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.