Saturday, July 11, 2015

Game Night!

So, amidst all of my philosophical blatherings I thought I would take a minute and let you know what else I am up to. It's summer of course, which means I am not at school fulfilling my adventurous role as vice principal. I have one college class this summer, and am 3 credits and my thesis away from finishing my masters. That will be nice to have out of the way! I work as a biological field technician during the summer for a mosquito control district, but that's actually quite a nice break from the normal school year for me. I was contacted by a gamer new to the area who was interested in getting a game going. So, I figured my schedule was good enough now to at least allow me a game night every other week, This is our second meeting, but our GM is unavailable tonight due to some things that came up at work.

We decided last week after some deliberation to let our newest addition GM. He is most comfortable with Pathfinder, and was more than willing to give it a go. So we decided we would start with PF as the quickest route to move ahead. My schedule is still not free enough to allow me to do justice to running a campaign right now, but my masters program is almost over and that will free me up considerably. We are finalizing our PF characters and going to run through the Curse of the Crimson Throne. After that we may shift gears to another more preferred system.

There is some interest in Hackmaster among several us, but we are all a tad intimidated by it. So since our regular GM is out tonight, we are planning on running a HM playtest session. I'll GM the Training Dungeon, which is a free download from the Kenzerco which we'll play with the HM PreGens that come with the Basic Download. Personally I want to get a feel for HM combat and see if it is something I am comfortable with. But I am also interested to playtest a 5e / D&D Next session, as my brother is playing it and feels like it has some old school feel to it. We'll see. The plus for both of these, in fact PF too is that the basic system or SRD is available online. Not to digress too much back into my running essay on "my" game--that's a big plus for any game you're going to regularly play.

So we'll see how HM and maybe 5e shakes out. But I'm sort of thinking as far as my DMing goes, I'm going to settle into a system (as referenced in my recent posts) and start creating my own campaign and writing my adventures for that system. And if I DM I will choose to run that before anything else. Of course, gaming is gaming and gaming friends and the stories we tell make the fun. I have had fun with just about every system I've played in, yes even 4e for quite some time. But we all have our druthers, our gaming "home" if you will and that is what my other posts have been about. My children are also involved in a sporadic game I GM when their cousins come over. We play generally Castles & Crusades in that game, as it is easy to grasp and comfortable for me. We have run a modified C&C adventure called Dark Journey which I have modified to include a Chronomancer. We which led to the DCC adventure Doom of the Savage Kings. We play that about the equivalent of once a month--the next session of which should run mid August.

So, yeah :-) Gaming continues! I am very excited to have a regular group which I can commit to now. I sure have appreciated their patience with me and my crazy schedule! I'll post a review of our experience with Hackmaster combat maybe tomorrow after I finish homework. So that's what this Hobbit Magic User has been up to of late. Hope your gaming is going well too.

Old School Sensibility

Sensibility: the kinds of feelings that you have when you hear, see, read, or think about something (Merriam Webster)

Old School Sensibility: the kinds of feelings that you have when you hear, see, read, or think about old school role playing

To continue the train of thought in my last post, I want a light, fast and flexible game that has the old school sensibility that I prefer. Though I may be in love with a particular ethos, theme or tone expressed in a game, that doesn't necessarily mean that it allows me to play in the story oriented, rules light way I am used to and particularly enjoy. That was sort of where I left off with my last entry. 

In the past couple of entries, as I've been through this journey of reflection, I have walked through the fact, that though I loved AD&D, I never really played it like 1e was written. The more I looked at it the more I realized I played it sort of like a modified Original/Classic Version of D&D. As a bit of an aside, the versions of D&D that are of interest to me are sort of considered as:

"Original" Dungeons & Dragons = The 3 little brown books
"Classic" Dungeons & Dragons = Holmes / Moldvay / Cook
"Advanced" Dungeons & Dragons circa '77

But there was a middle ground between Original and Classic that approached Advanced, but wasn't exactly the revised Advanced that Gary re-wrote and began publishing in 1977 or so. The Original version included the supplements Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods Demi-Gods & Heroes, and Swords & Spells. The very supplements that would supply the bulk of the expansion that would become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. But long before that they were played in the Original manner. 

Dr.  Holmes would write the "Basic" set as a streamlining of the original rules, so that those who wished could continue to play the Original rules--but these, though written more cohesively, were limited in scope and would not include the supplemental material in any significant sense. Later, Moldvay & Cook would expand Holmes' offerings slightly, retaining the spirit of the three little brown books, but still not much of the supplemental material.

Advanced D&D would be a notable departure from much of the Original Edition, with the addition of numerous rules that defined a version of the game similar to, but developed from the Original Rules plus the supplements. It is a game vast in scope, and deeply rooted in the worlds of Greyhawk and to a lesser extent Blackmoor. This would also be a departure from the spirit of the Original three in the sense that Gary, Dave and the other early contributors were encouraging players and DMs to do their own designing. The point was to take the outline of the rules and run with them in your own direction. Advanced D&D, of course, retained the idea--but had been heavily influenced by the home campaigns of Arneson and Gygax. Spell names, magic items and the like not only flavored the Advanced game but influenced the development of the ruleset to some degree. This was not entirely new, of course, as the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements had already begun to do so as a separate option to the Original rules. But Advanced D&D was not to be seen so much as a suggested beginning for play, but as the definitive set of rules to be used without significant deviation.

So, what do I recall playing? Well, that's an interesting question actually. I never really thought of it before; but to explain my theory fully I have to go back to the beginning of my introduction to gaming.

As I explain in previous posts, I was introduced to gaming in 1981 at my first Boy Scout meeting at my local church. The guys who were playing were about a year and a half older than me. They were almost 14, I had just turned twelve. The books they were using were AD&D books. Those were the books we used to develop characters. They never let me look at the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master's Guide; those were off limits and I would have to wait until I bought them for myself before I accessed that hidden knowledge. However, it didn't matter much as they were a resource at best--only referred to casually when we needed to know a modifier or some such. Our play was highly improvisational, and story driven. We mostly played at Scouts, or on camp outs, but occasionally at guys' houses. I distinctly recall being at one fellow's house and seeing his collection of gaming books. There on his shelf was a small beige box labelled Dungeons and Dragons. I recall asking about it, to which he replied, that taking the box off the shelf, that these were the the first rules of the game put out a long time ago (a long time ago relative to our ages--this was 1981 or 2). He showed me the original books and one or two supplement books (I can't recall which) and explained with reverence that this was the way it was originally played, the way he was taught to play by guys at the high school; but, he continued matter of factly putting the books back, we used the advanced version now. His tone was obviously one betraying the clear superiority of the large hard back books we used. 

That's the memory. And I never thought much about it, but as I consider the way I was taught to play the game, the way I taught others to play the game I believe it has significant relevance. It is my belief now that those early gaming mentors were playing a version of the Original Game with some advanced supplemental material. We used race as separate from class, advanced hit die, saves, alignment, weapon damage and the like but the game itself was a very simple approach to play. It was that very free form creative space between the Original Game and the Advanced Game that could for all intents and purposes be called Edition "Zero Point Five" (0.5).  Not quite Advanced D&D "by the book" as it were, but a definite extension of the Original Edition incorporating much of the supplemental material. 

The significance of this, of course, is that it answers so many questions I have been asking myself for so long. Why can't I find the game I used to play? Why are so many newer games, or retros of past games dissatisfying to me? I'm not just looking for fast and light and flexible--lots of games provide that. I'm looking for that classic sweet spot between two editions. I am tempted to say that the edition I'm looking for doesn't exist as it replicates play similar to the Original Edition with the Advanced Books as a reference. It's not quite Original and it's not quite Advanced. 

However, I think some very viable options do exist. Games which were created to sit exactly in that sweet spot. And there is also another matter entirely that needs addressed; each of which I will take in turn in subsequent posts.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tenkar Rules! The One True Edition

Over at Tenkar's Tavern he brought up a drunken gem, or drunkenly brought up a gem, that we gamers always love, or in many cases hate, to endlessly debate ...

The One Ring!

Or rather ...

The One Game!

Any way you debate it, the comparison is quite apt, as the prophecy says ...

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Could just as easily be transformed to read ...

Three Games for New Wave-Gamers under the hobby shop lights,
Seven for the Strategy-Gamers before tables of minis,
Nine for Old School Grognards doomed to roll the die,
One for the Melancholy Nostalgist on his lonely throne
In the Land of the Past where the Memories lie.
One Game to rule them all, One Game to find them,
One Game to bring them all and in the FLGS bind them
In the Land of the Past where the Memories lie.

I am not foolish enough to think that there is one game for all the gamers out there these days. The very reason so many games dot the market today is because there are so many types of gamers. Talented gamers with a vision to share. Some out of necessity, some out of artistic desire, some out of nostalgia, some out of various what if scenarios and they are all marvels to behold. But it can make it harder than ever for a group to decide on what they want to play. If there is any one game, it would be for the gamer herself. What game do you prefer to play above all others. What is your go-to game?

As I consider the matter for myself, I would offer a brief retrospective of my own gaming life:

April 1981 -- I start with AD&D 1e and feel like it is the only and definitive game; but I never play the game as written--a very streamlined version with minimal attention paid to rules.

December 1981 -- I get the Basic & Expert Set for completion sake, thinking I should have read them before beginning AD&D. Only, I realize that they are very different, seem limited and I never actually play by these rules. I do use Basic and Expert modules however, with my AD&D games.

1982 -- In the Jr. High gaming club I realize there are different ways of playing the game. Neat, I think, but somehow wrong.

1983 -- Mt first Dragon Magazine subscription shows me a lot of the "weird" alternatives out there are actually alternatively sanctioned rules! I hesitantly allow some of it in my games.

1983 to 1985 or so -- It is clear there are lots other games out there. I play some Gamma World, Some Call of Cthulhu, Star Frontiers but by and large stick with AD&D. I also realize there are lots of AD&D supplements--Arduin's Grimoire, Judges Guild and the like. I use some of their stuff, but always in the context of my version of AD&D.

1987 -- I enter the Army and realize there are vastly different ways to play the game. Wow, maybe I was near sighted in my gaming.

1990 -- 1994 or so I see the first second edition stuff. At first I rebel. Then (in secret) I realize that some of it is pretty cool, even if THAC0 sucks. I pick up up some 2e stuff, but never run a strict "2e" game as it were--still playing my own streamlined version of 1e. My only "other" game is Call of Cthulhu at this point, but I play it rarely.

Here I would like to point out that I find it humorous I was such a purist about AD&D, but really I was playing a very "light" and "rules free" version of the game. We resorted to the books only when we were stumped on how to resolve a technicality.

1995 -- I drop out of the gaming scene, miss the rise of 3e and then 3.5. I travel, serve a mission for my church, get married, start my teaching career etc.

2004 to 2006 -- I am begged and ultimately, convinced to start the gaming club at the school where I teach. The kids are all playing 3.5. I buy all the 3.5 books, well not all, but lots. We play 3.5 at the start of the game club, reluctantly so for me, but I am convinced by others that this is the "better" game. I am convinced of the d20 concept as an improvement, though reluctant to admit it. 

2006 to 2007 -- I find out they are releasing 4e. Argh! I just bought all the 3.5e books! But I am psyched up by the WoTC adverts and also convinced that it has "fixed" all the problems. Problems I really didn't even comprehend. I mean 3.5 was different from AD&D, so maybge 4e would "fix" that?

2007 to 2008 -- I convince everyone to make the switch to 4e. We play an enthusiastic game for about a year. I start the blog! And I also discover the OSR movement online, which influences the title of my blog "Classic" RPG Realms--even though we are playing 4e.

2008 to 2009 -- I become seduced by the OSR. But not necessarily unwillingly. It is still hard for me to parse out how much the OSR caused my dissatisfaction with 4e, and how much was legitimate on my part. We were having lots of fun playing the Keep on the Shadowfell and though I kind of disliked the heavy use of minis, I was cruising along.  Then over time, but 2010 for sure I am dissatisfied with 4e. The focus on my blog shows this as well. I rediscover KODT and am excited about maybe playing Hackmaster 4e. Only to discover they are reinventing the game in 2009. I also hear about DCC RPG and think it might be my savior. 

2010 to 2012 -- We switch to OSRIC and play a two year OSRIC campaign. I become somewhat disillusioned with the differences between OSRIC and AD&D and fool myself that maybe I ever played AD&D by the book. We run into some angst over demi-human level limits. I am reading tons of other rules systems trying to decide what to play. There is no way for everyone to really play 1e without buying all the books used. I find out that 

2012 to 2013 -- I buy Castles & Crusades books for the club and we try that for a short time. I like the idea of the Siege mechanic, but it feels different in play. A group of Pathfinder players convinces us to play Pathfinder. It is successful for about a year or so, but I become disillusioned with the endless character options and optimization. I also am playing several one offs and short campaigns outside of the gaming club. I try various systems in these, but often default to C&C.

2014 plus -- By now I have read and bought most clones and retro variants on the market. They are all good in their way, but I see problems with all of them in one way or another. I had actually played:
  • AD&D 1e
  • AD&D 2e (mixed with 1e)
  • 3.5
  • 4e
  • Pathfinder
  • Labyrinth Lord + AEC
  • Castles & Crusades
2014 plus continued -- 5e comes out. I played it twice during the play test. I was not overwhelmed with awesomeness, but it plays relatively quick and light. Classes seem a bit overpowered. The actual release of the rules confirm that classes are more powerful at baseline than I am comfortable with, but the rules look okay.

Now, as I have mentioned recently, the fact is I never played AD&D with the "rules" so to speak. It was great, but I think I might be in love more with the memory of the time--with the nostalgia I feel about it--than the actual game. The game has become a symbol for me, a metaphor for something bigger than the rules contained in its pages.

The problem is that I am judging all other games by that standard. Only the standard I have before me is not the rules contained in AD&D, which have little to do with what I experienced back then. The other portion of that standard is the nostalgia I feel, that contains enough saudade within it that it will never actually be regained. Saudade, for those of you who don;t know, is a Portuguese word which means something like a deep inner longing for something that you know can never be regained. No game can ever give me that, because it can;t work as a time machine. However, a game can give me the light, fast, flexible old school sensibility to allow me to play like I prefer and to build new memories. 

That would be my One Ring. And I'm not sure it would even be one game, but maybe several that play like that. I have several ideas already that I'll write about next.