Category Archives: Third Party Publishers

Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar

Like many adolescent geeks, I fell in love with my first computer game back when I had lots of time and very little money.  I mowed lawns for many weeks (probably around 12) to save up for Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar to play on my Commodore 64.   The game came on, I believe, four five inch floppy disks, and a nifty metal ankh and fabric map were included in the box along with two instruction books.  I felt like I’d got my money’s worth.

The object of Ultima IV is to live well and in accordance with eight virtues:  Honesty, Valor, Honor, Compassion, Justice, Spirituality and Humility.  This leads to becoming the “Avatar” of those virtues and positioning your character as an example to the rest of the world.  I was just impressionable enough to invest quite a lot of myself in the game’s core principles.  I took it so far that I stopped reloading at previous save points, when I made a mistake and lost some rating in the virtues.  A simple typo when dealing with a blind vendor would cause me to lose ‘an eighth’ of my avatar hood.  One cannot be the avatar of honesty if one rips people off.  It wasn’t a terrible hardship:  even if you took a step backward, you could always redeem yourself, though this took hours.  I probably added 50 hours of game play by compensating for typos provoked by an interface that I wouldn’t tolerate for ten minutes today.

After I completed the game, naturally I took my tricked out party back and slaughtered town after town.  At that point even the town guards presented little challenge.  After all those weeks spent tightly following a path of virtue, it was quite a relief to just go evil for awhile.

This reminds me of life in a long term Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  I like playing and developing the same character over long periods of time, but sometimes it’s fun to change things up by creating a character who thinks a less and cares little for authority.


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Filed under Character, Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Inspiration, life meets game, Other Systems, Play, Third Party Publishers

Game Prep and Digital Pictures

Today I’m doing some more prep for my game next Saturday.  This time I’m using a lot of maps and Dungeon Tiles, which makes encounter design different for me.  Before I would draw maps on paper, then transcribe it them onto my battle mat.  This time I sorted through my box of tiles and maps, and worked out how I want it all to look.  I took a few digital pictures, so I’ll remember what it looks like when game time comes.  I also put some miniatures on them, just so I’d have a sense of scale for each battle.

If you’re one of my players, there are some vague spoilers, but it shouldn’t ruin anything if you look at the pics.

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Birthday Haul

I had a birthday last week and received a gift certificate for Paizo Publishing (thank you, Zobmie!).  Much of Paizo’s recent efforts have been in support o f their Pathfinder Role-playing Game, but they sell many kinds of gaming goodness.  Since my group is strongly (and happily) entrenched in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, I steered away from the Pathfinder stuff and took it as an opportunity to take experiment with some other kinds of items.

I ordered Issue 3 of Level Up magazine by Goodman games and Issue 13 of Kobold Quarterly by the Open Design folks.  I was a long time subscriber to Dragon Magazine in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and have been curious about the current generation of gaming magazines ever since I returned to the hobby with 4th edition.  I also purchased a Game Mastery Map Pack: Ancient Forest set.  I have some of Wizards of the Coast’s Harrowing Halls and Fane of the Forgotten Gods Dungeon Tiles and was looking for something I could use for outdoor encounters.

I’m pleased with my haul:  I had forgotten how nice it is to have a gaming magazine to leaf through and read at leisure.  I appreciate what Wizards is doing with their online content, but I miss a Dragon Magazine that’s an actual magazine.

Kobold Quarterly has a notably higher print quality than Level Up, with an expectedly higher price point:  $7.99 and 3.99 respectively.  Kobold Quarterly covers a variety of games, mostly of the 3.5 and 4E spectrum, while Level Up is 4E specific.

The Game Mastery Map Pack will definitely suit my needs.  The pack is made of 18 different 8” by 5” cards.  The cardboard isn’t as thick as Dungeon Tiles, but I think that’s okay.  How thick does it need to be?  These cards come ready to use: none of the perforation punching and associated waste that you’ll find with Dungeon Tiles.  The colors in this set are a little dark and muddy; I wonder if something was lost during the design translation process.

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Character Sexuality

As a combat oriented role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition holds a tension between the tactical parts of the game and the character elements. I’m a fan of both, so I constantly try to inject flourishes into my player characters.

One often overlooked and avoided way to inject true character into your PC is to reflect on and identify a sexual orientation. Many gamers avoid anything to do with sex in their game: for some of us, our early gaming experiences were as teenagers when we knew little about human sexuality; when the topic came up, it likely to descend into adolescent silliness. There is also the concern of the gaming group becoming creepy or feeling threatening to those uncomfortable including sex in the game.

These concerns are fair. While it is reasonable for a group of adult gamers to focus on romance and other aspects of human relationships, most D&D groups frankly aren’t interested. As an aside, the Book of Erotic Fantasy by Gwendolyn Kestrel and Duncan Scott is a supplement that is compatible for the 3.5 rule system that focuses exactly on “intrigue and manipulation, marriages of power, dangerous seducers, sex and magic.”

Even for standard hack and slash Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, simply identifying your character’s sexual orientation is a large step toward making him seem more real. It is then interesting to flesh out a character’s interest in relationships. Consider Westley’s situation before the action really started in The Princess Bride. He is clearly straight, but when he was away, becoming The Dread Pirate Roberts, he had no interest in pursuing other relationships. Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, Wildstorm comics’ Midnighter (member of Authority) and Moorcocks’ Elric of Melnibone are other characters with established sexual orientations that added something to their personas.

If your group isn’t in to it, there’s no need to role-play any of the details. This doesn’t mean you can’t add story elements to the back story or into the out-of-play scenes.


Filed under 4e D&D, Advice, Advice/Tools, Character, Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Inspiration, Third Party Publishers

Hallowed Halls Dungeon Tiles

I have a pretty sparse set of dungeon mastering supplies.  Since I’m only on that side of the table about once a month, I’ve devoted my gaming resources in other other directions.  I do, however, have the basics:  a Dungeon Master’s Guide, both Monster Manuals (plus Dungeon Denizens by Aeryn Blackdirge from Goodman), a few modules, plenty of dice, a battle mat and a small to moderate collection of miniatures.  The battle mat works fine, for the most part, though there are a few times I wished it were larger.

My regular DM, however, has a few sets of Dungeon Tiles from Wizards of the Coast, and I must admit, that there is an added fun factor to maneuvering our minis over the cardboard grids.

A few days ago, I splurged a bit (though around $10 per set, they aren’t tooo expensive) and came home with a set of the Hallowed Halls Dungeon Tiles.  I didn’t know that this set includes a three dimensional element.  There’s not much mention on the outside of the package, and there are no real directions inside.  After punching everything out, I spread the pieces across my table and started playing.  It took me a bit to understand how they fit together, so I’m including some pictures that may help the rest of you along.

To make this table...

Use the round top and middle two, lighter pieces shown here.

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Photo of Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway

Here is a picture of my copy of Fantasy Wargaming, The Highest Level of All, which I wrote about a week or so ago.

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Filed under Legacy D&D, Other Systems, Third Party Publishers, Uncategorized

Fantasy Wargaming

As I mentioned in my previous post, I found a copy of Fantasy Wargaming at Half Price Books last week.  This brought back personal memories for me, but also represents a slice of gaming history that I’d like to write about here.

This book is delicious with its old school gaming weirdness.  The modern gamer in me finds it nearly incomprehensible.  It rips into D&D because its ‘scenarios exist in a vacuum, and that is why we call them unsatisfactory,’ and ‘the sheer unlikelihood of such a motley crew being able to agree…’  I suppose this may have been true in 1980, but wasn’t Gygax using Greyhawk and wasn’t Ed Greenwood using his Forgotten Realms, even then?  The difference is that Fantasy Wargaming roots itself squarely in the European middle-ages while D&D of that era requires dungeon masters to create their own worlds.

Other oddities include:  ‘I’m no great advocate of women’s lib but . . . [John Norman’s Gor novels] are sufficiently strong in places to be more than mildly offensive . . .  For heaven’s sake don’t let a “liberated” wife or girlfriend read them, though, or you’ll never hear the last of it!’  Later, in the character generation chapter, readers are instructed that ‘Players wishing to play a female character must unfortunately take the penalties of a patriarchal society.  Make the following adjustments …  physique and endurance -3, charisma -2, social class -3, bravery -2 [!], greed/selfishness/lust -3.  They will be excluded from combat . . . and expected… to adopt a domestic position as wife, housekeeper and servant.  These factors are invariable.’  Oh dear.

There’s some entertainingly odd stuff in here too:  a character’s characteristics are subject to astrological sign based alterations.  There are also rules for conjuring demons, angels and gods, and it offers advice that ‘Characters in Fantasy Wargaming should live their lives in continual awareness of salvation and damnation.’  You don’t see this sort of thing in 4e.

My experience with Fantasy Wargaming reminds me how delightful it is to live in the here and now, where 4th Edition D&D is balanced and fun, and there are a legion of other games should I need a break.

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