Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fumblin’ around with The DMG – character creation

Dan Dan The Power Game Man™ has been scratching to get out of the house. His wife just had another kid last week, and his Mulholland manse is chock full of relatives from around the globe. After a hard partyin’ Christmas weekend, I was not totally up for a full game of any kind. But with only Dan and Andy available anyway, I thought why not sink some Newcastles and do character work for the new campaign, and maybe a little combat encounter or two.

With a return to more BTB game play in this 1st edition campaign, I wanted to be strict with the character creation. Strict for me, anyway. Racial stat and level limitations were in play this campaign, and with none of us being DMG experts (despite my recent ongoing efforts), there was quite a bit of fumbling through the beloved tome to try and make sure our bases were covered. I have a pdf of OSRIC I printed and bound to serve as a backup play aid in this campaign, and it was a little useful. It would have been moreso, but here’s another book I need to read and familiarize myself with. It’s better organized than the DMG, but it ain’t perfect when you need a particular piece of info. Nothing I wanted to look up in OSRIC was listed and easily found in the index's, but that may have been more bad luck than anything else. I am going to take a better look at it though (it is, like, a 400 page thing).

Before delving too deep, we did that stat rolls so they could start formulating ideas on what to run. So I had them both do up three full sets of stats, each with roll 4D6 use best 3D6, in order. This is a tightening up of my usual assign to taste preference. There would be no stat dumping here. You get three full sets to make a choice from, and that still seems fairly generous. I allowed only very minor tweaking, and only in cases I suggested. I took ZERO player suggestions on stat swapping and such. Nope. Mr. Tough Guy. Despite that, they came out pretty above average in most respects. Dan even got an 18 in strength for the set he chose.

So harsh restrictions in the book popped up only once or twice to burn players. Mostly in Dan’s case. He wanted his fighter/MU/cleric to be a full grey elf, but the rules say he’d have to be half elf. He was fairly disappointed for some reason he could not be the full elf, and I almost caved. But Andy chimed in and kept me on the straight and narrow. I’m happy for that, because hell, full elves are these immortal dudes. There should be reasons to make it harder to be one. Despite being all over the place, 1st edition does have some balancing acts going on, and I don’t want to do my usual willy nilly houseruling to mess with it. So it’s a half-elf for big Dan.
So after fumbling around to get characters properly created by the book, I set them up with a little giant rat killing at a city tavern to stretch the combat muscles for the pair.
New characters getting done up is always big fun for me, and I’m glad we’ll get to stretch it out when the other players are there to roll up. I had to admit, it was kind of refreshing to “go by the rules” for character creation. We’ll soon hopefully see how that goes for long term gameplay.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rereading the DMG is gonna be a bitch

I can’t remember if I ever read the DMG all the way through when I first got it as a kid. Logic would say that I would have. It had to be an exciting thing, getting this tome. I just don’t remember it. I certainly never made a study of it. I’d say more than half my handwaved houserules came out of my not wanting to look shit up (the rest because, well, I thought a lot of stuff about the rules sucked). So I never came anywhere near to mastering the “official” rules of AD&D 1st ed.

Well, I have kind of decided to make a cover to cover reading of it. For one thing, I want to weed out some of my more arbitrary houserulings (many of which are just in my head and fuzzy sometimes) and get back to being a wee bit more by the book. This is something I should maybe have done when I started the group 4 years ago. In contrast to the many noobs I introduced to the game back in the 90’s (in the 80’s most of my players wanted to be experts), these guys were fairly seasoned players, and in at least one case knew the DMG much better than I did. So I had to sometimes fight tooth and nail with players over some of my “lazy” changes. So for sure to not have to go through that struggle again, and some other reasons, I am going to get more familiar with things in the tome. So I thought a cover to cover read would help. Even if I'm not as excited about it as when I was a kid, and its more like work.

After around a week I am not all that far into it. 30 pages or so. But in that short amount of time I remembered how disorganized the book is. One page I’m reading about spells, the next henchmen and homestead upkeep, and back again. Maybe this will, at the very least, make me more educated on what all is in this book I’ve had several copies of for well over 30 years. More thoughts to come.
And a happy Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Player characters – Divide and sometimes Conquer

I’m not talking about making PC’s squabble, which in itself can be fun and rewarding for a DM. I’m talking about giving characters their own little encounters outside of the usual group encounters. I did this in the last KOTOR game. Andy’s Mandalorian bodyguards for the major NPC Solomon, who visits the Coruscant University from time to time as an alumni. So I had him attacked in a student lounge area near the massive library, by the Sith brother Phade (see last post) whom Mandalorian had ticked off in a previous encounter. Also in the same game, I had NPC Solomon have the female Jedi, Lucia, watch his back as they entered a gang bar on a rescue mission of a young lady; it ended up in a nice big fight.

This is an example of something I have long since done in all my games periodically, including D&D. Give characters a life and encounters of their own from time to time. This is especially useful when you only have a couple or three players for the night, like I did. And they are a snap to design for. If you have decent characters to work with, they will have backgrounds and previous encounters that can give you good ideas for solo fights and you can pretty much just wing it. Old enemies return for an ambush, new enemies attack when character friends are doing their own thing elsewhere, or just rescue and escort missions depending on the character. This really helps flesh them out for me, rather than just constant group experiences.

Once again I firmly blame my comic book collecting background growing up. The example is right there in members of groups like the Justice League or The Avengers; big group-related donnybrooks, but the individual heroes also have their own comics with their own headaches.

You don’t want to make other players wait too long (sometimes I miscalculate, which is the main drawback of this kind of thing – but if it happens you can promise the offended player their own beefed up solo encounter in the near future to make up for it), but if you put some thought into it the players can really dig getting their own licks in without other characters getting in the way. It really helps bring them to life.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Star Wars – the Brutality of Force Powers

We had a very rollicking session of Knights of The Old Republic this week, one that stood out mostly due to the very high amount of force powers being tossed around the battlefield.

Most of the display of force powers so far In the campaign has been the Jedi characters, most specifically the male Jedi whose powers have been chosen for maximum combat usefulness (the player of the female Jedi has chosen powers and abilities that she liked over any sort of power gaming), making him a terror to lesser villains. He crushes and slams his way across a battle area, aided and abetted by things like negate energy (stops energy attacks), deflect, and block to keep the personal damage total to a minimum.

I got the chance to do some force power use of my own in a game earlier this year when the party took on a lichy undead Sith Lord aboard a haunted space station, but in the game this week it got way more hairy.

The party is travelling with a young, red-haired NPC named Solomon, who has for some reason or another (some prophesies have been attributed to him) has garnered interest from the Sith who want to find out what he is about, and another arcane group with great resources that seem to want him dead.

So in the campaign so far the party has been tailed by a pair of young brother and sister Sith Students, and in this last game it was revealed that they are actually working for their mother who is a Sith Witch. The witch, her kids, and almost a dozen other Sith students (actually young Fallen Jedi being tested) travelling with them confronted and ended up attacking the party in a rundown factory area of Coruscant. The male Jedi of the group was in a speeder hidden nearby, so most of the party was deprived of his strong force powers in their fight with the larger group. This Jedi was attacked at his speeder by a small number of Sith students, but did not end up in combat as one of the Sith was a former Jedi who grew up with the PC Jedi at the Coruscant Temple, and she recognized him from going up around him and stayed her hand, telling her companions to back off as well.

As a matter of fact, the Witch leader and the rest didn’t really intend to kill them. Obviously they were trying to get Solomon to come with them so they can investigate him further, but also with Coruscant being basically the Jedi capitol, it would be unwise for them to slaughter people planetside, especially involving killing of Jedi. But what they did want to do was show Solomon their strength, impressing him by beating the shit out of the other characters. Which in this case ended up being the two strong fighers.

These two characters are a Wookiee outlaw, and a Mandalorion veteran from the recent wars (that lead up to the current Jedi Civil War). Normally they dominate a battlefield, but they were facing strong, mid-level Sith warriors (almost all former Jedi) and all with force powers in addition to lightsabers.

And now, with me finally being able to cut loose with multiple force users of my own, it was my turn to dominate these two often bullyish fighters. And let me tell you, these powers are bruuut-tal! With the Mandalorian in full armor flying around in a jet pack, he got hit by Force Grip (one of the more strong and somewhat broken force powers), and a couple of other powers including a thrown lightsaber that did damn good damage (that surprised him, though he is a Mandalorian War veteran who would have faced Jedi in combat in the past). Pretty close to taking him right out. As for the Wookiee, he got hit by force lightning that was not only damaging, but severely knocking down his condition track (you get minuses to everything when your condition goes down). With several lightsabers coming at him, powered by decent skill and Dark Rage power, things looked bad for the Wookiee as well.

But the Sith had made their point, and backed off. I was actually a bit torn at that point, and put it to a secret dice roll as to whether they might try to kill the party. The Sith Witch and her two children were not involving themselves in the fight, but the characters chose to throw some attacks their way. I felt it was kind of foolish, going for honor shots on the leaders instead of focusing on those attacking you. But that’s overconfident players for you. Lucky for the characters that they backed off anyway, as it probably would have been the end of them. It actually would have been kind of cool to end things in a TPK.

See, even though it’s fun and I love the KOTOR setting (initially sparked by the KOTOR XBOX game), I kind of need a break from it. We actually don’t play it as much; our first game was around a year and a half ago, and we’ve probably only done fifteen or so sessions of it since. As it’s getting higher level, the foes need more detail over the cannon fodder the PC’s have been wading through so far. I was using over a dozen force users on the battlefield, all with differing powers and abilities. I even went so far as to have to put numbered bits of paper under them to keep track of the individuals better. This is a lot of work for me. Not like D&D which I can basically phone-in and still have a fun session.

So I think some D&D is in order to run some more relaxing sessions. A new campaign. It’s been a couple of years or so now since I finished my Night Below campaign, and I think I have recovered enough from that to get on the Dungeon train again. So I think KOTOR goes on the backburner for awhile, and I’ll get on some good ol’ D&D as we get into a new year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tegel Manor and my Return to “Gonzo” D&D

As a kid and most of my teens my D&D was all kinds of Gonzo. I used City State of The Invincible Overlord, Tegel Manor, and a variety of early Judges Guild products as my D&D wheelhouse. In those early days I did not give a damn about verisimilitude, and didn’t even know what the hell it was. Right out of the gate I think we were doing weird fantasy in our games by default, long before James Raggi used the term for his games.

But that was not to last. Just growing up made the gaming group increase the realism a bit, and once again as usual I put the blame for my own game world becoming more “real” on girls entering our gaming circles. Pretty, pretty girlies. Endless dungeon gauntlets and constant killing, combined with apeshit occurrences in-game that made little sense seemed to turn girls off. Role-play became a bigger factor then. The gals wanted to develop relationships in the game world. They seemed to respond better to things that made some sense, not just the weirdo whims of adolescent fantasy-minded boys. So in my game world shopkeeps and bartenders stopped being 10 level wizards or retired 9th level paladins. Magic shops began to become scarce. Dungeons existing for no other reason than to massacre adventurers became rarer. I stopped using Thor, Zeus, and other gods of myth and injected my own that made sense for my setting. Verisimilitude reared its ugly head. Thus has it remained over the decades. I kept an eye on things making some kind of sense in my world.

Well, I’m sort of getting turned around on that. I've had a couple of years off from running a regular D&D campaign, focusing on Sci Fi and other types of fantasy. After all those years of making my game world sort of low on gonzo, I’m getting a desire to go silly once more when I get back on the campaign track. Not that everything in the game world is going to go apeshit all of a sudden. But I want to have my main city stop being so much like Gondor, and go back to being more like Lankhmar. Weirdo shit around every corner. And my first step is to utilize the full gonzo nature of Tegel Manor. That setting will be the focus of my next campaign I think. Gonna make it MY Ravenloft! On a trip out of town the other weekend I actually got to test the waters with it outside my regular group a bit. That taste has me ready to go full bore with the wacky, brutal mansion on the gang in the not too distant future. Oh, of course I will try to throw a little gravitas with it in the form of better explanations of why certain things are the way they are, but Tegel seems the perfect way to hit the group over the head with my new gonzo outlook.

Really, life is getting too short for obsessing on verisimilitude in a game of pretend.

Walking Dead still not doing it for me

Read this comment in a (non-gaming) pop culture forum today, and it sums up my feelings on the episode last night.

"None of the deaths had any impact. It felt like a show in panic mode, thinking everything sucks so they have to kill a bunch of characters off. T-Dawg getting replaced by T-Dawg II is hilarious."

The writing is just god aweful. Things like the Guv'na's easy wipe out of trained military men (we know by now that in real life, such as in the middle east, panicy soldiers shoot first and ask questions later) last week is a big deal breaker on its own. Just another example of things happening because the writers need them to happen, like The Joker in The Dark Knight. I hate that kind of writing.

Michonne is an interesting comic book character, but in the reality the TV show presents, she seems really out of place. If this was a movie she would be the main hero and everybody else would be supporting characters. She is also mostly portrayed as smart and savvy, but she seems to put all her cards on the table by questioning the governor about the soldier encounter. More poor writing.

I know it's TV and writing often sucks on even decent shows, but damn. I guess I should not watch really good shows before watching this. This last weekend I finally watched the first few eps of Homeland. That is MUST watch stuff. Writing and character development is off the hook. From now on I won't be catching WD in it's time slot. I'll be catching up on it On Demand later in the week while doing other stuff I think. Nothing about it is must watch to me, and I don’t think it’s going to capture the magic of that pilot episode. If this is the best they can do, then it’s all downhill from here. I really don’t care what happens to anybody. This is in stark contrast to other great shows, such as Breaking Bad, where each and every character is full and interesting, even mundane ones.

And as for Talking Dead, they really need to stop having producers as guests. They suck the friggin life out of it. They never have anything to add. The moronic Chris Hardwick constantly asking questions he knows they will not answer. And the actors usually suck too. Most actors need really good interviewers so as to not come up forced and hammy. It's at it's most fun when geek comedians such as Patton Oswalt are there to add a little color (although Drew Carey was a total dud).

I was so excited the other year when I heard about a zombie TV series being made. But it turns out for that to be good and outstanding they need compelling characters and strong writing, which this show totally lacks. I really wish they could have done a show based on Max Brook’s World War Z, using clever filming methods to stay on budget. What a great, international anthology series that would have made. A different story and setting each week or season. Dare to dream.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disneyfication of Star Wars

Last night I showed up to run our continuing Knights of the Old Republic campaign (using Star Wars Saga Edition) at Andy’s place, and the big news of the day (right after the disaster on the East Coast) suddenly struck me as being very relevant to our session. Disney buying all things Star Wars from Fox meant that, more or less, we were playing a Disney game! The horror.

Not really. I don’t have a lot of emotional investment in Star Wars. I’m only running a Star Wars based game because I loved the KOTOR video game from a few years ago. That setting, created by fans who grew up on Star Wars, was far removed from the hubris of Sir George. A fresh take, filled with what was GOOD about Star Wars, set long before the whole Skywalker Mess™.

And now that more Star Wars films are confirmed, maybe we can get more like that. More GOOD SW films. Disney has not done wrong by Marvel Comics yet, and I was originally horrified by that takeover.

But so far that is all good. Films by good writers and directors, set perhaps in the era of Luke and Han’s children? Maybe even my precious Jedi Civil War setting for KOTOR? Really, we now know that the further George Lucas is away from Star Wars the better. This is probably going to be a good thing for Star Wars fans, even a moderate one like me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How consistent the game world?

While staying with friends for a long weekend out of town, I had a planned visit from a girlfriend from many years ago who lived in that area who I had not seen in forever. Back in the day she played in my games a lot, and since the girlfriend of the pal I was staying with requested I run a D&D game I had asked my old friend to come and play with us. What was especially interesting is that my friend from back in the day now owned a game store in Northern Cali. So I came up with some encounters we could do in a fairly short session.

What I went with was the area around good ol’ Tegel Manor. Though the last couple of years I used a sort of prequel setting for the location, I went with full on classic haunted Tegel. There only ended up a couple of combat encounters on the roads and in the village, so the actual manor never got visited (hopefully we can finish that up some day), but in thinking about the setting, I was struck by how consistent I needed to be with it. See, in my game world maybe 30 years have gone by since any characters went to Tegel. A decent chunk of it had been mapped by a couple of parties over the early years, and many of the various NPC’s interacted with. So, would I still have Runic Rump the paladin around looking to sell the manor? Would the lich still be in the tower (though characters had routed him out decades before); would the black pudding still be in the outhouse? Should I change things to show the place had been looted before, and that all this time had passed?

See, I’ve used the same game world I created for D&D since I was a kid. The same world where over time I had adventures using many classic modules. Tegel, The Giants adventures, The Keep on the Borderlands, White Plume Mountain, Homlet. In my mind, I always thought towards keeping a certain amount of constancy. If the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief had been taken down, would a replica of it every pop up many years down the line for a different group?

Recently I have lost that desire to maintain that consistency. And why not? Over time, as my game groups come and go, I’m the only one aware of any true passage of time in the game world reality. Have I tried to maintain a certain consistency just so that, in my own mind, this can seem like a real place? That’s pretty daft.

I want to use lots of my favorite old adventures, such as Tegel, when I get back on D&D with my group. To hell with all the consistency. I’m not writing novels based on it, and I’m not maintaining internal integrity of the game world because I’m keeping meticulous journals on it over the many years. Hell, the notebooks with my notes on those old sessions are long tossed away.

My old comic collecting background is helpful for that. If you love a universe, such as Marvel, you have to accept a certain amount of retconning. Tony Stark originally had his origins as Iron Man in the Korean Conflict. Then Vietnam. Then The Gulf War. Ben Grimm was a WW2 veteran. Now I don’t think he is the vet of any war. These things are fairly minor, and the universe moves forward.

But I’m wondering how much other DM’s with long time game worlds of their own have done to maintain internal consistency of the game world. Would they go so far as to refrain from ever using the same module, as is, a second time even if it is for different players? Or is that just some weird conceit unique to me?

More Ah-Nuld Conan!

Though the original Conan film has its hand-wringing detractors, I have always loved it. And I love me some Conan books. But growing up a comic book fan, I learned the hard way that the less you worry about how a film adaptation of your favorite pop culture item is going to be true to the original property, the happier you’ll be. You can enjoy each universe on it’s own merits. And the Arnold Conan had many, many merits. Sure, it didn’t feature a Conan like the R.E. Howard superfans might have liked. He didn’t run around spouting Shakespearean witticism, nor would I have wanted to see that. What I wanted was for them to capture the look, feel, and heart of the stories and setting, and I think they got that in spades. And Arnolds Conan had both mirth and melancholy, just like the suicidal wanna-be cowboy Robert E. wrote about. My friends and I went to Century City to see it for the second or third time as young teens, slamming beers in the car before going in, jumping with excitement to see our favorite movie with our best pals. We were young D&D geeks going to see our favorite movie. It was the best of times in terms of our love of the fantastic and mythic. Conan the Barbarian hit the spot.

Marvel did up a really great King Conan series many years ago, featuring political intrigues and the machinations of his slightly fucked up family. I would hope they would dip into that well for great ideas for the film.

There are all kinds of ways a King Conan film might be bad, just like any other property turned into a film. But it is hope that springs eternal. One of our favorite parts of the original film was the end, with Conan the King sitting melancholy on his throne, while his wizard buddy paraphrases the words of R.E. Howard. We all said “Man, I hope it won’t be long before we see that!”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Downfall of the classic dungeon?

As a kid back in the day, the classic dungeon environment as presented in OD&D (specifically the LBB’s  plus Greyhawk and Blackmoor in my case) was just enticing and drool inducing in it’s morbidity and weirdness to a young boy. All that stuff designated modernly by Philotomy as part and parcel of “The Mythic Underworld” was attractive to somebody who grew up with at least a sprinkling of Tolkien and RE Howard in their lives. Playing characters going down into those bafflingly magical and active deathtrap monster lairs just seemed to hit a fanboy nerve, and especially early on these eerie locations gave a genuine thrill of the possibilities of mystery. Non-TSR takes on dungeons, like those by Judges Guild, added to that simplistic yet inspiring concept. Just the thought of these things existing in the game world seemed so cool.

The mystery unwove fairly quickly as the teen years moved on, and the new real life mysteries of older social interaction, with girls or sports involvement or whatever, became what was exciting. Sure, D&D stayed in my life as I headed into adulthood, but the unreality of classic underworld gameplay gave way to a more romanticized notion of high fantasy. I had no idea newer editions of the game were doing this as well; I attribute it in my case to mid teens when we started having girls in our games, and our female players seemed to only have so much acclimation to weird and brutal underworlds. They weren’t as down with “fantasy underground Vietnam” gameplay as the guys.

NPC interactions and more epic gameplay seemed to be the evolution in all the genres I ran, and I sure went along with that. Characters in my games became more involved with the NPC’s of the big cities, such as royalty and the military and their intrigues, and when they went into a dungeon it was usually the catacombs beneath the city. My love of locations (city or ruin) set in the midst of howling wildernesses, Judges Guild style, was fading. My love of comic books and movies sort of took over, and the interactions of characters and other thinking beings became more dynamic. Slaying slimes and oozes in the lonely and dark corners of the world would become more infrequent.

When I started the current group (almost exactly 4 years ago), my intention was to eventually get them to a classic dungeon I was working on (I had yet to hear the term “megadungeon”), but eventually I aimed the campaign at The Night Below module, which is not exactly classic. Yeah, I forced things in an epic direction.  But with the group, and a couple of times outside it, I did some classic dungeon runs with the LBB’s for some players, and they went really well. Though my regular group seemed to find it quaint and fun, I think they really wanted meatier game play, such as my 1st edition games, provided.

At this point, though it seems to still have rabid admirers, I have more or less fallen out of love with that weird, gonzo classic dungeon concept. I perk up when I read about somebody liking the modern OSR influenced dungeons such as Anomolous Subsurface Environment or Barrowmaze, but when I actually see snippets of these megadungeons (not necessarily those two mentioned, but in general) I am usually less than impressed. Minimalistic descriptions (6 orcs; 200 GP) for rooms, and dungeon dressing that does not inspire seem to be the order of the day. But hey, that is what a classic dungeon is all about, right?

As anybody reading this probably knows, Grognardia James’ Dwimmermount dungeon, a recent surprise hit on Kickstarter (close to 50 grand in profit), has been getting some gameplay and a few early reviews (the entire dungeon has yet to be finished). A lot of reviews from fairly moderate sources have not been good. A lot of the dislike seems to be in the presentation of those classic old dungeon tropes that James has been so enamored of and blogging about for years. Empty, dusty rooms with no real function having to be explored and searched. Minimalist room occupant description such as the orcs n’ gold combo mentioned above. Dungeon dressing with no interaction or function. Not exactly inspiring.

See, none of that gives me those kiddy thrills anymore, and apparently others who actually paid for that dungeon agree. I read Grognardia for a couple of years faithfully, and the recounting of Dwimmermount game sessions was probably part of why I was no longer reading every day. No knock at James; I only started this blog, my first and only, when I heard him on some podcast I listened to through dumb luck, and checked out his blog and saw old modules I loved being talked about. But man, the later old school gameplay presented in session reports did not exactly draw me in like I guess it has some others. The Gygaxian mandates and strict adherence to them became a turn off. I actually had a chance to briefly explore the early Dwimmermount in the ill fated thread sessions James started on OD&D Discussion, but that didn’t get far. James dropped that like a hot potato around week two, with no explanation or apology. But hey, those forum play by post sessions tend to be kind of a clusterfuck anyway. Maybe that’s why James jumped out the bathroom window and never looked back.

So am I the only one who has tired (again) of this classic D&D dungeon play? Is the whole mythic maze-underworld something that has popped up as some sort of delayed nostalgia? On forums such as Dragonsfoot, the humanoids are still constantly bleeping and durping about this or that aspect of classic dungeons with childlike glee. Minimalist description dungeon locations the size of Disneyland still seems to be the wheelhouse of the so called “OSR.”

But I got bored of it twice in my life. I doubt there is going to be a third. When I get back on 1st Ed AD&D (been focusing on other genres for years now), probably next year, it’ll be back to epic adventure and high fantasy, not counting up copper pieces found in rat nests and searching every square foot of the walls in empty rooms.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thieves Tools hard to get?

I’m seeing some conversation going on about the availability of thieves’ tools, and that suddenly had me scratching my head. Yet another case of gamer over-think? Somebody suggested that you need to go down to a thieves guild to get such tools, and perhaps even pass a test. Another says you risk drawing undue attention to yourself by trying to have them made or buying them.

Really, does every little common thing have to be turned into an adventure? This is the minutia some DM’s are focusing on?

These tools aren't some elaborate, almost magical mechanisms from far away lands. Any locksmith will have such tools to ply their trade (I mean, somebody makes the locks, right?), and perhaps their shops even sell them for apprentice locksmiths. They won't necessarily raise an eyebrow at some young lad buying them ("I'm a locksmiths apprentice, sir!") Should not be hard to pick up, and going to a guild should not be required. I would imagine they are available enough that it would not be some kind of thieves test to obtain them. Unless you consider going down to the weaponshop to buy a sword some kind of test for a fighter. If you got the money, you should be able to buy them and get on with the real adventuring.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Another Campaign Ends

Last night we wrapped up the fairly short (maybe 8 sessions or so) Runequest campaign I popped on the group a few months ago. I had actually intended to mix in a lot more Call of Cthulhu, a sort of Chaosium mix, but we were having such a good time with the RQ that we pretty much stuck with that and breezed through the campaign.

I used the classic Apple Lane setting for this, and went through the usual progression (besides my own added bits and encounters) of the tribal initiations battle circles, Pawnshop Baboon attack all the way through finishing up Rainbow Mounds last night. Whiteeye and his trollkin defeated, and the Lizard Mother and the Lizard Spirits destroyed (the Newtlings made Terry’s character Rowan their queen – for what it was worth).

The party got to touch the adamantine column hidden behind the newt idol, gaining some spells. They also found the Issaries statue to later sell to Gringle. In a wild twist, the party forgot to search White eyes’ lair for the main treasure. They rested after the White eye fight for a night before moving on into what they though was a tunnel to another area (it was actually a small chamber with White eyes bed and the main treasure of the adventure), then later got distracted and didn’t finish searching that area! Thousands of lunars and other precious stuff left behind! Kind of a hoot.

I mean, they were told there would be a lot of items White eye and gang robbed people of, but they happily left without any of that. I waited until they were back at the village to tell them. There was the usually thrashing around for a couple of minutes trying to find the poor GM at fault, but the realization set in that they had been idiots to not realize they didn’t have what they, in part, went to the Rainbow Mounds for. Doesn’t really make up for anybody not getting killed or maimed in the campaign, but it helps.

So time to regroup, get out the Star Wars stuff, and repack my mini’s box with Sci Fi figures. We’ll be doing KOTOR for the rest of the year, with the odd Call of Cthulhu game thrown in here and there when we are short on important players.

But yeah, there ya go. Another campaign in the bag. It’s always kind of a satisfying peace that comes over you when you are at the finish line of a fun campaign.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gygax Memorial - Raiding pocketbooks of the Faithful?

Only recently found out they are trying to get it together to get a memorial built representing Gygax and D&D. Although it seems to be more about Gary himself, I guess it is going to be a dragon with an inscription (yawn). I can see the children in the park now “Oh mommy, look! Skyrim!”

So there is this website you can go to for the information on this. Also, I understand the widow of Gary, Gail Gygax, shows up on convention floors with a money jar looking for contributions to this project. I can understand her wanting something like a memorial to Gary’s works, but the cash jar strikes me as kind of sad. I can’t say if Gail was left a hefty estate when Gary passed. It’s not like Gary produced a bunch of films or something. Royalties from the old D&D cartoon, and his books, can’t really be supporting a South Fork Ranch type lifestyle, could they? But anyway, the very wife of the man roaming game rooms looking for fivers from gamers just seems kind of cruddy. Are things that bad?

See, I think the memorial will be in part an ad for the current producers of D&D and their product whether they mean it to or not (plus the new reprints being sold by WOTC are tied in with this). Why is that bad? Well, I think the makers of the game, with their storied history and all, pretty much abandoned their own fanbase. That is what a lot of the voices of the OSR are about. There are a lot of older folk who stuck with the product throughout it’s various incarnations. I'm thinking the people who are the most passionate about this are the people who supported the game and it's companies, decade in and decade out, both monetarily and by bringing new people into it. I feel these are the people who have a right to ask that their voices be heard. It's a niche hobby where people come and go, but many seemed to have been buying the product for a good part of their lives. The product no longer seems to represent the game people have loved. I mean, even modern players of 3rd edition were gob smacked by 4th edition, which was just a head scratching departure from 3rd much in the way 3rd was from older editions. They don’t just want entirely new task resolution – they want support for the game they love. Many supported 3rd despite it’s differences from the old. They had faith in the company and the game, and then the company once again changed the entire game on them. You can see how the faithful would take issue with them.
Me? I'm not one of the faithful. I don't give a rats ass. I haven't bought a new TSR product brand new off the shelves of the local game jobber since around 1987. Despite ol' Gaz telling me since the earliest days of D&D that the "other" product out there was inferior and should be avoided, I started giving my money to other companies product that interested me. Hero Systems and Chaosium seemed to reward their fans by giving them what they wanted - for hearing their voices and actually having an understanding of their fanbase. I still play 1st edition, using my tore up old books. And I have props for Gary. But as far as I'm concearned I'd have more interest in Sandy Peterson or Greg Stafford getting a statue when they pass. They represented a company and product that DELIVERED.

Actually, no knock at Gary by any means, but if a memorial was going to in part represent the D&D that I play, then that memorial would be for Dave Arneson. He most represents the game I love, even though when I was young I had no idea of his contribution. When I was a little kid eagerly buying the first Blackmoor book, I had no idea who the man was or what he meant. Gary was the face of the game. I didn’t know there was this heart and soul named “Dave Arneson.”

Hey, skip the dragon and make it statues of both Gary and Dave doing a fist bump and I’ll crack open my dusty wallet in a heartbeat. But you can keep your 120 dollar memorial set, WOTC. My tore-ass old books are still workable for my games.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One last good Batman Flick

Well, in the wake of Comicon the third and final entry in the Nolan Batman epic is almost upon us. I have to admit, I’m liking what I see about it a lot more than I did a couple of months ago. The underwhelming Bane info and footage that was coming out seemed horrible, and did not bode well. I still have my doubts, but he does seem a bit frightening in the trailers. Does he take the Venom drug and Hulk out? Still not sure. I’m still pretty “meh” about Hathaway as Catwoman, but it also doesn’t seem like they are doing more with the character than have her drive the Batcycle and throw a few kicks, so maybe the character doesn’t need to be great in this. Personally, to me anything is an improvement of the Burton Catwoman. Ok, ok, Michelle P is lovely. But c’mon (see Batman Returns below).

So since the late 80’s, several batfilms and batcartoons have come our way. How do I feel about them? Keep in mind, I grew up mostly a Marvel kid, but everybody digs Batman.

Batman – Tim Burtons first of an originally planned trilogy. That he “got” the grim noire of Batman was great. The tone inspired the incredible Batman: The Animated Series. At the time Nicholson’s Joker was iconic; certainly an improvement over Cesar Romero’s goofy loonster. But really, look back at it today and it is very dated. Everything so soundstagey. The great introduction of the Batwing, that gets ridiculously shot down by a handgun. Yeah, there are a few flaws, but it was so much better than:

Batman Returns – Oh man, I had a girlfriend at the time who convinced me this movie was great. We even went to a Halloween party and she was done up as the Poodle Trainer (with stuffed poodle – I was something non-Batman related but forget what). But in a few years I would look back on it and cringe. Talk about looking like it was all on a soundstage. And the villains were lame as hell. The dapper Penguin was turned into a drooling mutant who limped around the sewers in Doc Martins boots and long underwear with a shit stain that seemed to go all the way up to the back of his neck. The weirdest part was he somehow managed to have loyal followers, who themselves seemed quite clean as if they had never been in a sewer until 5 minutes ago. And the action was horrible. A bunch of poodle walkers and guys on stilts terrorize an entire downtown area with juggling torches and stun guns. If you ever wondered how Batman would fight a carnival fire breather, here is your answer. He incinerates them with the retro rockets of his Batmobile. Argh. OK, and also tell me how homeless circus clowns are able to break into the Batmobile and reprogram it in minutes? WTF? I hate this movie, but it was made up for in small part because these two Burton films lightly inspired…

Batman: The Animated Series – Did you ever see one of the really good episodes and realize it would make a great, non-Tim Burton live action movie? Yessir, Paul Dini really got Batman in a way no filmmaker ever would. The network (FOX) obviously told him it needed to be based on the Tim Burton movies. So Dini’s response was to set the action in constant night time, and to have citizens dress like it was the 1940’s. But he also dug deep into DC history and lore, and used his villains RIGHT. The series tried to focus on normal gangsters for a while, but soon they unleashed the super villains and there was no looking back. The single greatest episode had to be “Almost Got Him,” where Bats major villains gather at a bar and talk about how they almost killed him once. At the end Catwoman tried to hook up with him, but fails, uttering her own “Almost got him.” Another favorite of mine, a much later episode, featured Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn brainwashing Bruce Wayne into writing check after check for their downtown shopping spree, which includes the gals doing a “break the 4th wall” fashion show.

Batman Forever – OK, I liked this one. Only two things really bothered me. One, all the neon. Way too much neon. If you bought a hammer at the local hardware in Gotham, there would be neon on it. Kind of stupid. Also, Tommy Lee Jones already looks like he had acid thrown in his face. Two Face needed to be a handsome dude. Hello, Lando Calrissian? Anyway, I though Val Kilmer was a decent Bruce Wayne, and that Jim Carrey was a decent Riddler. I’d have hated to see what Tim Burton might have done with the Riddler. Probably would have had him killing people and making pies out of them.

Batman & Robin – ouch. Nuff said. Way too much to go into here. What you already think about it says all we need to know.

The Batman – this recent animated Batman was OK, but too many things turned me off. Putting Bruce Wayne in high school was weird. Also, The Joker was a bare footed, animalistic whirling dervish. He was much more like DC’s The Creeper character. Overall, pretty lame. I have friends who loved it though.

The Brave & The Bold – oh, yeah! You just cannot go wrong with old school homage’s. You’ll never see a third of the characters they show anywhere else. Anywhere. It’s like the makers pride themselves on dragging out third string DC guys from the 60’s, but it’s great! This is a pre-Neil Adams Batman who has long since gotten over his parents death and just fights for justice rather than revenge. He also cracks a smile once or twice. Nice.

The Nolan films – we know them, we love them. Like a lot of movies I feel they could easily cut 15 or 20 minutes out of them and not miss a beat, but whatever. Like a lot of people, the growly Batman voice is kind of annoying to me, but hey, Batman talks in a growly voice. Still, the Animated series from the 90’s managed a gruff Batman voice that didn’t sound like throat cancer.

So here we are with the third Nolan film. I probably won’t see it until my Sci Fi Academy screening which sometimes takes a few weeks. Have you seen it? What do you think?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The many Wonders of Abstract Hit Pointism/Hit Points in Film

This last week, out of the blue, the group got a new female player (I’ll call her “J”). She’s in her early 20’s, very cute, and often entertainingly energetic in a way younger gamer grrls often are. Session-wise, a rarin’ to go and get on with the game type attitude I wish the long time players would have more of. After playing with pretty much the exact same folk for a handful of years now, it was sort of a refreshing sea breeze for me. Now, don’t claim I am sexist, because last year Big Ben had an old gamer buddy visiting in town and he joined one of our KOTOR sessions, and I loved the energy a new player brought to the group even then (OK, but maybe a little less then).

I guess I could write an entire post about “J,” and her first game with us, but what I wanted to get around to was the fact that her first game with us was my classic Runequest game. Now, “J” is a 3rd edition D&D player. No, really, she is young but has the type of “this or that crazy thing happened to my character in a game” war stories us older guys usually joke about. But like I said, she was a goer, and dove right into a game she had never even heard of before.

What probably stood out in her mind as the biggest difference between RQ and D&D was the whole hit point thing. Sure Runequest has hit points similar to D&D. But whereas in D&D you go up significantly in HP as you level, in RQ there are no levels, and your hit points will remain constant. Worse, each body part has a fraction of the full hit points. If an arm or leg takes enough damage, it will be destroyed. Same for head and torso. So bottom line you have a fair chance to be killed or crippled outright from a blow by even the most unskilled warrior if they got past your defenses.

Now here’s D&D with that famously abstract hit point system. Two guys the same size and mass could have insanely different hit points. Like, farmer boy has 2, and 10th level fighter boy has 90. The disparity is seen most when cross referenced with small bladed weapons that do a D4 or a D6 in damage. The farmer’s son is going to probably go down in one hit, while the fighter laughs as, several hits later, he is still floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee in the fight.

This was merrily explained in early D&D as a combo meal of realities. Lots of the HP is luck. When somebody attacks you and hits (lets not get into the luck part of getting hit or not in an attack in the first place), the first furtive points they ding you down are mostly the “luck of the gods,” or the Irish, or whatever. You are “using up” some of that divine protection as you go. OK, the next veil beyond that abstraction is one of exhaustion. Here, some of the hit points are related to combat fatigue. You duck this blow here, backflip over another blow there. You are using up some of your combat “chutzpa” here. Yeah, like me you probably think that is a pretty small percentage. So after those first two abstractions, we get to what is real. The meaty flesh. Eventually you are out of luck and stamina for the fight, and now it is your flesh getting seriously blasted. The fighter with 90 HP is down to around 25 points or less when we start seeing real blood. The next blow could put the big guy down for the count.

Here’s a quick comment from an online forum on this very subject:

characters go from 'mortally wounded' to capable of fighting again within a week, but then the stronger and tougher they are, the longer it takes them to make a full recovery

Yeah, another weakness in the system is that more potent PC’s take longer to heal than lesser HP folk when they are taken down to low numbers. But again, really, a lot of that is luck and combat savvy building back up.
I've always looked at it sort of cinematically, which I think is actually perfect for old school D&D. I like the combo of luck, survival instincts, and good old meaty frame to explain the many "wonders" of abstract hit pointism. And you see this in action films.

Indy Jones tends to take a beating that would have most other people in traction at least. When he came out of the Temple of Doom and before the fight on the bridge, he had taken dozens of punches (most to the face), fought off a bunch of guys with spears, got hit by rocks, burned by a torch, and sliced with a dagger. Then proceeded to dodge arrows and fight a big Alistair Crowley looking guy on a broken bridge. He comes out of it laughing and dancing and getting jiggy with that Willy chick in the end. No worries. And what about Stallone characters? In First Blood Rambo gets roughed up and dry shaved by “The Man,” gets shot, falls from 100’ onto rocks, gets exploded by a rocket launcher, attacked by rats, and goes on to blow up a town and machine gun a fat sheriff. Never mind what he goes through in Rambo 2, or Rocky 4 for that matter.

What those dudes all have in common are survival friendly hit point totals. Probably in the 80 range. In the abstract sense, you even see Cap’n Kirk and his fellow upper management friends’ dance around godlike beings and energy aliens, while lesser hit point dudes in red shirts get vaporized in all sorts of horrible ways. There are heavy luck factors making up those hit points.

Sure, you can look at the more mortal, sectioned hit points of a game like Runequest as a sort of more realistic cinematic type thing (like in 300, or a Scorseses film), but nothing lends itself to “how the hell did he live through all that shit” Hollywood heroics like good old massive D&D hit points.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

That new Arcade Smell

I’m sure that like me you occasionally catch the whiff of some smell that takes you back to some bygone era. Maybe something reminds you of a favorite dish you loved as a kid, or perhaps you detect the scent of some perfume or incense that reminds you of a teenage girlfriends bedroom. Such a little thing can take you right back there, and it is sometimes profound.

Today when I came back to the office after a lunch break, I hit the small room in the parking basement to catch the elevator. I’ve been down there a million times, and it is usually pretty odorless, unless one of the asshole chain smokers from the internet company on the 2nd floor had just passed through after a ciggy break.

But today I got hit by a smell as soon as I entered, and as I waited the 30 seconds or so for the elevator, I realized that this odor was exactly like the one I remember from arcades in the 80’s and early 90’s. I don’t know if it was new carpet, or just some kind of cleaning that creates it, but this just popped memories into my brain that was decades old.

Man, arcades. As a teen and in my early 20’s, my friends and I spent a lot of time in them. Often one of us would be playing Berzerk or Pacman, and the others crowded around would start singing some song from our then favorite film, the Heavy Metal movie. There you were trying to navigate around enemies coming at you from all directions, while your ears were assaulted by Cheap Trick – “don’t be afraid to drive the nail in the wood, or drink the bottle it ta-tastes so goo-ood. You go the distance, you never thought that you could…”

In later teen years we would go more often with girlfriends, but that was never quite the experience you had with your pals. With your gal you had to play Burger Time or Q-Bert or some other lameass game (OK, I kind of liked them). Hell, when you were with the girl you didn’t even skateboard to the place. You fucking drove there. Talk about the end of childhood.

I don’t really remember that last true arcade I regularly went to. I think sometime in the early 90’s there was one near Century City, but that was the last classic, carpeted arcade I remember. Oh, I’m sure Disneyland or some other place I never go in adulthood might have something similar, but I doubt it. I’m thinking about the common, carpeted, arcades that were one big room in a building that was formerly probably a furniture store or some such.

In the late 90’s during one unemployed summer, I’d give myself a 5 dollar limit and cruise down to the Santa Monica pier arcade (pictured above). It sure wasn’t carpeted, and it smelled more like Santa Monica bay (a fishy, tar smell at that time – it’s less polluted nowadays) mixed with hobo power B.O. But it was my last regularly visited arcade. It’s still there, but the pier is just too touristy now. I played a ton of House of the Dead that summer. I loved that game, and I was no fan of stand up shooters. Too bad Uwe Boll fucked up the movie version, which should have been a no-brainer (agents in suits blasting their way into an undead hell house. What’s so hard about that?).

My last game there was probably around 2001 or so. I stopped in and House of the Dead was gone. So I poured a few quarters into the current Street Fighter game. Eventually some Mexican dude came out of nowhere, dropped a quarter in, and proceeded to beat my unskilled warriors ass up and down the screen. I don’t know the protocol on “join in” games, but I was kind of irked. I was new to the game, and wanted practice. I think I said something derogatory, along the lines of “chupa mi pinche verga cabron,” and just walked away, leaving poor Guile or whoever to be helplessly massacred by Juan-Carlos. In retrospect, I should have tried to get some tips from the guy for my trouble. But I guess at that point I missed my 80’s arcade fun, with old teenage pal “Doc” Winslow shouting a Blue Oyster Cult song into the side of my head while I tried to operate Dirk The Daring.

Now, I love my consoles. I’m really digging Fallout 3, and so far have finished the game, but am still exploring via the Broken Steel DLC. But no arcade smell at home. Just the acrid smell emanating from a nearby empty beer bottle, and the whiff of shame for spending way too much time alone with that game.

“Reach out and take it

Reach out and ta-ta-ta take it

Reach out and take it, aw yeah!”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

“The Player Character in the Backpack” or “Dumbass ways to explain a PC absence”

For those of us with a regular gaming group, one of our common problems is a player having to miss a session. What are you going to do? We have lives outside gaming unfortunately what with jobs, family, and non-gaming friends (Superlotto tonight – c’mon lucky numbers make me a full time gamer) taking up our time.

When we were kids, we didn’t really worry too much about why Varn the Vicarious was suddenly not present in the dungeon when we continued an ongoing crawl. Back then our go-to fix for this was teleportation. You teleported out of the dungeon. When you returned you teleported back. Sometimes this even happens in the middle of a session. Sometimes we said they teleported back to town. Sometimes to just outside the dungeon with the pack animals. Sometimes we didn’t even say where the hell they fucked-off to, and what power or entity caused them to do so. Needless to say at 14 we did not really give a rat’s patoot why this happened, because we were too busy busting Gnoll heads and getting poisoned by treasure chests. We did not care about verisimilitude. We didn’t even know what that was.

As we got older our role play become more sophisticated. Not that we became story tellers, but it suddenly mattered why your character was not present during important play. This is one reason I like to have a couple of campaigns of different genres going on. Sometimes a particular character just has to be there for one reason or another, and if you have other options you can wait for that scenario when the important character can be present. But in a pinch and the PC is not that needed, “personal business” fit the bill for why they are not there.

It works in fiction. Character come and go willy nilly. In The Hobbit and LOTR the wizard Gandalf seemed to make a career out of constantly fucking off on some personal errand, even when you needed him. It works especially good for mysterious types. Wizards, thieves, rangers, druids – these guys usually have their own agendas beyond the party. Even in the midst of level 4 of Deathtrap Dungeon, it is conceivable that these mystery men could come and go and not even feel the need to explain. Even a plain fighter can have an important side thing to do. Maybe a date with some red headed doxy he met at the 2nd level dwarf tavern.

“I must away for awhile, I shall return my comrades in arms!” they shout (or something less lame), as they flourish their cape into the air and march off into the darkness.
OK, it is not easy, and you of course still have to do a little shrugging and whatareyagonnado?-ing, but you do your best and move on.

But I was shocked recently to read a forum post about how to explain character absences. Seems a no-brainer. These guys all being adults (some quite old), I figured they had all probably evolved my “personal business” procedure when their players decided they would rather play Skyrim than get together for D&D. But to my shock and awe, people still seemed to use the childhood method of “he teleported out of the dungeon.”

Look, I know it’s all “beer and pretzels gaming” and all that, but I feel to avoid a board game mentality you need that role play and a little bit of gravitas. I mean, these guys even had “explanations” for the teleporting, like unlimited but limited (?) teleport scrolls, or it was a limited use ability the dungeon grants to you when needed (because shit, we all know dungeons are just like tough love soccer coaches who want you to succeed in the end). One guy even had the most unique reason for absence ever explained on this planet. The party had the ability to shrink a character down to an inch in height, paralyzed and invincible, so the party could shove that character of a missing player into a backpack and keep him safe as the crawl continues. Jeez. Even in a high magic world, that seems pretty Ronald McDonaldland to me. That breaking sound you hear is the shattering of any sense of disbelief.

No need for all that weirdo, gravitas-killing super magic to explain an absence. “Personal business” ain’t perfect, but at least it doesn’t sound like something my dumbass childhood self would use.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Does Gygax get too much credit?

I'm sure this has been discussed in the OSR plenty already, but I'm actually not all that well versed on the subect of Gygax and Arenson's contribution distribution. It sounds to me like, more or less, it is like a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby situation fron Marvel's Comics silver age. Jack did a lot of hard work on characters that would become billion dollar icons, but Stan was the "Funky Flashman" charismatic face of the company. Face front, true believers!

In this article, the Gygax and Arneson history gets a small, but biting, entry in an article about getting too much credit for things.Cracked is awesome in general, but seeing D&D make a significant appearance on one of the sites articles really got me jacked. Here's the meat of it if you don't feel like looking at it (although with lines like "...Gary was more like the weird uncle who lived in the garage and clogged the toilet" you might want to check it out). If this is all true, the Dave created everything I love about the game except the part about using dice.

Who Actually Deserves the Credit:

During a nerd side quest, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax had an epic random encounter when they chanced to meet at Gen Con in 1969. Gygax was working on something called Chainmail, which was a war simulator only a bit more complicated than the average board game. With Arneson's influence, Chainmail was adapted to include:

- Exploring dungeons

- Using a neutral judge/dungeon master

- Conversations with imaginary characters (NPCs) to develop the storyline

- Hit points

- Experience points

- The concept of role-playing an individual character rather than just rolling dice

So, basically, he put the "R" in RPG.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Runequest: Dragon’s Pass is so Passe

So far so good with my old school Dragon’s Pass Runequest campaign. I think the players are liking it, despite not everybody really investing a ton of interest in the setting (my fascination with Glorantha since childhood being my main reason for running this now) or the whole rune concepts. Only a couple of the characters have a god association at this point. I think that the main appeal so far is the down and dirty nature of the combat (one lucky hit can kill anybody) and it’s often visceral outcomes, and the fact that it is just such a different system than D&D. I’m glad it’s fun, although it is still a tad early to see if it will have the surprising wild popularity of my on-hiatus Star Wars KOTOR campaign. Of anything non-D&D I have done with this group, that seems to have had the most appeal to them, despite nobody in the group being overly fond of Star Wars. Even Big Ben has expressed interest in a SW campaign of his own (though sadly he seems to want to do it near the movie timeline).

Anyway, I’m jazzed to finally be doing some classic Glorantha, and I can foresee running it for several more sessions before needing to get back on that Star Wars track. One of the interesting things I’ve found online is how many people have played RQ for decades almost non-stop. To many of these people, the thought of somebody doing the “old setting” in Dragons Pass seems almost quaint. They are like old warriors “Ah, I remember Dragons Pass and Prax from the days of my youth. Sometimes I long for those humble and basic places.” You see, they have long since moved beyond the very basic locations of Dragons Pass or Prax. They have had campaigns where the braving of Duck Tower and Snake Pipe Hollow are distant memories. Their adventures have taken them to Griffon Mountain and beyond deep into the Lunar Empire, and off across the sea to other continents. You see, while Dragons Pass is sort of a Scotland/Finland amalgam, and Prax Mesopotamian in nature, other parts of Glorantha that are akin to Pirate genre, Medieval England, Africa, and Asia have long since awaited exploring, and these old RQ fanatics have explored them all. I get bits and pieces of info from my communications online about these great campaigns, but just not enough.

Will I run enough Runequest to let my players explore beyond the basic setting? Who knows. But I did nab a pdf of Griffon Mountain today. That’ll get saved on a flash drive in the hopes that in a year or two, we’ll still have enough Runequest interest to move beyond the humble hills of DP and the arid plains of Prax.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gringle & The Pawnshop Baboon Assault!

I’m not one of those DM’s who obsess on taking photos of the mini’s on the table during game night, and I have at least one player who will laugh at me for doing so, but it was necessary just this one time…

We were doing a Baboon (in RQ intelligent simians) assault on that famous Pawnshop in the village know far and wide for its apple orchards. Broker and Issaries Runelord Gringle hired the young characters to protect the shop while he and his duck assistant Quackjohn are away for the night. This gave players a nice tour of one of the most secretive houses in Sartar. They had full access as they awaited the baboon attack. Indeed they finally did, eventually breaking through the roof and into one of the first story storage rooms. In the upper part of the map you can see a couple of characters and four baboons tangled in the throes of mortal combat. Down below, in the little Issaries chapel next to the the kitchen, Terry’s character Rowan observes a big centaur breaking down the door from the kitchen, as a couple of little crested Dragonnewts rush into the room with bows at the ready. Who are these strange invaders and why are they attacking the shop at the same time as the baboons (no spoilers please)?

So anyway, we had to stop just as things were getting really interesting. We’ll continue next week. As you can see, the map is kind of a mess because I only had a couple of minutes to draw it out. Fake. I actually did it a week ahead of time, and it’s still kind of sloppy (although I don’t think the players minded). I just can’t draw a straight line. Before we got cleaned up for the night, I snapped this pic to help us place the minis and take up the combat from that moment in time next week.

I don’t mind saying so, but I think we are having some fun with Runequest.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cup runneth over - but not Full

Look at that great action scene from Herioc Comics in the pic above. Isn't it just bugnuts amazing? A blonde babe in black leathers, standing in a T-Rex's mouth, smacking a gorilla in a space suit with a great white, as Ed Wood-looking flying saucers float about.

Reminds me so much of my old Champions campaigns. No, really. Dinosaur rampages during unusual great white shark migration as alien apes attack a major city. And hot super babes? Oh, you bet. Over the decades my female players would not always have beautiful characters in their D&D, but in Champions they were all Baywatch circa 1996. Ah, the good old days.

But shit, I'm running an old school Gloranthan Runequest campaign and a Call of Cthulhu campaign at the same time. I posted over the years about how I would really love to do these campaigns, and here I am now doing them. I have my players loving my currently hiatused KOTOR campaign, and they also often ask about their high level characters in my 1st ed. Ad&D campaign (been more than a year now I think for that). So why do I pine for Champions? Why do I wish I could run this crunchy system and my awesome futuristic comic books setting?

Because I am a gamer, and true gamers are never satisfied. There are so many games to run (including multiple settings and time periods over several game systems, such as CoC for Ancient Rome and Victorean London), I'll never get to them all. I know I should be happy with what I am having fun with at the moment, and I really do. But the daydreaming man, the daydreaming. It'll get you every time.
A little Chivalry and Sorcery, anyone?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Were the Steading Giants Just a Family Having Dinner?

You know, since James over at Grognardia switched to his new comments format, I have not been able to leave a comment (forcing me to comment here about things I see there. That’s right, ToD has become a Grognardia commentary blog).

It’s a blessing in disguise really, because my comments online sometimes get me into trouble. I’m a nice guy, but when it comes to some of the things said on forums and comments sections (I really do need to stay away from these “think tanks”) I often react snarkily when presented with a comment that seems to come from an unfathomable place. It’s one of the reasons I’m doubling my efforts to stay away from most of them. But I do still read Grognardia, and James latest post is about the perennial fave, the Giants series. I’ve been planning to use at least part of it for the occasional high level 1st edition game (my last campaign, Night Below, left off with PC’s around 9th level) in the future, so have been revisiting it. I love the Hill Giant Steading especially. But one comment in the comments section really got my goat. Here it is in part:

“…Have to say I don't care for the G series or for any of the tournament style modules published around the same time. In G1 you have a bunch of giant sitting around eating dinner and the PCs have to break in and murder them all. It's more of an assassination mission than any heroic quest I wanted to be involved in (even as a 13 year old). Maybe that's because I view giants and just big people rather than monsters that need to be slain like manticores or carrion crawlers…”

WTF? To be fair, it was mentioned clearly (not sure of the exact wording in the module, because I don’t have it at work) that these giants were using a base of operations (the steading) to raise hell in the peaceful farmlands and villages. Stomping old ladies and drop- kicking household pets into orbit. That dinner they are eating is from the larders of destroyed farmhouses and family dwellings. And the orcs and ogres were probably eating the families from those villages.

It's not murder. It's war. Saying the giants were slavers, kidnappers, and murderers that needed to be dealt with (and what are you going to do, handcuff them all and put them in jail?) is about right. Plus it turns out that the giants are involved in a major conspiracy and secret war of an underground race of cruel and evil beings. I'd say the characters who attack the joint are pretty heroic. Bosh on this "leave the giants alone at dinner time" nonsense. You get in there with your high level characters and take it to the grill of those big Em Effers.

When I discovered the online gamer community a few short years ago, I noticed (especially in places like a certain type of gamer who has a sort of “new age” attitude about monsters. A sort of orc-hugging, soft-mother view of non-humans. I’m not heartless, and can understand that is the type of D&D they want to play, and that’s fine. I had a girlfriend when I was a teen who was the daughter of hippy parents. She loved to play D&D, but once actually broke into quiet tears over all the monster slaying involved. But for me, most monsters are not misunderstood. They want to kill you, eat your children, and steal your stuff. Orcs and Ogres are pricks! And those damn giants in the steading deserve the beating of their lives for their atrocities. No regrets!

Monday, April 2, 2012

I Hated Stories in my Game Mags

“…Your humming has summoned up a pair of mud ghouls, Lute!”

Over at Grognardia today James mentions some pulp fantasy fiction in Dragon Magazine back in the day. I had an immediate thought I wanted to comment upon there, but rather than lay a negative on his blog, I will do it here where it belongs.

I HATED that shit in my magazines. Short stories featuring some fighter or barbarian or thief or another. The Dragon, White Dwarf, The Dungeoneer…whatever, I hated it. They could have been the greatest stories ever told for all I knew. I didn’t care, I rarely read more than a few paragraphs before turning away to look at the Anti-Paladin article or whatever for the thousandth time. I didn’t care if they were good; if I wanted to read fiction I would get a book or Argosy Magazine or something.

Tables, charts, rules clarifications, character class and alignment articles, and even comics. These were fun to read and you would read the same entries again and again, and a thousand times again. But the stories. Ugh. Who read these more than once?

I more or less stopped buying game mags by the late 80’s, but I did pick up the occasional Dungeon magazine in the late 90’s, and they seemed blissfully free of amateur fiction. I hope that is still the case today, especially if I get a hankering to buy one.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chaugner Faugn and the Tcho Tcho People

The party had gone to the a secluded portion of the New Jersey Pine Barrens in search of a missing anthropology professor and one of his students. The prof, from New York University, was looking into tales of the existence of a displaced tribe of Tcho Tcho people (an especially nasty cannibal tribe from Burma) near a small ghost town originally founded by German immigrants who for one reason or another imported the Tcho Tchos. Some decades ago the Rosens died out, but rumors say some of the Tcho Tcho’s still exist.

The party spent the first night in a mostly intact barn, looking over some weathered notes the professor had left behind. In the later hours the Tcho Tcho chanted from beyond the treeline, and threw rocks at the barn. Next morn, the group discovered a tunnel leading down in the ruins of the old house, and descended to find a short maze, and eventually some kind of worship chamber filled with human bones, and huge statue of the Tcho Tcho diety Chaugner Faugn. Also there was a prone figure, and it was alive! It turned out to be the student assistant of the professor, now emaciated and his face mutated. His nose had become long and probiscan like an elephants, and his ears were fanning out in mockery of an elephants ears. All sure signs of complete domination of Chaugner. He begged to be killed, lest night falls and he comes for them to kill them like he did the professor. The party would have none of it (all mostly good souls), and decided to carry him out and eventually to a hospital.

And here is where all Call of Cthulhu characters who carry big guns try to prove they have balls. As the others were leaving, Roland Smythe, the big game hunter, took a parting shot at the big statue with his elephant gun. To his shock, it turned instantly into a living, roaring Chaugner Faugn, and loped off its base to chase Smythe. The group, terrified and party split up, plunged into the small maze area while Chaugner battered around trying to seek them out.

Luck rolls and intelligence saved the day for them, as they escaped the underground tunnels into daylight. But Tcho Tchos armed with spears and bone clubs (and a couple of old swords) waited, with the masked and robed shaman. The party managed to fight their way out of the village area with only modest wounds, and hiked the 5 miles to the main road and escaped.

All that leaving out much of the detail, but suffice it to say it was a great session. We have already had a couple of games so far, but this is the one I think really blew the players away and got them honest to god terrified during the underground incident, with the added bonus of a thrilling fight with cannibals, and a hectic escape. The players really seemed to have a great time with this session, and I think I have them hooked.

This happened in the early 90’s with one of my old long running groups. My regular players hemmed and hawed when I suggested a 1920’s horror game (I don’t tend to get players with a lot of experience with HP Lovecraft), but within two or three sessions are just eating it up. So I was confident the current gang would love it as well. Man, that’s the power of a good Call of Cthulhu session.

As I wanted to get back to a little more Runequest (sans Strike Rank), I’m thinking this Chaugner Faugn encounter would hold the group over so I can get back into a little Glorantha goodness. Then back to CoC, and we’ll see what horrors that nimrod with the elephant gun brings down upon them next. Smythe!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dive bars…always with the dive bars…

It’s my basic gaming staple. Bars. Usually divey ones.

Whether it’s D&D (ok, those are “inns” and “taverns”), my futuristic Champions setting, Star Wars, or Call of Cthulhu, I always play the dive bar card. I’m not sure I ever did it with post apocalypse stuff like Gamma World, but if you ever saw Book of Eli with Denzel Washington, then you know those are great places for encounters/fights as well. I know from firsthand experience, because in the 90’s, especially when I was into darts for extended periods, I spent a decent amount of time in them.

It’s my go-to setting, because I can always get characters to spend time there. Often an entire session if I want. Have an interesting guy behind the bar, some mixed-economy patrons (there are always “yuppie” types who like to go slumming at dive bars), some ladies of ill-repute, some informer types, low-level criminals, and you have a nice mix of NPC’s to play with. Have a table or two with some open gambling, and frost the cake with fist-fight betting (cage matches or otherwise) and you got yourself a good time.

Players can chat to a lady of choice, get in on the gambling, or if they are the rugged type get involved in some nice punch-up play for fun and profit. My current group really loves my bar settings, and what was maybe going to be a very brief encounter often turns into the better part of the night.

Case in point: In the last Call of Cthulhu game, the characters needed to go to a lowbrow Hudson Bay dockside bar to find a guy who could lead them to a Ghost Town in the New Jersey Pine Barrens they needed to investigate. So after dealing with an attack from multiple byakhees (they have been stalked by a Chinese Business man since NYE who can summon them with an ancient whistle), they went into the bar for the usual bar fun.

Of course there was some fist fighting going on. It didn’t seem like any characters were going to get involved in it this time, until the young Turkish antique dealer grabbed Wing Kong, the young Chinese cook/martial artist, by the arm and sort of forced him into it. She is a brash young Turk, that girl is. Anyway, in the ring against “Slippery Pete,” Wing, who’s English is not so good, just dodged around confused while the guy threw punches. Wing Kong is the best HTH fighter in the group, and it was refreshing to me that he didn’t want to fight unnecessarily. But Andy’s old business man/’semi-hobo Michael (sort of an aged Clint Eastwood type) got up on the small dais and pushed Wing out of the way to take on Pete himself. After a devastating head butt and a good right hook from Pete, poor Michael was laid flat on the ground (this seems to happen pretty much every game to the poor old guy). Wing did not like that, and he got up to give Pete a thrashing with his five fingers of death (our young female Turk even tried to get a punch in). By the end of the evening, a group of international sailors were buying Wing drinks, and even Slippery Pete, black eyed and bruised, joined the characters at the bar.

I didn’t intend for the group to spend the better part of the game there, but these dive bar encounters just seem to have a mind of their own.

We have almost an hour left of the game, so we did manage to get them to the Pine Barrens, and a little bit of investigation into the presence of some Tcho Tcho people there. More on that, and a Mythos deity, next game.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cthulhu's Brother

I'm currently reading the Brian Lumley book The Clock of Dreams, one of the Titus Crow stories set in the Mythos.

Lumley's stuff is from the "Derleth School" of Cthulhu Mythos adventuring. That is to say, Lumley took to August Derleth's imposing of a Christian-like "good vs. evil" mentality upon the Elder Gods and The Great Old Ones. Die-hard fans of Lovecraft took exception to much of what Derleth did, including such minutea as his coining the phrase "Cthulhu Mythos (Lovecraft himself used the term "Yog-Sothothery"), but mostly for his creation of heroes who could take it to the grill of Lovecraftian monsters. They are not milquetoast academics who faint at the smell of a fart like most of Lovecrafts heroes. Guys like Crow, though outmatched, fight back against the slimey gods of the Mythos. Lumley said it best here:

I have trouble relating to people who faint at the hint of a bad smell. A meep or glibber doesn't cut it with me. (I love meeps and glibbers, don't get me wrong, but I go looking for what made them!) That's the main difference between my stories...and HPL's. My guys fight back. Also, they like to have a laugh along the way.

I have to admit that this is my favored type of character for Call of Cthulhu play, mostly because I prefer long campaigns. BTB CoC is not meant for long campaigns

Still, I take exception to the somewhat corney creation of entities such as Kthanid (pictured above), a brother of Cthulhu who is his twin, except for his crystal eyes. He is the "good" to Cthulhu's "evil," which I just find way to simplistic and far too Christian in concept. In The Clock of Dreams his is a helpful figure, and I have to admit I think a helpful monster should be pretty rare in The Mythos, no matter what flavor. And c'mon, a helpful brother of Cthulhu is just plain lame.

For my Cthulhu games, I like to find a kind of balance to the hopeless universe of Lovecraft. Sure, you may find a powerful friend here and there, but really, you need a mostly hopeless and terrifying universe to get the most juice out of this genre.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bumper Crop of Cthulhu minis

I really don’t do a lot of shopping for figures lately. The other year I bought a few cheap batches of great, prepainted plastic minis from Ebay, and there were plenty of fantasy and sci fi ones. And with a nice basic color coat on them, it only took a little extra model work and couple extra colors to make the mini stand out or look like a particular character or NPC. These, and my older metal minis, form the stock in my miniature soup.

But for 1920’s Cthulhu fun, my mini collection is a bit lacking. Sure, I have the odd Mi-Go or Dark Young figure left over from the olden days, but not much in the way of 1920’s humans. Here and there some of my Champions and other modern figures can do in a pinch, but it’s really not enough.

So yesterday, seeing as I was in the Neighborhood for the Queen Mary Scottish Festival, I stopped by The War House in Long Beach. Actually, since I have been competing at these games for years now, I kind of make that Saturday afternoon my yearly pilgrimage to the place. I remembered from the year before that they had some Cthulhu minis, and I was hoping to find a couple of items for characters or NPC’s in the current campaign.

They had Chronoscope, which has a few nice pulp adventure minis. But these are pretty pricey. Not that I can’t afford it, but I really need to justify how much use I will get out of something I buy for gaming. But then I saw that War House still had a nice lot of official Call of Cthulhu figures, but sadly most where monsters and again, I have to justify to myself that I will use a particular mini enough to make it worth it.

Then I spotted this pack of Adventurers. 10 character/NPC types in one package…for 10 bucks! I immediately saw three or four that I liked rolling around in that little see-through plastic bubble, so that was my purchase. I cannot pass up 10 metal minis for that price. I knew I would use a few of them. The photo above from the official web site actually shows less than are actually in the pack, so people online are getting a better deal than they bargained for.

There is a big gamer hunter that might come in handy for a “Most Dangerous Game” type scenario, or for a character. The young female archeologist is perfect a couple of the players characters, and the two or three pith helmet guys will be useful eventually. The cops as well.

OK, so the old librarian lady and the South American native guy might not find much purchase in the game, but ya never know.

I haven’t sat down to paint for many months, so here’s my excuse. Hope my paints haven’t dried out.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Suddenly – Cthulhu

It does feel very sudden. In the last four years of this gaming group’s existence, I have run a long AD&D campaign that took characters from 1st level to close to 10. I did a handful of Metamorphosis Alpha sessions. I timidly started a Star Wars KOTOR campaign that most players quickly fell in love with. I have even managed to get in a couple of sessions of my beloved Champions setting (too long ago now, around 2 years). And with Big Ben regularly running AD&D I have gotten to sit down as a player more than I have since I was a teenager.

But the entire time I have had Call of Cthulhu in the back of my mind. My “big three” games of my adult life have been 1st edition AD&D, Champions, and Call of Cthulhu. These are the games I ran long campaigns for over the years from the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. Full, satisfying, amazing campaigns with these three genres. And seeing as during the latter part of the 90’s we only seemed to be able to get one several hour session in every month or so, I am in sort of a renaissance of gaming. Running and playing almost every week (weeknight) which a few years ago would have been inconceivable to me. But here we are literally rolling in gaming goodness.

This has given me the opportunity to branch out a bit, and that was especially good for me because after a little over two years of AD&D I was ready for a break. With Call of Cthulhu holding a special place in my heart, I could have gotten a campaign underway sooner, but in all honesty I was not sure this was the best group for it. I have Terry, a veteran of those 90’s Cthulhu campaigns (which were often mostly comprised of female players, which would be another difference from the current group), but the likes of Dan Dan the Power Game Man™ might risk it being more farce than fearful. So as recently as a few weeks ago I decided to go with Runequest, but quickly hit a (hopefully temporary) snag because of my dislike for Strike Rank. I decided after game two to shelf that, and go the hell ahead with Cthulhu. With Big Dan overseas for a temporary period, it seemed like a good time to get a session underway before he came along and futilely tried to powergame a Basic Role Playing character.

My last campaign towards the end of the 90’s was set in around 1922 or so, so I decided to have 5 years go by and set the first session on NYE 1927. My catalyst would be my old NPC “Mr. Troy,” a sort of Truman Capote look/sound alike who was a wealthy antiquarian and high society mystic. Mr. Troy featured as a sort of benefactor in my previous campaigns, at one point setting the old characters up in an occult themed antique shop on the newly built Venice Beach Canals (“Venice of America”). At the start of this game, Troy is in New York, and after character set-up I managed to tie most of them in with Mr. Troy so they can be present at his New Years Eve party at a Times Square hotel penthouse.

One character was a female Turkish Antique expert, and another a female dilettante who used her massive trust fund to travel the world and indulge her hobby in archaeology. These two I connected to Mr. Troy, them being hired to both accompany him to the “underworld” private auction where a well-preserved 2000 year old Chinese urn containing the ashes of a X’an Dynasty sorcerer. I spent a few minutes running this auction with the girls in attendance, and got to introduce a rival of sorts for Mr. Troy, “Hong Lo,” a restaurateur and reputed occultist.

One of the male characters was a young Chinese martial artist working in Hong Lo’s restaurant, which incidentally was catering Troy’s party. So that’s how I got Ben’s guy at the party.

Andy ran a 70 year old investment expert named Michael who had taken a bath in the 1893 market crash, and since then has lived frugally off of some minor, safe investments. During some rougher patches he learned to handle himself brawling for survival or profit. I got him invited to the NYE party of Troy’s because he knew Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, heir to the Whitney fortune, business-man, wanna be Bohemian, and invitee to the party and he asked Michael to come along with him and his free-spirit pals.

The Times Square penthouse party was within view of the madness of Times Square on NYE, and within a stone’s throw of the ball-dropping. The party had a Chinese theme, and the female characters, the antique expert and the archeology-loving dilettante, stayed near the displayed ancient urn and acted as both custodians for it and information dispensers. As a band played and the large, eclectic crowd (sort of reflected in the character make up; Chinese food service people, business people, academics, entertainment folk, Bohemians, dilettantes, etc) in the party danced, ate, drank (those wacky Bohemians hissing like vipers as they smoked reefer by the fireplace) and had a good time.

Not long after the time Hong Lo showed up uninvited and unannounced ( still a bit miffed that Troy had outbid him on the private auction of the urn), and with some of his Chinese thugs acting as servers, he had secretly arranged for the urn to be covented in the chaos of the midnight countdown. A gun was pulled, the urn was grabbed for, and a nice pulp action sequence began as the martial artist intervened, and even the girl characters threw some Indy Jones punches during the ensuing brawl. It was actually a pretty enjoyable action scene, and proving that CoC is pretty good for this kind of thing.

Eventually Hong Lo whipped out a special magic whistle that could summon Byakhee, and as he blew it an loud, eerie Byakhee cry brought forth one of the creatures from the air of the wintery New York evening sky. As drunken party goers screamed and ducked in fear, the Byakhee rages around the room, and a couple of the characters engaged Hong Lo (Andy’s old dude going cane-to-cane combat when Hong Lo revealed his sword cane).

First sanity loss of the game, with Terry’s dilettante taking the worst san hit for 5 whopping points. She went catatonic for a couple rounds, as Big Ben’s kung-fu cook took it to the Byakhee’s grill. His well placed kicks hurt the creature pretty bad (I threw one of the Mythos’ few harm able creatures at them for this first game), and one of Mr. Troy’s armed assistants shot it down.

So 1927 passed by with a bang, and a successful session was in the bag. I was really happy with it. In past years my D&D players would hem and haw when I suggested something like Cthulhu, but they would soon be requesting it over D&D after they saw how fun it was. I think my current group could well feel the same. I’m really looking forward to more of this!