Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Authentic Role-playing, Episode 6 (featuring me!)

So, the thing that I obliquely hinted at in my previous post on the topic has finally occurred: I was a guest on Alexis' Authentic Role-playing podcast. The sixth episode was just published yesterday, and we have a fairly good chat.

This might be the first time you've heard my voice; it's certainly the first time I've heard a lengthy recording of my own voice since starting the blog. Give it a listen, and listen to the other episodes if you haven't yet!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An Experiment With Characters

Okay, this post might get long-winded or confusing at points. If you're already familiar with Kingdom Hearts II (the game or the manga based on it), feel free to skip this section. Myself, I've read the first two volumes of the manga, but not played the game; I did try playing the first one, but without much success or enjoyment. Yesterday, though, thinking about it gave me an idea.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Continent

(Scale: 1 hex = 24 miles)

This is the Continent. No name for the entire landmass has yet been adopted by its denizens, but it can be easily divided into the three political powers that govern it: the Principality of Le'var (home of the Thelvi) to the west, the Principality of Tadea (home of the Tades) to the east, and the Kingdom of Duemerus in the center. While Le'var and Tadea are racially homogeneous apart from the rare itinerant traders or merchants, Duemerus is home to a number of sapient species, only some of which have attained control of significant parts of the land.

Humans are the most numerous species, and the ones who wield the greatest political power; the King of Duemerus is a human, therefore making the Kingdom as a whole human-dominated. Alliances with some of the other demihuman and humanoid species have been in place for varying periods of time. The counties of Dyreton Greens, Mitropoli, Molemond, Oakenvane, and Walteria are controlled by human forms of government (usually republicanism).

Dwarves have been allied with humans since before the Elven Schism, but chose not to interfere in that conflict due to their resentment over the essentially forced annexing of their mountainous homes. The counties of Alkahest, Beggar's Isle (mostly used for prisoners), and the Ebon Hills are controlled by the dwarvish monarchies.

Elves are nearly as numerous as humans, but much of the territory that was the domain of the high elves and wood elves has now been taken and transformed by the Thelvi. The only county under their oligarchic form of government is the West Woods, although that county includes the second-largest city in Duemerus (Lacke) as well as two of the Kingdom's four major lakes.

Gnomes and halflings are less numerous (the former even more so), and have had the fewest armed skirmishes with humans due to their similar cultures. The only county firmly under joint gnome/halfling leadership (a democratic system, with republican provisions should population become too large) is Blaylach, which includes the only significant gnomish settlement (Nual).

Hobgoblins, though extremely capable in military terms and often employed as mercenaries, are not as numerous as other species, owing to their low birth rate. They control the county of the South Coast, though several small human settlements have been built there under their supervision; their government is tribal and autocratic.

Orcs are usually relegated to the status of resident aliens in others' counties, although the low human and elf populations of the Forester's Wilds has allowed it to fall under the control of the Grullgar tribe. Their culture is tribal, similarly to that of hobgoblins.

There are also three counties whose ownership is disputed. Lakespar is a site of contention between the Forester's Wilds (who wish to expand their territory), the capitol county of Mitropoli (who wish to do the same), and the West Woods (who wish to surround the Forester's Wilds, and thereby reclaim it for themselves over time). Rollins is disputed between dwarven, halfling, and human ownership, on the basis of several small but long-lived villages and shires being present in the county. The twin islands of Gyll are the object of a longstanding feud between the humans of Westerburg and the hobgoblins of Ystu, due to the islands' strategic importance as harbors.

EDIT: Just noticed that one of the names on the map is incorrect. I'll fix it next time I boot up Hexographer.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Thief Skills in AD&D (1st and 2nd Edition)

So, given my renewed interest in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition, I've been looking at other sources for rules. My current document of house rules is pretty short at this point - and to be honest, I'd like it to stay that way for as long as possible, especially considering that I still haven't assembled a group of committed players. I might even temporarily remove the helmet rules, at least until I can learn whether the majority of my players would enjoy that level of granularity (and especially since I'm not using encumbrance yet).

But where rules sources are concerned, my primary pool is the variety of "official" 2e products (like the Player's Option books), as well as Justen Brown's excellent 2e retroclone, For Gold & Glory. I'm also drawing a lot from the first edition of AD&D, which has some useful bits that were removed in 2e for no good reason that I can think of. A big example is the random encounter tables; while I can see why they might be culled a bit in view of the trend towards story-gaming in the 1990s, removing them entirely is just asinine. In the past, I've used the encounter tables from B/X, with good results.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Is it a "Hell yes"?

One of the things I've frequently heard with regard to both hobbies and life choices is that you shouldn't make a big decision unless the answer is "Hell yes!" This is usually applied to things like moving to a new city, moving in with a romantic partner, or spending a bunch of money on something. But it can work for hobbies as well, when deciding how to spend one's time and effort.

And one of the elements of my hobby that I've been thinking a lot about for the past two weeks is Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition. I know, I know - I said I'd be taking a break from trying to run D&D in any of its forms. But that doesn't mean I don't still spend time thinking about it. Part of the reason that I switched my campaign from it to Basic Fantasy is because I viewed the front-loaded complexity of AD&D (as in, it takes a long time to make characters, but the actual gameplay is pretty smooth and fast for someone who's familiar with the rules) as a deterrent to new players.

Maybe (as some of you have pointed out) I just got a group of dud players. The decrease in complexity hasn't served to get them to actually show up to sessions, or pay attention if they do show up. Meanwhile, the same lightness that I initially reveled in now means that I have to do a lot more work on my own, as it's harder to import rules from other books I own without doing some (at times extensive) tweaking.

Not to mention the nostalgia that I still feel for 2e. Unlike the fond memories I have of the Pathfinder Beginner Box, however, the system is still one that I like; Pathfinder is both front-, middle-, and end-loaded, not to mention excessively dependent on miniatures. (I do like minis, but I don't want to be forced to use them - especially for a random encounter with a couple of rats.) In contrast, 2e is flexible enough for both my needs and those of players who desire a moderately complex system (with specialist wizards and the wide variety of mechanically distinct weapons).

So - assuming I had courteous, consistent players who were willing to pull their weight as far as learning the rules is concerned - would I want to run AD&D 2nd Edition again?

Hell yes!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

What Dungeons Are For

Part three in a loose trilogy, following on from my previous post.

I am tired. Not just tired of trying to find players who will engage with a game on its own terms, nor merely tired of pulling teeth to get people to respond to my queries for a time and place to game. My fatigue is a lot simpler:

I am tired of Dungeons & Dragons.

I spend hours upon hours tweaking the rules to my liking. I seek the input of the few players that can attend consistently. I draw maps, and stock them, and work out connections between various antagonists, both individual and collective. And what happens?


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Games Should Be Hard... Except When They Shouldn't

I've come to the conclusion that there aren't really any groups near me who are interested in playing actual roleplaying games. Following on from the distinction made in my previous post, most of the players I've been able to find are more interested in storytelling games. Part of this is due to the aversion to learning rules, part of it is the aversion to any kind of challenge to the player as opposed to the character.

This attitude is especially bizarre to me because the exact opposite attitude prevails where video games are concerned. A couple of years ago, some of my friends couldn't stop raving about Dark Souls and how awesome it was. For those unfamiliar, it's a hack-and-slash game with light CRPG elements; its primary features are its brutal difficulty with no margin for error, and its bass-ackward control scheme (on consoles at least). It probably falls into the same category as games like Super Meat Boy and the more recent Cuphead, although it's a 3D game as opposed to 2D.

I gave it a shot, but not only do I not have the reflexes required for these types of games, there's a part at the beginning that soured me on the game even more than the terrible controls and incomprehensible story did. In the first area where you have some freedom of movement, there are two paths that pretty much look identical. Taking one of the paths is apparently not intended, and will lead to facing much tougher enemies than the other path... a beginner's trap. I was pissed - royally pissed - when I was told this by another friend.

Now, the same people who positively relish this kind of abuse in video-game format balk at the slightest amount of perceived unfairness on the tabletop. "You mean I have to roll for my stats? But that means I might get low rolls!" (To the average d20 System player, "low" rolls are equal to or less than 14 on 4d6 drop low.) The same applies to their interaction with the game world being more descriptive than "I make an Insight check."

Beginner's traps can be found in RPGs in the form of useless skills or feats, while getting wiped out happens as a result of deviating from your prescribed class role, rather than not having reflexes sharpened to a monomolecular edge by can after can of energy drinks. While playing a cleric in D&D 5, I've had players chew me out for doing anything other than healing them, right this second. I'd argue that, hey, maybe you should stop charging into melee against demon-possessed gnolls, but this would fall on deaf ears.

Finally, it's been explained at length why video games will never be as limitless as tabletop RPGs can be - and some video games are more linear than others. True, having too many options of more or less equal desirability can lead to paralysis (and does for me in a lot of cases), but I've repeatedly had players respond with silence, blank stares, and snarky pseudo-answers when asked what they want to do at the next session. The idea of agency mystifies them; I haven't figured out whether this is the reason so many of them enjoy anime, or the result of internalizing too much of its plot clich├ęs. Either way, they seem to demand an adventure path... but I'm too weary to make one for them, for reasons that will have to fit in another post.