Friday, May 18, 2018

Testing Facebook Groups

Hi all. Just testing Facebook links here. Feel free to join!

Mystara Reborn
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This group is *exclusively* dedicated to fans who want to read about Mystara and share clearly related f...

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Lots of people have joined this chat group during the past several months. Thank you and welcome.

The World of Calidar Chat Group
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The World of Calidar is a fantasy setting for use with any role playing game. It is inspired from the Voyage of the Princess Ark stories published in...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Failed Interview about Mystara

An interview of Matt Sernett on Dragon Talk came to my attention yesterday. I was particularly interested in the part dealing with Mystara. Skip directly to the 55:45 point (click here for the interview). I found it to be seriously lacking. Here’s what I have issues with.

When asked about Mystara, Matt hesitated, obviously trying to think about something to say. He then stated “Mystara had some not so great products.” This is an awkward way of introducing an IP owned by his employer. The truth is that Mystara had a lot of great products. He failed to mention the flagship Mystara product line—the Gazetteers, which were hugely popular.

He moved right along with this statement: “[Mystara] leaned very hard into the sillier elements.” Mystara never was meant as a gritty, dark setting. It had several light hearted entries, but that’s not enough to tag the whole product line as “silly.” Nonetheless, those light hearted entries were popular with core Mystara supporters, and did well enough sales-wise. Alas, this interview involves someone who focuses on a narrow aspect of a series, while ignoring what made Mystara great and long lived at TSR in the first place.

Matt then meanders at length about the development of the Red Steel setting under the AD&D banner, saying “[it] kinda showed a lot of that,” as an attempt to make his point about his perception of silliness, all the while admitting the setting wasn’t particularly silly a few seconds later. Why Matt brought up Red Steel as a way to characterize Mystara as a whole probably had more to do with his ignorance of the setting. Red Steel depicts a region of Mystara. As a matter of fact, the Know World core setting has nothing to do with it. Matt then goes on rattling off the idea of red steel as a cursed metal, the various non-human races of the setting, and its swashbuckling genre; in the process, he fails altogether to demonstrate what he felt was bad or silly. He doesn’t like the art. This is a matter of personal taste. There are plenty of Forgotten Realms’ entries with abysmal art in my opinion—clearly this does not mean that these products are all bad. Somehow, in Matt’s mind, that’s enough to warrant criticism however.

I understand Matt is a former editor for the Dragon Magazine. I find it curious that he would bring up Red Steel's AD&D later development without realizing maybe (?) that it was originally designed in one of the most popular features of the Dragon Magazine, the Voyage of the Princess Ark series. More than one subscriber stated they kept buying the magazine mostly for this series of articles. It too was somewhat light hearted and quite popular back then. It's where Red Steel came from.

Matt moves on to the audio CDs, which were an experiment TSR’s CEO forced upon the AD&D portion of late-years Mystara. These CDs weren’t at all representative of the bulk of the product line, something Matt continues to fail to bring up. But even then, his criticism of the audio CDs falls flat. Matt makes fun of the actors’ accent imitations, somehow having an issue with their flamboyant style (it’s a swashbuckler setting, remember?) I could think of a number of other things to say about these accessories; the voice impersonations are not an issue. 

Matt returns to the matter of artwork in the AD&D Monstrous Compendium. Again, it’s a matter of opinion. If Matt knew anything at all about art in Mystara, he should have had a look at the Gazetteer covers by Clyde Caldwell and the illustrations by Stephen Fabian. Those were certainly a lot more meaningful and representative of Mystara than the one-off MC that he personally disliked.

Matt goes on to say that product lines at TSR were aiming for the dark gritty style (Dark Sun and Ravenloft), assuming this was the only correct way of developing campaign worlds, because in his view, “everybody” was going for that style at the time. Gotta love that lemming mentality I guess. So then, how was it that Forgotten Realms didn’t also turn into a vampire/werewolf/zombie-palooza? Mystara was a mainstream, high fantasy setting aimed at a long-established fan base. Ravenloft and Dark Sun were later entries in TSR’s lineup, respectively 1990 and 1991, whereas fourteen Mystara Gazetteers had already been in print by that time. It would have been silly to “darkify” Mystara at that point. 

Matt then brings up the issue of Spelljammer as being another demonstration in silliness, which he claims “wasn’t something people wanted.” (Oh, really?) The interviewer intervenes and justly points out that Spelljammer was nonetheless very popular. (So much for not being dark and gritty.) And Matt instantly agrees—wait, what? I guess he didn’t really mean what he just said, or maybe it was okay for Spelljammer to be light hearted but not Mystara? For that matter, Mystara was indeed popular. It was one of the older game worlds at TSR, and it survived because of decent sales. It did well despite the fact that the original setting was written for the Basic/Expert sets, which was a challenge in itself. In this respect, Mystara very much accomplished the job it was intended for. A good number of AD&D players picked up the setting anyway, because they felt is was pretty damn cool, in fact. So much for not being what people wanted.

After the interviewer’s more even-handed remarks, Matt finally admits that he was only blaming “a couple of products really, but, umm, there’s lots of great stuff in Mystara.” (Well, how about that?) How did we get to this admission from the opening statement about Mystara having not-too-great products? Why did Matt not bring up core Mystara products, focusing instead on half-baked criticism? I suspect his personal bias and ignorance have something to do with it. This becomes evident when he states that Mystara has “a weird crossover with Greyhawk.” Matt meanders some more on the issue of Mystara’s origins, bringing up Arneson, Blackmoor, and then Mystara becoming its own thing. That was all pretty clueless. 

For the Record: The Known World was originally described as a brief summary in the Expert Set. The setting’s core was developed directly from that small part, which led to the popular Gazetteers. Arneson’s material came in after the Expert Set’s release, as a result of TSR’s lawsuit settlement, which led the company’s management to want to incorporate Blackmoor to the Mystara setting. The reason was to keep any Arneson connections away from the AD&D IP for obvious legal reasons (and especially away from TSR’s Greyhawk, which sat ostensibly in Gygax’s copyright sphere). Blackmoor was therefore retrofitted to Mystara and positioned centuries before the Know World’s timeline, since Blackmoor and Mystara had nothing in common. This happened around 1986, and involved all of 4 accessories (compared with more than 40 core BECMI/Mystara titles).

Matt then goes back to the audio CDs, claiming they were developed around that time. No they weren’t. They came up about 10 years later, around 1994, after Mystara was relaunched under the AD&D banner. All in all, this was an inappropriate way to describe Mystara. It seems to me Matt would have been better off declining the opportunity to speak about something he clearly knew too little about. The interviewer and the interviewee could have coordinated this better. Either this, or there was an intent to criticize gratuitously from the beginning. Either way, based on the reactions of present Mystara fans, the interview is quite poorly received. This does nobody any favors. Fans are upset. Matt appears as incompetent on the subject and rather tone deaf. The podcast disseminates misleading information to say the least. This could have been done much better. Is it a policy at WotC to shoot itself in the foot about IPs it owns? This makes no sense to me.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Levitium & Sky Cities

While I described a flying city in my current project, On Wings of Darkness, I dwelled upon ideas about how such marvels might be built. Here's one way, presented below, that helps explain how they work. Although this material is intended for the World of Calidar, it may be used pretty much as is with the World of Mystara. Let me know what you think. Thanks!

Calidar, Mystara, Levitium

by ArtAndJoy

Levitium is a magical gas native to Calidar. In its natural form, it binds with fine grain, metamorphic minerals broadly known as cloudstones. It is believed that levitium is related to Calidar’s world soul, the result of high pressure and heat permanently binding its magic to the mineral. Similar in appearance to white, blue, gray, or black marble, it can be carved and polished, but it is a bit more brittle than true marble. Levithium alters the physical properties of objects with which it is bonded, causing them to levitate. Its concentration determines how high these objects may rise through the atmosphere before settling at a certain altitude.

Cloudstones can lift additional weight (such as man-made structures, living beings, hardware, ice, snow, etc.) up to what their unenchanted mass should have been, without adverse effect on attainable altitude. Excess weight reduces altitudes cloudstones can reach. Loads twice a cloudstone’s unenchanted mass prevents it fully from rising. Additional enchantments or air anchors are often needed to stabilize cloudstones and prevent them from rolling over or drifting.

Cloudstone deposits generally lie deep below ground. Seismic activity may accidentally release cloudstones, often leaving rubble-filled chasms or lakes where a deposit was exposed. During eons of Caldwen’s existence, many such monoliths have risen and now wander the skies at the whims of winds. It isn’t always easy to tell natural clouds from these boulders as they often fly at the same altitudes. With time, they erode, break apart, and lose their levithium, gradually returning to the surface in an endless cycle. 

Most of the cloudstones in Caldwen and Araldûr have already been extracted. Few other regions operate mines, especially in Narwan and northern Belledor. The business of salvaging airborne monoliths is brisk, lucrative, but dangerous because sky-dwelling monsters or pirates may have already claimed them. Wind storms sometimes drive cloudstone debris, peppering imprudent skyships and their crews. Other vessels actually use nets to capture wandering rubble, like they would fish in the sea. Naturally, the greatest deposits of cloudstone still lie beneath the Dread Lands, largely untouched.

Calidar, Mystara, Levitium

by Nikulina-Helena

Natural cloudstones, especially if mined from pristine deposits feature the best concentrations of levitium. Caldwen’s capital city’s Upper District is built with large blocks and slabs of mined cloudstones. Small stones and gravel may be ground and made into bricks and cement. Cheaper, but less effective, these are used predominantly in Arcanial’s Middle District. Levitium can otherwise be extracted from cloudstones. Mixed in an alchemical solution, it can be absorbed in dry softwood, like pine, such as that found in the Lower District. It is the cheapest levitating product, but also the least effective and durable. This process is incompatible with hardwoods and metals, from which skyships are generally constructed. Navigating vessels, therefore, require separate enchantments to enable flight, which is a lot more expensive considering time, skill, and the number of spells needed.

Some monsters on Caldwen are naturally imbued with levitium, which flows in their flesh and blood. These creatures consciously master their levitation abilities, vectoring it in order to control their flight despite the absence of wings or other propulsion method. Some are better than others. Their blood may be used as a component for potions of levitation.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Gary Con X Video

Hi all. Here's a  video of a few things I was able to catch while at Gary Con. Some of this stuff is a bit blurry. Sorry -- old camera and all. Hope you enjoy the show nonetheless.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Gary Con X

A few pictures for Thursday March 8th.
One of the private gamerooms

A hallway before the crowd

The Kobold Press gang

All aboard, mateys!

I want one.

HMGS corner. I'll crash the party tonite or friday...

More HMGS ogres...

Looks like a LotR scenario. I'm definitely interested.

Here comes the roc!

Our buddy the ent.

One of the GaryCon gift table

In the exhibitors' room (the entire surface was sold out, so two other rooms had to be added.)

The Heath from down-under (not).  ;)

Wayne Targo hard at work in the Forum gaming area.

Looks like a bunch of Jedi stuck in an arena. Ring a bell?

First time I noticed the "Forum" gaming area, across the parking lot from the hotel lobby.
It's huge. There's definitely room for expansion there. 

One of the upstairs ballrooms.

The view out from an upstairs ballroom.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thank You.

E. Gary Gygax
My life's a mess. It's all your fault. I wouldn't have it any other way if I had to do it over. Now, please pass that d20. Peace. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

About Reviews

Calidar books have so far been well received. A lot of care and attention is paid to contents, creative and graphic, with text, layout, maps, and art. It has been a slow process, since yours truly has to juggle game design, floor plan cartography, project management, advertising, social media presence, sales, and accounting, while still learning the ropes of indie publishing. The work in these books represents the efforts of more than one person--Thorfinn Tait's contributions with geographical maps and book layout cannot be ignored, nor should the work of artists who endeavored to give faces to Calidar's heroes and villains, the project editor, Janet Deaver-Pack, and more recently proofer Hervé Musseau. Kickstarter supporters should give themselves a major pat on the back as well.

Personal reviews are a way to thank all contributors and to convey constructive criticism and suggestions with the expectation they will help improve future releases. Fans ought to consider this especially if they hope to see future products for the World of Calidar succeed and follow a path that will best address their gaming needs. It's all about communication, hopefully amiable.

What does a review entail? Some can be as simple as a star rating. These can be logged in directly at the source, on DTRPG, where Calidar books come from. It just takes a minute (click here). An accompanying comment explaining the rating would be ideal but not absolutely necessary. That's the easiest approach.

Other methods include more elaborate and effective ways of reaching a wider spectrum in the gaming community. Mentions or discussions in forums are excellent ways to get the word across to other gamers, to the author, and creative contributors. I usually keep an eye on discussions on Facebook, G+, Twitter (#Calidar), and on the Piazza.

One other good place to put in a review is EnWorld's ranking page (click here for the present review status of Calidar books). In order for a title to appear on EnWorld's chart, a minimum of 10 reviews are required. If you plan on posting yours there, a paragraph on what you feel is most important is enough to help readers get the right idea.

Your feedback is important and appreciated. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Flying Circus has Landed

Greetings all. I finally received the much-awaited package from the printer this afternoon -- discovered by accident since the delivery guy at UPS didn't bother to knock or ring the front door bell. Good news: the printer's proof for the hardcover looks great. Bad news: the softcover version was not included in the package. Gee thanks. I placed an inquiry with DTRPG to that missing printer's proof asap.

Overall, the hardcover book looks great. The premium paper stock is slightly glossy and feels good to the touch. The printing is very sharp, which is a relief, considering the large number of maps inset in the text.

I'll start the hardcover's Kickstarter fulfillment first thing Thursday morning (Dec. 7th). This means that many of you will be receiving this book before Christmas day. This might also be true to some of you outside the US (especially in the UK). As for the softcover book, I won't be waiting too long before getting this process started as well. The printing inside the softcover book is identical to the hardcover's. The file is evidently different for the cover, but it is otherwise set up exactly the same way as the hardcover's, so I'm not expecting more bad surprises here.

That's it for now. If you need to find out more about Calidar projects in general (or this one, when I release it for general sale to the public), click the advertising at the top of the blog page. I'll let you now peruse the pictures I just shot of the book. Cheers!

CA1 -- Calidar: Dreams of Aerie

Saturday, November 11, 2017

D&D Ships MV Rates

After reviewing ship movement rates in the D&D Expert Set, I questioned numbers given there (see RC page 71). Being a perfectionist, I decided to update my own numbers, using historical sources. Here’s what I came up with. Let me know if you find better results. This isn’t an exercise in criticizing the venerable old Expert Set, but rather my own take in retrospect. Thanks!

European Medieval Galleys
120 yards/round (sail + oars as needed)
72 miles/day (sail + oars as needed)
150 yards/round (rowing top speed)
32 miles/day (rowing only)
Large (see ref.)
90 yards/round (sail + oars as needed)
54 miles/day (sail + oars as needed)
120 yards/round (rowing top speed)
24 miles/day (rowing only)
War (galleass)
60 yards/round (sail + oars as needed)
36 miles/day (sail + oars as needed)
90 yards/round (rowing top speed)
24 miles/day (rowing only)

Sailing Ships (“Round Ships”)
Skiff (sailboat)
120 yards/round
72 miles/day
Small (caravel)
90 yards/round
54 miles/day
Large (carrack or “troop transport”)
60 yards/round
36 miles/day

Other Vessels
Raft, river barge
30 yards/round (on lake or sea)
16 miles/day
60 yards/round (downriver)
24 miles/day
Towing beast speed (upriver)
8 miles/day

Norse Longship
150 yards/round (sail + oars as needed)
108 miles/day
180 yards/round (rowing top speed)
32 miles/day (rowing only)

60 yards/round (on lake or sea)
24 miles/day
90 yards/round (downriver)
48 miles/day
30 yards/round (upriver)
12 miles/day

Ship’s Lifeboat
30 yards/round (on lake or sea)
18 miles/day
60 yards/round (downriver)
36 miles/day
15 yards/round (upriver)
9 miles/day


Combat speeds (yards/round) are NOT realistic. Their only purpose is to bring ship movement in line with monsters’ MV rates, as described in the D&D Expert Set. It’s a game design decision.  Travel speeds per day are more historical, assuming favorable sailing conditions. Some of my numbers were adjusted to ensure comparisons between different types of vessels remained somewhat logical (I thought that a war galley, as described in the D&D Expert rules, should be able to travel faster than a raft).

Galleys are inherently faster than sailing ships due to the shape of their hulls and lighter weight, despite having less sail surface than a carrack or a caravel. Maximum rowing speed can only be reached for several combat rounds before the crew is exhausted (divide rowing speed by three at least in this case). The Expert Set only provides the slower rowing speed. I switched this around in my numbers, providing a top rowing speed per combat round where it would be desirable, and a much slower travel speed in becalmed conditions. Otherwise, galleys alternated rowing and sailing (or perhaps combined the two) whenever convenient. Under adverse condition, halve all MV rates.

Dubrovnikby RadoJavor

Norse longship end up being seafaring “hot rods” here! Historically, they could reach 15 knots. That’s faster than the other vessels I looked at, where 10 knots for galleys is more likely. So, yeah, Norse-style raiders were a total pain in the real world, and probably in a fantasy game world as well.

Galleys of ancient times were faster than those used during European Middle Ages. So-called “war galleys” probably refer to galleasses, which were indeed slow but carried siege weapons. Galleys are otherwise too narrow to carry more than one siege weapon (carracks, on the other hand, allow for more deck armament—they certainly should in a fantasy setting). Under the best of conditions, medieval galleys could reach an average 115 miles per day (with steady favorable winds and ideal sea conditions). Galleys generally do poorly in bad weather; sailing ships cope much better in rough seas than galleys, and for this reason they are best suited for high seas navigation, not to mention they can haul greater food and drinking water stores. Galleys should focus on coastal navigation; they are more maneuverable than sailing ships and can reach a nearby port more easily when needed.

Travel speeds are historical for sailing ships, under generally favorable conditions. With less favorable conditions, which would require frequent tacking, I’d suggest halving daily travel speeds. Under adverse conditions, sailing ships can’t move or might actually drift with the wind. I lumped together large sailing ship and troop transport. I did not see the need for two types of large sailing ships. I also introduced alternative travel speeds up/down rivers.

Original D&D Expert stats (RC page 71)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How Many Dwarves?

In the wake of the previous article on How Many Peasants, out of curiosity I zeroed in on an island that is part of a larger province, to see how numbers stack up in a small setting. I chose Miyuki Island for this experiment. According to CAL1 In Stranger Skies, shipwrecked Kumoshimans settled this remote corner of Caldwen's magiocracy after their fleet crash-landed there as the result of a malfunctioning Kahuulkin gate. It eventually became part of the province of Garamial, in the College of Invocations. What do we know about this province?

Province Surface: 30,880 sq. miles.    Province Population: 1,054,218 people
College Seat: Garamial (14,759 ppl.)     Main Cults: Astafeth 45%, Naghilas 20%
Races: Human (35% Gandarian, 20% Kumoshiman, 10% Norse), 15% shatim, 10% elven, 5% dwarven
Military: Garamial (town) 344 semi-permanent militia (part of the town's population)

Quick measurements and calculations revealed the following information about the island itself:

Island Area: 5,897.00 sq. miles, 60% of which is settled land.
Population Density: 36 people/sq mile
Total Population: 214,651 Miyukians 

Based on original numbers established from Garamial's demography, the island's main town, Hisetsu, is home to 12,299 folk, which includes a local militia of 287 people. The fortress of Yukimatsu houses a permanent garrison 186 strong (they are the brave fellows on the lookout for Godzilla-style visits from the sea). The total number of troops on the island adds up to 473.

Garamial and most of the magiocracy's other provinces provide a certain number of permanent troops to the High Wizard Chancellor in Arcanial (the realm's capital city). In other words, these are like "royal troops" as opposed to local militiae which are paid for and under the command of provincial authorities. These permanent forces form Caldwen's standing army.  They are typically posted to the various out-of-town fortresses guarding Caldwen's coast. This includes Yukimatsu.

I'd established earlier that not more than 3.5% of urban population belong in the military. This means that the island itself supports/provides up to 430 native Myukians (ethnic Kumoshimans) to various military roles. This falls a bit short of the total 473 troops actually on the island. The remainder, 43 round-eyed "strangers," therefore came from the mainland and are most-likely posted at Yukimatsu. If so, then the 186-strong fortress garrison counts 143 ethnic Kumoshimans plus the 43 "strangers" (23% of the garrison).

Since we know from the stats posted at the beginning of this article what the population mix is, we can figure out what kinds of people make up these 43 mainland soldiers, as follows:

19 Ethnic Gandarians (human descendants of Munaan's Nav-Gandarians)
  5 Ethnic Norse (human descendants of Nordheim migrants)
  8 Shatim (half-blood demons, mostly of Gandarian culture)
  5 Elves
  3 Dwarves
  3 Other (gnomes, fellfolk, half-orcs, whatever a game master wants)
43 Total

Voilà! You'll be pleased to know there are exactly THREE dwarven warriors assigned to Yukimatsu, the Kumoshiman fortress in the far-eastern reaches of Caldwen's magiocracy. Bet you didn't know that! The good news is that the general numbers used in the previous article seem to work still when looking at a small area. This experiment is rather obscure and mostly useless, but still interesting at least to me.