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Monday, March 26, 2012

What I did over the weekend.

Pictured- a Nieuport 17, what the French were flying against us Saturday.

First off, my dad turned 69 on the 23rd so I was planning on having a small family celebration of that birthday on Friday and my brother was going to come home from New Hampshire on Thursday evening, but he had car trouble on the way back and canceled the trip home until next month. That cleared my Friday evening, because my mom decided to roll my dad's birthday celebration dinners from two separate occasions; one with family on Friday, and one with friends on Sunday, into just one on Sunday, but it did mean that I was going to be cut short on Sunday. I ended up just watching Star Trek with my kids on Friday night.

On Saturday I picked up Dalton and we headed over to Big Darryl's house for some Dawn Patrol. I had spoken with Little Darryl on the phone and we thought it best that we try and modify our completely random set up to something a little less random because the French hadn't had a chance to fly yet and Big Darryl hadn't played any pilot but Junior O'Brien and needed to start playing a different pilot off his roster. When I got there Big Darryl agreed that this was fair and reasonable, so we rolled a d4 and advanced the war 2 days from the last time. Big Darryl drew a German, which we had agreed upon, and the rest of us chose randomly. The teams were even this time because John had too much homework over the weekend. I randomly drew a German mission and got paired with Big Darryl, he got a bombing mission and I got a photo-recon, we decided that my mission was to photograph the bombing run he made. The French were a Fighter patrol in Nieuport 17s. I'll be damned if I can remember what the German 2-seaters were. I am bad with German 2-seaters I guess, I even made a note, and then left the note there.

So, Dawn Patrol 8 FEB 1917-

Vizefeldwebel Albert Klaussen was my pilot, my only surviving original German pilot, flying the same plane he flew last time. We never named his observer, but I think we should, so I am going to start calling him Gunter Schmidt, Gunter sees more action than Albert does usually, he fires his gun more often anyway. I am not going to lie here, I am getting pretty sick of playing missions where one side gets Fighter aircraft and the other gets a photo-recon mission or, in this case, a bombing run, and then runs for home being chased by the other side. When I go to play Dawn Patrol I go to do some dogfighting, not to fly straight and level for six spaces and then turn around and run for home, only dogfighting when I have to, or, in my case, because I am an aggressive player who will fight even when at a disadvantage.

This game came off as a German victory, the bombing run was successful, so was the photography run, there were a couple of things not covered in the rules though that made for a bit of tension at the game table between the two Darryls, both of them take the game, all gaming actually, pretty damned seriously, and not having a rule to cover a situation, or having a rule not adequately simulate reality really bothers them; and they don't really make rulings easily on the fly. Darryl Junior chased his dad all the way back to the German airfield and fired on him as he was on his final approach to land, which I didn't think was cool in 1917, a faux pas. Darryl Senior was frustrated at flying the 2-seater in the first place, hated being completely outmatched by the Nieuport 17 and was just trying to end the scenario; he lined up bad for his landing with a crosswind because he didn't want to be shot at for another turn or two and ended up crashing and destroying his plane, but both the pilot and the observer survived, unwounded.

I stayed in the air for a little longer, the battle had devolved into two separate dogfights, Darryl versus Darryl and me versus Dalton; it was only the second time he's ever played, but he's smart and a quick learner, and he had a fighter against my 2-seater; so it's not really as bad as it sounds, I wasn't picking on him. He made a couple of mistakes, but they were survivable, minor ones. In the end, our fight was inconclusive and he broke off the engagement over German territory, I landed safely, mission accomplished.

Still, I was slightly unsatisfied with the game, we decided next time we're going to play a meeting of fighter patrols, someone will almost certainly start getting some kills there. I am pretty sure that the lack of kills is what pushed Little Darryl so hard after his dad. My British pilot has one kill in game play from last time, it's a fluke, I scored three lucky engine hits in one shot on an already damaged engine. As a wargamer I thought I'd never say this, but it might be nice if Darryl and his dad dialed it back a notch or two and took it a little less seriously, nobody's life is really at stake here, it's just a game, it's scaring the new gamers. I was also a little annoyed at how long the game is still taking to play, the only reason, after set up, that we ever have to look things up in the book is for the maneuvers and they are just charted out on pages 5 and 6, I think; yet it still took us something like four hours to play through on small engagement. I looked this up on, this game usually plays in 45-90 minutes with 4-10 players. In the old days the game never used to take this long to play, we'd play three or four games in a day of gaming.

Which brings me to another small issue I am having with playing with Big Darryl in particular, he is an Air Force veteran and an airplane guy, he loves air combat games and is good at them, he has a lot of them. He also wants to Frankenstein them all together into a supergame and he's done it before. When I was a teenager and he was incrementally adding rules from other games to Dawn Patrol it was OK, it was one rule at a time, but in the end we were playing a completely different game that just happened to use Dawn Patrol counters because they were pretty. It was a complex mess of rules that I am pretty sure only Big Darryl completely understood, if even he did. It had phased movement based on speed, like Star Fleet Battles, and Pass-Through Attacks, that I think he invented, and spotting rules from Richtofen's War or Flight Leader? I kind of sucked at that game and I am pretty good at this one.

Big Darryl is lamenting the fact that everything that was wrong with this game he already fixed, even though we already agreed we were going to play this game, rules as written, until we were all up to speed and agreed to make any changes. Those are two conditions, the first has about been met, as far as I am concerned I am not really in favor of the second; altering the core of the game is a bad thing in my book, I am OK with well thought out house rules that enhance the exiting game, like maybe a random table for determining the anti-aircraft defense strength around a bombing target, which would have been useful on Saturday, but fundamental changes to the core system I am more reticent to make.

I went looking to see if there were any errata for Dawn Patrol on the internet, I knew it was a long shot, since it was a TSR game published in 1983, but if it was available it might cut down on some of the low grade rules bickering that has been going on. I didn't find any, but I did find the Fight in the Skies society and a couple of different FitS/Dawn Patrol sites with some pretty nice house rules and proposed rules for the (ostensibly) forthcoming 8th edition of the game. I will most likely be joining the FitS Society if we continue to play, but I am going to need to find my, once again AWOL copy of Dawn Patrol and start playing a bit here too. The lads need some more experience playing and I may be able to draw in some more players, if I can teach them the rules and get them playing in a less intense environment than at Big Darryl's.


Sunday, before my dad's (belated) birthday dinner, we got most of my D&D group together and decided to scrap the Cornwall setting. It was fun, but between missing 3 sessions and the dreadful historical novel I read to help me prepare for the setting I was losing interest and the game had lost momentum. So I pitched my "Vikings found a colony on a magical island in the North Atlantic" idea, and it was met with universal favor. We hammered out a few details during this organizational meeting, we're sticking with B/X, but I am modifying it to fit the setting. I am going to pregenerate the initial PCs, more than are needed and let the players pick from them, I have had a lot of success with starting games off in a more "Tournament" style approach before, I make the PC up with it's name and stats and equipment on one page, then after it gets picked I give out a page that gives a paragraph maybe about the personality of the character, and a sentence or two about their relationship to each other (possible) PC in the group. It's possible that I am a setting nazi, but I like this approach with more historical settings, it means I get to give them setting appropriate names and equipment and even motivations and attitudes for role-playing purposes.

I haven't settled on a hard date for the campaign yet, my gut tells me earlier is better, but I also want the cosmopolitan Vikings from everywhere possibility and I have in mind a table, like the Dawn Patrol beginning Pilots table, that will let me easily generate backgrounds for NPCs that arrive after game start or new PCs after the initial settler PCs start to die off. In Dawn Patrol our French Squadron has an American and two Serbs. I was thinking that all of the initial PCs here would be from Norway, but as the awesome finds and riches of this island spread it's fame, more Viking adventurers could come, mostly from the west, Norway and Denmark (maybe with subtables for which region of Norway or Denmark?), maybe Iceland or England's Danelaw (if I set it late enough), or the other Atlantic islands inhabited by the Norse- the Orkneys, Faeroes, and Hebrides, or Ireland, Scotland and Man (vast tracts of those countries are controlled by the Norsemen, again depending on how late we start this), or even Normandy (latest start). Give less a chance to be an easterner, and you could be a Swede, or Rus. I was also thinking that there might be a small chance of a foreigner joining the group, easy for the Irish or English, but could extend to even Greeks, Arabs or Cumans or, if we go really late, American Indians or Inuit.

I am mostly using the 2nd edition Viking Campaign Sourcebook as a guide for this, but I also have GURPS Vikings and Runequest Vikings to look through for inspiration. I kind of wish I still had the old D&D Gazetteer for Ostland, Vestland and the Soderfjord Jarldoms, since I am playing B/X that would probably be the most helpful from a rules standpoint. Did it have Rune Magic? I am thinking mostly the modification of B/X is going to entail dropping the non-Human classes, but I may just add them as human class variants, like I have seen done on some other blogs, or replace them with more Viking appropriate classes, like Berserker or Rune-Caster; I haven't decided yet. Clerics and Magic-Users are a tough call too at this point, because the setting idea is that magic ONLY works on this island.

That being said, the first time I ever ran a Viking D&D campaign it was before the Viking campaign sourcebook came out, and I'd never seen either of the other books; I used the standard AD&D classes of the day and just kind of Nordicized everything and it worked pretty well. Some of the same people will even be playing, and if I get to run more than one night a week, maybe more of the same old group; Lance and Darryl won't play together anymore, it's a long story, but mostly just boils down to the two of them not meshing together well and me not being able to get my separate groups of friends with the same interests to be able to get along with each other.

Hopefully this campaign won't be stillborn, I kind of want to use it as a gate-way for the Norsemen to get to Garnia. I talked about that a bit on my other blog.

Thieves Too!

The last thing that's been on my mind over the weekend is the Thief, the biggest dick class. I think I have finally figured out why though. The name of the class says "If you are a player that wants to screw over the rest of the party, play a Thief!". I know Conan was a Thief for a good portion of his career, but a lot of D&D players never read Conan, or Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser*, or even Thieves World with Shadowspawn, so, even though AD&D doesn't come out and say "Steal from your party", it does mention that most Thieves tend to be Evil and they see things like the drawing of the shirtless Thief robbing somebody at knife point in the 1st edition Players Handbook right under Thieves XP table, or the "There is no honor among Thieves" drawing in the alignment description section of the Dungeon Masters Guide and they assume that's the code of conduct for Thief characters. The Moldvay Basic book comes right out and says it " their name indicates, however, they do steal- sometimes from members of their own party". Dr. Holmes states a little more bluntly in their class description "Thieves are never truly Good and are usually referred to as Neutral or Evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master's Monsters.". When you couple this with the fact that they have that Pick Pockets skill, what are they going to do? Screw the party, that's what they're going to do. They don't have to, they level faster than every other party member, so stealing the gems or some extra gold so the get bonus XP they don't have to share is just damned greedy, but they do it because they can, the system encourages them to.

So I got to thinking about this, if D&D is fantasy F-ing Vietnam, then Thieves are like the Tunnel Rats, or SF or some kind of specialized warrior minus the name-tag and the Pick Pockets ability; because when you think about it, what else have they got? Find and Remove Traps? That's a pretty awesome and helpful ability to have in a party, very Tunnel Rat-esque too. Move Silently? Also damned handy and kind of militarily helpful, in a stealthy commando style. Hide in Shadows, same thing. Hear Noise, again, same thing. Climb Walls, again, same thing. Open Locks is the only iffy one there, and I can see an argument for it being a militarily useful skill, or at worst, an espionage type skill**. Even their Backstab ability is a pretty bad-ass commando type ability, so these guys could have been called something else and saved us all years of intra-party conflict and douchebaggery.

I guess not every D&D Thief needed to be played like a raging douche, they could have been played as though they were modeled on Indiana Jones, he displays pretty much every single Thief skill (including Read Languages that I didn't mention because I was reading them out of the Moldvay Basic book and the Holmes Basic book when I listed them), but sadly, no, he's an Archaeologist, not a Thief (although that's a subtle distinction depending on when and where you are and who you ask); all I know is I'd rather have Indy in my party or a Tunnel Rat from 'Nam than any damned Thief, even if it is Conan. Conan occasionally screwed over his party***.

*I haven't for instance.

**Which brings me to the sad slippery slope argument that Pick Pockets makes for a great espionage type skill too. Maybe it would work if the Class wasn't called Thief and didn't have all of those references towards stealing from your own party and tending toward Evil.

***To be fair, if memory serves, they were usually Thieves that were planning on screwing him over, but you have to be careful about the company you keep.