Thursday, March 27, 2014

Castles vs. New York Apartment Listings

Big thanks to Landon Schurtz for this hilarious comparison of comparably-priced European Castles and New York City apartment buildings -- both, of course, near and dear to my own heart:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

OED Update (v. 1.01)

From time to time I update my OED House Rules for Original D&D with edits that come up from play, questions I get from readers, or just things that pop into my head. Today I'm making some changes (partly to use in upcoming games) and making this version 1.01.

In some places these are just minor language changes to more clearly express the intent. Rules changes that you might notice are: (1) increasing the price of armor -- chain mail is now 50 and plate mail 200, (2) in weapons, adding the hammer (from Sup-I) and giving a special bonus to flails (ignore target shield), (3) adjusting the penalty for man-to-man bowfire to -4 medium, -8 long range, and (4) making some new miscellaneous rulings for shooting into groups or at very long distance. Each of these items will get an explanatory post in the near future.

You can download OED House Rules v.101 from the OED Games website, linked below. Also, see the Player Aid Card and ODT Document with sidebar comments in the add-ons here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

AD&D on Community, 2nd Ed.

If you haven't seen it yet, then you simply must watch Community's second AD&D-themed episode; this time guest-starring the brilliant David Cross as the disruptive player who splits the party. I watch it on the free Hulu service (which I guess unfortunately has regional service limitations, sorry for that):

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Page Dungeon Contest 2014

Since 2009, the One Page Dungeon Contest has been one of the more exciting, accessible, and well-known annual events out here in the cyber-reality of your old-school gaming revival. This year it's being organized by Random Wizard (Mundi King), who's always had some great insights into our game. I wanted to put out a quick reminder that if you want to join in, you have until April-30 to get your submission in and have a crack at a slew of really cool prizes from more than a dozen industry sponsors.

This year the judges will include -- Ernie Gygax, Steve Winter, Brendan S, Martin Thomas, and Dan "Delta" Collins. [needle skip] Wait, what? I don't how I got included in there but damn, that's super cool. I can't wait to see the entries! Check it out at the official site:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

& Magazine

So a few months ago Ronald Redmond got in touch with me by email and suggested that I check out the old-school magazine that he helps out with, "& Magazine". It took me a while to get around to reading it, partly because I was thinking "& Magazine? What the hell does that mean!? #terriblename".

Well, sometimes I'm terribly slow on the uptake -- and you can probably see from the cover image here what it indicates. Dungeon and Dragon were previously used, so obviously the only thing left was the ampersand in the middle of our favorite game's name. Once that dawned on me I thought it was actually super clever. (Although hard to do an internet search for. Side note: There's at least a few actual "Ampersand" magazines also on the market affiliated with universities.)

Anyway, so here's my take: It's really cool! It's really been carefully given all the flavor, thematics, layout, fonts, and map styles of old TSR publications, which hits me very well. Of the two issues I reviewed, each are given a global theme much like old Dragon issues (#3: Nautical Adventures, and #7: Inner Planes and Elementals), feature articles on that theme, not one but two "Ecology Of..." articles, a one-page adventure and a longer mini-adventure, new spells and magic items, etc. Issue #7 also has a variant of playing D&D in the world of Id Software's Doom game, which while not a huge favorite of mine, felt very much in the spirit of classic D&D conversions to Boot Hill, Gamma World, etc.

Both issues also had an article by Len Lakofka (author of classic modules L1/L2, had the regular "Leomund's Tiny Hut" column in Dragon,etc. -- someone I'm partly indebted to for his "The 5% Principle" article which I think gives support for my table-less Target 20 adjudication in OD&D). His entry in &-Magazine issue #3 was on the "Rods of Dwarvish Might", and in #7 "The Archer PC Class", which is actually an updating and sizable expansion to an article he originally published in Dragon in 1981.

In summary -- Reading &-Magazine definitely gave me the same overall sensation that reading Dragon did back in the day. It feels fun and exciting, and I'm really interested to find what's on the next page. In particular, the articles by Lakofka are cool in that they give a deep connection, and continued discussion of key game elements, as though the original offering was just a few months ago.

Will I use most or everything inside? No, but neither did I with old Dragon issues, obviously. Minor downside: The material is all targeted towards AD&D, whereas I now prefer the simpler OD&D system -- the AD&D material seems comparatively long, complicated, and table-intensive  (and thus page-count-intensive) by my standards. That said, it's generally easier to cut stuff out than to write it from scratch, so I appreciate all the effort on display here. Downloads are currently free and I've enjoyed browsing them on my e-reader during bus commutes. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Presenting at Johns Hopkins

I had one of the most wonderful opportunities last week, when Peter Fröhlich of the Johns Hopkins U. Computer Science department invited me down to Baltimore to speak to his Video Game Design Project Class (run jointly with Jason Corace, with students from the Maryland Institute College of Art). A really wonderful program from what I can see -- the mix of computer-science students (from JHU) and art students (at MICA) provides a great sense of the magical mix of complementary skills and perspectives that happens at actual game companies when they're working well. (And provides some interesting challenges when they're not working so well.)

Here are some pictures and a writeup by Peter on which I don't think I can improve:

I gave an hour-long talk on "Simulation and Game Design", on the idea that early up-front computer simulation of your core game mechanic can help get your game balanced early on, and allow you to build on a solid foundation later on (and not spend months or years trying to get that balance right). Numerous examples came from my work on this blog, of course (like here and here and here). Then I spent the next hour meeting with each of the design groups, asking about their current paper-based prototypes (they're about halfway through the semester at this point), and challenging them with some critical questions about where they were head next. (My girlfriend Isabelle referred to this as being the "Tim Gunn of Game Design", which is pretty funny. Side note: Our partnership itself is the product of the art/programming mix at a particular game company, which underscores the intense and possibly life-changing experience you can get from that kind of project.)

Peter and Jason are two of the nicest guys I've ever meet, and they both treated me wonderfully, big thanks to them. Peter's also a genuine D&D aficionado, and I think we could talk for pretty much days swapping opinions and past history with the game. (Which is pretty fascinating having grown up in different countries; a universal language, if you will.) We also got a chance the next day to check out the American Visionary Arts Museum, a really unique exhibit space, which had been recommended by one of my other New York artist friends (thanks Sarah!).

After the talk Wednesday we also went out for dinner, and coincidentally I got to meet one of my game-design idols, Mr. Dave "Zeb" Cook (you know: author of AD&D 2E, the D&D Expert Rulebook, modules X1, X4, X5, co-author of Star Frontiers, etc., etc.) He's currently living in Baltimore, working at ZeniMax on the soon-to-be-released "Elder Scrolls Online". You really couldn't ask to meet a sweeter, funnier, more personable guy -- greeted me warmly and we immediately started swapping stories and questions about games from the old days to right now. Very lucky to make his acquaintance, graciously let me take a photo with him, what a great trip! Thanks a million to Peter and everyone at JHU for making this happen.