Forward Planning: Practice makes perfect

Alongside the research angle, my second starting point for writing Ghosts of Iron is one of practice, by which I mean immersing myself in Savage Worlds. It’s a system that I have both run and played but that I haven’t given as much screen time as others such as Cortex. As a GM I know that I can run it but I also know that, at present, when it comes to the intricate rules details I’d be reaching for the rulebook to double check edge cases.

Fortunately, I’ve got an easy solution to this – run it. My ongoing series of Monthly OneShots is a perfect way to both dive back into the fast, furious, fun of Savage Worlds and to introduce more players to the Crystal Heart setting. There are already a number of short adventures available, released to promote the Kickstarter while the fact that I am comfortable running one-off games will allow me to playtest individual elements from Ghosts of Iron before I bring them all together into the complete adventure.

The final step will be updating everything to Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, which was only kickstartered last year and which is still in production. While a pre-release is already available the finalised rules aren’t due out until later this year. For consistency, I’ll work from the Deluxe edition and then update to the latest edition that has been properly released.

So if you’re in the Liverpool area and want to get your game on keep an eye on the Sugar & Dice RPG group for my Monthly OneShot announcements.

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Review: Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana

Artwork has been an integral part of D&D ever since its inception, helping to draw in multiple generations of curious gamers. While I missed the first three editions (3.5 was at its peak when I started gaming) I’ve watched the art shift through 3.5th, 4th and into its current 5th incarnation. The story of D&D can be told through its artwork, which is exactly what Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History sets out to do.

dnd2 Drawing upon the treasure trove of material available in the Wizards of the Coast archives the authors have created a comprehensive history of the game, told through imagery and accompanied by commentary from the designers and illustrators that helped redefine the game over and over again. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the book as a Christmas gift and I think my review can be summed up in a single word: gorgeous.

While each chapter spans a distinct era additional features peppered across the book connect the past to the present. Evilution pages take classic monsters and chronicles their progression from the original edition through to their current manifestations, while Deadliest Dungeons dives into some of the iconic dungeons from over the years. The book is peppered with pages such as these and their addition adds a depth that goes beyond a simple chronological history of the game.

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I d20-20could go on at length about how much I love this book, but I’d rather let this small selection of photos talk for themselves. Having never been a big history buff I’ve gained a lot of insight about the early years of D&D, but ultimately, as a coffee table book it lives and dies by the quality of the artwork. In that category, it’s a Natural 20 and I cannot recommend it enough to anybody invested in the hobby. It’s a book that I suspect is going to be a prominent part of my collection and one that I will go back to time after time, whether it be for inspiration or just to unwind in the evening.

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All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

Forward Planning: Savage Worlds One Sheet Adventures

With the successful completion of the Crystal Heart Kickstarter in December, I find myself in the fortunate position of starting 2019 with a commission to write RPG material for somebody else. The brief for the adventure was broad – something that an Agent of Syn might face, including an NPC ability or hazard to demonstrate knowledge of what makes Savage Worlds fast, furious and fun! My pitch, as presented during the Kickstarter campaign was:

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So where do I start? How do I go from a pitch to a finished adventure? I’m aiming to cover that process through a series of blog posts as I develop Ghosts of Iron.

Right now, that answer is research. While this may be my first commission there are a wealth of resources I can draw on. Firstly, there are my own adventure starters which were designed around a similar framework to One Sheet adventures – streamlined overviews that outline the adventure but require additional GM input to fully flesh out. It also helps that Pinnacle, the company behind Savage Worlds have a treasure trove of One Sheets available as free downloads from their website. I’ve begun mining that to put together a framework – what should be included, how do I highlight sections, how much detail do I give locations vs NPCs vs plot. Once I have identified those I can start to take my existing notes and begin to fit them to the page.

Secondly, there is the Crystal Heart setting itself. While the book is still in development Eran and Aviv have already showcased the world through the webcomic and accompanying page notes. Over the coming months, I’ll be going back to that repeatedly, to pick up on details that I might have missed and to ensure that my adventure embodies the spirit of the setting.

Quick Review: Story Dice, The Game

I picked up Story Dice, The Game on a whim over Christmas in order to avoid paying delivery charges on a Christmas present. I had seen it advertised and thought that the blank ‘chalkboard’ dice would be a nice addition to games where I wished to introduce a customised roll. On opening the packaging though I could immediately tell that I was going to be disappointed.

Firstly, the box was basically empty – the entire contents could have been fitted into something much smaller. What were those contents? 3 icon d6 dice, 2 blank ‘chalkboard’ dice, a bag of small counters, a chalk pen and a sheet of paper with the instructions for the game. Instructions that were little more than draw/write something on the blank dice, roll all the dice, tell a short story using the icons, the best story gets a counter.

Now as a game goes simple is often the way forward. Unfortunately, the dice themselves do not lend themselves to fun stories. The icon dice are uninspiring and include rather mundane faces such as a mobile phone, a bathtub or a person in bed. In my opinion they’d have been much better with fantasy, sci-fi or action elements rather than generic everyday items. As for the ‘chalkboard’ dice that were the main reason I’d bought the game? Well turns out they were just slightly larger, blank plastic dice with rough edges where the two halves have been joined. There’s even a couple of points that I will probably need to file down. The chalk pen writes on them ok and can be easily rubbed off so they will do the job I wanted from them but they just feel cheap. For a mere £6 this isn’t really surprising but given the quality of similar products (notably Rory’s Story Cubes which are ~£10 for 9 dice with a range of themed sets) I was disappointed.

d20-03Would I recommend Story Dice, The Game? No, not unless I knew somebody that was wanting to prototype a game and needed the blank dice. Even then I’d be hesitant.

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond. Unless otherwise stated review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

2018 – Reflecting on the Year

2018 has come and gone. It was quite a year for me, both away from the hobby and at the gaming table. Coming out of 2017 my engagement with the hobby was nearing an all-time low. My actual gaming was limited to a game of Deadlands Noir that was cancelled more often than it was actually run and I was largely limited to keeping my interest alive through online interactions with the community.

After moving to Liverpool in April I decided to make an active effort to re-engage with gaming. This started with a decision to not rant about D&D and how it was the only system being advertised across the multiple gaming cafes in the city. It’s a decision that has served me well, to the point that this year I’ll be running my first campaign of 5th Edition for colleagues at work. I haven’t been this excited about D&D since 4th Edition launched, which I enjoyed from the tactical side but couldn’t really get into on the RP side.

Related to this I made the decision that if the games I wanted to see weren’t being offered then I would run them myself in my ongoing series of Monthly OneShots. They’ve been a moderate success but have suffered from the curse of last-minute player drop out. My aim for these going forward is to widen the breadth of games on offer and to burn through my stack of unplayed games. Ideally, I would like to take one and turn it into a campaign but that’ll have to wait for now as I’m not sure I have the time for two active campaigns.

On a publishing front, 2018 was a mixed year. I made close to zero progress on Project Cassandra and it has now been over a year since my last State of the Conspiracy update. The game isn’t dead, I just need to find the motivation to pull it off of the back burner and get it finished.

I was slightly more successful with releasing material for the Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG. I debuted a Victorian-inspired team, The Undesirables, the first step towards an epic adventure that I have been thinking about for a few years. 2018 also saw the release of Lockdown, the second of my Slice of Life adventure starters. I had hoped to release the remainder of the adventures last year, which clearly didn’t happen but I remain committed to doing so within the first few months of 2019. The release of Lockdown also saw my first few paid sales over on drivethruRPG. My total sales may only amount to < £10 but it was a big step forward as an indie publisher putting together material in my spare time.

Finally, here on my blog, I had what I’m going to class as a successful year. Thirty-eight blog posts pushed the blog to the most views and visitors I’ve ever had in a year. My review of the Savage Worlds GM Screen remains my most popular post. Going into 2019 my aim is to publish more reviews, with a mix of in-depth and quick, single paragraph posts to ensure I get them out promptly. If I can carry the momentum that I built in the latter half of 2018 then 2019 should be a great year in gaming.

Christmas Loot

Thanks to generous family who know me all too well I received a nice collection of loot for Christmas.

The pride and joy is the D&D arcana book, which I’ll be reviewing properly once I’ve read it (spoiler alert: it’s gorgeous), while the special edition of Frankenstein may serve as the start of a new collection of classic fantasy and sci-fi.

That’s a standard d20 next to the d6, which is stone and has a lovely weight to it. Doubt I’ll ever roll it but I am looking forward to using it as a clock / tracker in future games.

Gaming Plans for 2019

With another year almost at an end it seems appropriate to do both a reflection on my year in gaming and a look forward to my aims for next year. I’m going to look forward first, for a couple of reasons. Primarily I want to actually sit and actually reflect on the year, but also because I want to save that post for the first of 2019.

So, what are my aims for 2019?

Must do

  • Complete the Demon Hunters: Slice of Life adventure starters.
  • Run the Immortals D&D campaign and keep it going.
  • Finally finish Project Cassandra, though given how long it has been on the backburner I suspect this will require a complete rewrite.
  • Write Ghosts of Iron, my Crystal Heart adventure that was part of the recent Kickstarter.

Would be nice

  • Attend a number of conventions, ideally this would include Expo in the Summer and Dragonmeet next December but I’m going to be realistic and look for some local events first.
  • Finish and publish the The Kingsport Tribune, a one page Cthulhu game.
  • Write and publish a mission for The Sprawl, in collaboration with HyveMynd.
  • Design some business cards to publicise my material if it looks like I’m going to be at conventions.

Pipe dreams

  • Write, playtest and publish Rocket Demons of Antiquity. Given my notes and plans for this have gone from a basic adventure to a mini-campaign spanning two distinct eras and a whole host of characters this isn’t something I expect to be an easy task.

All in all that’s quite a lot but I think breaking it down into the above priorities list will help.