Monday, February 20, 2017

Talking OSR - Dungeon Crawl Classics pt.1

              It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that has read my blog before that I am a massive fanboy. Like many within our shared hobbies, I cannot quite contain myself when the object of my interest (read: unadulterated obsession) can become the topic of conversation. Allow that to be a caveat for all that follows. I am positively obsessed with the Old-School Renaissance (OSR). While not old enough myself to have gotten into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition (let alone Holmes or Moldvay Basic), I was fortunate enough to begin my role-playing career during the days of AD&D 2nd Edition, which was glorious. Throughout the last six years or so, I have become somewhat of a collector of the box sets and books which make up the early days of fantasy role-playing, and it is through this strong collector’s impulse that I first came across the OSR. So, allow me to digress as I talk about my absolute favorite offering of OSR goodness: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC).
                At face value, DCC appears to be another D&D Basic retro-clone; it is so much more than that. While DCC employs race-as-class and the same class options as basic, the similarities stop there. DCC, while undeniably OSR, is not a retro-clone, but rather a re-envisioning of Basic. That is what makes Joseph Goodman’s (A.K.A. The Dark Master) hard work so impressive. The feel is undeniably old-school. When I sit at the table to play DCC I have the same sense of wonder that I had when I started playing 2nd Edition back in ’98. To me, this ability to elicit this feeling is what really makes the OSR what it is. So what is Dungeon Crawl Classics doing to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack?


                The first thing that really makes Dungeon Crawl Classics stand out is the point of inspiration from which The Dark Master came when he first scribed the illustrious tome which has now seen its fourth print run. While Basic Set (as discussed above) is something that had an influence on the game, The Dark Master has made it no secret that he consulted that most sacred of lists (Appendix N) directly when crafting DCC. He went through and read the works that inspired Gary Gygax and thought about that influence and how it would affect his own game. I have read a few blogs that seem to be dismissive of the Appendix N, but I whole-heartedly disagree with those

sentiments. It seems reasonable that to understand a thing, one must understand its foundations. To this end, Goodman was incredibly successful. The very fabric of the game is dripping with influence from the texts that comprise the Appendix N, and this explains DCC’s unique feel.
                In DCC the setting is wild, the monsters are unfamiliar, and the magic is potent and terrifying. The distinction between science fiction and fantasy is blurred almost into non-existence, and this makes for a supremely interesting game world. Combat is quick and explosive (often literally), and the dungeon crawl has had new life breathed into its (quite frankly) withering remains. The game encourages a different, higher level of imagination and immersion, and it does so in a way that feels different from other table-top RPGs. Ultimately, it is a game that must be played to be understood.

Rulings, Not Rules

                Another thing I have come to love about the OSR which DCC epitomizes is the concept of stressing a judge’s rulings over a set of rules. In a lot of modern gaming circles this idea seems more controversial than I think I should be. It seems to me that it is a conceit of the medium that the Game Master’s word should be treated as law, for the GM is the individual that is giving up the time to help create a consistent world for the players to game. Since the advent of the 3rd edition and its bastard offspring (Pathfinder) players have become more committed to the idea that if it is in a splat book, it should be honored in the game. This, to me, is absurd for several reasons which I will save for another post, but Dungeon Crawl Classics successfully avoids this trap by containing the ruleset to one enormous volume. No splat books. That’s right people: none.
This leaves a certain amount of ambiguity that necessitates a Game Master’s discretion to adjudicate. If you are tired of your players insisting on building multi-classed half-vampire/half-centaur shield-warden/space-necromancers, then this is the game for you. DCC is a system that truly understands that flavor does not need to be codified to be implemented. Think about it for a moment: is the barbarian truly as necessary class, or is a fighter flavored a different way sufficient? This is not to say I have a problem with the barbarian as a class, by the way; just ask anyone I’ve ever gamed with.
Dungeon Crawl Classics has no skills, no feats, and no unnecessary rules. It is bare-bones in a way that truly enables a Game Master to craft the kind of game s/he really wants to run, while still having enough interesting features and rules to keep game play from feeling stale and boring. DCC is the Aristotelian Golden Mean of table-top gaming.

Strong on his mountain (err… at his desk),


Thursday, March 17, 2016

“I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!” - Fleshing Out Your NPCs


              So you’ve created your campaign world and your players are itching to get down to business. Things looks like they’re going well, until it hits you that the area you’re PCs are starting out in is two-dimensional. Don’t fret, we’ve all been there. The whole “you find yourself in the local tavern and uncover rumors about location or event x” is one of the most common ways to start a game, but is it always the best? There comes a point where this trope is far too passé, and players will not feel much investment in the setting. Worse yet, NPCs in these sorts of scenarios are all too often little more than media through which exposition can be given to the PCs. In a video game, this is totally fine, but for table-top roleplaying, this will leave your setting feeling bland and unoriginal.
             The only way to get past this is to develop your NPCs as three-dimensional characters. This seems like it would be a lot of work, but as the GM you can approximate who your player characters will encounter in the early days of their adventuring lives. In this article, I intend to help you flesh out your NPCs a little more. This is a process that seems like it will always take a lot of time, but with the steps I am going to outline below, I am confident that you will be able to flesh out a good percentage of any given town before your game even starts.
              I know what you may be thinking: “why even do this, aren’t my players just going to turn into murder-hobos anyway?” Sure, that is always a possibility, but by fleshing out your NPCs, you are more likely to develop a setting the characters can feel more enveloped by. If the bartender at the local tavern has an actual personality, players are more likely to interact with him/her when they come to town. Ultimately, there is one goal every GM should work to achieve: make the local area as ripe for continuous adventure as is possible. This is most easily attained if the players feel a desire to interact with the local inhabitants. Plus, if you have your NPCs well fleshed out, it will not be so harrowing for you when you players inevitably go off the tracks. The easiest way to keep track of all of this is to keep the information below for each NPC on a notecard or document of some kind that you can reference when you need.

Who’s who?

               The first place to start when detailing your NPCs is to establish who is who within the locale in question. What shops and services does the area have? What sort of government presence is there? Are their barracks in/nearby the town? What is the approximate population? As I have discussed earlier in my article about in-game economy, the size of the population is going to have a dramatic effect on what the economy is like and what services are offered. A relatively small farming village may not even have an inn due to the infrequency of visitors. Once you have figured out exactly what sort of locals would be in the area, it is easier to narrow down who the player characters will interact with. Remember, in the early days of your campaign, only flesh out what is necessary, and spend time when your players are adventuring to work on the other NPCs. This is also the proper time to name those NPCs. For example “Brak Dindale – bar-keep”.

Appearance and Personality

                Since NPCs are people, they should possess personality traits and a basic appearance. This doesn’t need to be too detailed, but it should be there. Details like hair and eye color, complexion, build, and personal ticks do a lot to make your players view NPCs as people worth interacting with. All of this should be something you can sum up in one to two sentences. For example “Brak Dindale is a short, round man of ruddy complexion with brown hair and grey eyes. The local bartender, Brak is eager to hear news of the outside world, and sports a boisterous and jovial full-body laugh.” As you can see, in relatively few words, you have given your NPC a lot of personality and relatability beyond “Brak is the local bar-keep.” Also, by throwing in a detail such as “Brak is eager to hear news of the outside world…” gives the NPC an intrinsic motivation to want to interact with your player characters.


                 Relationships are one of the most defining characteristics of personhood; we all have them. While it would be downright ludicrous to suggest you flesh out how every member of the community your players are in know each other, establishing two to four relationships for each NPC can do a lot to help you build a narrative. If nothing else, this will help you establish how willing different NPCs are to help the party when they are on a mission from any given NPC. Just like an NPC’s appearance and personality, these do not need to be long statements, but rather one sentence per relationship to flesh out how NPCs will react with one another. This will go a really long way to painting the picture of a real locale; one in which players can really lose themselves. 

By way of example, let’s turn back to Brak the barkeep. His relationship statements may look like this: “Brak views Eileen (the barmaid) as a surrogate daughter, and will go to great lengths to ensure her well-being. Brak and Anders (the local captain of the guard) have been friends since childhood, and are fiercely loyal to one another. Brak feels exploited by the taxes levied by the Duke of Arnegrem, and would support the duke’s deposition if push came to shove.” In three sentences, we have a good understanding of Brak’s place in the world.

              Desires are, as far as I’m concerned, an inherent part of consciousness. We all want something, or are driven by some belief or cause. If you want your NPCs to seem real to your player’s, they, too, will need motivations. These can be as broad as their religious beliefs or as specific as short-term career goals. Either way, these motivations will help you figure out the various factions in your locale, for there are inevitably factions. Between motivations and relationships, you can really give yourself an idea of who is allied with whom and why. This can also be interesting if an NPC’s relationships are at odds with his/her motivations. Again, and NPC should have between two and four motivations which can be summed up in a single sentence. Again, let’s use Brak as an example: “Brak dreams of holding the position of alderman on the city council. Brak would like to increase the frequency of travelers to the town in order to bolster his business. Brak is a devoted follower of St. Cuthbert and regularly tithes to the local temple.” In about the space of a paragraph, we now know a lot about Brak Dindale, and this will aid in making him a more relatable character for the PCs. Knowing these different facets of his personality, the GM can make informed and consistent decisions in regard to Brak’s interactions with both the player and non-player characters.

Strong on his mountain (er…at his desk),

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Monitor Sphere - Delving into Deadpool

I didn’t think it would happen, I finally saw Deadpool, and only a week after it came out, which was a suprise to me because when I first heard talk about the Regeneratin’ Degenerate getting his own film I thought that I would probably Redbox it, or wait till it was able to be streamed, because I had zero intention of seeing this movie in theaters.

It is nothing against Wade Wilson, what I’ve read of Deadpool’s exploits I have actually enjoyed. Now, I have never really gone out of my way to pick up any of his stuff, but my interest was peaked when in Deadpool Team-Up he had an adventure with Captain Britain, and they had their nationalities switched. I also grabbed a whole bunch of the Brian Posehn issues because I enjoy that man’s comedy and the Declan Shalvey art in issues 15-19 was fantastic. It isn’t the comic’s fault.

It is also nothing against Ryan Reynolds, I like that man as an actor and have a good collection of movies in which he stars. I even told people I thought Green Lantern would be good because I had faith that he would make it work. Green Lantern is usually one of my go to answers when someone says “Oh you like Comic Books, who is your favorite superhero?” So I had high hopes for a movie that stared one of my favorite actors playing one of my favorite characters (although I am more of a Kyle fan but that is an article for another time) against how terrible all the previews looked because I knew, somehow he would find a way to do this character justice. It isn’t Mr. Reynolds’ fault either.

My issue is that if Fox can’t even figure out one of Marvel’s greatest properties in Fantastic Four, why does a character that is solely played up for laughs most of the time, that more people know about because of how “meme-worthy” he is than have ever actually picked up a copy of a book he’s been in to increase the sales of this dying medium, why does this son of 90’s comics deserve his own movie when there are a whole bunch of more deserving films out there yet to be made?

But I’ll be damned if the marketing for Deadpool didn’t win me over, from a billboard making it look like a Valentine’s Day romance film, to getting Betty White to review the film, they left no stone unturned to make sure me, and plenty of other holdouts like me, went and saw this movie and boy did we, as the movie has shattered some box office records.

So after all that fantastic work done by the work of the marketing team, and the buzz that the movie was getting from people that I trust, I was all excited when the opportunity arose grab a sitter for my daughter and drag my long suffering lady to see Deadpool in the theater.

Just like with last week’s Sex Criminals volume 1 review, I am not going to go scene by scene and tell you what I thought about every little thing in this movie, nor is it my intention to spoil anything big in this movie for those of you who haven’t seen in yet, that is not why I am here, I am just here to give you my thoughts on things in realm of comic books, which this falls under the banner of.

There were some things in the movie I really, really liked and thought were done rather well. The opening credits were a masterpiece and was something I was surprised anyone would willingly do in a film. The stuff in the taxi cab was a lot of fun, and I was glad they came back to it later on in the movie. The Stan Lee cameo was probably one of the most special things in all of Marvel film fandom, to get that man to say those things in that location got quite the chuckle out of me and, as they always seem to do, made me sad for the day when those cameos will no longer be possible. The “Bob” moment was a nice moment, as well as, a great little middle finger to the people over a Disney. Finally, the scenes in and around Deadpool’s powers manifesting were heartwarming, funny, and at points rather sad, they really ran the gamut of emotions and did them really well.

My biggest issue with Deadpool, was that I left the theater going “Meh.” From what I had heard from other people I was expecting to have been rolling with laughter but for me a lot of the jokes fell flat, they were sophmoric and really not all that funny, a lot like a current day Adam Sandler film. I was expecting a movie that, based off of articles I’d seen online, was “the best Marvel movie ever made”, and has had “Disney scrambling to find their own R Rated hero”, but Deadpool just left me feeling luke warm. If Disney is truly worried they don’t have to worry about me, because I left that movie wanting to watch Guaridans of the Galaxy again, which for my money is better film, and is legitimately funny.

I guess, in the end, I was right, Deadpool really felt like it was made for the people who know him from memes, and the videos of people that run around conventions doing disruptive stuff dressed like The Merc With A Mouth, as well as the people who actually do said things. Deadpool wasn’t a movie that was really meant for me, and in a way I am somewhat saddened by that because I would’ve enjoyed to have seen it through the eyes of the people I was sitting close to who were laughing at every single vulgarity, and smiling their way through all of the violence.

I feel like there is more that could be said but I am not sure at what point this would turn from a basic review of a film, to a rant against Fox Marvel vs Disney Marvel, and the people who are making a big deal about parents taking their children to this film/how many kids they had at their showing of Deadpool, and I really don’t want this to turn into a crazy man standing on a soapbox.

Deadpool for me is absolutely in the part of my list of comic book films where I group all the movies I could take or leave, it was certainly better than the hot garbage that is Trank’s Fant4stic, Amazing Spider-man 2, and X-men Origins: Wolverine, but beyond that I would probably group it with the comicbook movies I won’t see again unless it is already on and I don’t feel like doing anything else.

I would like to finish this off by saying thank you for reading and that any further discussion or dialogue on the subject of this article is appreciated but please keep it civil. Also, if you wish to write for CCtD please contact the overlord atop his mountain because I am sure he is always looking for more content.


Appendix N Podcast - The Hobbit ep. 2

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Monitor Sphere: Surveying Sex Ciminals Volume 1

© Image Comics 2014
Welcome back to The Monitor Sphere the CCtD weekly look through all things involved in the world of sequential storytelling, which just so happens to be nowhere near current, week by week, and as promised in last week’s column I did one of the two possible things I said I would do and that was to take a look at Sex Criminals Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.

The story is fantastic, for those of you who haven’t read Sex Criminals yet, like I hadn’t, you really should. I am a big fan of hero comics, I have more of those in my collection than anything else, and while I would consider this story comedic there are a lot of other layers to it, including a somewhat heroic one.

It starts off right in the middle of the *ahem* “action” with our protagonists Suzie and Jon involved in the titular act. We are then treated to some backstory for our heroes. I’m not going to go into all of it, but rarely, in all my years of reading comics, have I learned so much about the characters so quickly. Almost immediately we are shown the formative years of our heroes and, in a neat turn of events, how the protagonists discovered their hidden ability to stop time upon reaching climax (something they both share). So they decide to use this power to rob banks as any normal person would do.

It is rare that you discover a comic with as much heart as Sex Criminals, and it even has some to spare. There were quite a few pages that made me stop and consider my own life as the comic dealt with thing ranging from puberty, sex, school, depression, and the working world. All that said though the best moments are probably the amazing and incomparable comedy scenes. The two that jump to the front of my mind involve defecating in an office plant, and an amazing panel reminiscent of Family Circus in which a young Jon runs through a sex shop appropriately named Cumworld.

Normally, I would be slightly critical of artwork like this in a comic, but for some reason it really works in this case. Now don’t get me wrong that isn’t to say that the artwork is bad, Chip Zdarsky is a much better artist than I could ever hope to be, it just wouldn’t work in most comics I like to read, but this is the perfect comic for it. The comedy elements are matched perfectly by the cute, funny, cartoony artwork.

All things considered Sex Criminals volume 1 is a book that I absolutely loved that had me laughing just as often as it had me sitting in quiet contemplation and, to be honest, I will probably pick up volume 2 sooner rather than later. If you haven’t read this series yet, dear reader, you really should.

Now, that was going to be the last part of my article for this week but it turns out that as I was writing news came out about DC’s Rebirth event(?), cash grab(?), reboot(?), hope to fix everything they did wrong in the post-Flashpoint Universe(!). And while I don’t really have any good ideas about what they will do I have hopes about what they could do. While I won’t go into all of that here, unless there is an overwhelming demand for it, but I will tell you one thing, I hope Rebirth brings back some of the color and the feel that made DC Comics my brand of choice for almost my entire life. I hope Rebirth gets rid of so much of the grim, gritty, “realistic”, darkness that has plagued DC in recent years and replaces it with the hope, and love that made DC what it was for years.