Thursday, January 6, 2011

AD&D, OSRIC -- And What is What?

So my current project is a personal one. Not really designed to be disseminated except for those in my campaigns. I am rewriting the entire corpus of 1e rules. My hope is to cover the following:

Everything rule related published from 1978 to 1989 -- basically everything for use with 1e. That would include, at least:

PHB -- Player's Handbook
MM -- Monster Manual
DMG -- Dungeon Masters Guide
DDG -- Deities & Demigods (Selected Portions)
UA -- Unearthed Arcana
DSG -- Dungeoneers Survival Guide
WSG -- Wilderness Survival Guide
MoP -- Manual of the Planes
Dragon Mags up from June 1976 through 1989
MMII -- Monster Manual II
FF -- Fiend Folio
OA -- Oriental Adventures
GH -- Greyhawk Adventures
Other Greyhawk Supplements

My purpose in doing so is twofold. First it will intimately re-familiarize me with the rules in a way few other projects can. Secondly it will allow me to present my "campaign version" of the rules that I play.

I must admit, however, that I'm inclined to simply re-read the entire corpus and create an "outline" of the rules in the interest of time. It is simply taking a heccuva lotta time to get this project moving along. I tend to type about 2 pages a day. A rough estimate would put the project at about 7 years -- yikes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fellow Knights for the Dinner Table

Finding gamers to game with is no small feat later in life. Sure there are all sorts of networking possibilities: hobby shops,, dndcontact, etc. etc. But let's face it just finding bodies isn't the key -- they have to be the right "kind". Which basically means we get along with them and enjoy gaming with them. And gamers seem to have no small challenges here.

The gaming crowd is a little less socially nuanced and confident than most other populations. So working and playing well with others isn't exactly our strong suit. This can create problems for us in finding new friends to game with. We can be a cantankerous and opinionated lot and this leads to arguments that can become personal at times. Now, I'm not talking about 100% of the gaming pop., just the majority of us.

A good example can be seen in the documentary film the Gamemasters -- I'll review that soon btw. One of the GMs ends up quitting gaming altogether because his players are arguing and yelling so much he feels under appreciated and dejected. Very classic problems faced by people who have struggled with acceptance most of their lives.

So I think we first need to lighten up, be a little more long suffering, and be willing to take constructive criticism and reflect on our own imperfections and idiosyncrasies. However, that implies we actually have people to do that with. Finding gamers can still be a problem.

I think another problem is the fact that as we grow we become much less childlike. Note I didn't say childish, I said childlike. Have you ever noticed how easy it is for kids to make friends? They simply waltz up introduce themselves and say, wanna play? Wanna come over to my house? Do you like to play cops and robbers? Sometimes they skip the intro altogether and just jump in with both feet. They can walk up to a playground alone and walk away with seven new friends. Adults aren't like that anymore. We're self conscious, embarrass easily, and much more awkward than kids. So rule number two goes hand in hand with rules number one--reclaim your inner child.

So with these two rules in hand we are now prepared to make use of all those gaming connection crossroads. Keep in mind that most of us have to go through a few players to find the right mix for us. Building a long term group that works well together, puts up with each other, looks forward to getting together each week or month to game and builds a synergy like the Knights of the Dinner Table themselves takes time. But it's well worth it. I haven't had a group like that since I was a teen.

I'm working at building one again though. Next time stay tuned for gamer roles -- just for kicks.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Systemation Breakdown

Just a note, I recommend reading the entry before this to really understand what I'm driving at here ... just a thought.

The year was 1974 ... And I was 5 ...

As much as I might have liked to have been in on the era of the little brown books I wasn't. While lusty young college nerds at the University of Chicago and Ball State were busy rolling up characters I was still playing cowboys and Indians and sleeping with my giant blue teddy bear. So I feel only a peripheral connection with the Oe guys. My gaming days were to begin a good 6 or 7 years later. However, one day recently I came across a retro clone entitled Swords and Wizardry. I had been wondering if 0e perhaps did suit me "better" than what I was raised on. Wasn't it, after old, the "original" form of the game? And then I read the _Primer on Old School Gaming_ and I fell in love.

By the way you can have your own love affair with his stuff here:

Anywho, Finch managed to capture the feel of the way I loved to game. Anybody who had lived to attempt Tomb of Horrors knew the wonders of a ten foot pole. So it had to be that extreme rules light was the way I was meant to play! No matter that I cut my teeth on the deep and esoteric disciplines of first Edition. Endless nights spent poring over tomes written in Old High Gygaxian in order to decipher some obscure rule marginalia. Finch had really nailed it -- I was a "old-school-rules-light" gamer at heart ... wasn't I?

Problem was, everybody else who read Finch loved him too. No matter how crunchy their chosen ruleset, they all wanted to lay claim to such a "pure" gaming feel. Endless flame wars online led me to realize that this term "old school" was a lot more controversial than might appear at first glance.

The arguments when something like,

"What the hell you mean I'm not old school?! I've been playing since 1976!"

"But don't you play 3.5 or something?"

"Yeah, but I run it old school man!!"


What exactly was old school anyway? Forums were being held at Gen Con about the retro clone movement and con after con was organizing debates on what defined old school from, well -- everything else? And at the same time I was getting back into those lovable Paper Paladins the Knights of the Dinner Table:

And their unique brand of crunchy gamestering seemed just the kind of thing I was hankering for too. And think what you may of rules lawyers and Hack, neither one thrive in a rules light world. Should rules light do it for me if this was the case? One thing Swords and Sorcery, LL, BFRPG weren't was Hackmaster -- let alone it's mother-muse the massively expansive Second Edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

So 1974 left me with six shooters and Indian headdresses.

Years roll on and we finally hit my 12th year. 1981 and I'm introduced to the best thing on earth. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. (I've been through my gaming awakening before so suffice it to say that before I know it I'm hooked.) This was in the spring of '81 and that Christmas, after months of drooling over shiny new DMGs and PHBs and MMs in the bookstores I got all three for Christmas. Now, I've always been one for completion. And still being a relative noob to this gaming thing, I thought that for completion's sake I also needed the Basic and Expert Set. So a whole gaming library was dropped in my lap that Christmas morning of '81. Bless you Santa! (Yes, mom and dad I know it was you, but there might be kids reading ; - )

Very quickly I realized that I _didn't_ need Basic or Expert. That wasn't the game I had been playing all these months. My kewl new gaming buddies all had Advanced books. And by golly no self respecting gamer I knew (which amounted to about four at this point) would be caught dead playing basic (eeeeww), when you could play advanced! But no sweat, I now had B1 Keep on the Borderlands and X1 Isle of Dread to run for my friends! And of course the implicit understanding that Advanced was simply, well, _better_ was soon shared by my new gaming recruits/friends as well.

And such it was for what seemed like an endless summer. Actually over eight or nine years. Until one of my gaming friends appeared with his gaming books, with shockingly new, upscale artwork. Second Edition had arrived. I didn't even really understand until much later that they were actually a *gasp* revision *shudder* of the Advanced game. But it was still calling itself "Advanced". So we didn't feel too bad about borrowing the nifty stuff for our current campaigns. And there was really very little angst about the whole edition shift. We simply realized their were tons of options one could use. I never got into the d10 for intitiative--though I would later try it. I hated THAC0. I just liked all the charts. But we definitely used proficiencies, new spells and the new mage specialties. The class handbooks were cool -- some of them anyway. The art got a little cartoonish and by and large I hated the new Monstrous Compendium at first, but later came to appreciate it.

So the point of all the above, was: 1st E -- 2nd E ... meh. No big deal. We simply kept playing. The point was that we played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Pure and Simple. Gary was still out there, and we loved what the game was, to us. Nothing else mattered.

Until it did. life got the best of -- doesn't it always? And I took a rather long hiatus from gaming. By the time I returned the death knell of 3.5 was being sounded. But that didn't stop me from buying tons of new books and then choking when I realized 4e was to be released the next year. By the time I was gaming again, I knew one thing for sure. The gaming I knew didn't seem to be around anymore. Everyone seemed to be playing 3.5 and bitterly arguing over the soon to be spawned 4e. 4e?! Heck I missed 3e altogether.

You see, I don't know how many are in the same boat I found myself now. But I have responded to numerous emails --prolly with waaaay too many words (sort of like this blog entry)-- in an attempt to help old timers, some younger than me, seeking to re-enter the hobby of their youth but overwhelmed by all that is on the market today, make a decision as to where to start. Where hath the simplicity of yesteryear gone, when we just had TSR, Steve Jackson, Judges Guild and we all thought Tunnels and Trolls was a joke. Gary Gygax WAS roleplaying and that was it. Nobody was arguing back then. At least that was the way it seemed.

Oh, but let's not be pollyanna about it. There was arguing. And arguing a-plenty. There were DMs screaming at players and players hollering back and vowing to blacken DM x's reputation in the gaming world forever more. Why? What was all the arguing about? Certainly not editions. There weren't any. They were arguing rules. No, not everyone. But enough that many felt the rules needed a re-write, and some voted strongly for a major re-write at that. Boy were they gonna get it in spades.

The real black rumor of the game world was that some of those pro-changers were working at the Vaunted TSR itself. And in the ensuing politics of the election Gary would be run out on a rail and the game sold down the line to the liberals of the gaming industry.

... whew ... okay, big breath ... I'm waxing a bit polemical. Back on track ...

So I offered advice. Thinking a quick run down on the industry is what those lost sheep returning to the fold really needed. Pshaw. What they really needed was a good quick smack in the head. No, that's what I needed. They just needed to be told to play the game they always loved, but don't be afraid of trying something new -- they might like it. Weren't we really just back at the dawn of a new 2e with lots of options? Well it was hard to argue that. The lanscape had changed; and the cold hard truth was that it would take a rediscovery of who we were, our gaming selves at least. And not only that, but what the gaming industry had become. So maybe my long gaming history emails (I should have created a form email) might have been at least a small help.

Fact is returning to gaming these days is like starting over for the first time. It's like discovering it all over again. Which in a way is cool, if it wasn't filled with bittersweet and prolonged nostalgic episodes. Some re-enter and find what they are looking for in a new edition and that's that. I envy them. Others just dust off their old books and keep playing. Would that I were so confident in my gaming sensibilities. But many of us wallow forever amidst new books with glossy pages, black and white downloads of retro-clones, and the fingerstained copies of old and musty smelling treasures. Blank eyed stares lost in the glories of yesteryear, seeking for the Holy Grail of gaming, long lost in the Camelot of our gaming past; waiting, praying, hoping, for the return of the once and future king of our gaming hearts.

He never comes.

But something else does. Something deeper and more meaningful. We do. Our true and new gaming selves. We become the returning king. Arthur reborn. You see, these are the people who write the works like Dark Dungeons -- the excellent retro of the B/X era. And Joseph's brilliant work on his retro of 2e Adventures Dark & Deep. All of them, and the beautiful preservation of deep and meaningful roleplay in even more modern games like 3.5, Pathfinder and 4e. We find ourselves and achieve the level of mastery that Gary Gygax hinted at in his wonderful little book called Role Playing Mastery. The deep love for and knowledge about the game that goes into the creation of these types of endeavors displays just the sort of mastery Gary talked about. And that sort of mastery does something beyond bless the gaming world with greater strength. It fulfills us in a way that little else does.

That's why I will eternally sing the praises of men like Steve Chenault, Dave Kenzer, Mark Plemmons, and Jolly Blackburn. They are keeping it real and living the dream. They are shining examples to those of us still trying to figure it out, and figure ourselves out along the way.

So my edition play by play becomes less of an analysis and more of a gestalt. Where am I at? What do I play? What I always played -- what I am. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The very books I am writing right now. Writing in a world of options.

More on how that can be to come.

Hmmm -- decisions, decisions

So I've been through so much angst lately it's been hard to write. You see, work got so busy that I had to actually cancel the RPG Club. Yeah, it's been heartbreaking. I mean at first I thought it would be worth it, just to get some breathing room. I mean running two campaigns in two different systems four times a week was a bit much for this old grog. So I felt sure that it would be a welcome breather to take an indefinite hiatus. Well, that lasted about four hours. Before the day even ended I was bummed and missing it. I haven't gamed for three weeks now, and I'm not just missing it, I'm seriously depressed. I wake up depressed; and it takes a good hour or two to even get my bearings.

I keep thinking that maybe I'll start again when school is back in session. Once a week should be a lot better. But I need to get my new classes underway, and figure out how my new schedule is going to affect my stress level. Geez -- life is supposed to be more laid back than this. Well, my life is anyway.

Now the holidays are over and tomorrow I start back to work. I've spent my break doing honey-dos mostly, but also catching up on my reading, trying to get a few school files finished, and, you know, Christmassy stuff. But what's been on my mind is gaming. And not just gaming, but game systems.

I think I'm in love with system analysis. I'm not sure why, except it's some part of my twisted personality. You know the wishy-washy can't ever make up his mind part. Anyway I've taken up my old project of completely rewriting the entire AD&D rule set. Yep. Retyping the MM, PHB and DMG incorporating stuff from all the other rulebooks. Sort of a grand codex of rules I use. It had started out as a lost second edition project. But after seeing what James is doing with Adventures Dark and Deep I dropped my efforts. He's in a better place to do that anyway--as his games come closer to that than mine do.

I'm a first-e hack. No matter how you "hack it" as a matter of fact. I always come out the same: pro first edition. So here I am rewriting the entire rule set. I don't know if I'll ever use it let alone finish it, but it has been eye opening for me. I have come to the conclusion that by running a D&D club, I'm sort of limiting my game prospects. I can't ever run a "mature" campaign in the sense of a long developed one with skilled and experienced players. All my players have less than 5 years playing the game, and most are between 14 and 16. That was the time I really played too, but I was also young, immature and inexperienced back then. So my urge to restart the club has been tempered somewhat by reticence to enter the newbie scene again.

Which brings up a really good question. How much has my game environment influenced my system preferences? I mean I like things to keep moving, and there's nothing more certain to bog things down than newbies who don't understand the rules. Even when I played Hackmaster Basic at scout camp I dropped more complex and difficult to grasp rules (like initiative count up, move, shield rules etc.) and basically ran a simplified D&D game using Hackmaster PCs. It was the first time I had used the rules. How was I to expect myself to help them use rules I was still barely learning myself. Perhaps with a steadier and more committed game group we could work through it and add them as we go, but for now it's just me and a bunch of noobs.

So, I sit here trying to work out my own feelings about systems and who to play with and what to play the last day of Christmas Break. To sum it up I think it goes something like this:

1974 Era

  • Original Dungeons & Dragons
  • Swords and Wizardry
  • Lords & Labyrinths
1977 Era

  • First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
  • Lord & Labyrinths Companion
1989 Era

  • Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
  • Adventures Dark & Deep
Basic Expert Era

  • Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons
  • Dark Dungeons
Commercial Alternatives

  • Castles & Crusades
  • Hackmaster

Next time a system by system rundown and the associated whys and why nots ... for me at least. Stay tuned.