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.