Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cracking the Spine of A Red And Pleasant Land

It is much what I hoped it would be, an extremely gamey tool for the table top. I also hoped it would contain great examples of how good gaming content can be, how interesting it can be and the book exceeded both expectations handily.



Zack Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land is extremely good. If you play or run rpg's it is currently the most useful, informative and attractive game product on the shelf right now and should have your interest.

I was grabbing gruesome gaming gobbets immediately. Here is my splash list of favorite first impressions;

Guests (fuckin' hell this monster is beyond totally Pearl Jam before they went big in '89 cool), Instant Dungeon Template, Foreclusions, Sample Locations, The Alice, The Slow War, Conversation Openers...

These are what I found in, I don't know, first two minutes of flipping pages. Innumerable elements from the book which can be just lifted out and used by the enterprising game master in their own campaign. I want that, I pay money for this kind of product. I should say I've put money down on game products many times and rarely get any return like this. The table resources and optional rules section are outrageous gears in which you can learn to drive your games. If you look at these in the book and are lost and mystified on how to utilize them you need to accept the fact you don't know what the point of an rpg is and need instruction. The good news is this instruction is available, for free, in the avalanche of gaming blogs talking about how table top rpg's are awesome and here is why. Just requires cursory note taking.

The hard coded setting material provides endless fuel for players and game master's imagination. Obvious superiority of the campaign material outlined in the small, dense book to anything currently in your library will provide all the hooks you need to enter the adventure into your current game. Or convince you you need to tear down and start over...

Criticising the work will be hard. There will be folks like myself who are in love with this piece, and will be quick to attack weak comments which discounts the books accomplishments. For those who can point out flaws in the work, as nothing is ever perfect, will have to keep it tight, and well, will take more work than my rank praise seems to be to crank out.

I'm the kind of person who doesn't get why something resonates or falls flat with me the first time I experience it. Zack has the talent, like most successful artists, to see these connections. I don't but thankfully I will stubbornly stick to the stink of instinct.

What I learned, what surprised me, what was my takeaway from the book, what helped me find deeper appreciation for the activity I like to spend soooo much time on since I was like eleven  was the use of live models in the illustrated artwork. I understood these illustrated characters of the book to be modeled off of the people who actually play in Zack's D&D game. I'm just taking this from  the Zack's video taped game session which he made public. Zack's renderings gush affection and respect for his players. That the participants are loved by the author. That this DM recognizes what the point of the exercise is. To honor the players with the best that you can give them every time.

Wow, cool. Missed that for way too many years of gaming.

It is, for those who care to approach the product with open GM eyes, a big holler of how big of a hill you have to climb. How far you have to go to be a good Game Master, how far you have to go to give your players the respect they deserve, and just now, if you have been playing since, I don't know, eleven, the information and support you need to accomplish this mind numbing colossal task is suddenly bubbling out of the god dam internet since 2009 (Zack is not the only one getting it this good, go find them) letting you know you are not alone. Awesome!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Holiday Gaming in the land of Mystara

Something sweet about spending an early afternoon gaming and no need to go to work.

Today I hosted a BFRPG adventure in a new campaign started a year ago. New because the last session, session #3?, was conducted exactly one year ago to the day. Only one player from that original group attended today, but it was enough to maintain a grasp on the continued plight of Eastern Karameikos and the struggles of its inhabitants.

Brother Benedict, in the service of Taras Sukyskin, was joined by Brand; a poor fighting wretch from the village of Corroc, Harek; a fighting dwarf from the Altan Tepe mountains, and Elkis; a hafling thief from the Dymrak forest. All free peoples of Eastern Karameikos was represented as all the new players were coming from communities wracked by demons, danger, and unnamed threats. Something truly evil moved throughout the land, threatening the peace and prosperity of all.

Brother Benedict easily rallied the adventurers around Taras Sukyskin's cause, to rid the land of the Black Mirror found beneath the temple on the island in the Lake of Lost Dreams. The party disembarked from the tombs on the hill and made the two day journey to the shores of the remote lake. There they found the lake shore and island invested with marauding goblins still intent on bringing their dread gods to life.

It took the aid of curse born pixies to slip past the goblins guarding the island temple and once inside the party destroyed the black mirror only to find themselves transported to an ancient ruin, a once noble palace now desolate and barren but for time eaten stone halls. Where once they were below the ground in the dead of night they now find themselves above ground during daylight.

Before they have much time to ponder their mysterious circumstances they are confronted by a yellow robed man accompanied by two fighting dwarves and a lady armed with a red crystal sword. The yellow robed man says that the party now stands at the very edge of time and that he has brought them here in part thanks to their mighty deeds. He states that the only way any of them return from whence they came is for the PC's to secure the "wand of light" and hand it over to him. The PC's try to wrangle out some more information out of him, but the obtuse stranger only  mocks their ignorance and assures them that they will all perish in the oncoming and inevitable dissolution of the cosmos in mere hours hence unless they aid him in his quest. That they best get moving and search the lower ruins of the ancient palace for the Wand of Light.

The PC's try and call the man's bluff, suggesting if they do nothing that he would be forced to take on this perilous quest himself. The man counters that he must use his considerable powers to maintain the structure of the world around them long enough for them to accomplish their task, and that his fate was tied to the success of their task just as much as theirs.

Rightfully dubious, the PC's reluctantly took up the quest. The yellow robed man's dwarven fighters are ordered to accompany the PC's and to see that they find the wand and bring it back. It is not apparent why the others serve the man, but they appear to obey his wishes without question.

The party breaks out torches, establishes marching order, and begins to penetrate the buried passageways of this once proud castle. After passing through empty halls and unlit chambers they stumble upon a grotesque three headed humanoid foul and terrible. The party throws themselves against the monster, but before they cut it down in howling anguish it delivers a devastating blow to Xyzom the dwarven bodyguard throwing the impatient warrior against the wall. Harek is rend limb from limb as Brother Benedict crushes one of the monster's heads beneath his mace. The many headed, many limbed monstrosity falls lifeless amidst the sudden carnage. After killing another one of the aroused three headed horrors the PC's spy a stairway leading to the lower levels of the palace.

to be continued...


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Use of Specialisms in my USR

I consider Specialisms in the USR rules to be incredibly flexible. That the rules as written, sparse as they are, leave PC's no choice but to create them and use them in any manner they fit.


A character with the, say, Specialism Agility could try and get an advantage over a heavily armored opponent by striking quickly, or making the opponent off balance before delivering a blow. This appeals to my sense of Sword & Sorcery combat as depicted in the pulps. Indeed, a sell-sword in the gawd awful Game of Thrones books used such a technique against a well armored foe in a one on one challenge to slam his weapon home leaving his opponent gutted and lifeless.

My USR combat rounds are ten seconds, and the action occures simultaneously. PC characters and NPC's characters can use this dynamic to describe what their goals are over the next ten seconds. As the regular rules indicate, characters can roll for a +1 on their actions by successfully rolling against a target number via the use of a Specialism. It is only up to the PC's and the Crypt Keeper to try and put these actions into play through remarkable ideas which are in the spirit of the canon.

The CK can, of course, rule against any application of a Specialism for this +1 bonus and deny the PC this additional roll. In fact, a CK would be best to keep a tight rein on the use of this mechanic, or eventually it will become meaningless through overuse.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Lost in the USR Makan-e-Mordan


Our favorite band of low life barbarian scum failed to get the upper hand on Gomer of Akaharia, and were staked out to die in the trackless wastes of the North West Desert.

After they escaped their bonds the desert threatened to swallow their lives

beneath an unrelenting sun, but they endured the unforgiving waste to eventually wander into the accursed city of Akhlat.

Here the land is sustained in the grip of an ancient demon which demands the essence of living beings for food. A city elder believes the newly arrived PC' s are the prophesied saviors destined to slay the gorgon terror.