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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.

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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.”

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.

Old West in Outer Space: Converting Gunslingers and Gamblers for Star Wars (part 3)

Last time, I gave a quick overview of the game of sabacc in the Star Wars universe and started looking at how to put the concepts from that game onto dice for a Gunslingers and Gamblers conversion.

 Before I jump into that, let me go over how the poker dice are used in G&G. Non-player characters (referred to as townsfolk in G&G) roll 5 poker dice and must take whatever comes up. If the result is a simple “high card” which means they go with whatever die rolled the highest with no matches, that’s what they get and most likely will lose whatever contested roll they are in.

 Player characters and named NPCs will have a rank in a Trait (a skill such as Ride, Shooting, Fighting, and so on). That rank tells the player how many dice may be re-rolled after the initial roll. So if, you roll a pair of queens and three other differing dice while Fighting in the local saloon, and you have a Fighting of 2, you get to re-roll 2 of those three other dice and see if they improve your current hand of one pair. Traits may have up to rank 5/5, which means a character can, after making an initial roll, roll all 5 dice, then pick and choose which of those dice he wants to re-roll. Certain pieces of equipment will give a raise, meaning whatever hand is rolled gets increased by one level (e.g. a rolled pair will be increased to three-of-a-kind when using some pistols). A few rifles grant two raises.

 Got it? If not, just ask questions in the comments section, and I’ll answer as best I can.

 Now, that being said, here is my current line of thinking on dice for this conversion.

 The numbered cards in sabacc are 1 – 11. Adding the four ranked cards brings the total number to 15, plus the eight face cards works out to a total of 23, oddly enough the number needed to win a hand in sabacc yet doesn’t fall onto any size die currently on the market. Yeah, someone could create a wonky-sized die to fit, but I want to use a die type that is available now. There is a 24-sided die, but hard to come by.

 So the next best thing is to separate the cards into different dice, and since we need at least two “cards” for a minimum hand in sabacc, let’s try a d10 (dropping the 1) for the numbered cards, and a d12 for the ranked and face cards.

 Now the problem I run into with this is for standard poker dice, each die has the same values. If this conversion were to use a d10 and d12, I’m already skewing the results for the dice. And if those faces have differing values, the results move farther apart. I’m not certain if having different size/type dice will really matter. I’m no statistician and the guy in my gaming group who lived and breathed numbers passed away last year, so that’s no help.

 Anyway, the object would be to get closest to 23 without going over, as in sabacc, with the Idiot’s Array being the best hand possible. In order to do the latter, we’d need at least three dice—two with numbers (for the 2 and 3) and one with the face card (the Idiot, value 0)—with the numbered and face cards, so two dice for the numbered cards (10-sided dice) and two dice with the ranked and face cards represented (12-sided dice). I’d probably toss in another ten-sided die just to bring things to five dice.

 Another problem I foresee deals with the number of dice involved and calculating them. In standard G&G, you roll five dice looking for the best hand. With sabacc dice (for lack of another term right now), you’d roll five dice and still look for the hand closest to 23 or -23 without going over (remembering that a 0, 2, 3 automatically wins). That’s a bunch of adding and subtracting, taking into account the use of negative numbers. My brain just takes a sudden lurching halt at that, kind of like I did a few weeks ago while play-testing ICONS, a superhero roleplaying game. Figuring positive numbers gives me no problems, yet once I hit 0 and drop below that, I have to start counting on my fingers.*

 This makes that quick and easy game seem further away than originally intended.

 But let’s see where this leads.

 So we have a total of five dice being rolled: three 10-sided dice representing the numbered cards of 2 – 11 and two 12-sided dice representing the ranked and face cards with various positive and negative values. Roll the dice and determine the value of the hand rolled with the closest to 23 (or -23) being the winner. Right?

 In standard G&G, characters have traits, allowing for re-rolls, which works fine in that game as quickly as a hand can be realized once everyone becomes familiar with poker terminology. In this case, re-rolling a die or more forces more math on the fly, which some people have absolutely no problem with and might possibly enjoy but others won’t. So instead, let’s have traits determine how many dice may be kept to determine final hand with everyone keeping two dice to start.

 This means, roll five dice, keeping the two closest to 23 (or -23 though that number may be harder to attain than a positive). A trait of Shooting 1 allows one extra die to be kept, with a maximum of 3 in a trait keeping all 5 dice.

 I think this might work, but I’ll need to make a mock-up set of dice to try it out.

 Do you have any ideas on how to get this to work? I’d love hearing from you, especially if you’re enamored with numbers and statistics as I want to find a balance between ease-of-play (still not so easy but workable right now) and [something about the numbers making sense].

 Next time we’ll look at the trait system, equipment, and maybe a review of a dice test (if I get the mock-ups done).

*And ICONS uses only5 to -5for its range. This sabacc variant would have a range of 63 to -28 using all five dice, if I’ve calculated things correctly.

Old West in Outer Space: Converting Gunslingers and Gamblers for Star Wars (part 1)

I’ve written a review of Gunslingers and Gamblers (available here at RPGNow.com or here through Lulu.com), a game which I consider to be one of the best pick-up systems for running a Wild West-themed game. Sure, other Old West oriented games exist—Aces & Eights being one of the more popular out there—but G&G is a fast, loose system that a GM can easily run with only a half an hour’s notice. The main thing it requires is a handful of poker dice. While it can be run with standard six-sided dice, the poker dice are its shtick and one that is easily understood by all involved even though it may take a few plays just to firmly get “hands” in mind if you’re not a poker player.*

The dice have the following faces: 9, 10, J, Q, K, A. All die rolls involve throwing five dice and seeing who gets the best hand, ranging from a pair (two dice with the same face) up to five-of-a-kind (all dice showing the same face). Once a player understands the ranking of hands, throwing dice and reading the result become almost intuitive, making for a very quick game, something I always look forward to, both as player and referee.

Now, a few weeks ago, one of the players mentioned using the G&G rules for a modern ops game. Switch out some of the skills (all of which are very broad to begin with—guns, melee, riding, for instance) with their current equivalents and then go. Members of the military (and by extension mercenaries) play dice games, so the shtick would still hold. And this would work fine.

But I’ve been hankering to run a Star Wars game for some time and while there are other systems out there already built with that title in mind (West End Games d6 version, Wizards of the Coast’s d20 version, a few variants can be found on the ‘net for Savage Worlds), my gaming group knows me well for making mountains out of molehills where my gaming ideas are concerned.

At one point I’d considered using 7th Sea as the base for a Star Wars conversion, but after a short-lived pirate campaign, I decided the system moved too slowly for me. Then, after the suggestion was made for modern ops, I thought, “What about Star Wars?”

And all the players in my group groaned. In jest, because they like Star Wars but they also know it’ll be awhile before I get things up and running while I figure out how best to work the Gunslingers and Gamblers system with a Star Wars-oriented spin to its basic poker dice shtick.

Next up, looking at Star Wars “poker”.

* My son played G&G the first time when he was 7 and picked it up very quickly. Of course, he’s been playing with dice since he was three and seems to have a firmer grasp on most things numbers related than I do.

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