JP On Gaming

Monday, February 23, 2015

Interview with Bret Kramer about the Masks Companion Kickstarter

The Masks of Nyarlathotep, hands down the best RPG campaign ever produced, all games together. It has everything: adventure, pulpy goodness, investigation, B&E, death, and a plot to save the world... if you can.

I was lucky enough to be able to run it three times, each with varying results, but each time it was awesome and fun. Brutal, mind-shattering fun. If you have never played it, find yourself a good GM and play it. Pay the Gm if you have to. You will NOT regret it. Each interation was not only better, but also added to my notes, research, side treks, and handouts. The old school atlas (now over 25 years old) still holds most of that, but it is filled to the brim.

I first "met" Bret Kramer back in 2008-09 on At the time he was looking for fellow GMs to create a companion to the Masks of Nyarlathotep. I told him I would be willing to help and provide some material for the book.

We talked a little and I provided him with a small chapter on Hong Kong, focusing on story elements and the history, focusing on things a Keeper can use to drive the action. After all, everyone of my players had gone there looking for [[Something important]]. Never having had the chance to go to Hong Kong (yet), I spent a lot of time reading about it. There is a lot of material available online.

But enough about me, you (and I) want to know about Bret's kickstarter.

JP Who are you?

BK My name is Bret Kramer. I’m an rpg author and the editor (and sole staff member) for Sentinel Hill Press.

JP How did you get into RPG?

BK Oh man… it must have been 1981 I suppose. My dad picked up a copy of this new game he’d heard a lot about – Dungeons and Dragons, the boxed set with the Sutherland cover. He was gravely disappointed it wasn’t a board game, as he’d assumed, so it set it aside. I was already a fan of the Hobbit (the Rankin Bass one) so it piqued my very young interest. That boxed set vanished off elsewhere so I asked for my own copy, ended up with the Red Box version for Christmas or my birthday in 1982. I’ve been gaming ever since.

JP What is your RPG pedigree?

BK I played at a hobby shop for many years, so I played most of the systems that were out there in from about 1985 to the early 1990s. I’ve always found that a good game master and open-minded group can make most games work. Except TORG, that was rubbish.

Since then I’ve most played Call of Cthulhu, which is where all of my professional work has appeared. My RPG CV is here - Link

I am probably best known for my monograph Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37, my various Shotgun scenario submissions to the Delta Green Mailing List (Link) and most recently the Arkham Gazette, a magazine all about the Lovecraft Country setting for Call of Cthulhu (Link). And the Masks Companion now, hopefully.

JP What is your favorite RPG?

BK Another fun question… the one I’ve played the most would definitely been Call of Cthulhu. It has that blend of history and adventure, plus I’m very fond of games where the players are fighting at a disadvantage, desperate for any chance of winning, rather than just ceaseless monster-bashing. The real world is a fantastic setting for adventure and you can build whole campaigns out of a strategic visit to the library or a couple web sites.

That said, I definitely have a soft-spot for post-apocalyptic games like Gamma World or the Morrow Project, the old WEG version of Star Wars, and old school AD&D. Oh, and Teenagers from Outer Space – that was a lot of fun.

JP Quite simply: Why did you get into a project like this?

BK In the fall of 2006, if memory serves, was having a fund-raising auction and I had the idea that perhaps some of the members there might collaborate and produce a monograph, donating the meager payment ($250) to the site to cover some of the costs of operation. I considered a few options, wanting a project that could attract a larger body of contributors but was also amenable to short articles, rather than longer scenarios or the like.

Earlier Paul Maclean of YSDC had put me in touch with David Conyers, as both of us had been working on separate projects providing background material about Jackson Elias, the macguffin NPC of the whole Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. We had both become too busy to complete that project, but it inspired me to wonder what might we do if we drew from the vast pool of Keeper knowledge in the running of MoN. That was the nucleus of the idea of the Companion – a collection of Keeper tips based on the experience of YSDC members.

One element I wanted to include was something from my own experience running the campaign – when the players got ahold of the Pnakotic Manuscript, they asked what it was about and I had absolutely no idea. At the time I extrapolated a bit from the short note about the tome in the CoC rulebook. I did some digging, first in my personal library, then at some actual libraries, and found out a bit more about the tome, which I feed to my players a bit at a time, seeding some useful clues into the campaign and giving him some reason to keep on reading the book that took many months of study (and was effectively otherwise useless) that they had worked so hard to get hold of.

JP Who else is involved in this project?

BK Our contributors are numerous and unruly… but very greatly appreciated! Matthew Pook, RPG reviewer extraordinaire, served as an editor for the project and sounding board for me, as well as crafting 27 unique pre-generated characters (all laid out by Jon Potter) and notes on how to replace lost investigators in play. Adam Crossingham, of Sixtystone Press, did the book’s entire layout, quite a task considering the length. Our location overview chapters were by Chad Bowser (Cthulhu Invictus and Cthulhu Dark Ages, coming soon) who did Cairo; Anthony Warren wrote both London and Shanghai (and a masterful take on The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan among others), JP Chapleau (that’s you!) and Hal Eccles combined efforts on Hong Kong. We have stand-alone scenarios from Don Coatar and Matthew Gregory (and Anthony Warren as well!). Hans-Christian Vortisch provided a whole article on the Shanghai Municipal Police… Keeper’s tips and New York encounters from Mike Czaplinski (He Who Laughs Last)… that’s just the longest bunch of articles! We also had art and maps from Steff Worthington, Chris Spatola, Jani Savolainen, a few from David Lee Ingersoll, a cover by Eric Smith… Let’s just say the cost of contributor copies alone was rather steep. I know I’ve left more than a few people out but I don’t want to turn your site into our credits page. For a full list see this link.

It was a real mix of old and new writers, some of whom have gone on to greater things in RPG writings even while the book was in its slow development. I am eternally grateful for their work and support these past seven or so years.

JP The Companion was originally released for free to the crowd on Why should I pay for it now?

BK There is a practical reason and an altruistic reason. The practical reason is that the book has been fine-tuned since the 0.9 release, corrected, revised, and amended. While most of the content appeared in the earlier book, percentage-wise, we’ve still added a little new material to keep the book fresh and fill in some gaps that persisted. The Kickstarter spells out some of these new bits, like additional information on other certain special military units in Shanghai… each international enclave had its own of course… so give that a look to see specifics. This is also your best chance to actually have the book in print!

As for the altruistic reason – the proceeds of the project, after printing costs, Kickstarter costs, fees to Chaosium, etc, will go to the operation of If you find that site to be a resource, as I do, consider backing this project as a way to fund the site in a concrete way. We actually pointed people towards the YSDC donations box when we released the 0.9 version in 2013 when various difficulties made it seem like a regular release was not possible. I won’t say an exact number, but let us say the ration of donations versus the number of downloads would not buy you a postage stamp. The Companion is a tribute to both the storied Masks campaign as well as to the YSDC community so able fostered by Paul Maclean and all of our members. I have no doubt that Call of Cthulhu would not exist today, as robustly, and as multifacetedly, without that community. Please help keep it going.

JP Why Kickstarter?

BK Simply put, the buy in costs of publishing are simply too high for a small press to take on this project. If it was not successful, it would bankrupt them. A kickstarter protects Sixtystone Press while also helping to keep shipping costs relatively low (thanks to having it printed on demand in the US and UK). It also allows flexibility, since we will print based on demand – which has been excitingly high!

JP Why not publish it through Chaosium?

BK Ultimately MoN is Chaosium’s book and we could not do this without their support, for which we are grateful. They are in the midst of releasing 7th edition still and have just wrapped up (hopefully) the release of Horror on the Orient Express 2.0. Their publishing roster is far too full for a project like this and the costs for them of printing at as a monograph (and the reward for us as mentioned above) was less than ideal. We have discussed how some of the material from the Companion might be incorporated into a future revamp of MoN, but at that is for the future. They will receive, as part of our licensing agreement, a limited number of copies of the Companion for sale, of course.

JP Is there a story behind that?

BK None that I want to get into in any detail. Considering that the late lamented Lynn Willis was still an active staff member there when this project started give you an idea of how long this as been in development.

JP What are the main differences between the original version and the kickstarter?

BK Other than a general improvement in layout and correcting all the devilish typos, there will hopefully be an index! Additionally we are a few bit of additional material that will either be included as part of the Companion or in PDF form to backers:
  -  Chapter by chapter clue sheets by G. Roby
  -  An article on the Japanese Rikusentai (equivalent of marines) and an article about the USMC Leathernecks in China, both by Hans-Christian Vortisch
  -  Ben Patey (who did the recent Masks of N. prop kickstarter) will design the dustcovers of Jackson Elias’s books, the hand-outs for the Cat’s Cradle scenario and a bust of Bast. These will be available as separate add-ons.
  -  I will complete my Jackson Elias introductory scenario “The Smoking Heart”, likely as its own PDF.
  -  An information packet on the Dark Mistress, Sir Aubrey Penhew’s yacht
  -  James Haughton, assuming we break a few more stretch goals, will write up an article on Australian science fiction, especially “lost city” mysteries that hint about the dark secrets of the Great Sandy Desert, a full description of the device of rods and wheels, and “The 1922 Relativity Expedition and the 1925 Anti-Relativity Expedition”. (The theory of relativity was proved in 1922 by an international team deep in the Australian desert. In 1925 a group German academics are there to disprove it).
  -  More items are possible, depending on our stretch goals.

JP An important one: how far along are you with the writing/re-writing?

BK Adam Crossingham would know this best, but we are limiting add ons to expedite the release. The text and layout of the main body of the work is already complete, however. Everyone who backs the project at Carlyle Expedition level (£15) and above immediately get a PDF copy of the 0.9 version immediately upon backing, so hopefully 572 pages of content will keep you going for a little while. I know my bonus scenario “The Smoking Heart” was set aside about 2/3 of the way through the writing process, when I received Don Coatar’s exciting “God of Mitnal”. I’ve just started rereading and revising my piece now, but, making some allowances for my other projects, I want to get that ready as soon as possible.

JP Art. A huge part of a project like this... What part does art play into the project?

BK Well, the bulk of our contributors were authors rather than artists, but we do have some original art. As I mentioned above, we have maps from Steff Worthington (and one map from Secrets of Kenya that David Conyers let us reuse). Chris Spatola did NPC portraits and some item illustrations. Each of our chapter headers was created by Jani Savolainen. Eric Smith, who did art for The Express Diaries, created our cover. David Lee Ingersoll provided us a wonderful illustration of Nyarlathotep and permitted us to use a great Yithian piece- oh and Dennis Detwiller allowed us to reprint his illustration Nyarlathotep #2. [I will send you a link to a dropbox with our illustration)

We also certainly were very fortunate to be able to draw upon a lot of fantastic online period photographs, such as the massive collection at the Library of Congress. Such are the advantages of a game set in the real world!

JP Do you have any links for people wanting to know/see more

BK They should definitely have a look at our Kickstater, if they have not yet. Also, please visit, the web’s premiere site for Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian gaming. I have a personal blog (in dire need of an update) at this link as well as a site for my Chaosium licensee Sentinel Hill press at this link. The Arkham Gazette itself, the primary publication of SHP has a G+ and Facebook page as well. Oh and SHP is on twitter too. I’d love some actual human followers there.

JP Will you be making any appearance at major cons to promote the book?

BK Have a lot of familiar obligations that limit my chance to attend cons – hopefully I can get to Necronomicon 2015 and perhaps Origins. Unfortunately I cannot plan anything at this point.

JP Do you have any projects beyond this one in the works?

BK As previously mentioned, I’m the editor of the Arkham Gazette, and we are in the final stages of completing our next issue of that magazine, issue #3 ‘Witches and Witchcraft’. I’m hoping to get a rough draft out to backers soon – see this link for updates. Once that gets a general release, I’ll be moving on to our next issue, the topic of which will be determined by submissions, so long as it is about Lovecraft Country. We have a couple of other projects in development – a sourcebook about New England graveyards would be first – and I have a few other projects I might mention in my blog from time to time, but nothing is set for those, yet.

JP Are you in need of prospective author/artist?

BK Always! I’m very interested in anything for the Lovecraft country setting for the Arkham Gazette, text or art. See here for submission guidelines… those should be updated soon as well. I will post a general solicitation for articles for future issues once we have a draft of issue #3 completed and will definitely let you and your readers know. The only thing we are not in need of is fiction or reviews.

JP How would they get in touch with you?

BK You can contact me at (I’m WinstonP there), via my blogs, on G+ or Facebook, or email at this link. Or use Send Dreams.

JP Any parting words?

BK I’d like to repeat my profound thanks to everyone who helped make the Companion a reality, from writers and artists, to our editors, proof-readers, etc etc. Please consider joining our Kickstarter to receive an amazing product of the love we have for one campaign (and one website).

Additionally, in our small community, I hope that people find the time to reach out to the creators whose works have entertained or touched them over the years. Since we started the Companion, the Call of Cthulhu community (for example) has lost both Lynn Willis and Keith Herber, which highlights the importance, to me, of making sure to share your appreciation with these people while we still can. No one is doing this to get rich, they are doing it because it brings them happiness. If something someone else has made does that for you, tell them.

Thanks for providing me this venue to talk about the project as well!

Wow... I am off to Kickstarter to throw my money at him. I got to have me one of these!

This has funded! So join in for some ASSURE Kickstarter goodness! Your Keeper will reward you for giving this to him... by inflicting insanity and death up on you. And you will love him for it.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Secret Project X: Thoughts on Game Design, Part 2

The answer I was looking for will sound very simple and obvious: Make sure the players have a chance to learn everything. This sounds very easy, but how can I make sure that every element you put in an adventure has a reasonable chance to be discovered by the PCs.

Therefore:   -   NPCs meant for straight up battle should have a very simple background. They are meant to get their butts beaten up. If you want them to have some piece of information, then they should know that. The PCs don't want to hear about the type of cooking their mother made.
  -   Extending the above, when writing a back story or "how things got this way", only provide as little information for the GM to understand why things have reached the current state. Avoid spoilers as much as possible.
  -   Focus on the important and let the GM fill in any blanks. This is one thing I struggle with. I keep trying to cram so much more into my adventures.
  -   Avoid trying to force your GMing style through the writing. Each GM has their own style and strengths.
  -   Remember that everything you put in there, should have a reasonable chance of being known to the players. By reasonable, I don't mean DC 50 checks or a random "I look through the third house, four street away." Kind of things.

I take the view of "the players must know everything in this adventure."


Where was I going with this and Game Design you ask?

I took all this to FINALLY get to my point. Anything you do in game design must be experienced. Players must play the game. Others must know what you are talking about.

Otherwise, you do what I call "mental masturbation" where you flatter yourself and think and rehash some really cool concepts that no one else will ever understand. Coming up with awesome ideas for settings/ campaigns/ locations/ games I had so developed in my head that there was no way anyone else could play it.

4e initially spoke of "Points of Light" and that is an awesome concept. Get a basic, overall idea for things, and develop them as you go along. That way, ideas that you don't need, can be dropped and those that work naturally receive more of your time.

And how does this relate to SPX? Quite simply, I have decided to approach the project with this minimalist approach. Present something, expand and use it. Everything else can get a broad stroke definition. "This place is full of elves" is more than enough.

A company who I think has done this very well? Paizo. Golarion is full of holes. So little is defined until an Adventure Path explores it in more details. And even then they left areas for a GM to add to it. Quite simply, this has been brilliant as a strategy, and definitely something to emulate.

Another setting that had this approach - though I do not believe it was by design - was Greyhawk. Outside of a few select countries, most of it was empty wilderness for the GM to populate. I worked mostly on two nations: the County of Urnst and Tusmit, both of which had effectively no details provided for them. Lucky for me, previous triads left me a lot of work. Unfortunately, too much of it was done away from the players. I work to change that.

Looking at Wizards, here we have a very different situation, seeing how their settings, for the most part, have existed for at least a decade (Eberron being the new kid). So the comparison is not quite fair. But still, with each edition, they present re-worked settings and offer adventures for them. Look at Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun for 4e.

Now with SPX, I thought of it with the players being front and center of everything. Simple and focused design limited to what I need, allowing me to change it based on a better, later idea OR expand what I have there. Right now, I have a number of documents totaling over 150 pages of dumped rules, ideas, and an overall idea about the world and its history. Again, I left plenty of holes in there to be able to add more to it later.

So... after all this thinking (often in circle), I realized that this approach was very much like many of the Extreme Programming methods in software development. I could not help but laugh at the idea that I was using my engineering background to write game material.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Secret Project X: Thoughts on Game Design, Part 1

Most recently at Winter Fantasy, I got drawn into a number of discussions about game design. Not really the nuts and bolts of it, but really the philosophy behind it. Now I know many will disagree with the positions I will take in this post, but my approach is rooted in gaming history.

When I first started writing seriously (for Helios 2000), I would come up with complex stories, big secrets, and a final reveal, much like whodunits. Once the players had played through the adventure, I would be able to reveal "this is what the secret plot really was." I could sit back with a smug, content smile on my face as my players went "That's a cool story".

Throughout my time in France and Ireland, I wrote events with that method. I enjoyed writing a number of adventures, many of which I still enjoy to this day. The "big reveal" model worked for me well enough.

Then in 2003, I started working on Living Greyhawk adventures, and that model began to feel flat for me. I guess the adventure that brought this problem to me was VTF3-01 Nor Crystal Falls. In the adventure, PCs traveled to Verbobonc and went after the Cult of Elemental Evil.

Once they entered the temple itself, (under a waterfall), they traveled down through levels that each had an identical map. Each room had a priestess of the Water Cult, complete with a half-page of background for the character. Why they joined the Cult, who they were, their current goals. The stories brought a lot of flavor to the adventure.

BUT the players never got any of it. Why? Because for every room, the scene went like this:

GM You enter this room in the temple. There is a statue of a water elemental in the center. On the other side of the room, there is a woman in blue robes.
Player Does she have a symbol of the Cult?
GM Yes.
Player starts counting squares for movement and waits for initiative, oblivious to anything else. Offer of talk were met with axes or charge movement...

That's exactly how that adventure went, floor after floor. I pondered on this adventure. "How can I make it better?"

The answer I had took a long time to find out, but implementing a fix took much longer.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Secret Project X, Part 2 Races

However with age and experience the hodgepodge mix of nations now became a more consistent whole. I began to think of why these people were there. Where did they migrate from? Why did they settle there? What keeps them there? These questions we never cared about much back in the days. But now that I am a writer and I want people to share and experience my ideas, I have to ask and answer these questions.

With that settled, somewhat, I turned my attention to another big question: what races do I want to include in this setting? My experience with NeoExodus confirmed how "not elves and dwarves" changes the whole racial dynamics. This is definitely something I want to keep.

Humans are in.

Next I looked at the races of NeoExodus... those I created myself: the gevets and the kalisans were in. I got to tweak them a little, notably adding the errata. With some tightened up and cleaner wording on those

Then, I went for the crowd favorites: enukas, p'tan, and cyneans. That's not to say that the others were not good, I just felt that I could not give them a new or different spin. If there is one thing I learned from and value of working with LPJ: there is no need to redo the same thing over and over. Putting a new coat of paint on a wall does not make it a floor. So why these three? The enukas, I just love 'em. There is no clear reason to it... I just love 'em. They are big, strong, and stupid; they are beat-sticks; they are the apex predator; and they do that well. The p'tan have this dark side to them, something that makes them more interesting than "cat people". Finally, the cyneans though not my personal favorites, have something that is very unique about them: their crystalline nature. I wanted to find a way to imagine a nation run and controlled by them. In simple terms: "What would a nation run by these guys be like?"

Next I sat back and thought about other work I did. Akos sprang to mind... I had two races created for that which never made it anywhere, as that setting as a whole got sidelined. I discussed reviving Akos, but that fell through (wrong time, people involved in other things, loss of interest, etc). I pulled them in, too. These are new takes on an old favorite. I altered them somewhat to make them more distinct than the Akos version, by using the Advanced Race Guide as a base. They were cool but they needed touch ups. After all these were now over five years in the drawer!

I wanted two more... here I went around looking for strange races. I went through Shadowfall, Obsidian Apocalypse, the Advanced Race Guide, the Monster Codex, Midgard, but really did not find what I wanted.

One race I wanted to be saurian in nature, somewhat similar to the dragonborn. I was inspired by an illustration (the cover of Azure Bonds, the novel) and played around with a mixture of ARG lizardfolk, Arcanis' Ssressen, and Dragonlance's draconians. This gave me a wide and cool range of potential abilities. So the drakonians were created.

Finally I wanted a race that was traditionally evil but that was seeking or that found redemption within the setting. Something made them change their ways and reconsider their place in the world. Like "goblins that decided not to be evil/malicious" as a base.

I spent more time on this and even put up a blog post about it. I looked at orcs(overdone), goblins (too well done by Paizo), gnolls (I pondered on gnolls for a long time), and even the drow (again overdone). Finally my decision was made. The answer had been staring at me all along. NeoExodus' scythians filled the bill!

If you read Enemies of NeoExodus: The Scythians, you can see that this quest for redemption and self-realization is a theme that's in there and that can really makes the race so much more than "just" a band of thugs. Even one of the Legacies Adventure, 92-LC-04 The Prisoner touched upon that theme but didn't really explore it as much as I wanted.

Then as part of the NeoExodus Legacies campaign, I didn't think it would be quite possible to explore that theme. The scythians are well-established as villains. Not just villains, but dangerous and murderous thugs - which they are. Now I have an opportunity to explore this concept some more, and expand on the idea without changing the scythians too much.

Now with these races in mind, I went over them evaluate them and review them. I changed the verbiage for the gevets to tighten the rules, offered some additional options and included the errata I've used for Legacies into the basic race.

To be continued.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Funnies: Kentucky is the Fried Chicken state...

A lot of people have been asking me "where is Kentucky?" and invariably, I answer "It's the state that serves KFC."

Here is why:



Saturday, February 14, 2015

Gostor's Hordes released!

It is with great pride that I can finally announce the release of Gostor's latest product: HORDES!!! This product is one that has been a long time coming because it is so close to my heart.

Hordes contains two pieces of rules for the Pathfinder RPG: Minions represent low quality enemies the PCs should be able to plow through. The rules are heavily influenced by those found in Mutants and Mastermind (over the time wasting they were in 4e). These guys are dangerous and must be dealt with quickly by the PCs, but they have no staying power. The other group, mobs represent an undisciplined group of antagonistic opponents who are acting well... as a mob. Mobs are not tactical, they merely move to attack any enemies. Part swarm, part single enemy, they have a unique rule called "damage cap", which forces someone to have to "beat down the mob"...

Both of those rules have been in used in Legacies adventures for a long time now (mobs appeared for the first time back in 2012).

Minions are a newer addition, the original brainchild of my good friend, James McTeague. When he was writing his excellent 94-LC-03 Need of the Many, we were talking about one encounter and I was proposing some things, but he kept pushing back "That's not what I want to do" he kept saying. I won't lie and say that I was a little annoyed, but the conversation never stopped. It kept going as idea kept being re-hashed. Finally, I think I mentioned minions and that clicked. He went off and came up with a set of rules that made me go "WOW" the face of the encounter itself was changed and it made the adventure so much better.

Since then, minions have appeared in a number of adventures and personal games. They work REALLY well. You can't ignore them...

Try them out and let me know what you think about those rules!

You can find it on RPGNow!


Friday, February 13, 2015

Fiction Friday: Countess Rachel's first official address

So I was going through some of my old files, digging for ideas and found this short piece of fiction I wrote as the introduction to URC7-I01 Reclaiming Ventnor. This interactive adventure ran at Tacticon '07 IIRC. It was the first interactive following the election of our new Countess Rachel. During the last year, Ventnor, one of the County's town was handed over to evil

Dressed in the heavy plate armor with a tabard displaying the White Swan, Countess Rachel stood on her dark brown Urnstian warhorse. Standing up on the stirups, the speaks to the assembled Knight, soldiers, adventurers and mercenaries.

"Knights, Countymen and foreign friends! I, Countess Rachel the First, have not yet been Countess for three months that find myself forced to call upon you. I have received grievous news from Ventnor. The laws of our land are being baffeled as worshippers of Hextor and other dark powers roam the streets without worry. They cull our good folks and herd them like cattle for whatever dark plot they are pursuing."

"THIS WILL NOT STAND! Due to their blatant disregard for our laws, our former allies, the Duergar of Clan Mithraldeath have made themselves guilty of supporting evil forces within the County. They have found themselves guilty of mass murder upon the population of the County. They have been found to worship and support the worship of banned religions within the County."

"That is why I call upon you all to raise a green banner and gather with us in Jedbridge to seal the fate of these vile creatures. I call upon all the Knights of the Swan and available military personnel to rally to my banner as we people of good, as we people of faith, as we people of the County strike back! Together We march to Ventnor. Together We fight for Ventnor. TOGETHER, WE RECLAIM VENTNOR!!! TO VENTNOR - TO WAR!!!"


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tweaking Pathfinder: Reviewing the charge action

One of the most complicated thing to explain to people is how charging works in Pathfinder. "I *KNOW* it's the same distance but you have to move here."

It really feels to me like an unneeded pain point and something that is both spectacular, fun and exciting. Charging should happen fairly often. There is already a built-in penalty (the -2 AC). I love it when the barbarian goes "I rage, charge and destroy!"

Then he is told "no".

So how can we make charging easier to learn, explain, and see more of. This is a double-edged sword for the players however, for the bad guys might also get a boost from this. The bad guys may get more charges at the PCs. Which pleases me to no end...

The rules

I went and referred to the PRD for the exact wording. While there are other conditions for charging, they are clear and simple. The one thing that does cause issue is in the "Movement during a charge" section. For brevity, I have copied the wording here.

You must have a clear path toward the opponent, and nothing can hinder your movement (such as difficult terrain or obstacles). You must move to the closest space from which you can attack the opponent. If this space is occupied or otherwise blocked, you can't charge. If any line from your starting space to the ending space passes through a square that blocks movement, slows movement, or contains a creature (even an ally), you can't charge. Helpless creatures don't stop a charge.

Emphasis mine.

That's a little convoluted and for someone who is NOT a rules lawyer - like me - this is confusing. Particularly the part about the "line". It's a concept that exists nowhere else in the game and that makes charge action, such as Ride-by-Attack a

Trying to simplify

Quite simply, I would change the wording to the following:
You must move to the closest space from which you can attack the opponent, with each square of movement you must get closer to the target. If this space is occupied or otherwise blocked, you can't charge. If you path has to go through any square passing through a square that blocks movement, slows movement, or contains a creature (even an ally), you can't charge..
Remove the "line" crap. Therefore, you still cannot charge THROUGH difficult terrain, an active ally or an enemy, but you don't have to charge "fully straight" at the enemy, allowing for charges that are NOT purely straight up. AND you can't charge around corners or going around large groups of people.

This type of charge move has been used in many other systems and encourages the charge action. If it is easier to do, people will do it more.


Now there is an important disclaimer: what's good for the goose is good for the gander. This means that enemies will get a lot more opportunities to charge as well. But frankly, I do not see an issue with a more dynamic combat where enemies charge each other every chance they get. If you want to charge through attacks of opportunity, go right ahead!

I think I may adopt this rule for my own games, it makes the charge rules simpler, easier and gets the action started faster...

The fact that I use a large number of barbarians in my games can have to do with this decision...

What do you guys think? Is this something I should allow in Legacies? Would it make combat more dynamic? More deadly? About the same?


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An honest shot: JPs verdict on 5e

So I have played 5e a few times now and I think perhaps the best way to describe my thoughts on it could be summed up by what one of my DMs said. "It feels like 2e"

Now maybe for him it was a good era but I quit playing D&D for 10 years because I found the game to be too limiting, too uniform, bland and boring.

I do not see any of the uber-versatility promised in the adventure offered. Its more mindless crawling through dungeons for a nebulous goal... Then again painting a Pinto red does not make it a Ferrari, the same way adding 3e flavor does not make it 3e.

The GM's comparison is not fair to 5e. The 25 years between 2e and 5e show clearly in the game. It offers a wider array of choices from the start.

I can't say that I was blown away nor disgusted by the whole thing either. In short, I feel blah about it. This NPC is indifferent. I don't feel strongly about it to go out of my way to play. I don't feel strongly about it to avoid it all costs... just meh. Blah.

- The advantage/ disadvantage system is okay, I'm not a huge fan, but I've seen worse.
- The stat-saves make me think many are never - or very rarely - used. "Make a Charisma save" is not something I heard.
- The skill system is better than 4e, and miles ahead of 2, but still feels limited.
- I like that they brought back the traditional alignment system.
- The background system is something I really like, perhaps the best element of 5e as a whole.
- I also like the motivations. It was really missing in D&D.

So in the end there is some good and some bad, none of which really pull the blanket one way or another to convince me to move from my "it's okay" rating.

Trust me on this folks, I wanted to come in and write a scathing "how much it sucks" or a "this is better than sex" post, but I cannot do so either way. I think my initial position of "cautious optimism" was the correct one.

Now, that said, I fully expect that the game will grow and its quality improve. I will be able to say when 5.5 comes out in a few years.

3/5 overall, mostly because I do not have a strong opinion either way, so average sounds like a good rating.

Will I play it again? Likely.

Do I prefer Pathfinder? Yes.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Con Recap: Winter Fantasy 2015

This year's Winter Fantasy was one I was very much looking forward to attending. It would be the first time I would bring adventures written by me to the con and I was really excited.

I spent the evening of Thursday at home with my wife and kids. It was very enjoyable... I got to watch Wifetime or some other chick-flick... It ended with a wedding and everything was good. I called out the ending at the start.

I woke up at 3am, finished loading the car and off I went. Reached the Grand Wayne Center around 7:15am ready for some action. I set up my banner and waited. I had few tickets sold and I purchased tickets to play the Arcanis adventures and returned to wait. Throughout the day, I filled my tables with released GMs. And was able to run 3 out of 4 of my projected slots.

Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, I got to play some Arcanis. Here, unfortunately, there were a few hickups. The kind of hickups that ruin events, but that aren't anyone's fault per se. One of the table didn't go too well, on the one hand, the GM was tired, on the other, some of the players didn't care and just wanted to leave. You know, THAT kind of table. I was tired and didn't push hard on some items and well... I ended up screwed. Big time. The kind of screwed level where you wonder if you want to play some more... I'm definitely unhappy about how things went down, but can't really complain as I am not completely without blame either... I will most likely put together a post once I am able to put things into perspectives.

The Sunday morning did not go off. Although I was ready to go, I took the option of driving back home instead.

Allow me to put down some high and low points of the con.

The Good Stuff

Very open atmosphere There is a fun atmosphere around the con, one of camaraderie I have not seen a lot at other events. It is refreshing and just a blast to see.

Great organization I cannot say enough good about the organization. Dave (the Baldman) runs a very tight ship with a staff that is not only very competent, but friendly, knowledgeable and extremely efficient. Show up at your muster and in a smooth way, you are shown to your place. I went to HQ upon my arrival and I was handed a clear and very clean sheet with my table (it was the same throughout the con), and shown where it was.

Seriously, to anyone who organizes game days and conventions, Baldman's games' organization is one that can give lessons to a lot of you. Yes, they have some added tracking but the whole thing runs smoothly. They have access to whatever you need as a GM.

Long-time friends Living Greyhawk was more than "just" an organized play campaign. It was a social network. A large and self-sustaining network in which I met great people, and made connections I will cherish forever, I will name Les-F, Konrad-B, Jay-B, the Baldman himself, Chris Tulach, Greg-M to name but a few. I got to hang out with them - albeit shortly. I do not think any campaign since has generated the type of friendship LG did... *sigh*

The Location I can already see some readers going "Really? You are talking about Fort Wayne, IN!" Well I can understand the comment. However, the Grand Wayne Center is located in downtown Ft Wayne. Meaning there is food in fat gamer walking distance. And not "just" one, but the best is "King Gyros" next door. I LOVE Greek food and partook often. It was good.

The Liberty Dinner Halfway across town, this unassuming dinner is a true gem I love to patron. They have large plates at a decent price.

The Bad Stuff

Low attendance Perhaps the biggest drawback of the con was the low attendance. For me, Winter Fantasy will always remain that enormous New York hangar of 2004. I have been talking about the con to everyone, but in the end I don't know what I can do. I really hope that next year's will be bigger. I will be putting together a Legacies program myself, with the hope to bring in more people, and hopefully cross-pollinated with the Arcanis/Witch Hunter crowd. Seriously, the bigger the attendance, the more game options there will be. If you have a chance to go, come. Really. This is a great con. If you have a chance, please come.

Almost exclusively 5e/Wizards centric/ few other options This one is more a con for me, rather than for other, but the focus, and majority of the attendance is clearly on 5e. Again, not a bad thing, but not a big thing for me. 90%+ of the tables played were 5e, which had a strong presence. Good to see the community thrives.

No other Pathfinder This is one that keeps puzzling me as to why the Pathfinder Society does not support this local con any more. I know "things" happened, but. FOR PETE'S SAKES, GROW UP. The gaming community is not big enough to play these type of fight games. Indiana, Ohio & Michigan VOs, that is a FAIL on *YOU*. As is, I can say that I am the only Pathfinder available out there.


I really plan on attending next year, hopefully see the team and get to run more and new exciting games.

Apart from "the table", I had a great time.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

More Secret Project X thoughts

One of the ideas I have been wrestling with is to present players with character choices that are not directly linked to an in-game bonus.

I will take as an example of Pathfinder's traits. When I first read about them, I really loved the idea, seeing them as a chance to provide some flavor to a character. I scanned the list to find something to which I could add some RP to my character. What a letdown it was when I realized that they served no purpose that to give people a +2 to initiative and/or make Perception a class skill. No flavor, no reason, no story, just math.

That is one of the main reason Legacies does not use traits. I want to use that "slot" for something more interest and something that I, as a writer and a campaign director, can hook onto and make the players' experience more tailored to them.

I think we achieved this in NeoExodus. If you did not know, there are no traits in the Legacies campaign. Rather, players are given a home region, which does a number of things.

   -  It gives that a character a different flavor, so that a fighter from the Confederacy immediately has a different imagery than one from the Protectorate.
   -  It gives the GM an immediate means of reacting to certain characters.
   -  It opens up access to regionally-based feats, prestige classes, and archetypes. This is a crunch element.
   -  It allows the PC to make any Knowledge checks up to DC 15 rather than the usual DC 10.

So I am looking to create something similar for Secret Project X... Not only am I looking for that sub-system to work with SPX, but also with NeoExodus and not unbalance the campaign! I had a lot of time to think and ponder ideas during the drive Nashville to Louisville to Fort Wayne, and then back again... Twelve hours to think...

I have not fully found the answer I was looking for, but I have a few ideas. Perhaps holding a public design session like the one I did for the book on Gytha... I think it might help me get different points of view on what I'm thinking.

You all know by now that I seek to find a light, simple and elegant solution that is easy to self-administer.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First Love: My first Winter Fantasy

The first time I went to Winter Fantasy was back in Jan 2004. At that time, it was in Secaucus, New Jersey. Or "New York" as we foreigners referred to it. I remember our original plan: gather in Sherbrooke, play an LG game there. Then sleep for 3-4 hours. Then hop into the car and drive south down I-89.

Well that was the plan.

However, my boss at the time, kept me in the office until 8 or 9pm (the original plan called for us to meet in Quebec City around 9pm) to address some issue that didn't really matter in the end. But nevertheless, it was important for me to get that done. Finally, I left work, ran home, gathered all the folks who were coming from Quebec City and off to Sherbrooke. There, I slept an hour as they finished a game that sprung as they were waiting for us.

"Hey JP, wanna play a mod?" I was asked and I hopped to my feat, and I was sitting down playing an Adventure. With the rising of the Sun came time to head to NY. With a 6h car drive, we had a lot of fun joking and generally being a group of guys on a car trip.

The weekend was great and we came back beat and tired, I don't remember sleeping much during those three days - or where we slept, actually - the weekend was filled with ARs and new rewards for the start of year 4... And a story.

A few things of note, it was the pre-release of the Eberron campaign and short "sample" adventures were being offered. I did not participate in them myself, but some of the group did and really liked it. I never liked Eberron and things I heard there confirmed my dislike.

I also remember that place was just ENORMOUS! It felt like a airplane hangar. I don't think it was THAT big, but walking from one end to the other took a while.

I since returned to WF in 2005 (by plane), 2008 (for the 4e kick-off), and 2014.

And now, for the first time, I will be attending and showcase my own material instead of that of others. Plus I was quite excited to see that we were mentioned as an important mark in the Winter Fantasy Wikipedia!

My adventures are ready to go. I "just" need to print them and I'm off on my way! Now tomorrow will be such a long day at work. A lot of work to finish, but it'll be awesome. Gah! I can't wait!


Monday, February 2, 2015

More Legacies Blurbs!

So I have been working hard... and finally I can announce details of upcoming adventures. The first two will officially premiere are Winter Fantasy, and have a few re-runs during the winter. Plains of Sametia and Knee Deep both received good marks from the play-testers! They are really intended to be played back-to-back, but if you cannot, that's fine.

Now I am releasing the code and blurb for the interactive I will run at this year's Lexicon in... Lexington, KY! So here are the first three parts of the "Battle for Gytha" revealed.

94-LC-04 Plains of Sametia
By JP Chapleau Uses Pathfinder RPG, Pre-gen provided.
With work on Trovaska proceeding on schedule, the leaders of the Arman Protectorate set their sights on their next target: Gytha. But the Janus Horde is not quite willing to giving up their hold on the city.
Part one of the Battle for Gytha series. This adventure uses material in the Cities of NeoExodus: Gytha book.
An adventure written for APLs 3, 5, 7 and 9 (character levels 3-10).

94-LC-05 Knee Deep
By JP Chapleau Uses Pathfinder RPG, Pre-gen provided.
From a small enclave deep in enemy territory, the Arman Protectorate plans to send a small group of adventurers to map and chart the way to their ultimate prize: the city of Gytha. It seems pretty simple, but what they want you to explore is the Merzkyi Bog, a swamp created and maintained by insane druids.
Part two of the Battle for Gytha series. This adventure uses material from the Cities of NeoExodus: Gytha and Gostor: Skill Encounters books.
An adventure written for APLs 3, 5, 7 and 9 (character levels 3-10).

94-LI-02 Ablaze went the Swamp
By JP Chapleau Uses Pathfinder RPG, Pre-gen provided.
The Arman Protectorate is beginning its push against the Janus Horde. Although the Horde has thus far retreated, it will do so no more. As the long-range artillery begins firing into the swamp, the enemy refuses to cower and die. A cornered animal has little to lose, even if it means setting fire to the swamp.
This adventure is part of the Battle for Gytha series and will only be run once. This adventure will feature up to 12 players at once on a battle field.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Secret Project X taking shape, Part 1

Since the Christmas holidays I have been putting a lot of time and effort into this new idea of mine. A new secret project x.

The core of the idea dates back a long time ago, back to my high school days at the Collège de Montréal, back when our lunch and our recess periods had only one goal: gaming.

Back in those days I was a terrible GM. I was a terrible player. Our plots were thinly veiled redo of movies we had all just seen. Or an excuse to face some random monster found in one of the monster manuals... we had some of the weirdest and most powerful magic items just lying around.

For example, my own character was named Troph el'Abdul. He was a priest of Anubis. One day we entered some temple, killed the undead within, and found Anubis' own sword in there. My young mind raced at the prospect of discovering what it could do. I immediately began thinking of a quest to discover its powers. But that never happened. There never was a short quest or any campaign.

Pat-D, the gm, began saying what it did. My hopeful dreams died there. While I do not remember everything it did, I remember this: once per day I could summon Anubis to save my bacon with a chance equal to my level. Also since it was a sword my 1e cleric could use it. And if I hit an opponent they had to save vs petrification or turn to sand.

And that was just my benny. I gave similar items and ruined games too.

But out of that generally bad set of items came a number of cool elements. As a shared world, the three "more regular" GMs (Pat-D, Marc-P and myself did not do a lot of communal world building. If we needed something we added it to the world and moved on. Only rarely did we go back to a previous location.

For years, I kept my notes on that setting. I touched but never actually played it again in the years since. I cleaned the house and got rid of this material as we moved to Colorado.

"I never looked at it before, why would I need it now?" I thought. At the time I only wrote occasionally. I was heavily involved in Living Greyhawk and well. I had not played it in 15+ years. Although I now lament the loss of many maps and notes, I get to remember them through a rose-filtered lens. All the terrible junk is now gone leaving only the high points.

I still would like to have all that old stuff but I think the main and most important parts survived through the years in my mind. When I began to play around with the material, the map I drew was heavily influenced by the old map of that world. Major cities were placed in a similar location. And some of the names are the same.

To be continued.