Saturday, October 31, 2009, 12:13 PM
Sorry I didn't update my blog in a more timely manner this week, but I was stuck between two projects all week: Assembling the Dark Sun art order, and beginning my new design project (sorry, it's secret for the moment). The art order is a LOT of work, because we've got two large books with close to a hundred illustrations each, and each one of those illustrations needs an art suggestion.
Dark Sun's a little unusual in that we have a large amount of old reference material we want our new artists to be aware of. Gerald Brom's pencil work and cover paintings back in 2nd Edition Dark Sun were really, really good, and we don't want to lose too much of that magic as we update the setting. A big part of putting together the new art order is hunting down the best reference pieces from the older material and making sure we pass those along. For example: Remember that DRAGON magazine cover painting of the belgoi perching on the crag, holding out its bell with its spear in its other hand? We want the new belgoi art to capture that.
Speaking of the belgoi, I'm pretty proud of the 4e version of this monster; it's one of the monsters I worked on myself. They were always a problematic monster in 2nd Edition; the story indicated they attacked you in camp and tried to lure one PC at a time out into the desert. That just didn't play well at the table; as soon as the DM asks for Joe to make a saving throw and Joe fails it, the other players at the table are shouting things like "I tackle Joe to keep him from leaving!" or "I look for monsters out in the dunes!" In other words, player metagaming meant that the belgoi encounter never worked the way it was supposed to even though it was an evocative story. Secondly, the belgoi didn't fit in the scheme of monsters in 2nd Edition. They were clearly physical, living creatures-but they drained life energy with their touch. They acted like undead or outsiders, not humanoids. That always bugged me.
In 4e, I found that the belgoi made a lot more sense. First of all, I created a lurker belgoi that could skulk around the edges of another encounter and "ring up" a character while his friends were busy with some other threat. Now the monster summoning one PC out into the darkness is a viable part of an encounter. Then I built an elite controller belgoi who had an area-effect summoning bell power, something that could pull and daze or stun several characters at once-so you can take on the whole party at once instead of fiddling with the metagame-challenged idea of fighting one PC at a time while the rest of the party isn't in an encounter. Secondly, the 4e monster schemes helped me find a story about the belgoi that helped me out a lot. The belgoi are psionic *fey*, not natural humanoids. That's why they have their supernatural powers and the strange but flavorful focus of a bell for their mental summons. The Feywild of Athas is in pretty poor shape (more on that in another post, I guess), so centuries ago the belgoi abandoned it and became roving nomadic predators in the deserts. OK, that's sort of interesting. I think 4e helped the belgoi a lot. Now they live up to that beautiful, striking Brom painting that was the first glimpse of Dark Sun for so many D&D players back in the day.
OK, now for some quick War at Sea news... if you didn't see it before, Steve Winter (aka WotC Huscarl) posted an excellent piece on playing War at Sea sans grid. He ran his gridless game at a gathering of the Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society over at the Museum of Flight a couple of weeks ago, and reported great success with it. If you want to try a new spin on your War at Sea game, it's a lot of fun. We're working on reinforcing our art references and specifications for the set 5 models now, and we're finding that we've got some trouble tracking down top-down drawings on some of the more obscure ships (and a couple of not so obscure ones). If anybody out there knows of great resources for ship drawings, I'm all ears. Here's one in particular I'm looking for: the River-class frigates. We've got side-view drawings and zillions of photos, but no top-view drawings.
Last thought: Hey, my Phillies are tied up with the Yankees at 1 game each in the November Classic. I think that favors the Phils by just a smidgen: They wanted to come out of New York with a split, and they succeeded. But to make that pay off they need to take 2 out of 3 in Philadelphia. Right now we're looking at Hamels vs. Pettitte tonight, and then Blanton against Sabathia in game 4. I'm a little bummed that the Phils decided to pitch Lee twice instead of three times, but the good news is that Game 5 is going to be a big game no matter what happens in Game 3 and 4. Either the Phils will be trying to finish off the Yankees, win their 3rd game to put the Yankees on the ropes going back to New York, or stay alive by keeping the Yankees from sweeping them in Philly. Any one of those scenarios is worth your best pitcher... which makes me think that Charlie Manuel might be a little smarter than he lets on. Plus, we don't want to break Cliff Lee. We're going to want him for next season, too.
Thursday, October 22, 2009, 5:18 PM
As some of you long-time readers know, I'm a big Phillies fan-and yes, I'm delighted that I get a chance to watch them in another World Series. It might seem like it's not much of a hardship to be a Phillies fan these days, but if you tried to watch that team from the mid-80s on up to 2000 or so (with the sole exception of that excellent 1993 season) then believe me, you paid your dues. I feel well entitled to the last six years of solid teams and winning records. At the time of this writing it looks very much like the Yankees will be our opponents, seeing as they've got a 3-1 edge over the Angels. It should be a great matchup. I think the Yankees have an edge, especially since they've got two very sound left-handed starters to throw at the Phillies and a lockdown closer in Rivera. But I'll be rooting for the underdogs!
OK, on to D&D stuff... First piece of news: Dark Sun has left design/development, and is now in editing. I've been working furiously on various pieces of this project since May, so it's a great feeling to move on. In my last couple of weeks I was working on smoothing out the writing and presentation in a few spots, trying to marry together the tone and style of several different authors and looking for anything that needed adding at the last minute. For example, Rodney Thompson came to bug me a couple of weeks back about the dragonborn entry in the Races chapter. (They get an "Other Races" style entry sort of like the ones from the FRCG or the Eberron CG.) He pointed out that while we'd tied them in with the world story well enough by marrying the dray concept with the dragonborn concept, we hadn't really done anything different with the essential character of the race. (In Dark Sun, elves are nomadic raiders, gypsies, and thieves; halflings are fierce warriors and cannibals; and so on.) In our design draft the dragonborn/dray were a race of mercenary warriors... not really all that far off their core D&D identity. If we were going to include a Dark Sun take on dragonborn at all-and we felt pretty strongly that we ought to, since there are plenty of players out there who are new to the game with 4th Edition and regard dragonborn as part of the game's core identity, just as much as elves or dwarves-then we ought to say something new about them and challenge the established conceptions of the race.
Anyway, Rodney's point challenged me to think hard about the dragonborn and what sort of Dark Sun "spin" we'd put on the race that would make them distinctly Athasian. My first response was "They're a race of bloodthirsty killers!" because really, that should be your first response to anything in Dark Sun. But that was a little too easy, and I tried to really think it through. It occurred to me that the noble-warrior theme for the race talked a lot to their natural Strength boost... so what would talk to their Charisma boost? Maybe the Dark Sun dragonborn are a race that emphasizes the force of will, ambition, and drive wrapped up in that Charisma boost instead of pure physical combat skill. So that suggested a much stronger emphasis on their natural talent for sorcery instead of swordplay. And maybe they are essentially dishonorable rather than honorable-not in a stab-you-in-the-back kind of way, because who would want to hang out with them, but more in a basely motivated way. Maybe the dragonish impulses of avarice and pride are very, very strong in Athasian dragonborn. Finally, the core story of dragonborn is that they're a race of loners who don't see each other all that often, so maybe in Athas they're more social than you might expect. Dragonborn clans look out for each other, and if you mess with one dragonborn in the clan, you mess with them all. They're big into vendettas and punishing people who offend or injure one of their own.
Take that all together, and you've got something interesting with these guys: The dragonborn (or dray) are a race of sorcerous merchants, hired spellcasters, pragmatic mercenaries, and maybe even slavers. They're not especially numerous, so you don't see a lot of them around. Their clans are like small, insular merchant houses, and they might serve as deal-brokers and moneylenders: disliked in many places, but regarded as very useful to have around. Heck, maybe some clans bribe the sorcerer-kings and templars for dispensation to practice magic or sell their services as assassins. That's a pretty different slant on the dragonborn, one that will let you play an Athasian dragonborn as a much different type of person than you might have thought to try with the core story. And that's part of the attraction of the Dark Sun setting: It shakes up the familiar roles and stories, and mixes them in a new way.
One more thought for today: SMALL WORLD. This is a new boardgame by Days of Wonder that I had the chance to play for the first time last week, and I have to say, I was really impressed. It's a great little game with tremendous replayability. It reminds me a lot of History of the World in its basic turn structure and scoring, but the brilliant combination of a random race with a random talent means that no two games are the same. It's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.
See ya next time!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 1:16 PM
We're working hard to finish up the design and development stages of the two Dark Sun books, and get them over to editing. It's a bit of a scramble, because we've got a lot of crunchy bits by a number of different contributors scattered across the books, including Rob Schwalb, Ari Marmell, Bruce Cordell, Chris Sims, Logan Bonner, and Travis Stout. As you might imagine, Dark Sun demands more crunchy bits than our previous two campaign settings: muls, thri-kreen, gladiators, templars, defiling, world-suitable paragon paths and epic destinies, weapons, items, and of course, buckets full of freakish desert monsters. At this point I can't say much about exactly how we addressed each of these elements, other than to say that yes, you're going to find all of these classic trappings of the Dark Sun world (and many more) in the new Campaign Guide. One of the things that used to bug me about the old Dark Sun set was that you basically threw out the 2e Player's Handbook and substituted the Dark Sun Rulebook for almost all of your character generation. This time around, a lot more of your Player's Handbook (and PH 2 and PH 3) are still going to be relevant, but just about any "core" character you build should still find plenty of Athasian trappings. Sure, you might be a dragonborn fighter, but we've got ways to make that guy feel like he's just as appropriate in the setting as your thri-kreen ranger or mul gladiator. I'll tell you more when I can!
On to a little War at Sea news: We've assembled our "specs and dimensions" document for the set following Condition Zebra. Basically, it's a bunch of line drawings and photographs our art director puts together so that the sculptors working in China know what to sculpt. These days they're producing their first "sculpts" as CAD drawings. If you thought that the Flank Speed pieces looked pretty good, that's because they were built with this same process. It turns out that things like ships and planes are ideal for this process, so we're getting very good sculpts right up front. A side note on something interesting I looked at the other day: Boy, the Spanish would be a good addition to the game someday. There are at least half a dozen good models there, and unlike the Swedes or the Finns, it's not just a coast-defense navy. In all the what-ifs of WW2, the possibility of Spanish belligerence is one that frequently is overlooked. Franco owed the Germans and Italians for their help in winning the civil war, and the Axis tried pretty hard to get the Spanish involved; it's really pretty surprising that they stayed out. It raises the interesting question of how to deal with powers that were neutral, but *might* have played a part had things gone differently. You could almost call Spain an Axis power because they certainly leaned that way... but I'd hate to just put the red borders on the stat cards when at the end of the day Spain remained neutral. Some kid might be learning his WW2 history by playing the game, after all, and I wouldn't want to trip him up. I guess the best thing to do is color them not-Axis not-Allied, and make sure we get some rules clarifications out there about not using neutrals in games observing historical restrictions. Anyway: No, the Spanish aren't in Condition Zebra, and aren't coming soon. But they're now on my list!
OK, on to a quick real-life thought: I discovered another Northwest volcano I'd never heard about just last weekend: Fife's Peak. It's much older than Rainier and the other big snowcapped gems, and it's been extinct for quite a while. Here's the story: Last Friday I took the family out to Yakima, Washington, to go hit the wine country for a little fall getaway. There are something like 60 vineyards out in south-central Washington, and it might be the #2 wine area in the country after Napa Valley. Anyway, the drive out to Yakima along Route 410 is just gorgeous, especially at this time of year. Sure, we have a lot of evergreens, but the mountainsides turn red and orange with lots of low brush, especially around Chinook Pass. Then you get fifty miles or so of driving out along the American River and Naches River valleys, with gorgeous streams and striking rock formations the whole way (including a lot of black columnar basalt, a sure sign of old lava flows). A few miles east of Chinook Pass, there's a small turnoff for something called the "Fife's Peak Overlook" that I'd never bothered to turn off on before. On an impulse, I whipped the car over and decided to have a look. It turns out that Fife's Peak is a 6,700-foot mountain that's the shell of an ancient volcano that blew itself apart. Huge spires of bare rock jut like the blade of a giant shovel sticking up out of the ground. I've driven that road twenty times in the last ten years, and I went by it every time without the faintest idea that this striking mountain view was just 50 yards off the road.
Now, the strange part of the story: We drove back west over Chinook Pass Saturday afternoon, and at 6 am Sunday morning a mammoth landslide buried a quarter-mile length of the highway under 40 feet or more of mountainside. (That was much farther east than Fife's Peak.) There was no warning-we haven't had any rain to speak of, certainly not on the eastern slopes of the Cascades. Fortunately no one was hurt, but a couple of evacuated or empty homes were destroyed. Chinook Pass is now closed for at least the next six months or so while the state highway department builds a new section of 410 around the landslide, 'cause it's highly doubtful that they'll be able to clear it. Well, Chinook Pass was going to be closed by snow within a few weeks anyway, so it's not a terrible inconvenience to anyone except a few hundred people who live between the landslide and the soon-to-be-closed-by-snow mountain pass. But I'm still shaking my head over the idea that I went by that spot 40 hours and then 15 hours before it slid, and didn't see a thing out of the ordinary. I grew up on the Jersey shore; this mountain stuff is still pretty impressive to me.
One final thing: If you're getting this text as light gray on white, I'm sorry. I can't figure out how to alter the font/color of my blog posts. When I do, I'll try something different.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009, 3:42 PM
Not much Dark Sun this time, but a couple of other things I hope you'll find interesting. We've just got our advance copies of Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons, so I thought I'd talk about that book for a little bit before I move on to War at Sea. A few months back, I lamented about working too far ahead to be able to say much about my current projects. Someone suggested "saving" blog posts until I could post them. Back around last Thanksgiving I was working on the design for Draconomicon 2, and here's a bit I wrote then and saved until now.
One of the tricky bits about metallic dragons is explaining how the DM can use them as adversaries or rivals in the game, as opposed to just making them powerful NPC patrons or allies. It's fine to have a gold dragon advise or help out the party every now and then, but you hardly need a monster description for that dragon. We set out early on to explain how or why good dragons-or relatively intelligent unaligned ones-might decide to take on the heroes. We know that any dragon can have any alignment, but we didn't want to fall back on the crutch of making any dragon you fight an evil dragon; that would be a little lazy on our part. So we took a look at the personalities of each dragon and thought hard about what would make good-aligned or unaligned examples of the species choose to fight good heroes. Here are a couple of examples:
- Silver dragons value their sworn word over all else; a silver dragon sworn to keep a hidden shrine secret might feel forced by its oath to slay good characters who discover the shrine.
- Gold dragons are dragon monarchs, highly engaged in the preservation and prosperity of whatever domain they protect (or rule). Heroes who undertake quests counter to the domain's interest might simply have to be eliminated for the greater good.
- Adamantine dragons are extremely proud, short-tempered, and territorial. They just assume that anyone blundering into their territory is doing so as a deliberate act of disrespect.
So, there you go: None of those three examples are necessarily *evil* (well, the gold dragon example is close) but your characters might end up fighting those dragons anyway. By way of another little spoiler... yes, the brass and bronze dragons appear in Draconomicon 2. We've got several other "new" metallics, some of which update dragons that appeared in earlier editions - for instance, the steel dragon - and others of which borrow older-edition dragons like the radiant dragon and seriously reconcept them. And, finally, we've got a couple that are brand-new for 4th Edition, too!
OK, now on to War at Sea, and the question I promised to take a look at last time: Is there a US bias?
Let's define "US bias" as an unfair or unrealistic advantaging of US units. If a particular ship or plane has great ratings but they're "right" stats for its real-world capabilities, then it's not bias-the game gives the great unit the stats it deserves, hopefully at the right cost. Remember, the ratings are pretty subjective, so it's easy to fall 1 high or 1 low on these things, and they're also grainy, so it's really noticeable when something is 1 high or 1 low.
Bearing that in mind, we don't deliberately bias the game to make the US pieces better than they should be. Sometimes we overrate or underrate a particular unit's stats, and sometimes we get the stats right but miscost the unit. Think of these too-good or too-cheap units as the outliers. We've done about 45 US units over the first three sets, more than any other nation, so we'd expect to see more US outliers than any others.
(Now, it's not clear that the US Navy pieces are all that overrated in the game. You can make good arguments that the USN floated the best battleship gun (the Mk VII 16"), the best cruiser gun (the 6"/47, or maybe the 8" with the super-heavy 335-lb AP shell), the best destroyer gun (the 5"/38), the best AA guns (the 3"/50, the 40mm Bofors and the 20mm Oerlikon), the best carrier fighters (Hellcat and Corsair), the best dive bombers (Dauntless and Helldiver), and the best torpedo bomber (Avenger, after they fixed the torpedoes). Plus, the US had the best damage control training and gear of all the combatants. The US Navy did a lot of things *right* in the war.)
So, where are the US outliers? Possibly Wildcat vital armor, Hellcat AA, Atlanta AA, the Baltimore's torpedo defense. (Unfortunately, there aren't many "bad" outliers in the US inventory, so it tends to skew higher rather than both low and high.) But we're talking about ratings that are 1 point off, if that. Overall I think the US pieces are in the ballpark, given the sheer number we've done. And it's not like there aren't other outliers in the game: The Richelieu's ER 5, the Emily, and so on. We learn a little more each time we do a new set, and hopefully we're getting smarter as we go along.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 10:15 AM
Hi there, thanks for stopping by!
This week's update: I've finished up my rewrite of Avenger, and I'm still chugging away on Dark Sun design and development.
I'd love to talk about some of the mechanical stuff in Dark Sun--how does the mul character race work, what's a templar, and so on. But I don't think we're ready to reveal too much on this yet, so I'm going to stick to the geography again this week. The other day, I created mountains-specifically, a ring of highlands and low peaks around the Dragon's Bowl. Now, I've been accused of butchering the geography of existing worlds before, so let me explain a little about my reasoning. It's bothered me for a long time that the Dragon's Bowl, this thousand-foot deep depression, lies only a few miles from an arm of the Sea of Silt. Given the fact that the Wanderer's Journal goes on at length about how windborne silt fills the air for miles inland on a windy day, it seems clear to me that over time the Dragon's Bowl would fill with silt. In other words, it ought to be another dust sink. So that stretch of stony barrens between the Bowl and the Sea had better be some pretty high ground, something that dust wouldn't blow over or through. At least on the southeast edge, there need to be some hills or mountains there.
That got me to thinking about depressions and craters, and wondering what the Dragon's Bowl was originally intended to be. Was it supposed to be something like Egypt's Qattara Depression? The Dead Sea? Death Valley? Interestingly enough, the fact that it's ringed by 1000-foot cliffs made me think of another big hole in the ground I've seen ringed by 1000-foot cliffs - Crater Lake. Crater Lake is, of course, a collapsed volcano (Mount Mazama). So *that* got me thinking about a volcanic origin for the Dragon's Bowl, which in turn led me to thinking about volcanic calderas like Yellowstone or Ngorongoro in Africa. If the Dragon's Bowl was a darned big supervolcano that went off a zillion years ago, it could very well have collapsed down into its current configuration. And, of course, speaking of craters, the Dragon's Bowl might be an impact crater, like Meteor Crater in Arizona (but much bigger). Now, both the caldera explanation and the impact crater explanation help solve my initial conundrum about the Dragon's Bowl-because either would leave low mountains/highlands/impact ridges around the Bowl's edges. In fact, the Dragon's Bowl rim might actually be a couple of thousand feet in elevation, so the floor is actually well above the Sea of Silt (Crater Lake is a good 5,000 feet up, after all). So, I took my Sharpie and added some low mountains and broken highlands around the Dragon's Bowl.
Some folks would say that I really overthought this. It's a fantasy world, and the answer could be "it's magic" or "the gods willed it so." That's certainly true, and I probably could have left well enough alone... but some Dark Sun fan's going to pick up the campaign guide next year, look at the map, and he *won't* wonder why the Dragon's Bowl isn't filled with silt, like I did. I think that's why it's important to look after details like this in world-building. Inconsistencies focus the reader's attention in the wrong places, so you want to make sure that the inconsistencies you place in the world are the ones you really want to be there. Sure, inconsistencies may also lead to creative opportunities in the explanation, but you really want to pick your fights there.
Here's an inconsistency that, in my view, demands explanation: silt. Silt doesn't behave the way dust, sand, powder, or anything in our experience would seem to behave. It's a completely fantastic terrain, one that has no correlation to real-world deserts. If the Sea of Silt was a gigantic dead sea bottom, cracked and parched, with muddy spots left, I could imagine that. We've all seen lakes that dry up (or are drained). But it's a seabed full of dust that doesn't blow away, and doesn't compact down to something like sand or clay. Early in the Dark Sun revision process, I toyed briefly with the notion of pushing to make the Sea of Silt into a parched sea bottom in order to solve this inconsistency... but ultimately that would have wreaked real havoc with the existing narrative of the world. So with the Sea of Silt, I backed off.
I talked it over with the other designers, and we decided to let silt stand as it was described back in the 1991 boxed set. But that certainly demands at least some sort of explanation. If the Sea of Silt couldn't occur naturally but is there anyway, then clearly it must be what it is from extra-natural causes. We had another notion rattling around that Athas is a world more heavily influenced or sculpted by elemental powers than the typical fantasy world... so maybe the silt is a kind of terrain that you might be able to find in the Elemental Chaos. It's a mix of air, earth, and water that exists as something of an intrusion of elemental properties into the natural world of Athas. Something long ago *transformed* the sea into dust. The water didn't just evaporate or drain off (at least, not completely); it was changed into something else. If Athas is a world where the gods are absent, was this the work of a Primordial? Does that Primordial remain in Athas, maintaining the Sea in its current state? Or is it the effect of a colossal spell that was cast during the Cleansing Wars, much as the sun was darkened by Rajaat's creation of his Champions? Here's a spot where cleaning up an "inconsistency" pushes you into fantastic world-building and creative answers to a question. My fellow designers and I came up with an answer we liked; in about 11 months you can see for yourself which way we decided to go.
That's all for now. Next time, I think I'll duck back over to War at Sea and talk about a favorite topic of fans there: Is there a US bias, and if so, why?
Monday, September 21, 2009, 10:01 AM
I've been super-busy for the last couple of weeks between Dark Sun and my rewrite on Avenger, the last book in my Blades of the Moonsea trilogy. The novels are something that's outside my day job; I work on them in the evenings and on weekends. The downside is that sometimes I find myself with deadlines looming on both fronts at the same time, which makes for a few pretty miserable weeks. This is one of those times, but the good news is that I'm only a day or two away from wrapping up my Avenger work. (Another downside is that after knocking out three novels after-hours in a little more than two years, I'm literally not going to know what to do with myself when I finish it up. It's been a long time since I've come home in the evening without a writing project to work on, or hovering in the not-so-distant future. But hey, I asked for it.)
I'll get one more look at Avenger in a month or so, when the galleys come around. Galleys are the edited, copy-edited, typeset version of the book our typesetters produce right before we send it off to final production and printing. You can make small changes in first galleys-say, striking a sentence and replacing it, if you have to-but for the most part your changes should be limited to fixing any minor punctuation and spelling goofs that have somehow survived to this point. There are always a few. Anyway, Avenger's getting real close... and for those of you who've been following the adventures of the swordmage Geran Hulmaster and his friends, I think you'll like it a lot. It's definitely a darker story than Corsair, with Hulburg dealing with oppression, tyranny, and rebellion while the Hulmasters struggle to remain relevant. There's more character introspection, poor choices, and the consequences of those choices. I often thought of Swordmage (the first book in the series) as a Western in disguise, and Corsair as a Barsoom story in disguise. With Avenger, I think it's not quite so clear. There's a little Zorro and a little Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, but the villains aren't bumblers. They're pretty clever and vicious, in fact, which leads Geran to make some pretty dark decisions and really casts a long shadow over the whole story.
In some War at Sea news, I've recently reviewed a bunch of new sculpts for Condition Zebra, the fourth set. I'm very pleased with most of them; we've got a couple of small hangups here and there, but I think the sculpt quality will be at least as good as Flank Speed. I also put together a final set list for a fifth set (name and release date forthcoming). In case you're wondering what the heck Condition Zebra means as a set name, here's the deal: Condition Zebra is the ship's state of material readiness at general quarters. Basically, all the hatches are secured and dogged down, and the ship's therefore at maximum watertight integrity, ready to take hits and stay in the fight. We still use the term in today's Navy: the announcement goes like this: "General Quarters, General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations! Set Condition Zebra throughout the ship!" For some reason that I've never been able to determine, it still uses the WW2-era phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, etc.) instead of the current one (Alpha, Bravo, etc.). Since the 1960's it's been Zulu instead of Zebra for most purposes, but Zebra's still sticking around in this usage. In any event, one of the little challenges we have in producing a game like this is coming up with set names that other people haven't used for games before, and you can see that we've got to stretch a bit now. Beats me what we're going to call Set Five!
One final thought: Once again the baseball season is winding up in fine style, and my Phillies are looking like they're poised for a deep run in the postseason. I think it's actually a stronger team than last year in all regards but one: the bullpen. We had the best bullpen in the league last year, but this year's edition came down to earth. On the other hand, I like our lineup, defense, and starting pitcher better than last year's World Champion team. The question is probably going to come down to who gets hot heading into the postseason. The Cardinals, Rockies, and Dodgers are all very good teams, and I don't think any of them would be pushovers. Any of them would be a strong entry for the NL this year.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 11:43 PM
I've spent most of my summer wandering in the deserts of Athas, and I have to say, it's a pretty cool thing to roll into work every day with the opportunity to work on a new version of Dark Sun. Here's one little example of something that I got to play with just the other day that I had a real blast with: types of desert.
You might remember from the original Wanderer's Journal that there was a great essay on different types of desert. As a somewhat younger gamer (and just-starting-out game designer) back in 1991, I really grooved on the notion that there were rocky badlands, and stony barrens, and sandy wastes, and so on. You see, I grew up on the Jersey shore, and I'd never really experienced any real life desert for myself. If I'd thought about it I would have drawn on Star Wars for "sandy waste" and Lawrence of Arabia for "stony barrens" but that would have been all the desert variety I could really come up with. I found that essay darned useful for making me realize that an all-desert world was very far from monotonous.
Well, fast-forward about 18 years, and now I've actually had a number of chances to experience honest-to-gosh desert. Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, a move across the country, a visit to Colorado, and a visit to Arizona (with a drive from Phoenix up to Sedona), and suddenly I can actually *picture* different kinds of desert with my own experience.
As I was doing some reorganizing in the manuscript, I hit the spot where Rob Schwalb briefly covered the desert terrain types--and I saw a chance to correct an old oversight that drove me nuts years and years ago. In the original Dark Sun set "boulder fields" were a terrain type indicated on that beautiful map by Diesel, but there was no discussion of boulder fields in the Wanderer's Journal. It worked at me like a sore tooth. So I decided to add a hundred words in Rob's terrain section to cover boulder fields. And, thanks to the fact that I live out in the West and I've driven all over the place out here, I now grok boulder fields -- they're *old lava flows.* If you go down by Mount Adams, or kick around by Bend, Oregon or Newberry Crater, you can actually walk out on these great big fields of black rock. Lava Butte is the best example I can think of; my wife and I described it to our daughters as "the little volcano that could." Miles of black, jagged rock, completely waterless, completely bare of vegetation... a patch of absolute desolation in the middle of the mountains and forest. It's something to see. So, when you run across the desert primer in the new Dark Sun and you see a bit about boulder fields, you'll know that I was thinking back to an afternoon of exploring Lava Butte a couple of years back. Hopefully I got it right!
Friday, September 4, 2009, 10:18 AM
OK, and here we go -- the last of the Flank Speed previews I wrote earlier this summer. A small clarification from preview 2: Yes, the checklist on the Flank Speed boosters says "Voroshilov," but the Soviet cruiser is actually "Kirov." We changed it up from the V to the K very late in the process because of a minor production hangup (it actually proved easier to change the stat card to match the base text than vice versa), which is where the confusion started. We should've caught it on the packaging too, of course.
Anyway, here's the final piece I put together. Next time I'm going to talk a little about my Dark Sun D&D work.
Flank Speed Opening Salvo, Part 4
For our final preview of Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures: Flank Speed, we'll take a look at a pair of famous carriers-one Japanese, and one American. As part of the Pearl Harbor raiding force, Soryu began the war in the Pacific. As part of the US Navy's Fast Carrier Task Force, USS Intrepid (CV 11) helped to finish it.
One of the six carriers that took part in the air raid at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Soryu was a fast, modern ship built from the keel up as an aircraft carrier. Her design sacrificed almost all protection in favor of speed. Soryu took part in many of the early Japanese victories, including the attack on Wake Island, the raid on Darwin, Australia, and the Indian Ocean raid. However, her war career was cut short at the Battle of Midway (4 June 1942), where she was one of four Japanese carriers lost in the disastrous defeat.
Gameplay: Soryu's torpedoes caused a great deal of damage at Battleship Row, but her specialty in the game is fighter operations. She makes a very formidable team with the A6M5 Zero-the only Allied aircraft that can match up to the Soryu-A6M5 combo is the Hellcat. Don't overlook the value of the Surprise Raid; it's a good way to soften up the outstanding AA defense of many US ships.
USS Intrepid (CV 11)
Fifth of the powerful new Essex-class carriers, the "Fighting I" joined the Pacific war in time for the Central Pacific campaign against the Marshalls (January 1944) and the great raid at Truk (17-18 February 1944), but was hit by an air-dropped torpedo and damaged. After repairs, she saw action in the invasion of Palau, the Philippines, and Okinawa. USS Intrepid had a reputation as a hard-luck ship and was hit by kamikazes on several occasions, earning another nickname-- the "Evil I." She served into the 1970s, participating in the Vietnam War and the space program, and was eventually preserved as a museum in New York City in 1982.
Gameplay: The Essex-class carriers frequently operated with well over 100 aircraft, and to reflect this, the Intrepid has a basing capacity of four squadrons. They were big, sturdy ships that were able to stand up to a good deal of punishment, surviving damage that would have sunk early-war carriers. It's not cheap to add the Intrepid to your fleet with Hellcats, Avengers, and Helldivers, but if you can, you'll have the most potent carrier airgroup in the game at your command.
Thursday, September 3, 2009, 9:51 AM
As promised, here's part 3 of my Opening Salvo articles. I'll finish it up tomorrow with part 4.
Flank Speed Opening Salvo, Part 3
Our preview of the upcoming Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures Flank Speed set continues this week with a pair of new rare models. The first is the HMS Repulse, companion to the HMS Prince of Wales in the doomed sortie of Force Z from Singapore in December of 1941. The second is a bit more speculative-the Italian aircraft carrier Aquila, which was never actually completed.
The Regia Marina entered the war with the belief that Italy's central location in the Mediterranean Sea meant that land-based air cover would always be available for fleet operations. The early months of the war soon proved that Italy's lack of carriers was a crucial vulnerability for its surface units. To address this problem, the Regia Marina began to convert a liner, the Roma, into a first-class aircraft carrier-the Aquila. She was almost complete when Italy surrendered in 1943. The stat card represents what the Aquila might have been like, given a greater effort to finish her on time and develop the necessary carrier operation skills.
Gameplay: Aquila is a solid entry for a light carrier. She is similar to the USS Princeton, but she has a much better surface armament. The drawback she faces is a lack of outstanding carrier-capable aircraft. The Re. 2001 CB (another model in this set) is a decent fighter-bomber, but it lacks the punch of the specialized US or Japanese carrier aircraft. However, it offers a crucial (if a little ahistorical) element of carrier-based fighter cover for the European Axis.
Completed during World War I, HMS Repulse missed the Battle of Jutland but did take part in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight (17 November 1917). As one of the most modern of Britain's battlecruisers, she remained in service through the interwar years and was extensively refitted in the mid-30's. In the early months of World War II, HMS Repulse hunted for German commerce raiders and escorted important convoys. At the end of 1941 she was dispatched to Singapore along with the new battleship Prince of Wales to deter Japanese aggression in the East Indies. On 8 December 1941, Force Z-the two capital ships, and four destroyers-set out to intercept Japanese landings reported on the north coast of the Malay Peninsula. The British ships found no invasion, but came under heavy air attack. HMS Repulse nimbly dodged a number of aerial torpedo attacks before she finally took several torpedoes in rapid succession and quickly sank. The destruction of Force Z marked the first time that battleships had been sunk by aircraft while at sea.
Gameplay: The Repulse is a fairly typical battlecruiser, comparable to the Japanese Kongo or the French Dunkerque. Like many warships of World War I vintage, she lacks an effective torpedo protection scheme-but she's able to dodge one torpedo attack per game through excellent shiphandling. You want to make sure you use Evade Torpedoes early in the game, but don't waste it on a 1-die torpedo attack. Try to save it for a 3- or 4-die attack if your opponent's forces have the ability to generate one.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009, 10:14 AM
OK, as promised yesterday, here's the next installment of the Flank Speed Opening Salvos...
Flank Speed Opening Salvo, Part 2
And now for the second preview for the upcoming Flank Speed expansion to the Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures game. In this preview, the Soviet Navy makes its first appearance in the game with the cruiser Kirov, and the German Kriegsmarine debuts a new submarine model: the Type VII U-boat U-47.
Type VII U-boats were the mainstay of the German submarine force in the Battle of the Atlantic, but U-47 didn't win fame just for sinking merchant ships. Under the command of Kapitanleutnant Gunther Prien, U-47 pulled off one of the most daring submarine exploits of the war. She infiltrated the well-defended British anchorage at Scapa Flow on 14 October 1939 and sank the battleship Royal Oak.
Gameplay: As you might expect, U-47 has the Infiltrator and Battleship Killer special abilities. More importantly, it is a very tough target for ASW attacks with its Armor 4. For submarines, diving time and underwater maneuverability were more important than sheer size for surviving attack, and the Type VII boats were more elusive targets than the large Type IX boats that have appeared so far in the game. The only drawback is that U-47 lacks the powerful Wolfpack special ability of other German submarines.
The Kirov-class cruisers were the centerpiece of the new Soviet Navy, which was only beginning to modernize in the late '30s after almost twenty years of neglect under the Bolsheviks. The Soviet Navy of World War II was sorely challenged by a number of difficult problems. First, they faced once again the centuries-old Russian strategic problem of fleets isolated in four separate seas, unable to combine or reinforce one another. Second, the depth of German advances made both the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea very unhealthy places for large surface units to operate. Kirov herself was sunk in port by a German air attack on 9 April 1942, but was subsequently raised and repaired, and saw action in the 1944 Vyborg campaign.
Gameplay: Kirov introduces a tricky new ability into the game: Mines. As you might expect, mines are useful for denying passage through narrow channels or making objectives risky to seize. The difficulty is that you have to beat your opponent to the sector you want to keep him from moving through. Mines are also hard to use in open ocean, where your foe can easily sail around the mined sector.