Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zombie Cinema #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Zombie Cinema, one of my favorite role-playing games.  Zombie Cinema is a GM-less game that takes place during a zombie apocalypse.  Character creation is super easy and involves drawing a few cards that give you some basic characteristics about who you will be playing.  The game comes with a board that represents the increasing threat level of the zombie outbreak.  For example, at the beginning of the game zombies appear as rumors or news stories, but as the game progresses zombies come out in full force and can start to develop new powers.

They're coming to game night, Barbara!

The game is GM-less so every player narrates what they want their character to do in the game.  Whenever two characters' actions are opposed to each other them the players roll six sided dice to resolve the conflict.  I find this mechanic ingenious because it focuses on what makes a good zombie story compelling.  It is not about the zombies, it is about the horrible things that people do to each other to survive.  There are more rules to the game but those are the basics.  If you are interested in learning more you can read my review on boardgamegeek or order a copy for yourself.

This game is great as a filler game, a Halloween one-shot, or a game to run when the regular group can't meet.  There is no prep time and the zombie stories that are told are always memorable.  This was my first GM-less game and it is on my top five list.  I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for the King in Yellow #atozchallenge

Today's post is about the King in Yellow, the mythical play from the Robert Chambers story that supposedly drives anyone insane who reads it.  The idea has been coopted by the Lovecraft mythos and appears in the Call of Cthulhu rpg and Arkham Horror board game.  I find the idea that a work of art can drive someone insane to be fascinating.  I read a quote once about how art exists to express what we cannot say.  The link between art and emotion is strong, and I believe that there could be a a work of art that could break down the sanity of an individual.

As a gaming device the King in Yellow is a great MacGuffin.  A group of investigators can be searching for a manuscript that causes people to go crazy.  Not only do they have to search for a book, but they also have to deal with the wackos that the book leaves in its wake.  If you are interested in reading the book The King in Yellow, it is in the public domain.  You can grab an electronic copy off of Project Gutenberg.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xorn #atozchallenge.

Today's post is about the Xorn.  I will be honest, I was not sure what I would write about for the X post in the A to Z blog challenge.  I decided to flip open the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual and check out the X section.  Staring at me from the page was the xorn.

Dungeons and Dragons has always been full of strange and unusual creatures.  The xorn is a great example.  If I saw this thing coming at me I would probable pass out and then be devoured.  While the title of the game has "dragon" in it I find that the most famous monsters from D&D are the more peculiar ones.  Owlbears, gelatinous cubes, rust monsters, and mimics are the creatures that adventurers tell stories about.  So in honor of the xorn, flip through your favorite bestiary and find the weirdest monster in there to throw at your players!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Wargame #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Wargames.  I grew up in a house where my dad collected Avalon Hill wargames.  Wargames have been a big part of my gaming life.  I remember calling my dad on the phone at work so he could explain to me how the combat resolution tables worked in Kriegspiel.  I love how wargames incorporate history into gaming.  I think that they are one of the best ways to teach the history of conflicts.  Because of my playing of Vietnam Solitaire I was better able to answer my students' questions as to why the US pulled out of Vietnam.  If you have never tried one I recommend it.  Two good wargames for beginners are Memoir 44 and Quebec 1759.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Vampire: The Masquerade #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Vampire: The Masquerade.  When Vampire hit the rpg market I was taking a break from role-playing games.  I was vaguely aware of what the product was, although I thought that is was mainly a LARP.  I understand that Vampire and White Wolf had a huge impact on role-playing games, but since I did not observe it while it happened and I never played the games I have a hard time explaining what the impact was.  Perhaps I can get bonus points for knowing that there was a brief TV show.

What I have heard about Vampire and other White Wolf games is that they are supposed to be modern Gothic horror but often play out like supernatural superhero games.  I've actually played one session of a Vampire game.  We were going to start a Hunters campaign and only got through the introductory session.  We never saw any vampires but I impressed the GM by making him have to look up the driving rules ("No one ever uses the driving rules!" he said).

I own a few Vampire books that I have picked up in used book stores.  I have the VtM 2nd ed. core book and the Vampire: Dark Ages book plus a few splat books.  The Dark Ages book intrigues me the most.  Maybe soon I will run a campaign full of undead vampire princes plotting against each other.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Usagi Yojimbo #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Usagi Yojimbo.  One of my other hobbies besides gaming is reading and collecting comic books, and one of my favorite comic characters is Usagi Yojimbo.  I saw my first Usagi Yojimbo comic on the rack at the hole-in-the-wall comic store where I shopped as a kid in Hackettstown, New Jersey.  I did not recognize the character, a samurai rabbit, but I did recognize the other character on the cover who happened to be Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I bought the issue and went back to pick up another issue of Usagi Yojimbo.

If you describe the Usagi Yojimbo series it sounds silly.  It takes place during the Edo period in Japan.  All of the characters are anthropomorphic animals.  Usagi Yojimbo is a samurai whose lord was killed in battle and now roams the countryside.  The comic works and it works well.  The art draws you in and is full of peaceful peasant scenes and thrilling battles.  Characters die.  Every story is well told and engaging.  Reading an issue always gives me the justification that I always knew cartoon animal stories were awesome.  It is kind of like that feeling when you first see the cartoon of Porky Pig cussing.

There are actually two Usagi Yojimbo role playing games.  The one that I own, Usagi Yojimbo Role Playing Game, was published by Gold Rush games and uses the Fuzion system.  They also published a book of monsters and supernatural creatures called Usagi Yojimbo Monsters!  I am not a fan of the system but I do like the game.  There is setting material on feudal Japan as well as a chronology of the Usagi Yojimbo comic storyline.  The appendix also includes rules for converting the game stats to the Fudge system.  Unfortunately it is out of print.

Sanguine Games, publishers of the furry rpg Ironclaw, currently sell their own Usagi Yojimbo Role-Playing Game.  I haven't played this one but I know that it uses the same game engine that powers their Ironclaw game.  This game is definitely on my wishlist.

If you are a fan of comics, samurai, or good story telling then grab an issue of Usagi Yojimbo.

Official Usagi Yojimbo website

Dark Horse Comics, official publisher of Usagi Yojimbo comics.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Traveller #atozchallenge

Today's post is about the science-fiction role playing game Traveller.  I tend to lean more towards being a fan of science fiction than fantasy, so of course I own at least two versions of the classic sci-fi game Traveller.  Traveller is the Dungeons and Dragons of sci-fi rpgs.  It was not the first sci-fi game, but it was created in the early days of the hobby, has gone through many editions, and is synonymous with sci-fi role playing today.  When I was younger I used to bike down to the toy shop in the town where we lived.  Back in the games section (where I bought Fortress America and Gangbusters) they always had a few of the "little black book" Traveller supplements on the shelf.  I had a vague sense of what they were but I never investigated them further.

Today I have the reprints of the original Traveller books as well as the 1st edition Traveller core book from Mongoose Publishing.  There is a lot of charm to the Traveller rules and setting.  What other game uses hexidecimal numbers or kills characters during their creation?  The setting is pure space opera with a heavy dose of hard science.  I find it in the spirit of Isaac Asimov over George Lucas.  I actually ran a play-by-forum game of Mongoose Traveller for a bit.  I loved that there is so much that a GM can throw into the setting.  In my game I had a murder mystery on a starship and a replicant uprising.  Many versions of Traveller are still in print, at least in pdf form.  Mongoose has also recently released a second edition of their rules.  If you have never looked at Traveller and you like science fiction, I would do some research on it.

The wikipedia entry on Traveller, not a bad place to start.

The Traveller entry at the Museum for Role Playing Games.

Guide to Classic Traveller, a free pdf covering the original game.

Introduction to Traveller, this is a free pdf introducing the Mongoose version of Traveller (which I recommend).

Freelance Traveller, a fanzine for all editions of Traveller.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Spaceship Gaming #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Spaceship gaming.  I have always had a fascination with spaceships and starfighters.  X-wing pilot was the coolest job that I could imagine as a kid.  I will probably never have the chance to pilot a starfighter, so I will have to make due with games about spaceship combat.  Some that I enjoy are X-Wing miniatures and Starfleet Battles (at least the free quickstart).  One that I own and want to try is Attack Vector Tactical, which simulates 3d space combat.  My goal this summer will be to run through a scenario of it.

You can download a demo version of Attack Vector Tactical off of Ad Astra Game's website. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Retro-Clone #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Retro-clones.  Retro-clones are modern versions of old role playing games.  As I understand, retro-clones came about when gamers where worried that the original rules of D&D would not be available to the public anymore.  Using the OGL gamers began to recreate their favorite old version of D&D for public consumption.  Thus, a retro-clone emulates the rules and play of old rpg systems.  It allows people to use and create material that is compatible with older editions of D&D.

The cover to OSRIC, one of my favorite retro-clones

Retro-clones are not perfect copies.  Due to the OGL and copyright laws they cannot include everything.  For example, beholders are off limits as they are owned by Wizards of the Coast.  Also, retro-clone authors often clean up the rules and add their own interpretations in order to make the games easier to understand and play.  The grappling rules in 1st edition AD&D include a page of charts, while in the retro-clone OSRIC they are reduced to a paragraph.

What do I like about retro-clones?  Many of them are available for free.  They are easy to play and fun.  Did you just find a bunch of 1st edition modules at a garage sale but you don't have your core books anymore?  Download a retro-clone and have fun.  Never played original D&D, where all weapons did 1d6 damage?  Download the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules and have fun!

Here is a list of some retro-clones with a brief explanation for each:

Basic Fantasy - This is a clone of Basic D&D, except it uses ascending armor class and race and class are separate.  If you know someone who has never played a fantasy rpg before, I would give them a copy of this.

OSRIC - OSRIC is a clone of 1st edition AD&D.  Use this if you have a bunch of AD&D material or you were a fan of the system.  Doesn't have the monk, bard, or psionics, but otherwise is very complete and full of options.  It is also available on rpgnow.

Swords & Wizardry - a clone of original D&D.  Comes in three flavors, the white box version which emulates the original booklets (0 ed), one which emulates the original boxed set and expansions (1st ed), and the complete version which is more like AD&D lite.  Includes rules for descending and ascending armor class.  Play this version if you want quick and dirty fun with lots of house rules.

For Gold & Glory - a clone of 2nd edition AD&D.  I plan on using this with the Dark Sun boxed set that I just picked up at the used book store.  Also available on rpgnow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quickstart #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Quickstart rules for rpgs.  When I was younger I would buy rpg books with the anticipation of running a grand campaign.  Often I would start to read the rule book and I would immediately become confused.  The rules would be written in a complex manner and there were so many rules to remember.  I would usually get bored and end up just reading the fluff and looking at the pictures.

That is why I think the idea of a quickstart rule set is one of the best ideas to happen to rpgs.  I didn't realize as a kid that while a game like AD&D had hundreds of rules there were only a handful that were absolutely necessary to run a basic game.  Quickstart rules are genius because they allow potential players to jump right into the game.  Nobody has to do a lot of work.  Everyone can put a minimum investment into a game to decide if they want to invest in the full version.  They are also great for GMs who want to get a feel for the rules or need to reference a game's most used mechanics.

There are tons of free quickstarts available to download for free, so I am going to pick four that I like the most and give you links.

Valiant Universe RPG - This is a very narrative superhero system where the players rotate as GM.  It takes place in the Valiant Comics universe.

Call of Cthulhu - Here is a quickstart to one of the best rpgs ever.  I believe this is the 6th edition quickstart.  There is a 7th edition quickstart available as well.

Shadowrun - Shadowrun is a game I have wanted to try for a long time.  I here the rules are crazy but this quickstart boils them down nicely.  Quickstart rules for the 3rd and 4th edition are also available, but I will let you hunt those down.

Delta Green - I recently ran a scenario of the new Delta Green and it is awesome.  This quickstart is beautifully produced and has everything you need to start playing.

Edge of the Empire - Fantasy Flight Games released the Free RPG Day adventure Under a Black Sun as a free download on their website.  It has everything you need to run their Edge of the Empire Star Wars rpg.  You will need their special dice or use the conversion chart in the book.  I recommend just spending $5 on their dice roller app, as it has dice for all of their Star Wars games and can roll a standard polyhedral set of dice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Print-and-Play #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Print-and-play games.  Advances in computer and printer technology have allowed gamers to be able to download and print out board, card, and role-playing games at home.  My previous posts on the Starfleet Battles Cadet Training Manual are meant to explore what it is like to print out a game product and test the playability of that product.  There are a number of high quality print-and-play products that are available to the modern gamer.  Some are out of print games and others are new games sold at economical prices.  I like the idea of print-and-play games, although I will usually pay more for professionally produced components.  I do think that print-and-play gaming has opened up the hobby to new designers and new products that might not otherwise has a forum.

My first online board game review was for a print-and-play game, Vietnam Solitaire.  I posted it on in 2009.  I am reprinting it here.

Vietnam Solitaire
For $4 you receive one PDF file containing the rules for the game, the map, and counters that you will need to cut out and mount. You will need to provide a six-sided dice.

The map is divided into 5 regions of South Vietnam, and each region has four areas. Each area is a specific type of terrain (jungle, urban) which affects the fighting ability of certain units. Printed next to the map is a turn track, a track for political points, a combat chart, turn order, and a political point chart. Combat is based on rolling a single six-sided die.

The counters are actual pictures. The B-52 is a picture of an airplane; the VC counter has an actual Viet Cong soldier on it. The one issue I had with the counters were the trail counters were hard to figure out (it’s a picture of the trail) and the Green Beret counters were a picture of Rambo. For the wargame purist there are alternate counters available for download from 

In my opinion the rules are well written. There are even a few optional rules. One of the options does away with political points and instead allocates forces to the player in accordance with what was available that year. I found two typos but otherwise I could understand them as written.

My Print-and-Play copy of Vietnam Solitaire, complete with pile of homemade counters.

Game play

The game is more about resource management than fighting. The concept is that eventually the North Vietnamese will win the war. The players job as the U.S. is to last as long as possible. The player has various forces at his disposal, such as ARVN troops, grunts, napalm, and B-52 bombers. Using these forces costs political points. As the player spends them they move the political point marker up the track. They must fight against VC and NVA troops who continue to flow into the country via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At the end of each turn the player moves the political point marker back depending on how well they performed that turn. The player’s success is determined by how many turns they can last before the track goes past 14 political points.

The player’s forces have various functions and levels of effectiveness. Bombers and green berets can attack the Ho Chi Minh trail. Grunts and Air Calvary are more effective than ARVN troops, but they cost more political points to use. Player casualties also cause your political points to increase. It is easy to throw napalm and bombers at the enemy however this increases your political points and brings the game closer to the end. Luck does play a part, as bad dice roles can quickly overwhelm the player.

Vietnam Solitaire was surprisingly fun to play. I was a little suspicious of the game, but after playing it a few times I found it to be very challenging. Defeating the enemy without spending too many political points is difficult, especially if you roll poorly. I have found the game quite hard to play. Currently I’ve only lasted about 3 turns before I run out of political points. 

Overall I found it to be an inexpensive and enjoyable game that illustrates an important historical concept about the Vietnam War. It really shows how the U.S. withdrew because they did not have the political will or capital to continue fighting. I might even use it in my history class.

Vietnam Solitaire provides a challenge for a single player with a good deal of replayability. I definitely feel like I got my $4 out of the game. Check it out.

By the way, White Dog Games publishes Vietnam Solitaire,  They have updated the game and sell a special edition, with you can get in print-and-play format or as a boxed game or folio game.  You can order it here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Oracle, The RPG Zine - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about the Oracle, an rpg zine from the early days of D&D.  The reason I am writing about this is because the author and publisher of the zine recently completed a Kickstarter where he published all five issues of the zine into a complete volume.  He also commissioned the completion of a sixth issue of The Oracle.  The final product is a thing of beauty.

Cover to issue 5 of The Oracle.  Illustration by Peter Laird
The contents of the Oracle are old-school and cool.  There are movie reviews for The Secret of NIMH (my favorite animated feature as a kid) and Blade Runner, reviews of play-by-mail games, home made dungeons, new spells and classes for AD&D, and funky art.  My favorite part of the reprinted collection is that the creator and publisher includes the story of how he started the whole project.  He tells the tale of a teenage who put together a labor of love in his basement, enlisted the help of professional writers, and even offered a D&D module to subscribers.  The Oracle is a view into what makes the rpg hobby great.  People don't just play rpgs, they make them their own.

I'm not sure if The Oracle will be for sale to the general public soon, but it has a listing over at

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Naval Wargaming - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Naval Wargaming.  I have always been interested in miniatures wargaming.  I have spent more money than I care to mention on figures, paint, and rule books.  I have boxes full of unpainted figures from ancient warriors to sci-fi marines.  Some of the barriers that have kept me from ever finishing a wargame project include a lack of focus and a lack of resources (time and money).  I started to base and paint a DBA army but I got sidetracked by other shiny things.  Still, miniatures games seem to call to me.

Naval wargames have intrigued me.  I like the idea of controlling a fleet of ships.  Also, making terrain is not an issue.  For most naval scenarios all one needs is a flat surface to simulate the ocean.  Collecting and painting miniatures is still an issue, but I think that I found a solution.  The company Topside Minis produces high quality warship tokens that consist of a sticker that you apply to a wooden counter.  The ships are in 1:1800 scale, which is the same scale that the Axis and Allies War at Sea game was produced in.

A Topside Minis ship ready to mine the harbor.

The Topside Minis counters look great.  The pictures on the ship are detailed and the counters have a nice feel to them.  All you have to do when you buy them is peel off the sticker at attach it to the base.  The stickers are very forgiving; I have peeled them off and reattached them when assembling them with no problem.  I do trim around the edges with an X-acto knife and then they are ready for battle.  You can have a fleet ready to go in the fraction of the time it takes to base and paint some miniatures.

Topside Minis are also affordable.  Ships run from about 50 cents to $1.50 each, and you can purchase battle packs for famous naval engagements.  They will also send you a free sample.  The company also has a free set of miniatures rules that you can download from the site.  I plan on using General Quarters III for my battles.

Check out Topside Mini's website for some naval wargame action:

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Memoir 44 - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about the board game Memoir 44.  Memoir 44 is a wargame that is based on the Command and Colors system.  The game takes place in WWII and the base game focuses on D Day and the following Allied invasion of Europe.  Memoir 44 is in my top ten board games.  One reason why I like it so much is that it uses little plastic army men as pieces.  I loved to play with army men as a kid and using them in the game has a big nostalgia factor for me.

I also like the game system.  In order to move and attack you have to play a card from a hand.  The card you play tells you which units on the board you get to move that turn.  I like this mechanic because it causes you to have tough choices during the game.  Your actions are a finite resource and you must manage them carefully.  I also like how the scenarios of the game start out simple and them increase in complexity.  The first scenario uses only infantry and then the game slowly adds, artillery, tanks, special units, and so on.  The only complaint I have about the game is that it uses special dice which have symbols painted on the sides.  I always prefer my dice faces to be engraved.

Memoir 44 is simple and you can easily play a couple of scenarios in an evening.  It is perfect for introducing casual gamers to historical wargaming or for a beer and pretzels night with a die hard grognard.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Licensed games - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Licensed games, particularly rpgs.  Licensed games make sense, as there are lots of media properties that are popular with geek culture and are ripe for role-playing opportunities.  When I was a kid I played out adventures with my Star Wars action figures, so it makes sense that I would want to play out Star Wars adventures now with a role-playing game.  Some licenses are a natural fit to role-playing games.  Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings have had multiple games based on them.  However, role-playing culture has produced quite a few esoteric licensed games that have made me wonder, "Who thought of making that game?"  Today I am going to list the five most unique licensed games that I have in my collection (in no particular order).

Unwritten - How about an rpg based on the computer game Myst?  That's what this game is.  I got the PDF, which is available on a pay-what-you-want basis from  It uses the FATE mechanics and is based on the universe from the Myst computer games.  This game intrigues me because it is about exploration.  I played the original Myst and Myst Online: Uru Live.  I love the puzzle aspect of the games and the crazy cities and worlds that you travel through.  The rpg is a labor of love that I hope to run one day.

Smallville Roleplaying Game - Superhero games have always been popular, and there have been a few games based on the DC comics universe.  When Margaret Weis Productions announced that they were losing the license to Smallville and were selling this game at a reduced price I picked up a copy.  I did watch Smallville for two seasons.  Then I decided I couldn't take watched Clark Kent not be Superman any more.  The show had good actors but I ultimately felt that the story wasn't going anywhere.  The rpg uses the Cortex system, and this version makes use of character's relationships to each other.  There are stats for many DC characters who appeared on the show, such as Green Arrow and Aquaman.  I would use this game to run a Legion of Superheroes game full of soap opera levels of drama.

Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game - The British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf always seemed like a niche show to me.  It was full of hokey jokes and cheap-looking special effects.  Imagine if Doctor Who and Benny Hill had a baby.  I saw a copy of this game on sale for $1 and I grabbed a copy.  Will I ever run it?  Who knows, but it is a great conversation piece.

Dominion Tank Police - When I think of influential anime, I think of Robotech, Akira, or Ghost in the Shell.  Dominion Tank Police is an anime that I had heard of but had never seen.  I did not realize that it had enough of a following to justify an rpg.  This game was published by Guardians of Order and uses their Tri-Stat system.  My friend found this in a Half-Priced books and grabbed it for me.

Wizards - Ralph Bakshi is an interesting figure in animation.  His animated Hobbit movie is a classic and was instrumental in forming my love of fantasy and role-playing.  In 1977 he made an unusual post-apocalyptic film called Wizards.  It is like a Salvador Dali painting.  The film is wonderful to look at but it doesn't make a lot of sense.  I love the movie Wizards and when I found out there was an rpg based on it I had to buy it.  Now I own two copies and both sourcebooks.  By the way, I consider the movie Wizards mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to run a Gamma World campaign.

So what are some interesting licensed games that you own or have played?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kickstarter - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Kickstarter.  I have pledged for many an rpg through Kickstarter.  It is a neat platform where publishers can get support for their games and make their dreams see print.  I have been fairly lucky with my Kickstarter pledges.  I have received most of the items that I have backed.  I have received regular communications from companies whose games are behind schedule.  I am a patient man and I would rather have a late game than a crappy one.

The novelty of Kickstarter is starting to wear off.  At first I felt Kickstarter anxiety, which was a feeling that if I did not back a project then I was losing out and would never be able to get it.  I have now seen more than one project go from Kickstarter to the general market (or fail to materialize).  I have less anxiety about having to buy in during the Kickstarter phase.  I think twice about pledging.  Am I getting a good deal by pledging now?  Is this a reputable company?  Will it be worth it to wait and see how the game turns out before I put money behind it?  I will continue to back Kickstarter but I am much more discerning.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Jass - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about the card game Jass.  I have loved playing games since I was very young.   My family played games together while I was growing up.  My brother taught me how to play D&D and Car Wars.  My dad let me look through his Avalon Hill wargame collection.  My grandparents would play countless hours of cards with me.

I have always thought that games are a great medium of communication and socializing.  In high school my friends and I would talk during games of backgammon and dominoes.  In college I lived in a coop that would have informal chess tournaments.  These games were a way for people to get together and hang out while engaging in a shared activity.

I have always been fascinated with games from other cultures.  A few years ago we went on vacation to Switzerland.  One of the high points of the trip was when I was able to play the card game Jass with our hosts.  Jass is a trick-taking game that is popular in Switzerland.  It was pretty cool to play a new game in another country.  The next time you travel somewhere, see if you can try out the local game!

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for Internet - #atozblogchallenge

Today's post is about the Internet and will be a bit of a grognard rant.  Back in my day gaming was very different.  Games had to be purchased at game stores or ordered through the mail.  I remember writing for my copy of the Steve Jackson Game catalog, and saving up my allowance so that I could order the GURPS boxed set (I think it was second edition) along with GURPS Horror and GURPS Autoduel.  Errata was a big deal.  We had to wait for issues of The General to come out with errata for our wargames.  Finding players was a hassle.  You had to look for players in your town, which risked exposing yourself as a huge nerd to the people who lived near you.  With the internet games now have almost immediate access to products, errata, and players.

Thank you Al Gore for inventing the internet!
The internet has had a huge impact on tabletop gaming culture.  I came back to the hobby through the internet.  I found out about Tunnels and Trolls through the web and started playing solo adventures.  I started collecting old and rare games through online sellers like Nobleknight.  I started playing with other people in play-by-email and play-by-forum games.

I have used the internet to play with people from around the world through video chat.  I use it to discuss rules questions, read reviews, do research for campaigns, and talk to other gamers.  I have used it to read and download free adventures, supplements, and even games.  The internet is a treasure trove of information for gamers, as long as they are proficient in navigating the web.

There are too many useful links for this post so I am including the one that I think provides the most bang for your buck.  The website is & Magazine's Wizardawn Games.  The website is full of useful tools, such as map generators and name generators.  They also have their own line of free, simple, rpgs for fantasy, sci-fi, zombie, and post-apocalyptic genres.  They also produce & Magazine, which is devoted to AD&D.  Take a gander at their site.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for Honor Harrington - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Honor Harrington.  Honor Harrington is a fictional character created by science fiction author David Weber.  Honor Harrington is a captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy.  She exists in a universe where mankind has colonized other parts of the universe.  Ships have practical faster-than-light drives.  The two big space powers, the Star Kingdom of Manticore (space Britain) and the People's Republic of Haven (space revolutionary France/Soviet Union), are engaged in a series of struggles and cold/hot wars.  Spaceships are huge destroyers that fire large salvos of missiles at each other.  My friend who recommended it to me described it as Napoleonic space navy combat.

Did I mention she has a psychic space cat?
I enjoy reading the Honor Harrington books.  They are usually full of explosions and spaceship combat.  The technology that allows ships to travel faster that light also gives them impenetrable force fields on two sides of the ship, so battles are full of tactical decisions as ships try to outmaneuver each other.  Whenever I am in the mood for some capital ship action I read a Honor Harrington book.  I have currently read the first six, plus one extended universe story.

There are a few criticisms of the Harrington stories out there.  Some say she is a Mary Sue.  One of the best criticisms that I have heard is by Luke Barrage, who puts out a sci-fi book review podcast.  Luke makes some good points in his review of the first Harrington book that I cannot dispute.  However, I am still a big fan of the books and the universe.

If I was going to run a game in the Honorverse, I would probably use a hack of Traveller.  Traveller already has a heavy military element and rules for characters who have been in the military.  I would probably run an espionage game, where the characters have to infiltrate the Republic of Haven and steal MacGuffins.  If you want to check out the series look at the links below to see how to read the first two books for free.

The Tales of Honor issue from Free Comic Book Day

You can read and download the first two books in the Honor Harrington series from the publisher's website.

The company Final Sword Productions currently sells a Honor Harrington wargame and has plans for a role-playing game.  

There are two issues of the Honor Harrington Tales of Honor comic that you can download for free from Comixology, issue #1 and the Free Comic Book Day issue.

Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for Gorgon - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about the Gorgon.  Specifically I am talking about Medusa, the gorgon from the 1981 film Clash of the Titans.  I love a good monster.  When I was little I remember watching Clash of the Titans on our VCR.  The scene with the gorgon was one of the coolest scenes I had ever watched.  Ray Harryhausen was a master of special effects, and his monsters had a realness and creepiness to them that today's CGI cannot mimic.

The battle between Perseus and the gorgon fueled many of the D&D adventures that I had in my head as a young child.  If you have never seen the movie, go watch it now.  If you have, then here is the scene for you to enjoy.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for Friendly Local Game Store - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about my Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), Excalibur Comics, Cards, and Games in Shreveport, Louisiana.  It is important to support your local store.  I support mine every month, usually by buying a stack of comics.  The store is clean, the workers are courteous, and if they don't have what I am looking for they can usually order it for me.  I love going into a game store and browsing the shelves.  I love being able to actually touch a product, and to find unique and obscure items that have been hiding between books.  I found the monster guide to the Usagi Yojimbo rpg at Excalibur.  If you are ever in Shreveport, stop by and grab a comic or game.  They also put out a show on comics.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E is for Education and Gaming - #atozchallenge

Today's post is on Education, and using games for teaching and in the classroom.  I have used games many times in a classroom setting because I believe that they are a great way for students to use cognitive skills and higher order thinking while learning material in a fun way.  I've taught chess to elementary students and refereed games of werewolf for high school students.  I have used liar's dice, Apples to Apples, Battleship, and poker in the classroom.  I believe any educator should look at using games in the classroom.  They are not perfect, and large class sizes, lack of maturity and social skills, and poor understanding of rules can impede the use of games.  However, games can be fun and having people doing something fun and interactive is one of the best ways to get people to learn.

A blog that you should check out on this topic is PAXsims.  They are, in their own words, "devoted to peace, conflict, humanitarian, and development simulations and serious games for education, training, and policy analysis."  PAXsims discusses the use of simulation and wargames as training tools at the college and professional level.  I enjoy reading their posts and hope to make use of their material in my classes soon.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Diplomacy - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about my favorite board game, Diplomacy.  Diplomacy is a game where seven players represent the major powers of Europe before the First World War.  Each player starts out with 3 units which are a mixture of fleets and armies.  The goal of the game is to capture 18 supply centers on the board.  The gameplay is simple.  Every turn you issue orders to your units.  An army or fleet can move into another area.  If an opposing unit is in that area or is also moving into that area, then the units bounce and do not move.  You need to have other units support your unit in sufficient strength so that they can dislodge opposing units.

I like to explain movement in Diplomacy this way; imagine that you are playing a game of chess.  In order to capture a piece, you have to convince another piece on the board to help you make the capture.  This leads to the brilliant mechanic of Diplomacy.  Before players write down their orders, there is a 15 minute discussion period.  Players are allowed to talk to other players, make deals, etc.  When the discussion period is over, then everyone writes down their orders.  You may write down any order, regardless of what deals you made or what you said.  Sure, you can lie and backstab, but that will definitely have consequences.  Also, the game is set up so that you will need other people's help in order to capture territories.

Diplomacy is a masterpiece of a game.  It is the only game that I have played were I have felt like a statesmen, general, and spy all at once.  I do have two critiques of the game.  It does require a large number of players who are committed to the game.  Also, it has player elimination and it is very possible to get knocked out of a game that will last another 4 hours.  Fortunately, Diplomacy has a long history of postal play which mitigates these problems.  Today, Diplomacy can be played online.  In fact, I have yet to play a face-to-face game of Diplomacy.  If you are intrigued you should try a game.  I leave you with a few websites where you can play Diplomacy online for free. - Gamesbyemail has a Diplomacy clone called Politics.  This is a turn-based program, where everyone submits moves and after a certain amount of time the game progresses to the next turn.  A bonus feature is that you can run games with fewer than 7 players. - Playdiplomacy has a nice interface.  You can play a few games of regulary Diplomacy with a free account.  If you get a membership you can play live games, variants, and multiple games at a time. - Webdiplomacy is a site I used once.  It worked well and is free

With some more research you can find many other sites that offer the game.  I recommend playing it at least once in your lifetime.

Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for Call of Cthulhu - #atozchallenge

Today's post is about Call of Cthulhu, the role-playing game.  I am a particular fan of the 6th edition and I actually use it as the standard for rating a game a "10".  Call of Cthulhu is a self-contained rules set.  The core book contains all the rules needed for play.  There is character creation, combat, magic, a bestiary, four adventures, and rules for running the game in three different time periods (1890's, 1920's, and the "modern" era or 1990's).  The system is fairly simple.  The horror setting of the game allows for character death and the sanity rules are one of the most influential mechanics of rpg history.  I love how skills advance when characters fail at using them.

Call of Cthulhu is not a perfect.  There are skills that are rarely used.  Parts of the game are too dependent on chance.  The combat rules are a little loose.  However, in terms of value for page count I think it is the best rpg that I own.  There is a new edition out and I feel no need to own it, even though it sounds like they have made some good improvements on the system.  I will probably be the cranky grognard who will only run 6th edition until the end of days.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Battletech - #atozchallenge

My post for today is about Battletech.  Battletech is a wargame about gigantic fighting robots.  I must confess that I have only played one game of Battletech, although I played a lot of the old Mechwarrior computer game on my 386 pc.  When I was younger I bought the Citytech game, back when they used cardboard stand-ups for game pieces.  I was intrigued by all of the robots loaded down with laser guns and missile launchers.  I have always loved robots and the idea of giant robot combat in a game is winner for me.  During my one game of Battletech my mech received a critical hit and exploded.  Good times.

You can download a free quickstart for Battletech here.

You can download a free quickstart for the Battletech role playing game here.

You can download a free intro to the Battletech universe here.

The Battletech Introductory Box Set, a great place to start!

Friday, April 1, 2016

A is for Adventure - #atozchallenge

My first post for the April A to Z Blog Challenge will be about Adventure modules.  When I was younger I used to look through my brother's stack of AD&D modules while daydreaming about the adventures contained within those maps and boxed text.   I have always liked to collect rpg rulebooks.  I assumed that I could make up my own adventures to run.  Once I started GMing regularly I realized the benefit of the pre-written adventure module.    The rpg adventure module is a great asset for the GM.

As a busy adult, my gaming and prep time is a limited resource.  Having a document that is ready for play leaves me with more time for running games.  Even if an adventure module isn't perfect for my group there is always some idea, trap, monster, or plot that I can use.

I will close with one of my favorite rpg adventure modules, Tales of the Scarecrow by James Raggi.  This is a very short adventure that is written in a totally different paradigm from other rpg adventures.  I ran it in my Pathfinder game and we had a great time.  If you want to mess with your players then try this.  It is not for everyone, but I think that everyone can get a good idea from it.