Saturday, June 28, 2008

Role-Playing Games and Heavy Metal


There's some talk about this going around lately, and it's interesting how closely people associate the two.

I personally find the relationship entirely coincidental, and also find it maddening that when talking about heavy metal, a lot of role-players (and I'm talking the traditional crew that I'd be more associated with) have heavy metal knowledge that's functionally equivalent to someone in role-playing that's only ever played 3.x or 4e and has never even read through the rules of older editions.

LotFP was about heavy metal before I thought to enter the RPG writing arena. We do (well, did, things are going kind of... slow there) long-form essays concerning the nature of heavy metal. If you're interested in the form, you need to see some things.

There was my Scum essay, released in 2005 (you might be most interested in the section on lyrics, which talks about fantasy and D&D. Forgive me grouping Tolkien as "sword and sorcery," as spending time on that sort of literary taxonomy was besides the point of the article at hand). That attracted the attention of the academic Mr. Burns, who penned two longform essays (with his research sources noted!) of his own in 2006: Impure Metal: How Underground Heavy Metal Became Mainstream Heavy Music, and False Metal: The Financial and Farcical Return of Heavy Metal. Hits to those pages and pdf downloads of the essays number in the tens of thousands.

(We had some fun... after Impure Metal, Decibel mag took to taking shots at him and LotFP for being "too tr00," and so Burns took them apart, piece by well-researched piece in False Metal. They stopped talking about us after that.)

Tell me there are no similarities between that and the current theorizing happening concerning the nature of "old school" versus "new school" RPGs. I dare you.

This might also explain why I'm such an angry and bitter old fuck. Everything I enjoy started as a grassroots movement that accidentally became successful, and has since been co-opted by businessmen who bury the traditions that built their cash cows in order to sell to whatever the latest trend is in their industry.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Media Influences

So much has been said about the literary influences of D&D.

Now that's all great for the theorists, historians, pundits, and commentators.

But what about the influences of the individual campaign?

You know, when referees sit down to design their campaigns and adventures, I really don't think they are wondering if they're staying true to the influences of the game. Obviously someone well-versed in those influences is going to internalize them and they'll show through to some degree no matter what, but I think a referee's choices can make it perfectly clear what's influencing them, what drives them to create and go through the bother to run a game for other people in the first place.

So... I challenge the role-playing blogosphere (and I know you are reading... :P) to name the primary influences in your personal game, so we get a flavor not of what set of rules you decide to use, but what kind of game people can expect to play with you! Minimum five. No maximum. Plus include what people might assume influences you that you actually reject. Bonus points for detail and explanation!


Dario Argento This guy's work is awesome. Even when he's bad, he's evocative, and when he's good, he's great. His films combine dreamy fairy tales, brutal and explicit violence, murder mysteries, and often odd sexual situations. I mean, what kind of sick freak writes and directs a scene with his daughter getting violently raped? ay ay ay. But the sense of wonder in films like Suspiria and Phenomena, the complete mind-freak of Inferno, and the classic whodunit? of Tenebrae and Deep Red... And I'll be honest, when I imagine the set-pieces that I set up, I imagine them in the rich colors and sweeping tracking shots that are an Argento trademark.

Edgar Allan Poe The master, above all others, ever. Description and atmosphere galore. Fall of the House of Usher. Ligeia. Masque of the Red Death. Murders in the Rue Morgue. Just, everything. Everything, even his journalistic essay about furniture, causes the brain to blossom and expand in ways that modern writing just doesn't do. ahhhh, when I describe locations and try to impart atmosphere into an adventure for my players, I am attempting (and badly failing, I might add) to channel Poe. And his poem Alone, awesomely turned into music by Arcturus, could have been written about me.

HP Lovecraft Of course. Isn't it too obvious to say this? Dark and dreaming and uncaring gods beyond the understanding of mortal man. It's important that adventurers in D&D never feel at home in the lightless, foreboding places they explore, or else the essence and atmosphere of the setting is lost. The dark gods are the dark gods. They have no stats, no motivation, no physical presence. They just inspire insane cultists to perform sadistic and blasphemous deeds in their name. And their places of worship will drive you insane. It doesn't matter if you're first level or thirtieth, when you are on the turf of the gods, all you are is a pesky little mortal. Did that shadow in the corner just move? Oh sh--

Jules Verne and HG Wells Maybe this is cheating by naming them both as one choice, but 19th century science fiction is just the best. Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea? Journey to the Center of the Earth? How about Wells' Invisible Man? Island of Dr. Moreau? Time Machine? War of the Worlds? Lots of strange things, wondrous locations, and bizarre happenings in these stories. I also like how a lot of what happens is beyond the control of the protagonists in the story, and their victories have nothing to do with their power over the antagonists. I'd love to get away with a War of the Worlds-style adventure... where the PCs can do nothing but run, the enemies go away on their own, and the meat of the thing is in their interactions with other survivors, and their own introspection. I have no idea how to pull that off in a way that doesn't come across as "haha, wimps, see my awesome monsters overpower alla yous!"

Hammer Film Productions Now I'm not the most well-versed in this sort of thing, but I've seen a few (Captain Cronos: Vampire Hunter!), and they all largely had a very similar visual style, and they unanimously treated their subjects dead serious, as if these situations were actually happening to these people. But, and I don't know if it was a result of the time period's filming technology ( I'd suspect not because other films of the same time period didn't look or feel this way), but there was also an unreality that permeated everything. That juxtaposition of unreality and in-story seriousness makes every one of these things classic... whether it's Hound of the Baskervilles or Rasputin the Mad Monk... films such as Blood on Satan's Claw and Witchfinder General, while not Hammer films, cover much of the same territory and have a similar style.

Bonus dude:

John Carpenter I hate to say this, because on a lot of levels he's a bit of a hack. But when he's on... fuckin' a. Assault on Precinct 13, imagine that turned into a D&D scenario. You're defending a fortified position, not hoping to win, but hoping to break the attacker's morale so they break off... for now. Not victory, but waiting for a relieving force on the way. The Fog is almost too obvious in its adventure applications (by the way, I'm talking about the originals, not the shit-ass remakes). Escape from New York is almost set up like a cliche D&D adventure, going from encounter to encounter with a major railroad. :P The Thing... come on. :) Isolate the PCs, and have a monster that takes you over without you knowing it, but the referee notes what the infected character does when he's on his own. It would be a cruel, perhaps campaign ending campaign (of course the PCs having magic would mitigate this... if they used it right), but damn... I can dream, right? Big Trouble in Little China is a good template for an action-adventure adventure, and Prince of Darkness could be great gaming.

What are not influences:

Dungeons and Dragons Is this heresy? I don't look to the rules to tell me what the game is about, and I don't pull inspiration from adventure modules. OK, maybe Tomb of Horror. Deconstruction or playing with tropes is just... no! Don't do it! I don't want to recreate the past, I don't want to pay tribute to what used to be. D&D, the traditional stuff, is merely the language I use to express my ideas through gaming. I'm fluent enough in D&D that I can play and make art with the language and not just speak in literal phrases. That it and I share literary tastes make pre-2e D&D quite compatible with James Edward Raggi 4e.

Lord of the Rings I love Lord of the Rings. Love it. The book version, not the movies. It's awful for my gaming preferences though. The overarching history, involvement of Great Powers in the here and now, wise old elves, a distinct lack of... civilization, and... I dunno. I don't want to be Middle-Earth.

... and who knows what's not entering my mind at this moment that I could write about.

LotFP: Corrupting Innocent Girls Since 2008

A couple months back, I was hanging out with Aino (Creature Generator artist and cover model, age 18 and three months when she did the cover and started on the art) when her mother called from back home. Apparently she'd wandered into Aino's room and saw a couple copies of the Creature Generator lying around... and wanted an explanation.

Currently I'm working with Laura (new Insect Shrine artist, turned 18 this past Friday, after starting the piece of work in question) in getting the goblin kitchen illustration just right. Her mother came in and saw what she was working on... and this was the message I got while on messenger with her yesterday: "Oh god. My mother just came to my room and looked at my drawing... My mom said this is absolute sick piece of shit^^ this is too brutal for her^^"

I'm pleased about this. I'm a longtime metalhead/horror movie freak, and I can only assume what might be gross or disgusting to a normal person, because I'm immune to it. And for me, it is imperative that this goblin kitchen (and later, the torture chamber) be as explicit as possible... because goblins are too-often thought of as some toothless generic low-level fantasy menace, and they need to be seen as a true menace and deadly enemy of mankind. When it comes to establishing why the goblins should be taken seriously and evoke a true reaction from the players, I don't think it'll be sufficient to tell you... I want to show you.

Today, I was concerned that the art might mysteriously disappear. I've been assured: "I've hidden them in a secret location, heh^^" So they'll be safe until they're finished and then scanned.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra

Looks like I jumped the gun as far as making it unavailable. It's available again directly from me, a kick-ass, uncensored, personally signed, shipped-the-next day creature generator. After I really do have to withdraw it for sale because of the retail version coming out under another publisher, maybe this will be a collector's item like those damn Daystar West publications since it only has a print run of 200. But probably not. Buy it because it's useful!

Sample creatures created using this generator are found here. Design notes and discussion of the artwork here and here.

It's only 4,50€ (or about $7, give or take, according to today's exchange rates - Paypal will automatically do the conversion for you), including the print version, a pdf version emailed to you when I get your order (as long as you specify which email address to send it to!), with no extra mailing or shipping charge.

It's been reviewed by Grognardia and there's a review on, and one of the people who bought it told me it was "probably the best value for the money I've gotten in a gaming product for quite some time."

Buy it here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stupid Question II

On Saturday, I asked this:

Why are the works that purport to be "publishing enablers" all written, laid out, and presented as if they were games in and of themselves?

If the idea is to present a game, fair enough. If the idea is to allow third party products of a specific flavor, shouldn't they be made up of lists and "how-to" guides?

When asked, I had a hard time explaining exactly what I meant.

And now the GSL for the new Wizards of the Coast Fantasy Game has been released. And that SRD, that's what I meant. If someone puts one of those together, in that format (using the OGL of course, and not this back-door kill-the-competition GSL) for traditional gaming instead of writing a whole game, I think we'd be in happyland.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill

It's going to be that kind of adventure.

Illustration by Laura Kristiina Jalo. Eight more to come. Although I'd better stop being so excited about them and posting them immediately or else there won't be any surprises when people get the actual thing. A note about the artwork: She's working from written descriptions taken directly from the text. There are no lame "Jim sketches" to work from this time. The exact text I gave her that she used to produce this picture:
The PCs will first come into this room exactly four days after the pegasus gives birth. The room is mostly bare, with a cage with great iron bars taking up the majority of the space. In the straw-lined cage is the pegasus’ vacated body (wings entirely stripped of feathers) against the back wall, five small flying dire wolves alternatively tearing at a piece of meat and flying about the 20’ tall room. The door of the cage is chained and locked shut. Human and goblin bones line the cage and bloodstains are everywhere. When the PCs enter the room, the wolves will begin howling, which is cause for a wandering monsters check, and the witch doctor and his guard will arrive in 1d6+4 rounds if they have not already been dealt with.
There are also some fun things to come. Some instructions I'd given to her: "The goblin kitchen and torture chamber are the ones I'm most concerned about, as far as the right atmosphere. This will sound weird to say... but the stuff I'm writing is for a game that's been out of print for 20 years... so most of the people that end up buying it are going to be fairly old... and I want them to feel queasy and sick looking at this."

It was my original goal with Insect Shrine to make the best damn adventure people had yet seen from the new wave of simulacrum products coming out and to make everyone else seem lazy... in 2006. So I guess I've failed on the laziness score.

But writing progresses again now that I've got a collaborator working on the visuals, and I can tell you... my goal isn't really to make the best damn adventure that people have yet seen from the new wave of simulacrum products. No no no. After all this shit, all the trouble, and all the stupidity I went through in life between the time I announced it and now, I fully intend for Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill to stand with the classics.

This adventure is full of death, despair, violence, cruelty, corruption, grief, a dark oppressive atmosphere, weird science, a blasphemous religion for a mad god, an impossible challenge, no-win situations, gallows humor (yeah, "I don't want to go on the cart!" is funny... unless you're the one saying it) and maybe, just maybe, the chance for wealth, power, and/or glory. Get rich or die trying. Death before dishonor. Everything that critics of role-playing accused it of being and everything its practitioners knew it really was.

I will succeed wildly or I will fail miserably. All or nothing. Going for broke.

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill. Coming whenever it's done... because I'll probably get all excited about the Stone Hold Asylum adventure when Aino starts turning in that stuff. :p

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Campaign's Experience Rules

This isn't anything groundbreaking or unusual, but "How I Do It" posts are a good way for someone to tell me that there's a better way to do it, so... get to it!

I approve of the traditional editions' method of earning experience. Monsters are worth some, but not too much, and the most experience comes from treasure. (even though this post appears a couple days after the fact, I did write this post the day before I saw this... I hate when that happens, this concurrent thinking stuff.)

It's a great system. It encourages players to want to avoid random encounters (not much to gain, with a lot to lose) which means they hurry along, and it influences them to plan to attempt to avoid needless fights if they can get the treasure without it.

It also discourages the "I kill all the squirrels and beggars for the XP!" style of play that Hackmaster often parodies. Or did back when they did the issues up through those appearing in Bundle of Trouble 17, anyway.

But the standard distribution of experience bothers me a bit. Just by grabbing the big gem and getting back to town with it means you level up? Good game mechanism, but I can't think of a way to translate that to in-game explanations.


Experience from foes slain during an adventure count for experience, which are evenly divided between all living characters at the end of the session. I really don't care to do bookkeeping to show that three characters died halfway through so their replacements shouldn't get experience from the part of the adventure previous to that... aghgh aghghgh ahghgh. No. PCs get full shares, retainers get half shares.

Otherwise, only money spent on training, or completely wasteful non-game activities, counts for experience. The training option is easily accountable with in-game explanations. No specific set-up or rules for this either. Just be somewhere in civilization (so no in-dungeon or in-the-wilds leveling up) and say "I spend 5,000gp for experience." Whether it's a wizard studying something, or a cleric in meditative prayer sacrificing expensive nothings, or whatever, that's all there is to it.

As far as wasteful in-game activities... this is more genre emulation than anything else. "I have a big gem? Boozing and whoring for a fortnight!" You do that enough, obviously you're important in the world. ;)

This means that money spent on things that are needed by the party can't be used to gain experience! Choices, choices. That means how much the party pays their retainers has a direct impact on how quickly those guys level too...

This may lead to excessive looting of the bodies. "This orc's underwear has to be worth a copper for raw materials at least!" First, I require strict accounting of encumbrance. Second, I rule that any armor worn by an opponent is utterly ruined if that guy is killed in combat. If you're wailing on some armored foe until he dies, obviously his armor gets shredded up, right? Yeah. Unless it's an obvious exception like a sleep spell/cut the throat scenario.

Also, when disposing of non-coin valuables, value is relative and dependent on haggling. To simulate this without actually haggling over every bauble, I have the seller make a reaction roll when selling items... and the percentage of the "actual value" they get from the item is determined by how well the merchant/fence reacts to them. Charisma becomes more important. And do characters trust each other enough to give all the goodies to the character with the highest charisma to sell? There is nothing to prevent him from skimming cash off the transactions...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Insect Shrine Rises!

Ms. Jalo has already turned in her first piece... sort of. This shot was taken with her digital camera... she's drawing on A3-sized paper, so we're going to have to hunt down a proper scanner for the ten (or more?) pieces she's doing.

Plus Ms. Davidsson had finished three pieces before she went AWOL some time back (I bet she'll answer when I publish and it's time to pay her. :P):

Oh yeah, I guess I should also show the cover art, by Dan Berger:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In the Pipeline...

Some ideas about what's going on at LotFP: RPG as far as original published works...

The Creature Generator has been picked up for re-release, into retail stores, by a larger publisher... no names as of yet as they want to wait until there's a release date before making an announcement.

Deranged and Insane: The Lunatics of the Stone Hold Asylum adventure is currently in production. The artwork has been commissioned (Aino Purhonen again, with maps by Matthew James Stanham), as has the writing for the prop journal. The writing of the Asylum location is mostly done as well, which wasn't difficult since I'd had the entire thing written up for my home campaign in the first place.

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill. I really need to cut the bullshit and get this done. I mean, really. It's a lot of different things thrown together, it is an ambitious project, but all of the personal grief that's now associated with this needs to be bypassed. I've commissioned 10 pieces of artwork from another local artist, Laura Kristiina Jalo (sample work here), so as that starts coming in, it should re-ignite my passion for getting it done... reading through some of the stuff I have here (I haven't even looked at the actual goblin hill/insect shrine bit in quite awhile) is just NUTS and I really need to let people see it. Some of the material from the inn portion of Insect Shrine has been submitted to Fight On! and hopefully it'll be in the upcoming issue.

And then I have crazy ideas for the next thing. (That's me, looking too far ahead, too soon!)

Buccaneers of the Bahamas!

OK, let me explain. This idea has been batting around my head for quite awhile. It would feature a few things:

  • Frequent, if not constant, use of all those naval rules that never seem to get used. And lots of underwater action.
  • Random island generation allowing for ongoing "sandbox" play and plenty of weird options - something that can be used for any seagoing adventures in any campaign, not just for use with this adventure (I'm real big on that, adventures that have material useful for more than just that adventure).
  • A hands-off moral approach. The setting for the adventure is going to be based on the Carribean, hell it might BE the Carribean to go for a real historical angle, and that means there are slaves all over the place. It will be upfront but the adventure will not pass judgement. It will even force some squickiness: Slaves are possessions which have value. The game gives experience for treasure gained. So some "treasure" will be... slaves. Will the PCs treat the slaves as property and therefore see them as a source of experience or not? An evil little question designed to create a little tension at the game table.

I'm hoping to have the Asylum thing out in the summer with Insect Shrine fast on its heels, and then if the seaborne adventure indeed follows that up (and I won't start work on that until the other two are FINISHED), before the end of the year.

So realistically, maybe before 2010. Dammit.

Stupid Question...

Why are the works that purport to be "publishing enablers" all written, laid out, and presented as if they were games in and of themselves?

If the idea is to present a game, fair enough. If the idea is to allow third party products of a specific flavor, shouldn't they be made up of lists and "how-to" guides?

Branding and Marketing for Future Releases!

... so is this a great idea or a C&D magnet? :P

LotFP: RPG Audio Promo

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Hate Fun

(see also the May 12, 2009 look back: I Hate Fun - One Year Later)

I hate what I like.

I like cookies and McDonald’s and chocolate. I like Godzilla movies and all those fucking direct-to-video horror movies that only an idiot would look at and think, “Gee, let’s rent this!” I like sitting at the computer for hours on end playing Civilization IV.

It’s shit. It’s all shit. It doesn’t enrich my life in any way, but it does turn my brain off, quickly, conveniently, easily, cheaply. No effort. What it all does is separate myself from living life and reduces it to passing time. It distracts me and detaches me from the only thing I have – life - and therefore it is no good. Instead of doing, and being, all too often I am seeking sensory stimulation. Artificial feelings, stimulated most effectively through passively consuming things that other people have done.

The very idea of wanting to be entertained is an exercise in self-nullification.

I want more. I want that doing, I want that being, and I want it in a way that gives my life significance. I want engagement in the things I do, and I want meaning in the things I engage with. I want all the feelings that entertainment artificially instills in me, but I want them to be genuine.

Engagement and meaning is commonly attributed to those terrible things known as other people.

I can’t socialize. I won’t. It’s embarrassing enough to know that I waste substantial periods of my life seeking and accepting entertainment, being mentally comatose instead of being active and involved in my own life. How am I supposed to be exposed to other people behaving this way and have a shred of respect for them? I want to just shake them. “We are real people, we are together! We don’t have to be alone, dead in mind, vacant in spirit! We should do, we should create! Support each other in our times of weakness and make our mark in the world, for we are Human!”

But no. Much of our interactions with others is simply wasting more time, being entertained, sometimes being entertained by discussing entertainment which has been previously experienced. Maybe everybody even gets entertained together, focusing their attention on some thing while under the impression that they’re spending time with someone else. Nobody really discusses anything, nobody explores ideas together, nobody fucking does anything in their spare time with each other. Individual pools of waste are flooded by entertainment to become great lakes of worthlessness.

The problem is made all the more frustrating by the fact that people realize this. They know they are watching crap, but they watch it “because nothing else is on.” They know that eating another bag of potato chips is against their best interest and could even contribute to the ending of their lives, but those things just tastes so good, don’t they?

People settle for garbage because it is convenient to do so and we have all been trained to think that “effort” is “work,” and “work” should be reserved for those times when you’re laboring for the benefit of someone else in order to collect your paycheck. Work and effort outside of employment is a waste of time, so relax, sit back, and passively consume entertainment – you deserve it after all of that hard work you’ve done!

People have convinced themselves that they have no time. Today’s lifestyle is busy, on-the-go, so today’s entertainment had better be as fast-paced and compact as possible to deal with it!

This cycle of disempowerment and uselessness has crept into every facet of society, and it is no good. Change is constant in life, but not all change is progress. For all of the pressure placed on people, the final responsibility for their lives is theirs alone. Being influenced by others is a choice that is made. And rising above all of the negative, defeating influences is a choice to be made as well.

Deny passive entertainment. Demand to be engaged, enriched, and fulfilled by your hobbies and by the people you choose to associate with.

Reject convenience for convenience’s sake. It is all good and well to do things for yourself faster and better. It is no good to hand the doing over to somebody or something else so you are no longer putting in the effort at all. Know the difference and what it means to your life.


I wrote that about a year ago for the introduction of the next (and still unreleased… *sigh*) issue of the LotFP metal mag. I went on to describe how this mentality was killing the heavy metal spirit within the heavy metal scene as it once again rose to mainstream prominence. It also expresses a lot of my frustration with life, having all this energy and free time and want to do something but only able to find people who are being passive; the doers seem to have better people to be around already.

Throwing my hat into the “writing about RPGs” ring last month, I had a bit of a revelation… with metal, I was writing about something that I discovered after leaving high school, and had no ability to actually participate in – I was an observer, and a listener, and my writing was a means to be active within the scene. With RPGs, I can perform the core activity I’m writing about, and I’ve been doing so since I was eight years old. A quarter of a century. I’m much more qualified for this (not that I won’t stop writing about that).

And thinking about some blogging subjects, I came back to this old intro. It applies to RPGs just as much, if not more, as it does to music.

People want to be entertained by their role-playing, people want to sit down and get what they want out of it every time, and they want it quickly. They don’t want to work for it, and they don’t want to risk that it won’t happen when they try to play.

This is how I’ve come to interpret people when they use the word “fun” in relation to role-playing games. People wanting quick-fix, feel good entertainment exactly as they like it with as little effort as possible.

And I hate it.

Fun, in the context of RPG discussions, is like some Orwellian inversion of meaning (speaking of which, how big of an example of this is a certain internet forum's use of the word badwrongfun? It shuts down discussion and makes it clear that thinking that anything is important is foolish - no criticism or education allowed!). So much so, that I think that people who talk about "fun" in RPGs are destroying the hobby. Because fun ruins RPGs, much like it ruins everything else that requires time, imagination, and a fair bit of concentration.

Think about how often you see people on internet message boards talking about things which “get in the way of their fun.” What do they mean by that, really? Are they looking for the real satisfaction or the quick fix?

This is a particularly insightful read, talking about the “tyranny of fun” and how it cheapens role-playing games. It’s also why having an attitude of live and let live doesn’t work – those who demand everything easy and quickly will always outnumber those that don’t, and pretty soon a hobby that was custom-made for the studious and imaginative and thorough now belongs to an entirely different caste, while those of us that the hobby was created for are left on the fringes, told that we’re just not compatible with today’s gaming, and sometimes, even today’s life in general.

Fuck that. Fuck that. This hobby is ours. These other types can come and play and we’ll welcome them with open arms and show them the way if they ask, but to dictate fast-food mentality in my imaginative tools… that means war.

“Tyranny of fun” nails it – role-playing companies, in their doomed efforts in ignoring the anomalous nature of role-playing’s mainstream popularity of the 80s, target the type of people that aren’t well-suited for role-playing to buy their products. Because lets face it… it takes a certain something odd to be a real role-player. “Nerd” and “geek” and such are not terms of endearment, they are insults, but they do prove the point that we’re not normal everyday types. Now being different (or even abnormal) isn’t a negative thing – don’t confuse it with the mythical catpissman or lawncrapper – as it doesn’t preclude us from having a job, friends, and girlfriends (before we complain that I’m being sexist by assuming most gamers are male… first, fucking duh, of course we are - look at the source material, and second, what gamer girl ever had a problem finding a social group to fit into?). But pretending we’re normal and just anyone can pick up this hobby and enjoy it, without making wholesale changes to it, is simply nonsense.

Yeah, that sounds elitist, and it’s meant to. Elitism is not a bad thing, especially when it comes to something that you can choose to do, or not. Anyone can choose to role-play, but not so many are willing to explore the source material of role-playing and not many are willing to really immerse themselves in the game experience. Their choice, and pretending they’re the same as the people who really get serious about this stuff is just insane. I proclaim role-playing to be something based on its origins, and that no matter how things have changed –

Stop right there! Tangent time!

Never let anyone say that the game has “evolved.” It hasn’t. Ever. Maybe the way you play it has evolved, maybe, but the game itself hasn’t. You could say it evolved if you took the same book from the shelf and suddenly a rule was mysteriously different here and there, more and more, as the years go by. That doesn’t happen. The game is changed, intentionally, for better or worse. Changed, by people doing the changing. It’s not an accident, it’s not an evolution. It didn’t have to happen. It’s willful alteration.

Got that? Don’t let people get away with the “evolved” line. Always confront and correct. Sure, you’ll be seen as an asshole if you do, but it seems to me that it is better to be an asshole for challenging this wording than it is to passively accept being sort of genetic throwback Neanderthal freak since you haven’t kept up with the “evolution.”

Not evolution. “Intelligent” design.

Back to your previously scheduled rant:

– the best role-players are the ones that take it seriously, make it important in their lives, and give it their all. People who do this are the most important part of any hobby. You want to be a casual gamer? Fine. But don’t expect the same level of deference and respect that a lifer is going to get. Those who take their activities seriously are the only ones who matter.

But in reality, people who take things seriously and who actually become knowledgeable and who actually expect newcomers to respect tradition and who expect newcomers to actually learn something and who discourage equal treatment for every dumb shit that falls off the turnip truck… they are insulted by the turnip truckers. Peer pressure is important and there are a whole lot more dumb shit fun-seekers who balk at the idea of “fun” being related to “effort” and “investment of time” than there are people who want to learn and be immersed in their hobby as a whole, not just while they’re goofing off with some pals on a Saturday night. And companies want to be successful. They don’t realize that industries built on hobbies, especially this one, are fucked. It’s not a respect issue. Role-playing is done from the ground up, not from the top down, that’s how it started, and that’s how it exists. You know the argument, “Oh, if only RPGs were respected, then they’d generate a lot of money for the people that make them and all our products would be better!” How do you gain the respect? Marginalize and hide the people that take RPGs seriously. They’ll turn off the “normals” who would spend the serious money.

How do you nudge out the lifers and encourage more casual play? Absolute balance. Be able to participate equally in all ways, right out of the box. By making sure that there are plenty of hard and fast rules to master, instead of dealing with nebulous, ill-defined guidelines that make a human being, the referee, the final arbiter of a game. Rules, people can understand. Like chess! The closer you get to true shared imagined space, the more the man on the street freaks out and rejects, and the more companies see imaginary “what if” dollars going elsewhere. Also, you entice more casual play by having less harsh consequences in a game. You get the elimination of save-or-die, or level drains, or equipment destruction mechanics or creatures, because these could give a “negative experience” to those that believe that you “win” the game by always being successful.

It’s like these people don’t even know that “winning” in role-playing is done simply by enjoying the process of playing the game. Yeah, it’s more gratifying (dare I say “fun”) to succeed, but death and failure are hardcoded into the very essence of the game for a reason. It’s not the amusement park cheap thrill of simulated or illusionary danger… make a bad decision, rely on luck to get you by, and the danger smacks your character down.

But people out there have gotten the idea that if their precious imaginary equipment owned by their precious imaginary man is taken away from them, their fun has been sabotaged! And the game designers are listening.

The clue phone is ringing, and it’s a collect call for these fun-seekers: YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LIKE IT. Goddamn, risk and challenge and failure are as much part of role-playing as prancing around like Errol Flynn… er, sorry, Legolas (sorry, wouldn’t want to make a reference that the average modern person wouldn’t know off the top of their head) or something. Shit out there is trying to KILL YOU and there are critters out there that will fuck you up but good if you’re unlucky or not careful.

What part of, “The giant spider bites you… oh, you blew your save… roll up a new character!” is supposed to be fun or heroic? Obviously the game was built on a different type of satisfaction. But these people don’t want to spend their time figuring out challenges (that’s part of that large percentage of “not-fun” time that’s being had in the average session of old-fogey D&D, right?), they want to charge right in. They must, if they’re always getting their shit rusted, or their levels drained, or poisoned, or what have you. If they’re not getting nicked by these things, they wouldn’t complain, right?

The point isn’t to make role-playing some sort of masochistic experience where it’s all suffering and death and pain and failure. The point is, if all these things are real and present dangers, then success means more. And I think it’s telling that so many people reject this idea. Assigning value to in-game success seems to be something embarrassing to a lot of people, like a RPG is just supposed to be some interchangeable entertainment option to play with friends alongside a console system or Scrabble or watching a movie, with no worth or value in and of itself. I’ve already given my thoughts on this. Nothing beyond the barest essentials of life (food and water) has inherent meaning. Meaning is given to things and experiences by people. And assigning meaning to role-playing is not something to be ashamed of! It is a social game that strengthens social bonds, it exercises the imagination and encourages reading and knowledge and it is not a passive experience and nothing in the experience is just handed to you.

Take the introduction to Mentzer’s Basic Set. It is the finest introduction for D&D that was ever penned, explaining the basics of everything from classes and their abilities to combat in just seven pages – of storyform prose, not rules blather. And the first-time D&D player has an 80% chance to fail that saving throw against Bargle’s spell. An 80% chance of losing. Aleena dies. You can’t save her. You must run from the ghouls or you die. Some would say that traditional Dungeons and Dragons was poorly designed because first level characters were weak and that there was an uneven playing experience. It never seems to occur to these people that traditional Dungeons and Dragons was designed perfectly and that play experience was intentional. Mentzer’s introduction shows what Dungeons and Dragons is all about, and it’s not flashy heroism. It was never about that until Gygax was removed.

You’re not playing a game pretending to navigate your playing piece (called “a character”) through some story where you get to be the hero! You are using the rules to pretend to be someone and experience and react as that person would through a dangerous world. Nothing more, and nothing less. If you want to be the hero… then you get to try. To guarantee success is to defeat the entire purpose of role-playing.

Some will try to say that “Each edition of D&D is based on the common fantasy tropes of the time it was released.” That’s just ignorant bullshit. Dungeons and Dragons was built on classic archetypes (with some game elements added on) and literature that was decades, in some cases almost a century, old by the time Dungeons and Dragons came around. It was built to be timeless, not timely. And some of the more important influences, say Leiber and Lovecraft, certainly didn’t feature success as a common theme. And it certainly wasn’t all honor and glory, what with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Conan and Cugel being thieves (and worse as far as Conan is concerned). Yet the focus wasn’t limited – there was still the influence of Tolkien and Poul Anderson and Lord Dunsany for the more positive, and even dreamier sides of fantasy. You could do it all with Dungeons and Dragons, back in the day. Nothing was excluded. And this is what Dungeons and Dragons was, focused through rules that sprung out of the wargaming culture.

As the game was altered through the years, this was lost. I don’t know why it was decided that games sold in the form of number-filled books with fancy vocabulary would appeal more to people that didn’t care to actually read literature, but that’s what happened. Real choice in the manner of game play was lost, or at least obscured and made more difficult to achieve, all the while increasing the options for individual characters… That was a great trick, giving players the illusion of more choice and increasing the detail and complexity of the rules while slapping the handcuffs on the game itself. Brilliant. Fuckers.

But while Gygaxian D&D was forged from classic stories, with the perfect capacity to deal with the current fads (and that’s where Tolkien comes into D&D, as a secondary “hip” source to lure the kiddies in, not as a core component), the next generation of clueless imbeciles decided to tell us what D&D was all about. It inevitably led, as did most fantasy fiction, to using Tolkien as the core. Grand quests. Heroics. And then it fed on itself. D&D became “literature,” which then influenced the game. D&D basically created most of the video game and personal computing industries (you think people at home were upgrading their computers to play the neat new version of Space Invaders, or were they wanting the sweet, sweet graphics from a particular version of Bard’s Tale?), which was easier to pick up and play with no investment of time or knowledge… and so then D&D took from that as well. If it was done to add to the current influences, maybe, maybe, it would have worked. But the new influences replaced the influences that created D&D, and what’s more the modern influences are seen as competition, so aren’t even explicitly mentioned. So D&D becomes more and more an ungrounded “adventure” game designed to be mindless entertainment, to only be taken seriously by the “professionals” who will lay out a specific path to “fun.”

It’s already been discussed to death how D&D has been retroactively described by its detractors as a hack and slash game, and how that description is dead wrong, as played by the people that created the damn game. We’ve seen how D&D increasingly makes the criticism come alive, making D&D more about encounters and carefully balanced tactical encounters than anything else, and we see that the same people who decried D&D as a hackfest now embrace it for being specifically built as a hackfest.

It is rather unfortunate that Dungeons and Dragons had the subtitle “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures.” It’s a historical problem that the term “role-playing game” (or any other suitable term to differentiate it from the wargaming hobby that was still in full swing) wasn’t used, as role-playing wasn’t its own genre at the time. It certainly wasn’t a wargame in any real sense, and Gygax (at least – I don’t know about Arneson), co-creator and writer of the actual text, didn’t even use miniatures! But this is another example of the instant-gratification crowd these days. The problem isn’t that they don’t know, I have no problem with people who are simply new, the problem is the people who don’t care to know and become insulted when informed that their assumptions are dead fucking wrong. But it would be inconvenient to research all this shit, and why bother when possessing this knowledge will make you some sort of weirdo and doesn't support what you've already made up your mind to do?

It's a pain in the ass to deal with people who have a "been there, done that, and found it immature" attitude when they don't even know where there is or what that even entails. Fucking hell, it's like someone not wanting to visit China for the Olympics for fear of the fallout from the two atomic bombs that got dropped there during World War II.

It’s time to stand up, and it’s time to make some noise. It’s time to stand up and stop letting the lies about the origins of our game, which are the origins of the entire hobby, spread. It’s time to stop letting the people who have no intention of taking all of this seriously dictate terms and create the labels. I’m tired of it.

“Old D&D is for old people.” I’m 33 and I’m not even as old as Arneson or Gygax were when Dungeons and Dragons was originally released… and their target audience was people like them. But, lest you say “people in their thirties are old,” remember that Gygax ran the game, in its original, pre-published form, for his kids. Original D&D, while it encouraged (and almost demanded) source material reading, was itself not very much reading compared to what came after.

Kill the misconceptions and the falsehoods. Stop taking the abuse caused by the assumption that “current” D&D is the “real” D&D and that everything that came before is some sort of 8-track equivalent relic. Hasbro may have a legal claim to the “Dungeons and Dragons” name, but they certainly have no moral claim to it. A multinational corporation (who aren’t interested in the “game” as much as the “intellectual property” it affords) bought a smaller game company, none of whose founders are still with the company, who bought another game company, none of whose founders were still with the company, and in fact the creators of the game in question that started this chain were forced from that company at different points. Stop acting like we’re guests in their house when it’s the exact opposite. Stand up, and when people complain that we seem to not recognize their “alternate playstyle,” (especially when they sure as hell aren't recognizing our playstyles, and "you play your way and we'll play our way" is dismissal, not recognition) tell them they better learn what the fuck they’re talking about before they get to say anything.

And this isn't directed at the stupid or the willfully ignorant. It's not even directed at those that know what they are talking about, know their history, explored their options, and decided the new stuff is better for them. No. Their minds are made up. The purpose of standing up and making noise is for the silent crowd that watches from the sidelines. We need to make sure our game isn't defined by people who don't like it, we have to be visible and make noise so these people see the earlier versions of the game are being played and are perfectly viable options for them. We have to make sure they know there is a history and a legacy and a depth to this hobby which can be explored. That there is life in this hobby beyond the shiny new release, which is to be given up once the trademark overlords decide it has outlived its usefulness and decides to create an even shinier, newer release. The silent crowd should always be reminded that the "industry" can never dictate the possibilities at their game table. If we manage to enlighten those actively dancing in the shadows, then yay, but that's not really the point.

So go home, casual players, and take your “fun” with you. For those of you who gain enjoyment from a more involved experience, or at least the attempt at such… welcome. There is much to gain, from everything you ever do on this planet, by digging deeper, discovering traditions, and realizing there is a way that things can, and perhaps even should, be done that often do not coincide with the ways that give the easiest and quickest pleasure.

Oh what are you gonna do
When there's a part of you
That needs to run with the wind

And the fire of burning yesterdays
Can only light the way
To lead you from
The garden of the dark
Stay out of shadows

Now look like the change is on
Tomorrow's never gone
Today just never comes

Go on and jump, yeah
Into the hurricane
You will forget the pain
It's only there
To exorcise your mind

Looking at the world
When you've opened up your eyes
You've got to see the promises they've made
They're bloody lies and broken dreams
Your silence screams

You're living in a time machine
And you can choose just who you are
Someone that you've never seen
Somewhere you've never been
You're living in a time machine

Oh what are you gonna do
When every part of you
Just needs to catch the wind

And the fire of burning yesterdays
Can only light the way
To lead you from
The garden of the dark

Looking for the world
When you've opened up your eyes
You'll see you've got invisible chains
They're only lies
Not what it seems
I hear your silent screams

You're living in a time machine
Nobody cares just where you go
Taken where you've never been
Somewhere you don't know

You're living in a time machine
Why do you stay who you are
Be what you've never been
Someone you've never seen
You're living in a time machine

“Time Machine” from Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer

"4E is like hair metal! It's a gateway for some people to something of value." - Matt Johnsen

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Level Appropriate Challenges

So the other thing that I'm not sure what to do about in my upcoming campaign...

What do the PCs do at first level?

First level characters are not weak. When you compare them to a party of regular men-at-arms, it's pretty obvious that a first level party has it all over a regular bunch of mercenaries.

But first level characters aren't very well suited for extended adventuring. A single blow from a normal melee weapon can potentially take the toughest PC out of the fight when they're first level. The difference between a one sided fight (in the PCs' favor) and a massacre (in the monsters' favor) can come down to initiative. You just can't risk violence and expect to come out of an adventure alive.

Which is as it should be. A brand new first level party is not a group of heroes-in-training. They're a bunch of talented yobbos who are about to hit that crossroads: Wealth and power, or death. And nobody knows which it'll be. PC death when everyone is first level should be a constant concern and a probability more than a possibility. Handing anything to the players cheapens advancement and levels, and I like the idea of a group of 4th or 5th level characters knowing that the wasted meat of dozens of would-be adventurers prove the point of how dangerous this life is.

But first level really does encourage the 15 minute adventuring day. In one encounter, the magic-user is pretty much guaranteed to use his one spell, and if anyone takes any hit for more than 1 or 2 hit points' damage, then the cleric is going to use his one spell (which is almost always cure light wounds, right?)... if the cleric gets that first level spell at all. If more than one person is hurt, the party has to pull back.

So what's the answer? More NPC interactions to decrease the physical danger? Yeah, they'll be at first level forever for all the XP that way of playing provides - and I go for the Monsters + Treasure method of granting experience... no "story awards" because I shouldn't be encouraging them to move along any particular storyline.

Then there's the Puzzle Dungeon. Give them puzzles and tricks and traps that may be avoided. There is always danger but it's danger in avoidable form. This can keep things interesting but giving so much treasure away in places like this to allow everyone to level up just seems like handwaving first level.

How do the original modules do it? They create grinders. Fresh-off-the-turnip-truck first levelers are going to get squashed walking into the moathouse near Homlett, or marching straight into an orc cave in the Caves of Chaos... not to mention the impossibility of the Horror on the Hill, the large enemy encounter groups in Palace of the Silver Princess and more.

Remember the opening starter bit in Mentzer's Basic set: Character death. Remember the example of play in the 1E DMG: Character death.

The poor bastards were never supposed to face "first level challenges" in a way that they really have a chance to survive as a group with no casualties!

... and here I was considering a "pest control" adventure with a bunch of giant rats and giant centipedes for the "first level" appropriate challenge.


So then... what?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Definitive Explanation of Alignments - Almost... Plus: About Blogs!

Advanced Gaming and Theory's June 9 post is all about alignments. It's always grated on me that people seem to think alignment is... well... I don't know. Every version of D&D treats alignment differently for some dang reason.

(And wouldn't you know it... I left a note about my criticism on the blog, and the criticism was listened to and the blog was changed for the better! Egads! Egads! I'm not used to people actually listening to me! But the actual article was merely a springboard for many of my points, so... go read the article, it's really good, and also note the points I make below, they're really good too, but realize they remark on content that has been since changed...)

AG&T's post starts off strong and reading through the description of the Law vs Chaos axis, I get the feeling that we finally have gotten something definitive on alignment that's both usable and makes perfect sense.

Then the fact that this is for AD&D 2E gets in the way. AG&T is a 2E resource blog, meaning it's for 1E but with the evocative parts sanded off for general consumption. I originally meant for that to be a joke, but take a look at what happens when the article shifts to the Good vs Evil axis... it falls apart and ceases to be description or analysis. It says that evil will always lose, it turns into a "soapbox" (AG&T's words) about how Evil is just not good (so to speak) to play, and the article really just derails and ceases to be a useful discussion of alignment at that point. But because the article is about the nine-point alignment system, it's impossible to use the Law/Chaos portion for the games that use just that axis for alignment purposes.

I call for Mr. Ripper X (dude, it's really awful to write such in-depth, and usually well thought-out articles on a regular basis and have the byline be some ridiculous pseudonym... sign your damn work) to re-think and revise, because he's onto something here and there will be value in doing this right.

This does remind me about one of the reasons why I hate blogs in general, and why my daily reading of about a dozen blogs now is frequently nothing more than an exercise in frustration. Blogs aren't written rigorously (and make no mistake, my blog is no better than the rest and worse than some in this regard). Sometimes they are useful or profound, but the format doesn't promote such a thing. They are flashes of thought, thrown out there for discussion. That's not a bad thing by any means, but it seems that yesterday's blog is yesterday's news, never to be revisited and never to be developed further. I think that's why I like Grognardia so much. It was the blog that showed me that blogs weren't just flighty piles of mental flatulence (and made me think that perhaps I could have a blog myself that wasn't a worthless pile of poo - although that's for you, the dear sweet reader, to decide). And Maliszewski's ideas build. I really think (hope) he's building to something real (as in, beyond the scope of having a blog) with everything he's talking about, something that will reflect the discovery and pontification he indulges in within his blog.

But I think a lot of us out here in blogland should recognize what we're doing. There are a lot of good raw ideas out there... but there is no reason they should be left as raw ideas. Taking our blogs as statements of intent, we should be writing actual articles on these subjects, and then finding a forum (no, not a web forum!) to properly publish them.

I find it rather insulting to the concept of "publishing" that these blog posts are considered "publishing" by blogspot (or blogger or what the hell ever the name of this site is)... this button down here that says "Publish Post"... who the hell are we kidding? Let's face it, blogging encourages laziness. How many blog posts do we see in our little "old-school" sphere that consist of nothing more than linking to someone else's blog when we find a particular entry interesting? If you're already linking to a blog, your recommendation that readers of your blog read their blog is implicit, and it's just taking up space and acting "current" (I didn't do a blog today, oh noes, I'm going to lose readers/I'll look like I've got the lazies/My relevance is going down the intertubes!!!!!) to then point out a particular post on an already-linked blog... unless you have further commentary on the matter. Turning someone else's thoughts into a starting point and springboard for your own thoughts, well, that's "the blogosphere" (stupid, stupid, stupid word) working as it should. But it only works if it is just a starting point and a springboard.

So if everything works as it should, you've either got a a solid, worked and re-worked essay that you've done yourself, or you've got an article that's been made by several people who have all gone in different directions andexpanded upon the potential of the original idea. What now?

Publish. For real. Fight On! takes open submissions. So does Dragonsfoot's Footprints. Note that both of those are D&D-oriented without using any license. Matthew Finch wants to get an OGL counterpart to Fight On! off the ground. Those non-paying "for the cause" efforts for traditional games might make it easier to publish collaborative efforts without worrying about rights issues. There are the usual avenues for those who want to move into "more serious" or even "for profit" offers. Anything, anything, to make things carry more weight than the numerous thoughtless, or thoughtful yet underdeveloped, written work found on livejournal, blogspot, and whatever the hell else is out there.

Because the internet isn't real, and the stuff found solely on the internet isn't real stuff. I don't believe in virtual reality. Nothing that goes away without electricty is real. It's just stuff with the potential to be real, it's a tool to help unreal things become real. And few things are as tragic as unfulfilled potential.

Mike Mornard Takes Your Questions!

Mike Mornard, the (only?) guy who played D&D under Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and Phil Barker, is taking general questions concerning the early days of the game. He started playing with these guys before the game was ever published, so he might know a thing or two...

Other notables to have Q&As going online are Dave Arneson, Rob Kuntz, David Cook, Tracy Hickman, Steve Marsh, Tim Kask, James Ward, and Frank Mentzer.

Gygax himself used to have such threads on Dragonsfoot (check out the archive here), Enworld, and the Trolllord boards. And it's a shame that he's no longer here to answer questions.

These other guys are still here. If you've got a question, ask.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tools of the Trade

My campaign tools!

First up is the rulebook. I'm using the Basic Fantasy RPG, but I prefer digest (or its European cousin, the A5) sized books for ease of handling and transportation, and coil binding for stays-open-on-the-table use. Now, BFRPG makes this easy: It is downloadable as an Open Office document as well as a pdf, so grabbing the text in order to do a new layout is convenient and easy. The booklet shown here was done using the version 64 rules, and I'll be doing up a few of the latest version (65 is out, 66, or BFRPG Second Edition, is out soon) when the game starts.

Next up is basic supplies. Pictured is a pad of graph paper (fun fact: graph paper, not lined paper, is standard in notebooks here in Finland so I didn't need to lug my graph paper all the way from the States), a regular notebook (again smaller sized), and a mechanical pencil. I normally don't use mechanical pencils, but finding an electric pencil sharpener in Finland seems to be harder than finding a virgin in a whorehouse...

Next up is dice. After moving to Helsinki, I bought a new set of dice (from Fantasiapelit, a most excellent game store), which is the white set (my "paladin set") pictured. But whenever I travel to a new town and visit a game store there, I must buy a set of dice. I'm in Lappeenranta this week (yes, I bring my basic gaming supplies with me when I travel... what?), and I visited the Fantasiapelit here (not nearly as impressive as the one in Helsinki, but the town is 1/20th the size) intending to buy a set of metal dice. They just have a great *clunk* factor hitting the table. But I wanted the silver ones, not the copper or the gold. They only had the copper and the gold! So what to buy? When I was in Lappeenranta in January, I had bought a pricey set of "rune" dice, that were embellished with all sorts of cool looking nonsense. But they weren't all that easy to read at the table! And I didn't want just another normal set of dice... so when I saw the really big set of dice (those blue ones in the picture), I had to have them! I chose blue because I don't have a set of blue dice and never have... And these rather large dice are for more than novelty value. I make most rolls in plain sight, but when using normal-sized dice, only the people sitting right next to me can see the rolls... maybe if I use the bigger dice, more people at the table will be able to see it, which really makes rolling out in the open more effective.

The referee screen is in the back of the shot. This screen is actually an AD&D 1e screen (with the 1983 DMG cover as an illustration, not the older one with the really cool wraparound painting) with a pasted-on sheet with all the Unearthed Arcana Weapon vs AC Type tables on there. I won't actually use the screen for rules or charts since I'm using a bit of a different system, but having a proper screen is still cool anyway.

The 1E DMG is absolutely indispensible for any D&D referee! The amount of pure inspiration and arcane lore, even if you're not using the rules, is simply awesome. Extensions of some of this stuff, such as Troll Lord's Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds series (which I don't cart around the country when I travel), are also most helpful.

The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra. Really, if I wasn't going to use it in my game, I'd have no right trying to sell it to you to use in yours.

... plus my brain, but, well... you wouldn't want to see a picture of that.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Character Death


So the campaign is going to begin soon, probably in the next couple weeks. I've got everything figured out except for two things...

One of the things I haven't figured out is how to handle character death. Early edition D&D is deadly, and the Basic systems deadliest. When any successful weapon strike could potentially kill any first level character, there will be character deaths. Or maybe continuously if they don't learn that "CHARGE!" isn't often going to be the smart thing to do. ;) I figure I'm going to tell the group to not even put their characters on a proper character sheet until they hit second level - when the characters level up, the players will feel a sense of accomplishment.

When a character dies... what to do?

Obviously the player rolls up a new character and re-enters play immediately. But... what's the death penalty?

In my AD&D campaign, the new character was to be one level less than the dead character, with the minimum experience for that level. In my last BFRPG campaign, PCs got to keep the last level they gained, and the new character, of whatever class, begins again with the minimum XP for that level.

I'm torn. I believe there should be a penalty for character death. Not that it matters much if you lose a first level character (and a healthy boatload of early PC deaths does demonstrate how powerful - or heroic - a higher level character really is, instead of just making it a background assumption like games where PCs have "plot protection"), but what to do about higher level PCs that bite the big one?

Raise Dead/Resurrection is going to be very rare or non-existent in my campaign. Dead is dead.

If the penalty is too steep (everyone automatically starts as a 1st level character, from scratch), then it's going to be more of a pain in the ass for all the PCs to adventure together. If the penalty is too slight, then perhaps the players won't take too good care of their characters...

So where's the balance?

One idea is that the PC would take control of one of their retainers/henchmen... which would encourage players to take them on in the first place, and they'd perhaps be a bit more enthusiastic about the same soaking up experience and treasure... and take good care of them.

Any other ideas out there?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Old School

Found an interesting movie at the rental place today... Hatchet... listen to this tagline...

"It's not a remake. It's not a sequel. And it's not based on a Japanese one! Old School American Horror"

Interesting that everything I'm interested in has a tendency to re-invent itself so much that there is true value in shrugging off everything modern about it and embracing what came before with open arms... and it's interesting that doing so can be a marketing decision, even if the "old school" values advertised are complete bullshit.

I liked Hatchet, by the way. It's a true gross-out, and even though it has a lot of humor, it's all situational and not at all wink-wink hipster irony.

(oh, and that Night of the Living Dead anniversary edition from the 90s with the newly-shot footage? Total shit. Fuckin hell.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"It's Just a Game"

The game has put me in contact with many people all over the world for almost a quarter of a century. I met my oldest friend on this planet because of the game. Whenever I move to a new town, whether within the same country or in some far corner of the world, it's the gamer community that I find people to hang out with and find things to do with.

The game has been the gateway to much of the literature that has shaped my mind. Howard, via Conan comics, came first, but the game opened the door to Tolkien and then to the TSR hackwork novels and eventually to the works of Leiber, Moorcock, Howard (proper), Wells, Verne, Lovecraft, and a growing list of fine 19th century and early 20th century authors. Now I read it for its own sake, but the game was the gate.

The game has been my creative inspiration since I was a child. It inspired me to write, first the fiction (I should post it, some of my 1997 stories have recently been recovered... awful), which led to the metal zine, and now to RPG work.

The game allowed me to actually have an intellect. The fantastic wordplay and frequent use of mathematics (and I'd come up with house rules that required ridiculously more complex math than anything in the rules, but I did it because of the game) increased my appreciation of English and math, and I excelled in those classes. Trying to be more "authentic" within the game led to my love of reading history books, for fun, outside of any classroom or academic reasons. The game showed me that mainstream society could be completely full of shit and that authority figures were never to be blindly trusted, because as a child I was able to see through the Satanic Panic as a complete farce. As it turns out, not only did the police, teachers, "journalists," clergy, and the "good kids" not know anything about D&D (while claiming they knew all about it and how dangerous it was)... but as I learned later they didn't know very much about Satanism, either.

The game is how many people, in the thousands, formerly in the millions, spend time with like-minded people exercising their minds in a social situation for the pure joy of it.

No. It's not just a game. And if that's all you think it is, you really have forfeited the right to be taken seriously on any matters concerning this hobby.