Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Trimming the Fat: The Final Trimension

(Continuing on from the previous posts here and here, as well as some of my thoughts on gnomes here and here. Unlike its namesake, hopefully this installment won't be a tepid retread with Mako in a minor role.)

In my quest to build the perfect portable gaming kit, I decided that where the rules are concerned I need something small and lightweight - not just mechanically, but physically. White Box (a digest-sized and very beautifully laid out redesign of Swords & Wizardry White Box) fits the bill, and it's dirt cheap too. If my players insist on adding additional classes, it's pretty easy to integrate the ones from Swords & Wizardry Complete, and only slightly more difficult to add the few additional ones (bard and illusionist) that aren't found there.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Bases & Spaces

As I've been slowly sowing the seeds of an old-school RPG campaign (probably using White Box, supplemented with things from the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rules and various other sources), my mind has turned to the question of miniatures. I like collecting them (though not painting them), and several of my players find them extremely helpful in play. But the current vogue for RPG minis - 28mm tall, with a 20mm circular base - makes enforcing detailed facing difficult.

I can't use 1" square bases with 1" square spaces on a mat; if someone needs to face diagonally (which will probably happen a lot), they'll be partially blocking all four cardinally adjacent spaces. I thought about hexagonal bases, but the problem of front/flank/rear spaces - or rather, assigning them so they'll be consistent between figures with symmetrical, wide, and long bases - gave me several days of headaches a little over a year ago before I just decided to drop it. So as far as shape goes, I've got two main ones: square (for obvious reasons) or octagonal.

Why octagons? Simple: they fit just as snugly as square bases of the same size, but allow for easy 45-degree rotation. The downside of octagons is that they aren't nearly as common as squares or hexes, but this site has a good selection of them, plus a handy custom-build option that lets you choose your material and size. An option I've been considering (octagons made of clear acrylic) runs under $8 USD for a 25-pack.

Now for the size... 3/4" square bases are a great option for a number of reasons. They don't overlap 1" spaces as much, they're easy to find (I grabbed a big bag of wooden squares from a chain craft store's woodworking section), and they're the size used for a number of games - including Battlesystem, vintage Warhammer, and Daniel Collins' rather excellent Book of War. And something else I realized: if I go with 1 1/2" spaces on the tabletop (to more closely model oD&D's 1"=10' scale), then up to four figures could fit in a single space if packed tightly enough. The downside of 3/4" bases is that some of my minis have a bit too wide of a stance to easily fit on a square that small - hence my consideration of 1" octagons.

Having said all of that, as much as I like Fitz's mat of offset squares, it wouldn't play as nice with octagonal bases. They could still work, but I'd be a bit miffed at two whole sides going unused. And 3/4" octagons would be even harder to fit some figures onto.

I honestly don't care if this meme is dead.

Friday, December 14, 2018

On Thaumaturgy

Just a brief quote from Isaac Bonewits' Authentic Thaumaturgy (which I've sub-quoted here - and boy, have some of my opinions changed since writing that post). It's rare to see an intersection of real-world and fantasy Magic from a standpoint other than alarmism, and this piece of wisdom makes me want to improve my game, at the very least.

“The whole artistic and intellectual joy of magic is in the subtlety of it all, and in the occasional need for instantaneous rational and/or intuitive judgements about life and death situations. All this is missing, and so is the simulation accuracy, when a magical wand becomes just another sort of laser pistol.”

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fixing Fifth Edition

It's looking more and more likely that my options for local RPG play will be severely curtailed unless I can suck it up and get over the worst of my issues with D&D 5th Edition. I've suspected this for a while now, but as everyone gets increasingly busy with schooling and work (except me - I got downsized this past Friday), I may have to take a few hesitant steps into the hypodermic-needle-strewn oceanfront that is public gaming.

I've said before that the ultimate core of 5e isn't one that I have issues with; I cut my teeth on Pathfinder, and after several years of AD&D 2nd Edition I can see why certain design decisions were made. The main problem is the guff that has accumulated from years of poor thinking and bad influences (not all of which can be blamed on 4e), and the way that completely green players have had their assumptions set and their preferences shaped by bad refereeing passing itself off as good. There are a few relatively easy things that I could do to limit this, and make a game more to my taste that can still be played in by those who have already sunk $150 or more into the currently supported product line.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

House Rule: Uniform Damage for Monks

Just a quick note about monks (aka mystics). One thing I love about original Dungeons & Dragons and its descendants is the option to have uniform attack damage - 1d6, regardless of the length or type of the weapon. This makes for extreme portability (as players would only need to bring a d20 and a few d6s), especially when coupled with the digest-sized books used by oD&D and many of its clones (White Box immediately springs to mind).

This table isn't in any way a brilliant idea, but it's definitely something I wanted to jot down. Instead of using the funny dice for open hand damage, monks can use only d6s with the following table; to stick to pure, unadjusted d6 rolls, simply ignore the "pluses".

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Scattered Thoughts on Pathfinder (and Vampire)

Ah, Pathfinder. I have an odd relationship to this game. Though Dungeon Master 4th Edition For Dummies was my introduction to RPGs in theory (aside from Spoony's old videos), and a couple of Fast Play games cut my teeth on basic refereeing, the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box was my first time running a full-featured RPG - and my first time playing one. Nostalgia is a force more powerful than electromagnetism and more mysterious than animal magnetism, and it has impelled me to revisit the movies and video games of my childhood... but can it compel me to revisit Pathfinder?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

House Rule: Health & Stamina

As I work on my own "fantasy heartbreaker" (as JB terms it), I've been thinking about the balance between deadliness and survivability. The following set of rules is a stab at addressing this. These rules have not been play-tested, and the concept of them is not original to me - I think the d20 version of Star Wars used something similar, though I'm not certain. I'm providing my rough draft here both as a safety in case my hard drive and other storage methods fail, and in the hope that someone else will find it useful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Beowulf was a Monk

An odd thought popped into my head last night or this morning. It came while considering how to have the unique powers and playstyle of the monk class (or "mystic" in BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia parlance) without all of the kung fu and/or wuxia trappings. Consider: which hero of Old English legend...
  • ...regularly fought monsters armed with few or no weapons?
  • ...performed athletic feats for days on end?
  • ...fought completely without armor (on at least one occasion)?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Checking In

Just wanted to check in here to prove that I'm not dead yet. 

As of writing this, it's been almost three months since I last ran my AD&D campaign - all two sessions of it. I was glad to see a group of primarily "new school" players using the "old school" system without difficulty (or at least, with no more difficulty than the Pathfinder on which some of them cut their teeth). However, I've since realized that keeping all of that machinery in my brain was draining for me, so while I will look back at the system with fond memories, I don't see myself running it again in the near future.

In this interval, I have gotten to run a storytelling mini-session: two more Preludes for my Vampire chronicle. The actual second session has proven elusive thus far, but I'm hopeful that it will come - as are most of the players. The setting and the ultra-light rules have proved a good fit with each other.

I've also been putting plans together for a new campaign of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game - the first edition of the D6 version, by West End Games. It's kind of at a midpoint between pure storytelling and pure role-playing, and a recent viewing of the original Star Wars film (the Despecialized Edition, of course) was met with enthusiasm among my millennial peers. Synchronously, just after I acquired The Star Wars Sourcebook and finished some more campaign notes, I spotted the 30th anniversary reprinting of both books at a big chain bookstore - and at a price that would have snagged me instantly if I didn't already own vintage copies. Maybe once I'm able to run more, I'll have more material for blogging.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Michael and the Magic Man

Not strictly a gaming-related post, but I found this in an old issue of Ares Magazine (Issue #3, July 1980). It's a short "capsule review" by Greg Kostikyan of a little-known novel: Kathleen M. Sidney's Michael and the Magic Man.

I found the novel by chance at a local used bookstore, and I'm surprised and dismayed to find that there's basically nothing about it online; few have heard of it, and it looks like the author hasn't gotten any other books published. I'm posting the review here for two reasons. First, to make it available in searchable text; the PDF scan of the magazine from the Internet Archive, while of great visual clarity, hasn't been run through an OCR program. Second, to spread the word on the book in my own small way; while it's not perfect, I did enjoy it and would like to see it in print again some day.

Without further ado, the review (after the jump):

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Different "AD&D" (mental health CW)

(I'm putting the rest of this post under the little "jump break" so that anyone who happens upon it can be warned about what it'll contain, and skip it entirely if they so choose. And this will contain content about anxiety, depression, and a few other delights. I'm also making this warning much longer and more flowery than it needs to be, so that someone doesn't see the body text in their blog feed and get set off. Consider yourself well warned.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sometimes There Is A Board

I've just started thinking about getting my hands on another D&D-esque board game. I like being able to do pick-up games, but I decided a few months ago that running an actual RPG as a pick-up game is not worth my time and effort. Cthulhu Dice is extremely portable, but works best as an icebreaker rather than the source of a full evening of gaming. My old standby, Munchkin, has been so thoroughly explored by me that I have little interest in playing it again for the foreseeable future - and the "World of Dorkness" themed set I own, Munchkin Bites!, suffers from a severe lack of monsters. (A bit ironic, that, since the premise is that everyone is a monster.)

I've written briefly about the Temple of Elemental Evil board game, and I still like it overall in spite of its bulk and its long setup time. While I have considered expanding it using one of the other D&D Adventure System games - especially Wrath of Ashardalon, because who can say no to a big red dragon? - they are quite large in both size and cost. One does receive a lot of decent- to high-quality goods for their money, but while expensive miniatures are better than expensive pieces of card stock (seriously, why the hell does Car Wars cost so damn much?), either way they're expensive.

Even more unfortunately, all three of the games which I've seen and heard many glowing recommendations for - HeroQuest, Dragon Strike, and the LEGO Heroica games - are out of print. Here are some of the options I've been considering.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Assassins & Advanced D&D

So, I finally got a small group together to discuss the potential game to be played. I had decided beforehand that I would not be able to run Dungeon Crawl Classics due to lacking some of the necessary dice, and not being familiar enough with the rules. Though I am proud of my mutated Basic Fantasy rules, they're currently not complete enough to compile, and (being on a wiki) would require the use of my laptop - which is both very slow, and very slowly falling apart. Another game I've considered running - original D&D - can be very closely emulated with White Box, and the supplemental classes ported over from Swords & Wizardry Complete.

This left the group with two choices: White Box (using a new setting), or AD&D 2nd Edition (using my primary fantasy setting). Surprisingly, they chose the latter, and I helped them create their characters. Now that a lot of the participants are either off of school or finished with it, we're going to try to have a session every week.

One of the optional rules that they voted on using was the Nonweapon Proficiencies system. Something that I had suspected, but wasn't completely clear on until now, is that the assassin is indeed a slightly superfluous class in the 2nd Edition rules. If one creates a thief, takes the Disguise NWP, and has either a high Strength (for melee damage) or a high Dexterity (for two-weapon fighting and ranged attacks), the result is basically an assassin who just can't use shields. Not to worry, though; while we will be using NWPs, I'll be operating under the old-school assumption that characters are generally competent.

I had planned on adding both the assassin and the monk at a later point, but the former seems unnecessary now. For the latter, I'll probably just use the version from AD&D 1st Edition, rather than the (massively overpowered) Scarlet Brotherhood iteration. I still consider the monk a priest class for game purposes, though, so they'll use d8s.

About that new setting... I'll save it for a future post. For now, all that I'll say is that DCC was an influence on it in some ways, but not others.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Spinning Down (dice testing)

Today I bought what will very likely be my last set of Chessex dice. As I've pondered the games I might run over the summer (and hopefully into the fall), one of the things that I've considered has been the dice required for each. AD&D 2nd Edition, as well as my vivisected Basic Fantasy rules set, use the standard complement of polyhedrons. White Box, in addition to being available for free or at low cost (much like Basic Fantasy), is so minimalist that players need only d20s and d6s; it was these that I bought today, such that up to four players can use a d20 and a rounded spot d6 of the same color. (I might even give these as small gifts to the players, if they choose White Box and prove committed.)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Old is Gnew

Following on from my previous post about gnomes and dwarves, further work has led to further thought. As I am wont to do, I was meticulously combing through the original Dungeons & Dragons booklets (including the Supplements), for the purposes of assembling the text therein into a single thick Men & Magic volume. The idea was to make something a bit like Mothshade's "Men & Magic Compilation", except in print-friendly digest format and using the original words almost exclusively. Doing so led me to discover rules details I hadn't noticed before, including this little tidbit from page 5 of Supplement I: Greyhawk.
Dwarves are about four feet tall, stocky of build, weigh 150 pounds, shoulders very broad, their skin a ruddy tan, brown or gray, and are of various types (hill, mountain, or burrowers) (such as gnomes).
There it is, in Olde Gygaxian - a statement that gnomes are just a type of dwarves. Gygax would change his mind later with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and future authors would continue to have gnomes as a separate but similar species. But in Duemerus? This is my setting, and my game, so I can do whatever the heck I want. And I want to have gnomes just be dwarves again.

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.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Soundtrack Sunday: Conan the Destroyer

As sorry as I am to rip off Stelios' gimmick here, I wanted to share this one, as I recently re-watched this film. Perhaps you may be thinking, "What? Really - that silly, goofy one with Grace Jones that killed off the franchise for so many years?"

I admit, I'm not too happy about A View to a Kill either. Leaving the shortcomings of certain Bond films aside and getting back on track, it's surprising to hear this caliber of music in a film that is, arguably, more of a parody of the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian than it is a sequel. Fortunately, the one area in which this film was not a huge step down from its predecessor was in the soundtrack. Of course, nothing can really replace Basil Poledouris' stirring themes from the original movie, but here the result was not a complete aural betrayal of everything the first film did right.

Ordinarily, I would embed a video below (as Stelios typically does), but YouTube won't let me embed this one clip. Less fortunate still, this piece of score has yet to be officially released on CD, so I had to use the actual scene from the movie; the orchestral strains are still pretty prominent nonetheless.

Sit back, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Storytelling "Games" Are Different

Storytelling games aren't games, per se. Not in the same sense as a board game like Trivial Pursuit, a video game like Marathon 2, or a quasi-sport like tenpin bowling. The closest term I can find that describes them is an "activity", but that word is so vague and broad that it adds additional time to most conversations, to the extent that one frequently resorts to the term "game" anyway just to get out of the conversational clover-loop.
Me: I'll be running an... activity next Today.
Any human: What kind of activity?
Me: Umm... a storytelling activity.
Any human: What?
Me: A... game, kind of.
I'm not the only one who can't find a more appropriate, generally-understood word than "game" to describe this sort of thing. On the American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? (one of the few shows I will stop and watch if it's on) the various portions of the show, such as "Dubbing" and "Scenes From A Hat", are referred to as games by the host. There are sometimes rules put in place; in "Questions", the performer is buzzed and has to swap out with their teammate if they can't think of a response, or answer in the form of a statement.

But the penalty for breaking the rules of the show itself - i.e., no content that makes the censor unhappy - is that the "game" temporarily halts, and things are reset to a prior point. (This isn't apparent when watching the broadcast, but watching the outtakes reels like this one can be very instructive - not to mention, frequently just as funny as the finished show.) The rules in an improvisational activity like WLIIA are more guidelines to ensure that "play" proceeds smoothly. This is purely format-oriented and censor-oriented in that show, but in a storytelling "game", tone and agency are also important.

Another example from television is helpful here; in an episode of The Office (again, the US version) where Michael is at an improv class, he frequently disrupts others' scenes by charging in with a handgun and shooting everyone. The other participants generally comply, acting as if they were shot, but are clearly not happy about it; their reactions suggest that this happens even more frequently than the viewers are shown. We've probably all encountered players like Michael, and even if they aren't bad people, they're bad players in the sense of being disruptive - having fun at their peers' expense.

I would suggest that this tends to happen more in storytelling "games" than in roleplaying games, due to the use of easily-bent guidelines rather than mutually agreed-upon and enforced rules, but I haven't had enough experience with the former to be sure; perhaps someone else can offer their two cents.

What's the difference?

But what separates a storytelling "game" from an RPG? An easy distinction is sometimes provided by the product itself; Prince Valiant, as well as most of the World of Darkness lines (Classic, New, and Chronicles), specifically refer to themselves as Storytelling Games. These games de-emphasize rules, suggesting that dice rolls be minimal and that rules be changed or ignored in the service of the "story"; in Prince Valiant, it is even explicitly stated that players have only limited agency.

In contrast, a roleplaying game - emphasis on game - has defined rules that are adhered to, and the emergence of a "story" can be something that is applied afterwards, rather than consciously created by the Referee and/or certain players. The game may not have the same limits as a board or card game, but it does still have some limits, demarcated by the rules.

If a game specifically identifies itself as an RPG, that doesn't mean that the presentation of the rules is geared toward providing rules for a game. It certainly doesn't mean that a particular group will treat it as such. I've been in multiple games referred to as "Dungeons & Dragons", and with a bright red D&D emblem on the covers of the rulebooks, that were clearly being run as storytelling games. I've also discovered that some games, such as Halberd, are too loosely written and full of gaps to function as actual RPGs - but as the framework for a storytelling game, they're adequate.

This does not mean that storytelling games are bad or wrong. A storytelling game can be a great deal of fun for those who enjoy improvisational thinking and character interaction, when the players and the Storyteller "click" and agree on what they will and will not do. (Boundaries are just as important in a storytelling game as in an RPG - possibly more so.) And I've participated in storytelling games that were almost completely free-form, with the only method of task resolution being a Magic 8-Ball (seriously). These were fun, but in a very different way than an RPG.

Neither a storytelling game nor a roleplaying game is the best kind of game, and it's definitely possible to enjoy both. But I think that having a clearer distinction between the two, and making it clear which is preferred and which is being offered, will lead to a lot less friction and disappointment about the game itself. There will always be overly-controlling "Dungeon Masters", narcissistic players, and potato-headed rulebook authors, but if a player knows that they're getting into a storytelling game and is prepared to participate in such, they will be less likely to balk at the lack of risk or the use of fuzzy rules (heh) than if they were told that they were joining a roleplaying game.

I'd replace the title with "Storytelling", but that would make it less clear to most.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Authentic Role-playing

Quick update: the first episode of Alexis' Authentic Role-playing podcast is live as of yesterday. I've just listened to it, and there is some good discussion between Alexis and his guest, Sterling Blake (who should be commended for taking the plunge, as it were).

I'm sharing the news here for both selfish and unselfish reasons. In the latter category, I quite enjoyed his prior podcast, and getting the word out (through my admittedly limited "channel") will hopefully mean that more podcasts in a similar vein can be made in the future. In the former... well, I don't want to jinx anything, so I'll just say that I'm looking forward to the remaining episodes of this season.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Gnome By Any Other Gname

A slight follow-up to my previous post, with some more musing I've done on the roles of dwarves, gnomes, and halflings in my campaign.

Previously, I've been hamstrung in attempting to make major changes to my game, largely in part due to the ruleset being used (AD&D 2e for some time). I was reluctant to change things due to other elements of the rules taking the specifics of each part into account when making additional material. Admittedly, 2e isn't nearly as strict about this as 3.5 or Pathfinder, but the problem is still there to some extent.

A major advantage of switching to a sparser system (in this case Basic Fantasy, although it could have been original D&D or Dungeon Crawl Classics if different circumstances had prevailed) is that I feel more freedom to build things up as I and my players see fit. The players who have little interest in giving input on the rules - i.e., most of them - find it easier to begin with less and then add more, instead of starting with too much and then having me take it away (which I would have to do if I ran 5e or some other thing).

In the interest of "less", I've been thinking about what exactly a gnome should be in my game world. When most people hear "gnome", they think of the really little lawn jockeys with white beards and pointed hats. The same might be said of "elf", but the cultural impact of The Lord of the Rings is so massive by this point that the roughly human-sized elves come to mind just as easily. Since the Bombadilesque gnomes aren't a firm factor in my game... why not make them Tiny?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

DCC RPG: First Impressions

(Brief explanation for the recent flurry of posts: I've had a reduction in my work hours, and yesterday had to take a sick day, so while I'm tired and my throat hurts all day, it's a more stable state than being semi-energetic in the morning and exhausted in the evening. I doubt I'll be able to keep up this pace of content, but don't think I'm not going to try while taking sick leave from gaming for a short while.)

I told myself that I wouldn't buy any more of what JB calls "fantasy heartbreakers" (or FHBs). I don't need a different variant on a very similar game, especially after spending so much time and effort putting my campaign's rules into Basic Fantasy. But at a chain bookstore, I found the softcover version of Dungeon Crawl Classics on clearance for $15.00, and I couldn't resist.

I have yet to read the entire rulebook, but I've finished most of the sections on character creation and combat; the bulk of the 376 pages (!) is taken up by the magic system. I'll list some bullet points of my initial impressions below.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

House Rule: Healing Jelly

So, players want to have some means of healing more than 1 or 2 hit points per day, when they're 1st level and have no healing spells. Some Referees solve this by making potions of healing easily purchased, and in fact they're listed right on the equipment list in the 5th Edition Player's Handbook. While I get the desire for some help in a low-powered game like mine, having this in 5e - where even fighters can heal themselves, using some pseudo-feat called "Second Wind" - is a bit excessive. (This also points to my oft-repeated lament that there is no such thing as a plain fighter in 5e, but that's beside the point.)

My old reliable game, B/X, had an interesting idea: giant bees make honey that is so nourishing, it serves as a weaker form of a healing potion! One's head swarms (heh) with the possibilities of the players going off to raid a huge nest of giant bees; if they succeed, they'll be better equipped for future adventures, at the risk of dying horribly from toxic shock and full-body edema. In fact, in my setting, it's now official that potions of healing use giant bee honey as the active ingredient.

But I wanted to address the desire for some extra healing, for those situations where luck is emphatically on the monsters' side. I found a bit of inspiration in the game I've been playing recently, Fallout: New Vegas. I play it on Hardcore Mode, where healing items such as Stimpacks and food don't instantly restore health, but do so over a span of several seconds. In a game with real-time combat, watching both damage and healing ticking up at similar rates creates a lot of tension, something that is hard to duplicate in a tabletop game. The idea of gradual healing stuck with me, though, and the final inspiration came from the bizarre first-aid item in The Ring: Terror's Realm known only as "Healing Jelly". (Spoony's mockery of this is what made it jump out to me.)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wet Paint

So over two years ago, I thought that I would probably never paint miniatures. But it's 2018 now - the Year of the Dog! - and I have slowly started painting some miniatures.

Well, a miniature. My FLGS started stocking the unpainted plastic D&D miniatures by WizKids, and they stocked a lot of them. At $5 for a two-pack, including bases, it's a pretty good deal. An even bigger advantage for me is that they already have primer applied, so they're ready to paint. Faced with these facts, I decided that I might as well give miniature painting another shot.

My first purchase was the female Halfling Rogue two-pack; I really like the top figure, and it is a pretty good representation of my gnome character Roywyn. One can criticize the WOTC for any number of things, but the scale of these miniatures is a lot less inflated than that of HeroForge or even Reaper's Bones minis.

I'd imagine Roywyn likes to let her hair down now and then.

Since I try to avoid carrying around large amounts of spending money, I only buy a couple of items at a time. Currently, I only have three pots of paint, all of which are Citadel paints: the Layer paints Kislev Flesh and Warpstone Glow, and the Base paint Mournfang Brown. I also bought the Human Monk two-pack today, partly because Mournfang Brown can be used for both Roywyn's leather armor, and a darker flesh-tone for my monk character Cavidge.

So far it's going pretty well, although I can't post any pictures until I get my old digital camera out from wherever it's hiding. The pre-priming on the figure saves me both time and money, as I'm not going to dive into the wacky world of primer until I figure out whether I like the painting enough to start working on my Bones and metal figures. I know that I'm not buying any more unpainted minis until I get at least this one finished... but now that I have a day job, pre-painted plastic figures aren't too expensive for an occasional purchase.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Original Thought

So, I just read this post by Alexis of The Tao of D&D. Before reading my post here, you should probably read that one (and some of the preceding ones dealing with credibility) if you haven't already. (I was going to just respond on the post itself, but this turned into something way too long-winded for a comment.)

It's an insightful post, but what jumped out at me was a comment made by Archon:

"Amongst the people I know; half of them would think the worse of you for being a league GM. It shows an inability to have an original thought. Ever."

As soon as I read this, I remembered a small conversation I had in the chat server with members of my alma mater's tabletop gaming club - a club that I helped found, but which took very little time to mutate into something I'm not a fan of. Case in point: a great deal of rules discussion was occurring back in September about some minutiae with class powers in (what else?) D&D 5th Edition. This particular instance of bafflement happened back in September of last year, and - because I'm a hopeful Library & Information Sciences student with strong document-consciousness - I copied the text of the conversation for later use.

 The issue was whether a particular action could be done at the same time as another action, or whether they conflicted with one another. The rules as written in the book - like so many of the rules in 5e - are unclear and incomplete. If you're a Referee, you probably have a good idea of what you'd do should such an issue come up at your table: make a ruling of your own (with input from the players) and just use that ruling from now on. The ruling becomes a new rule once it's accepted.

Now, the Dungeon Masters of the club are trying to make a decision for the large "West Marches" style game that includes multiple parties and multiple DMs, so I can understand why they'd have more discussion about this than would occur at a single table. What baffled me was that they apparently didn't trust themselves to make that decision, and chose to delay their final verdict until after they got a response on Twitter from one of the current developers of 5th Edition. At this point, I interjected:

"Since this Westmarches campaign is confined to [University], you as [club officer] could just make a decision and put it in the document (ideally with input from other Westmarches DMs)."

One of the club officers in charge of keeping the club campaign in order made a decision... that they stated would only be valid until clarification arrived from WOTC (in the form of a Sage Advice article). Another club officer confirmed that they had sent the question to the developer. My response:

"Right, but I don't see why a 'house rule' can't just be applied. Since this isn't a game organized/run by the WOTC, it doesn't necessarily have to fall to them to make an 'official' statement on it.
"I get that there's some desire for rules consistency between different groups, but this seems like a fairly minor issue that could easily be adapted to if a player were to join who had previously played in a different campaign."

The officer responsible for the temporary decision insisted that "[a]n official ruling is necessary to avoid confusion in the future and have an absolute ruling."

Umm... why?

I'm not going to post the entirety of the officer's (quite lengthy) response, because they have not given express written permission for me to do so - and the club server may or may not be considered a public space where statements can be on official record. Basically, they stated that the club was relying on "official" rulings to prevent confusion; this statement was repeated several times, with only slightly different wording.

Apparently it's too confusing for some people if they go to a game run by one DM, and the rules are slightly different than the rules used by another DM. Sure, they might use the exact same selection of races, classes, combat mechanics, skill lists, dice-roll fudging, and horrible halfling art... but if it takes both an action and a bonus action to emerge from hiding, that'll make it too hard to adapt!

As I think of it more and more, Archon's comment seems right on the money. If the current club officers' lengthy discussion about getting official WOTC support wasn't enough of a smoke signal, the insistence on only using WOTC-approved rules should have finally tipped me off as to their "inability to have an original thought."

The best part about this? The club officer then asked me to "be patient and abide by the current ruling". Apparently they failed to notice that I have never played a single one of the club's "West Marches" game sessions, nor do I intend to.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Druid vs. Druid

This post is mainly being written to get my thoughts organized into a form that others - specifically, my players - can access without me having to speak to them one at a time. Since I may be soliciting comments from them, I'm turning on comment moderation for the time being, so as to prevent any personal details escaping into cyberspace.

Now then: I've been entering and adjusting the rules for my primary campaign, set in the Kingdom of Duemerus. The base ruleset is Basic Fantasy, but I've made a handful of adjustments already. I'm adding a few additional classes, solely for the purpose of grandfathering in (or rather, grandmothering, since both of the characters are female) some existing characters.

A major reason for using Basic Fantasy is that it has a large number of free supplements that I can use either as-is, or as inspiration for my own rules. Not all of these supplements are great; the supplement on Bardic Characters has numerous versions of the class which are all too fiddly - especially disappointing considering that one of these grandmothered characters will be a bard. Fortunately, I found something much closer to my preferences in the Jester class, which is a perfectly functional bard with just a little re-skinning and tweaking. The other character is a druid.

The Default BFRPG Druid

The Basic Fantasy supplement on druids is pretty good, giving them the same spell progression as clerics (i.e., no spells at 1st level), but with an Animal Affinity power instead of Turn Undead; it also has Assume Animal Form as a normal spell. I won't get too deeply into further details; if you're interested, you can download the supplement on this page. I like this interpretation of the druid, and I would have just used it as-is if not for the conditions that led me to develop...

The Hybrid Druid

This is based on the BFRPG druid, but with a change: I replaced the Animal Affinity ability with a variable, not-always-successful version of Assume Animal Form. Here, the Hit Dice of the animal is still cross-referenced with the druid's level to determine a target number on 1d20; but instead of calming or befriending an animal, the roll is to assume that animal's shape. Since I may be making some serious changes to the class, the version of the hybrid druid as it stands now can be found at this archive page.

I'm kind of proud of this one, but I'm not sure whether to use it going forward. The reason I made modifications to allow druids to "wild shape" even at 1st level was to accommodate a player - and longtime friend - who enjoys having early wildshape access in D&D 5th Edition. But said player (and I say this with no disrespect or judgement) would prefer to just have unlimited access to wildshape outside of combat; this player, I've figured out, prefers storytelling activities to roleplaying games. Which is fine; the former can be a lot of fun, but generally D&D is more suited to use as a game, due to its pages upon pages of... you know, rules.

If I don't use the BFRPG druid (I might still use it) or the hybrid druid (I probably won't use it), then my third option is...

The Eldritch Wizardry Druid

The druid as introduced (to players) in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry for original D&D is very similar to how it would become in AD&D 1st and 2nd Edition. Unlike clerics, oD&D druids have spell access much sooner, as well as some cool non-spell abilities as they increase in level, but at the cost of slower advancement and some equipment restrictions (no metal armor). At 2nd level, they can identify plants, animals, and pure water, as well as passing through undergrowth without a movement penalty; at 5th level, they can start learning additional languages; and at 6th level, they gain their shape change ability.

Not sure if the person on the right is a druid, but this picture comes from the
section on druid spells. (Originally from Eldritch Wizardry)

I quite like this one; the only changes I would make would be to smooth out the spell and XP progression. I've thought about shifting the awarding of spell-like abilities as well, and I might remove some entirely so as not to create too much of an advantage over standard clerics.

* * * *

So, to anyone reading this (especially if you might be playing in this campaign): what do you think? Would you prefer the default BFRPG druid, or the druid as presented in Eldritch Wizardry?