Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Grogcon 2019 after action report

Wow, what a weekend!  My work and career often keeps me away from playing games on a regular basis or attending conventions, so I used some vacation time this past weekend to attend GrogCon, which was part of the Crucible 8 convention in Orlando. I got to wander around the convention and take a look at some amazing miniature wargame displays, participate in my first 5E/Adventurers League game, as well as play in four 1e adventures.

First a little about the con.  It was probably 80% focused on miniature wargmaing tournaments.  As one would expect 40k, Age of Sigmar, and WarMchine/Hordes were the most popular.  Infinity was well represented, and I saw some BloodBowl, Bolt Action, and other various games being played.  On the Roleplaying side, most of the events were D&D Adventurers League games from the new Descent to Avernus campaign. Grogcon itself was a small part of the overall con with only a game or two running at any one time, but while it lacked in size it certainly delivered in quality.  I should also note some real positives about the venue.  The hotel didn't seem like anything to write home about, but they had multiple food options that were pretty good, parking was not a problem, the bathrooms were great and the air conditioning was a true blessing. Yes people thought it was cold, but there was not a whiff of BO. (seriously, if you've ever been to a con you know how much of an issue this can be.)

Friday night started with a 1e adventure written and run by Victor Dorso called the Keep at Blood Red Falls.  It was a classic military raid style adventure for higher level characters (8-10).  The scenario reminded me of some of the original "Giants" or "Slavers" modules and proved to be even more difficult. Ultimately the group was not successful (to date, nobody has according to Vic), but we created a ton of chaos, came up with some innovative ways of dealing with certain situations, and had a really fun time.

Saturday afternoon was D&D Adventurers League Descent to Avernus- Escape from Elturel.  While I have 5e, this was my first actual game as well as my first exposure to Adventurers League.  This was a level 1-2 adventure that focused on the immediate aftermath of the town of Elturel being swallow up by the first layer of Hell.  Sounds pretty scary, but the scenario was not very challenging.  It was fun and engaging, and the players had a great time. After playing this event I wish I had the time to play some of the follow ups that were offered, but there were 1e events to attend.

Saturday night was the main event: The Grogcon 1e AD&D tournament.  Three teams ran through the same module, Gnomeskull, with a 5 hour time limit.  The team that earned the most XP wins. The scenario was a raid by a party of Gnomes (levels 5-8) on the keep of Kobold God/King on the first layer of Hell. (Yes, Hell and raids were a theme this year). The module was written by Dan Gormanski and our table was DM'd by James from the GrogTalk podcast.  As everyone was a gnome, we were limited to fighters, thieves, illusionists, and multi-class variants.  For a tournament module the adventure offered the players a lot of options and choices.  There were multiple ways to attack and enter the keep and each team ended up using completely different strategies.  Despite the large amount of racial, illusionist, and thief abilities that the party had much of exploration felt like 0e. We used a lot very detailed descriptions of what and how we were doing things to gain advantages. My team ended up tied for second, but we had a great time.

Sunday morning's game was an adventure called Citadel by the Sea, run by Dan Gormanski and first published in Dragon in 1983.  This was a low level adventure (we were all level 3) that involved exploring ruin near a remote town that believes that they have been curse when an archaeologist disturbs something in the ruins.  Things are not as they seem however.  Dan did an amazing job with his acting and characterizations of the NPCs, and it turned out to be a great little adventure.  Not only were we successful in finishing it, we avoid almost all the traps and unnecessary monsters.  By this time of the weekend all the players were on their game.

Last but not least I had the privilege of playing in The Porcelain Sword of Queen Eshalla written and run by Carlos Lising of Casl Entertainment. This was a well hones mid-level tournament module with wonderful middle-eastern theme and a diverse set of challenges. Carlos is well known in 1e circles as a great writer and DM and I was not disappointed.  The adventure was still in the playtesting phase, but it taught and well balanced between combat, exploration, and puzzle solving.  Again the team avoid traps and other mistake that every other group of  had fallen prey to.  This game also produced the highlight moment of the con:
Bugbear: I surrender to you, holy man!Brother Harun of the Black Lotus: I accept the surrender --of your soul! *shooting crossbow into eye socket at close range*
Remainder of group: 😲
Completing that adventure felt like a true accomplishment, and after 21 hours of D&D I was wiped out. 
It was truly a great time and has really inspired me to continue playing on a regular basis and make the extra effort to go to more gaming conventions.  It's really a wonderful hobby we have.  I just showed up with some dice, pencil and paper, and my original 1e Player's Handbook and I had the time of my life.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

RPG Review: The Tingleverse - The Chuck Tingle RPG

You can't judge a book by its' cover they say.  I think the same adage applies to a title.  If you are familiar with Chuck Tingle, then "The Tingleverse: The official Chuck Tingle Role-Playing game" could be a few different things.  Is it a table-top RPG? An adult bedroom game?  I'm happy to report that it is in fact an OSR RPG rule-book with some great ideas and unique setting, but some serious structural flaws. 

Chuck Tingle is best known for being an author of gay erotica featuring Bigfoot, unicorns, dinosaurs, and even anthropomorphized objects and concept.  I haven't read any of Dr. Tingle's stories, but he has been nominated for two Hugo awards and has a huge following.  My first concern was that this game would be some sort of erotic RPG, but it turns out that is not the case.  The Tingleverse can be completely non-sexual/erotic, so this game will work with your normal open minded RPG group.  The Tingleverse is a strange setting though: I strange cross of South Park, Twin Peaks, and Dr. Tingle own bizarre imagination.  It's a world filled with crossed timelines, chocolate milk, and Buckaroos.

The 270 page softcover rule-book is available through Amazon (Dr. Tingle's own website redirects purchasers to Amazon) and appears to be a print on demand.  My copy denotes it was printed in Middletown Delaware, "30 September 2019", which was the same day I placed my order.  This also appears to be completely self published, with all work being done by Dr. Tingle himself as there are no credits for art, graphic design editing, etc.   Other than the cover, illustrations of the included monsters are the only pieces of art on the book.

The book starts with a brief introduction , then jumps into eight pages of background on the setting including an overview of the Tingleverse and the default starting location of Billings Montana. The next section of the book adheres closely to the standard RPG process of character creation.  Here we discover that game uses six ability scores which be familiar to anyone that has played an RPG. Here they are named Strength, Dexterity, Fortitude, Book Smarts, Street Smarts, and Charm.  Players can chose from human, bigfoot, unicorn, or raptor as their 'type' (race) each with their own unique advantages and ability modifiers.  There are 5 classes (called 'trots') to chose from: The Bad Boy, Charmer, Sneak, True Buckaroo, and Wizard.  These mirror traditional fighter, bard, rogue, cleric, and wizard classes, but with some significant differences.  There are 3 categories of saves, attack bonuses are separate for melee and ranged combat, and each class has its own defense score in place of armor class.   Next each character get some "unique ways" which are similar to perks, and then character creation is rounded out with equipment.

The bulk of the book (114 pages) is taken up with descriptions of "Cool Moves" which are effectively spells or spell like abilities.  Every class has their own list of cool moves and uses the same table for determining how many cool moves of each level they have available per day.  

There is a brief section on experience outlining xp for personal and group actions. No specific xp rewards are mentioned beyond those for defeating monsters, only general suggestions of an xp reward for solving a puzzle or completing a quest.  Dr. Tingle suggestion personal xp rewards for good roleplaying and achieving character objectives.

The following chapter details the rules of combat.  The rules are simple and abstract.  This section also covers Void Madness which serves the same purpose as Insanity from Call of Cthulhu.

There is one page discussing treasure followed 25 pages of magic items; some fairly standard, others unique to the Tingleverse.   

Lastly, there is a sampling of 20 monsters from the Tingleverse. As previously mentioned, each of these are illustrated and are fully statted and described including xp value.

Full disclosure; I haven't read The Tingleverse cover to cover, but I feel safe in making a preliminary review based on what i have read and seen in the book. It's clear that Dr. Tingle is amazingly creative and funny. Even where he derives his content directly primary sources he puts his own 'tingle' on it.  For example, the traditional Magic-User spell 'grease' is now called 'Lube'. Magic missile is 'Magical Balls'.  None of the mechanics are revolutionary but that's OK.  The game sits clearly within the OSR /traditional RPG space without copying a ruleset and placing a gameworld on top of it.  Strip away the setting and you still have a competent set of rules with some innovation ideas that you can mine for you own games

There are serious weaknesses with this product however, which is unfortunate.  The layout sets RPG rulebook design back 45 years.  It is somehow actually worse that the original D&D books from Gygax in 1974.  There are no graphic design elements.  The tables are pure text and are often split over two pages.  The book looks like it was typed up in a Word doc and sent to the press without editing of any type.  There is blank space all over the place just begging for artwork.  The index for the Cool Moves comes AFTER all of the moves are described! (even Gygax put the list before the descriptions).  These complaints may seem a bit nit-picky for a self-published title but this is not Dr. Tingle's first book, it is only available in print, and is priced at $19.95  He may not have published an RPG before, but its clear that he has read other RPG books and should have a basic understanding and respect for the importance of layout and design.  The layout is so poor that it interferes with its usefulness.  In order to run a game of Tingleverse I would have to create copies of important tables for my own use.  I wouldn't even be able to photocopy them because they are on two different pages and difficult to read.  It's unfortunate that the book was published this way, though if it is in fact print on demand one can only hope that Dr. Tingle gets some feedback and chooses to work with a professional graphic designer that can quickly address these issues so that future purchasers get a better quality product.

My second major complaint is what is missing from the book.  There is no introductory adventure. No tips on running a campaign.  The only info the TM (Tingle Master) has to go on is the eight pages of background material at the start of the book and the implied setting described in the rest of the rules.  This would be fine if the book was billed as a Players Handbook, but then why include the section on Monsters?  Apparently Dr. Tingle is working on an expanded Monster Guide, which is needed, but without further setting materials I find it difficult to run a game in this setting.  It's possible that details on the setting are found in Dr' Tingle's other writing, but if this is so it would have been nice if he had suggest a couple of titles to read. (seriously, which would be more informative: The Complete Guide to the Void or Bigfoot Pirates Haunt my Balls?)  To my mind this is not an all-in-one rulebook and the marketing needed to be clear on that.

Despite the flaws, I still recommend the game for those looking for something different. The game does need more info on the setting and explanation for the TM as well as an improved layout. However, the implied setting of the Tingleverse is amazingly creative, and the differences that these rules offer are worthy of examination and potential use in your own OSR campaign.  The magic items, monsters, and spells also offer some new creative material to spice up your game. Love is real. Resist the Void. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

To each their own

The things that get written in the OSR/RPG community never cease to amaze me.  I shouldn't be surprised at my age, having been around online communities and gaming for 15 years, but it still does.  It seems to me that most OSR bloggers are GMs, and experienced GMs at that.  In general they have a lot more experience at running a game than I do, so it's always worth my while to listen to what others have to say and learn from their experience.  That said, don't EVER tell me how to run my game.

If you don't like boxed text in your modules, fine, don't use it.  Don't buy the products. You want to point out that a product has boxed text, and lacks simple concise descriptions, fine.  But don't tell me that I shouldn't be using it.  You want to let publishers know that you won't buy a product that has boxed text, fine.  But don't pretend to speak for everyone.  It's some text.  In a box.  For a game.  That's supposed to be fun. Lighten up.

On the other hand, if you don't like minimally detailed, seemingly random hexcrawls, don't use 'em!  You may think it's a crappy idea, and you are entitled to your opinion.  But that same product may be exactly what someone else wants for their campaign.  And if they do, that doesn't make them a bad GM, it just means you have different tastes and different opinions.

The great thing about the OSR is that we as GMs and players have the power to run games how we want to run them, and play in the types of games we want to play in.  There is room for ever variety and permutation under the sun.  As writers, artists, and publishers we can make the games and supplements that we want to make.  What actually gets used is up to the consumer.  It's a beautiful thing and should be encouraged, not beaten like a dog through the streets of the OSR blogosphere because a product didn't conform to YOUR standards.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Return to the SKLD: Who needs classes?

Two years ago I whipped up a 'lite' version of D&D which I called SKLD! (or Skald) which stands for Search, Kill, Loot, Drink! I've play tested it couple of times but haven't had the opportunity to use it in a regular game. I've been thinking of trying to make some improvements on it it and revise it, so I've decided to write a few blog posts examining certain key features.If you'd like to download a copy you can get a copy from google docs or mediafire

One of my main inspirations for these rules was Searchers of the Unknown.  SotU uses classless system.  In the basic original game, everyone is a human adventurer.  All the differences between characters are determined by their equipment.  On the surface is seems overly simplistic, but the more I thought about it, I found that it had a certain charm.  To me, it's the perfect way to achieve the OSR Murderhobo vibe.  Everyone is just a dude, nothing special at all.  The characters develop based on their actions and the equipment they collect. Certainly there are limitations to this sort of system, namely in the magic department, but there are fairly simple ways to work around this.  

For SKLD, I decided that there should be different races available to the players, and that the characters should have have the 6 standard ability scores (SotU does not use any ability scores, everyone is assumed to be totally average). Ability scores seem too iconic to me, as do the the standard demi-human races, so I had to keep those in SKLD. The one mistake that I may have made is not making the demi-humans significantly different from the humans.  I have given them the standard racial special abilities, and some ability score modifiers, but I may need to do some more with them.  I used the standard B/X ability score modifiers, which range from a -3 to a +3, but I'm thinking of changing this to -2 to +2 system (thanks to Courtney from Hack & Slash). 

One of the important aspects of SotU is that the Armor Class is more important than ever.  AC directly affects movement rate and initiative. In SKLD, I've expanded this concept so that AC also affects a character's chances of pulling off special maneuvers, or using magic.  In this way I feel that AC really lives up to the term armor CLASS, and is not just a physical defense rating.  In effect, the Armor Classes are the character classes in SotU and SKLD. 

Next time, I'm going to talk about a magic system without magic-users.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Report from the Front: Cold Wars

I really had a blast at HMGS Cold Wars this past Saturday.  It's been either 15 or 20 years since I had been to one of these events.  A lot is the same, and a lot has changed.  While a lot of gaming conventions have really diversified and become more mainstream because of the rise of "geek culture", Cold Wars (and I am assuming all historical miniatures gaming conventions) remains firmly rooted in grognardville. It really looked like a gathering of Gary Gygax clones at times.  However, I saw a lot of younger faces a newer games too.  It was a great mix of old a new blood.

If you've never been to a convention like this, there are generally 3 types of games going on: Scenarios, demonstrations and tournaments.  The scenario games are designed for people that are familiar with the game system being used to show up and play.  The game master usually provides the terrain and miniatures.  In general these games are large, multi-player events with elaborate terrain.  The demonstration games are very similar, except that they are designed for players that have not played the system before.  Very often they allow people to just walk up and play, and are generally shorter in duration.  The last type are the tournaments, where groups of player gather to compete against one another.  I think that most Warhammer and WarmaHordes players are familiar with this sort of game.  There's usually a good mix of all 3 types of games at these conventions.

The other main attraction is the dealer room and swap meet.  These are a great way to pick up some hard to find rules and miniatures, and to get an up close look at products before you buy them.  The swap meet also offers a chance to get some really good deals.

So whats the same?  15mm Ancients, American Civil War and Napoleonics are still very popular with the older crowd. I don't have much experience with  ACW and Napoleonics, so I'm not sure which rules were being used, but I saw DBA, DBM, Field of Glory, Warhammer, and Warrior being used for ancients and medievals. There were tons of amazing scenario games using less popular and rulesets, timeperiods and scales. I spent most of the day just wandering around and looking at what was going on.

What's new? Well new to me at least.  Lot's of WWII gaming.  Bolt Action and Flames of War were probably the 2 biggest games at the convention.  The 25' long table for the Pegasus Bridge Bolt Action scenario was the true definition of Epic.

The other big game this year was SAGA, the 28mm Dark Age skirmish game.  I haven't tried this one yet, but it really interests me.  Armies range in size of between 16 and 70 figures roughly, and there lots of high quality miniatures available, some in plastic making it a very affordable game, even though the books are a little pricey.

The other major new theme I  noticed was the broad acceptance of Sci-Fi and Fantasy games.  I saw Star Wars X-Wing miniatures and Battletech being played along with 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Fanticide, Malifaux and many others.

On a person note, I was able to pick up some bargains.  I got the tanks and artillery to complete my Bolt Action Desert Rats army. I swore I wasn't going to pick up any more fantasy, but I found a great deal on some orc boar riders and 2 shamen.  I resisted the $30 chimera for my Imperial Guard, but ended up taking home a box of Schaeffer's Last Chancers because I love the figures and they were a bargain.  I didn't get any of the DBA armies I was looking for, mostly because there were not any dealers there that had quality 15mm medievals.  It seems that in the internet age, many of the major European based companies are not coming to the US conventions.  On there other hand there were vast amounts of 28mm figs available for that same timeperiod, mostly because of the popularity of SAGA.

This convention has really fired my interest in the hobby again, so I'll be writing more about wargaming and miniatures in the future.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Miniatures and the Airbrush

More and more of my free time is being devoted to miniature wargaming.  I've had some great online D&D sessions in recent months, but I really miss running games and I have yet to find a game that really hits my sweet spot as a player.  So I've started working on miniatures again.  I've have several projects going on right now and I think it will take several months to complete them all.

The first major project is a "Desert Rats" army for Bolt Action.  I'm still int he process of assembling the 30 some infantry models, and I have yet to purchase any tanks or other vehicles.  I'm hoping to find some bargains at the Cold Wars convention next weekend.  While I'm there I'm thinking of picking up a few 15mm DBA armies to match up against my Vikings.  I'm thinking Anglo-Saxons or Normans, though Eastern Woodland Indians might be a neat opponent too.

For 40k I've still got some Space Wolves to work on.  I have 2 Rhinos that need to be finished, but since I can't see using them that often I'm not very motivated with those.  The next models I'll probably work on there are the 5 Thunderwolf Cavalry I have.  Then I'll start touching up and converting some of the older models I have.  The only other Space Wolf model I really need is a Njal Stormcaller.

All of my Imperial Guard is painted, but I do need to finish the bases on the infantry.  I've been thinking about adding some of the Wargames Factory Shock Troops for Elites and Heavy Weapons, but as my IG were originally planned as an Ally detachment, I'm not really pressed about building up that army.

I've got a large Orc army for Warhammer Fantasy that is now completely base coated, ie green. That's probably the largest project I have sitting around.  It's over 150 figures.  My other WFB army is still waiting for miniatures to arrive.  I got a small group of Chaos Warriors, but I've been waiting a years for a certain Kickstarter to deliver  with the bulk of the force.  Not that I'd have time to paint them anytime soon.

My Flying Monkey army for Fanticide is now based and primed.  The real pain in the neck starts this week as I have to attach all of the wings to the monkeys.  I have a feeling that these things are going to be falling off all of the time.

And if all of that wasn't enough, I still have ALL of the Reaper Miniatures KickStarter to paint up.  To get all of this painted, I decided it was time to invest in an airbrush.  I'm still getting the hang of it, but I'm really liking it.  Here's a pick of my first project with the new rig.

It's a little hard to see here, but I'm really excited about how easy it is to create shadows and highlights with the airbrush.  I'm not expecting this to be a masterpiece, but I want this to turn out well so I can feel proud about displaying it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bolt Action!

So while I've been playing some D&D over Google Hangouts over the last few months, I had pretty much packed in my miniatures.  I stopped by a local hobby shop hoping to track down some DBA gamers and instead ran smack dab into Bolt Action.

If you aren't familiar with it, Bolt Action is a Skirmish/platoon level wargame set in WWII, designed for 28mm figures.  The game was written by Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestley, and published by Warlord Games and Osprey Publishing. As you might have guessed based on the authors and scale, this is 40k for WWII.  Thankfully there are some great rules innovations.  Instead of players taking turns moving and firing all of their units, players draw dice from a bag to see which player gets to activate a unit next.  There's a mechanic for suppressing fire.  Close combat is rare, but decisive.  It seems to be a great set of rules that makes for a tactically interesting game.

From a modelling standpoint, there are plenty of great miniatures out there.  While 28mm is the suggested scale, as that is what Warlord Games is selling, it would be very easy and economical to use 1/72 scale figures and tanks.  The armies aren't that large generally, so the cost should be prohibitive.  A typical army consists of 30-50 infantry plus leaders, an artillery piece, and armored car or recon vehicle, a tank, and possibly some transport vehicles. Standard 1000 point armies are available for $120. If you want to jump in feet first, they have a whole Pegasus Bridge set for $280.

For an old 40K fan that loves history, is working on a budget, and demands a solid ruleset, Bolt Action is not to be missed.  I'm hoping to get some games in at Cold Wars next month.