Happy Birthday, Held Action!

Today marks the one year anniversary of Held Action‘s first publication, from the day I made my post of introduction and reported on local Free RPG Day activities. Those posts actually date from the brief period of time when I blogged on Dreamwidth. A couple weeks later, I got tired of the limitations of the cloned LiveJournal interface and crossed over to WordPress. That also pushed me to think of a name for the blog, and it wasn’t until I had thought of something I liked better than “Tyler’s Game Blog” that I bought the domain and set up this blog on WordPress.com.

What a year it’s been. First I chose a schedule to keep myself to, then I had an enormous spike in things I wanted to say, then I fell back into the more comfortable schedule I’d originally chosen. I’ve run through most of the material I wrote in other times and contexts, so now it’s all fresh, usually sparked by something I’ve read or heard elsewhere. And that’s what I wanted in a gaming blog: a place to publish the thoughts and ideas I had that I didn’t feel like putting in someone else’s discussion forum, but still wanted to make public.

According to WordPress.com, here are the top ten most popular posts of the last year, least to most. It’s amazing what the viral bump can do to hit counts, isn’t it?

  1. National Library Week 2010 Drumming up enthusiasm for an endeavor that inspired Saturday gaming at the local library.
  2. The Art of Board Game Storage When I get a game room of my own, I’ll use this technique.
  3. Game Master Mistakes: Not Really Listening I know enough to fess up when I make mistakes.
  4. A Screen for Every Game Promoting my favorite GM screen, the customizable sort.
  5. Physical Evidence Extolling my enjoyment of Propnomicon‘s Lovecraft-inspired creations.
  6. Labyrinth Lord: Downward to Adventure! My actual play report for International Traditional Gaming Week.
  7. The Lurker at the Threshold Expands Arkham Horror One of my inconsistent moments of pseudo-journalism.
  8. Scouting and Dungeons & Dragons Most mind-boggling is this one posted last week and it’s already number three in terms of hits.
  9. The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide One of those wonderful moments of blogging came when I saw someone else recommending this post on Boardgamegeek.com. Ah, gratification.
  10. How to Make a Pamphlet Prop I really do intend to get back to making that Ghostbusters proper suitable for download. Honest.

[Eldritch Vermont] Ever Expanding Horror

It’s part of the relationship cycle for a gamer. You meet a game. You fall in love. You learn every little bit about the game. You buy trinkets to make it prettier and better. Eventually, you decide you can improve it. For most people, this takes the form of house rules, variants or outright new rules that customize the play experience to their liking. I’m a big fan of house rules in general, although I do think there needs to be stronger etiquette when introducing strangers to the Way We Play and reconciling differences. House rules usually exist in the mind. Sometimes, if they’re copious, sufficiently game-changing or thought to be worth circulating, they’re compiled and written down.

The simultaneous, if unrelated, rises of desktop publishing, availability of increased bandwidth and Boardgamegeek as a central repository of content allow for an amazing amount of custom material to circulate among game players, from house rule compilations and beyond. And beyond, I’m thinking specifically of fan-written game expansions. My beloved Arkham Horror is particularly blessed in this regard, as Chris Jennings wrote Strange Eons, a computer program that makes generating new content a breeze. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of custom investigators, Ancient Ones, heralds, items, monsters, encounters and more floating around Boardgamegeek and Fantasy Flight Games’ official forum.

Like the way of house rules, fan-generated content forms a spectrum of depth and comprehensiveness. Most creators create one-offs as the ideas come. A smaller portion will create themed packs: the cast of Scooby-Doo as investigators, for instance. Smaller still are those who go the distance of creating the full expansion experience, like thecorinthian’s Cult of the Golden Scarab.

And that’s what I want to go for. I’ve had this idea floating at the back of my mind for a while, since last spring, at least. I want to create a full replacement board for Arkham Horror that transposes the horror and weirdness of Lovecraft to Vermont. For the moment, I’m calling it Eldritch Vermont, mostly because “Vermont Horror” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. Where the official big box expansions, like Dunwich Horror, add a small board with nine or so locations in three neighborhoods that works in conjunction with the primary board representing the town of Arkham, I want to make something on a scale that substitutes for the Arkham board itself.

Nine townships or regions take the place of Arkham’s nine neighborhoods, each with two or three locations: Burlington, Montpelier, the Northeast Kingdom, Middlebury, Bennington, Brattleboro — with the Akeley Place, of course — the Islands, Windsor and Royalton. Because this is a substitute board, rather than a supplemental expansion, all the main functions of the basic Arkham Horror board have to be included: hospital and asylum, shops and so on. The hospital function easily maps to the Dummerston Medical School in the Brattleboro region, for example.

After that, it all gets a bit hazy. I’m going to have to dive into the corpus of Lovecraftiana, both canon and apocryphal, as well as Vermont-specific resources like Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries, Passing Strange, both by chronicler of oddities Joseph Citro, and whatever books of horror and high weirdness in Vermont I can find. I think this is going to be a long term project. Like really long term. Maybe it’ll be ready for Carnage 2011.

The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide

One of the perpetual questions about Arkham Horror I see posed on Boardgamegeek and Fantasy Flight Games’ forum, among others, is some variation on “What’s the best expansion?” or “What should I buy as my first expansion to Arkham Horror?” Well now, I’ll be able to point inquiring minds to this post, saving everyone some hassle.

There are, at this time of writing, six expansions to Arkham Horror, with a seventh on the way. We’ll run through them in order of best place for an Arkham Horror fan to begin to worst.

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Corebooks and Supplements: The Cart Before the Horse

I have a knack for acquiring expansions and supplements to games before getting the core elements themselves. It started back in the days of voraciously devouring TSR’s Dragonlance novels without ever realizing they were tied to a game at all, let alone a roleplaying game or what that constituted. Despite the fact the local Waldenbooks — this was back in the days before Borders came to Burlington; Waldenbooks was the place to go for the widest selection of Dungeons & Dragons-related stuff, outside of Quarterstaff Games, which I wasn’t aware of at the time — had an entire tier of shelves devoted to the game books right next a tier full of fantasy novels, including the better part of the TSR fiction catalog at that time, it was some time before I made the connection.

Somehow, in the midst of my paper route-fueled mission to buy and read every Dragonlance novel I could find, I bought the AD&D Player’s Guide to Dragonlance Campaign Setting. I didn’t get the part about it being a player’s guide, nor understood why it was completely different in form and design. Reading it, I also remember a sense of puzzlement over why the information in this encyclopedic-like book was subtly different in places from what I knew to be correctly related by the novels — that the novels routinely contradicted each other was another, separate source of mystification to my eleven year old self.

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The Lurker at the Threshold Expands Arkham Horror

Good news, everyone! Arkham Horror‘s getting another expansion. This time it’s a small box set called The Lurker at the Threshold. Fantasy Flight’s post details the contents pretty well. I’m interested by the tactic they’ve taken here, with some components and mechanics that seem like they can function regardless of what expansions one’s using.

The replacement gate tokens, for example, cover the four other worlds that Dunwich Horror and Kingsport Horror introduce. That’s a nice nod to people like myself, who bought into the whole squamous enchilada. And the added mechanics, like some gates moving and others incurring a loss of some kind for a failure to close them, is really going to change how the game’s played. Someone arriving back in Arkham from exploring another dimension won’t be able to spend turns there, rolling to close the gate, with impunity — not that there’s all that much impunity when there are monsters lurking in the corners of the Black Cave as your intrepid investigator cranks their Stealth to stay alive while hoping for a hit on a single Lore die to close the gate.

And I suspect that if a gate moves out from under an investigator, they’ll lose their “explored” status, meaning they’ll have to go through the other world all over again. That would definitely make the game harder. Frankly, I don’t know if Arkham Horror needs yet another difficulty boost, but for those who do, this should make them happy.

The relationship cards are what interest me. They create links between the investigators. The player on your right may control your character’s fiance, for example. Sounds like there’s typically some benefit to gain from the relationship cards. Something that works in the investigators’ favor gets a thumb’s up from me

There’s other stuff, including a new herald called the Lurker and a mess of the usual cards, but the replacement gates and relationship cards are what interest me most.* Fantasy Flight gives a date of spring 2010, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I can rip into the box and check things out.

* I will be most intrigued to see if the relationships interact at all with the back story cards from Innsmouth Horror.

Shadows Over Innsmouth

Most of this was first posted to RPG.net’s Other Games Open forum. What you see here has been cleaned up and slightly modified.

So I’ve had Innsmouth Horror, the latest expansion to the Call of Cthulhu-based board game Arkham Horror, a couple weeks now. This expansion incorporates characters, places and events from one of Lovecraft’s most well known stories, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I’ve skimmed through most of the cards and had two play-throughs. Lost both of them, and only got a real taste of the expansion in the second — the first play centered more around teaching the game to a batch of newcomers.

First off, the whole expansion is brutal. The new Great Old Ones are phenomenally tough, which I don’t necessarily disagree with, since the situation should be dire if you’re trying to take down a Thing Man Was Not Meant to Know with a tommy gun and magic knife. I just don’t know if I agree with Old Ones who interfere with investigators as directly as, say, Quachil Uttaus, who’s going to devour somebody outright sooner or later.

But beyond the new Great Old Ones, there’s the rotting burgh of Innsmouth itself. The townsfolk are out to get you. A lot of the encounters there involve the investigator getting beat up, jailed or otherwise harassed. Once the doom track passes the halfway mark, the locals declare martial law; investigators need to start making Sneak checks just to avoid summary arrest. The more sensitive the location, like, say, the Esoteric Order of Dagon’s headquarters, the harder it is to avoid getting caught. Once you’re in jail, there are a wide variety of nasty options that await, including beatings, devouring and being forced to drink strange, transmuting liquids.

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