Friday, June 27, 2014


So...the wife went and spent a week up in Kansas with her mother and family.  She spent most of that time as relief for her older sister who has had to be the caretaker for their mother.  Susan's mom was diagnosed back in February with Stage 4 lung cancer and it had probably metastasized to her hip and other body parts.  Rather than fight the disease with chemo or radiation, her mother said "I'm going to die anyway and I'd rather not be miserable".  The oldest child then contacted hospice and we've all been put into "waiting mode", which is a horribly callous way to say basically the truth.  The oldest is a school teacher and her husband has also been fighting prostate cancer.  Anyway, things are beginning to culminate now.  My mother-in-law has been pretty much bedridden for the past week.  She's lost a great deal of weight.  She sleeps almost constantly.  When she is awake, she is often confused by who is who and why she's where she is.  Based upon what I dealt with last summer, the end is near and it's tough watching it happen again to someone so close.

With this hanging over us all, the wife and I decided to steal away for a few days for a little bit of time just for us.  We took off to our time share in the backwoods of Arkansas and just rested.  We focused on supporting each other and strengthening our connection so we can better weather the storms ahead.  It was nice.

That being said, not much else was done on the gaming front.  I've been working on putting together a campaign as I mentioned before, mainly trying to get a good idea for a starting point.  In the old days, we all just wanted to loot dungeons and kill monsters.  Nowadays we need better and clearer incentive.  The last few games which have really stood the test of time had a common starting point.  The old kobold game had the group begin play as part of a kobold band.  The next campaign had us all starting off as kidnapped fishermen.  These were emotional hooks.  I've tried other ideas for other starts, but those all fizzled, mostly because I couldn't get the emotional buy-in that these other campaigns had.  So, I'm going back to an old, old idea from the beginning of my gaming days that worked then; the group is a soon to be "graduated" class of former apprentices facing their final exam.  They must survive a sample dungeon crawl to "graduate". 

The main problem with this start, though, is that the players need to show up at the table ready to play whatever the dice tells them to play and not try to start with a character already in mind.  This blank slate approach allows for more creativity when the character is being rolled up.  I would like to be able to feed a few ideas into the creation process to use for later adventures.  But such an approach is anathema to how a character is created in these later editions of D&D.  So, we'll see if I am able to get anything actually played.

Side Note:  I realize that I may sound pretty harsh when I discuss the later editions of D&D and it's spinoffs (like Pathfinder), but I really cannot fathom the long term interest in these systems.  I have had the epiphany that when I say that a system is "number heavy" or "unbalanced" or even "munchkin-esque", I am generally thinking of a different definition of these terms than others.  To me, the new systems require the use of a computer to make a "proper" character, in the sense that the number of rules makes calculating the hundreds of bonus and penalty modifiers is absolutely staggering.  This then allows for multiple rules lawyering discussions to break out, followed by the discussion of which computer character generator was used and the weaknesses and failings in each one.  The characters made with just the book and a pencil then become unbalanced, typically toward being weaker as some of the bonuses do not all get added in or all the penalties applied.  And thus, to make the "best" character possible, one needs to become the munchkin and find all the loopholes and gray areas.'s just too much work.  And if you enjoy that sort of game, more power to you.  I wholeheartedly support you as you are playing a game you enjoy.  That's the most important thing of all: Play what you enjoy and to hell with what anyone else thinks of it.

I believe that is the lesson I have learned through all this, be yourself and enjoy yourself.  Life is too short to do otherwise.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rumors in the Dungeon

Just a quick note so I don't forget the idea.  In some recent games, the players who had characters die in the dungeon or on the trip to or from the dungeon have immediately tried to get their newly rolled up characters back into the game they can go find their old characters' bodies and loot them.  This led to several discussions about Player Knowledge vs. Character Knowledge which then often digressed into the topic in the previous blog post.  But I think I have an idea which allows this mixing of knowledge bases. 

Allow me to present it this way: How do the characters know of the dungeon?  Did they stumble upon it while trying to do something else or had they heard rumors about it?  If rumors, how often had they heard rumors?  Was it part of the evening "stories by the fireplace" as they were growing up?  If I continue down this track, then I'll be as bad as some of the nitpickers who have to have multi-page backstories explaining every little detail of a character's background.  I think I've pretty much said "I couldn't care less" to such things.  So, since this is a fantasy world, I have decided that when the survivors returned they told everyone who died and where they died.  Thus, the newly rolled up character has heard the rumor of adventurers' bodies being left behind, unlooted, in the nearby dungeon.  Granted, only fools go into the dungeon....and we all know adventurers are the biggest fools of all.  So, sure, you can go looking for your old character's body....but remember, others have a chance of finding it first.  Hmmmm,  wouldn't it be funny to meet your previous character as a zombie?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Skills: Player's vs. Character's

In further attempts to wipe away my gaming malaise and to clarify some things in my head, I'll be posting more in the next few the spirit moves me.  Sorry for spamming some of you.  Just trying to really nail down some concepts for me.  If they help you, great.  If they bother you, ignore them.

In a discussion the other night with one of my Old School gaming buddies, we hit several topics about gaming as well as about being "old guys" who still play this crazy game.  (Get off our lawn, Storytellers!)  One topic which has been rattling around in my brain since then was the idea of Player Skill vs. Character Skill.  In my first D&D game way back in Nov of 1978, I asked the DM "What does my mage, Gandalph,(yeah, we didn't have a lot of imagination when it came to names) know about this thing?"  I don't even remember what the actual discussion was about, but I still distinctly hear his answer, "Your character knows everything you know and maybe some other stuff about the gaming world."  So, if I couldn't solve the puzzle, neither could my character...irrespective of his Int score of 16 or whatever I had rolled.  But the flip side was, I could look up the ingredients for gunpowder or whatever and apply it in the game.  I actually did try to sell gunpowder at one ended badly when an enterprising thief tried to strike an candle in the lab where the powder was held.  I survived but was banished from the town.

I also remember having to solve riddles and word puzzles and games to get past traps or through doors and into the next level.  I tried to do something like that a couple of times in the 3.5 games I ran a few years ago.  The players kept asking what they needed to roll and against what skill to solve it.  I said "you solve it" and it caused consternation.  However, the best puzzle was the campaign itself.  I ran an urban game in which the players were new arrivals to the City State of the Invincible Overlord.  I handed out a few clues and rumors.  They tried to follow them all.  Unfortunately for them, there were 4 possible roads in those original rumors for them to follow.  They kept trying to make them all fit onto one railroad track.  The deliberately ignored all hints and clues indicating that there was more than one plot line.  It was hilarious from my point of view. 

Sorry, digressed there.  The point though is to show something I noticed.  The folks who want more "realism" by having feats and skills don't want the game to be more realistic, only their characters (or avatars, to be more precise).  Real life is complicated, so why shouldn't fantasy or sf life?  There are no railroads in how your life (or my life) flows, so why should your characters always find only the hints and clues that follow one set of tracks?  Of course, if the characters/avatars are "more realistic" then each encounter has to follow that same "realism" which is why it's so difficult to get "balanced" encounters and such.  In the Old School, it's the Player that makes the decisions and solves the problems.  So, as in real life, things don't need to be balanced which makes the game more interesting to me, as a player or a DM.

I think the next topic might be Character Death...don't know yet.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fighting My Way Back

Well, obviously, it's been a while.  I've been dealing with Dad's estate, my son's high school graduation and subsequent college choices, and just general burnout & depression.  At one point, the idea of getting out my gaming stuff and cleaning off the table to host the games made me ill.  I just wanted to slink off somewhere and hide.  The drama of the two gaming groups didn't help things.  Well, "drama" is too strong a word.  The increasing tensions due to divergent approaches and desires made each game a little less appealing and little more unpleasant.  I just don't do min/maxing.  I don't do munchkin. 

So, as I was sitting in a funk in mid-May, my oldest asked about the games.  The old school group had pretty much decided on taking a hiatus for the summer.  One bowed out for other games, two bowed out for the PF game, one wanted more time with his wife, one was having a baby, one was starting a new job.  The PF group had grown to 10 players, which is ridiculously untenable.  When I dumped that on her, she said "well I'm not surprised you don't like the PF game.  They're making avatars and you make characters."  Wise words.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that D&D had been shifting more and more toward a tabletop, pen & paper version of a computer game.  And that made me want to hang on a little tighter to my roots.

Then, last week, I finished reading Playing at the World by John Peterson.  I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in an in depth history of wargames, roleplaying games, miniatures, and how they all met to make the game of Dungeons & Dragons.  The Epilogue goes into the development of computer use in the history of D&D, the various games and such. 

In fact, I finished the book the day before the start of NTRPG con.  I attended, though initially I wasn't very excited about going.  I was still burned out and not really wanting to game.  I just wanted to sit back and visit with friends.  But I got pulled into a swashbuckling game connected with a new ruleset that's due out sometime in the next few months.  It was fun.  Then, one of my friends begged me to join the AD&D Tournament game because they needed more players.  We ended up winning.  But the big turn around on my attitude was on the 2nd day.  A gamer from Austin had put together an OD&D game using the Avalon Hill Outdoor Survival map and rules, just like Arneson and Gygax used in the first couple of years of D&D.  And it was glorious.  It completely wiped away my funk.  I had a strong sense of deja vu as I played because it was exactly like the first games I played back in 1977 when I was introduced to D&D.   It was a wonderful hexcrawl game.  We had to keep track of water and food while searching for treasure and fighting off spiders, manticores, and dragons.  We ended up with a flying castle, a manticore pet, and the hoard from a family of green dragons.  Cutting out breaks and character creation, I would say we played a total of 4 hours.  So, from now on, the only D&D I'm willing to play is AD&D 1e and earlier.

So, where does that put me now, game-wise?  Well, I have walked away from the PF group and I do not intend to return.  I would like to think it's been an amiable parting.  I realized I wasn't happy but they were.  Thus, the logical thing to do is wish them luck and to go find a game I like.  The Old School group won't get back together until August at the earliest, and maybe not even then.  At least, most of them probably won't be back because they're off doing their own thing.  The wife suggested I start up a group for teens in the area that want to learn to play.  That's an idea worth looking into, and I've already got a couple dungeons and hex maps done up from my start in this game.  I'll try to keep you all posted.....if you're interested.