Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Castles & Crusades Won the Day

Why did Castles and Crusades end up being the perfect fit for the VJH RPG Club's needs? Well in a word: rules. You see my role as adviser of the Role Playing Game club is two fold. One to administer and run the club, let's face it, rare is the kid who is willing to take the bull by the horns and run a club himself. We tried to do it when we were teens at our high school. In fact we had a proposal written up on the benefits of gaming and everything. Ready to present it to our principal that week; we were bushwacked by 60 minutes horrendous "expose'" on D&D -- drat the yellow journalism of the 80's. Anyway our principal just happened to see that episode and we were sunk before we left her office. No way was she going to let that devil's plaything into her school.

*Sigh* anyway, I wax acerbic in my digressions ...

The fact is I run the club, I make it happen. At least initially; until the games get rolling and the momentum of the kids burgeon my room to the tune of over 20 active gamers all hungry for a game up to 4 times a week.

So that speaks to my first purpose. My second role in the gaming club is really the purpose of the gaming club as a whole: to recruit new gamers, grow the gaming community and be a beacon of good gaming PR. I suppose that's actually three purposes rolled into one, but nonetheless many of my activities related to the club fulfill the trifecta of the real purpose of the gaming club. Okay, that may be a bit idealistic. The real purpose above all and everything else is just to have fun gaming. But allow me _some_ drama.

So, if bringing new recruits into the gaming world is my first and foremost purpose, or at least one them, I need a game that is easily consumable by novice gamers. Those who regularly follow my little gaming articles are well aware that I have looked for the prefect replacement gaming system since AD&D. So the system should fulfill all my wishes and desires for a system that runs and feels very much like the AD&D of old.

I was really down to one of two: Castles and Crusades or Hackmaster. Both hold a place dear to my heart and both their companies are more than one could wish for in a gamer friendly, quality product producing, creative group and community. Their forums are more than proof of that. Go and hang out there awhile, and a more gamerly, friendly, and generally cool group you'll never meet.

When you compare the two it's quite difficult to decide who comes out on top. Hackmaster has KODT and the KODT feel. HM is a, if you'll excuse me, geek orgasm of kewl crunchiness and intricacy that any long time gamer could appreciate. Moreover you _had_ to take the game seriously. If you didn't a buck toothed vorpal squirrell from their Hacklopedia of Beasts would jump out and frickin' decapitate your favorite character. I mean that game is deadly in a way only old school games could be. But Castles and Crusades is a brilliantly written piece of work. And though it paid several nods to later d20 style gaming mechanics; its focus on storytelling and roleplaying it couldn't be beat. And the seige engine was a big part of that: One central mechanic to rule them all one to bind them. The setting of the Rings of Brass simply kicked butt, and who couldn't help but like Stephen Chenault?

Anyway, I wrassled back and forth in my heart and head for some time. I also tried to sell the kids on one or the other. HM scared lots of them off. Too complex, takes to long to make a character, etc etc. So in the end C&C won the day for simplicity and ease of use, along with similarity of feel to the good old days. And I must say, our first session was buttered honey. Whoever wrote the Rising Knight A0 module should be awarded an Ennie. I love the way it's woven into the setting, and it's old school feel. The writing alone is enough like Old High Gygaxian to make me think I'm reading from the pen of the master himself. And the players loved it. The NPCs were so detailed and so well developed I was able to breath life into them with a mere whiff. The small hamlet of Malforten is very likely to figure heavily in our pcs future exploits exactly because of how well developed the place was. Kudos to Davis Chenault (I just looked up the author) for a job well done. Way to represent the Troll Lords and this excellent game. I'm fairly sure we've found our home in the VJH RPG club, and Castles and Crusades is it.

More on the review of Knight's Rising, The Rings of Brass Setting, and perhaps some play by play of our adventurer's journey soon to come. And I've just discovered the new Castle Keeper's Guide is so geeked out with KODT style wondermousness that I think I'm about to blow my gaming-geek-o-meter. Can't pass that up!

Game on!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Crusading for Castles

The game is due to start next week. Monday we'll be making characters and jumping in with both feet. The Pathfinder group has decided to keep their game going and stick with what they know and love -- Pathfinder. That's kewl. I'm happy for them. They have continued carrying their game forward with commitment and imagination. I listened in today and felt like their GM was doing a good job. The players seem into it, and keep coming back for more. They are currently exploring a goblin lair with a crew of 5 pcs and 2 tag along npcs. Nobody died last session,but overall the death count has been fairly high. That happens with new GMs, sure did with me when I was starting out.

Actually it was a little hard to tell them I wasn't going with Pathfinder. Not because it was Pathfinder, but because they had a good thing going, and they were dedicated gamers. Not mature or very experienced, but I would have liked to support their passion. Truth be told however, it's best that these gamers take off on their own, and continue under their own steam.

It's funny how things work. Not three months ago I was frustrated because so many of the club gamers were reluctant to continue gaming outside of the club. A few would run games at their houses, but not many really took hold and ran an ongoing game. So due to other circumstances I had to cancel the club for awhile so I could catch up. And lo and behold a core group materializes on their own and is up and gaming every Tuesday and Thursday. That's just cool. It's gratifying to know that sometimes it does stick.

I don't want to leave everyone else behind however. There are some gamers out there that simply aren't GM material. I mean they _could_ run a game, but they just don't have a lot of interest in trying, or they can't find players willing to play in their games. They want to play, they just don't have others willing to play. It's a problem common to all gamers everywhere, teen to adult. Which is the reason the club exists. To bring gamers to the hobby, build the gaming base of the community and strengthen the hobby as a whole. So no matter when and where you are in our tri county area a gamer can find a game and gamers that suit his style and gaming interests. The vision is a lot like the Hackmaster vision expressed in The Knights of Dinner Table comic. Gamers everywhere in groups across the area, linked to the greater gaming community. Conventions -- local, state, regional and national. Gaming organizations, gaming panels, gaming magazines, and on and on. Something bigger than us all. And I suppose I see the club as a small part of that. The generation of gamers to come each and every year.

The success of the club has been gratifying even though the commitment required from me has continued to grow over the five years we've been running it. Students who don't really have a place elsewhere now fit in. They have friends and peers with common interests. They love coming to school now, some for the first time ever. Several parents tell me each year how much the club means to their child and that they are so pleased with their activity therein. Beyond even that, for me, is the light of interest and joy in their eyes that they have for this wonderful hobby. To see their imaginations open, grow and take wings is incredibly gratifying. And it's great to have so many fellow gamers to talk to. Especially ones so excited by the newness of the past time.

So as a new game starts and I look for six players for our new campaign I hope first and foremost to run a good, fun game. Next to continue to build player skill and perhaps inspire the birth of the next long term group that continues to game long after they leave the Junior High.

The question is: which system to use? Actually it came to me in a flash just today as I talked about the new game with a student. Castles & Crusades. What could be more appropriate? After all the club itself is a crusade for gaming and the gaming life. More later about why C&C seems so perfect right now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Pathfinder Really That Bad?

Recently my gaming group had to take a hiatus for me to catch up on paperwork, which seems the bane of all teachers in today's age. It's even worse in my field of special education, but hey -- it pays the bills. So anyway, my group has largely dissolved back into the woodwork of the school. All that is but for a die-hard crew of 5 that continues to come to my room to game until I leave each day about 430 or 500. Sure they play Pathfinder, and not OSRIC, 1e, or Hackmaster, but they are still gaming hard with little sign of letting up or stopping. They have inspired me to say the least.

So , now that I'm fairly caught up with my work overload and have my new behavioral class under control I'm starting to talk about the idea of starting up the club once or twice a week again. I figure I can manage that. Well the Pathfinder guys are pumped about it; and I have to admit, if I had to choose six gamers to support in the club five of them would be the Pathfinder group. They just, well, deserve it.

I have a hard time reaching out to the others that claim to love to game and even those who like OSRIC and old school gaming. But haven't cracked a rulebook once in the last 5 weeks.

So what's the problem you ask? Well, the die hards want to game, yeah you guessed it: Pathfinder.

Now, I like Pathfinder as a game. I like it better than 4e and as much if not more than 3.5. Paizo's support is amazing, better than WoTC by far in terms of quality product and relations with their customer base. But I just have a few old grognardy issues with the game.

My problems with PF:

First is multiclassing. I hate the multiclassing concept in PF. I mean come on, you have a fighter trucking around in the woods hacking baddies and he earns enough xp's to advanced to second level, so he ... takes a level as a WIZARD! For ciminy's sake! How the heck do you figure that? It just stretches my belief too far. It makes no sense whatsoever. Not to mention the 4th level pc who is a 1st level cleric, 1st level wizard, 1st level ranger, 1st level paladin. Give me a frickin' break.

Okay so no big problem here. Simply disallow multiclassing. I can live with that. The game can live with that and we are all good.

Secondly, prestige classes. Same issue as multiclassing, sort of. Classes like prestige classes really out to be carefully roleplayed and I do mean carefully. Even IF you allow them they should NOT be easy to acquire.

So cut them out too. Lots of 3.5 GMs disallowed them too. No big prob there either.

Thirdly, and the real killer. Feats. I despise feats. If there was ever a power game mechanic besides 4e powers it has to be feats. What exactly are they anyway? As you advance in level in any level based rpg you gain power by being able to do more stuff. Otherwise there is not much point to a level based system. If the game has this built in why do we need feats? Why? I'll tell you why: POWERGAMING. Yes, every game suffers to one point or another by powergaming, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Nor should the system have a built in power gaming mechanic. Loopholes are fine, even rules or mechanics errors in the ruleset. These things have always existed and will be discussion for rules lawyers long after we're gone. But to write in a power gaming mechanic is to me anathema. I don't like it and hate it even more than multiclassing or prestige classes.

And the trouble with this is that you CAN'T get rid of it. It's built into the system. All classes are balanced by distribution of feats, especially at first level. And races and classes like humans and fighters are balanced by being able to acquire more feats. If you start jacking with feats in Pathfinder you're jacking with a core part of the system. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it seems to be a bigger headache than I'm willing to put up with.

So, what do I do for the die hard PF players who want me to GM again? I'm not sure. But every time I mention Hackmaster they shake in their junior high tennis shoes. Heh heh ... This could be fun.