Monday, May 15, 2017

A Year Plus Later

"Go ahead and make all the plans you want.  Dream of what you will do in the future.  Life and God enjoy a good laugh."

That was a variation of an old quote I once saw.  It is so true.  This has been a year of crushing workloads, rapid calls for meetings, and a chaotic churning of responsibilities.  Technically, I should have had to endure the "empty nest" syndrome as the two youngest were supposed to move on after high school graduation.  But they did not.  Both live at home still.  One has goals, nebulous though they are.  The other just lives for internet arguments and playing games.  I'm calling it a "gap year" as both are rather naive and unprepared for the world they will be inheriting.

The gaming part of life is also in flux.  Had a good run in a campaign which introduced a new set of rules I never fully understood.  Its roots were based in Far Eastern mythology, culture, and practices.  Never been very interested in that part of the world, except in terms of foods and drink.  So, it was tough to get into the world and get a good handle on my character.  I'm not saying it wasn't fun or that I didn't have a good time, but there were moments where I just sat back and let others handle the situation.

The new campaign doesn't quite feel "right".  I'm not sure what it is that feels off, but there's something missing or something not working right.  I hope to figure it out soon as it detracts from my desire to play.  Discussing it with others has led me to think that a part of the problem is me.  I game because I want an outlet for the frustrations of life.  I want to "kill" things and do ridiculous stuff.  I want shenanigans and stupid antics.  If there's not a good belly laugh during the session, then it's not a good session.  If there's not a moment where we all just sit mouth agape at the absolutely ridiculous solution presented to a problem, then it's not a great session.

During some of those discussions, I learned something else.  I've mentioned here before about the differences in styles of play.  I had somewhat explored this idea before as well, but a friend put it most succinctly the other day and I will adjust it to even better clarify it.  Here it goes:

If your favorite fantasy books fall into the likes of Robert E. Howard (Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, etc) or Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd & Grey Mouser), then you view your characters as "Adventurers".  They sometimes do good, sometimes do bad, but always look for fun and hijinks.  There is no grand scheme and each one carves out his or her own story from whole cloth.

If your favorite author is Tolkien or that ilk, then your characters are "Heroes".  They only do good and help the unfortunate.  There's a grand overall scheme to the world and they help to bring it to a good conclusion.

If your favorite author is Jordan or Sanderson or some of the newer fantasy writers, then your characters are "Destiny Bound" heroes.  There's a grand scheme and no matter what their actions are, there is no changing of destiny.  And once that is accepted, the adventure begins to see where Destiny leads.

So, as my favorite form of fantasy escapist reading is along the lines of pulp Weird Tales style stuff, it's now wonder I prefer that style of play and that form of GM-ing.  Ask me to be the hero, and I'll find ways to disappoint you.  Ask me to follow your crafted storyline and I'll dynamite your railroad tracks.  I'm not trying to be mean or disruptive, I'm just trying to vent through the game system.

What's the point here?  Well, I figure if you're unhappy with a GM or a campaign, maybe you need to step back and see if the problem is you want X and the GM is providing Y.  And I think that's my problem with the current campaign.  I'm asked to be a hero and follow a story line, when all I want to do is kill stuff and burn things down.  Since I'm the location host, I'll just sit back and work on what I'll run when it's my turn in the DM seat.

Good luck out there.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Post to Keep this Place Alive

Wow...been a while.  Sweeping away the cobwebs.  Lots of stuff happening. 

Gamewise:  I tried to run Barrowmaze.  The game report last presented was a highlight of sorts.  The group was not particularly happy with my poor rolls and my too strongly held integrity of letting the dice determine most of the events.  I mean, a random encounter should happen randomly, not be planned or forced.  So, we talked about it and decided to try for some of the published modules/dungeons/adventures out there.  I had recently gotten Barrowmaze and offered to run it.  General sounds of glee and excitement ensued.  Then came 10 grueling sessions of chaos and dullness.  I think I screwed up something somewhere.  Because our experience was boredom and frustration.  BM looks like a cool place to explore.  The book has lots of interesting art as well as hints of something deep and evil and threatening.  But, running it was difficult.  Giving descriptions was more work than I ever remembered from my old 1e days in college during the early 80's.  And some of the rooms didn't make sense.  So, with 10 sessions, a couple of deaths, no major gold or XP to make the exploration worthwhile, we called it quits.  Then, more discussion.  This time, we're going to go old school and do the early 1e modules.  Starting at 4th level with The Moathouse from ToEE, then going into A1 through A4 (the Slavers series).  If the interest holds up, we may opt for GDQ. 

But life interfered.  I started teaching an Astronomy course.  I hadn't even taken an Astro course since college (again, early 80's).  Of course, such Astro courses are to give the mathematically and scientifically challenged a course in the subject they can pass.  This means "not the most motivated" of learners.  I was advised to use lots of PowerPoint with lots of images and few words if I want to keep their attention.  Adding animation is a given.  And so, every night, I sit down and spend a couple of hours putting together a presentation for the next week, while also keeping an eye on when to go observing with them (a lab grade) and keeping up with the grading for the other classes as well. 

So, until I can find free time again, which probably won't be until late May.  And then it's time for the NTRPG Con.  With this potential schedule, I'm not DMing until middle of June at the earliest.  Luckily, one of the players is also a DM who wants to runs some stuff at the con.  So, we're now all guinea pigs as he tests out new ideas and a couple of adventures.  It's nice to sit back and play for a while.  And not feel guilty about it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

....and a cougar named Milf...

Okay, as I've been posting, I'm been working up to running games again.  I've gone through all the angst of "am I really ready to be a DM again?" and "which system to I want to run?" and "how do I make my old stuff still work?" head games.  I've always enjoyed being a DM, almost more than being a player, since I started gaming back in 1978.  So, yeah, I'm ready to run again.  And after looking at all the systems to choose from now, I settled on what I was most comfortable with...1st edition AD&D.  It's not exactly my favorite, but I like it.  My favorite may actually be 0e, with some AD&D stuff added in.  But 1st ed is a very, very close second.

Now that last question up there...that's tough.  As I read through my old stuff, I realized there were several assumptions I must have made which I cannot make now.  For example, when you tell someone to use the old "3d6 eight times" method, you have to explain what you mean.  And even then, you may have to provide an example.  My method for starting characters is 3d6, totaled up, rolled 8 times to give 8 numbers ranging from 3 to 18, and then dropping the lowest two numbers and arranging the mix to suit whatever class you can make from those scores.  If for some unlikely reason none of those 8 scores are above 15, then ditch the entire set and roll another 8 scores.  I've never seen anyone have to reroll a set of scores more than once, until this last time.

Another assumption I made was that most people understood the combat system, the saving throw system and the descending AC system.  There were not options for anything different back then.  Combat was abstract.  Roll a d20 to represent your set of attacks this round.  The DM lets you know if you beat the AC of the defender or not.  Also, the roll did not represent 1 swing of a sword or shot of a bow but a set of swings or shots while the AC represented how well your target reacted to the attacks.  Thus, higher level characters were better at fighting because they had learned new ways to feint, thrust, and slash and so were able to find the soft spots better.  Tie this to the idea that hit points are not health solely, but also stamina and energy, then high hit points at higher levels meant you were more in shape and knew how to roll with a hit to reduce it's effectiveness.

Lastly, the players wanted to be heroes, not graverobbers and thugs.  The players wanted to emulate Conan and Prince Valiant and King Arthur and the heroes of legend or story.  Today, the players are geared toward killing things and getting rich.  Morality plays little to no part in the story, nor does theology or politics or even wonder.  The goals are not "let's make a great story to recount" but "how can I take this item and use it to get more gold or experience for my character".

But then I wonder if I'm projecting my inadequacies as a DM onto the players by assuming they don't want to play "right".  Maybe I'm not being clear enough with the hints and rumors about the world around them.  The list of regional deities and temples is too vague in terms of how the gods interact with man.  Or maybe I'm just not good at reading my players in terms of the game they want to play.

The reason for all this soul-searching is that I've tried to run, well re-run, my old gaming campaign from 30 years ago.  I read through all my old notes and tried to update some of it.  I cherry-picked a group to test out whether I could run this stuff.  Maybe instead of picking the guys I know who like Old School play, I should have picked the guys who like video games and newer styles of play.  I knew the first group would be more forgiving of mistakes and help me where I slipped up, but the other group would have been a better test audience.  And maybe I could convert them over to Old School play.  I don't know.  I may try to get another group going, one made of the newer style players.  We'll see.

Anyway, I have gotten the Old School group going and they went through my old "intro" dungeon as a way to get the players comfortable with each other and to help the players gel as a group.  It went okay.  I dumped the 2nd level of the thing because I wrote the dungeon to teach people who had never played a RPG before, but they don't exist anymore.  I then threw the modified version of a published module at them, and they did proceeded to trash the place.  They then decided to follow one of the rumors to what they thought was an abandoned tower...only to find it quite busy with folks.  The place would have been a death trap for them.  So, now they're headed off to the Barrowmaze.  But since they've not read up on the deities of the area, and I don't think they'll read up on the rumors and news that I'll be posting in the next week, I am not sure how this will turn out.

So, where does this leave me?  I have realized that while I like 1e well enough, I probably should have opted for something more B/X in rules complexity.  Also, I have realized that I don't tend to take the game seriously.  I mean, come on, it's a game!  So, when I DM, I tend to try to come up with ways to turn the rules on their side.  In the last game, as the group started toward the Barrowmaze, I rolled a random encounter, a mountain lion.  One of the characters is a druid, who cast Animal Friendship on the mountain lion just as it prepared to attack.  Now he has a cougar...he has named "Milf".  Such things are what I think this game is about, to have fun and be wacky or gonzo, and make great stories to tell.   Like, kobolds in orange vests and hard hats, or doing magic tricks and telling jokes at an undead's birthday party, or talking to a large hostile-looking creature, or finding a talking albino gorilla in a cage.....

Life is short.  The games should be fun.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

OD&D vs AD&D 1e vs 3.5/Pathfinder

"Wow...two posts so close together.  I wonder what work he's avoiding?"

Yeah...there's stuff I should be doing but I've got a lot on my mind and I've got to get it down here.  This may be a bit rambly.  Sorry.

Since I decided to stop playing Pathfinder back almost a year ago, I've been thinking about what it is I really enjoy and why.  Here's what I've figured out so far:  I'm not a storyteller.  I'm not interested in playing out someone else's idea of a "grand adventure".  I strongly dislike not having choices.  I have come to hate video games because of how they have ruined creativity.  I despise complexity, especially if it's only purpose is "realism".  (Side thought: Seriously?  Realism?  We're playing a game in which elves mate with humans and monsters are "real".  Who cares about the nit-picky details?)  I hate taking longer than 10 minutes to roll up a character.  I loathe implied and encouraged min/maxing. 

Wow...that's negative.  Okay, some positives:  I like finding a creative use for a "useless" spell.  I like an open set of honest choices ahead of me.  I like creative solutions for problems.  I like making up stuff on the fly, not to screw the players but to make them laugh and have fun.  I love simplicity.  I love sitting around the table, eating junk food and drinking beer and laughing with my friends.

So, where does that leave me?  Well, if I look back at my gaming history, maybe I can get an idea of which way to go.  I first learned of D&D in November of 1978 when a friend's older brother came back from college at Thanksgiving with this "great new game".  He got four of us together at my house and we rolled up two characters each to explore his pyramid dungeon.  By the time we got 30 feet down the first corridor, we had all lost a character each.  By the end of the Thanksgiving break, we had gone through several characters and were all hooked.  The game was the OD&D White Box with Greyhawk supplement.  At Christmas, I took some gift money and bought the Holmes set and some dice.  The next year, he sold me the white box with Greyhawk as he had moved on to AD&D.  At that time, I had discovered the other 3 supplements and had bought them as well. 

Graduation from high school in May of 1980 presented me with the ability to buy the 3 AD&D books.  I needed the advanced stuff because I was going to college and had to play the "grown-up version" of the game.  I got some more dice and headed off to UTEP.  I ran games almost every week for all four years I was there, including the summers.  I still have a thick folder of those old dungeons.  I eschewed modules because I thought those were for lazy or uncreative DMs.  I did however search out a copy of Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets.  Those were awesome!  In 1984, I graduated and moved to Dallas for grad school.  The Satanic Panic had set in and Reagan's Evangelical Army was active at that time.  It was tough trying to find a group of gamers.  Surprisingly, none of the other physics majors played.  And neither were they interested in playing.  I finally found a group in an ad in the Dallas Observer, which was a different newspaper way back then.  I ran games for a rotating batch of players until about 1988.  At that time, 2nd ed had started to come out and get a toe-hold on the players.  Until then, I had picked up most of the other 1e books but I wasn't all that impressed with the rules and ideas they presented.  The only exception was Dieties & Demigods, the first group with the Elric and Cthulhu stuff.  Lots of good ideas there.

Thus, around 1988 with most of my friends moving on and me stuck trying to get my dissertation done, I stopped gaming.  I had the first two books (DMG and PHB) of 2e and the Monster Manual binder with a couple of the "special addendum" packets (Greyhawk and Oriental Adventures).  But 2e didn't look like fun.  It was too stylized, too "clean", to rigid....and it had those stupid, stupid Non-Weapon Proficiencies.  These were the precursors to Skills, Feats, and Powers and such nonsense.  Really?  You can't think of a reasonable solution to some wacky idea so you've got to write a rule for it?  Ugh....I'm still glad I stopped playing.

So, marriage in 1990, teaching high school physics the same year, kids showing up in 1993, and I'm just too busy or tired to play.  I spend time reading and rereading my old books.  I occasionally pick up another copy of one of them at Half Price but generally don't get anything new or try to play.  Until 2000, that is.  I have taken my DMG and PHB up to school to read and they're on my shelf.  A couple of kids see them and ask about them.  They've seen people playing the 2e game but weren't invited to join in.  So, I start running a few simple sessions after school once a week.  They're hooked on 1e.  They want to learn more.  They can't find any of the books.  But then WotC has bought out TSR and has just put out 3e.  The kids start playing that.  I'm asked to join to 'help them' figure stuff out.  It's a whole new game.

At first, I couldn't figure out what to do.  Then, after some guidance and explanation involving relations to video games, I kinda figure it out.  And I get a taste of the "bonus bug", the almost insidious whispering behind the rules to min/max.  A look at the Monster Manual and it's even more obvious.  If you don't min/max, you don't have a survivable character.  The "special snowflake" idea is intricately entwined in the rules.  A few years later, 3.5 comes out and solidifies this a little more.  But, if I want to find a group and to play D&D at all, I have to give in to this.  So, I do.  And I make some good friends and play regularly, and actually manage to have some fun by trying to find ways to break the rules and tweak the system back to the old ways.  My first push back was a barbarian/druid named Morley who had a badger animal companion named Michelson.  My last push back was a rogue who started life as a lazy fisherman and who continued to insist that he was just a fisherman who wanted to go home, despite having picked up a goblin henchman and several levels of rogue.  I also learned during this time just how valuable modules are and were.  There is no way I had the time to put together an adventure in 3.5.  I learned that the hard way when I put in 8 hours of work and had only two NPC's and 5 monsters prepped, with almost nothing else done. 

Luckily, during this time, a lot of older guys like me were dumping their 1e and older collections.  So I started buying.  I started looking for a respite from this game that I used to love but had become a chore to play.  That's when I discovered Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and the North Texas RPG Convention.  I found folks like me who had held on to their roots and not given up.  It didn't take long for me to see that is where  I should be.  And here I am.

But now I'm in a quandary with some of my friends.  I have now played with some of these guys for ten years.  They like the rules heavy, min/max approach to gaming.  But they also like playing computer and video games.  I have figured out that the appeal appears to be related to the idea of "customization".  In the old editions, your fighter could be a swashbuckler, a ranger, a knight, a thug, or city watch.  You didn't need or use stats to distinguish him that way. You just role-played him that way.  Now, the idea is that each of these need to be special and distinguishable based upon skills and feats and powers, etc.  But this all boils down to bonuses.  In the old editions, stats gave you a clue as to how to play the character's personality.  In the newer, they're important for bonuses.  The new version is more math heavy than the old, even if you include all the resource management aspects of the old. 

So, what do I do?  This may sound harsh, but I refuse to play a "hack-n-slash" campaign.  I don't want to run something in which every encounter is a combat.  That's foolish in the 1e system.  But I know some of them either only know how to play that way or only want to play that way.  I love them dearly, but I just don't want to endure that anymore.  I had my fill of combat driven games.  That's why I stopped playing PF and that's why I sold off almost all of my 3e and 3.5e stuff.  I'm done.

Catching Up

Well, I've run three games so far....well, sort of 3 games so far.  The group is still settling in with each other and I'm still waiting to see if my insistence upon only AD&D 1e with some house rules will scratch everyone's itch. 

So, picking up where the last game report left off.  The group managed to complete the Training Area.  It helped that I cut out half of it.  I'll explain why at the end.  After the bugbear battle, they headed back to the Healing Room with the goblin entourage they had gathered.  Healed up a bit overnight and returned to check out where the hobgoblin had disappeared as well as looting the bugbears' home.  They picked up some gold and useful materials and headed further into the dungeon.  A few tricks later, they found a room of berserkers.  The hobgoblin had charmed the leader and the group was ready for a fight.  It was a quick battle with no serious casualties.  A quick search and they were done.  Honestly, I'm truncating it because there was a lot of kibitzing and silliness and not a lot of play.  As I said, the group is determining whether or not they gel. The hour plus conversation at the end about training costs and leveling up and the RAW in the DMG about it vs my take vs what each of us had done in the past, flavor with comparisons with other editions....So, I added a couple of house rules:  Training needs to take place for the first few levels, at roughly a cost of 500gp/level (calculated before leveling up).  If the PC has no money, they owe their mentor/trainer a "favor", which I as DM use to guide the group to a new adventure in case they can't find direction amongst themselves.

Two weeks pass and we're actually all together again...all possible players are at the table at the same time!  Amazing!  Rarely happens.  I'm surprised still because I honestly didn't think everyone was enjoying themselves.  Anyway, the group has finished training up to their new levels.  Two have mentors who have asked them to do some "favors", the mage and the thief.  The mage is asked to go up to the little town of Farstead (see the map) and check on his friend, and distant cousin, Kanos.  No one's heard from the guy in a year and his friend is worried.  They take a ship across Lake Teukol, up the Rael River and disembark in Jafli.  They had to pay extra for the goblin entourage but everyone arrived safely.  They joined a caravan headed toward Farstead which included a group of pilgrims heading up to Kirwan.  The pilgrims were a group of neophytes of Ishtar, who gladly proselytized the group....who also were willing participants.  In Farstead, the group was met with some caution and long looks as no one had seen goblins in livery before.  They were given directions to Kanos's place and learned that not even his servants had been seen in 7 or 8 months. 

The group found the manor house of Kanos but it was in disrepair.  They walked around the building looking it over and almost got pulled into the well by a "mysterious voice" calling for help.  Going in through the side door led them directly into the kitchen...and their first encounter.  The marble island in the center of the kitchen looked wet.  Tossing a pan on it, the pan dissolved....and the top reared up.  It was a gray ooze.  A quick battle with fire and the thing was reduced down to a puddle.  One of the PC's used some wood and an empty potion bottle to collect some, actually a couple of potion bottles worth.  The first locked door was greeted with some ooze, which ate through the lock.  Carefully searching part of the 1st floor, one of the goblins was killed by a crab spider in one room.  Some hobgoblins in another room slept and killed.  One PC found a book of legends in the remains of a library.  Another PC found a cursed scroll and so he spent the night paralyzed...staring at a blank scroll.  Another room had a couple of stirges which couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.  Their biggest fear was a gargoyle statue in the hallway which looked incredibly life-like.  Down that hall, they discovered a secret door which led to a secret room which held a set of stairs into the basement.  In the basement, they found a partially completed crypt, a storeroom of junk, a hidden passage out that leads back to town (and holding a runaway teen), and a sleeping ogre who got an earful of gray ooze.  ugh....

There's still more of the manor to search.  The book of legends has several different possible places to go search out (i.e. plot hooks).  And we'll play again sometime in February, I think.

Now, as to why I cut the original module short.  It was designed to teach players who had never played D&D before.  It featured tricks, traps, monsters to fight, monsters to talk to and/or ally with, puzzles, wonder, and fun.  This group knows how to play D&D, so it was superfluous to run them through the whole thing.  One level was needed for them to show the others their playing styles and to see if the group had a chance to be a long term gaming group.  They might be.  We'll see.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Map of My World

I mentioned a little while ago that I had found my old gaming world.  Here's the map.  I hope it's legible.

Finally Gaming Again

Well, one of the kids is now in college so I've had to pick up some extra work to help pay for the out-of-state tuition.  This means fewer moments of reflection about gaming and even less time for posting here.  But I'll try to do better.

Last night, enough of the group gathered together that we could have a quorum.  One was missing due to flu.  Another was finishing up a final exam.  While it would be nice to have one or two more who would be interested in playing so we could always have a full contingent, there would not be enough physical room around the table if everyone were to show up then.  Right now, if everyone showed up for a game, the table is full (6 players).  Maybe if I can find a good-sized boardroom/conference table, I can then up the number of players with less fear of everyone being here at once.  Another item for possible future purchase....

Anyway, back to the story....

Short synopsis:   A year and a half ago, Dad passed on.  At that time, I was alternately gaming in a Pathfinder campaign and trying to get a group of Old School grognards together for some OD&D or B/X or AD&D gaming.  As each game night approached, I discovered certain levels of reluctance to game.  I dreaded each PF game as I knew that the campaign world was interesting but had taken a turn toward more combat and less exploration and roleplay.  While the other group had hit a low note because some just didn't want to really play but just wanted to blow off steam and talk.  I missed gaming, especially the games I remembered as I got involved in this hobby.  I blame no one for the direction the game nights took nor do I think poorly of anyone at the table each session, in either group.  It was all internal.  I was dissatisfied and it was pretty much my own fault.  So, I did the only logical thing I could do.  I took a hiatus from gaming until I could figure out what my problem was.

The Journey:  As of August, Dad had been gone a year and I had sorted through most of his effects.  In the year he was gone, the most gaming I had done was at the NTRPG con.  I played in 5 games over that weekend.  I left an open invitation for the gaming guys to come by and kibitz or maybe play a board game,  but no serious gaming took place.  I started going through my collection of stuff and culling out the things I had no interest in playing anymore.  I sold a lot of my 3.0 and 3.5 stuff to Noble Knight Games, and I'm sure they made a pretty penny off of it.  I didn't care.  I was done with heavy rulesets and I wanted the fun I had when I ran games back in college.  That's when I came across my thick folder of notes and such from the game I ran during my last year of college and then restarted and ran through my time in graduate school.  It was like a ray of sunshine on a cold dark day.  My spirits lifted and all the wonderful memories came flooding back.  This was fun.  This was challenging.  This was what I wanted back.

The Decision:  For the next few weeks, I looked through it all and tried to sort it into a more organized mess than it was.  Along the way, I decided that this is what I wanted to play and run.  And I didn't care if no one else in either group wanted to play, I was going to run this.  House-ruled 1e AD&D.  Basically a mix of OD&D, Judges Guild, and 1e.  Stuff I didn't like got tossed.  Stuff that I thought was broken was "fixed" to my contentment.  And to those that argued that something "wasn't logical"...hello!...fantasy world!  It's not logical, but it's self consistent as I view it.  And as it's my world, I created it, it's consistent in my view.  Deal with it.

The Game:  Now a few months went by before we got a quorum for gaming.  Last night, we started.  I ran them through the Training Area of Tandok.  A simple 1st level dungeon I developed to teach people how to play the 1e game.  It's silly and fun, full of tricks and traps and strange monsters.  The premise is that the group are apprentices who are undergoing their "final exam" of dungeoneering before graduating.  Of course, if you die, you didn't deserve to graduate.  While it is not a "killer dungeon", it can be deadly to those who do not practice resource management or thoughtful exploration.  The group made it through about 15 rooms, picking up 6 goblin torchbearers/pack carriers.  An encounter with 2 bugbears dropped one of the fighters and almost dropped the ranger.  An exploding gas trap almost took out the mage, but then the thief put it to use to kill 4 large spiders.  They managed to kill 4 hobgoblins, 6 centipedes, 2 bugbears, 3 stirges, and overcome about 8 different traps.  They've found plenty of equipment to replenish and expand their stock, as well as some gold and a spellbook.  About half of the 1st level is explored but one hobgoblin got away and might be lurking further in, or gathering a strike force to come back.  We'll see what happens next time!

Due to the holidays, the next game probably won't be until the first Friday of January.  I'll write up more then!