Monday, December 30, 2013

Three Campaigns and a Grown Up Schedule

Yes, I have been gaming. But lots of other stuff too. One of the sad facts of this digital age is that it is so easy to simply drop away into obscurity. This can, of course, be good and bad. But I know from first hand experience it doesn't feel very good when someone you look forward to keeping in touch with simply isn't there anymore. Often there are very good reasons for such an absence. James Malizewski of Grognardia for instance. He had, it seems very deep and personal reasons for needing to absent himself from his blog. I respect those reasons. But I will say that I miss him and his old school steadiness, his balance and his commentary on the OSR.

I'm not sure many miss me, but I do miss writing on my blog. I'll admit my reasons are less noble than James', but some are at least understandable. As I've said previously I've changed jobs, my new job is very demanding and stressful, and I am also completing a masters degree. My current gaming group has been hit and miss to say the least. But this next year looks a touch lighter schedule wise and we are working out some things so it looks like a weekly game may happen soon. I'll write more about this later, but sitting in as a player has been a difficult switch.

My G+ Hangouts game was supposed to get started in December, but our GM says he is not ready. I'm ready to see if they'll be willing to just let me start GMing a game if something doesn't start soon.

And on a fun note, for me anyway, I've been running a little Christmas time campaign with my children and nephew. It has been fast and furious, but successful! They all got Castles' & Crusades books and dice for Christmas, so we are playing C&C, using the Aihrde Setting. My daughter is playing a neutral evil assassin--something I've been reluctant to allow in any of my games, evil and assassins. But it has been a blast so far. Lots of intrigue and sub-plots along with the main plot line of a missing chronomancer wizard. He had been sent back in time to stop another wizard acting as a gateway between worlds. I know, I know, heady stuff--but they are all rabid Dr. Who fans and I suppose I'm guilty of playing to that hand to reward them a bit--keep the excitement high.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I Have a Gaming Group!!

Two actually! And I owe one at least to online game finder services! It has taken forever and a day, but it has actually happened. For those of you who may not know or recall, I'm an educator and ran our school's gaming club for about six years or so. It was a great success, and I would say we served over 125 gamers over those years, many of them beginning gamers. We played several different games, as looking back through my posts will show, but most of our long term games were run with 1e/OSRIC, Pathfinder and 4e. It was great fun, but at times frustrating for a number of reasons I've been over many times in the past.

My biggest frustration over the years had been the lack of a solid gaming group of players more in my demographic (age etc.). I had been urged by many to start an online gaming group, but avoided doing so as somehow inauthentic. Well, last year the gaming group didn't fly. I had been promoted into school administration and my time and position at school simply didn't allow for the running of a school club. This was sad for me as I missed not only gaming of course but I missed the interactions with the kids in the club. But it was beginning to look like gaming might not happen too often in my life and I was getting desperate. So I got ahold of some old gaming buddies and a brother of mine who games, scattered all over the country and told hem we should start a Google + Hangouts game. Surprisingly everyone was very much supportive of the idea!

We planned on using Roll 20 and Google Hangouts. A friend of mine had a campaign idea he wanted to use, we had three willing players, so we looked ready for action. As we were making plans and proceeding, albeit slowly, towards our first online game, out of the blue I get an email from a local gamer. Turns out he had found my name online, checked out my blog and wanted to know if I was interested in a regular game. Interested!

Long story short, I now have two games going! And I am very grateful for that.
I also am settling in to my new position (I was transferred to a new school this year) and chugging along in my graduate program. I mention them only as a passive excuse as to why I haven't been more diligent on the blog lately. Aside from the rather obvious excuse that my gaming had been as dry as the Sahara under sand rationing.

Oh and as for my world project it is moving along. I had written some time ago that I was going to create my own world. Of course I have created numerous worlds over my gaming career, but rarely used them as my default campaign. I always set my adventure in either Greyhawk's Flanaess or Faerun's Forgotten Realms, preferably Greyhawk. But my ideas had been infected by numerous indie games and supplements namely Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Carcosa, Crypts & Things, Adventurer Conqueror King, Pelinore, and others. I tentatively labeled the setting Gedrion, and have made progress, but have rewritten much of what I've come up with several times. Fortunately I am currently only playing in both games and not DMing, so it gives me plenty of time get my setting in playable shape.

I have also had quite a few thoughts on the new old school, and why I consider their approach to play preferable to the Monty Haul excess that exists in today's new school games. Recently I came across a quote by Ayn Rand in which she says,

"Contrary to the fanatical belief of its advocates, compromise [on basic principles] does not satisfy, but dissatisfies everybody; it does not lead to general fulfillment, but to general frustration; those who try to be all things to all men, end up by not being anything to anyone. And more: the partial victory of an unjust claim, encourages the claimant to try further; the partial defeat of a just claim, discourages and paralyzes the victim."

And couldn't help but wonder how this applies to my feelings when I play games that I do not like. At times we are forced to, because we have little choice in our gaming mates. But sacrificing principles applies in so many things. Some have accused me of being overly dramatic in regards to defending the old, school ethos; and close minded, stubborn, pedantic, and down right wrong of course. But the fact is I have always felt exactly as Ayn Rand points out when forced to try and "fit" myself into a game I do not prefer. I feel dissatisfied, frustrated, defeated, discouraged and ultimately my creativity is paralyzed. Well now I know: it is because I compromised on my basic gaming principles.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Still Don't Have a Gaming Group

I talked a good game in my last post, but I still can't bring myself to play a game I'm not interested in. There's a group of teens that play 3.5, and another group of preteens and early teens that play Pathfinder. Another group plays All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and there are more MTG players in town than you can shake a stick at. So, not only teens but games I am not interested in.

Crap. On the positive side I've met a few adults lately that might make good candidates. One is a staff member at my new school. Did I mention I'm moving to an elementary next year? Yeah, even worse possibility of running a game club. Well, maybe, but we'll have to see. Anywho there is the teacher who I am going to try and ask to game, and another elementary school principal that may be amenable. I know of an adult at my old school who used to game, but he says he is too busy right now.

Meanwhile I'm putting myself out there. Advertising so to speak. Next step is to get some business cards and make new fliers. I actually found an e-book on finding gamers by Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips called Filling the Empty Chair. Most of what he said I've done, or knew about, but he had some useful tips for making yourself more visible and high profile.

I'll tell you the truth it's getting a little depressing. But, there's hope still if all else fails. I'm thinking of finally getting an online game going. Probably via Skype or Google Hangouts or similar software. There are some other good interfaces I'm looking into to even do a little mapping and such. I told myself I would never do this, but after seeing how Google Hangouts works I think it's a viable option. There's a much better chance to get a group going this way if I want to find likeminded gamers for an old school game, or a newer iteration like DCC, HM, AS&SoH, C&T, ACK, LotFP or the like. I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Forming Your Perfect Gaming Group

No matter who you might think the "perfect" gaming group consists of, and there are as many ideas as there are groups, there is often a pattern to forming one. This entry is more to myself than anyone else. And I want to give a shoutout to my brother, who went through heck, highwater and lots of unwashed gamers getting to his present pretty awesome group. He explained to me that it was not easy and it took time, even in the very populated and creative city of Austin, Texas. I would like here to share with myself, as much as remind myself that I must be willing to go the extra mile in reaching out and doing the hard and at times desperate work of finding that right chemistry of odd eccentricity, stumbling excellence, humor, seriousness and and fluid cooperation that marks an enjoyable gaming group.

The Knights of the Dinner Table: Close to my ideal Group
The first thing to do of course is to get out there. You may have an idea of what you want to play, style genre or system but you may have to be a bit flexible. For me, I've waded through 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, and am becoming familiar with 5e; even though my preferred system has always been AD&D. For my brother it was 3.5, Pathfinder and now 4e. His current group, which is quite a good one is playing 4e, and though most admit they do not like it it is what they are currently playing. The point here is you may have to wade through some less than enjoyable sessions or campaigns due to a disliked system to form some gaming friendships.

So, how does this apply to my situation? Well, I currently am being pressured to only run Pathfinder. However, I have not been able to game much with the school club due to job pressures. I am now a building administrator and it is hard to find the time right after school to run a club meeting regularly. We do have a self motivated Pathfinder group going, but there are a number of others that are floating, waiting for me to start a game again. So, I have decided that I will be running an AD&D only group after school hours, once a week at the Hobby Shop or Public Library. These gamers who currently don't have a game are much more willing to game whatever I DM, simply to game so I can choose the system of my liking. If they had really wanted to game something else badly enough they could have started by now. They are, in short desperate. This does a couple of things. It gets me gaming with a group that might produce older gamers one day (as they grow up); and it gets it into the public arena out of school that there is an active old school game going.

The Black Hands Gaming Group: Rough and Tumble
My brother put up a flier at his FLGS and was pretty pointed in what he was looking for. Not one to suffer the unwashed and abusive masses easily, he made it clear he was looking for a certain sort of gamer when he was group forming. Of course he had to be a lot more lenient when he began getting inquiries. The first game they played iirc was Pathfinder. Then they moved to 4e. The group's configuration shifted, expanded and shrunk over the first while and, I believe, petered out once. But he continued on. This is the second pint I would bring up: advertising. I am going to be putting together some fliers for my local area and hope to run them by my blogging audience for input. I want to be open, but explicit. I once tried a Castles & Crusades flier, and though I got a few nibbles (some people took my number) no bite (no one called). So I have got to get the word out. Maybe even advertise my blog on my adverts so people can check me out and get to know me. And when all else fails, or it doesn't work--keep trying.
The Gaming Group from Unicorn City the Movie: The dysfunctional DM
(BTW, the hobby shop here is Hastur's Games about 3 hours from my stomping grounds!)
But the fact is, a group of school gamers, even though I'm planing on inviting a few older teens as well as my middle school gamers looking for a gaming home, isn't going to give me what I'm looking for. The fact is the people you may start with may not be there months down the road. I'm going to have to be a bit more extroverted in my attempts to reach out to gamers at the shop, at the local college and around town. Try and draw them into my game. I'm a bit worried about this stage, if I ever get there. Because I'm going to have teens in my regular group, and try and mix them with adults. That may not work. I don't know if I have the time to run two groups. Though if I get this far this is not a bad problem to have.

JoJo: DM of the Hard 8 Gaming Group when Gary's not around
The point with all this is perseverance and patience. Longsuffering helps too I suppose. What I want to really say is that the normal routes many of us try, Meetup.Com, Gamers Seeking Gamers, EnWorld, and numerous other good sites work well for those of us near major urban centers--but here locally. Squat. At least for me anyway. We've got to get out and beat the bushes. We have to be willing to get into games we may be uncomfortable with, game with people that make us a little nervous, and be what gamers are often not, social butterflies. It's a stretch I know, but when all else fails ... Unless you want to Skype game, which is still a very open possibility for me at this point if I can't get a table group together.

Patty: DM of Patty's Perps gaming group for reformed and reforming cons. Patty is an elementary teacher by profession
I once, in ruminating about this problem of mine, started researching how adults make friends. I really don't have all that many "friends". I mean I have people I get along with at work, people I talk to at church, people in my community that I know and will greet passing by, but friends--real friends very few. And none are gamers. But, come to think of it, may be they should be ... Anywho, adults simply have less friends than we did in school. That doesn't mean we had tons in school, but generally speaking it was so much easier for us to make friends then. Adults are preoccupied with the workaday world and all of its incumbent responsibilities. We are also much more inhibited than our younger clones. We are afraid of awkwardness, embarrassment, and the effort it takes to make friends. I confirmed this a little as I have watched my own kids meet, play and make friends with new kids. Without fail at McDonald's my youngest will run to the indoor playground find some young girl her size (age is unimportant, and truthfully size if that's not available), walk right up and say "Hi!" Sometimes she introduces herself, sometimes it's just "You wanna play?" If even that. Before we leave she's dragging her new found companion over to us saying "Mom! Dad! This is my new friend!" To which her friend often reciprocates. We do NOT do that as adults. Maybe we should.

The Table Titans Gaming Group meets the Dungeon Dogs Gaming Group
So, what it comes down to is me. I have to be willing to get out there and make it happen. I started the gaming club back in 2006 or so. I had had kids begging me to game for two years before I actually decided to do it. It was a big step for me on a number of counts. Now it's time to spread my wings once again. If, especially, with my new promotion, I plan to game at all not to mention game with my ideal group, I've got some work to do. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When D&D Became Just Another Game

I haven't written in forever. The reasons are legion, but the main one is I've been lost in gaming land. I have tried numerous times to start an old school game and make it stick and it just hasn't worked for me. I'll admit that part of it is me. The students I game with in our gaming club are rabid Pathfinder devotees and so anytime I have gotten them to agree to an old school game I always get the sense that they are wishing we were playing something else. I also have been closely watching the 5e development, sincerely hoping that it would be "old school enough" for me and try to get the few local gamers here to jump from either 3.5, 4e, or Pathfinder to try something new.

 Recently I did play a rather decent session of 5e, and felt like it was closer to old school behind the screen, but still gave players option city and power under the hood. However trying to build a group that was willing to play it long term, let alone be excited about it was daunting. Which made me think more than once, if I was going to invest the effort to build on 5e why not put the effort in to build an old school group.

Of course this is nothing new for me. I've written endless blog entries about this very thing; and if there is one thing that defines my blog and my gaming experience over the past seven or eight years it is that I'm an old school gamer without a game. Well, not without a game so much (I'm pretty dedicated in my soul to AD&D); but more like a gamer without a gaming home. Which has led to numerous other entries on not having a decent group of gaming friends with which to game. And by decent, that is no judgment on the persons themselves. My usual gaming in these rather rural parts takes place in the school club which I run. Those kiddos are young, much younger than me. And forming a connection of "gaming friends" with adolescents that young just isn't very possible, let alone ethical. And then there are the other gamers in the area who are wedded to other gaming styles or other games, All Flesh Must be Eaten is very popular right now. There is an older group of teens that are playing a fairly active 3.5 game and one of them wants to run a 4e Encounters game, but they aren't interested in old school gaming much at all.

I've contemplated online gaming, by which I mean via Skype not like WoW. Or even play by post or email, but I've held back. I suppose that would allow me a game, which is better than nothing. But going to movies together, talking about the latest fantasy novel, comparing comic book collections or watching Star Trek reruns together just doesn't quite happen with online gaming friendships.

So, yeah. I'm part of my own problem. I'm looking for the perfect situation. And that just hasn't happened like it did for me all those years ago when I got my first Moldvay Box Set. I can't say I was the best gaming friend to have myself over the years. I took a long hiatus from gaming from about 23 to 35. And I was very out of the loop until I was about 33. Of course by then most of my old gaming buddies had moved on with their lives too. Now, I've been trying to recapture the magic for the last 9 years or so. And really, when I look back I was 28 or 29 when I started noticing I was really missing it again. I wrote alot during those years and daydreamed even more. But what I noticed was that the magic was gone, and I missed it.

I have spent my entire time since I started this blog looking for it, and have not found it. That was until yesterday.

Yesterday I watched the Hobbit.

I know, I know. There are problems with the films in certain technical and accuracy respects. But faithfulness to canon is not what did it for me. To tell the truth I don't know what it was that did it for me. The Hobbit was always my favorite of the tetrology, but I'm not sure it was even that. Fellowship was a really good book too, and I watched all three previous movies, and they were good but not like this. I really don't know what it was/is. I have felt that same bittersweet longing in my chest long ago from about age 12 to 19 or so during my first years gaming. That feeling that I've been shown a magical world, and all I want to do is be there, live there, adventure there. It's a feeling that lodges deep in the breast, somewhere low down in the heart, and rests there with a poignant melancholia of a place I never will be, but oh so badly long to achieve. A magic so real, so tangible it is just right there if I could only just ... I don't know what. Tantalizingly out of reach it draws me with a strong power of enchantment into ... I don't know where.

That was the world I gamed in those many years ago, and our characters were an extension of us into this realm, so close, but yet so far. The Never-Never, The OtherWorld, The Dreamlands, The ... place I want to be.

It's been a long time since I've passed through that gateway. And whatever the faults of Peter Jackson's vision of There and Back Again I want to thank him for opening the window again for me. I haven't felt like this in forever and a day. It was what drew me to gaming. It is the reason I game. And as to what it means for my future ... I just don't know. I just don't want the feeling to go away.

It has helped me see something though. That at some point D&D just became another game for me. Not my D&D, the D&D of my youth, but the new D&D. In a market oversaturated with games, so many that the entire hobby appears water thin at times, I look at the shiny new books with D&D on the cover and it's like it's just another new game. I don't know when this happened for me. I look back now at the old games and something magical stirs, just a little bit. And what with WoTC making them so readily available now as downloads and reprints I can feel more than ever like they are still on the commercial shelf--even if it is only digitally. That does my heart very good and I shout a hearty thank you to them for this. And I also easily acknowledge there are many, many gamers that really like the new stuff. It will indeed become their old stuff. I'm not arguing old or new is better or worse here. This is an entirely personal diatribe. I wish I could get excited about these games like I was about the old ones. I really wish I could sit down with people playing the new games and feel the same way. The way I do now after watching the Hobbit and dreaming about it, playing scenes over and over again in my mind and heart, humming with the dwarves "Far over the misty mountains cold".

But I just don't. It's just me. I'm not blaming anyone else. Or it's just reality, time passing, age accruing on my quickly degenerating body and mind. It just is.

I will say this though. It got me writing on my blog today. And for those of you who occasionally still drop by when a post crops up. Thank you. I wish you were around so we could get together and game.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Response to a Challenge: My Formative Geek Moments

Cruising around checking out OD&D resources brought me past The Wasted Lands once again. I read Grey Elf's most recent challenge and something in it inspired me. Truth be told I've been thinking about kickstarting the old blog again, but was simply unsure of the direction to take her. Not sure why, but this seemed a good place to start.

So without further ado -- for your reading humor, my rise in Geekery ...

I was born in in the age of flying saucers. In the late 60's and early 70's in my part of the Earth, it seemed we were near being invaded by lights flitting across the evening and night sky, and by discs that landed in rural sites across the countryside. The local newspapers were awash in such reports, and TV programs covered them in relation to the international race to the moon. I even recall watching the Apollo 17 lunar landing in 1972 on our small black & white television in the living room. My saucer obsession lasted well into 1976, despite the waning of sightings. I inherited a pair of old metal binocs from my dad -- well I actually snuck them at night after he was asleep for some time before he discovered my interests and passed them on to me. I would sit by my window which had a good view of the southern sky and scan the stars for hours. Some nights, when I could stay up late I would lie on our driveway staring up into the stars, imagining what life would be like out there. My interest expanded into all things space related, and I developed a strong interest in space travel, astronomy and anything vaguely "astronautic". I eventually wrote a letter to a regular column in the paper asking about the dearth of saucer sighting since the early 70's and got a thoughtful and helpful response.

Of course I was coming into my science fiction own just about the time Star Wars came out and it so blew the Star Trek and Lost in Space re-runs that I watched out of the water that I was never the same. Like Grey Elf said this was a water shed moment for me, and I too recall staring wide-eyed up at the big screen not believing what I saw--and at the same time believing with all of my heart that this was a possibility.

I should also give due space to my 3rd grade teacher. He was a science specialist and had python's, hamsters, turtles, fish, lizards, and a jungle of plants cared for in all parts of our third grade classroom. I came to him with a strong love of the outdoors and animals already strongly in place, but he deepened my understanding of these realms so much more than I could realize at the time. I told him early on my plans to be a biologist (I knew biologist got to study weird animals in weird places and that was all I needed), and the very next day he brought me one of his college level biology textbooks. I also loved the way he taught math as a system, not as an endless memorization of facts, and I am convinced he started in me my first love for real mathematics--no pun intended.

I also should give adequate voice to good parents. My Dad got me into model building, and electronics. I built my first electronic-crystal radio when I was about 10 or 11. I still recall the radio shack kit stating you could pick up airplane frequencies, but I just hoped it would work. When I first turned it on and tuned it I picked up something I will never forget. We lived by an Air Force Base, and F4 Phantoms would fly over our house all the time. Amidst the crackle and static I distinctly picked up some radio chatter of call signs and technical jargon I didn't quite understand. I was at my customary spot in my south facing window, and i could see that the sun had just set. I was looking desperately up in the sky, thinking it had to be airplanes, but could see nothing. Then I heard it "*call sign" this is *call sign* what say we rise the sun!" "*call sign* this is *call sign* let's do it!!" After which I hear nothing but static and crackles. I was dumbfounded. I had no idea of what they might have meant, until I talked with my dad after rushing in to tell him what I had heard. They were going to fly far enough towards the horizon that the sun would appear to them to rising upwards. This and endless hours fixing electrical problems on the car and boat with my dad sealed my long time love for all things technical.

My mother had read endlessly to me when I was a child. She says it was because I was her first. Whatever the reason it cemented in me a love for fantasy. Winnie the Pooh and his endless adventures were first, and then later a series of blue cloth bound books that contained the stories of Merlin, King Arthur and his Knights, some of the 1001 Arabian tales and and endless retinue of myths and fairy tales filled my young years. I am convinced this is one of the reasons I responded so strongly to D&D when I first encountered it.

Which was when I turned 12, encountered D&D that was. It was at a Boy Scout meeting, which is also rather geeky in many good ways. But this story I've already written about several times, so I won't go into details here. But it did turn me on to fantasy literature for which I will be ever in debt.

By the time I was in high school, I was all geek. Though admirably good looking for my clique and relatively charismatic (humble too) I simply didn't fit in with the "in" crowds. I saw them as hopelessly out of touch with stuff that really mattered, like whether we were going to be invaded by aliens, or if we already were; not to mention none of them knew Monty Python from a hole in the head. No, I hung with the best crowd of friends a guy could have--gamers, sci fi enthusiast, Tolkein aficionados, comic collectors (oh i really should have included my introduction to comics--which I did Elementary time for when I was caught stealing them from the reading room), Dr. Who fans and guys who knew a phaser from a disruptor blindfolded in a Vulcan sandstorm.

Yes, being a geek was good, is good and will be good for all time.

Thanks for the challenge Grey Elf!

D&D 5e Official Alternate Classes

The Classic 4: Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User and Thief This started with one of my players wanting to play the new Blood Hunter class. I...