Thursday, August 13, 2009

Running games in pain

Last Thursday I crashed my mountain bike and took a bad fall. I hit the concrete like a sack of bricks. Nothing seemed to be broken, but I had bashed my forehead, tore most of the skin off my right knee in addition to bashing it, bruised my hip bone, pulled a groin muscle (haven’t done that since high school football), and badly sprained (or worse, seeing a doctor finally today) the fingers on my left hand to the point that a week later I still can’t make a fist.

I had a Star Wars Saga KOTOR game to run on the following Sunday in Hollywood (my second game for this group of strangers that asked me to run it). Even with a broken leg I could have made the game, but my biggest worry was the nausea that often came to me when I popped pain pills (like a real man/dumbass I was refusing to go to a doctor at the time, so I bummed some Vicodin off a family member). So my biggest worry was getting sick and having to end the game early.

But I went for it, ran the game, and luckily did not get sick. But the pain of the various injuries made things a little difficult. For one thing, I liked to GM mostly standing up. Keeps me energetic and also makes more room at the table. Well, that was not an option. I had to pretty much sit for the 5 hours. Also, I’m fairly expressive with my hands, and I kept punching that busted up left hand and smacking it on the table. Ouch.

Last night I had my Wed night AD&D 1st ed. game, but luckily that groin pull and hip were much better, and I managed to stand the entire 3 hours as usual.

This was, in my best recollection, the most injured I have been and run a game in all my 30 years of it. So I was wondering: have you ever GM’d while badly injured? How did you cope? And if you did it with a gunshot or blade wound, I REALLY want to hear about it.

Ah well, off to the doc within the hour to see about these fingers that don’t seem to be getting better. Hope it ain’t nerve damage…

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Way too many D6's!

I’m sure everyone who reads this who has gamed for many years has a ton of D6’s. They are the most common of the die, and us gamers tend to bleed off the dice from board games like Monopoly into our RPG dice collection as time goes by.

Towards the end of my 90’s campaigns, I was running a lot of Champions in addition to my AD&D and Cthulhu games. As a matter of fact, I think the very last game I ran before my several-year semi-retirement was in 2000, and it was Champions.

Champions uses D6’s for damage. Sometimes LOTS of D6’s. If you have somebody like Galactus show up, you can bet your ass you will be a living black hole, gathering up every single D6 you and your players can possibly muster from dice bags and backpack pouches. A dice roll including upwards of 50 dice was not out of the question when the big boys were playing on the board (although I have to admit, I usually preferred the street level games with more down-to-earth heroes and a lot less D6 rolling).

So for several years after that, my dice bag, a big sock really, sat with some D20’s, D4’s, D8’s etc and a big honking shit load of D6’s. Probably around 60 of them in there.

No big deal really, but when I started a new AD&D campaign last year, I just toted along the same bag with all the same dice in it. So each game, when I needed to roll a D20 or what-not, I had to grabby grab and hope I got lucky, or pour alllllllll those dice out on the table and sort through for what I needed. This pain in the ass continued on into this year, and even into a Star Wars KOTOR game I am running for another group. Players just sat there with mouth agape as I yanked out handfuls of D6 hoping to find a 20 amongst them. Often after a few moments a disgusted player would toss his D20 at me “use this, dude.”

Why didn’t I just eliminate all but 5 or 6 of them (let’s face it, for D&D you don’t really need more than 4 or 5 D6 max)? Well, when I had some kobolds attack the other month, and ran out of goblin-size miniatures, those D6’s came in damn handy to represent the little bastards. Not only that, I had them with 3-6 hit points, and you can actually face-up the dice with the appropriate number of points, and if the thing gets hit and lives, you just turn it to the number of hit points it has left! Genius!

Still, I guess it would behoove me to maybe at least put the 6’s in their own bag. But somehow, in some twisted way, I think I am getting used to having a gagillion D6’s in the bag. Let’s face it, as soon as I don’t have them I might need them for something. Maybe Tiamet will show up and blast the party with 50 dice worth of breath weapon. It could happen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The elusive all-Tavern game

All DM’s rely heavily on the inns and taverns of their world. These are iconic places where, whether it is in-game time or in-between game time, characters ultimately spend more of their life in these places than anywhere else.

If I had to guess, I’d say that 3 out of 4 of my campaigns from around 1978-1990 began with a bunch of characters who didn’t know each other (actually, I had a habit of having at least a couple of PC’s meet on the road to the tavern, just so there is some role-play back n’ forth right off the bat) hanging out in the boozer when some wizard/cleric/nobleman tripped in with a hammer, nail, and poster advertising for a group of stalwarts to go crawling into the local dungeon jobber for one reason or another.

While these public houses are great places to get adventuring gigs, info, and entertainment, they rarely take up large amounts of actual play time. They are usually just places that keep characters from having to hang out in the street or market squares in between dungeon delves. If things are going slow in the game and the characters are listlessly mooning around the beer hall, you can always have a gang of rakish rogues or barbarians march in as fist-fodder to pass some time. Doesn’t matter if it is some fancy uptown establishment, or some half-orc shit hole, a nice dust-up always gets the juices flowing. I almost can never resist creating a bar fight (it doesn’t help that in my younger, more aggro days I got involved in more than a couple of fights at dive bars here in Venice Beach and other places).

I always wanted to run an entire game set in a tavern. Characters drinking, brawling, wenching, gambling, etc. Recently I played a video game called Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and in your first levels you are hanging out at an Inn that is haunted by an elvish girl’s ghost, who sings a melancholy tune as you drink your ale and chat to the locals. Eventually you get a job clearing out the rats from the basements, and then deeper below where undead stalk around in the catacombs beneath the establishment. It’s great fun and easy to pull off in a low level game, but it doesn’t really count as a “Tavern Game.”

What I always wanted to see was characters mostly taking it easy, having fun on their time off. Play some cards or dice, chat to the lassies, have a brawl or two. An entire game of just hanging out. But in the past it doesn’t seem to take long for players to get antsy about moving on to big fights and big treasure. I mean, you cannot just force them to play out their roles in a tavern for several hours. A lot of it just seems to depend on their mood. If they have been involved in a lot of violent, life or death combat, it seems to make it easier to get them to take it easy and do some character-developing role-play.

So finally in the last game it just sort of happened. The party is still in a large town on the souther frontier. Having just fought wererats and a gnomish automaton below the town, and an alleyway encounter with the drow party from the previous games, the players decided they wanted to hit the big dive bar for a bit of a rest from the mayhem. So we started the game with them traipsing off to Silvio’s.

I’ve used Silvio’s in games of years past. Formerly a violent den of scum and villainy where a party once attacked it to rescues a child held hostage by gangsters, the place was now run by Silvio’s son, who has made attempts to clean the place up a tad. No longer involved in rackets and gangs, Silvio Jr. just wants to make legit money. So the Tavern now had better booze and food, fair card and dice games (and rat roulette), a small stage for bards, and a cage fighting hall downstairs in the basement.

It was the time of the spring festival, and lots of things were happening in town, but the players seemed content to have their characters relax for a bit. I didn’t mind, I just want the players to have fun and sandbox their own evening. So they decided to spend it at Silvio’s (probably prompted and enticed by a flyer I printed out and had a street kid distributing in the game).

Helena the fighter-girl settled down with some rat roulette, while Ormac the gnome and Dell the elvish monk rattled some dice. After jamming with the house musicians a bit, Vaidno the bard picked up on a dark-haired, doe-eyed serving wench who was sending him smiles. But it wasn’t just quiet gambling: Krysantha the female drow fighter/druid with the double scimitars went down to watch the cage fights, and after seeing the mountain of a man “Creature” whipping ass on all takers, she decided to volunteer to take to the cage. All the other characters came down to watch, and hefty bets where laid on Krysantha. With wooden swords Krysantha and Creature wailed on one another, until finally the big man went down like a sack of bricks. Krysantha took on a couple of more fights before striding out of the cage to collect her winnings.

Other characters were waiting in the wings to assist, like the corner handlers in a boxing match . So even though only one character battled, the other PC’s got to be involved, and some went around making bets. Everyone made money. Betting on herself, Krysantha made a few hundred gold pieces.

Helena was the funniest: the young fighter sat herself down at the rat roulette table, and spent a good chunk of the evening making small, one gold piece bets on the rolls. She was so excited to finally get the right rat, and get 3 gold in winnings (after losing around 6). This is a character who had adventured a bit, and had previously earned hundreds. Ah well, maybe she was just happy to make a little cash without having to steal or kill for it.

OK, my Wednesday night games are only around three hours long. I never could have stretched this encounter out to one of my old 6 hour weekend games. Or could I have?

Anyway, that was fun, and the players all want to go back there for an evening before leaving town. I hope this really fun game where not much happened wasn’t a lucky fluke.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The No-Maybe-Yes Method

The guy who first ran D&D for me as a kid pretty much made it all up as he went along. No books, just a couple of dice and some miniatures. You rolled and he said if you hit or not. Maybe another die roll for damage. What was left was pretty much his getting his ya-ya’s out by killing my characters in whatever sick ways he could make up at the time.

So at some point I got rules books and started DM’ing. In those earliest days I winged it as far as reactions and random NPC things relating to character actions. Just like my first DM, I made some things up ( but was a much more player friendly DM).

I think in the earliest days I just rolled a D6 and let 1-3 be “no” and 4-6 be “yes.”

But some guys I knew in the early 80’s turned me on to their two dice “No-Maybe-Yes Method” of making an on-the-spot determination of some random factor.

Roll the two D6, and add them up. Let 2-5 be various levels of “no,” let 6-8 be various levels of “maybe,” and let 9-12 be “yes.”

It’s really mostly for if you need to make a quick determination that is a no through yes, with some maybe’s in-between

So you merely pose a question to the dice then roll them. Suppose you need to know if the farmer has a daughter because the bard in the party is feelin’ romantic. Just ask the dice “does he have any daughters?” No means no. Get a 2-5 and it’s “no.” Get a 7 and “maybe” means you should roll again in this case, and if you get a “no” this time he has no daughter, but if you get a “yes” he has a daughter/daughters but lies and says “no” (he knows all about those big city bards). Roll a 10 in the first place, then he has one. An 11 or 12 could mean two or more daughters.

You can use the method for a quick result anywhere, just pose your question. “Maybe” is always fun because that is when you get to stretch your wing-it muscles a bit. Is there treasure in that cubby hole? A “maybe” could mean yeah, there is some, but there is also a poisonous brown recluse spider hanging out in there as well.

You can modify the roll any way you like, depending on the situation. Does the farmer’s daughter find the bard attractive? If he has a high charisma, add a plus to the roll.

Do you have a No-Maybe-Yes method of your own?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time Passages

Over at Grognardia this week, James M. blogged about keeping track of time in his classic D&D games for Dwimmermount. As James is trying to evoke the earliest form of play, he goes with all the big tropes, from 10 foot poles to hirelings and henchmen. The very much wargame inspired methods of time tracking in OD&D include specific periods of time that it takes to explore a hex in the wilderness, or explore a dungeon level.

I scratch my head when I think about why anyone would need anything but their own perceptions. OK, maybe I am in tune with my long-time gameworld more than many others, but I think anyone can figure out that “OK, it has been a couple of hours so it’s midnight now”. You know, if a thief picks a lock then it probably took just a minute. If he fails and needs a second roll, then have an hour go by. I think that everyone should be able to judge the time passages no sweat, and the only major consideration is how long the players want to set up camp for the night.

Dungeon exploring may be more difficult than land travel. I mean, everyone pretty much knows a man can walk 20-30 miles in a day, and a horse at a steady pace might take you 50-60. But those original editions, again, go the wargame inspired route of things taking specific periods of time. The book might tell you that it takes a half hour to search a 10’ section of wall for a secret door, or that searching a large chamber takes so many hours. But why the need for such precision? I know we ultimately have to know a day goes by so Joe Fighter can get a hit point back (give me a break, most PC’s have fairly cheap access to clerics and potions, so what fighter lays around for two weeks trying to heal those 14 points?). Yawn. Let’s face it, precision is not always fun (why I was not a big wargame fan).

Take it from me, 120 years of player continuity has gone by in my game world. Tracking time is no big deal. Have a calendar, have a few holidays, and you are set. Do it all in your head. Make a slightly imprecise decision. You’ll have more time for the stuff that is really fun!

Let me admit now that I do take time seriously in the game. Having a little bit of perception of it goes a long way in bringing color to your world. You don’t need a chart or a table, you can figure out the basics of “little time,” the day to day activities of the players in your head. If a player complains because it suddenly matters, then retcon things slightly to make up for it. No biggie.

Much to the chagrin of some of my players over the years, I love to have time go by. It seems more real, and it adds a lot of gravitas to your world. In between campaigns, I like characters to be doing something else for a few months here and there. Settle down a bit, open a business. No end game there though, when the call of adventure goes down, they get sucked back in.

I’m notorious for having years go by in my games when a group ends. Whether some of the same people or almost all new, I’ve had maybe 6 or 7 major gaming groups since around 1990. If it has been a year or so since I ran a campaign, I like to have anywhere from 1-3 years go by in the game world. Gives me a sense of cosmic motion. In this new campaign of mine, started several years since my last active gaming period, I went ahead and had five solid years go by. Yep, my game world is getting old (hence, 120 years of character continuity). It just feels like the world has more weight if I do it this way. Hopefully this new group will last a year or two though. I’m not in a hurry to have another fiver go by.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The game that doubled in price overnight

Earlier this year when I agreed to do A Knights of the Old Republic game in the Star Wars Saga game, I picked up the core rules, and of course the KOTOR campaign guide. Both were around 40 bucks, and I managed to get both for close to 30 on Ebay in great shape.

I heard rumors a week or so ago online about how the KOTOR book was suddenly super-rare. A couple of the players at my first game Sunday mentioned it as well. I just looked on Amazon, and it's going for nearly 100 bucks! Dang.

What would cause an RPG supplement to go critical so fast? I dunno, but it's popularity may be helped by the fact that the XBOX game from years ago is still popular. I considered getting this sourcebook a year ago anyway, because I loved the video game so much and really loved the setting.

What other game books have shot up in price so fast? I got 60 bucks for my 70's copy of Bunnies and Burrows a couple of year ago, and that was almost 30 years after it went out of print.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Inferno - "Go to hell!"

Written by Geoffry O. Dale and released by Judges Guild in 1980, this was one of my favorite modules I hardly ever used. Described on the back cover as an adventure you can use if a high level wizard tells you to "go to hell" or a cleric put a geas on you to steal a demon lord's magic item, this was an an area that only high level characters should tread.

On it's own, the module is a great read, full of the type of atmosphere that Dante's hell tends to conjure up. Just like in The Divine Comedy, you start out in a dark, lonely forest. Although there are no set encounters here, you are filled with a sense of dread and terror. Wandering down the trail, you will eventually find yourself at the gates of hell, and that is where the fun begins.

There is no great narrative, and the areas and encounters you have can be placed in front of the players in any order you choose. I always thought of it as more a sourcebook than an actual linear adventure. Besides various demon lords, you can meet a host of demon and devil servants, undead, and lost souls. Tiamet, Queen of evil dragons, has a cave lair in hell, and it is chock full of glorious treasures and artifacts. You can sail down the river Styx with the boatman, gazing with horror upon the polluted and foul water of the river, and the atrocities and suffering that goes on along it's putrid banks.

I never really had a place for this in my regular game world, but I did use it for a mini-campaign I was running in the City State of the Invincible Overlord (a rare series of sessions I ran with characters starting at 10th level). But a good indication of how much I loved a module in my teens and in my 20's was how long it stayed in my bathroom magazine rack. It was there for almost a decade!

I Ebayed this book several years ago during one of my game materials purges, and it is one of the game books I wish I had again to give it another read. Sure, like a lot of Judges Guild items any DM with decades of experience should be able to come up with a similar adventure setting off the top of their head that would suffice. Still, who needs to come up with an adventure they will never run? I just want to have another read of it to bring back some great old memories of an old school module I wish I had the chance to get more use from. It was really one of my faves.