Friday, July 29, 2011

Bavarian Gnome Tunnels

"There are more than 700 curious tunnel networks in Bavaria, but their purpose remains a mystery. Were they built as graves for the souls of the dead, as ritual spaces or as hideaways from marauding bandits? Archeologists are now exploring the subterranean vaults to unravel their secrets."

Photos and more at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alternatives to Capitalism in Our Games

The rules of D&D operate under the assumption that the economy of the game setting is more or less like the real world’s - that the PCs’ culture values money, and in fact really revolves around it. Acquiring it is one of the primary character motivations, and it’s directly connected to gaining experience and leveling up. But what would D&D look like if we stripped this component out of it and replaced it with something else?

I started thinking about this last year when considering an island hopping campaign with the PCs being fairly “primitive” natives, rather than typical D&D characters from a medieval and European background. I was reminded of it later when I thought about running D&D in a prehistoric or ice age setting, and then again more recently when I thought about what it would be like to play solely as Native Americans or some kind of equivalent, in a world where Europeans never show up and technological innovation is glacial.

What would we use to replace the monetary system that we’re so familiar with in our games? Is D&D even the same game if we remove that, or are we playing something else with certain D&D mechanics?

Barter isn't unknown to those other cultures, and there would definitely be items with greater value due to relative scarcity. Take for example a good horse. Also, things tend to wear down quickly - so new furs need to be acquired and successful hunting takes time and isn’t guaranteed.

Rarer and more valuable still would be those things that have a symbolic value and are dangerous to obtain. The scalp of an enemy, for example. Or perhaps something similar to an eagle feather, instead derived from a monster. I’ve explored this just a bit in my current games, with monsters themselves being the treasure (see Claude de Sarlat, monster eater) - though in that case they’re commodified by being turned into gold pieces when sold to Claude’s chef. A better example might be the Makemanu, undead parrots whose feathers of different colors might easily fill in for gold, silver, and copper.

One issue with using these kinds of replacements is that they likely aren’t anything that can be hoarded, or rather, nobody in those cultures would want to do such a thing. In a hunter/gatherer or early agrarian society, what does one need to amass wealth for? Food to last a winter or in case of crop failure maybe, but not excess wealth - of what use is too many sheep? They’re just more difficult to guard and one can only eat so much mutton. But if there’s no giant treasure hoard, how am I to build a castle or establish a guild? My end game is buggered.

In these pre-capitalist societies, probably what’s more important is your status within the tribe - how high up on the totem pole you are. There may be beads and trinkets traded, especially with outsiders, but it seems like people of stone age cultures would be much more aware of the transitory nature of life and possessions (and place a greater value on relationships accordingly). Defending family and tribal honor, earning a good reputation amongst the tribe, or spiritual interests might all stand in as game incentives. Maybe the end game is helping the tribe find the perfect, peaceful, and fertile valley - maybe level progression involves achieving certain tasks and overcoming enemies that prove one’s bravery and honor without the need for shiny metals.

Looking back now, when I started playing D&D as a kid, I had all the time in the world. Marathon late night sessions could easily happen with friends staying over. I think a part of the game’s appeal was in the adult-like aspect of our characters having responsibilities and jobs (albeit as monster killers), as well as our ability to manage sums of their imaginary money - to spend as we saw fit without any parental supervision. Now that I’m older, I wonder if my interest in playing in a D&D world where money doesn’t figure so prominently hinges on the real life pressure of having to earn and manage it. Playing a caveman protecting the clan from cave bears and not worrying about paying for medical insurance or taxes on a castle would occasionally be a pleasant diversion.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday Crossword (Late Edition): Expedition to...

Here's this week's very tardy crossword (click to enlarge). I suspect I'm not very good at constructing these things and have a new respect for professional puzzle makers! Feel free to drop me a note with ideas for next week's puzzle.

Update: Answers here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Google+ Users: Some Words of Caution

There’s evidence that Google is deleting or at least suspending accounts of people who aren’t using their real name with Google+, meaning that they lose their associated email, blogs, docs, and other information. I was reluctant to make this post not knowing if there’s enough information to warrant it or to what extent it's happening. In the interest of preventing another rpg blog from disappearing though, or helping someone avoid some serious frustration, here’s some further reading that might be of interest:

•Google Profiles and Names Guidelines
•Horror Story
•ZDNet: Google Plus Deleting Accounts En Masse: No Clear Answers
•William Shatner punted from Google+

(not for a name violation apparently but included here just to show how zealous they've been in their TOS enforcement)

In Google’s defense, I can see why they would want to prevent duplicate accounts, considering that they’re offering many services for free or nearly so (how many Google Voice numbers does one person need anyhow?)… Hopefully they’ll work out a decent system to address complaints and restore accounts in a timely way.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Painful Traveller Character Generation Experience

I’ve been taking a break from the blog, watching tons of baseball instead of posting here, but we have still been playing our S&W and OSRIC games. Nothing terribly post-worthy has happened in those games, so I’ve refrained from writing up any detailed session journals here. In our S&W game, Aleger the dwarf rejoined the group - turns out his brother was killed by kobolds a while back when the two had sought to investigate a mine they’d inherited. Aleger had been frequenting prominent taverns in the Dordogne before finally stumbling upon Wagstaff and his mostly newer, local companions.

Tonight Nick and I got together online via Skype to follow up on the idea of our Traveller game via email. Character generation turned out to be a real drag, as Nick’s dice throws continually ended up killing his PCs before they could muster out of service and actually become playable. None of them got into their 3rd term. He tried first with the Merchants, then the Army, and then “Other.” I haven't gotten around to picking up Citizens of the Imperium anywhere - I’m reluctant to invest any money on this Traveller experiment before we find out whether we can have any fun with it. Using “Other” though, we decided that one character was a famous musician/band member. He survived his first term (age 26?), learning the Electronic and Jack-of-all-Trades skills, before once again failing his survival throw. So we decided he’d overdosed and tried again. What the hell!

On his next attempt, he finally mustered out alive (albeit after only one term of service) but still managed to reap a 50,000 CR cash allowance as a Scout, along with an automatic pistol. Nick didn’t like any of this, being totally unfamiliar with classic Traveller. He seemed really unimpressed so far, but still agreed to do a one or two-shot. I tend to think that if we'd tried to roll up several more characters it might not have been so bad, but to be safe I just suggested that we use some pre-gens.

At that point I decided to describe X-P to him in some detail and how it was very similar to OD&D’s simplicity and he seemed more open to that. What he really wanted to play, turns out, was a post-apocalyptic game. Soooo, I got out the Mutant Future rules and we quickly rolled up two characters there. I became a little worried when he rolled on the mutations table and one character got Weak Will and the other Pain Sensitivity, but at least they’ll see gameplay.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Crossword Puzzle: Palace of...

Introducing a regular new series of posts, possibly appearing every Sunday or Monday morning, containing a crossword puzzle based on some aspect or publication of our favorite game. Bear with me while I get the hang of this, I don't have a ton of experience with crossword puzzles... I still thought this might be fun though. I'll start out with a small and easy one:And here's the answer key.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Our Games - Guest Starring Each Other

It occurred to me the other day that since we now have the technical ability to (more or less) teleport into each others homes via Skype, Google+, iChat, etc. we also have a greater ability to host or play in pick-up games. I’ve seen proposals for this on Google+ and probably on forums elsewhere in the past. What I haven’t seen suggested is the possibility that someone join a regular game as the only video chat participant, just to play the part of an NPC.

As a DM, playing the part of every NPC encountered in the game can be challenging, and once your players have heard your full repertoire of accents, your voices can begin to sound alike. Imagine their surprise when you turn your laptop around to reveal a video chat session with a member of the blogging community, standing in briefly as a NPC. Picture ___ (fill in a blogger’s name you follow) playing the part of a high pitched goblin, or of a noble or clergyman sending you on some quest. Here’s an idea: since your guest star is basically just a talking head on the table, maybe they’d be great as a re-animated head that your players find in a treasure chest?

There would be the usual concerns and considerations to make. Obviously, engaging with someone who’s a relative stranger always carries its inherent dangers. As a video guest, it might be best to get assurances in writing and ahead of time that no recordings will be made. Personally, I’d be horrified to find my rendition of a lich up on YouTube. Recordings might be a pretty hard thing to guarantee against. Still, with the right trusted folks, it could be a lot of fun. I know there’s at least a few of you I’d consider approaching if I knew you were open to it.

There would be two approaches with such guest stars which could obviously overlap. One would be to describe to the guest star the history of the current game to some extent and to direct them how to respond to the players in various ways. The other approach would be free-form - just let the guest star do whatever they want with the role you give them. “Play it your way Sam.”

In time, there might be guest star specialists - those who really only want to play such roles, or become well-known for being very good (or bad) at it. There might even be specialists among those specialists: those that only play the role of monsters, those that only play a certain demi-human race… Then there might be those that only play the role of a specific monster or character - one that escapes death and can appear in game after game. Maybe we’d see blog posts like: “Wanted: Person to play a 15-30 minute role of the wizard in Raggi’s “Tower of the Star Gazer.” Eventually there might emerge well-known prima donnas, demanding they play their part their way, or that their prospective DMs tolerate their obvious and complete lack of sobriety.

And the masks - think of the masks! I sure as hell would want to wear one. Or at least a wig.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tragg and the Sky Gods

It's been a slow and somewhat depressing work week, so I went out to The Shed to see if there was anything exciting there I could rediscover.

I came across a small box of comics my dad sent me once as a surprise. Somehow these had survived my parents divorce and put into storage after I fled the East coast some 20+ years ago. There was a lot of crap in there, a few early New Mutants, some Star Wars even. What stood out were two seriously beaten up comics I'd bought at a drug store or flea market while vacationing in the Thousand Islands. One is DC's "Strange Sports Stories" - really odd, that one. It's like a collection of Twilight Zone stories which all somehow revolve around a sport. For example, the first story is about how aliens steal everyone's faces except for a basketball team, and if they can beat their faceless competitors, it will somehow vanquish the aliens. I did not make that up. Another story is about a golden boxing gloves talisman that a boxer uses to some effect, but which turn his boxing gloves to lead weights sometimes (maybe if he morally backslides?)...

The prize is the other comic in that box that caught my eye. "Tragg and the Sky Gods" from 1976. That would have made me about six years old when I got it, or maybe just a bit older if it'd been collecting dust in a shop somewhere when I found it. It was published by Goldkey/Whitman. I wasn't really interested in superheroes at that age - I distinctly remember picking up a Savage Sword of Conan one year there, and being slightly disappointed in the B&W art. Ignorant child!

My Tragg #4 has been through the ringer. Here's the cover scan:
The first page catches you up on Tragg's universe pretty well...
Alien but human babes. Prehistoric times. Good start...
And a little more background...
Enter the Universal Combiner...
Saber tooth lion + cave man. Sounds like a good idea to me!
Quickly sent to find and kill Tragg of course.

There were less than a dozen Tragg appearances - nine in his own comic, and a few elsewhere. Anyone else ever pick up one of these back in the day?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Maria LX Series Robot: Price Reduced!

Message from Acme Advertising Dept: For Immediate Release

Recent upgrades to our manufacturing facility have allowed us to dramatically reduce the cost of our “Maria LX” retro-design model from our line of general purpose and servant staff robots. They're not just for nobles any more!

Recalling a simpler time of working class idealism and introspection - the Maria LX’s appearance is inspired by the very first “moving pictures” of early 20th century Terra. Retro is back! Maria utilizes polished stainless steel construction throughout, with advanced gyroscopic stabilization, energy efficient servos and a commercial-grade performance battery. Charges last for weeks - not days, and recharge times are nearly instantaneous. Shock absorbent gel surrounds the LX CPU, providing additional protection for your investment, and our award winning voice recognition software makes engaging with Maria a pleasurable experience - whatever your homeworld.

“Our customers are enthralled by our Marias’ grace and charm, and their antique exterior appearance fits wonderfully with our decor!”
Alfred Abel, Owner
Librari of Eldish Libaxions, New London

The Maria LX series skirts many local prohibitions against a “too human- like” appearance with its quaint, early android design. Its hackability makes it attractive to both smugglers and sexual deviants, creating a back alley industry of meat clothiers and illegal software programmers. Such hacked units have a reputation for malfunctioning spectacularly and without warning - seemingly at the least opportune times.

Here's a 2d6 table of suggestions for when the GM determines a malfunction occurs:

2: Explodes: minor/serious damage to those nearby.
3: Stuck in a loop: repeats numbers while head continually spins around a la The Exorcist.
4. Replays overheard snippets of private conversations - in multiple languages, loudly.
5. A massive belch/fart of flame: sets nearby object(s) on fire.
6. Error in Translation: Conveys insult or otherwise miscommunicates important information.
7. Electrical discharge: short circuits nearby tech.
8. Vents huge amount of steam or smoke, obscuring everything in 5m radius.
9. Acts lasciviously, speaks with a helium affected voice.
10. Electro-magnetic implosion: Attracts all loose, small metal objects to itself within 5m radius.
11. “Pees” itself* and collapses shortly thereafter (oil=slippery!).
12. Eyes pop out: Minor/serious damage to someone at a distance.
* suggested by Carolyn, age 10

Click the thumbnail image above to enlarge or download the 4x6" PDF of the Maria LX series paper miniatures.

Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ulyulengs - Paper Minis from Monsters of Myth

Here's one I made weeks ago and forgot about... 4x6" PDF, click the thumbnail below to download or for a closer look.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No need to wait for Traveller on the iPhone - Play it right now.

I’ve seen a few blog posts about the upcoming Traveller AR game for the iPhone. It’s scheduled for a late summer release, but you can play Traveller on your iOS device right now. Ok, technically it’s MegaTraveller. Why the hell would you want to put an ancient DOS version of Traveller on your precious iOS, you ask? Because - like linux on toasters - you can.

“But am I going to have to jailbreak my device?” - Not necessarily. Maybe you snagged the iDOS app when it was briefly sold in the iTunes store. Even those with weak google-fu can probably locate an .ipa download of version 1.0 fairly easily (iDOS 2 was free while still available). If you’ve jailbroken, you’re on your own - look for DOSPAD in Cydia.

Once you have iDOS installed, download and install iPhone Explorer. It’s free and works with both Windows and OS X.

Now let’s grab the abandonware MegaTraveller and its manual. Unpack the MegaTraveller files into a folder with a short name.

Mount your iOS device as a hard drive with iPhone Explorer and navigate to Apps/iDOS/Documents and drag your folder with all the Traveller game files into it.

Disconnect the device and launch iDOS. Click on the C: sticky note icon at the bottom of the screen. You’ll be dropped to a command prompt in DOS. Now touch the top of the keyboard icon at the bottom of the screen to bring up your keyboard. Type “CD X” where X is the name of your Traveller folder. Mine is Trav. Then type “trav” to start the game.

Once you’ve selected the screen and sound drivers (anything should work) you’ll be asked to enter a question using the rules book. An example is “Please refer to page 56 in the manual. How much cargo can a Small Interplanetary craft carry? A. 2 B. 8 C. 20 D. 12” Ah the olden days, before DRM... Just open up the manual you downloaded earlier in a word processor and do a search to find the answer.

Voila, that’s it! You can hide the keyboard again when you need to by clicking on the gear symbol in the middle left of the screen. Does it suck? Of course! Especially on the iPod Touch or an iPhone. Magnified on an iPad though, it’s probably not too bad - certainly playable on a transoceanic flight. There’s always MegaTraveller 2, too.

If you just want to play it in your browser, don't bother reading how to do this on the site where you can download the DOS files - go here instead (this won't work in iOS, but it might on your Android). You’ll still need the manual to start the game though.

Absolutely painful.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Traveller: Enlisting in "Other"

A friend recently agreed to begin a pbem game of Traveller with me, something I haven’t played in decades. It should be a good way to become reacquainted with the rules, and I’m tempted to buy the buy the newer 0-8 compilation softcover from Far Future since pages are starting to fall out of my little black books.

I started looking through book 1 and realized that I’m unsatisfied with the “Other” option for a chosen enlistment service. “A newly generated character is singularly unequipped to deal with the adventuring world, having neither the expertise nor the experience necessary for the active life. In order to acquire some experience it is possible to enlist in a service.” - Traveller, Book 1 (Characters & Combat), page 5. A player can choose to enlist in one of the six services: Navy, Marines, Army, Scout, Merchants, or Other. “Other” seems a ridiculously broad category, and very ripe for tweaking. Maybe this changed in later editions of Traveller?

The heavy emphasis on military service here is really off-putting to me, and maybe unrealistic or limiting in many ways. Why does a supposedly futuristic vision of interstellar travel seem to rely so heavily on concepts of military service (particularly naval) that harken back to the 17th century or earlier? That is, why is it presumed that you most likely would have served in the armed forces if you’ve made it off planet and gained valuable skills? Why couldn’t I, as a relatively middle-class citizen of relatively moderate means, simply jump into my Vogelsong Saucer, put the top down (figuratively), and cruise around my star system - or even jump to a nearby one where the Grateful Dead are playing (having been re-grown from original DNA and groomed, of course). Maybe I got mad experience from dropping acid and living on a commune, fixing up buses and building stuff. Just sayin’.

Or maybe the Star Wars rpg would be more to my liking. Does it have classes? I’ve never played that one either, and haven’t read my copy of the d6 rules yet (it’s around here somewhere). The baggage of the Star Wars movies bugs me a little, but maybe I could work around that. For what it’s worth, Space Opera might be a little better, in that it has classes where you can be an armsman (soldier), a technician, a scientist, or an astronaut (pilot/all around great guy). It comes off as a little more Star Trekky and progressive, although at least Traveller does offer the catch-all “Other” option.

I’ve also thought about using X-Plorers instead of Traveller, but it does pretty much the same thing as Space Opera: the Scientist, the Soldier, the Scout, the Technician. In a way, X-Plorers is even more irksome to those of us who shudder at the thought of being ruled by a “United Corporate Nations (UCN)” - a global political entity “composed of thousands of powerful corporations.” I get a bad taste in my mouth just thinking of playing the part of a character that works for The Man. To get around that, I could create a new character class, one that’s overtly anti-UCN. “The Hacker” comes to mind, for example, though that could be argued as being just a Scientist with heavy emphasis on the Computers skill. Page 7 offers “The PCs may be more idealistic, working for one of the colonies of the Reaches, or perhaps for a single individual’s interest…” and “..they may simply be mercenaries or smugglers…” That helps warm me to it a bit.

Back to Traveller though, I’m mighty tempted to explore that “Other” service more thoroughly, maybe laying out some specific alternative “services” that one might enlist in… “Career paths” is more descriptive of what I have in mind. The first one I want to write up is a Rock Star path - trying something a little gonzo like that with the oh-so-serious Traveller might be great fun.