Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Using Mighty Deeds to Bring Flava to tha Fighta


One of the greatest contributions the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG makes to d20 game mechanics, is the "Mighty Deed of Arms" for warriors and dwarves. Like the "feat" in later editions of D&D, the Deed is a specialized maneuver resulting in better, flashier combat outcomes. It allows for things not explicated in the rules, but also provides a set of principles--general themes that can be applied flexibly to given circumstances--whereby one can engineer this particular subsystem to generate "feat-like" outcomes. Consider the following passages from the rulebook (pp. 88-92) to be the principles of which I speak:

  • The higher the deed die, the more successful the Deed.
  • A warrior’s Deeds should fit the situation at hand and reflect the might and daring of a great fighter.
  • A warrior may even devise a “signature move” that he frequently attempts based on his particular proclivities.  [even one involving a specific weapon ~EDJ]
  • Creative players will certainly come up with new Deeds. Encourage and allow this.

The example deeds in that section of the rulebook are types of attacks and effects (e.g., blinding, pushback, etc.), and provide a sense of how to scale outcomes based on the Deed Die roll. What it doesn't go into as explicitly, is how the Deed can be used to differentiate character from class--i.e., to make each character more than just another stereotypical example of his or her class. Sure, there's still room for the fighter to be the main battle tank of the party, but Deeds can be matched not only to fit a particular combat situation or need, but also to tell us who your character is, and how he or she takes care of business.

An Example

Suppose you wanted to create a warrior, but also wanted to avoid the increased fumble dice associated with heavier armor. If you handle that character like the standard "tank" fighter--heaviest armor available, plus shield--going toe-to-toe with every creeping horror and boss monster out there, you'll be slaughtered. Fun for your GM, but not so fun for you. So what can you do?

First, think a little bit about great fighters you've seen, the fighters who don't wear mail but still kick ass. Like this guy:
Errol Flynn being awesome in high boots and a leather vest,
with not a scrap of plate mail (nor a shield) in sight.
I can think of a couple of Deeds for the prototypical swashbuckler type. The first of these is defensive. Let's call it "Baffle Them with Bullshit." One reason swashbuckling swordspersons are so cool, is that they both outfight and outfox their opponents. A good one cash go up against the burliest of foes and slice that foe to ribbons, whilst taking nary a scratch in the process. Baffle Them with Bullshit is the reason they don't get killed. With slashing, slicing, silver streaks of sword-swinging, the swashbuckler weaves a wall of protection, adding to his or her AC on a successful Deed, but not otherwise affecting the strike. The warrior can still hit, but the way he or she does so--with lightning-fast arrays of feints, counters, and strikes, makes it more difficult to the opponent to hit the warrior. The better the result, the more the protection.

The "Defensive Maneuvers" entry in the rulebook's Mighty Deeds of Arms section is pretty generic, dealing with providing active defense for the party--Shield walls, back-to-back fighting. That's one way to go, but preserves a fairly archetypal "fighter" role for the PC. Using the deed in ways that moves you away from the typical hack-n-slash fighter (or hand-n-bash, for dwarves), also helps to to move you in the direction of another version of the warrior archetype. In this case, the Deed provides access to a different kind of fighting style, and subsequent choices about armor, for example, that support that style. You can't very well go leaping about in plate mail (at least not without risking a dire Reflex save), in the same way that you can in thigh-high boots and a leather jerkin (Whew! Did it just get hot in here?). If you're going to go up against heavily armored foes, then you'll need to have a fighting style to reflect how you go about your business: nimble defense, piercing thrusts, leaping, swinging from ropes, etc., all of which could go into your repertoire of Mighty Deeds.

Or how about this guy:
Errol Flynn being awesome while wearing hose of Lincoln Green.
So, you say your warrior has an 8 Strength due to that whole "necrotic drain from a chaotic wizard" thing? No worries. You still got  that Agility bonus. It's not much, but it makes shooting a bow much more attractive than swinging an axe. In this case, deeds will be focused on things like precision shots, trick shots, enhanced rate of fire, and the like, and even get you thinking about things like fire arrows (or poison, for the chaotic among you with a disregard of the dangers of poison-handling). Again, the flavor of the fighter shifts from armored tank to something else entirely, something more like the "ranger" archetype.

The main thing I wish to emphasize, here, is that Mighty Deeds are not simply something you do in combat. They are used for that, certainly, but they also help you think about who your warrior is, and how he or she does the biz. As soon as you get done with that zero-level funnel, and you look at the possibilities, that 7 Strength might make veer wildly from making a warrior character. It shouldn't. Are you more agile? Then use your Agility to drive your deeds? Are you a high Personality character, but the very thought of playing a cleric gives you hives? Fine. What if one of your Deeds involved taunting your opponents, enraging them and making them sloppy, and allowing you to take advantage of, say, lowered armor class, an enhanced fumble die, or something of that ilk?

Using the Mighty Deed of Arms, all of this (and more) is possible. You needn't be limited by prime requisites, by armor and arms choices, or by other limitations we tend to ascribe to the warrior-as-fighter. Sure, you're still a fighter, but specialized Deeds can make you a smarter, more interesting version of that archetype, and you needn't be the strongest guy in the tavern to do so.

Obviously, you and your judge will need to make good decisions about how this will work. The best place to do so is in the 0-level to 1st level transition period of character generation, when PC classes are chosen. With the right idea, and the right set of Deeds, your warrior may not be the biggest, baddest, hard-ass around, but he or she can still be mighty, indeed. (Damn, that one never gets old.)



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Game Review: Cities of Darkscorch

In an earlier post, I crowed a bit about receiving my copy of Cities of Darkscorch, but it wasn't until last night that I had a chance to play it. The wife and child joined me for fantasy rockband madness, as we dodged the blacklist, dueled with opposing quartets (and each other), and tried to get ourselves to Numenor for ultimate battle. Short version: It was fun.

Long version

The game is a turn-based boardgame. The contents consist of:

  • 16 wooden counters imprinted with the name of a band (the bands on the Warfaring Strangers: Canticles of Darkscorch compilation). I got Stoned Mace, the wife got Wrath, and the daughter got Medusa. 
  • 3 dice (d4, d6, and d20)
  • 25x25 inch game board (not shown below)
  • 2 decks of card (Fate cards and Foe cards)6 "city banner" cards with sliding windows
  • Warfaring Strangers: The Darkscorch Canticles double LP, with band bio insert
  • CD of Warfaring Strangers compilation
Box Contents (not including game board or double LP)

The production quality for everything included is very good. The double LP cover and insert are extremely nice, as is the box that everything comes in. Some of the game pieces (especially the banner boards) are not as well-made, but nothing aggregiously terrible. The art style is simple, and invokes a sense of nostalgia. I can totally see this stuff drawn on a school notebook or on a backpatch. I mean, seriously, look at that wizard on that chopper! The main gripe I have is the choice of fonts used for the flavor text and city markers. They're quirky and in-theme. They're also pretty hard to read, at times, which can get in the way of fun. For example:


Reading this stuff can be a pain in the ass, and the little windows don't like to stay put.

Same font used  on game board. Also a pain in the ass.

Gameplay itself is very simple, and reminds me a little of Munchkin (but only a little). Here are the basics:
  • You place your counter on the "City" written its reverse side. This is your home city. You must win a battle in your home city and claim that city's "banner" before you move out onto the board.
  • Each player gets three Fate cards to start, and can get more through battles or by landing on particular board locations. They include advantages, disadvantages, transportation, new band mates, and getting placed on (or getting off) The Blacklist.
  • Battles require you to go head to head with an opponent from the Foe deck. Draw the card and roll a d4. At the bottom of the foe card is a list of symbols each with an associated number. So, a "2" shows an "X" symbol and a 17. This is the drummer, who has a value of 17. You must roll the Battle Die (a d20) and get that number or above to win the battle. Defeating the foe also entitles you to receive 1 or more Fate cards as loot.
  • Fate cards can be played during a battle to enhance a roll. You play cards that give you positive modifiers. Other players can throw down cards to give you negative modifiers, just to screw you over. Many a battle was lost, last night, because of this. To be fair, though, other players can certainly work to help, as well.
  • If you win a battle on a city space, you win a banner from that city. You must collect all 16 banners to make it to the final battle, in the city of Numenor.
  • The first player to get 16 banners advances to Numenor, and is immediately joined by every other player. This person is the headliner. You don't get to be the headliner if you haven't acquired the 16 banners.
  • Once in Numenor, everyone tallies a band score, including the bonus numbers of any band members those on any advantage cards. You also can play your disadvantage cards against the headliner (at least that's how we did it). 
  • To battle, everyone rolls a d20 and adds the band score. If the headliner wins the roll, the game is over. If not, he or she must leave Numenor (moving at least one space outside) and return to try again. 


Going for atmosphere
As I said earlier, the game is a lot of fun. The cards are often pretty damned funny (and a bit bawdy), with references to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. I found myself laughing at a lot of the cards as we played the game. One example:

Again with the hard-to-read font.
 Overall, I have to say I'm glad I picked this up. We had a lot of fun playing it with three people, and I think it would be even better with four or five. That would provide more opportunities for PvP battles, and chances to screw over the other players (which is always fun).

So, to summarize. Simple, easy to play, fun, and pretty well-conceived game. I'll play it again.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Peril on The Purple Planet

Good people! Hearken unto me for a moment, for I bear extraterrestrial tidings of great import!

Another fantastic Kickstarter has been launched by Goodman Games. Harley Stroh's Peril on The Purple Planet, a swords and planets adventure in the best traditions of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

So much peril! Look at all the peril! You want this peril!

Your humble narrator has even made a small contribution to the project (some material for the campaign booklet). I'm in for the boxed set, and it's looking to be pretty damned great. They already have over 100 backers, and I imagine that the stretch goals for this will be pretty damned impressive. So, if you've an interest, check this one out.

But why listen to me? Listen to the Dark Master, himself, Mr. J. Goodman:

Send your fantasy adventurers to face alien perils in Harley Stroh’s long-awaited sword-and-planet epic!
Summary of Kickstarter:
  • A Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure module of planetary scope – at level 4. The adventure flings your characters to adventures on a distant world dying slowly under a weirdling sun.
  • The basic pledge funds print+PDF copy of a boxed set containing Harley Stroh’s 32-page adventure module, plus a second 32-page campaign booklet – and possibly more depending on stretch goals.
  • The first softcover book is the adventure module Peril on the Purple Planet, which has two built-in special features. First, the cover art is oversized, and spreads across front and back cover in addition to wrapping around to front and back flaps. The flaps also double as player handouts when folded out to face the table. Second, the adventure map is a three-page-wide hex crawl, which folds out of the module center as a three-panel gatefold. Additionally, the adventure includes a number of B/W interior handouts to show the players what they face on the Purple Planet.
  • The second softcover book is a campaign booklet to expand your journey on the Purple Planet. At the basic pledge level, before any stretch goals, it includes three chapters: Lost Tombs of the Ancients, Bestiary of the Purple Planet, and Lost Tech of the Purple Planet, with contributions from Daniel J. Bishop, Tim Callahan, Edgar Johnson, and Terry Olson.
  • You can support this Kickstarter by adding on other adventure modules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics line, most of which are on sale for 25% off as part of this Kickstarter. You can also add on Purple Planet Player Guides at $5 each.
  • Stretch goals for this project will put even more items into the boxed set! These include the possibility of an ecology book, additional encounters, a book of handouts, a book of magic, a custom GM screen, and a guide to the Purple Underplanet!
  • The basic adventure module is complete and ready to print. All writing, art, and layout is complete. The additional writing for the campaign booklet is also complete. Art and layout for the campaign booklet will begin when this Kickstarter funds.
  • We expect PDF copy of the module to be available shortly before Gen Con, and print copy to be available at Gen Con or shipped soon after (depending on backer preference). If we have extra copies remaining at Gen Con after all Kickstarter pickups, they will be offered to the general public. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lacuna Locurae

I've been pondering what I should run for my face-to-face group, after they completed Sailors on a Starless Sea, and I think I've finally come up with something.

After escaping from the Starless Sea, the longship emerges, eventually, from a crack in a cliff, into a river. I'm thinking I might try the whole OMG WATERFALL! thing right off the bat, just to set the tone. We'll see. The more interesting thing is that this campaign will be in a realm outside of the "normal" DCC world.

What the party discovers is that they are at the base of some very high cliffs, above which are mountains surpassing even the Andes and Himilayas. Below them, foothills stretch toward a large coastal city, ocean and distant islands to the horizon.

The city itself is a colony of a distant kingdom, and a crossroads for trade. Tech levels are early colonial--ships capable of intercontinental travel, muskets, maybe the rudiments of heavy industry, etc. The city fathers are wealthy merchants, and the colonial governor is an ineffectual figurehead. There is a small colonial garrison in place to keep the peace; its leadership is competent and just, but their numbers are too few to do the job. The colony is becoming less and less like its original kingdom, and slipping slowly but inexorably toward independent-mindedness.

Culture is somewhat... unenlightened. Abject poverty exists alongside almost unimaginable wealth, and indentured servitude is common (outright slavery extremely rare, but not unknown). The city a rough and tumble place, and parts of it are entirely uncivilized. Witchcraft is a capital crime, and witch-hunters are respected figures, among most of the population, and especially among religious adherents. Executions are a popular form of entertainment for many in the lower classes, there not being much else to occupy them but drinking, fighting, and fucking. The demographics are entirely human (well, almost entirely so, but I can't go into that yet), but there's a pretty large degree of diversity among the human population, what with all the ships from far-off lands making portfall in this place.

I'm calling the campaign Lacuna Locura (Catchy, huh? I hope nobody did this already. Mr. Google says it hasn't been done, but...).

What is it? Let's start with some definitions.

Lacuna:  a gap or blank space in something; a missing part.

Locura:  insanity, madness; crazy thing, folly

There's an oddness that underlies the setting, things that aren't discussed, things that make people very, very uncomfortable. Those mountains above the city? Nobody goes there. In fact, nobody even talks about them. If the party tries to claim they are from there, people won't believe them. Nobody is from there. There's nothing beyond them. This is a Known Thing. Nobody here thinks differently. It's as if some part of reality has been removed from their minds. This is the lacuna, the missing knowledge. My thought is that a veil of magic separates the realms and keeps the population ignorant of this separation, and the very existence of a place "outside." Attempts to make claims to the contrary, or to demonstrate that the possibility, is provocative in the extreme, and could bring violence (even official notice) down on the party. The party, in contrast, knowing what they know, would be perceived by the citizenry as completely mad, by the city's officials and religious leaders as potentially subversive and dangerous, and by certain unnamed others as a dire threat. This is the locura, the psychosis afflicting this place.

I've yet to come up with a name for this city, but don't want to force it. It'll come eventually

The ruleset I'll be using is DCC RPG, the firearms rules from +Dak Ultimak's Crawl! (the original DCC RPG fanzine), possibly some elements of Transylvanian Adventures by +Scott Mathis, some bits of Lamentations of the Flame Princess style weirdness, and probably some other stuff that I'll make up along the way (mostly to do with the reasons behind this madness of missing memories). This is intended to be city-based adventure, but I could certainly see plenty of opportunities for adventures on the high sea, investigation of the mysteries of the mountains, etc., depending on where the players want to take it.

I think this should be fun, and a departure from the kinds of games I normally run and play in. Maybe it will end up being a good setting, as well. The Metal Gods campaign has set a pretty high bar in that regard, so my expectations for this will be high as well.

UPDATE

Thanks to +Adam Muszkiewicz for helping me with my Latin. Locura Locurae is the correct genetive form.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cities of Darkscortch Boardgame!

So, a while back I pre-ordered a board game from the Numero Group, a company specializing in reissues of out-of-print music. One of their collections of music from the 1970s caught my eye and ear, so I purchased the mp3 album: Warfaring Strangers: Darkscortch Canticles. It's early seventies heavy rock/proto-metal stuff, with a heavy Black Sabbath influence.

Later, when I was reading more about the collection, I discovered they were making a Cities of Darkscortch board game, as well. Well, it looks like they're shipping it sometime next week. Comes with the vinyl, too. I'm stoked to check it out.


Choose your band.
Get in the van.
Move through 16 sonically damaged cities
Battle 100 cutthroat quartets
Enlist the help of rock deities, sorcerers, groupies, and the windfalls of fate.
Avoid getting pubic lice, becoming an acid casualty, or finding Jesus.
Use your cunning to bribe show promoters and avoid getting blacklisted.
The ultimate goal is Numenor, 
Victory
And a record contract penned in brimstone, VD, and pot smoke.

So damned silly and so damned awesome. It pretty much screams Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, right? How could I possibly resist the siren song of this thing I totally did not need?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Small Items

Whew! It's been a heck of a month. Summer teaching is finally done, four writing deadlines have been met (one to go), and things are starting to settle down a bit. Sorry for the month (or so) long hiatus, but the blog was the only thing I reasonably could let wait while I got other stuff done. But enough of my excuses!

Here are two ideas.

Patron Bond as Wizard Class Feature

First, I think every wizard in DCC RPG should get access to the Patron Bond spell--It should be a class feature. Yes, it would make elves slightly less special, but tough shit for them. The idea, here, is that supernatural entities are keen to keep their fingers in a variety of pies, and that being "successful" in ways that make sense to beings of such power, has a lot to do with that being's ability to exercise influence, either through bargains or through other control mechanisms. There also are plenty of people who might be greedy, crazy, or desperate enough to attempt such thing, even without a clear idea of what they're doing.

Having the patron bond (little p, little b) class feature, though, doesn't have to be the same sort of thing as having the Patron Bond (Big P, Big B) spell. The big difference is that a caster without the spell can certainly find some entity that wants to make a deal, but controlling the deal-making proceedings is often aided by incantations, rituals circles, and generally knowing what might get you better results, and what might get you killed.

The caster could simply roll the class feature version on a lower die. I'm tempted to say a d10, as it's an untrained "skill," but a wizard already has some knowledge of arcane magic's workings. So, a d14 would probably be a reasonable choice. You could even open it up to other character classes (but probably not clerics), and allow a d10 (or maybe a d8) roll. Even a warrior might try making sacrifices to beings capable of keeping the Big Sleep at bay for yet another day or two. Why wouldn't they take notice? I mean, hey, who knows where a warrior might be headed. A patron certainly would value a relationship with warlord or king, right?

Some More Stuff About Elves in Ur-Hadad

The elven caste system is as ancient as elven civilization itself, and entrenched in the minutia of elves' daily affairs. Before passage to Ore from whatever plane and or planet they came from, there was tension in that system, and many factions within elven society militated against its limitations. The Elven Dominion of Ore was one outcome of those earlier tensions. Now, though, the elves have been on Ore for millenia, both the Dominionists and the elves of the Old Kingdom. During that time they've been introduced to and (though they don't like to admit it) influenced by the ways of the other races, particularly the humans. This is especially true among the lower-caste elves.

Strangely, though, the bond with humans is not with the humans themselves--very few elves, even lower caste elves, interact regularly with the other races. Rather, the bond is with some of their political philosophy. Where elven civilization is stratified from the very top to the very bottom, human civilizations tend to allow for a lot more churning at the lowest levels. There's still aristocracy, of course. The humans aren't so crazy as to believe they could dispense with rule by their elites. But lower-class humans can rise up the ladder, especially if they're willing to step on their fellow humans to do so. This dynamic has give some lower-caste elves pretensions about How Things Should Be. Some of them have plans about this. Some of them are taking timid, tentative steps.

One odd thing that's come out of that emergence of class consciousness among lower-caste elves is in their slang. It's not uncommon to hear a lower-caste elf insult another by calling him or her "a'matrak kelorko" (more or less, "human fucker"). However, another insult has recently come into lower-caste elven parlance: "a'matrak kelorko-ul." The article "ul" in the elven language of Ore means "dead" or "dying," depending on the context. Given the sparseness of relations of any kind (let alone carnal or necrophiliac relations) among high-caste elves and humans, it's not clear why that insult would apply. If the graffiti in the elven quarter is any indication, though, the phrase seems to be growing in popularity. Also, it's becoming increasingly uncommon to see the masked and robed forms of high-caste elves among the hoi poloi of their folk, treating them almost like they treat humans and the other lesser races. Strange, that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Very Metal Creation Story

I've written about the Metal Gods a whole bunch of times already, but recent thoughts and readings about cultural production spurred me to put together a... well... I guess a theology is the thing I mean. So, here, I lay out a theology of the Metal Gods. But first some things about culture.

Metal Gods Are a Product of Culture

I will begin with a pretty simple idea: That Metal, as such, is cultural. This means a variety of very complicated things, most of which are irrelevant to this post. Still, culture and its pursuit give rise to a variety of passions, one of which is music.

Culture Is Both Product and Process
First, culture is the set of things that people make through their actions on the empirical (and obdurate) world around them. This expression may be ephemeral (e.g. live music or conversations about music) or it make be more durable (e.g. a musical instrument or a recording).

Cultural production, as a process, creates groupings, patterns, and regularities, not just chaos. We get genres of music, for example, and material culture that surrounds those genres. But time also passes, and some cultural products and processes are abandoned or forgotten, and some are reimagined in new ways. The regularities break down again, and some are remade. Sometimes this happens in recursive cycles. Doom metal, for example, is a rearticulation of older rock/metal genres, but in new ways; as a genre it both repeats and creates cultural patterns.

Those cultural patterns are objects of human attention and affiliation. We like some kinds of music, so we listen to them, evangelize about them, and so forth. We pass on musical culture to others. We receive it from them, also. We do this just by living life. Richard Dawkins used the term "meme" to express how relatively ephemeral culture gets propagated socially, using an infectious disease metaphor to express that idea.

Culture is Unevenly Distributed in Time and Space

A person lives at a particular time, in particular material and symbolic environments. Those things shape him or her, and provide both means and patterns of expressing culture. For example, by being a consumer of particular products, I am interacting with the world. But those products and process I am a part of are not everywhere and ripped from the moorings of time itself A kid growing up in suburban New Jersey or rural Georgia does not experience the same things in the same ways, and those make both experiences and expressions of music culture variable from scene to scene, creating differences among people calling themselves metalheads. Nonetheless, metalheads probably can spot other metalheads in a crowd--like maybe walking across the mall and seeing one of My People out among The Straights, or not being able to find a single other person like you in other, more rarified climes for whatever your particular subculture might be.

There's also the power issue.

Culture Expresses Power Relations

The conditions under which you live, material and symbolic, are historically rooted in your particular cultural space. You live an inherited culture. And not all of the roots of that culture will be oriented toward you and your interests. Power relations are a part of that.

Not all cultures are valued equally. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, there was a shift during the Reagan years toward the demonization of punk and metal. I was a punk for the most part, but we sort of got lumped into the same crowd by the religious types. We were all just into that Devil Music, don't you know. And the religious Right came after us. They also instituted the Satanic Panic about gaming, so there's that as well. The fact that gaming and metal are sometimes the passions of the same folk, of course, means that sometimes we were doubly targeted, both by adults and by Straights in general.

So, cultural difference led to cultural conflict, and there were asymmetric powers at work. Teenagers have less influence than adults. The religious Right at that time was ascendant (not that they've left since), and able to be influential in significant ways, using mediated social activism in reaction to the bugaboo living in their brains. This didn't make life easy for teenagers at the time (with some exceptions), but it did create a sense of some degree of solidarity, at least in relation to Straight culture. Eventually, though, some Outsider cultures get appropriated in the mainstream (whence we got hair metal and New Wave).

But enough about culture. What does it have to do with the Metal Gods?

The Kids in the Basement

Somewhere, somewhen, there are some kids in a basement. They're listening to Metal. They're listening to it a lot, an they're listening to it LOUD. They're listening to it with their friends. They're expressing the "Metal-ness" in various ways, some of them frightening to adults. Many of them are really, really passionate about it. Here's where the theology comes in.

That passion feeds across all the planes of existence, calling into being and making real a particular version of Creation: Planet Ore, and Golden Ur-Hadad, the First City of Men.

Every song calls Planet Ore into being. Every chord brings forth the land and the seas, and the people and the creatures that dwell thereon and therein. The crash of the drums upon the warp and weft of Chaos sends out ripples, causes effects. The cities and rise and fall. Empires wax and wane. The moon is broken and the floating city crashes into the Thunderlands. A thousand years pass, and with them the rises the culture of Men, and the forging of Metal.

The act of playing raises the creators of the songs to the status of Creators of the World. They find themselves among the gods of that place, authors of the Lost Hymns. And the Lost Hymns still echo across Creation, making and unmaking it simultaneously. Here's how it works on Planet Ore.


  • A kid in New Haven blasts some High on Fire. On the Planet Ore, near Ur-Hadad, Graki Deathstalker takes up the Frosthammer in a futile quest to destroy the Serpent-Men and their minions.
  • An old fart in Augusta cranks Deaf Forever up to 13, and war sweeps the land, only a hardy few winning their lives (and riches and glory, but who's counting?). He speaks the name of Lemmy in praise, and on Ore rises the Cult of Lemm the Killmaster, whose aspect is the Steel Boar called Snaggletooth.
  • A teenager in Finland does what teenagers in Finland do, what with their black metal and whatnot, and a ravening horde descends upon a slumbering town. The survivors are your zero-level party.
  • A certain artist who shall not be named quests afar to create a shrine, a Wizard Van driven by an actual wizard (I've seen the hat and robes, y'all. He's a wizard.). The painted image on that van creates some aspect of the land and its peoples. The paint forms a substrate for the image in one universe, laying the foundations of existence in another.


The very expression of this culture is a profound act of creation, making from the Void, a land, people, situations in which the people live, and a sense both of urgency and of destiny. For the language in which this reality is expressed is not a thing of sense and metrics, but of possibility and passion, at once crying, "What if?" and also, "Fuck yeah!" Oh... and probably, "Fuck you!" as well.

It happens in the art on every album cover, in the notes and chords of every song, in every backpatch on a denim jacket, with each bang of every head, and in every basement where some kid, somewhere, has found The Music and The Music has found that kid.

And lo! Lemm played the first note upon the Rickenbastard, and the seas parted to form the land. Robhal chanted the Purest Note, and there came into being all of the creature that ride upon the winds, and the Greater Moon was broken. Each of the Metal Gods, given life by the Outsiders From Beyond Space and Time, became real. Each added its particular alloy of Metal to create Ore. Men once were slaves on Ore, but they would be slaves no more. Metal had been forged and it would see good use. The Metal Gods called upon their people to rise and take Ur-Hadad for themselves. And so they did. And thus, also, was born the Cult of the Metal Gods. 
                    ~Kormaki Lemmisson, Zealot of the Metal Gods)

Mighty Deeds of Arms, With Friends

I've been out on assignment the last couple of weeks, working on some writing, so not much time to post to the blog. It may be like that for a while, but I'll try to get some thoughts out there, even if they don't quite add up to the long-post glory that you've come to expect.

Anyway, I saw something +Keith J Davies posted earlier today on the G+, for his Teamwork Feats element in the Echelon Reference Series. The whole idea of teamwork feats seems like it could easily be adapted to DCC RPG. Think about it: Two or more warriors attack an extremely large creature, say an ogre or something. Neither one of them is particularly strong, so brute force won't do. However, they have each other to rely on, and complementary might deeds of some sort.

 Wonder Twin powers... ACTIVATE!
No, not like that. Please, god, no. 
Oh, now I get it. They're elves. 

Maybe something like this is a little more apropos, given the probable intelligence of the average warrior.

Shake... and Bake!

One last image. This one better captures the gritty nature of the Mighty Deeds, because they are Warriors, right? Maybe it would be more like this, but without the Juggalo paint. The silly armor, though, that can stay.

A staple of my Saturday mornings in the 1980s.

Anyway, think about how individual Mighty Deeds could stack to achieve greater effects.

"Oh, what's that? An ogre? A big ogre? Whatcha gonna do, Sir Mighty Pants, with your 12 Strength?" (because you rolled 3d6 in order, right?)

You're gonna bring a buddy. That's what you're gonna do. None of that silly tagging in and out, either. This is a steel-cage deathmatch battle royale! So...

  1. The warriors attempting the team Mighty Deed go on the lowest initiative of the characters attempting the Deed. Doesn't matter if one of the people has a 20 and another one rolled a 1. You go on the 1.
  2. Each player must achieve the Mighty Deed, as per the rules--You have to hit, and you have to roll a 3 or better on the Deed Die.
  3. To determine the outcome, do some math. You could either average the results, add them together, or take the highest and add only part of the lower one. I like the idea of adding the results together, as they give a sense of added value of teamwork, and emulate the added Power of Friendship (or whatever) achieved by the Team Deed.
Sorry, daughter, no pony pictures for the Power of Friendship. That's a bridge too far.

Remember: The actual mechanic used to determine the nature of the outcome just needs to capture that the Team Deed is more potent than the individual Deed. Use whatever is easiest for your brain to handle. Like I said, I would add the results, as it makes it more like two (or more) characters have combined to make themselves equivalent to more powerful character.  

So, why do this? Because it could be fun, that's why. The Team Deed has the added benefit of moving the players away from just taking turns, rolling sequentially, and then waiting in between for the next attack, hoping they don't die in the interim, and probably dicking around on their cell phones. I think it also could promote better role-play, and even (I shudder to say) "team-building" among the group of players, and, by extension, the members of the adventuring party. When everyone is engaged, and stays engaged, the game session just got more fun for everyone (except for he wizard, but that guy's a jerk, anyway). 

I could even see the possibility of non-warriors getting in on the act (spell duels, anyone?), but I'm not sure how that might work. Maybe the thieves could start with "trust falls," and work up from there. Team-building is hard, guys, especially for larcenous types.

Oh, and if one or both of the Mighty Deeds doesn't go off as planned, the Big Nasty gets to play with the little warriors. That's where the Judge's fun begins (and the lives of the characters may end). But when it works, the result is <insert dramatic pause here> mighty, indeed. 

And then the players get to do this, because you just know they'll want to.




Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spellburn!

First, thank you +Jeffrey Tadlock+Jim Wampler, and +Jobe Bittman for featuring my research project (and my email) on the recent Spellburn podcast. Everything Jeffrey said was pretty much correct. I'll answer some of the areas of uncertainty, below. Thanks, also, for your kind words about the 'zine. We will have a new one coming out soonish (end of May, probably). My contribution to that one will not be quite as substantial, but will lay out some history of the Elder Races of Ore (the planet where Ur-Hadad is located).

Now, to answer a couple of questions folks might have.

Who is this Edgar Johnson guy anyway?

I'm an old punkrawk and gamer guy (45 in May) who started playing D&D in 1979 and listening to Black Flag in 1982. I flunked out of college, joined the Marines (1987-1991), got out and went back to college again, for engineering. I sucked at that, and was much better at drinking and gaming. Almost flunked out again. Eventually got it together, got a B.A. in sociology and a minor in writing (1995), with honors. Got a full-ride fellowship for grad studies at the University of Iowa, where I studied rhetoric, media, and ethnography. Graduated with a Ph.D. in Communication Studies (2000). Took a job I hated, and kept it for four years. Found a better job and have been at this institution for 10 years (we recently consolidated with the medical college and became Georgia Regents University). Got tenure in 2008 and got promoted to full professor last year. I teach persuasion, media studies, business and professional communication, argumentation, and rhetorical studies. I also serve on a lot of committees and workgroups. Published my first book, What About Us? Standards-based Education and the Dilemma of Student Subjectivity, in 2010. I blog here, and game regularly with the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad group. I also am a pretty decent cook, if anyone is passing through the Augusta, Georgia area and wants to hook up for food, beers, and gaming.

What's the research all about?

After I started gaming again, and the university shifted from four-tier state school to research intensive, I decided to do some research on gaming, and particularly the rise of online tabletop gaming. The project began as a short paper about the Google+ community and the development of hangout gaming there. I soon realized that I wanted to turn it into something more. I submitted a proposal to the university's institutional review board for human subjects research (You guys are the "human subjects." MWAHAHA!). The proposal covered all the bases: Survey research, face-to-face interviews (both focus group and individual), online research of other kinds, content analysis of blogs and websites, and field observation of actual play. The survey research I posted on the blog (links over there on the right) are a small part of the puzzle, a snapshot of what's going on right now.

What happens next?

I'll be continuing the survey research. I also will be running some live, in-person play sessions with younger gamers over the course of the summer (mostly college-aged people who either have only played 3rd ed D&D, of who have not played any tabletop RPGs at all). I want to get a sense of how they approach gaming. I'm probably going to run DCC RPG for them, to get both the old school feel and the new school die mechanics. The d20 system should provide a good bridge between what they're used to and what I hope to show them (and find out about their play styles).

I also will be petitioning some of you for "live" intereviews, either at GenCon or via a hangout. Those interviews will be similar to some of the stuff covered in the surveys, but more far-ranging and specific to your own situation and interests.

I think I also will be asking my regular G+ group to play a major role in the research, as much of what interested me in pursuing this project was inspired by my experiences with them. I haven't brought it up yet, but I will soon.

While I was at my conference, I met with a publisher who had contacted me beforehand. She was interested in my work and wondered if maybe I had a book-length project in mind. "Funny you should ask," I told her, and explained my research agenda. She was interested, and contacted me after the conference. I also made a visit with another publisher, and their rep seemed to be very interested as well. Short version: I will be producing a book proposal this fall, and hope to secure a contract with one of those publishers. It would be nice to have them both want the project, and get into an intense bidding war, but only one is necessary. Still, a boy can dream.

Why should we help you, anyway?  

For me, the answer is pretty obvious: I'm going to be writing about this thing that we all do: tabletop gaming. I want to make sure I'm telling as good and accurate a story as I can. The more people who participate, the better I can do my job.

For you, each person's answer would probably be different, but here are a few potential reasons you should help me out:

  • Collegiality: That Johnson guy's alright, and I want to help him do a good job. Why not?
  • Lust for Glory: I have important opinions, and need a person to listen to (and publish) them. Fame will be mine!
  • Fear I'll Get it WRONG: That Johnson guy is going to screw this up if I don't set him straight on some Very Important Things.
  • Curiosity: I've never done anything like this before, and I want to find out what happens.
  • Desire for Vengeance: That Johnson guy is a dick! I will work from the inside to destroy him!
  • Stalker: I secretly have a big man/woman crush on Johnson. This is my very best chance to demonstrate how much I love him. I will give my all (nay, my very life) to further his ambitions!
  • Profit: Dude must be rolling in dough, and I'm gonna get mine! [Yeah... sorry. Nobody's making any money off of this, including me. Academic publishing is not a lucrative trade, nor is teaching in the humanities.]
  • Precursor to Alien Invasion: I am the one with the real research agenda. You puny humans must be studied, and this will be where I must start. Then, later, will come the anal probings.

I'm hoping the spirit of Collegiality moves you to participate, but I'll take what I can get. Feel free to make up your own reason, if none of the above appeals to you.

How do you really pronounce Adam's name?

Also, to amplify this for my friend, +Adam Muszkiewicz: It's pronounced "MOUSE-kah-witz." Nah, just kidding.

From the man himself, it's actually pronounced "muz-KEV-itch." (but feel free to keep mispronouncing it, anyway, just to fuck with him)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Popular Cultural Association Conference

Greetings, readers, from Chicago.

I'm up here for an academic conference, and presenting a paper. My session went pretty well, yesterday, and there seems to be at least some modicum of interest in pen-and-paper gaming, tabletop RPGs and the like. In a little bit over an hour I'll be going to meet with an acquisitions editor for a publisher to talk about my work, and a potential book proposal.

What will it be about? You guys. My people in the Google+ communities, and old-school gamers more generally. This is what my research is about, after all.

Wish me luck.