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Oliver wrote in with the subject of: "Publishing and Provaricating, 3rd edition"

I've just seen your 'zine for the the first time and was left wondering how I ever got by without your intelligent and informative opinions before. I didn't wonder for long of course, I have more important things to think about, but for the length of time I did wonder, I definately wondered.

Well it's the thought that counts, not how long it was thought for.

You know, you guys are actually quite funny. I loved the article I just read y' know the crazy powercreep thing. Do you think you've ruffled a few feathers? This has a particular relevance for me because I am in the process of writing a module for Dungeon mag. Do you think that because of what has been said I stand more chance of getting published if I write a low power game. Maybe only allow players to play crap classes or really bad multiclass combo's like sorcerer/wizards?

You do realise that since I have no knowledge on the subject whatsoever, anything I might say is inevitably crap?

The only real problem I'm having is getting started (ok so I lied I'm not actually in the process of writing it). Those guidelines on the Dungeon web site are pretty daunting. To be quite honest I'm scared. Not that it matters the chances of getting published are about the same as anyone other than you reading this. So maybe I'll just write a powergamers wet dream and send it to one of the amatuerish companies who didn't reply to your fantasic e-mail.

Hey, go for it.

Scorpio Rising wrote on the subject of "Inflation factor"

Dear Professor Nexus,

Professor? When did that happen?

Maybe the same time I became a Doctor...

With regard to your inflation theory: I get the feeling that many of the publishers who responded to you took your query over-seriously. But it's my guess that there's a lot of truth to the matter.

No gaming system is a perfect evaluator of Game Balance. The nearest honest attempt is HERO/Champions and it suffers from the twin troubles that (i) it is brain-twistingly complex to run if you aren't the kind of GM who enjoys spending late nights with his Texas Instruments Scientific Calculator and (ii) it is so balanced that it is largely colourless - the only thing left to give flavour are the special FX, which by dint of their innate nature make no contribution to game balance. The significance of this is, of course, that the GM's aids towards maintaining game balance in the D&D 3rd Ed books are (duh) imperfect and that all products which conform to them will likewise be imperfect.

I must admit that when I once scanned through a Champions rulebook, it did seem a bit complicated.

Roleplaying is an adolescent market. It appeals to the little boys in us. The average age of the group I game with is 27 and last week we got in a terrible shouting match because the players (I was one of the ringleaders in this) got mad at some "wacky, insane" type NPC's who offered no plot leads and decided that the only thing left to do was to shoot them with our enormous guns. Like I said, adolescents. Some of these people are engaged in the cutting edge science of the 21st century. These people work for the Cornell University Genomics Initiative and should even now be slaving away to produce functional computer components for their deadline, which is now 36 hours away, but instead they are focussed solely on reading the entirety of your magazine as thoughtfully as possible. But I digress....

More people reading at work...

I don't know if you remember the Palladium games of the 1980's. They were, within one company's franchise, a classic example of "power creep". Every supplement for Robotech introduced more and more powerful mecha. When it got to the point of "Rifts", it went beyond a joke. I remember GM'ing those games and getting into arms races with the players. They'd buy supplements and use them to create new characters. Then I'd have to go and buy the supplements so I could make NPC's who could still vaguely threaten the new PC's. Then all the other players would realize their characters were left with the comparative pugilistic equivalents of Professor Steven Hawking (bless 'im) and begin to sulk.

Of course, this mindset hasn't gone away. This is why you should always buy the basic game and IGNORE ALL THE SUPPLEMENTS. White Wolf used this strategy to sucker you into buying more and more clanbooks, schmanbooks, tribe guides and what-have-you. What you got was 48 pages of padding, reprising what was blindingly obvious from the original 2 paragraphs devoted to each clan in the core books, followed by an 8 page appendix with new rules which gave your Tremere Magus unspeakably cool new spells. And, inevitably, every NPC in any campaign product you bought exlusively used these obscure powers.

Nowadays, of course, roleplaying companies are subtle enough as to sabotage the basic rules and make them totally unworkable so as to encourage you to buy supplements. If you take a look at the Core "Deadlands" book from Pinnacle, even a cursory flick through will reveal that none of the 5 magical PC types is even remotely workable without going out and buying the appropriate expansion, each of which is actually mentioned in the core book and described as "the forthcoming... BLAH guide". That's pretty sleazy, IMNSHO.

I won't start bashing away on why I hate ongoing RPG world plot development so much. Suffice it to say that it turns RPG lines into soap operas. Basically, this stems from the same place as your bugbear: The basic business model of the roleplaying industry sucks. All the best games are the ones you buy for twenty quid and never need anything else for. HERO/Champions gave me a 3 year campaign (I used to have wet dreams about that calculator). One book. I ran 'Amber' for 3 years while I was at uni, told countless stories, had over 40 players and used one book. I sometimes used the occasional optional rule from the only supplement they ever published which I bought one rainy Sunday when I should have been in the lab, but that was really only out of a sense of guilt.

Yeah, I sometimes buy supplements not really because I need them, but because I think they need the support. (Or in the case of buying Nobilis, because I'm a sad James Wallis fanboy).

I splashed out three quid on the 'Everway' game for my mate Tom's Christmas prezzie one year (it was in Bargain Books, or some similar location in Durham) and he ran a five year campaign which I would still be playing in if I weren't "transatlantically challenged" at the moment. No supplements. And so it goes....

My point is, the poor bastards are screwed. The only way that you can convince people that it is worth having "more of the same" is to up the ante; to make it seem like not just more, but better. And that's hard to do WITHOUT power creep. Which is really a shame. And, of course, no-one is going to admit it, because this is the glass jaw of the industry and it's not polite to talk about it in public. One day I may submit an extended rant to you covering this whole topic and thinly disguised as an article. Until then, I'm going to have to simply go back to reading your site so that I can avoid actually starting programming until some more civilized hour, say 4 am.

Respectfully yours,

- Scorpio Rising.

Phillip Foster wrote about the Sovereign Flyover:

A simple and elegant solution to the rock dropping kids problem for the Sovereign Flyover would be to make one of them a tunnel.

That's actually very sensible...

When I read that I suddenly thought that they could both be tunnels, one a bit higher than the other. The advantage here is that they are both pretty equal. No-one has the "surface route".

But then I figured that one side could drill down (or up) into the other tunnel, without anyone knowing what they were doing. (If they wanted to launch an attack).

But the single tunnel idea is quite good.

Phillip Foster

Freak of Nature wrote in under the subject of "Not a Plug...":

This year's April issue of Dragon magazine [Issue 294] features a little article on Gaming vs. Girlfriends. The article is split into two sections with the titles "I'm at the grocery store. Game? What game?" [girlfriends] and "Did you say...Elf Maidens?" [gaming]. I only mention this because of ongoing discussions in this e-zine...

Also, I've only recently started collecting Dragon again and this April issue is nowhere near as funny as they used to be. Quite disappointing.

Freak of Nature

kingamy wrote in about "embarassing PC deaths":


I have a good story of a painful death, for not just one PC but for an entire party.

We were playing 2nd Edition AD&D, mid-high level (around 12-ish if I recall properly). We were on a hunting expedition to rid the kingdom of a menacing green dragon. We approached what was reputed to be the dragon's lair, and were ambushed! The dragon used his magic and breath weapon on us from out of reach, and things were grim. He even got a bit cocky and started fighting us on the ground. Then we got lucky, and injured his wing so he couldn't fly. Things started to swing back in our favor. Then, disaster! The paladin got smacked, hard, and dropped. The player of the paladin was upset, but his bonded war horse was still around, so he claimed it wanted vengeance, and he kept attacking with his horse. The next round, disaster again! The ranger was mauled and dropped. He also kept attacking with his animal friend, this time a large brown bear, pumped up with magic. Soon, PCs were dropping left and right. The last PC dropped without the GM noticing. The bear's turn in initiative came up, and he rolled a 20! The maximum damage strike was enough to topple the mighty dragon!!!!! At this point, we realized the horrible truth: the only survivors of the enocunter were a bear and a horse, the entire party was dead. Oh, the shame. We had to start over again with new characters, none of us could live with the shame.

That is quite a funny image. The horse looking around, thinking: "Huh?"

Thanks for the great zine

Mike Haakstad (kingamy)
A Canadian living in America.

Greg Hallam wrote in about Conception 2002:

I was rather appalled to read of your f#@#! up weekend at Conception - I can't believe that conventions can still be so unprofessionally organised - i'm in Melbourne, Australia, where we have 2 main RPG cons each year, and they do sensible things like publishing detailed booklets of events that allow you to chooose and book games before you get there... you have my heartfelt sympathies...

These things happen. It isn't like we're scarred for life. And I'm sure we will try another convention again, sometime.

cheers Greg Hallam

David wrote in to discuss: "The Aberrant/Charlotte Holder/Ibiza fiasco"

I just had to laugh at this article in the last issue of Critical Miss. You see, about a year ago I had run the exact same scenario in my group, with fairly similar results. It just didn't seem to work.

That doesn't surprise me.

The group consisted of:

Telekinesis Guy - who had the most impressive Telekinesis Power it is ever possible for a starting character to have without having any Taint. And that was it. No other powers whatsoever.

Mr Intelligent - who was run by someone who really *really* couldn't cope with having a character more intelligent than him. Although he did have some cool Mind Control stuff going on as well...

Mr Sporty - strong, fast, tough and just so damn good at everything (like being able to jump twelve kilometres in a single bound).

And finally, The Splat - who was, to all intents and purposes invulnerable with some nifty powers like shape change, regeneration, and the ability to 'split' himself into several tiny copies of himself.

They were a 'loosely affiliated group' who had Proteus on their tails and were sticking together for mutual protection. They had some disks and stuff belonging to the Teragen that pointed them vaguely in Charlotte's direction, and that was it.

So, like happy little donkeys they followed my carrot and headed off to Ibiza. Where they proceeded to tell every. Single. Living. Thing. On the entire island. What they were doing, and who they were looking for.

When a GM is in a situation like this, it is hard to continue the story along sensible lines. I generally reward this kind of behaviour by making the scenario harder to complete. Like by giving them a harder time getting the info, and so on. I even had Charlotte meet with them a few times (in Jake Korrelli's form - she was a shape changer, remember?), and discount them as moronic wankers. Pretty much as you had done for your group.

In the scenario as written, it explains how little the Teragen Assassin knows about Ibiza, so I had him mention (while he was in Charlotte's form) that s/he would be at the Nova-Only night club on the night that it would be shut, with some kind of Gala bollocky-thing being held at another night club, where all the action was to take place (including Orzaiz' so-called murder of his secretary). Now, surprisingly, the characters actually figured out that that hadn't been the real Charlotte, but were completely hung up on staying at the Nova-Only club, because that is where the Assassin said he would be. Despite the fact that it was completely shut and nobody was there, and everybody had gone to the other night club. Despite loads (and *loads*) of hints, with several people wandering up, enquiring if the club was opening, and hearing about the other club and going there, the PCs insisted on staying at this club. Which causes a bit of a problem, as the Orzaiz murder thing happens all the way across town. They heard about it the next day on the news...

Isn't your scenario clinically dead at this point?

They stumbled their way through the scenario (until I eventually wearily gave them the last bit of info - where Charlotte had gone), and dutifully headed of to the next episode. Yes, we actually got to the next episode. Barely.

Because you just told them where she was? That's "reality warping" barely.

This involved tracking down a bunch of insane guys whose sole purpose in life was taking down Novas and eating them. It would have to be a delicate operation - using tact, diplomacy, tracking and spying. Pfff! Yeah, right!

I did actually get to that scenario. But my PCs didn't give a shit about some poor bastards who were being eaten.

What actually happened was that Mr Sporty (who was damn near invincible, by the way, thanks to some ridiculously high Stamina) went in displaying some rather blatant Nova powers to 'draw them out'. He had The Splat in his pocket. Now, one of the things I haven't yet explained about The Splat (so-called because of his gelatinous form caused by his high levels of Taint) is that while he is invulnerable to kinetic attacks, energy attacks do full damage. Which is pretty much the only way that a group of humans are going to take down a walking tank. So the Death Cult (I think that's what they were called) ran a mains power line through Mr Sporty, and knocked him out. The Splat was killed (or should have been - I was feeling generous, and put him in a coma from which he still hasn't fully recovered).

Leaving the two least-combat-oriented characters to take out the rest of the Cult. And when Mr Telekinesis picks up a gun during an ambush and tries to fight his way out (by the way, this character was a computer programmer in his previous life - and knew nothing about guns), he is totally surprised when he is shot and killed. His defence was that this was supposed to be a Super Hero game, and doing something exciting and dramatic like this would keep him alive. He hadn't played White Wolf games before...

With three characters down, and the final character not actually able to play the character he had (I can't think of a single effective thing he did during the three sessions we played), the campaign ground to a screeching halt.

We're playing Earthdawn now. Loads of published adventures for that one (and ones that work, to boot). The group has changed slightly, but not much. I just can't wait for the 'Infected' scenario...


PS Thanks for a great web-site!

PPS I have to admit to being just as fucking stupid whenever I am playing instead of running. As a GM I am constantly having to amend my ideas and plans to account for anything that happens in the game, coming up with new ideas and logically fitting things into a consistent whole. But as soon as I step the other side of the GMs Screen, I lose all my logic, common sense and grasp on reality. Please tell me I am not alone...

You're not.

David then wrote in again to say: "Ah ha!"

You made a *mistake*!

I am referring to "The Worst Scenario in the World" article from - oooh, ages ago!

You describe the system: "The basic dice mechanism is D10X. This means that you roll two ten-sided dice and multiply them together."

And then you describe a bit of the action: "I asked the GM if I could make an intelligence roll to see if I was stupid enough to believe this. I rolled about 3 (out of 100). Apparently I was."

Now, admittedly, you do use the 'get-out-clause' word 'about', but even so, a 3 from multiplying two integers between one and ten? Impossible!

Erm... one multiplied by three?



(What do I win?)


Finally David wrote in to say: "Um..."

I just made myself look like a twat, haven't I?

Oh Yeah, and with absolutely no help from us too!

I'm betting you just figured out what one multiplied by three is? :-)

I told, you - once I'm not a GM any more, I become some kind of gibbering imbecile!

It is late in the afternoon, work is getting dull, and I haven't had a coffee since lunch time. Is all that a good enough excuse?

Yeah, why not.

Yes, well, ahem. Sorry for doubting your obviously superior mathematical skills. I'll shut up now...

Rob Bowell wrote in about: "The gold debate"


I just found your magazine. It's great. Very funny. I was streaming-tears laughing when I read the Aberrant bit, because it reminded me of some of the low ebbs of my group (which are nonetheless fun).

Anyway, I'm writing about that gold article. Those costs actually make sense.

How much would it cost to stay at the most expensive hotel in New York City for a week? $1200 isn't a bad price.

Some of the prices are right...

Okay, the chain-cost is a bit off.

..but some are not. I think the point is that in the modern world services are expensive whilst goods are cheap. It used to be the other way round. So some of the service prices almost make sense, when in actual fact, the D20 services prices should seem too cheap to us.

Ink, spyglasses and waterclocks all appear about right, because these are extremely rare commodities.

And a riding dog--hell, that's like a motorcycle, right? Sure, it's an expensive motorcycle, but still. . . .


Anyway, great job, keep up the good work.

Rob Bowell

[CENSORED] wrote in about: "A word on censorship"

Dear sirs,

However pleased I may be to finally see a new issue of Critical Miss (and believe me I am), I am mildly shocked at the amount of censorship Jonny has begun to enforce. Has he suddenly grown concerned with the ever-elusive concept of good taste? Is he suddenly reluctant to hurt people's feelings? Or has he perhaps received a number of "concerned" e-mails from large and legally butch members of the gaming industry?

No, I'm just paranoid about getting sued.

Kindest regards,


Freak of Nature wrote in about: "Gaming vs. Girlfriends"

This month's [April's] Dragon magazine features a brief article on this very subject. I thought you lot might be interested, considering the amount of space devoted to it.

As has been mentioned before [I think], I work on a teaching hospital campus in the school of nursing. If anybody wants to play a game in which they are hospitalised it might be worth considering the following story, heard only this morning from one of the faculty here, regarding the remuneration of the nursing staff. The nursing students have certain shifts termed 'clinicals' where they are actually in the hospital doing whatever it is that nurses do - under supervision of course. One of the patients in the clinicals last friday, apparently, was so grateful at the student nurse fetching him a glass of cold water, that he offered her a joint which he had stashed in his bedside cabinet.....

Well it's kindof sweet...

Freak of Nature

[It's just not Critical Miss unless there's at least 2 letters from me, is it?]

Apparently not. :-)

Tom wrote in about: "Gaming Cliches..."


Happy to see Issue 7 out.

One short note about the cliches.

You write:

Actually, just to give credit where it's due, that was an external article. It was in fact Jason Sartin who wrote that:

Tolkien Law. All high fantasy games have elves, dwarves, and halflings. Most have orcs/goblins, gnomes, and trolls, too. They also have a lot of other beings and monsters in common - way too many to list here. This is pretty much the oldest cliche of them all - archeologists have even uncovered evidence of prehistoric FRPGs like this. Okay, maybe not.

Talislantia's Collorary to Tolkein Law: Games which boldly declare that they do not use "traditional fantasy creatures", will provide over 2 dozen races which pretty much exactly duplicate those traditional fantasy creatures.

Yeah, that sounds like a good one to me.


Jae wrote in about: "Nice Setting... How About Some Sodding Scenarios?"


Nice article.

Although, I like splatt books, I too freaking hate the lack of scenarios in some game lines (White Wolf, you listening?). Especially as my playgroup consists of some real hardcore Storyteller types that get very pissy if I try and blagg things too much. They like detailed scenarios, you know the type that take a shed load of time to make. So, I have a lot of sympathy for your points.

Btw, great conclusion about how games companies should support the GMs more.

"But I feel that companies should treat scenarios as loss leaders, that they produce for the good of their gaming line" ... "I picked it (D&D) because they support the GM, without whom, nothing will happen".

One of the solutions I have seen is to create downloadable PDFs that have little editorial costs and zero production costs. The Babylon Project has some scenarios on it that I am trying to convert to Trinity.

PDFs could be a very good solution to the problem.



Speaking of Trinity, I noticed that you like Superheroes and Science Fiction genres most. You might want to look into Trinity especially as you know Aberrant.

Lord Lard of Lardhampton-on-Sea wrote in on the subject of Kiwis:

I've just looked at Critical Miss for the first time ever, and I noted your interest in the habits of New Zealanders. The attitudes of the only Kiwi I know leads me to regard them as a rather disturbing, not to say louche, nation.

This is a rough transcript of a conversation we once had.

KIWI: All the bars in Australia are gay bars.

ME: What do you mean?

KIWI: Blokes go there to drink with other blokes.

ME: So?

KIWI: If a bunch of blokes go drinking together with no women around they're all poofs.

ME: Eh?!?

KIWI: In New Zealand bars don't let groups of blokes in because they'd get a reputation as a gay bar.

Fucking hell! A country where you get called a poof if you go for a drink with your mates? What kind of circus freaks are these people?


Your faithful servant,

Lord Lard of Lardhampton-on-Sea

Drew wrote in to say: "June is a long time from now"

Productivity...returning...time...becoming constructive...brain filling... with...useful...information...

Seriously, let's get on with the next issue. "Real lives," "girlfriends," "eating," and the like are for others. You are Critical Miss editors. Yours is to publish until you die and not to wonder why.

Could I just point out three things:

1) There's a load of work that goes into each issue.

2) We do have jobs.

3) June is actually only four months after February, which for us is very good.

A quiet one from me this issue. Unfortunately right at the beginning when Jonny mentioned Gen Con UK I had this great idea for a running gag all the way through this page. It only had 2 real flaws. The first was only Jonny, Bogboy and a few of our friends would get it, and secondly it was at the expense of a friend of Jonny's.

Anyway I'm really tired and have to go now. ;)

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