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D&D4e – A Watch Upon the Border

I’ve always been someone who adapts to circumstances as they happen, but hate being an early adopter! Working in IT, I always wait until the first service pack is released before upgrading an Operating System (OS) and I tend to carry that over to gaming rules-sets as well. I’ll freely admit that Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (4e) hasn’t really fired my imagination as previous editions have done, although Ashes of Freedom was originally a 4e setting.

Looking back now I can see where I went wrong with games like Against the Odds and season 1 of Ashes of Freedom (I run campaigns for a year usually then take a break, similar to the format used by TV). I was trying to shoehorn a rules-set into a campaign setting, not the other way around. 4e is heavily combat-orientated, designed largely with the power-gaming “Munchkin” player in mind or so I’d thought – similar to most computer RPGs. I’ve decided to give 4e a second look. As part of a drive to get more folk participating in ORC Edinburgh‘s activities, I’ve decided to run a short mini-campaign, possibly to get some would-be GMs fired up to run their own games too. It is probably going to focus on a group of low-level PCs stationed on the border between Volkrania and the Eastlands.

It will be called “A Watch Upon the Border”. Most likely it will feature pre-generated characters (from Essentials/PHB), although those first in will have a choice. It will focus on adventures in the east of Volkrania, the Ashes of Freedom setting, but will take place some years before; between the end of the Orcgate War and the Purge of Fire. The PCs will be low level, but there will be plot hooks aplenty that I can work in as the stage is set for future events in AoF. Player-wise, I’d be looking for 4-6 players. It’s only going to be a short campaign but by using pre-gens it means anyone can pop in and play. The forum thread I’ve created at ORC Edinburgh can be found at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk/forum/Games–Players-Wanted/13411-d-d4e-border-watch.

One of the biggest problems for me in the past has also been the miniatures and terrain – and that’s expensive! However I think I’ll be able to muddle through with the miniatures I have, and an improvised “battlemat”. The miniatures I ordered as part of the Reaper Miniatures Kickstarter (Vampire level) won’t be here until next year. However, I’m also investing in the Legendary Realms Terrain Kickstarter as well – their stuff is very nice. There’s another reason too: Legendary Realms is the Official (TM) 🙂 scenery of The Secret Fire RPG, a game I worked upon last year, both in development and playtesting. Look out for the Demons supplement I wrote coming out soon from Secret Fire Games!

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RPG plans for Summer 2012

I’ve got quite a bit of things planned over the next few months, both on the site and at ORC Edinburgh. And its not just me: there’s a mini-campaign of the Dragon Age RPG kicking off, a Pathfinder game, a GURPS Swashbuckling Superhero game, as well as my own Marvel Super Heroes game.

I’m also thinking of participating in a Blog Carnival about the Undead as part of May of the Dead next month. Although I’ve never been enthused about zombie films or similar, they and other undead have often featured prominently in my games. I’m probably going to focus on what drives them. I may also look at haunted houses too.

I’ve also got vague plans for running a good old-fashioned Dungeon bash – it may even take the form of a tournament, wherein two different parties take on the same dungeon. I’m leaning towards a Liche-created series of traps and a menagerie of monsters, but may also feature some ideas I came up with for a Thieves Guild trial in Ashes of Freedom. Essentially, I improved upon those shown in that sequence in the 1st D&D movie, featuring Richard O’Brien (reprising his role from the Crystal Maze TV show, “Get through the maze and win a prize!”). I’m considering running it under Pathfinder or The Secret Fire RPG rules, both of which lend themselves to this kind of game.

As we get through to the end of summer, I’m looking at the return of my Ashes of Freedom D&D game. I’m hoping to get a number of the original players back for this, although it’ll likely have a few new folk.

Now that I have largely finished a lot of the work that I was doing for TSF I’ve got a bit more free time (despite upping my game at ORC. This means that I may finally get a chance to start work on a couple of stalled projects: an implementation of the FATE RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom, and the Arunstoun setting/adventure for Call of Cthulhu. Both have had some work done on them but as usual, I’ve not followed up on them due to the time constraints involved.

Any day now I’m hoping to hear more about the global D&D playtest (AKA D&Dnext or 5e) for the next edition, so may also work that into my schedule. I’m not sure how good or bad it will be as there’s a lot of information bouncing around the net, but so far it sounds like it will likely provide some kind of framework to run any edition or implementation. Not sure how that’ll work as each edition tends to have overcompensated for the faults of the previous one. Well, we’ll see.

And finally: I’ve got an idea for NaNoWri month in November (National Novel Writing Month). It’s likely to be a bit of a mystery but played out through the eyes of three different characters in three different times. Should be an interesting experiment!

RPG Piracy

YAAR! Or not. In the last week the SOPA and PIPA legislations were pretty much sunk. As is usual for such things there’s two perspectives you can have on this: one is that it a victory for civil liberties and privacy, and that such things are pretty much unworkable. The other perspective is that again heavy-handed  actions by legislators that don’t understand the technology involved have again missed an opportunity to protect people’s intellectual property.

File share sites aren’t going to go away overnight. As soon as a product is released in digital format, it will be pirated. Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop this happening. When the Secret Fire RPG came out, a pirated copy surfaced on the Internet within 24 hours: unfortunately for the dopey git concerned, he’d left his email on the PDF, so I suspect his account with DriveThruRPG was shut down as a result.

I’ve said it before: I don’t condone piracy. Downloading a PDF with a view to buying the hard copy book is very different to knowingly downloading a pirated PDF. The obvious truth is, without product sales, many of the small press games will simply stop producing games or go out of business. Only a handful of companies can afford the legal fees to get sites shut down, and even then, they’re not in the same league as record companies. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to stop people ripping you off.

One of the creators of Cthulhutech, Matthew Grau, summed up the current situation for small-press games last October on the Cthulhutech website.

I remember a day when a mediocre release of a game book sold 3000-5000 copies, with healthy restock orders. Now, a successful release might sell 1000, if you are lucky, selling through the rest of your 3000 unit print run in three years – many companies print far less. Not only is the industry shrinking, but people don’t have to pay for their gaming books any more if they don’t want to. Unfortunately, unlike the music industry, we are not made of money. It costs a surprisingly large amount of money to develop a well-written and attractive gaming book and the return is not so hot. Without those extra sales, the traditional model of core plus regular supplementation isn’t really viable.

– Matthew Grau, Wildfire LLC

Now, here’s the thing: D&D, Eclipse Phase, Pathfinder and FATE have all released their rules on the internet, either OGL (Open Gaming License) or through a SRD (System Reference Document). These systems largely make RPG piracy minor as everything can be found online, although it does still take place. When you buy the book, you’re usually buying background information, the “fluff”, from these companies. Also, many folks resort to illegal PDFs when they’re unable to source old material – which is why Wizards have likely re-released their 1st edition publications. Although I wonder if any of the artists and contributors to those works will receive any royalties?

As such, I ‘d considered the best way to prevent piracy of the Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom RPG. In short, I’m not: instead, I’ll make use of it. As I’ll be using FATE, which is already OGL, there’s very little that won’t already be out there, either as part of the OGL for FATE or material that I’ll make available on the site. Copies of the rules may crop up on the ‘net, but this could help as a sort of viral marketing, especially if they are quick-start rules.

At one point Wizards of the Coast had their old adventures in PDF form, free to download. Then they dropped it and sold them online. Then they stopped making them available, citing piracy, which only made their products pirated more. Unfortunately the business model of having one form of product for sale just doesn’t work any more: when Wizards dropped their PDF sales, they made a serious mistake in my view.

Simply put: if there’s no reason to pirate your work, why bother? Although I have a few rulebooks in PDF, they’re no substitute for a hard copy version during play! With that in mind, the solution to RPG piracy is pretty clear: make your rules, or any antiquated or dead product, available online. Anyone that then pirates your work is clearly doing something illegal – so you can rain down whatever kind of legal hell if you want.

Unfortunately, RPG Piracy is here to stay, legislation or not. Until the internet becomes a police state – hopefully never – piracy will exist. If you’re a publisher, use it to your advantage.

My view from the Bridge – Bill Heron – 2011

My view from the Bridge – Bill Heron

It’s been quite a year for me. I’ve blogged far more about RPGs in the last year than anything else. Consequently I’ve trimmed a lot of the dead wood from my blog to make it easier to read, as well as making the site easier to find in both search engines and within the site itself. Hopefully related posts will now show up for some of the blog entries and pages – I’ve removed the BlogGlue plugin I was using as it didn’t really add anything to help find related posts (back to using the revamped YARPP – Yet Another Related Posts Plugin). I’m also intending to use the new featured image of WordPress more often as well as making the site a little easier to read.

I’ve already covered events at the Open Roleplaying Community (ORC Edinburgh) within a previous post, but there’s a few things I’ve not mentioned within as they were more of a personal nature.

As I posted, THE SECRET FIRE RPG (then known as Legend & Labyrinths) was playtested by ORC in May. As a result of this, I helped write much of the flavour text (flavour text being the descriptive text used to describe monsters and magic spells/prayers, etc.) for the game as well as participating as a game developer. I’m also hoping to begin work soon upon the Demons part of the first supplement: FRAGMENT I: THE WAY OF TREE, SHADOW & FLAME, and will likely end up doing some more of the flavour text for THE SECRET FIRE. It feels very weird seeing “Bill Heron” in the credits of a published book!

CLICHÉ: THE ROLEPLAYING GAME OF PREDICTABLE HORROR is another RPG we playtested at ORC, from an Edinburgh RPG design studio, Drunken Badger Games. I’m hoping to hear more from them in the future, as the game I ran at ORC was quite good fun – CLICHÉ lends itself well to having a few friends around for some beers without being too hard on the old brain cells!

I also managed to get my CTHULHUTECH: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS game off the ground at ORC, running on a fortnightly basis, with a decent group of players. I’m also preparing a blog article on how to run a CTHULHUTECH game and campaign –  stay tuned!

My Ashes of Freedom D&D game reached the end of its story arc. I’m quite happy with the way it ended, with a doomsday device beginning a countdown and an epic battle in the Hammerfall Pass caverns resolving a number of the story arcs. There’s a definite possibility I’ll be returning to it later in the year, as the setting was popular and we had a great time playing it and running it in my case. The chariot race will go down in legend!

In the personal kudos stakes, my The Art of Winging It article also gained a mention in an article on the Wizards of the Coast website! It’s only a brief mention with a link to the page but it still feels good to see things like this happen!

And finally, work began upon my big project the MANDRAGORA: ASHES OF FREEDOM RPG. I’m trying this as an experiment in self-publishing and will likely be blogging about this a lot in the coming year or so, and hurling some ideas around out there.

So it looks like 2011 was a pretty good year for me RPG-wise. As well as the above I also had the chance to play in a lot more RPGs, including the Dresden Files RPG, 40k Deathwatch, Rogue Trader, and even some Call of Cthulhu and D&D!

2011 year end retrospective of ORC Edinburgh

ORC Edinburgh has had an “interesting” year – in the same vein as “May you live interesting times!”. This has been my second year as defacto ORC webmaster (and general heid yin) for ORC Edinburgh. I’m going to try to create these reviews on an annual basis.

The year started off in a neo-Ice Age with many us either negotiating the icy planes of Edinburgh or trapped in drifts of snow. However, we persevered, both players and GMs alike traipsing through the snow and ice to game! Then in February, disaster struck: the Meadow Bar suffered an extensive fire that gutted the function room where we played, depriving both us and the Edinburgh University boardgame Society (FAQ) of a venue. It’s happened before: Cafe Nero, The Royal Engineers Club, the Three Tuns…

ORC Edinburgh has a history of getting together and adapting, and its definitely one of our strengths – for a community of (essentially) volunteers we do quite well. Thankfully a member of ORC (Deleriad) noticed that board games and the like were being played in Illegal Jacks, a new bar and grill on Lothian Road. It turned out to be an astute choice of venue, with very nice food and a fine choice of music (I might be wrong, but most RPGers tend to be fans of rock music of some kind).

With Illegal Jacks as our new “base of operations,” we were able to run two or more games a week there. IJ made us very welcome there, even to the extent that we had our own table! It gave us the chance to welcome screenwriter and RPG designer George Strayton and playtest his game, the Secret Fire RPG (then called Legends & Labyrinths). Edinburgh’s own Drunken Badger games also provided ORC with the opportunity to playtest their RPG, Cliché: The Roleplaying Game of Predictable Horror as well.

We also said hello to a lot of new members and farewell to others – and also farewell to some  long-running campaigns. Both my Ashes of Freedom game and the New World were wound down, although it is likely that AoF will return later in the year. We’re also back in the refurbished Meadow Bar function room which has much nicer décor now as well, but still run games in Illegal Jacks and Cafe Renroc as well.

By far one of the most popular games to play at ORC was D&D. Love it or hate it, the granddaddy of them all was still going strong. Regardless of your feelings about the game it remains as popular as ever with many new people entering the hobby. Quite a lot of new players are looking to play D&D – some have been influenced by web comics like Penny Arcade or via computer games such as Neverwinter Nights. There appears to be a bit of a dearth of DMs running games though  – however Embracraig is running a consistent game at Cafe Renroc on a fortnightly basis. This new venue proves popular with those gamers who live nearby!

Another old favourite, Call of Cthulhu, returned in the form of the mini-campaign Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows Over Scotland. This is currently hugely popular at ORC – I may also run some of these adventures next year myself, as well as finally getting my Arunstoun setting completed! In related news, my Cthulhutech campaign (The Damsacus Road) has finally got off the ground in the Through the Looking Glass setting. The wh40k games have all been popular too with the most recent, Black Crusade, starting a new campaign at ORC this December.

ORC also hosted a few pub meets this year: these proved to be hugely successful and gave us all a chance to socialize outside of a game for once. It looks like we’ll be running a few more of these over the coming year – it gave those new to ORC the chance to chat and get to know the other members, old and new.

I think its safe to say that ORC is going to be around for a while to come. We have a pretty substantial membership now, although attendance fluctuates wildly – however this seems to be one of those things that happens these days. If you’re running a game, I’d suggest you get at least six players. That way you’ll also cover any possible absences and still have a fun game!

Anyway: Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!