Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #16

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

In general, I prefer to use most games "as is." Rules As Written. RAW. Even "back in the day," when we played AD&D as our game of choice, we tried to incorporate every rule in the game (speed factor, weapon speed, segments, spell components, chance to hit helmet, encumbrance, weapon vs. armor type, etc.). We got so proficient at it, that it take all that much time...though certainly rules might be forgotten and "fall through the cracks" in the heat of the moment. We were so damn pleased when the Unearthed Arcana was released and provided a simplified unarmed combat system that worked so much easier than the pummeling/grappling rules found in the DMG.

I've never been a fan of modifying rules. Even with all the mods and tweaks found in the multitude of posts on this blog, more often than not when actually playing a game of B/X I fall back on my default RAW assumptions (or I try out a "house rule" for a session before reverting to RAW). Most of my wildest deviations from B/X are really new games...games I've created using a B/X base as a "chassis" to build upon. Whether I'm talking about space vikings or The Goblin Wars or some sort of space/Jedi game, I'm building a game to fill a need that isn't met by another game or system.

I have lots of reasons for preferring to run games as they're written:

  • It's easier to run a game when you abide by an accepted set of rules. Having a rule book as the ultimate "authority" settles a lot of disagreements.
  • I've come to find over the years, that a lot of designers had very specific ideas about their RPG concept, and failing to utilize the rules they've provided can drift the game into something different from what the designer intended.
  • Some might consider me otherwise, but I don't really think of myself as a "tinkerer" by nature. I like to deconstruct rules, try to figure out how/why they're in there, but I'm not one of those guys who opens the box (or book) and immediately sets about modifying things to taste. Maybe I'm lazy that way.
  • But I'm also prideful and arrogant. I consider myself pretty sharp, and I enjoy mastering a new set of rules, finding ways to make them work in interesting ways for my own benefit. That's not to say I'm interested in min-maxing things...working for "my own benefit" often means using the rules creatively to manifest my own vision. Like using 3rd Edition D&D to model Gandalf from The Hobbit (the novel), even though such a character isn't necessarily an "optimal build" for that particular game.

It is unfortunate (in my mind) that many folks can't or won't take the time to learn and run games as they're written. One of my many frustrations with 3rd Edition D&D was that no one besides myself seemed willing or able to play the game "by the book." I famously remember one DM who wanted to run a "high level" campaign and had us all create 15th level characters. During our first round of combat, he literally threw up his hands and said, "I give up," because the damn thing was too complex for HIM to run and manage with all the fiddly bits and rules that come from such massive stat blocks.

[and by "give up" I mean he ended the game and campaign right then and there]

And he was but one of many folks I encountered who failed, failed, failed as a 3rd edition DM...and not even the worst of them.

My copy is actually pink, not sepia.
But I digress. I suppose the word to emphasize in the question is "enjoy." Well, I enjoy running most, if not all games, as is. But if you mean "Which games do I most enjoy," I think I'd say Ken St. Andre's Stormbringer (1st edition) has provided me a ton of enjoyment, as is, straight out of the box, without any modification or changes whatsoever. It almost perfectly captures Michael Moorcock's world, as well as its themes and dark humor (you still have to inject your own tragedy, should you care for that kind of thing), and player characters are almost certainly doomed...but the ones that survive, even for a little while, always feel like they've really accomplished something. Which is cool and fun and enjoyable...if a little masochistic.
; )

[folks interested in my Day 7 post, should check out this link; only two more back-dated posts]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #15

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

All right, there's no going off-book with such an easy question. B/X. Hands down. The easiest, most readily adaptable system I've come across...at least as far as fantasy adventure gaming is concerned. I've used it to model space Vikings and Dark Sun-style gladiators and horror hunters and faerie wars and Shadowrun and and Star Wars and 40K-style chaos war bands and subaquatic science-horror.

Easy-shmeezy.

And I'm sure there are plenty more uses for the B/X chassis. I know lots of people have used it to kit-bash systems for their favorite settings...folks much smarter and more creative than myself.

It's not ENDLESSLY adaptable, of course. It's not the best system for investigative/mystery-style role-playing (that would be something like GUMSHOE). And it doesn't really do light-hearted stuff or romance (probably RISUS is an easier fit). Vehicle-stuff is pretty tough to write, except in the most superficial manner (so settings that FEATURE a lot of in-vehicle action is difficult with B/X). And, no, there's not a whole lot of character development that occurs in B/X-style play, save for the kind that occurs from recording the experiences of you character over time (in your memory, if not necessarily on your character sheet).

But even so: I love it. I enjoy fantasy adventure gaming. That particular brand of escapism is my cup o tea. And the B/X edition of D&D is the system I enjoy adapting more than any other.

[folks interested in my Day 6 post, should check out this link; nearly caught up!]

Monday, August 14, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #14

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Tempting as it is to do yet another Vampire post, despite its scope (start your game in ancient Babylon! Stop off at the middle ages, run a few sessions through various eras and decades of the 20th century!), the game tends to collapse under its own weight. Not to mention, if you continue the immortal being timeline you can't help but end up with Vam-Pires In Spaaaaaaaace! Which is a simply awful idea. Listen, people, THIS is what a space vampire should look like:

Nightmares for years...thanks, Thundarr.

NOT this:

Come on, Wilma...Nosferatu has nothing on Buck!

So, no...Vampire always needs an end...generally once every player character has met a much-deserved, fiery death, or has become stuck in a thousand year torpor.

Other games suggest themselves for long-term, "open-ended" campaign play, but which is best? Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself considering AD&D as the best of the bunch. Even better than B/X, if we are going to limit ourselves to using the Rules As Written...and I think that's only fair with regard to this question. Otherwise, you could modify most games for long-term play.

But AD&D (first edition) provides a lot of structure for long-term play, including options for high level play and exploration...monsters and magic that can still appeal to jaded player characters even after years of play (presuming you don't dole out too much, too fast), while providing so many optional options ('porting in Boot Hill and/or Gamma World) that there's little chance of getting bored with the game. Mainly, though, I like that AD&D has built-in decrepitude...rules for aging that will (eventually) force most characters to retire and "pass on the torch" to trusted henchmen and/or progeny.  And unlike Vampire and other "generational" games (Pendragon, Ars Magica, Chivalry & Sorcery), being set in a mythic/fantasy realm, there's little chance that your campaign will last into some age of anachronism, even through successive generations of adventurers. Generally, most AD&D settings take place in a magical realm that never develops past a pseudo-16th century tech level.

So, yeah...AD&D. Even though I've been more a proponent of B/X and its simple elegance, taken RAW the AD&D game provides more tools for long-term play than the un-modified B/X game.

Just thinking about the possibilities almost makes me want to play the old thing. Almost.
: )

[folks interested in my "Day 5" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #13

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

Hmm...that's yet another tough question. I suppose they're designed that way, to promote thoughtful responses.
; )

Welp, it's hard to single out an instance of a game experience "changing" how I play. All the experiences I've had over the years, both at and away from the table, have gone into creating my "gaming acumen." Other than growing older and more mature (and perhaps a bit smarter, if not wiser), the way I play these days isn't much different from how I played 30-some years ago. I'm probably less self-conscious than I was in the past, more willing to "step up to the plate" when playing (as opposed to hanging back with a wait-and-see attitude). I'm more "proactive" when gaming, both in stance and action...but that comes with confidence from growing up and knowing yourself and not worrying terribly about what kind of an ass you make of yourself.

Now, as far as running games, there HAVE been ways I've distinctly changed my gaming style over the years. However, most of the ways in which I've changed have come about from things that occurred outside of play. However, looking back I can see at least one instance where an in-game occurrence prompted me to reconsider my approach to running games.

This was circa 1990 or '91 and I was running Vampire: the Masquerade for several high school buddies. It was my last year of high school proper, and these guys: Michael, Mike, and Ben had been my main gaming partners for the last couple years. Usually, I was a player in our games (they ran a lot of Palladium: mostly Heroes Unlimited or Robotech) though I had run a couple one-off games (Stormbringer and Rifts). Mostly, though, I'd been burned out on GMing after years of being a Dungeon Master (I'd likewise burned out on D&D, quitting play around the same time 2nd Edition came out), and was content to simply "ride along" as a passenger in someone else's world. That is, until I found Vampire and was inspired to take up the mantle of "Storyteller." There was a lot in VtM that appealed to an angsty 90's teenager like myself. Plus, I'd been a vampire fan since I was a very, very small child.

[fortunately I went to college before the whole "goth" thing started happening, so I never got swept up in that]

[*sigh* I should probably write a series of posts on Vampire and vampires one of these days]

ANYway...I was running Vampire for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the idea of the types of stories the game wanted to tell. World o Darkness games are all about storytelling, don'tcha' know...they just expect the players to do the work of creating the stories (rather than providing tools/systems to facilitate this *ahem*). So, here I was trying to tell stories of grim tragedy and dark romance and lost humanity in an intimate style that I was used to from my experiences back in the day with my prior AD&D group...and I was doing it with dudes who were, well, not all that into it.

As Ben told me during one session, "Look, man, I'm really not comfortable with this."

Ah, blood bonds. Yeah, they REALLY
weren't into this kind of thing!
My friend Michael was into it...but Michael, like myself, was interested in stage and theater and role-playing and character exploration. Ben and Mike? Ben would have rather been playing Steve Jackson's Toon. And Mike once told me, after I'd taken him to see some Oscar-nominated British drama, "Well, Jon, it didn't have any action, and it really wasn't funny, so I don't get why you think it's so great." Yeah, they collected comic books and they enjoyed a space opera anime liked Robotech (loved it, in fact...owned the whole series on VHS and had watched it multiple times), but they couldn't give a shit about anything other than super-powered punch-ups and giant robots exploding...melodramatic love triangles and mutant angst be damned!

So, I learned that sometimes you can have friends, even gamer friends, who aren't on the same page with you. Like, at all. And when you're running a game for them, you have to take this into account and accept it...or else move on. My Vampire games with those guys mostly involved shoot-outs with cops or discipline-powered duels and diablerie, and that's fine...I was a big fan of Near Dark long before VtM was a game. And eventually I moved on, and found other folks at university who had more of my mind-set when it came to role-playing.

You can't please everyone all the time. Not even yourself.

[folks interested in my "Day 4" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link]

Saturday, August 12, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #12

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Oh, boy. There are plenty of RPGs with good, excellent, or downright amazing artwork. But inspiring?

Mm.

Actually, I don't need to draw this out...one RPG springs immediately to mind, and is the hands-down, no brainer answer to the question. But I suppose I should describe what I think of as "inspiring RPG artwork." To me, I consider artwork in an RPG to be inspiring when it tightly fits the theme of the game, reinforcing it, and inspiring me to take part in the actual play of the game...in a way that coincides with the art being depicted.

Games can include good, even great or amazing artwork, but it's not always "inspiring" in this way. Spirit of 77 has some good art but, while it conjures to mind ideas about the concept of the game, it doesn't "move" me (and some of its "good" art actually detracts from the 70s movie vibe, feeling too much like a 90s comic book). Cadillacs and Dinosaurs had great interior art because it used Mark Schultz's wonderful drawings, but it only made me want to read more Schultz, not play its boring, boring game.

But there are many games with inspiring art: if the artwork in Moldvay's basic book hadn't been so inspiring, would I have fell into role-playing as passionately as I did? And I find Larry Elmore's work in the Mentzer Expert set is exceptionally inspiring for the scale and scope of that book. Hollow Earth Expedition has some great interior art, Stormbringer (1st) has some plates that convey the rather hopelessness of the setting (everyone dies, all the time), and FFG's recent line of WH40K based books (Deathwatch, Only War, etc.) have absolutely incredible interiors unified around their themes.

But for me, the most inspiring interior artwork I've come across has been the interior artwork of Vampire the Masquerade, 1st edition. Tim Bradstreet's black-and-white drawings perfectly capture the spirit and theme of "Gothic Punk," making that an actual thing, where no such term previously existed (to my knowledge, anyway). Along with his gorgeous chapter plates, the opening comic strip detailing a vampire's birth and journey over long centuries perfectly conveyed the scope and scale of the game. The second edition of the game was hardcover with shiny, magazine-like pages that failed to convey the same feeling of the 1st edition printing. The original was like opening some old tome found in an upstairs attic and discovering a mysterious world you never knew existed.  It made me a fan and player of the game for many years.

Yeah, Vampire. Hands down the best when it comes to inspiring interior artwork.

[folks interested in my "Day 2" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link. "Day 3" is posted here. Sorry, I'll be caught up soon]

Friday, August 11, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #11

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

This is an easy one, and I'll keep this short since it's nearly August 12th as I write this.

Twilight 2000 is a game I've written about in the past. It's quite well done, and as far as "speculative fiction," well...come one, folks. It's not that hard to imagine similar scenarios given our current political climate.

All it needs is a little update...call it Twilight 2019. Put together some stats for our currently military gear, vehicles, drones, etc. Update the tech and unit types for our potential enemigos. And bam...instant revival.

Wouldn't even change the (first edition) rules as written. Just bring it back to life. I'd play it.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #10

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Well, in this case it really depends on the game. The easy answer is "Google;" I run a search with the name of the game and "review" and see what the Google-machine returns.

However, that's usually not enough for me. I enjoy reading multiple reviews on a product, attempting to get different perspectives. A lot of reviews these days (unfortunately) spend a bunch of time discussing "production values," something I could care less about. Yes, a nice looking game looks good on the shelf, but (in theory) I'm buying these things to play.

RPG.net used to be my go-to for RPG and reviews...and still is when it comes to older games. But older reviews tend to disappear off the site and the things that actually get reviewed tend towards only the most popular or buzz-worthy games and supplements. It's become kind of a wasteland over there (I never bother reading the comments on reviews).

Furthermore, while I do purchase things off DriveThruRPG (and its sister sites) I pay little attention to the reviews posted to products. Usually, I'm going there to pick up something I've already decided to purchase (same with products on LuLu), so it doesn't matter to me whether some anonymous user posted they like or dislike something. When I want a review I prefer something a bit more "in depth," hopefully with some actual experience playing the thing.

To this end, blogs are probably the most informative places to find on-line reviews...hence the necessity of Google (as different blogs have different systems and genres on which they focus).

However, Google is the EASY answer...the one I can give you, dear readers, if you're looking for an easy way to get reviews (and it is easy, and I do utilize it). But my best answer is to get actual word-of-mouth reviews from people with direct exposure to a game. And in my case, that means talking to the folks at my favorite local game shop, Around the Table Game Pub in Lynnwood. When I'm browsing the shelves and come across an interesting, unfamiliar game, it's the folks behind the counter who I'm first to talk to: usually Tim (Morgan) the co-owner/manager, but Nick, Josh, etc. are usually pretty knowledgable. They're generally pretty knowledgable, able to tell me about the system, the setting, the designers (especially if they're local), and the gameplay. They can tell me if a game is selling, if it's popular, if they see people playing/enjoying the thing, because the game pub is open to folks gaming all week long. And even if they don't have any info on a game, they can sometimes direct me to someone else who knows more about it (even if it's one of their colleagues who's not in the shop that particular day).

These "interactive reviews" are often more helpful than anything I read on-line, if only because I can ask questions (and follow-up questions) specifically pointed at the issues that meet MY needs as a potential customer. I should mention I do this in other shops as well, but the folks at Around the Table are the best.

Plus they serve beer.
; )

Just what it says.

[for folks interested in my "Day 1" post for the #RPGaDAY, check out this link]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Orcs and Dragons

All apologies for dropping off the face of the Earth (and not yet writing a single #RPGaDay post). Until a few days ago, I thought my August was going to continue much the same as my July. Instead, my wife's work plans changed and, as a result, my entire family got bundled off to Paraguay for three weeks, leaving me all on my lonesome. Just dropped 'em off at the airport yesterday.

So I spent the last few days spending quality time with the wife and kids prior to their departure. 

Yesterday would have been my first chance to write, but instead I spent most of my free time catching up on my reading or boozing...a lot of the latter actually. It takes me a little time to adjust to being single (it doesn't happen all that often) and I get a bit of separation anxiety. Plus, with no one to come home to (besides the beagles), I have a penchant for staying out waaay too late. And then even after I come home I stay up later. It's like I'm afraid to sleep or something.

Anyway, that's my baggage (and hangover) to bear. Today, I am all set to get back on track. A little breakfast at the Baranof, a bit of black coffee, and a lot of rehydration (via water), and I'll be fit as a fiddle. I still have a lot of things to do around the house, but I should also have plenty of time to blog the next few days. Heck, I may even get in some gaming. Hung out with my old college buddy Joel last night, and talked a lot of gaming stuff. Mostly, Star Wars (he's been running the Fantasy Flight edition lately), but also Spirit of 77, which I just picked up at Around the Table yesterday. Turns out his friend wants to run a short campaign of funky action thrills, and I might show up for that. I mean, my evenings are free for the next couple weeks, right?

In D&Dish news, I'd direct your attention once again to Jeff's blog where he's followed up last month's random class advancement tables with a killer version of the half-orc for B/X. Over the years, plenty of folks have tried their hand at writing up a half-orc class for the basic editions of the game (i.e. any edition that treats player species as a class). Vaults of Pandius (the old BECMI repository) had two or three versions, if I remember right. But Jeff's solution is both simple and elegant: it basically assumes you're human (i.e. pick a human class) but allows you to roll on a special "orky" advancement table (instead of your normal class table), provided your charisma score is low enough. In this case, 12 or less.

This is really great, for a number of reasons. It adds flavor to the game without wrecking the whole species as class dynamic (it's the human half that allows the character to become an adventurer). It provides a "perk" to a character that rolled a low stat (charisma in B/X is very helpful, both in negotiating encounters and in determining the number and morale of retainers). It feeds into the classic orc trope of creatures with low morale and untrustworthy followers (I'm not a fan of orcs with "honor" or "warrior traditions"). It adds choice for the player rather than "buffing" an existing class (for example, adding infravision, languages, and orcish bonuses to an existing class).

Anyway. really well done, definitely worth stealing (or deconstructing for my own design purposes). 

The other thing on my mind is Sunday's Game of Thrones episode. Again I was struck by how many "D&Disms" are part of the show's makeup...a lot of it really feels like an OD&D game (one that is drawing heavily from Chainmail for its combat system). I won't drop any "spoilers" here, but I will say that the handling of dragons in the series is the best I've seen since Dragonslayer, the film I hold in highest regard when it comes to portrayals of the legendary creature. Well done, folks!

It is a little sad (well, not really but whatever) that the intellectual property of Martin's work isn't "OGL;" it would be a lot of fun to adapt the series as a setting supplement for S&W, or even B/X. Yes, yes...I know I've written (more than once) that D&D isn't a great fit for the Game of Throne's setting; that's why I spent a bunch of word count writing up a version for Pendragon. But Martin's world isn't one that features characters venturing into supernatural underworlds, looking for ancient treasures...and folks who see a wight (or a giant or a dragon) are generally running for the hills, not blasting it with magic missiles. Still, while some rewriting of the basic rules would be necessary (changing the advancement system), it could be possible...

But that's not something I plan on working on right now.
; )

Monday, August 7, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #7

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What was your most impactful RPG session?

I can't remember the exact date, or even the specifics of what occurred in-game. But the most impactful session I've ever played occurred many, many years ago...I'd say about 32 years ago. It was the first time someone other than myself took the role of Dungeon Master at our gaming table. Prior to that session, I had ALWAYS acted as DM for my gaming group...since we'd begun gaming. And while that may have only been three to four years, you're talking about one-quarter to one-third of my entire young life.

I've told this story before, but I'll do it once more: no one taught me how to play Dungeons & Dragons...no older brother or cousins or friends. No grognard introduced me to the game down at the war gamers' local hobby shop. My introduction came from my newly opened Moldvay Basic set, purchased for me by my mother, at my request, off the shelf of the local J.C. Penny toy department (the one at Seattle's Northgate Mall if anyone's wondering...store is still there). It took me a while to digest this new type of gaming, but once I had, I started running it for my brother and our friends.

And for about four years, I continued to run the game...even as we expanded with Cook/Marsh Expert set, and (later) with the various AD&D books...first the Monster Manual, then the Dungeon Masters Guide, and finally, finally the Players Handbook. I ran games for kids my age; I ran games for kids in high school (when I was still in middle school). I wrote adventures, I ran modules, I screwed up various rules, and then (later) corrected those screw-ups as we figured them out. I wasn't interested in "world building" back then...it was all serial adventure, all the time. Some of it pretty cool, but much of a it (looking back) as pretty pedestrian fare.

Hey, we're talking about a kid here.

Still, players kept coming back. And I was enjoying myself...though it's hard to remember my exact feelings/emotions of the time. It was all still NEW and almost completely UNEXAMINED. There was nothing thoughtful or deliberate about the games I was running...except my deliberate attempts to bring new content into the game whenever we got our hands on a new book. But everyone wanted to play and no one wanted to run the game. Heck, I don't know that anyone figured they COULD run the game. I was the guy who knew all the rules, right?

Well, actually, I wasn't the only one who knew the rules. My good friend...my best friend...back in those days was a girl named Jocelyn. She was the youngest of five, but her next closest sibling (a brother) was eleven years older than her, already grown and moved out. Like me, she had a love of fantasy and mythology and folklore. Unlike me, she had a lot of discretionary income and ready access to a good book store. She was the first to acquire the Mentzer Companion and Immortal sets, she was the first one of us to purchase the Unearthed Arcana...heck, she bought me my first Monster Manual as a birthday gift. And she was the first of us to acquire a copy of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, found in a trunk of her brother's old stuff that he'd left behind.

Jocelyn had been my first player after my brother...though she had been present during the first session I ever ran. In fact, I was introduced to her for the first time while running that adventure (a castle siege with a map I'd drawn, based largely on the Keep from B2 I'm sure)...her mother, a friend of my mother, had brought her over to our house that evening, and she'd been bustled off to my room where my brother and I sat, about to embark on our first great adventure.

Anyway...

It must have been around 1985 when she decided she would like to try her hand at being the Dungeon Master. I'm guessing '85 because that's when the UA was released, and she acquired her copy before I did, and hit me with a bunch of mysterious new rules (as a DM) before I ever had a chance to read the book.

And as a DM, Jocelyn was fantastic. Unlike myself, she was interested in world building...creating maps and lands to not only explore but to live in...to escape into. We gamed in her world through two-and-a-half generations of player characters, and I had a blast as a player and even (occasionally) as a part-time Dungeon Master, subbing in for an adventure session or two. Jocelyn forced me to elevate my game...both as a player and a DM.

It was wonderful, and it never would have happened if I had continued to hold the reins of our gaming like some tight-fisted miser. I honestly can't remember the conversation that led us to me "turning over the campaign" to her...I don't remember my feelings on the matter, whether I was happy or excited or had hurt feelings that my game wasn't "good enough." I really don't remember. But probably I was at least a little bit excited at the opportunity to play the game as a player...hell, it's possible I suggested she run the game just so that I could play as a player character. You see, I'd just found this new PC class in the back of the PHB in an appendix, something no one had ever seen before in our games, some strange conglomeration of classes called a bard...

[and that led to my longest running, most powerful, most beloved, and most hated PC of all time...in any game, ever. But that's another story for another time...]

Regardless of the reasons, the most impactful session of my gaming life...and a long life it's been...has to be the first time I let go of the power of the Dungeon Master and just played. And discovered a new world of adventure.
: )

Sunday, August 6, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #6

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

Game every day this week? With whom?

That's the real question. My family is out of town right now...I could game every day this week. If there was someone to game with. I mean, besides my homeless, alcoholic brother.

[maybe I should get AB to game with me...on the other hand, I already have him helping me with the landscaping project in the back yard. And we get too easily distracted from THAT as it is]

I've played with a large number of players over the years, both on-line and off (more often OFF-line, thank goodness). I miss them as much as I miss the gaming itself. Not because I miss socializing, mind you...I have lots of folks I socialize with, especially now that I'm back in the States.

But the gamers I've played with have been...well, special. Perhaps because role-playing is such an intimate experience...that sharing of an imaginary headspace with other people. Making yourself vulnerable to them, while they reciprocate. Playing imaginary games with the same wild abandon you did as a child in the company of likeminded adults.

I could game every day this week. So what? Everyone's moved away or is on vacation or is working evenings or is busy or...or whatever.

Now, if I could game with anyone I wanted for a week...now that's a question I could get into. Should I list all the folks I'd love to sit down at the table with? AB and Jason and Jocelyn and Scott and Matt and Rob and Crystal and Brandon and Manning and Michael and Mike and Ben and Mark and Mac and Joel and Andrea and Jen and Julie and Sandra (well, maybe not Sandra) and Ben and Moses and Pat and Adam and James (not his real name) and Kris (the Doctor) and Alex and Steve-O and Luke and Josh and Matthew and Matt and Randy and Heron and Vicente (maybe) and Tim and Greg and Kayce and Justin (maybe not) and Will and Red and their buddies (whose names I can't remember) and all those cats from the Story Games room at Dragonflight (Ogre and Liz and Mark and Laura and Eric, etc.).

Let's see...that's some 40+ folks. Give me five or six of 'em every night for a week. I'm sure I can figure out something to play.
; )

Saturday, August 5, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #5

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

The "spirit of the game?"

Huh.

There are a lot, A LOT, of great covers out there. Game publishers often go "all out" for their cover art. A cover artist is often one of a game's biggest expenses. It's the thing that needs to attract the customer, first and foremost, and hopefully it communicates something about what the game is about to the uninitiated.

Hopefully. Not all publishers do this. Some err on the side of "just get the spectacular cover" and throw a blurb on the back that explains the game's concept. In my opinion, that's a wasted opportunity.

Nope. Not this one!
Even worse (in my opinion), some games offer what I consider a "bait-n-switch," presenting something on the cover of a game that makes you think you've got an idea about the concept, when you really don't. The main example that comes to mind is the old Deadlands from Pinnacle Games (back in their pre-Savage Worlds days). I loved the covers for Deadlands RPG. For many of its supplements, too. But the cover of the main book? The undead gunslinger, all badass and menacing. Somehow, I got the impression that here was a game in which you got to play such grim reapers of destruction. "Spaghetti Westerns with meat," and all that.

Of course, you don't. It's possible you might come back from the dead, but more often than not even that would make you some sort of demon-ridden, GM character. *sigh* So much for communication. Like the cover of the 2nd edition Gamma World...no one is blasting each other with hi-tech energy weapons (at least not to begin with), certainly not to start.

But this question isn't about communicating concept...it's about "capturing the spirit" of the game. The 1st edition Players Handbook for AD&D did a good bit of this, though, my games more often resembled the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide (no party ever got a respite to carefully police bodies, study maps, and gather loot...what are you thinking?). Plus, I don't want to count AD&D (for this question) as there's no single cover/book for the game...

After much inner debate, considering the many, many games I've owned and played over the years, I'm going to have to give the nod to the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. Not only does it do a fantastic job of communicating EXACTLY what this game is about (a D&D-esque romp with English punk hair), it's cover quite effectively covers the spirit of the game. This is a game about gritty and grim characters having dirty, bloody adventures. This isn't about heroic posing as players face-off against some dragon (sorry Erol/Tom). No one "poses" in WFRPG. They're too busy spilling icky green blood all over their boots with a double-bitted axe, while the dude who rolled up the rat catcher laggers far behind the party (you have to see the back cover to get that). They're in immediate, mortal danger of being felled by a bunch of loathsome humanoids in some dank and dirty hole. THAT is WFRPG. It plays pretty much exactly like it looks. Except with more PCs dying.
; )


"We got spirit, yes we do!"



Friday, August 4, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #4

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

Which game have I played the most? Is that a trick question?

I just got back from Paraguay in August of 2016.  Paraguay, in case you didn't know, is a gaming desert. There is no gaming in Paraguay. There's soccer. There's beef. There's poverty. There's a certain lackadaisical attitude towards sexual mores. There's good wine and fairly terrible beer. But gaming? No.

Since I got back I have spent most of my time as a "single parent;" my wife is out of the country two to three weeks out of every month. My evenings are not free for gaming as I have two small children for whom I am responsible. When my wife is in town, she wants my evenings. So gaming? No, not really.

I did play a modified version of Swords & Wizardry with GusL from Dungeon of Signs a couple weeks back. This was over the internet. My six year old would really like to play D&D, but his reading, writing, and comprehension skills aren't quite up to it. Probably in another year or so.

I had planned on going to the Dragonflight this year, but unfortunately a trip we had scheduled had to be changed due to the current heat wave in Montana (ah, yes, global warming strikes), so unfortunately I will be in Missoula the weekend of the convention.

Maybe next year will see some gaming. The last twelve months...hell, the last four years...have been a bit of a crap sandwich in this regard.

[sorry...really can't find anything positive to say on this subject. Maybe that GusL runs a swell game]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Note of Positivity

This morning I was feeling good, then I started feeling down, then I realized how blessed my life truly was, then I heard some news that made me depressed, then I read an old email from someone whose life I'd touched with my Not So Humble blogging, then I started thinking about how damn angry and petty I've been lately and I started feeling like a shit-heel.

So I decided to write something.

Blogger has been a great boon to my life. Not only has it provided me with a creative outlet...something that I personally need desperately, and (logistically) have a hard time getting...but it has allowed me to become part of a community of folks who share my interests and give me the space to communicate. Not to mention I get plenty of great ideas and good reads from them.

Of course, there's the whole book/game writing thing that's come from writing this blog. I can't even begin to measure the amount of joy I've received from publishing my own work. It's right up there with the joy and pride I take in my own children (the main reason I'm not doing more writing is that I prioritize my kids over myself...usually). Anyway, blogger is responsible for that opportunity as well.

Long time readers know I've often used my blog to blather on about my politics, theology, socialist values, and New Age-y crazy stuff. Some of those probably wonder why I haven't mentioned anything in the last 12 months regarding the state of my country, our last general election, our sitting president, or the direction my government has taken in 2017. There's good reason for that: I decided a while back that I didn't want to discuss (i.e. "vent") any of it, when it wouldn't accomplish anything constructive. Regarding my feelings (and who cares about those?): suffice is to say that I am deeply, deeply disappointed...and mainly disappointed with my fellow Americans. 

But no one wants to hear that. It's bad enough that a man so blessed in so many aspects of his life (i.e. me) should take the time to badmouth game designers he's never met.

So, I don't blog about that and will continue to attempt to not blog about that, unless I can find a way to be constructive. However, I wonder if I should extend the same policy to blogging regarding my game and design thoughts. The "if you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all" policy. Certainly, I have done a bit of that already: there are some designers, publishers, and bloggers who are noticeably absent from the looooong list of folks I read and write about. For these people, I have taken the stance that (assuming there is "no such thing as Bad Publicity") I will not be giving them ANY publicity, of any sort. Been doing that for years.

[yes, that means that if I DO write about you...even in a "negative" way...that you are NOT on my personal black list. Take that as something!]

But maybe I should extend that policy to all my criticism. Cut the bile out of the blog. Only talk about the positive that I see -- only ADD TO the existing designs out there, not ridicule them, or tear them down, or point out "flaws" that only I perceive. 

Or maybe I should just do something "fluffy." I was reading Autokratik's blog yesterday, discussing his original reasons for starting this #RPGaDAY thing that some people do in August (I've never participated in it) and "sappy" as it might be (his word), I find that I really like the overall vibe of the thing. I'm not sure there ever was a "negative undercurrent" within the hobby itself -- perhaps I didn't frequent the correct forums -- but it's not a bad idea to shine a light on some of our positive thoughts/feelings on the hobby. Participating in such a project might be a way to try out "no negativity" for a month.

Just to see how much I can stomach.

Of course, I'm already three days behind (it's the 3rd of August as I write this). I suppose I could back date my other entries in blogger to give the illusion that I'm time traveling back to the start of the contest. Yeah, I think I'll give it a shot...it couldn't be any worse than the April A-Z Challenge. And I'll try to be as positive as possible.

Really. I promise!
: )

Not sure why this didn't show up in color.

RPGaDAY 2017 #3

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

How do you find out about new RPGs?

Ha! Usually by going to my local game store and browsing the shelves, looking for interesting items.

Back in the "good old days" we had Dragon magazine, and it was chock full of advertisements for games (and not just TSR games...at least not at first). But I stopped reading Dragon circa 1987, and through most of my high school days I would make it a point of stopping into the U-District game shop (I believe it was Games & Gizmos) on a daily basis while waiting for the bus that would take me home. That's where I picked up Rifts. That's where I picked up Vampire: the Masquerade. That's where I thumbed through dozens of GURPS world books (never actually buying any).

In the 90s I lived and partied on Capitol Hill where another Games & Gizmos would supply most of my wargaming needs (Blood Bowl, WH40K) for the decade, along with a handful of new RPGs, including Ars Magica and various World of Darkness gems (I really liked Mummy).

But both those place is long gone. In the 21st century I had Gary's Games in Greenwood where I would browse at least once a week (often more). Sadly, Gary's closed down while I was in Paraguay, and Greenlake Games shortly after my return (about eight months back). So now my options are to hit WotC's Cafe Mox in Ballard, or make the long drive to Edmonds to visit Around the Table Game Pub.

Usually I end up in Edmonds.

I wish there was a publication or newsletter or mailing list I could subscribe to that provided me with information on new and upcoming games (probably there is one, and I just don't know about it). I hate surfing publishers web sites for their "news" which is usually not all that informative and only promotes their own material. If I looked around I could probably find a blog that dedicated itself to this kind of stuff. But right now, about the only one I can think of is Tenkar's Tavern, and he tends to confine his news to Old School products. Usually.

Besides, visiting the game shop gets me on my feet and out of the house. That's a good thing!
; )

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Shhh...Top Secret!

One thing you don't see on my blog is a bunch of posts on kickstarter projects. Personally, I prefer to purchase things that already exist ("a bird in the hand" and all that jazz). And as for my own projects, I prefer NOT to crowd-source for a number of reasons:
  • I don't want to rely on others to fund my projects (i.e. I'm afraid folks won't show up for me)
  • I'm not confident enough in my organizational abilities that I could set realistic goals 
  • I tend to work in a fairly small scale...the kind I can fund out of my own pocket (or with the money I've already generated from book sales)
SO...I've never been a backer of kickstarter projects. At least, not until now.

This week, I backed my first ever kickstarter: Merle M. Rasmussen's TOP SECRET: NEW WORLD ORDER, a new edition of the Rasmussen's somewhat beloved classic.

I say "somewhat" because, while it's fairly well known to folks in this area of the blog-o-sphere...it was one of TSR's flagship games back in the day, heavily supported (especially in Dragon magazine), and was one of only a very few "secret agent" games on the market...I almost never see anyone writing about it. I'd guess that it isn't played all that much these days.

I know that I don't play it, and I like it and have quite a bit of material for it sitting on my shelf. I never bought into Top Secret/S.I. (the second edition)...all my product is for the original game. And I did play it a bit, back in the day. But it's not an easy game to run or manage. Most (all?) of the published adventures for the game are set-up much like any site-based, dungeon crawl: go to this installation and acquire [target]...said "target" being kidnapped scientists or politicians or secret plans or whatever other type of loot/McGuffin you can imagine.

In many ways (and, yes, I realize this is going to sound like bashing) Top Secret was still Dungeons & Dragons, but with a very specific, genre-enforced tone. You will be stealthing into the dungeon, not simply kicking in doors with mindless abandon. You will be looking to accomplish a specific goal. Due to time pressures you will not be wasting time on needless distractions (extraneous fighting and looting). You are required by your employer to work as a team, refraining from intra-party conflict. And, of course, any special equipment (i.e. magic items) will be provided on a "need only" basis (as determined by the GM).

Most PC equipment, in fact, is subject to the whim of the GM/administrator. For instance, if the mission calls for insertion via scuba equipment (c.f. Operation: Rapidstrike!), the PCs are probably going to be precluded from bringing the heavily modified machine guns they've been spending their earnings on. While this makes perfect genre sense, it takes away a bit of player agency. A large part of D&D is one's proper selection of equipment (trying to get maximum utility with minimal encumbrance)...but there aren't any portable holes in the spy genre.

[I suppose nanites and super-micronization could take the place of bags of holding...but I digress]

At least you get a spear-gun.
Yet despite this rather simple premise ("constrained D&D"), the game's major systems, especially combat, aren't nearly as streamlined as the classic fantasy adventure game. The firearms rules aren't nearly as chunky as Aftermath, but its still burdened with an over-abundance of stats and modifiers based on specific makes and models of weapon, as well as rules for varying damage by hit location. Melee combat is worse, requiring characters to choose specific maneuvers from large tables determined by type of hand-to-hand combat (fortunately, "martial arts" is a single table) and cross-reference them against an opponent's secretly chosen defensive moves. It's not as chunky as firearms combat, but it IS clunky, with very slow "search & handling"...though the Administrator's Screen (which I own) helps cut down on this somewhat.

I understand that it's all in the name of genre emulation, BTW, but it's a tough one to become comfortable running. And the nature of the beast is that there are specific combinations of moves and defenses that are favored over others, to the degree that the table could probably be cut-down with little detriment to the system.

There are a couple of other poor design flaws in the game (spending cash on cosmetic surgery to increase one's Charm and Deception abilities...with no max cap...which, in turn, increases one's Evasion score and, thus, Hand-to-Hand combat ability), but it has a lot of good ideas, too, especially with regard to reward systems (as I've blogged about before). But Top Secret remains one of the few old TSR RPGs that has never been retrocloned in some way, shape, or form.

Well, unless you count Haven: City of Violence.

Over the years, I've often considered doing something with Top Secret: re-writing it to my specs, or just running a game as is (regardless of clunk and chunk). Usually this happens when I see some action-packed spy thriller that carries a TS "vibe." The Man from UNCLE. Mission Impossible. Stuff like that (no, not James Bond...he belongs to his own sub-genre, one that doesn't fit the "spy team" motif). Recently, I watched one of these (Mission Impossible 2) and it got me considering the game again...but then I found the kickstarter project for the new edition. And I decided to become a backer (it was already fully funded by the time I ponied up, but I was able to ensure I'd get a copy of the hard cover edition, plus some goodies).

Anyway...the game's not supposed to arrive at my doorstep till November (hopefully in time for my birthday), but I can wait. I'm interested to see what Merle's new vision of the game looks like, how it will play, where it's focus is. My son is VERY excited...he watched the video on the kickstarter page and said, "Ooo! Papa! We have to get this game!" I'm not sure he can wait till November, but...well, patience is a trait that everyone in my family is in desperate need of developing.

Later, Gators.
: )

RPGaDAY 2017 #2

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Again, this is a question that's easy to answer with "my own," but I'll leave aside MY various works in progress. and give you something I'll probably NEVER publish, due to licensing reasons:

XENOZOIC TALES the RPG.

I am a huge fan of Mark Schultz's work, though I admit to only knowing it as Xenozoic Tales, not Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (I never purchased the Marvel comics, nor did I watch the cartoon that shared its name). Yes, I'm fully aware that GDW put out an RPG for Cadillacs & Dinosaurs years back. I own (owned?) a copy that my younger beagle chewed the corner off. Using the same basic system as the excellent Twilight 2000, I can honestly say that GDW's Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is the most boring RPG ever published. Oh my gosh it's dull...which, if you're familiar with Shultz's setting, you've got to find pretty damn amazing.

Here's the thing: the Twilight 2000 RPG was written for a very specific setting, namely, soldiers operating on their own, wandering through a post-WWIII Europe. It's like a combo of Saving Private Ryan and Mad Max, without the gonzo mutations and monsters found in post-apoc games like Gamma World or Mutant Future. The players' concerns are with finding food, fuel, and ammunition (not necessarily in that order), and unlike more cinematic games, bullet counting is absolutely necessary...as is receiving the brass shell casings from the floor of your HumVee.

The Cadillacs & Dinosaurs RPG takes T2K's system, strips out all the military trappings (weapons, vehicles, ranks and occupations), all the setting trappings (Europe, radiation, combat stress, etc.) and adds a couple stat blocks for basic dinosaurs plus a synopsis of Mark's world setting. That's it. Fin.

I did not shed any tears for my copy's destruction. Buddy the beagle was simply putting it to better use...as a chew toy.

Come on...this deserves a cool game!
Xenozoic Tales is a fantastic setting with lots of things weird and wonderful to explore, not to mention action and adventure. It's a setting that really cries out for its own system...one that digs into the setting and facilitates exploration of the ideas and concepts it creates, not just a handful of percentile-based skill choices and a bag of hit points. Hell, even Gamma World would make a better fit as a system, if you limited the character choice to pure strain humans and added some (abbreviated) skill system to model engineering and lost science arts.  You could 'port the dinosaurs into the game from your AD&D Monster Manual using the conversion notes in the 1st edition DMG...I mean it wouldn't be that hard to do!

But my preference would be to see a new game, designed from the ground up within Mark's strange and beautiful world. A game designed with consideration for the material, rewarding the recovery of knowledge, perhaps expounding the theme of ecological preservation and natural balance that runs through the setting. Plus giant spiders, subterranean lizard folk, dinosaurs, and crawling telepathic brains.

Yeah, I'd love to see such an RPG get published. Hell, I'd settle for Schultz writing more Xenozoic Tales (where's that kickstarter?). But it probably won't be me publishing it...I sincerely doubt I could afford the license.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #1

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

Most long-time readers of this blog would probably expect me to say B/X, or some iteration thereof. The easiest answer would be "anything," because it's been such a struggle to find the time and space to game lately.

But I'm going to go off book a bit. Over the last few days of NOT posting my answer to this question I've had time to consider a number of different options. Fall of Magic is an absolutely beautiful game I've recently acquired and hope to play in the next couple weeks (while the wife and kids are out of town). Another GM-less game that I'd like to try my hand at is the old Ben Lehman Polaris game (no, not the French post-apocalyptic game...I own that one, too). And if someone else was going to run it, I'd be happy participating in a Heroes Unlimited game or Rifts: Wormwood (just don't make me have to cobble together comprehensible adventures).

BUT, if I'm going to take the question literally, I'd have to say the RPG I'd like to be playing right now, is the one that I picked up two days ago: SPIRIT OF 77, written by David Kizzia and Bob Richardson.

Dig on THIS, jive turkeys.
Spirit of 77 is a Powered by the Apocalypse, the first such PbtA RPG I've owned or read. It's quite well done...one of those games that's plenty fun just to read. But the game's simple system looks just about perfect for its chosen genre and cinematic setting.

"Cinematic" is the operative word here. This is a game made for over-the-top action and thrills, not bullet-counting. The first time I remember seeing such a term tossed around (cinematic role-playing) was probably Robin Laws's Feng Shui RPG. Here, the term isn't explicit in the text, and it doesn't need to be: anyone who remembers the television and film of the mid-70s to early-80s is going to "get it." A game of Spirit of 77 might be dark and gritty or light-hearted and campy, but it won't be dull. The cover leaf says it all with it's single sentence: To be played at maximum volume.

Spirit of 77 is a game of Bruce Lee chop-socky and gun-toting sociopaths...er, "vigilantes" out for justice (think Chuck Bronson, Clint Eastwood, and Pam Grier). It's a game of muscle cars and Evel Knievel. It's about fighting The Man and fighting The Streets. It's about sex and drugs and rock, platform shoes and sardonic, hard-boiled detectives. Dude...it's 1970s action!

No, it's not an all-encompassing 70's genre system: it would be pretty tough to scale it down to the level of Dazed & Confused or the Scooby-Doo mystery kids (you'd be better served running something like Risus if you wanted to play out the drama surrounding a high school keg party or busting the masked spook at the old amusement park). Likewise, it's missing most kinds of supernatural and psychic phenomenon (a la Steven King stories of the era: Firestarter, Dead Zone, etc.). There's no magic or voodoo or New Age-y stuff, and while the Wide World of 77 supplement gives us the new "Visitor" role/class (perfect for emulating The Man from Atlantis, Matthew Star, or The Phoenix), it would be pretty rough to do anything really "magical" with it. You could make a really wimpy vampire, I suppose...but who wants that?

Still there's plenty that Spirit of 77 CAN emulate.

  • Have you ever wanted to be "B.J. McKay and his best friend, Bear?" (who didn't?)
  • Are you a fan of Carter-era Wonder Woman mashups with the Bionic Woman? (I sure am)
  • Do you have a VHS copy of Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park sitting on some dusty shelf? (like the writer of this blog does)

If you can answer any of these questions (let alone all of them) in the affirmative, you might want to take a look at Spirit of 77. I can answer "Hell, yeah!" to all three, so you can see why I'm down to play.

It probably doesn't hurt that I spent most of the 1990's listening to music from the 70's.
; )


Friday, July 28, 2017

The Worst Witch

Apropos of nothing...

The kids and I checked out the new Netflix series, The Worst Witch, based on Jill Murphy's children's books (which we haven't read). Starring Bella "I-kick-ass-on-Game-of-Thrones" Ramsey as the young first year student at a witch school, I have to say I already dig it much more than the Harry Potter stuff. Which isn't really saying much since I hate most everything about Rowling's setting.

[sorry, J.K....much respect for the empire you've built and all, but I absolutely hate your "magical world." It's even worse than the Principalities of Glantri when it comes to making magic mundane]

Anyway, the kids were ready to binge-watch the whole thing (I put them to bed instead), so it's not just me that the show appeals to...and it did scare my three year old a bit, which is something any good story about witches (even a fairly benign bunch like these ladies) should do.

[can I also say I really like that they've set up the antagonists to be their own sister witches and backstabbing politics, rather than some nameless (and noseless) Big Bad hovering in the background like Sauron in Mordor, just waiting for his chance to "rule the world" or something?]

[man, I dislike those Potter books]

All right, that's all I wanted to say. Have to get back to my reading (tonight it's Oman's The Art of War in the Middle Ages). Later, gators.

B/X Tactica

Last night I fell asleep reading Musashi's The Book of Five Rings (I was on the book Water). Subsequently, I had a vivid dream involving

  1. shopping at a game shop, and 
  2. taking the kids to P. F. Chang's

Which is ridiculous for all sorts of reasons, including that I've never taken them to a P. F. Chang's (the wife hates to go to restaurants where she comes out "smelling like kitchen"). However, perhaps I'll rectify that this evening (the wife's currently out of town).

As dry as Sun Tzu? Yeah.
My reason for putting myself to sleep with Musashi is that I was doing some "research" into various tactical treatises that I could find with the possibility of putting together some sort of handbook of engagement rules and maneuvers for the B/X game.

I know, I know...but sometimes you just get a bee in your bonnet about stuff.

In this case a recent post by Peter over at nilnotnull (and my subsequent response) got me thinking that maybe a small manual of combat essays and optional rules might be fun...and perhaps useful...to put together. Something that explores the whys and wherefores of B/X's simple, abstract system...as well as its potential.

Am I the right person to put something like this together? Mmm...maybe. Lots of people have researched, written about, and explored the Old School combat system over the years (Delta, author of Original Edition Delta: Book of War, springs immediately to mind). Me...well, it's definitely a subject I've continued to come back to on Ye Old Blog. And a French game company did just petition me for permission to translate/use my B/X mass combat rules for their new retroclone...

Well, you know what? It doesn't really matter. So long as it fires me up to do some writing, I'll use the energy the idea gives me. This morning (when not cooking the kids breakfast) I've been 'making the rounds' at various blogs on the verge of shutting down, and offering encouragement to keep it up. For their own sakes, not mine. Because I know what it feels like to start questioning one's own worth when it comes to the blogging/writing/designing thing. Any type of art is hard, but especially art for little or no recognition. We have to remember that we do art for ourselves, as much (if not more) for other people. Especially those of us who aren't doing it as a profession or livelihood.

[come to think of it, here's a very tasty essay on that particular subject]

Sometimes we get in a funk with our art, and one of the best ways out of it is to just stick our face back in the mess and do something with our art. Art our way out of the funk, in other words. And futzing around with a book of B/X tactics is a perfectly acceptable exercise for Yours Truly to hone his chops. It may not be something that meets my standards for publication, but at least it's a constructive, practical thing I can work on.

I'll let y'all know how it goes.
; )

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bearding the Tiger...er, Lion

Tuesday night, I was fortunate enough to be able to play D&D again...for the first time in years.

Jeez. That's not really what I want to write about, but take a moment for that to sink in. Just looking at the sentence brings up a whole lot of conflicting feelings.

I had actually expected to get some gaming in next month (August) because my kids were going to be in Paraguay with mom for the last three weeks of summer, and I was going to have a bunch of free evenings. Fortunately/unfortunately, the trip fell through due to my wife's work obligations, so...well, shit. But on Tuesday GusL was running a playtest of his Viking rules for the HMS Appolyon through something called "Google Hangouts" and I got an invite to the game, so I decided to join.

And I did...kids jumped on my laptop a bit before I settled 'em down with some television in the other room (an example of my wonderful parenting skills...ordered 'em a pizza for dinner, too). But I got to game for a couple hours, in a very cool campaign setting, with a very thoughtful DM whose creativity I respect immensely. Plus Vikings! Man, I loves me some Vikings. Mix that up with the "Stranger in a Strange Land" trope (our lost-at-sea longship floating up against the insanely massive, steampunk ship-dungeon that is Appolyon), and you've got yourself a very good time indeed.

Anyway...fun, fun. And while my character did get turned into a tiny gold figurine because of a magic trap and a failed saving throw, I got to hit things with an (imaginary) axe and stomp around in big (imaginary) boots, kicking down doors and stuff. Going a-Viking suits my personality quite nicely.

Which leads me to the topic of this post: namely, folks who not liking to put their boot in...for fear some hidden tiger is going to bite their foot off.

Yeah, yeah...I realize I'm eliciting a WTF moment from a bunch of readers. I'm talking about something Alexis was describing in one of his recent posts, Confidence Abounds. The essay describes what "confidence" is (briefly: surety, not courage or ego) and how confidence (or lack thereof) can sometimes manifest in gaming, both as a DM and a player.

And ONE of those ways is a player's conviction...their confidence...that there's a tiger (or similar deathtrap) just lurking there, waiting to do them in. Even in campaigns run with low rigidity (i.e. a more open, sandbox-y type campaign) that would otherwise attempt to encourage player agency and initiative and creativity. Players become stymied in their decision-making, laboring under the fear that the axe is just waiting to drop at their first misstep.

Yes, it's out there. So what?
Now I realize that there are some players for whom this is a preferred style of play...players who like approaching a D&D scenario with all the dutiful care of an archeologist, cautiously brushing the dust away with a small whisk so as not to destroy some fragile piece of ancient pottery; the "fragile piece" in this case being the player's character. For me, this isn't terribly fun...neither as a player, nor as a DM. When playing D&D, I prefer my archaeology a bit more Indiana Jones...some bold swinging into action and a pulpy disregard for one's fictional life and limb. That's the kind of adventure I want from a fantasy adventure game...it's the reason I play D&D (when I get a chance!). In real life, I'm a fairly cautious individual. After all, I've got two little kids depending on me.

But in a game, I can get away with acting fairly brazen...and so I do, as much as I can. I often restrain myself (a bit) for the sake of other players, but I'm sure that some find me a little too "gung ho" at times. Even so, my survival rate is pretty good, helped immensely by thirty+ years of DM'ig experience. I've got a pretty good head for the numbers and playing the odds, and a fairly good nose for sniffing out bullshit.

[that magic trap was something I should have avoided fairly easily, but I was distracted at the moment it came up by a pair of small children clamoring for my attention]

So I'm not terribly worried about tigers lurking in the bushes. Even if there is one (just to take an analogy too far), I'd prefer my character to go down fighting the tiger, then to spend a bunch of my precious gaming time worrying that my paper character is going to die. It took me longer to decide on a suitably Norse-sounding name than it took me to roll up my PC.

And anyway, one of the things I've found in the last decade or so of gaming (since getting back into the D&D hobby) is that DMs have a tendency to be pretty soft on players. It's like they have the opposite problem of these players who fear the hidden tiger. They are sure (i.e. "confident") that playing Old School D&D...with its lack of healing surges and death saves...means that a Total Party Kill is just waiting to happen. And they lack confidence in the party's ability to deal with legitimate threats in a reasonable fashion.

I don't know...maybe I've just been "fortunate" in the draw of DMs I've had (Gus said his last play-test involved a giant demon monster that wiped out everyone in the first encounter, but I wasn't there for that one). What I do know is that, other than Tuesday night, I've only lost TWO characters to death in a D&D game in the last ten or so years...and one of those was a character that chose to die in order to give the rest of the party the time they needed to escape a nest of troglodytes.

[the other character was a 1st level illusionist who ate an orc arrow and only had a couple hit points...no big loss]

I think Alexis is correct in surmising that most of us have been conditioned from our formative years of gaming to expect to be tiger-bitten by the game. That early adventure modules...our examples of what D&D is/was supposed to look like...are particularly unforgiving SOBs, character killers, and deathtraps. And, no, I'm not just talking about The Tomb of Horrors. The Keep on the Borderlands, about which I've written many times, has killed more player characters than any other adventure module I've used over the years...and I've run Tomb at least four or five times. The Isle of Dread is probably (a distant) second. Other adventure modules...like The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth or Tomb of the Lizard King are notable (to me) for having caused TPKs in a single run...and fairly early in the game. And White Plume Mountain? My last large group to go through that one played very cautiously (over multiple sessions) and were still wiped out, almost to a man.

These early experiences are what give us our surety that the tiger is out there (in the case of DMs, this tiger is a TPK and our sad-faced players having "no fun" for the night). And perhaps it IS out there. D&D is ridiculously lethal when played as written; you can sneeze a hole in a 1st level player character. Gygax's own house rules started PCs at 3rd level, and this to me is fairly adequate across the board: three hit dice worth of hit points, three spells for magic-users (two for clerics), and a 10% bump on most thief skills is a perfectly reasonable starting point if you want to cut-down on the random insta-kill.

But even if the tiger is there, do you want to play tentatively? Do you (as a DM) want to stock that first level of the dungeon with 1-2 hit point monsters that can't hit chain-and-shield armor? Don't we want our players (on both sides of the DM screen) to have enough confidence in the PC's survivability that we can approach D&D with the gusto and verve of the pulp fantasy that inspired the game? Or do we prefer to embolden our players by instituting rules that all-but-take death off the table: plentiful healing, death saves, "shields will be splintered," etc.?

I'm certainly not what I'd call an academic when it comes to D&D. I'm an enthusiast. But even if I can't raise my writing to academic standards, it doesn't mean I'm not interested in having a discussion in how to make the game a better experience...a grander experience...for its players. ALL its players (including the DMs). How we can grab the tiger by the tail and ride that sonuvagun. Or something.

[***EDIT: Alexis just posted a follow-up essay that has some suggestions/methodology for evaluating your campaign...assuming you're a Dungeon Master...to somewhat mitigate players' over-indulgence in tiger fear. Another good read...check it out***]

Anyway. I had a lot of fun playing D&D the other night. I hope I get the chance to do it again in the near future.
: )

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jeff's Cool S**t

It really irritates me when I write a comment on someone's blog and the whole thing shows up on my G+ stream. I realize this is probably on ME and my lack of ability with the whole social media thing (i.e. I'm sure there's something I should be turning off to get it to stop)...but that's part of the irritation: it points out my ignorance and incompetence, in addition to sharing my one-line witticisms that were really only meant for the blogger I'm reading.

Such was the case recently when the immeasurably talented Jeff Rients posted his recent series on random advancement for B/X character classes (here's the post with the compiled documents).

His thinking behind these can be found in his first post in the series in which he writes:
A problem in old school D&D that has been intuited by nearly everyone but only occasionally spoken out loud is that sometimes you can go up a level and it's a dud. Reaching 2nd level as a fighter is pretty exciting the first time, because you have the opportunity to double your hit points. But third level is just more of the same. Sure you get better to hits (slowly) and multiple attacks (even more slowly). Meanwhile the spellcasters get more spell slots every level and new spell levels are even more exciting. Even the lowly, crappy thief gets incremental increases in percentage skills (plus things like reading languages and magic, better back stabs).  
Meanwhile, all players and many DMs agree that going up a level should be awesome. That's how we ended up going down the road of WotC D&D with its feats and whatnot...
Welp, I am one of those folks who tried articulating this a while back, though that was in the midst of designing a new FHB. The idea that I had was that, with so much "white space" between levels, you might as well cut-back on the levels in the game and simply play for the "power-ups" limited to about five times per career.

The main problem with that approach is that folks want to advance more than five levels over the course of a campaign.

The other thing Jeff appears to be attempting (which may not be articulated as well) is to make leveling up more interesting. Not just in the actual increases of effectiveness that occur, but in the way those increases are bestowed and how they show up...helping to distinguish "cookie-cutter" B/X classes from one another via random tables loaded with cool stuff.

In the past, I've tried front-loading this kind of monotony-breaking system via something I called exceptional traits (folks who own The Complete B/X Adventurer will see this is one of several systems developed "on-blog" that made it into the book). Other folks have done similar random tables that influence chargen (Alexis uses extensive random charts and a simple Excel formula to quickly generate distinct weirdness from hundreds of possible options).

I think I may have even addressed the idea of PCs getting new "exceptional traits" at higher levels (though I never actually implemented this at the gaming table)...but I never suggested a completely randomized leveling process like Jeff (and Zak) have. Part of this is due to me having a hard time thinking in truly gonzo concepts on a regular basis (much to my chagrin). But another part is simply due to a difference in philosophy: I have no objection whatsoever to random character generation, but I have strong reservations about random character development.

Part of the challenge of playing old school D&D is bucking up and working with what the dice giveth. One of my favorite characters that I never had the chance to play (well, not more than once or twice), was a 2nd level fighter with a constitution of 3. I decided to define him as an elderly warrior, only newly minted as an adventurer, describing him as looking somewhat like that geezer King Haggard in the animated Last Unicorn film. As my children are fond of saying, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."

[I think Diego learned that in kindergarten. It's applicable to a variety of life's arenas, however]

And considering that your player character in D&D is supposed to be an adult (presumably with some life experiences that has gone into shaping him or her), starting with a randomly created origin is perfectly acceptable...saves time so that one can get to playing. But random development? The whole point of play (well, one of the points of play) is developing your character from a rank beginner into a potent adventurer, and it is the game play that describes this development. And as I have a say in how my character plays (Do I attack the bugbears? Do I loot the gemstone?) so, too, I should have a say in how my character develops.

If I work my ass off to go up in level and then (randomly) learn how to bake cookies instead of acquiring a new spell? Well, that kind of sucks. Likewise, if I spend my time carefully negotiating with NPCs, cultivating a respectable demeanor only to discover that I morph into some sort of tattooed berserker. Or whatever.

Having said that: I still love a lot of the stuff that's found on these random tables. And in a campaign setting where the megadungeon exists as a kind of "mythic underworld" and inexplicable, random strangeness is a regular, expected occurrence, I can totally get behind a system of randomized development like the one Jeff is suggesting. And, yes, it certainly makes advancement a lot more interesting.

Check it out when you have the chance. It's definitely worth the read.
: )

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Another Thursday, Another Cup o Coffee

Plenty of musings the last couple weeks (as well as one near-finished post about *mumble*mumble* paladins sitting on the draft board), leading me to my usual predicament: too much to say and little hope of putting together a coherent blog post.

But as I'm at the Baranof, fairly coffee'd up, and out of blogs and sports news to read (I mean, do I really care the Mariners have picked up a player for their godawful bullpen? They've only been above .500 once this season!), I might as well write something. Writing something is better than writing nothing. In fact, it's a LOT better: I almost always feel better after doing so.

Like I'm getting something accomplished or something.

Watching Ye Old Television the other day (late at night) I was struck again by the thought of how many gaming geeks must have fallen into the business of producing, scripting, and directing business.  Caught a bit of some Transformers sequel (don't ask me which. I watched the first one in the theater when it came out years ago and have since tapped out), and could not help but think THIS is what Siembieda is trying to convey with the whole S.D.C. versus M.D.C. thing. THIS is Rifts (or Robotech or whatever): giant alien un-killable monsters that snap their fingers and inflict huge amounts of property damage. Clearly the creators of this series used to play Palladium around the cafeteria table in high school, same as me and my old buddies.

Watching the new Game of Thrones season kick-off I was again struck by the thought of how much it looks like someone's old school D&D campaign, just bashed together with house rules and shoot-from-the-hip historic analogues thrown in. How does an assassin use their disguise ability? Like this: some magical latex mask that you can whip out of your pocket at the drop of a hat (I went back and reread my old PHB and DMG and could find nothing that would contradict the way a "faceless man's" ability is portrayed in the show). Who needs fake beards and padded clothes? Not these guys.

[there is quite a bit more in the books on the manufacture of poisons, but nothing that would preclude the kinds of mass assassination...with as little explanation...as what we see in GoT]

Same holds true for the undead (someone likes their wights!), or rangers, or...well, you get the point. Game of Thrones the show (I haven't read more than a couple of the novels) feels a lot like an OD&D campaign run by some curmudgeonly Old Schooler who said, "We're going to get rid of humanoids and just cannibal hill people," and "We're really going to dial back on the availability of magic in the game" while still retaining out-and-out gonzo elements.

[actually, reminds me a bit of Gus over at Dungeon of Signs]

You still have your plate-armor wearing dudes in a world without gunpowder. You still have your magic weapons ("Valerian steel"). You still have "raise dead" though on a much smaller (and darker) scale. Heck, you still have dragons...but these are much more of the Chainmail type (and used in the same way) than the latter-day McCaffery-color-based creatures.

Anyway...

What other bits of gaming geekery did I spot on the screen recently? Hmm...something, but it's escaping me at the moment. I know I see all sorts of moments in the superhero genre that seems to have been influenced by gaming...but then, as superhero games have been influenced by the comic book genre, it's possible that I'm just confusing the origin of the tropes.

One show that inspired gaming (rather than the other way around) was the old Robotech TV-series (translated and re-branded from an even older Japanese series. Well, three series, but whatever...). The kids and I finally finished watching the first season of that (the "Macross saga") on Netflix last week. It was still a lot of fun (I haven't seen it in decades), and even Minmei's music, while grating, was bearable. Of course, my children are now singing her songs all the time...

Still lurking in some bargain bins...
Of course, we had to go out and look for a copy of Palladium's old Robotech RPG so that we could play. And fortunately we were able to pick up a used copy for $10. Man, I haven't played or run that game for...well, for decades. I had a trio of gaming buddies in high school (Michael, Mike, and Ben) who LOVED anime and comics and we're huge Robotech players...they were my introduction to the game (as well as Heroes Unlimited), and I had a chance to borrow their books and play it with them on one or two occasions.

Funny enough, now owning my own copy, it's pretty much what I remember: a mess of a game which uses the Palladium system in a manner that makes it really, really difficult to capture the feel or themes of the show. Not even via the combat system (which is Palladium's emphasis). *sigh*

[I'll have to write more about my high school gaming sometime. Those guys introduced me to the extended Palladium catalogue...I'd only ever played TMNT prior...and I introduced them to Stormbringer, BattleTech, and Vampire the Masquerade. This was during the twilight years of TSR and we NEVER played "those games." At least not together...]

Diego REALLY wanted to play Robotech (of course), but just running the chargen is So Damn Boring And Slow (all those useless skills...) that we quickly gave up and decided to write our own, streamlined game. I've got a couple-three pages of notes for the thing so far, and if I can get my kid to draw some robot pictures maybe I'll publish it as an e-book or something. I'm pretty happy with what I've got so far, but I'd still like to work in various Robotech-isms to make the game something other than a map-less war-game. We'll see, we'll see...fortunately, it's a pretty lightweight project so I might be able to bang it out in a week or so (Ha! I've said that before!) if I can find some time between the playdates and summertime chores (yard sale this Saturday...).

Let's see what else have I been up to...? A lot of game-related, post-apocalyptic stuff (infer what you will). But that's a subject for another post (waaaaaay too long). Oh, I met someone who's known and worked with Mike Mearls and we had an interesting conversation about him (nothing bad). Picked up a new RPG that has perhaps the coolest presentation ever...hoping to run that one in August (when my family is out-o-town). What else, what else...

Eh. That's enough for now. I need to finish this coffee and make a run to the post-office. For those who bothered to read my ramblings, thank you! It feels good to get some of this clutter out of my noggin (perhaps my next post will meander less).

Oh, By The Way: print copies of my B/X Companion are about 60-70% sold. If you've been wanting to order a copy, I wouldn't wait too long...not sure when I'll get around to doing another print run.