Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Modern Dispatch #109: WWII-era Supervillains

Any time I have a chance to design supervillains I'm a happy man. Designing WWII-villains? Priceless.

Designing this team was a fun, interesting challenge and I think GMs running Blood and Vigilance will find the resulting team suitably nasty.

Check out WWII-era Supervillains and let me know what you think.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NPC Based Design

I've had the opinion for many years now that NPCs are the glue that drives all design.

Think about it.

What we refer to as mechanics are almost always character-centric. In other words, mechanics are there to build NPCs.

Now what about setting? What makes a setting memorable? Places can, but mostly it's the characters who interact with the PCs. In other words, NPCs. Are the PCs likely to remember the weapon shop or the crude, smelly weaponsmith who told them the not-for-mixed-company halfling's daughter joke? The bar they went into or the Thief they got into a knife-fight after their fourth drink?

Now let's look at adventures... By now I'm sure you know where I'm going with this.

While adventures are an area where plot is king, I still contend that the presence of a few interesting NPCs can make a standard dungeon crawl into something far more. Think about the moathouse in Hommlet, the starter adventure building up to the Temple of Elemental Evil.

Now what *I* remember about the moathouse is the "new master", Lareth the Beautiful. In fact, he appears in Monte Cook's sequel, Return to Temple of Elemental Evil. So an otherwise vanilla dungeon for low-level characters is suddenly memorable.

For that matter, try to imagine the Temple of Elemental Evil *without* Hommlet. Suddenly you've gone from playing the greatest module of all time to playing Diablo on the table-top.

Now I love Diablo but my point is, the presence of all those interesting NPCs in Hommlet, with their politics and their agendas, makes TOEE at least TWICE as good a module.

So what does this mean for Dungeon Masters?

Well, what it means is that designing interesting NPCs should be job one. When I create a campaign world, I like to have a map. I know you don't need one before the start of a game, but I feel more comfortable knowing the lay of the land in macro, meaning I at least want a continent worth of map.

Once I have that done, my #2 priority is NPCs. Some will be allies, some will be enemies but they will be the fuel for the engine. From there, plots just naturally seem to follow. If an NPC the characters have taken a liking to gets into trouble, that's not an adventure you need to sell them on or cajole them to undertake.

And what's more, it makes your campaign feel like a living, breathing place. Much more so than yet another quest for the Elemental Widget of DOOM!

In short, NPCs provide adventure material and are the best way to make your campaign seem like a real place. Try it. I think focusing on NPCs will improve your campaigns immensely.

And if you'd like a little help creating interesting NPCs, you might check out NPC Essentials. It's the best selling product in RPGObjects history. I didn't write it, but I heartily endorse it.

Small Arms of WWII

Small arms of WWII is out. This book contains small arms from every major power (Britain, United States, Germany, Russia, Japan) taking part in WWII.

Do not disturb

So about 10 months ago, while working on B&G II Special Ops Command, I posted a poem I found on a special ops website, because I liked it.

While I knew posting the poem itself was a slight breach of netiquette (I should have just linked to it) I thought I was being helpful. It was good stuff, why not share the love right?

Well the other day I received this in my email (I'm only posting the highlights here).

Charles Rice?     hmm?
Nope, I don't recall giving you permission to re-publish
my work.


But, as a "writer" you
must know the big chunk of "you" that comes out and
onto the paper when you write something like this.
So sorry. I thought people wrote things, then posted them on public websites because they wanted them to be read.

Now I realize that, as a "writer" the "you" that comes out on the page really just wants to be left alone.

Happy to oblige.

I have a dream

So last night I dozed while working and had the most awesome dream:

Im in Junior High. I was my current age, but for some reason I was at my old Junior High School. People were turning into zombies and running amok. Dennis Franz and I are hunting them down with crossbows.

When we would run across people who seemed normal, we'd herd them into classrooms and duct tape them to chairs.

Why can't my real life be this cool. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why TV sucks

Because the West Wing did not end with Martin Sheen (the President) going insane and being assassinated by Christopher Walken.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Roll with the New: Branching Out

This is a post I've started to type a couple of times and ultimately ditched. In the words of suburban all-stars Midnight Brown, "This is kinda hard".

I'm no longer working exclusively for RPGObjects.

A bunch of things happened that I'm not going to go into because, well, it's none of your business, but ultimately, in what I'd call a mutual decision Chris and I decided it didn't make sense anymore for me to work exclusively for him.

What does this mean for you guys? Well, maybe not much.

I'm still going to work with Chris at RPGObjects and we're still going to do the type of stuff you've come to expect from us. Maybe not at the same pace but not really much more slowly than what you're used to I don't think.

However, it does mean that I'm going to be working with other people as well and hopefully doing things you haven't seen me do before. For instance, I just got done writing a PDF for Phil Reed's Ronin Arts. Not much more I can say about it right now but when I am able to, I will.

And finally, I'm going to be self-publishing some more under my Vigilance Press imprint, which is where I got my start as a writer.

So I think you're going to see a wider range of things from me than you have in the past. This is something of a new experience for me and I will be muddling a little till I find my way.

But change is good. As Chris Rock would say, "roll with the new, either it's new or it's through".


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Antagonistic Protagonists

One of the dumbest terms to come along in gaming in recent... well, ever really is the tendency of gamers to refer to themselves as "protagonists".

Even dumber is the mangling of language with which this terms is typically expressed. It's not stated as a positive but a negative. In other words, "de-protagonize". Allow me to pause while I kick back some Chivas Regal and get the bad taste that word (for lack of a better name) gives me out of my mouth.

So as if it's bad enough that the GM needs to worry about "railroading" the PCs through a plot or other dastardly devices, he now also needs to worry about "de-protagonizing" them.

I realize what the word means. It means PCs want to be the heroes. They don't want to be upstaged by an NPC.

But could we please stop organizing the Player Pride Parade for a bit?

Can you imagine if the GM looked at a player who had just done something fiendishly clever to an NPC and said "don't de-antognize me"?

All you need to do is think about that word for 30 seconds to realize what it means is "the GM's job is to entertain and empower me".

In other words, we've gone beyond the idea that a GM has a unique status at the game table to GM = Entertainment Center.

And btw... this notion that the players and GM are "equal partners" in the game, that the players should have as much say in the world and what happens as the GM was the first step in this direction.

A player who wants equal say at my table can grind out a few dozen NPC statblocks for me to use, and then find some photos and newspaper headlines for PC handouts.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Fear the Boot Episode #18

I like the podcast, but this is exactly what's wrong.

They spend two episodes (this and the one after it) talking about a company that's out of business.

And they laugh about the fact that maybe they should have that much devotion to a company that's managed to stay in business.

Yeah, it depresses me too.

Btw... anyone remember when Mike Stackpole talked about why FASA was going to outlive TSR? lol.

Not ready to back down

They are changing the way they do business... but they're not ready to shut up and sing just yet.

Spam Haikyu

I think spam subject headings are the great art form of our time.

From my inbox today... "resolutions in this direction, but the party categorical"

Sub-optimal entertainment?

Ryan Dancey says you can target gamers by how good their transportation options are and how much disposable income they have.


In other words... the more money you have for other entertainment, or the more transportation options you have (to get to entertainment), the less likely you are to game.

Soooo... does this mean gaming is inherently sub-optimal?

Keep in mind, it requires BOTH to make you likely to be a gamer.

In other words, if you have transportation but no money, you STILL aren't likely to game. You go find a museum or a *shudder* a park.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Riding the wave

Well, for those of you who have been wondering why my posting has slacked off some of late (yes you, way in the back... no, you) I've been "riding the wave". For those not familiar with this phrase (probably because I just made it up), this is the opposite of "hitting the wall".

In other words, Ive been amazingly productive of late. I've written 10,000 words in the last 4 days or about 16 pages (that's with tight margins). This is about twice my usual pace.

Suffice to say the project Im working on has me jazzed.

More on what exactly that is when I can say.

Coming soon... a comics review.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Down the pipe

Im working on something completely different right now but I think the next thing you'll see from me is the next WWII book, WWII Small Arms.

Colts 29 Bears 17

So not only did I pick the winning team, but the total score (46 points).

I probably could have made some nice green on that if I was a betting man. Ah well.

Monday, February 05, 2007

GM's Guide to WWII on sale

Well the first in our series of WWII books just went gold!

You can find out more information here.

This was a big challenge and I hope everyone has as much fun reading and playing it as I did writing it.

There were a couple of times during the writing where the enormity of the subject actually overwhelmed me, but once I came up with the right plan, it all fell into place.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Joss Whedon off Wonder Woman movie

This is a bad idea. Don't get me wrong, the movie could be done well by someone else. But they had the perfect writer-director for a movie about an ass-kicking Amazon.

You (hopefully) heard it here first: I'm no longer slated to make Wonder Woman. What? But how? My chest... so tight! Okay, stay calm and I'll explain as best I can. It's pretty complicated, so bear with me. I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked. Hey, not that complicated.

Suspicious devices

In case anyone from the Boston PD is reading this blog, this is not a bomb threat.

Superbowl Prediction

Colts 26 Bears 20.

The Colts mount a late drive to win a close game, led by their all-world QB. The Bears try to match the drive but Rex isn't Super-Rex that day and comes up short.

Friday, February 02, 2007

May you live in interesting times...

As some of you are probably aware, RPGNow and Drivethrurpg, the two biggest PDF sales sites have recently merged. Many of the folks I've interviewed as part of my 10 Questions segments have chimed in on the merger and what they feel like it means for one of the fastest growing segments of the RPG industry.

Well today two of the leading PDF vendors, Ronin Arts and Expeditious Retreat Press announced that they were leaving RPGNow. It looks like both companies will be concentrating on the other, much smaller PDF vendors out there, Paizo, e23 and YourGamesNow.

You can check out my interviews with Phil of Ronin Arts here and Joe of Expeditious Retreat here. You can read their press releases about the move here and here.

I'm not sure what to say about these moves except that it seemed somewhat inevitable. RPGNow isn't a bunch of employees working for James (the site owner) and it isn't a bunch of partners in a shared business, it's a mall. The mall provides a shared space for a bunch of different customers.

Consulting your vendors *after* you decide to move the mall to a new location is not always the best thing to do.

What this means for the overall industry I'm not sure. I do think the way James and Steve handled the merger into OBS was a bit heavy handed. And of course all the vendors at RPGNow are scrappy, independent-minded small businesses with their "damn the man" pride in full effect.

So as I said earlier... good for the industry or not, this move was almost inevitable.


There. Are. No. Bombs. (explicit)

For those who don't know, the largest city in my home state practically shut itself down while shitting its pants over an attack by two viral marketers with lite brite bombs yesterday.

In nine cities across the United States, blinking electronic signs displaying a profane, boxy-looking cartoon character caused barely a stir.

But in Boston, the signs — some with protruding wires — sent a wave of panic across the city on Wednesday, bringing out bomb squads and prompting officials to shut down highways, bridges and part of the Charles River.

Something that may have been amusing in other cities was not funny to authorities here, the city that served as the base for some of the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Officials defended their reaction Thursday even as two men charged in the case, and some residents, mocked the response as overblown.

Young Bostonians familiar with the unconventional marketing tactics used by many companies tended to see the city's reaction as unmitigated hysteria.

Gee you think?

It's a lite bright of a cartoon character flipping the bird.


Here's a couple of heads up:

1. Terrorists are not going to put bombs in a lite brite.

2. The bomb squad said they responded the way they did because the device had wires, a power source and electronic components. Someone remind me to call them the next time I see an unattended laptop at Barnes and Noble while its owner leaves to activate the bomb... or leaves for a minute to get a refill on their mocha latte.

I can never sort those two out.

I threw away an old VCR a few days ago. That is ALSO something with wires, a power source and electronic components. Thankfully none of my neighbors mistook it for a roadside bomb and the city was able to continue without incident.

I have not (yet!) been charged for recklessly leaving it on the side of the road where it could have sparked a panic at any moment.

We now conclude this rant with George Carlin:

Airport security is a stupid idea, it's a waste of money, and it's there for only one reason: to make white people feel safe! That's all it's for. To provide a feeling, an illusion, of safety in order to placate the middle class. Because the authorities know they can't make airplanes safe; too many people have access. You'll notice the drug smugglers don't seem to have a lot of trouble getting their little packages on board, do they?

No! And God bless them too!

And by the way, an airplane flight shouldn't be completely safe. You need A little danger in your life. Take a fucking chance, will ya? What are you gonna do, play with your prick for another 30 years? What, are you gonna read People magazine and eat at Wendy's till the end of time? Take a fucking chance!

Besides, even if they made all the airplanes completely safe, the terrorists would just start bombing other places that are crowded: pron shops, crack houses, titty bars and gangbangs. You know, entertainment venues!

The odds of you being killed by a terrorist are practically ZERO!

You have to be realistic about terrorism. Certain groups of people---Muslim fundamentalists, Christian fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalist, and just plain guys from Montana---are going to continue to make life in this country very interesting for a long, long time.

That's the reality. Angry men in combat fatigues talkin' to god on a two-way radio and muttering incoherent slogans about freedom are eventually gonna provide us with a great deal of entertainment.

People need to lighten up. Take a deep breath and tell yourself it's all ok. Or just drink whiskey.

Everytime we panic like this we do the terrorists work for them.

We also prove we've become soft, weak and paranoid.

This concludes my rant.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

10 Questions with Preston Dubose

Preston Dubose is one of the evil geniuses behind 12 to Midnight, a horror gaming company specializing in d20 Modern. This is one of those companies, along with Ronin Arts, that I read regularly and I think they do some of the best Modern gaming stuff out there.

1. What do you see as the “next big thing” in gaming?

If you’re talking pen and paper RPGs, then probably 4th edition D&D. That’s the 900 lb. gorilla, isn’t it? For me personally, I love Savage Worlds and there are always really cool new settings coming out for that system. If you mean “gaming” in the larger sense, then probably a MMORPG with collectable cards, minis, or some other do-dad that gives you in-game bonuses. Personally, I’d love to see a good horror game for the Nintendo Wii. Imagine swinging the controller like a machete while you fight off encircling zombie hordes.

2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this means for the PDF market?

I think it was a smart business move on their part. From the outside, it seems like they’ve had a rocky transition but of course none of us are privy to the inner workings. I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing for the market. To those of us who have been publishing PDFs for a while it may feel like the market itself is on solid ground, but lately I’ve started feeling like we’re more vulnerable than we care to admit. There’s something to be said for having a single, easily identifiable flag to rally around—like Amazon.com. I’d argue that in the ‘90s they did a lot to introduce people to the idea of buying merchandise online and allaying new customer fears. Customers usually had good experiences shopping online there and kept coming back. RPGNow has served that kind of an entry point role in the past, and DriveThru brought several well-known publishers to the PDF market, so it stands to reason that a combined company has a better chance of bringing new customers to the PDF market and ensuring its long-term health. Of course, mergers are tricky things so it remains to be seen how well they’re positioned to follow through when the new store is complete. That’s the PDF market from the customer’s perspective. From a publisher perspective, it rarely pays to put all your eggs in one basket. We started diversifying our sales outlets nearly two years ago, and this spring we are opening a store on our own site. We’ll continue to give our customers multiple places to buy our titles and leave it to them to use the one that suites their needs.

3. Related to question #1, where do you see PDFs specifically headed in the next year.

I think we live in interesting times, in the sense of the Chinese curse. I’ve heard enough people say that the OGL won’t be included in the next edition of D&D that I believe it. I suspect that sometime in the next 12 months we’ll learn the official release date for D&D 4e, and that it’ll send many PDF publishers into panic mode. From the publishers who decide to tough it out, we’ll start seeing more support for other game systems and the development of new systems. Of course it is hard for new systems to get a real toe-hold, but that won’t keep people from trying. I’m not saying that d20 material will dry up—and certainly not in the next year—but I think we’ll start seeing more variety. We’ll also probably see the conversion of older but more popular PDF titles to new systems.

4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?

I’m going to choose to interpret this question a little differently than you probably meant. I think five years from now we’ll see PDF as only one of the “flavors” of e-book out there, and it may not even be the most popular. The RPG market is the only one that I know of that has settled so exclusively on the PDF format. There are major corporations out there spending millions of dollars in R&D to develop “the next iPod”. To at least some, e-books look like virgin territory. Once someone develops a relatively cheap, easily readable screen somewhere between the size of a paperback and a comic book, in the thickness of a PDA, with WiFi access, long battery life, and the ability to play MP3s, we could see an explosion of e-book use. I’m simplifying things here, but the e-book specs put forward by a cross-section of the publishing industry calls for an XML + CSS + XHTML format. One benefit of that kind of format is that you can change the text size based on your preference, and all the text and tables would reflow on the page accordingly. No more zooming in to read one column of text, then zooming out and panning over to the next column, then zooming in again to read. Many people who buy PDFs still print them out because they are so hard to read on screen. With the hardware problem solved, people will find that PDF isn’t the best tool for the job anymore. So my prediction is that once the new generation of hardware reaches a critical mass of customers, we’ll see RPG publishers either publishing in both formats or eventually migrating entirely to the new e-book format.

5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?

My first job in the RPG business was this one. My partners and I are all mutt and no pedigree. We’ve had to learn everything the hard way. In a lot of ways it would have been easier if we’d known what we were doing, but on the other hand that ignorance has given us the freedom to create some small innovations that our fans really seem to appreciate.

6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and break into the RPG business, what would be your first step?

I wouldn’t start my own company. I’d write some good stuff, polish it till it shone, then pitch it to companies I respected until I got a bite. Trying to self-publish is either going to break you or turn you into a business owner. Other than some Modern Dispatches, I haven’t written anything for publication in a year and a half. But I’ve written a lot of scene descriptions for artists, sent a lot of contracts, edited a lot of other people’s words, and made of lot of updates to our website.

7. What was the first RPG you ever played?

I got the basic red box set for my birthday when I was in 6th grade. I lived on a ranch in the country and it was pretty rare for me to get to spend time in town hanging out with more than one friend outside of school, so it was quite a while before I actually got to play. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time drawing dungeons on graph paper and letting my imagination run wild. Eventually I did play at a friend’s house when his older brother DM’d for us. When he got tired of us he killed us with a pit trap by insisting that because we hadn’t specified a marching order we were walking side-by-side down a corridor and stepped into the trap simultaneously. Some lessons are hard learned.

8. What are you playing right now?

Right now I’m on a break from playing, but before I dropped out late last year I’d started the Age of Worms campaign as set in Eberron. My group is still playing through it and I still get to hear how it’s going. I’m trying to use my time productively and have started writing again.

9. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

That’s a tough call. Steven Brust’s Dragaeran books really appeal to me and seem to be begging for a RPG. I’ve always been a fan of The Shadow, so that would be a close second.

10. What’s coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!

We have our very first fantasy adventure coming out. It’s called Wild Things, and it’s just this fun fantasy adventure with a “classic” feel. It’s very unlike anything we’ve done before, which is the whole point. We have a new Pinebox adventure called The Beast Within coming out this quarter. It’s a low-level adventure that could be a great entry point to a Pinebox campaign. We’ve got another Pinebox adventure called The Prodigal. The really big news is that this summer we have a 12 part serialized adventure in the style of the TV show 24, called 12 Hours to Midnight. Each episode takes place in one hour of game time, and we plan on releasing them at the rate of one a week beginning in June and wrapping up in August. Like all our other titles, it’ll be available in both d20 and Savage Worlds, but it’s too early to know for sure if the release schedule will be the same for both editions.

Bonus Question: Horror is hard, adventures are hard, you guys write horror adventures. Are you masochistic or just weird? (Totally not a loaded question)


I think this goes back to question 6. When we started we made a conscious decision to make a name for ourselves in one niche instead of randomly publishing whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. We had no idea that horror was such a small segment of gamers (after all, World of Darkness and Cthulhu seemed popular) or that adventures were one of the lowest sellers among roleplay products. Doh. But you have to write what you love, and this is what we love. I think the fact that we’re one of the top 25 sellers at RPGNow despite the way the cards are stacked against us must mean that our passion shows through in our work. Or maybe it’s the magic runes that say “buy me” carefully woven into each PDF. Meh. Whatever.

Thanks again Preston!

Night Ride Part 1

Night Ride Part 1 “Look, Pa, it’s my turn. Also, Nana is having one of her spells again and she has no idea who I am when she gets this w...