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Monday, August 31, 2015

RPG a day

Just to keep in practice, but I am doing them all at once, because I am a rebel-

Forthcoming game I am most looking forward to:
I can't really think of any game that isn't out yet, that I have heard of that I want- so I am going to say the print copies of White Star.

Kickstarted game I am most pleased I backed:
I don't actually do a lot of Kickstarters. I got burned by the Up Front Kickstarter, and my disposable income has dropped significantly since my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I am going to say anything from Kevin Crawford.

Favorite new game of the last 12 months:
James Spahn's White Star, hands down.

Most surprising game:
Again, White Star. I was surprised by how much I loved it, and by how inspired I was by it. I have a couple of different settings for it that I am tinkering with, nothing I can publish (copyrighted IP), and I may not end up ever playing in them (too little time, too few players), but I was still surprised at how much this game affected me.

Most recent RPG purchase:
The Spectre King for the Pendragon game.

Most recent RPG played:
Labyrinth Lord, before I moved. I had decided to run a session of Stonehell with the system it was statted for.

Favorite free RPG:
Delving Deeper- but this was a toss up between retroclones. OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry were all in the running too, and maybe on a different day one of them would have been picked, but today it's Delving Deeper.

Favorite appearance of RPGs in the media:
I can't really think of any, odd question, pass.

Favorite media you wish was an RPG:
Falling Skies?

Favorite RPG publisher:
TSR, they gave us D&D. But for extant companies, I am going to go with New Big Dragon Games.

Favorite RPG writer:
E. Gary Gygax, but for living authors I'll pick Richard Leblanc.

Favorite RPG illustration:
Tough call, too many to choose from, old TSR stuff, OSR stuff, other games and companies. I always was fond of Twilight 2000's photo realistic style. “A Paladin in Hell” is certainly evocative and inspirational, as is pretty much anything by Trampier or Otus- in different ways.

Favorite RPG podcast:
I really don't listen to podcasts with any regularity.

Favorite RPG accessory:
What popped immediately to mind was the Kara-Tur boxed set, but when I think about it, I haven't really used it all that much, I used the module OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” way more. I haven't actually spent enough time using any new stuff to properly assess their utility, but I'd like to say the “d30 sandbox companion” or the “Wilderness Alphabet” .

Longest campaign played:
I'd have to say Tim McDougal's Specularum based 1st edition AD&D campaign from the 1980s was the longest running, and probably the most often played campaign I ever played in. I DMed a pretty long running campaign concurrent with that, mostly 1-on-1 with my next door neighbor Scott Whitmore, but Tim's played more often.

Longest game session played:
A 1-on-1 week long Oriental Adventures sandbox with my friend Darryl Cook when we were 18 I think. I think I was unemployed at the time and he had a week's paid vacation. We holed up in my bedroom at my parent's house and never stopped for more than about 3 hours time to nap, which we did maybe 7 or 8 times in 7 days. We ate at the game table, and only had 2 or 3 15 minute (at most) bathroom breaks. He played a Kensai and kept really good notes about the whole game, I had those notes for like a decade after that. I eventually lost them, probably in a move.

Favorite Fantasy RPG:
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition, pre-Unearthed Arcana (but including Oriental Adventures). Runners up- 2nd edition AD&D and B/X D&D.

Favorite SF RPG:
West End Games d6 Star Wars. Runners up- FASA's Star Trek, Twilight 2000 (1st edition) and Gamma World (early 1980's edition).

Favorite Supers RPG:
TSR's Marvel Super Heroes.

Favorite Horror RPG:
Vampire: The Masquerade. I lost OSR cred there, but I stand by it, as it brought way more people. especially women, to the hobby. I was in college when it hit and the RPG scene exploded.

Favorite RPG setting:
I am assuming published, so I am going to go with 43AD. I know it's a stand alone game, but it's really just a setting book for Zozer Game's d6 RPG system. Plus, since I worked on it, I am intimately familiar with it- a real bonus. Otherwise, probably a tie between B/X D&D's “The Known World” AKA “Mystara” and EGG's own “World of Greyhawk”.

Perfect gaming environment:
A large table with comfortable chairs, good lighting, a small side table for the GM. Temperature at a comfortable level (AC in summer, heat in winter- these have been an issue in the past), snacks & drinks easily accessible. Nearby bathroom facilities. Bookshelves stocked with RPGs and their accessories are a plus. No distractions nearby- TV, radio, computer, etc. Handicapped accessible would be nice too. Most places I have gamed have met most of these criteria, few meet all.

Favorite house rule:
I don't know if it's my favorite, but it certainly is the most widely utilized among gamers I have played with- the nearly universal natural 20 equals a double damage critical hit. How the critical hit is applied has some minor variation- I double the number of damage dice, then add any applicable bonuses (Strength, Magic), other people just roll the normal damage dice and then double it, some people double bonuses too. Runners up include the d30 rule and “Shields Shall Be Splintered”, but they are forgotten too often at the table, and the 4d6 drop the lowest die x7, drop the lowest total, arrange as desired stat rolling system.

Favorite revolutionary game mechanic:
a 3 way tie of good rules from the 3rd edition era- the 3 saving throw system, the critical threat-hit system, and ascending AC. I don't use them but I recognize their excellence.

Favorite inspiration for my game:
History, followed by literature from various historical periods(Norse Sagas, Chansons des Geste), followed by historical fiction (I am a big fan of Simon Scarrow's Macro & Cato series, Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome, and there are several series about vikings I like.), followed by myth, folklore and legend, then lastly fantasy and science fiction literature (I really liked Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, Dorothy Heydt's “A Point of Honor”, Deborah Turner Harris's “Caledon of the Mists” and it's sequels, of course Robert E. Howard's Conan and more). They are all pretty tightly tied together for me. I guess movies and TV are pretty inspirational to me too, HBO's Rome was excellent, History Channel's Vikings ranges from OK to good. Gaming fiction I find next to useless as inspiration, as it is usually pretty uninspired itself. GURPS has some excellent supplements- Vikings, Imperial Rome, Celtic Myth, Middle Ages. There are quite a few books on adventure design that are pretty good whether you use the tables or not- Wilderness and Dungeon Alphabets, Tome of Adventure Design, even TSR's DM's Cookbook.

Favorite idea for merging 2 games into 1:
There's a special hell in which I have served too much time. Genre mashing is sometimes OK, system mashing usually is not.

Favorite game I no longer play:
I could be a smart-ass and say AD&D, just because I haven't got a new game going since I moved, but I'll go with Pendragon instead. I haven't played that since the 1980's. Every now and again I buy new stuff for it, but I never play.

Favorite RPG website or blog:
Tough call, I read a lot of gaming blogs, OSR blogs mainly, and each of them I have a good reason for reading. Commentary, content, or news; they're all pretty important to me in their own ways.

Favorite RPG playing celebrity:
I haven't played with any of them, and I don't know any personally, but I guess I'd have to go with Vin Diesel. The man preaches the gospel of gaming.

Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of gaming:
My marriage. I met my wife because of gaming nearly 25 years ago, started dating roughly 22 years ago and we've been together ever since. Most of my oldest friends I met through gaming too, so here's a shout out to my buddy Darryl- we met at the junior high D&D club in the fall of 1981.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

1st edition AD&D

I don't think it's a secret that my favorite D&D is AD&D- 1st edition, from back in the days when you didn't need to quantify your edition. It seems to me that most OSR folk remember AD&D fondly but prefer OD&D or B/X. They certainly have encouraged me to give both of them a try, and, by and large, I have enjoyed it. AD&D is pretty much where the “power creep” between editions started, I get that, but I still can't think “Fighter” without thinking 1d10+CON bonus/level HP; decades of playing and DMing have drilled this into me. 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. There are, doubtless, other examples, that was just off the top of my head.

I just ordered a “new” 1st edition AD&D book from Lulu- “The Lost Handbook” a compilation of AD&D articles from “The Strategic Review” and “The Dragon”. “The Lost Handbook” is over 500 pages of “new” AD&D material, much of it new to me anyway, and for what isn't it saves me having to dig through my back issues of Dragon to find stuff, probably the best $14.28 I've spent in a long, long time.


I also just realized that I don't actually own a “complete” set of 1st edition AD&D hardcovers. I never owned, and only skimmed through my friend Darryl's, a copy of the “Manual of the Planes”, nor have I ever owned, or even skimmed through a copy of “Dragonlance Adventures”. I understand the latter, I always loathed Dragonlance; but the former was most likely an oversight or something. I was never really all that interested in planar adventures, and, as I recall, it seemed pretty technical. I guess I'll look for copies of both now though, just because I am a perfectionist when it comes to the completeness of my hoard.


That said, I own and have read through a few other AD&D books that I have had pretty minimal use for, “Greyhawk Adventures”, “Wilderness Survival Guide” and “Dungeoneers Survival Guide”. Each of them are of limited utility, in my opinion. I have seen partisans for the two survival guides, particularly the one I like the least, “Wilderness Survival Guide”, to each their own I guess. Maybe it's that I bought these books long after the 1st edition era, all within the last five or six years, so I don't have any fond nostalgia for them.

“Greyhawk Adventures” suffers from little to no use primarily because I don't run a Greyhawk campaign. I like the concept of 0-level characters, but I have never used the rules. I guess the new spells might be OK, again never used them. The Greyhawk deities were of no use to me by the time it was published.

That being said, I also have little use for, and general disdain for “Unearthed Arcana”. I am a bigger fan of “Unearthed Arcana” than the aforementioned tomes, just because it has some redeeming qualities- new spells and items, demi-human deities although I don't think I have ever seen them in play. I don't totally hate the concept of Hierophant Druids, although I've never seen them in play. I think we can all agree that Cavaliers and Barbarians are an abomination. I am, in theory, favor of Weapon Specialization for single classed Fighters, but I have seen that some OSR people hate it. I can honestly say I rarely use(d) any of this book, probably because I didn't actually own it until, roughly, the 2nd edition era. My friends Darryl and Lance each owned a copy, which I could borrow from either one of them whenever I wanted, so I just put off buying a copy. I did think it was curious that it was given the Premium Edition reprint treatment, if I'd been WotC I'd've likely just reprinted the core three books.

“Oriental Adventures” is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a book. I love it, warts and all, but I can see why a lot of people don't. This was the only AD&D book I pre-ordered at my FLGS (at least as local as it got for a country boy like me)- the late and much lamented “Twilight Book and Game Emporium” in Syracuse, New York. The rose-colored glasses of nostalgia are in full effect for me, OA rejuvenated waning interest in AD&D, and RPGs in general, for my group back in '85. I have heavily modified the character classes and the non-weapon proficiency sub-system for play over the years, but I still love it and I think OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” is maybe the best sandbox ever released by TSR.


Aside from OA, I was always pretty much a “core books” kind of a guy, “Monster Manual”, “Players Handbook” and “Dungeon Masters Guide”, sometimes with “Deities & Demigods” added for when religion entered the game in anything other than it's “Yeah, my Cleric has a Deity” kind of a way. “Fiend Folio” and “Monster Manual II” were kind of under utilized too I guess. This probably stems from my introduction to (A)D&D- Holmes Basic→AD&D and the X half of B/X concurrently, and all of them within no more then eighteen months of each other, as I was learning the game. I played D&D for the first time in early 1981 (I just checked, it was the week after I saw the movie “Excalibur” in the theater, which was right after it came out). I distinctly remember “Fiend Folio” being the new book. “Monster Manual II” came out around the same time as “Unearthed Arcana” and “Oriental Adventures” in 1985, so I really remember those being new books, and, while new books had their novelty value, most of us in my neck of the woods stuck to the tried and true- MM, PH & DMG.

I have to wonder what my experience would have been if I'd found that boxed set a year or two earlier, or been introduced to D&D via B/X. I remember finding a book store, after I'd discovered (Holmes Basic) D&D and already moved on to AD&D, where I spotted the original D&D books. It was in a mall we never went to, I tried to hunt down my mom and dad to get them to buy them for me- but when I found them they decided it was time to go. I never saw any of those OD&D books again until I spotted them on the internet. After I moved on to AD&D and realized there was a distinction at all, I had nothing but disdain for Basic. I never owned a Moldvay Basic set until I started reading about how great it was on OSR blogs and grabbed on off Ebay, despite the fact that I freely used my Cook/Marsh Expert set all the time, at least until 2nd edition AD&D came out. The only Mentzer set I bought was the Companion set, and only because it had the War Machine rules that were hyped in Dragon at the time.

Now that I look back on it, that was kind of odd behavior for me. I bought pretty much every TSR boxed set I could afford, when I could find them- “Boot Hill”, “Dawn Patrol”, “Marvel Super Heroes” and their minigames too. I was an early to mid 1980's TSR fanboy, except when my AD&D snobbery kept me from buying into the D&D product line (for the most part, I did pick up a lot of D&D stuff when Kaybee Toys periodically purged the D&D stuff from their shelves, since it was so cheap and compatible with AD&D).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

OK, maybe it wasn't the last blog post.

I have a couple of different campaign worlds I am working on right now. One of them is my 30+ year old world that I have worked on and run games in since I was in junior high- my Garnia campaign. I have worked on it with my BFF Darryl since the early 1980s. We have both run games there. We have both contributed significantly to the canon. Originally I was the idea guy and he was the cartographer, but that fell by the wayside almost immediately when I outsourced several lengthy eras of history to him so we could have back story; which, as I recall, was a bit of advice from an old article in The Dragon. We're older and better at writing now, both of us have taken a lot of college level history. I was a history major with a minor in medieval and renaissance studies. I forget what he did as an undergrad, but I know he was working on a masters in US history at one point. So I have tons of material, mostly in my brain, but a lot of it written out, that I could share. Garnia started out as a pretty generic D&D (AD&D) world, and it still is, but it has a lot of historical baggage added on too. So it makes me feel a little constrained when it comes to creating for it, and I am not sure that a lot of it would translate well to other campaign settings, as it is a heavily Celtic influence world (with a few other cultures thrown in around the world for diversity).

Then I have my new “Shattered Empire” setting that I started writing last December or maybe January. I started writing that world as a more D&D-ish setting for my (then) new Swords & Wizardry campaign. The campaign kind of went on hiatus while my wife was in the hospital and getting radiation, then we moved across the state, so I don't actually have a play group anymore. But I kept right on writing stuff up for it, I was inspired and it's all new and shiny to me. I started writing it up for Swords & Wizardry Complete, used Delving Deeper as another sourcebook for inspiration and played one session of Labyrinth Lord there, so I am pretty sure it works for any OSR game, or the original D&D (or AD&D) game. This was the elevator pitch emailed to my players-

My primary working thesis is that I want this to feel like 1970’s D&D, something I was only there for the tail end of. So I jumped in and did some research on 0e and it’s retroclones Swords & Wizardry and Delving Deeper.

What I came out of that with was that 0e was just as much about science fantasy as it was about swords and sorcery, there are Androids, Cyborgs and Robots on the monster lists. Gygax, Arneson and crew didn’t limit themselves to just standard fantasy fare. “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” was not a fluke, it was fairly standard for the game at the time. So too was the almost forgotten art of the (mostly randomly designed) mega-dungeon.

There is a strong “Arthurian” vibe to the overland encounters. Randomly you will almost certainly be challenged to a joust by some knight or other noble, just to prove yourself. There is an entire separate rules section covering jousting, something pretty much lacking from later editions.
Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” was a much larger influence than Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”; all Gygax seems to have lifted from Tolkien’s work were the Hobbits, Ring-Wraiths and Ents. Honestly, pulp fantasy and sci-fi elements are practically exuded from the games metaphorical pores.
Early D&D was set in a post-apocalyptic world, not necessarily post-nuclear holocaust (although it could be), but like a fantasy version of Europe in the period immediately after the fall of the Western Roman empire.

In retrospect, my own style of DMing tends to amplify the weird, post-apocalyptic tone of early D&D.
So I started working on a campaign world that would reflect these ideas and I first came up with the city of Dusk, then Helltown. Here, in this setting, you will find Sir Thomas Mallory, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, an abundance of pulp era science fiction and a curious bit of actual history. Feudal lords and noble knights abound in the rural areas, evil priests and sorcerers scheme everywhere, the cities are invariably decadent and corrupt, noble savages batter the ramparts of civilization, but so too do armies of Undead, and the lands between the civilized areas are untamed, howling, primeval wilderness filled with nature spirits, savages, monstrous creatures and demonic hordes. “

Would you play a game in this setting?

Anyway, it's been a lot of fun to write stuff for, and I think that stuff I wrote for this setting would need not too much tweaking to fit most people's campaigns. So the only thing stopping me from starting my new blog now is lack of a cool name. I am wracking my brain to find something that says something that reflect both my personality and the flavor I am going for. No more ramblings; concise, content oriented, OSR.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Final Blog Post?

I have finally entered the end stages of moving to my new home in Waverly, NY. This has been a long and somewhat tiring process that involved staying for nearly a month at my in-law's house while we waited for our new house to open up, followed by 2 trips back to Oswego county to get our stuff from storage. We still have some stuff up there at the property we own, but it's all stuff I can wait another couple of weeks or so to get. The important stuff is here, and we're slowly unpacking it and setting things up properly.

I haven't had any of my gaming stuff until now, nor have I had my computer set up until recently, so I haven't worked on anything game related (or played any games) for some time. I have been kind of itching to write something, right before I moved I banged out a bunch of character classes for Samurai! (my AD&D OA homage).

I have also been thinking about retiring this blog and starting another, more focused blog. I have a couple of reasons for this- 1st, this blog hasn't seen a lot of action for a few years, since my sister died and I'd hate to have it just be me coming back every 6 months or so to try and restart it. 2Nd, I am at a different place in my life now than I was when I was writing this blog. I had 3 kids at home, a semi-regular gaming group of fairly consistent regular players and I'd been living in the same area for the better part of my life. I was still kind of active as an SCA heavy fighter. Now I have 1 kid at home full-time, and she's going to start college next year. I don't have any gaming buddies within easy driving distance, and I really only know my wife's family here (and not all of them- I discovered that my mail carrier is my wife's uncle, her father's younger brother, today when he dropped off a package). I am much more focused on creating gaming content than I was before, most of my old blog posts are reminiscing about the good old days, seeing what cool stuff I got in the mail and after game reports.

I am thinking about having a new blog that is really heavy on the game content, stuff you can take and drop into an existing campaign for the most part- magic items, encounters, NPCs, locations, etc. I have a lot more experience writing now than I did then and my lovely wife Mona is on-board to illustrate anything I write up. I might start a 1-page zine like Christian even, although I haven't decided yet. I mostly want to get some content flowing through my blog so I can try new stuff out before I polish it up for release through Great Khan Games on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow. I also have some new campaign ideas I'd like to present for people to use since it doesn't look terribly likely that I'll be DMing anytime soon. I hate to see good ideas go to waste.