Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“15 minute adventuring day”

Grognardia James blogged this week about the “15 minute adventuring day.” In a nutshell, it’s a term that refers to a party of dungeon delvers who leave the confines of the labyrinth very regularly (every day it seems in Dwimmermount) to purchase supplies, heal, and regain used spells.

James is running an old school style game, with a megadungeon as the focus, and a town and city somewhat close by for said supply runs. Dungeon, supply shop, temple, and tavern. There you have it. You don’t need much more than that for the characters world in this type of O.G. game. Not a knock at Grognardia, of course (my occasional attempts at humorous pokes at James usually fall flat). James is an important blogger of the old school, and he should be involved in running something similar to the ideas he writes about.

Personally, I abandoned frequent dungeon crawls in my decades-old game world sometime in the 80’s. Growing up on comics probably had a lot to do with my coming up with lots of outdoor and city situations. A fight in a crowded city street, or back alley of temple row, or even a rooftop just seems so much more fun and cool than a claw-sword-shield slugfest in a corridor underground.

I started my current campaign planning for the party to travel with a merchant caravan for awhile, until they reached a certain dungeon. I do want that old school dungeon experience again. But the players have found so much to do on the trip, and I had so many ideas for outdoor encounters and events, it has been around 16 games and they are still a couple of sesson away from the dungeon. I originally planned to have them at the dungeon doors in 3 or 4 games.

Micromanaging supplies has not really come up. The party is travelling with a merchant caravan through mostly populated areas. I just tell the players to throw some coin at meals and drinks here and there. The closest we have come to equipment management was a player asking me at the last game if he should be keeping track of arrows or not. I just told him he had about half a dozen left, and to buy a new quiver at the next town. There’s yer supply management right there. It’s also good to remind players that it is no fun getting money if you don’t track it and spend it. Small potatoes should be in the players hand. I’ll do some of the financial analysis when they want to buy a ship or a house or something.

Now the issue of regaining spells has come up in the last few games. A player important to the main quest has been missing for three games, so I just did a bunch of little outdoor/abandoned mine combat and exploration encounters to eat up those games until she came back. By the end of the second game, the spellcaster had used up all her good spells. The player complained a lot about needing to rest and regain, but the party was in a mine under an unstable hill (with an earth elemental going berserk in a cavern there) and had to keep moving. It was nice to have a game where the spellcaster (also a fighter) could do something besides cast the same three spells as she does every fight.

Getting low on spells and resources should not be a bad thing. Parties running off every few hours of game time and travelling two or three days to get a bed to heal and pray in is just tedious and monotonous to me. I don’t want that for my precious game time.

If it is a “mega-dungeon,” why not have some resources in there? Empty rooms to rest in, a nearby water source (the most important of resources, but probably the least kept track of or worried about), and maybe a non-hostile mini-temple with a cleric for healing (for a modest fee, of course). Anything but this constant cycle of dungeon – town – dungeon – repeat. To me that just seems to either have a weird flow, or no flow at all.

In a campaign I ran years ago, I had the party shipwrecked on the Isle of Dread. Talk about supply management challenges! Sure, there were natives to trade with, but the guys with non-magical armor and weapons had to face the fact that arms maintenance was a no-go. A couple of fights with some unfriendly cat-people and the odd T. Rex, and the paladin had his plate mail hanging in parts. Chainmail and leather quickly got tore up, and in a matter of weeks characters were starting to look like they had “gone native.” I loved that so much I want to do it again.

I don’t want to say how somebody should run their game, but I just don’t think any game should rely too much on players constantly having to retreat to a safe zone. Some great games have players at the end of their resources, and at their wits end. That is one way dramatic, memorable adventures can be mademade.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Basing NPC villains on characters from other media

Comments in one of Grognardia James posts this week had me pondering my “rip-offs” of personalities for use in my own games. Having grown up as a comic freak, it was only natural that colorful villains would be an important part of many of my D&D games. Characters who gained arch-enemies would often get the rare treat of battling it out with bad guys in a tavern, back alley, temple, or city street instead of the usual forest or dungeon chamber.

I created a multitude of unique NPC’s, but for bad guys I would occasionally base them around other personalities from other media.

In the 80’s I based an entire group of baddies on an 80’s X-Men assassin group called “The Marauders.” The Marauders in the comic had attacked NYC’s sewer mutants, pretty much wiping them out. So my homage to this was “The Children of Trouble,” a group of powerful high level, magic-item wielding bad guys who were created by an evil rival kingdom in response to the good kingdom’s access to the services of the player character party and to generally be engines of chaos in foreign lands. There was a high level monk, assassin, gladiator, and cleric in the “Children,” and most memorably also a +5 iron spear-wielding ogre who wore gauntlets of giant strength. When the ogre fought characters in the crowded streets, his weapon would slay bystanders and knock bricks from buildings when it missed the players. The player party and the bad guy group had several memorable combat encounters over that campaign, including one on the city streets when The Children of Trouble were instructed to massacre elves that lived in the city.

One of my regular players, Alan, had read those X-Men comics and was fairly snarky about the fact that I had based something on it (even though, in fact, it was the idea of the group more than the characters that I used). But what the hell, the other players loved having combats that came off like something out of a comic book, rather than the usual sword and shield dungeon slug fests.

One of my favorite baddy groups, also of the 80s’ got based on the three villains from Superman 2. I turned general Zod and his two cronies into a small party of evil adventurer’s who were hired to steal a magical portrait, headquartering in a dungeon that the party had to go into to fight them. “Zod” was a high level thief, a kinky lady sorceress with a magical, mind-controlled length of rope that could attack, and a big dumb, mute fighter with a 18/00 strength. All had variations of black leather armor. The female, Desmadonna, actually managed to escape getting killed and showed up for many years from time to time. Eventually she even became queen (in a memorable early 90’s game) of a small, evil-controlled pleasure town known as the “Pleasure Dome” out in the desert. I still have the great, sexy figure I used for her, and hope to have her show up again some day soon.

This evil bad guy homage was actually very well received by the players, and they especially loved Desmadonna (maybe that was how she escaped alive).

I can’t think of any such homages from the later 90’s, or from my recent return to gaming, but you never know what I might have subconsciously done. I think it is just fine to base ideas on the ideas of others (The American Way?), as long as it makes for colorful, memorable characters and fun gaming, why the hell not?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bomb, Will Ferrell, bomb...

The other week I posted about my remorse at a joke remake of the beloved childhood show that introduced me to my first pocket universe, and to a little blonde, knife-wielding dolly named "Holly" (who was my age when the show was on air and was maybe my first crush).

Written by some modern Sci Fi greats (and even Mr. Chekov got a writing cred), the show was years ahead of it's time (despite the cheesy FX).

Well, revenge is sweet. Unlike most of his mindless drek (I found Will funny on SNL, but not really anywhere else) movies, LOTL bombed big time. As of today, it has yet to scrape the 40 million mark. It cost 120 million to make. What can I say but "Ha ha ha ho ho ho hee hee hee."

The sad part is that now I am maybe not going to see a true homage to the great show in my lifetime. But who knows? After Ang Lee Hulk film bombed, they did another (somewhat better)one a few years later. So I will hold out hope. Maybe Dreamworks can come along and save this classic property.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Gross Introduction to D&D

At around 14 years old I was introduced to D&D by a school mate who lived on the Venice Canals, a neighborhood I was born and grew up in. This kid, Rod Seagal, was a gangly, long-haired geek with a love of spitting, and using a long piece of bamboo to kill butterflies in the empty lot next to his apartment. Rod didn’t use rules, and he probably didn’t really know them. I’m sure he played once or twice in somebody’s game, and just used memories of that to run games. He had dice and a handful of badly painted figures, and just made up what you needed to hit, and how much damage things did. The gaming sucked. Characters usually died according to his perverted whims. The first sexual thing that I recall in any game was when I had a character look at a portrait of a Type 5 demon (the lady snake with 6 arms), and the demon came out of the painting and raped me before killing me. “She got some pleasure from you before you die” I think was the exact quote. Jeez. At 14 years old, this guy would most likely end up as a serial killer.

Rod was a really obnoxious person to the degree that I think I was his only friend at the time. He did have some sort of fat, mongoloid dude as a lackey, a boy who seemed to have the same fascination with loogies as Rod did. These guys actually had spit fights in the back alley after eating chocolate. I made it clear that if anything got on me both would get the shit kicked out of them, and as a big athletic kid I was prepared to unleash hell. Rod sometimes threatened me with a spit ball, but I think what kept him from doing it outside of the fear of a beating, was that he liked to run the games for me instead of his gross henchman because I had a certain degree of intelligence and imagination.

Rod’s mom was a single lady who was a secretary or something, and she was tall and blond. I remember catching glimpses of her and wondering how such a pretty lady could give birth to a weird goblin like Rod. At some point Rod had a battery powered water pick, and came into his room and shot me with it. It wasn’t a loogie, but I was still pissed, and after knocking him down and trashing his room a bit mom banned me from the house.

That was it for hanging out with Rod, but that was good for my gaming. Not long later I discovered the three booklets at Chess and Games in West L.A. I was so excited when I saw them. They were already mythical to me. I knew of them when I was hanging out with Rod, but had yet to see them. There they were, right there on a back shelf. Thus, my true D&D education had begun. Soon I would be a regular amongst the sarcastic dorks at Aero Hobbies (an epic tale for another post) in Santa Monica, really learning how to play this game.

Some years later, I ran into Rod after school on the Venice High campus. He didn’t go to Venice, he went to a “special” high school somewhere and was just hanging out there with a couple of other losers. I think they were having a spit fight (I guess you never lose your love for that activity). The DM’s guide had come out, and I had one stashed in my pack. I went up to him and said something to the affect of “hey you fucking dork, look! There are actual rules! You made that shit up as you went along.” Rod said something snarky, and I threatened to beat his ass and he took off. I never saw him again.

So my introduction to the game was shaky and a little weird, but it did set me on the road to a life time of gaming fun. Rod, wherever you are, thanks for introducing me to the game. You weird freak.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sticks & Stones

OK, it wasn’t my most played microgame of the late 70’s. That distinction probably went to Rivets. Hell, I think I only managed a couple of games with one of my buddies. It was a fun little game, with 10,000 BC dudes slugging it out with Mammoths, and each other, for supremacy of their area. You could choose for your session a hunting expedition, or maybe an attack on the opposing tribe across the valley. You could steal their goods, and their women. Good times, all played out in classic Microgame style.

I mainly mention the game because it inspired one of my many homebrew ideas to never reach fruition, namely, to do an entire campaign of my own design based on the time period. PC’s would be Cro-Magnon men, doing the type of thing Cro-Mags do. Just like in Sticks & Stones.

The system was a no-brainer. I would use a version of my Road Warrior rules, a set of rules I came up with for a short campaign that I ran in the early 80’s.

I think the thing that held me back and ultimately kept me from going ahead with a game was the fact that I could not decide between realism and fantasy. Should I do this straight, with no magic or fanciful creatures? Or maybe something close to it, but with perhaps with a touch of the supernatural. Shamans and perhaps solitary, primitive wizards came to mind. Maybe light touches of magic, or even a clerical or wizard type class players could play as.

I even considered a full on fantasy take, with dinosaurs alongside man, but supernatural monsters and demons, dragons and perhaps even Gods walking the earth. I even thought of having aliens in a spaceship get encountered at some point (The Barrier Peaks?). Yeah, obviously Land of the Lost had a lot of influence on me there, along with a certain amount of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Marvel comic Devil Dinosaur.

By the late 80’s, I was running plenty in my D&D world Acheron, and also putting in lot of GM duty with Champions and Call of Cthulhu. Really, with these three games going as successful campaigns that went from the 80’s and well into the 90’s, I just didn’t have time to introduce another game genre to my players. Hell, it had been hard enough to sell my regular D&D folk on Champs and CoC (which they loved once they experienced them).

With all the great shows on Discovery and History Channels in the last decade or so, and movies like the recent 10,000 B.C. (I actually liked it for what it was), I still get stirred to try to get a “Sticks and Stones” type role-playing game going now and again. But if my group plays anything else but D&D for a break, it’s probably going to be CoC or Champs again. But a GM can day dream, can’t he?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Help! A wizard stole my face!

Melee and Wizards were two games we played a lot in Jr. High and High School. Unlike a rousing game of D&D, you didn’t necessarily risk derision for it. It wasn’t pretending, it was just a board game. Everybody grew up with board games. And shit, these micro games were just board games with cool violence and blood letting. There was a guaranteed bloody death each and every game!

In private though, we did tend to role play a character a bit, especially after the point when our fave fighter or sorcerer actually survived 3 arena fights.

At Venice High we had an old history teacher whose back room was a nice little museum, with cheap artifacts under glass. Mayan ear wax scooper-outers, copper coins from ancient times, that kind of thing. A lot of us in his history and mythology classes loved it in there, and he seemed to dig the little board games we were playing before he showed up to the class. There was no real learning to be had from Melee and Wizard, but to him the art in the booklets seemed like they were out of history books or books on ancient weapons. He even started letting us play a few rounds in the room during lunch break.

At some point, just before the whole Fantasy Trip thing, I decided to create a city setting for our surviving characters, and new ones, to trod around in. We wanted the arena fights, but they had more weight if our characters could do stuff beyond the battle field. I think I called the city, simply, “Skull.”Eventually my exponential love for my D&D game world would take me away from hopes of doing more with these little paper characters to have more time for that, but there is no denying it. Melee and Wizard were great fun when all you had was an hour or two.

As for the cover of Wizard mentioned in my post title…well, what the hell can you say? My friends and I were tormented over exactly what spell this was portraying. Certainly nothing in the game, those spells seemed to have more to do with doing physical harm or summoning animals. I think there was some spell or another we suspected might have inspired the art, but not from Wizard. Maybe that high level AD&D spell that traps someone in a globe and sinks them below the earth? Naw, then why just his face? Soul trapping? Hmm. The world may never know…

Monday, June 1, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

This last Sunday I saw this along with the new Terminator at the Sci Fi Academy double bill over at USC.

Very much like Sam Raimi’s first couple of Evil Dead films, it features a protagonist being tormented by demonic spirits. But even more so than those previous films, this movie will have you reflecting on your Call of Cthulhu games of the past. At least, it had me reflecting.

One of the main themes in my games was the “slow burn” of encountering the supernatural in some unexpected and casual way, then those supernatural forces coming in ever increasing and material ways to torment characters to the point of them having to eventually take drastic steps to prepare for the evil “things” inevitable appearance.

I usually referred to this affect, in game and without, as “The Call,” as from The Call of Cthulhu. To encounter forces dealing with any sort of evil demonic or godlike being is to be forever hearing “The Call.” You will always be a magnet for the weird and otherworldly. It is the destiny of those who encounter evil forces to carry these forces with them till the end of their days (which is probably sooner than later).

I like to have those Lovecraft entities who didn’t give a rats ass about mankind, but I also liked to combine that with classic ancient evil that tends to swim around the borders of mankind’s perceptions. Just call me a “Lovecraftian StephenKingian”. I always thought of my game world as having room for both cosmic alien entities, and evil of a biblical nature. And of course, neither of these forces are necessarily mutually exclusive. The supernatural and super-science are two great tastes that can taste great together.

These evil forces will manifest themselves at first in minor ways. Perhaps the character will hear footsteps in otherwise unoccupied parts of the house at night, or awaken from twisted dreams of doom only to briefly glimpse a skeletal face at the darkened bedroom window. Eventually these pesky hauntings will even come at them in the hustle and bustle of day time life, such as when I had a character sitting in a busy 20’s diner seeing little tentacles and portents of doom in a swirling cup of coffee.

By the time the character is facing more dangerous and violent encounters with corporeal entities, they have been softened up and tenderized by the hauntings, having already lost a decent percentage of sanity before ever actually being in the full presence of horror. Some characters at this point are being role-played as frazzled and desperate. Others, usually military men or big game hunter types, will be seething with a mixture fear and anger at being jerked around by forces they cannot comprehend.

Drag Me To Hell is that kind of horror experience. A young bank exec denies a particularly disgusting old gypsy woman a loan, and ends up cursed by the devil known as The Lamia. The goat God manifests as threatening wind and shadows on the first night, semi-visible and violent abuser on the second night, and on the third night appears as giant clawed hands reaching up through a fiery hole in the ground to grab you and take your soul down to hell for all manner of horrible experiences.

Although I really would have preferred to see good old Bruce Campbell cracking wise-ass and making with the whup-ass on the demons, I found this film to be a pretty entertaining ride and a viable addition to the Evil Dead universe. Check it out, you may just find some inspiration for a new Call of Cthulhu campaign. It sure has me wanting to start up a new one! I just love tormenting player characters!