Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Picking Up Where I Left Off

It's been a bit since I have posted to The Sandbox of Doom.  In the intervening time, a lot of things have changed, most of them good.

  • I have been gaming on Tuesday nights as part of Madison Traditional Gaming.  MTG - as we sometimes refer to it - now has about 45-50 people every Tuesday evening at Pegasus Games here in Madison, Wisconsin.   Over the past year, I have played in a D&D 2nd Edition game, ran a highly-enjoyable campaign of Fringeworthy using a modified Microlite 20 Modern set of rules, and have started running Adventure 4: Leviathan for Classic Traveller.
  • The work of the Tekumel Foundation has progressed.  We have re-released Prof. Barker's first novel, The Man of Gold, as well as The Tekumel Sourcebook.  More materials are in the process of preparation, and should be released soon.
  • I have been working on making my gaming room in the basement actually usable for gaming, and not just for the storage of games.  It's a slow process, as I also need to find more shelf space for the various reference materials I have accumulated over the years.
I haven't played many computer games as I've found I just don't have that much interest.  I have to admit to having played a lot of Minecraft in the past, but eventually hit a wall in terms of figuring out what I liked to do in the framework of the game.  I also have thought about playing the various Dragon Age games I have, or re-playing Oblivion, or possibly getting into Skyrim.  In all of these cases, the balance of time and reward has not been enough to get me to open them up to play.  So they have remained on the shelf.  If someone were to devise a game which combined elements of Darklands with various builder games like Master of Magic, I'd probably think about it.

I also have some projects I want to actually publish, aside from the larger efforts underway.  I'd also like to write more here in this blog.  All as time permits....!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook

So I've picked up a copy of the new Players Handbook.  Even a cursory examination revealed that this is NOT the "5th Edition" that some people were afraid it might be.  However, I have to admit that I'm a little concerned about the $50 cover price - not so much because I think it's out of line for a book like this, but that it continues a pattern for roleplaying games of having entry-level products which are much more expensive than related leisure activities, such as Magic: the Gathering, etc.

It's also worth noting that you can get Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game, and Swords & Wizardry for much less than the cover price of this one volume. - and all of those are complete games; this is not.  I've advocated for some time that what this hobby needs is a good $10 roleplaying game - and possibly the free PDF of the Basic D&D rules is supposed to fill that niche.  We'll see.

My initial take on the rules is that they are well-written, with a lot of cautions about not thinking there is "one true way" of doing things.  I've not read that far into the book, but I am cautiously optimistic about it, generally speaking.  I retain my doubts that I would shift to 5e from Original D&D (or a retro-clone), but I suspect that I would enjoy playing in a 5e game much more readily that I did in the 4th Edition game I played in three years ago.

More to follow as I continue reading.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Very Cool Thing

The Bundle of Holding has gone completely Old School for the next four-and-a-half days.  Buy all of this now while you can, for a practically a song.  It is definitely worth it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

He Meant Well

GameHoleCon (yes, that's the name) was this past weekend.  Had a great time running Classic Traveller, Empire of the Petal Throne, and Original D&D (well, S&W White Box if you wanted to be precise).  Towards the end of the convention, I noted the convention deal being offered by the rep for Castles & Crusades.  I had bought the C&C White Box some years back, and hadn't really kept track of it.  But I thought "hey, that's cheap enough for me to think about buying!"

So I picked up a copy of the C&C Player's Handbook, and the sales representative started talking to me.  In retrospect, I feel I should have asked if I could record what he was saying.  But I was tired, and so I let him go on, and decided to just listen.

He started by telling me that the game books were soon going to have new covers, and that the interiors used to be plain black-and-white, but now had a cream vellum like background, which was definitely a BIG improvement.  He went on to talk about how there were a lot of published adventures "so you can get started right away" and "you didn't have to make anything up." There was an adventure "path" (Pathfinder influenced sales talk) that had about a dozen adventures, and the one about to be published was going to be "as big as all of the others put together."

He never thought to ask what my gaming background was, which I thought was interesting.

I continued listening, and picked up one of the other books from the C&C line.  Oh, yes, that was an expansion to the core rules.  It would "allow" me to use new material not in the core rules, and even let me come up with my own stuff, if I were that bold.  What I started listening for was language in his sales pitch that assumed I was essentially a passive consumer, rather than an active creator, of game material, and there was a lot of it.  It quickly became clear that his pitch was aimed at gamers used to Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 or 4th Edition.  That's not inherently bad, but it did tend to metaphorically ruff my fur backwards.  However, it was a little odd to hear it about a game that was supposedly "Old School" - the sale rep was rather proud of that, pointing out that James Ward was writing for them, and that Wil Wheaton had endorsed it as the "spiritual successor" to AD&D.

As an aside, there's an argument to be had here about when exactly there was a shift from the crazy gonzo DIY of Original D&D to the "you must play it this way" of later editions, but I'm not going to go into that now.  On the moment, I was more fascinated listening to the sales rep continue to assume I was excited by how he was describing the game.  He told me that if I had any questions, they had a very active set of forums online, "and some of the actual creators of the games and adventures would sometimes show up!"

We talked awhile longer, and I ended up buying the three core rule books.  I thanked him for sharing his insights and information, and went back to our OSR club booth, right around the corner.  I kept thinking, though, then and afterwards, about the very clear gulf between what the Old School Renaissance meant to me, and how it was used as part of his sales pitch.  I'm sure he meant well, but there was no way we were going to agree.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Keep it simple

Tuesday nights have been very very successful.  We've got anywhere from 25-30 gamers showing up each week, and games range from Star Trek (CODA) to a Superworld/CoC mash-up to Microlite 74.  The Star Trek game is mine - it's set in 2270, and uses some interesting fan stuff and some material from Mike Ford and Diane Duane's novels.  Having read through the rules, the CODA system struck me as "classic Traveller meets d20" - which may be a fair comparison - or not.  We'll see.

But character creation took FOREVER. Yes, I probably could've dealt with it better by generating some NPCs beforehand. The fact of the matter remains that in comparison to Mike Berkey's Where No Man Has Gone Before, the CODA system takes a long time to produce a character.  I've taken advantage of some online resources to make it easier, and I like the general process and the sorts of characters which are produced, but there is definitely room for improvement. One complicating factor is the desire for characters to be experienced before starting play; another was the idea of every player having two characters - one for the bridge crew, another for the landing party.

From this experience, I derived the following observation: long drawn-out character generation processes favor premature character investment by players. If you take a long time to generate a character - say more than a half-hour - then there is more encouragement to build up a back-story for the character.  It also leads to a greater expectation that the character is somehow "meaningful" and deserving of special attention by other players and the referee.  From the perspective of Tuesday Night Open Gaming, this makes it difficult for new players to join in.  From an OSR perspective, this is definitely problematic. I tend to interpret OSR games as not privileging player-characters over non-player characters, and the characters themselves are not superhuman or heroic, but develop over time from more mundane circumstances.  If you have a complex, involved and fiddly character generation system, that gets a little harder, as the players end up investing a lot of time into character creation, and begin to expect a pay-back in-game for the long, involved process.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Answers for Random Wizard

The original questions may be found here.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
Most of the time, no.  I used to think absolutely not, but more recently as I considered monsters as classes (e.g. dragons, vampires, etc.) it made more sense to consider some races as their own class, when the inherent nature of the race was sufficiently "strong" as to warrant that kind of treatment.  I understand it's a fuzzy definition, and it depends heavily on a clear conception of what, exactly, race is.  These days, the more I think a race is relatively close to human, the less likely to see it as its own class.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?
Depends on your campaign, and the deeper assumptions of the world you've created.  In planning for my next OD&D+ campaign, Aldwyr, I've decided that elves and dwarves have souls, but are so intertwined with their physical natures that if they die, they cannot be resurrected.  For dwarves, this is because a dwarf is too tied to the living rock of the world to not return to it when they die.  For elves, their intrinsic nature binds their soul up with their physical form, which is related to their longevity - but also means that when they die, their entire corpora goes through dissolution.  Halflings are closer to humans in having souls and may be resurrected.

That having been said, in my White Box game, The Hall of Forgotten Gods, all demi-humans lack souls as understood by humans.  Their gods relate to them differently than human gods do, resulting in different intrinsic natures.  As I mentioned before, it depends on the campaign and the assumptions you make.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?
Descending.  It's how I was taught, and for me, it's easier.  I can see the relative simplicity of ascending armor class, but it's difficult for me to think that way.

(4). Demi-human level limits?
Again, it depends on the nature of the campaign you create.  Generally, I see them as a mechanical "fix" for dealing with the relative advantages of demi-humans vs. humans.  Rather than making a hard-and-fast limit, I tend to make it simply more difficult for demi-humans to advance - or give humans a bonus on earned experience.

(5). Should thief be a class?
Sure, so long as it is understood that the activities of the thief are things that any character can attempt - thieves simply do them better.  In some cases, thieves are capable of things that other classes simply can't replicate easily.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?
It's been argued that the thief percentage chance increases are a kind of skill increase, and so are the camel's nose under the edge of the tent, making D&D into an endless quest for crunchy mechanical markers of success.  I tend to see non-weapon skills as the real camel's nose - what are they for, in game terms?  I'm not sure.  I would rather have players tell me something about their character that I can say yes to, and have THAT be the basis for their character than look at endless ranks of scores on a character sheet.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?
This question hearkens back to the oft-made observation that magic-users start off weak, but become powerful as they gain levels.  Some people suggest that this shift is too powerful, as higher-level magic-users are often capable of dealing immense amounts of damage via spells.  I actually think that this is A Good Thing, since by the time magic-users get that powerful, a referee ought to have thought of really more challenging things for them to deal with than simply being a form of heavy artillery.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?
No.  In this, I am a student of Prof. M.A.R. Barker: languages are a reflection of the cultures and societies which use them, so an "alignment language" presupposes that alignments have direct, immediate, and on-going effects on social interaction.  Since "alignment" itself is a more cosmological element in the games I run than any sort of social divider, the entire notion of "alignment languages" seems a bit off, ontologically speaking.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?
Both.  The original D&D campaign I played in had a differential reward system for gold, monsters killed, spells cast, and other actions, depending on your character's class.  It made sense at the time, and I might use it again, because it rewarded characters for doing the things their class was supposed to be about.  More recently I have been less committed to a defined system like that, preferring instead to use gold as the main reward, with well-played objectives as "icing on the cake" - something more free-form and more amenable to rulings rather than rules.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?
The one that best allows me to build the game and campaign I want to run.  I tend to view all role-playing games as toolkits, so the more rules there are, the more likely they are going to get in my way.  I grew up playing Original D&D and then some of the others.  Original D&D's sprawling, inchaote nature lends itself to retooling and refining, which I have always enjoyed.  If I were to start all over, I suspect I would go with Holmes or possibly Moldvay, as they are more clearly edited without having ever-growing sets of assumptions attached to ever-lengthening books of rules.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
Individual XP tables for different classes.  Keeps 'em all guessing, especially since I discourage meta-gaming involving explicit discussions of stats and levels in-game.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Another couple of mash-ups

I spotted the first of these from Nick Mizer's G+ commentary, and the second one has been on my radar ever since the good people at Gamegrene cast a jaundiced eye towards D&D 4th Edition back in 2009.  The contrast between the two is noticeable.

From Dungeon of Signs:
"D&D is not heroic fantasy, it's low fantasy, and it's not a game of power fantasies for each player, but a a game of collective world-building between players and GM.  By "power fantasy" I'm not trying to be dismissive to other games or genres that are about individual advancement of an avatar, I'm attempting to draw a distinction between a fantasy narrative that is of individual success (empowerment) and one that is the narrative of a world (like a history)."
Gamegrene's 2009 "review" of D&D 5th Edition:
"This Dungeon Scenario is custom-tailored to your specific group, and perfectly balanced so no one ever has a chance of dying. It's like being in your very own novel as the heroes! Each Scenario includes a brief introductory scene (you can role play if you want to but why bother, you can skip this) and then a Dungeon Delve to enter, with a monster encounter and some treasure, all pre-designed in the book and well-balanced. Kill the monster and move on. Just run through 5 two-page encounters and you get a level. 10 pages per level, 500 pages total, lots of content, and all of it is predictable, fun and fast!"
Not that this bears any resemblance to games currently being played, right?  But if someone wanted to object to Gamegrene's rather pointed critique, then perhaps they might first look at some of the things said about the OSR by gamers with a "New School" perspective....