Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Not All About "Unified Mechanics"

I'm not interested enough in it to actually register and post, but there's an amusing discussion going on at Apparently, some contend that the only reason people play older editions of D&D is the nostalgia factor. If it's what you played in your childhood, that makes up for the obvious inferiority of a system without unified resolution mechanics. Or whatever.

Which puzzles me, because I started gaming as a kid with 3rd edition, but nowadays I play 2nd edition AD&D. I won't go as far as to call myself "old school," but there are a lot of things I like about the playstyle, and the older editions in general. I also know two guys my age who play 2nd exclusively, despite starting with 3rd, and will take any opportunity to declare 2nd's superiority. 

It's possible that us whippersnappers are just absorbing older gamer's nostalgia; I'm interested in playing older games mostly because of what I've read in the old school blog-o-sphere, and one of the other guys I know started playing 2nd edition when his neighbor gave him four or five boxes of books and miniatures and stuff. But I really do think that they're different games, different enough to be worth investigating.

I used to tease that guy about playing such an obsolete game. I assumed that the differences between 2nd and 3rd, and between 2nd and 1st, and between 1st and OD&D, were mostly a matter of fixing things that were "broken," and making the game more intuitive. That was the intent behind most of the changes, but there's a lot of really interesting stuff that got left behind along the way -- the troupe style of play, campaign-centered (as opposed to character-centered) play, irregular parties, and genre bending, just to name a few ideas that have changed the way I think about D&D, and gaming generally.

(Completely unrelated side note: I think "whippersnapper" is a pretty good term for those young, hip gamers who are getting into the old school scene. But that's just because it would give me an excuse to say "whippersnapper" a lot.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Battlestar Game: Getting to Know a New Group

That Battlestar Galactica game I'm in is going pretty well. We just had the second session last night. They've both been short, off-the-cuff affairs--the DM has walks downstairs and says, "Hey, you guys want to game tonight?" It's kind of refreshing, used as I am to long, rigourously scheduled weekly games.

The system itself is sort of weird, and I don't yet have a real good handle on the odds involved, but I don't think we're using it as written anyway. I've never played with this GM before, or with two of the other three players, and it's the first time I've ever joined a new group as a player since I first started gaming. I'm used to responding to new player styles as a GM, but adjusting to them as a fellow player, while trying to get the hang of a another GM's style, is not something I'm used to.

This GM's style is very different from mine. We're all Viper pilots on an old Battlestar, with the campaign starting just before the Cylon attack the on colonies. That just happened last night, but most of the game up until that has revolved around the specific, minute-to-minute activities of our characters on the ship. Trying to get enough sleep, hanging around in bars, going to the gym, interacting with NPCs, getting into fights. The first session largely revolved around one character trying to get revenge on an NPC (who outranked him) for vomiting on his dress uniform. There's also a lot of "party splitting," and one-on-one interaction; when we get off duty, one guy might go to the officer's rec, another to the gym, and another to shower and bunk, and the GM goes around and resolves each scene in its turn.

I tend to skip over this kind of thing, unless the player's specifically initiate it. I'm usually busy trying to get back to "the action." But well handled, it's really quite engaging. I do worry, based on a couple of comments the GM has made about how he has the campaign "written up," that the game will end up being scripted events with these kind of character interludes in between, but that'll be a problem only when it starts getting boring. Right now, I'm having fun getting a look outside my usual gaming scene.

And -- I'd planned to write this post about how I'm the only woman in the group, which is a new and exciting experience for me, but I'll leave that until next time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Games Up the Wazoo

The mysterious explosion of gaming has spread. Last night, a couple people I know wandered into the campus coffee shop with Burning Wheel, and next thing I know I'm agreeing to a weekly fantasy game. Add this to Yesteryear, and the irregular Battlestar Galactica game I was also more or less randomly recruited into, and I've got a lot of gaming going on.

Unfortunately, this means I'm thinking about putting my own Traveller game on hold. I'm still having fun working on it, and I'll continue doing that, but I've got enough going on besides gaming that I'm not sure I can justify setting aside two weekend nights for it. A weeknight game might work out a little better, but that's more likely to run into other people's schedules.

On the other hand, if I can figure out a way to tap into the rest of the college gaming scene, I might be able to put together a large group, ad hoc schedule, West Marches kind of game. There's talk of a gaming club, and while I'm generally dubious about the value of such an organization, it would be handy for this kind of project. 

I might use Traveller for that game, if I can figure out a way to reconcile the "return to home base at the end of the session" requirement with the whole spaceship thing. It might also be a good excuse to finally download OD&D and take a look at getting that together. Or go back to 3rd, and really make it my own.

I know this must make me sound incredibly flaky, hopping from one idea to another and never getting anything done, and I am. I'm still negotiating this strange new idea that my entire social life doesn't need to revolve around roleplaying, I'm enjoying getting to be a player for once, and I don't feel like doing the work to run a game right now. I'll get back to it, but I figure it's better to back off a little and take a look at how other people run their games, rather than drive myself crazy about not running the game that I should be running.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Notes & Nostalgia

I ran my first campaign almost entirely off of handwritten notes on graph paper. I carried them around in a couple of folders, and worked on them during classes. I occasionally e-mailed things to my players, and kept a few long term notes on my computer, but I printed out almost everything important I wrote on the computer and stuffed it into the folder.

I didn't write up as many notes for the next couple of campaigns after that (I'd started doing work in my classes) but they were still mostly handwritten. Even if I wrote them on the computer, I kept all my need-to-play session notes in folders and binders and notebooks. One somewhat less successful campaign even revolved around a box of 3x5 cards.

Then I got a laptop. The one real campaign I've run since then was almost entirely based on computer notes; basically just the maps, and a couple of player generated notes in a binder. Which was great, especially for in-game notetaking. (And, most especially, handling initiative. "Sort alphabetical" was my best friend in the whole world.) I could have gotten more use out of it if I'd organized my notes a little better, or kept them in a format I could search through better, but my notes have always been a mess, no matter what their format.

I love the convenience of keeping track of my campaigns on the computer. I like being able to take advantage of my typing speed, and I'd like to try using a wiki, or some other fancy new Web 2.0 organizational scheme.

But I miss scrawling out NPC organization charts, monsters, the random ideas I have for next session. I miss sitting down with paper, pencil, and a couple of books. I like having a big stack of paper, or a binder to flip through. And I especially like being able to work without any of the distractions that come along with the computer.

I do wonder, though, if that feeling is mostly nostalgia. There are a lot of technical advatages to working partly or entirely on the computer, but it's not how I did my notes when I was 14, and caught up in my love for this crazy new game that I had discovered. Before I knew what I was doing. Before I worried how to do my notes.

Edited 9/22/08, for the grammar.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Problem of Lists

The Traveller game hasn't started yet, but it's coming along. I'm most of the way through my starting sub-sector, and I've started sketching out the larger political situation. Nothing detailed, mind you. I just needed to know who was running all those spaceports, if there's no Third Imperium in my Traveller universe.

The answer is: another sort of space empire. So far mostly cribbed from Dune, but I'll add in other bits as I go along. Combined with at least some of the Class A and B starports being alien relics, run by robots, this satisfies what need I have for the setting to make sense. I'll make up for it with the planets -- I still need to figure out a place to put the Red-Eyed Cat-Apes.

I am, though, struggling with how much detail to put into that upper-level political situation. I'd like to keep it as loosely defined as possible, partly for philosophical reasons, and partly to avoid doing work. I do plan on making up a minor noble from a minor house (noble houses being the main thing I'm stealing from Dune) to be governor of the sub-sector, and eventually I'll work out a few rivals and allies, to aid in the generation of schemes and plots. But there's no need for a big list of all the houses and nobles and all of that.

Except that I had this idea, that if each of the houses has its own army and so on, then some of the characters might have pre-existing allegiances to them, or old grudges or something. Which would, then, necessitate some manner of list. Unless the players could manage to make something up on their own, if the idea interests them, but I've had mixed success with those sorts of schemes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quotes VII

"So the end of all life on the planet, and indeed the planet itself, could still happen anytime between now and next Tuesday." RPGpundit

"He's not ugly. I just hate his face." Emily

"I used to kill Hitler, then go back and stop myself. That was a pretty neat couple of Saturday nights." Deep Time . . . agent . . . guy (Does Starslip Crisis not have a character bible? Or did I just miss it?)

"At the top of the United States today sits a meritocracy, an elite who believe that their intellectual achievement earned them their high status. Meritocrats think of themselves as progressive and antiracist, but they are certified into the elite by the SAT, an IQ-like test on which whites and Asians consistently outscore blacks and Hispanics." Caleb Crain

"It's like, do they not have butter in space?" Gabe

"Mad with power. Post later." Dr. Cataclysm

"Smugglers aren't real. They're just manifestations of my fear of the sea. Combined with my fear of theft, secret caves, men with scars, and rum."

"You can trust me. I'm an English major." Oddysey

"Look, I'm not suggesting by any means that my readers should go kill George Lucas. And certainly not by using the swift, undetectable poison known as curare!" John Seavey

"Shush. There's nothing overcomplicated about Linux at all." Qem

"I can accept shallowness in my news media, but not in my comic books." Scipio

"What kinda gonzo-fantasy universe are you livin' in? In mine, a cut that lays your chainmail open and draws a line of gushing crimson across your chest is just an excuse to tear your shirt off." TonyLB

“Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Barack Obama

"It is the opinion of myself and this website that the person responsible for this effect should go to jail, or gaol, or whatever the British call the place where you store your evil men." Tycho Brahe

"It's rare that you're simply presented with a knob whose only two positions are "Make History" and "Flee Your Glorious Destiny." Tycho Brahe

"Pirates: Is there anything they can't teach us?" Freakonomics

Sunday, September 07, 2008


I'd almost convinced myself not to get the game -- better things to do with my time, mostly -- but then the boy got it and I have near-constant access to his computer, so I've logged a couple hours today, and over the next couple of weeks I'll probably be playing it more than is healthy.

The interface is a little clunky, but that's partially because I'm not used to it, and I've only gotten about halfway through the creature level. Though most of the advertising focused on that stage, I have a suspicion that most of the action happens at the civilization stage and beyond, so I'll reverse judgment until I've seen how that plays. I am, however, very impressed with the game manual -- it's the best I've seen in a while, a major plus for a game as varied and complicated as Spore purports to be.

If anyone reading this happens to pick up the game -- the account I'm sharing now is "medievalguy88," if you want to drop me a note in-game.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Low Level Game?

I'm thinking low-level is the way to go with the Traveller game. Not so much in power level -- I don't plan on messing with character creation, at least on the first outing -- but in money, equipment, and variety of adventure.

Partially this is because I've been spending a lot of time looking at the trade tables. I expect they won't get quite as much attention once we start playing -- we'll too busy with the adventures, see -- but they still look like an interesting way to generate some on-the-fly excitement, and a quick way to decide where to go next. As long as they need cash, there's always something to do. Traveller has some handy mechanisms for keeping that need active -- mortgages and so on -- so this shouldn't be too hard.

Mostly, though, I want the PCs to have a sense of a larger universe. This goal may change once I get into the game and start seeing what clicks with my player group. But at least going into it, I want there to be a sense that there are things going on -- interstellar politics, trade deals, matters of empire -- that are just way out of their league. Not particularly important things, in the backwoods part of space they'll be in, more faraway, might matter if they cared things, but things nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Random World Generation Official Verdict: Awesome

Planets I have made so far:
  • D79A65-7 S NI Wa. Gola Tau. Run by the engineers who keep the environment bubbles working. They will challenge you to duels!
  • C683589-8 A NI. Degenerate agrarian communists. Currently being pestered by one of their neighbors (to be decided, as I fill in the sector) who keeps trying to set up a puppet government to take them over.
  • C7838AF-4 S P Ri Lt Amber. Deutsches Reich. They got hold of some old Nazi propaganda tapes, liked what they saw, and now they have tourists swarming all over what the travel agency calls "Hitler World."
  • E2108CE-4 P Lt Na. Holo. Religious nuts trying to keep their atmosphere generators together with duct tape.
  • C555300-6 Ga Lo NI. Sukka. A bunch of Heinlein-ian farmers, mostly notable for the guy calling himself "the King of Cold" who keeps bothering space travelers and trying to set up his own little kingdom.
  • B000A53-14 N T I As Hi Ht In Na Va Red. Hox Anoth. Alien space arcology that the Imperium (or whatever) desperately does not want to antagonize.
So yeah, I'd say I'm having fun. No group together to play it yet, but I'm working on it. It may take me a week or two to get the sector sketched out anyway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

On Being A Player -- and a Bit About 2nd Edition

Being a player again is pretty spiffy. I've done a few one shots or short campaigns, here and there, but I ran my last few major campaigns. But now I'm playing Zavijah, a lawful neutral human cleric, in Yesteryear, a PBB 2nd Edition Planescape game, and it looks to be rockin'.

Especially because I'm not running it -- noisms is -- so I have someone to pester with pesky questions. I have schemes to unravel, things to explore, and NPCs to bother. It's a refreshing way to play the game, especially with the triple new of internet play, Planescape, and 2nd Edition.

All three of which I quite like. Planescape, of course, is awesome, and it's nice to be able to sit down and compose one's actions, rather than being driven by violent competition with the rest of the table. And I'm enjoying 2nd Edition more than I'd expected to; I doubt I'll ever run it, but character creation was surprisingly enjoyable, freed from the mechanical considerations of feat choice and skill point optimization.

I'm sure there are mechanical optimizations in 2nd edition, but I don't know what they are, and I have no intention to find out. At any rate, having no idea what the usual items for the system or the campaign would be, picking proficiencies and equipment was a lot more about what my character would actually know, and less about the optimal character grind I tend to slip into with 3rd, and 4th is actively built around. I can see why people still play the edition, and I'm glad to have joined them.