Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Open-Ended Campaigns

One of the more interesting aspects of the early days of role-playing games was the assumption that campaigns were something that lasted some time. Certainly Greyhawk and Blackmoor lasted a very long time - but in the first decade of gaming, there did not seem to be any sort of assumption that a campaign would end. Reading articles from early issues of The Dragon, it's quite clear that campaigns did not die (but they might fade away).

I know this era of long-lasting campaigns didn't last. In fact, one good reason for them not lasting for regular play was simply the appearance of new role-playing games. If you wanted to play a different game, and your group met once a week, well, something would have to give. "D&D or Bushido? It's your call!" "How about Boot Hill?"

Now, it seems that campaigns are envisioned as something to start and then end. Case in point: a friend of mine ran a 3rd Edition D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms, and while I enjoyed it, I found that he had plotted a specific "story arc" to end at a particular point in the campaign, and then it was done. I had mentally prepared my Tiefling paladin (not angsty, just different) for a longer period of play, so the end of the adventure was something of an abrupt stop for me.

But in the present Old School Renaissance, we've got the chance to figure some of this out in advance. I think there is something qualitatively different to an open-ended campaign, in comparison with those with pre-set ending points. I'm not saying that a campaign must be played constantly and forever, but more a difference in viewpoint about beginnings and endings. Put somewhat more philosophically, I think that the duration of a campaign is just as much a part of the "sandbox," so to speak, as the geography of a campaign.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Moving and various issues

I'm moving to Madison, Wiscowsin at the end of the month. Not too surprisingly, I've decided to invest in a lot of standard-size boxes to make the move go more easily. A quick check of Uline revealed that they had 12x10x10 boxes (that's 30.5cm by 25.4cm by 25.4cm for metric folks), for 51 cents in any quantity. They've been working quite well, though I am still searching for the best all around size of cardboard box, i.e. one that will handle games, magazines and books with decent fit for all categories. I think I've moved too many times in my past.

But there are a LOT of games to move. This has led me to rediscover some old chestnuts as I've been packing: Rivets, Lords & Wizards, and Daredevils. Quite a walk down Memory Lane! Rivets was great - I converted the designs for "boppers" into stats for a set of science fiction miniatures rules, and there's a Morrow Project adventure lurking around there someplace, too. Lords & Wizards I must have bought but never played; the counters were unpunched. And Daredevils - man, crazy busy set of rules, but fun and we had several referees who really were into pulp adventure. Good times.

But - for now - into the boxes and onto the truck. If anybody knows of other members of the Old School Movement in Madison, keep me posted!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Aaron Allston needs your help

As it turns out, Aaron Allston has had an emergency bypass operation. Aaron's a science fiction writer, and in the past contributed significantly to The Space Gamer and other SJG projects. Details on how to contribute money for Aaron's recovery can be found here.

This isn't the first time someone in our community has needed help. For several years, John M. Ford went from being on dialysis to getting a new kidney, and the astronomical costs were defrayed (somewhat) by donations made by his friends. So give some money. It will make a difference.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

De gustibus non est disputandem...and all that

I ended up recently having an online conversation with Jonathan Tweet about his recent experience with Old School gaming. He seemed to mildly enjoy it, but had this to say about the rules:

The problem with such games is that there's a lot of bad stuff that people are nostalgic for. For every bad rule that you might want to strip out, there are people who won't think your OD&D is original enough if you don't have it. Swords & Wizardry even has two AC systems that it uses side-by-side: the old-fashioned 9-down system that they have to include for tradition's sake and the 10+ system that they have to include because it's just clearly better....The 'bad stuff' I'm referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.

I suggested he might like Microlite 74, and he thought it looked "pretty cute" - a compliment I would say. :)

But what I find interesting here is how he jumps to the conclusion that it is nostalgia that drives interest in the Old School movement. Oh, sure - there is some element of fond remembrance for some of us - but not all of us, and it certainly isn't the main or even significant driving factor. I was also rather surprised, actually, to discover how quick he was to label some rules as "bad" and various "problems" with the game that were "fixed" in 4th Edition. In truth, I am still curious about how he came to these conclusions, but I think it is telling that someone of Jonathan's creativity has reached such definite conclusions.

Beyond that, I also noticed that he implied that "bad rules" were retained by Old School gamers as a kind of authenticity test. I noted in my comments to him that such an attitude was not considered appropriate by Old School gamers; "doing it right" means doing it the way you want to. I'm still bothered by his implied criticism, though. Who are these "people" he's referring to? It can't be only Old School gamers - lots of games have fans who want to play "by the book." My suspicion is that he's half-remembering gamers who wanted everything to be settled by the "Sage Advice" column in The Dragon more so than gamers who were playing between 1974 and roughly 1978. (I could be wrong about this, but I do wonder....)