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.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"But My Character Wouldn't Do That..."

All right...time to revisit alignment and its value to the D&D game.

I know some folks excised alignment from their table games long ago, for a number of reasons. Waaaay back in 2009, I was considering this myself, though I never did. For one thing, I found that (in play) the explanation of alignment was never an issue (i.e. it was a concept easily grasped by players, even new ones), and for another, I found it a useful shorthand descriptive, helpful to both myself and the players.

Of course, I use B/X as my base edition these days, so I only deal with the original three alignments: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. And I do not use "alignment language" (though that's more a product of the subject never coming up in play, rather than a literal proscription). Even so, I've been reading through the anti-alignment posts of the rule's detractors, and I've taken the time to consider it carefully and I have a few thoughts on the concept...my perspective having "matured" a bit from where it was nearly a decade past.

First, I considered where the idea of alignment comes from and, as do many of the original game's ideas, we find the whole "lawful, neutral, chaotic" thing showing up in Chainmail. Chainmail was a set of tabletop wargaming rules for ancient and medieval (and late medieval) warfare. The main game (which attended to conflict resolution among historic armies) did not make use of or mention alignment at all; presumably, players would know or could research what types of forces were available to each side when recreating the Battle of Hastings or similar. However, it is in the later "Fantasy Supplement" section of Chainmail that we find a "general line-up" ordering the various fantasy forces into categories of LAW, NEUTRAL, and CHAOS. Again, as this is a game to be played with rules, I take this as part of the standard rule procedure: the side playing LAW is restricted to forces from that section (including halflings, gnomes, treants, and heroes) while the side playing CHAOS is likewise restricted (to goblins, ogres, dragons, and similar).

Interesting that NEUTRAL forces must "be diced for to determine on which side they will fight, with ties meaning they remain neutral." So you and your opponent would roll D6 to see who gets the pixies (for example), with a tie result meaning the pixies abstaining from the battle completely!

When alignment first appears in Dungeons & Dragons, it is in Book 1 (Men & Magic) of the original books, and includes the following directive:
Before the game begins it is not only necessary to select a role, but is is also necessary to determine what stance the character will take -- Law, Neutrality, or Chaos.
What follows are three lists that are near exact copies of the ones found in Chainmail (the difference being the addition of some OD&D monsters that aren't found in Chainmail...minotaurs and manticore, for example). Interesting that the book states also that "character types are limited as follows by this alignment," appearing to indicate that humans may be of any stance, while elves are restricted to law and neutrality, and both dwarves and halflings are restricted to law only.

[though clearly Gygax did not follow these restrictions himself, as we can observe from the chaotic dwarf Obmi found in module G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King]

There are two main things to note on the evolution of the concept from "ordering of fantasy battle forces" to a required "stance" for a PC in a role-playing game:

  1. Nowhere in the text can I find any admonition that a player must suit their character's behavior to alignment, nor even any direction of what might be expected of a character of a particular alignment (though you can probably infer somewhat from the types of creature on each respective list). Neither are there any stated penalties or punishments to be handed out for failing to play one's alignment correctly.
  2. With a single exception, the choice of alignment has real mechanical benefits (and penalties) for each of the original seven character classes in the game. These are aside from "alignment language" (which first appears in OD&D) and they have nothing to do with player character behavior.

Since I'm sure some are curious, here's the effects:

Clerics of 7th level (or greater) are either of Law or Chaos. Lawful clerics (and ONLY lawful clerics), have the ability to turn undead. Chaotic clerics ("anti-clerics") automatically reverse a number of spells on the clerical spell list. Also, while it appears that normal clerics (i.e. NOT "anti-clerics"), do not receive reverse spells, it is explicit in the text that they may use a finger of death (reversed raise dead spell) in "a life-or-death situation" with misuse immediately conferring "anti-cleric" status.

[please note: there are no other mechanical effects of alignment on clerics in the OD&D rules. Even the "help from above" when it comes to building a stronghold, or the legions of "faithful" soldiers that appear are not alignment dependent...hell, there's no text stating the cleric has to be particularly devout. Those benefits are simply a product of being the cleric class. Devotion, I guess, is presumed]

For fighter types (including dwarves, elves, and halflings), alignment has a direct effect on the character's ability to use magical swords. ALL magic swords in OD&D (even unintelligent ones) possess an alignment, and will inflict damage (to varying degree) on users that attempt to wield a blade of non-conforming alignment. As swords are the most commonly discovered magic weapon in the game (and magic weapons are highly sought after, not only for their combat bonuses but their granted ability to damage enchanted monsters), choice of alignment has a great effect on fighting-men (and -women, and -dwarves, etc.) and their ability to progress and develop in-game effectiveness.

[a lawful character that draws a chaotic blade (or vice versa) suffers two dice of damage...the same as being struck by an ogre. That's enough to kill plenty of 2nd level warriors (even at full health!) and really cripple mid-level characters, who might be deep underground and far from healing sources]

There are no other effects of alignment, and no alignment effects at all for magic-users (who do not use magic swords) aside from providing them with a common "alignment" language. Magic-users, being who (and what) they are, can move through all stances with impunity. Even in Chainmail, wizards may be found on any sides of a conflict (they appear in both the Law and Chaos lists).

These then, to me, are an acceptable and desirable reason to include the mechanic of alignment in the D&D game: it has some minor effect (as described) yet carries no penalties for "improper behavior" on the part of the player...the reason most detractors give for cutting the concept from their campaigns. And yet, there is an additional reason I would cite for including alignment in an OD&D game: as a shorthand descriptor to help distinguish one character from another. Most folks have a tendency to create mental images based on word association, and the idea of a "lawful fighter," certainly conjures a different image in my mind from a "neutral fighter," or (especially) a "chaotic fighter." Yes, it's a lazy stereotype, but it helps create distinction in an edition of a game where such distinctions aren't as readily available.

[even a character with a strength of 15 is little different (mechanically) from one with a strength of 8 in OD&D, unless the characters are both fighters and thus subject to XP adjustments. Otherwise, it's just so much description]

The main problem here for me...and one others might identify with...is that I don't play OD&D. I play a later edition of the game (B/X), and in my edition the mechanical aspects of alignment...the rules that go with the rule...have failed to keep up with the updates to the game. And in place of objective rules that are easily and readily enforced by a competent DM, we have an arbitrary directive  to assign "punishment or penalty" when a player "is not keeping to a character's chosen alignment."

As with others, that doesn't sit well with me. As a DM, I don't want to tell players how to behave any more than they do...I have more important things to worry about in the game. BUT (and this is where I part ways with some folks) I don't think that means alignment is wholly useless to the players, even in an edition of D&D where characters are readily distinguished from each other by their combination of race-class, proficiencies, feats, ability modifiers, etc. Hell, it doesn't even need to be rewritten to be mechanically effective (and thus have mechanical relevance), though that would be nice (and not all that hard to do). It's just needing to be removed from this concept of DM-enforced-behavior-policing and allowed to function as a guide for the play of a character.

[here's an example]

Yes, I know. Some very intelligent people don't agree with my rather narrow definition of "role-playing" and are of the opinion that the game provides motivation enough (what with treasure and kill gathering) without the need to take on a different persona. They are also quick to point out that the quickest way for assholes to show up at one's game table is allowing a person to play in character: "Hey, I'm just acting like a chaotic thief, picking the other player's pockets" (for instance). And I know-know-know that I will be (figuratively at least) bludgeoned about the head-and-shoulders for taking the position that it's acceptable or helpful or (Lord knows) desirable to allow this kind of play at one's game table because of all the trouble it leads to...but...

But.

But, I've seen it work in actual play. I guess that's where part of the difference in perspective comes from: I've seen it work to increase the enjoyment for players at the game table. To increase their ability to enjoy the escapist fantasy of play and lose themselves in the virtual world. Some DMs create incredibly rich, detailed worlds for exploration, worlds one can't help but be drawn into through play. I haven't done that, at least not at any great level I'd hold up to other World Builders out there (and, yes, that is certainly a knock on me and my proficiency and commitment as a DM). What I have done is given players the space to explore the fantasy environment in the shoes of someone other than themselves...giving them the means to be a holier-than-thou paladin, or a thousand-year old elf, or a chaotic evil priest of Lloth (yes, I had one of those in an old AD&D campaign...many years ago). The player isn't simply Joe Normal with (imagined) pointy ears and the ability to cast spells and feeling the adrenaline rush that comes from the (game) situation at hand.

I don't want to enforce player behavior based on alignment; I don't enforce player behavior. I want players to enforce their own behavior. I don't want to say, your character wouldn't do that because... I want the player to say, "I wouldn't do that because..."

When that happens, when players abide by the conventions of the game (and alignment...mechanically bereft though it is in later editions...is still a game convention and trope), it's a sign to me that the players are losing themselves in play and (as a result) having a stronger, more profound game experience. When a player acts in a manner based on their interpretation of their character's alignment...well, it can be marvelous.

And if it's NOT, if it's detrimental to the other players at the table, then it's the responsibility of the DM to act as referee.

I suppose therein lies the rub: there are boundaries and limits to what you can do in a fantasy adventure game, even one billed as being "only limited by your imagination!" That's why there're rules. I've never really subscribed to the motto rules were meant to be broken. No. Rules are meant to be enforced, that's why they're rules. Change them if you need to (or change the game), but once they're set, live by them.

I can live with alignment. For me, the benefit outweighs the headache.

[just by the way, I have more to say, specifically with regard to paladins, but (as this post is already long and probably hated) I'll save that for another time]

Monday, June 19, 2017

San Diego...

...feels like a wasteland.

But that's probably just a first impression. And certainly, colored by my personal biases.

Hmmm...I said "first impression" but this is actually the third (or fourth?) time I've been here. I remember the first time, when I was about twelve, and I thought (and said) that San Diego is where I wanted to live one day. It was the first city I ever considered as a permanent replacement for my beloved hometown. And (as far as I can recall) it was the last and only time I emphatically wanted to go, a place I was willing to make (mental) plans for how I would facilitate such a move.

But that was thirty plus years ago and, I suppose, I've changed a lot since I was twelve. And perhaps Seattle has changed, too, offering more of what I want and love. San Diego has nice weather, and some passable Mexican food, but I'm not a fan of the beach and I have ocean views in Seattle, too. With mountains.

Anyway, just some morning musings from my hotel room. Hope folks had a happy Father's Day yesterday.
: )

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I AM The Game

Let me preface this post with the following: there have been a lot of ideas percolating (if not particularly "gelling") of late in my brain, and they are derived from a number of internet babblers. Here's the list (for interested folks):


I think this is posted in the order in which I read them, but I'm not actually going to go back and check the dates. My time is fairly limited today.

As said, all these have been percolating in my head, making me examine...and re-examine...and re-define, my personal concept of myself as a Dungeon Master. How I do it, why I do it...hell, even should I do it. And if I should, then how should I and why should I...

This Spring, I had the opportunity to closely observe my son's Little League coach successfully wrangle (and encourage and teach) a squad of mostly unruly and often disinterested six year olds through a season of "America's pastime" (tee-ball version). The man had the fucking patience of Job, and I felt myself thinking (and often commenting to others) that I couldn't even begin to see myself in such a role...that it would drive me crazy with frustration, or that I would be too competitive and too hard on the kids. And, yet, I was recently petitioned to take the head coach position for next year's (first grade) soccer team...and I accepted. Despite my misgivings and worries that I'll morph into some sort of petty tyrant of the pitch.

[*sigh* we've got to grow, right?]

The role of Dungeon Master is one that is custom-made for the would-be petty tyrant. And while most folks who play D&D could hardly be blamed for hoping for some sort of "benevolent dictatorship," my base feeling is that autocratic, authoritarian rule is imperative to running a solid (i.e. effective) game of Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, the same thing I fear in myself as a teacher and coach for children, is something I find necessary for this Great Game of ours.

"Autocratic?" Yes. And please note I'm speaking specifically of Dungeons & Dragons, not all RPGs in general. The vehicle for gaming that is D&D requires an absolute authority to act as referee and rules arbiter. It is a requirement if one wishes to experience the entertainment of the game as designed.

Let me clarify, though, lest folks misconstrue...this isn't about some Machiavelli "better-to-be-feared-than-loved" power trip. This is about being an umpire. This isn't about "social contract," a phrase many of us (including myself) have carelessly thrown around with regard to what should happen at the game table. Again, let me be clear: social contract is the reason I don't simply piss on your couch, should I find myself needing to urinate while visiting your home. Nothing else (short of physical restraint) prevents me from doing so...the accepted proprieties and shared cultural assumptions of our (supposedly) polite society.

When we sit down at a table to play a GAME, we are agreeing to abide by a set of rules that govern play. And in the case of D&D, the Dungeon Master is the one responsible for presenting the players with the world in which they find themselves. Game exists within social contract...as does all human interaction...but it does not govern the rules by which we play. Rules are not, must not, be subject to negotiation. Interpretation, perhaps, but not negotiation.

Not at the table, anyway. Away from the table...before a game, after a game...that is the time to have a discussion (if required) regarding the way the game will be played, the way the rules will be interpreted. Many DMs feel the need (for whatever reason) to alter or tweak D&D's designed systems in ways that differ from the Rules As Written...and so long as these are presented formally, prior to play, the existence of such changes to the RAW game, good or bad, become a non-issue. Players of American football may bitch (or cheer) rule changes made during the off-season (such as the addition of a two-point conversion, or a new penalty for excessive on-field celebration), but once the season begins, once the games begin, the players (and coaches and fans) are expected to shut the F up and play the game by the new rules.

When I sit down to play Chess, I don't get to fuck around with the rules. When I sit down to play D&D I should be giving the same respect to its rules. If the rules state "a player's character should not act on knowledge the character doesn't possess," dammit, that's a rule! If the rules say dwarves can't play thieves or clerics don't get spells till 2nd level, it doesn't matter whether or not I think the rule is nonsensical or "un-fun." Likewise if I say we have a house rule preventing player versus player combat. Them's the rules, and bugger off if you don't like it.

A dungeon master needs to embody this, needs to run the game table with an iron fist, for good reason: it is only by being an absolute stickler and hard-ass can the players be assured that the game being played is fair and balanced (yeah, I realize this statement might prompt a WTF moment). Here's the skinny: the role of the Dungeon Master is, by design, an adversarial one. The players are not playing against another each other (as in Monopoly), nor against another team (as in football), nor against the game itself (as in a video game or certain board games like DungeonQuest). The players are pitted against the challenges presented to their characters...that's what the game is about, in every edition...and those challenges are crafted and run by the dungeon master.

That's the DM's job. If the DM is shitty about it, then the game will be a shitty one.

And in this case, being shitty means being arbitrary, being "flexible," bending rules and fudging dice rolls, and forgetting various rules and minutia they're too lazy to remember or implement, even in the aid of "pacing" or "storytelling." I'm going to come down hard on the side of Ozymandius here: D&D is not about creating a story. It is not collaborative storytelling. There are other RPGs that do that; some that do it well and make storytelling and "addressing premise" a priority of design. D&D is not one of those; D&D is about challenging players. A story of "what happened to us and what we did (or did not) accomplish" may come out of game play...something resembling fiction...but D&D is, in the end, not about creating fiction. It is a game that challenges players, and challenges them in pretty specific ways.

The DM provides that challenge. The rules (which the DM must enforce with absolute authority) are there to govern play, including both inspiring and constraining the DM: the DM must follow her own rules as well. I acknowledge there is difficulty in being fair and impartial at all times, especially when tension runs high and tempers flare during an especially spirited session, and that is why it is so important that the DM have iron resolve regarding the game, its rules, and the authority and responsibility invested in the position.

So long as the DM embodies her own authority consistently, players can play from an informed perspective...they can explore the boundaries of what's possible within the system, they can face challenges (and then greater challenges, and then even greater challenges). They can master the rules themselves, they can judge risk and reward, they can hedge, they can find ways to cooperate and grow together as an effective team while building camaraderie. And they can do it while losing themselves in escapist fantasy, trusting the DM will not be arbitrary, but both firm and fair...even if it is (at times) dingy, dangerous, and unforgiving.

Kind of like the real world.

I find myself wanting to write some sort of treatise on dungeon mastering, outlining an ordered system as an aid to would-be petty tyrants (i.e. DMs), like myself. I might do so (though probably nothing in the near future, mind you), if only to codify my own thoughts on the matter. Some sort of manual to help me remember my values and ideals when I'm sitting at the table, both alone (writing worlds and scenarios) and with others (running the game).

Some sort of DM's guidebook, I suppose.
; )

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

All Too Human

[and here I was going to blog about the new Wonder Woman film. Ah, well...perhaps tomorrow. Here's the TL;DR version: it's good and you should spend money to see it. More later]

One of the...what? Nice? Interesting? things about Seattle is that it is (or was) the erstwhile home of Wizards of the Coast (now located in Renton, Washington) as well as plenty of geeky RPG enthusiasts and game designers who have actual experience with and insight into the industry. Unlike folks like Yours Truly...people who have theory-bashed and compiled info from research, publications, and the internet...there are folks who have actually been a part of companies like White Wolf and Wizards and Paizo and other, smaller, outfits, who can offer real information on The Biz as it relates to the last couple decades.

[unlike the prior decades...the 70s and the 80s...where you'd have to go to the midwest to meet the right people]

So it was, today, that I spent a good couple hours bending the ear of one such (former) insider about Wizards and the RPG industry of the early WotC years. A dude who has done freelance writing for a number of big name game companies and worked in marketing department for the biggest. The conversation was...well, fascinating, to say the least. If I hadn't had to get my three year old her lunch and a nap (she was in tow at the time) I probably would have hung out a couple hours more.

Fascinating. But sad...and sad in the ways you might expect but hope wouldn't be the case. Tales of how shit isn't ideal. How people are human and (thus) prone to flaws of human frailty. How folks can do good while still being jerks...in various ways.

Just fucking sad.

I write this (quickly) while filling the bathtub for my kids, and after quaffing half a bottle of pinot gris (really need to do something about my drinking). I know Seattle-ites like myself live life in a bubble beauty and light and liberal values that aren't really reflective of our American society as a whole. I know that I often think of fellow gamers in a similar light: that because we tend to be well read and above average intellectually that we are more often on the side of angels. I know that's a false assumption...I know it. I've read about it. I've heard about it from folks with first hand knowledge. But  to hear that the industry people at the highest levels fall prey to the same problems of us "lesser mortals," well...it's just sad.

Power and money tend to corrupt humans. Whether you're talking about high ranking politicians or poor little ol' gamers. And even when it doesn't, nepotism and bitterness and jealousy often fuel and influence business practices...even when smart people should know better. All people have good inside them...but they can get lost along the way, and really end up doing a lot of fucking damage. To themselves and others. Much as I'd like to write it off in a jokey fashion, it's not really a joke. Not when people lose their livelihoods. Not when people wreck their relationships. Not when...

Ah, F it.

It's 2017. As always, hindsight is 20x20 and folks will continue to make the same mistakes and fail to learn from the mistakes of the past. It's the way of our human species, and I know that, too (man, I saw enough of that in Paraguay). I will probably never be in a position to make a ton of money (few of us are ever so lucky), but I hope...I really, really hope...that if such happens, I'll remember not to be stupid. I'll try not to get to big for my britches.

*sigh*

All right, got to go wash the filth off my children. Yak at y'all later.

D&D

Even though I'm off the caffeine these days, my sleep cycle is somewhat of a mess. I woke up around 4 or 5 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, instead thinking about the new Wonder Woman film (which I got to see yesterday afternoon), and all the thoughts I wanted to blog about it.

But that's a post for later. Sunday, I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons for my children after several days of begging and pleading on their part (mainly, the part of my six year old, though his three year old sister apes most everything he does, and thus chimed in).

What was the impetus for their desire? I'm not really sure. Probably it has something to do with all the books (my reprints) lying around and taking up space. Then, of course, there was the barbecue last week (at the home of my son's classmate) in which I spent a good chunk of time talking Dungeons & Dragons and the hobby/industry. The kids were also playing the Dungeon! board game last week (though that's not especially new), and we also played a game of DungeonQuest on Saturday...though that was more to stave off the harping to play D&D that had begun mid-week.

I don't know. I was actually hoping to interest them in Raiders of the Lost Artifacts (hmmm...still need to write-up a post on that particular game), going so far as to show them the first Indiana Jones film (with heavy cut-aways). While that inspired D to write his own game (yet another post I should probably write), he still wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons.

And so we did.

Diego (my son), wrote up the character sheets and helped his sister with the dice rolling. After much internal debate, I decided to run straight B/X with a few extra combat abstractions (that the kids wouldn't know or understand anyway). Both ran elf characters (Elrond the Brave and Scarooca). For a beginning adventure I used the one found in Mentzer's basic set.

The kids sat rapt with attention as I read them the (fairly short) boxed text. They encountered the carrion crawler which, with my house rules, they were able to defeat.

[I've run Mentzer's introductory adventure in the past and the carrion crawler encounter has ALWAYS resulted in a TPK. The problem is its number of attacks (eight!) and the low probability of saving against multiple hits. My (simple) house rule gives creatures with multiple attacks one attack roll per round versus a maximum number of opponents equal to its multiple attacks...so the crawler (for example) would be able to attack up to eight opponents, but regardless it would make only one attack per character per round. This is something I've been doing for a while now, and I find it works well in practice]

After pulling the body from the hole and doing a bit of digging, they discovered the 200 pounds of treasure (1000 coins each of copper and silver) only to find they hadn't brought enough bags to carry it all. So they filled their backpacks with silver, headed back to town to buy some large sacks, and then recovered the rest of the loot.

And then I put them to bed.

They were very excited by the game. They really enjoyed it. They wanted to keep playing.

And I felt very good running the game. I've missed playing D&D. I really enjoyed myself. It was fun.

I'm not sure we'll be playing again any time soon, but I want to.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Stuck In A Rut

It is a terrible thing (well, subjectively speaking) that putting off blogging for long periods of time actually makes the act of blogging harder, not easier. One might not think this is the case...after all, in the time between my last post and this one I've had half a dozen (or more) ideas for good, solid posts that I wanted to write. But the sad fact is, the more those ideas "pile up" in the head, the harder it is to actually write them down. After all, which one do you start with? Does it make sense without the context of the earlier (non-posted) ideas that led to it? Is it still timely?

So...fuck. That's where I find myself at the moment. And rather than simply put off posting yet again, I've decided to put something down just to take a swing at blogging. Maybe this will help open the flood gates for yours truly.

The surprising success of my B/X Companion re-print (I've sold more than a quarter of the run already) has really made me want to get back to (i.e. finish up) one of the several writing projects that sit on my laptop. Seriously, I've got two or three books that range from 85% to 98% written, and I just can't seem to pull the trigger on them. One (Cry Dark Future) is actually done (except for artwork)...proofed and edited even...and I just want to blow the whole thing up because it's not good enough. I'm pretty sure I've written about that before (oh, yeah: right here), and the sad fact is nothing's changed since the last time I complained about it, eighteen months ago or whatever. Nothing's changed, except that I've started other projects that are near completion but have stalled, and that I've built up my own personal resentment for my own work.

AAAaaargghhHH!!!

So here I sit in the Baranoff, drinking decaf and going through my laptop docs and wondering just which one I should crank out. Because I WANT to crank something out. Really. Really really really. And I think it's going to be Cry Dark Future, I really do, and I THINK I can get it up and ready to print and I even have a couple-three people who I can task for artwork, BUT...

...I have a problem.

The magic system. It blows chunks.

Cry Dark Future was originally imagined as a B/X version of Shadowrun. Converting the latter system to the former (back when that was my main objective) was surprisingly simple, even with regard to the non-Vancian magic system.  However, upon years of reflection, I find I dislike the non-Vancian magic system. In fact, I'm getting pretty darn sick of magic systems in ALL of these RPGs I'm designing. I need a different paradigm.

Recently...like, a week or two ago...I started thinking that MAYBE I should build a game BEGINNING with the magic system. I've actually been reading a lot of different, older RPGs looking at approaches that were taken by others back in Ye Old Formative Days of RPG design: Chivalry & Sorcery, Ars Magica, Fantasy Wargaming, etc. There are things I like, things I don't but there's nothing I can really polish and mold and re-purpose...which is kind of my forte when it comes to game design. I'm good at refining ideas, but I seldom have full blown creative spurts that spring from my noggin like Athena from Zeus.

More's the pity.

That's why this post is titled as it is. Yes, I'm stuck in a rut with regard to my blogging, but with my designing as well. I'm nearly on the verge of adapting a straight Vancian system (spells by level, fire and forget, etc.) system to Cry Dark Future because it's less fiddly than worrying about success rolls and mana burn and whatnot...not to mention I prefer a system that's dissimilar from other systems in the game (combat, for example). That's part of the beauty of original D&D...it has all these mini-systems that work in different ways, but are all uber-simple to grok and remember. Cry Dark Future should be like that...interesting to use while being easy to learn so you can spend your time playing and exploring the setting of the game.

*sigh*

Hmm.

Huh. I just remembered something...a different game I wanted to examine (not an "old school" game) that might give me an idea or two. Oh...wait. No that was for something else.

Aaargh! You see? Too many ideas fighting for space in my brain!

My six year old really, REALLY wants to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, just by the way. I don't really feel up to it this week...but maybe I'll write up a short adventure for him. That might help my brain to clear this fog.

The decaf certainly isn't helping (duh).