Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Best RPG Cover of all Time


This is the cover to the original 1977 Traveller boxed set, now commonly referred to as "Classic Traveller." Because of this iconic cover, May 1st is celebrated as "Traveller Day."

There's been a lot of talk lately about RPG covers in the last week (thanks WotC). So I thought, what better time to reflect on the finest one of all?

I insist that this is not merely old school rose-colored nostalgia. It's not merely "good for its time." I really think this is perfect in a way that no other RPG cover has achieved before or since. Change a single word, a single punctuation, a single nanometer to the kerning, and you have something lesser. And if you're not convinced, then I'm going to explain everything that I like about this image and why. Everything. Yeah, this post is ridiculous overkill. About as bad an idea as explaining a joke. But I want it all to be said.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

G Monsters at the Opera (Part 3)

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Fret not, my dear Mr. Wasteland. Today's show is brought to you by the letter G. We still have a while before we reach the Puking and Pulling monsters.

Monday, April 1, 2024

G Monsters at the Opera (Part 2)

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: Le Pape Formose et Γ‰tienne VI ("Pope Formosus and Stephen VI") by Jean-Paul Laurens

Why do you let me do all the talking? Comment below your favorite D&D monster and tell me why. We're here for the long haul, so you may as well have your say. Good gravy just look how many words I've spilled just in this post alone.

Monday, March 25, 2024

No Foolproof Illusions

This post has some required reading: a blog post from Swedish designer (?) Sandra Snan called Blorb Principles.
[By the way, Sandra's blog is absolutely bonkers. She's written about blorb a lot but you'll have to hunt for it. Good luck]
Additionally, you may also wish to read this post from Rise Up Comus and/or this post from Technoskald's Forge. They are both good, although not necessary to follow my line of thinking here.

I like Sandra's blorb principles. When I first read her post, I felt... relief. For many years, I've felt a sharp and uncomfortable distance between my own playstyle and the philosophies described by my colleagues and other popular designers. Sandra's post was the first time I saw someone clearly articulate a set of preferences I've long held but which I couldn't effectively advocate for on my own. It feels nice to see your own philosophy given a name, and to finally have a way to easily connect with like-minded GMs.

But part of why Sandra's post instantly clicked for me is because she was describing things I already believed, techniques that I already rely on. By far the most common response I've seen to the Blorb Principles is still outright confusion. So just like many others before me, this post is my own effort to explain why I prefer a Blorby approach to the alternatives other people offer up. Maybe this will help it make a little more sense to some people.

Monday, March 11, 2024

G Monsters at the Opera (Part 1)

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: Ivan the Terrible and the Souls of his Victims by Mikhail Petrovitch Klodt

Yes, there are that many G monsters. Even splitting this into three parts, each post will be ridiculously long. This letter also has the highest density of "Dwiz's favorite monsters ever" in it, unsurprisingly. Apologies in advance if I get carried away with some of these entries. On the other hand, once I finish up the G's then I reckon I'll be about halfway done with this series (at least in terms of monster entries).

Monday, March 4, 2024

F Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: more sister art

Part of the reason for this series is because it scratches my itch for the kind of content I associate with "the Golden Age of RPG blogging" but also because it's kinda easy to write compared to my normal faire. I don't know if it's nutritious exactly, or even engaging, but I can at least be confident that my readers will find it highly encherining. Which is really all I ever aspire to.

Monday, February 26, 2024

E Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: Yoshitaka Amano

Be thankful that this isn't just a 10,000 word overview of everything ever described under the "elf" entry, with all their many, many subraces clogging up the E section of most monster manuals.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Dragons at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: my sister

The first dungeon I ever made was a chapel of a dragon cult that I spent days painstakingly crafting. It was a pastiche of the cult of Set in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie. Every long-running D&D campaign I've ever run since that has been dragon-centered. Even the published adventures I've run that don't have dragons. I'll add a dragon final boss fight if I have to. There is no other fantasy I've spent so much time chasing than the epic climax of heroic adventurers facing off against the ultimate challenge: one big "fuck you"-sized evil dragon.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Demons at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: Kentaro Miura
Note: direct Berserk comments towards Ben

The title says "demon" but I'm using this post to cover all the creatures that D&D calls "fiends." Demons, devils, and everything in between. Don't expect me to consistently refer to each thing according to D&D's taxonomy. To me they're all just demons.

I felt this warranted its own post in part because there's so many to talk about, but also because I view demons as a particularly important category of monster. They're one of those special creature types that's nearly universal across human cultures, in some form or another. You could easily throw out all other monster types and still have a rich and strange fantasy setting just by having the heroes face off against demons.

Monday, January 22, 2024

D Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Welcome to the D's. Demons and dragons will get their own posts. This one is crowded enough as it is.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Capsule πŸ’Š Games – Part 3: Goals

Artist credit: Julianne Griepp

"What are you playing?"

"Dungeons and Dragons."

"That sounds cool. What it's about?"

"It's a game where you go treasure hunting."

Sounds like a fine premise to me. Sign me up.

A lot of people find the idea of a "win condition" in an RPG to be utterly baffling. The way that you "win" at D&D is by having fun, right? But like... wouldn't that be true of all games? Isn't that just a bizarre dismissal when you really think about it? People don't seem to balk at sports or board games or escape rooms having a win condition. You can both have the goal of "have fun with your buddies" and have the goal of "win the game" simultaneously, believe it or not. In fact, they often reinforce each other! 

Monday, January 15, 2024

C Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Not appearing in this post: charybdis, cerebus, and changeling. Inexplicably appearing: catoblepas. Get your shit together, D&D.

[Next Capsule Game post isn't ready yet so I'm changing up my schedule for this week]

Friday, January 12, 2024

New Year’s Resolution Mechanic: Taking Your Time

This is a joke for everyone except Warren to get

Prismatic Wasteland has issued a challenge to come up with a new mechanic for basic task resolution in RPGs. While I appreciate crossovers, ping pong posting, and pretty much anything that promotes active blogging, I also must state that I find this whole premise downright disgusting, and take great personal offense to it.

So anyway here's my submission to the challenge. It's not a good one. Overthinking simple stuff is rarely fruitful for a pea-brain like me.

This post is in four parts. First, I have to rant for a bit about theoretical bullshit for context. Second, I finally explain the rule. Third, I talk a bit about what inspired it and what I like about it. Fourth, I have an alternative to my rule that's much less fleshed out.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

B Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Credit: Paul Carrick

If you haven't seen the previous post, I've started a series where I'm talking about all the classic(ish) D&D monsters with my brother Ben. Welcome to the B monsters.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Capsule πŸ’Š Games – Part 2: Player Characters

Artist credit: Will Kirkby

Most people would be utterly aghast at the notion of an RPG where you don't get to make your own character. To many folks, they are one and the same synonymous. But why?

Video games don't have any hang-ups about this. Skyrim is cool, partly because you make your own character. But The Witcher is also cool, not even in spite of you playing as Geralt of Rivia, but largely because of it. Nobody has ever been like, "aw man you mean I have to play as Geralt?" No, people are like, "oh hell yes I get to play as Geralt!"

And yet I've seen so many RPG players get bent out of shape merely for having characters randomly rolled instead of personally constructed. I've seen players refuse starting packages like in Electric Bastionland or playbooks like in PbtA games. Which is a real shame! Those games aren't even forcing you to play pre-made characters. They're just trying to suggest details about the world and its inhabitants through character options. That's a really interesting and thoughtful application of design.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Crunch Criteria

I'm gunna be a little self-indulgent and quote myself.
Every piece of crunch you add has a cost. A cost in how much brainpower it takes to learn, to teach, to remember, to use. The essential tradeoff is to make sure that crunch is able to add something really valuable to the game in spite of that cost. I try to only add crunch in the parts of the experience that I think have the most potential for interesting decision-making.
This isn't just talk. I actually have a set of standards I apply when it comes to "justifying crunch" in a system. It's a hierarchy of three levels.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

A Monsters at the Opera

A B C D Demon Dragon E F G1 G2 G3 H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

That's right, we're blogging like it's 2014.

Yes, there are plenty of other gaming blogs that have done this. Some of them with much more to offer than I. But it's fun for me to think about and write about and occasionally it's interesting for you to read about.

This isn't a review or critique exactly, and "analysis" makes it sound a bit too substantive. This is basically just observations and opinions. And sometimes artwork.

My brother Ben helped me write this. Most of our opinions overlap, but I'll note when one thought is particular to him or me.

This isn't based on any specific monster manual or bestiary. Each edition of D&D has its own quirks, but I wanted to talk about the general canon of monsters that appear in most versions of the game. If they're newer, they must be distinct. To create this list, we started by combining the monster books from Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials that have been published so far. Some things needed to be added in (they've been saving all demons and devils and whatnot for their own future book, I believe), and some things got cut.

We'll be doing this roughly alphabetically. Some posts will be short, and others will be very, very long.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Capsule πŸ’Š Games – Part 1: Introduction

Artist credit: Katie Hicks

Dolmenwood is now a big deal. But it was a journey to get here. It was originally conceived as a setting by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk around 2013, to be used with B/X Essentials (now Old School Essentials). But by early 2016, they began to flesh it out through the Wormskin zine, making it a full on playable hexcrawl. See, most setting guides merely provide fluff. The GM then has to translate that fluff into gameable content. This is the burden of their prep. But an adventure module takes the next step and completes that prep for you. The forest isn't merely described for your imagination. It's described as hexes, and the hexes are already populated with the gameables. But by 2023 we find out that Dolmenwood is also going to contain its own bespoke rule system, too! A fairly simple one, of course. Basically just OSE with some tweaks and additions. But I can't help but notice that, increasingly, there is less and less you'll have to buy or make or decide upon in order to have the complete Dolmenwood experience. They've got it all handled for you. However, it's still assumed to be an open-world sandbox, so ultimately any two groups are still going to have a mostly different experience.

Not too long ago I wrote a review about Jim Henson's Labyrinth: the Adventure Game. I stumbled over a particular part. It wasn't the first time. Every time I've told someone about it, I've stumbled on this part. That part is, "do I call this an adventure? Or do I call this a system? A game? A setting?" The truth is that it's all of them. It's a complete package. Even more interesting, it's a package built to replicate the experience of a movie, while also still being freeform and including audience-authorship of the experience. It's remarkably successful at threading that needle. You play it and it feels like you just played out the movie Labyrinth. But it also unmistakably feels like you played your version of the movie Labyrinth. It manages to feel like both. And all of that was contained within one book (even the dice!).

Yazeba's Bed & Breakfast is also hard to describe. It's simply itself. It definitely is a role-playing game. But there's a lot of assumptions it's breaking. Players don't make their own characters. They don't even select or roll pre-generated characters. Rather, they play as these characters. They play as Gertrude, Hey Kid, Sal, Parish, and Amelie. These characters with these names and these histories and these personalities. Then, they play out sitcom-like slice of life episodes. But not episodes of your own invention. They play through these episodes. About 50 of them. And by completing episodes, progressing through the series, you unlock these new characters and story developments. It also includes a lot of assets, especially the digital version. An entire virtual interface to play through that elevates the experience. In part, this serves to cut down on prep. But also, it makes the experience more specific to the creator's vision.

These aren't all quite doing the same thing, but they're certainly doing a lot of similar things. Things I'm seeing more and more of and that I find exciting.