Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It is Finally Time to Make my Own World!

For those of you who might not know, I am an educator in the public school system (half time teacher half time assistant principal). I have run our school gaming club for six or seven years now, and have loved doing it. It has been frustrating at times, but very worth it. The game club has also been my only real source of gaming in the past half decade with but a few exceptions, and this has colored much of my gaming approach as of late.

So when we started this year I was using my somewhat modified AD&D approach, which I am beginning to transfer over to a purely Classic D&D, Moldvay/Cook rules set to make things simpler and freer for us all. My default campaign for the longest time has been Greyhawk, but it's simply been a default, it is not like I have done anything special with it. I also love the B series and decided to start this new group with B1 In Search of the Unknown. One of the pluses of restarting with a new group of gamers every two years (we are a two year junior high school 8th and 9th grade) is being able to run the same modules on a two year basis.

This year as I've transitioned to a more Classic D&D ruleset, I've considered switching my campaign to Mystara. The Mystara Cyclopedia and the Vaults of Pandius have some great info on Mystara, as I don't own the Mystara supplements, just some of the modules set within it. But I was reading some the information there, and began to think again about starting my own campaign world. I've tried this before, but it just feels like now is the right time to begin a project that may carry through the end of my gaming days. I've tried this before, but always get overwhelmed several hundred pages into my creation. Yeah, several hundred pages.  I think I've been going about world creation all wrong--at least wrong for me.

See, I read the Mystara info, and I love the intricate level of detail, the storylines, the mythos, the geography, the history, the biology, the magic, and on and on. So when I try to start a world I try to put all that information in from the start. I sort of feel the need to answer all of the players questions up front. But do I really need to do that? No, of course not. In fact I know that there is another way to design a campaign. I've just never done int that way.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Mystara, Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Blackmoor or any other major campaign setting. Each in fact began a bit differently. Greyhawk started as a dungeon, that expanded into a city so adventurers had a place to rest and refuel between forays into the dungeon, Mystara started a simple map of the Known World, on which DMs could hang their creative hats. Forgotten Realms started as the place Ed Greenwood set his fictional stories that he wrote as a child. Only later was it used as the setting for his D&D adventures.

I think I will start mine as a town. It will be the place from which all my adventurers hail, and will be modest in size. My initial thought is to post the updates here just to let you know how things are going. It will also be using the Moldvay/Cook rules, but I may use some stuff from the B/X Companion later on. I'm not too fond of the BCMI / RC rules though, but they may make an appearance over time. I'm also going to try and create all my own adventures for this new world, so that the place is completely homebrew, except for the rules in the Classic Edition.

And my first act of creation ... the name of the town shall be ...


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Missing The Original Dragon Magazine? Check Out These OSR Mags

If you're like me you miss getting that Dragon magazine in the mail each month. It was my first magazine subscription, and I was 14 years old. Of course, Dragon switched focus as D&D did, and after 2e was retired I didn't have much to do with magazine after that. So, what's an OSR gamer to do nowadays when thirsting after some good OSR periodical bliss? Well, believe it or not we do have some options. They aren't quite as frequent or regular as good old reliable Dragon was, but they are doing a good job nonetheless. So if you get the chance check out these fine rags and I think you'll be more than pleased:

It's a podcast--but it RAWKS!
It's first issue is out soon, but you can get on their email list now!

And if you know of others, let me know and I'll add them to the list. Some of the above are for free download online, but others are available at a modest fee. I love the OSR. It's got it's issues, but overall we are definitely in a renaissance of Classic D&D gaming. Oh, and just becuase I love it and it had a wonderful old school ethic I'm going to add what I wait each month for right now:


Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Don't I Play Labyrinth Lord

Don't get me wrong, I think LL and LL AEC are great. Some really fine old school gamers are embracing them. I just write this entry in response to some who read my entry on "What D&D Do I Play" and wondered why I don't play LL+AEC. Seeing as how the LL+AEC game was designed to fit that niche between Basic and AD&D, or as they say it "AD&D the way most of us played it." Which was exactly the point of my last entry.

So they naturally wonder, why not just play the LL AEC variant? And my answer is simple -- I like the feel of the old books. Not just the feel, but the the look, the tone, the humor, the well, yeah the nostalgia. I like the way they are written, the pictures, the examples, the--everything about them. I just like the feel of knowing I'm using the old books. They are magical in their own way.

I know, I know, that's kind of a lame explanation. But it is what it is. I have played LL+AEC and it plays alot like I was used to playing. The writing there is good and the art is mighty fine indeed. I like all that too, and truly respect what Goblinoid Games is doing; but it just doesn't have the history with me. In the same way that playing D&D with new people is cool and good, but playing with my old friends would hold a special sort of magic. Same thing with my old books. They hold a special sort of magic.

I really liked some of the new games out as variants on D&D rules Most recently is ACKS whih I am still in the process of reviewing; but none quite do it for me like the old books of yore. I know it's a bit silly. And moreover, some say, it makes little sense to use them when noone else at the table has them, as is the case in my current game. But that's fine by me too. I can live with the inconvenience. If I'm DMing we use my game, my books--I'll share, just treat them with the respect they are due. They are mine; they have absorbed the power of hundreds of play sessions; they are magical; and if you look at them at just the right angle when the light hits them just right, you can see the faint glow of eldritch power they contain. I wouldn;t give that up for all the clones and variants, no matter how excellent, in all the world.

So, that's why I don't play LL.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Quote From Master Moldvay

Tom Moldvay (fist on chin) Playtesting at TSR
"The original D&D rules are a classic. They gave the first gaming system for fantasy roleplaying and, in my opinion, are still the best set of rules on the market."

--Tom Moldvay, Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook, Foreword, Page B2

Yeah he said it in 1981, but he might as well have said it yesterday. Long live the dream!

Which D&D do I Play?

I've spent quite a few months now busier than I've wanted to be and sadly short of gaming. What little time I did have I spent reading gaming material--usually late at night by lamplight when the house was finally quiet and my long days drawing to a close.

I'm an old grognard--sometimes more stubborn than I would have imagined. But when it comes down to gaming, you might as well play what you love, what you have fun playing. I've spent long and many posts deliberating upon this matter. Many and varied are the games on the market these day that a gamer can choose from, but when gaming time is precious it certainly makes sense to focus on what you love.

I grew up gaming AD&D. I came into the hobby in 1981 at 12 years of age. The three core AD&D books had been released, and the world had already experienced the White Box and 3 Little Brown Books and their supplements, and by then two rewrites of the original rules: Holmes and Moldvay Basic. I was introduced to the Advanced books and admittedly a bit overwhelmed by it all. I didn't even pretend to understand all that was in the books, but I had played a few sessions and I understood the basics fairly well.

I mean the premise of the game is super simple. You need very few stats to create a character, and most of the time it takes 10 minutes or less to scratch one out on notebook paper. And GMing isn't that hard either. I started GMing by my 5th or 6th session. Now maybe I was an exception, but this game seemed made for me and I took to it like a duck to water. I don't think I really was though; because thousands of other people were experiencing the same thing I was all over the Nation and in fact the world. You needed very little else but your imagination, some dice and a few tables.

Now, I say this not to make some plea for classic old school gaming again, I've done that plenty of times before on my blog. No, I do it today, because it seems to be back on my mind again. I started our game club again, and we are playing AD&D. That is what I know and what I grew up playing. But a funny thing is happening. This has happened to me before, with our last long term OSRIC game. The more I get into the rules the more I realize that I prefer to ignore them. I've been rereading them as part of a project here on my blog, and I'm sort of stymied. I mean there are some real gems in the AD&D rules. But I'm also increasingly finding that I really don;t need them all, or I might have done them a little differently. Now, this is not really a critique of those rules, but a realization that my play is a lot simpler than AD&D as written implies.

And other little things that I sort of have ingrained in my D&D genetics like 3d6 order for ability scores. Things that AD&D began to expand and extrapolate upon. This became clear to me as I wrote another email to my brother on the nature of difference between old school and modern games. I'm more old school than I might even have thought. Even though I came to the game in 1981 after AD&D was out and taking the world by storm; I actually played a sort of modified basic game. Which makes perfect sense when one thinks about it. D&D was written as a game with those original little books. The game itself hadn't changed much. Everything else in the AD&D universe was just window dressing. You didn't need all that stuff to play the game.

The two things we probably did that were different was use the different ability adjustments in the PHB and separate race and class. I mean there were other minor things that came up, but we ignored far more than we used; we didn't even really start looking up rules questions in the hardback books until after years of play. We simply made things up when we had question arise that we couldn't answer--we were too busy playing to be bothered by such interruptions.

I've come to this realization before, but have been hot and cold about allowing myself to embrace it. After all I'm an AD&D player aren't I? But am I really? Again, a conversation with my brother required that I be honest with myself. What sacred cows do I hold onto but never worship at? In other words, what things do I hold onto as necessary, but never even use in my own play--indeed prefer not to use in my play? And what sorts of things do I embrace but that are just the first step towards a rule proliferation race to power inflation.

Because let's be honest, and call a cow a cow -- the current iteration of D&D is the power apocalypse. It's what happens when we allow this crazy power curve to run unhindered to its logical conclusion. And I know I want no part of that.

And though I wax philosophical now, I find it funny that when I started this blog I called it Classical RPG Realms. just because I considered my age of gaming the "Classical Age"; when without knowing that the style of gaming enshrined in the Moldvay / Cook and Holmes versions of D&D would come later to be known as Classical D&D. The very style of play that was closest to my own play. Synchronicity is a funny thing, aint it?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Adventure Inspiration: Cappadocia

Evocative, huh? Place torches where these electric lights are, some dungeon debris on the ground and a pair of glowing eyes far back in the hall and you've got an awesome adventure space.

This is Cappadocia, a location of vast underground cities, known predominantly for offering hiding places for Christians fleeing persecution. Cappadocia is located in what is modern Turkey:

According to Wikipedia these underground cities "have vast defence networks of traps throughout their many levels. These traps are very creative, including such devices as large round stones to block doors and holes in the ceiling through which the defenders may drop spears. These defense systems were mainly used against the Romans. The tunnel system also was made to have thin corridors for the Roman fighting strategy was to move in groups which was not possible to do in the thin corridors making it easy to pick them off." I can just see a bunch of gobbers causing an adventuring troupe hell in exactly such situations.
The whole area is a marvel of geological wonders, and an incredibly amazing source of inspiration for an adventuring area.
The entrances to the cities varied, but here are some examples:

There is much more online about this incredible site and its rich history, all which lend to endless creative inspiration. And it's just kind of cool to think how awesome our own world is once in a while : ) Churches were common in the Cappadocian underground cities, and here is just one example. Change the iconography and it's ripe for evil cultists ...

The sheer scope and size of the place boggles the imagination. I mean we are used to mega-dungeons, but I often find myself scaling back my inspirations when designing dungeons as somehow too over the top, or unbelievable. But Cappadocia literally tells you that anything is possible architecturally given the right stone to work with ...

This last piece intrigues me as I have no idea what the channels in the floor are for--water transport? sewage? blood from sacrifices? What do you think?

Assassin's Creed evidently has a setting for Cappadocia in its game, and I find these while searching for images to the palce. I'll end with these to bring the place to life as an artist imagined it ...

Have fun in your fantasy version of Cappadocia!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gothic Christmas ... Just Because

My daughter showed me this ... apple doesn't fall far from the tree does it : )

Merry Holidays!!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Old School: Writing Your first Adventure!

I mean do you remember when you did?! I can't recall the first one I did, but boy did I write them. Hours spent creating dungeons while I should have been paying attention to my Algebra teacher. Page after page of graph paper, simple room descriptions or innovative (at least I thought so at the time) traps and monster strategies. New magic items, penciled drawing now fading with age, but bright with imaginal memory. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Well, I was kicking around Kickstarter -- pun fully intended -- the other day and found this little gem:

This amazing little work is a product of the brain of artist and gamer Tim Hutchings. He evidently asked for submissions from gamers the world over of their gaming products. He has some samples on his website, in the Play Generated Map and Document Archive. And talk about a walk down memory lane. Though I must admit, some of these guys were a lot more organized than I ever was. And better mapmakers than I was at 12 ; - )

By the sites own words the purpose of the project is to "is to preserve, present, and interpret play generated cultural artifacts, namely manuscripts and drawings created to communicate a shared imaginative space." Which, as a trained cultural anthropologist I find fascinating. As a gamer I think it's freakin beans awesome!! Anywho take a look around at his work. I haven't emailed him or anything to see if the product is still available, but I would love to have a copy.

And one more gem before we depart for today that, had it been on sale I would have snapped up in a wink. In fact it looks as good as many Judges Guild products did back in the day ...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Old School: Back When Elf Was A Class

Some time ago I ran across a blog post on demi-human racial level limits   and it intrigued me so much I started a thread on Dragonsfoot about it. Level limits are a hot topic in old school D&D because it's one of those areas where players that often seek to be purists about cleaving to the "old ways" often diverge from the way things were. In other words they always have a justification about trashing level limits. And of course new school gamers, unhindered by or ignorant of the past rarely consider such rules good or rational. The fact is they were quite rational as Thoth's article clearly points out.

The reason I bring it up now is that I too find myself considering the race as class limitations in light of the rule innovations in the Adventurer Conqueror King System. It's actually a novel approach to keeping the unique quality of the demi-human races while not "restricting them" as much as creating them as a separate class--no pun intended. For they do indeed have classes all their own, that humans are not allowed access to. A cool approach, and though I don't feel the need to justify the rule concept, find answers quite nicely the objections of detractors.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Adventurer Conqueror King Review #2 PDF

Chapter 2 Equipment

Right off I like the reference to the value of wealth in the game. This is of course a default. A judge could decide that his wealth system works differently--but I like this as a baseline assumption. This was never quite explicitly stated early on in D&D/AD&D--which led to some problems in wealth disparity, or at the least a loss of verisimilitude. Pay a serf with a gold piece and he can live for a month. n when you need every bit of your 250 GP to sustain your livelihood you're a lot less likely to upset the balance of wealth in the world. This is an element of realism I'm fond of as a baseline anyway.

This realism extends to a good discussion of the market and market classes in the game, which of course affects equipment availability. And a few words about commissioning equipment--something I've found almost all players want to do at one time or another, There is also the admonition to keep close track of your wealth, as that is one of your primary reasons for adventuring in the first place. Gary was quite fond of pointing out that economics could move adventurers, games and campaigns to a large degree. Even suggesting using up player's resources quickly to let them know they had to keep heading out to get more. This is another old school principle nicely built into the game ethos in ACKS.

There is a rather thorough collection of equipment with accompanying descriptions. I like the inclusion of herbs as well. I see here a slight call back to AD&D and it's excellent equipment lists. I've only seen another I really like in a core game with LotFP.

Encumbrance is uniquely and realistically counted in stone, which weighs about 10 pounds each. And most characters can move unencumbered carrying up to 5 stone (or approximately 50 lbs). The rules seem workable, but it will take some play to really know. There are easy conversions to coins, and information for travel by beast and vehicles of burden.

Then, and I am very impressed with, the information on hirelings, henchmen, specialists and the like. There are reaction tables, loyalty factors, cost, and availablity; much of it listed by market class. I say I am impressed largely because like some other games I truly like (Hackmaster AD&D and LotFP) they devote significant time and development to this aspect of the game. This is such a rich area for roleplay, storyweaving and interaction that has been largely dropped from most fantasy roleplaying games these days that I am always pleased to see these sections added in and attended to with detail and care. There is even a table for spell availability by market class, something I wished I would have had literally dozens of times.

Okay ... Chapter 4 ... Proficiencies ...

Yeah, you can sense my hesitation. This is the chapter I have doubts about. I know proficiencies were a part of late AD&D, an expanded part of 2e and were included as part of BECMI / RC play as well. And I used them in my early play. But I came to dislike them. In fact I stopped using them later because they just seemed to get in the way of what classes were all about. I know, it's a finicky attitude--but it's a part of my grognardly ways. But then I began to understand that they were simply a way of fine tuning a class to be unique without adding another class to the game. However, that was seldom how they were used, but rather as adjuncts to character power. My feelings stayed mixed for some time now.

I mention this because I am literally reading this as I write. I'll read a section and then my write my reactions. You are getting this very much in real time. So, I am now going to read the proficiency section and we'll just see if I can be convinced otherwise.

Okay it looks like characters get the Adventuring proficiency at first level, one class and one general as well as bonuses for high intelligence. So characters can start with up to 6 and at highest level some classes can have up to 13 proficiencies, if they don't take one more than twice. They work as bonuses to performing a proficiency throw for that proficiency. Some can, as I've implied, be taken more than once like Weapon Focus, but don't stack, rather they add weapon classes.

This is a good time to bring up languages as well, which work in fairly standard fashion. Everybody gets common, Int of 8 or higher seems to imply literacy. Demi-humans know a few more languages and bonuses for high intelligence can add languages. You can also choose the language proficiency to add languages above and beyond those at first level.

So what do I think about it all? Well, the ACKS proficiency rules seems simple and sufficiently designed. Not alot new here. I like most of the descriptions, and they don't seem unbalanced on first read. My final say will be influence, believe it or not by D&D 5e, and the 2e kit concepts. I personally liked kits, and I like ACKS templates for the same reason. Since I've followed the development of 5e chugging along I've acknowledged the idea that you can go alot further in a class based system by following the design the kind of character you want sort of thing, without creating a whole new class. I can see this is the way ACKS thinks in that they have suggested quick play templates and in their second book the ACKS Companion has more suggested templates.

The total number of proficiencies is just over 100, and though some are slightly "feat-like" most are worded in a way or designed with a degree of roleplaying in mind. The close of this section ends with a kind of nice note about 0 lvl characters' proficiencies and how they advance--a cool addition. In the end I could live with this proficiency system. It is not over the top, too many are not awarded, you can only take a handful multiple times and I like they way they are very close to the original proficiency system. Though Gary disliked that first system himself. Oh well, we can't have it all : )

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Adventurers Conquerers Kings Review #1 of the PDF

So my brother asked me to let him know if my interest in ACKS stayed high as I read the PDF. Here goes my public response. I am reviewing the deluxe PDF version, and going along as I read. I wanted to get a beginning response to him ASAP-- so this goes up through classes and races.
Cover: Very cool, but you can see that online. Very REH, Conan like in flavor. Hearkens to much of the Appendix N flavor. Nicely done work by, I believe, Ryan Browning and John Bingham in concert. Makes me want to read it.

A note here on too on the title: Adventurer Conqueror King. I find in this a rather blatant reference to Conan the Adventurer, Conan the Conqueror and Conan the King. Not by any stretch a bad thing. In fact I think it does two things. It communicates an obvious swords and sorcery genre feel which is an ethos of old school play; and it also connects the game's purpose to a lifetime of adventure and epic storytelling that the game was intended to bring to the table. I have come to really appreciate this title even more so than many others I also like.

Table of contents: nice and serviceable, my PDF copy as links to each page number by subsection. Each major section is as follows: Introduction, Characters, Equipment, Proficiencies, Spells, Adventures, Campaigns, Treasures, Monsters, Secrets (DM stuff).

Each section is divided into 5 or more subsections so navigating is fairly easy. The whole PDF counts out to 274 pages including the front and back cover. Not unwieldy, but it seems plenty packed with good info.For reference the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide was 242 pages with both covers and 8 3/4 " x 11 1/4" and the ACKS hardcover  seems approximately the same size.
I already told you what I thought of the Foreword in my last email/post. But once again I loved the game story example once I understood what the designers were presenting. I can only hope that the actual game lives up to the promise this well written introduction extends. I have to believe this has to be the case, as it is drawn from actual play, but we'll see.

Chapter 1: Introduction
This section includes obligatory information in most RPGs these days, which introduce the concept of the game, and how to play, dice use, abbreviations, and the like. Nothing will appear very new here, in fact if you're an old school D&D player everything feels very comfortable and familiar, which I found very reassuring. There are a few changes though. DMs are called Judges (for copyright reasons, I'm sure), and they introduce the terms strongholds, domains and realms as being a central goal for high level play. Otherwise everything you are used to is here, hitpoints, armor class, levels, abilities, etc. etc. No new jazz to gum up the elegance.

The highlight of this chapter is a marvelous justification for the method of old school D&D games. In this day of universal mechanics many have derided the apparent wonkiness of  old school mechanics. This is a sad state of affairs that misses the central point of why Gary and Dave may have done the things they did. The designers here offer a way of "seeing" the old school game mechanic in terms of Throws and Rolls. Basically Throws are when you throw dice vs a target number. Rolls are for generating a range of possibilities, not to hit a certain number. Simple examples are an attack or saving throw, and reaction or damage rolls. Now this isn't some earth  shattering revelation. We all knew it worked that way in the old days. But it is, I think, a nice way to preserve the old school mechanic and explain its underlying structure. And I like it because I'm an old school gamer, and I like the basic way that old school systems work. That being said, ACKS does take a cue from many modern designs that simplify dice use as many throws are against a target number, though not as generic as say the d20 system.

A word about the inside art: All black & white, and I'm sure that may turn some gamers off. Art is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder--and I'm certainly no art critic. But I know what I like, and I really like this. It has an old school feel that borders on 2e or Mentzer basic in its more Swords and Sorcery moments. I find it evocative and helpful for setting the tone as I read. Several full page splashes are included and very nice to look at. Nothing you couldn't let the kids take to school, but still very kick***. Perhaps as Autarch moves forward they might offer a full color Kickstarter project or something, but I will cherish the black & white, just cause it's my style of choice.
Chapter 2: Characters
Basic character creation outline:
  • 3d6 for ability scores
  • Choose class, record abilities
  • 0 XP, start at level 1
  • Roll HP
  • Record attack and saving throws
  • Pick proficiencies & spells (if applicable)
  • Generate starting gold
  • Buy equipment
  • Figure AC & encumbrance
  • Record weapon damage & modifiers
  • Develop background
  • Choose alignment
Which is nothing new either, and like most good games should take less than 15 minutes on your second or third time creating characters. Ability modifiers are -3 to +3 from 3 to 18 and work exactly as they have always done. There are prime requisites for classes, and percentage XP bonus for high ability scores. HP are wholistic and they present as an option, starting with max HP at first level. 0 is "incapacitated and possibly dead"--no details on that yet. HP are also seen as wholistic, representing a combination of "fighting skill, stamina, luck and the favor of the gods"--just are Gary intended.

First major innovation talked about in detail is the fact that there are two types of classes in the Adventurer Conqueror King System: human classes and demi-human classes. Though this too is rooted in race as class concept. The idea here preserves the uniqueness of the demi-human cultures by giving them their own classes that humans don't have access to.

Major Human Classes: Fighter, Mage, Cleric & Thief
Optional Human Classes: Assassin, Bard, Blade Dancer, Explorer (these are variant classes that are examples of how campaign specific classes can be built by the Judge for his/her own campaign)
Dwarven Classes: Dwarven Vaultgaurd, Dwarven Craftpriest
Elven Classes: Elven Spellsword, Elven Nightblade

I really like the idea that demi-humans are rare and different from humans. This is as Gary first designed the game, and adds in an element often lost in today's games. ACKS says right in the text that this is the way they are to be seen in the game. I've written about this before--but if anyone is interested I can revisit the topic. The innovation is that it avoids the race as class argument so prevalent today, but preserves the demihuman uniqueness. They are special and they should feel that way.


Fighters get 1d8 for HP, can use any weapon and armor, can fight shield and weapon, two weaponed or one two handed weapon. They get bonuses to hit and damage as they advance and at 5th level get Battlefield Prowess to lead foes in battle. At 9th level they can build a stronghold and attract followers. Also mentioned for the first time in the fighter section, evidently unarmored combatants have an AC of 0, and most can hit AC 0 with a 10 or better. This is a slight variation on ThAC0 but makes it more intuitive after the fashion of d20--only better in some ways. Each class has an attack and saving throw table, showing target numbers for saves and to hit AC0, as well as an XP advancement table.

Mages get 1d4 for HP, cannot use armor or shields, and can only use staves, clubs, daggers and darts. They may not fight two handed either. They get spells as per their spell list, which allows one spell at first level, modified by their Intelligence score. At 5th level Mages can brew potions, research magical spells and scribe scrolls. At 9th they can construct a stronghold called a Sanctum, attract apprentices, and build dungeons which can attract monsters for their various magical experiments--which is a pretty cool option! At 11th level mages can cast ritual arcane spells, build magical constructs, and create magical cross breeds. Evil mages have necromantic options as well!!

Each section has a sample template that can be chosen for quicker play. Fighters have the Mercenary template and Mages the Scholar. An interesting aside is that mages and fighters both hit AC 0 with a roll of 10 or better. Granted fighters advance much quicker in this ability than mages, but it is a bit odd that mages and fighters both hit with the same degree of ability--at least it seems so initially.

 Clerics get 1d6 for HP and use weapons and armor as per their religious order but they may not dual wield.Clerics can turn undead with a d20 Turn Throw, and Chaotic Clerics can control them. Clerics get spells at 2nd level; at 5th level can brew potions, scribe scrolls and research spells; at 9th level Clerics can create magic items and build a fortified church, attract followers and worshipers for his/her God; at 11th level Clerics can cast high level rituals, construct magical beings and if Chaotic create necromantic beings. The Cleric template is called the Priest.

If you've read the Demographics of Heroes blog post on Autarch's website you'll understand why all classes so far are limited to 14th level. Which by ACKS reckoning is of extremely high level.

Thieves get 1d4 for hit points, can use armor up to and including leather, may not use shields, but have access to all missile weapons and can dual wield. Thieves have backstab and the standard retinue of thiefly skills: open locks, find and remove traps, pick pockets, move silently, climb walls, hide in shadows, hear noise. The thief template is the Tomb Raider.

The other human classes are unique in their own ways and as stated in the book, campaign classes may or may not be suited for use in some campaigns. I won't go into detail on each one, other than to say the assassin is a fairly classic interpretation, the bard is classic to later D&D interpretations (RC and 2e); the blade dancer is a very unique class of female adherents to the Goddess of War--very cool, but probably the most campaign specific class of the 4. Lastly the explorer is a broad interpretation of the scout concept, and I like it so much I would likely make it a default class.

The demihuman classes are also very unique and I won't give a play by play for each one--you can get the idea that class structure is very classic in feel with the major differences being in the nature of the individual class. But to give you a rough idea of each one:

The Dwarven Vaultgaurds are the Dwarvish take on warriors, trained from youth to gaurd the vaults of their rocky homes. The Dwarven Craftpriest are similar to Dwarven clerics that can cast spells but are dedicated to craftsmanship, and of recovering the lost artifacts of old, as much out of veneration as use itself. The Elven Spellswords are the epitome of what Elves are, skilled artisans of magic and fine and strategic fighters after the Elven fashion. And nowhere is that fantastic Elven combat apparent as in the Elven NightBlade that are a cross of warrior/thief-acrobat/assassin. Do NOT cross the Elves! : )

The short remainder of the Character chapter mentions alignment which is defined on a LAW-NEUTRALITY-CHAOS axis. Law and Chaos are not necessarily evil, and you can see the influence of Moorcock's Elric series on these concepts. A very nice touch, which I have become a convert too as I've read more Classic D&D. There is a brief few paragraphs on well balanced party building, and using more than one character if necessary. Also is the suggestion that adventuring parties take on henchmen to aide and strengthen the parties make-up. I like this as not only a blast from the past, but as an element of the game that has been sadly neglected on too many occasions--even in my own play.

Which brings us to Chapter 3 Equipment, which I'll begin with next time. In summary I can say that this game is like a comfortable old gaming chair. And a game with an interpretation on the spirit of classic D&D that fires my imagination and makes me excited to sit down and give it a go. Thus far no rule innovations make me uncomfortable, and truly there are few variations from the classic interpretations. Thus it is this fact, that makes me wonder just a bit. I see this works (ACKS) thus far as a cool take on Mentzer style Classic D&D play that seeks to stay as close to true as possible to Gary and Dave's original works. I actually like it better mechanically than LotFP which I really do like as a reinterpretation of an old classic. And it has the added bonus of being friendly for audiences under 18 (which LotFP is by its own admission not). The main difference between this and say RC is that it is presented so much more intriguingly and invitingly. The central idea or ethos of the game is to go through the stages from adventurer, conqueror to king. And it's more than passable nod to exotic appendix N style fantasy as it's genre of choice makes the game much more appealing than the somewhat generic medieval fantasy that can come across in some games. And of course as mentioned above the obvious reference to Conan the Adventurer, Conan the Conqueror, and Conan the King, make clear this game is destined to fulfill all the desires promised in the original game.

One might ask if ACKS is different enough to warrant purchase if one can simply play RC or BECMI or 2e or download a retro clone. But ACKS is not a retro clone and it does "fix" a few grumbles that people have always had with some of the other old school systems. So far I really like the race class fix and the idea of throws and rolls as the mechanical structure of the game. I'm not sure about the combat yet (I'll know when I get there, but the changes seem minimal). Even more so I also like the promise the game yet holds out in other areas as well.

Adventurers Conquerers Kings -- I Buy the PDF

Recently, I sent this email to my brother:

"""Hey! So I was cruising around looking at various game systems and came across this again. I have seen it before, but have now compared it in relation to all the other game systems coming out as of late. Recall our discussion of story based games? That's kind of what led me down this latest route. But The Adventure Conqueror King System isn't really a different mechanic than we are used to. In fact it's very much D&D-esque. Take a gander at its front page blurb:

"In a world of fallen empires, some relics of the past are good only for a beastman's bludgeon; others make ruin delvers rich. You may start out with no higher ambition than a sack full of ancient coins, but each gold piece you spend ties you into a dynamic realm of commerce and carousing, driven by the hidden engines of court intrigues and distant wars. As you grow in power, will you fight to hold back the darkness looming at the borderlands of an aging civilization, or will you pull down the last decadent barriers to the coming of a new dawn?

Autarch's Adventurer Conqueror King SystemTM fulfills the promise of the original fantasy role-playing game by providing comprehensive, integrated support for play across all levels of a campaign. Any referee who has ever checked for random encounters, and every player who's has rolled a twenty-sided dice to hit a wandering monster, will find the rules of Adventurer Conqueror King as elegant, familiar, and comfortable to wield as an heirloom sword. The system's cutting edge is the way every table, chart, and assumption in the game encodes Gygaxian naturalism, Arnesonian barony-building, and the designers' own experience of hundreds of sessions playing and running old-school games. With Adventurer Conqueror King, you get both the verisimilitude and consistency of thorough world-building with the power of improvisation and discovery through play. We look forward to seeing what you do with these tools!"

And if you doubt how D&D-like it really is check out a sample character sheet: ACKS Character Sheet

I personally love their "Demographics of Heroism"

Yep, Merlin a 12th level Mage and Bilbo a 6th level Thief. Not 30th level Astral Walker/Death Knight/Angelic Archon with Nuclear Explosion Dailies.

Old School Mechanics?

Their take and rationale on Vancian Magic

And I love their thoughts on what a campaign world should be and allow--very Gygaxian. Even if you didn't run their world, the idea is the game is set up to support a game world like this.

If you want to hear what the designer says about the game and their purposes check out his old kickstarter video.
I really like the idea of not starting out as some big bad *** but picking a direction you want to get to and working your way towards that. For the longest time I struggled with how to give players a say in what they want without jacking them up in power level from the start, and this game really seems to aim for that. This is what we've talked about again and again--getting players invested in the storyline! Now they are of course invested, because they have to be to achieve their aspirations. They don't come to the table saying they want to be a sword wielding elementalist and get to start that way. They start as a rather humble 1st level wizard, better than most in their village and set out into the world with a dream to become such. Through hard work, bravery and luck they might just get there! Does this RAWK or what?!

Just check out the sample file of the first ten pages. I'm sending it as an attachment. The storyline is boss! At first I didn't quite follow, but then he explains it as the results of an 80+ session campaign they had, with their actual characters. Their characters are Lords and Ladies of the realms having worked their way up from adventurers with aspirations to conquerors to kings and queens. They are wrapped up in the storyline of the realms in ways I hve never personally played, but that D&D always said was possible. The story possibilities are awesome! Anyway, they don't show much of the actual game rules, but it gives you a pretty good feel for what it's like.

Pretty awesome huh? Remember the old school books promise of running a thieves' guild? Or building a wizard's tower? Or having massive battles with armies run by a fighter warlord? All of it is here:

And remember all those rules for spell research and creation of magic items? I never used 'em--but they're here too, and as an integral part of the game.

See the thing is, I was going around looking at various games and their focus on storydriven mechanics. I really haven't liked them, as they seem to "fall apart as soon as you breathe on them" as one guy put it. Some examples are Dungeon World and 13th Age--but though they have gotten good reviews, I'm just not into "soft" mechanics. And then I ran across ACKS (pronounced Axe) again and decided to give it a closer look. And here is a game that is pretty much updated classic D&D with a focus on developing a character's story within a greater fantasy world in truly Gygaxian-Arensonian manner. It's really got my interest piqued.

I just got the wife's go ahead to spend $10 on the PDF. The hard copy is $40, and I can't swing that now anyway. I'm ordering it as soon as I send this off to you. I'll let you know if my interested stays high a few more pages into it.

Anywho--Merry Christmas!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Life and Gaming

First, this probably won't be of much interest to you. It's more in the classic vein of egocentric blog entries--this is my life kind of thing. Anyway, I haven't died. I have had some health concerns, which they seem to be finally getting on top of. We'll know for sure when I'm off steroids--hopefully before my man-boobs get too big.

But I can't even claim that my health is the main reason I haven't been writing. No, that honor goes to my job--blech. To make a rather long and boring story short, I finally decided to accept the School District's persistent offer to go into administration. I'm now in the classroom half the day and in the office playing Vice Principal half the day. I say half, but that half seems to be a full 72 hours a day. I have turned down these offers for years now. I simply knew I didn't want to to go into administration. I really prefer the classroom and teaching. Not to mention I can run the game club that way. Running the game club and administrating is nowhere near as easy. In fact having a life as an administrator is not easy. Not to mention that I've had to go back to school to finish my Masters and get certified as a principal. But the fact was we (our family) really needed the boost in earnings, so here I am.

My wife and I have homeschooled our children for the last six years. Seems kind of strange, me being in Public Education and all, but my wife and I are very involved in out of the box educational theory. I would love for the public education system to embrace more of these ideas, but that seems impossible in most cases. At any rate My wife and I grew very excited about the possibilities of what we could do with our children's education if we took over. We are both highly educated and capable, so we decided to give it a go. It went great--but I'll admit it is a ton of work, mainly for my wife by the way.

However, as the economy has squeezed us beyond our ability to deal, my wife decided to go to work. She got hired as a local private school teacher and my children enrolled there. And I went into administration in the Public system. We are both less happy with our situations, but the budget is no longer coming up short every month. So there's that.

Fact is I haven't been able to game at all. I barely have time to come home eat and collapse, let alone blog or game. It's been on my mind of course. I've bought some cool stuff recently. Finally got my copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess along with some old school out of print stuff. But I still haven't read them! Then I got sick, and then there were house remodeling issues that came up in the middle of everything. Whew!

So, the point is--that's why I've been absent from the blog for oh, what? About 15 weeks now. Things have just been getting better lately though. I'm healing up, the kitchen is almost done, and I think I have a little better perspective on this VP thing. Not sure what the future is going to bring. I was given the option of going back to the classroom after this year if this didn't work out--so I'm brainstorming the possibilities there. And the kids at school are chomping at the bit for me to start the game club again. So who knows.

So, I'm more or less back. Maybe I can get an entry a week going again. Sundays seem to be a good day for that. Keep an eye out, I'll be around.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

3d6 in Order: Advice on Creating AD&D Characters

Lest ye think AD&D is too hard ass about creating player characters, let's take a look at Gary's advice in the DMG about this very subject.

"As AD&D is an ongoing game of fantasy adventuring, it is important to allow participants to generate a viable character of the race and profession which he or she desires.While it is possible to generate some fairly playable characters by rolling 3d6, there is an often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to the quirks of the dice. Furthermore, these rather marginal characters tend to have short life expectancy--which tends to discourage new players, as does having to make do with some character of a race and/or class which he or she really can't or won't identify with. Character generation then, is a serious matter, and it is recommended that the following systems be used."

And thus was introduced to the gaming world four alternative methods of generating player ability scores. And note that the phrase is "it is recommended that the following systems be used." This was an expected change DMs were being asked to implement for the enjoyment of the player and the good of the game. It simply worked better to do it this way. This was a major change in the old 3d6 in order approach that had held sway for some time.

Oddly, an assumption of many old school players, or those coming to the old school way of doing things for the first time, is that 3d6 in order is the only way to do things truly old school. I suppose this was the only real presentation previous to AD&D for craeting attributes: 3d6 for each ability score recorded in order. But Gary had recognized the wisdom in allowing characters a chance to play the kind of PC they were interested in playing. True 0e and B/X play RAW was 3d6 in order.

But is that really "old school"? Old school has a bit of a reputation as being hard ass on any given rule decision. But this is an illusion and a myth. D&D is deadly period. A survey of online discussion on what is the deadliest RPG brings up many names, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu et al. But common consensus for sheer number of players dropped over the life of play: D&D takes the day without question. Let's face it D&D is a game of combat with PCs with not many hit points-even at higher levels. It is a deadly game. That, for one, contributes to the illusion that old school is hard ass.

This deadly aspect of play doesn't entirely go away in 3e either--it's still a pretty deadly game, just not as quite as pre 3e. But is the game really "unfair" or slighted against the player? Clearly not. Not if one heeds Gary's words. In this same section Gary explains that creating the PC's idea, history, personae and the like is in the hands of the creativity of the player. You get in mind the type of PC you want to play and you run with it. Don't let dice get in the way. In fact, the advice is NOT to have PCs use the NPC personae generation tables later in the book. Such things should not be randomly determined, but rather imagined by the player. Unless, he adds, the player really wants some aspect randomly determined for him. This is a divergence of some games that have endless random determination tables for player backgrounds, social class, history, quirks, flaws, familial ties etc etc. Gary had in mind that such PC depth would be determined by the player herself. This "lifepath" concept was actually introduced by other early games like Traveller and Harn--but was not designed to be an integral part of the D&D char gen concept.

Note also that in Gary's quote above, he says that when trying to generate a set of suitable ability scores for the type of player you want to play "there is often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one". What this implies to me is that Gary is not averse to throwing away a set of scores that aren't satisfactory and starting over. While this is seemingly not a problem in his eyes, he recommends better attribute generation systems. So how many times have we (I) told players "Nope sorry, that's what you rolled--you have to stick with it."? Well, not all the time for me, but a few. Thinking I was being the bastion of defense for true old school playing, I was in reality creating discouragement and disappointment among my players. Gary preferred we avoid this.

He did not however, drop random generation. Note that all methods elucidated in this section are still random methods. For some reason he felt this was important. He did not create a point allocation system, or a redistribution system where you sacrifice a point or two here to raise a score there. At least not in the DMG. The idea is to allow greater possibility in character creation while retaining a somewhat random approach. The implication for this being that players should be allowed to play the kind of PC they wanted while still randomly generating attribute scores.

The interesting thing is that we all know, due to race and class restrictions, some combinations were simply not possible. An Elvish Paladin simply didn't exist. And nowhere does Gary say ignoring those rules was acceptable. Though we all know many DMs did so with nary a thought. They also removed level restrictions. I'll admit I'm not an avid fan of race-class-level restrictions--but I haven't really formed a well reasoned opinion on that matter. Perhaps I'll address that in the future. Gary actually has much to say about it--always in defense of the concept of racial limitations.

The take away today is that AD&D is designed to allow players to play the type of character they want within what was allowed by the system. And attribute generation methods were not to stand in the way of fulfilling the desire of character concept. Something Gary hinted at time and time again is that the DM, not the dice, was the master of the game. Especially in his famous quote "DMs only roll the dice for the sound they make." And this, friends, is an enlightening reminder for me.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Cornucopia of AD&D Goodness

It was my intent some weeks ago to go page by page through the AD&D books and comment on them as I go. Well, two things threw me off track. One was a real world matter--job promotion, lots of stuff going on there; the other was my growing commentary on almost each and every sentence of the DMG. I mean I hadn't gotten much past the table of contents and I was already stacking up my own pages of commentary. Exactly how was I ever to finish this if my thoughts ran on ad infinitum in response to each phrase Gary wrote down?

Well, the project deserves continuance, so I'm picking up the threads here. I'm not sure I'm gonna go about this like I have been or not. I don't know if brevity or expansiveness is best. So here I take a step back. I'll quote each area that struck me, and try and give a sentence or two of my thoughts in relation to these quotes from the original works. See, the real problem is that the words of the AD&D canon have so much to say, directly and implied to the current modern gaming world that we really should all go back and read the works for ourselves. I suppose I'm coming at it from the perspective of a lover of these works, and an avid aficionado of the AD&D game. Others, not so partial might not find the depth I inevitably uncover, but ah well--not everyone appreciates the Classics.

So without further ado, I present thoughts from the Table of Contents and the Preface to the Dungeon Masters Guide.

Table of Contents
  • Note that the Table of Contents is laid out in exactly the same order as it is in the PHB. And that this order is intentional as a work of reference as mentioned before.
  • Appendices and Tables are also clearly laid out and listed in the ToC as well
  • The claim has been made that the organization of the material in these works could have been better, but actual use of the ToC shows how good this organization was for the first edition of a reference work.
  • If you jump ahead to the preface he addresses this issue by saying he had done his best. He was breaking new ground with this work and extending it like it had never been done before.
  • A rare view into the building of a game by the designer himself.
  • Paragraph 2 makes the astounding claim that these works are the last and ultimate authority among a very creative and opinionated bunch ie gamers. 
  • The need for uniformity in certain rules
    • In class expression
    • In abilities
    • In problem solving approach
    • That treasure and experience are held near a mean
    • All in order to avoid Monty Haul or Killer Campaigns
  • "With great risk comes great reward"
  • "Intelligent play will give characters a fighting chance of survival"
  • The DM is considered to come first, as he invests the time and retains mastery over the campaign
  • Players, however, come in a close second and have a great responsibility for the success or failure of a campaign
  •  The rules set down herein are "parameters" not strict rules
  • What Gary is setting down and explaining in his preface is a rationale for the choices he's made for his rules. And that this is the most loosely stated structure he could make and still give just the level of complexity required to "conduct a campaign ... of the game 'world'".
  • By the time he wrote this preface Gary and his fellow gamers had over 9 years of gaming experience. D&D had exploded onto the hobby scene and they had seen just about every manifestation of gaming problem occur and be resolved to one degree of success or another. In other words he had seen it all before, faced it and addressed it. It is folly and at the boldest hubris to think we are so much smarter than he and the early designers were. 
  • He is essentially urging us to live with the level of unrealism and what some have called wonkiness because these are "essential to the system". Recall that he said AD&D "was a project which involved varying degrees of my thought, imagination, and actual working time over a period of more than a year and a half." And, I would add, much, much more play than that. Gary knows what needs to be in the system and doesn't make these choices arbitrarily.
  • Two of the most common charges, attacks or complaints in fact are answered by Gary in this very Preface:
    • Why class restrictions?
      • "in order to give a varied and unique approach to each class when they play, as well as to play balance."
    • Why race restrictions?
      • "because the entire game would be drastically altered if it were otherwise."
  • AD&D is carefully engineered to give a certain type of gaming experience. Screw with certain aspects of it and you change the whole game. The whole experience is different. And we wonder why so many old schoolers are dissatisfied with later iterations of the game.
  • Everything "in the AD&D system has purpose."
  • Either we believe him or we do not.
  • Yet he also notes that a DM can bend just about everything in the game. And he urges us to "Read the work (or both works if you are a DM) through and assess for yourself what AD&D really is."
  • The "true guidelines" as he calls them are the most minimal foundation for a "superior D&D campaign." Assuring us that all else has been left out as superfluous.
  • Gary was always thanking the fans for their contact, support and questions. Gail his widow has also stated Gary loved it when fans would express thanks to him and D&D for inspiring them in their college studies, professions and life callings. His thanks at the close of his preface speak as much to that as anything.
Rest assured that Gary did not develop AD&D in isolation. It was his ultimate expression of the game. But as mentioned earlier he had faced all of the common problems known to gamers today. Alternate methods had been theorized, playtested, rule changes experimented with, different ways of doing things attempted. Gary knew what worked and what didn't work in order to achieve the Spirit of what AD&D is. Notice that Gary didn't say or imply that AD&D was different for whoever plays the game. Clearly there is AD&D and NOT AD&D. The rules he included by and large encompass that. This is something Gary returns to again and again in his work Roleplaying Mastery; that there is Spirit unique to AD&D and changes to the system must be undertaken carefully or else you will be playing something that is not AD&D.

It is within his preface, written once his trifecta was finally complete, that he urges us to read and play and discover the Spirit that is AD&D. My question for you is: Have you found it or have you lost it?

D&D 6e

I've written about this before, but I was reading an interview with Monte Cook that not only brought it to mind again but also confirmed some of my worst suspicions about editions of D&D under WoTC. The article was lamenting the early and in their opinion unnecessary release of 3.5.

What Monte says is that 3.5 was released way too early. He says 3.5 was scheduled to be released in 2005. And that is when it hit me. 2005?! That was only 5 years after D&D 3e! And they were already planning on releasing a new edition. The interview also says that the basic model follows a thought that once they release all of the core books and available splat books, it's time for a new edition. They didn't follow this model with 3e and they assume, it is because they didn't want to revise everything in the planned 3.5 release.

Now I know that some of this interview can be ascribed to bitterness on the part of Monte, that his edition wasn't given a fair shake. That the new edition was released too soon. But even so the official plans were a max run of 5 years! Which means right from the start there was a five year business model for producing D&D editions.

So check it out:

2000: D&D 3e
2003: D&D 3.5
2005: scheduled release of 3.5
2007: D&D 4e is announced
2008: D&D 4e (Note that this is 5 years after 3.5)
2010: D&D Essentials is released
2012: D&D Next is announced
2013: D&D Next due at at GenCon (5 years after 4e)

Which means that D&D 6e is due out in 2018. and if I want to be really prophetic I would say that some major modification to 5e is due out about 2015/2016.

Yeah, you know I really don't care what they are saying about this will be the edition to unite all editions either. When asked directly if this would spell an end to edition making Mike Mearls really refused to answer directly. 6e will be out by 2018. You can bet money on it. And if you are gonna play D&D you will be paying that money directly to WoTC.

You may ask why I'm choosing to bring this up. I mean I've written similar rants before and this is pretty much common knowledge. Well, let me tell you. 5e is just a little bit alluring to me. It looks, well, somewhat interesting. And I'm just gullible enough to buy some of the rhetoric involved in this new edition. But even if it is a decent new game, and it will be a new game regardless of the rhetoric, I don't relish the idea of buying into a game that is only planning on being supported for a max of five years. Sorry Wizards of the Coast, that business model just lost me.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Advanced Hackmaster Players Handbook

I finally laid down the greenbacks for this puppy. And man, even the PDF is a work of art. I can't wait to get my hardcopy. But reading this has even made my reperusals of the AD&D books take a back seat for awhile. I will take the time to do a play by play occasionally--I'm not really a very good review writer, but I'll do my best.

What I want to say right now is WOW! Holy freakin', wet my pants WOW!! This is the best rpg book I've read in I don't know when. No, this is the best freakin' BOOK I've read in I don't know when. Why don't I play this game again? What is wrong with me?

I've gotten through the race section and into classes and am realizing why I love Hackmaster so much, every time I read it. It reads almost exactly like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but more fun to read, and more detailed than the 1e books were. It has the old school flavor of my gaming style down pat, and that familiar feel I am so much in love with.

Just a few highlights, beyond those I've mentioned in the past, which are well preserved here (the ethos, the tone, the zero to hero scope, etc):

I love the racial descriptions. The Grel stood out to me in particular as I was least familiar with them. I hadn't recalled them standing out so much for me in HM 4. But their description as a sort of warmongering-psycho-wild elf type was absolutely engrossing in the new book. The Grel purpose due to their background and history in relation to the other elven races truly came to life for me. I would love to game with this race in my world. If I have a player brave enough that is. I also love the HM take on Drow, which is much more apropos (imo) of the role they played in the elf wars. And if you think about it much more serial killer in mentality. The tortured, reclusive, misunderstood types that turn to the shadows, and torturing small animals to feel good about themselves. Much more drowlike in my opinion.

And I'm thrilled to see that Gnome Titans and Pixies made it into the core book (though pixies are in the appendix). These were two HM staples I didn't want to see left out. just strange enough, just over the top enough to suit my gaming style and carry that HM tone home.

I also love the idea of having Knights and Paladins specialized classes that can only be taken by higher level fighters after proving themselves worthy. This concept (I wonder) was borrowed from the 1e UA Cavalier types that had to stat at up to negative third level before they hit first. This made so much more sense to me--even though in the UA it was mainly tied to social class--than just giving a first level PC all that power. And it keeps these classes special. So few will get to these heights, that when and if they do it will really mean something. I mean by the time a PC is a Pally, he is some butt kicking kind of awesome. Though he might be a bit of a pain with all that massive honor, prestige, and strict code of conduct strapped on tighter than his armor. But this, I say was a brilliant move.

Lastly, and more generally, I have to say how much I truly feel at home with this book. I mean it has become very much its own game, Hackmaster. It did that really in the the original game, and in large part due to the flavor it took on through the pages of KODT. There always being an interchange of rules, inspiration and game development back and forth between the game and the magazine. And as pointed out in the history of the game, Advanced Hackmaster came about not only due to the expiry of the license, but also because the game had grown to need it's own expression of rules. The AD&D framework was just a bit unwieldy for what HM had become.

When I first read this, I'll admit to feeling a bit disappointed. I mean one of the reasons KODT and HM were always so awesome, was because they were based on AD&D. But even AD&D didn't quite capture the essence that was the HM world. HM had begun to symbolize and embody a certain style of play, certain assumptions about what was right and wrong with gaming, what was good and bad in the RPG world. And it made a bold stand and statement based on a view of old school principles. Hard hitting, no holds barred real life or death gaming. Balls to the wall, riding the edge, and laughing maniacally all the while. That was gaming in the HM multiverse. Now, admittedly it was not the only way to game. And AD&D could certainly be played in lots of other ways. And some might argue that AD&D wasn't the perfect tool for this expression anymore. Hence the rewrite of HM.

But you know what, HM feels like home to me. Feels like home almost more than AD&D does. HM has always captured a certain feel of gaming that I was always very much at home with. It was the way I gamed. So even though HM has broken some new ground in rule development, especially with their fast paced, gritty and realistic combat system (the biggest stumbling block for some people) it suits that style of gaming better than anything has yet done. And yet, it still is very true to its old AD&D roots, with the assumptions of the game built into the spirit of that game by the founders themselves.

It's just a damn good book. And it looks like a damn good game.

I've been bemoaning my fate lately of not having players to play with. And with a recent promotion possible at work it looks like I may not even have my school club anymore. It was time to take action. My gaming possibilities were slipping away from me. So just yesterday I started to gather some guys together outside of my school club to start playing a long term game in our neighborhood again. Some are teenagers, but two are adults (father and uncle of some of the teens). I'm very interested in playtesting HM, to get our feet wet, and see how the combat system really runs. It's the one thing that is newest about the game and so requires some getting used to.

Yeah, we could play AD&D or Castles and Crusades or even give 5e a whirl. But for how long now have I been ogling Hackmaster. Every time I read a HM book new or old, read my KODT issues, or get on the KCo site I'm wanting to play HM so bad I can taste it. So that is where we'll start.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'm a D&D Bum

You ever heard of a surf bum? You know, the guys who will hang around the beach, or travel from beach to beach just to get the chance to surf? Yeah, well that's me, only I hang around whoever owns or plays D&D just to get a little fix of anything related to D&D. I may not like the waves, I may complain about the weather or the bad fish tacos, but I'll be where the waves are.

And who'm I really kidding? I'm a D&D Bum. I've bought as many game systems as just about anybody I know. I really like some of them too. Consider switching to them. But when it comes right down to it--I play D&D. In any guise, in any flavor. I tried staying away from the WoTC D&D boards, which lasted all of about a half a day. I don't always like what I see there, but I gotta get my D&D fix. I've complained from time to time about WoTC flashy new glossy art style, but who'm I kidding? I grew up on Vallejo and Rowena--and their about as glossy as it gets in fantasy art. I love seeing the Drow art that the Wizards site is sporting right now. In fact I really love the Forgotten Realms storyline that they are running  right now for D&D Encounters. And for Salvatore's new book line I might add.

I recently went to Deseret Industries (That's like Goodwill in Utah) and scored over 100 TSR and Wizard's fantasy novels for a 1.50 a piece! I bought them ALL! And I mean ALL!. Our FLGS here in town rarely carries RPG gaming stuff, they're mostly boardgames, models and Magic Cards, but anytime they get old D&D stuff I don't yet have, I snatch it up. What can I say, I'm a D&D bum, a D&D whore if you will. I'll take it anyway I can get it.

Yeah, I get torqued that this edition doesn't do this as well as that edition did, and that WoTC changed this, or dropped that, or aren't bringing this back. But who'm I kidding? I'll take whatever they give me. It's just, well ... cool. It's what I do, it's a part of who I am, and nothing else seems to quite match up. I'm rereading my AD&D books right? Well, I happened to pul out me 2e books to make some rule comparisons between it and 1e and I'm reading along in the 2e PHB, and thinking, hey this is really cool. I like how they did this, and maybe I should recommend that they do this in 5e, and *URP!* What? I can't like this!! It's 2e!

Whom' I kidding? I'm a D&D bum.

I love horror--it's a vice of mine--especially Lovecraftian stuff, but horror of any flavor will do in a pinch. And so I'm reading my 3e book on D&D Horror, and it rocks! I mean absolutely Rocks!! Yeah, I like horror, and it's an easy sell for me, but really has there been any book that was better than this in the D&D canon? Maybe as good--but it's quickly becoming one of my D&D faves. And why?! It's 3e!! I can't like that!

Who'm I kidding? I'm a D&D Bum.

Sell it to me in any flavor, and I'll probably play it. I've played 1e, 2e, 3.5, 4e and am probably going to end up playing 5e too. Nothing else has ever stuck with me. I'm a D&D Bum. And hey, have you ever seen the life of a surf bum? Not a bad gig really. Sit around the beach all day sipping Mai Tai's, soaking up the rays, cool ocean breeze, waiting for a good wave, chicks in bikinis everywhere. Yeah, I could dig that. (As long as my wife is there ; - )) --obligatory spousal admission--

D&D--same thing.

Dungeons & Dragons Rawks. Pass the Mai Tai, uh I mean the dice ...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What Makes RPGs So Special: A Confession

There is an undeniable something about roleplaying games that keeps us coming back week after week, year after year. And any of you die hard fans that have stopped RPGs for any length of time, know that after awhile you yearn to enter back into the hobby. No other replacement hobby, activity or pasttime quite has the same effect. I know, because I looked.

Reading the Foreword of the PHB brought this to mind again, and I wanted to take a slight divergence in this entry and get self reflective again. If anything, that speaks to the nature of my blog anyway: self reflection on gaming. So Mike Carr makes the following comments,

"As diverse as this melange of enthusiasts is, they all seem to share one commonality: a real love for Dungeons & Dragons and a devotion that few other games can claim. This remarkable loyalty is a great factor in the game's explosion of popularity, and Dungeons & Dragons has become a gaming cult, as avid D&Ders have ceaselessly "spread the gospel", enrolling new players in expanding groups which just seems to grow and grow."

What is this quality that Carr alludes to here? What engenders the devotion and makes it so powerful among its adherents? Well, Gary Gygax speaks to this in his book Roleplaying Mastery when he says,

"However, roleplaying games, by their nature, call upon the participants to develop a deeper involvement in the activity than any other type of game might require. Many of those with the time and inclination to indulge in such a demanding but fulfilling pasttime become avid players. A roleplaying game, instead of being an idle activity only engaged in when the weather is wet or cold, quickly becomes one of highly active and eager participation. The deep involvement and commitment shared by all enthusiasts is indeed a contributing reason for the popularity of roleplaying games."

Gary also admits to three other reasons that RPGs engender such interest, citing the fact they they are fun, and cooperative in nature and then he says something else of particular note here,

"Participation in roleplaying games requires mental effort, particularly imagination. This is no surprise, neither are roleplaying games distinctive for this reason. ...

The difference with roleplaying games is that they ask all the participants to exercise this creative ability. Role games ... require participation not only in the mechanics of play but also (and to a far greater extent) in the subject matter of play. All participants actually have important and demanding creative roles in such games, and their imaginative input is increased as long-term participation evolves.

This means that an ongoing roleplaying game, referred to as a campaign, alters from its original form into an amalgam of the printed game and the creative imagination of the group involved. As more is brought into the game by its participants during the play of adventures, or scenarios, that take place in the context of the campaign, they derive more from the game at the same time. ... Enjoyment grows as the game matures and becomes more complex and as the campaign's unique and independent personality develops. The game campaign actually alters to become the cooperative effort of the game manufacturer and the group playing it. In this way, the game, in each particular manifestation of itself, takes on a life of its own."

Now, if you've read and understood the implication and the depth of those words you can begin to see much in regards to the current state of gaming affairs worldwide. You can see why it has occurred and why it is a danger to the hobby as well. We are victims of our own imaginations--of their power and their uniqueness. But that is not the real reason I want to reflect on this matter right now. I want to make it more personal.

As any of you know who follow my blog with any degree of regularity I have a devil of a time making my mind up. I started gaming in 1981, and whether it's nostalgia or preference I like the way games were done back then. But what am I really looking for? I don't think it is nostalgia. It's that world born of the shared experience Gygax talks about, that was so vivid and intense in my youth. I haven't had that since about 1992. And honestly, it stayed as a very real part of me until 2005 when I actively started gaming again. It lived on in my memory.

My gaming situation now is very cyclical. I rarely have the same gamers at my table for more than 3 years. And rarely play the same game for more than a year. And truthfully it feels like it restarts every Septemeber and stops every April. The length and power of its collective life is short and never really able to achieve the heights I previously enjoyed.

This has given me pause the past day or two to really consider what it is I'm about with my gaming. For just like the post above, the rules don't even really matter all that much. Yes, they do matter, and edition or version or game does have an effect on play, as Gary alluded. The manufacturer of the game is at least a part of the world that grows out of play. But the whole is greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

And something else has come to mind as well. As I participated in the discussion of the creation of 5e at WoTC, I became very frustrated by the direction the game appeared to be taking. For some time I could see that many of the questions they are asking, and problems they are facing had been addressed and solved in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons over 30 years ago. Why couldn't they just see it? I asked myself. It made me quite frustrated, mad actually. But it has only been in the past day or two that I've truly realized they want to create a different game--a different way of doing it. They don't want old answers. Is there anything really wrong with this? No. It may or may not be better--but it will be different.

And here I am rereading my old AD&D books, self righteously telling myself that I'm gonna stick with the way things were "meant" to be. But I'll tell you something. I've felt pretty lonely lately. There is currently only one gamer, young man I know in our gaming club that even wants to play 1e. He's 13 and his dad gave him his books. It's a start, eh? Even though I don't even know the man (his Dad), I could reach out. But why? I've a whole group of gamers avidly dedicated to Pathfinder and that quickly growing collective Universe.

When I had decided I wouldn't play Pathfinder any longer, one young man was quite despondent. He was an 8th grader and in my class for kids who are behind in math. He had bought his own PF books, and read them assiduously. He would ask endless questions about spells, combat maneuvers, campaign details, how a wizard could become a lich, and on and on. He would stand near me when I did hall duty, or catch me between classes, and finish his math as quickly as possible to talk PF. He wanted to talk endlessly about Pathfinder, his PCs and what would be coming next in the campaign.

I realized early on that he was seeking to immerse himself in the game. He had caught that unmistakable gaming bug that Gary wrote about above. He was investing the time to become deeply involved in his hobby, in gaming culture. There is nothing wrong with this of course. As Gary said, such involvement allows the player to reap greater rewards for his participation. It is what I was looking for as well. The only thing was, I was trying to leave PF behind. So, though I entertained his questions and conversation, I was thinking in the back of my mind that I wanted to focus on a different game. That I didn't want to invest my time in PF. Accordingly I didn't get near as much out of our interactions as I might otherwise have. I also recall feeling a little cheated, and alone in my gaming tastes. There was noone to share my gaming thoughts and questions with.

And now I remember those emotions and experiences thinking, here I sit with my AD&D books and no interaction. My own brother, who I correspond with quite regularly, is heavily involved with 4e and his campaigns there, and the 5e playtest. Both of which I've left behind. When we talk there is a loneliness in me, a separation. A fracturing. I try and connect his thoughts with AD&D, but it just doesn't quite work. I'm not getting the same out of it.

And though I read my 1e books, and write my thoughts about what Mike Carr and Gary Gygax and others wrote those 40 years ago. I'm left a little cold; and the experience is a more than a little sterile. I feel more like Randolph Carter in "The Silver Key" searching for something that isn't a part of this world.

Why this is, is quite clear to me now. I'm not sure what to do about it. But it leaves me with a poignant sort of sadness and a resignation to my fate. Just what that fate is alludes me still, but I'll have to embrace it for fighting fate is folly. Just like Randolph when he, tiring of this world, and yearning for the forgotten world of dreams, takes the key and opens the gate. Leave behind what we knew, to embrace what we have forgotten. But I wax poetic.

The fact is, without a gaming community a gamer is but a reader of gaming books. And I'm not talking about the internet community. There are AD&D fora, and sites a plenty. But the sterile ground of digital interaction dwells on mechanics, and edition wars, and game development and stories of which you are not a part. No, I'm talking about an active group of gamers with which you game. With which you work the magic that is gaming. A long term, deep and imaginative collective of effort and devotion that only gaming groups can know. I've only known one. Long ago started at a bus stop with two young acquaintances in my grade. Quickly grew to four, then six, but always the core four of us living and breathing realms of magic, of deep dungeons and mighty winged dragons and realms of the magical imagination.

And I now look, like a child grown to stale adulthood, for a lost wardrobe entrance. At the back of which is only cold hard unyielding wood. Where, oh where is my silver key? Maybe that's why I'm re-reading my old AD&D books. Maybe I think I've left it there, hidden in the folds of its dusty, yellowed pages. But something very old, and something wiser than I whispers to me: No. That the key is in my heart, and the hearts of those with whom I might game once again. Find them, and together you'll find the gate once more.