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....


Monday, April 8, 2013

Real Town, Real Dungeon

The Disoriented Ranger apparently has details on a real life "dungeon" underneath a German town.  Weirdly enough, this also has me thinking about Darklands, too.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Who do you tell...?

I've been gaming for most of my life.  What that means is that I started gaming when trying to talk about it was bound to get you in trouble.  You know, like back in the day:

"What's this...'D&D' thing you're doing?"
"It's Dungeons & Dragons - it's a kind of shared storytelling, where the players get to be the heroes of the story and the referee is in charge of the story setting."
"Um, sure.  That sounds... (pick one or more:) like its for kids/satanic/a complete waste of time/etc."

...which was about as close as I had gotten to explaining it all in a thumbnail to outsiders.  But I've never really gotten past the sense that talking about it marks me as different, less socially adept, yeah, a nerd.  All of which is funny, since I have little difficulty talking about being bisexual or multiracial or really a whole bunch of things that might be more problematic.  It's just another coming out process, right?

It's made even more weird by the fact that the nerds have won, big-time, in the culture wars.  So what's holding me back from talking about it, especially when Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Tim Duncan, heck, even Judi Dench are all D&D players?  I'm still pondering this.  As a younger friend of mine pointed out the other day, "The burning issue for your generation of science fiction fans is feeling socially not accepted.  But that's not the issue for younger fans."

Of course, none of this has prevented me from reading a RPG book in public.  Or talking to people about it - or even getting people excited about it as something new to them.

Guess I should dig up a few rulebooks and go outside and play.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

James Maliszewski

I talked with James Maliszewski yesterday.  As some of you may be aware, James' father is in very poor health and not expected to live much longer. Last year, I went through a similar series of events around the death of my friend Phil, so I have some perspective on what he is going through.

It's difficult to explain just how much of an impact this kind of thing has on a person. For James, besides anything else, this has become a terrible distraction.  Trying to think or write creatively is just difficult, if not impossible. I asked James if he minded if I shared this with people I know, and he said it was perfectly fine.

I know many people are waiting for Dwimmermount. I don't think you have to worry about that, but this sort of life event is something nobody can plan for.  If you feel like you want to comment on this post, I would suggest instead that you contact your parents and tell them how much you love them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Starting a Game Club: Timing and Frequency

I've recently read a number of comments on Google+ from people who have tried setting up games only to have them fall through, mostly because players didn't show up.  I can't always tell if this is because they were gaming online or in-person, but either way, gaming didn't happen.  This is a "bad thing" as I would define it.  What to do about it?  Build a game club, of course.

The virtue of starting a game club is that it is intended to be durable, less subject to the whims and eddies of personal schedules and life events.  But for it to work, you need to have a regular time and place to meet.  This post is about how to determine the latter.

Currently, Madison Traditional Gaming meets on Tuesday evenings at Pegasus Games here in Madison.  We also have an all-day event on the 3rd Saturday of the month at the Hawthorne Branch of the Madison Public Library.  We discovered in December that the librarians at the Hawthorne Branch wanted to sponsor our group, which has some distinct advantages (more on that later).  The weekly sessions allow for regular campaign play, while the monthly sessions are good for one-shot adventures with different rules sets.  But we did not always have it so good.

When I first started Madison Traditional Gaming, I figured that a once-a-month event was probably the most I could commit to running, and I was right.  It quickly turned into a lot of work, as I tried to arrange for other referees to run events for the 3rd Saturday sessions as well as prepare adventures to run myself.  Somewhere in there we started meeting on Tuesday nights, first at Misty Mountain Games, and then later at Pegasus Games.  Things moved along for about a year, but the effort was considerable to keep things going.  In December 2011, I decided that enough was enough, and announced that Madison Traditional Gaming would stop meeting on the 3rd Saturdays as it was too much work.  That was not a good idea, as it turned out.

People did not want to stop meeting on the 3rd Saturdays, and some people could not make it on Tuesday evenings.  So by summer 2012, we began meeting on the 3rd Saturday again.  We've kept that schedule ever since: one monthly event and weekly gaming.

What did we learn from this?

  • You need to meet on a regular basis to sustain activity and interest.  Saying "3rd Saturday of the month" makes it clear to everyone when you will be meeting.  However...
  • You also need to meet frequently enough to keep gamers happy.  One of the biggest complaints I received at the 3rd Saturday events was that a once-a-month session was too infrequent for regular campaign play.  So having weekly sessions solved that problem.
The trick to all of this is to keep meeting even if it is just you and one or two other people.  Groups tend to grow slowly, and gaming is no different.  You need to stick to your guns and see things through.

Next time: advertising and getting the word out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Traveller Tuesday Reboot

So it has been two years since I wrote about the original 1977 version of Classic Traveller.  When last we left the series, I was about to embark on an examination of the Psionics rules from Book 3, various people had asked for an annotated bibliography, and odd items and lacunae had been brought up for closer examination.

What I was struck by in my delving into the past was that I had written a fair bit about the 1977 Edition - and there was still more to write.  I'm going to pick up next week with an examination of the Psionics section, but I want to make sure I go back and clean up any loose ends.  Eventually, I think I will turn this series into a PDF or something for people to download and appreciate.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Running Tekumel

My Empire of the Petal Throne campaign continues to hum along.  What's been interesting to watch has been how players acclimate to the world.  I had introduced Tekumel to my Tuesday night gaming group, who had been playing D&D.  Some of them took to it immediately, and others  s  l  o  w  l  y  came along.  As expected, the languages were a stumbling block, but by dint of patient repeating and correction, they have begun to pick up some Tsolyani.  However, I plan on returning to D&D on Tuesday nights, and continuing the Tekumel game separately.

Two issues I've had to address are the rules and the future history of the world.  I decided early on to use Empire of the Petal Throne as the basis for running the game, but I didn't want to lose the flavor of the Swords & Glory magic system.  I've figured out a way to adapt the magic system, which I will write up when I get the chance.  That was the big issue with the rules.  As for the future history, I have decided to start my campaign in 2354 A.S. (just as it says in the original rules).  That way, I could take advantage of the unfolding structure of Prof. Barker's original campaign, and make whatever changes I wanted to as the campaign developed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Yule Loot

Santa Claus was fairly good to me this holiday season.  Okay, I'll admit it, I didn't get all of the games shown to the right at Yule.  However, I did get them over the past few months, and so it's been kinda special as various things show up in the post.  A quick list would include:
  • The new Dungeon! boardgame; it's a reprint, and I have yet to see what the game is like, what with various changes alluded to on the box and in the promo material.
  • A whole bunch of Microgames, picked up at UCon back in November.  Titles include: Ram Speed, Fire When Ready, Rommel's Panzers (all Microhistories), as well as Warp War, Trailblazer, Rivets, and Dragons of Underearth.
  • My soon-to-be-dog-eared copy of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World.
  • Swords & Wizardry White Box in the attractive 6x9 paperback.  I very much like the cover.
  • Knockspell #5, the Winter 2011 edition.  Very reminiscent of Fight On!
  • The first two issues of AFS gaming fanzine, from Scott Moberly.  Interesting ideas - more of a review to follow.
  • Adventures Dark & Deep - A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, by Joe Bloch.  This one I got some time ago, but I am definitely interested in seeing what Mr. Bloch has done here.
...all of which serves as more proof that there is more going on in the Old School Renaissance than meets the eye - or may even be possible to track.

Friday, January 4, 2013