The Sword and Sorcery Bundle of Holding

The current Bundle of Holding is on a subject very close to my heart. It’s a collection of sword and sorcery games in the spirit of Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Elric.

I bought it even though I owned two of the games already. Both of the previous editions of the classic Barbarians of Lemuria are in my collection. BoL a very accessible and well-designed game. The original edition was inspired by Lin Carter’s not-so-classic Thongor novels, which I have already written about elsewhere and it captures the feel of them very well. The bundle contains the Mythic Edition which is the latest and greatest version.

I also owned Sword Noir, a game that combines the sword and sorcery and film noir genres. What’s not to love about that?

There are a number of other very good looking games to go with them. There’s 4 different volumes of Shadow, Sword and Spell. There’s Crimson Exodus and Sorcerers of Ur-Turuk. There’s also the Highlander inspired Legacy: War of the Ages. If you feel like dusting down your claymore and bellowing,“ There can be only one!”, this is probably for you. A couple of other interesting not-quite-roleplaying games round out the package, Nod and the wonderfully named On Mighty Thews.

For just US$8.95 you get all five titles in the Starter Collection (retail value $42) as DRM-free .PDF ebooks. And if you pay more than the threshold price of $19.60, you’ll level up and also get the entire Bonus Collection of six more titles (retail value $61). This price rises as more people buy. The Bundle of Holding is available here.


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Dungeon World +2 Bundle of Holding

Just a quick post this morning. I got an email from the good people at Bundle of Holding. They have a new Dungeon World Bundle available.

There’s some extraordinarily good stuff. Not only Dungeon World itself but dark magical Grim World. (I backed the kickstarter). It does exactly what it says on the tin.

There’s Iron Edda where the riders of mecha-ish magical machines fight against the coming of Ragnarok in a world of Norse-ish mythology.

There’s the dying earth of Last Days of Anglekite. There’s steampunk adventure with The Green Scar and Inverse World. And there’s a whole lot more. I’m just mentioning the ones that really push my hot buttons.

One of the things I love about the new generation of OSR/Creative Commons/Open Systems gaming is how much unique and interesting stuff is available. I don’t even have to learn a new ruleset to play too which is a bonus given my lack of time and failing memory.

At the moment you can get the base package for $6.95 and the the complete bundle for around $18 bucks. These prices will rise as more people buy. You can grab it here.


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The Joys of Kickstarter

Yesterday the nice man from DHL brought me a package. It contained a copy of Monte Cook’s new book Numenera, a role-playing game that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. I’ve had the PDF for awhile but there’s nothing quite like holding a physical book to make something real, as I know from my own experiments with producing a print version of Stealer of Flesh. 

I don’t want to do a review of Numenera right here, right now. Free time has been in short supply this year and I’ve just skimmed through it. It’s a good looking book laid out in a style that should be familiar to anyone who has read Arcana Evolved or Ptolus or any other Malhavoc products, which is to say its a clean, clear layout with lots of interesting art. At first glance the rules look simple and interesting.  I’ll give it a more thorough read now that I have the hardback and I may get round to reviewing it at some point. Today I want to talk about something else. 

The thing about Numenara is that I had a direct part in its creation. I don’t mean I wrote anything for it, or did any art or even playtested it. I didn’t do any of those things. All I did was help fund it and I did this by way of Kickstarter. And I have to say it gives me a little kick when I look at page 410 and see my name listed among the backers. 

This was a project I really wanted to see. It is a far future fantasy, influenced by Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer books and the SF comics of the French artist Jean Giraud (Moebius). Although Mr Cook does not mention it in his notes I would guess there is some influence from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth as well either directly or smuggled in via Wolfe. In any case, it’s in a genre I love and for which there are very few roleplaying games available. I really wanted to see what Monte was going to do with it so I ponied up my sixty dollars and, lo and behold, a year and a bit later I am holding the hardback in my hands and I am very well pleased with it. 

I am hardly what you would call a wild Kickstarter funder. So far I have backed two and a half Kickstarters. This was one of them, Matt Forbeck’s madly ambitious Twelve for Twelve project was another and Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule. I say I backed half of one because I missed the deadline for Primeval Thule’s efforts on Kickstarter and got in through the backdoor on their Slacker Backer Pledge drive. 

I backed Matt’s Kickstarter because I wanted to see the books and I knew he could deliver them. I also thought that anyone demented enough to attempt to write 12 novels in a year deserved my backing. I backed Numenera for the reasons I gave above and I backed Primeval Thule because, well, it’s sword and sorcery, another genre I don’t think get’s enough love from the gaming industry.

People wanted to do cool things that I liked. All they required from me was a relatively small sum of money and they would give me them. It seemed like a fair trade to me so I coughed up. And therein lies the magic of Kickstarter and, in some ways, the era in which we live.

Making games and getting them in front of people is not an easy thing. It used to be that most game companies failed and running one, for most people, was a very expensive hobby. It cost them not just in terms of time and effort. It cost what for most people would be a huge life-savings size sum of money. Many people can write a game and produce the rules in their own spare time, but even then getting art and editing and layout and printing all cost money. Back in the day, you could throw in money for warehousing as well although that’s less problematical in these days of ebooks and PDFs.

All of this money, often tens of thousands of dollars, had to come from somewhere, and believe it or not, banks are not all that keen on lending money to small game companies. This means that producing a game was often a labour of love, funded by the people who were putting it out. For most people the sort of sums involved, while not gigantic in terms of what most businesses cost to startup, were still an enormous personal commitment, a second mortgage on the house sort of commitment. Now, rational sensible business people can say that its exactly the sort of thing that should keep people from going into the game business, but there are always people who will think with their hearts rather than their heads. 

Kickstarter not only provides a way of raising cash, it provides an interesting test market for the idea of a game, or any other product. You can see whether your idea has legs. If you’ve done your calculations correctly and you set your pledge levels right, you can see if there’s a market there for what you want to sell. If you can raise the money, it’s all systems go. If you can’t, you can take the warning and quit while you’re ahead. Nothing has been risked except the time and money you put into your proposal. I am sure that can still amount to a fair amount but I doubt that it compares to setting up a company and have it crash and burn. You are sending your idea out into the real world and letting your potential customers kick the tires. And if you can get the cash raised you’ve gone a long way towards creating a committed audience. 

Of course, it helps if your customers believe you can deliver, for sending money to a Kickstarter product is not like walking into your friendly local game store and slapping your cash on the counter. It’s possible that you might contribute your cash and never see any more of it. It hasn’t happened to me but I’ve heard of people pledging cash to Kickstarters that never delivered. It’s a risk.

In the case of the projects I backed, it’s a risk I was prepared to take. I believed the people asking for my cash could deliver and they have a track record of being able to do so. I have seen examples of their previous work and loved it. It also has to be said that in the case of one of the people asking for my dollars (hello, Matt!) they were a personal friend. All of this helps. 

We’ve moved into a new era for the gaming industry (and I would guess for small publishing in general.) You can raise capital without going to conventional sources. You can test market your ideas through websites that already exist at very low costs. You can mobilise fans and backers via social media. And you can distribute over the Interwebs themselves, moving to print on-demand, if you want hardcopies. 

I am sure none of this comes as a surprise to many of you who have been backing Kickstarters for a while but there was something about holding that hardback copy of Numenera in my hand that made it all so much more real for me.

A special mention here to Paul Bryant of  Gameslore for tracking me down and resending my copy of Numenera from the UK when it was returned undelivered from my previous address. Thank you, Paul!

 

Stuff!

So that was Gamesday then. As ever it was an enjoyable and, as I was sitting at a signing table between Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill, somewhat humbling experience. I got to see the newly released Bane of Malekith but during the chaos of departure yet again forgot to pick up an author copy. Never mind. I’ll do that at the upcoming Weekender.

It was a pleasure to meet and chat with readers. It was also a pleasure to be able to catch up with Black Library writing and editing folks I’ve known for a long time and meet other folks for the first time. As always I was sorry not to have more time to take a look around the hall and see all the amazing stuff that’s always there. It’s the eternal problem of going to cons as a pro–  you never get to see or do half the stuff you did as a fan.

On my way to Gamesday I managed to drop and break my old second generation Kindle while going through security at Amsterdam airport. Bummer. I’ve had that old machine for over 4 years and it served me well. Unfortunately, since being dropped, a triangle cut out of the top half of the screen shows  a few lines of what I was reading at the time– Blood Rites by Jim Butcher–and the rest of the screen shows a static haze.

On the way back to Prague, I bought one of the new generation of Kindle Wireless for the princely sum of £68 in Birmingham Airport duty free. It’s one of the clearest examples of the march of technology I have ever seen. My original Kindle cost me around £250 which admittedly included shipping and import duties from the United States. Even without those though it would have cost almost three times the price of my new Kindle. The new machine is two thirds of the weight, much more compact and has a slightly larger screen. Not only that the screen resolution is much better and battery life much longer. I think there’s more than just Moore’s Law in evidence here. There are advances in e-ink screen technology to take into account as well. 

I switched on the machine when I got home and within a few minutes I had my books downloading onto it. No muss, no fuss, all clean and tidy. Another neat thing about modern tech is you don’t need to spend hours charging it before you can do anything. I switched on the Kindle on Monday and its still running now two days later without having been charged yet. Kids today probably don’t even realise how impressive that is to old timers like me. Even while my Kindle was broken I got to read my books on the my phone using the Android app. It was a pretty clear demonstration of the advantages of modern technology. 

During the trip, I did not have much time or access to the Internet so my apologies to anybody waiting for a reply or to have their comments approved. I should also mention that I have a review of the very wonderful Crypts and Things over at BlackGate.com. If you feel the need to read any more of my ramblings at the present moment, you should probably mosey over there and check it out. 

Bundle of FATE

I am just making a quick post to mention the FATE package available here at Bundle of Holding. If you have any interest in this excellent role-playing game (RPG) this is a good time to buy.

The Bundle of Holding is a pay what you want package.  You can get the excellent FATE Core and FATE Accelerated RPGs along with pulp adventure Spirit of the Century, the science fiction games Diaspora, Bulldogs and Full Moon and the fantasy game Ehndrigohr by paying any sum you care to contribute.

If you pay more than the average price, currently standing around $15 as I write this, you also get Cubicle Seven’s excellent Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre along with Arc Dream’s Victorian Steampunk Superhero game The Kerberos Club (which sell for around $75 in total if you buy the PDF versions).

All of these games run on the FATE engine and represent a value of around $125 if you buy them separately. All of them are DRM free PDFs. There are Kindle and ePUb files for some of the games– FATE, FAE and Spirit of the Century, if I recall correctly.

FATE is a story-and-character driven RPG with an interesting set of game mechanics which give the players an unusual amount of control over the outcome of their actions and the nature of the story. I have owned Spirit of the Century for some time and it is one of the best pulp adventure games and settings I know.

The Bundle is available for a limited time only and the deal has another one day and seven hours to run as I write this. Ten percent of the money you contribute goes to charity.

Monsters and Magic

Now this is interesting– Monsters and Magic (M&M), a new role playing game from Mindjammer Press that bills itself as old school fantasy, new school play.

 Monsters and Magic v1 01 Covers pdf page 1 of 143

First, at the risk of starting a flame war, some definitions. There  are, unsurprisingly given the nature of the internet, some disputes as to exactly what constitutes an Old School game. To me they mostly seem to be retro-clones of old-fashioned original and advanced D&D which use the OGL to simulate the tone and style of play of those ancient games. They also seem to be concerned with recreating the do-it-yourself ethos I well remember from the early days of the hobby.

This suits me down to the ground. I have a nostalgic fondness for the RPGs of the period when I first started playing (1977) and I like the open-source philosophy espoused by many of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) designers in gaming as much as I like it in software and operating systems. Many of the basic OSR rulesets such as OSRIC and Swords and Wizardry are available for free. 

For me, new school games are those like FATE which encourage sophisticated use of the rules to allow the players as well as the Gamesmaster some say in the narrative and construction of the game world. This might be the source of some tension with hardcore Old School types when it comes to using M&M since OSR rulesets mostly encourage a sandbox style of play rather than a narrative one.

We are now two hundred words into this review and I have said very little about the game itself. Let’s rectify that. Monsters and Magic is a set of rules which allows a sophisticated, modern style of play while at the same time enabling you to use all of your old adventures for D&D and its retroclones pretty much unchanged. When I first read that I confess I thought it can’t be done but I was wrong. Monsters and Magic does it and with style. It provides real backward compatibility for your old RPG stuff. Since I have a lot of old modules, scenarios and supplements, this is important for me.

Character Generation is simple and quick, just like it used to be in the good old days of the 1970s. It will seem familiar to anyone who has played any edition of D&D. Roll 3D6 or more for attributes or base them on any point system you like. Choose a race from human, elf, dwarf, etc. Choose a class, from fighter, cleric, magic user etc. Roll hit points. Choose equipment.

The main difference is that instead of skills, feats, special abilities etc, characters have advancements. Advancements basically describe anything special about your character from his ability to cast spells to his sneaking skills or his knowledge of arcane lore. They are not limited to abilities that a class might have.

You can pretty much define your own advancements, and are expected to. They somewhat resemble Aspects in FATE. You can use advancements as a level based modifer on pretty much anything you can convince the GM that they should apply on. For example, my (just-invented) natural born liar advancement could be used as a bonus when haggling, performing feats of diplomacy or even in combat if you can make a case for it (“Of course, I won’t hurt you,” said just before you stab someone in the back.)

M&M uses a very basic one die roll system for all forms of task resolution. You use 3d6 plus modifers to judge not just a character’s success but the level of that success. For example, in melee combat you roll 3d6 plus your level (if you have any advancement that apply) plus your Strength modifier (doubled if it happens to be the prime attribute of your class) plus your weapons damage dice plus any other modifiers you can talk your GM into letting you use. This is measured against your opponents Armour Class which in this case is equal to your opponent’s Dexterity plus level plus modifiers for armour and shield along with anything else that seems relevant. If your die roll exceeds your opponent you have succeeded. If your roll is less than your opponent’s armour class you have failed. 

You can inflict damage up to your weapons maximum damage equal to your number of successes or you can inflict consequences or you can do some mixture of both.

There are three levels of consequence, minor, major and extreme which cost 5 points per level. Each level of consequence inflicts a -2 penalty on the recipient which remains until its removed. What these consequences are is left up to the GM and the player to decide.

For example, let’s say a PC attacks an orc and gets 8 successes on his attack. He could choose to inflict a straight eight points of damage. Or he could inflict 3 points of damage and a minor consequence. This could be anything the player wishes from pushing the orc back, to notching his scimitar and inflicting a -2 penalty until the orc changes weapon, to a minor niggling wound that has the same narrative effect. 

You’ll notice this removes the need for a lot of special case rules such as disarming, pushing back, etc. This is something I really like.

If you fail your roll, you take the consequences the GM inflicts on you in much the same way. If you fail by 5 points you take a minor consequence, by 10 points a major consequence and so on. 

What if you don’t like those consequences? What if you would rather be pushed back or knocked over than take that nagging wound? Then you can spend a hero point to define the consequence for yourself– either as a recipient or as the person inflicting the consequence. Players start with hero points equal to their level and can gain and lose them during the course of play.

Pretty much every situation from skill use to magic is covered using the same mechanics. Players have both Physical Hit Points (used like hit points always are in D&D) and mental hit points which are used for mental and social situations. 

It’s an elegant system and it works in all the situations I tested it in. It should also make for some interesting narrative combats. There are no grids or hex maps. Everything is handled in the abstract which  is just the way I like it. 

This basic mechanic is expanded into all sorts of areas, most notably (the somewhat confusingly named for those of us used to 3rd Edition D&D) constructs. In M&M constructs are not golem-like magical servitors made by wizards (although they could be!) but independent megascale accessories that players can acquire as they advance in levels– things like castles, armies or hundred foot tall mechanical golems armed with flamethrowers, for example. They can be used to play out conflicts on a much larger scale.

Can you really use your old modules unmodified with M&M? Yes, you really can. The game allows you to use the old stat lines with a minimum of work and the rules are flexible enough to let you wing it in any situation I can imagine. 

I’ve rambled on for longer than I intended, so let’s try some conclusions. For me at least Monsters and Magic succeeds in its aims.There’s a huge amount to like about the game. It’s well-written. It does what it says on the tin.  The mechanics are simple and elegant and they scale very well indeed.

It has a few weaknesses. As with the old boxed sets, only the first four levels of progression are covered in detail. The not unreasonable argument is made that it’s easy enough to adapt what’s needed from the freely available old school rulesets you (most likely) already possess although this does somewhat sit at odds with the inclusion of advanced rules for constructs. There are those who will find it too new-fangled for the Old School, but I think it brings something new and interesting to the table. 

I picked up Monsters and Magic as a $9.99 PDF from Drivethru RPG. I believe a print version will soon be available.