RPG Review – Tiny Frontiers: Revised

WILL RAMBLES

Yep.

I’m back with another TinyD6 review.

Tiny Frontiers: Revised was unlocked as a stretch goal as part of the Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition Kickstarter. As a backer of the original Tiny Frontiers, I admit my skepticism of a revision on a game that is good already. However, there were quite a few awesome new things built into the later TinyD6 games, and I didn’t mind getting those built in by default. When I heard there would be a new set of micro settings, I was sold 100%.

Now, I want to be clear, I wrote one of the new micro settings. It’s called “Bears. In. Space.” and I’m not reviewing it. If you should happen to pick up the book, I’d appreciate your thoughts on BIS. That said, this is the only section of the book I had any part of, I don’t earn any royalties, and I don’t feel biased when I write about the rules, the art, or the other micro settings.

THE REVIEW

Today I’m reviewing Tiny Frontiers: Revised the Kickstarter stretch goal add-on PDF to Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition by Alan Bahr.

Its a newly revised edition of the very first TinyD6 game released by Gallant Knight Games back in 2016.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Tiny Frontiers: Revised book is a lean and focused 160 pages. It has a new (better) art style and has several extras here that weren’t in the original, but I’ll get into that below. The layout is great, as I’ve come to expect in the TinyD6 line.

The original Tiny Frontiers is also a great game I reviewed here. I’ll get into the differences below, but the original book is still available on DTRPG as “pay what you want”. Revised edition PDF is $14.99 ($6.00 DEAL OF THE DAY as of publishing this article). At the list price, I’d buy it. On sale? Wow!

9/10


2.) Art

The cover art is dazzling as you can plainly see! The interior art is black and white in an updated and much cleaner style, and there are a lot of pieces particularly in the Heritage section. Some reuse of pieces, but very little and only when it made sense. Similar to Tiny Dungeon 2E, my lone critique is that I’d like, and would pay for, more art in the style of the cover.

7/10


3.) Content and Rules

I’ll rehash some of this from Tiny Dungeon 2E because a lot of the improvements there have been brought across to Tiny Frontiers: Revised. Tiny D6 games are my favorite minimalist rules RPGs. Any 5 or 6 rolled on1-3d6 (depending on advantage or disadvantage) is a success. Simple and yet flexible for GMs. Lots of optional character creation rules like TD2E and has progression options built into the game. Some standouts: additional Heritages and Traits. Lots of them. Cybernetics and Psionics. All good stuff!

10/10


4.) Game Master Section

This section is enhanced with new rules and plenty of those random tables I like. It also now includes a small bestiary with some example creatures. Optional rules for hacking and combat are nice, as well as a fantastic and detailed reimagining of the starship rules.

9/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

TinyD6 uses MICRO SETTINGS. The great news is, TF:R contains a whole set of new micro settings. Now, if I were scoring with “Bears. In. Space.” included, I’d have to drop the number because I wrote it. I’m excluding that one, so all I have to say is WOW. I’m honored to have something I wrote resting among this company. Setting by Tobie Abad, Elizabeth Chaipraditkul, Steve Diamond, Dan Wells, Wendelyn Reischl, and Ben Woerner all stand out as a fantastic place to start your sci-fi adventure. I’m raving. I’ll stop.

10/10


Total Score: 45/50

This one grades out just as good as the new Tiny Dungeon in my opinion.

Super game. A very nice improvement on the original. Get it.

Con Report: LTUE 2018

This was my fourth year attending the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium. Per LTUE.net, this is the purpose of the event:

LTUE is a symposium on science fiction and fantasy, centered around writing, art, literature, film, gaming and other facets of speculative fiction.

I’ll admit, after last year I came close to skipping the con in 2018. I’ll say Meri talked me into it.

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I’m glad we attended for many reasons, and I’ll get into some more detail on that momentarily. First–

The Bad

I’m a writer of speculative fiction both in standard prose formats and for role-playing games. You’d think this con would be right up my alley, and the first year I attended, you’d be right. I was very new to the world of writing, and EVERYTHING was relevant. Over the years, I’ve learned more, and less of the information was relevant. A shrinking amount, really. There were still nuggets, quite a few, but as a more experienced writer with published work and a group of experienced writer friends, they were much fewer and farther between (at least in the formal sessions and panels).

As Stephen King says in On Writing:

“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

I buy this line more every day.

The Ugly

The game track needed a boost. No. It needed resuscitation. There were only SIXTEEN game-related sessions out of 294 total sessions. Many hours there were no game-related sessions at all. Also, some game panels were woefully underpopulated. Several only had two panelists.

There is a ton of potential for crossover between game design and fiction and art, and those topics were barely touched.

I could go on.

The art room was sad and small. I don’t know if the con didn’t market appropriately to get the art room filled up or what happened there.

The Good

I’ll end with the good because I have sincere hopes that LTUE will return to form and keep the things that worked well.

All the brilliant and friendly creators and authors who attended and lent their talents and knowledge to folks in attendance.

Jo Walton’s keynote. Fantastic.

The Writing Fantastical Fantasy panel.

Two-thirds of the Board Game Recommendations panel.

Everything I attended that my writing group buddy Richie Franklin was involved in: the poetry panel and the Method Acting and Character Creation sessions in particular.

Meeting many wonderful people in person for the first time: Ben, Dan, Brian “Fitz”, Jim, Dan, Martin, Natasha, Rock, JC, and probably a couple I’m forgetting.

Seeing and hanging out with folks I already know: Alan, Richie, Steve, Dan, Drew, Shannon, Scott, Eliza, Emily, Dan, Angie, Michael, Yoxani, Rachael, Meri, Robin, Kassie, Emma and the rest of y’all. Ya animals.

Many of the art sessions my girls attended. They were delighted with their experience. My youngest also got a “best friends” picture with her favorite author, Brandon Mull.
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Playtesting Old West with Ben Woener was phenomenal. Super fun game. You’ll want to watch for his Kickstarter next month. This game is amazing.

That’s it, folks. I’ll probably be attending FyreCon in Layton, UT on June 21-23. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be on some panels or teach a class. Hope to see some of you there!

RPG Review: The One Ring

Will Rambles

The One Ring RPG has the distinction of being the first game I ran as a long campaign for anyone other than my kids after my return to role-playing. In a previous life, my favorite RPG campaign to run had been AD&D 2e in the Planescape setting. Something about Planescape always spoke to me.

I played in tons of different systems growing up and one of my favorites while I was still in high school was Middle Earth Role-Playing (MERP). When I came back to gaming, I immediately started looking into the possibility of getting my hands on some MERP books and was disappointed to find it out of print. Luckily, someone kind and thoughtful pointed me to The One Ring (TOR), and I politely declined and continued to pine for MERP. It wasn’t until I played in a one-off session of Ring that I saw the real potential of the system.

The rest is history. I ran TOR for nearly a year meeting a little less frequently than I might have liked, but I had a great time, and I hope the players did as well.

I’ve run one-off sessions here and there for other folks, and you can rest assured when the Moria box set comes out later this year, I’ll be among the first lining up for a copy.

The Review

The original release of TOR was a slipcased version with two books. I’m reviewing the current single hardcover volume.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The core The One Ring book is hardbound and has good binding. The pages are semigloss and full color. It looks very nice with good call outs and is appealing overall. Also, at 336 pages, it feels good in your hands.

My biggest complaint about the entire game has got to be the organization of the layout. In my experience, this is not the area where Cubicle 7 games shine. Finding what you’re looking for isn’t always easy in a TOR book. In fact, since I was running this game regularly, I found myself adding more and more stickie notes, and doing more advanced note writing so I wouldn’t get caught thumbing through the book for some detail in-game.

At any rate, for $29.99 you can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG. It’s a decent price. The hardback copy is available pretty much anywhere you usually buy games (including Amazon). I recommend your FLGS (friendly local game shop).

7/10


2.) Art

I love the art in The One Ring. The core book cover is ok, but the interior art really speaks to me. Much of it is full color, there is plenty (who am I kidding though, there could always be more), and each piece is super evocative of Middle Earth.

9/10


3.) Content and Rules

Fantastic. Amazing. Wonderful.

So much effort here to be faithful to the source material and create rules and mechanics that evoke Middle Earth. MERP doesn’t hold a candle in any regard except for the fact that they did have more content, but TOR is catching up fast! I won’t spoil them all, but I love the opposition of the hope and shadow attributes for characters. The adventuring and fellowship phases of the game take place over seasons of the year so the more cinematic and action-packed portions of the game can take place while also allowing for social interactions and time for travel.  In other news, TOR has the most exciting and innovative travel system I’ve ever seen in an RPG.

10/10


4.) Game Master Section

Quite a lot going on here for a GM. While it isn’t the crunchiest game you could run, Ring does have some rules. It’s no minimalist or storygame style of RPG. The GM sections are useful. They guide you to create sessions for your players that evoke Tolkien’s world. Additionally, there is a campaign section detailing all the major event taking place in Middle-earth both before and during the game timeline. This allows for rumors and ideas to reach the characters even if they aren’t taking part in these events directly.

8/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The Marsh-Bell is an in-depth fourteen-page adventure that’s great for starting characters. They’ll enjoy some familiar sights from The Hobbit, meet some familiar dwarves, risk danger, get to test some of their skill at fighting and riddling, and see the travel rules. All-in-all, it’s a solid introduction to the game.

8/10


Total Score: 42/50

This is not a bad score by any means. I own (and preorder) every book in the series as they are released. My single regret is that I don’t have more time to run TOR. It’s a game and a world I could explore endlessly.

UPDATE September 1, 2018: For the next 4 days you can get the full collection of TOR PDFs currently in print from Humble Bundle for just $15. Do this, and then you can grab a hard copy of the two must-purchase books for players at your table:
The One Ring RPG
Adventurer’s Companion

RPG Review: Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition

WILL RAMBLES

First, I backed this Kickstarter.  Second, I’ve loved Tiny D6 games since the beginning (Tiny DungeonTiny Frontiers, and Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters).

I’m going to stop saying “I’m not an RPG reviewer” when it’s clearly something I like to do, and these posts tend to get a lot of traffic. Fair dinkum: I was in a regular game group with the creator of Tiny Dungeon 2e for a couple years, and even though we don’t live super close anymore, we still game together from time to time.

tinyDungeon2e

THE REVIEW

Today I’m reviewing the Kickstarter edition PDF of Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition by Alan Bahr.

It’s a minimalist fantasy RPG based on the original Tiny Dungeon by Smoking Salamander Games turned up to ELEVEN. I picked up the original to play with my kids a long while back.

1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Tiny Dungeon 2e book is the largest “tiny” book to date at 194 pages. It maintains the art style from the original game (the same artist in fact), and the new layout is impressive, bringing the game up to standard with the newer Tiny D6 games.

The original Tiny Dungeon is also a great game and only 24 pages total! Hard to believe. I’ll get into the differences below, but the original book is still on sale on DTRPG for $2.99. Second edition is $19.99 ($17.99 as of publishing this article). If you’d like the Player’s Guide (the first half of the book without the micro settings), it will only run you $9.99.

9/10


2.) Art

The cover art is amazing! The interior art is black and white in the style of the original Tiny Dungeon, and there’s plenty of it spread throughout the book. Some reuse where it made sense, and I’m totally good with that. The critter section is fleshed out and has excellent art for tons of beasties your party could fight (including the dinosaurs). If I have a critique here, it’s only that I’d like more of that beautiful cover art. I’d pay for it.

7/10


3.) Content and Rules

Tiny D6 games are my favorite for minimalist rules games. Any 5 or 6 rolled on1-3d6 (depending on advantage or disadvantage) is a success. So simple. So powerful. This version has the most optional character creation rules of any Tiny D6 game and even has progression options built into the game. I’ll be getting these to the table soon with my daughters Zeep and Zook (not their real names) who started playing Tiny Dungeon when the younger one was only 7. I can’t express how happy it makes me that Tiny Dungeon is growing up with them.

10/10


4.) Game Master Section

As previously mentioned, there is an expanded bestiary in TD2e. 26 pages to be exact.  In addition, there are sections with advice on running games, and the extensive optional rules. I won’t spoil them all, but there is some enjoyable stuff in here including optional combat rules and old-school adventure generation tables.

9/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

Not the traditional pre-made adventure, but as has become the tradition with Tiny D6, MICRO SETTINGS. I’ve been waiting for micro settings for the fantasy realm since Tiny Frontiers was initially announced on Kickstarter.  If you aren’t familiar yet, these are a delightful take on creating a ready-to-go world you can grok after a few pages and create interesting and unique new adventures for. They also happen to be written by a super talented group of authors, games designers, and other highly creative people. As a GM, I prefer these to a full adventure since I almost always modify adventures to suit my tastes anyway.

10/10


Total Score: 45/50

A high score in the upper echelons of my scoring criteria.

I’d Kickstart TD2e again. Twice.

On Paying For Professional Writing Critiques And Coaches

Starting With Caveats. How Typical.

Yes, yes, yes– of course, you have to have something written first (or at least a sizable portion of it). I recommend the words of Neil Gaiman as a source for this brand of inspiration.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

― Neil Gaiman

This advice is even more relevant to me in the face of the experience report I’m about to offer. Trust me, my friends, I’ve written a glorious failure or two in my time. My draft folder is full of them. I have unfinished things too. It’s all part of the experience.

Thoughts, Reasons, and Ugh– Programmers.

I’m going to bring my experience programming computers into the frame. Why? Because as a group of people, programmers are perhaps the only individuals who can compare with writers in terms of being introverted, shy, and generally unwilling to work with others.

Let’s face it, we’re all just nerds of one variety or another. Yes, I made a broad generalization about almost everyone in my social circles.

My ostracisation is imminent.

A new programmer/coder/developer (or whatever you’d like to call us), straight out of college or someone going the DIY route, is green. When I was new, I’d finish an application, and it was not good enough. It was so obvious. I’d look at what I’d written a year, a month, or often only a day later, and I’d start to see the weaknesses.

The fastest way on earth for a programmer to level-up is to finish successful projects. You work and fight and research and scour the web and ask friends and eventually– you complete a fluffernutter. And it feels GOOD. Then, you give the fluffernutter you’ve built to someone who uses it.

What do they do? They break it.

They abuse your glorious fluffernutter.

They don’t use it in the ways you intended. It hurts. You created this fantastic fluffernutter so people could fluff nets with it, and they didn’t use it right. They didn’t understand. All because you didn’t know the best way to build it.

Sound familiar yet, writers?

Being a new programmer with the cloud or a mobile app store to deploy code to, is equivalent an indie author who publishes the first thing they write without any professional editing.

We’ve established that finishing is essential. Finishing helps us get to a state where real feedback is possible but isn’t there a way to improve quickly? There is for programmers. They engage in behaviors meant to amplify the cycle time of their learning.

Get Guidance From A More Experienced Person.

For coders, this can happen through pairing (sitting side-by-side writing the same thing together with only one person at the keyboard), code reviews, quick work cycles with smaller pieces of work, regular sessions with a mentor, or spending time in an apprenticeship.

Corporate America has all the incentive in the world to get programmers up to speed quickly. Coders are in short supply, they usually work at a company with peers, and hence, the development and use of all the methods described above.

Wait, You Just Said A Bunch Of Stuff About Computer Programming.
Is This A Trick?

In writing, we’re often an even more solitary crowd than coders, so what can writers do that maps most closely to code reviews and pair-programming and apprenticeships? Writers don’t usually have the benefit of working with a host of other writers unless they are working for some large publication or a school or a writers room for a TV production or some such thing. If you’re writing prose– hm.

There are a couple of options at your disposal:

  1. Join a writing critique group. If you’re lucky like me, the group will be an unending delight, but limited in their time to continually review your amateur work. **
  2. Pay for a professional critique by a writing coach, published author, freelance editor, etc.

**There are so many other reasons to join a writing group, but that’s a different blog post.

Gah! You Finally Mentioned Paying For Critiques.

Here’s the deal. As absolutely fantastic and essential a writing group is, those folks need time to write as well, and of course, you’ll want to reciprocate critiques/reviews. I’ve likely passed the halfway point in my life, and time is the only asset that really matters beyond having enough money to meet basic needs. We can never get more time, and it is always ticking away. It is unfair of me to demand more of it from my writer and editor friends than I have available to give to them. I also can’t rely on my family, because they are too close to me and don’t want to hurt my feelings.

Once I made these determinations, I decided if time was my limiting factor, then money was not going to be the thing holding me back as a writer. I’ve been writing plenty, but I have to wait interminably to go back and look at my own work before I can get past the “I JUST WROTE THIS AND IT IS AMAZING” glow and really learning anything from my mistakes. So, I started looking into paid critiques.

I might have been inspired by some anthologies and writing projects from Kickstarter initially. They had rewards like: “Back our book project for $100, and we’ll also do a professional edit on the first 20k words of your manuscript”. I researched some of the authors offering this service and found one (who shall not be named) who had an impressive resume of dealing with many of the hurdles I was trying to overcome in my WIP at the time, The Galaxy and All Her Charms. The Kickstarter method eventually paid off in spades, but it took a LONG TIME. It was about nine months later when I received extremely detailed, thoughtful, and beyond helpful notes and line edits.

Great. In Nine Months I Can Get Good Feedback?

Yes and no. You are indeed welcome to wait the requisite amount of time to gestate a human, but there are better, more direct ways to get this kind of feedback. During my 9-month wait, I ended up hiring another author/editor to do a detailed critique of the first 2500 words of Rue From Ruin. I received notes almost as long as the excerpt I sent for review, and it cost me $55.

So you can go this route, and you can also hire a writing coach (I recommend a couple folks I know: Lauren Sapala and Angie Fenimore. Look ’em up. They’re on the Googles.)

Hiring someone directly can be scary. If you aren’t sure you’re going to like the type of feedback you’ll get, ask them to review a sample for you before you pay. Most folks will agree.

Tightening the feedback loop and getting an earlier view on the kinds of mistakes I’m making in my writing is an immense help. It flattens out my learning curve, and I get over dumb mistakes far earlier. The only trick is having a bit of thick skin (a skill writers need anyway). My critiques have been professional, and even kind, and they also speak their mind.

Take it from a guy who almost always has to learn things the hard way, paying for professional eyes early in your writing process is worth it.

Cold Shadows: The Black Book

You can buy a thing I wrote!

I’ve been teasing on social media about having something published for a while. Soon it won’t be a novelty, but the norm. I have no plans to stop writing, and by nature of the famed throw mud on the wall principle, eventually, some of that muck is going to stick.

In the meantime, tabletop role-playing gamers (yes, like Dungeons & Dragons, Mom) can check out some of my work right now.

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When Gallant Knight Games reached out to ask if I would be interested in writing for one of the three core books for their super successful Kickstarter game, Cold Shadows, I checked my calendar, shelved the rest of my writing projects, and said ‘Heck yes!’ Probably not in that order.

At any rate, this is a game I was already super excited about. Previously, I’d played Blood & Honor, the game the rules are based on, and I backed the Kickstarter and anxiously awaited release. Little did I know, I’d be writing several thousand words for Cold Shadows myself. I even have an author tag on DriveThruRPG!

Just to set expectations The Black Book is a core book for Cold Shadows, but it is meaningless without Cold Shadows, and I also recommend Cities in Shadow. Both are brilliantly written (not by me) and together make up the complete game.

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Between the three books, you have a fully immersive cold war era spy RPG. If you aren’t familiar with DriveThruRPG, you can preview the books so you can check them out without paying. Right now these are only available in PDF ebooks, but soon they will also be available in print-on-demand as well. Kickstarter backers will be getting their copies in a few months.

If a government agency like the FBI or NSA show up at my house asking around about my web browsing habits, I probably won’t be too surprised. I googled some fascinating stuff for The Black Book, and I also used some of my world travel experience to add some fun details. If you’re so inclined, check it out!

P.S. If you use The Black Book in your campaign and wonder how it turned out so well, GKG had a wonderful team including top-shelf editor Wendelyn Reischel. If there are any errors or problems in the text, they are certainly mine.

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Why Do I Write For 15 Minutes A Day?

Why do I write for 15 minutes a day? Because it works for me.

You do you, fair reader.

What Came Before Was Terrible

Here’s my reasoning: I’ve spent countless days not writing a single word.

All those days when I wrote exactly ZERO words, I thought would be offset by days when I “finally have some reasonable time to sit down and focus on writing.” It turns out, that approach doesn’t work for me. I mean, I make some progress. I wrote around 3000 words of fiction over the course of the first five months of this year. Not super impressive, right? Well, it’s in part because I only found a couple of occasions to sit down for “at least an hour or two.”

When I did finally sit down to write for an extended time, I noticed two things right away:

  1. I couldn’t remember much about what I had been writing, and it took considerable time and effort to get back up to speed.
  2. Rusty doesn’t begin to describe the state of my writing when gaps of weeks or months come between sessions.

No bueno.

Where Did This Silly Idea Originate?

Which brings me to the inspiration for my idea to write 15 minutes a day. It is multifold.

I’m a programmer, a code monkey, or perhaps most applicable, a software craftsman by training. I don’t write a ton of code day to day anymore since I now manage several teams of folks doing it instead. As part of my experience and training as a software craftsman, I learned the tactic of practicing coding through the use of code katas. I don’t want to bore the non-technical folk, so suffice to say that katas are a something you spend maybe 15-30 minutes a day practicing to keep the old coding muscles in shape (or learn new things).

I took that approach and started applying it to learning Spanish (using the excellent phone app Duolingo). Hola, amigos. Yo hablo español un poco. No, no nececita hablo bueno, pero me hablo.

Anyway, it was going pretty well, and I thought, self– this Spanish thing isn’t eating up too much of my day. I mean, I’ve read/heard plenty of writing advice saying you have to write every day. I wondered how practical it would be to write for just 15 minutes a day. Probably not very, but at least I could get some of these ideas I’ve been hoarding over the past year or so out on paper.

Idea Meets Action

So I went to my notes and my voice memos. I wrote some fiction about several ideas I’ve been sitting on. Nothing earth-shattering, I assure you. But I did write. Next thing I knew, it was going so well, I decided I would move on to some former WIPs. I had Rue From Ruin in an unfinished state. Maybe I could finish it. At this point, I’d already put more words down in about two weeks than I had in the entire 5 months previous.

What did I have to lose?

So I applied the same discipline to Rue: sit down at the computer, start a 15-minute timer, and write like my life depended on it until the timer ran out. If you follow me on social media, you already know how it turned out. I finished Rue From Ruin in a few days. Note, it does need revising before I get it up on the blog. For any who are waiting, it’s coming.

Then, I felt like I was ready for something a little bigger. So I went on to one of the ideas I had written a bit about. I’ve been calling it GIAO.

I’ve been writing every day for at least 15 minutes for nearly two months now (**). What do I have to show for it? Confidence that I can finish my writing projects. Over 20,000 words (a quarter of the planned length) on a new book I’m really excited about. A bunch of great starters for other stories/books. A couple of new writing projects from external sources. How is this a bad thing? You let me know if you discover it.

The Method (For You TL;DR Folks)

For the sake of clarity and to put it in a friendly format, here’s what I’ve been doing:

  1. Sit down at a computer with my favorite editor (Scrivener in my case) open to the thing I want to write.
  2. Start a 15-minute timer.
  3. Write like my life depended on it until the timer ends.
  4. Perform steps 1-3 one or more times daily.

I hope it helps someone else the way it’s helped me.

** I wrote the majority of this article on 8/3/2017 and I’m leaving the word counts, dates, etc. from that time. Since this time, I’ve picked up some additional projects and seen them through the creation, writing, and revision process. I write almost every day, but not always on the same piece.