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.

View all my reviews

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)

Stop Freaking Out About the New Patreon Fee Structure

I love crowdfunding sources, but there is one thing that I don't love. I don't love my fellow crowdsourcers. When we aren't bullying the people we profess to be supporting, we are finding new things to complain about. The latest in a long list of ridiculous complaints is the recent outcry about Patreon's new fee structure. Patreon announced that the would be shifting the charging of fees away from the creators and putting the cost of the transactions onto the backers in order to maximize revenue to the creators. This was done in response to a number of complaints by creators that they were losing as much as 15% of the total pledged to them to fees and that the fees were fluctuating. To remedy this issue, Patreon decided to charge patrons a fee of $0.35 + 2.9% of their pledge instead of charging a variable fee that depended on type of transaction etc. to the creators.

In response to this, a bunch of backers have flipped out. This is ridiculous. Why? I've got a couple of reasons.

1) The fees are exactly the same fees that you would pay at an AM/PM Market. They charge you $0.35 to use your debit card and they add the percentage processing fee they are charged by the bank (usually between 2.5% and 4%) to the price tag of items in the store. I don't see people picketing AM/PM demanding the $0.35 back on their pack of gum, and I don't think it is fair to complain to Patreon or the creators either.

2) This is an extremely reasonable fee. If you look at the graph below, you can see how much this costs patrons.

At a level of $100, this fee doesn't even come to a total fee of $3.50 and yet it ensures that the creator will receive 95% of that $100 instead of losing an additional $3.25. 

3) It only really affects microbackers. It makes it so that the person pledging $1.00 is in reality pledging $1.38 and that the person backing at $5 is really backing at $5.50. Let me get this straight. You are losing your shit over $0.38 more money out of your pocket that allows more money to go into the pocket of someone you are supposed to be patronizing? Some patron you are. Microbackers might matter to creators in large numbers, they can help pay the bills after all, but in my experience they are more trouble than they are worth. We've all seen the concern troll $1.00 backers on Kickstarter. Look, $0.38 isn't going to break your bank and it allows more money to go to the creator that you supposedly believe in. Didn't know you were such a free rider. I thought you wanted to support a creator's efforts.

I personally never backed below $5 in any of the projects I backed anyway. Why? Because I knew fees were coming out and that I'd rather give $4.50 to a creator than $.75. I back within my budget and support projects I admire. I wish I could support more. I cannot, but I CAN afford to pay an extra $10 total on all my pledges combined. Does this prevent me from backing 1 more project at the $10 level? Sure.

It also means that when I increase my pledge to Saving Throw Show to $100, they'll be getting $95 instead of $85 and it will cost me less than they would have lost otherwise.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Christmas Movie Advent Calendar Day 4

The Christmas Season is a wonderful time for movie viewing. It's fun to cozy up on the couch with family, or put together movie marathons with friends. And there are so many fantastic films that feature the Holidays as a backdrop.

Today's selection is a personal favorite. It's a film that hits all of the right notes for a Christmas movie. It has snowfall, friendship, a Dickensian sensibility, romance, and fantasy. It's also a film I adored when I was growing up and it still holds an extremely warm place in my heart. I might even venture to say that it is one of my favorite, even with its canonical lapses, films featuring Sherlock Holmes.

Young Sherlock Holmes

Featuring a screenplay by Chris Columbus and direction by Barry Levinson, Young Sherlock Holmes creates a wonderfully lovable version of Holmes. As a demi-Holmsian, which is to say someone who is a fan and not a scholar of the Holmesverse, I am frequently taken aback by portrayals of Sherlock Holmes as a distant or harsh person. It's a depiction that is often used to capture his intelligence, and how quirky people find him, but it is one at odds with the fact that Holmes is skilled at disguise, friendly with children, and frequently laughs or is genial when meeting old friends. One of my favorite such moments is when he meets McMurdo, the boxer/bodyguard in "The Sign of the Four." He's a man of many friends and that doesn't match how he is frequently portrayed. The Sherlock of Young Sherlock Holmes doesn't suffer fools, but he is genuinely good-natured with his friends. He is well acted and shows emotions running from joy and excitement to despair. Nicholas Rowe is one of my favorite Sherlocks. 

The film also touches upon the importance of spending time with friends around the Holidays. It's a perennial film in our house.

The List So Far...
  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. 3 Godfathers (1949) 
  4. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)