Thursday, November 19, 2009

Get ready for the grand switch

Okay, i'm a little frustrated with blogger. It's been good until now--and to tell the truth I'm not sure whose fault it is. The school has unblocked the sites, but ever since then the whole thing is screwed up.

I do have my journal going on live journal

And I'm fixing up an actual web page, and as soon as I can get it going I'll post an address. My new (and old) essays will go there.

A website will work better for what I want to do anyway. You'll be able to pull up the site and just hit the appropriate button for the area you want to visit and then peruse the newest essay.

I hope to be able to note when and addition has been made to a given section.

To get my daily, hourly and minutely, secondly, and often microsecondly, goings on in my spirit, my head, my body, my soul, my job, my home, my family, my community, my gaming, my fishing, my gardening, my martial arts, my town, my county, my state, my country, my continent, my hemishpere, my planet, my solar system, my stellar neighborhood, my Orion's Arm, my galaxy, my local group, my local supercluster, my known universe, my dimension and other stuff check out the journal listed above.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Blasted school blocked all blogs. Couldn't post forever from work--home very busy with fall harvests. Now I'm in business again. Expect more soon.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is Star Frontiers Old School?

So I'm looking for old school sci fi games and this is what I come up with:

Mutant Future: Goblinoid Games remake of the classic Gamma World post apocalyptic genre.

And then Xplorers which is a brainstorm of "What if Gary and Dave had made a Sci Fi game first?" sort of experiment.
But What about good old Star frontiers? It was produced in 1982 -- way pre 2nd edition. So untainted by all the new fangled "rules" that were tweaked and added in later editions. It seems simple enough. The original books were: Basic 20pp, Advanced 100. That's pretty concise. Stats are a little more complicated and the combat rules more involved. But they had to account for vehicles and hi tech weapons, so that's understandable. No more so than any other OS sci fi game, except perhaps X-Plorers. The few times we played it it sure felt OS. To me the game screams OS, but it is so often left off OS lists. Particularly TARGA, which I am trying to rectify.

So, what's your opinion: Star Frontiers OS or not?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just what is it about D&D exactly? Part I

“It only surprised me up until around 1977, ... I had thought we were going to have a considerable audience of gamers and science fiction and fantasy fans. I thought easily with those we'd have 50,000 or more [buyers], but when people began to write me [with questions] about what fantasy books to read, and I saw the wide range of both younger and older people who were attracted to the game, I understood that it was reaching a deeper chord, something deep within us.”
-- Gary Gygax

Thus spoke the master many years ago as he contemplated the uncanny success of this new phenomenon: Dungeons & Dragons.

Just what is it about these games we love. What is that chord they are touching deep within us?

Well, I have a theory but some may not like it. Some may find it an inordinately cool theory. Either way the reasons are the same--it transcends gaming and slips into the areas of philosophy, particularly metaphysics and *gasp* spirituality.

Long ago as our early ancestors gathered around campfires after filling our bellies with a hard won evening meal we quieted as the storyteller cleared his throat and began to speak. Weaving stories of the world around us, of deeds and escapades of heroes of the past--so close we could almost touch them, still living in the mists of mythic time. Stories of the creation through which ran the threads of time and being right to you sitting there breathing fast as the tale mounts to a climax.

These early shamanic storytellers walked the line between the worlds, between our world and the past, the future, the possible and the seemingly impossible. Travelling into these other worlds to explore the true nature of reality, encountering heroes, fantastic beings, spirits fairies, monsters and even the gods themselves they won the treasures of great wisdom and plumbed the hidden mysteries of the cosmos. To these early bardic wizards we turned to maintain our connection to something greater, something beyond, to the cosmos itself. All of our actions, our accomplishments or failures and disasters took on cosmic significance. They became more than the simple day to day vagaries of life--they became a part of the mythic tapestry of existence itself.

These stories indeed evolved into the myths and legends of later cultures. They were the foundations upon which were established all the major religions of the world. Religion, those vast forces that stride across the globe and ages of men shaping the history and the destiny of our planet. Out of this developed all the religious beliefs of man. All this out of the stories and wisdom of shamans that crossed the boundaries between the worlds.

Whether people realize it or not the "spiritual" aspect of religion is deeply tied to access to other worlds. When we have religious experiences we touch something that our brain is wired to sense; that somehow deeply affects us and is often transformational in its energy and apparent purpose. At times these come in terms of fleeting inspiration, overwhelming ecstasy, enlightenment or illumination, out of body experiences, visions and the appearance of beings, creatures, monsters and even Gods. Such manifestations of "spiritual" power are often achieved via alternate states of consciousness. At times music, chanting, liturgy, ritual, prayer, guided imagery, devotion, meditation, physical flagellation, fasting, drugs, hypnosis, etc. etc. are used to induce these states.

I would like to focus on one in particular: guided meditation.

This type of inner imaginal experience is common in visionary religions; where one aspirant will in some trance state, having caught the vision of the other world, will describe what he/she sees and others will follow suit; taking up the imaginal torch and "seeing" the same and even new wonders. All those who have taken part in such an experience are often at a loss to explain the manifestations, but are very reluctant to simply discount the vision as imaginary. It has some level of super-reality that they are loathe to release, or discount as actually false. Such techniques are common in the more "magical" traditions of spiritual practice; and at their extremes may involve astral travel, out of body experiences and otherworldly encounters.

I would claim that the collective storytelling that takes place in roleplaying is a variant on this same time honored discipline. I would further claim that the fantasy genre of these games are even more powerful in this sense because they tap into universal mythic archetypes that are already loaded with psychic potential. In fact these powers could in many ways be said to be real. On the other hand when we deal with "science fiction" and other more "modern" genre we are only dealing with universal archetypes as an undercurrent with all new window dressing as it were. But fantasy immediately links one to the otherworlds out of which these forces came in the far and distant past. Still very much alive and very real.

Pre-gamers are like the rest of the world in the sense that we are frequently distanced from mystical firsthand experiences with "the other". Normally the ability to sense such forces stay securely locked away in our subconscious psyche. Gaming unlocks some of these "windows" if not actual "doorways" to such experiences. We often couch the game and its experience in literary, artistic, social or even psychological terms: 'it heightens the imagination, it's an act of collective storytelling, it is an escape to another time and place', etc etc. And all of these would be true in some sense or other. But only one model accounts for the fact that this activity "touches" something within us that is best described as being at a "deeper level."

These archetypes powers and forces are real and they still thirst to work within us for our own benefit--and for theirs as well. I'm not pompous enough to suppose I know exactly how this works, or why it is. It is, though, a self appointed life mission to understand it. if I was ever "called" to do anything this would be it. And as regards whether roleplaying is a form of guided imagery, well I am an accomplished enough occultist to see the obvious similarities between the methods.

Now, just so that those who would take issue with such an idea and its uncomfortable implications I would remind you that _all_ religions started this way. You can argue this point, but your argument will be couched within the tradition from which you hail and likely biased towards that tradition. The facts seem to speak for themselves on the account of the genesis of religion. So to say as pro-gamer that we should not make correlations that might hurt the industry as were done in the early 80's; or as anti-gamer to say that your fears were all along justified, seems to miss the essential point. That something profound is happening here. Something that captures a certain portion of the population like nothing else ever has before in their lives. To wrestle with that implication is I think an amazingly fertile ground for a deeper understanding of ourselves and just what it is we gamers are doing.

What also amazes me and draws me to write this article is a small handful of wargamers came up with this method independent of their contact with other similar influences. The fact that man seems inexorably drawn back to his mystical/spiritual source is to me a marvel and one of the most profound questions we can face in our brief existence here on Earth. and perhaps the most important legacy we can leave to those behind. This divine geas led these young post adolescent bardic wizards back to the source, back to the otherworld and to the guided imaginal experience that is roleplaying. In doing so they reconnected us to something deeper, something more real because it reaches beyond the ordinary and shows us once again that we are a part of the mythic not separate from it.

This is what I think Gygax was talking about when he made the reference to that deeper chord.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shades of KODT

WARNING: Extreme sarcasm may be encountered below. Proceed with caution.

Ever read Knights of the Dinner Table? Man if you haven't you are definitely missing out. I don't know what it is for sure about that comic but it makes me wanna game something fierce. Why such a dysfunctional example of gaming, the gaming group and the gaming life should make my gaming salivary glands get all slobbery, but oooh boy it does.

Recently I got an email from a frustrated DM looking for advice. He complains:

"I can't understand how players who have been playing D&D, and an accumulation of other games, including video games, are unable to grasp simple concepts like the physics of falling.

My players, save 1, have been playing with me as their DM for almost 5 years and they still don't understand how to play the game! I think it may be a reflection of my DMing skills or perhaps it because the majority of them like to hack and slash.

I have tried to get them to understand the importance of doing a proper investigation of their surroundings and the importance of checking doors before they bust into the room. I have been overly descriptive and that has failed; I have been less than descriptive and that has led them to walk right out of the room. They have even left dead bodies unchecked.

I currently have them in a labyrinth filled with traps, puzzles, and assorted monsters. I put together this elaborate scene because 2 of the players complained that there was not enough diversity. Now we end up spending an hour to almost 2 and a half in one room or section of the map trying to figure out how to proceed.

I have even thought about sitting them down individually and teaching them how to run their character.

I am looking for suggestions on how to help these people."

Aaaawww isn't that sweet. He's doing every politically correct thing in the book. Sound like a bunch of new schoolers to me--no offense intended : - ) And I just couldn't help myself, so I offered the following sage advice:

"Have any of their pc’s died?

Hate to say it, but a good gruesome heartless death goes a long way towards waking pc’s up. Oh you didn’t check that last body with the antidote for poisonous gas? Sorry, guess you should have checked those dead bodies.

Oh you forgot to check for traps, bet those poisonous darts hurt huh?

Hmmm, you mean that the bubbling and fizzing sound from that green slimy stuff didn't give you a clue it would dissolve through plate mail?! I'll be more descriptive next time ...

Oh that old guy? You mean the one in the bar prattling on about the _exact_ labyrinth that you just _happen_ to be in right now? The guy who was going on and on about and all of it's traps and how to avoid them? Yeah he's the one you told to shut up after he complained about your attempt to pick his pocket. Might of been wise to actually _listen_ to him, eh?

But we don't want to seem too harsh. Allow a death of course only if you have tried all other possibilities/DM tricks to “help” pc’s learn the ropes.

But you can always resort to enforced slavery or imprisonment in the salt mines of Lag Doash.

… can anyone say killer DM? …"

But would they listen? Oh no, not to me. He got all sorts of mamby pamby advice about trying to find out what the party wanted. Make the players happy. Meet their needs blah blah blah. To which I couldn't help but give my one line reply:

"I still don't see what’s wrong with just killing them."

Sheesh, you'd of thought I faded out of existence ... I didn't need to stay on that email group anyway.

Of course it might have been the comic I posted too:

In case you can't read it (bad res) the dialogue goes like this:

DM1: These hatchlings are good, but they should drink levels and eat magic items
DM2: My characters are only level four!
DM1: Then they would die and enter the nega-realm
DM2: I don’t think my party would like that.
DM1: _You’re_ the blasted Dungeonmaster! They aren’t “your” party, they’re “the” party. _THEY’RE THE ENEMY!_
DM2: They’re my friends …
DM1 to DM 2: *SLAP*

It's not KODT, It's Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins Penny Arcade, but it is what inspired my advice after all ... ; - )

Good gaming,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time to Bash 4e Again.

Since I've been doing a one shot 4e game to get the club started all teh reasons I dilike 4e have come back witha vengeance. I'm usually nicer about it now than I used to be. I have decided that 4e is a good game for thoase who like it. It plays well, and it's very tight.

I most decidedly _do NOT_ like it. So I went back over my old arguments and ran across this:

"Okay, so I’ve been DMing 4e for a while now. Large group (8 players, 9 w/dm). Lots of Dragonborn, couple Eldarin and an Elf, 1 Tiefling. 2 warlocks, 2 Rogues, 2 fighters, 1 ranger, 1 paladin. I’m DMing Keep on the Shadowfell.

Without kindling flames I thought I’d give my take on 4e “feel”, since I’ve been so vocal about D&D being D&D regardless of version.

4e seems like a different game. Fantasy, after a fashion, but not D&D, not to me. Now, granted 4e will obviously be considered D&D to the majority of the kids I’m DMing, because they’ve never played anything else. But to me it seems fundamentally different. I will also admit that what “feels” like D&D to me is based on 1st, 2nd and to a lesser extent 3.5 edition. What I mean by fundamentally different is elucidated below.

_It is high powered from the start_. I simply couldn’t believe the effect of powers on combat. Wow! I mean we are talking major magic walking around with any group of heroes. Now granted I suppose Heroes are taken to be rare—but to be able to do all that at 1st level?! I’m not saying it’s bad, just very different from what I’m used to. I will admit that the monsters have been powered up hp wise so they don’t exactly drop like flies.

_All the players seem like high level wizards_. From what I understand 4e creators wanted to “balance” all character classes by the addition of powers. To me it achieved this albeit offering a high level of power. However, all the characters seem like super powered wizards after a fashion. All characters have huge magical options at first level with a slight variance in skills, feats, hp, weapons etc. They all seemed a bit generic. A wizard with a mace, wizard with a sword, wizard with a bow—you get the drift.

_Powers_ Okay, so far it’s all about powers. That’s true this is THE big element of 4e in my opinion. And powers are where character customization comes in to a large degree. (Though high level characters likely end up with a lot of the same low level powers.) This just seems more like a supers game or a high powered magic game than a true fantasy game with all these powers thrown in.

_Unrealistic_ I’m sure this is a sort of hokey criteria for a fantasy game. What level of realism are we talking about anyway? But for me AD&D always seemed to me like you could walk through a portal into that fantasy world and it would differ very little from this world. I mean the setting is basically medieval and the fantasy is basically Tolkienian—classical fantasy. The laws we know and understand apply in this world with the exception of magic. If I were transported to an AD&D world I could at least compete with low level characters. Again I know this is hokey but I hope my point is getting across. 4e is massively different—bordering on alien even. It simply doesn’t seem familiar fantasy wise. Now that’s all good if it’s what you are looking for—something so “other” that it bears little resemblance to medieval fantasy. I mean how do these characters DO what these powers allow them to do? Is it magic even in the case of fighter and rogue types? Is this just to be taken to be a very high magic world where everyone is imbued with magical prowess? If I stepped into this world I’d be hard pressed to tend pigs.
More to the point is it realistic for characters to be so powerful at first level? Now this is probably just purely personal but it seems like characters should start relatively normal. Maybe stronger or quicker than average. Maybe know a spell or two. Know how to hold their own in sword fight—and then grow from there. The powers come later. Of course I haven’t played high level 4e games. If I do I might be in for a sanity check.

_mini based_ Now don’t get me wrong, I love little minis, but I’ve never been much of a mini gamer. I use them basically for complex combat. 4e is very minis based and the modules seem to be heavily geared towards that type of play especially where combat is involved. This hasn’t appealed to me.

_Is it an RPG Video Game_ Okay this is bound to stir some feathers, but allow me to explain. I have watched the WoW crowd for awhile. Never been into it, but then I’m not a real video game hound. I watch these characters in WoW and it seems a lot like what I see as 4e in my head. Maybe I’ve just been biased by the slanders that claim WoTC is just trying to appeal to the WoW crowd with 4e. Well, I think they’ve done it. But I’m just not into that. Now is it a video game—obviously not—it’s definitely an RPG. But to me in terms of an RPG it has the whiff of Rifts about it. So far out there as to have reached the border of D&D genre and moved into something else. I even have students saying it is like WoW in many ways. I haven’t asked them for specifics or anything—mainly because they like this aspect of it.

Others may feel differently. In fact I know they do—and maybe my age is showing through. But I’m seriously considering gating my party through to a 1e world to bring me back to sanity. Funny thing is the kids love 4e. I’m the only one chugging pepto-bismol at night from our over the top gaming sessions.

You have to understand that I have always been an anti-montyhaul gamer. Over the top has never appealed to me. And we did some high level demigod playing when I was playing 1e. Somehow it all seemed reasonable. But 4e is causing me to have that after-Halloween-too-much-sweets hangover.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. I’m still designing that gate though.

Okay, go ahead and thrash me I can take it : - )"

Well I did gate them through, but that's another story. And luckily I'm passing the 4e torch to another DM who loves 4e. Me. I'm DMing 1e AD&D starting tomorrow. Gods be praised!



Monday, September 7, 2009

Had a DM ...

I've an online acquaintance who posted this about a guy that qualifies as possibly the world's worst DM:

"If you can't find local players you could try a pbm. I know a guy, but he has a a few house rules you should be aware of:

1) All characters have no more than 3 hit points. He says this is realistic because people can die from a knife wound.

2) He uses proficiencies, and in his own way. With multi-classes, your character gets the proficiencies of only one class, the one with the least amount of proficiencies. And you have to abide by the weapon restrictions of all the classes. There's some other things like fighter/thieves have to spend a prof. slot to fight with a sword as a fighter and another slot to fight with the same sword as a thief. And you have to spend 2 slots to know how to use thrown weapons, one for melee & one for missile.

3) Characters can only be human.

4) He only allows players to use 2 classes, Fighters & Thieves. He thinks all the sub-classes & spell casters are over powered. He doesn't let fighters specialize either.

5) Fighters don't get percentile strength. Characters roll 1d10 for ability scores. He says people were smaller, weaker, dumber, and less healthy in medieval times.

6) You mail him proposals for what your character does in combat. He resolves it himself using a combat system of his own design that he claims is more "realistic". None of us understood it when he tried explaining it to us. Now he refuses to explain the mechanics.

7) He requests that all new players provide him with a 20 page biography of their character's background. Don't use the daily summaries off soap opera pages...he's wise to that trick now.

8) You can record yourself singing your desired actions in iambic pentameter for the next round for half the experience points or e-mail him a short film of you doing the same through interpretive dance for full credit.

9) Based on your characters backstory, the DM will tell you what your character does. Because the DM knows what your character is thinking better than you. And he knows how to play the game better than any of us. That's why he uses his own rules instead of the ones in the books.

10) Players are not allowed to interfere with the narrative the DM creates. They are only the players. They should only observe how clever the DM is and how fabulous the story is.

Anyhow, if your interested in playing the travesty that this clown is passing off as a first edition AD&D me privately by e-mail. He has an open position in the party, after I told him what he could do with his game. And where he could go after he did it.

On second thought, I should not reveal the identity of this person. Suffice to say it is not a member of our group. This specimen should be avoided like the plague.

I think this person could perhaps be the world's worst D&D fan - I would challenge anyone here to come up with a better (worse) examples. Change the names to keep from hurting any feelings.

Let's hear your horror stories."

--Vince Lethal

Yes, let's indeed. Makes my period as a killer DM seem like a honeymoon.

Someone responded thusly: "Out of curiosity: How many players does this guy have?" To which Vince responded:

"He has in fact Two players left now:

#1 is his younger brother whom he "persuades" to buy new game books when they came out. But he confiscates these and refuses to let his younger brother read them so the younger can't "cheat" by reading the DM information.

#2 is a person I'll refer to as Captain Toque. He doesn't contribute much to the game that I've seen, except to bum cigarettes and junk food of the rest of the group. His preferred brand is some herbal cigarette he calls old Toby- it smells like a skunk.

I would refer the matter to the A.S.P.C.A., but I don't think either player would be adopted."

What the heck can I say about that? ROTFLMAO

Saturday, September 5, 2009

OSRIC: "Rules Lite"?

So I've been wondering what makes a game "rules lite"?

I have had a tremendous urge to go rules lite with my campaigns. Blame the folk at Mythmere. For ever since I read _A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming_ by Matthew J. Finch I have been entranced with the potential of rules lite systems.

So do I stick with 1e or go with a so-called rules lite system like Swords and Wizardry, Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game or even hearken back to OD&D? Philotomy has urged me far in that respect. Of course when I ran across Stuart Marshall's Old School Reference Index Compendium "OSRIC" system I was initially sold hands down.

But then as I approached other rule lite proponents it was commonly said 1e didn't qualify as rules lite and OSRIC was a 1e retro-clone.

Well, to help me make this decision I compared BFRPG with OSRIC today. This is what I see:

Actual Game Rules:

OSRIC: 82 pp
BFRPG: 47 pp


OSRIC: 71 pp
BFRPG: 21 pp


OSRIC: 80 pp
BFRPG: 64 pp


OSRIC: 50 pp
BFRPG: 6 pp

So we're really talking a difference of 35 pp. And truthfully alot of these OSRIC pp are just helpful tables in generating dungeons, towns and wilderness settings. They are really not rules per se.

I would geusstimate the actual difference in rules pp between the two at about 27 pp.

So IMO OSRIC is fairly rules lite as well. Sure it carries behind it the collective weight of Dragon mags, adventures, campaign supplements, hardbacks and the general tone contained in Gary's version of 1e.

But what Stuart Marshall has managed to do is distill the skeleton of 1e, its helpful core campaign build resources and the spirit of 1e in a rules lite version.

So when we're talking "rules-lite" exactly what do we mean?

After my comparison OSRIC seems as free as any of the other old school retro clones. Okay maybe not as much as S&W, but close enough.

jus wonderin' ...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Out of shape gamers

Like Caramon trying to fit into his armor after he let himself go, we aging gamers tend to suffer from all sorts of physical maladies. I suppose its our basic sedentary natures. Sitting around watching Star Trek re-runs and rolling dice at the gaming table are the extent of our exertions most days. There is of course the obvious exception to the rule, but let's face it we could all use a fitness overhaul.

I suppose this is on my mind, because I'm trying to get "back" into shape, but my "back": is having second thoughts. My cholesterol also came in high--argh. am I really that old? So I've decided my daily hikes have got to continue after the summer mosquito season ends. I've also got to keep my martial arts training up. Something vigorous would probably be best, but I think I'll just keep up my Tai Chi for now, until my fitness catches up with my ambitions.

If a gate appeared now for me to step into my fantasy dreamland I would be about as useful as a sack of dried goblin dung. Well, a sack of dung that could execute roll back and press, but that ain't saying much where I'm concerned ; - )

live long and perspire,


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Martial Arts and Gamers

So, I've been wondering lately. I read an article sometime back and found several more on the web recently about how hackers seem to gravitate to the martial arts. In other words their is a positive correlation between hacking as an activity and martial arts as an activity. Most hackers seem involved in the martial arts in some way shape of form.

Now, this was intriguing to me and as I'm not a hacker, I was naturally led to wonder why. Well there's a lot of psychologizing about it, but basically they say something about the mental discipline required for hacking is similar to that required by or trained in the marital arts. Well, I don't know about that--but I have seen in my own experience and relations a positive correlation between gamers and martial arts.

There seem to be a higher percentage of gamers that are interested in or actively training in the martial arts. I myself have studied the martial arts on and off since my teens. I started with light fighting in the SCA--obviously a medieval / fantasy motive there, eh? From there it moved into a fascination shared by my friends and me, though largely as armchair samurai and backyard stick swingers. But we learned quite a bit academically speaking.

Then in my early tweens I started to teach myself tai chi, which lasted for several years until I found my first real lung fu school--Shaolin Do. I trained there for a year, before becoming a littel disillusioned due to my over-analytical tendencies. So I dropped out and took ninjutsu for about three months. That didn;t last long, as I was basically a kung fu guy and ninjutsu was _very_ different. At this same time I had taken over a year of college level fencing, foil, epee and sabre. I was even asked to be an assistant instructor for the beginning foil classes. But I floated for awhile in regards to the traditional arts, studying up on what art might be best for me. Then one day in a bookstore I came upon a flier for a Wing Tsun school. Intrigued and out of the loop for too long I recommitted and studied for another year.

A crime and self defense crisis made me question the whole value of martial arts for self defense and I stopped training again. I even thought about going back to ninjutsu for awhile, thinking that hiding in the shadows, or backstabbing someone beats the hell out of having a gun held to your head. Then life changes and lots of other things transpired and I left martial arts alone for a long time. Oh I talked, meditated, prayed and studied about it. My good friend Scott and I carried on a lengthy correspondence about the art of Kenpo all the time I was on my mission. I played a little bit with various mission companions who also studied the martial arts and answered a lot of questions for myself about the true mature of the martial arts in light of all my experience.

And when I returned, married and life settled and I was recentered and happy once again I followed the call anew. And synchronistically I found a Kenpo school. I trained for a year or so and my instructor left for California. So I was left to my own devices once again. Back to the drawing board brought me back to my roots of kung fu, and I studied with Wing Chun videos, Northern Shaolin videos and even some Hung Gar and Hsing I. All the while looking for something to settle on. It seems that after all my study and practice I was the one year wonder and things would fizzle again and again. Was there a pattern I was supposed to be seeing?

At any rate I am now working with Doc Fai Wong's Plum Blossom Federation and studying Choy Li Fut in his distance learning program. I won't go into all the reasons I made that choice, but so far it's good--really good.

Which of course has me realizing--long ago--that one of the main constants in my life, one of the things I always come back to, besides gaming is the martial arts. Connection? Not sure, but of my longtime gaming friends 67% are into the martial arts. And a disproportionate number go into the military as well. Looking for adventure like I was? Not sure. Any ideas? I am really intrigued by this fact. I even once heard a radio piece on NPR about gamers heading off to fight in the war on terror as Paladins against injustice. It was a touching piece.

Especially in light of the Israeli Military's opinion that gamers should not be allowed in the armed services because their tendency to fantasize made them unstable for military life. Hmmm. They may have something there too. What the heck does that mean?

Lots for me to think through.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Star Trek Modules

And I'm not talking for the Star Trek RPG. I've been rewatching my old TOS DVDS and realized: 'Hey, with a little tweaking these would make great D&D adventures!'

Okay, maybe I had been up too late, but think about it before you dismiss it so easily. Think about "A Piece of the Action" cast as a city or even an entire kingdom overrun by rival thieves' guilds. Our erstwhile players have been sent in by a neighboring monarch or deposed lord to somehow settle the mess. They obviously can't take all of the thieves and assassins out, they'd have to negotiate, compromise and use their non-combat powers do a great degree in order to navigate the complicated politics of gangster states.

And just think of all the cool infiltrations into the trapped labyrinths of the thieves' guilds HQs. Cool stuff if you ask me.

Any more good Trek D&D adventures come to mind?

Going to watch some more episodes tonight : - )


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hackmaster Basic

Okay, HM Basic is out. I'm out of touch with my 'puter during the summer, so I missed it by a wee bit.

Let's just say it's my next purchase. It looks, well ... good. I expected it to be.

Check it out:


The PDF previews look good and classic KODT. But will the game live up to its predecessor? I'll give you a review as soon as I get my copy read. And again when I actually play it : - )

But I'm still not putting down my 2e books yet.

Will it ever end?

I haven't stopped Gaming

Just Blogging. Sorry about that. For any who still peruse my new postings. I'm trying to get more blog savvy too. Shorter posts : - ) and better coverage out there in the wide world of netdom.

I'm currently working on developing a 2e campaign for the school club centered around Greyhawk. I'm amassing all the content now and priming the creative pump for the first storylines.

Is 2e Classic gaming? Well, it has its issues, but to be honest I'm going 2e 'cause it's obviously what the KODT were playing. And since HM is going to change the system to A&8's technology I'm waiting to see the basic set before I make the leap. It should be out soon, if not already.

Give me your two cents. 2e Classic? Dumb to go with a game because it's what the KODT play--after all my searching give me a better reason.



Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WoTC shuts down sales?

So, by now all of you have probably heard about WoTC's decision to shut down 3rd party PDF sales. There's a lot of speculation running around and a few hard facts to go by. To get up to speed check out Trollsmyth's blog on the issue, he did a good assessment of the situation:

Now, I hadn't thought of a few of the things he mentions and they are likely close to the mark--especially the lack of 4e sales and a desire to control PDF sales from their own site. But there may be another grander conspiracy afoot.

I've talked about this before on my site, and I trot it out again to explain a possibility of WoTC's possible motive for tighter control on PDF distribution.

Large scale commercialism requires that old editions/products be obsoleted entirely. This requires/forces the market to transition to 4e. My bet is not so much that they are worried about losing profits to middle men (they do that every time they distribute to stores) as they are losing customers to 3e when they could make them switch to 4e and buy all new products. This was an entirely anticipated with the release of 4e. Same thing happened to old 2e.

So are we talking about just 4e PDF's? are are we talking about all PDF's. I think its a moot point. We are talking about power and control. WoTC wants to to control its commercial distribution. I can't say that I blame it for that--it operates under a very specific big-business paradigm and it has the resources to stop grass roots movements. Much like Microsoft has done with its systems. Now yes, we are dealing with a direct act of piracy prosecutable in the courts. But if that was all they were concerned with they could have handled it through one small court case.

I tend to agree with Trollsmyth however, that this is an issue to circle the wagons and protect the product at all costs. They want to control the market. You can lament it all you want and jump up and down and scream about it but that's big business folks. You can;t really fault them for playing with the big boys.

The problem is that their traditional fans are not corporate schmoes. We tend to be independent thinkers and excessively creative and imaginative. (Can we be excessive in those things?) I beleive that people will largely respond negatively, but business as usual will be the order of the day after a few months.

Now, I'm not demonizing WoTC. Far from it. I'm assessing them on their own terms. Which is decidedly big-business in mentality. I'm also sure that they are being advised by a crack legal team whose sole purpose is to guarantee the products commercial safety and marketability. But the story is deeper than that.

An AOL group friend recently said:

"WOTC's back catalog is huge, what with almost every D&D product back to the old "white box" set having been available for PDF purchase through one of the businesses that I mentioned in my first post. Sometimes though, businesses don't make wise marketing decisions. As an example, I put forth the occasion when in the late 90's the Tolkien estate (DBA Saul Zaentz Enterprises) yanked Iron Crown Enterprises' distribution rights for the wildly popular Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP) gaming line of products. They (the copyright owners) have never renewed ICE's license, and to this day threatens legal action against every fan site that tries to make the materials available in PDF form to home enthusiasts. I don't believe that the MERP gaming products were ever sold digitally; every MERP product (and I have perused a few) now available via file sharing sites has the look of a home scan job.It may make sense for WOTC to bring everything back through their own PDF store, but that's under the presumption that good business acumen and not a fear of piracy is motivating this recent action. Every gamer forum (e.g Gleemax, Giants in the Playground) that I have checked on about this development is buzzing frantically."

I’m telling you. It’s about power and control. Call me a conspiracy theorist—but it worries me. Hopefully they can’t pull use of the SRD under the OGL. According to online assessments WoTC is legally unable to revoke the OGL. But read on …

Because I still have a strong suspicion that they are trying to channel all D&D into 4e or nothing. I think the downloads of OD&D and other older supplements show a strong retro movement that WoTC could see as compromising business.

Even thinking about it is making me more worried. It could be a Microsoft monopoly all over again.

From WoTC’s FAQ on their 4e SRD/OGL:

“Q. Do I have to give up my right to publish 3.5 OGL products in order to publish 4e compatible products?
A. No. Publishers are free to print product lines under either the OGL or 4E GSL. We would love to see our industry colleagues convert their entire product offerings to 4E, as we are doing, but we do not expect or require entire companies to convert to the new edition.”

They say "We would _love_ to see it.” What does that imply? And if we don’t we’ll do all we can to force it?

The new GSL is a blatant attack upon the OGL in what I believe is an effort to control the gaming industry and its 4e products. They do not want 4e to be backwards compatible in a commercial market. I see no other reason to structure the GSL as they have done. So unable to revoke the OGL the 4e GSL prohibits 4e 3rd party products from being compatible under both licenses. This allows them control over their product and the industry. It also allows 3rd party industries to do their work for them. That is, if Paizo come out with good stuff for 4e WoTC benefits, because they are considered the official source. This backfired on them under the OGL since Paizo began doing a better job with a lot of products than WoTC did. They are trying to stem the tide. By controlling all old school material and controlling the industry under the new GSL they can ensure everyone buys WoTC and plays _their_ game.

The only solace I take is that they are overlooking the grass roots guys who turn to indies for support of their favorite version under the, hopefully, safe and secure OGL.



Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Market Analysis

I recently asked several of my good gaming buddies if they would continue to game 1st E if it was commercially supported. All of them who responded say absolutely. And that they would continue to pay it even if it wasn't. This got me to thinking, particularly about alternate ways of bringing 1e back to an active publishing life.

I then chose to ask my good gaming brother Steve, who happens to be a pretty well trained businessman why WoTC might not continue to support 1e. Below are is his very insightful answers to my questions:
Me: If AD&D was still commercially supported would you still play? Why or why not?

Steve: You mean it's not already?! Ha, ha, ha, ha...

That really is quite an intriguing question. There are a couple of interesting changes that take place when a product is peddled to the masses: First of all, it makes the sellers a lot more money, especially in comparison to what it would have made without large investment dollars pushing it in the market. This is the upside. Anytime a product is given a greater audience, it meets more buyers whose needs it's able to satisfy.

This has always been an interesting phenomenon, intuitive as it may seem. It's also why those silly info-mercials are still on TV late at night...because it works!!! There's always enough people in the marketplace that "need" that next gadget or widget the Inventor creates. Marketing really is the study of how to influence people to buy product A over product B. And is dependent on scarcity and the fact that our desires will always outweigh our ability to satisfy them. On a side note, Socrates is famous for saying "I am most like the Gods because I want the least."

Second of all, when a product is commercialized, it becomes increasingly more generic, thus loosing some of its authenticity. This is inevitable and is the major downside. You see, the greater the number of buyers there are in the marketplace, the greater the variety in personal preference. And, you guessed it, the customer is always right so, the seller has to make a more "bland" product if s/he wants to continue to make money. This can't not happen if a product is commercialized under traditional terms as I understand it -- ROI, or return on investment, is now the God of the product; the product must make more money than is invested in it. And I'll guarantee that there is no member of a board of directors that cares more about The Game than they do about satisfying the stockholders.

So, would I still play AD&D if it were commercially supported? No, but only because it wouldn't be the same game.
Me thinking: Excellent points. And hits to the heart of how do we commercially support or resurrect old school gaming and without losing its spirit? This led me to ask Steve more probing business related questions:
Me: I know You're not a business major anymore. But you know more about it than I do.


Why does Hasbro/WoTC drop earlier editions of D&D when they come outwith a new one?

Steve: Money, although I'm sure they pass it off as "this one is new and improved and we would never sell an inferior product."

Me: Is the answer something like: "They do that to keep sales high. Sort of like when the video-gaming industry comes out with a new system; they charge lots initially; sales drop off and prices come down as demand wanes; then they make that system obsolete with a new system that they release at high prices again; they play up the new system via advertising and discontinue support for the old system, thus forcing everyone to buy the new system."?

Steve: Yep. You're already thinking like a businessman!

Me: If so, then it doesn't work well for print systems like D&D. Aren't you are going to lose a portion of the older consumer base that liked the old product and does not like the new product?

Steve: Yep, which is why they're dependent on continually getting new customers. Alas, we will always be in need of better advertisers and marketers of our products.

Me: Why not continue to support the old product in more limited production while still coming out with the new editions?

Steve: Simple answer is money, although this actually deserves a longer explanation. What little I do know about print media comes from buying over-priced textbooks for school. I do know that, as you'd expect, it's extremely costly to produce books (with all of the acid washes, paper production, transportation, etc.), as well as a huge risk financially! And while it seems like a company would maintain older version on-line to prevent what you mentioned in question #2, but, as i understand it, it turns out that they have to commit all resources to the production of the newest product just to break even. And so, if I guessed right, to still print media from an earlier version it would draw attention away from a product that is already a huge investment for the corporation and increase their initial risk.

Me: Is it that the older editions will compete against the new editions for sales?

Steve: Yep. That and they can't realistically expect someone to pay the same price for an older version of a book if there is a newer one available...even if neither is used.

Me: Or are they thinking: If we support the old system too, it will make those who would transition to the new system less likely to switch because of the fact that the old edition will continue to be supported?

Steve: That's a great question for a market psychologist and would seem like it was product-specific, especially for a product like D&D. The versions are sometimes so different from each other that you wouldn't even be playing the same game if you spanned more than a version, i.e. v2 versus v4.

Me: Is it the overhead of maintaining old school staff and printing small runs of material?

Steve: I would imagine for D&D the staff is constant, but printing different versions is quite costly.

Me: Couldn't this be creatively handled instead of adhering to a big-business model?

Steve: I think that if you and I could figure out a way to do that, we'd be super rich almost overnight.

Me: Wouldn't it work to contract writers or take submissions and use an editor that screens new material?

Steve: I thought that's what Dragon Magazine did. If not, then I think you might've answered #8.

Me: Couldn't you run it more like a publishing arm of the company; and print either on demand with an e-book like format or print limited runs occasionally as commercial demand requires?

Steve: I heard a piece on NPR the other day about e-books and they cited a small university in the mid-east that is completely virtual "textbooked." I have mixed feelings about that, but it's the only way I've thought of to address the problem of older versions of AD&D in the same marketplace as newer version. I've thought that if WotC would be willing to sell rights to v3.5 to a third-party company at an exorbitant price (hedging their assessment of the value of such rights) and allow the third-party business to incur some risk through their investment, then that company could roll the dice (no pun intended) and still make some dough by selling the older version completely on-line. They would still have to market and sell enough to get satisfy their investors and get sufficient ROI, but it seems like there are enough guys like you and I that would keep them in business.

Me: So one question with lots of little implied questions. I know there's alot of assumptions here and we haven't even touched on copyright or anything else. But I am seriously considering writing a proposal to this effect.

Steve: Aah, yes, copyrights.

Me: Thanks for your wisdom.

Steve: I don't know how wise anything i just shared was and it should include the disclaimer: "read at your own risk."
So I scoured the WoTC site and Dragonsfoot about copyright issues regarding use of their material in order to develop an approach for my proposal. That's when I figured out that what Steven and I were anticipating in our discussions had already been achieved. So did we solve it, or did they?

Read the last post to find out.



I solved it ... Er, well _they_ did.

So if you've been keeping up with all of my posts (all 20 of you : - ) you are by now wondering where I'm headed. I promise you I have not surrendered to total chaos. Previously, I let you know I was working on a compiled DM's guide, PHB and MM. My hope was to consolidate all the rules, and perhaps discover the common denominator within the rules that revealed the spirit of the game. I was also on a quest to discover if someone could pick up the old school Fantasy Role Playing torch and carry it forward.

Where I thought I was blazing trails through untrammeled wilderness I actually discovered a well travelled path. In fact, many had gone there before me. At first there was a bit of disappointment. You know how it feels when you thought you had discovered some new path or trail to be blazed, or product to be discovered only to find out that someone had gotten there before you. But then I was elated. I lost track of the number of times I would be reading on the internet and say out loud even, "COOL!"

In short I have discovered a large community of aficionados and game designers that are heartily committed to the spirit of old school role playing games. They have taken the open source material, consisting largely of rules and algorithms (that cannot be copyrighted) and rebuilt the game from the ground up so as not to conflict with the intellectual property purchased by Wizbro. What they did is retain the spirit of the game. This is possible, because as Gygax made clear the spirit of the game is in the rules themselves. In my opinion they have done an excellent job in doing so.

Now, some may be wont to ask "But why not just stick with 1st and 2nd edition? I mean we have all those books, so let's forget all this and play!!" Because my good and noble friends--we need your talent. Let's face it, the actual number of active old school FRPG designers working today is small. I offer below a partial list of these excellent comrade in arms that are actively offering old school supplements. But the fact is that there are not enough. Don't get me wrong, they are doing an excellent job, but we need more creative material out there. Either in public domain format or as a commercially available product. These same sites and entities I mention below are also extremely helpful in getting your own material published. I would also imagine they are more than eager to take quality submissions.

If this aspect of this hobby that we all love is worth preserving then we must do all we can to awaken new gamers to the experience that is old school fantasy role playing. We must create a dynamic community full of options and opportunities. I know some of you have powerfully creative and imaginative talents that have helped you produce awesome characters, adventures, campaigns, magic items, spells and even artwork in classic style. Let's give this to the world. Admit it, you always wanted to be a game designed, but knew you could never make enough money at it. So now you don;t have to. You can get your stuff out there part time. Maybe earn a few bucks, or at the least enshrine your creativity in print for hundred and thousands to enjoy and benefit from. OSRIC and S&W allow you to do this. they even give you advice for doing so. Not legally binding advice, but they make that clear. The main point is that if you follow their lead you will be following the lead established by the SRD and the OGL and you will be safe 99.9% of the time.

If we are actively gaming under this license (OSRIC or S&W--which is technically under the SRD and the OGL) then everything we do is ours. And we can publish it, trade it, sell it etc. etc. And its still the game we love, because the spirit has been preserved. Like I said, you can tell this is exactly what I was looking for. It doesn't mean we can't use old school stuff previously published: such as OD&D, AD&D, Basic and Advanced D&D, Judges Guild Stuff or Mayfair stuff. We can use those with ease, because they are in the same spirit as Public Domain OSRIC and S&W stuff. There are more issues to this, but you get the idea.

And what do I mean exactly by "this aspect" of the hobby? I mean the spirit of old school role playing games. The spirit that first ignited the fires within us and that many modern games have lost as they have sought to "improve" upon that which was mighty fine in the first place.

So what does this mean for me? This leg of my quest is over. But I have discovered a new land peopled with innumerable like-minded souls engaged in building the vast creative panoply that is OSFRPGs. There are numerous such endeavors out there, but I am focusing largely on two: OSRIC, the Old School Rules Index Compilation & Swords and Wizardry. OSRIC is the recreated First Edition rule set within a fantastically faithful new rendition. And S&W is the recreation of the rule set of the old brown books of Gary & Dave's first run of the classic. Not only that but they are supported by a huge fan base & a quality, dedicated online community. Not to mention, of course, the fact that a growing number of resources are available from just these communities.

So be a part of the change and the dawning renaissance of old school gaming. What gaming was really meant to be.

The following is a list of these new friends I have discovered online: I want to first offer my thanks to them for the work they are doing. We are truly comrades in arms. I also want to make it clear that this list is by no means exhaustive. If you encounter others who are actively engaged in such work please let me know and I'll include them:

  1. Knights and Knaves: Stuart Marshall? and perhaps others run this awesome site. It's an excellent resource, with a great forum; and more importantly its the home of OSRIC!

  2. Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game: I'm not sure who the masterminds are here, but a lot of people contributed to the make-up of this excellent Old School game.

  3. Mythmere Games: Again not sure who is behind this brilliant site, but its the home of the Swords & Wizardry system. Huge resources, great forum and old school all the way.

  4. Delver's Dungeon: A helpful 1st edition resources site

  5. Dragonsfoot: This was the original site I ran into looking for 1st edition resources. Has some excellent downloads and an active and friendly community.

  6. The Acaeum: A D&D collector's site. Also has helpful indexes.

  7. Pied Piper Publishing: One of the originals! Rob Kuntz is still dedicated to OSFRPG since 1971! He was there helping Gary and Dave box up the original OD&D sets. Now he's marketing First Edition SRD based supplements--and some award winnings ones too! Check it out!

  8. Old School University: A forum strictly for 1st Edition AD&D and earlier sets. Not fond of D20 SRD, and I'm unsure of their take on OSRIC or S&W.

  9. Grodog's Greyhawk: Ethan Scott Grohe's Greyhawk site. Part of the Greyhawk Online community.

  10. Philotomy's OD&D site: Dedicated to OD&D.

  11. The Greyhawk Index: The Old Greyhawk Information Page.

  12. Doomsday Games Forums: A good old fashioned Old School forum.

I'll post links to these sites in my links section. Again, please visit these sites and support them if you believe in the magic that is OSFRPG.



Friday, March 27, 2009

Can we bring AD&D back to press? And do we want to?

So I've embarked on a preliminary endeavor to see if I can't approach the commercial world to pick up AD&D as an active line again. Sheer folly you cry? Tomfoolery or fool's errand? Well, I'm not so sure myself.

The natural thing to do would be to approach WoTC and find out their reasons for transforming the game in the first place. Was it really just due to waning sales of 2e? Or the oft-cited need to convert the system to WoTC's d20 system? And if the former is the culprit, then it goes a long way to explain why 4e came out. It's nothing but the big business model of creating obseletion in order to keep sales high. We see it in the video game industry all the time. It goes something like this:

1. Create a new system that everyone has to have because it's so cool.
2. Start development on the replacement product.
3. Release new system and charge a lot to cover initial startup and make back your money.
4. Continue to charge a lot for awhile to pile up the coffers and pay for those pricey programmers
5. Come out with a whole slew of new games that cost $50.00 a pop
6. Drop prices as sales wane to bring in the secondary market
7. Finish development on your new toy that is not backwards compatible
8. Advertise the new, better and improved model
9. Release new product, drop support for old product
10. The cycle starts all over again.

Gimme a frackin break. The thing is we are stupid enough to buy into it. Now, the main difference between vid-game systems and RPG's is that the technology actually improves. That is most decidedly NOT the case with RPG's. The mechanics are changed in RPG's but it's usually for the worse.

Now, I'll grant that I could be wrong here. There are probably subtleties I'm missing. But why not continue to support old systems if those systems continue to have a fan-base. Is it the overhead? Or something else entirely?

Well, allow me to put forward a possible suggestions. Run the AD&D division of the company like a small press. Maintain one full time editor, and a few adjuncts as a submission board, and take submissions from part-time writers and designers all over the world. That way you pay a one time writers fee for the submission and viola'! No more overhead. Printing runs could be either kept small, or based on e-book distribution or even print on demand. Focus on world-books and their associated modules and support. Publish novels set in said worlds. As well as more generic world-free books that extend the panoply of magic, spells, etc. etc.

The point is the abandonment of a selling product just doesn't make sense. I do hear quite frequently from gamers sympathetic to the problems of business that we should be thankful there are still game publishing companies still around. The market is so small, they say, that their profit margins are minuscule. We should support whatever they come out with or the entire commercial game industry is likely to die.

Hogwash. We are the market. We dictate what is required. And the fact is we either continue buying or stop buying based on whims more often than calculated rationale--by and large anyway. If we want something the market will provide it.

Okay, now why should we NOT lobby for a resurrection of the commercial AD&D entity? One word: Dragonsfoot. Is that two words? Seriously though, they are doing an excellent job at producing 1st and 2nd ed stuff for free on their site. I'm not sure how they are avoiding violating copyright, but I love it. Maybe the future is a Linux-like grass roots AD&D support system such has Dragonsfoot. They offer an open forum for publishing quality material to any and all who are interested. There has been talk that the future of art may lie in this direction. Which makes on wonder about alot of ethical issues--but noone questions its nobility.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lejendary Adventures, Hackmaster and Castles & Crusades, Oh My!

Are they classic? Well, they certainly have an old school feel. So much so that hordes of AD&D gamers are transitioning (okay maybe hordes is too expansive a word) to these new-old games.

I must admit I've been giving them a look myself. Doing a lot of preliminary feeling around for their tone, what people's opinions are and what the fans and critics are saying. I will say most who are reviewing them aren't giving much in the way of negatives. So one can't help but wonder what's behind this new generation of throwback--or revivals if you like?

Well. Hackmaster is probably one of the oldest, and the one with the most direct AD&D lineage. We all know it came about as a longing for a real game to fit the parody mentioned in Knights of the Kitchen Table. It's been my experience that gamers, more than most, love to laugh at themselves and their culture. Sure there's always a few closet gamers that are afraid of being too closely associated with anything nerdy or geeky, but to the core, we love laughing at ourselves. So it was only natural that given the smash hit of KOTKT that we would soon be begging to actually play Hackmaster.

Since Hackmaster was a direct allusion to AD&D it was also natural that AD&D would provide the rule-set. Now, mind you I've never played HM and probably never will given the precious nature of my gaming time. But the feel I get is that it can be indeed a serious game that simply contains ripe material for parody ala Robert Asprin et al. And let's be honest given the above average intellect of most gamers we all love throwing in the abstract jokes, esoteric anachronisms, occult Monty Python allusions and liberal puns whenever possible. So I'm sure we get enough parody without a game specifically designed for it. Of course there's no accounting for the smashing popularity of Steve Jackson's Munchkins.

So why even lump it in with AD&D? Because given the void left in the aftermath of 3.0 there was simply no one doing AD&D anymore and HM is one of those games that filled the void. And for that reason there are many gamers who use it instead of AD&D now. I suppose this has to do with new material coming out as opposed to the system itself as the systems are evidently very close.

And what about Castles and Crusades? Well, this I believe was a valiant attempt to offer frustrated AD&D gamers somewhere to go to actually play a game somewhat like what they used to play. I don't know how successful it's been, but it certainly has its proponents. The game itself is not a core AD&D mechanic. That has fallen to the d20 OGL which I must admit boggles my mind somewhat. I think the general dissatisfaction with the quirks of the AD&D system (i.e. AC goes down instead of up, separate combat tables, saves and attacks go down while checks go up, etc. etc.) led the charge for a single mechanic that could be applied across domains.

On the surface this is appealing, but it worries me some. Changes have the potential to change more than the structure of roll mechanics. Change the rules and you risk changing the spirit of the game. Now, I'm not saying C&C did that--again, I've never played it, and I'm thinking about giving it a shot. Maybe I'm just so nauseated by 3.0+ trying to be D&D that I'm afraid I'll need Pepto if I get to close to it : ) But then again they say Gary approves.
So lastly--Lejendary Adventures. This one I will buy--if for no other reason than Gary wrote it. And more for the fact that from what I hear it sounds like a good system. I am interested to try Gary's newest creation. His revisioning of what a game could or perhaps should be. Now, having said that I get the feeling from various of Gary's posts, particularly on Dragonsfoot that he is still saddened by what happened to TSR and the game he so lovingly crafted. I think he would have picked up the AD&D torch again in a heartbeat had someone given him the chance. But score one for big world corporations and greed, score ten for Gary. Because they lost a lot when Gary left and what they ended up with was something fundamentally different. I'm not going to say a lot of people didn't play 3.5 or are now playing 4e but they aren't playing AD&D. I suppose they had to create something more proprietary. So the first thing to be changed was the entire system to the d20 mechanic.
That's a lot of water you just chucked out, you are there wasn't a baby or two in there?
More like a hundred babies. Such is life. We move on and when given lemons we make lemonade. That's just what Gary did. LA (Lejendary Adventures) is a completely new start. Same spirit? I couldn't tell you. My thoughts are no, because there is so much change to the rules. Bu then again maybe that's not what he was aiming for. Maybe he was going for something different but just as good. I'll have to wait and see--because I haven't even begun purchasing yet--but I will.
I'm keeping an eye on Gygax Games and waiting for the new publisher to come on line--hopefully they won't do a re-write. ... Argh.

Interpersonal Problems in RPG's -or- "I can't stand him, or the way he plays!!!"

Most Interpersonal Problems in games can be solved by following a few simple rules of RPG ethics:

  1. Don't disrupt the game: The DM is in control, he should be doing most of the talking; don't hold side conversations; don't throw dice across the room; keep your attention on the DM until it is your turn.

  2. Don't cheat: It should go without saying that you should be honest at all times; make your rolls where everyone can see them; don't pick up dice right after a roll; don't fudge your stats; don't fudge your xp; etc. etc.

  3. Respect everyone: In character and out; don't denigrate others; don't put anyone down; don't make fun of others in their attempts to role play; don't intentionally harm another player's pc without their express permission--and don't threaten to do so.

  4. Watch what you say: joking is fine, but don't be stupid; don't say your character is going to do something just to get a laugh and then say--oh I was just kidding--it's annoying.

  5. Roleplay: get into your character and the spirit of the game; be as serious as the game requires; contribute to the game through actively playing your character.

  6. Communicate: with the DM and the other players; don't make role-play disagreements personal; let others know what you're doing unless there is some reason for secrecy; let others now when you have to miss, especially the DM.

Roleplaying is a social activity. That means we have to get along. If you are having problems talk about them and make an effort to smooth things over. Apologize even if you weren't wrong and move on. Be nice. Compliment others. Work together. How are your characters going to succeed through cooperation if the players can't?

To assist the DM in handling such problems he can try any the following suggestions. Mind you these are not foolproof and they don't always work, they are just suggestions.

  1. Use a talking stick--only he who holds the stick gets to talk

  2. Keep records of each pc so you are aware of the changes in pc stats

  3. Require all rolls be in the open and viewable by everyone--even most of yours

  4. Make the rule: What you say your character does

  5. Extra xp for roleplaying

  6. Have frequent dm-player conferences to talk about their character the game's progress etc.

  7. Make everyone "roll" for treasure--highest wins. Once you've won once, you can;t roll again until everyone has gotten something then it starts over.

  8. You take over treasure division

Now, these won't solve everything. Sometimes people just can't seem to get along no matter what. Sometimes its the annoying whine in someone's voice. Or their inherent bossiness or self importance. Or they way they kiss the dice before every roll. At other times we just have a personality clash. The point is interpersonal relationships are never easy. They take work and they take sacrifice. Worse case scenario is to either go play in another group or *shudder* ask someone to leave.

Now, I would say to be VERY careful with asking players to bow out. Some real hurt feelings can result over that. And not only that if a player is voluntarily staying then he or she is probably willing to try and change. And it is a much more human thing to do to try and help a person improve or lead them to change than to just exclude and ostracize them. Most of us have been there and that is no fun, moreover it's just wrong.

Yes, there are certainly cases which require us to ask someone to leave. But I would say that warnings and conferences are due long before you reach that stage. Let the person know what they are doping and how it affects others and the play of the game. 9 times out of 10 they aren't even aware. If they fail to change, let them know this is sort of the last straw and if they can't at least try and change they may not be invited to the next game. But also keep a careful watch on everyone else's mood. The problem player may be driving out others left and right. Before your gaming group dwindles to nothing you better make an effort at either requiring a change in behavior or asking the recalcitrant player to be excused--permanently.

Lastly, it is always worth considering just what exactly is the problem. It is an annoying trait? Those are usually quickly dispatched with a few reminders. Or is it personality? we can always learn to appreciate others and make an effort to get along. Or is it that the player is inexperienced, doesn't understand the game , its spirit or its rules? Make allowances for that and teach by modelling and directly that fledgling gamer the better and more correct way to play. We were all there once, and some of us learn more slowly than others.

If you've been reading any of my recent posts, you know I've been struggling a bit with this lately. I'm not sure it's resolved either, but I'm working at it. Have I wanted to hang up my dice bag with this group? Yes. Have I wanted to kick some people out? Yes. Have I wanted to quit altogether? Yes. But I haven't. It only takes a few moments for these thoughts to run their course through my mind and then I start thinking about how to deal with it. Every situation is different and requires a thoughtful and sincere approach. I have found that that is usually the key to successful resolution of interpersonal differences. Oh, and prayer helps alot too.



Monday, March 23, 2009

AD&D and the Spirit of Role Playing Games

So, what's all this rhetoric Chris keeps spouting about the "Spirit" of role playing games? Alright here it is.

First, as Gary Gygax put it, the Spirit of the game is what everybody knows and yet cannot quite capture in words. So any attempt to do so is fraught with dangers and potential errors. Some might say that which cannot be defined must not exist; and therefore all this talk about Spirit is a nebulous swamp out of which there is no return. But such a position, that the idea can just barely be defined, did not stop the greats like Gygax from trying to do just that. Now, I will be quoting Gary Gygax a lot in this essay, and I do that because he is one the founding fathers of RPG's. Founding Fathers are in a unique position to give us a perspective on the work they began or intended, and not the way in which we may have interpreted it. Also keep in mind that Gary Gygax apparently contradicted himself at times. I personally have no problem with this because I also tend to believe that Gary did not mean to imply that RPG's were a dead, frozen endeavor, but a living and growing thing. It's just the way in which it grows that causes us to question if we are faithful to the original spirit. So, with that out of the way let us jump into the fray

Let's begin with Gygax on Spirit:
"...the understanding extends not only to the written rules but to what lies between the lines as well. This is the spirit of the game. Spirit is evident in every RPG. To identify the spirit of the RPG, you must know what the game rules say, be able to absorb this information, and then interpret what the rules imply or state about the spirit that underlies them." (Gygax, RPM pg 26)

Now, this clears up a few things. The spirit of a game is never spelled out--it is implicit. And evidently the best route to understand the spirit is to _know_ the rules. As in know and understand the rules. Which in my opinion would require that you play the game for awhile in order to really come to know how those rules work in play.

To continue:
"The spirit of the game cannot be expressly defined in a sentence or a paragraph, and any game designer who attempts to do so is defeating his own purpose. The spirit of an RPG pervades all the statistics, mechanics, and descriptions that make up the actual rules; it is everywhere and nowhere in particular at the same time. A game master or player who simply absorbs all the rules and uses them to play out a game adventure may be able to achieve expertise in the play of the game, but in the final analysis, he is doing no more than going through the motions--unless he also perceives, understands, and appreciates the spirit that underlies all those rules." (ibid emphasis mine)

Lots here to mention. Much of it reinforces the idea that the spirit lies within an understanding of the rules that transcends the rules themselves and approaches what the rules are trying to achieve. This quote also makes clear that someone can play for years or more in a game and never really understand that spirit. I believe that is what leads people to make changes that they think are cool, or fine, or creative, when in reality they violate the spirit of the game. The real mystery here is why attempting to spell out the spirit of a game defeats the game designers purpose. I would reason that because it is in the nature of the spirit of a game to elude simple definition that a game designer who attempts to spell out what the spirit is will inherently limit or perhaps even change what that spirit actually is. This is because the spirit is within the rules; it "pervades all the statistics, mechanics, and descriptions that make up the rules". The game master can do best by creating rules that capture that elusive spirit.

An analogy might help here. Think of a well built recipe. You can spell out each of the ingredients and in what quantities and how to mix them together to get the perfect concoction every time. But then try an actually describe the taste of that brilliantly baked souffle, or elegant chocolate cake. You can't do it. It's like describing the color red. We know what wavelengths make up the color, but we can't actually describe the experience of redness. It eludes definition. Trying to capture that essence is confounding and can actually impede the achievement of the spirit of the thing itself. If all we were to say is something like: to bake the perfect chocolate cake aim for the smoothness of silky velvet, with the smoky toasted richness of cocoa beans over an open fire, suffused with the immersive dip into a lake of crystal clear sugarcane juice. What the heck does that mean? And even if it does in some small way replicate the experience of a chocolate cake it will not help the cook make one. Not unless he is so intimately familiar with the parts and proportions of the recipe and how their elements combine and chemically meld to create the experience itself. That is simply hard to capture in words. And an attempt to do so can actually be counterproductive to producing the end product.

And now for the AD&D punchline, in Gygax's own words:
"For example purposes (and despite already having made the point that the spirit of the game cannot be defined in so many words), I shall attempt to characterize the spirit of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game. This is a fantasy RPG predicated on the assumption that the human race, by and large, is made up of good people. Humans, with the help of their demi-human allies (dwarfs, elves, gnomes, etc.), are and should remain the predominant force in the world. They have achieved and continue to hold on to this status, despite the ever present threat of evil, mainly because of their dedication, honor, and unselfishness of the most heroic humans and demi-humans--the characters whose roles are taken by the players of game. Although players can take the roles of "bad guys" if they so choose, and if the game master allows it, evil exists in the game primarily as an obstacle for player characters to overcome. If they succeed in doing this, as time goes on, player characters become more experienced and more powerful--which enables them to contest successfully against increasingly stronger evil adversaries. Each character, by virtue of his or her chosen profession, has strengths and weaknesses distinctly different from those possessed by other types of characters. No single character has all the skills and resources needed to guarantee success in all endeavors; favorable results can usually only be achieved through group effort. No single player character wins, in the sense that he or she defeats all other player characters; the goal of the forces of good can only be attained through cooperation, so that victory is a group achievement rather than an individual one." (ibid 26-27)

Wow. doesn't that paragraph answer tons of "questions" and so-called "problems" that we supposedly "find" in the AD&D game? We can immediately see why racial level and ability limits were imposed. We are given in one fell swoop that entire purpose of the game--to defeat evil by heroic action, principally dedication, honor and unselfishness. and why the class system was in place with its very specific game-balancing skill set narrowly defined by class. These weren't arbitrary limitations or mistakes. They hit to the heart of the game, the very spirit of what we are taking part in. While the game doesn't exclude monster characters, or characters of evil alignment it makes it clear that such additions, modifications or "changes" should be done carefully with an eye to the spirit of the game. Indeed well-played evil assassin or thief or 1/2 orc fighter might be a challenging and ethically complex PC to play exactly because of the spirit of the game. Wholesale or wanton changes to the game twist it into something it was never meant to be and in fact make it a completely different game. Gygax made this clear when a little later in the next chapter he says about adding new material to an existing game: "Acceptability [of the new material], though, comes with a caveat: The new material must operate within the scope of the game as defined by its rules and spirit." (Ibid pg 30)

What I see as a trend in RPG's is a trend to power at the expense of actual story telling and role playing. And I'm not the only one. Gygax said of 4e "The new D&D is too rule intensive. It's relegated the Dungeon Master to being an entertainer rather than master of the game. " (Gamespy Interview, Pt 2, 16 Aug 2004) When role-playing and storytelling take a backseat to the opportunity for players to become power mongers and rules-lawyers you have a game that is more decidedly a strategy based game in spirit and not a role playing game. It is closer to a video game or a game of risk than an actual game of role playing a mutual story. Now, I'm not saying this _shouldn't_ be done. To each his own. But such changes to games like AD&D have fundamentally changed the game into something it was never intended to be.

Again, from Gygax:

"Too often, new material purporting to add to a game system is nothing more than a veiled attempt to dominate the game milieu through power, not skill. Such creativity, if it can be called that, amounts to a perversion of the game. It is much like cheating at solitaire. Understanding the scope of opportunity offered to PC's by the game system will certainly discourage the intelligent players from such useless activity."

*ouch* Well, he's not really attacking people who want to do things differently, he's recommending that you don't add add material that changes the nature of the game. Go play a different game if you want to do that--or create a new one. And I, frankly, agree.

Lastly we have the idea of the cooperative nature of play. This shows up in the divided roles of characters, and party balance being required to overcome the greatest amount and type of obstacles. Here, I would ask a question: can a party(and gaming group for that matter) game successfully together if they don't understand and agree on the spirit of the game involved? It might be best to leave this question as a rhetorical one, but I can;t help but opine here: I don't think so. I believe one of the quickest ways to ruin a game is to violate its spirit. Another is to allow interpersonal differences to impede game play--but that's for another essay. A group that is pulling in different directions might as well sit down and agree on terms, play something else they can all agree on or split up.

In the end I think we can all agree on the fact that spirit is what makes a game what it is. Each RPG has one, and some share the same spirit. But let's not say it's irrelevant, or that it doesn't exist. Understanding this principle will help us immensely in our own gaming and make us more universally capable gamers. It can act as a metric against which games can be measured, and one which I believe is more useful that crunchy or lite or soft or hard or cinematic or realistic or a dozen others. While it might be more challenging to utilize such a metric because precise definitions don't exist--I do believe it can be done.

The method of course involves rules and comparison of core rule sets and optional extensions used so often as to be considered core. Such discussions pose the danger of rules debates--this will miss the point. This is not a debate, as much as it is an endeavor in comparison and contrast. Much like a Venn diagram that can correlate what rule sets have in common and what is different. This gets to the heart of where the spirit lives--in the rules themselves.

Okay let me explain how I REALLY feel about werewolves. . .

Okay, so earlier today I complained about being bit by a werewolf. So what? You say. Big deal, quit being a whiner and suck it up. That's what werewolves do after all. And that's the kind of risk adventurers encounter in just about every adventure they undertake.

Yeah. You're right. But that's not what I was torqued about.

First werewolves are cool monsters for exactly that reason--they tick people off. They get you mad, or they make you afraid. In fact, come to think of it the second emotion probably engenders the first. For players there's the risk of immediate risk of having your beloved character ripped into shredded elf, dwarf, halfling or what have you and having your entrails serve as a lycan's spaghetti entree. That's enough to make anyone shudder. But that's not the real threat of a werewolf.

Werewolves are madness incarnate. Indeed clinical lycanthropy is an actual mental illness that causes its victims to truly believe they turn into animals and act accordingly. But the werewolves of legend are the worst of psychotic killing machines, evil to the core. The reasoning behind this logic was their direct connection to the devil, with only one recorded ancient exception claimed by Theiss in 1692 Livonia. But with that one questionable incident to the contrary werewolves were either voluntarily or involuntarily subjected to madness, contagion or curse of becoming the bloodthirsty murderous fiends that were known as werewolves. Etymologically the word is connected to the Old Norse term Vargulf. A Vargulf is the kind of lupine predator that slaughters numerous animals in a flock without feeding on them, as if out of the pure joy and thrill of killing for its own sake. In fact children and maidens were a favored part of their diet. That is the fate that awaits the hapless soul condemned to lycanthropy in the true fantasy genre. So the real horror, the real danger is losing yourself to an insane madness where nothing matters anymore but the madness and the urge to kill.

So when a character becomes so infected it is a thing to be fought at all costs. Even the cutpurse or fighter of lowest intellect can see the awfulness of losing ones sense of self and purpose and being to the madness of lycanthropy. There is nothing good in it. The power, strength and abilities one gains is nowhere near the price one has to pay. The cost for one's immortal soul is far too high as well. So who would want to become such a beast? If one desired such a thing they would be already near insanity or so clearly evil they should be destroyed long before they become infected. Serial killer psychology comes to mind.

Such is decidedly NOT the role for heroes to play. And not the fate anyone would wish for their character as a player, let alone as a character in role. So are werewolves to be despised? Yes. Shunned? Yes. Pitied--only in as much as the soul locked within the curse can be saved. Destroyed? Yes--as a scourge upon the realm of men and a danger to all things good, especially the innocent upon whom they often prey. If they can be destroyed by divine healing magic, the alchemical magic of herbal remedies, or by blade--destroyed they must be.

So all that's cool--but is that what made me mad? Nope. Not anymore than the clear danger it posed to my good aligned wizard Imnyr and his fellow party members. No that is not what made me mad at all.

What really ticked me off was the attitude of the DM. One: that he was using the exact same "scenario" that had been thrown at me before and aware of the frustration it had engendered in me before. Two: that his "logic" (exactly that of the previous scenario I had struggled against) was that it was cool to be a werewolf--that characters would love this "boon" bestowed upon them be a "creative" DM. That it would be "cool" to DM a bunch of superpowered were-characters.

First this whole concept that werewolves are "cool" in the sense of making your character "better" is so completely against the spirit of AD&D it made me want to puke. It not only makes me what to puke it makes me want to scream out loud to anyone that will listen "CAN'T YOU IDIOTS SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING!!!!! YOU ARE RUINING WHAT THE GAME IS ALL ABOUT!!!!!!!" . . . sigh . . . big breath . . .

And that, my friends, is what made me mad.

I'll continue this spirit of the game in a later post. I've actually already written some about it, but I should clarify again to place my rantings in context. So, don't think I was whining about the werewolf--I can handle werewolves. It's the iffy DM's I struggle with.