Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unafraid of the High Level Game

Well, this week we got in another session of the Night Below, and the second game of the assault on The City of The Glass Pool. The final stretch of the campaign.

I was sort of fearing this part of the campaign for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t have all that much experience with levels above 7th, even after all these decades. I’m not saying characters haven’t hit 8th, 9th, or even higher in past games. It’s just that my preference is to run for low to mid levels (1-7), probably because a campaign would end and I would be interested in new groups of PC’s. Secondly, I just thought that an assault on a city would be a logistic nightmare of the type I haven’t run for many a moon. Sure, I’ve had characters involved in wars and great battlefields, but an urban location being attacked by players is rare in my games.

One thing I do like about high levels is that things get more like comic book battles, which is what I was brought up on. And the last couple of games have been no exception. The COTGP is somewhat in lockdown mode, which means the streets are not exactly crawling with enemies. There are some large patrols, but in the first foray into the city the party used the 100 hydra teeth to create a small army of skeletons to run interference with patrols, and also Krysantha had whipped up an insect plague to mess with part of the city while they attacked the Illithid building and then in this game the slave pens before hoofing it out of the city and back to base for a rest (with some help from allies blowing up part of the city gate for easier exit). They got out and back to the safe place with around 100 slaves, many of them dwarves with skills that might come in handy. This was all much more fun than I thought it would be for me. It really is just like running a dungeon, just with much bigger corridors!

Back at the “Derro Town” captured mind flayer tower, the party found out that a band of drow, Avatara and her crew from games early this year, had taken over the tavern in the deserted under-town. Their goal is to eventually make their way to the site of the old drow city on the Sunless Sea. This is why they are rooting for the party to destroy the COTGP. Just one of many evil groups the party is forced to deal with.

As we are on the last couple of games of the campaign, here is a list of all the PC’s and NPC’s who are the “heavy hitters” of the campaign. For posterities sake if nothing else.

Vaidno (Andy): 8th level chaotic/good half elf bard from the big city up north. Not a btb bard, but my own more musically inclined bard class (based off the old houri class from White Dwarf magazine). Vaidno has survived many near death encounters, leading me to call him “Survivno.” Acrobatic, skillful with blades, Vaidno faces the nightmares of the Night Below setting with great bravery and is more like a fighter in mentality. Often gets short-shrifted on magic items. Recently gained both a tower and an 18 charisma from the Deck of Many Things.

Krysantha (Dan): 8ish level fighter/druid. Female drow raised by druids. Formerly lawful neutral, decided recently she was plain neutral. I think she is chaotic, but I’m tired of arguing with players about their alignment. Remorseless murderer of NPC’s, and big time grudge-holder. Along with Vaidno takes the most vocal leadership role in the group.

Helena (Terry): chaotic/neutral with good tend. 8ish level fighter/thief. Does not live a thiefly livestyle, is actually a kleptomaniac. Was raised in a house with several fighter brothers who taught her sword and shield. Has a knack for talking the other players out of magic items without even having to steal them. Like many of Terry’s characters, is obsessed with marriage. Got wishes from the Deck of Many Things, and used most of them for fairly petty gains.

Kayla (Terry): 8th level hobbit cleric of Sheenara and Sherriff of the southern hobbit border. A character of Terry’s since the early 90’s, I let her join the party pretty much just because she was in the area (and they did not have a cleric). A player kind of complained about Terry running two characters, which has some merit because Terry often takes a long time to take a turn for a character. As the other players did not defend her presence, I had her go back to her castle, where her new band of followers awaited her anyway. A high level cleric would be a big boon to survival right now, but since the players have not requester her they can lump it. If Terry’s Helena dies in the next couple games, I’ll have Kayla appear.

Lumarin (Big Ben): 8th level high elf lawful good MU. The main party magic user. Lost several points of intelligence from a Deck of Many Things draw. Originally joined the party early on in The Night Below campaign when the party saved him from being eaten by Gnolls.

Lily (Paul): chaotic/neutral (later evil) 7ish level thief/MU. Greedy harlot who was saved from Gnolls along with Lumarin. Got in many confrontations with Krysantha over stealing items from treasure troves. Eventually betrayed the party to her boyfriend Xavier. Ran off with Xavier and his gang after the fight. Officially out of the party, but still active in the campaign in case the characters want to find her and kill her. They kind of have bigger fish to fry right now.

Zith (Paul): I had sort of planned to have some Githyanki (extra dimensional anti-mind flayer warriors) show up at some point in this campaign. I didn’t, but when Paul could not run Lily anymore I just gave him an 8th level fighter Githyanki to run in the party. Paul seems to dig that character, but ultimately this is just a player running an NPC. If anybody dies in the next game or two, they can run a Githyanki as well.

Ormac (Little Ben): 6ish level gnome illusionist. Ben played for a while the other year, but had to drop out for work. He returned a couple months ago and so did Ormac. Ben misses a lot of games in general, so Ormac is kind of a “there not there” side player in the whole thing.

Major NPC’s

Dia: teenage ranger and (unknown to her until recently) daughter of Woodlord Arcturus Grimm. She pretty much got the party together over two years ago to go explore a dungeon. They got sidetracked by The Night Below. She is from the same town as Helena, and they knew each other growing up. She eventually took possession of the anti-Kuo Toa sword Finslayer.

Arcturus Grimm: One time Woodking of the ranger kingdom of Woodaria in the far north. A controversial figure, he is also known for having been possessed by evil decades ago when he caused great suffering in the land. He now lives in the southern frontier area in a garden temple dedicated to his sister Sheenara, goddess of the wood. Arcturus was my very first character as a little kid, and I kept him in my game world to use over the decades ( one of the few “super NPC’s” I indulge in). Arcturus has apparently spent the last few decades siring children all over the land with different women.

Clovis Grimm: underdark ranger in the Night Below, and son of Arcturus Grimm. Unlike Dia he is in frequent contact with his father, and has helped guide the party in some of their travels below. Currently protecting the freed slaves the party has saved.

Avatara: a fighter/MU/thief drow NPC and drow city expat I have used for decades in my games, going by a variety of names. She is best known for living in Tanmoor and acting as guild mage for the elvish thieves’ guild there. In the current campaign she is on some kind of mission with other, younger drow to find the lost city of drow on the Sunless Sea. After an encounter with Krysantha and Vaidno awhile back, Krys has sworn to kill her, but she is an asset currently (Avatara wants the party to destroy the City of the Glass Pool so she can travel down to the Sunless Sea). This NPC is personally responsible for killing one of Terry’s characters back in the 90’s. At one point in the late 90’s I successfully had her seduce a female wood elf PC.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bonus XP after a long Campaign

I have always liked to give a little extra experience points towards the end of a D&D campaign (or for any game that involves XP, really). Not a ton of it mind you, but usually a decent chunk to award the MVP character or player of the campaign.

In last weekend's rainy day game, I decided to have a little fun with it. I would let the players vote on a 10,000 experience point award (not really a lot in this now high level campaign) for one character. I gave them each a scrap of paper with their name on it, and told them to write down a character other than their own. The pieces would then go in a cup and a reading of votes (like on Survivor) would take place. They would use whatever reason they wanted. They could vote for Andy's Vaidno the Bard because Andy is our usual host (although Dan had us over that day). They could vote for a PC who was close to going up a level. They could vote for whatever reason struck their fancy. No group discussion was allowed.

It was fun reading off the votes. It was less fun when three characters each got two votes; Andy's Vaidno, Big Ben's high elf MU Lumarin, and Little Ben's gnome Ormac. I could understand the first two; these were usually the forefront leaders of battle and decision making. But little Ormac, run by fairly quite Ben, was a head scratcher for me. Everybody had a good laugh around the table at the three-way tie, but I just sighed and said "Ok, I have checked-out emotionally from this." That got another thunderous round of haw haw's.

Anyway, I made the popular decision of awarding 6,000 to each PC voted for, which was enough for little Ormac to go up. Then we got on with the game.

So...have you ever awarded XP at the end of a campaign, or in my little dramatic fashion as in this last game?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spotlight On My Campaign/Group

Hats off to this interesting post at The Tao of D&D for inspiring me to ask these questions about my group and campaign to myself. It is actually pretty self-enlightening to question yourself like this from time to time.

1. How long has this present campaign been in existence?

The Night Below has been going on for a little over two years. The year before that was leading up to a high level dungeon crawl, but then I bought NB and said “what the heck” and switched gears to an Underdark based campaign.

2. How many players do you have, and how many right now were present at the beginning of the campaign?

Steady full group of the same six for over a year now. Andy (our host), Dan, and Terry (who I have known for over 20 years and played in a lot of my groups of yore) are still with me since day one.

3. How many of your players are family members?

Zero. Nobody in my family has any love for the rolling of the dice (unless it’s in Vegas).

4. How many of your present players began playing after the halfway point in the existence of your campaign? How many in the last year (if that applies)?

Big Ben and Paul started a little over a year ago. Paul is 20 and it was his first table top gaming (after playing a lot of Warcraft and Neverwinter Nights). Little Ben (also known as Ben 2.0, Ben-ny and The Jets, and “Ben Dover”) played a couple of years ago, had to stop for many months for work, then started again a few months ago.

5. How many long-term players (played for more than a third of the campaign) have you had that dropped out? Were any reasons given?

All my guys who played for more than the first three months have stuck with the group.

6. How many short term players have you had since the campaign started who did not come back? How many of them gave a reason?

For that first year I think a total of four temp dudes played for a couple months or so each. Various reasons given such as work, school etc. In all honesty, I’m not sure my freewheeling style and lots of house ruling appealed to them. I was disappointed in a couple of them, because there was a certain amount of investment. “Caleb” is his own story (search his name in my blog if you want to read about that, but not really worth going into at this point), but one of these past guys before he came to the game called me on a Sunday afternoon while I was sunning and sipping beer in the back yard, and proceeded to grill me about the game. It was like an hour long job interview. I should have said “no thanks” at that point, but I kind of wanted more players. He showed for maybe two games. Waste of my time.

I’m more happy with all my current players than I would have been with those other guys anyway. A Couple of them were a bit weird (and not in a good geeky way). I hope they found gaming happiness, and managed to avoid the couple of groups I had terrible experiences in the area outside of my own. These experiences gave me new gratitude for the group and players that I have put together. Honestly, despite past gripes (what, me gripe?) about some of my players, there is not one "Rod-turd" in this punchbowl. I feel very fortunate as a GM to have these people to run for.

7. How many of the players in your world have never played a roleplaying game before?

21 year old Paul was a noob, but played a lot of fantasy video games. He is a natural at it, and has even caused controversy in the games (without being a trouble making douche).

8. Estimate the appearance rate of your players. How often does your campaign run?

Couple times a month. As I want all the long-time major players (Andy, Dan, and Terry - my original varsity team) there for my main campaign, we have often had to wait a month or two to get back to the Night Below. In those times I mostly ran some Metamorphosis Alpha (with Mutant Future), some OD&D, and a little bit of Champions. Terry makes more games than she used to, but still has a tough time scheduling. “I have a life,” she often says, despite the fact that most of us have more of a life than she does (sorry Terry, but “having a life” is not a rare condition, even among gamers).

9. Name the three principle reasons for people not appearing in your campaign.

Vacation, business trips, school, etc.

10. How often is it that players in your campaign do not appear without having given a reason?


Rainy Day, Stormy Game

Southern California has been experiencing several days of almost constant rain. I cannot remember the last time it rained so much and so hard. Well, as I said in a post from a year ago, I love rainy day gaming. The rain makes me want to game or at least to work on my game material. So inspiring.

Saturday afternoon we got to do one of our rare weekend sessions. Dan, freshly back from one of his international business adventures, was hosting us in his nice big house in the hills above Bel Air (near Mulholland Drive). It was just pouring non-stop for hours on end. I got soaked to the bone several times that day, but loved it. Dan’s living room has all glass walls looking out on his back patio (very “Los Angeles”). He has a view of a hill across the way, one of the Santa Monica Mountains, and it looked so wintery and wet. It had a real “misty mountains” look that had my “G Zone” (that hidden organ in us that demands that we roll dice and kill things) in high gear.

I went into this game really run down. I had been running ragged for weeks. Not just at work, but all the holiday parties and junk food, and all the high end booze had my innards working overtime. And at work I have been surrounded by sick, coughing and sneezing humanoids. Everybody who walked by my cube last week seemed to have this bad cold going around. Friday night I actually emailed Big Ben and told him to be prepared to run his D&D in case I was not up to it. You see, we are in the last couple of games (I hope) of the Night Below campaign, and running for high level characters is work enough. Adjudicating their assault on a Kou Toa city is another thing entirely. Walking into Dan’s house wet with shoes in hand had me doubting my abilities on this day, but the rain outside and the cheerfully snarky banter inside got my G Zone juicing and we were soon getting into the game after a relaxing half hour or so of goofing around, drinking Heinekens, and munching snacks and pizza.

Everybody seems to be enjoying their characters, especially Dan and Andy. I have to say, with my attitude towards their PC’s around a year ago or so at this time, I have to admit that I am fairly fond of these characters as well. Dan’s drow Krysantha is a killing and ass-kicking machine, and I think the others characters would be foolish to get on her bad side (and she only seems to have a bad side). Her murderous actions of the last game are forgotten now that the party is in situations that could translate into Total Party Kill. And Andy’s Vaidno, well, it is a great character. Not just heroic in good ways, but at the same time the bard is a hopeless showboater and showstopper who cheats death at every turn. Choices from the Deck of Many Things a few games ago gave him a tower (back home in the city area) and an 18 charisma, and it is kind of fun to see him beam with pride at this character that has survived one near-death situation after another and continued to thrive. “Vaidno SurvivnoThriveno!” Goddamn Andy.

Well, some time was spent preparing to sneak into the city (through cracked water pipes learned about from the thief Prentyss that Krysantha murdered last game). In they went and the action was truly on!

After dealing with crossing and fighting the affects of the Kuo Toa “Relaxation Pool,” Krysantha cast a mass insect swarm to molest a nearby section of the city, while the party ran through the town and towards the Illithid quarters in the hopes of taking possession of the Crown of Derro Domination. As groups of Derro and Kou Toa patrolled the streets, the party let loose with all 100 of the hydra teeth they had. *poit*poit*poit*poit* sounds filled the air as 100 skeletons appeared with sword and shield to do their bidding, and the skelly’s ran to attack the patrols to keep them off of the party.

At the Mind Flayer building, the party fought a hard battle against several of the monsters, but a combination of good tactics and good die rolls helped win the day there. Unfortunately, the main Illithid, Zantacore, was not present so the crown was not achieved. We had to end it around then, but we managed to leave off with the players having a great sense of the possibility of success in this assault on the city.

Really, my players are not known to me as great tacticians. With characters like Vaidno and Kryantha usually taking the lead, it was more about gung ho “let’s just take ‘em head on!” type stuff. But they actually thought this one out a bit, which made me kind of proud. It was a great game and a great wintery day to have it on.

Unfortuantly, we did not get to finish the campaign by the end of the year. But the good news is, by February I’ll get a break from AD&D and be able to refresh with some new genres. But boy, this is pretty exciting. I’m running a game for high level characters, which can be a decent amount of work. But now I am at a point where I can look back upon it all more and I have to say, this has been a fun campaign with a great group of people and characters.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Too Many Blogs?

When Bob over at Cylcopeatron first posted a list of gaming blog rankings (by follower) some time back, I was surprised by two things. First, that my blog at that time was somewhere around the top 25 percent of such blogs. And second, there seemed to be less blogs than I thought out there. Bob posted such a list again recently, and two things stuck out at me. Firstly, there were now a lot more blogs out there. Secondly, a lot of low-follower blogs had grown substantially in the amount of followers.

Now, my blog hasn’t exactly grown that much since the first list, despite fairly regular posting. Well, here’s the thing; I don’t think amount of posts, nor necessarily the content, matter that much anymore. A couple of years ago it did. Grognardia has such substantial growth in large part because of sheer amounts of posting, not necessarily the content. Other large follower blogs were either around a long time, or had a female or porno connection of some kind. Not to say by any means that these guys did not have great posts, which of course they do. But it is kind of arbitrary in many cases. If Playing D&D With Porn Stars was just “Zak’s D&D Musings” without mention of gangbang girls running elves, he’d probably have somewhere around 200 followers (or less). Don’t get me wrong, he is obviously a smart and talented dude, but lots of smart and talented dudes (and I don’t necessarily consider myself one of those) often have only around 200 followers.

After that first list at Cyclo’s, I saw one blog that was basically just a dude posting text from Edgar Rice Burroughs with no personal commentary, shoot up fairly quickly from around 20 followers to around 50. Perhaps that is in no small part because Bob at Cyclo asked that his readers support these low-follower blogs (many of which had few followers for obvious reasons). I saw another blog who had followers somewhat less than my count, shoot up past me soon after that Cyclo list. Why? Well, the content certainly did not necessarily improve. But I’ll tell you what, every new blog I look at has this one guy as a recently subscribed follower. He figured out that the more you sign up on other blogs, the more of them will do you a solid back and follow you. His comment in Bob’s recent post was “wow, I’m inspired to try harder!” Harder doing what, signing up for every other blog out there? All that takes is having time on your hands.

That’s all great, but I don’t personally care about amount of followers. It is not at all indicative of my content, nor that all of them are actually reading it. I tend to look at and subscribe to the folks who comment on my post. That is how I learn about and join other blogs. I have no interest in starting my own low-end fanzine nor advertising some new game or scenario I have created for sale. I’m just a gamer doing some gaming, man.

I think the blogosphere as a community thing is great, but in the case of classic gaming I think we are starting to have a glut of blogs that don’t have much to say or much to offer. It is becoming more important to some to have a blog and have a lot of followers than it is to game.

I personally don’t have the time to join up all the others blogs out there, and especially to actually read them all. And to join just to get followers would seem kind of hollow to me. I just do my gaming, and do some blogging because I’ve been at it a long time and feel I have a lot to say. This blog has become a place for me to vent about gaming past and present. A lot of negativity has come out of that, but that is part of the vent. The truth is I love gaming, it has been a big part of my life, and it has mostly been a positive experience for me. The blog, not always so much. One guy freaking out epically on his blog because I tore up one of his creepo players some time ago actually cost me a few followers on my blog . Did he have a point? To a degree. Did I? To a degree. In our own ways we overreacted (and both of us could have talked to the other before acting, but we are dudes and dudes can be dumbasses sometimes). Do I care that some people found my rantings too offensive to continue with? Not a wit. I’m not fully the person I sometimes appear to be on my blog any more than I (or anybody) am always the person I am when I get ticked off at something in life in general. That is why I do that blog. Good or bad, I always have something to say. Either something happy about my gaming experiences, or to let off some steam.

In real life I am usually the biggest person in the room, both physically and in personality. I live large no matter what I do. But do I care if I am a big dog in the blogosphere. Hells no. I have something to say for now, and I hope at least a handful read and have something to say back to me about it (good or bad). I’m actually getting something out of blogging about gaming that I think a lot aren’t. I care not for amount of followers. I care about what I have to say and what others have to say back.

A lot of blogs will be gone in a couple of years (I don’t plan on doing this forever). But as long as I do it I will try to live it by one thing – “blog because you game. Don’t game because you blog.”

That makes sense. I think…

EDIT: I also should add that in the last couple of months I have had two unrelated computer problems that slowdown my own joining of other sites, and my commenting on them. First, my home computer got hit by the Thinkpoint virus and is still messed up, so I spend less time on it. Second, many comment functions on other blogs do not work on my office computer. Only those that allow a pop-up can be commented upon. Other problems exist, such as Bob's Cylopeatron site not loading due to adult content (which he told me does not exist on his site), and also my links to his site don't work for some reason. So to those whom I don't respond to as far as joining your blog or commenting upon, I plead severe tech problems! If you visit my blog and comment and I don't check out your stuff, be sure and remind me to give it another try!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Call of Cthulhu Friday: Cthulhu zeitgeist

There is more of it out there than I thought. Not just plushies and Miskatonic U. bumber stickers ( Go Pods!), but I’ve discovered from my browsing that there are a pile of Cthulhu humor books out there. “Where the Deep Ones Are” is obvious, but an interesting one, not so much humor as a “Cthulhu for Idiots” type info book, is Cthulhu 101. Made for people who don’t really know what the works of Lovecraft are all about. It gives you the lowdown on the various entities of the Cycle, goes over Lovecraft and his life, and hits on the pop culture items where the Old Ones and their crew make their mark. Cthulhu zeitgeist!

Much as I am with zombies, I’m sort of Cthulhued out (although that may not jibe with the fact that I do a twice monthly Cthulhu post). Although I’d love more than anything to have a CoC campaign going on in the coming year, I think I can take a pass on the plethora of ancillary Lovecraft floating around out there. I wonder what HP would think of all this stuff?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wii Owner Update

Last week I posted asking for advice on my Wii system that had been sitting in the back of my closet. I had offers from a couple of friends who were interested in buying it, and I was considering using it for a few days before I decided. Well, I used it for a few days, and here’s my verdict (hold the applause). I rented Epic Mickey from Blockbuster over the weekend, and have been playing it this week (Good: fun homage’s to cartoons past – Bad: the camera angles were often very frustrating and the gameplay a bit repetitive and juvenile). I really have been charmed by the unique control possibilities offered by the controller and nunchuk (I can see this being great for sword fighting games), something I previously thought I never would. But most appealing is the possibility of downloading old games. I actually went ahead and bought a wireless router last night so I can use this out in the garage (where I usually play games), and successfully bought some Wii points. Tonight I’m planning to either buy the original Legend of Zelda or Super Mario 3 to relive some of the old magic of those clunkers (only three bucks each!). I’m sure others will follow (Castlevania games for sure. Hmm…I wonder if the original Metal Gear is available?). So it looks like my Wii is here to stay. I still want a 360 and PS3 soon, but this should occupy me enough so that I can wait until all the great after Xmas sales in January.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Zombie Invasion Dream (sans zombies)

Last night I had an interesting zombie dream. It had no zombies in it.

Now, I should have been dreaming about Mickey Mouse. I’ve had a couple of people offering to buy my Nintendo Wii (see this recent post) from me, since it has been sitting in the closet collecting dust since I won it at the office Xmas party last year (this year I just won a shiatsu massage pillow from Sharper Image). I decided yesterday that I had better try a real game out on it, so I went to Blockbuster and picked out Epic Mickey to rent for a few days. Now, I am not a huge fan of the Mouse from the Disney House. I find him bland and lacking in any kind of depth (unlike the always awesome Goofy), nothing more than a corporate shill. And I haven’t been to Disneyland since I was a teenager there on a date (I hate lines and crowds and phony baloney cutesiness, so there ya go).

Anyway, I got it because of all the hype, and I played over three hours of this Mickey Mouse game, and that much video gaming at night will usually lend itself to dreams inspired by that game for me, but no go. It was zombie apocalypse all the way.

But this is the weird part. No zombies. Oh, they were out there all right. I mean, my dream self knew it for a fact. I don’t know if this was because my mind did not want to scare me. I’m pretty zombie-out, actually. I’m enjoying The Walking Dead on TV, but really, after I saw the excellent Shaun of the Dead, and then read World War Z (and also listened to a lot of the audio book for that), I figured I had experienced all I needed to in the world of animated corpses. So I’m thinking my brain just decided to go for the human element. It was all about dealing with other survivors.

Early on I was alone on an office building rooftop. I started out with a handgun. It was a glock at first I think, but at some point when I checked the bullets it was more like a revolver. But either way there I was, looking down on the city and seeing other people running around, or on other rooftops. The zombies I guess were down on the streets where I wasn’t looking.

Soon I was joined by a hot blond chick. I liked that. I lead her around by the hand as we left the roof and went down into the building, which seemed to be not an office building, but made up entirely of stairwells, hallways, and huge indoor parking areas. Nameless blonde and I were soon joined by others, and we all discussed our options and things to do. At one point a side door was opening, and I ran over to cover the door with my gun. I tried to shoot, but I didn’t know about the safety. Good thing, because it was a big black security dude. He drew on me, but luckily he did not shoot. Maybe he didn’t know about the safety either.

My group and I came across some other folk in the parking area, and it was on the verge of violence. But I spoke up as the voice of reason. “We need to come together. We are the survivors, and maybe the last humans around. We need each other.”

That was about it. What a gyp. I can’t fly in my dreams, and I guess I can’t run n’ gun on zombies either. Maybe this was a lesson for me though. Maybe my brain wants me to think things through and take a more peaceful path. But shit, I really would have loved to have shot that gun at least once in my dream. I bet I would have, if I had been playing Halo instead of a damn game about a helium-voiced rodent.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Angry Villager Rule

This item on page 24 of White Box booklet 3 really stuck out at me as I was preparing for the OD&D session I did on my birthday:

“Anyone who has viewed a horror movie is aware of how dangerous angry villagers are. Whenever the referee finds that some player has committed an unforgivable outrage this rule can be invoked to harass the offender into line. Within the realm of angry villagers are thieves from the “thieves quarters,” city watches and militia, etc. Also possible is the insertion of some character like Conan to bring matters into line.”

Note the sweet Conan reference. You can imagine Arnold showing up “Ah am He-ah to bring mattahs into line!”

James over at Grognardia sure has a point about old Universal and Hammer horror movies having a load of influence on the game. And here it’s obviously being used as an abstract tool for a DM to bring a douche bag player into line. If the DM does not approve of the slaughter of an innkeeper or the rape of a lass by some social ‘tards chaotic evil assassin, he can drop this sack of bricks on the offending munchkin. Mr. Evil is confident he can take the farmers and milkmaids in the tavern room, but when one of them runs out and riles up the locals you can literally have hundreds of peasants with torches and pitch forks up your power gaming ass! And if they are getting cut down like wheat on harvest day, just have a certain Cimmerian or reasonable facsimile show up to lay down some smack.

It smells of DM “cheat,” but hell, I like it. I need to remember this rule for my 1st edition games.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Birthday Game/Birthday Wishes

I have never made much of a deal out of my own birthday. I for sure usually don’t skip work, and don’t talk it up there like a lot of people do (there are people here with balloons in their cubicle from 8 months ago). I don’t like parties in my honor, and I don’t like discussing my age (after I hit 40 I stopped telling people, at least at work, how old I am) even though most people who know my true age tell me I look at least 10 years younger than I am. Must be all that clean living *cough*.

As it just so happens, it’s a game night tonight, so for the second time in three years I’ll be spending my birthday night with the gaming group. Thank God most of them are drinkers. Anyway, I enjoy DM’ing on my birthday, and tonight I’m going to continue our occasional White Box old school dungeon delve. Some nice relaxing fun compared to the uphill struggle that is my AD&D campaign (a torture of my own design). I just gotta find a way over to Andy’s and home without risking a birthday DUI.

Anyway, I would like to divide this post into two parts, each where I ask your input/experience. OK, first one: have you ever run a game on your birthday, how was it, and did you eventually wish you had just had a traditional birthday party (y’know, a night at the Super 8 Motel with a couple of hookers, a pizza, and bottle of Gray Goose)? Have you ever DM’d or played on a birthday?

And secondly, have you ever made a “Bucket List” of things to do before you die? I haven’t. To travel the world? Outside of some visits to Scotland back in the day, I don’t leave America (although I often hear Amsterdam calling my name). If you gotta pee in the street and poop in a hole in the ground, I don’t go. Date a supermodel? I think that boat passed me by. Get rich? Man, I’m tryin’. But anyway, below are some of my favorite Bucket List items from Adam Carolla’s new book In “50 years We’ll All be Chicks.” I relate very much to the pop culture nature of some of these, and I choose these things to do before I die. Do you have any?

*Disclocate my shoulder to get out of a straight jacket.

*Pull a fake mustache off someone and shout “Ah Hah!”

*Shout “Release the hounds!”

*Stop a crime by throwing something. A guy steals a purse and starts running. I throw a can of corn football style and knock him out.

*Catch a punch and twist the guys hand until he drops to his knees

*Get shot and blow it off “I ain’t got time to bleed”

*Put my hand over the mouth of a beautiful woman to stop her from screaming and alerting the bad guys.

*Punch out my undercover partner who is about to say something he shouldn’t and blow our cover.

*Get kicked out of a casino for winning.

*Have a cape removed on stage.

*Be killed by the person I told to kill me if I start turning into a zombie.

*Dry-shave with a machete

*Drive my car off a pier onto a garbage scow.

*Box a kangaroo

*Fight somebody on top of a moving train

*Pop the locks on an attaché case full of money and slide it across the table.

*Silently communicate/point to my watch underwater.

*Fend off a Kodiak bear with a torch.

*Track somebody. I get off my horse, squat, then do that thing where I pick up a clump of dirt and let it sift through my fingers.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Comic Dork Monday: “You…you’re a duck?!”

Howard the Duck is very dear to my heart. He was my first real non-superhero comics character that lived among superheroes. At around 12 years old or thereabouts, I had been collecting comics for a few years. It was the late 70’s, and my parents decided to take me on a San Diego vacation where they would let me hang out at the Comic Con (yes, the very same Comic Con famous today as a place for Hollywood to whore its sketchy wares). Actually, two years in a row, but I think it was that first one I really loved.

My parents went and soaked up the summer sun for two days while letting the con babysit me until around 9PM or so each night, before picking me up to head to our much cheaper hotel down the street. There were two great highlights of my young self’s odyssey. First (and probably the best) was sitting by the pool with Mel Blanc in the afternoon. Mel had spoken earlier in the day at a panel, so I knew he was the guy who did the voices in my favorite cartoons. For some reason, others did not really approach him, but I went right to his table. I sat for well over a half hour with him (although as memory fades, it could have been an hour, or it could have been ten minutes), and he did voices for me and even sang a song as Speedy Gonzales (it was about a fat Mexican lady “…wanna eat, wanna eat, wanna eat, Juanita”). I did not realize the magnitude of that encounter until years later.

Another encounter I probably took for granted at first (until I saw him on TV on a show called “Wonderama” some time later hawking comics) was with Stan Lee. I listened to a group of a dozen dudes or so in the lobby who surrounded Stan as he kicked back in one of the lounges answering questions (he was really friendly to the fans as I recall). One of the guys there asked “Whatever happened to Howard the Duck?” Stan had no answer and somebody else chimed in “he fell on some rocks and died.”

Well, Howard did not die. He actually fell off of some cosmic steps in the Man Things comics, and fell to our earth to start his own series. This is where I discovered the joys of Howard.

In his first issue, a Conan send-up where Spider-Man also appeared, Howard fought “Pro Rata” the wizard accountant. Here he met Beverly Switzer, his lovely companion (and eventually sometimes girlfriend) who would be his sidekick for most of his run. Most of their adventures would take place in and around Cleveland for the majority of Howard’s 70’s popularity.

Howard was created by Steve Gerber, writer of a number of Man-Thing comics. Man-Things Florida swamp had a major cosmic nexus point in it (in addition to other fantasy goodies such as The Fountain of Youth and a wizard’s tower), and Howard was one of a small number of extra-dimensional secondary characters who encountered Man-Thing and adventured with the mindless hump of muck before getting his own comic. Gerber wrote the majority of the Howard’s first run, and often was at disagreement with others staffers about what exactly Howard was supposed to be. Gerber thought of him not as a cartoon character, but an actual talking duck from an alternate earth. Early Howard artist Frank Brunner actually left the series because he wanted Howard to be a cartoon that, like a Looney Tunes character, could be smashed and crushed and pop back unharmed. “Un uh” said Gerber, this was a living and breathing alien creature who bleeds and feels pain when hurt; by no means immortal.

In the late 70’s Howard ran for president in the comic, and I for sure remember Marvel’s heavy promotion of this, with buttons and everything. Even 7-11 got into the act with commemorative Howard cups. Yeah, he was getting fairly well known for a non-superhero character. Howard even had a newspaper strip for a couple of years. I was an eager Howard collector at the time, owning the first 20 or 30 issues (I Ebayed these a few years ago).

Towards the end of his first color comics run, Howard was plagued with a load of problems of almost biblical proportions. Gerber, who complained nonstop about other people’s approach to his creation, was removed from the series by the Marvel mucketymucks. This was about the time I had moved on from Howard, and had stopped collecting. But Howard continued for a bit longer in black and white magazine format. I do remember buying one of these, and it featured a suicidal Howard bemoaning his loneliness (girlfriend Beverly had apparently left and taken up hooking down at the docks) in a bizarre parody of It’s a Wonderful Life.

In 1978 Gerber sued Marvel over Howard, in the first such case dealing with comic creator rights. He was championed by many comic book luminaries, including Jack “King” Kirby, who along with Gerber created the hilarious Destroyer Duck to help with legal fees. Disney threw their hat into the Howard ring, stirring up shit over Howard’s similarities to Donald Duck, forcing Howard to eventually put on pants to look different from Disney’s asshole-ish foul. This itself was actually parodied in the comics, where decency groups cried out to pants poor Howard (despite his apparent lack of any kind of genitalia).

Howard popped up in the Marvelverse™ here and there, and even had another wack at this own series before the heinous abortion of a film that was thrown together by George Lucas (apparently in the workings since the making of American Graffiti). For this awesomely awful outing, Howards philosophical and existential nature was entirely removed for the sake of making him a nice, likeable guy (spew). As clueless producer Gloria Katz said "It's a film about a duck from outer space... It's not supposed to be an existential experience... We're supposed to have fun with this concept, but for some reason reviewers weren't able to get over that problem." Hollywood threw away its chance to feature a smart, adult wisecracking character in the Groucho Marx mold. Instead of the cool Howard from the comics, we got a tired, out of date Marty McFly type good guy. It did not work, and for me at least, the film was the nail in the coffin as far as Howard goes.

Howard has been fully off my radar since that movie, but like any comic character of worth he has been continued to be milked in one way or another over the years. I heard that at one point Gerber used Howard, the “real Howard,” in Image comic series such as Savage Dragon. Gerber owns this character, who in the Imageverse™ is undercover and goes by the name “Leonard” and dyed his feathers green. He even has gal pal Beverly there under a new moniker as well. Huh. Maybe she just should have kept hooking down at those docks.

Whatever goes down with Howard, nothing will ever come close to the sheer cool that this character exuded in those early days of his existential existence. Howard, you will probably never get another movie, and I think that is a good thing. Sail on, Ducky.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wii owners, help a bro out

For the most part, I have always gotten video game systems years after they come out. When folks where digging on their Playstation around the year 2000, I was still plugging away with Sonic on my Genesis. When games were jamming on their Playstation 2’s, I was still going strong on my Playstaton 1.

For the most part it has nothing to do with cost (at least for the systems, I would never buy a new game at full price. As if.), it was that I didn’t spend as many hours on a game as lots of other people would. Unless I was burning my way through the better part of a twelve pack of Bass Ale, an hour or so would do it for me on any given night. Plus I liked to get games used, because I’ve got Scottish blood filling my veins and will rarely pay new retail price for anything but socks, underwear, and liquor. And when I like that game, I’ll play it a couple of times, unless that game is of the likes of Final Fantasy 7 that you can easily put 80 hours into and has no replay value.

Right now I think I am ready for XBOX 360 or PS 3. My mouth has been watering for around two years to play games like Bioshock, Dead Rising, and Fallout. Damn, these games all have sequels out already. Well, last year at the office Xmas party I was lucky enough to win the best raffle prize – the Nintendo Wii (a two year streak – I won a high end DVD player the year before. Maybe I’ll win a car at next weeks party). Although weaker in ability than 360 and PS3, it was at least a newer system. Alas, after putting maybe an hour into tennis and boxing with the game it came with, it has now spent around 11 months in its box in the closet next to the set of Spanish bagpipes that I paid 500 bucks for but never play (fucking toy).

For one thing, I have games I am still enjoying on my Original XBOX and PS2. I’m on my third run through on Knights of the Old Republic (I got inspired by my upcoming KOTOR RPG I’m going to do for the group to have one more run through), am still trying to get the motivation up to finish the very difficult Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and once a week or so regular group player Terry comes by for a couple of hours to play Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 that I happen to have for the XBOX. But before this year is up I’ll be done (or fed up) with these, and will want to maybe give that Wii a shot before trading up to the 360.

So, maybe you can help me. I’m fairly unfamiliar with the Wii. I know it is mostly a kiddie/family system, and is famous for that Wii Fit stuff (c’mon, I get a better work out washing my Jeep). But what else is there I might have fun with? I know of Mario Galaxy from others who have the system, but I’d like something with a little more realistic and/or serious action for a grown up. I also know that Dead Rising was ported over to this, but I heard that it has features of the original that are missing (important ones, like the ability to jump over fences). So what would I like?

Here’s an idea of the things I like to give you an idea: I like mellow jazz, long walks on the beach, holding hands, fluffy kittens, and sipping tea while curling up in front of the fire with a good book. OK, I don’t really like any of those things. But heres some of my favorite games from older systems to give you and idea of what appeals to me (whether it be RPG, action game, or shooter).

Super Mario Bros. 1&3: what’s not to love? Mindless but challenging gameplay.

Final Fantasy 7: Taught me to love again. And also to have patience. I put 80 hours into it.

Resident Evil: Played all the regular ones in the series on Playstation, and then Res Evil 4, the best, on PS2. I played it through 3 or 4 times. Outstanding gameplay and story. Terry has this on the Wii, but I don’t need to play it on another system. I’m done.

Silent Hill: all the thrills and great gameplay of Resident Evil, with more creepy scares. Especially liked the first in the series, and The Room.

Castlevania: loved ‘em on the Genesis, and adored Symphony of the Night on PS1.

Fear Effect: 1&2, great action gameplay similar to Res Evil, but with interesting story, characters, and lesbo love.

Tenchu Steath Assasins: My one and only Ninja game. Played it a half dozen times through.

Dune 2000/Sim City 2000: yeah, I can dig a certain amount of Micromanagement. Makes me feel like a god, I tells ya! I especially loved the cinematic live scenes in Dune 2000, as well as the movie soundtrack used in it. Shamelessly used money cheats though.

Diablo: Oh yeah, fun fun fun top down gameplay. How could anybody who grew up on D&D not like it?

Champions of Norrath/Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance: both with that winning Diablo style top down gameplay. Terry fell in love with CoN, and because of that I have a girl coming over a few times a month who I am not banging. Thanks a lot, CoN/BGDA.

Halo 2: Oh man, I can still pop it in for huge fun. One of the only shooters I ever got into. Great story and solid Sci Fi concepts.

So, anything you can recommend for Wii? Or should I just try to get 60 bucks or so for it on Ebay, and put that towards a nice used 360?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Top Ten Craziest AD&D Rules (part 2)

5) Nearly Anything in Unearthed Arcana

Sure, the cantrips were nice, and weapon specialization was popular with players, and already in-use in many campaigns -- but the unbalanced "new" PC classes (mostly cribbed from Dragon Magazine), the new sub-races of elves (why play any elf but a grugach or drow anymore?) really embraced the new "risk-lite" era of gaming, in which munchkin-ism was an assumed part of the game, and characters being anything less than superhuman was unthinkable. UA also introduced the new format of most TSR products from there onwards; the half DM/half player supplement. Which obviously never worked. DMs couldn't surprise players with the new info, since most of them obviously read the "for the DM's eyes only!" material. There is no honor amongst thieves, nor amongst gamers when it comes to players trying to beat their DM.

My take: UA blew me and my friends away when it came out. We used the new classes shamelessly, to the point where pretty much every character in games for around a year were classes out of this book. Cantrips, spells, whatever, I loved them. Never really used proficiencies, and don’t really use anything out of it in terms of characters these days. I let Big Dan run a female drow. There will be no more female drow PC’s in my game. Nuff said.

4) God Stats

If you don't want me to kill Loki, don't tell me how many hit points he has. It's as simple as that. Deities and Demigods went to great lengths in gaming-up pantheons (both real-life and fictional -- including the Melnibonian, Nehwon, and Cthulhu mythoi that would be excised for copyright issues in the third printing), which was sort of cool--but giving the divine stats is really just begging for them to be used as high-level monsters. Which, it was constantly claimed by TSR, was not the point--though the fact that TSR's own module Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits includes a climax in which it's very possible (if not exceptionally easy) to kill Lolth herself makes this claim somewhat dubious. Later editions have had their cake and eaten it too in claiming that these stats aren't the gods themselves, but their avatars on the material plane. Which is sort of cheating, but then again, so is claiming to have killed Zeus fair and square.

My take: Heh, I love that first sentence. Deit & Demi’s was a fun read on the toilet, but never got much in-game use out of it. Especially when I had created my own gods for my game world at around age 13. I actually got more ideas of of the book for my Call of Cthulhu games than I did for my D&D, although it was my reference for a Lovecraft inspired D&D campaign I did in the 80’s.

3) Material Components

Ah yes, the rule that turned all magic-users into ghoulish souvenir-hunters and gem-hoarders. This is one of those rules that some DMs used just to piss their players off--I mean, Identify is one of the most common spells cast by Magic-Users, and the material components are a 100gp pearl, and an infusion of an owl feather in wine with a miniature carp both swallowed whole. (Minature carp? Is that even a thing?) And at higher levels, the components get ridiculously expensive -- Shape Change requires a jade circlet worth at least 5000gp, Duo-Dimension requires a similar ivory cameo of the caster worth 5000-10000 gp, and even the fifth-level Wall of Force requires a "pinch" of diamond dust. It's pretty ridiculous, and with all the weird stuff that wizards would have to cart around for all their spells--gloves for the Bigby spells, balls of guano and sulphur for Fireballs, and rotten eggs for Stinking Cloud (you don't really even have to cast the spell--just throw the damn egg) -- it's surprising that Magic-Users in D&D don't come across more as the fantasy equivalent of cart-pushing bag ladies.

My take: yeah, it gets pretty stupid. In a lot of ways I think some of this takes the piss and fun right out of spell use. I really don’t like to have any component be all that rare or expensive. I for sure don’t make Big Ben’s high elf MU Lumarin in my game swallow a fucking miniature carp when he does one of his ID spells. Then again, in his particular case maybe I should just for laughs. Ben is sort of “by the book. ”Take that, sucker! Make a con roll to avoid choking on that fish and owl feather.”

2) Encumbrance

The ultimate rule that almost no one played with. There's no denying that it makes sense -- if you're striving for realism, there's no way that your character is carrying around much gold at all, especially if you're a thief relying primarily on stealth and agility. And especially in that case, encumbrance rules are pretty generous. But still, they're a pain, and most groups tended to fall in to one of three categories: those that ignored it completely, those that really only paid attention to it when it was egregious, and those that were granted a plethora of bags of holding in order to "realistically" be able to ignore it completely. And why? Because it's a dumb, real-life rule that gets in the way of, you know, actually having fun. It's the same reason most characters are still carrying around that one-week supply of iron rations, and generally don't worry about food unless they're in a tavern. It's the same reason that there aren't rules for potty breaks in the dungeon. It's the same reason there's not a table for seeing if you have a stiff neck from sleeping on a dungeon floor. Because it's a game.

My take: I’m pretty easy going on this. Although sometimes it irks. Recently Andy told me he was carrying three weeks worth of food. What, for a fucking hamster? Do you have any idea what three weeks of food would be like? And not just for a 6’3” fatass like me, but even skinny Andy’s three weeks of jerky and trail mix would be three shopping bags worth. Ah well, best not to think on it too much. Like alignment and components, Encumbrance is a pain in the patoot.

1) Grappling

This system has never worked in the history of the game. Non-lethal combat -- even just grab-moves in weaponed combat -- has always been a nightmare of a process, in every edition. Which is a shame, because a good tavern brawl should be easy to have. It would also be a pretty fun way to make combat more interesting--instead of just trading blows, you could actually grab that evil fighter by the hauberk and throw him across the room. But no, it's not so easy as just rolling to-hit. You have to consult percentages charts, figure out how many increments of 10% your strength is over 18, compare it to how many points over 14 your opponent's dexterity is, determine the kind of helmet your foe is wearing (open-faced? nasaled but otherwise open? visored or slitted?). And then, at some point in the process, you consult the "do you no longer care about actually following through with this move?" percentage on Table F.I.2: Loss of Interest. And if you're like 99.9% of the players who tried this, you eventually determine: "Ah, fuck it. I swing my sword."

My take: when AD&D first came out when I was a little kid, I could already tell by the weaponless combat rules that Gygax had never been in a fight in his life. Not only did I have two older brothers who were quick with a punch (go tell dad and he’d say in his thick Scottish accent “better learn to git yer hands up” before bopping me on the noggin with his huge, coal miner hand), I grew up in a poor version of now rich and trendy Venice Beach, and had to make the occasional statement to creeps who were usually smaller than me but thought they could box me around. Even before getting into boxing/kick boxing later in life, I knew how to take it to somebody’s grill. Needless to say, I had my own brawling rules very early on. I’ll post on that one day, fight fans.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Top Ten craziest AD&D rules (part 1)

Here is a countdown of the top ten most insane AD&D rules. It’s from a site called Topless Robot (one of around a thousand geek sites with the word “robot” in the name). Each item is followed by my own (hold the applause) witty and informative comment on it.

Because it’s a little lengthy (3 or 4 pages or so) post, I’ll do the first five today, then post the other five in a couple of days.

10) Treasure Type

This system of treasure placement suggests that every Gargoyle has 2-8 pieces of gold on them at all times, or that Shambling Mounds always have on their person an assortment of coin, a few gems, a couple of scrolls, and maybe a potion or miscellaneous magic item (not to mention that carrot they have for a nose, just in case you're feeling snacky). Once players realized that this system was more or less a guarantee of at least a chance for a specific item type to drop, it becomes incentive to hunt them down. Who cares if nymphs are neutral good? She's Treasure Type Q and X, man!

My take: I hardly ever used the random treasure type stuff; although at some point in Jr. High I was using some tables from the monster and treasure assortment. Ultimately, it was more fun for me to just decide for myself what the creature had on its person or in its lair. Sure, I keep the Old School Encounter Ref in my game bag for emergencies these days for when characters wander off the beaten (and plotted)path, but that isn’t really based on monster type anyway. Yeah, we don’t need no steeking treasure type lists for monsters.

9) Level Titles

Okay, so these are pretty damn cool, and remain a fond memory for most players familiar with the 1st Edition rules. But if you think about it, they're also pretty nuts -- why is a 1st level fighter a veteran, if they're first level? They're even sort of insulting, in some cases. Take the Cleric titles: at sixth level, you're a Catholic Canon; at seventh, you embrace Buddhism as a Lama; and at eighth, you're a Patriarch out of the Greek Orthodox tradition. All this from a cleric who worships Odin. Seriously, this is just asking for religious boycotts. And while we're talking about it, was there anyone who played a kick-ass Monk who wanted to go by the title "Grand Master of Flowers"?

My take: this is a very good point, and flavor or no I don’t really use them. Let’s for sure hold off on calling Mr. 1st level fighter a “veteran” until he has killed his first orc and kissed his first girl (put a female orc in there and you got yourself a two-in-one).

8) Magic-Users

The name alone warrants inclusion on this list. Later editions fixed this -- "mages" in 2nd Edition, "wizards" in 3rd. But really, anything was better than what they fixed upon for the 1st Edition. It becomes status quo for most players, but think about it--by this nomenclature, fighters (which had at least by this point graduated from the gender-exclusive and similarly lame class title of "fighting men") should have been called "sword-users" and thieves would have been called "lockpick-users." (I'm excluding clerics from this example, since they would have been called "healing-users with a blunt weapon of only marginal combat value"--which they already sort of were.) But the real beef about Magic-Users in 1st Edition was that in terms of magical combat, they were one-shot and done. One magic missile or sleep spell, and they were done for the remainder. Mages make up for this by being insanely powerful on the other end -- when fighters are doing only slightly more damage per hit than they were doing at first level, mages can lay waste to an attacking platoon in a single round. But getting past that early going when a decent wand is more useful than you? That's a tough row to hoe there, Gandalf.

My take: Bah, I don’t really care. I tend to use the term MU or Magic-User because I like to reserve terms like mage or wizard for a character that has advanced somewhat (but not necessarily a name level). In in may game world, I assume people refer to them as magic-users (even though there are other types of spellcasters). As far as MU’s being a little light in the pocket spellwise at low levels, well, them’s the breaks. In the last couple decades I gave new MU’s a couple of random spells “in mind” that they can cast once a day, but for my next campaign I’m just thinking of giving them access to cantrips again, and making those cantrips free and castable anytime, with perhaps a 3-5 a day limit.

7) Arbitrary Limits as to Gender, Race, and Class

Admittedly, this is a broad category. But the problem here is well represented in the early pages of the first edition Players Handbook, in which in his preface on page 6, Gary Gygax mentions that readers will find "no baseless limits arbitrarily placed on female strength"...and then two pages later, the rules specifically state that human female fighters are limited to no more than an 18/50 strength. (It can, of course, be argued that this can still be seen as consistent, and that Gygax meant that those limits -- which are even more stringent, by the way, if your character is demi-human and not a fighter -- are neither arbitrary nor baseless...but that only exacerbates the problem.) But seeing as how that score is (supposedly) rare, there are better examples: how about a cleric of Poseidon who can't wield a trident? A dwarven fighter who can't rise higher than 9th level? (And too bad for you if you wanted to be a half-elf cleric, because you couldn't go higher than 4th level.) Why? Some of it is game mechanics -- unlimited levels were one of the few perks that existed insofar as being a human was concerned, back then -- and the game designers didn't want magic-users and clerics using swords, so they just forbade it (and even though 3rd Edition and onwards has corrected this issue to some degree, it still lingers in legacy games like World of Warcraft.) But other things -- like gender differentials for ability scores and the like? That's not a game balance thing; that's just alienating half your potential audience. To be fair, later editions of the game went too far the other way, and relied almost exclusively on the feminine pronouns -- so the game switched from exclusionary to pandering. Great work.

My take: Heh, I remember some gaming material in the 80’s going with the “she” or “her” instead of the usual male reference. Political correctness at its finest. I also remember fondly articles in The Dragon and The Dungeoneer in the early 80’s aimed at female players (with titles like “Those Lovely Ladies”) that seemed to think women in gaming were getting the short shrift. I had a superhot girlfriend who played in my games when I was in high school (she was already a fan of Sci Fi and fantasy so this hot chick playing D&D was not that weird), and all my jealous gamer friends would have their characters kiss her charcter’s asses in attempts to at least get favor from her PC’s in a way they could only dream of in real life. This was in stark contrast to when I took her around my football teammates, where my friends would try to kick my ass to impress her. Best of both worlds. Jeez, I took this comment in a weird direction. Ah, memories.

6) Bards

Holy crap, why was it so hard to be a bard in first edition? Any idiot can pick up a lute and start strumming it in a tavern -- so why in the world would they need to be at least a fifth level fighter, a 5th level thief, and a first level druid before becoming a first level Rhymer? Especially in a game that didn't seem to have been designed to support characters going much higher than 14th level or so? (No modules were created early on for levels above that with the exception of Isle of the Ape in 1985, and even though the spellcaster tables go up to 29th level, once most classes hit name level---10th, they stopped accumulating even full hit dice, let alone new powers or abilities.) Bards were effectively the first prestige class in a game system that didn't yet support them. Bards--along with psionics and several items above--are a good example of why the stuff in the Appendices were relegated to the appendices in the first place.

My take: D&D bard was indeed some stupid shit, at least in my games. In the 80’s onward you were lucky if I ran a campaign long enough to get your character to 7th level, so a regular bard would be out. At some point I created a bard subclass of thief that gained skill (in music, performance, and art in addition to some thief skills) as they went up. Due to Andy’s early (and fairly mild) power gaming with this kind of bard at the start of this current campaign, I have altered my bard heavily since he rolled up his character Vaidno (much to his chagrin). I love the Vaidno character nowadays, but my bard class will be a different animal if anyone runs one in the future (although in Andy’s defense, I gave my bard a D4 for hit points, which makes up for almost every other problem with my bard class).