Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Some thoughts on my 500th post

I tend to write down (or type out these days) partially thought out ideas and revisit them from time to time to see whether or not they still have merit, or if they need more polishing. Mostly this is just campaign notes and no one else ever sees them, sometimes they are rules ideas for my various unfinished works using the D&D rule set as base-line, universal gaming system covering a multitude of genres (thanks go out to Kevin Crawford, James Spahn, (and TSR) at least, off the top of my head, for proof of concept), but sometimes they become blog posts. My last blog post was number 499, and I thought I should have something special for number 500.

My first thought was some sort of retrospective, after all, it's taken me a long, long time to make it to 500 posts. I have considered just killing the blog in it's entirety in the past, but I've posted a lot of good stuff in there with the personal stuff and the filler-esque mail call type posts. I've weighed in on some of the issues of the day in the OSR, put up some really interesting ideas and felt a sense of community via my blog, and others out there that made me feel like I was part of something special, if only to a select few people. Plus, it's always disappointing when an OSR blog goes away. So I kept it up, even though I've had very few posts over the last few years.

Then I thought maybe I'd run a contest. I started doing that right before my sister died, and tried to keep some momentum up, but I faltered there and eventually failed. So I figured if I announced a contest now, I'd be fighting against my own reputation and it seems a little contrived at this point.

So I thought maybe some new gaming content? But my purely content posts have never been frequent, and were, if not poorly received, received little in the way of fanfare or comment.

Ultimately I decided to just post some of my thoughts that I'd been saving up, looking back at and trying to figure out what to do with, so here they are.


Swords & Wizardry Whitebox
Swords & Wizardry Core
Swords & Wizardry Complete
Full Metal Platemail
Delving Deeper
Iron Falcon

Holmes Basic-
Prentice Blueholme Rules

Basic Fantasy
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Labyrinth Lord
-Realms of Crawling Chaos
-Red Tide
-An Echo Resounding
Scarlet Heroes
Silent Legions
Starships & Spacemen

1st Edition AD&D-
I buy a lot of retroclones in print, I prefer to read books as opposed to pdfs on a screen. I usually buy them, look through them when I first get them, then give them an in depth read through only later, sometimes months or even years later. My wife says I have a retroclone addiction, maybe she's right. Some I get because I don't have the original game, like Swords & Wizardry (especially WhiteBox) and Delving Deeper for OD&D. I also keep buying games that emulate games that I own and play (or played at some time in the past), like OSRIC and Prentice Blueholme; and I have bought games that emulate games that I really didn't own or play back in the day, despite my owning the original, like Labyrinth Lord for B/X D&D. I also keep buying retroclones that have excellent production values like pretty much everything from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I have a lot of stuff for LotFP, over half or their catalogue in fact, including both Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown, just because I like where they are taking the game and they are so well made. I have a bunch of Labyrinth Lord compatible stuff too, for many of the same reasons. Kevin Crawford's work is inspired, and I like what he's done to and for B/X.

I have played S&W a couple of time is all though, and LL just once. Why? Some of them I've never played, hell, most of them- although I did use DD in conjunction with S&W for a game once. Scarlet Heroes I keep meaning to try out with my wife, because we both have the time now, but stuff just keeps happening, and I guess both of us are less than fully motivated.

My Campaign and Gaming Aesthetic or “One DM's Manifesto”-

I want to run a D&D or AD&D or clone of either for a group of people. Over the years my circle of friends that game has shrunk to really small levels. My wife, my kids (really just Ember, and John when he's home from college), a couple of adult friends and one younger guy that started gaming with my oldest daughter. I keep trying to recruit more, but I live in a pretty rural area and the weather sucks for roughly ½ the year. Keeping regular gaming going has been, and remains, a serious challenge. Scheduling alone is a serious game killer. I don't want to be too nostalgic for the good old days, but both making friends and finding potential gamers was so much easier back when I was young and the worst scheduling conflict, school, was shared by 90% of the group. There were times when I could not fit everyone around a single pretty large table, now I have trouble filling the seats at a card table on a regular basis. Anyway, a larger, more regular group would be nice, I really prefer campaign play to one-shots.

My primary influences for DMing are Robert E.Howard's Conan stories and their lesser derivatives, including Marvel Comics, and Glenn Cook's Black Company series. Secondary, but still important and in no particular order, are Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, Beowulf, Arthurian tales from a variety of authors (and I really loved the film Excalibur), the original Star Wars trilogy, Norse Mythology, Greco-Roman Mythology, Star Trek and History. Then we have a much larger body of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I like themes of good versus evil, and I like good, heroic characters in my games.

I prefer to use humans as the real monsters, and I like unique monsters when I do use them. Hordes of humanoids are so Tolkien and so 1980s. That, and a few other things make me a fan of LotFP.

I like actual role playing, people who speak in character and use their character's stated motivations for committing to a course of action. I like for their to be interaction between players and between players and the world. I don't like it when players complain about the “constraints” of the alignment system or try to rationalize or retcon their actions to not be an alignment breach. Alignment is a simple short hand for a character's world view and a role-playing tool.

Conversely, I like the mortality rate of early editions, it keeps players on their toes. I like people that use hirelings and retainers as God and Gary intended. I like players that use their brains to solve issues within the game.

The use of good tactics, clever spell use, and good resource management are good things that make me happy. There is a certain level of meta-gaming that I expect and maybe require from my players. D&D is the direct descendant of wargaming, and I feel we should both respect and embrace those roots. That said, gaming the system, finding the cheats and loop-holes annoys me.

I like the gold for XP mechanic, it keeps the game from devolving into a slug-fest. Not every encounter needs to be a combat encounter, managing to get the reward without wasting resources (Hit Points, Spells, Magic Items, etc) should be encouraged, not that a good combat isn't fun too.

The campaign should, ultimately, have an arc that leads to an end game. Strongholds, Domains, what-have-you are the end of the game. A PC should be able to become a political/military force in the world. You should be playing to win, even though “winning” is a long way off and is (usually) a cooperative thing.

I have never been a huge fan of Magic, I think it should be rare and wonderful, or the realm of the irredeemably corrupt. Pacts with evil forces, elder gods and the like are where most magic comes from in my mind. Good magic is the work of a very few uncorrupted wizards or that of the good people of the church. I like my Clerics to be Templar/Van Helsing hybrids rather than heal-bots and my Paladins (in games that have them) to be the chosen champions of the forces of good and light.

I don't like, and usually ban, evil characters. Rarely are they played well, and even when they are, that's not the kind of game I want to play. One time I saw a Lawful Evil ½ Orc Fighter/Assassin that wasn't a complete and total waste of time/campaign killer. The odds are against anyone that wants to be a bad guy in my campaigns even making it through the door.

I dislike when players complain about the game system being used, it's not about the rules, it's about the game. I use D&D in it's various forms, because I am extremely comfortable with it. I am the GM, I need to know the rules. You, as a player, need only be familiar with them to the point where you can play, at least at first, rules mastery is unnecessary in a player.

Vancian magic, it's a thing; argue about it's “realism” all you want, I don't have an issue with it. I think players that complain about having to choose their spells in advance are just not terribly good at playing spell-casters at best, and whiners at worst. I hate a whiner. Spell-casters are not my first choice when I am a player, but I have played them quite successfully in the past, sometimes just to show it could be done.

Demi-humans, semi-humans and humanoids. I am not a fan of them, I get that it's just not D&D to some people without them. I have, rarely, banned them and run a solely human campaign in the past, usually in a historical setting where they would have been inappropriate. I would happily play in a more “Swords & Sorcery” setting without any non-human PCs too. Dwarves, Elves, Halflings and Humans adventuring together is too Tolkien for my tastes these days.

I like a coherent setting. My Garnia campaign setting has been cooking for over 30 years now, not every element is suited to my current gaming tastes, but it is coherent as all get out, and I know it like the back of my hand- including apocryphal and alternate timelines.

I like randomness. I like it in character generation, 3d6 in order, play the character you roll. I'll tolerate 4d6 drop the lowest, arrange as desired, but I'd prefer that players play the PC they rolled, rather than the PC they dreamed up and then had to settle for (stat wise); coming to the table without preconceptions about what character you'll play is a plus there.

I like randomness for encounters too. I am not a fan of tailoring the world to the “challenge level” of the PCs, I think that players need to recognize that there are some things that you should run from. If you are a 3rd level party, even if you have a reasonable number of NPCs along in support roles, you should probably not expect to survive the onslaught of the hordes of Orcus en masse.

Situational modifiers- if I give you a number to aim for, the odds are good that I have already figured them in. I know the rules, I have over 30 years in the DM's seat, there is probably not a lot of advice I am going to need and you are just slowing down the action.

Also, not a fan of rules-lawyers. If you want a bunch of nit-picky BS play 3.x or Pathfinder; my D&D, and it's house rules and rulings, has the weight of experience and tradition behind it.

I like wilderness or overland adventures, hex-crawls even, but they are not static. I believe in a living campaign world. I usually have some primary movers and shakers in the world that will keep on doing their thing too, regardless of PC actions, unless those actions interact with the PCs or one of the other forces in the setting. This isn't to say that I am against dungeons, just that they are less common in my games than elsewhere, and they might be just ruined castles or abandoned mines. I like short, succinct location based adventures more than mega-dungeons.

Site based adventures are cool too. A site based adventure in my campaign might be a commando style raid on a castle, or infiltrating a thieves guild, or it could be an entrance to the hollow world or a trek to a lost city in a swamp or jungle somewhere.

My adventures often have a political bent to them. Politics and court intrigue happen, if not often, at least regularly. When I start a campaign I generally have an idea, and sometimes I completely map out, the major and minor factions in play, what their various agenda are, how they compete with each other and what the odds are of any given plot coming to fruition. Then the PCs are added to the equation.

When I figure out what a faction is, I figure out it's leader, it's goals, it's resources and it's allies. Is the faction overt or covert? Some factions have sub-factions, a good example being different orders within the same religion. My current project has the Duke (Political, Military Power, Wealthy, Overt), The Thieves Guild (Subversive, Wealthy, Covert) and the Dwarves (Racial, Wealthy, Seemingly Harmless) vying for power over a wealthy trading center. The Thieves Guild and the Dwarves are somewhat allied, with the Dwarves having completely infiltrated the Thieves Guild and subverted it subtly towards their own goals. The Duke's faction is unaware that the Dwarves are working as a group towards their own goals, or that they have infiltrated the Thieves Guild so thoroughly, and they consider the Thieves Guild to be less powerful than it really is. The Thieves Guild is more or less happy with the status quo in the city and enjoys having brought the Dwarven community so completely under their control. Clearly, the obvious power in town is the Dukes, digging around some will reveal the influence of the Thieves Guild, but you'd have to be pretty deep to even notice the Dwarves doing anything nefarious.

Minor factions, like the various church orders or the smuggling ring, support or are used by the bigger, more powerful factions. Some are involved with more than one faction, like the merchants, who support the Duke primarily, but have to deal with the Thieves Guild. Some factions are concentrated, usually the powerful ones, some are diffuse, like the merchants, who are a collection of like minded individuals more than an organized group. Maybe one day they'll organize and then they'll wield real power.

Factions might be powerful in one area and weak in another. The Duke is powerful throughout the duchy, the Thieves Guild primarily in the city. Factions might believe they are more powerful than they actually are, like the Duke in a barony contemplating rebellion.