Saturday, May 28, 2016

On The Drawing Board

I'm sure a lot of people are wondering what's going on with my other projects for supporting Beyond the Wall. Currently I've got three projects on the board in varying degrees of development. Those include the revision of the GM screen and reference pack, a sandbox setting for people to enjoy, and the spell cards. Much as I would love to include possible release dates, I don't want to get people's hopes up and have them dashed when real life intrudes. Just know that I'm working on these as time allows.

EDIT: As a belated side note, all artwork is copyright 2016 Shaman's Stock Art, Misfit Studios, Outland Arts, and Inked Adventures.

The GM Screen and Reference Pack

With the release of Further Afield and Heroes Young and Old, there's been a lot of new information that needs to be indexed - namely spells, monsters, NPCs, traits, and skills. The information on the GM screen will not change as it's meant to be used with the rulebook. I haven't fully decided if I'm going to build and include a landscape format for the GM screen. Some of the things you can expect to see in the revision include:
  • Updated indices for spells, monsters and NPCs
  • A listing of skills and traits (COMPLETED)
  • A two-page, form-fillable character sheet (COMPLETED)
  • Character and adventure tracking sheets for GMs. (WORK IN PROGRESS)
  • Blank NPC and monster cards for gamemasters.

Those who have already purchased the first version of this product should keep an eye open here, RPGNet, The RPG Site, as well as their e-mail and the G+ community for Beyond the Wall for my announcement of the update's completion.

Spell and Ritual Cards

Work on the spell and ritual cards came to a halt when my wife had a health crisis. With that crisis being managed, I'll be completing this project as soon as I can get the GM screen updated. I'm going to get the core book material first and then gradually update the product to include the magic from the other books and material.

Again, anybody who purchases the first version of this product should keep an eye open here, the aforementioned forums, their e-mail, and the G+ community for Beyond the Wall for my announcement of the updates to this product.

My Sandbox: Dragon's End

Another fun project I've been working on has been a sandbox setting in the spirit of the old BECMI D&D gazeteer maps and hexcrawls. The project is currently going under the name "Dragon's End" - the name of one of the towns - and was originally called Thornhollow. Some of you on the G+ community for BtW might recall me posting some cover art for the project. That cover art is only a concept at this point and may change, as may the title.

While there's going to be a good amount of material and background in this product, it's not going to be a full-blown world like Golarion, Greyhawk, or the Forgotten Realms. You can definitely expect to find my take on gnomes in there as well as rules for dark elves, half elves, and other races (possibly including variations on dwarves, gnomes, and halflings). I'll also be including some iconic characters to act as guides to new heroes, notes on how to use this supplement with the scenario and threat packs released by Flatland Games, and sidebars on house rules I enjoy using in the game. It's kind of my love letter to BECMI D&D, Threshold, and B2 - Keep on the Borderlands, in a way. Below is a preview map which was inspired by the old ads for Mayfair's City-State of the Invincible Overlord products. In the future I'll release a couple of previews to keep you apprised of the product's progress.

Welcome to part of my sandbox! Map by Hexographer, icons by lorc, parchment template by Inked Adventures. Photoshop magic by me.

Circles of Heroes and a Quickstart

Other products on the drawing board are pre-generated groups of characters, both designed using the playbooks and the rules in the core rulebook. A few of these will be general adventuring groups but others will be thematic in nature. I'll also be developing a quickstart supplement, complete with pre-generated characters, a solo adventure, and a group adventure. This is another love letter to BECMI D&D with a special focus on the old Mentzer Basic D&D Player's Manual.

Other Ideas

I hope you've enjoyed a peek behind the curtain. What you see here are by no means the sum of what I want to do with and for Beyond the Wall. There are other ideas I have in the wings, but those are for another day, folks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lists, lists, and more lists

As I've said before, Beyond the Wall is a great, flexible, RPG that hearkens back to D&D's earlier glory days in the 1980s. One of the things that makes it so flexible is that it isn't bogged down with a massive, concretely defined skill list. At the same time, that list has a bit of... overlap.

In working to update the information in Silent Sage's GM screen and reference set, I compiled a listing of all the skills in the existing material along with a list of the traits found in Further Afield and Heroes Young and Old. I have attempted to maintain the flexibility of the system by not assigning skills to just one attribute. Instead, I took a note from fourth edition Traveller and allowed for some skills to modify different ability scores in different situations.

For example, a character with the Cooking skill would use it with Wisdom when making a batch of Mother Grimgoose's Famous Mutton Stew from memory. Alternately, if they were to concoct their own famous (or infamous) recipe, they would use Intelligence with the skill to (hopefully) make a new delicacy. For those of you who aren't already part of the excellent G+ community for Beyond the Wall, you can download the file here.

With regard to the overlap, it isn't always obvious. The most obvious example I can give is the skills Forgotten Lore, Forbidden Knowledge, Forgotten Secrets, and Forbidden Secrets. You can easily roll these into one or two skills. The easiest would be to roll them into Forgotten Lore - after all, Forbidden Lore is often (and best left) forgotten. Alternately, you can just have Forgotten Lore and Forbidden Knowledge, simply distinguishing between the two. My preference is to have Forgotten Lore cover all four skills.

Before I go on, please keep in mind that I'm not telling the folks at Flatland Games to "clean things up". In fact, I would prefer they just leave it alone and preserve the flexibility for groups who have their own way of handling it. In fact, I'll review my own in-house solution to the problem at the end of this entry. With regard to any products from Silent Sage Publishing, you'll see that the skills will NOT be unified as I do for my own personal games. Again, that's to preserve the game's flexibility and avoid overstepping the bounds of the license offered by Flatland Games.

Back to the subject at hand. Other overlaps are a bit messier. The Animal Lore and Animal Ken skills are a prime example of how definitions get a bit fiddly. Here are the definitions as provided by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
Definition of ken - noun
1a: the range of vision b :  sight, view <'tis double death to drown in ken of shore — Shakespeare>
2: the range of perception, understanding, or knowledge <abstract words that are beyond the ken of young children — Lois M. Rettie>
1 archaic: something that is taught :  lesson
2: something that is learned: a :  knowledge gained through study or experience b :  traditional knowledge or belief
3: a particular body of knowledge or tradition
On the surface, the overlap seems obvious - everything should be rolled into one or the other. Once you get under the hood and see how each word is defined and used, it's obvious they are really two different things. Animal Lore is concerned with knowledge about animals - healing their illnesses, training, and so forth. Animal Ken, on the other hand, is the ability to speak with the animals.

In a nutshell, here are the other overlaps I found in the list:

Strategy and Tactics - Another deceptively simple issue as both skills involve maneuvering military or political forces, but Strategy focuses on long term goals as opposed to Tactics' focus on short term goals. Strategy could also apply, oddly enough, to Estate Management. To cut down on the confusion, I would roll Strategy and Tactics together under Strategy and define it as a combat-related skill for either long or short term goals in battle.

Deceit and Subterfuge - Looking at the M-W Online Dictionary, this one is too close to call. You could define Deceit as a skill for fooling people and Subterfuge as a skill for tricks and traps used to obtain something or achieve a goal through deception. My vote is for rolling these together into Deceit and then letting the pairing of skill + ability be determined by the usage. For example, INT would be paired Deceit when plotting a ruse while CHA would be paired with Deceit for telling a convincing lie. Additionally, WIS or INT might be paired with this skill to see through another's lie.

Etiquette, Gossip, and Socialize - This is another fiddly definition. Gossip is a form of socialization, but not all socialization is gossip. In this case I would define Gossip as to include the fine art of roguish eavesdropping and information gathering. Socialize would be a bit more sophisticated, relating to hobnobbing with others outside of a character's social class. You could certainly wrap Etiquette in with Socialize, but could also say Etiquette is even more of a refined cultural skill, letting a character know when to use the fish fork and not the soup spoon. My take is to leave Gossip alone and package Etiquette and Socialize together under Socialize.

Boasting and Storytelling - Again, a bit too close in definition. I would go with rolling these together as Storytelling, as a boast isn't always true.

Monster Lore and Mythical Beast Lore - Another fiddly definition. You could easily argue that monsters are known creatures while mythical beasts are considered just that - myths - until proven otherwise. As with the whole Forbidden Knowledge/Forgotten Secrets bit, it's kind of a toss-up as to how people want to handle it. I personally merge the two under Monster Lore.

In the spirit of keeping things simple in my personal games, here's my round-up on handling any overlaps: 
  • Animal Ken (CHA, INT, or WIS) - A skill that allows characters to speak the language of animals.
  • Animal Lore (INT or WIS) - Knowledge about raising, healing, and training of animals.
  • Deceit (CHA, INT, or WIS) - Combines Deceit with Subterfuge.
  • Forgotten Lore (WIS) - Combines Forgotten Lore, Forbidden Knowledge, Forgotten Secrets, and Forbidden Secrets.
  • Gossip (CHA, INT or WIS) - The fine art of roguish eavesdropping and information gathering.
  • Monster Lore (WIS) - Combines Mythical Beast Lore with Monster Lore.
  • Socialize (CHA, INT, or WIS) - A skill relating to hobnobbing with others outside of a character's social class or native culture/species. This skill absorbs the Etiquette skill. 
  • Storytelling (CHA or WIS) - Combines Boasting with Storytelling. 
  • Strategy (INT or WIS) - Combines Strategy and Tactics with regard to long or short term goals in battle.
Again, by writing this blog post, I am NOT in any way asking or telling Flatland Games to tighten things up. How you handle the overlaps and duplications in your game is up to you and for some it's part of the fun of playing an RPG. Always remember rule zero - if it doesn't work for you and your group, change it so it does. After all, the point of playing a role-playing game is fun, isn't it?

Friday, May 20, 2016

An Alternate View of Gnomes

Whilst I'm on a nostalgia kick, here's my take on gnomes, which I wrote up before Heroes Young and Old was released. As before, I can't vouch for "balance" and constructive feedback is welcome...

Artwork © 2016 Wayward Rogue Stockart
Gnomish Vision - Like elves and dwarves, gnomes can see in any level of light except pitch darkness.

Small Stature - Because they are small, gnomes cannot have a STR score higher than 10.

True Name - Like dwarves, every gnome has a true name which he or she keeps secret. A character using this true name against a gnome receives a +5 bonus to all actions taken against the gnome and a +5 bonus to any save against the gnome's magic.

Inherent Magic - Being members of the faerie court, gnomes are naturally skilled with magic. Gnomes who choose to be a mage gain a bonus spell at each level. However, their magic is limited to phantasms and harmless illusions.

Inherent Luck - Gnomes who choose to be rogues or warriors gain one extra Fortune Point.

Gnomes who multiclass as a warrior-mage or rogue-mage must choose either Inherent Magic or Inherent Luck; they do not receive both. Gnomes who multiclass as warrior-rogues still only receive one extra Fortune Point, not two.

An Exercise in Nostalgia

While Beyond the Wall has quite a bit of flexibility with regard to character creation and multi-classing, I have to confess that I've wanted to model some of the AD&D/D&D classes and sub-classes in terms of multi-classing. Not all of the classes are represented in this writing, however. AD&D classes like the barbarian and druid are easily covered with the warrior and mage classes, respectively. Classes from Oriental Adventures like the kensai, sohei, shukenja, and wu-jen (and even the OA versions of the barbarian and monk) may take some additional fine tuning with regard to cultural differences.

The archetypes below are modeled more on the first edition AD&D and BECMI D&D classes than their counterparts in Pathfinder and newer editions of D&D. Despite the fact that the old BECMI D&D and first edition AD&D classes had alignment and race restrictions (rangers being non-evil, bards being humans or half-elves, etc.), I have not included those restrictions here. Overall, I've tried to follow both the spirit and word of the BtW multi-classing rules; hit dice, saving throws, armor, special abilities and the like were prioritized in the order the classes are presented in the combinations.

In most of the archetypes there's some flexibility with regard to special abilities. A character's special abilities will either be split between the two base classes or centered in one class. You'll also note that two of the archetypes – namely the monk archetype and the warden sub-archetype for rangers – are actually triple-classed archetypes. Again, I've tried to hold to both the spirit and word of the multi-classing rules.

As this a first draft (and an exercise in nostalgia, to boot), I cannot vouch for “balance” in any of these archetypes. Oftentimes, I've found that one person's concept of balance is another person's idea of munchkinization. Feedback is welcome on these archetypes and tinkering will surely ensue. 

Classes: Rogue/Warrior 
Base Attack: As warrior 
Hit Dice: As rogue 
Saving Throws: As warrior 
Armor: As rogue 
Initiative: As rogue 
XP: As warrior 
Special Abilities: Player chooses one special ability from each class or both abilities from one class.

Classes: Rogue/Mage
Base Attack: As mage
Hit Dice: As mage
Saving Throws: As rogue
Armor: As rogue
Initiative: As rogue
XP: As mage
Special Abilities: Spellcasting, Highly Skilled. 

Classes: Mage/Warrior
Base Attack: As warrior
Hit Dice: As mage
Saving Throws: As mage
Armor: As warrior
Initiative: As warrior
XP: As mage
Special Abilities: Spellcasting, Sense Magic. 

Notes: Clerics are a subjective situation. Some play them as priestly healers, others more as combat-oriented crusaders. In this case, I've opted to portray them as crusaders, firmly double-classing the cleric as a mage/warrior. Priests, the cloistered cousins of clerics, are better defined as mages. In earlier editions of D&D and AD&D, clerics were only able to use blunt weapons. This restriction may apply at the discretion of the player and the GM based on the setting and the character's religion. 

Classes: Mage/Warrior/Rogue
Base Attack: As warrior
Hit Dice: As mage
Saving Throws: As warrior
Armor: As mage
Initiative: As rogue
XP: As mage
Special Abilities: For a combat-oriented monk, the player chooses one special ability from the warrior class and the other from the rogue class or both abilities from one class. For a more mystic archetype, the character receives the mage's Sense Magic ability and the remaining special ability is chosen from either the warrior or the rogue class. 

Notes: I've included monks in this post to cover all the bases; normally, I don't include monks in my games unless they're of the Oriental Adventures variety. At any rate, the monk is a tricky balancing act. Mind you, this is my own concept of the monk. It may not fit everybody's ideal, and I'm certainly open to changing it if absolutely necessary. 

Classes: Warrior/Mage
Base Attack: As warrior
Hit Dice: As warrior
Saving Throws: As warrior
Armor: As warrior
Initiative: As warrior
XP: As mage

Special Abilities: Player chooses one special ability from each class or both from one class. 

Notes: Like clerics, paladins are another one of those subjective archetypes. Traditionally, they've been divinely-empowered warriors in AD&D, but in holding true to the spirit of BtW, the player has a decision to make with regard to how their character's abilities are defined. The tenets of the character's religion may also have something to do with how their abilities are defined. For example, a paladin devoted to a saint or deity opposed to spellcasting may be granted the ability to sense magic, but barred from casting spells. As such, the character's second ability would have to be drawn from the warrior class. 

The ranger is one of those classes that is split between the image of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, and the image of the spell-casting warrior-sage in D&D. As such, I've endeavored to define each type, just as some third party companies have done with “spell-less” rangers for Pathfinder and D&D. 

Ranger, Scout 
Classes: Rogue/Warrior 
Base Attack: As rogue 
Hit Dice: As rogue 
Saving Throws: As warrior 
Armor: As rogue 
Initiative: As rogue 
XP: As warrior
Special Abilities: Player chooses one special ability from each class or chooses both from one class. 

Ranger, Green Warden 
Classes: Rogue/Warrior/Mage 
Base Attack: As warrior 
Hit Dice: As rogue 
Saving Throws: As warrior 
Armor: As rogue 
Initiative: As rogue 
XP: As mage 
Special Abilities and Restrictions: Spellcasting and one other special ability from either the warrior or rogue class.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Mongoose and the Big Red Button

 "They finally really did it..."

A while back I wrote my breakup letter to Traveller as a third party publisher and gave my reasons why. Today, I have to honestly say I'm glad I walked when I did. John Watts, head of Gypsy Knights Games, recently announced that he had major issues with the new Travellers' Aid Society terms and conditions, which you can't see until you go to upload something on DriveThruRPG. The terms state:
"'User Generated Content' shall be defined as the copyrightable elements included in your Work, such as original characters, scenes, locations and events. User Generated content shall not include the illustrations and cartographic artwork included in your work. Per the terms of this Agreement, you expressly agree that your User Generated Content, once submitted to the Program will become Program IP and useable by other members of the Program as well as the Owner as described in this Agreement."
 ...and furthermore:
No Reversion. Due to our licensing arrangement with the Owner and the collaborative nature of the Program, you are granting us broad licenses in your Work and your User Generated Content included in your Work, and the rights to your Work will not be reverted once it is published in the Program. You will have the ability through online tools at OBS websites to stop public display and sale of your Work on OBS marketplaces, but not to stop the sale of works of other authors in the Program even when such works use your User Generated Content that you originally created in your Work and thereby became part of the Program IP for other authors to use.
In short, surprise! You've just lost control of your intellectual property! Now, I don't have a problem with the way the original OGL states things - namely, if you clearly specify what material in your product is Open Game Content, as well as acknowledge the copyrights of the authors whose OGC you use in Section 15 of the OGL, you're fine. However, this - at least to me - implies the need for professional courtesy, namely, asking the author of the material you want to use for their consent. What the Mongoose TAS "program" does is eliminate the professional courtesy aspect of things and allows anybody who is part of "the program" to have their way with your material, even if you've taken your product off the market after another person makes use of the material in their product.

Further clouding the waters is the fact that now people can publish material for ANY part of the Third Imperium, including the Spinward Marches, which has long been a historical landmark for Traveller. The original licenses restricted OTU publications to the Foreven Sector, which was a player/GM reservation of sorts. Now it would seem nothing is holy to Mongoose Publishing. How Marc Miller let this slide is beyond me.

Overall, trading the freedom to write material for all of the OTU in exchange for giving up your IP rights is a bad trade - a very bad trade. With the Traveller and Foreven Sector licenses, there was still enough freedom in exchange for maintaining control over one's intellectual property. The choices were simple - you could write your own setting for Traveller under the Traveller license, or you could publish material for the OTU set in the Foreven Sector. The only checks and balances were that the writers had to ensure their products trade dress was significantly distinguishable from that of MgT or any other previous Traveller product (CT, MT, TNE, etc).

At any rate, there's discussion of the matter on the CotI boards and Mongoose forums. You'll have to log in to comment at either place, but given Mongoose's track record of a barely-supported SRD, a failed attempt at Traveller organized play, and running with bad ideas while ignoring playtest feedback, I'm not holding my breath for change.

EDIT: As I reflected upon what I wrote today, I felt it was a good idea to further explain why the TAS offer is such a bad deal as compared to the original Traveller/Foreven OGL. Additionally, I thought I was a bit misleading and hyperbolic regarding the discussion of the matter elsewhere online. While it has remained fairly civilized at both forums, Mongoose has been very quiet with regard to the concerns voiced by third-party publishers; meanwhile, general questions regarding Marc Miller's control over the OTU have been quickly answered... Make of that what you will...

EDIT #2: Some of you may have noticed all of my Foreven material has disappeared from my old Forge of Foreven blog. I purposely reverted everything to draft in order to prevent any "misunderstandings" between me and Mongoose Publishing. That being said, if any of it does see the light of day again, it will most likely be under the FFE Fair Use Policy. Meanwhile, John Watts of Gypsy Knights Games was kind enough to post the full language of the TAS "agreement" to the MgT 3pp group on Facebook. I'm providing it here for those of you who are masochistic enough to wade through a bunch of legalese. TL;DR version: "All your Traveller are belong to us. Good day."
This Community Content Agreement (this “Agreement”) is a binding agreement between you, the individual identified by your customer account on this website or the legal entity you represent, and OneBookShelf, Inc. (“OBS”) the parent company of website marketplaces including DriveThruRPG, RPGNow and more.
This Agreement covers your participation in and use of The Travellers' Aid Society and the OBS websites that administer it, (the “Program”).
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9. No Obligation to Make Available or Sell. You acknowledge that we have no obligation to market, distribute, or offer for sale your Work, or to continuing marketing, distributing or selling your Work after we have started doing so. We may remove your Work from the Program and cease further exploitation at any time in our sole discretion without notice to you.
11. Execution of Further Agreements and Documents. Protection of rights sometimes requires formal filings of paper documents and it may be helpful for us to have physical signed versions of this Agreement or other documents. You agree to sign and deliver to us any further documents that we may reasonably request to confirm your grant of rights to us (and Owner) under this Agreement, following all instructions we provide for signature and return (“Additional Documents”). If you do not complete and return any such Additional Documents within 30 days after we request them, you agree that we can sign the Additional Documents on your behalf and, to make your agreement legally enforceable, you hereby irrevocably appoint us as your attorney-in-fact with full power to execute, acknowledge and deliver the Additional Documents as required to confirm our rights. In legal terms, your appointment is a power coupled with an interest.
12. No Rescission or Injunctive Relief. All rights granted to us (and Owner) under this Agreement are irrevocably vested. No breach by us (or Owner) of this Agreement will entitle you to equitable relief, whether injunctive or otherwise, against or with respect to your User Generated Content or any other works produced pursuant to the rights granted under this Agreement or their exploitation. If the rights granted to OBS (or Owner) under this Agreement should revert to you under any copyright law or similar law, and if you are at any time thereafter prepared to enter an agreement with a third party for the license, exercise or other disposition of all or any of those rights, you will, before entering into the agreement, give OBS and Owner notice of the proposed terms (and all modifications of the terms) and the party involved. In each case, both OBS and Owner will then have 10 business days in which to elect to acquire the rights involved on the terms you offered to that third party.
13. General Provisions.
(a) This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to its subject matter. If any provision of this Agreement is held invalid by a court or other tribunal with jurisdiction over the parties to this Agreement, that provision will be deemed to be restated to reflect as nearly as possible the original intentions of the parties in accordance with applicable law, and the remainder of this Agreement will remain in full force and effect. The failure of either party to enforce any provision of this Agreement does not waive the party's rights to subsequently enforce the provision.
(b) The parties are independent contractors with respect to each other. This Agreement does not constitute and shall not be construed as constituting a partnership or joint venture among the parties hereto, or an employee/employer relationship.
(c) This Agreement will be binding upon, inure to the benefit of and be enforceable by the parties and their respective successors and assigns.
(d) You agree that all matters relating to your access to or use of the Program, including all disputes, will be governed by the laws of the United States and by the laws of the State of Georgia without regard to its conflicts of laws provisions. You agree to the personal jurisdiction by and venue in the state and federal courts in DeKalb County, Georgia, and waive any objection to such jurisdiction or venue. The preceding provision regarding venue does not apply if you are a consumer based in the European Union. If you are a consumer based in the European Union, you may make a claim in the courts of the country where you reside. Any claim under this Agreement must be brought within one (1) year after the cause of action arises, or such claim or cause of action is barred. You expressly acknowledge and agree that no recovery may be sought or received for damages other than out-of-pocket expenses, except that the prevailing party will be entitled to costs and attorneys’ fees. In the event of any controversy or dispute between us and you arising out of or in connection with your use of the Program, the parties shall attempt, promptly and in good faith, to resolve any such dispute. If we are unable to resolve any such dispute within a reasonable time (not to exceed thirty (30) days), then either party may submit such controversy or dispute to mediation. If the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, then the parties shall be free to pursue any right or remedy available to them under applicable law.