Monday, July 27, 2009

It's a nostalgia thing

And that's ok.

I think a lot of the heat generated over Tweet's comments about Swords and Wizardy (which, as I said earlier, I thought was mostly dumb) is that, at heart, he's saying one of the main appeals of games likw S&W, OSRIC and 4C is nostalgia.

Obviously, this might lead one to assume Tweet believes the inverse as well, that these games are leaning on nostalgia because, well, they're not that good AS GAMES. The game is a vehicle to remind you of your glory days, like the smell in an old musty comic.

The thing is, I think Tweet is right that nostalgia is a draw.

I just don't think that says anything one way or the other about the games' quality.

I draw this conclusion because I can look at which old-school clones attract me and chart my own gaming history.

OSRIC, which is a clone of AD&D and 4C, which is a clone of Marvel FASERIP are both huge draws for me.

Swords and Wizardry, which is a clone of OD&D, holds no interest for me. I was an AD&D kid.

Its like telling me Claremont is writing X-Men, vs. Jim Shooter writing Legion of Superheroes. One got me STOKED and the other was like "oh, that's cool I guess".

So yeah, nostalgia plays a part.

I guess I'm at that old fogey stage of life where I don't really see nostalgia as a bad thing. Some things about my past were awesome and worth reliving.

Work... booze... work... booze...

So right now I am:

1. Proofreading a book for a guy
2. Writing Mecha Omega
3. Developing Arthur Lives! Getting art together and generally shepherding that ever closer to release.
4. Playing Mount and Blade in what I laughingly refer to as me "free" time.

All hail multi-tasking! Long may she reign!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

History of Mecha Omega Part 1

4000 BCE (approximate): The first expeditions from the Omega Sector arrive at Earth and begin to investigate the planet as a potential candidate for colonization. Using early population centers as bases of operation, these travelers explore and catalogue Earth’s ecology and make a detailed survey of the planet, perhaps lasting decades.

Over time, the natives grow less and less receptive to the actions of these gods and the terrible beasts that serve them. It is believed that the first heroes rise up during this time, taking psychic control of some Omega Sector devices, called “Star Chariots” and driving the creatures out. Verified Omega Sector bases from this period have been found in the Yangtze Delta, Ganges Valley, Mesopotamia, the Nile Delta, the island of Britain, the Mississippi Valley, Central America and along the west coast of South America.

In the wake of this temporary occupation, Earthlings rapidly gather in larger settlements than before, build large structures to commemorate (and later store) the large devices used by the heroes to repel the invaders, and develop a consuming interest in astronomy, to watch for future incursions. Over the centuries, these events become more legend and less fact and form the basis for the earliest hero tales such as the epic of Gilgamesh.

As soon as the menace had passed however, the heroes lost the ability to summon their great weapons, which seemed to respond to the presence of the Omega Taskmasters who had created them. The people they had saved did not know this however and many of the heroes raised themselves up as king, using threats of divine retribution to build mighty empires for themselves.

A select group of priests knows the truth and preserves it within their sect, even as kings descended from the great heroes of old come to believe the stories of “star chariots” and monsters descending from the heavens to be old wives’ tales. These priests watch the skies obsessively from their temples, waiting for any sign of the beasts’ return.

4000-2100 BCE (approximate): “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors” era of Chinese pre-history. These eight rulers, wise and long-lived, use the power of the Star Chariot dubbed Emperor Yao to impose peace and stability on China. Their contemporaries called them the August Ones or “supreme beings”. Modern scholars tend to translate their titles as “king” or “sovereign”.

2100-1600 BCE: Breaking the tradition of his eight predecessors, Chinese Emperor Yu does not leave power to the most worthy. Instead he founds a dynasty by passing power on to his son. This leads to corruption and devastation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Final Cover for Arthur Lives

Hulu has added Spaced

If you've never seen Spaced but read this blog, you owe it to yourself to watch Spaced.

You will love it.

Very dirty, NSFW British comedy.

If you don't like watching things on Hulu, rent it from Netflix. You won't be sorry.

Mecha Omega: walking a fine line

So Mecha Omega sees me returning to alternate history. I've used alternate histories a lot in my books (as well as not-so-alternate histories in Legends of the Dark Ages and Legends of the Samurai).

In books like the original Vigilance, Blood and Relics and Blood and Time, I've dealt with history and with its permutations for gaming purposes.

In this case, I'm trying to walk a fine line. Clearly the Omega Matrix and the things that can be created from it, including mechs, have had a profound influence on human history.

And of course there's the issue of alien visitation and occasional conquest.

Still, I want to walk a line where not EVERY weird event and great man is somehow influenced by the weirdness of the setting.

I've seen this happen, hell, I've done it myself but here I want to make sure that plenty of things happen just the way we think they did, while a few things were very different.

So for example, while Alexander the Great, Cleopatra and Caesar Augustus are men capable of wielding Omega Energy, I specifically left Julius Caesar "out".

He was a great man and was driven by a desire to capture and control the Omega Energy, as his hero Alexander had done but he was never able to succeed in that quest.

This line will get harder and harder to walk as the timeline moves forward I think.

For some reason, making Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan able to manipulate the Omega Energy seems cool, while having JFK be assassinated because he could manipulate those same energies seems dumb.

I'm also aware this is a matter of personal taste and there will probably be people who want Omega Energy's influence on history to be extremely rare.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I really like this version of the cover.

My mission statement was "how big and bright and noticeable can I possibly make the f-ing logo".

I have seen Voyages of Discovery

And it is awesome.

We're going over the final release candidate now, which we're trying to be thorough about, since this will be going to print immediately, unlike other books we've done, where the PDF was out for awhile before the print edition.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What? Flesh-eating robots?!? Don't be ridiculous!

So, recently we heard about a new "biomass powered" robot being developed for the military.

The initial reports were that it would ingest anything organic.

You know, trees, grass, dead soldiers littering a battlefield.

That kind of stuff.

I'm sure the robot's designers thought headlines like these wouldn't lead to any kind of stir, kerfluffle, backlash or double-takes.

Sadly, that's not what happened, so we get a, ahem, "clarification" that involves THE BEST ON THE RECORD STATEMENT IN RECORDED HISTORY:

"We completely understand the public's concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission," said Harry Schoell, the chief executive of Cyclone Power Technologies, one of the companies behind the machine.

He then went on to drop as many earthy-crunchy eco-buzzwords as possible, probably wrinkling his brow in confusion at the way the reporter kept rewinding the tape of his previous statement, listening to it, muttering "they said the medication would keep this happening again" and playing it AGAIN.

"We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous."

That's more than one eco-platitude per sentence. Nicely done!

World Metahuman Factbook Australia has been released.

Written by Bill Browne, this second installment in our retro 4C game coverage gives NPCs from the land down under, along with a new origin and some new powers.

If 4C is your game of choice, you should check this out.

Monday, July 20, 2009


So apparently the latest "constroversy" to ravage the world of RPGs is that Johnathan Tweet played Swords and Wizardry and didn't think it was the greatest thing ever.

You'd think he ripped the game apart and declared it the gaming equivalent of breathing dead hippo but in fact, it seems he found the game a lot of fun and really fast to play but thought many of the rules were included for nostalgia's sake, not because they were better than what came after.

Got that?

A guy who designed 3rd edition thinks he did a good job and advanced the state of D&D game design.

Hold the f-ing phone.

And then you know what he did? He named specific rules, like SIX OF THEM, that he thought were objectively better in 3e than OD&D.


Seriously guys, this is a controversy?

Friday, July 17, 2009

When Mike Stackpole owns TSR

This totally happened right? No?

Check out this article from 1999. I consider Mike Stackpole a game design rock star but damn could he be any more wrong?

I'm surprised he didn't misspell his name.

This, by far, is the best bit:

How did I pick the year 2000 as when I'd snag TSR? Well, that's when I figure it'll be at its lowest point, approximately three months after the release of the Third Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I predict that product will tank big-time ...

Mecha Omega= crazy

I actually think Mecha Omega might be the craziest, most yahoo idea I've ever had, a title that has been held by Blood and Relics for the longest time.

It's a combination of mechs, power rangers, star wars, alien invasion, the Avengers, heroic legends, chariots of the gods and masonic conspiracy theories.

Mecha Omega "bigs vs. littles"

I'm toying with the idea of a Buffy-like party structure for Mecha Omega.

For those who don't know, on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, Buffy was supported by the "scoobies", who were invaluable in assisting her adventures but were far less powerful.

I'm generally skeptical of anything in any RPG that puts the characters on unequal footing.

It's great for fiction, since you constantly need "damsels", weaker members of the group who need protecting. Builds tension.

On the other hand, players tend to not like being saved by anyone.

Still, I think with mechs, having a whole group of mechs might be unwieldy, so Im considering options to throw some "smalls" in with the "bigs".

One option I considered was having the player who would bond with the mech do so psychically, leaving his body unprotected.

Now, instead of waiting to be saved by the "big", the "smalls" would get to do the saving.

This would effectively divide the action into two "theaters". You'd have the mech in the air, fighting, and the rest of the party on the ground.

I like that it would give the game a different feel, but toying with the formula is almost never a good idea in my experience.

For example, what happens if the "big" loses her fight? Does the other mech just fly off? Or would it, logically, sweep down and wipe the floor with the rest of the group?

This seems like it might lead to every encounter being a potential TPK, without a lot of GM intervention.

Which is problem #2. I think this model would make things harder on the GM. Never a good design goal.

First, dividing the action would mean dividing the GM attention. Secondly, having one player with much more power than the rest of the group could lead to problems between players.

And then there would be the need to constantly monitor each theater of battle closely, to make sure the "smalls" werent in danger of being overwhelmed, or the "big". Either way, could end up in the whole group getting wiped out.

Ok, you just read me (more or less) talk myself out of this idea.

Hope it was a good read at least.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Race to Zero"

James Mishler has pronounced our doom and it is inescapable.

No wait, that was Sauron after he got the One Ring in that fan fic I wrote.

One point from this article, which offers a lot of opinion backed up by very little fact, was his repeated assertion of downward price pressure on PDFs. Eventually, he refers to this as a "Race to Zero" in what he calls "the PDF price wars".

Ok, pithy turn of phrase and all, but just plain wrong.

Ive operated a storefront continuously on RPGNow since 2002. I wasn't the first by any means but I was real early.

And for most of that time (probably since 2003 or so) I've actually had hard data on TWO PDF companies, my own very small Vigilance Press and RPGObjects, who is one of the top 25 vendors on the site.

Ive seen the site split, which took RPGNow to the indie site, while RPGObjects remained on RPGNow, I've seen the rise of the smaller, low-cost sell in volume approach pioneered and mastered by Phil Reed and lots of other trends.

But the most inescapable trend has been one of increasing market visibility, viability and respectability.

Along with that comes an overall increase in prices.

When I first started selling in 2002, almost every PDF on the site was $5 or it was free.

If you wanted to make your product stand out, you made it bigger, without increasing the price.

Slowly, as our production values started to go up, we started inching our prices up to match.

I remember very vividly when Darwin's World 2 was in development, internal discussions about whether or not a $10 price point would fly.

I argued that it would not. That $10 was like the sound barrier. Even if you COULD break it, it would get mentioned negatively enough to not be worth it.

Obviously, I was way wrong on that and Chris Davis was right, that PDF prices worked like everything else- their perceived value would determine what folks would pay. There was no artificial top price.

And of course, today we know this is true. The average price of the top 75 products on RPGNow is 9.40 and that's with all of ENPublishing's products on sale for at least half price. Were they not running a sale, that average would be higher.

So the best selling products today sell for almost twice what the average product sold then.

And of course, the idea that very idea that PDF prices would trend toward zero flies in the face of simple economic common sense.

Sure, some folks are giving crazy deals on PDFs, either as part of a sale or as a permanent strategy to make buying their core book a no-brainer, so you have a larger pool of potential customers.

But this is like saying the existence of Dollar Stores means that eventually everything will be priced $1.

It just doesn't fly.

Times are tough economically right now, so people are running sales.

Many companies also have tried to emulate Phil Reed's strategy and concentrated on small products they intend to produce quickly, with low overhead and sell in volume.

But there is still a very healthy niche for the high quality, big book premium product, sold at a price point commensurate with its size and quality.

And it isnt just the venerable best sellers who can get away with this.

Number one product on the site right now has a price point of $10.

Number two is $7, three is $15, four is $12 and five is $1.50, for an average price point of $9.10

If this is a race to zero, everyone is going in the wrong direction.

Coming Soon From Vigilance Press: Defcon1 Cold War Character Pack (M&M)

Chinese Super-Soldier Forces

For unknown reasons (although there are a bevy of possible explanations based in genetics, environmental factors and even conspiracy theories involving malevolent Japanese mystics) mainland China seems to produce far fewer individuals with the meta-human genetics than would be expected based on the nations massive population. This unfortunate statistical truth combined with Communist China's harassment of mystics and general harsh treatment of mutants who refused to be drafted into state service had the effect of severely hindering the early attempts at developing a super-soldier program. To make matters worse, unlike the Soviet Union and the US, the People's Republic of China didn't have any salvaged notes from the Bio-Blitz process to work with and had virtually no technical knowledge regarding battle armor. The combination of these factors meant that during the early years of the Cold War, China was at a distinct disadvantage in the super-soldier race.

In the early 50s, the first credible steps towards having a super-soldier program came when the USSR sold China several dozen old, modified WW2 era Shturmovik power armor. The armored Chinese soldiers saw action in the Korean War and during skirmishes in the Strait of Taiwan. These suits were studied closely and reverse engineered by People's Liberation Army technicians and served as the basis for the beginnings of the Chinese power armor program.

The true beginning of a home-grown meta-human program came in the early 1950s, when a Chinese archeological team searching for Neolithic Era artifacts in a remote cave system in the Hunan province made the find of the century. They discovered an intricately carved stone portal. The portal was made of an unusual substance not found anywhere on Earth and closer examination showed that it radiated an unusual energy aura – that was later identified as a tachyonic field. Investigation revealed that the portal could activate a stable, but intermittent, interstellar wormhole to Guraxia – a distant planet on the outer fringe of the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy. The Guraxians were a race of huge reptilian humanoids (some have even suggested that their appearance is vaguely draconic) that had explored the cosmos centuries ago and left behind sub-space portals that led back to their homeworld so that they could maintain contact with the planets they'd visited. Although the Hunan portal had long been forgotten, the Guraxians (who had a generally peaceful and trade-oriented culture) still had records of dealing with Earth and were eager to resume trade and diplomatic contact with our planet. Cursory diplomatic relations were established. China quickly constructed a heavily fortified facility around the Guraxian Portal and called it the Hunan Security Complex. (Naturally, the portal to Guraxia remains one of Communist China’s most guarded state secrets.)

If they had had unlimited access to Guraxia science and technology, China would have quickly surpassed the US and the USSR in almost field of technical endeavor. Unfortunately for China, trade and communication with Guraxia was severely limited. Due to the complex vagaries of subspace astrophysics, the wormhole was only functional certain times of the year when conditions were optimal. The Chinese only had one, or at most two, months of contact with the Guraxians every year.

The periodic and intermittent contact with Guraxia did give China the genetic engineering and advanced technology that formed the foundation of the newly invigorated super-soldier program and helped Communist China catch up in the meta-human arms race. Unfortunately, due to the limited grasp Chinese scientists had on the highly advanced Guraxian technology, there was as high a fatality rate among volunteers for the Chinese super-soldier program as there was for Project: Hammer or Project: Icarus. Still, over time, the Glorious Worker’s Righteous Fury took shape.

The discovery of the Guraxian portal came at a fortuitous time for China. Just a few years later, in 1959, due to the acrimonious and ever-widening Sino-Soviet ideological split, Khrushchev reneged on previous agreements and terminated any programs assisting China with super-soldier development efforts.

The first Chinese super-soldiers who didn’t wear second hand Soviet battlesuits were the Red Guardsmen – a trio of brothers who were enhanced by Guraxian genetic engineering with electrical control abilities. Next were the Ultra-Commandos – who only accepted volunteers from the cream of the People’s Liberation Army for enhancement with increased strength, size and toughness. The process used to create the Ultra-Commando was the most successfully repeatable enhancement technique that has been developed using Guraxian technology. At its height, before the purges of the Cultural Revolution, there were almost 200 Ultra-Commandos and they were the backbone and most visible face of the Chinese super-soldier program. In the mid 1960s, after the disastrous creation of Armored Fusion – who pilots a powerful suit of battle-armor that he can never remove – the Ultra-Commando process became the officially preferred methodology of super-soldier creation, at least until such time as Chinese scientists more fully understand Guraxian technology.

During the late 1970s, in a welcome surprise, the GWRF added its first natural mutant, the former PLA tank officer Li Xiong whose elemental control abilities manifested during a training accident.

Over it's 40 year history, the Glorious Worker's Righteous Fury has seen action against US forces in the Taiwan Strait, against Warsaw Pact forces in the border conflict with the Soviet Union (and again during the Sino-Vietnamese war) and against aliens in the Tsavong Invasion. However, by far their most challenging conflict has been the decades-long, grueling, meta-human guerrilla war with the resistance movement in Tibet.

They are considered to be the third most powerful national super-team on the planet. Ironically, despite all their battles, their greatest enemy has been internal political forces. The Chinese super-soldier program suffered greatly during the loyalty purges of the Cultural Revolution and was still recovering and rebuilding well into the 1980s.

Coming Soon from Vigilance Press: World Metahuman Factbook Australia

There's more in this series coming, by me and from others.

Also, future WMFs are going "multi-platform". Expect future installments to come in 4C, Supers20 and M&M flavors.

What is Mecha Omega?

Jason asked in the comments to the cover what Mecha Omega was. Here's the broad strokes:

In the distant past, Earth was conquered by a cruel race of alien taskmasters from the Omega Sector, who enslaved the primitive earthlings as they had thousands of worlds.

These aliens controlled enormous machines that the earthlings worshipped as gods and to honor them huge monuments and altars of stone were built at Stonehenge, Crete, Pompeii, Angkor Wat, Beijing, Uruk, Cusco, and along the Nile, Ganges and Mississippi Rivers.

Confident in their ability to awe the primitive locals, their greatest war leaders were given their own mechs to control, to fight on behalf of the taskmasters both on Earth and in space, as they expanded ever outward.

These war leaders came to realize how cruel and genocidal their "gods" were and rose up against them, throwing off the yoke of the taskmasters' oppression.

Returning to Earth, they ruled in the Taskmasters' place, not always wisely or well and sometimes fighting with each other or turning into tyrants every bit as cruel as the taskmasters they had served.

Eventually their mortal selves past and the great war machines faded into memory. Those who had never seen them first hand interpreted the heroes through their understanding of the universe. The Omega Sector Taskmasters became gods, their war leaders became heroes like Aeneas, Arthur or Gilgamesh.

In 600 BCE a group of Chaldean astronomer-priests in South America saw the signs in the sky they had been waiting for: the Taskmasters were returning to Earth.

Ball games were held to find the greatest, bravest heroes, worthy of the weapons of the gods. When the invasion was met in orbit around Earth, these heroes found themselves joined by other groups of diligent sky-watchers from Britain and Egypt and the three were able to throw the force, which was really just a scouting party to determine how the insignificant little planet, which was still a part of the Omega Empire by ancient claim, had progressed over the millennia.

In 2012, the Omega Taskmasters have returned again. Not with a minor scouting force but one large enough to return the primitive backwater to their lawful control.

As Earth's military forces are defeated with ridiculous ease, the Chaldeans and the Magi work quietly, recruiting groups of idealistic young heroes to take up the weapons of their ancestors.

The last free people on Earth will either save humanity or doom it to an eternity of servitude.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mecha Omega- updated cover

This is better I think. Plus, fewer words in the main title means bigger main title! Marketing brain (right next to the lizard brain) says yay!

Possible cover for Arthur Lives

Hmmm. I've been looking for something to make it clear that this is MODERN fantasy. Maybe sword, plus staff, plus assault rifle?

What do y'all think?

Coming Soon From Vigilance Press: Saga of the Mecha Omega

I like it, but I'm not sure about the text color. Hm... looks pretty spiffy here though, and reads well as a thumbnail (a big thing for me).

War of the Roses- maybe now is the time

So with me currently dividing my efforts between freelancing and Vigilance Press (man, it really IS 2002 all over again!) I sat down and looked through my notes and half-finished games I've started over the years, and one jumped out at me.

I always did sort of feel I was the person meant to write this game somehow, not that there's been a huge line of dudes trying to beat me to it.

Still, maybe its time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friend of the blog discount time

In the past, I've run special discounts for blog readers and the time has come again!

Clash of Arms: Infantry and Clash of Arms: Cavalry are little books I did focusing on historical infantry and cavalry.

They've been some of Vigilance Press' strongest sellers since their release but they're both getting a little long in the tooth.

So if you click the links below, you can order each for just a buck.

Friday, July 10, 2009

20 essential RPGs

From Gamasutra.

Something interesting that they point out, that I had never totally grokked before, is that OD&D never refers to itself as an RPG.

Dungeon Dwellers Fantasy Adventure Game

Last year I wrote my first ever board game and now the fine folks at Empty Room have released it.

Explore a randomly generated dungeon using one or more of 8 pre-generated characters. Battle monsters, find treasure and level up!

You can play it like a board game, where everyone starts each game from scratch, or you can continue playing the same character and continue to level up and grow in power.

There are cooperative and competitive play modes as well.

All you need is a pair of 6 sided dice to play.

The PDF currently in release is a playtest version, meaning those who buy it and offer feedback might see those suggestions incorporated into the eventual print release.

I hope everyone enjoys playing DD as much as I enjoyed designing and playesting it.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Some news

Some folks have asked me about the news that Chris Davis, owner of RPGObjects is stepping away from RPGs for a bit and what that means for me.

In the short term, not much. As I mentioned earlier, I am currently converting Reality Deviant's excellent Interface Zero from True20 to Modern20.

After that, I will be serving as editor on a new modern system from a new company.

In the wake of this news, I've added a couple of extra freelance projects to my schedule, including a proofreading gig and a conversion of Mike Lafferty's excellent Soldiers and Spellfighters from Modern20 to True 20 (hah! didn't see THAT coming did you).

So basically, I'll be working for others for the next 2-3 months or so, which will give me time to think about what my next step should be.

This will most likely be a much more serious emphasis on Vigilance Press than I ever gave in the past.

Whatever happens, when I know more, so will you.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Open letter to all PDF publishers

It would be really nice if I could download a PDF, pull it out of the zip, and throw it right into my PDF folder (which has about 1000 PDFs in it) without having to rename it.

I know it's cool to spell out the name of your PDF in binary code and use that as the file name but could you cut it the hell out?


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What would YOU like to see me write?

Serious question.

Let's say I owed you a big favor and what you wanted in return was a book written for you and only you.

What would it be about? What system would it be under?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Down the pipe?

Yeah, been quiet for awhile.

Sometimes the writing doesn't go well, and then the only thing I know how to do is go into bunker mode.

Turns out, if you bang your head against a wall long enough, the wall gives- if your head is hard enough.

Anyhoo... down the pipe! Yes, that's where I was!

I am currently writing a conversion of Reality Deviant's classic True20 setting, Interface Zero, converting it to Modern20.

Modern20 cyberpunk has been one of the most requested additions to the line. Given that IZ does it better than I would, I took on the task of converting it myself.

I am also going to serve as editor for a completely new modern system being developed by an outside team. I was excited to be invited on board and when this gets to a stage where I can say more, I surely will.

And of course, Voyage of Discovery continues its Bataan death march-like shambling toward release. It really is getting close now.

I estimate VOD will be released at least 3 years before Duke Nukem Forever!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Some new stuff

Over at Beyond Reviews there are reviews of Steam and the Steam edition of Sacred Gold.

Oddly enough, I recommend both!

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...