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The Iron Y

Yeah, that’s my lame attempt at self-deprecation.

Note to self: the next time you write a blog post stating that a writer writes every day, don’t follow it up with a year of not writing.

 

I had a couple of projects offered last summer which I passed on simply because I was at a mental point where writer’s burnout seemed a valid option, so I’ve done (very) little writing this past year and concentrated more on hanging out with my wife and kids, shuttling the latter to and from various activities, helping out more at the elementary school my daughter attends (for which I wound up being awarded Patron of the Year honors which had been completely unexpected), playing video games with the kids, and watching too much TV (still). Basically, what I’ve been doing the last few years without the headache of forcing myself to sit at the keyboard every day either writing or attempting voice-over.

What I’ve discovered is that I still want to write, but the need to do so is less aggravating. Either I write or I don’t write. I spend a lot of time writing in my head, but when I sit at the keyboard, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor, decide to hop on the ‘net for inspiration, and two hours later I’ve surfed a dozen sites, given myself a headache doing so, managed not to write anything, and it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And wasn’t the whole point to do this without the throbbing skull? What I’d really like is a means to just think about writing and have the words magically appear on screen. That way I could write in my sleep.

Which would likely get me in trouble, so scratch that idea.

Now, when I say I haven’t been writing, I’m not being completely truthful. I still carry around my notebook and keep track of ideas as they float between my ears. I have notes for a couple of novels and half a dozen short stories, ideas for possible blog posts, and scribbles here and there on a setting or two that came to mind during the past year.

The kids and I were watching The Musketeers on BBCAmerica¹ and I found myself admiring the overuse of leather in the costumes, the dusty settings, the brawling sword fights, and the crack of musket fire. A few weeks after the season ended I saw Quigley Down Under (which I still think is one of the best Westerns ever produced), and I thought Musketeers + Old West + Pirates (since everything is better with pirates), so I began jotting ideas for what I’m currently calling the Crossbones & Cattle Barons, or Swashbuckling Old West, setting.

I know I want a continent ripe for plunder, discovered sometime shortly after a protracted war between various political factions across the remainder of the world. The continent has arable land, wide open spaces, mountains filled with jewels and precious metals, and it includes creatures not encountered in other countries along with a native population that fiercely guards its homeland. Tentatively, I’d be running this with the Honor & Intrigue system² because a few members in my gaming group (including me) are interested in seeing that system being used. Not that a system should have any real bearing on the setting itself and it probably wouldn’t anyway, but I do have a tendency to make system mechanic notes as I’m brainstorming.

I’d wavered awhile on including non-humans in the setting but decided since one of the major resources found in this New World would be Dragon Stones, the fossilized remnants of long-dead dragons, that having non-humans was a small step (and allows use of those elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin swashbuckler figures from Reaper). So, yeah, the standard fantasy races are there but with minor tweaks. Many of the standard fantasy monsters will be included as well but I’m working on reasons for them to exist and not drop them in just “because they’re in the monster manual.”

I know one of the towns at the edge of settled lands in this New World is Farkeep, a mining colony, at which is stationed a regiment of King’s Musketeers to guard against monsters and those natives I’d mentioned earlier . . . halflings (or gnomes). I haven’t come up with a better name for them yet, but I wanted a race that is small and would refer to the long-dead dragons as creators or deities. Yeah, I could go the 3rd edition D&D route and have them be kobolds, but I still recall images of the dog-headed creatures from the 1st edition Monster Manual. That may all change.

One of the areas near Farkeep is a ranch called The Iron Y, run by a retired alchemist named Yeager. He has a problem with those halflings (or gnomes or kobolds) and might wind up hiring a group of adventurers to exterminate the varmints. And, of course, the alchemist will wear a shooting iron slung low on his hip and chew up the scenery, claiming he had been born on the wrong continent . . . or maybe not.

I’ll keep plugging away at the setting, jotting notes as they come to mind, and I’ll try to post ideas here once every few weeks. We’ll see how things go.

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1. The first season of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second season was less enjoyable for the kids because it was a bit darker (and methinks the third season will be even more so) and they found Rochefort less amusing as a villain than Cardinal Richelieu. And I thought Peter Capaldi was excellent in that role.
2. Which you might recall my mentioning previously as being a variant of the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

Hey, You Got Your CCG in my RPG! (part 1)*

So let me see a show of hands. How many of you have decks of collectible card games (CCGs) lying about the house? Just one? Two or three? Half a dozen or more?

Off the top of my head I can think of 7th Sea, Sailor Moon, Dark Age, Doom Trooper, Card Captors, Legend of the Five Rings, Dark Eden, and Legend of the Burning Sands filling various sized boxes back in my game room (and I know I have at least half a dozen others). Some of those are only one or two decks while others are nearly complete collections . . . and they spend most of their time just taking up space.

Yeah, I know, I could just get rid of them, but A) they’re good games and B) I always find it difficult getting rid of something that can be used for something else or that I’d like to play again at some point down the road.

Thus bringing me to an idea I had awhile back using CCGs as a Drama Deck (or Plot Cards or Power -Ups or some other player and/or GM aid) for a roleplaying game. There are a few discussions banging around RPG.net and other forums about hybrids or systems designed with card decks involved. There are a few RPG-CCG hybrids that have surfaced over the years—Dragon Storm, SAGA Dragonlance and SAGA Marvel, Untold, and Dark Legacy—but I’m more interested in using all those card games gathering dust and somehow jiggering them into whatever RPG my group happens to be playing at the time.2

This all ties in with a project I’ve jumped into recently . . . Gamer Lifestyle Bootcamp, an online course designed to get the participants up-and-running with at least one published RPG product by the end of the month. While I know people who have, I’ve never jumped through the writer-publisher hoops myself. Any writing I’ve done has been turned over to someone else who did layout and so on. So I figured I’d bite a d20, cross my fingers, and take the plunge.

More on that and the inclusion of CCGs into RPGs next time.

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*Forgive any lack of coherence, I’m still recovering from the week away as a parent counselor for my son’s class at a YMCA camp. It was a fun but thoroughly exhausting week.

2OK, so I don’t have a regular group currently. Maybe I’ll need to go back to my old group, RPG books under one arm, beggar’s cup in one hand, wearing a sandwich board reading: Have Dice will Game. Now, that being said, Sundered Epoch does have a short article on using Magic the Gathering cards to build encounters in a fantasy campaign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Down Orcs in a Bugatti Veyron*

Not really, but the moment someone creates a game where I can do just that, I’ll buy it.

Around the occasional burst of writing and/or voice-over work lately,2 I’ve been playing Gran Turismo 5, which I picked up a couple months ago. I’d been playing Sid Meier’s Pirates on Xbox (which I still think is one of the best swashbuckling video games around) and happened to catch one of the Fast and Furious movies on TV one evening after shutting down the console. I soon felt a need for speed (but not that franchise—I don’t like having to dodge police cars while racing around town: they always catch me. And with Hot Pursuit, when I play the police, the bad guys are always getting away). So, having been a fan of the original, I broke down and picked up a copy of GT5.

I’ve been having fun with the game. True, I’m really bad at racing games and my style of video driving is to set traction as high as it will go and use whatever monster car I can get away with using for the race. Oh, and brakes? What are those? That car, the wall over there, the grass, all do wonders for slowing the car down as it takes corners. Of course, that means I wind up spending money to rebuild the vehicle, but at least with GT5 I can keep racing long after the car would realistically be headed for the scrap heap.3 Of course, after a session of ripping past other cars on the track, slamming head-first into the barrier on the London track (or any of half a dozen others with sharp turns), doing so repeatedly because I just don’t take the corners slow enough (but the monster car allowing me to pull first place anyway) when I go out to run a few errands, the kids often complain, “Dad, this is a van, not a race car!”

Insert evil cackle here.

One of the things I enjoy about GT5 is playing the game while I’m cooking dinner (or picking the kids up from school) since the game allows the player to race (A-Spec) or to run a set of drivers who race for you (B-Spec). It is particularly amusing since I picked up the Red Bull X2011 Prototype (the fastest, most agile, monster of a car in the game) and have had my lowest level drivers racing against opponents driving Honda Civics or maybe a Lotus Elise (or similar) and winning by several minutes. Yes, that goes against the grain of struggling for the win, achieving victory despite having the slowest car in the bunch, and so on, but when I want to play but have something else that I need to be doing at the same time, it helps to put the drivers in a car that allows them to win without any coaching.

The kids often watch while I play. My son has tried driving but dislikes the PS controller. My daughter just likes watching the cars go fast. But one thing I have noticed is they both tend to pay attention to cars on the road and during the first episode of the current season of Top Gear USA (which both my kids love) they saw the cars that Rutledge, Tanner, and Adam were driving and said, “Lamborghini, the really fast car that looks like a Lamborghini, and and the American snake car, whatever it’s called.”

Proud papa moment, and no, I’m not a car person in any way, shape, or form. I just like the video games.

At the same time I purchased GT5, I had also picked up Lord of the Rings: War in the North and, while I like the game, it doesn’t have the same pull for me that GT does. Now my son, on the other hand, loves War in the North because he likes the Middle Earth setting and it’s a two-player game, allowing him to play the game with me.4 I, of course, am running the dwarf while my son is running the ranger. We’ve had fun despite a glitch (or two) where the AI-run elf wizard hangs a couple of areas back and we realize she isn’t with us and have to backtrack, only to have her stay where she is while we press on and cross our fingers that she shows up at the portal for the next area.5 I’ve had a suspension of disbelief problem with the bomb goblins, whatever they’re called. I don’t recall reading anything about TNT-toting goblins in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, which seem more a Warhammer than a Tolkien motif.6

Anyway, we’re slowly pushing our way through the game while my daughter sits to the side pointing out things we’ve missed (tracks for the ranger to follow, weak areas in the rock for the dwarf to break through, that orc jumping from the behind the rock).7 She seldom wants to play video games (aside from a few on the Nintendo DS), but she is always our best lookout. Maybe we’ll finish it. Maybe not, but we’re having fun with both games.

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*OK, maybe in a long straight-away. Any turns in there and the orc would likely dodge the Bugatti, which steers like a “bucket of rocks” as I’ve seen posted on various GT5-related forums.

2Yeah, sure, around is a word, through is another, and even though instead of are two words, they more accurately describe my time spent in front of the console.

3There had been another racing game I’d tried a few years back (may have been the Need for Speed franchise) where, after every race, all the money I’d earned—and then some—was going toward rebuilding my car. Yeah, I know, learn to control the car better. But I drive sensibly in real life. I don’t want to be forced to do so in a video game. In a video game I just want to drive fast.

4I have the gratuitous violence turned off so no geysers of blood when orcs and goblins are cut down though some areas don’t even require the blood to be rather intense.

5So far we’ve been lucky and she has shown up by that time.

6But I could be mistaken since the lotr.wikia indicates there is mention of the goblins possessing dark technology and being fond of explosives in The Hobbit. I’d need to reread the book to verify this.

7When I had Warhammer 40K: Space Marine (which I never I finished), my daughter was the one who got me through most of the areas I completed because she spotted things long before I ever did. Good eyes and good ears.

Barbarians of Lemuria Variants

The Barbarians of Lemuria system* by Simon Washbourne is easily converted to other genres. What follows are a few of the published variants.

Barbarians of Lemuria Legendary (the advanced rules) uses a Lemuria of Washbourne’s devising since he was unable to acquire the rights to Lin Carter’s version of Lemuria (used with the free version of BoL).

Barbarians of the Aftermath is a post-apocalyptic setting which provides additional Careers, rules for “build-your-own” apocalypse, vehicle rules, and so on.

Dogs of W*A*R is Washbourne’s rules for the Big Muscles, Big Guns books and movies of the 70s and 80s ala A-Team, Mack Bolan, and others.

Legends of Steel (BoL version) is another setting using these rules.

Dicey Tales (a PDF magazine) has rules for Pulp-styled settings.

Honor + Intrigue is a swashbuckling set of rules combining BoL with a bit of 7th Sea and a dash of the action breakdown of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. This system tends to stretch the basic BoL system enough that it’s almost a different game, but I am still interested in running a campaign using it.

Barbarians of Heavy Metal is a Kickstarter using the BoL (and Barbarians of the Aftermath) rules tweaked to represent the Rocktagon: the Eight Great Schools of Rock as the characters wander the desolate wastes seeking fame and fortune. I’m interested in seeing what the author has come up with for this game.

Those are the settings I have come across. If you’ve come across others, let me know.

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*Often referred to as the BoX system.

Fast and Loose Role-play*

For the past year (or so) I’ve been on the hunt for a game system that has a minimum of rules to remember and is easily run. I’ve looked at various titles and discarded each until I came across Barbarians of Lemuria** by Simon Washbourne, author of SUPERS! and other game systems. The link provided takes you to the basic (free) game.

I’m not going to review the game system here. If you’d like to read a review (or two), you can find some here and here at RPG.net and here at Knights of the Black Banner. What I will give you is a quick overview of the system.

Barbarians of Lemuria (henceforth BoL) is designed around the mechanic of roll 2d6, add the relevant Attribute, add Combat Ability (if fighting) or Career (if not fighting), plus any other modifiers the GM calls for, and try to meet or beat a target number of 9. It doesn’t really get much more complicated than that.

Characters have Attributes of Strength, Agility, Mind, and Appeal; and Combat Abilities of Brawl, Melee, Ranged, and Defense, each having a range of -1 to 5 (or a maximum of 3 for a beginning character). Unlike practically every game system to hit the market since the mid-80s, BoL doesn’t have lists of skills that characters have to pay points into and improve. Instead, they have Careers, and a character’s Rank in a Career determines how capable he is in it, ranging from 0 for someone who either hasn’t been pursuing the Career for very long (or merely has a natural ability in it) to Rank 5, meaning he is a master and hardly ever fails “skill checks” in that Career. A few sample Careers are Barbarian, Magician, Noble, Slave, Thief, and so on.

The game also doesn’t include long equipment lists with accompanying costs. In fact, Washbourne notes in the chapter on equipment that characters can have whatever gear would be necessary for adventuring, and there are no rules for encumbrance. However, he does also add:

If you want backpacks full of . . . adventuring gear, a weapon for every occasion, three spare suits of armour and a pack animal to carry it all around on then play another game. If all you want is a breechclout and a sturdy blade, play on!

At this point I’ve only played and/or run one-shots with the system (and its variants), so I do not know how well the system would run for a long-term campaign.*** What I do know is the game plays pretty fast, and encounter building avoids most of the hassle I’ve run into with other systems.****

This is definitely a system I will spend more time playing.

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*I dropped from my weekly gaming group two months or so back. Doesn’t mean I’ve given up thinking about games—or writing about them—just playing them for the time being . . . although I did start running my kids through the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, another system that I find interesting so far.

**Not to be confused with Lemurian barbarians, which I’d expect to be rather nasty tempered and not much fun to play with.

***Though I do have plans to run a Hyborian Age (Conan) campaign at some point.

****The basic rules don’t spend much time with NPCs, so the GM is forced to make things up on the fly, which really isn’t difficult with this system anyway but someone new to the whole roleplaying thing might have problems. Barbarians of Lemuria Legendary (the advanced rules, available here or here, not free) provides more assistance with “winging it.”

Dem Bones and . . . Dwarves!

Oh, my eyes were bleeding!

OK, not really, but it sure felt that way after receiving my Vampire pledge box of Reaper Bones miniatures last week. I was giddy. Christmas in June.

I opened the outer box and this is what greeted me:

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Santa came early . . . or really late.

My son took one look and said, “That can’t be 200 miniatures.” Then I opened the white box and pulled out the inner plastic bags and laid those on the table.

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Good thing Bones don’t need air.

He still shook his head and went to play video games while I took a few more pictures. I didn’t start counting minis until a day or so later. I was trying to figure out how best to go about it when I ran across this life (and time) saving link, which shows the Vampire pledge level of minis plus gives a list of the optional add-ons with links to larger images of the minis. Now, while there was one noticeable error*the page definitely helped me with the process. It took only a small handful of hours rather than an entire week to wade through the 240-some-odd miniatures in the box.**

My daughter helped open the smaller bags to extract individual miniatures. Once done, we set those on the table to see just how many miniatures were in the box.

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Nearly 250 miniatures. Not enough to cover the table. Should’ve ordered a few more boxes.

Now, overall the miniatures are rather nice. They’re clean sculpts with few blemishes. Several figures look as though they are competing in a limbo tournament and will need some work, but the best thing about the Bones line—no drilling and pinning together disparate parts to put the silly things together. I have several of these minis already in metal but haven’t put them together for just that reason. Of the figures in this pack, the only ones that required any assembly were 3 of the giants and the griffon, but the pieces slotted together easily and it looks like the fusion glue I applied will hold them together without any problems.***

Once I finished with the Bones minis, I went ahead and pulled out the dwarves from the Kickstarter I’d pointed out awhile back and set them in their bases.

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I haven’t glued them in nor have I started any work on them. These pieces being metal have a high degree of flash both on the individual figures and on the resin bases.

Here’s an image of the troll figure that came as an addition with the dwarves.

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I think both Kickstarters were worth the price. I managed to get some really nice miniatures in both sets. Of course, my wife just looks at them and shakes her head, muttering about the house sinking because of all the minis stored in boxes in the back room.****

But when the waters rise, at least the Bones will float.

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*The first mini shown is Danar, male assassin; however, the Bones list link shows an image of Kellen, nobleman adventurer.

**I swapped out the Sophie the succubus on motorcycle Kickstarter exclusive for 4 extra giants (the frost giant king and queen and the fire giant king and queen) and an extra pack of 5 necromancers (can’t have enough wizards raising the dead).

***Sorry, no pics of those minis, either before or after. Oh, well, here’s a close-up of the frost giant king.

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****At last count, I had over 3,000 miniatures. Of course, that was made about 20 years ago when I was trying to maintain them on spreadsheet. I have no clue how many minis I have now.

 

Now Give Them a Dungeon to Explore

Last year I pointed out a Kickstarter project designing 28mm dwarves. I received the pack of miniatures back around the first part of December, and they are some nice looking minis.*

Now along come two other Kickstarter projects that will provide those dwarven miniatures dungeons to explore—both of which close toward the end of this month.

The first that came to my attention is the Dwarven Forge Game Tiles. Now, these are a hefty set of tiles made of resin, for a rather hefty price. You’re looking at $65 for a base set of tiles (unpainted, cast in a dark grey, containing 14 straight walls, 12 floors, 6 corner walls, and 2 swinging doors) and probably a minimum $120 (double the above floors, walls, and so on) to have enough tiles to build a reasonably sized play area of several rooms and connecting corridors. A two-set pledge is required to gain any of the “stretch goals” of additional wall sections and floor pieces. For about $30 more (each set), you get professi0onally painted tiles, saving the added time of painting them (or just applying a darker wash and lighter grey highlights) yourself. A friend of mine had a set of the Dwarven Forge tiles and found them quite sturdy and easily set up and taken down.

The other set I only recently found out about. Dungeons of the Mountain King, by Fat Dragon Games, is a PDF with connecting pieces, columns, and sundry other things. There are actually four sets within this project. At $14 your backing gets you the Dungeons of the Mountain King set, containing modular walls, floors, stairs, and props. For $23, you get the Halls of the Mountain King (which includes the previous set) while at the $37 level you get the Caverns of the Mountain King (again, including the previous sets). The highest base level ($49) adds the Caverns of the Drow expansion, which also includes all previous sets.

Either one looks to be a nice addition to any gaming miniature collection. Haven’t decided which one (if either) I’ll back** though the Dwarven Forge tiles have the benefit of being less time consuming but significantly more expensive.

I have until the end of April to figure out what I’ll do.

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*Once I ever get around to cleaning them up and mounting them on bases, I’ll take some pictures and post them . . . but don’t hold your breath expecting that to be anytime soon.

**Since I’m still trying to pull enough funds together to replace the current computer.

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