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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Samurai fever... Broke?

I don't really know what happened to blogger here, but my fairly long post about my Samurai campaign was eaten when I tried to post it. I was under the impression that blogger saving my posts once per minute would prevent this sort of accident, but apparently not. It had a commentary about how my game was getting just one more chance before I pull the plug and go back to "standard" AD&D1. It also had a long tangental discussion about minis, the new ones I bought for OA, my love/hate of the WoTC D&D line, my irrational hatred of Games Workshop for causing both scale creep and ridiculously sized weapons, and my nostalgic love of Grenadier's AD&D line (and consequently the story of Lance-the-lucky). I also briefly discussed old D&D computer games. I worked on it for quite a while and now I have no desire to run across that ground again. Sorry, blame Blogger.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2nd TPK

I wiped out the party again. Fortunately they were considerably quicker to generate Ruins and Ronin characters rather than the AD&D Oriental Adventures type I killed off last weekend. I am having a hard time figuring out exactly what went wrong here, but I suspect it comes down to two things.

First, the party failed to hire any hirelings of any sort. The reason for that is that AD&D players were discouraged by the AD&D rules from bringing along too much help because of the expense and the XP drain, both of which are absent from OD&D/S&W/R&R, but the attitude is hard to break. OD&D characters are basically the officers of their party of soldiers not really stand alone adventurers. AD&D characters can not afford to hire help at level one and are significantly tougher, so they don't really need to as much.

Second, I think they made a pretty big mistake after their first battle when they didn't retreat to safety and instead pressed on ahead. They had won the battle but got pretty hurt in the process. They looted the corpses and kept going. All of their Bujin were pretty hurt and the Shugenja used her only spell. OD&D, and by extension, S&W/R&R are much more games of resource management than AD&D because AD&D characters have more resources to work with, like 1st level clerics having at least one spell which the Sohei does not.

When I suggested that they should have retreated to my wife after the game she got kind of mad at me and said that every time they have previously retreated in my games I have punished them, either with pursuit or restocking the dungeon or both. This is true to a point. I have pursued retreating parties when they were running from encounters, and I have generally restocked dungeons when I found it likely to have happened. I have also done the opposite of both cases when I thought it logical to do so, so I don't really know what the problem is here except that Mona might be trying to read me for hints as to what to do too much maybe.

Last week the party died partly based on the fact that Mona did as I suggested through the village headman Gobo. I suggested it because I was thinking of what Gobo would do, trying to get in his head and play the role of Gobo- a peasant farmer responsible for the well-being of the rest of the villages farmers. I figured the last thing he would want was a big fight in his village where the people he was responsible for could get caught in the crossfire or punished by the Black Riders for getting help from the PCs. Deaths, property damage and worse extortion were on his mind and it caused him to beg the samurai to hide until they left.

Mona also said to me that, if the adventure is going to be tougher than I think they could handle, she expected that I would supply back up NPCs to give them extra firepower. I actually was hoping that they would try and hire on some 0-level help for the adventure, but I didn't suggest it. Maybe when I play old school I try to be a little more like an impartial referee and less like the guy trying to help the party along? I don't know. I just know that I want the party to start coming up with ideas on their own instead of having Harvey the helpful NPC suggest stuff to them (or have noticed the clue, or had a handy healing spell memorized, or whatever). I also have been rolling all of my dice in combat out in the open to stop myself from feeling (or acting upon)the urge to fudge the rolls in favor of the party. I really want all XP to be earned here.

I know they can do this, but I can't help feeling that I have coddled my players for years now with all of this later edition stuff and the advice I read about advancing story lines and making sure everyone is having fun and making death rare and memorable and not punishing the players for having bad luck. I have now torpedoed my own dream campaign two weeks in a row to show that I am not afraid to let the dice fall where they may and that caution, thinking and planning are more useful than excellent AC or a ton of stat bonuses (although I did alter the universal stat bonus to be in line with later editions of D&D).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

New Look

I have been meaning to update the bare bones look of my blog for a while and add some of those cool widget thingies. So in honor of my new campaign I decided to go with a Japanese themed background and otherwise spruce things up a bit. Ruins and Ronin instead of OA? I decided it's easier to add stuff to a game than to take stuff away. It's actually R&R with a fair bit of OA thrown in for my AD&D fix. Variable hit dice, variable weapon damage and a couple of other tweaks. I'll be trying it tomorrow so let's hope for the best.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some thoughts.

I have a few issues. First I have said that I prefer 1st edition AD&D many times and that 1st edition AD&D OA is my preferred form of OA- That is a lie. Looking back on it it is an unintentional lie. I started playing D&D with Holmes Basic, moved to AD&D shortly after and added in Moldvay's Expert set when it came out too. I don't remember the order of me getting the books and it's not really important whether I had the DM's guide or the Expert set first; the important thing is I have never played straight AD&D. Ever. I am also not such an old school purist that I am allergic to the good ideas from later systems. I like the way 2nd edition thief skills progress. I like 3rd edition's 3 saving throws and attacks of opportunity (in theory anyway, in practice they make players move in bizarre ways across the battlefield so as to avoid them).

In playing OA yesterday I am struck by some of the clunkiness of the system. The stuff I like about OA is great, the stuff I don't like about it kind of sucks and there is a bunch of stuff I am kind of ambivalent about. I like the classes (mostly) and the races. I like honor, but I think it could use an overhaul. I like families and ancestry and birth rights, they make for some interesting, if occasionally lengthy, character generation. I don't really like the non-weapon proficiencies, I never have liked the idea of using dice mechanics to handle social interactions and I don't like the idea of limiting a character arbitrarily because he hasn't taken, say, calligraphy yet. Many of these things could be determined by a characters background, which is why I liked secondary skills in the DMG. Some things should be fairly obvious by class- Barbarians probably all should have a shot at, say, fire building (as should probably everyone else only maybe at a penalty). Anyway, without ranting too much more here, most of the non-weapon proficiencies could be simulated with just an intelligence check or a dex check or a saving throw vs. whatever.

I really want a game that is a cross between Ruins and Ronin and 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures with a dash of later edition simplifying rules.

Birth Rights were kind of a pain in the ass for the first time ever in my experience. They need to be somehow tailored to class to avoid giving randomly wildly inappropriate things, like ninja weapons to samurai characters. I altered the item tables on the fly to give out more appropriate things, but it was annoying. Partial armor has got to go to. It just plain sucks to get something like a shin-guard of quality for your birth right. I intend to get rid of partial armors entirely. They can join non-weapon proficiencies on the scrap heap. For my campaign non-Japanese equipment needs to be weeded out since I am using a fantasy Japan setting.

Classes can be weeded a bit too. The OA Ninja as written (a split-class) needs to go. The Yakuza kind of sucks as written too. I understand the desire to have a "Thief" class, but they really don't work as a player character class. They make some decent NPCs though. The Monk I am not sure about. On the one hand they make more sense here than in "regular" AD&D, but on the other hand they made them more fiddly and complex with all the martial arts maneuvers and no one ever wants to play one anyway. I'd ditch the Shukenja, but the Sohei doesn't get spells until 2nd level like earlier edition Clerics- which is what they essentially are. Shukenja are kind of superfluous and apparently poorly named too since the Oriental "Wizard" class picks up that name in 3e. Wu Jen are just AD&D Magic-Users with some Asian flavors added, and are the only class not named in Japanese; I am all for changing their name to Shugenja and ditching the Shukenja and calling it a day for spell casters leaving them with the "new" Shugenja and the Sohei. For my beloved fighter types I am torn. The only reason I ever see anyone play a Bushi is because they didn't get high enough stats to be a Samurai, so I am tempted to go the Ruins & Ronin route of 0e D&D and just make on Bujin class, but the Samurai are the heart of every campaign I have ever run, except for one that was a 1-on-1 Kensai campaign. Kensai are cool, but need some work to make them really work. Not being able to use a magical version of your preferred weapon is just kind of lame, and the name should be Kensei, it bugs me that it is consistently misspelled throughout the OA book. Anyway, more research and brain-storming are necessary to fix the Kensei. The Barbarian is way more broken than any other class in OA precisely because it is, with only cosmetic differences, exactly the same as the Unearthed Arcana Barbarian, one of the worst munchkin classes of all time, topped only by the UA Cavalier (which the OA Samurai is a sub-class of but manages to avoid all of it's excesses).

More later.

TPK- Doh!

I ran OA yesterday. We started late partly because Ashli's boyfriend Victor wanted to play and needed to make a character and partly because of the general slow moving and procrastination associated with socializing here. D&D is a social activity after all. After Giving them a brief background (they all are retainers of Lord Yabu) I opened the campaign in classic fashion with the Black Riders assaulting the mura of Gobo. Now there were only 4 characters and I may have over role-played Gobo into convincing the samurai stay hidden in his house at first, but I have never seen this fight go down like it did here. Ashli's Akiko nearly one-shotted the leader when she kiai shouted and attacked (the riders were going to take her horse as a "tax payment"); Mona's Midori did one shot the rider that entered Gobo's house to investigate after Akiko charged out of there. Ashli's surprise round and the next round went really well for the party (except John whose character Ryuuro never hit anything)after that though things went south for the party fast. Akiko's surprise round and the party's first round dropped the leader and 3 riders, they would never hit another target and 3 rounds later they were all unconscious and bleeding (except Ryuuro, who at zero I ruled was merely gravely wounded and immobilized).

Now, I have decided that the temple lackeys would take these samurai as prisoners back to the temple for their superiors to decide their fate. This is nearly as bad as dieing for the samurai and not much better for Victor's Bushi Shin. I also decided that it might be better if we had the NPC/back-up PC's that we had talked about earlier. I was a little worried about the party's total lack of magic, particularly healing magic, going into this game; but everyone wanted to play fighter types. I dropped the ball by not having an NPC Shukenja for the party's use.

That said, the party really made some poor tactical decisions (indecision about whether or not to attack the riders to start with, Akiko launching a surprise round on her own when the entire party could have charged out from hiding at once) along the way. However, I think their luck turning bad was the real PC killer here. Also, maybe, me not rebalancing the encounter for fewer PCs. I hate doing that though, it rankles my old school sensibilities to alter an encounter just because they came with 4 PCs instead of the recommended 6 to 8.

Monday, December 13, 2010

New Game Starting Up

After months of no gaming going on here I took the step of starting a Sunday game again. Of course this being my house and having the personalities involved in this game nothing went as planned. The plan was that I would start an Oriental Adventures game (hereafter referred to as OA)with just Mona and Ashli as players and a couple of core NPCs to fill in any perceived holes in our party. We would make characters during the week preceding the game (because making OA characters is more involved than "standard" AD&D 1st edition characters) and jump right into gaming on Sunday. Ashli is always busy with school and had a drill team meet in Connecticut on Saturday, so we did not get her character made pre-game day. Mona and I didn't get around to it either, despite her being out of work this week, because other projects and procrastination took up all our spare time.

So Sunday rolls around and I have a firm 11:00AM start time get blown out of the water by breakfast turning into brunch and the clean up taking way more time than I would have thought it could. I also realized that I was getting sick. A cold I think but a pretty bad one. Anyway, at roughly 2:00PM we finally got everything squared away and started on characters. During this time both of the other kids stated a desire to play. John actually sat down to make a character, Em hovered around kind of interested but reticent to actually do anything more than roll dice for character creation she lost interest in playing. Eventually she made herself helpful by finding a list of Japanese names with their meanings (and the Japanese characters for the names).

Despite having 2 OA books at the table character creation went pretty slow. I was the only one well versed in the extra bits of OA character creation, so I had to help each of them with Family, Ancestry, Birth Rights and Honor. John was also confounded by the monetary system and it's lack of decimalization.

All told we broke the session sometime after 6:00PM with most of character creation completed. John needs to finish buying equipment and Mona needs to start.

I had been hoping as late as Sunday morning to be able to get through character creation and run a small introduction to the setting, but it just was not going to happen yesterday.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A couple of weeks since..

It's been a couple of weeks since we played. Ashli's prom and Mona's illness took one week off, then just Em and John's inability to be prepared to play or settle in to the game killed us the next. I am going to try tomorrow again, if we have a failure then I am going to try some Savage Worlds. My hope there is that a faster paced, more combat and miniature oriented game will keep both Em and John interested. I may do a Star Wars thing, that should help too.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Death of a campaign.

Having not played the old campaign in months, we decided to call it. Time of death was yesterday afternoon. The news isn't all bad though because we decided to start a new D&D Cyclopedia campaign and committed to gaming every Sunday. I figured we might as well play through those tons of old school modules sitting in my trove. Characters were made yesterday and we played today. We rolled 3d6 in order and everyone made an alt/protege/henchman/whatever you want to call it. 8 party members went in, 2 returned. Ashli's cleric actually died on the last round of the last combat in the adventure to a failed save vs. poison. A staggering death rate for my adventures, I think maybe I have been coddling them on my home-brewed stuff. They were actually thrilled to make it all the way through an adventure.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Passage of time

I have had a lot going on lately, none of it really game related. Our game petered out in February I think, and I have made a few tries to get us back into it without much success. Better weather and other concerns and hobbies have kept us from the game table. At least the kids have seen most of Star Trek now.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quickie catch up

Played a couple more sessions in post-apocalypse Garnia. Sister Celeste died and was replaced by her fighter older sister. Ruby hired a couple of men to carry stuff and help out and bought a couple of guard dogs; sadly they were all killed in an encounter with giant leaches. The tomb was found, the Hobgoblins largely defeated. The party decided to leave the grave goods of the mighty high-king Ailill alone (except for the Codex of the Conquest, which they took as proof of their discovery) and just take loot from the Hobgoblins.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2nd Session

The party decided to trek back into the vast marsh to find the lost tomb. They re-equipped a little and resupplied, then headed out.

They spent a total of 4 days and nights wandering about almost aimlessly, as they kept getting lost and back-tracking. They are considering returning to town to find a guide and Ruby is starting to believe there is a magical force at work preventing them from getting near the area where the tomb lies.

The first day out they ran afoul of a giant poisonous snake, but managed to slay the beast in three rounds of fighting. Drisnir got hit twice but made his save both times, healing had him back to full efficiency for the next day. They decided to butcher the snake and add it to their rations. I ruled that they could stuff themselves with snake meat and drop to 1/2 ration use for 3 days before the rest of the snake went bad.

Third day out they got the same giant poisonous snake encounter again, only at greater range and with fewer hit points. They were alert and unsurprised and got 2 rounds of shots at it while it closed. It's morale broke on the 2nd round and it attempted to flee, the party hit it with more arrows and sling stones killing it before it could get away. Then they butchered it for the extra rations.

Fourth day out just after dusk a hobgoblin patrol ran into them and attempted to stealthily move in on their camp, but they screwed up and got spotted by the ever alert Sister Celeste. I rolled 1d6+2 for Hobgoblins and decided that they would have 1d4 Bugbears with them since the loss of an entire patrol last week, they got 8 Hobgoblins and 4 Bugbears- not good for the party, but I had decided to let the dice fall where they may. The HP totals were about average for them, slightly to the low, but I figured swamp living probably isn't doing them any favors either.

The party actually surprised them and got shots off (to absolutely no avail), then won initiative and Sister Brangwen and Drisnir lobbed flaming oil both hitting and killing a Hobgoblin each (with Drisneer also slightly scorching one Bugbear)and Sister Celeste or Ruby wounding another Hobgoblin with missile fire. The enemy closed with the party.

Next round Sister Brangwen and Drisnir closed with the enemy and started laying the smack down, then got surrounded and started getting hurt. Sister Celeste cast bless managing to get herself, Sister Brangwen and Drisnir. Brangwen got knocked down, but was healed by Celeste and back up the next round. Drisnir got dropped a round or so later while Celeste and Brangwen were fighting back to back. The round after that Ruby fell to a hard hit from a Bugbear. Maybe 5 or 6 rounds (and a couple of wound ally critical fumbles on the part of the Hobgoblin patrol) after that Celeste and Brangwen managed to break the morale of the last Hobgoblin standing and he managed to get away. Tough bastards, they refused to break no matter how hard they got hit, I figure the last guy escaped to tell the rest of the tribe what they were up against.

I house ruled in that we used 3e style stabilize and both Drisnir and Ruby made it. Additionally, it is a house rule that a character has negative HP=1/2CON(rounded up)+1 before death. I also have been house ruling in healing kits with some non-magic healing stuff in them, I give 3 uses of 1d4 healing in the kits and 10 uses of 1 hp "first aid". I feel this frees clerics from the role of field medic and lets them use spells other than cure light wounds. I also rule that the gods don't really like their clerics to take multiple instances of spells. So the healing kits, while they are not particularly helpful at higher levels, are very helpful to low levels in keeping them alive and extending their time in the field.

We broke after this fight, I gave out XP, they divided the cash take and we watched Doctor Who.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1st Game!

First game of the new campaign, very exciting. The game started a little slow, it can be hard to get Em to settle in; John too if the mood isn't striking him when it's game time, so it took a bit of prodding from myself and Ashli to get the game moving. I gave them a couple of different rumors of where to seek out adventure. There is a newly discovered dungeon complex to the north or they could search for a lost tomb in the vast marsh across the Averyraen from Castra. They chose search for the tomb (although John wanted to go find the Dwarves in their ancient kingdom)and into the marshes they went. The first day went without incident, other than Em nearly losing a boot in thick mud and everyone being made miserable by mosquitoes, gnats and leeches.

The first night however did not pass uneventfully. They divided into four one-man watches Drissneer (John) had third- he wanted first, but Em called it before he did- and got a random encounter with a giant frog. I was merciful and made it only one, reasoning that restarting the campaign after the first random encounter would suck. Drissneer woke his party with a shout and charged it. He succeeded in taking it out largely alone- one minor hit from Sister Brangwen (Mona), otherwise all his.

Next watch was Sister Brangwen's and she got a Hobgoblin patrol in the predawn. I figured they must have been attracted by the party's fire and come to investigate. Sister Brangwen was more alert than Drissneer had been and woke her fellow party members quietly so they could prepare for battle. The Hobgoblins drew up in a battle line just outside the range of the light from the campfire, I had them roll initiative when they reached visible range for the party and the battle commenced.

Since Drissneer and Sister Celeste (Ember) were still armoring up-2 rounds for Drissneer, 3 for Celeste; So Sister Brangwen charges their archer but misses. Rosie (Ashli) fired off a round from her shortbow and dropped one, then they went. They surrounded Sister Brangwen, 2 rushed Rosie and their archer moved to get a clear shot at Drissneer.

Long story made short- a series of really bad dice rolls on both sides left the party with three down, only Drissneer was left standing. One Hobgoblin fumble killed another adjacent Hobgoblin while they were double-teaming Rosie. Heroic Sister Brangwen got unlucky 2 rounds in and got hit by 3 out of 4 that were surrounding her knocking her into negatives. The next morning I ruled that everyone could be conscious so they could more easily head back to town, they made it back without incident and stayed at the inn. It was fun and after that we broke to make dinner and watch Doctor Who, since it was a school night we had to stop.

Next time we'll start having passed a couple days and healed everyone to full.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Prepping the setting

The new sandbox campaign starts this weekend. The setting is this: Humanity (and by extension demi-humanity) has fallen on hard times. Their world has been over-run by humanoids (and worse) in the recent past. The "Home-base" of the PCs is a fortified town on what used to be the border between two mutually antagonistic human kingdoms, the great powers of their time. Those kingdoms set aside their differences ultimately to fight the threat of the massive invasion but failed anyway to stave off their destruction. Losing armies of humans and their demihuman allies retreated to this fortified zone some 30 years ago and have relatively little contact with the outside world. I keep picturing a fantasy version of the "Twilight 2000" setting, but it is actually more like "What if aliens invaded the earth at the height of the cold war", only in a fantasy setting.

Anyway, humans and demihumans control only fortified or easily defensible areas, and not all of them. The great kingdoms of the past are fallen. Trade is all but gone. Large swathes of formerly civilized territories are under the control of tribes of various races of humanoids or worse. Humans (and demihumans) in those territories are either gone, enslaved or food. Or a combination of those. D&D post-apocalyptic.

This all fits with my theme of an ancient and ongoing multi-planar war, and I get to tie it into the last campaign on ran in Garnia where the players failed to stop Horsa and his minions. Not their fault really, the campaign ended prematurely, but that kind of seemed the direction it was headed in.

So in my official timeline now Horsa managed to become Aetheling of the Westermarch and his minions unsealed the gates between worlds, so the dwindling and weak humanoids of the world were immediately reinforced by the legions of their brethren. The hordes of darkness also had access to the ancient Dwarven roads which made the kingdoms largely indefensible and the unknown reaches of the underworld once again had access to the surface. Ancient evils vanquished long ago returned, other planar threats emerged leading vast armies of evil humanoids.

Ultimately, this did not go well for Horsa or his minions. Not only was the entirety of the Westermarch over-run, but the entire kingdom of Wodanslund; it's capital Wodansburgh burned to the ground and it's people largely became food for the slavering horde. Wodanish is a language spoken by very few people now refugees all, they have no homeland to return to.

The campaign area is the Garnian-Frodian border region, starting in an outlying town inside Garnia- the region where the Averyraen and the Aver- something I can't recall at the moment and I can't find my map right now, the one that runs up into the old Dwarven kingdom of Khazarak. All of this was the center of the ancient elven empire, and is home to the mysterious Tomari people- a human ethnic group whose origins are lost and speak a language unrelated to any other in the world.

I like languages and cultures. Anthropology is the DM's friend.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I love Hackmaster. I loved it's 4th edition and I love the new Hackmaster Basic. When I swore off 3e D&D I went straight to HM. I extolled it's virtues to every gamer I knew and I ran a game for a while. It ended mostly because I had some health issues and the group of players was starting to fragment- Steve always lived a good distance away, Matt and Heather were finishing grad school and moving out of state, John and Kevin both were hard to pin down for regular times to game, Melissa and John broke up and Tom was Kevin's high school aged son and dependent on him for a ride to the game.

When my daughter Ashli was old enough to become interested in gaming her and her friends wanted to play D&D, so that's where I went. Now, after several years of convincing, all of my kids game with my wife and me and we have gone retro. Getting my kids, my son John in particular, to see the benefit of non-video game style of play, with it's instant gratification power-ups was a challenge; but I finally did it.

Then HMB came out. We had been playing in a 1st Edition AD&D game when it was released, so we didn't get to play it right away. That game kind of guttered out amid the life-clutter of the new school year; Ashli is taking a pretty heavy course load and it took some time to adjust, John had football practice every day, only Em really had any time to spare. I managed to get a game started in November. Ashli is GMing! It's her first time trying and on a new system. She is doing a pretty great job. I really am liking the system, it has a really old school feel. However, Ashli only feels able to play every other week at most so I am picking up the extra time slot and running a 1st edition AD&D campaign.

Why AD&D? Because I can run it easily, off the cuff and my campaign world came from AD&D. I am sick and tired of converting stuff to match this game or that version. It was easy to run Hackmaster 4th edition there, it's just adding to AD&D; the new HMB is TSR-less, without D&D as it's base. Will I convert eventually? Maybe, hell probably even, but for right now, this next campaign, I am going old school with a vengeance.

Great Khan?

A simple explanation of the name of the blog- I was/am Jagatai, Khakhan of the Steppe Warriors. The Steppe Warriors are a largely defunct online gaming guild/clan that started in AOLs Neverwinter Nights back in the mid 1990's. Most, but by no means all, Steppe Warriors were local to Oswego County in NY state. We gamed together in the real world and online. We were culturally very Mongolian for RP and took Mongol names for our online personae. There is a lot more to it than all of this, but it isn't really relevant to the blog, I just needed a name and went with my go-to online persona.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

AD&D 1st edition

I get asked from time to time why I use 1st edition AD&D rules for the games I run. The answer is simple- it's the game I know best. I started playing AD&D very shortly after being introduced to role playing games via the Holmes Basic D&D boxed set. The Expert boxed set followed when it got released adding to the confusion; I mostly dumped Basic and Expert in favor of Advanced probably before the end of 1982. From there until the release of second edition AD&D, the most gaming filled years of my life, I ran or played in 1st edition. I know rules and house rules for pretty much every situation. I still have, tucked in my DMG, intoxication rules I wrote for the game sometime after 1985.

I didn't play 1st edition much after the release of 2nd edition until after 3rd edition was released. Just a couple of short campaigns run by a guy I met that didn't see much point in buying a new set of books when he owned a perfectly serviceable version of the game. I wish I could say I had his wisdom, but I bought into second edition myself, not as hard as some, but I did. There was a lot to like in second edition- clarifications, removal of contradictory rules, the way Thief abilities worked (in theory). At first I liked the supplementary books with the kits too, I bought the Fighter one. If I had known what they would eventually become...

The loss of the 1/2 Orc was kind of a bummer, the loss of the Monk not so much. They screwed the Ranger up pretty bad for no reason I could tell. Lost the Assassin, not a great loss. Changing the names of Demons and Devils, cowardly but understandable. But the minor rules changes for the sake of change were an irritant to me for the whole of the 2nd edition period. Plus the constant decline in quality of supplemental materials like modules was a plague. I also preferred Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms, but that really was not terribly important to me because I used a home-brewed campaign world.

3rd edition brought my first wave of revolt. My gaming group refused to buy into the new rules at first because we didn't want to spend the money or convert our characters. Eventually though we started buying the books and investing ourselves into 3e. I agreed to DM a campaign and away we went. First I liked it, then I grew weary of it, then I hated it. 3e was not conducive to my "off the cuff" style of DMing, required way more prep time and rules memorization than I had time for and had much more the feel of a tactical miniatures game than I wanted for D&D. I eventually gave over the DMing responsibility to one of the other guys and rolled up a character of my own to play the remainder of the module series we had been playing, we never finished but he took us through the next 2 modules before we just quit.

I ran a couple of more games using 3.5 (for which I only ever bought the PH), one in my home-brewed world with a much more "old school" style of play which ended only because of life getting in the way; the other was a heavily house-ruled Oriental Adventures campaign using the Kara Tur setting and old OA modules converted to a mix of 1st edition/3e/3.5e/stuff I found on the net and stuff from my head. It drove our resident rules Nazi a little crazy, but we all had a pretty good time until life screwed it up too.

During this same time my buddy Lance started talking about going "back to basics" and started a Rules Cyclopedia based campaign, it didn't last, but it was a good idea. Less rules means less rules lawyering and more DM is always right. Basic D&D was not the right fit for us because we had cut our teeth on Advanced and played it for a long time- it was too retro.

Then I thought about my campaign world. I had designed it and evolved it largely through 1st edition, 3e was too far removed, made too many changes to be a good fit. I needed to either house-rule the hell out of 3e (which I did) or go retro. My kids were reticent to go retro at first, but now they are actually 1st edition partisans. I think when they were younger they fell for the more polished presentation of 3e (and 2nd edition to a lesser extent). I guess it didn't hurt either that those editions were marketed to younger audiences than 1st edition.

Ultimately this post is about my impending "sand-box" style campaign with 1st edition AD&D rules, where the players (my wife and 3 kids) will start in a small town on the frontier near some ruins. Characters are made, we start this weekend. My wife, Mona, and my youngest, Ember, are playing Human Clerics; My son,John, a Human Fighter and my oldest daughter, Ashli, is playing a Halfling Thief. I hope it goes well.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the beginning...

I started playing D&D with the Holmes Basic set in the spring of 1980. I got that set after obsessing about the advertisement in "Boy's Life" for months. I saved my allowance and hunted for it, the hunting took longer than the saving. I don't remember now where I found it finally, but I suspect it was on one of my family's (roughly) monthly trips to Syracuse. D&D would explode onto the scene shortly and be quite commonly available, but hadn't quite yet.

I played with my dad when I started. I DMed, he played a Halfling Fighter named Mee the magnificent. I ran a corps of NPCs with names cribbed from across the spectrum of fantasy literature- Radigast the magic-user, Conan the thief and Lancelot the cleric come to mind immediately and somewhat perversely. I misinterpreted, misunderstood, extrapolated and house-ruled my way through DMing an entire campaign based on "B2:The Keep on the Borderlands" which had come with my boxed set. We had a good time, but it wasn't really my dad's cup of tea and he would only rarely play again over the next few years. Boot Hill, on the other hand, he played on and off until after I was out of high school as the leader of a notorious bandit gang that terrorized the south west and occasional lawman.

Next I found a couple of (slightly) older guys in my school that were into D&D. I befriended both and started playing with one, Chris, that lived about 5 miles from my house. He put together a group that played at each others houses. It lasted 2 sessions before collapsing and I never played with David, John or Pam again. Chris was a crazy compelling DM though and I played a few more times with him (and sometimes his younger brother Pat) before we stopped hanging out together. Chris had a difficult personality to deal with- over the years I would find this to be a disturbing trend in gamers.

As it happened the other older guy from school that DMed, Tim, moved much closer to me, about a mile from my house. I didn't know about this immediately because it happened during the summer, but shortly after school started I joined his campaign already in progress. Tim was the first really great DM I ever played with. Chris had been able to draw you into his setting, but it was always extremes with him- you died or you got super powerful. Tim managed to consistently provide interesting adventures, had "living" NPCs and something of an over all campaign arc. He did this sometimes 8 hours a day 7 days a week (in summers). Watching him taught me how to improvise a lot. Plan what you can, improvise the rest and be willing to steal ideas from any and all sources- not just genre.

He based his campaign in the town of Specularum in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, but aside from the map (kind of) and some names, this was his baby. Specularum was a city of thieves and, oddly, dwarves. Strangely, it was a small town not unlike the one we lived in, only direcly on the water instead of being inland a bit. There was one tavern- Borg's. Borg was a fat old Dwarf and the local thieves guild met in his basement or across the street at Andemon's armory. Borg's also doubled as a brothel and he had rooms to rent. We lived here between adventures drinking and whoring to our teen-aged heart's content. We were friends with the Bartender Ramh. When Will quit playing D&D his cleric became the priest of the village church. There was a pirate queen that stayed here too named Angela, that my character- a mighty Northman Fighter named Mandark the Barbarian(after the release of UA and the Barbarian class renamed Mandark the Wild) eventually married and semi-retired with. We bought the old ship yard down the street from Borg's and ran that as a business.

Tim's campaign ran for years usually 2 or 3 times a week during the school year and nearly every day during the summer (except when he was at his dad's) for about 5 years until he graduated from high school and went in the army. He house-ruled a lot (did away entirely with experience points, you leveled when he felt you earned it), he had an odd fixation with thieves and dwarves (and dwarven thieves), he was stingy with loot (particularly permanent magic items); but it was the longest running campaign I ever played in and one of the most enjoyable. I am not alone in feeling that way either- several of us veterans (Myself, Lance and Paul) from that campaign have tried playing together after that over the years with greater and lesser degrees of success, but we all agree that it hasn't really been the same.

Concurrent with Tim's campaign I was still running a game every now and again, sometimes to give Tim a break and sometimes because he was gone (usually to his dad's which wasn't really far away- just too far to walk or ride a bike) or with my neighbor Scott when I had some extra time. Scott played a halfling thief named Thorik and managed to make it up to 8th or 9th level before dieing being resurrected and then ultimately retiring. He was replaced briefly by a half-elf fighter/magic-user by the name of Rosmore. Lance showed up semi-regularly with his Paladin Bordan from Tim's campaign, or tested out new characters to see how he liked them- mostly thieves and assassins. As we got older Tim DMed less and I picked up the slack.

But now I have to back track a little, back to Junior High where I met and gamed with an entirely different group of people. I was sent to a different school than my local friends at home- one district away to the south-east; which gave me a broader spectrum of gaming friends. I started a D&D club there (and was it's president for my 2 years there) and met one of my best gaming buddies of all time, Darryl. We never actually seemed to play much D&D in that club- in 2 years I only remember playing 3 times, but it's where us D&D nerds were at and I occasionally gamed a little with them at off times, before school started in the morning, at lunch, or very quietly in the library during study hall. Darryl and I collaborated on the design of my campaign world, The World of Garnia, that I have used ever since- he drew the maps I still use as a basis for the layout of the countries and he adopted one of the cultures as his own-the Magocracy of Frodia and their patron god Frodal. We have both run very different versions of the campaign world at different times and we have occasionally run it as a shared campaign. For nearly 30 years it has been a mutual love and a bone of contention, we bounce ideas off of each other and we butt heads over it. My vision is largely the official one, but he has had a huge amount of input.

I had to backtrack there because my campaign is the semi-official focus of my blog and this first post is mostly about my history with D&D and AD&D, the World of Garnia started and grew with my experiences there. I read the 1st edition DM's Guide like it was holy scripture. I read Dragon with an eye towards being a better DM and developing my world. An article in Dragon said to infuse your world with realism- so I did. Make your dungeons have reason and purpose- done. Eventually the world started having a real feel to it. Every now and again a campaign would sputter out and I'd reboot the campaign into the future 50, 100, 500 years or occasionally to some less developed part of the past. Player actions and plot arcs from previous campaigns become history and legend in the new. New editions of the game required rebooting for the most part- done. I have played D&D, AD&D, 3.x, HackMaster and GURPS (and play-tested a home-brewed RPG) in Garnia. The earliest reboot was to back-story the existence of many races (a great multi-planar war) and to give the Human race a cultural touch-stone (Gaelic, later retconned to include Gauls, Britons and Pagan Anglo-Saxons and, eventually many more groups of humans that simply live in areas outside of the main campaign play area).

My campaign world has maybe a dozen pages of written history. When I started it in earnest I wrote it like a clone of the Greyhawk gazetteer, it was my only model for world design. I had a brief write up of each major country and a lot of really crappy heraldry. I wrote a pantheon of dieties- since mostly dropped from the setting in favor of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon gods. Mostly.

Enough for one day, I can't seem to stay on topic and most people could probably care less about my nostalgic trip.