Saturday, February 11, 2012

Old School--Sailing into the Wind

So if you caught my last rather sad and self centered post, you are probably wondering what angst filled, nostalgia ridden whining he's gonna shovel off on us now. You might actually be surprised. I mean what did I expect my young cohort to do? Pathfinder was the first game for many of them. And we all know the loyalty and preferences that that can engender in a gamer. Fact is every game I play is compared and contrasted to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, because it was my first game. Moreover, every gaming experience I have will in some way be compared to my initial first few years I had as I gamed back in the glory days. I really shouldn't have expected anything different really.

How long would the OSR have lasted if it had listened to the critics and fanboys? It never would have. I look to my my fellow gamers like Matt Finch, Stuart Marshall, Dan Proctor, Chris Gonnerman, John Adams and tons of others as great examples of positive thinking and commitment to the fundamental principles of what Dungeons & Dragons and RPGs are all about.

A few months ago, Rob Kuntz and I had some enlightening conversations about the real nature of this hobby. And truthfully he took me to a whole new level. I must admit that I really didn't understand a lot of what he was implying or hinting at. My intention was to write up the interview, a process I am still puzzling over. It has yet to be finished, because so much of what he said in his interview blew away a lot of my preconceptions. It almost seemed to have less to do with RPGs than the nature of creativity itself. Little did I know that he was trying to get me to see the real essence of RPGs.

I often wondered if he looked back on my journey since our conversation, and think that I just didn't get it. Well Rob, it takes seeds some time to sprout. To be honest this has been kind of like a rebirthing process for me. A trial by fire, a sort of alchemical crucible of the mind. It has been downright painful.

As many of you know I have been gaming PF since last fall up to about two weeks ago. I have really tried to find myself in this game, where I fit in, where I belong, how it was to become a part of me, the way I know and feel that RPGs are. I discovered lots of interesting things, people and concepts in the last few months. But what I really ended up with was a growing dissatisfaction with what I was doing. Something was wrong and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It sort of all came to a head about a month ago.

I had been delving fairly deep into PF, and had discovered that my style of play was really nothing like what was contained in the game. I was trying to do something, I myself wasn't even sure of and PF wouldn't quite let me do it. I of course turned to the PF rules for help. And doing so only convinced me more than this was not the place for me.

There's a friend where I work. He in fact is the night janitor at my school, and he is a guru of the first order. We often talk after my gaming club goes home for the night. We talk about religion, spirituality, the meaning of life, about the Patriots and the Cowboys, about Music--mainly Heavy Metal, and we just enjoy each others company. He has helped me in many crises in my life, and he says I have done likewise for him, but I think he's being generous. So the other night a few weeks ago I vent about my gaming woes, and about feeling like I'm just doing whatever the kids want to do, and ignoring my own desire to really pursue the game like I want to. He listens carefully--he's a good listener--and we begin to talk about dreams, about seeking what you want in life. About life being too short to live someone else's life and about being true to yourself.

Then he says something that really hits me. He explains that we often sacrifice ourselves for others thinking we are giving them the utmost we can give. When really what they want need is who we truly are. That the way to give to life, the world, creation and God is to be who you were really meant to be. Now if that is sacrificing everything, if that is who you are, then fine--you will find your bliss in that. But if what you are doing does not give you joy, if it is not where you would want to be--if you feel like you are not being your true self, then leave. That isn't going to do anyone any good.

I sat there listening and thinking and realizing that I needed to trust myself more. That I really hadn't trusted myself. That I had been asking left and right for advice, seeking wisdom in the experience of others, which is all fine really. But I wasn't listening to my own heart. And my inner self, my heart had been speaking to me all along. My biggest challenge is in doing that very thing--trusting my own heart. In being true to my own self. Trusting my own vision, my own wisdom.

So I did.

And it's funny, that as soon as you begin to do something really good, really true, the Universe often rises up in opposition to your aims to try and knock you down. It's exactly what I've been experiencing in all this negativity. I even continue to make concessions to my inner vision and intuitions as I try and follow them. Be true to yourself at all costs.

And this is what the OSR is really all about. I have written in my gaming biography about how the OSR so utterly confused me for a time. I need to go back and rewrite that section. Or to at least extend the idea that it almost had to do that for me to break through to what I was really trying to do. And in my opinion what the OSR itself is doing in many ways. It is unleashing the basic, core, pure and primal creativity that is at the core of the game encapsulated in those 3 LBBs. That is exactly the thing Rob Kuntz was alluding to in our dialogues. And that had given a whole new direction to my rewrite of our "interview".

But more than that it has given me new perspective on what I am about.

For instance, I struggled for a long time between Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord as the vehicle for inventing the game for myself. I knew inside which one was the right one for what I wanted to do. I had heard the call way back when I first read Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. But I really didn't trust myself. Even recently, as I examined the two communities, the LL community seemed more coherent, and people were producing more products for that version of the game. It seemed to offer the support I still longed for, the foundation I needed. S&W was almost too free and open. It was, in fact a bit scary. So much relied upon me. Not that there weren't supplements--there were. And truthfully, the nature of S&W supps seemed to speak to my soul more so than that under other licenses. It had that dark and scary tone that I so much love and strive for in my own games. But they were very independent, very free roaming. I was myself scared to make the leap out into pure unadulterated 0e space. And S&W seemed more than any game I had yet run across to encourage and inspire that kind of play--at least for me.

But I went back to a comfortable space for me. Still very hesitant, still very uncertain. And I think that came across in my play and in my interactions with my fellow players. I think they sensed my sensitivity and uncertainty. I just hadn't revealed that before. Why? Because I was resting secure in the foundation and creativity provided by others. I had all of Pathfinder and Paizo behind me! How in the heck would anyone question me--all I had to do was know the rules well enough and I was as a GM unstoppable! I relied on that sense of control. And I was going back to that with LL and Goblinoid Games.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Goblinoid Games, or with LL. Dan Proctor is a genius and he has got a tight gaming company with some true retro clones. I still really love his other product lines as well. I really feel like he has sort of captured "my time" in gaming. That age just after AD&D came out and Basic and Expert were running rampant. The dawn of a horizon of gaming that was to change the world.

For me, and for me personally, S&W is a part of the journey I have to take. It is about pursuing my own creativity, and my own imagination. It, truthfully is the way we played back in the day. We made it all up as we went--in spite of having over 400 pages of hard backed rules to refer to. We rarely cracked them open in fact. Everything was possible and we used our imaginations as the ultimate reference companion. Sure we didn't allow some things, but most of the time it wasn't the rules that decided for us, it was our power of reasoning. Of our ability to imagine possibilities and to visualize the scope and span of those possibilities and reason about them. That was what I was used to, and what I was seeking once again. That was the spirit that S&W communicated to me.

It has been said by those more well spoken than I that Dungeons & Dragons catered to a cultured literary and slightly irreverent mindset. That was my experience exactly. I thank James Maliszewski for pointing out a comment made on back in 2008 by T. Foster. He actually made it in relation to a thread query that explored "What does Gygaxian mean?" The exchange is as follows,

Theron: "If the pole will reach, I'll use the end to prod the formation and see if it is actually a skeleton covered with mineral deposits from the water! I know the Shakespearean bit about a 'sea change'!"

T. Foster "This is, of course, an example rather than a definition, but it's a very good one in that it captures several elements of what I consider quintessentially "Gygaxian" -- solutions coming the player's problem-solving ability rather than the character's stats, casual out-of-character/out-of-milieu anachronism, punning/word-play, and an affected appeal to a very old-fashioned "high cultural/literary" mindset."

And truthfully, you can call this Gygaxian if you like, but it was as much Kuntzian, Grubbsian, Arnesonian, Kaskian and the like. It was really what the game inspired in people, and the kind of people the game drew. Legion are those who pursued advanced studies in History, Mythology, Anthropology, Archaeology, Literature, Classics, etc. etc. due to being introduced to these disciplines via D&D. I was one such person myself. D&D spoke to me, partly because it tapped the stories of my very young days as a boy, at my mother's knee listening to stories about King Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Aladdin, the Fairy Books, Scheherazade and the Thousand Arabian Nights. It spoke a similar language. And inspired in me the desire to read more, and read I did. I began studying the Mabinogi, Bullfinches Mythology, and yes Shakespeare. It led my to Renaissance Festivals and the Historical Reenactment of the Society of Creative Anachronisms. It fostered a desire to learn about more about all of these things and this fed our imaginations, creativity and our games. A peculiar, rarefied and somewhat quirky humor went along with all of this, that predisposed us to Monty Python, puns and a particularly literate sense of humor. Popular experience also contributed in the form of science fiction, fantasy, horror, comic books, movies, TV shows. Indeed everything, life itself was fuel for the interaction we experienced at the game table and in just about everything we did.

This vast reservoir, this untapped source that D&D seemed to inspire and tap into was a part of the game and my early experience of it. That is in part what I am seeking to reconnect with, to begin to rexpress from within the realm my own personal muses. In fact I already have begun to feel it again as I have started with LL. A need almost, an overflowing outpouring of creative output. This was what drove me through High School and into my later adolescence. Creating worlds, races, languages, mythologies, monsters, magnificent and sometimes silly treasures. Weaving together stories through the dripping walls of dungeons and soaring spires of mountain topped castles. School came easy for me, and I aced without rally even trying, which left all that much more time for me to engineer dungeons during classes, extend the next phase of my current campaign, invent unique monetary systems, come up with a a magic item that worked like Dr. Who's Tardis, and it just went on and on. I'm feeling some of that same spark now. The walls are coming down, and I'm trying to embrace it, to let it fall like a blessed rain on the veins of imagination coursing under my skin.

Swords & Wizardry inspires me in this way and finally embracing it as the vehicle through which I create will be a joy. It's rtf format makes it custom tailored to do exactly that. And I look forward to telling my players to hold on to their hats. They're in for something unlike anything they have yet experienced.

"Forget all you know or think you know. All you need is your intuition." --High Aldwin, Willow

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Anti-Old School Conspiracy @ My Club

I thought my first session of Labyrinth Lord went really well.

Not sure about everyone else though.

One guy thought LL and AD&D 1e were identical and he was trying to use his old books and couldn't. I tried to tell him, but he just had to see for himself. Afterwards him and his buddy were kind of bummed.

Another guy kept announcing "You see why Pathfinder is better?!" anytime anything didn't go his way.

Two guys were visibly unhappy at not being able to play PF twice a week, and played as flat as pancakes.

One guy sat in the back reading Pathfinder books the whole time, but he did get into the game some towards the end.

And about three people were actually giving their heart over to it.

Some things they couldn't deny:
  • Nobody had to waste time looking things up in the books.
  • Combat went superfast--two combats in less than thirty minutes!
  • They really liked being freed up as to what they could do instead of being constrained by their skills and the like.
  • Initiative was quick and simple.
  • They like being able to multiclass at first level (we are playing LL+AEC).
  • They liked making PCs so quickly.
I personally thought the game was a blast. It was more creative and imaginative than any session we have had in a long time. I loved it for all of the above reasons as well, but as a GM it was a dream. I felt like I was finally playing the game the way I love to play it, within a system that supports that style of play. I also have been working almost every spare moment on my own homebrewed Labyrinth Lord campaign. My creative juices are running once again; and honestly I haven't felt this way since my High School days, when I would design dungeons, monsters, magic items and world build in class instead of doing my schoolwork.

But then I came to work today, and a bunch of Pathfinder players were busy knocking just about everything different about the game. Worse they were busy trying to convert everyone who was even giving LL a chance into thinking it was an inferior game in every respect imaginable. One kid was telling another kid he didn't have the intellect to play a real game with actual rules, and that was why he like LL.

It was like my own little amateur edition war between the students in the club. And they are being relatively sly about it--going behind my back, not talking about it when I'm not around, and anytime I confront them they just say they were joking and look at me like I can't take a joke. And of course when I joke back about PF they cower down and look hurt and offended. Not to mention that I feel bad about dissing on Pathfinder--it's a fine game, it's just not for me.

This is of course typical Junior High B.S. and perfectly in accord with the way kids act when they are not happy, not getting their way or trying to negotiate uncomfortable social situations. I know all about that I've taught this age of kid for almost 13 years now.

Funny thing is it's kind of getting to me. I suppose when kids normally act this way it's understandable, and I an distance myself. I usually think they are being silly or blowing things out of proportion, or just seeing things from an adolescent point of view. But this is about a game I really love, and about me finding the way I really want to play. This _is_ important to me. And truth to tell it hurts a bit. I suppose it hurts even more, because so much of older school games were homebrewed, and they aren't just rejecting a game they are sort of rejecting your creativity as an inevitable consequence of the rejection of your game. I mean I know that's kind of petty and not totally true--but I still feel it. I'm just mature enough to not let it out like they are.

I don't want to do anything drastic or anything, but I don't want to put up with this very long. I mean I put up with a lot already from this crew. I donate my time after school to run this club, I am often left with clean up duties afterwards, no matter how many times I remind them. They are sometimes borderline disrespectful with me, when I have to cancel for family reasons especially. And now this. I decide I'm done GMing Pathfinder, and if they would like me to GM once a week I'll run a LL campaign. They voted to have me run a LL game on Thursday and a student run a PF game on Tuesday. But I'm seriously doubting the sincerity of their vote now.

Sorry for the pity party, but that's where I'm at. I like Labyrinth Lord better than ever--tho' I'd rather run Pure LL instead of AEC (that was my concession to them). I'm just sick of trying to show the kids what they are missing. And the game is too important to me to have my pearls trod on by swine and then have them tear me to bits with their juvenile opinions.