Using a wiki to manage your campaign video

I’ve been experimenting with Obsidian Portal for managing an PbF game and really like the site although I do find it a lot more work than a notebook for my face-to-face games. This seminar is a good introduction explanation of how and why you might want to use a wiki though and I thought I’d pass it along. It’s from this year’s GenCon.

Wiki! The Key to Managing Your Campaign – GenCon 2011 from Obsidian Portal on Vimeo.

My oldest son has begun making his own RPG

He and his friend were busy today designing their own RPG – it involves defeating the denizens of 15 evil temples. They’ve been borrowing ideas from the original Red Box D&D set, and taking inspiration from the 4th edition D&D Monster Manual, but the game appears to be a pretty original design. It’s fun to watch them working out both the story and the rules. Perhaps the most interesting observation I’ve made is that they’re more concerned with how the map looks (they’re using one of my Paizo flip maps to draw it) and the appearance of the character sheet than anything else. My son is hard at work creating a character sheet on the PC while his friend is drawing the map.

All of this leads me to wonder if it’s time to try and organize a formal “RPG session” with them with me running some sort of scenario for them. While this might seem like a “no brainer” I’m cautious because they’re both very involved in their own creative process with their project and adding an adult to the whole operation, and especially someone else’s ruleset, may stifle that creativity. So for now I watch and contemplate the future.

Review – Trail of Cthulhu

Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing a number of supplements and adventures for the Trail of Cthulhu RPG, and it finally dawned on me that I have never gotten around to writing a review of the actual game. So rather than continuing to put the metaphorical cart before the horse, I’ve sat down and written a full review of Trail of Cthulhu (ToC).

Trail of Cthulhu is a game written by Kenneth Hite, and published by Pelgrane Press. It uses Robin D. Laws’ GUMSHOE system for its underlying engine (i.e., the mechanics the game is built upon), which had previously been used in Pelgrane Press’s Fear Itself and The Esoterrorists RPGs. The GUMSHOE system is specifically designed to create stories focusing on investigative mysteries and thus is perfectly suited for exploring the setting based upon the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (HPL) and his emulators. ToC retails for $39.95 for the hard cover version and $19.95 for the PDF version. I am reviewing the hard cover book.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos…

The Cthulhu Mythos milieu focuses on mankind’s interactions – whether they be ordinary citizens, dark sorcerers, or insane cultists – with primordial alien races, dark gods, and other ancient beings that we were not meant to know. As such it’s generally a very dark and grim setting, where insanity, death, or worse await those who delve too far into the details of the Mythos. The basic idea both in HPL’s writings and in the game itself is ignorance is bliss and knowing too much can shatter a person’s mind. As such, the setting is one where PCs’ lives can be very short indeed, especially if one sticks to the tone established in the majority of Lovecraft’s stories (Robert Howard’s stories tend to have more of a pulp-tone, in which investigators fight the horrors using weapons).

A bit of nomenclature: Keeping true to its Call of Cthulhu roots, player characters (PCs) are known as Investigators in the game and the Gamemaster (GM) is known as “The Keeper.” I’ll be using these terms extensively in the review below.

Like most of my reviews, I will start with how the publisher describes the product:

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning standalone GUMSHOE system game under license to Chaosium, set in the 1930s, now in its third print run, and produced in five languages. It supports both Pulp (for Indiana Jones, Robert E. Howard, thrilling locations sorts of games) and Purist styles of play (for intellectual horror and cosmic dread). HP Lovecraft’s work combined both, sometimes in the same story.

It includes a new take on the creatures, cults and gods of the Lovecraft’s literature, and addresses their use in gaming. It adds new player backgrounds, and bulk out the GUMSHOE system to give intensive support for sanity, incorporating into the rule set the PCs desire to explore at the risk of going mad.

Trail of Cthulhu won two Ennie awards for Best Rules and Best Writing, as well as receiving an honourable mention for Product of the Year.

The Physical Product

This book is beautiful looking, with a tight binding and an attractive, very evocative, color cover. Its 248 pages are printed on high quality paper with a gray-scale interior, although page headers, dividers, frames, and markers are done is a brassy-brown tone which adds a nice antique effect that fits the material well.

The book’s layout is done in a narrow, three-column form which looks attractive but tends to make the pages feel really dense. It also creates some rather cramped lines at times, something that’s exacerbated by a few editing/layout gaffs that lead to spots where words have no real space between them (this is particularly problematic with the italics) or where bullet points aren’t indented causing them to blend into the text above and below the list. This is evident particularly in the tables and sidebars. Similarly, while the book’s editing is good, it could have used another couple passes of a careful proofreader since there are missing words and other typos still evident. All of these criticisms are minor points though since they are hardly common nor problematic, and taken as a whole, the book is very well edited and laid out.

Continue reading

Bi-annual Podcast Round-up: Summer 2011

The first of this year’s round-up is a few months late thanks to a heavy workload in the spring and then some blogging burnout. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept up with my podcast feeds and so it’s time to look through them and kick the ones I’m not enjoying so much to the curb. What follows are my mini-reviews of the RPG podcasts I’m currently subscribed to and whether they will stay as part of my regular feed. This time around I’ve also included a few of the non-RPG related podcasts that I’m a big fan of since I think they deserve some attention as well – I’ve listed them under the “New since last time” heading although for most of them I’ve been subscribed for years. For the shows new to my list, I gave them at least 3-4 episodes (in some cases even more) before I kick them out of the queue.

New since last time

  • Actual People, Actual Play – Hands down my favorite RPG podcast at the moment. They focus on indie RPGs and it’s done as a round-table discussion about the game they’ve been playing with specific references to things that happened in the session. They’ve covered a bunch of great games including the Dresden Files RPG, Fiasco, Dirty Secrets, and A Penny for My Thoughts. Great stuff, excellent audio quality, perfect length.
    • Verdict:  Stay subscribed!
  • STEAM Geeks – the people at the League of STEAM put out a very interesting steampunk podcast. It’s largely focused on LARP and cosplay but it’s interesting nonetheless.
    • Verdict:  Stays in my queue.
  • Walking Eye Podcast – typically good to very good discussion of indie RPGs. They sometimes come across a little evangelical about indie RPGs but that’s not too often. I generally skip the AP episodes since I find almost all AP podcasts dull or just plain annoying to listen to.
    • Verdict:  Stays in my d/l list.
  • The Jennisodes – another good podcast which focuses on interviews with indie game designers. Overall I really like the show and think the host (i.e., Jenn) continues to get better at interviewing guests with each episode. About the only bit I don’t like is the way she says “Yayyyy!” but that’s just me. ‘op
    • Verdict: Staying in my feed.
  • 3.5 Private Sanctuary – I only download the “Know Direction” episodes which focus on the Pathfinder RPG. While I don’t actually play the PFRPG (or even really like it), I do like all of Paizo’s  Golarion material and am a fan of their APs, so I find the show very useful for hearing what’s going on with the product line. I tend to skip over the GM advice episodes too since I don’t find them particularly interesting or good. The info on Paizo and PF is excellent and they just had recordings from all of the sessions at PaizoCon 2011 which were excellent (especially “Lisa’s Story Hour” which was great).
    • Verdict: Stay subscribed.
  • Troll in the Corner – supposedly an “old-school” RPG podcast but old-school largely means Palladium Fantasy to them and that’s not something I’m really interested in.
    • Verdict: Unsubscribed after about 10 episodes.
  • Flagons & Dragons – largely focuses on the Pathfinder RPG (and beer), but they have talked about other RPGs as well. I find it moderately interesting but am not sure it’s worth keeping in my feed list long term.
    • Verdict: Stay subscribed, for now.
  • This American Life – Non-RPG podcast. I’m a very long-time listener and financial supporter of TAL. It’s one of my “cannot miss” shows and would highly recommend it to anyone.
    • Verdict: Stay subscribed forever.
  • The Memory Palace – Non-RPG podcast that’s released at irregular intervals. Each is a story about an obscure, fascinating historical event. It, IMO, is awesome.
    • Verdict:  Stay subscribed.
  • Geek Dad Podcast  – Focused on all kinds of geek-related topics (games, comics, movies, video gaming, conventions, projects, etc). It’s more about being a dad and a geek, than a “how to raise a geek kid” guide. I really like the podcast although the audio quality is somewhat iffy at times thanks to computer-related recording issues. Well worth it if you’re a dad or just want to hear about stuff from a ~35+ year old perspective.

Podcasts already in my rotation

  • Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast – Talks about Pathfinder products and news, primarily focusing on adventures and AP. Very mechanically focused and very long (most episodes are 2+ hours). I’ll be honest, I only really listen to the first section and sometimes the interview with an author of interest because I find the show too long, their analysis of the mechanics and encounters incredibly dry, and their use of goofy internet nicknames rather than their real names dumb. They also don’t seem to understand how to properly compress an MP3 because the file sizes are usually ridiculously large.
    • Verdict:  Unsubscribed.
  • Atomic Array – Still has the same very high production values, very saccharine interviews, and irregular release schedule. However, it’s still interesting and is something I listen to while mowing the lawn.
    • Verdict: Still subscribed.
  • 4 Geeks, 4E – pretty much exclusively 4E D&D content by fans of the system, although they’re not afraid to criticize parts they don’t like or decisions by WotC. It has a very irregular release schedule and hasn’t seen a new episode in more than a month. The quality is so-so, largely because it’s all done over Skype and that’s always an iffy method. I generally like listening to the show, although I’m not much of a 4E fan (it and I parted ways permanently in 2010).
    • Verdict: Stay subscribed for now; not sure if it’s pod faded or not.
  • The Dungeon Master’s Round Table – similar hosts as the 4G4E show and there’s a lot of overlap between the shows in terms of topics, quality, and viewpoints. While they do occasionally talk about other RPGs, the main focus is on 4E. This audio quality of the show tends to be even more uneven than the 4E4G podcast because people drop in and out due to internet issues and thus the whole thing is pretty unpolished. It’s still interesting though and at the moment I’m going to keep it in my feed.
    • Verdict: Stay subscribed
  • The Tome Show – Focuses exclusively on 4E D&D and there definitely is a bit of fanboi tone to the show (they tend to review everything very positively and even when they criticize material it tends to be quickly glossed over), but it’s generally interesting and does provide me with a regular update on what’s going on with WotC.
    • Verdict – Stay subbed for now but I’m not sure for how much longer.
  • Canon Puncture– Irregular releases but still good. The focus is on indie and story-oriented RPGs. I really like the Game Advocates topics.
    • Verdict:  Staying subscribed.
  • Voice of the Revolution – It has a new co-host in Rich Rodgers (from Canon Puncture). I continue to really like the show and look forward to episodes.
    • Verdict:  Stay subscribed.
  • All Games Considered –  continues to be a good source of RPG news and interviews which I enjoy listening to while working. However, the more I listen to it, the more I realize that they often pretend to know a lot more about topics (game mechanics, history of the industry, product lines) than they really do and there’s a lot of minor misinformation passed along in the show, especially about game systems they’re not familiar with. Overall though it’s still a solid show and well worth listening to.
    • Verdict: Remain subscribed.
  • Pulp Gamer OOC– I still really like the show, but as I’ve mentioned in previous round-ups, the large # of hosts makes it hard to follow at times.
    • Stay subscribed.
  • Ninja vs. Pirate– Continues to have very irregular drops but the interviews are always excellent.
    • Verdict:  Stay subscribed.
  • Narrative Control –  A great show but it’s continued releasing shows on an irregular schedule. I still highly recommend it.
    • Verdict:  Definitely staying subscribed
  • That’s how we roll – Nothing since my last round-up so I think it’s safe to say it’s gone.
    • Verdict:  Unsubscribe.
  • 2D6 in a Random Direction – I love the show; I just wish they’d release episodes regularly!
    • Verdict:  It stays.
  • The Game’s the thing – Back from hiatus and still an interesting show. They tend to focus (and go hardcore fanboi) about Savage Worlds, but they also cover other games and it’s worth keeping around for listening to while I work.
    • Verdict:  I’ll be staying subscribed for the time being..

New to my Feed

  • Roleplaying Public Radio (RPPR) – Suggested by a reader so I’m giving it a try.
  • Yog Sothhoth Cthulhu Podcast – I’m giving it a try again, since I’m genuinely interested in the content. I gave up a while ago on the podcast though because I couldn’t follow the hosts due to their accents.
  • RPG Crosstalk  – I’m using it to figure out if there are any other podcasts out there worth listening to.

Whew! That’s it for this round-up.  My podcast list has shrunk somewhat since last time but not by much.  Any good podcasts I’m missing?  Any I’m subscribing to that you think I’m nuts to listen to?  Let me hear what you think.