Posts by Steve Winter

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Howling Tower: Old-School Renaissance

Old-School Renaissance A movement is happening in the shadows of the big fantasy RPGs. It calls itself the old-school renaissance, or OSR for short. You might have seen its logo popping up around the web. Like most grassroots movements, there’s no specific date when this got started. It’s tough even to say whether what we’re …

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Howling Tower: Gangsters Have Much to Teach Us

The best roleplaying sessions I ever played were a GangBusters campaign run by the game’s designer, Mark Acres. This campaign was legendary around TSR. Everyone wanted in, so Mark routinely wound up handling twelve or more players at a time. Understand that GangBusters is a tabletop version of simple, straightforward cops and robbers set in …

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Howling Tower: Social Studies

Cities and towns crop up frequently in most RPG campaigns, assuming you’re not spending all your time in a megadungeon. Given their importance in establishing a setting in general and in immediate game events, I’ve never been very happy with the way most RPGs deal with them. Published town descriptions all too often focus on …

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Howling Tower: Baiting the Hook

Adventure hooks are those little clues that DMs drop here and there to attract characters to particular adventure areas, usually the ones the DM has invested considerable time and energy into detailing. They can take many forms (more on that below), but what’s important is that they tantalize the players enough to whet their appetites …

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Howling Tower: Off-the-Cuff Adventures

My first efforts as a DM were with published D&D adventures: D1–3, Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and Vault of the Drow. We bombed through the series in two marathon sessions. Those adventures produced great moments and great memories. I still shudder, however, when I think about some of …

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Howling Tower: Marching Down to War

I just returned from an event that’s always one of the highlights of the year for me—Enfilade, the annual convention run by NHMGS (Northwest Historical Miniatures Gaming Society). Not only is it a solid weekend of playing with toy soldiers, it’s also one of the best-run conventions I’ve had the pleasure to attend. As usual, …

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Howling Tower: When Heroes Meet Horror

When swords & sorcery heroes come up against cosmic horror, there is a chance that the characters themselves will catch a whiff of the universe beyond, whether or not they want to. Most horror games deal with that corrupting influence through some type of psychic decay or sanity countdown. Such mechanisms aren’t well suited to …

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Howling Tower: Cosmic Horror/Cosmic Hero

I just returned from the annual H. P. Lovecraft film festival in Portland, one of my favorite events of the year. As always, that event got me thinking (more than usual) about how the “Cthulhu mythos” can be incorporated into a fantasy RPG campaign. The elder gods run into trouble when they collide with heroic …

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Howling Tower: Lucern Hammer Beats Banded Mail

Science fiction and science fantasy RPGs tend to focus a lot of energy on defining societies by the level of technology that they’ve achieved. They have the word “science” in the name of their genre, and science = technology, right? We don’t see much similar discussion of technology in fantasy games. Leaving aside the question …

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Howling Tower: Black Powder—Friend or Foe?

In this golden age when we have dozens of well-designed, polished FRPGs to choose from, gamer arguments tend to be about whether game A is “better” in some indefinable fashion than games B through Z. There was a time long ago when only a handful of FRPGs existed, and most roleplayers had tried all of …

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Howling Tower: Dragons—A Soar Spot

Dragons are the most iconic creatures in fantasy RPGs, for obvious reasons. They ought to be among the most impressive and frightening, too, but that isn’t always the case. It’s not because dragons don’t have the chops; on a stat-by-stat basis, your average dragon is terrifying. Yet player characters bring them down with shocking regularity. …

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Howling Tower: The Case for Random Encounters

Once upon a time, random encounters were standard fare in roleplaying games. Somewhere along the way, they fell out of fashion. Players, DMs, and game designers decided that random encounters embodied the worst of lazy DMing. They were indiscriminate party killers. Most of all, they were dumped because they were irrelevant to the ongoing story. …

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Howling Tower: The Road from Dullsville to Thrilltown

Journeys are part of the myths we try to capture in RPGs. From the Odyssey and Anabasis of the Greeks, to Huck and Jim’s trip down the Mississippi, to films such as The Hidden Fortress and Saving Private Ryan, journeys serve as both vehicles for adventure and as metaphors for the heroes’ movement toward self-discovery. …

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