Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reminder on Green Devil Face

Deadline for contest entries to Green Devil Face is 11:59pm (US West Coast time!) February 28.

I'll go ahead and call general deadline March 31, and hope we've got more than a 5 room dungeon to present. ;)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Edition Wars

I've got other things going on for a week or two so posting will be light. But when something must be said...

This post here bemoans Tim Kask's editorial in the newly-released Knockspell. More specifically, it complains about Kask's antagonistic tone.

Readers can guess how much sympathy I have for that complaint.

Antagonism is a completely natural, and perhaps unavoidable, when it comes to the "Old School Renaissance" (or as I like to think of it, "The Age of the Return to Reason," to continue the antagonism). For several reasons.

  1. One, being reasonable doesn't prevent the detractors from taking shots. It doesn't matter how calm and cheerful and friendly an argument is made, people are going to be nasty and it's going to be vicious at times. I have myself been a target, in real-life, not from bloggy/forum types, of people pissing all over me for daring to put up flyers and trying to run not-current-edition games.

    (and after Grognardia's whine/rant a couple days back, I think that a reasoned approach is even
    more antagonistic than a spirited rant... someone calmly and logically and authoritatively picking something apart is certainly more dangerous and upsetting to the (fans of the) picked-apart than a foaming diatribe, which is more easily ignored)

  2. I believe, with all my heart, that saying, "I prefer this edition," is the same thing as saying, "The other editions aren't as good." It has to be. That one is considered impolite is simply a way of controlling the terms of the discussion so as to conceal one's own weaknesses. One edition's strengths and features aren't the only story, and attempting to portray only positivity regarding this is simply lying in an attempt to manipulate and lubricate a more unpleasant message for easier consumption. Different editions don't just lack specific traits, they possess additional features and traits which repel and cause that edition to be the non-preferred. So sometimes one's preferences of one variation of many is defined by the lack of added shit when the actual favored features are more or less shared between all the variations. And different rules promote (if not necessitate) different playing experiences. Pointing out the bad of other editions is a natural part of stating why you enjoy your preferred the most. And a completely valid way of doing so.

    Now all of this is magnified to a greater degree within the "discussion" of different editions of the "
    same" game than it is comparing the positive and negative points of completely different games, and I think that is because of the illogic of discussing differences within something that appears to be one thing anyway because it shares a name.

  3. The goals of the "Old School Renaissance" are no less than to change your game of choice and indeed your entire gaming philosophy. Sure, nobody else will come out and say it. That would be rude. And cries of "You're doing it wrong, motherfucker!" don't tend to bring people around. But really...

    • We're not selling products, we're advocating a way of doing things. Sure, some of us have a product to sell but I daresay if the magic genie came up to us and said, "You can have a thousand sales, with 100 people using it for play," or, "You can have a thousand people using your product in play, but you'll never sell more than a hundred," every single one of us would rather be played than bought. Traditional marketing blather doesn't work because we're not selling a product, we're selling an anti-market philosophy. "Play old stuff! Download it (with serial numbers filed off!) for free! Ignore the supplement bloat of the current RPG market! Pick and choose amongst these totally unessential optional releases! Most importantly, Do It Yourself!" And for all the attempts at establishing "alternate brands," the retroclones are smokescreens that want you and "allow" you to play and publish for Another Game with a Trademarked Name.

      We're the
      New Wave of Old School Gaming. It's 1979 all over again in multiple ways, as my metalhead readers will recognize from the reference. OD&D is Sabbath. 1e is Priest. They've been around, but then a bunch of upstarts aren't playing the flavor of the day and can't get industry attention so they press their own records and then press their friends' records. We're Saxon. We're Angel Witch. We're Venom (well... Geoffrey's Venom). We're Holocaust. We're Diamond Head. (does this make Castles and Crusades Motörhead, the Last Thing before the New Wave? eek!) Somewhere amongst us is Def Leppard (sellouts!), but also somewhere amongst us is Iron Maiden, waiting to break out.

      I want to be Demon. Dave Hill has the best voice.

    • Traditional gaming is not designed for one-shotting. Sure, it can be used that way, but it's designed for long-term campaign play. Dungeons and Dragons, one example of choice, has different modes of play that naturally evolve over the levels. These games were designed for frequent, long-term play. We're advocating a return to these games and that way of playing. How can anyone honestly sit here and do a blog promoting the virtues of these traditional games, and that mode of play, and expect that telling someone "frequent, long-term play" with the conciliatory add-on "but you're free to like and play other games as well," doesn't result in a conflict to people claiming to lead busy lives? Come on. Our biggest wish, deep down, is that playing our game (which isn't even any one version of the game!) and gathering players (or finding DMs! You think all of us hardcores that are running games wouldn't love to play once in awhile?) is no more difficult than finding players for the latest edition, or better yet no more difficult than finding players of WoW. Yeah, that's unrealistic, but our actitivies are a goal to get us closer to there (and further from here), even if we can never be there.

    • Traditional gaming is a social and malleable experience, not only in actual gameplay with the home group, but across groups as well. This is where the public awareness and "market share" become important.

      Newer editions of the game are published by a division of a multinational corporation and a vested interest in promoting their vision, and guess what, that vision ain't ours. One is going to be a bit cranky when there's a giant gorilla jumping on your head.

      Sentiments like "Nobody is taking your old edition away from you," really means, "Shut up and let that gorilla dance."

      And we say, "No."

      The increased prevalence of not-traditional games really does hurt our efforts at our table, and not just on the "finding people to play with" level. The exchange of cross-campaign ideas becomes more valuable with more input. Right now it's a bunch of hobbyists on blogs and and message boards and POD. I actually got a book containing the words, "This document is 100% compatible with any and all classic, class-based-with-six-ability-score fantasy role-playing games published before 1989 by those with knowledge of Tactics, Strategy, and Resourcefulness. It’s also 100% compatible with modern recreations of those same games," picked up by a publisher and put into retail distribution. I think that's
      huge. Imagine if that happened more often, with bigger publishers, and what that might inspire by the "rank-and-file" (you and me) that would see it.

Now then, what Kask is saying (and the funny thing is, I haven't even read the editorial in question... but I have read his thoughts on the subject in his thread (this post in particular, which I commented on in this blog last May) on Dragonsfoot, and that's what I'm using as my basis for "What Kask Said") is a barrage of the edition war on a completely different level. First, two quotes.

From the final paragraph of the OD&D box set:

In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you?

And Kask's own words as Publications Editor from the foreword of Eldritch Wizardry (written April 1976):

D & D was meant to be a free-wheeling game, only loosely bound by the parameters of the rules.

Kask knows what he's talking about. He's not an outsider. He is not saying, "Those fuckers did this! You bastards!" He was there. He knows what happened and why it happened. He knew the feedback that TSR was receiving and he knew how it affected TSR and the D&D game.

And 30 years later, he's saying, "We screwed up. We were wrong." And as his 1970s words above show, this isn't even a change in his philosophy. To say that his printing those sentiments today is some sort of attack might be fair. To reply, I could ask, "Why are you being so defensive about it?" Better yet, how can you say he isn't right? Does the fun you are or are not having with later D&D, or another game, invalidate the statement that he thinks they monumentally fucked up by setting D&D down a course of standardization instead of local, home customization? If the Publications Editor (and the guy in charge of Dragon at the start) says that certain changes were made in reaction to fan pressure to not make their own decisions at their own table, who are we to say that isn't so? (see also his July 1976 foreword to Gods, Demigods, and Heroes, D&D's Supplement IV, for more of this same attitude)

... and...

When Gary Gygax played D&D himself in his final years... what version was he playing? House-ruled OD&D is my understanding. What does Arneson play these days when he plays D&D? I would think that the people who made the game have a good understanding about what it's about and the attitude you're supposed to approach with it. But one of D&D's strengths is its versatility, so what Gygax and Arneson and Kask do or did isn't the be-all-end-all. And certainly the fact that Arneson didn't play "AD&D" doesn't mean much. But the fact that the anti-AD&D sentiment was in print by Kask in officially released D&D supplements, and that AD&D was not played by the man who claimed sole authorship on the AD&D books, certainly suggests that Kask isn't even being particularly curmudgeony when claiming that AD&D was the start of the Edition Parade of Successive Rot.

(cue lots of links from people that focus on one sentence, or part thereof, and make fun of that as a complete absurd statement, without acknowledging the further explaining afterwards of the sentence)

(damn I thought this was going to be a quick 5 minute post on the subject... I've done a great many things between waking up too early to start this and finishing it... including gone back to bed... and still... too much writing and the girlfriend is hinting that I need to hurry up so we can walk the dog and have breakfast...)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Green Devil Face

'allo 'allo...

What a busy few days. Two games since Friday. NAPALM DEATH concert Monday night. And yesterday and today I'm sick as a dog.

But I've been procrastinating in making my plans known.

Green Devil Face.

It's the classic trap. It sits there in the open, tempting and daring characters to just mess with it. And I want to develop the concept more.

So I'm announcing a print traditional gaming zine under the Green Devil Face name. It will have a more narrow focus than Fight On! or Knockspell, in that it will be specifically about individual dungeon rooms that feature obvious traps/hazards/puzzles that require players to experiment and reason through them instead of making a traps roll to detect/disarm them.

But I am not going to do it all myself. No... I want this, like the aforementioned zines, to be a community project, with the goal of providing referees with rooms and ideas that they can plop down in their own dungeons (or use all together, as each issue's rooms will be strewn together as a makeshift traps-and-puzzle dungeon).

The submission must be your own original work. It must be compatible with one of the games this blog talks about and be OGL-ready (Labyrinth Lord/Swords & Wizardry/OSRIC/Spellcraft & Swordplay/BFRPG compatible, basically). You retain the full rights to your work, but of course submitting it gives me permission to publish it for the purposes of this project only (including reprints, compilations, etc) and no other.

This will be sold in print (printed locally) and pdf, at cost + 25 cents euro.

For those submitting a room before the end of February, I am running a contest where I am giving away two sets of Creature Generator/Creature Generator/FFV, one for the best lethal trap and one for the best non-lethal trap.

So submit a room! Spread the news around! Let's make sure this experiment doesn't fall on its face. :D

Just a Crass Commercial Reminder.


(Only 3 left!)

You get:

Price if you're in Europe: 15,50€ (includes 2,55€ shipping price)
Price if you're not in Europe: 18,50€ (includes 5,40€ shipping price)

Paypal this amount (in euros!) noting your address to

We've got very few of these sets (I only got 10 author copies, and I'm doing stuff with a few of them, you know?), so don't dilly-dally if you want this. No, LotFP edition Creature Generators aren't for sale separately. Yes, Fantasy Fucking Vietnam is!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Better game today. I think we may be finished with the Pod Caverns with this group (but who knows if they'll want to go explore the few caverns they have not yet...)

Three things...

One, I keep forgetting to take pictures of my girlfriend's baking before we devour it.

Two, the fat naked goblin woman made me decide that goblin nipples aren't only pointy... they're spikes!

Two B, piercers are joke monsters. All five missed and really, what else have they got after that?

Three, "You have to speak in rhymes from now on," is really, really cruel when you're not playing in any of the players' native language. heeheeheeheehee!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Play... Friday the 13th Edition!

Ay ay ay, that didn't go well.

First off, the blue (OK, OK, turquoise) bread I baked that wowed everyone so much in Vaasa a couple years back was not so impressive to the Helsinki crowd. Frickin jaded big city types. :P Then there was a bit of trouble since the game was at my place and two of the players got a tad lost on their way so we didn't get settled in until a bit later than planned. And then we started playing...

... and the party demonstrated an absolute lack of cooperation and cohesiveness. This is either the third straight session (or the third out of the last four, I forget) where there has been a PC fatality (nevermind hireling fatalities). In addition to my belief that the lack of overall cooperation has led to two of these deaths, the latest two to die (same ones...) were "senior" members of the party (they've been there every session from the beginning) and the ones that everyone else seemed to look to for guidance. When the last PC fell, a disorganized situation devolved into chaos.

In total, they explored less than a dozen rooms, netted about 90xp/gp each, and face an uncertain future as a party. I hope they get their acts together because I enjoy running for larger parties... it gives so more options for them as far as strategy (and they practice almost none of it beyond a few basics). But if smaller, separate groups end up being what's called for (remember I'm aiming for a West Marches campaign), I can do that too. But a party that doesn't work together will get chewed up by the opposition pretty bad...

The good thing is total Olden Domain playership went up to 9 total participants from 5 different nations.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ahhh, gaming days here again.

I have an Olden Domain game tomorrow, expecting six people. It might be the first game outside the Sunken City area. The BFRPG campaign on Sunday, hoping for five, and we should get through the Pod Caverns at last and into the Valley.

I priced paper cutters and long-arm staplers today. Finding a long-arm stapler in Finland in the first place is a pain in the ass, let me tell you. But, yikes. Being able to staple in the middle of a piece of paper and trim the edges is expensive. Maybe the next couple of offerings will be done at the local Multiprint after all... still, it is a bit of a waste to print up enough copies to make a decent price point for each if only half of those are going out the door anyway. Argh.

Gods. Gods. Gods. Gods.

Grading the Blogs On Name Alone

I'm bored, have about a half hour of time before I need to leave, and don't want to do anything of substance. So here is RANDOM RANDOMNESS of ABSOLUTELY NO IMPORTANCE that will PROBABLY hurt FEELINGS.

Just because it's been awhile.

What I'm going to do is go through the 44 blogs on the blogroll to the right (44? Holy carp!) and rank them, from worst to best... BASED ON THEIR NAME ALONE. Content is unimportant. Style is unimportant. Here, only the name matters! And I'll also tell you the first thing I think of when I see the name.

  • Prime Requisite Games™ Ads! Ads are happening here!
  • Codeman's Nostalgia Gaming Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start
  • RetroRoleplaying: The Blog Someone needs to tell these guys that people still play these games.
  • Delta's D&D Hotspot Sounds like some "content provider's" way of giving their D&D section a hip and cool name... and some ointment will make that go away.
  • American Barberica Conan in Vinland!
  • Uhluht'c Awakens .kaerb a em eviG
  • Semper Initiativus Unum Oh yay. Latin. Is this about a marine's paycheck?
  • TARGA Foot powder!
  • Bat in the Attic Someone's Meatloaf albums got put into storage...
  • sword +1 Dude has that many magic items to name his blog after, and he chooses that?
  • Sham's Grog'n Blog He better clean that up.
  • Kellri I can roll on the tables in the books and come up with results too!
  • Brave Halfling Publishing Hobbit fetishes are bad news.
  • Strategy SCHMATEGY I click on it and there's nothing about no strategy!
  • Silver Blade Adventures Teen fantasy novel series!
  • A Hamsterish Hoard of Dungeons and Dragons Hamsters surely have shitty treasure types.
  • Chgowiz's Old Guy RPG Blog "My fingers slipped when I was filling in the name and I don't know how to change it"/"I am a dread Hyperborean sorcerer with a twist... no apostrophes!"/How to role-play on a Social Security budget
  • Advanced Gaming & Theory blah blah blah blah blah blah
  • Adventures in Gaming "I discovered RPGs yesterday and I want to tell you all about it!"
  • Apprentice of Old School What everyone else implies, this dude says!
  • RPG Blog II Sequels are never any good...
  • Back in '81 ... we gamed in the snow. Uphill. Both ways!
  • Geoffrey McKinney's CARCOSA Dude's going to need a different blog for everything he ever publishes... I bet he talks about himself in the third person at home... "Honey! I'm hungry! Is Geoffrey McKinney's dinner ready soon?"
  • Jeff's Gameblog "Yesterday I found this cool new game. It's called checkers! And today I discovered Connect Four... and it uses these checkers thingies too! Gosh!"
  • The Call of the Dungeon Look elsewhere for wilderness encounter tables!
  • Overheard at the Barking Dog Woof! Woof! Woof!
  • World of Thool "Let me tell you about my campaign..."
  • The Dwarf and the Basilisk ... and other fairytales like "How the Succubus got her tits."
  • Some King's Kent He shouldn't use that word to describe a queen...
  • The Grumblin' Grognard How many old farts bitching about everything do we need? (lots!)
  • Greyhawk Grognard This must be Allan Grohe's site!
  • Old Guard Gaming Accoutrements "Remember when we had dice made of glass and DM screens made out of tissue paper? Those were the days!"
  • The Tao of D&D "Ease your mind as D&D philosophy reveals the truth of the world..."
  • The Silver Key Just one of them?
  • Grognardia One ZIP code over from Strongbadia...
  • Trollsmyth This guy is making trolls?
  • Vancian Magic Oh cool! New spells!
  • The Eiglophian Press I am so behind on my wrestling... what kind of move is that and who does it?
  • Places to Go, People to Be Best general RPG blog name ever... but my interests are more... precise!
  • Save vs. Poison Or Die!
  • Like Being Read to From Dictionaries Dude must be sooooo boring...
  • The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope These clever guys are going to seriously piss off their 4e DM as they duck by every single one of his traps and encounters and grab the loot without incident, causing the DM to complain, "If you did't want to play, why did you show up?"
  • Confessions of an Amateur RPG Publisher "... and I took the boothbabe to the restroom, ripped off her chainmail bikini, and thrust my mighty..."
  • LotFP: Heavy Metal Obviously concerning heavy metal, and the "LotFP" letters just ring together so magically it's just about perfect!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ye Gods

... I'm thinking about gods and other such "superior entities" and how they relate to gaming and campaigns.

Religion isn't something that gives comfort, and worshipping a deity isn't done because you've picked a cosmic side or because you agree with what that god stands for. You follow a religion because the god is real and you worship it because if you don't, you won't gain its favor and the world out there is a very cruel place.

If there is a pantheon set up like the Greek or Norse gods, then you don't pick one of the bunch to worship. You follow them all, even the ones with alignments directly opposed to yours, because you still encounter their domains in your life and The God Of Random And Slow Deadly Death is probably the god you need to placate the most even if you like it least.

But on a pulpier level, the gods aren't the creators and wardens of slices of creation. The gods are just beings of great power who are drunk on that power and people worship them because they have power, and religion and worship is a zero-sum game to these entities. I'm thinking Hawks over Shem (forget the issues with de Camp's changing of a Howard non-Conan story into a Conan tale for a moment... and I only know the Thomas/Buscema/Alcala graphic adaptation anyway!), with King Akhîrom declaring himself a god (leading to a moment of supremely bad judgement) and outlawing the worship of Pteor, the previous chief religion of the city-state. The high priest of Pteor is burned alive (along with 100 noble children of the city). But this line: "Weep not overmuch, however, for Abdashtarth, priest of Pteor. He himself has slain thousands of Pelishtim children the same way, in times of crisis."

That's gamey-time religion to me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Do Social Networking Sites Improve Your Gaming?

I'm talking Facebook, Myspace, or whatever it is you use.

Do you find new players this way? Keep contact with anyone in your group? Use any of their features for your gaming purposes?

Does anyone make business contacts or anything of real value on those things?

Right now I use Facebook more, and my Myspace is badly neglected (never mind that I approve every metal band that wants to be "friends" without even listening to them), but I really don't use them for purposes other than... well... I dunno. I used to just hit on girls on those things, so I can't find any real use for them now.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


No pictures this week, and no game coming on Sunday (I'll be using the break to introduce the girlfriend to the foundations of modern horror... or, stuff I liked as a kid, either or: Halloween, Friday the 13th Part II, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Evil Dead II).

For the second week in a row, there was a PC fatality. This time it was more interesting. The valiant party of 5 (1st level) PCs and 2 hirelings wandered into a cave... and were attacked by 3 carrion crawlers. One by one the party succumbed to paralysis, until only one crawler and one PC remained... and... the PC fell.

I was ready to call it a TPK when a comment a player had made me realize... is one badly injured crawler going to eat everyone before anyone woke up? I checked the manual, because I didn't want to save them from a deserved fate and I didn't want to screw them. Neither Greyhawk nor the Monster Manual (the two references I had with me) listed a duration for paralysis with the monster description. I'd already gone with the "no damage/paralysis only" (I have no idea if the Greyhawk version is different) so it wouldn't be quickly gulping anything.

So I made a ruling. The PCs will begin to wake up... only after one character was dead. The badly wounded critter would definitely begin feasting on someone. I rolled a d8. Each character, PC and NPC, was assigned a number. 8 means reroll. The roll determines who dies.

And... Gnarly the Dwarf, veteran of every Olden Domain session to date, and not far from 2nd level... had his face munched off (easiest place to chow down on someone wearing plate armor, no?).

What an ungrateful bastard I am, too. This past week he had received a Creature Generator he'd ordered online someplace and had me sign it before the session started. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

RIP Gnarly. And that was how the session ended. The rest of the crew awoke during the following several rounds and took down the badly injured critter.

There was also fun earlier on in a moldy room where pretty much every action meant a save vs death by spores, but they'd taken so many precautions that I ruled that they'd fail the save only on a roll of 1 or 2 (just 1 for the dwarves). Watching them take so many chances and roll that 20 sider so many times since the chances were so heavily in their favor... that was really cool and suspenseful. No fatalities there.

In other news, one of my other players is a fantastic artist (I'd seen some of his sketches, but I saw an in-progress work he's doing OH MY GOD)... looks like he's doing stuff for Fight On! now. If that comes together, and the player in my other campaign indeed releases some of his old dungeons as he's thinking of doing, in addition to the Insect Shrine artist Laura doing artwork for the upcoming Fight On! as well... I think I'll have nothing to be ashamed about contributing to this little Renaissance of ours... not only a decent little product that I've somehow managed to get into retail distribution, but getting talent into the creative pool as well. Rock, rock on!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Running the Game You Want to Run

Hmmm. One step forward, two steps back.

The ideas for D&D games based on wild, imaginative concepts are springing up all over the place. Some of them have blogs.

Two such ideas seemed to have a lot of care, effort, and enthusiasm put into them. And now it seems the people that were going to run these games have backed off to run more traditional "vanilla fantasy" D&D.

I am speaking specifically of James Mishler and his Realm of Lohsem, and The World of Thool.

Go look at that Thool blog, from the beginning. Look at the Lohsem posts.

Then, the kills:

Thool: I'm getting the itch to run a game again. I'd like to use Thool. However, I'm not confident I can find compatible gamers in my area for a regular OD&D tabletop game. I do think I could probably scramble a few people for a traditional AD&D game using the Wilderlands or some other traditional setting.

Lohsem: After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that the stray thought wasn't just out to get me, but was indeed a revelation of unfortunate truth. If I'm to put together a group of local folks to play D&D, I have to make the game appealing to what might fit local ideals of fantasy gaming, not the fantasy-core concepts that percolated through Gygax, Arneson, Holmes, and the gaming crowd 35 years ago.

Concepts dead without even attempting to get them off the ground, if I'm reading these posts correctly. I wonder how many other original and personal visions have been conceived like this and then dashed without even discovering if they can work.

We know our activities are niche activities. Our version of D&D is not what is in the public consciousness, and our personal views of fantasy aren't what the general role-player would think of when he thinks fantasy.

So how do we convince people to play in our whacked out personal little visions?

Short answer: We don't.

Medium Answer: We don't convince them of anything.

Long Answer: Pitch the idea, not the particulars.

I made this point as a response to the Thool announcement:

It's like the little kid who won't eat some new (to him) food because he KNOWS it tastes bad, even though he has never had it before in his life. Half the time when he finally puts some in his mouth, it's not so bad after all. In fact, it's kind of tasty.

People keep doing that all their lives. Invite them over for lunch without mentioning you're cooking something with a weird foreign name. They'll say "no thanks" if you ask them ahead of time but if they're already at your house when you serve it, they'll eat it, if you take my meaning.

What people want, and what they think they want, are often different things. Each layer that you shave off of the accepted and the familiar is going to become a barrier to acceptance.

Stop shaving!

"Old D&D" is often enough. Someone savvy enough to know the difference between OD&D and B/X and Mentzer and all that jazz is probably not going to need a lot of convincing anyway. People who came in with 2nd edition or later, or who haven't played in 20 years anyway, don't care about the difference. Just tell them "old D&D" and leave the details about your cool world and your awesome house rules out of the sales pitch altogether!

When you've gathered a group of people together that expect to walk around a dungeon and encounter orcs with pies in 10' square rooms, start softening them up. Make small talk before the "official" start of the first session. Make "casual" conversation about certain books or movies that could give hints to what you'll be presenting. Prime them. Since they're there for gaming, this sort of talk won't even be a social faux pas.

When it comes to the rules... again, someone that's familiar and on-board with the whole traditional thing will be expecting house rules and everything that goes with that I Fixed It All Up Perfect excitement. Someone not familiar with the whole thing won't recognize the difference anyway. If you're at all worried about being "too much," then do not present your house rules as house rules.

They're just the rules. Between Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry and BFRPG, all downloadable for free and all with PDFs that you can capture text from (not to mention that scanning actual old D&D books is possible for this purpose as well), you can put together your own rulebook of cut-and-pasted material. All they need to know is Character Creation, Spells (if a spellcaster), Equipment, and Rules of Play (combat, movement, encumbrance, finding traps and doors and stuff, whatever it is people will do in your game).

Or forget about all that. It's old D&D for crying out loud. They can put all their character information on a friggin index card. They don't need to know the rules beyond character creation and maybe their combat options. At least not up front. That will certainly get them in the "old school" mentality of player action, not character stat, as the most important part of play.

And then there's the setting.

Once again, players don't care about your grand plans and huge maps and blah blah blah. You have the ideas and you want to show it to them. Fine. I can relate. Start small. Start in as normal a place as possible, and just work outward from there. Don't dump a huge document about your setting onto your players. Don't go on and on about how awesome it is and proceed to portray a slightly-off-the-beaten-track idea (which is all these ideas really are) as something resembling some incomprehensible Jorune/Nobilis crossbreed.

Stop it!

Just present "a place." The details aren't important until a player asks, or they run into the detail. And you don't have to introduce everything at once. Go slow. They're going to be first level useless shits who are lucky to get their fingers up their nostrils when they want a snack, let alone have encyclopedic knowledge of a world's history and wildlife. If you have naked flying rhino men that use laser dildos and acidic feces as weapons in your campaign, maybe you can wait a few sessions before introducing it. Introduce a weird thing here, a weird thing there, and before you know it, you've acclimated some bog-standard fantasy players to the weirdest thing they've ever seen, and they won't even think it's all that weird anymore.

Here's another trick that lets you run a gonzo setting without making your players feel they're studying for a social studies test: When an element of the local culture pops up in a game, be it a strange religion, a common plant that has weird properties, anything, have a card ready with the details to give to the players in addition to your quick explanation. They're not going to remember it anyway! But with the reference card handy, you don't have to explain it all the time. "Check card #5, it's one of those again."

The same thing with your game world map. If you're worried that you're going to overwhelm someone with weirdness, don't show them the whole damn world. Just give them a small regional map. They don't need to know about the Flying Furnaces Containing Silver Squid Gods And Their Many Teddy Bears on the coast there. Not yet. If you're worried about freaking them out, HOLD IT BACK a little!

By doing these things, you can present the game you want, as wildly changed and bizarrely concepted as you like, without chasing away everyone with your AWESOME AND ORIGINAL new ideas that nobody really gives a crap about when they show up to game. That's what scares people away from bizarre gaming ideas - the fear that they'll be doing something they can't relate to. You're the one that cares about setting and tone; the players just want to show up and roll some dice and socialize and game. The actual game experience of house-ruled-to-hell old Dungeons and Dragons isn't any different than by-the-book old D&D, so don't scare people away by trying to highlight how different your game is.

Come up with your ideas, advertise it as "Old D&D," (or whatever game it is you're running), and run the game you're dreaming about running. There is no need to get freaked out and go to what you assume is the common gaming denominator if your ambitions lie elsewhere.

Or how about at least making the attempt to get players before pulling the plug on everything you've prepared for?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brave Halfling Publishing: Thumbs Up! Plus a bit of LotFP Promotion! Plus...


Someone's finally getting off of Lulu... Brave Halfling will be printing their own materials, which will mean products getting to market faster after completion (my own experience putting a book up on Lulu was torture, ordering a proof copy, waiting for it to be assembled, waiting for it to come to me overseas, and then doing it all over again hoping my corrections worked...), being cheaper to buy, and delivered faster after ordering. More publishers (well, every publisher) needs to do this. Lulu has made some interesting business decisions lately, and an entire scene basing its entire real-world output on a company that really isn't about them seems foolish to me. Not to mention that I won't buy hardcopy books from Lulu, so publishing through them is a no-no for me as well.

Their first adventure in this new format, Ruins of Ramat (for OD&D), is available. Here is a good promo for it, complete with pictures of the finished booklet.

Now all Brave Halfling needs is a more impressive logo and a bit more grit in the presentation and they'd be all set.

If they could get their printed stuff sold through Noble Knight (run by an old-time gaming freak, and quite the seller of out-of-print D&D materials to boot), that would be great. If Brave Halfling's own mail-order operation gets going well enough that they could sell other people's items (and maybe be the store for the Renaissance going on here...), maybe even better.

I love seeing things in action!


Over on the Swords and Wizardry forums, they're having a "Megadungeon Slam" event, attempting to pump out a 20 level megadungeon for OD&D/S&W in 48 hours. I haven't checked in on how it's being done, but for crying out loud, will someone publish something with detailed room descriptions? I can sketch out a map with a couple sentences about each room well enough myself, thank you very much... :P

And in other "news"...

... and two more bloggers have noted that they've received copies of the Random Esoteric Creature Generator! Read about that here and here... I'm still selling signed copies (with extras!) here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

... and while I'm dreaming, I'd like to have a pony.

So I'm thinking, "I'm shit at promotion." Because I really want the creature generator to get out there. I want Insect Shrine to actually break even when it's released. I have some other irons in the fire as well. I really don't want to go the pdf micro-release route (my "profit" concerns there would be keeping my printer fully stocked with ink) because I like real things, but developing a small catalog of such things seems to be the way small publishing outfits stake a real customer claim. Not that I really like seeing myself as a publishing outfit, but I do want to release stuff that costs money to release so I want people to buy it, so some thought into the matter is probably necessary. And I'm living with someone, and you know girls... they have this allergy to piles cardboard boxes filled with multiple copies of the same book. So maybe I should avoid that as much as possible.

Along those lines, this morning I'm laying in bed thinking, "Why haven't I been on some gaming podcast?" I'd be a great guest, with all the weird stuff that just kind of falls out of my mouth. And talking is so much easier than writing.

I don't know if it would be real promotion or just a train wreck circus, but when I'm holding court, the "boring" box is not something people usually check on the customer comment card.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Shared Common Experiences

Grognardia has its Retrospective series, recalling classic cultural touchpoints that many traditional D&D players have experienced in their gaming history. The Tao of D&D rejects such things, preferring gaming activity to be self-generated. I'm somewhat mixed about the classic modules.

But I am running one currently, albeit a newer one that is very unlikely to have been seen by the players. I have put a classic module (more or less disguised) into The Olden Domain, but nobody's gone there yet. (hell, I should also put Tomb of Horrors up on a mountain somwhere there just to fuck with people... actually, is there any reason to not put all of the location-based adventures in there, besides a desire to "own" the setting myself?)

My approach to modules in my current campaigns got me thinking. Are these common elements of our past important, or just trivia? Has our hobby been helped by having Keep on the Borderlands experienced by millions of people? Has our creativity been stifled by having "the moathouse" be a a recognized term with an understood meaning?

I'm not talking about the methods of play put forward by any of the more popular modules. If for some reason Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh had been the standard module in all those basic sets from 1977 - 1982 and Beyond the Crystal Cave had been the very first TSR module, playstyles today might be different but there would still be the element of extremely common and well understood cultural references that are undoubtedly related to the game, but really aren't the game itself any more than some awesome dungeon you ran once back in 1988.

So what if the "adventure module" had never been presented as a commercial tool? What if the "sample dungeons" of OD&D and Mentzer and Holmes and Moldvay (and maybe Temple of the Frog) were the only published examples of what a D&D adventure might look like?

What if we were never given even those?

Would our hobby be more alive and more individually creative, with people looking less to publications? Would the hobby have ever reached any real state of popularity or gone beyond its original intended audience without so many ready-to-play opportunities available for just $6 a pop?

Was the adventure module actually the glue that bound gamers across the country and the world? The means by which gamers largely communicated with each other, moreso than actual rules? Are they iitally important to gamers on a community level or is it just small-talk fluff?


"A Game About Finding Money"

The one comment that bothered me after Friday's Olden Domain game was Maria telling me that while it was interesting noting the group dynamics, the game itself seemed a bit shallow (my sum-up, not her exact wording), with the sole activity being running around grubbing for coins.

I could see her point. And I've sort of written about that very thing.

It also occurs to me that all this talk of "no plot, no story," can get mangled between the initial concept and the recitation of the mantra.

But the proof of there being more in there is already in the game. It hasn't been all about going in the dungeon or exploring the castle. There is more there. They've already thrust themselves into the conflict between the Kur-Kaloo tribe and the gnolls in the Sunken City, befriending the tribesfolk. They're planning on arming them and taking the gnoll's tower to use as a forward base for further expeditions into the Olden Domain.

Right there, the players, without any guidance from me, took a situation they could have completely ignored, decided to interact with it, and are basing plans around it. I didn't do that, I didn't lead them into that. They could have sided with the gnolls. They could have decided to join neither side and just hack through whoever was in front of them. They could have decided to hell with the city and crawled around the caves on the side of the sinkhole, or traveled to one of the other locations listed on the beginning map.

But they didn't. They befriended the tribe, and they are already spending the money to start arming the tribe. They need more money (thus a reason for adventuring beyond because it's there) to really do that, they need a bit more experience before being comfortable taking on the gnolls, but it's discussed every session.

When they do make their move (if they do... for all I know they'll just talk about it forever and never do anything), it'll be a story climax (here's hoping it's a happy ending for them... I'll be rooting for them while at the same time playing the gnolls for all they're worth), and I'll bet money that the outcome will be more meaningful (or at the very least no less meaningful) than if I had set up a "aid the poor tribesmen from the vicious humanoids!" story arc from the start, and it will have been entirely player-driven.

That won't be the only opportunity for such decisions and interactions. The past couple of sessions, the PCs have recovered maps of the greater Olden Domain, showing the lay of the land, locations of possible interest, but little in the way of details and nothing in the way of information about inhabitants. I may not have a lot of detail finalized yet, but I have a lot of sketches and a lot of rough notes.

What do the players want to do?

Tool around dungeons and such, collecting treasure and slaying monsters? Sure, they can do that.

Explore the ancient sites of the Olden Domain and create a comprehensive history of the region? They'll be able to do that.

Will they want to interact with various factions and become involved in greater-scaled conflicts? Oh yeah, the opportunity will be there.

Do they want to fulfill the traditional D&D endgame and eventually create a kingdom of their own within the Olden Domain? I wouldn't say no to that.

But I won't be telling them to do any of this. I won't have to. I'll just have locations available, creatures lairing therein, and then intelligent groups of various power, wealth, alignment, and size. The players will decide what is important to them, and make plans accordingly.

And if I gather enough players to have a situation where multiple groups are competing for the same treasure and magic and alliances and information and double-crossing each other, so much the better. A little pressure-cooking never hurt anyone.

And that's just possibilities I'm intending to make available. I'm sure there are going to be many things that I think are just set dressing or an offhand idea that I throw out there that will be used by players as a motivational hook for future activities.

Hell, they don't even know where any dragon lairs are yet. :D

The more the Olden Domain is explored, the more pure options the players will have about where to go, the more knowledge they'll have about who's there (and who's where), and I'm sure they'll come up with ideas I never even dreamed of involving characters, places, and things that I never even considered could be related with one another.

And I have a feeling the grubbing for coins in random places won't be a primary goal or activity, competition or no, for so terribly long, even if all I do is place locations and inhabitants around the landscape. Traditional D&D seems to morph quite nicely into different modes of play where the game is about different things. I wonder if anyone will ever want to establish their own dominion someday...

Yet the XP for GP system will stay. I insist on an absolute and objective measurement for advancement, for that keeps me from playing favorites ("XP for role-playing!"), keeps me from railroading ("XP for story goals!"), and it creates possible dilemmas for the players ("Do we do this interesting thing this time or do we go for the gold?" or "Look at this helpful, peaceful little village... with a golden idol!"). But players that want something a bit more from the game just have to claim it. They'll advance a bit slower, but if they are looking for more than dungeoneering and looting, will they really care?

I Play 2: Eldritch Boogaloo!

... ah, from the Sunday game!

The players study their options! This game runs from 2pm - 8pm (give or take) so we're generally more lively... well, when certain people aren't dreadfully hungover, that is! We had three absent players this time, leaving the remaining four (two thieves, a fighter, and magic-user!) with no healing capabilities (bad since last session ended in the dungeon, trapped, and wounded after having just completed A Big Fight!) and low on pure fighting power!

I'm running them through Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, which I'm going to review after they get through it. I've had some harsh things to say about certain bits before, but I think gaming reviews really aren't valid without some actual play to back them up. How something reads often has little relation to how something plays. I expect these guys to finish up next session (which will make a total of 4 sessions in here).

Note my cool custom Basic Fantasy RPG booklet there. Better pics of it here.

The girlfriend was home, so she baked for us (although I do believe the grapes were Elsa's). If I was smart, I would have taken a picture of the cookies and cake before we ate it, but I was rather concerned with the actual game... and eating! Even when Maria doesn't bake something fabulous, I try to bake fresh bread for everyone. When the game is at my place, I like to make sure everyone has a fair supply of nom-noms!

"The hallway continues for 10', and then opens into a 20' x 20' room (you're entering from the left side). In the far left corner, you see a table, around which are huddled four gamers! What do you do?"

I Play(ed)... and Rules/Dungeon Design Commentary!

This is from Friday's game.

You would think I would learn to have the picture taken at the beginning of the session when everyone's fresh (we started this night at 6pm), and not just when people are starting to leave (we played 7 hours) and we look like we're about to drop over. We don't look this zombified normally.

The two new players from last week returned this week, which was good.

Lots of weird happenings this time around. Some non-cooperation (and grabbing treasure for oneself), and realizing that the Purple Lotus gives visions of what happened centuries ago in the location it's huffed, so lots of hallucinogenic drug use happening in this session. Interesting group thus far, and some of these actions would make a bit more sense if there was more of a fluid session-to-session player group (which I hope to achieve since the Olden Domain campaign is supposed to be a West Marches style game), so we'll see how this plays out.

My girlfriend tagged along this time, but didn't play... just sat on the couch behind me there and watched us for seven hours. That sounds insane, but she enjoys watching people and figuring out how they operate as a group. I got a full report after the session and learned things I just don't pay attention to when I'm figuring out locations and who's where and if the monster hears them or... or... or...

I also got an interesting conversation about the nature of the game itself, which I'll address in its own post later on.

A couple things about the actual playing became apparent during this session.

One, the OD&D/Chainmail combat seems to favor numbers over a single powerful creature. After figuring out that the AD&D Monster Manual was more in line with OD&D/Holmes (armor classes, alignments, spell abilities, etc) than the rest of AD&D proper, I decided to use it as a resource for this game.

Now, I'm using original booklets and Chainmail combat, so no variable damage (although I have small creatures, daggers, and hand axes do 1/2d6 instead of 1d6), no variable hit dice, and monsters get one attack per round standard. With d6 standard (with only monsters like ogres, giants, and efreet getting bonus damage) I decided not to give everything bonus damage. d6 standard unless it's very unusual circumstances. I also give full hit points at first level (but NPC hirelings are 0 level get 4-6hp... figure the PCs wouldn't hire complete wimp no-hopers, right?) and rule that 0 hp means unconscious, negative hp equals death. So even a heavy-hitting monster can't kill any PC with one shot. Just knock him unconscious (and not even that for the fighting men or dwarves or those with a constitution bonus). Just my way of not making the game a wholesale slaughter.

(But there was one PC death and two hireling deaths during this session. There very nearly was a lot more PC deaths, but for some lucky rolls made at the table.)

This does mean that even normal men ganging up on the largest creature (if it doesn't have a special attack) is going to win if they're willing to take a few casualties. And I like that. I never liked having classes NPCs in every village and I wondered then how any village could possibly survive against even a low hit die creature in the wild. Every farmer would be eaten by an ankheg, etc. But this "gang up" thing makes sense. OD&D has an "angry villagers" rule, but I think the rules as I'm interpreting them create their own Angry Mob option. Getting a few dozen villagers with pitchforks and torches and heading up to talk to the evil wizard and his monstrous creation might not be an insane thing to do after all...

For the Creature Generator plug, I also created an squid-like creature with four mouths with a special attack that involved the four mouths engaging in harmony singing to sonically stun anyone who hears it... and while it bites, three mouths is enough to maintain the singing. I put this in the castle's music room of course.

The lotus zombies (zombies with the lotus plant so intertwined in its corpse that whenever it's hit, a cloud of purple lotus drug sprays the attacker, and the same but with a save bonus when the zombie hits) were another creation inspired by the Creature Generator but with the exact details filled in by me.

The other thing I noticed... since this entire "Sunken City" environment is supposed to be a beginner's area, even though I put nasty monsters in places (the monster that made me look at the above situation was a roper, which 5 1st level PCs + 3 0 level hirelings were able to defeat with only 1 or 2 - I forget - hireling casualty/ies), I'm not yet really presenting wandering monsters that much, and when they do appear, they are directly from a keyed area.

So the players search everywhere, everything, full sweep, every single nook and cranny. There really isn't so much organization or urgency to their exploration. "This room. That room. Then the other one." The castle has a total of about two dozen towers which are more or less identical. And they search every one, each level, one by one.

It gets a bit tedious, but it's my dungeon design that's to blame. I follow the general guidelines of having 1/3rd of the locations contain a monster and 1/3rd containing a treasure. Not always the same locations, either. And in this particular case, with what the castle is, and my background explanation for why the stuff is there, the treasure isn't spectacular or spectacularly hidden in most cases. Add that factor to the lack of wandering monsters, of course they're going to sweep every inch of the place.

Future locations will encourage more keep moving and less we set up shop on this level and clear the mother out. But in ways that the players can take advantage of instead of merely being victimized by. Options and empowerment will be the order of the day, but maybe a bit snappier. ;)

Another thing I noticed is that I'm playing it fast and loose with the locations (abandoned/haunted castle), but the rooms are "real" places... barracks, kitchen, bedrooms, etc. But I don't have the places fully detailed down to every last broken cabinet and such. I just give rough descriptions.

But I also don't have a thief class, and I'm trying to encourage "role-played" exploration. Not just "I search the room," but, "I check that thing." Base success and things found on what the players say, not a die roll. But with rough descriptions given to the players, that's not very possible. It isn't so much a problem in dungeon settings, where there isn't so much "real world" baggage. But the remnants of an inhabited, civilized structure? Yeah, it runs into issues.

So there are a couple things to address to make gameplay quicker paced and more immersive that I will be working on.

They did manage to find a pile of treasure though. A lot of them are almost... almost... to level 2. Remember that Holmes suggests 7 to 14 sessions between each level.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

D&D and Sexuality II

I'll have more extensive "I Play"s later on, but right now I just want to offer a situation from the just-completed session here...

The female elven magic user (played by a human male) cast Beast of Chaos (from Matthew Finch's Eldritch Weirdness) from a scroll to become a formless tentacle monster and eat a big toadstool (I'm running Finch's Pod Caverns right now, it's the funghemoth which I ruled it within size requirements, and looking like a rather mutated form of the Shroom) in one gulp, which shot out confusion spores, leading the female elven tentacle monster to attempt to grab and swallow the gay human male thief (played by the human female), prompting the hetero male pervert halfling fighter (played by a human male, and patterned after Belkar) to say something along the lines of, "Aha! Now I know you swallow!" When the elf then decided to give the halfling what he's been wanting (while still in tentacle monster form), the halfling freaks and declares himself newly gay to escape the tentacled clutches of the...

ah hell, you get the point.

And the youngest of us tonight was very nearly 30 I do believe. We're sick. And so is Mr. Finch. :P

Update on Sale and Contest

Only 3 sets are left in the Creature Generator bundle sale. Act now!

I've also received three rather extensive entries for the contest (same link). I'll be pushing this harder once the actual commercial part is out of the way... I have plans, and they involve you.

I did play on Friday, but I was so bushed after getting home (around 2am) that I didn't post then, and yesterday was a madhouse (including seeing Malicious Death, Axegressor, and Regression in concert) and I had no time, and I have a game in about 90 minutes from now, so I'll get around to the 'I Play's and various other commentary I've got saved up tonight or tomorrow.

And I love how people talk about the "old school movement" having a total "market" of about 40 people. Whether that is accurate or not (and it's not) isn't even the point. The point is to get people playing. I have 12 regulars right now between the two campaigns that I started. I notice that a lot of the bloggers are moving away from general bitching and theory to talking about actual play. With real people in real life.

We shall arise!