Saturday, October 8, 2011

Creating the Perfect Game

For me that is. Now, I can't say I'm particularly interested in creating a new game. More about putting together the game I'm interested in playing. But the fact is Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is not alive. Recall my rantings about gaming being dead? Well, all day I've read and contemplated and written various things about how to address this and I've encapsulated the matter in a series of logical premises:
  • 1e & 2e are no longer in print
  • HM 4e is not longer in print
  • OSRIC, ADD & other 2e clones are in print but are different from the originals
  • C&C & HM 5e are in print, but with issues
Which leads me to the following possible options:
  1. You can play out of print games without commercial support
  2. You can play out of print games and adapt open source support
  3. You can play clones (OSRIC, ADD et al) and use oop material as support only
  4. You can make your own new game blending the elements you like
  5. You can adapt to the new games and deal with issues
Each of these possibilities have problems that  cause me to stumble in my forward progress. These problems I can summarize as follows:
  1. Playing oop print games without commercial support doesn't capture the whole experience for me. As much as I might rail against it at times, community is very important to me. I like an avid central core organizing the direction of play. Even though our game runs the gamut of imaginative possibilities there still needs to be for me, a central organizing core and authority that unites us all. In this way the collective power of imagination can work in ways it otherwise can't. You can have other guys playing separate game sessions, but what they imagine is a part of the whole tapestry of the game united by the central core and mechanic. With everyone doing their own thing this collective contribution isn't possible.
  2. But isn't that what the OGL solved for us? People who wanted to keep playing oop games could produce their own support material and unite on a grass roots level. Well, yeah, but it doesn't work in the same way. A grass roots movement has no central authority, no organizing capacity because noone speaks for the whole. Their is no court of common consent. And due to this anything can go within a particular game and noone can say anything but state their own opinions about it. Instead of appealing to an adjudicating party to determine what is and what isn't a part of the collective whole. So just playing oop games and using the open source gaming community to feed this need is not the same thing.
  3. Neither is playing clones. The same argument stands here as it does for sticking with oop games and using open source content. So this doesn't solve my dilemma either.
  4. And making your own game does give you some more control. But the danger is that a new game in the current environment competes with all the other offerings out there and either ends up trying to make an island in the open source ocean. Or you try and make it distinct and commercial and garner your own community around your version of the game. Which is trying to recreate what was lost so long ago. The only reason to do this is if your game truly doesn't exist in any form possible. And in order to play it you need to write your version down so others can play it with you. And even then you don't avoid the problems mentioned above.
  5. Which leaves trying to find a game that suits you currently in print and supported with like minded individuals. The building of community has already started so that works in your favor though it will never reach the status of TSR back in the day. I find the best example of this in the Troll Lords and KenzerCo. But both games have issues that keep me hesitating on committing. I recently tried to commit to C&C, but at the last minute held back. I think it was the fact that C&C did not include elements I really like from games like 1e/2e and HM. There wasn't quite enough depth or crunch. Though I could add it if I liked. HM causes me to hesitate some, because I'm basically unfamiliar with the structure and it sort of gets in the way of my gaming verisimilitude. I've been reading over the HM4e PHB and GMG though and much of the elements seem variations or expansions on mechanics already embedded in the original games. So I'm turning this over in my mind.
I'll admit, when I decided on C&C recently I had allowed myself to be unduly influenced by other forces. It's funny because I blame myself entirely. I didn't even really here what I was hearing, but what I thought I was hearing and went out to find clothes to fit the new style. Now, this is not to say that I don't like C&C, I do. But it has issues for me, and I have to be honest about those. I wasn't being honest with myself. I'll also admit I let the OSR influence me. I really admire lots of people in that community and truly take their words to heart. But I have never really been a rules light gamer. I read Basic and expert and though I used their modules I never prefered that style of play. I always liked AD&D and we used most of the rules therein, with the exception of some of the weapons rules (speed, armor factor). I liked the rules extensions that came out of Dragon and adopted some of the 2e rue changes because they added to the game.

I've even allowed myself to speak out against Gary Gygax because of the supposed decisions that brought about AD&D. I want to publicly apologize for that. I always played Gary's game. For whatever reason he didn't see 0e as "his" game, and it appears rightfully so. There were lots of input and hands in that pot. It was a wide open and free wheeling creative process that brought 0e together. Gary took a deliberately different direction with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and he talks about this very fact in his introductions to the PHB. So whatever the background and reasons and causes AD&D is the direction Gary went. that is the game and the spirit I was familiar with and knew and loved. But  wasn't just AD&D and the books under it's heading. It was a spirit. And that spirit Gary speaks to at length in the DMG and in his later work Role-Playing Mastery. I'm sorry I ever doubted you Gary.

So where does that leave me? I'm not sure, but I'm still thinking and for the first time in quite awhile it feels like I'm headed in the right direction. I can see the castle again through the mists ahead.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Keep it Simple Stupid

Here the stupid would be me. And I'm not talking about keeping the gaming simple necessarily, although some people really prefer that. No, I'm talking about keeping the whole discussion simple. I think I've complicated the issue unnecessarily. I've over analyzed the game situation to the point that I'm paralyzed. Analysis -- Paralysis. That's me all over. So, let's go back to simplicity.

I like AD&D. I like the relatively expanded class selection available over other simpler systems. Even the somewhat esoteric and finicky elements like the way Bards were done, Druidic orders, the Monk, and Psionics. I like the 9 alignment system, and I like separate tables for different classes. Tables for experience, for HP, for abilities, etc. I like the to hit tables, but not as much as I thought I did. I like descending AC, but could be okay with going the other direction cause it opens up the top end. I like base races, but am open to select other races if they aren't monster races. I like 3d6 for ability scores in order as a GM; I like 4d6 drop the lowest, arrange as you like if I'm a player. I like critical hit tables, but I can understand how they might suck if they could kill a high level PC in one hit. I like the concept of threshold of pain rolls, but realize realism in combat can really bite. I like d10 for initiative in a 10 second segment. Spell casting time and weapon speed added to initiative accordingly. I like weapon proficiency in a guarded way, feel only straight fighters should have that advantage generally. I'm not sure I like double specialization though, but a more fighter specific table based on weapons used or choices made. I kind of like the way HMb handles this. I like an honor system used in sort of like HM uses it. The main purpose being the enforcement of alignment and role playing. I like the baroque nature of AD&D with stuff added on at uneven angles, odd ephemera jutting out here and there, forgotten hallways or rule expansion that end in dead ends or require secret rules doors to navigate out of. I like the option of character development tables being used to randomly determine background, social class, starting wealth, quirks, flaws and talents; height, weight, eye color, hair color,  even sex. The idea being of course that we don't know how we end up coming into the world. We deal with what we get. I like this as optional only. Character development should also be player driven should they so choose. The extreme benefits possible on a random table perhaps being offset by more severe penalties. Choose your own not allowing these possibilities.

I like deadly campaigns. One in which death is an ever present threat even at higher levels. That being said I do like systems that allow players to tweak their PC creation so as to min max certain elements of their character. I like GM information being only available to GMs. Realizing of course that in practice this is often impossible. Therefore I like the freedom as GM to come up with randomly determined monsters and encounters completely unexpected by players so as to keep them guessing and on their toes. I like a mixture of dark, horror laden adventures, gritty high fantasy if you get my meaning, mostly "high" in scope and purpose rather than in power level. I also like a proper dosage of silliness and fun now and again. Craziness like was present in Gygax's Through the Looking Glass adventures are a blast when done in the right amount. I prefer for players and GMs to be equally empowered to deal with one another. Players should have as many options as needed to maximize their possibilities in the dungeons without short circuiting the GMs control, power and ability to properly challenge the players.

I also like players and GMs feeling as if they are a part of something bigger than they are. To know that their characters and their adventures are comparable to the world at large. Sure there will be differences from table to table, from game to game. But that we are playing under the same social contract, the same game structure enough so as to make PCs comparable to one another and not so individualized as to only be applicable within one campaign world. This is best achieved through a commonality of rules, but can be supported through a degree of community. Conventions, tournaments, societies, fora, game fiction, magazines, supplements, adventures, campaign worlds, fan sites and the like. And this is where the central problem lies.

In order to achieve what I want above I need a flexible umbrella that allows open ended creation but also works under a specific system. OSRIC and Adventures Dark & Deep come close in many respects, probably ADD more so than OSRIC. And both systems are flexible in being able to adapt supplements from other systems and editions; creation of new product is also possible. Numerous gamers are now offering their products for sale to others that cater to exactly such systems, or are flexible enough themselves to be easily adaptable to such a 1e oriented game. However this community is very loose. No longer gathered under one umbrella gamers of such systems are now sort of like outcasts wandering at the fringes of organized play. When will we have a castle to once again call our own.

Some OSR proponents like this freedom and lack of central authority, and I can understand why. However we lose something in such a systemless system as well. Others in the OSR point to fledgling conventions and small groups and communities developing around certain styles of play or at the least around the OSR generally. And I suppose it doesn't matter too much as long as we are playing. But just doing your own thing is fine in and of itself, but only takes us so far. And the horizon still seems so far off.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gaming is Dead ... Who Killed it?

"Wizards of the Coast? "
"The Blumes? Lorraine Williams?"
"The Gamers?"
"Video games?"
"Are you kidding?"
"Then who? Who killed gaming? And are you even serious? I mean gaming is alive and well. 4e is going strong, Pathfinder is on the rise, the OSR is busier than ever, print on demand is making Indie publishing more viable than ever."
"Yep, serious as a fart attack in a crowded elevator."
"Well I don't get it--you aint even got a body. There's absolutely no evidence that gaming is dead. In fact there's tons of evidence to the contrary."

That's just it. It's dead but I can't find the killer and can't even point to the scene of the crime. 'Cause you see, it's dead for me. It seems that way at least. It's like I'm walking in a land of zombies, or at least bad clones. Why is that? Everybody saying they are the original, the real deal, they are "it". And they aint it. At least they certainly seem to be bad imitations to me. I just can't figure it out. More games than ever. Games games everywhere and not a one for me.

Lots of people point to the OSR and laud it for it's creative and "do it yourself" spirit. Everyboy creating their own games, everyone writing their own adventures, everyone doing it for themselves. Perhaps this is the true spirit of the original edition of Dugneons & Dragons. The "vision" of what could have been had OD&D never been abandoned. Everyone building their own version on a theme. It's not what I remember. It's not what I loved about the game. For me it's not even what the game was about. I'm not laying down the law or anything. To each his own and all that. But I've been trying on lots of hats lately, and none of them fit. Funny thing is it's like noone makes my hat anymore. It's almost like it didn't exist. My style of gaming. My game. Where did it go? Nobody is doing it. And don't say it's just me. It aint; because there were tons of people doing exactly what I was doing in my neck of the woods back in the day.

It did exist, it did! And sometimes it feels like it was a figment of my imagination. Can you see how frustrating it is? Everyone seems to be abandoning the idea, leaving the dream behind. Well, I mean maybe they are chasing their own gaming dreams recreating their own magic and making new magic in their own realms. But where are my guys? Where are they?

Who killed my game? Or maybe, since I can't seem to find the body or the killer, maybe it was just game-napped. Hidden away. Spirited to some other realm? And if so how do I find it?

If I get some time later this eve I'll let you know where I have found the most evidence of it. You might be surprised.

I Don't Know ...

What the heck I am talking about. I mean not at all. Half the time I'm confused and the other half of the time I'm confused. Blasted gaming industry. Bless their greedy little hearts. Forget that too. I'm liable to break into a rant at any moment.

*big breath*

inhale pink, exhale purple ... inhale pink, exhale purple ...

Right now,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Enthusiasm for Controversy

It has been interesting to note the ups and downs with my blog traffic as of late. I must admit the downward fluctuations started when I was most open about my own doubts of where gaming is going and my semi-ideological-abandonment of the OSR crowd. The entries that get the most hits on my blog are without a doubt those that wallow in controversy and spew rhetoric against the new school. Everyone lauds my praise of anything old school, and my philosophical navel gazing about the which and why fors of what was once long ago.

Put quite simply, people love controversy and they adore self praise. They look for avenues that confirm their own opinions and avoid things they don't agree with. In talking recently with someone I have really come to respect they described such behavior as a cult of mediocrity. We are all striving to be the same, and to be around people that are the same as we are. I suppose I fall into that category a lot of the time. But now, having been judged in the court of popular opinion via blog hit counts it has a different feel to it. Blogging has been called the most self absorbed and ego driven endeavor on the web. I don;t know about all that. I started this blog first as a service to me kids at school for the school club. Unfortunately the powers that be don't like kids and teachers mixing on any sort of restricted basis online. So I changed the approach to be aimed in general towards anyone who would like to read my thoughts. Maybe find them interesting. I'm not really a social media hound. I'm more of a thinker. I think way too much. And this project has been more of a journey of self discovery than anything else. In that way I suppose it has been sort of self absorbed. Anyone who has read it for any length of time has noticed I have bounced all over the place in regards to what I think about gaming, old school, the new wave, 4e, 5e, the first wave, OSR and on and on. My opinions are definitely not set in stone.

During this self reflective phase my blog counts continued to rise and my followers piled up one by one. I'll admit it was gratifying. I assumed that people found what I had to say useful or at least interesting.  And I suppose that may have had to do with the fact that others felt like I did. Lost amidst the new gaming elite and feeling confused by it all. Perhaps they benefited from my self reflection, my own internal gaming struggles.

Now, good blogging PR would dictate that I analyze what drew hits and stick with those themes. That I cater to what my followers want. That I continue to get my ego stroked by the stroking of others. Well, sorry ... aint gonna happen.

When I started this blog I had no interest in making money. No interest in blogging full time--I got too many other important things to do than blog all the time. I told myself I wasn't going to mess with advertising on my blog, nor was I going to cater to writing just what people wanted to hear. For instance one entry I had on Star Frontiers got tons of hits. Evidently there are lots of people out there looking for Star Frontiers stuff. But I barely played the game. I know very little about it, and though it still intrigues me I just don;t have much more to say about it. I could blog tons on SF and maybe get lots more hits. But that just isn't my bag. I'm not here for that. Although if there are some SF fans out there that like blogging or web building, there's evidently an audience for it.

More than ever I understand where I'm at in my own creativity and my own gaming. And that requires that I follow my own path. There are things I love about many different games. There are also strong opinions I have about the nature of gaming and it's potential. I like to play in a certain way and with certain elements at the fore. They are not the only way to game, nor am I intimating that they are the right way to game. They are the way I like to play. Jolly Blackburn and Dave Kenzer helped me to realize that we can make decisions like that. Rob Kuntz helped me realize that only I could tell myself the direction to take and discover what I had to give to the gaming world. ADD Grognard has been very supportive in my quest as well, and has opened my eyes to the fact that it is okay to feel what I feel, think what I think and more than anything else to not give up. It is indeed quite a ride. And I would be remiss if I did not give thanks as well to the Troll Lords for just being there and doing what they do, and being so darn great about it as well. They have been a shelter from the storm.

If someone were to ask me where the blog is going from here I can only say that it will go where it goes. But there are several areas right now that I am interested in.
  • Supporting new gamers: I am still a teacher and a club adviser. Though the school club is on hiatus right now, I am planning on starting up a less intensive schedule before October ends. I will be discussing tips and ideas to help new gamers, young gamers and those looking for a safe haven from the complexities of the gaming world. If you were to point someone who was just starting gaming or looking into it I would hope you could point them to my blog and they would find it useful.
  • Looking for the essence of the old: the first wave of gaming was very different from what I ever believed it was. I am very interested right now in looking to foster a similar approach to gaming and games today. I will do this by looking back, looking at what is now and looking to the future. If I spend time looking at old games or old supps then it will be in the light of what they can teach us about this essence and what we can learn from them now.
  • Castles & Crusades: This is my gaming home for now. For reasons I've delineated before I am playing strictly C&C right now in all of my games. Which will be at least 2 separate campaigns. You can expect lots of C&C goodness on my site.
  • Hackmaster Mentality: I am a huge KODT fan, and love Hackmaster 4e for the ethos it encouraged. There will be lots of HM related commentary and feel and tone here simply because these guys are close to my heart. Even though I'm not currently running a HM game I'm certainly not ruling it out. But even where actual HM gaming may be rare, there will always be a rather HM feel to my ramblings here and my goals in general.
  • A Tribute to AD&D: I began as an AD&D gamer. I will always be in my soul an AD&D gamer. I can;t deny it's influence on me in more than merely formative ways. Though I may move on and play other games now, you can always expect AD&D to hold a fond place in my heart and privileged place on this blog. You can expect from time to time to hear me wax nostalgic even quite sickeningly so about this greatest game of all games. With all it's warts and blemishes it is still, for me, perfection incarnate because it is how I came to gaming.
And other stuff from time to time as well. But don't really expect me to follow the crowd too much. I am what I am and will follow my own path. If you like, great. If you don't that's cool too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Free Shipping Offer @ Troll Lords!

Got this in my newsletter from Troll Lords and wanted to throw it out there. Just got in a big Troll Lord's shipment myself. And Stephen said in the newsletter they are trying to ramp up production schedules because their stuff is in such demand right now. Especially the Castle Keepers Guide, which I'll be reviewing soon. It did take me awhile to get mine, but I was patient and it was well worth the wait. As many of you know I've been leaning very heavily towards C&C as my game of choice lately and this most recent purchase as well as my talk with Rob Kuntz (bless him) has just confirmed that direction as a good one for me.

And I suppose now is as good a time as any to make this an official declaration of what game I'll be talking about most for the future of my blog. That is Castles & Crusades. This discovery for me has been very liberating. And I owe a great deal of thanks to Rob Kuntz for helping  me to have confidence in myself and my own gifts. Castles & Crusades is a game that begs for creativity and allows so much open to the players and GM (Castle Keeper in C&C) that virtually anything is possible. The core mechanic is so intuitive and adaptable that it easily allows additions to the game should you so desire, but also can be played fast, light and loose. And if you have been reading my last few entries on storytelling you have a bit of an idea of my gaming style. This sort of highly improvisational storytelling is well suited to a game like C&C where things are so open and easily adaptable.

In this way C&C echoes earlier iterations of D&D like the original edition and the Basic Version. Light and simple rules with straightforward character creation. The possibilities are endless. but even better than earlier models, the rules are streamlined even more and the mechanics simpler. Yet C&C also has a flavor of depth that came with later iterations of the game. This is largely due to the great writing ability of the staff. More importantly however, it has to do with the flexibility and potential of the mechanics. You can literally build an endlessly complex game from a simple and innovative core mechanic.

Perhaps the one thing some might wonder is whether C&C and the Seige Mechanic can be adapted to other types of games like Sci fi and Horror. But one need not worry. Though C&C is designed from a fantasy point of view, the Seige Engine has already been adapted to Star Seige and Tainted Lands. So we have a system that spans genres and can allow cross fertilization of various fictional worlds and settings much like was done in the early days of our hobby.

All of these elements weave together to make me feel like the Troll Lords and C&C are creating the kind of system that I can truly get into. For a long time I was uncertain of how to approach this decision. Because I was looking a system that would give me what I wanted. It was after talking with Rob Kuntz that I realized I should really choose a system that fit the kind of gifts and offerings I had to give to others. C&C seems to fit my talents and my style of play. This game will highlight and showcase the creations I wish to imagine and the kinds of games I wish to play. It's not that I fit myself to the game, it's that the game fits me in all my freedom loving, genre spanning, improvisational, story developing, weird and unusual style of play.

So thanks Rob, and thanks Stephen & Davis Chenault and all the other Troll Lords. Some time ago I read the words of Dave Kenzer and Jolly Blackburn that they were motivated in Hackmaster to create the kind of game they like to play. I really respected that. That's exactly what the Troll Lords have done for me.

Game on!