Thursday, July 3, 2014

General Gamery: 30 years of Dragonlance

Today is Dungeons and Dragons day, with the release of the 5th edition of D&D, or D&D Next as it is called. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the long-running, ever-changing game system. But as much as I love the imagination engine that is the ampersand of doom- and more importantly to me, the vast, innumerable game systems that have been created as a result or in spite of it- there is one aspect of D&D that far outshines its Ruby anniversary for me. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of my favorite shared campaign world- Dragonlance.

A Bit of History

In the early 1980's, TSR had a dilemma. There were more than enough dungeons in its flagship game, but there wasn't exactly an abundance of dragons. But filling this need had eluded the small company to this point. Enter Tracy Hickman.

Based on some modules he had written for the company, Tracy was hired on as one of TSR's writers/line developers. While Tracy and his wife, Laura, made the move to Wisconsin, the seeds of Dragonlance were planted in their discussions. Upon his arrival, Tracy pitched their idea as a twelve module series- each one focusing on a different dragon. TSR entertained the idea, putting him in charge of what was then called Project Overlord, alongside TSR staffers like Roger Moore, Larry Elmore, and Douglas Niles.

The Project Overlord team eventually came to the conclusion that a series of novels would help to flesh out the world they were inadvertently developing, and while the higher-ups at TSR weren't exactly excited with the idea of novels, they nonetheless gave the green light, hired an author, and assigned Endless Quest editor Margaret Weis to edit the project. This was an expansive project for the company- not only modules and novels, but lead miniatures, board games, and eventually other support projects like art books, calendars, and even a DC Comics line would find their way into what was beginning to be called Dragonlance.

While the team worked on the finishing touches for the first module, DL1: Dragons of Despair, Weis and Hickman were finding that the original author didn't exactly see eye to eye with their shared vision. Reports are fuzzy as to the specifics, but it became apparent that the editing team were better off simply writing the first novel themselves. Despite the legends to the contrary, the Dragonlance team did not write that first novel based on their actual play sessions for Dragons of Despair. Instead, over a weekend, Weis and Hickman pounded out the prologue for the novel based on the Dragons of Despair module they had already completed. TSR liked it enough that they fired the author and set Weis and Hickman to the task of writing the book on their own.

After two years of writing, editing, and re-writes, TSR published the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. TSR didn't quite expect the demand, so they had to order a second printing just to make up for their initially small printing of the novel. But in a masterstroke, The first Dragonlance novel was published, followed soon after with two more novels to round out the Chronicles trilogy.

As the decades passed, TSR found success in novels as well as games, and Dragonlance became the first of its shared universes. Not only were modules written by many different teams of writers, but the novels themselves would have names like Douglas Niles, Jean Rabe, and Cam Banks grace their covers. While not all books were gems, even the bad Dragonlance books far outshone the miasma of drek that graced most sci-fi/fantasy shelves at the time. Over the years and dozens of books, the novels endured and like Robotech, became a multi-generational extravaganza.

TSR even launched a somewhat experimental card-based version of D&D called the SAGA system with the Fifth Age of Dragonlance as its basis. While the old guard of Dungeons and Dragons players seemed to balk at the SAGA rules, for me personally, this system opened my eyes to opportunities and ideas that D&D never attempted to create for me. And while I preferred Dragonlance's fourth age (the age that the Chronicles novels inhabited), I enjoyed the way the Fifth Age setting fit the rule system.

Eventually, Dragonlance gaming was updated to 3rd edition D&D by Sovereign Press (the company that would one day become Margaret Weis Productions). Under Sovereign Press' watchful eye, all ages of the Dragonlance world were updated to the D20 format and some of the best adventures for the game system found print.

All was not golden for Dragonlance, however. Despite great voice actors like Michael Rosenbaum and Kiefer Sutherland, a terrible animated movie was made of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. No, seriously, it was horrible.

Moving on.

Dragonlance was exceptional not only for the memorable characters, fully realized world, and world-spanning plotlines, but for the marriage of game to fiction in much the same manner that Forgotten Realms, Birthright, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, and Eberron would eventually follow.

A World Apart

The bulk of the Dragonlance novels are set on the continent of Ansalon on the world known as Krynn. Chronicles starts three centuries after an event called the Cataclysm had not only terrorized and reshaped the peoples and lands of Ansalon, but had taken Krynn's gods with it. Instead of fat, lazy, Tolkienesque halflings, Krynn had the fearless, childlike kender to romp alongside its disparate tribes of elves, mountain and hill dwarves, minotaur, ogres, goblins, dragons, a new race of dragon people called draconians, and all sorts of other peoples and monsters. Wizards were organized into small sects in the often hidden Towers of High Sorcery. An ancient knighthood struggled to hold onto its ancestral home in the land of Solamnia on the northern portion of the continent while fould armies of the Dragon Highlords massed to the west.

All the while, a small party of adventurers returned to their quaint home in the trees of a town called Solace after years seperately seeking any sign of the return of the old gods. Their escapades would lead to the greatest conflict Krynn had seen since the Cataclysm- the War of the Lance.

There's so much to love from this period in Krynn's history- and while the novels eventually spanned much of Krynn's history both before and after the War of the Lance- most readers relate to this time in particular. Like me, most readers started with the Chronicles series. The overarching plot alone would have pulled me in, but it was the well developed three dimensional characters that got me to stay. Krynn was filled with believable personalities. Perhaps it was the flaws- a reluctant leader cursed with self doubt, an overly ambitious wizard teetering over the edge of evil, an ancient dwarf preparing for his last great adventure, a party of adventurers wholly unprepared for the adventure that awaits them. Yeah. I'm sure that was it.

There's a lot of characters to love in Dragonlance. But I'm not going to talk about my favorite...because.. well.. he dies and it's kind of a big spoiler. This should surprise no one. My favorite character usually dies- Boromir, Ned Stark, seriously.. if they ever make a Dragonlance movie, I'll have to lobby for Sean Bean...but I digress. Let me talk instead of my favorite hero and villain that are not my fallen friend.

For a hero, I'll go with Gilthanas.

I can hear the groans already, but hear me out. Gilthanas is the spoiled elven prince, second son of Solostoran, Speaker of the Sun and ruler of the not quite high elves called the Qualinesti (think of Rivendell elves). When he is introduced, he is an arrogant ass, full of piss and vinegar and especially disapproval for his little sister's love for the half-elven leader of our heroes, Tanis. And eventually he falls in love with a young wild elf, Silvara. This changes his outlook greatly. Over the series, Gilthanas undergoes  massive growth as a  character and becomes quite the hero himself in his search for his lost love. There's a lot more to it, but I'm trying to be all un-spoilery. Character growth like that is rare in most fiction, let alone to the degree that Gilthanas changes.

Okay let's talk villains.

Lord Soth.

Bet you thought I was going to talk about Raistlin, didn't you? Look the wizard is a fine good, bad, good, bad guy. But I love fallen figures. And Soth fell harder than nearly anyone. Lord Soth was once a Solamnic Knight of the Rose, dedicated to chivalry, honor, and all those knightly virtues. Well, sort of. Soth wasn't exactly the nicest fellow and had.. well let's just call it a lapse of good judgement. This caused him no end of turmoil and despite his desire to atone, he would instead rise as one of the undead- a death knight, dark, bitter, and full of hatred for the living. Lord Soth eventually fell so hard that he ended up in Raven loft. Yeah. That guy.

There's only so much I can put into my little blog to gush about this world. There are elements of Krynn that stick with me, not only in games, but in writing, character development, heck I even have a Dragonlance tattoo.

To this day, Krynn has my favorite knighthood. More than Round Table knights, Bretonnian Knights, even Jedi Knights, I love the Solamnic Knights above all- from their structure (Knights of the Crown, Knights of the Sword, and the highest order, Knights of the Rose) to their design (Gothic fantasy meets fantastical Norse nobility with audacious Germanic mustaches) from their oath (in Solamnic, "My Honor is My Life") to their often tragic history.

Seriously, go out right now. Find Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Weis and Hickman. You'll thank me later.

Est Sularus Oth Mithas.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

General Gamery: Ravage Magazine 2- Review Boogaloo

Ok, I've been a bit lax in updating you guys as to new works.

Ravage issue 12 has come to the stands with the second review I've written for the fantastic periodical. The subject? JUDGE DREDD.

Oh yeah! Mongoose Publishing teamed up with Warlord Games to give us a new crack at an old favorite. And to make matters worse (no that's not right.. better.. to make matters better), the guys at Ravage chose me to write the review on it- a big multi-page spread.

No, I'm not going to tell you what I think of the game here... that's what the magazine is for... you can get a print copy here or download it on Ravage Magazine's ios app.

Beyond that, Dime Stories should be coming to print soon and we'll be finishing up a new city-building supplement for that game this summer.

Since there is a ton of awesome art for it, Superhuman will see new life as a FATE based rpg this year. If nothing else than to get the world out there before we dive neck deep into the skirmish miniatures game.

Also, I am nearly done with my Cortex hack: Dreamscape. Expect to see more about that in the coming weeks.

Till then my fearless readers,

Sunday, December 15, 2013

General Gamery: Ravage Magazine and New Release Day

Just a quick blurb since I have new work releasing today:

For those that aren't already aware, Cool Mini of Not's in-house magazine, Ravage deals with gaming as a whole. Reviews in it's beautifully laid out pages run the gamut from small, hard to find or lesser known games like Infinity and Knight Models' Arkham City to blockbusters like Zombicide (a favorite of the geek clan that gathers at my gaming table) and Malifaux. It has information about games from big companies like Games Workshop and Privateer Press and smaller companies like Flying Frog Games. However, Ravage's biggest draw for me is the cornucopia of extra content for games I love like Zombicide and MERCS to games I have always wanted to play like Sedition Wars.

In advance of the print release, Ravage Magazine always has an early digital release for iOS. Today, issue 11 released with a review of Urban Lasercraft terrain by yours truly. The first of many, I hope.

I won't go into the details of the review- there's a whole magazine for that (see above). I will say, I appreciate when I form a good, professional working relationship with a company. My first interaction with Bryan from Ravage Magazine/Cool Mini or Not was at Gencon 2006 while I was working with Slugfest Games and Bryan was still with Mongoose. I managed to talk up Superhuman to him (it was early in that game's development and I still thought I was going to go it alone), and Bryan got pretty excited about it, going so far as helping me to start talking to Mongoose about publishing through their Flaming Cobra label. We would talk every Gencon, and eventually Bryan found himself working for Cool Mini or Not. In his capacity at CMON, Bryan assisted with Kickstarter Projects (they really are pros at that) and worked the convention booths demoing games and promoting sales in a similar capacity to what I was doing with Slugfest. What I didn't realize was that he also ran the awesome Ravage Magazine- a magazine I'd already picked up for the extra MERCS, Zombicide, and X-wing scenarios.

On a whim, I sent him an email after reading an advert in issue 8 that said "Have something for Ravage?" Luckily, Bryan remembered me (though I might have sent some writing samples and my CV- I don't quite recall now) and gave me a chance. The review on page 58 of issue 11 is the result.

Like I said, you can find Ravage Magazine issue 11 in the iOS Newstand App and in print (Or click the image on the left). Now back to the writing mines for me. I have another review for Ravage due on January 4th and work to do to on Dime Stories books 2 and 3 before moving on to other new projects.

Till next time,
See you space cowboy...

~The Doc

Monday, August 19, 2013

Roll For Initiative: Day Four, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Determined to get my Gencon exclusive Robotech miniatures, I got up ridiculously early on Sunday. Mary and I were sitting in front of the dealer's hall at 6:30am, barely awake on coffee and fumes.

When 10am came around, we charged into the hall alongside hundreds of other hopefuls. We had three tasks: I would get my exclusive Robotech Max and Mirya miniatures (90 of each left), Mary would get our usual Gencon Commemorative Dice (only 35 left, that's what we get for not getting them early), and we would meet at Catalyst to sign up for the Shadowrun experience.

We were 100% successful. I was second on line for Robotech minis, Mary got the dice, and we were scheduled for Shadowrun at 10:30. While we waited, we stopped by Cool Mini or Not for the exclusive Super Dungeon Explore character, Nyan Nyan and to Greater Than Games for some Sentinels of the Multiverse Buttons. By that point, it was 10:35, so we raced back to Catalyst.

The Shadowrun Experience is a thirty minute demo adventure of Shadowrun Fifth Edition. Each players pick a character (in this case, I chose a decker and Mary chose a tank) and are given the rules rundown by the "host" of a popular Seattle shadowrunner club called Dante's Inferno. He introduced us to a Mr. Johnson that was convinced that leaking certain sensitive Ares information to the government has put his life in jeopardy. Sure enough, a group of assassins decided to slay the suit there on the spot. After a couple rounds of combat, Lone Star showed up to break up the fight and arrest all involved. Thanks to an armor spell our mage had cast on the Johnson, and a mass confusion spell, we were able to get away with our injured, but living employer.

As a reward, we were given the Sixth Age Almanac hardcover for free.

We made sure to say goodbye to most of our con friends in case we did not make it to the end of con dinner that a few of the indie publishers we are close to had every year, and made our way back to the JW Marriot for Cortex Fantasy Heroic with Dave Chalker.

The game of Fantasy Heroic (from the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide) was part of my reward for contributing to the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide on Kickstarter. Dave paid for pizza and drinks while Jeph, Angie, Mary, and I made characters. Similar to Marvel Heroic: Annihilation, character creation involved choosing a race and a class (your two power sets) and then specialties, aspects, and your experience milestones. This approach was great. It combined traditional fantasy RPG tropes with the Marvel Heroic engine I love in a simple, wonderful package. Our dungeon delve was great and mixed social and action scenes very well. I'd play this again any day.

Finally, when the game ended at 4, we were pooped. We could have waited for our friends to finish breaking down their booths to meet them to dinner, but after four days we were done and wanted to go home to our bed, dog, and home.

This was a decent Gencon (other than the mess that was Pathfinder Society) and it was a great con for Saturday Morning Games. But next year... next year will be amazing.

Till then-

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Roll for Initiative: Day Three, Let's Be Good Guys!

It's Saturday Morning, so with a name like Saturday Morning Games, I figured it was a good idea to do something cool for my gamers in Dime Stories' 9am to 1pm slot. So, I brought them cereal packets and single serving milks. There was much rejoicing.

For the first time, someone chose to be the mercenaries hired to rescue the Village at Naranja Mesa from La Esqueleta's Banditos. In the process of finding a way to keep the Banditos at bay, the mercs stumbled along Butch McCallister (my low level boss before PCs need to face La Esquelata herself). In his datapad, they discovered the Bandito lieutenant was on the take from Megacorp. Further research revealed that Megacorp bought the mine AFTER it had dried up and they had managed to buy up all the mines in the Akauli Cauldron. Megacorp- leading manfacturer of Stargates (the main competition tyrium dependent hyperspace engine manufacturers have for interstellar travel). With the Banditos on the payroll, it was obvious Megacorp  was trying to get rid of the Village and her jobless miners. Despite the shootout that ended the game (and yay! I killed a payer character), the mercenaries had learned of a far larger conspiracy. One that hinted at the destruction of the planet Rath a few decades earlier.

Which got me writing, now that I had a solid idea for the cause of the upcoming civil war we will be exploring in the fourth DS book called Dime Stories: The Imperium Divided.

Again, my players seemed to really enjoy the game, and I found Mary so we could indulge in a Gencon tradition, the Ram. As usual, the Ram had it's fare of beers and Warmachine inspired meals. And as ever, it was excellent.

A final run of the Dealers Hall allowed us to pick up that little game Love Stories I mentioned yesterday, the Age of Rebellion beta book for Fantasy Flight's Star Wars line, and the new Warmachine deck-building game called High Command. Mary got to play X-wing with me and we got to see a few old friends before making our way to Sagamore Hall to try to get in a Pathfnder Society game or two.

This was a total bust.

The PFS mustering system should work in theory, but the places their posters say to muster for certain tiers were not remotely correct. We ended up wandering around asking everywhere if there was room for a level 1 game, but we were scooted along by people looking to play the new hotness adventure ( a level three romp). Even when directed to certain places by Paizo people, we were led to people that could not help us. Complete chaos and a failure on  their part.

We ended up trudging back to the hotel so Mary could change the uncomfortable boots she wore with her Captain Jack Harkness outfit. On the way we ran into Dave Stern and ended up going to Buca di Beppos to celebrate the birthday of Saturday Morning Games' unofficial staff artist, Avery Liell-kok. MMM.. italian food...

Finally we ended the day  hanging out with our friends in Windmill Games playing a game of one of our favorite co-operative card games, Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I didn't get to see all the people I would have liked, and the debacle of Pathfinder Society was really disappointing, but still it was a good day.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Roll for Initiative: Day Two, I like Tacos!

Friday started with an early jump to the Dealer's Room after a complimentary continental breakfast at my hotel (Thank you Spring Hill Marriot). The goal was to get some celebrity autographs, get some exclusives I wanted, and do the lion's share of my shopping.

Two out of three ain't bad.

I got to meet a Star Trek Original Crewmember in none other than Walter Koenig (Chekov) and the Doctor himself, Peter Davidson. Both gentlemen were gracious and wonderful to meet if a bit weary from convention. But yay! Autographs acquired.

For exclusives, I did not fair as well. First and foremost in my exclusives hunt was Max and Mirya's exclusive miniatures for Robotech Tactics by Ninja Division and Palladium. By 10:15am (fifteen minutes after the Dealer's Hall opened), the line for Max and Mirya stretched half the length of the hall. Considering they only had a couple hundred of the models on hand, the 2-3 hour wait was not going to produce the minis. So, with some sadness, I trudged on to my other important acquisition- Firefly the Game from Gale Force 9.

No luck there either. The game sold out only moments before I arrived at the booth taking away my ability to acquire the convention special Alliance Battleship.

Sadness ensued- so I consoled myself by spending too much money. First we visited Paizo to talk RPG design with Ryan Macklin- you might remember him as the gentleman that had the Game Design Challenge on his blog leading to the creation of Dime Stories. He was refreshingly earnest and frank and we had a great conversation about game design and the ins and outs of the industry. While at the Paizo booth, I bought a set of player mats for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and their new comic Pathfinder: Goblins. The day was starting to look up.

It was time to talk to some old friends. Margaret Weis Productions was the first stop. I'd preordered the Firefly Gencon book from MWP a few months earlier for pickup at the con, but the people were the real pull for us. MWP's business manager, Christi, was wonderful and personable as always, and it was great to see her smiling face. We talked about upcoming projects from MWP, mutually lamented the loss of Marvel Heroic, and laid the groundwork for further work to come my way from MWP in the near future (man, I needed this). Margaret Weis herself was on hand to sign my Firefly book, and I couldn't help but pick up the first two novels in her new Dragon Brigade series- which she signed as well. A little thrill goes down my spine every time I meet Margaret and she remains one of my favorite authors every time I  read her work. Amanda Valentine was on hand for some hugs and excitement at the release of her new game, Little Wizards- not to mention, Amanda was to host the Ennies that night. Amanda was the first woman to ever host the Ennies and it was being broadcast all over the world. So... no pressure. And finally, Dave Chalker of Get Bit fame stopped by and we planned for our game of Fantasy Heroic for Sunday- my reward for contributing to the Cortex Hackers Guide Kickstarter. Dave is a great guy and I loved working for him on Marvel Heroic: Annihilation. I can't wait to play Fantasy Heroic with him.

The old friend search continued at Slugfest Games where we spent some time with the lot of them- Cliff, Sam, Jeff, Dave, Yvonne, and the rest were swamped with gamers playing demos and buying games so we couldn't stay too long. I picked up a softcover copy of Red Dragon Inn: A Guide to Inns and Taverns, an awesome Pathfinder Compatible tome that I was lucky enough to help write. Despite the crowds at the booth (ah memories of Gencons gone by), it was great to see them all.

Finally, on our way out, we hit the Wizkids booth to pick up Star Trek Attack Wing, their new tactical combat game based on the rules for Fantasy Flight's awesome X-Wing game. Of course, the best part was their convention exclusive con card.. or rather Khan card, as it were- Khan Noonian Singh. Just...awesome.

After lunch at High Velocity in the JW Marriot (great food. The Prime Rib lunch special just blew me away), we joined my Saturday Morning Games partner Jonathan Lavallee in a game of Critical! Go Westerly. This was a rollicking good time. Mary played a gypsy thief type that knew too much and couldn't keep her mouth shut. A father and daughter from Cincinnati played Gronk, ork hero - if only in his own mind, and Captain- a curmudgeon pirate that had lost her ship long ago and was looking to find it again.. in the land locked cities and forests of Westerly. Go figure. For my part, I played Perolinius- a geriatric master wizard with Alzheimer's and some serious dementia. Between Peck (as Perolinius was called) and Gronk, and with Jonathan's fantastic performance as GM, this game was nothing short of hilarious. I think Mary was broken in laughter by it three times.

To wind down before returning to our room for leftover dinner, Jonathan played a game of Love Stories with us. This is a great, simple, sixteen card game that we picked up instantly and would make a great filler game for any group. I have to be sure to stop by AEG on Saturday to pick up a copy.

Finally, at 8pm I ran my second game of Dime Stories. Another group of gamers had come to experience a new game and we were joined by my co-worker Brian, his friend from Illinois, and former Slugcrew member Owen. Once again, the party elected to work for La Esqueleta and raid the Village. But this adventure went completely the opposite way than the other one. While the other group learned about the hired mercenaries and sought to undermine their operation, this group decided instead to plan for their existence and set up an elaborate trap to slaughter the mercenaries in one massive shootout. Simultaneously, several of the bandits gathered to break Esqueleta's daughter out of the small jail.

All in all, it seemed like everyone had a good time.

Till tomorrow,

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Roll for Initiative: Day One, Enter the Dragon

Day One began in much the same way as every other day- with sadness and pain.

No not really.

I got up early to make sure I received my badge. As a gamemaster, my badge isn't available at the Will Call booths. And unlike Will Call, the Gamemaster HQ isn't 24 hours. Gamemaster HQ opens at 7am and is closed by 8pm. So when we got here at 9-ish wednesday, Gamemaster HQ was already closed. Since we had True Dungeon at 10:14am, I made sure to wake up Mary and drag her kicking and screaming to Gamemaster HQ as early as possible- we got my badge at 8am or so.

Breakfast at Panera. The food was alright, but the best part was getting to talk to Bill Cavalier for a few moments before going in.

Then True Dungeon with my hotel roommates Dave and Heidi, and my friends Jeph, Angie, and Evan. Mary, a new friend Chris, and I had never been to True Dungeon before. It was a pretty cool mix of DnD 3.0, carnival games, and actual problem solving. Though we chose the combat variation of the game for our adventure, fully half of our rooms were puzzle rooms. I could get into a long winded description of how to play True Dungeon, but it's better explained here. In the end, the final puzzle defeated us and our characters all died.

I love the art of the TPK. But only when I am the GM.
So sad.
But at least I pulled a random piece of treasure that apparently sells for more than six times what I paid for my ticket to the event anyway.
So.... win!

Lunch at Champions. Good burgers as usual but FAR more expensive than I remember.

Shopping in the Dealers Hall. First Priority was Catalyst Games. Fifth Edition Shadowrun was officially released at this GenCon. And to make matters worse, they released a pretty leatherbound version with the Mayan calender embossed in gold on the leather cover.

Oh gods it's pretty, and my awesome wife let me have it.

After spending too much money, we made our way back to the hotel and I began to get ready for Dime Stories' first public game.

The event went off without a hitch. Two players had already dropped the game, so I had four players that came to the game. With Mary jumping in to play the crazy luddoc Krem, we had a party of five bandits working for La Esqueleta to relieve the village of its stores in tithe. This evolved into a complicated scheme that involved busting into the local Megacorp HQ to  release a mercenary's wife from indentured servitude.

The players seemed to have enjoyed the game, so I would say this was truly a successful first outing for Dime Stories.

More tomorrow... sleep beckons.