Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Quick Overview of Pathfinder Core Classes

Last time, I talked about the basic races for Pathfinder. Now, I’ve gone a bit further in the book and am ready to give a brief overview of the classes. First, this is where I first start noticing some basic editing errors. Some are merely preferences, some are just basic rules of grammar and punctuation. It’s okay, though, because I still know what the writer is trying to say. The classes do finally seem a bit more levels out. At the same time, I am seeing no dead levels, which is important. I like seeing bonuses come up over time, even if it is only a little bit at a time.

I had this discussion with someone earlier about the small percentage increases for adding a +1 to a skill in D&D 3e really were small when you took the time to think about it. However, I am okay with that, because I have trained myself to think of it kind of like a bubble filling up in a video game or MMO (which I do not play that often….anymore). I am okay with the little bonuses, because little bonuses add up.

Once again, the team did an excellent job with the artwork for this chapter, balancing healthy, athletic male and female counterparts in realistic armor and clothing. I do not see anything immediately insulating or challenging to anyone’s sensibilities. I also like how everything in the art seems functional. Then, you have a warrior standing there, blades damaged from many fine battles.

Meanwhile, I am not going to go through each and every one of these classes. To do that, it’d probably be a post for each class, maybe more. Overall, they remind me of slightly more bad ass versions of DnD 3x base classes. They stayed with the ex-class rules, which I’m not sure I enjoy completely, but that’s kind of been a staple for some time now, so we’ll go with it.

I do like that domain explanations are given right along with the cleric class. This is a logical decision as it makes sense to find information on this here rather than digging back through later parts of the book. It certainly will help speed up creation a bit. I also like how the breakdown and expand upon the animal companion rules for the druid. They made the fighter useful and able to stand on their own without relying on the spell-like abilities of 4th edition, which is cool. The monk was always meant to be a bad ass. #rd edition watered it down in the text. Here, in Pathfinder, the monk regains their martial prowess and seems more like the ancient warrior I expect them to be rather than the scholar warriors of 3rd edition. There is a difference and I certainly like this one much better.

For the ranger, mostly unchanged. I sure don’t remember favored terrain from earlier version, but I like it. I’m not sure why the ranger cannot use their abilities in heavy armor, as there are several reasons the realistically could, but I suppose it’s just a choice for flavor and balance. I do like the addition of rogue talents. These help to specialize what could otherwise be a generalized character.  The lack of skills for the sorcerer is a bit disappointing, but acceptable, especially with the sorcerous bloodlines. These really seem to help level the playing field and give some pretty nifty ideas for characters. I move on to the wizard and see their skills are limited as well. My problem here is that I think back to the sorcerers and wizards in epic fantasy—the type of game I am hoping to play—and they all seem well experienced and skilled. And here we have added a familiar. I always thought the familiar as a tertiary piece of window dressing. Here, with the Pathfinder Wizard, it seems to be a key class feature. I am not that keen on it and would have preferred seeing something else in place here. I could see that leading to a totally different class, but that’s just my personal opinion.

Pathfinder: In the Beginning

Okay, so I said I was going to try and give my outside looking in sort of review as I start to venture down the wild and crazy path of Pathfinder. Here is the first installment. I decided I’d try and break it down, more and less, as I read through the book, section by section. I will leave the discussion of the forward and introduction to itself. There really isn’t much I can say here. It is pretty standard stuff, but also a good read, which immediately gives me some high hopes for the rest of the book. Did I mention I hate un-layered PDFs, especially when they cost the same as the dead tree editions? Ahem…moving right along.

So, I read through the section on Ability Scores. You know, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Nothing much has changed here. I’d have to look back at my old copies of 3x, but I think they expanded the table in Pathfinder out. It’s up to 45 now, which immediately brings to mind that they expect you to end up playing some truly epic level characters. Conversely, they expect your characters to battle some truly bad ass monsters and villains. I dig that.

Then, I get onto the section on races. No, we’re not talking Nascar and Rally here. Nope. We’re talking dwarves, humans, elves, half-orcs, half-elves, halflings, and gnomes…oh my! So, we stuck with some core races. I will have to check with some of my Pathfinder gurus and see which books are good to read for some good renditions of other races. I make a note of that and move on.

This is where it first hits me that this book has some amazingly talented artists behind it. Everything so far has been mostly layout and splash pages. Someone invested time and money into the art and that is blatantly obvious when we get to the chapter on player character races. They varied between male and female images for each of the races and they stripped everyone down to their skivvies. I think this is one of the moments I have heard of when we hear about disproportionate females represented in fantasy and RPG art. That doesn’t happen here. Everyone is a healthy, if athletic build. That makes sense for adventuring heroes, though. They also give male figures and female figures the same treatment. I’ve heard the idea that—if you’re going to portray women that way, you must treat men the same and be equal in proliferation. Looks like they have done that here. Good for the team. Talent, thought, and devotion blended together in one makes for an excellent mix.

As I read over the descriptions for each of the varying races, I admit I mostly skim. A lot of this is old news to me, but what I do read is written very well. I am surprised the half-elf gets two favored classes due to their varying nature, but humans still only get one. But, humans get that extra skill point each level, so I guess it makes sense. I make not of this in the event I ever choose to make a character to multi-class with. One thing that does catch me off guard is the halflings and the gnomes. I group those two races together, because they are both two I would never consider playing. For me, they always seemed weak and even borderline silly. The new art got me to look at these descriptions where I found them to be just as much a threat of anything else listed there. I know others will gladly disagree—that halflings and gnomes have always been a serious and very playable race. But, they just never fit my tastes. These new renditions finally got me thinking I might just play one.

I have to read more about these favored classes, which takes me into the next section on classes in general. From what I understand you get either a bonus skill point or a bonus hit point for each level gained your favored class. I also believe they did away with experience point penalties for multi-classing. That takes me into the next section on classes, which I’ve already started one. That’s pretty darn good looking.

That brings me to another interesting question for you Pathfinder aficionados out there. Am I doing this all wrong? With my experience with the system Pathfinder is based off of, should I be reading it differently, focusing on specific chapters, or reading different books? My goodness, does Pathfinder have a lot of material out for it.

On What it Means to be a Nerd

Love him or hate him (I, personally like the guy) Will Wheaton gave some amazing advice to a nerd girl’s infant daughter and it was caught on video for when she is old enough to understand in regards to being a nerd. I’ll post that down below, but I wanted to add my own two cents in on the topic.

Nerd sure seems to have taken on a different meaning since I was a little boy. Heck, it seems a lot of things have. Heck, when did writing homebrew rules suddenly become “hacking” a game. Used to be the only hacking we did with games was related to dungeon crawls or cyberpunk style games. Now, everything gets hacked. But, I digress.

When I was younger, I can remember a whole discussion—maybe it was more of a lecture—my father had with me in regards to some of these horrible names kids called one another: geek, nerd, lerp, etc. I don’t really remember all the definitions, but I remember a geek was a nerd that was cool. So, the nerds at the time were interesting in computers, wore pocket protectors, had tape holding their glasses together, were poorly socially developed, and so on.

Today, we have an entire sub-culture, gaining in popularity, where being a nerd is cool. All these things I grew up around and grew up enjoying and still enjoy and inject into my own kids’ lives are typically considered nerdy. Comic books, sci-fiction, role playing games, Star Trek, Star Wars, to name just a few.  In +Wil Wheaton's explanation, he points out it is the passion we have for these things and others including architecture, fashion design, and others. And, he’s probably right. I don’t know the last time I heard someone being called a nerd for fashion design unless it was associated with designing and creating cosplay costumes, though.

I’ve had some great friends through the years. I have had the wonderful opportunity to connect and reconnect with them through advanced in technology. I’ve met a great many more through Google +.  Interestingly enough, I have actually formed friendships with people through that specific social media platform versus others where it is all business networking or connecting with people I know in real life. The passion these folks have for their games, comics, and previously teases sub-genres of entertainment is amazing.

Now, however, much of what was previously considered nerd sub-culture is becoming mainstream. The super hero movies are raking in oodles of cash. Diehard fans of old material may berate them from straying too far, but I believe that’s a mistake. Things need to evolve. Changes and sacrifices need to be made. And, just because someone cannot quote you the entire family tree of Jean and Scott Summers does not mean that they are any less a fan. They love the characters or stories that they are familiar with for what they are. They may not have enjoyed the other stories or they may not have even had a chance to catch up on 30 plus years of source material.

This whole discussion about girls not being able to be nerds is ridiculous. Don’t even get me started. Gaming, comics, sci-fi, they are about telling universal stories. They’re meant to bring people together. Those who want to use them to toss down dividing lines, like some old school grongards that believe the most complex and archaic rules sets are the best because it keeps everyone who doesn’t automatically or already understand the rules out, are fools.

For me, being a nerd will continue to include having a passion and understanding for those things that a lot of people still just don’t think is cool. Maybe they have been adopted. A comic buff can still be a comic nerd, even though they are and will continue to gain in popularity. That passion we have when it comes to gaming, the excitement we feel at rolling a Natural 20, in-depth character actualization without being paid to write a book or star in a movie or play—that is the nerd’s claim to nerdom. I see guys get totally excited when the crack a hard piece of code, so excited they fall out of their chair cheering. They’re nerds. I see the way my niece talks about anime, her enthusiasm for the medium and I know, she is a nerd. My wife, the way she takes to accounting and explains it to others with a twinkle in her eye—she’s a nerd too. You should really see my one buddy’s toy collection from the 80s and early 90s. He is most certainly a nerd. +Jonathan Henry  is a certified nerd when it comes to RPGs, but get him started on cars. You will find that an individual can be nerdish on more than one subject quite easily.

So, being a nerd is about passion and dedication. The word has changed over the years and that is okay. Being able to accept you for who you are is your job. The others who can’t, they probably aren’t worth the time to try and explain. However, nerds of different stripes, who like different things, still find that common ground to stand on. One like anime and the other role playing games. They both recognize the passion in one another. And with that, you should see the amazing things these wild and varied nerds can accomplish when they work together.

Stepping Onto the Path: My Introduction to Pathfinder

Since its inception, I have had a love/hate relationship with Pathfinder. To some, that may not be that shocking. What might shock you is to find out that is my feeling without ever having played it. When the beta rules were out for free download, I downloaded them. I even rummaged through them a bit. I never read it cover to cover. It seemed to me like someone took D&D 3x and amped it up a bit. Then, 4th came out. Some of us were pretty excited about this. I know I was.

Fourth ended up being a lot of missed opportunities and broken promises to me. However, I’ve said it before, D&D 3rd and d20 hit the sweet spot for my gaming tastes in a number of ways.  Was I ready to go over to what, for me, was essentially another 3rd party publisher product? Those seemed to be really hit or miss. There had been a lot of hubbub about this one, but others had all sorts of chatter pumping them up as well. And, after the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition licensing came out, a lot of people took a step back while Paizo charged onward. Was that a smart move? I just couldn’t be sure at the time.

Then, Pathfinder came out. There was still a lot of excited people. They seemed to have a strong community on their forums and elsewhere. I just couldn’t be sure which direction I should turn. At the same time, it was very hard for me to find anyone to game with due to location and work. So, when I saw the price of these Pathfinder Core Books, I choked. Oh no, that certainly wasn’t for me.

However, times have changed.

I am back in the gaming scene. I play online a lot and with people here locally. Pathfinder always intrigued me as it only continued to grow bigger and stronger. The products I was seeing related to the line were good looking and looked like a lot more than mere fluff. Here’s a little secret about my gaming tastes. I like books—lots of books. What I don’t like is a 175-300 page “rule book” with no new rules in it—all campaigns. I would rather have 25 pages of fluff and 175 pages of new rules, applications, variations, gear, etc. Pathfinder and supporting products seem to have met that mark. Then, I started reading some of the various material, and I was quite happy with the quality.

I’ve mentioned several times that I would like to play. I do not want to start off just running it myself, because I feel too much like I would just be running D&D 3x again. There were changes made here and I would hate to make the mistakes that could lead to disagreement at the table or hurting the system in another newcomer’s eyes. Finally, my chance to play in a game run by someone who has been running it for some time, +Mark Knights, seems to be nearing. Better yet, he’s been helping point me in the right direction on where to find helpful tidbits of information spread throughout the various PDFs I purchased over the years for a game I thought I might one day play.

Now, with the help of the aforementioned GM, I am getting into this system and I am liking it. I am so far liking it for the same reasons that I liked 3x, but I am also liking it for some of the things that I have seen done with it. The other day, I cheated and read a book never designed for me, The Advanced Player’s Guide. I actually just read a snippet, because I found out there was a summoner class in it, and I am always interested to see how people have tried to pull off a summoner class. I know I have tried to build one in different systems and it has never quite worked out right. I read what Pathfinder hand, though, and I immediately thought “Gee, that’s exactly how I would have done it, if I would have thought it.”

So, if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Mark’s blog over at The Pathfinder Chronicles where he talks a lot about Pathfinder, role playing in general, gives GMing advice, and might even give you a sneak preview of his upcoming independent game (hush, hush, and all that jazz).

Meanwhile, I’ll be writing about my adventures in discovering the beauties, mysteries, and horrors of Pathfinder. This is probably true both of the books and supplements I am about to dig into as well as the adventures my poor characters is about to barely survive.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide is Out

It has been a little bit since the Kickstarter for Margaret Weis Productions’ Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide was announced. Today, I awoke to an announcement that the PDF of the book had been released. As a backer, I had also received a coupon in my inbox to download the book from DriveThruRPG for free. I’ve been able to scroll through the book a bit, although I have not yet read it cover to cover. Much of the content was somewhat covered in preview editions I received as a backer, although there is definitely much more meat in the final product. This is a review including my initial impressions of the book, although I won’t be going into too much detail until I have read through it further.

The Layout & Look

I had high hopes for the layout and design of this book. This is especially true since, at one point, the updates were that the initial layout didn’t work so MWP had brought in some “superstar” talent to lay everything our again. There was a period where it should have been three or four weeks to get that done and get the next update, which took closer to two months. The actual release of the book came faster than I expected after that, something like only a week or two. So, that’s great. As with previous MWP products—and a lot of other RPG books on the market—there is some splash color and fonts spread throughout the book along with a graphic border. Unfortunately, it’s not a layered PDF, so that’ll eat a bit more ink to print out. That’s okay, I could live with that, though.

I think what bothers me most was that a portion of the funds raised was to go toward artistic talent. What I have seen here is some decent graphic design in the layout and some icons being added throughout the book. For other spot art, what I have seen looks like nothing more than some photographs, perhaps taken by hired artists or perhaps taken by staff members with photography talents or maybe even purchased from somewhere like iStockPhoto. Now, I don’t mean to knock it. Really, I don’t. However, I like a little bit more art. Perhaps I should have expected photo imagery after reading books like Smallville and Leverage, but those were licensed products, trying to emulate the feel of the source material. The base Cortex book was full of art. Marvel had art, but that was licensed as well from a company where the art often sells the product.

Bottom line, I would have liked to see more line art in the Cortex Hacker’s Guide. I would have preferred a layered PDF. Such is life, though, and it doesn’t totally ruin the product for me.

The Content

This PDF weighs in at 264 pages. It has a table of contents built in, so that’s good. The writing is decent and takes a fun tone, which I think really helps sell the product. I do not feel like I am reading a text book role playing game book. Instead, the exuberance of the creators is shining through in their writing. I think that is great.

The examples given in the final book are more than they were in the preview materials. Simply, there are more of them and they are more colorful—no pun intended. I think that is great. These examples really help to give people an idea of what they can do. Whether they want a dungeon crawl or a cyberpunk super-hero mashup, the tools are readily there to help make the game you have always wanted, with what is a fun system.

I want to take a closer look at each of these sections in more detail at a later time, so keep an eye out for that.

Overall Impressions

I’m really excited that this book is out. I wish the art would’ve been different, but I can live with it for what it is. I also seem to recall their being a rumor that this book would open the doors for some sort of open Cortex license for 3pp, and I don’t see any mention of that in the book on the MWP site. I’ve read some rumors here and there, but it seems it may just be overly emphasized conjecture. So, if you read that and are hoping this book will put you on the path toward creating official 3pp materials for Cortex Plus, I wouldn’t necessarily get your hopes up, as it isn’t the first time the rumor that it would be an option has creeped up and then disappeared.

If you enjoy the Cortex system and want to see what other cool and exciting games you can run along many various lines, it is definitely worth picking up.

Monday, July 29, 2013

RPG Garbage

I’ve taken some time over the last little while to review some games I have had sitting on my HD for quite some time. Some of these were free games. In other cases, they were PDFs I had bought, but never really took a look at. I have to be honest, folks. There is a lot of crap out there.

I am not talking about some people like some games better than other people. I am not talking about how some systems may be better balanced or more functional than others. I am talking about half-written, derivative hunks of junk. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of that stuff on my hard drive with my name in there as the author. I haven’t been so bold to put it out there on the internet.

I did recently run a test to get a better understanding of the process of self-publishing gaming PDFs through DriveThru RPG when I released OSR Gems. It certainly isn’t the best book out there, but it’s relatively cheap. It was really, for me, a test more than anything else. Do the tools I have meet the standards for publication? What kind of turmoil must I go through to actually post and release the book? Those kinds of things. In all, it wasn’t too bad.

However, as I look around at some of the stuff I’ve picked up over the years, I find that a sizeable chunk is wholly worthless to me. Many contain large sections of portions copy and pasted (and, if I am lucky, reformatted) internet ramblings. A number bring nothing new to the table. Some are as if someone, in some sort of drug induced stupor, decided they wanted to create a role playing game, but didn’t quite know how to do it or where to start.

I’m going to avoid mentioning any names here. Part of the reason is some of these books or projects share a name with successful and beautiful games. That is, they are not associated with that game or the better known versions of it, but they used the same name—this is especially true for some of the fan stuff games freely available on the internet. The other reasons are because (a) maybe the creator was just having a bad day or year and (b) some of this stuff other people may actually enjoy. Frankly, I’m not ready to get into the ripping apart of any specific project bit by bit let alone argue the point with anyone.

Let’s just all agree to a single statement. Some of the stuff you find online (free or for sale) is complete and utter rubbish.

Getting that out of the way, I think there’s reasons for all of it. In many cases, it’s free stuff. Someone was working on a project, wanted to share it. Perhaps the feedback killed the project. Perhaps real life came in and disrupted things. Maybe they got good feedback and decided to take continued development offline and put a more professional spin on things. Maybe the creator or creators were just really that clueless and they thought what they had put together was good. Maybe it was someone trying to make a quick buck in a segmented market. I am sure, between us, we could come up with several more reasons.

Now, why do I bring this up.

Let me let you in on a little secret.

I am afraid of being that guy.

I have a lot of ideas, although I sometimes have difficulty in pinpointing their proper execution. I have a lot of stuff going on in the real world that distracts me. I have 99 problems, but being a successful gaming publisher isn’t one of them, if you get my drift. What if I put out something that bombs? Worse yet, what if I don’t know how horrible it is. The first PDF I put out for OSR last week could have been better. My co-creator suggested a specific look for the images to make it more “old school.” I’d figure we’d give it a try. It was an idea anyhow. So far, it’s the only negative criticism I have gotten, which is not bad, but I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback by any means.

I want to be the guy who puts together and puts out something awesome. That’s part of the reason I have this blog. You, my willing victim…er, audience, give me a lot of feedback and a lot to think on. I think that’s awesome. I write a LOT on a daily basis for work, so teaching myself that writing is still also my passion is another key reason for this blog. I get something back by posting here, so that’s why I do it.

Meanwhile, I take time to consider my next move out there. There are a lot of things I could work on, but I need to find the right one worth putting the time, effort, and other resources into. Now, I’ll come back and touch on that later, because I love the feedback I get here. I wonder if such a supportive and active community would’ve helped prevent some of these other disasters I refer to earlier.

Now, I’m going to come back in awhile and talk about my goals for putting together a good gaming product. These are more overly generalized things that I think need to be there for me to be proud of it. In the meantime, I open the floor to you. Have you guys seen the kind of garbage I am talking about? What do you think when you see it? What are some of the biggest missed opportunities you see in these lackluster attempts?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hacking the OSR

Okay, maybe I’m a bit late getting on the boat with this one. Maybe it’s because I started gaming in the early 90s when AD&D 2nd Edition was all the rage, although Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness was my first foray into the wild, wonderful, and wacky world of role playing games. I’ve played a lot of RPGs over the years. Admittedly, even though I could see through the publishers’ tricks, I was always interested in what was new and shiny, although I did always have my old standby games.

Unfortunately, like a lot of gamers, I grew up. I moved away from friends. I got caught up in work, kids, family, and all the other stuff us grownups do. Of course, when we need the escape the most, it is often hardest to pull off. Moving back home, getting on Google Plus and meeting a bunch of gamers, and having finally gotten my wife interested in the hobby, I have been able to come back and enjoy the great escape once more.

Mind you, this post is based on my own, limited experience with OSR. There may be plenty out there that I have not yet seen or read. And, should someone believe I am mischaracterizing OSR, has suggestions at something I should look at, I’m more than happy to hear the feedback and/or take the suggestions.

This whole idea of OSR, which what I can tell is short for Old School Renaissance, and retro-clone games kind of threw me for a loop. People started understanding copyright law a bit better. People started longing for the games the enjoyed in their youth. Others had never left. There are people today still playing the same game and even the same campaign they started some twenty or thirty years ago. New editions of games have been released. Totally new and different games have been published. But, here we have this idea of going back to old school gaming.

I get it…sorta.

Where I am at a loss as someone who likes to tinker with games and hopes to continue publishing my own material is where the lines are. Which ones can we cross and which things are held sacred? When it comes to OSR, we are re-hashing what came before. Most have made no changes, except for specific wording. Many have taken bits and pieces from different versions and weaved them together. But, when does the hack become too much?

OD&D, D&D 1e, even AD&D 2nd Edition had some substance, but there was hardly much to them. Everything was based on a simple die mechanic. Rolemaster and Palladium were really the same. However, there was always room to create a new skill or OCC/RCC/PCC or whatever for Palladium. There  was always room for a new profession, talent, skill, or table in Rolemaster. With D&D, what could you do? Maybe a new skill, a new race, or a new class or sub-class. All of these things worked on previously established parameters. For the most part, that is what I have seen happening with these new renditions of old material.

With newer games such as Savage Worlds, D&D 3x, Pathfinder, World of Darkness, and others, I have seen a lot of new rules enter the fray. This comes through the publisher’s supplements and 3pp books. It’s on the forums, blogs, and elsewhere.

How are changes or additions taken when considering them in relation to OSR material, though? And, so far, while many games existed back in the day, OSR seems synonymous with old school D&D. What about those other games that have been out for 20 plus years? Is there any OSR love for them?

Rules Heavy vs. Rules Light Systems

Someone asked me today what brought about my sudden interest rules heavy role playing games. This question came as kind of a shock. Then, it hit me, since I’ve become more active on Google Plus, joined a number of RPG communities, partaken in the Giant Dragons gamer chats, and been playing games through Google Hangouts, a majority of the games have been more rules light—FATE Core, Savage Worlds, Apocalypse World, Fiasco, and so on.

Here is the secret. I have played those games because I was interested to try something new. For the longest time, however, I have always been more interested in what would typically be considered more rules heavy RPGs—various editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Palladium Rifts, Shadowrun, and more.

Now, I am not here to define a rules light or a rules heavy game. There’s enough people out there that have trouble agreeing on what a role playing game is, let alone to start defining the different genres and sub-genres. For me, there is a big difference between these games. I like the games that have more rules—rules like D&D, Pathfinder, and Spycraft. The OGL and D20 rules sets gave me a level of customization that I enjoy in games. However, I look at things from other systems that I enjoy and how the things I like in those games can be used in others.

For example, I’d love to take a something like the Gilded Cage by White Wolf for their old World of Darkness setting and bring that into other games. It offered a complex and in depth look at influence and status and how that alone provides for a challenging and fun game in and of itself. The aspects from FATE, however, are awesome and can be useful for just about any game. Plus, it just seems easier to find people willing and wanting to play these lighter systems over the Internet. I believe it may be because of a lack of investment in online games by players, so easier rules requires less of an investment. It’s kind of a circular pattern.

Myself, personally, I do not really enjoy one shot games. I like to play in longer campaigns. I enjoy my hobby and I want to feel the benefit of being invested in it. I like taking time to create a character, figure different statstics, find different ways to make things work together. In fact, that is one of the reasons I enjoy more rules heavy systems. I believe that rules do a few things. They give us a framework to work in. They help to support the story, not interefere. You know, I came up loving comic books. I’ve heard the “who is faster?/who is stronger?/who would win?” as much if not more than anyone else. Rules give us a way to measure all of those sorts of things.

Sometimes, the rules present us with a challenge to find clever ways to do things, and I do not find that problematic in the least. The rules light systems seem to me to be much more arbitrary in nature. They can be fun, don’t get me wrong. But, they just aren’t the same.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Declutter So We Can Focus

For awhile now, I have been meaning to clean up my PC. It’s a mess. Half of the desktop is filled with icons I never use. The hard drive is way more full than it needs to be. I’ve kept the shortcuts down, but I just need more room and better organization. I’m actually not too bad of keeping it organized, but I am sure the bloat on the HD is actually responsible for some of the performance issues I have had as of late. So, I’m finally sitting down and going through and remedying that situation.

It comes to me that I have run into the same problem in life. I need to declutter some things a bit. Right now, I have a LOT going on. I’m dealing with my youngest’s health issues, just moved back near friends and family but still trying to get back on my feet, dealing with two major professional projects that are always teetering on the verge of disaster which could lead to serious loss, have new projects in the wings and launch stages, have regular work to deal with, and so on and so forth.

Now, I am not complaining. I’m more having a Homer Simpson “DOH!” moment. Yesterday, I allowed myself to get drawn into an argument with someone online. They didn’t take well to having the tables turned on them and being treated as the way they treated others. Still, I could’ve avoided it. But, I didn’t. Why? I deal with enough BS, allowing it to perpetuate itself in my presence is kind of silly. Last night, and then again tonight, I had to turn down two potentially lucrative projects. Now, I’m not made of money, but I simply don’t have any more bandwidth. I was invited to a family reunion this weekend, but I’ll staying home this weekend to put out some unwanted fires while lighting some (hopefully) very good ones.

This all revolved around a few things. I am my own boss these days. I should be making my own hours. I shouldn’t have to split my days up into different shifts, sleeping at odd hours between those shifts for short periods of time in order to get things done. I work with computers all day. I shouldn’t be dealing with system lag in my own living room. I need to spot the frauds who tell me they can do something only to fail to deliver earlier on and steer clear of them. I need to organize my days better and take more charge of how the precious thing we call time is spent.

At the same time, however, I believe this is something a good number of us need to do. We need to be able to focus on what is important, good, and positive. We need to be constructive with our endeavors. We need to be able to move forward in an efficient and effective manner. We can’t get caught up in the rest. We also need to be mindful of these things throughout our everyday dealings.

As we speak, I have uninstalled some 25 programs and am probably not even half way done. I still have more files to move over to an external drive and some other tweaks to make. It’ll take hours to get this done. I could’ve spent those hours doing something else much more constructive or at least fun. But, because I wasn’t paying attention along the way, I got caught up and distracted, I have to spend time now trying to go back and clean up a mess that should’ve never been created. I think we can all look at our lives and find at least one area where this is true. If so, knowing that it’s there is the first step in dealing with it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Street: Chase Zones

Boys and girls, I just can’t stop tonight. I’ve been working not so secretly on Street, my street racing hack for FATE Core. I have a lot of ideas and some great people have been helpful.

This idea came from +Jacob Poss  last night during our discussions. It still needs a bit of work, but I’m trying to wrap my head around it and figure out how it will work. Essentially, Street will make use of a currency called Chase Zones. The GM will set a limit for a given chase.  Short chases should be about 3 zones. Medium, or standard races would be 6 zones. For long races—races that will probably take an entire gaming session—12 zones.

Once the race has begun, it needs to end within that allotment. It can end with a winner or as a tie. Players and NPCs will roll to create advantage and outmaneuver one another during the race.  It works somewhat like a contest, but different. If anyone ever has three or more successes, they win the race by a good clip. Even by one or two successes, if the Chase Zones have been all used up, the winner…well, wins.

By spending a FATE point, a character can lengthen the race. They add a chase zone. Now, this should only be when it makes sense. In a city chase, they might hop on the freeway trying to get away from their opponents.  They may force the race down a narrow canyon in the desert. This gives them the opportunity to win a race they may have otherwise lost or win by much more than they would have otherwise, which can sometimes make a difference. More on that when I get into the other race rules for FATE.

FATE Core: Retconning Advantages

FATE Core gives us a great many options as a role-playing game. Sure, there are a lot of RPGs out there that people like to modify, tweak, and otherwise hack, but FATE Core seems to be designed for it. Those of you who have been unfortunate enough to come along my little place on the internet before may be aware that I am currently working on a FATE hack tentatively titled Street. It’s a racing game, in which I am trying to emulate modern street racing movies that have been so popular, but also older ones including many Burt Reynolds movies, Cannonball Run, Death Race 2000, and more.

I found myself reminiscing about parts in older action shows. It maybe something they have gotten away with totally in more modern shows, although I know I saw it last in the remake of Knight Rider. This is the moment when the chips are down. The bad guys are about the get away. The good guys are about to get creamed. Then, someone comes over the radio and reminds the hero about the upgrade they put in earlier that day. Oh, there is that rocket launcher add-on, super charger, or something else. It kind of comes out of nowhere and it makes all the difference. That change, modification, or addition made earlier in the story that was not revealed until the moment it was needed most.

In FATE Terms, setting up this special gadget or clever plan would be considered creating an advantage. Here, I propose that players be able to retcon advantages. Retcon is the commonly accepted term for  “retroactive continuity.” This is essentially a way to go back and change the story, alter previously established facts.

I have set up the Retcon Advantage like this:

A player may spend 1 FATE point to pause game time. They then narrate what happened previously, off camera, so to speak. They make the roll, which could be a Modding roll to enhance a vehicle, a Family roll to have a pre-established ambush set up, etc.

Simple enough, no? What does everyone out there in Internetlandia think?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

FATE Skills for Street Game

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “skills” I want to use in the STREET game I am working on for FATE. I tried to do a cross between skills and approaches. I may come up with some better names for things, but I think this pretty much covers what characters would need as far as that’s concerned in the game. I am pretty sure it is going to have more stunts, especially with stunts coming from cars as well as characters. However, I think this pretty much lays it out. I wish I was cool, so I knew what all the cool street terms were for things nowadays. Heh…

Aggression (attacking)…this may be renamed to Aggro or Rage

Cred (a cross between contact and influence, more street cred you have, more likely it is for people to help you)

Boost (essentially replaces Burglary, also includes planning on committing a crime)
Family (I got a guy…)

Feel (Both for reading people and emotions as well as persuading them that one is being earnest or impressing upon them important concepts).

Grit (willpower, staring down the odds, etc.)

Modding (supercharging, enhancing, and otherwise modifying vehicles)

Moves (the ability to move, athletics, dodge, etc.)



Style (looking good and playing it cool)

I am thinking capping the pyramid at Good (+3), since we're working with fewer skills.

I am certainly more than open to suggestions

Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing for Kickstarter

Okay, admittedly, that is probably a horrible title. This is not about writing for Kickstarter. Instead, these are a few of my reflections regarding the various Kickstarter funded projects I have seen. I am talking about the ones that succeeded as well as the ones that failed.

Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have less than altruistic reasons for my examinations of Kickstarter. Come on, I am a writer. I would be a fool, if I did not see the potential for greater reward at the end of that digital yellow brick road. I think anyone who has taken part in the process—whether successful or unsuccessful—would agree that it really is not as simple as coming up with an idea and posting it online, asking people for money. There is a lot of thought and a lot of work that needs to go into running a Kickstarter campaign. Now, mind you, I am on the outside looking in, so what I have here are merely some observations and what I would like to think are educated guesses.

Do your homework. Kickstarter put out a report earlier this year about successes from the past year. Kickstarter is obviously growing and growing fast. By reviewing statistics and past projects, we can see what works and what doesn’t. We can see where people are willing to put their money and where they are, well, a bit more cautious. This gives us a jumping point. Has our idea already been done? Can the market bare similar, but different projects? Can we do it better? What did the successful precursor do that helped them be a success?

There is an old saying that goes something like “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” I whole heartedly believe that, with Kickstarter, a big piece of the success puzzle comes not from what you know or who you know, but who knows you. There are plenty of upstarts with some amazing talents out there. However, it is just like a lot of other industries. People always talk about if they just had the chance, had the opportunity, they would blow our socks off. Well, with all the tools available today, you have that chance. In fact, in many cases, you do not even need startup money to do a good job on a fun project. For us writers, we have ePublishing, but we also have the opportunity to submit to magazines, books publishers, literary agents, or even make ourselves known on the web through blogs and social media. Artists can put out their art on DeviantArt, Rederosity, and hundreds of other sites. They can ePublish an art book, etc. The idea here is that, without having proven ourselves in a field, it is going to be difficult to ask people for money. Last year,  +Monte Cook  made history with Kickstarting his Numenra RPG, which raised almost half a million dollars. +Fred Hicks  and his team at +Evil Hat Productions  raised a few hundred thousand for FATE Core. These people have been around the block. People know who they are. People know they can deliver a quality project. It is a bit easier to give someone a shot when you are pretty darn sure they are not going to muck it up based on previous experiences.

Know what you need before you ask for it. This goes into the realm of research again. If you want to put out your own book, how much is it going to cost? There are printing and layout costs. You need to consider distribution. With Kickstarter, there are all those crazy add-ons from bookmarks to a meet and greet. Do the math ahead of time. Know what everything should cost. Consider inflation and market fluctuations. If you do not know how to do this, enlist the aid of someone who does. I read a great blog awhile back about someone who did a Kickstarter and had misjudged some of the printing and shipping costs. They ended up losing money rather than making any. They would still do Kickstarter again, but they ended up putting out that blog post as a cautionary tale. If I can find it, I’ll be sure to post a link for it here. Also, know what it is going to take to actually complete the work. We’ll stick with books here. If you have not finished writing the book or have not even started writing it, you better know how long that is going to take. Do not forget how much time or money or cajoling it will take to have the book properly edited, laid out, and so on. Consider potential delays and risks to the project. Heck, that is built right into the Kickstarter framework.

Be sure to pimp your own product. Make sure others help you do it. People were excited about FATE Core from the day it was announced. I do not have access to the numbers, but I am sure Fred Hicks and crew saved a ton on marketing simply because of word of mouth. That word of mouth accounts for a lot online. It is especially powerful when other people are excited about your project and encouraging others to invest as compared to when you are the only one pandering to the masses. Use the tools at your disposal. There are lots of fine social media platforms to use as well as blogging on your own site, guest blogging, and Facebook and Adsense marketing is relatively cheap. Sometimes, you have to spend a little money to make a little money.

Be engaging. Monte Cook put out some information, but was always apologetic that he was simply too busy to get out and share as much information as he could regarding the upcoming Numenera. Now, let that not be misconstrued as me knocking him. He put forth an effort. He explained delays. He was putting together a whole company around it. He had other projects in the works. And, he has this weird thing called a life. Evil Hat and crew did an excellent job of keeping people updated before the project was even successfully funded, throughout the Kickstarter campaign, and then throughout the development of the project. They are still very active with the community. I do not know if they will ever feel the need or want to turn to Kickstarter again, but if that day ever comes, I can almost totally assure you they will be funded. Meanwhile, another project I backed was the Cortex Hacker’s Guide. These guys have been very lax in communication. They have gone weeks without updates, even weeks after promised updates were missed. Sorry, folks, it does not take much to jump online and type out a quick note apologizing for delays or giving some sort of explanation or feedback. That is doubly true when people are posting on open communites dedicated to your company or product and even on the Kickstarter page itself. Funny enough, as I wrote this, I got an update that’s a few weeks overdue from Cortex. Time to put the tin foil hat back on, I guess.

Kickstarter is not the easy road to riches some people might think it is. And, with a number of cases of people taking the money and running, I think it is going to be a bit harder to get money through the venue for virtual unknowns. It is hard work and your work should start long before trying to put up your first crowdfunding campaign, in my opinion. I might be wrong, and I welcome anyone to explain to me how I am wrong. Meanwhile, for someone who has their head screwed on straight, has a plan, does not mind hard work, there is a lot of potential there.

FATE Core: Fast & Furious Style

Ah, I don't care what anyone says, Fast & Furious is a movie series I enjoy. Except for the second one--that one I never even made it through the whole thing. And, as +Jacob Poss pointed out, a much better show would probably be with members of the opposite sex racing around all these exotic locations, but we gots what we gots...for now.

Anyhow, many discussion have led to this point. I finally started putting the digital ink to coded paper to work on a bit of a FATE game. Actually, I'm working on two or three simultaneously. But, this one is for a street racing game. There were some clever ideas shared in a brain jam session (not as scrumptious as it might sound to you zombie lovers) last night.

However, I need to refine what I'm doing with skills before sharing it, so this is the beginnings.

Not much there at all, although I am a big fan of setting the aspects to the genre. I'm not sure these aspects work 100%, but they are a start:

There is another world that exists just below the one you know. In this world, power is achieved by those who take it, respect is given to those who have earned it, and currency is a wicked combination of speed and skill.
For some, it is a dangerous past time. They call it illegal street racing, although it has been known as other things in the past. For those who live in the world hidden within the shadows of steel skyscrapers and concrete overpasses, the race is all that matters. They found a place where they belong, where they can call home.
This is a modification for the FATE Core game. I have combined some aspects from both FATE Core and FATE Accelerated Edition published by Evil Hat.

Character Aspects

High Aspect. This is the overreaching character definition. It is the foundation upon which the rest of the character is built. Examples: Undercover cop turned street racing criminal, Gearhead trying to fit in, Champion of the underground circuit

Trouble Aspect. In this life, trouble seems to be the one thing you can never outrun…for long. It follows your characters from race to race, city to city, even continent to continent. What is it that always seems to be pursuing them, throwing a monkey wrench in their plans? Examples: On the run from a controlling family with too much money, Johnny Law has my number, Owe the Yakuza money

Behind the Wheel. What is your character like when they are behind the wheel? Everybody can drive, what makes them so special? Examples: Monster behind the wheel, Virtuoso with a V8, Fast and dangerous

On the Street. This is the reputation your character has earned for themselves in the racing circuit. It might be all hype or it might be 100% accurate. What do people say about your character? Mad man with a bad temper, He lost…once, Takes care of his family.

Philosophy. Everybody has a story behind how they got into the life. This aspect covers the root reason your character melds rubber and asphalt. Why do they race? Do one thing and do it well, I got no place else to go, I live my life a quarter mile at a time.


What?!? A racing game without a Drive skill?!? That’s right. It is assumed since the game centers around street racing that all the main characters are excellent drivers. Everyone has the driving skill at an apex level. But, that can get kind of boring. Instead, we got rid of the drive skill altogether. Characters will make use of different skills/approaches while driving as well as stunts and extras to pull off some amazing maneuvers. This will be done through a modified content model. But, it is safe to assume, it has wheels, characters can drive it and the only time they worry about wrecking a car is during a contest or when they do it on purpose.

Meanwhile, I have also gone through and changed up the skill list somewhat in an effort to better emulate the genre. This is not all just terminology and semantics, as some things have been completely gutted and redesigned.

But, more on that in a little while…

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Writing. What is Writer's Block?

It's a myth, folks, pure and simple. Writer's block does not exist. Writer's block is the boogey man and the excuse. It is not the cause.

I sit here this morning, knowing I have to write something. However, I'm dealing with hospitals and bills and Facebook, oh my. Listen, stay away from those three as much as you can, especially if you're a writer.

One of my first mentors in writing once told me a joke.

What is the difference a large pepperoni pizza and a comic book writer?

The pepperoni pizza can feed a family of four.

Still, it was blasted hot last night. Hot and muggy. I felt like I was in a sauna all night long. Now, I know that is how some people like to relax, but at least they have the option to get up, open the door, and walk out.

Being uncomfortable is not conducive to writing, but it is also not an excuse. I could've written something inspired by the heat.

And, there it is. What some writers refer to as writer's block is actually a lack of inspiration or merely being distracted.

What are you doing now? Reading this. Why aren't you writing. Sure, we need a chance to let our brains take in new information. We need to be able to kick back and relax. We need a lot of things.

We need to stop making excuses.

Today, I have my work writing to focus on as well as I have decided to go back and re-work a book I finished a few months back before realizing I had to entirely rewrite it from a different perspective. I also have some game writing I want to do and some research. And, I have a piece of personal writing to do.

So, I need to get off my rear and do it. Okay, I will stay seated through the process, but I can't let little things like temperature, so-called inspiration, or Facebook get in the way.

That's your challenge for the day, folks. Let it be your challenge for every day. Get out there and write. Or create. Whatever you do, choose to be awesome.

Monday, July 15, 2013

d20 Modern Classes: Does They Work? Can They Be Better?

It's been a very busy few weeks, still settling in from the move, work seemingly always having two or three fires to put out at once, dealing with doctors and all the fun usual stuff that is life. This past weekend, however, I had the fun opportunity to sit down and game with some friends. It didn't work out quite as planned, as some couldn't make it, but my mom had taken the kids for the day, and my wife, old friend Ken, and the internet sensation +Jonathan Henry were able to be there.

Jon ran a game of d20 Modern. Admittedly, it had been awhile since either he or I had played the game. My wife and old buddy Ken had never played d20 Modern, although Ken at least had some familiarity with D&D 3x. So, it was a fun, simple, straight forward game. It left me with the clear realization that I really did enjoy most of the d20/OGL games I played in. Sure, some things could be fixed here and there, which I suppose Pathfinder took care of, although I have yet to play Pathfinder. Instead, when we ran into problems with the d20 rules set, we handled them the old fashioned way--we house ruled it.

Anyhow, back to the point. I really enjoyed d20 Modern back in the day and I apparently still do. I am actually even considering putting together a somewhat complex campaign for my local group here using the rules set. However, I am thinking of making some changes.

One thing I am stuck looking at is these base classes. Classes based off the attribute: Strong, Fast, Though, Smart, Dedicated, and Charismatic characters. Whose brilliant idea was this?!? We had apparently come to the point where creativity was no longer rewarded, but total generic concepts were? I don't know. It has always left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

I am considering using class styled classes for a d20 Modern game--not fighter or cleric, but others like Cyber Commando or Mecha Jock. I would use these in place of the base classes. However, before I do that, I thought I'd put it out there to see what others think. Is there a reason the base classes were included besides utter laziness? Does undoing that change and going back to traditional class design somehow break the system?