giovedì 9 gennaio 2014

Starting the New Year off on the right foot!

So, another year has passed... 2013 saw a single post here from yours truly, and many gaming things I was expecting to see realised didn't materialise instead. Does this mean it was a slow year, or an unproductive one? Well, quite the contrary! It was a very busy year, too busy to say the least…

I won't dwell on the details, as several are unpleasant ones. Suffice to say that I avoided an economical disaster by mere inches (scary!), but that same potential disaster has left me in a position to start 2014 with the turbo on (exciting!). What lies ahead: extensive house renovations (scary! And boring!) and lots of games (exciting again!)…

A few examples: Venetia arrived just in time to be considered a 2013 release, but it's reaching most shops only as I write - this is my new strategy game in a big box, filled with historical goodness and an average complexity, plus gorgeous graphics from Matteo AlemannoThe Battle of Five Armies production is in its final stages, so I expect this to arrive sometime around mid-year - think War of the Ring applied to the epic conclusion of The Hobbit. The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign book for The One Ring is awaiting the final green light to be sent out - with this book you get to determine what will happen to Wilderland along thirty years. And last but not least, Hobbit Tales is finally coming…

But I'll tell you all about this with a full photo report soon. So, please stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of Federico Zomero

martedì 8 gennaio 2013

A Small Hobbitish Intermission did I like The Hobbit movie? I keep asking this question to myself these days. I have no clear answer yet. My opinions on movies tend to change a lot over the course of time, so I should probably wait a bit more. Right now I can say I enjoyed very much half of it the first time I saw it (I was hoping it could become some sort of a musical with all the songs!) and was a bit bored during the entire second viewing a couple of weeks later. But I know I need to see it again, this time in regular 2D to avoid any distraction and possibly enhance immersion (the first two views were in HFR 3D, not something I really look forward to experience again soon - not that it was bad per se, but the second time around it felt... unnecessary).

But, but... let's see if I can clear my mind a bit. This can get ranty...

I am becoming more and more convinced of one thing: I fear the movie didn't really have something in it that could really capture me. The Hobbit book has been with me for more than thirty years now; my itch to see Tolkien in theaters has been scratched thoroughly by the Lotr trilogy; at 45 years of age there are some things I appreciate in a movie, like intelligent dialogue (the movie had some, mainly Bilbo, but...), a script that is well balanced (the movie seemed handled by different directors in its first and second part), I like action scenes that drive the narrative (not self-contained 'action chapters'), I like deep and direct cultural references in my fantasy (yes, I missed some Nordic-style dwarves, especially for their weapons and gear, to me it seemed out of a D&D live action game)... I like a soundtrack that helps to create a mood (not one that seems only to reinforce a 'musical brand')...

Oh well, I warned you it could become a rant! I really need to see The Hobbit once again soon. For the moment, I think that to raise my old man spirits I'll turn on the DVD reader and go see the scene when young Arthur gets knighted by Uriens, knee-deep in the water, before the walls of Cameliard - it still brings a tear to my eyes every time...

lunedì 31 dicembre 2012

The Shape of Things to Come, Part I

Well, here we are, on the brink of 2012, a busy year, an exciting year, a frightening year. Truly a year of crises! Among the many things to be worried about, luckily a few good things happened - especially as far as my game design activity is concerned.

For example, 2012 saw the return of our beloved War of the Ring strategy game, now published by Ares Games in its second edition, and the basic game was soon reinforced by its first expansion, Lords of Middle-earth, a neat box I particulary like, as I even got to design some of the plastic miniatures it contains. Then, the publishing line for The One Ring rpg saw the release of Tales of Wilderland and the Lake-town sourcebook and Loremaster's Screen, two fundamental supplements that have firmly established the foundations of the game.

But most of the things that I worked on in 2012 are going to appear in 2013 (barring delays), so let's have a look at what the future holds (at least at what I can write about!) - and let's do it using an optimistical lens!

The One Ring in 2013 will first see the release of the books I have been wanting to see since the release of the game: The Heart of the Wild and The Darkening of Mirkwood sourcebooks. Both penned by Gareth Hanrahan (with a little help from yours truly), the two titles show how the game can be used to create a saga set in Wilderland that is really worthy of the appendixes to The Lord of the Rings. The first is basically a geographical guide to Wilderland, filled with information about the places and inhabitants of the region, while the second is a historical sourcebook, detailing events great and small that will affect the same area for a span of thirty years (!).

But the beauty of the two books for me does not come from their density or completeness, but from their main writer's ingenuity: Gareth has really charmed me with his capability to weave original material with the writings of Tolkien, and he has given birth to a colourful vista of a land that may seem sparsely inhabited at first glance, but that is shaken by ancient conflicts and animated by interesting personalities - bottom line: Wilderland is not just filled with Goblins, Wargs and Spiders! :)

Back to the new War of the Ring line of games, here comes The Battle of Five Armies. Recently announced by Ares Games, this self-contained strategy game is based upon our Battles of the Third Age rules, previously released by Nexus as an expansion to WotR, but the rules have been changed and streamlined to make the game faster and to portray faithfully the epic conclusion to The Hobbit - where our Rohan and Gondor games simulated larger conflicts, The Battle of Five Armies is just that - a big battle, where individual characters and their  deeds can do much to affect the course of the game.

We had a lot of fun designing the new rules, as the characters of Bolg, Beorn, Bilbo, Bard (The Battle of Four Bs?), Gandalf, Thranduil and Dain all offered many suggestions about how to model their capabilities. Bilbo can use the Ring! Gandalf throws bolts of magic! Bolg's bodyguard is nasty! And don't forget the Eagles and giant Bats...

Last but not least, we arrive to the project me and Marco Maggi have been busy with for most of the year - a brand new strategy game that we designed from top to bottom, and that we shaped also graphically handling its art direction: Venetia! But it will be 2013 in a few hours, and I must leave the details on that for Part II.

Happy New Year to everyone!


giovedì 23 agosto 2012

The One Ring "Living Rules": Journeys revised II

Hi all! Following a fruitful discussion over at the Cubicle 7 forums for The One Ring, I revised my alternate rules for journeys. As I explained before, these modified rules are aimed to reduce the number of required rolls, at the same time preserving (or enhancing!) the mood and objective of the original mechanics.

For those that read the previous version, know that, following the suggestions of players, I made all Fatigue increases be applied immediately (and not at the end of a journey). Additionally, companions now do not necessarily see their Fatigue increase at the same pace, as they are sometimes required to make individual Travel rolls.

All in all, a good result, that preserves the goals I set for myself when I approached the variant.

One thing: the writing is rather 'terse', meaning that I didn't make any attempt at adding flavour to the rules as written - it was already difficult to make everything clear (not sure I succede, you tell me). So, I didn't specify what the challenges that target a single travelling role or all companions are meant to represent. You are of course invited to suggest what kind of trouble is represented by a challenge requiring the Guide to intervene, or the Scouts of the company, etc. Luckily, the books are filled with vivid examples...

Journeys Rules Revision II (JRR II!) - removed!

Edit for the 28th of August

Time for JRR III already! This time including ponies! This new version is the result of the discussions over at the Cubicle 7 forums, and of my own ponderations with the help of Southron chieftain Amado Angulo. All I have written above stands, so click on the link at see how it came up. 
Many thanks to everyone who gave his comments on the subject matter, here and over at the Cubicle 7 web site. I hope this is going to be the final version, at least for a little while... :)

Journey Rules Revision III
(link removed, as I am pretty happy with the new Revised rules for TOR! :)

martedì 21 agosto 2012

The One Ring "Living Rules": Preliminary Rolls

Here I am again ("So soon? What's going on?"). Does someone remember the discussion over at the Cubicle 7 forums about my 'revised journey rules'? Well, something interesting came out about unifying the mechanics that let player gain some advantages during the three main 'heroic ventures' of the game - journeys, combat and encounters.

Well, here's my first stab at simplifying those procedures, as suggested in particular by user Undeadtrout - basically, to treat the 'Planning ahead' of journeys, 'Combat advantages' and opening phase of encounters in the same way. The changes do not produce exactly the same results of the original rules (especially as far as journeys are concerned), but certainly streamline the design and are easier to remember. But see the linked .pdf to see what I mean.

Now, a disclaimer: again, this is not my attempt at 'officially' revising the rules of the game. These are just my 'house rules', devised to answer some of the criticism I see pop up here and there, or simply to answer my own gaming needs. These 'living rules' installments might eventually be taken into consideration for a future revision of the game, or just continue to exist only in your games (or mine). Use at your own risk! ;)

So, enjoy, and please let me know what you think.

lunedì 20 agosto 2012

Thinking about TOR - Moderate Difficulty (TN 14)
One of the things that strikes me as most odd when I see someone play The One Ring as the Loremaster (the GM), is how frequently the recommendations I put in the rulebook about not changing the difficulty level (Target Number) of an action are ignored. It seems coded into the procedures of many gamemasters to consider closely every occurrence requiring a die roll, to evaluate it in terms of how ‘objectively’ difficult a task should be (“this wall is very high”, “this door is very sturdy”, etc.)

Now, I understand perfectly where this line of ‘simulative’ reasoning comes from, and I am not really interested in debating the amount of power this way of playing gives to the Loremaster, as many people went that way before. What I am interested about is to weigh the pros and cons of such behaviour in terms of practical play, as it is part of the everyday business of playing The One Ring. Of course, my aim is to demonstrate that you should really just stick to TN 14 for the vast majority of times! But you are free to try and prove me wrong. ;)

To change or not to change the TN - that is the question

Greg Stolze’s ‘How to Run Roleplaying Games’ (found here) highlights some of the factors GM’s consider when deciding how challenging a task should be. The reason I find to be the less interesting is: How difficult is a task within the game setting? Unfortunately, in my experience it is also the most popular one.

Now, is it really important to consider how something is ‘difficult according to the logic of the setting’? And especially, is it so important that you feel like considering it every time someone picks up the dice? Should you really care about how ‘objectively’ difficult it must be to move that pile of rocks blocking the entrance of the cave? Maybe this might be interesting if the heroes are hard pressed by pursuers, but under less dramatic circumstances it is hardly so. So, why not go for a simple TN 14 roll?

You might ask why roll at all in those cases. Of course you have a point, but there’s a reason to, the main reason why you roll dice in the first place if you ask me - and that is to highlight the differences in competence between player-characters. If there’s heavy lifting involved, let the big guy do it; if what you need is persuasion, let the silver-tongued guy handle it. Etcetera etcetera. 

But to achieve all the above it is not necessary to change the difficulty of an action - more proficient heroes will have better chances to succeed than less proficient ones anyway, and they will be easily getting higher levels of success. Defaulting most rolls to TN 14 doesn’t mean you are making it too easy for your players. TN 14 is a ‘moderate’ challenge, meaning that you have 3 chances out of 10 to fail even rolling 3 Success dice. 

And what do you get in return for not minding about how ‘objectively difficult’ is a task? Faster gameplay. If 90% of the times a roll will be vs TN 14, everyone at the table will quickly develop the ability to ‘eyeball’ a die roll, and rapidly assess if they made it or not. Change the TN often, and you’ll hear the same question over and over again: “How difficult is the roll?” Small ‘speedbumps’ placed along the course of play, but ‘speedbumbs’ nonetheless.

Next time: if you really want to change the TN of an action, at least give something in return (or, tweaking how you gain Advancement points).

sabato 30 giugno 2012

'Interesting times', as they say... !

April, then the last day of June! Wow, time presses on... I won't bore you again with the details about why it takes me so long to post here, suffice it to say that I have been rather busy - luckily! As the economical juncture gently squeezes life out of most of the endeavors I am involved with, at least I can say I tried to do something about it.

But always look at the bright side of life! Here I have a couple of things to share... one is a snapshot of a game that I am developing that will probably tell something only to the most hardcore Tolkien (or WotR...) fanatics - but that I won't reveal right now, to leave whoever is interested a chance to guess...

Another is a document presenting a small tweak to the journey rules of The One Ring rpg that I came up with some time ago, when a few comments about the amount of dice-rolling involved with journeying started to pop up around the web. I am pretty happy about how this revised mechanic speeds up play, in my opinion making the whole process more fun and flavourful at the same time - also, it makes it more of a 'group effort', something that in a game about fellowships is never a bad thing!
If any of you wants to try the mechanics, just replace the appropriate step in the journey process, as specified in the document I prepared for you guys - let me know if you like it! It might end up being published somewhere sooner or later...

TOR Journey resolution revised (link removed! See the post for the 23rd of August)

And now for the final bit of happy news (at least for me): thanks to a very nice Norwegian friend who is going to let us stay in their house, I'll be heading to Oslo next week with my family. Fjords! Viking ships! Stave churches! Draugr! Naglfar! Well, maybe not the last couple ones... :)