Monday, July 21, 2014

Hackmaster Combat Preview

HackMaster combat is a little different from standard AD&D combat, but the more familiar I get with it, the more I like it. Having a few pointers as you go about creating your first PC and prepping for your first hack might prove helpful. So with that in mind:

Generally speaking ...

Base Combat Numbers

A Character's Base Attack = Intelligence Attack Modifier + Dexterity Attack Modifier + Class Attack Bonus

A Character's Base Defense = Wisdom Defense Modifier + Dexterity Defense Modifier + Armor Defense Adjustment + Shield Defense Adjustment

A Character's Base Initiative = Wisdom Initiative Modifier + Dexterity Initiative Modifier + Class Initiative Modifier

A Character's Base Damage = Strength Damage Modifier

Technically speaking here, the base attack, defense and initiative doesn't include class level or armor and shield adjustments, but I add them because they are commonly added in when in combat.

Weapon Proficiencies & Specialization

Now, there are other modifiers that may be included, most significantly weapon specialization. Each class has a cost for weapon proficiencies and specialization. Each character must pay in BPs for each weapon they have chosen to specialize in. Classes may give you automatic proficiencies, i.e. fighters and thieves are automatically proficient in all minimal skill weapons. Other must be paid for, albeit fighters can purchase weapon proficiencies at 1/2 listed cost.

Specialization cost, again, varies by class. There are specialization options for each weapon in Attack, Speed, Initiative, Defense and Damage. In other words you can be really good at hitting with the long sword, really quick with the long sword, getting the jump with the long sword, defending with the long sword, or causing the greatest amount of damage with the long sword. The getting good part equates in numbers to a +1 per purchase with your BPs. And this does not transfer to other weapons. Fighting with the long sword for instance is very different from the dagger, which is very different from the spear. Also, you must be +1 in each area before you can gain another plus and be +2 in any single area. Then you must be +2 in everything before you start to move to plus 3 in any area. This makes perfect sense as truly mastering a weapon requires knowledge in all aspects of it's use equally in order to excel even further in a given area. Also note that the highest level of mastery in any weapon is +5 in all areas. 

Note: Ranged weapons are slightly different, as they don't require all areas for use. For instance bows only have mastery for Attack and Speed. 

Attacking and Defending

The basic outline of HackMaster Combat is:
  1. Determine Distance & Surprise.
  2. Determine Starting Initiative.
    1. The GM will call for initiative and let everyone know what die to roll--the default is a d12.
    2. Add base initiative to your roll to determine your starting second in combat.
  3. The GM will start the count up on second 1.
  4. Combatants are essentially caught flatfooted until their starting initiative.
  5. Once your starting initiative second comes up you can begin to close to combat.
  6. When you close for combat, the person with the longer reach (based on race and weapon type) attacks first.
  7. The attacker rolls a d20p.
    1. Add base attack modifier.
  8. The defender rolls a d20p - (minus) 4.
    1. Add base defense modifier.
    2. If the defender has a shield he can roll a d20p.
  9. If the attacker beats the defender's roll he hit.
    1. If it's a tie the defender wins.
  10. The defender may then attack the next second;
    1. Unless they were still in surprise in which case it takes 2 seconds.
  11. Both characters then add weapon speed to determine the next second in which they can attack.
  12. If there is a successful hit you take damage.
    1. Roll damage and add base damage modifier.
    2. The defender deducts damage based on the armor's damage reduction modifier.
    3. If the character had a shield:
      1. If the attacker misses by more than ten it is a complete miss
      2. If the attacker misses within 10 it hits the shield
        1. Roll damage and divide by two, add full modifiers
        2. Apply damage to the shield
  13. If damage exceeds a defender's Threshold of Pain (30% of HP + 1% / Level or 2% / Level for fighters) a trauma check is triggered.
    1. Trauma checks are a save at 1/2 your Constitution or lower.
    2. If you fail by rolling greater than 1/2 your Con you are down writhing in pain for 5 seconds times the difference between your roll and what you needed.
    3. If you roll a natural 20 you are unconscious for 5d6p minutes!

Quirks & Flaws Resource

QUIRKS & FLAWS

Note this is information for players in my new Hackmaster 5e game. For details see Hackmaster 5e PHB from KenzerCo.

So, Quirks and Flaws. Fun ways to make your PC more interesting, colorful or memorably obnoxious. This is how it works:

Rolling Randomly gives you full BP Award value for the first quirk or flaw.

Cherry Picking a Quirk or Flaw gives you half the listed BP Award value.

Rolling Randomly for a second Quirk or Flaw gives you the Full BP Award MINUS FIVE.
Cherry Picking for a second Quirk or Flaw give you half, MINUS FIVE of the listed BP Award value.

Each subsequent roll or pick lowers the BP value by a cumulative minus 5. So in other words the third roll is BP Value minus 10, the third pick is 1/2 BP Value minus ten, the fourth is minus 15 etc.

The list is categorized by the 3d10 Result (if you choose to roll),  Quirk Name, then BP Award. Refer to the Basic PDF for descriptions.

01 - 02, Absent-Minded, 20
03, Close Talker, 16
04, Compulsive Liar, 25
05, Fear of Heights, 30
06, Foul-Mouthed, 5
07, Glutton, 10
08, Greedy, 15
09, Miserly, 30
10, Nosy, 8
11, Paranoid, 25
12, Quick-Tempered, 10
13, Racist, 40
14, Superstitious, 15

3d10 Result, Flaw Name, BP Award

15, Allergies, 15
16, Anosmia, 10
17, Colorblind, 10
18, Facial Scar, 2d20
19, Hairy, 5 or 15
20, Limp, slight, 5
21, Limp, moderate, 10
22, Limp, severe, 25
23, Lisp, 25
24, Myopia, 30
25, Pocking, 20
26, Prematurely Gray, 5
27, Sleepwalker, 20
28, Sterile, 5
29, Strange Body Odor, 20
30, Tone Deaf, 5

IMPORTANT NOTE: Backstories are required for all quirks and flaws. Without a backstory the quirk and or flaw may be disallowed.

First Introduction to Tellene

Welcome to Tellene!

Note that this is a character's introduction to Tellene. What most character's would know about their world or can easily find out by talking to a variety of people is presented here. 

There is more thorough information presented about the region of the City State of P'Bapar, for that is the are in which our campaign begins. Most of your first characters will be from P'Bapar of geographic regions very close by. In later sessions you can begin to create characters from farther afield.

More specific information for your individual characters will be provided based on their history. In other words we can talk one on one about the specifics of the local region of origin for your character. You might need to know about a certain forest, or town, city or mountain range depending on your character's background. The information here is general information most characters know, geographically, historically and socially.


Small Ranch Holding near Coniper Gap in P'Bapar at the Foot of the Legasa Peaks and the Krond Heights
Your world is called Tellene--and a fantastic world it is! Tellene is an earth-like planet circling a moderately sized yellow star much like Earth's own called, conveniently enough, the Sun. The Sun rises in the East and sets in the West and most breezes prevail from West to East. Each Year is roughly 360 days long, divided into 12, 30 day months and each day lasts 24 hours. Tellene is slightly warmer that Earth and slightly more moist. Currently the year is 563, Imperial Reckoning (IR) or Year of the King 1044 (YK).
The Known World (img courtesy)
There are six main regions in the known world. Brandobia, Kalamar, The Young Kingdoms, The Wildlands, Renaaria Bay and Svimohzia. Yet while we know of their location and general disposition much remains hidden and mysterious in these far off lands.

The Lands of most concern to us are the Young Kingdoms, and in particular the holdings of the City State of P'Bapar.
The Young Kingdoms ((img courtesy)
The history of the Young Kingdoms starts with the native cattle-herding Dejy tribes peoples that inhabited this region long before other civilized nations arrived here. In about the Year of the King 441, Voleln nephew of King Andovel of Brandobia was granted all the lands East of the Legasa Peaks. Entering with his troops through Coniper Gap he quickly subjugated the Dejy and adopted their cattle husbandry techniques and mounted fighting strategies. Voleln expanded what was then called Eastern Brandobia South to the Renador River and East to the Hadaf Highlands.

Then it was that the troubles began. For Voleln's forces had made the native Elves and Dwarves of the regions and heated conflict quickly arose. The Brandobian forces were resoundingly defeated by the demi-humans and successfully contained within the confines of the broad Eastern Valleys of the Dejy. The Dwarves returned to the mountain fastness, but commerce arose with the Elves of the region and the new Eastern Brandobian reaches.

But just as things began to look promising, Goblins from the Northern woods of Brindon and HobGoblins from the Dark Ashul Weald in the South invaded the new Brandobian territories. The initial battles were a slaughter for the new human immigrants, and many were lost to death and or slavery in those dark years. During this time a vast HobGoblin and Goblinoid territory developed under the ruthless HobGoblin King Kruk-Ma-Kali who held the region under an iron grip. It was the Year of the King 203. Eventually however, with the help of their Elven allies and Dwarven patrols the humanoids were harried back somewhat and reasonably contained eventually establishing the Southern HobGoblin kingdom of Norgra Krangrel.

As the Humans and Demi-Humans were rebuilding the lands regained from the humanoids, King Fulakar invaded with his massive cavalry from the South and adopted Eastern Brandobia into the new Kalamaran Empire. King Kolokar is crowned King over he Kalamaran Empire in 254 and shortly thereafter defeats the Hob-Goblins and organizes the Young Kingdoms, separating the area into largely independent kingdoms.

Roughly 200 years later the Kingdoms begin to secede from the Empire as it weakens and eventually become completely independent kingdoms in their own right.

Note: The World of Tellene and the Kingdoms of Kalamar Campaign setting are the creation of KenzerCo. I highly recommend you check them out at their website. For my players, you are free to purchase the KoK supplement, but most things therein are not general knowledge for most PCs.

PC Creation Guidelines

This PC creation paper is assuming you have the Advanced Hackmaster PHB. It will work with the Basic book as well, but there are references to the Advanced material as well. Page numbers for both are, however, included. Basic pages are prefixed with a b, as in b34. Advanced pages are given first and without a prefix, as in 112. So a single reference might read (101 b42), meaning page 101 in the Advanced HM PHB, or page 42 in the Basic HM book.

The following tutorial is for characters in my Virtual Knights Campaign set in the City State of P'Bapar and the Young Kingdoms of the Kingdoms of Kalamar on the World of Tellene more generally. But the tutorial can be used by others if you ignore the setting specific guidelines.

STEP ONE:

  1. Get some scratch paper & a pencil
  2. Get your dice
  3. Print off a clean copy of a HackMaster Character Sheet
    1. I prefer you use a character sheet, as it will have everything I need, but you can use notebook paper if you like, just be sure and include everything.
    2. Do NOT use the Basic character sheet
  4. Secure a copy of the Basic rules, or Advanced PHB 
STEP TWO:
  1. Mark off a spot on your scratch paper and write down 40 Build Points.
    1. Everyone starts with 40 BPs.
    2. You may earn more as you go;
    3. You also will need to mark some off as you use them.
    4. This will be the space to do this.
STEP THREE:
  1. Roll 3d6 for each ability score and record the results on your scratch paper
    1. Strength
    2. Intelligence
    3. Wisdom
    4. Dexterity
    5. Constitution
    6. Looks
    7. Charisma
  2. Roll d100 for each ability score as well, so each score will have a score from 3 to 18 and then from 01 to 00 after it e.g. 12/52 or 18/01 or 9/38 etc.
  3. You may now choose to rearrange your ability scores.
    1. You can swap two ability scores and get 25 more BPs.
    2. Or you can leave them as is and receive 50 more BPs.
    3. Make your choice and add the appropriate amount to your BP scratch sheet.
    4. There will also be a place where you can adjust ability scores by spending BPs later on.
STEP FOUR:
  1. Choose a race.
  2. Basic Book (b39+)
    1. Human
    2. Elf
    3. Dwarf
    4. Halfling
  3. Advanced Book (18)
    1. Human
    2. Elf
    3. Dwarf
    4. Halfling
    5. Gnome
    6. Gnome Titan
    7. Grel
    8. Half Elf
    9. Half Hobgoblin
    10. Half Orc
  4. Keep in mind when choosing your race that certain classes are not suited to some races, and cost more BPs. (Yes, you will "buy" your class with BPs).
  5. Apply ability score adjustments according to race. 
STEP FIVE:
  1. Choose our race and deduct the necessary BPs from your scratch paper.
  2. If you chose Cleric, you will need to choose a deity
STEP SIX:
  1. Pick an Alignment
STEP SEVEN:
  1. Time to finalize your starting ability scores.
  2. You should have adjusted your ability scores based on your race.
  3. Looks may of course adjust your Charisma score.
  4. Be sure and add adjustments to your BPs from Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma if you haven;t already done so.
  5. You may now tweak your ability scores by spending Build Points
    1. If your score is below 9/100
      1. You can spend 1 point to get 0/10 points until you reach 9/100.
      2. e.g. say you had 8/52; you could spend 10 points to get to 9/52; five more points would put you at 10/02. After this it would cost more than 1 per 0/10
    2. If your score is 10/01 or above
      1. You can spend 1 point to get 0/05 points.
      2. e.g. if you were at 13/11 it would take 20 points to get to 14/11
    3. If your score is 16/01 or higher
      1. You spend 1 point to get 0/03 points.
      2. e.g. you would have to spend 33 points to get from 16/01 to 16/100
STEP EIGHT:
  1. Add all of your seven ability scores and divide by 7.
  2. This is your starting Honor score.
  3. Adjust Honor if required due to Charisma and or Looks.
  4. There may be other Honor adjustments that arise due to background, quirks or flaws. Add or deduct them as they come up.
STEP NINE:
  1. Calculate Starting Age
  2. Calculate Height & Weight
  3. Calculate BMI
  4. Calculate Handedness
  5. Calculate Heritage and Lineage
  6. Flesh out other details such as:
    1. name
    2. eye color
    3. hair color
    4. body shape
    5. voice
    6. facial hair
    7. other noteworthy features or mannerisms (note these make be quirks and flaws)
    8. personality
    9. etc.
STEP TEN:
  1. Decide if you want Quirks and or Flaws
  2. These can lend distinctiveness to your character as well as extra BPs
  3. You may roll randomly or cherry pick, but cherry-picking lends less rewards
STEP ELEVEN:
  1. Time to spend BPs on Skills, Talents and Proficiencies.
  2. This is can be an involved process, so keep it simple at first.
  3. Lots of points in one skill can be more useful than a few points scattered over many skills.
  4. Weapon proficiencies and bonuses are purchased here as well if you want extra abilities with a weapon.
  5. You may also choose to reserve some BPs to spend later.
STEP TWELVE:
  1. Roll Hit Points
  2. Your starting HP will be
    1. CON score + Size modifier + Hit Die roll (as per class)
STEP THIRTEEN:
  1. Calculate your Base Initiative
    1. Wisdom Modifier + Dexterity Modifier
  2. Calculate your Base Defense
    1. Wisdom Modifier + Dexterity Modifier
  3. Calculate your Base Attack
    1. Intelligence Modifier + Dexterity Modifier + Class Modifier
  4. Calculate your Base Damage
    1. Strength Modifier
STEP FOURTEEN:
  1. Receive Grub Stake
    1. 35 + 2d12 silver pieces
    2. May spend BPs to receive greater starting stake
      1. 5 silver pieces / 1 BP
STEP FIFTEEN:
  1. Buy equipment as per the equipment list in the Basic Rules (b92)
THE REST OF THE STUFF ...

While the above gets you through the essential steps, there will likely be other stuff that hasn't quite fallen into place yet. Stuff like:

Q. Should I choose a God if I'm not a Cleric?
A. That depends. Gods are powerful allies, but they can be overbearing micro-managers at times. Numerous Gods and Goddesses involve themselves in the affairs of Tellene, and that involvement is usually achieved through the work of their worshipers. If you are interested in that kind of work, by all means don't hesitate. But rest assured, your involvement with the divine will not be overlooked by the GM.
Q. The Character sheet asks if I'm anointed or not. I chose a God am I anointed?
A. No. The PHB rules aren't too clear on this, but at this time I am assuming that only Clerics are anointed except under other unusual circumstances.
Q. Should I go ahead and fill in all the modifier info for my abilities now?
A. Yep, you can find that in the ability sections.

Welcome to Hackmaster

Those who misfortune it is to know me, may know that I've gamed for over 30 years now, mostly AD&D. And without going into all the dirty details (you can read that on my regular blog) I have decided to devote my gaming to HackMaster for the foreseeable future. Those of you who may not be familiar with this very awesome game, please download and read the following excellent introductions:

Now if that doesn't whet your adventuring appetite I'm not sure what will. Essentially Hackmaster is the flagship production of the Kenzer & Company  gaming company. Although I suppose that Knights of the Dinner Table might take the flagship role, though it is a comic/fanzine and not a game. Truthfully though, one of the the best introductions and spokesperson for Hackmaster is the Kinghts of the Dinner Table comic book. I not only highly recommend it, I encourage all who play the game to read it regularly. Besides the awesome humor and tone which will definitely improve your game, it is always chocked full of HackMaster tips and information. 

HackMaster itself was the reworking of a game largely based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first & second editions. The new edition, fifth (though technically only second), has some new twists and turns that those familiar with AD&D might not recognize. I outline a few of these for you here by way of introductions.
  • Ability scores are always 3d6/d100
  • Honor, Fame and Luck are new stats
  • Build Points allow customization and take away the need to "fudge" PC creation
  • Quirks, Flaws, Skills and Talents are part of character customization 
  • There are Attack (To Hit) and Defense rolls
  • Armor reduces damage it doesn't make you harder to hit
  • Starting HP is higher, but HP gain is lower
  • Initiative is variable depending on situational and other modifiers
  • Combats are not fought in rounds, but on a second by second "count-up"
  • Spell-Points are used for spell casters
  • Ranged Combat is handled differently from Melee Combat
  • Threshold of Pain checks make HackMaster deadlier than it might otherwise seem
And much more you will run across in play. What I think you will find however, is that these differences make for a very cool game. As the HackMaster Design Team have said, they made the game they wanted to play, and it just so happens lots of other people do too. It is this last part that really catches us, isn't it? The kind of game you want to play. It's obvious that I want to, so I might as well share with you a bit of why I choose to play HackMaster.

I've come a long way in gaming. Not as far as some, but I've put in my miles. But truthfully that doesn't matter. I have played over two dozen different types of role playing games, but that doesn't matter either really. I have GMed thousands of hours,  but that's not too important. Played in games averaging the same, maybe a bit less, but ... right, doesn't matter either. I started with AD&D back in 1981, D&D's heyday. So what. 

What matters is magic. Yep, magic. Not the kind of spell system used, not the rules technicalities of how magery operates in a game. Nope, not that kind of magic. I'm talking about gaming magic. The kind of magic that happens when a group of gamers sits down around a table and begins to roll up PCs; the kind of magic that is woven as a shared story unfolds; the magical surprised of the unexpected imaginings of a group in magical sync with each other on some imaginal plane of being; the magic that happens when they talk about the game out of session; the magic of friendships that develop out of the game; the kind of depth that they reach in their affiliation and relationships somehow tied to those fantastic sharings we call table-top role-playing. 

Don't get me wrong, rules matter. The group has to sync with those rules. And there are different wells of magic that draw different kinds of people; different games that people are drawn to. The games, the technicalities, the rules the systems all matter. They are like material components to a magic spell; a spell that would be ineffectual without them. And it's always a toss up for me whether a system will work or not to help me conjure that magic. 

HackMaster is a complex game, built on a fundamentally simple concept. It's complex in the extension of the game, not in its particulars. For some reason that's important to me. I suppose it's my AD&D upbringing, that game that could be played so simply, but with endless baroque complexity for the adding should one wish. But it isn't just that.

I suppose I should be honest.

It's people that do it for me. It always come down to people. Gary Gygax realized this long ago when he and Dave Arneson were hammering our the first rules. This is a social game, it is not really designed for solo play. The fundamental magic of the game happens in a group of people. And just who are the people who do it for me? Well, BA Felton; Bob Herzog; Dave Bozwell; Sara Felton and Brian van Hoose. But that's not all; count in Johnny Kacinski, Pete Ashton, Nitro Ferguson, Newt Forager, Gordo Sheckberry and Steevil Van Hostle; and while you're at it don't forget Gary Jackson and JoJo Zeke, and Patty and Crutch and the list goes on and on. Now, if none of these sound familiar you need to give the Knights of the Dinner Table a read. It's a treat you'll not regret. 

Yes, yes, I know--they're fictional characters. But in a way they're not. Jolly Blackburn took at least in part the character of his personae from real people he knew and gamed with. No, it's not the fictional nature of the characters that draws me, it's the stories told about them. Their creators Jolly and Barbara Blackburn and the others who contribute to the strip understand something fundamental about gaming. They understand what makes it what it is for an awful lot of us. KODT captures the magic, distills it and portrays it on the page for all of us to enjoy, laugh and cry over. In fact HackMaster came out of an identification with these characters. From what I understand fans of the strip began to write in asking what game they played and it it really existed. So many in fact that Kenzer Co decided to event the version of the game they played. A version that captured that essence of gaming portrayed on the pages of KODT. But, as the history above makes clear, the game couldn't "do" certain things they wanted it to do because it had been built on a different infrastructure, namely AD&D. So when looking at the changing market and deciding to write the game they were really playing, HackMaster 5e was the result.

And so, yes, KODT is the reason I play HackMaster. But its' not as simple as all that. It has to do with something I have been searching for a long time. That same magic that I feel when I really am in the gaming groove. It hasn't happened much since those days long past when I was first playing AD&D. I found it again in the pages of KODT. And if the HackMaster game was written to capture that, I want to play it. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Character Creation for New Hackmaster Campaign

Welcome gaming friends, to our new Hackmaster Campaign! We'll be playing Hackmaster 4e in the world of Aldrazar, and hopefully starting in the first week or two of August. I'll be using my blog to pass on information about the game and keep you up to date you on campaign happenings. This first entry contains some general guidelines for character creation. 

If you follow the rules verbatim in the 4e PHB for character creation you should be fine. Remember that you only use 3d6 for each ability score and that they are rolled in order. I'm not going to set any restrictions or class at this time, so anything in the players handbook is playable. Of course you may not be aware that Hack Classes are restricted until later levels. I would offer a general caution against playing evil PCs of any type as this can cause significant issues in Hackmaster if you don't play your alignment. Party conflicts are sometimes unavoidable, but while we get started and are getting to know each other let's avoid obvious issues. Other cautions would include playing races that don't get along too well together, as this too ca lead to unavoidable conflict in the party. If your abilities are somehow high enough to qualify for some of the more rare classes such as Paladin, Cavalier, Monk or the like, be prepared for the roleplaying challenge they represent. 

Hackmaster 4e is an intense and classic rewrite of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. That's one of the reasons it's so great! The spirit of the game is, though at times humorous, true blue died in the wool Gary Gygax AD&D. If you haven't had the chance to play old school D&D you are in for a real treat. A certain ethos pervades the game: let the dice fall where they may; roleplay like you mean it; and may all your hits be crits!

We are likely to have as many as nine players to start, but several are not yet finalized. No one has created characters yet, but coordinating as we go will be a good idea. That way we can make sure to have all our bases covered in terms of magic, healing, firepower, stealth and the like--although with as many as nine of us that should be fairly easy. The plan is to play at my house, as soon as our re-model is done :-) and tentatively on Saturday at 5:00 each week. 

Oh, and by the way, I am very interested in eventually transitioning to Hackmaster 5e. I really like some of some of the changes they have developed and the company that owns Hackmaster is actively supporting the new edition. So maybe we could talk about changing to 5e down the road some. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. 

Next time I'll give some basic background info on our campaign world of Aldrazar that should help you all begin to frame in your PC background. Until then!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I don't often do this...

But you have to read this by Dave Goldfarb on why AD&D first edition is king. Brilliant!

http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/14/5898063/the-dice-can-kill-you-why-first-edition-ad-d-is-king

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Individual DM Differences

We all know about DM alignments, right? A fairly common way to envision different DM types is by gauging where they fall on the Good-Evil / Lawful-Chaotic axes. But there is another way of understanding DMs, one which I have only begun to understand based on thinking pretty much everyone DMed the same way I did.

My last post on the quantum ogre, solved the notion in my mind by simply deferring to DM improvisation. However, even as I wrote those thoughts my mind turned to several conversations I have had with other DMs that admit they struggle with improvisation and on the fly DMing. Coming up with connections, relationships, hooks, depth, backstory, for them takes time and thought and careful planning. They do not just "make it up as they go along " but prefer to have things thought out ahead of time so that they have a well designed or planned outline, at least, for their players.

The thought of showing up with nothing prepared to a game scares these DMs to death. Or if it doesn't scare them then they simply scoff off such play as haphazard and poor. They would never dare to lower their game to such a random and ill thought out fate. There is of course nothing wrong with this. Well planned campaigns reflect an attention to detail, a sense of immersion and completeness that on the fly DMing can often lack. These DMs often go the trouble to carefully prep miniatures, landscape scenes, select cool artwork, prep background music, even incense or other sensory immersion details. They have carefully planned the motives of NPCs and how they are connected to other NPCs in the region. Their maps have a level of description and detail that would rival the best commercial modules. Such DMS are in my opinion some of the most artful and skilled DMs out there.

Not all of these types of DMs, but some, will admit that when things start to head outside the lines they feel the need to close down the session, so they can return to their lair and prep the next expansion of the adventure. They are uncomfortable working on the fly, and are often at a loss when players start to wander outside the lines of their carefully constructed plans. This is perhaps with the idea of the quantum ogre begins to seem appealing. Shifting preplanned encounters around to foil players efforts to wander off track can begin to tempt such DMs who are far less comfortable letting players challenge them to improvise.

For these types of DMs it may be that my solution to the quantum ogre is less than satisfying. They don't want to railroad players down a certain path; but what is a plan-oriented DM supposed to do when their long hard hours of planning an encounter go to waste when the session starts with the players deciding to go a totally different direction? In these cases I am much less apt to censure or to cast stones, largely because I have no idea what DMing like this regularly is like.

I plan of course, and often in great detail. But I developed as an improvisational DM in my youth. Every afternoon as we got off the school bus my friends and I would decide whether we wanted to get together and game. I never knew when it was coming. I recall long and winding escapades in and around the Keep on the Borderlands. Exactly because it was a sandboxy adventure it lent itself to improvising and a gaming as you go sort of style. There were other settings, many often created out of whole cloth at the table--but it worked, and it worked incredibly well. There were sessions I planned thoroughly, usually pre-planned overnighters where I knew we when and where we were gaming--so I could plan ahead. But more often than not it was an in the moment impromptu session thrown together in less than 15 minutes. I assume those early gaming experiences made me a lot of what I am now as a DM.

So I am not the best to give advice to those DMs that may not be as comfortable with that approach. The best I can say, is know your players. Know what they are likely to do, work closely with them before, during and after you plan the next session. And don't feel bad when things occasionally go off track. Take some time planning personal wandering monster and encounter charts for your undoubtedly well thought out geographies and environments. That will help you get through the session in a pinch until you can get home and work with the creative randomly generated fodder from the improvised session. And don't fret about quantum ogres or Schrodinger's cats. They will be where they will be, dead or alive when you and your players need them.

Determinancy and the Quantum Ogre

I promised some time back to intellectually peruse the argument involving the quantum ogre, which has close connections to Shrodinger's cat. For those of you who are confused I'll briefly summarize (if you'll forgive my amateur physics):

Schrodinger's Cat: in quantum physics there is a phenomenon which is interpreted as two quantum states existing simultaneously until the two states collapse to one state when observed or measured. Schrodinger was not fond of this interpretation and used a reductio ad absurdam example by positing a box in which there was a cat. The cat's state of being alive or dead was to be resolved by the collapse of such a two state wave function. Thus he was showing the absurdity of the fact that until you open the box the cat is both alive and dead--reflecting the dual state of the quantum reality before collapse.

What the heck does this have to do with gaming? Confused yet?? Well, hopefully it will become clear in my next brief summary of the quantum ogre:

The Quantum Ogre: A DM carefully designs an encounter with an ogre for his group's next D&D session. The session begins and the party can choose to venture into the nearby town or the neighboring forest. The DM has not planned where the Ogre will be, he's waiting for the party to choose. Regardless of where the party chooses to go the ogre will be waiting for them there. He exists in both places equally until the party chooses, and then the Ogre will appear.

The Problem? Some feel that this takes away player agency. That the party's choice has no real meaning and therefore they really have no choice. It is just another way for DMs to railroad their parties down a certain predetermined path.

Well, problems with the analogy aside, this is an interesting dilemma. So much for the summary, now to my personal take and analysis on the Quantum Ogre.

Why the heck does it really matter?

I could leave it at that of course. I mean gaming is essentially making up things anyway. Does it really matter that the ogre was one place or the other? Unless of course the DM had somehow promised, or at the least led the party to believe, ahead of time that the ogre was in place X and then turns up in place Y. Of course even that can be fixed with a quick "He seems to have been travelling through this area the same time your were." Yeah, I know, lame; but you get the idea. Why does all this determinancy of DM results based on party actions matter in a universe where we are essentially making things up anyway?

Well, because it is never quite that simple. In a perfect world, the quantum ogre appears only occasionally. So infrequently in fact that a party should rarely be able to tell if a DM is "fudging" by putting an encounter he wants the party to have in place Y conveniently because the party chose to be there and not where the DM wished they had gone. It should happen about as often as we fudge a die roll to keep a story line moving or save a character from a potentially unfair death, or drop an extra healing potion or two in a treasure pile to keep the party going to the next encounter without stopping to rest, or place a trap in a place justifiably needed to teach a cocky thief a lesson or two. Things like that just shouldn't happen all that often if ever.

But they do and we all know they do. Even Gary Gygax was fond of rolling dice behind the screen for no other reason than to make the party nervous that something might be going on. It's all a part of the carefully staged act we DMs run all the time to keep things going when we need a trick pulled out of our bag. But if we find ourselves running games this way often there may indeed be something wrong--especially if we are not very good actors, or our decisions become decidedly slanted or apparently biased in some direction. Players aren't any dumber than we are anyway and according to many surveys--the best known of which appeared in Legends and Lore articles on the WotC site during the development of 5e--player's don't even like it when we make things too easy on them. They are playing the game for a challenge after all.

So it shouldn't really matter that much if we place the ogre in the party's path just because we want them to fight him. If the party really doesn't want to fight him and runs away back to the town or wherever, then we improvise again. We have the ogre shout in broken common, snot flying in all directions with his rage as he does so "OG FIND YOU YET, PUNY WEE ONES!!! AND WHEN OG FIND, HE SMASH YOU GOOD!!!"
Or something to that effect. And the Ogre becomes a sort of nemesis that chases them all over the region for some unfathomable reason. Maybe it's because the party relieved themselves on his toadstool garden when they passed by his cave.

What we definitely should not do is place Og back in town as soon as the party arrives there. And if the party decides to investigate the ruins to the north, we might have Og hunt them down, but the ruins should still be there for there adventuring pleasure. The idea of DM prohibition here is an old one that has been echoed since the time of the 1e DMG: Don't be a jerk DM! While an occasional quantum ogre is not going to spoil play, the purpose of the game is not to have the party ride on a DM constructed roller coaster ride--down a set of tracks, strapped in, from which they cannot deviate without death or worse.

And of course this is at the heart of the quantum ogre argument. Should a DM railroad a party into his predetermined encounters, or cater to their choices alone? Of course, as with any black and white, either-or, right-wrong argument there is usually no one answer. Rarely is it black or white but some shade of gray. The correct answer is in between of course. For let's say that the ogre was designed to be in his cave, but the party chose to venture into the town down the road instead of towards his cave. But we have no encounters for the road or the town. What do we do? We wing it of course, and maybe rely on some well designed random encounter tables suitable for that environ. We are still making stuff up. Let's say we roll up a merchant caravan. So as the party travels along the road they come upon a slower moving chain of large gypsy wagons loaded down with large barrels of cheap wine they are hoping to trade in town along with plying their gypsy talents: fortune telling, dancing, music, juggling, sword swallowing, fire eating and the like. A brief exchange between the caravan and the party occurs--the party is not interested in them really, even the old one eyed witch who is stroking a one eyed three legged mangy white cat and staring at them uncomfortably. Little does the party know that she is trying to distract their attention from the children crowding around them seeking one an all to pick their pockets and otherwise pilfer whatever they can from the party members. Maybe they catch one of them, maybe they don't; either way we are off to the races on an entirely new and potentially interesting campaign hook with scary evil gypsy witch.

In the end the ogre is no more determinant than the gypsy caravan. I mean here in our universe before the dice were rolled that came up "Merchant Caravan" they caravan was both on the road and not on the road. Quantum has nothing to do with it--good DMing does. And that, my friends, is my take on the quantum ogre dilemma.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Updates & Making Time to Game

I've been shifting a few things around. My Virtual Game tanked. I suppose I partially tanked it myself, but we had one player start his night job and was unable to continue. Then I couldn't make Thursdays anymore--schedules were a bit hairy anyway--so we called it off for the time being. I will say it still holds possibilities.

So I sat down with my calendar, may all year calendar and began looking at all of my obligations and ... I called my brother.

My brother is a very busy man as well. He has a young family, he is a very successful business man and is starting to go back to, believe it or not, med school! And yet somehow he manages to game. So I called him and asked him once again how the heck he does it. For I too am a father of a very busy family, I am a school administrator (read way too busy) and also work a night and summer job. I also am finishing a master's degree. And I have been unable to do it. It being of course game with any semblance of regularity.

For the longest time I was running our school's gaming club, back when I was a lowly teacher and had a bit more time on my hands. But it was a natural extension of my work day. My afternoon responsibilities as a teacher were a little more flexible, so I just planned on having the gaming club meet three days after school each week. Voila! I was gaming very regularly, and still home or at my night job by 5:00 every night. Granted it was gaming with teenagers, but it was gaming.

But when I changed jobs, things changed. A lot of things changed. And it has been very hard to find a regular time to game. I did find a good adult group in time, but I tanked on them right off. Eventually they found someone else to take my spot and I don't blame them. I was far from regular. Unfortunately they too had a hard time making a regular go of it--so it might not have just been me. Then of course there was my virtual game and my family game. The virtual game you know about, and my family game has yet to take off--school just got out, so we are thinking about starting soon.

Well, as I talked with my very busy, yet somehow more gaming successful brother, he pointed out the obvious problem by referring to himself. He had actually said this before, but it had never stuck. He said "I could not game more than twice a month right now." He has realized that in his busy schedule two game nights a month are best for him. Strangely enough it has also been enough for his gaming friends, who are not nearly as busy as he is. There are a couple that game more than once a week, but they are involved with other groups. So lesson number one: realize how much time you actually have.

So I whipped out my yearly calendar and charted out almost everything I could think of that ate up my time.

Next, my brother communicated something else to me that was key to his success. He "made" time for gaming on those nights. It was a pre-scheduled arrangement on his calendar. It was what his wife and family were aware of and comfortable with. And it took a near emergency to shift that gaming time. We all know that as Stephen Covey says "Sharpening the Saw" is critical to our success. That means taking time for yourself, your hobbies, your relaxation. You owe it to yourself and to those around you to find time to make yourself happy and satisfied. So set the time and make it sacred. So lesson number two: make gaming time sacred.

So I began penciling in times when I could game amidst my very busy schedule, and I began talking with the people around me to see if those times worked for them and their schedules.

Another thing my brother has taught me, is that you can't bite off more than you can chew. I mean you can bite it off, but you don't get much further than that. And I was notorious for doing that. I didn't just start one game, I had tried to start TWO! And weekly sessions at that. Of course for me I'm looking for that weekly fix, even more if I can get it, because I love to game so much. However, it's just a recipe for disaster if you are unable to manage it. It has been for me numerous times. So lesson number three, take it in small manageable steps.

So it began to look like two Saturday evenings a month were what was possible. It began to look like things were coming together.

Lastly, my brother has told me many times when I start projects, "Don't psyche yourself out." Now, to psyche yourself out means to get so worried about something that you talk yourself out of doing you. You essentially psychologize yourself into rationalizing away something you are going to do. I am notorious for this as well. This comes from my problem solving orientation. I am constantly on the look out for problems--problems to solve, it's just who I am. Whenever I set out on an endeavor or project I begin troubleshooting possible problems. At work this works really well for me, because I'm forced to solve the problems. But in my personal life, where the stakes aren't so high, or at least don;t feel so high, I let the problems trouble, worry and eventually defeat me. It begins to seem like life is too much like work, and I'd rather just sit on the couch watching Star Trek re-runs. So, lesson final: don't psyche yourself out. Either solve the problems or ignore them if they are trivial.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Measuring the Position and Velocity of the Quantum Ogre


Okay this is a brief entry, and it commits kind of a blogging faux pas--but since when has that ever stopped me? Generally just posting a cool link and saying it's cool is not considered worthy of blog entries--if there is such a thing as worthy blogging versus unworthy blogging. It is somewhat of a egocentric pasttime, but I digress.

This time I don't know that I can do any better than Hack & Slash has done on expounding the problem of the  quantum ogre. Quantum Ogre is a really sexy term for an age old gaming argument. Railroading. To drive those players down the track, or let the train steer wildly into the sandbox of your campaign? That is the question. Of course that is misleading and more than a little sarcastic.

What the exchange of Hack & Slash's various articles do is very clearly and thoroughly discuss the issue. To tell the truth I am not sure which side I come down upon. I think either side is a slippery slope, but I need more time to process it to develop a well reasoned opinion.

For now, I recommend these articles wholeheartedly. Particularly the ones under the Quantum Ogre section of course. I tend to fall somewhere in between in my GMing. I like to preach the let the dice fall where they may rhetoric, but I have cheated on dice. And usually in the player's favor. When it hasn't been in the player's favor it has been to further the story along, or very rarely to teach a lesson. I know, I know--how dare I? And I dare to do so hardly ever, but I'm not going to lie and say I have never done it. For me the story that is developing out the play is what keeps us coming back to the table session after session. Not my story, but the story. One of the reasons I love gaming is that you never quite know what is going to happen.

I'll also admit something else. I love commercial modules. Not just commercial ones, but premade modules. I love reading them and I love DMing them. Now, don't get me wrong--some of them suck. I should restate that and say that I love the really good ones. But pre-made modules are extremely handy and as a DM I can use time-saving whenever I can get it. I have run my own adventures too, I just happen to love modules.

But, it is important to make clear--I have never run a module all the way through. At least not like it was intended. To me a module is a starting point. I'm not exactly sandboxy with it, but more like as a base, a foundation for whatever comes next. I have had players ditch the hook entirely or swallow it hook line and sinker--but we still never end up using the whole module. My module adventure sessions are filled with new traps, new monsters, changed architecture, off label NPCs and the like. I'm not quite sure why this happens this way, but it does.

Without a whole lot of pre-reasoning about it, I'll say that for me GMing is an art. It is something that has always seemed to come naturally to me. I know that some who have read my preferred approaches have labelled me as an adversarial or even a killer GM. But I have never had a problem keeping players at my table. The adversarial thing is more like an assumed alias than the real thing. I have had a tough time making time to game, but never keeping players engaged and excited. Oh sure we have had dull moments occasionally. But that is just a sign to up my game, and pretty soon things are rolling again.

The really funny thing I found about reading Hack & Slash Master's articles about how to fix the quantum ogre problem is that I already do most of what he suggested. In fact, as I was reading much of it I was saying to myself, "Of course! this is just common sense. Don't all GMs do something like this?"

I'm not perfect, and nor am I some kind of a GMing guru, but the issue kind of seems like a non-issue for me because I have never seemed to have the issue. But then again, maybe I'm missing something. It'll be interesting to see how my new group feels after a few months with me at the helm. I'm up for some constructive feedback--especially since I'll be running a new system.

Anywho, give the articles a read, and let me know what you think. I'll plan on reasoning this out a bit and perhaps making a more intelligent response soon. Instead of the rambling stream of consciousness type entries I'm so used to.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I'm Blessed

Whether by the Fates
Or by the Gods
Or by She Who Must Not Be Named from Discworld

But I have a wonderful wife, and three absolutely awesome kids. And moreover, my kids love to roleplay. Yep, all three of them. And in a world where we are all super busy and more and more child psychologists are telling us to spend not only quality time with our kids, but quantity time with them, I thought ... who am I to fly in the face of research?

I'm a gamer, and always complaining about not enough time to game. So, why not kill two birds with one stone? And a lot of my children's characters as well? Voila! Family gaming night was born! And I don't kill them too often. Well, I don't ever kill them, they kill themselves when they make bad decisions. But hey, isn't part of my job as a parent to construct learning experiences for my children? And how much better to learn it at the gaming table than out there in real life :-)

All kidding aside, they love it and so do I. I get to spend time with some of the coolest kids on the planet, their friends and cousins and they get the almost endless attention of their game-master Dad. It could only be better if my wife played. But honestly, she like the quiet time to herself while we talk with pixies, fence goblins and finagle a few treasures from sleeping dragons at our dining room table.

So I've created a new website/blog for my family gaming campaign. Feel free to check it out some time, but keep in mind it's mainly for campaign info and stories from our family campaign. And also feel free to game with your own kids--it's a blast. Pay the gaming hobby forward!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gaming Movies: The Eagle


The Story of the The 9th Roman Legion has become the stuff of legend. Recently three different movies have been made of the story each slightly different from each other, all worth a watching. The Last Legion (2007), The Centurion (2010), and The Eagle are all excellent fodder for an adventure story line, and damn good movies. I like The Eagle best for this purpose because it is most "quest-like".

Marcus Flavius Aquila and his Brigante slave turned companion Esca set off beyond "the edge of the world" North of Hadrian's Wall on a quest to find the lost golden eagle, standard of the 9th Legion. The 9th had explored the North and disappeared, never to be heard from again. Their standard represented the honor of Aquila's family, and so Marcus seeks to regain the eagle and restore his family's honor.

The movie is based on the book The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954), which is a historical adventure novel designed for younger readers. I've never read the book, but it seems to be in the same league as The Book of the Lion by Michael Cadnum, another historical adventure novel, but set during the crusades during the reign of Richard the Lion-Hearted.

The movie, has a good adventure session feel to it. Without going into spoilers, several "encounter-like" scenes outline the quest for a small band of adventurers. The various tribes make for interesting and compelling foes along the way, but one could substitute other creatures easily if one wished. Wild eyed druids driving scythe-wheeled chariots, shamans drinking magic potions, wild boars, savage painted tribesmen with skull headdresses, tattooed rogue warriors, snarling war dogs, thiefly infiltration, betrayal and battles a-plenty make for a fully epic adventure.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Do You Keep Coming Back To?

I distinctly recall hearing the idea of the importance of stuff you keep coming back to twice in my life. I may have heard it before, but two times really stick in my mind. They seemed to "sink home" if you will.

First Time: I worked for a successful business owner when I first got married. I had gotten fairly close to him and he would occasionally share bits of "wisdom" with me. At one time I knew he was considering a hefty investment and had been struggling with it for several months. He came to me one day and explained he had decided he was going ahead with the investment. He said he had learned that in trying to decide if something was "right", "prudent" or "wise" there was always something to be said for it if it kept coming back to your mind again and again. He felt like he had really deeply pondered the idea and that it "just wouldn't leave him alone".

At the time he told me this I was somewhat dubious. I mean some people wrestle with doing some rather inappropriate or even wrong things for a long time and it certainly "keeps coming back to them", like some sort of evil obsession. But I knew right off this is not what he meant. e was talking about choosing between two good things. There were different ways he could have used his money to profit--both had risks and both had about equal payoffs. He had weighed the options carefully, even let it be for awhile when the right answer didn't seem to be forthcoming. But one of them kept coming back again and again. That was one way he knew he had to act on it.

Second Time: I was reading a book about training horses. I'm not a big equestrian, but I do have two daughters and we do live in the country. Twice now we have owned horses, and well that's why I was reading a book on training horses. I'm much more of a cat man personally... But that is not my point here. In the introduction the author was writing about hobbies, and how time consuming horses were. He was asking the reader to really weigh in their minds if horsemanship was something they wanted to pursue, simply because horses take so much time and effort and if you're going to do it, you need to be really sure that you love it. He used himself as an example and said he had done different things in his life, pursued other interests and did enjoy them--but he always came back to horses. There it was again. Always coming back to something. He said that was a sure sign that something was really a part of you, something you couldn't put down. Your life would be incomplete without it. He felt that way about horses. Obviously I didn't, and neither did my daughters--we own no horses now.

So What's My Point?

Well, if it isn't obvious by now, gaming is. No matter what I try and pursue, what I try and replace it with, I always come back to gaming. I write; I study philosophy, history, religion and spirituality; I fly-fish; I tie flies; I draw; I play music; I hike; I fence; I do martial arts; I watch way too many sci fi/fantasy/horror movies; and on and on and on. But nothing holds my interest like gaming.

Of course, that could go without saying. I run a gaming blog. I've started others. Well, set them up. But have never posted more than two posts to them, and still pull them off line. I'm just not as passionate about anything else like I am about gaming. But lately I have been thinking about this even more. If you read my last few very sporadic posts you probably know that I'm struggling attending a regular group. I'm busy, I'm tired, I'm blah blah blah. The fact is I really miss gaming and it's starting to affect me in not so good ways. As the wise guru Jack Torrance in The Shining said "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." And dull doesn't even begin to touch it.

So, besides my endless campaign creating which never seems to quite go anywhere without players to spur me on, I have begun perusing my modest library of gaming books. I think I own something like 20 to 30 different games. Most are fantasy and most are out of print.

That's when the thought occurred to me. Which one do I always go back to? Which ones are "a part of me" and which ones are just passing fads. Admittedly this could be subject to my moods at the time, but which ones call me back again and again and again? This is what I came up with:

  • Fantasy is the clear winner, with horror a distant second
  • AD&D 1e & HackMaster 4e is probably the first
  • But HackMaster 5e is a very close second
  • After that Basic D&D begins to look good, especially the Lamentations of the Flame Princess variety
  • And close on its heels comes another basic version: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
  • I would place Adventures Dark & Deep next, but see it as more of an "addition" to 1e
  • And Castles & Crusades becomes my default for a lot of games just for ease of use
  • After that it becomes a bit fuzzy and Call of Cthulhu gets pulled off the shelf more than others
I will say this. I NEVER pull my Pathfinder, 3.5 or 4e books off the shelf. Unless maybe I'm going to play a game with them. I have even wondered if some of my reluctance to commit to the latest group I found has been hampered because they are playing Pathfinder. It's more than a little likely. But my desperation to play and my giddiness caused me to accede to this--my bad.

What really interests me today is why HackMaster does it for me? I mean I know why I pull AD&D off the shelf. It's my roots, my foundation, the yardstick by which I measure all other things gaming. But I'll admit, though a bit reluctantly, that when I read AD&D nowadays it doesn't leave me super excited to play it. It's fun to read, and I appreciate it for other reasons, but I see it in a slightly different light now. Don't get me wrong, I would _so_ much rather play it than Pathfinder or most of the other games I own. But something in the game doesn't quite capture the "feel" of playing the game. Forgive me, but I have frequently fallen asleep re-reading the AD&D rule books. And frankly a lot of the way the rules were composed had little effect on the "way" we played the game. How the heck to I reconcile that?

Which makes me consider the books I like reading. I like reading HackMaster books. I laugh out loud, can anticipate how a rule will play, and revel in the "mood" and "tone" that the book conveys. In a lot of ways it conveys the "feel" of the way I used to play. I also like reading DCC RPG and LotFP, but moreso because they remind me of the genre of weird fiction that I so love. I recently explained to my brother that those games are highly evocative and appeal to my at times dark fantasy, horror tinged sensibilities--but I would hate to actually live in a world like that. That's actually very important to me. From early on in my gaming life I dreamed of passing over into the fantasy world of my dreams. A world like GreyHawk of the Flanaess. Where, great wonder, magic and danger abides. Though I love reading about them, actually living in a Poe/Lovecraft/Smith world is not an exciting prospect. So yes, I pull them off the shelf, DCC and LotFP, and I love their writing, their weirdness, their uniqueness and their strange fantasy milieu, but I can achieve that to some degree in any world. In a world where there are also safe cottages in benevolent woods, good fairies and protective druids, noble knights and honest kings. Where I can share a cup of tea in a hobbit hole but still adventure off to face the dangers of a true fantasy world. 

Anyway, that explains why I am drawn to those others, and perhaps why I am so drawn to HackMaster. Hackmaster provides me with the living embodiment of the "way I used to play". I'll admit the rule changes in 5e make me nervous, leery even. But I can see why they are there, they make sense, and if I could play them I could begin to get a real feel for them. As for now, I just keep being drawn back to them, to HackMaster--again and again and again. 

A Relocation

***This is a relocation from my About Me page that I thought would be more appropriate as a blog entry. This entry is best taken in context, not as a permanent statement on me or my gaming but feel it worth preserving. So I have decided to relocate it as a blog entry. It was written about January of this year.***

An Update (2014)

My blog has been a great source of solace for me over the years. Though I certainly am not the world's most regular blogger, I go through periods where I post daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Then months of silence, usually due to changes in my life that slow me down in one way or another. 2013 was one of those periods. I have went though a lot of life changes. I took a job I never wanted at the urging of those around me as a public school administrator. Which meant finishing my masters degree and getting my advanced certification in school supervision. As I type I am still in the middle of this. What it meant for me was that my gaming life would be put on hold while other things took priority.

The saddest part of this for me was that it meant my gaming club at school had to be cancelled. I urged the players to carry on without me, to find a teacher who would support them. I even looked for a teacher to take over myself. Sadly nothing happened. They gamed some on their own, but largely the unity and camaraderie that was the gaming club died. And I didn't game anymore which was probably the hardest part of all. (Slight update on this: My daughter is now in that school, and tells me there is an ongoing Pathfinder game meeting after school--good for them!)

I managed a few games with my family and children. And looked desperately in my small community for other gamers that might be willing to get together. I formed a few online Skype and G+ games that fizzled out before they began. I read my books, wrote campaign notes, and waited. Then I found a group through online gamer meet up sites that was local and eager to try and get a game together. We were going to play Pathfinder, which I was willing to do, even though it isn't my favorite game. But we no sooner than got started, about our third of fourth game, then I started having real life intrude. My college classes were demanding, and my new job took so much time away from family that I was missing more games than I was making. Pretty soon and I simply told them to carry on without me. They waited for some time to see if my schedule would calm down, when they simply decided that it was best to carry on sans yours truly. I don't blame them, but it was still hard to hear that I'd been replaced. (Another update: they would love to have me play again as soon as I get the time :-)

So I find myself now in a place where gaming seems scarce, and I'm not sure when things will calm down. I contemplate changing careers frequently. But when your in your forties and have given the bulk of your professional life to one career it's not an exciting prospect. I'll be honest. I have been dealing with some depression, stress and anxiety lately. Traits that runs in my family, but I have learned to deal with both medically and cognitively. It's not something I hide from anymore, so I can talk pretty openly about it. And admit when it is making me simplify my life. It has driven me from my blog, and other things I love as well. There have been times when this exacerbates my depression, but I am learning that it is just a part of how this change is affecting me. That I need to simplify and redirect my energies into other pursuits that I love and make them my gaming world. I am trying to embrace this new phase in the story that is mine and deal with these issues as well. I know I am happier when I am gaming in some way, but my life allows for little space in which that can happen in any traditional way. 

I am up every morning at five, and rarely finish my day before nine. I also deal with some heavyweight crap everyday in my office at school. I am by nature an introvert, and the revolving door that is my office, and nonstop ringing of my phone and avalanche of important emails I handle every day leave me feeling spiritually swamped, emotionally drained and physically exhausted. I am the type that carries these things around with me. If I don't decompress I implode. But I am a family man, with wonderful children and a loving wife that need my attention as well. As my children age they are doing more and more in their own lives and need support and my presence and attention. So even when I can get home in good time, life continues and I owe time to other obligations even more important than my job. And it seems there is always homework to be done for some college class or other.

I'm sure at this point I sound like a complaining wimp. I don't want to give that impression. I am very blessed, and enjoy the wonderful life I've been granted. Nothing comes for free, and to enjoy the life I do it requires sacrifice, nurturing and attention. The whole reason I bother sharing all of this is that there may be others out there in similar situations that this might help. Times when things you love to do have to take a back seat to life. These are times for reflection and for recalibrating in order to take care of yourself as well as the things that matter most. Which is exactly what I've done and why as of 2014, my blog has begun to take a different turn.

I am now focusing on creating gaming material and other related creative endeavors that I will be sharing with the world. I have tons of things I scribble out in meetings, draw and doodle on my professional development notes, read while I am attending conferences, thing about while I am catching up on the endless paperwork, and flesh out and complete when I am finally in bed at night by lamplight, when the house is asleep and my mind is still actively churning with the stresses of my day and the only way I can escape is to step through the magical gateway that is gaming and let my mind run free. 

It's funny too. I recall a time similar to this when I was younger and in junior high and high school. I could never seem to get enough gaming. We would try on the bus home, for a few minutes after school when our parents would let us, and we didn't have chores or homework. Weekend games were a blast, but rare as we lived scattered throughout town and getting together wasn't easy. So what did I do then, as I sat in Algebra, or Latin class, or World History, or Honors English? I created. I was more prolific during those times than ever before. The short stories, poetry, games, monsters, magic items, castle and dungeon designs, art, and ideas piled up in reams of spiral bound notebooks. I had never tried very hard at school, doing well at school came naturally to me. So I hid my Conan comics behind my textbooks and read adventure stories while the teacher droned on in front. I created gaming and other fantasy, horror and sci fi related material endlessly in hours of mindnumbing school lessons. The only respite we had was lunch time when we would gather together in the library for a twenty minute brain jam session of what we were planning for our next game.

So it's time to do that some more. My games may be a little far and few between now, but creativity doesn't have to. I am also learning Tunnels & Trolls and planning on a solo campaign that I will chronicle online. I have always known T&T did this, but never got into it, seeing it as inferior to the real thing. Almost as "cheating" somehow. But now, I get it completely. For those who have no way to game, no outlet for that need, this is the next best thing. It is in fact brilliant. From what I understand it is somewhat like choose your own adventure books from my youth, but with gaming worked in. I am excited to start giving it a whirl. After a while I may even start creating my own.

So that's where I am at right now. We'll see how it goes. Well, it is already going, I just need to start sharing it on my blog again, as my imaginative meanderings might be enjoyable for others out there in the gaming dimension. Who knows? Life may settle down again. I realize now the days of my gaming club worked so well because it was so convenient for my life. I simply stayed an extra hour at work and it was a natural extension of my teaching every day. It was a brilliant and glorious blessing and I am even more grateful for it now that it is gone. Maybe there will be some possibility like that in the future. I certainly hope so. But for now, I am where I am and am trying to embrace it.

* * *

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Truth!

LOL! Synchronicity! Synchronicity! Cried in my best tonal imitation of MASH's Father Mulcahy when he would holler "Jocularity!" Jocularity!"


Leading somewhere ...

There is a rare story of a follower of the Tibetan Sorcerers, of the beings called Tulpas.

Thoughtforms. That by concentrating sufficiently one can bring into reality the substance of the imagination. Continued focus and mental discipline can bring such objects not only to visual appearance, but to actual life. This idea is not unknown in other realms and cultures. The Jewish Magicians speak of the construction of the Golem,

a similar being that must be controlled by the willpower of the magician or risk it's escape into the world of men. The medieval homunculus,

which is drawn from Arabian Alchemical lore and can also be found in the folk magic of the mandragora

and in a distant way, to the doll of the vodoun

The idea being to project consciousness into these forms, whether drawn from mind stuff or the clay molded by hands, or the poppet sewn with needle and thread.

The idea being the bringing to reality the stuff of imagination.