not the case a "buy strength then buy down all the secondary stats related to strength" infinite loop would occur.  
  • It's striking how few skills there are in 1st edition CHAMPIONS.  There are 14 in total, and some of them are things like Luck and Lack of Weakness.  There are no "profession" skills in 1st edition.  To be honest, I kind of like the lack of profession skills.  Professions in superhero adventures seem more flavor than something one should have to pay points for, but this is something that will change in future editions.  
  • There are a lot of powers in CHAMPIONS, but the examples are filled with phrases like "a character" or "a villain" instead of an evocative hero/villain name.  It would have been more engaging for the folks at Hero Games to create some Iconic characters that are used throughout the book as examples of each power.  The game does include 3 examples of character generation (Crusader, Ogre, and Starburst), but these characters aren't mentioned in the Powers section.  An example using Starburst in the Energy Blast power would have been nice.
  • The art inside the book is less than ideal.  Mark "the hack" Williams has been the target of some criticism for his illustrations, but his work is the best of what is offered in the 1st edition book.  It is clear why they decided to use his work in the 2nd edition of the game.  Williams art is evocative and fun -- if not perfect -- while the work Vic Dal Chele and Diana Navarro is more amateurish.
  • The game provides three examples of character generation, but the designs given are less than point efficient and one outclasses the others.  The three sample characters are built on 200 points.  Crusader can barely hurt Ogre if he decides to punch him (his punch is only 6 dice), and his Dex is bought at one point below where he would receive a rounding benefit.  Ogre has a Physical Defense of 23.  This is the amount of damage he subtracts from each physical attack that hits and it is very high.  Assuming an average of 3.5 points of damage per die, Ogre can resist an average of 6.5 dice of damage per attack.  Yes, that's an average but the most damage 6 dice could do to him would be 13.  That would be fine, except Crusader has that 6d6 punch, and Starburst...oh, Starburst.  All of Starburst's major powers are in a multipower which means that as he uses one power he can use less of the other powers in the multipower.  The most damage he can do is 8d6, but only if he isn't flying and doesn't have his forcefield up.  Not efficient at all.  One might hope that character examples demonstrate the appropriate ranges of damage and defense, these don't quite achieve that goal.
  • The combat example is good, if implausible.  Crusader and Starburst defeating Ogre?  Sure.
  • The supervillain stats at the end of the book -- there are stats for 8 villains and 2 agents -- lack any accompanying art.  The only exception is Shrinker.  
  • Speaking of artwork and iconics.  Take that cover.
  • Who are these people?!  I want to know.  The only one who is mentioned in the book is Gargoyle.  It's pretty clear which character he is, but I only know his name because of a copyright notice.  Who are the other characters?  Is that "Flare"?  The villain is named Holocaust, but that cannot be discerned from reading this rule book.  If you know, please let me know.  I'd love to see the stats for that guy punching "Holocaust" with his energy fist.
CHAMPIONS is a great game, and the first edition is a joy.  If you can, try to hunt down a copy and play some old school super hero rpg.

This is an update of a post from 2012.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Checking out THUNDAR...No, Not THUNDARR, but THUNDAR.

I recently purchased a book that some claim was an inspiration for the THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN cartoon. I wanted to judge for myself if this was true and to read the story.

I've only read the first 30 pages, but I'll say that I think claims of inspiration are much overstated. The book is clearly a Burroughs pastiche that falls somewhere between the Thongor novels and the Gor books. That's not high praise. I'm not saying the book is terrible, but the storyline, world, and characters wouldn't lead me to create the post-apocalyptic world of THUNDARR and the "Thundar" name here seems more a riff on Lin Carter's Thongor.

It's an interesting look at other world planetary romance. Though better entries in that genre include THE DARK WORLD by Henry Kuttner, GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME by Joel Rosenberg, THE ARCHITECT OF SLEEP by Steve Boyett, and QUAG KEEP by Andre Norton, not to mention the entire John Carter cycle by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I'll slog through the rest of the book to see if I can pull any good gaming material from it. I think there might be one or two good ideas here and there. If there are, I will share them.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Names are the Hardest Part of DM-ing

Coming up with effective names is a challenge for any narrative medium, and this is no less true when it comes to running entertaining role playing game campaigns. Names can make or break a game session. Unlike other media, the challenge in role playing games doesn't solely stem from a need for verisimilitude. Not every game requires realistic names, and some games are better with silly names. It all depends upon the group you are with.

The real challenge comes in coming up with names on the spot that are both serviceable and memorable. You can create as many write ups for NPCs as you want in your game master prep time, but I can guarantee you that your players will often ignore the NPCs you've given deep backstories in favor of interrogating "random street urchin 6" or "Kobold number 5" for hours of entertaining game time. Entertaining game time...if you get the name right. Otherwise, the session might spiral into metagaming or groans. You have to both know what kinds of names fit with your group's temperament, and be quick on your feet. No one wants to wait 5 minutes while you look through Gygax's Book of Names or as you hit generate on a random name generator until you get the right name.

I'm not saying that I'm a master at this particular skill, but I do have one piece of advice for game masters both novice and experienced. Feel free to include your players in the name creation process. Don't feel that you have to do this work alone. If your players want to interrogate "random street urchin 6," as them to come up with a couple of names. These names won't always be great, but they will usually fit with your group's desires and are frequently memorable.

I am currently running a campaign entitled "Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy" that takes place within the D&D Known World setting's (aka Mystara's) Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The fact that I am calling it the Grand Duchy will give grognards some hint as to the timeline I've set the campaign in. The Known World setting is a wonderful mashup of various cultures that might not seem to fit on the surface, but which work as a sandbox for freeform gaming. Sure, there's a society with peak Roman Empire governance placed between a proxy for the Eastern Empire and a Feudal society inspired by medieval Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and a dash of the Holy Roman Empire. To the north is a country based on Naples, to the far north are the Germanic and Viking states. To the south is fantasy Hawaiistralia Reality TV island. It's a chaotic place, but if you buy in it can be wonderful. My players' characters haven't discovered it yet, but the "reason" why the countries are so chaotic in makeup in "my Mystara" is because one of the Immortals is preserving the dying cultures of our Earth and placing them on Mystara's surface, must as he places Mystara's dying cultures in it's Hollow World.

Anyway, one of the freedoms that a world like this provides is that almost any name is fair game, and here is a list of the names we use in my game with their alignment, race, and class. Some are canon names from the sourcebooks, but others are just ours.

Duke Stephen Karameikos (LG, Human, Fighter (Cavalier)) -- Ruler of Karameikos and the founder of the "Duke's Tinkers" who are Karameiko's secret police, the organization the player characters work for.

Duchess Olivia Karameikos (NG, Human, Thief (Mastermind)) -- Stephen's wife and the actual Chief of the Duke's Tinkers, she is known only as "The Weaver" to all but the most trusted Tinkers.

Kraeyg Lyste (NG, ??, Thief(??)) -- The publicly known head of the Tinkers about whom very little is actually known. They appear to have the ability to change shape and are careful to cover their tracks. They keep detailed documentation of all members, and potential members, of the Tinkers and rival organizations.

Festival Master Quarch (N, Human, ??) -- He runs the King's Festival in the northern town of Stallanford. Stallanford has no mayor, so Quarch is the nearest thing.

Alaric (CG(E), Human, Cleric) -- A priest of the Church of Traladara who has forsaken his oaths to serve The Iron Ring and who has become a priest of Orcus. (Deceased?)

Dinae (LE, Bugbear, Ranger) -- Dinae was once a tracker and wrangler for the Iron Ring who captured slaves for the organization and answered to Alaric. He has recently been turned into an asset in the service of the player characters.

Sharaen Vlatovski (N, Human, ??) -- A human woman who was married to a Kobold named (xxx) who had been forced into service to the Iron Ring by Alaric. She infiltrated Alaric's hideout by allowing herself to be captured, she was about to assassinate one of Alaric's lieutenants and free her husband when the PCs arrived. The PCs know that she is married to the kobold, but are unaware of her skill set. When the PCs return to Specularum, she will find Kraeyg and enter into service in the Tinkers.

Bukie Bimblebritches (N, Halfling, ??) -- He and his brother Howie own the Inn, Stables, and Gambling Hall in Stallanford. They are quite wealthy.

Felix Fentsworthy (N, Human, Thief(???)) -- He is the local fence in Stallanford and the head of its "band" of thieves. After all, you can't call 6 people a guild.

As you can see from the list above, my players can be a little punny, but not too punny.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Brandon Sanderson's WORDS OF RADIANCE Continues a Delightful Series

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brandon Sanderson's second volume in The Stormlight Archive adds some significant complexities to the plot, but it does so without introducing a laundry list of new characters. In many multi-volume door stopper epic fantasy series the authors substitute adding new characters and new plotlines for adding depth and conflicts to existing characters. This kind of writing is typically suggestive of an author who, while talented, doesn't have a clear map for the overall series. It's clear that Sanderson knows where this story is going and it looks like the story is going some interesting places.

Where the first volume introduced the major characters in the epic, WORDS OF RADIANCE introduces the major factions (similar to political parties) who are driving a great deal of the conflict in the narrative. Key characters are revealed to be members of these factions, each of which wants to "save" the world and each of which seeks to do so through different means. These factions include both Human and Eshonai factions, and less political factions among the Spren as well. There is politics a plenty in the world of Roshar, and WORDS OF RADIANCE is where we readers begin to dip our toes into the complex political interactions Sanderson has set up. In an effort to refrain from spoilers, I won't say what each faction wants but will say that each faction seeks a "better" world even if their actions are heinous.

In addition to the factions, Sanderson continues his exploration of the theology of Roshar in particular (with some about the Cosmere in general) as we find out more about the Knights Radiant, The All-Father, Honorspren, Crypticspren, and the nature of Shardblades. That last one would be a huge spoiler, but it demonstrates the real cost of the Recreance in an emotionally powerful way and conversations between Kaladin and Syl about Shardblades suggest future plot development.

There was an emergence of a potential love triangle in the book, and obvious one, and it's one that I hope Sanderson doesn't move forward with because it seems like a tangent that might lead to a repeat of the kind of betrayal committed in this book. A repeat of that betrayal, even if different in nature, would be staid in an otherwise fresh story. It's fine to have emotional dynamics and love triangles, but I pray that this one doesn't come to dominate the conflicts of the overall plot. There are plenty of factions and conspiracies, we don't need a repeat of Camelot here. Even if it's nice to see echoes of mythic tropes.

While I have my favorite characters, and those are shared by others, I was particularly impressed with the development of the Parshendi General Eshonai in WORDS OF RADIANCE. I want a lot more of her character as she, Rlain, and certain "wanderers" have created an opportunity for the series to end with a brighter tomorrow in a way that once again brings to mind David Gemmell's book DARK MOON. In fact, this series continues to have a Gemmell-esque feel even its volumes are much longer than a typical Gemmell tale.

I am eager to begin reading OATHBRINGER, the third in the series, and hope that it continues to develop the major conflicts of the series and lets us get to know even more about the wonderful characters (both virtuous and vicious) who inhabit Roshar.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Return to Shadow of the Krampus -- A Holiday Themed Shadow of the Demon Lord Adventure

I posted this last year, a little late, and am reposting it this year for those of you who want to add a little of the Season into your gaming.

I am a big fan of running seasonal adventures for my regular gaming group. Though my group hasn't played as regularly this year as they have in the past, I was inspired by Robert J. Schwalb's dark fantasy roleplaying game Shadow of the Demon Lord to write an adventure for this season. For the past few years, I've written and reshared adventures featuring Cthulhu Claus (based on my wife Jody Lindke's illustrations for an old Kickstarter) or the V'sori (evil aliens in the Necessary Evil setting for Savage Worlds), but this year I decided to feature Krampus -- that most devilish of Santa's helpers. While Krampus might be a bit played out for some, having gained mainstream notoriety, I'm still a big fan of the character and I have the pleasure of knowing an artist who has been participating in Krampuslaufen long before it was trendy to do so and Bill Rude's Krampus costume is amazing as is the fact that he can get even small children to pose with his horrifying costume.

Bill Rude is a talented artist and you can look at a variety of his projects over at his 7 Hells: The Retro Art of Bill Rude website.

Illustration Copyright Jody Lindke 2016
In this mini-adventure, the PCs are passing through the town of Nesbitt-Hill during one of their other adventures. You can use the map below to represent the portion of the foothills of the Iron Peaks immediately south of the Zauberspitz with Nesbitt-Hill being the northern-most community on the map and Tower number 3 representing the once great Beacon Fortress.

Shadow of the Krampus is a Novice (though not a "just now Novice") adventure for Shadow of the Demon Lord with a post-Christmas theme. 

The town of Nesbitt-Hill is a vital stop for wanderers and miners who brave the dangers of the Iron Peaks in search of adventure or riches. For years the town has been a peaceful refuge, seemingly immune from the spread of the Demon Lord's Shadow. For even as the Shadow has spread, the town of Nesbitt-Hill remains a spark of light an happiness in an otherwise dark and desperate world.

But that changed last night. Historically, the Winter Solstice has been a time of celebration when the townsfolk of Nesbitt-Hill memorialize the the Solstice King and his champion Krampus. For it is this duo who has protected the town since the Battle of Zauberspitz where the Solstice King and Krampus defeated a horde of the Demon Lord's servants, or at least that is what the stories say. The stories also say that Krampus steals children who misbehave and returns them at the Spring Equinox after the darkness has been purged from the children's souls. If it is true that Krampus takes children and eventually brings them back, why is it that Krampus has taken no children for twenty years? Why does Mistress Oetzel swear she saw Krampus take adults this Winter Solstice? And why were these adults among the most generous citizens of Nesbitt-Hill? Has Krampus returned, but as a servant of the Demon Lord? Or is something else afoot?

With the exception of the map depicting the area of the Iron Peaks I refer to as the Gronwald, an area that lies in the shadow of the Zauberspitz, all of the maps were drawn by Dyson Logos and were taken from his Commercial Maps webpage. According to the page, Dyson has released these images under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If I have used any images that are not covered by this license, I will be happy to remove them.

The cover image of "Shadow of the Krampus?" was illustrated by Bill Rude, who was kind enough to give me permission to use it. Please visit his website and consider purchasing some of his art.

The other image is the "survival map" from Robert J Schwalb's playing aids page for Shadow of the Demon Lord. I am using it with the intention of it being fair use, but if Mr. Schwalb deems my use inappropriate I will be happy to remove it. This adventure requires the use of the Shadow of the Demon Lord rule book since all monster statistics, with the exception of Krampus, are located within the pages of that "vile" tome. Krampus was designed using rules from the Of Monstrous Mien supplement. It is highly recommended that you also own Hunger in the Void and Terrible Beauty to add details around the edges of this adventure.

The cartoon illustrations in the module are the work of my talented wife Jody Lindke. I included "rpg humor" cartoons because they remind me of the cartoons in the old AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Christmas Movie Advent Calendar Day 8.

It's that time of day again. Time for a Christmas movie recommendation. Today's selection is a delightful romantic comedy that features a narrative you'll be seeing again on the list. It's a tale of a sales clerk who is deeply in love with his pen pal and who discovers that in person relationships are both more challenging and more rewarding than anonymous ones.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is a truly classic film. It's seemingly simple narrative is filled with human complexities and the performances by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are to die for. They deliver their most scathing lines of dialogue with just the right tinge of remorse, especially Sullavan, and the supporting cast is quite strong. Of the films based on the play Parfumerie, this is the one that spends the most time in the Christmas Season, and for that reason I almost put the others on the calendar before it. That would have been a disservice though, because each telling of the story adds new twists that build upon the foundation of this Ernst Lubitsch classic. I watch this film at least twice a year, and it never fails to make my heart smile.


The List So Far...
  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. 3 Godfathers (1949) 
  4. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
  5. About a Boy (2002)
  6. Holiday Affair (1949)
  7. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)