Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Old School Kid Lost In A New School World

First read this:

I found it wandering around looking for inspiration to resolve my current dilemma.

Now, read the following which I share from a discussion on the very excellent Knights and Knaves forum:

In response to my comment that, Gygax and Arneson were seminal to the hobby, Axe Mental says:

"And what really pisses "them" off (and by them I mean everyone after Gygax and Arneson desiring to "improve" or simply complain) is that Gygax and Arneson got it 100% right with 1E on the first shot. . . the perfect home run never again to be surpassed in the FRPG world. No one has touched it in quality, following or sales. The fact that they got it perfect makes those making later "improvements" obsolete (that must kill them, after all they have to make their name too ... can't be fun always in Master G's shadow). Also, Gygax didn't aim for the lowest common denominator, believing kids could handle it. That says alot I think."

To put it all in perspective allow me to explain my "dilemma". What I didn't mention in my last couple of entries is that I have this nagging discomfort with C&C, and with HM. It's a sort of a back of the brain thing. Sort of lurks back there in the shadows making me slightly nauseous and incapable of completely enjoying the game despite my smiles and passionate pro-formed tirades. It's like worrying you forgot to turn off the burner on the stove. Now you are at work and you can't do anything about it--there's no one to call. So you are constantly plagued by visions of your house burning down, or returning home to a large, scorch-marked, propane-induced hole in the ground.

With C&C it started with the skills checks. It felt a little light and fluffy. It didn't feel quite "real" enough for me. I had some mechanics issues and questions, but those were pretty much answered by dropping by the Troll Lord forums and re-reading some of the rule books. But still, that little devil of an itch wouldn't go away. At first I thought it was maybe that I really preferred Hackmaster and that I had somehow betrayed that interest in deciding to go with C&C due to the fact that I play with a younger crowd. (You can read this thought process in my last two entries.) The kids need a simpler ruleset, I reasoned. But the more I read back over Hackmaster to get a feel for the cause of my unease the worse it got. Hackmaster wouldn't be any different would it? Last night I fell asleep with a GURPs 5th edition book at my side. Maybe Steve Jackson would have some answers. ... here we go again.

Firk! Ding! Blast! Where the frack was I going with all this?

Well, I certainly suffer from overthinking things. So not too long ago I knew I just had to apply the old strategy of the PDAC model for dealing with analysis paralysis. Basically PDAC is the Plan, Do, Assess and Correct model. Basically don't let yourself get hung up in the planning stage -- a real pitfall for me in a lot of areas of my life. I take forever analysing my options to find the one perfect solution. Problem is I end up never making a decision, just eternally tweaking my research. So the real solution becomes: Get out and actually DO something! So I did. I tried C&C. But it wasn't quite "it" for me. That was clear before the first session ended. Obviously I am now assessing my decision and in need of some correction.

So here I am this morning wondering what the heck to do, and I come across The Great Fane's blog.


I don't think anyone could have expressed how I feel more succinctly than he could have. As I read his words, all of my old flaming tirades on the boards, groups and forums came back in a flood. I used to be the OSR banner holder and felt the cause like a fire in the bones; with ALL of my heart and soul. But, after a while I grew weary of the arguments; and of being considered a troublemaker, troll and nothing but a disgruntled grognard. I started to temper my comments with understanding. To each his own right? I also started to look for some replacement for my nostalgia bottle.

The problem has become I've bounced around for so long from system to system looking for the return of the gaming messiah. But face it folks, Gary Gygax aint comin back like Gary Jackson did in KODT.Would that he could. And in a way part of me still hopes for it. But I'm searching around looking for that "something" that could replace TSR really and truly. I mean heck look at the captions on my own page. Troll Lord the new TSR??? What the hell was I thinking?

Just like Axe Mental said, Gary and Dave got it right those many years ago. The problem is in carrying out Matt Finch's dream of creating a "quality" market of new AD&D product. We've got the vehicle to do it legally via OSRIC. The problem is there is no control on quality. And like The Fane said, there's no shortage of crap out there. Dee and others like him aren't doing us many favors simply because they used to be associated with old school. You have to weed through so much detritus to get to the gold gems you can sometimes still feel lost in a morass of decaying manuscripts and imitation diamonds.

So this really leaves me thinking. Not just about my own campaign or games. But about my blog, and more importantly my "place" in the classic realm of rpgs. All one has to do is follow my presence on the forums, like KCo, Knights and Knaves, GURPS, EnWorld, Troll Lord et al to get the impression I'm a schizophrenic psycho when it comes to my gaming passions. Old School, yeah, but what does all his amped up praise of first one system and then another tell us? In truth, not much. Where am I really?

One thing I'm sure of is that The Fane's worries were well founded. But that was in 2007. It's now 2011 and I will now admit to a growing "market" of old schoolers turning out some fairly decent gaming product. It's growing slowly, but it does seem to be growing. What can I do with that? I recall my disgust with the OSRIC unearthed document in regards to the classes presented therein. Just not the quality I am looking for in OS AD&D product. There needs to be some clearing house for OSRIC (read AD&D) compatible product; which I believe is being achieved at the Knights & Knaves Forum. What is also needed however is an actively commenting community reviewing these products to keep us honest in our efforts at keeping the quality level high for AD&D/OSRIC.

So that makes me think some changes are due around here. Cosmetic and at the core. First and foremost I'm trying to keep the world of AD&D alive. The vehicle for achieving that is really through OSRIC. So expect to hear more on that front. Also, I'm going to focus more on buying and reviewing classic product designed for the AD&D crowd. And lastly, true to form for me, I'm going to do some theorizing on what it is we are actually creating here. This is truly a grass roots market out here. OSRIC itself is the posterchild of what we are about. We need to police ourselves as we build this new kingdom on the ruins of the old. We need to stay true to form. And what really is AD&D and its place and presence in the world today. Don't just expect more cheerleading designed to convince myself as much as you. I'm already convinced. Let's get serious about the discussion at hand. Classic RPG discussion.

Sure, I'll entertain other systems and their product. Especially as it relates to the best game known to man -- AD&D. But don't expect any punches pulled. And i don't expect you to pull any either. It's time or us to pull up our big boy pants and get real.

Stay tuned for what's to come, it's liable to get exciting around here.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Hackmaster the True, Don't Get Me Wrong!

Please don't misunderstand me. You have to know me a little before you go off half cocked and assume I'm two faced. I admitted some entries ago that I'm like the Charlie Brown of the Gaming world. I also waaaaaay overthink things. When it comes right down to it you have to really get your hands dirty with a system before you can comment intelligently upon it. Which is one of the reasons I'm able to confidently converse about so many systems. But here lately it had come down to two strong loves in my gaming life. Okay three, but my horror tastes are pretty much dominated by Call of Cthulhu with no solid contenders to shove it aside. But as for fantasy I am totally in love with two different gals. And in my heart I'm just a one system man -- ugh, sounds like a bad country song. At any rate you can sense the cause of some of my angst.

So, what's this about not getting me wrong and Hackmaster the True? Well, you see, my last entry might have given one the impression that Castles and Crusades was the best game going. Fact is it is the best game going for our middle school/junior high school club. It's simple, it's direct and it's about as rules lite as a game could get. Wonderful to gamers new to the gaming world. And yes, it has portable crunch. But I've already run into a few things I would do differently if given more experienced players. I find myself looking to Hackmaster and drooling copiously over it's well crafted crunch, especially the combat crunch. Should I switch, could I switch, dare I switch? AARGH!!!

No, not right now. See, the reason I went with C&C is that it fits with this group right now, at their level of gaming maturity. Where we will end up is a matter for the gaming gawds to decide. The fact is my rotating door of gamers makes it awfully difficult to grow gaming experience beyond a couple of years. We are a two year school and few gamers hold on with us until their senior year. A few stay active in our club through grade 10 and 11 but they are comparatively rare. And by they time they move through the normal progression from bumbling newbie gamer, to hesitant sword poker, to rotating class/race tryer, onto fledgling power gamer, to branch into either overacted melodramatic roleplayer or mega powergamer, and finally to an actual journeyman gamer--they are long gone from the school system. Admittedly some progress faster than others, but we all went through the stages, and frankly it takes awhile to get to a level where you can call yourself a decent gamer.

And C&C is an incredibly forgiving system where this player development arc is concerned. Hackmaster is brutal in this regard. And to be honest it is sort of against my nature to even be forgiving in the manner that C&C is. I much prefer my games hard-hitting, gritty with just the right touch of darkness. Of course humor is always present in my game in various proportions, but I still like the cards dealt hot and the bodies cold. My PC body count is high, and my TPK count aint shabby either. I suppose that's why Tomb of Horrors is one of my all time favorite dungeons. Unforgiving to the max. I literally salivate when I read Hackmaster. And the little my student players know about this leaves them quaking with fear.

In fact, one 8th grader when I told him I was thinking about starting an HM campaign literally shouted, "NO! Not Hackmaster!!"

"Why not?" I innocently asked.

"Cause it's too freakin' deadly!"

And I'm sorry, but I couldn't help myself, I laughed. It may have been a slightly maniacal laugh too. But afterwards I explained the truth of the matter: "Yeah, but if you survive in Hackmaster you know you've really achieved something!"

And that is it, in a nutshell. Hackmaster and Castles & Crusades are both great games. And I'm sure C&C could be run deadly and HM could be run slightly softer. But let them reign in their own domains. They both do what they do exceptionally well, and both companies are absolutely aces. For now, my kids and I run our C&C game, and we are enjoying it. Though I've had a few issues come up, which I'll write more on later. But I also carry my HM books with me wherever I go, except for Church maybe. Waiting and praying to the Gawds for the right time and the right gamers to start the game I dream about.

See, I don't have the luxury right now of running a game with gamers my own age. Heck who am I kidding, I'd take ANY gamers that were adults. And if I could find some I'd recommend a Hackmaster game hands down. But my community is a small one, and the pickins are fairly slim. Maybe in a few more years there will at least be a few 20 somethings out there that started in the club and have a little more experience under their belts. Maybe then they'll be ready for a _real_ game. Heh, heh ... was that me or my Bob Herzog alter ego laughing? Sometimes I can't tell the difference.