Thursday, July 29, 2010

Some Stuff You Should Know About

Good stuff happening on the blog-o-sphere lately. But you knew that.
  • If I was willing to deal with fiddly, 3.5-style character abilities again, I'd probably follow Zak S's lead and tie them to specific areas of the campaign world. Cool of an idea as it is, I can't see myself doing that any time soon. Though I do I know I've enjoyed the handful of odd powers that my nixie has, so maybe.
  • JB's got some really interesting observations on poison in Moldvay/Cook. I've got only this to say: Poison should be guaranteed, will-definitely-kill-you death, and shouldn't do it immediately. Got a great moment in the solo game out of something like that.
  • Alexis's ideas on running the "end game" are basically how I'd always assumed that something like that would go down. Or how I hope my DM will run things if I ever get to that point with a campaign. But I'm all about the politics, backstabbing, and deal-making.
  • So it turns out I'm not actually the only old-school-ish college-age gamer blogging right now. Ian of Swashbuckler's Hideout got into roleplaying with AD&D, and Nick Crayon of Lawful Indifferent started out with BECMI, got into 3e for a while, and these days is all about Labyrinth Lord.
  • Roger the GS is working on a color system for D&D magic. It's nifty.
  • Jacquaying the dungeon
  • Help out James Raggi's long-suffering wife! Get a LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Box Set out of his living room!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's Up With That Wedding Anyhow?

For those times when you go "You *finally* arrive in Small Town #3. After a bit of asking around, you find out that there's a sale on cheese, the sewers are infested with giant hungry weasels, and the locals are planning a wedding" and the players go "Sweet! We crash it!"

1. An important alliance between two nobles.

2. A secret marriage between two nobles, who's parents will be some degree of unhappy when they find out.

3. A secret marriage between a noble and a commoner. The noble's parents will be extremely displeased when they find out; the noble was supposed to marry someone important to end some war or another.

4. The bride is a werewolf!

5. The groom is a vampire!

6. Part of an important rite for a weird local fertility cult. The human sacrifice is purely metaphorical.

7. Part of an important rite for a weird local fertility cult. The human sacrifice is very much not metaphorical, and the bride and/or groom is it.

8. Part of an important rite for a weird local fertility cult. They still need a human sacrifice -- preferably one from outside the community.

9. The bride and/or groom is under the effect of a charm effect. It will wear off at the worst possible moment.

10. The bridge/groom has been, or is about to be, kidnapped by nixies/satyrs.

11. The bride/groom gets cold feet.

12. The bride/groom gets cold feet. S/he makes it look like s/he's been kidnapped by nixies/satyrs.

13. The bride/groom gets cold feet. S/he gets the other one kidnapped by nixies/satyrs.

14. The couple is already bickering constantly. It's starting to get on everyone's nerves.

15. The couple is madly in love, utterly normal, and deeply obnoxious.

16. The bride/groom is a doppelganger.

17. The bride *and* the groom are doppelgangers. Neither is aware that the other one is one.

18. The bridge/groom is a secretly a hideous monster! The wedding is all just a convenient pretext to get a large number of people in one room for convenient mid-rampage snacking.

19. The bride/groom is not whom s/he appears to be. S/he's actually an obsessive stalker, and has kidnapped the real bride/groom to take his/her place for the ceremony.

20. The couple has made a poor choice of flower arranger. Odds are good that the ceremony is attacked by angry sentient plants.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quoted for Truth

Role-playing is a social hobby, and a being able to be identified as a growing thing is the best way to get more people playing. Absolutely nothing gets people willing to try to play games more than the belief that it will be easy to find people to play with.

That sense of mass and momentum is the greatest tool we have to get more people.

If we disconnect, if everyone takes down their blogrolls, stops talking about each other's work, stops caring about the world beyond their table and just plays the game and says fuck everything else, then this doesn't grow, and it dies with us.

I've been on about this long before I had any sort of financial stake in it, and there's a hell of a lot more people than me that benefits from this. Not just publishers, either. Every single person who thinks they'd like to play but suffers from the old gamer curse, "can't find a group" benefits.

-- James Edward Raggi IV

I owe the OSR my current game group. Technically speaking, I owe it to some combination of Jeff Rients (who linked me to Trollsmyth's blog, and piqued my interest in this old school thing originally), James Maliszewski (who got me really interested in old school mechanics and the principles behind sandbox play and dungeon delving, and convinced Trollsmyth that maybe demi-human level limits weren't such a horrible thing after all), Melan (again, the idea that there really was something to dungeons), Daniel Proctor, for publishing Labyrinth Lord, the Knights & Knaves Alehouse and Dragonsfoot (for kicking off the retro-clones with OSRIC) whoever it was who linked Trollsmyth to me, and, frankly, pretty much anyone who wrote something interesting about old school roleplaying between, oh, the summer of 2007 and the winter of 2009. You guys just made this dungeon and Red Box stuff just sound so dang fun.

And it is. And I could not have gotten to it on my own. Without the OSR? Without old school bloggers and linking to each other and the retro-clones? I might be running Pathfinder, giving a curious glance at OD&D every now-and-again but convinced that it was too arcane, too inaccessible, fundamentally in some way not for college punks with more enthusiasm than sense. Or who knows? I might have picked up a copy of Moldvay/Cook in a used bookstore and figured it out on my own. Maybe. But the OSR sure got me here a lot faster.

Take that for what you will.

And here's your Obligatory Argument Content:

Antoine's Ring of Lizard Power
This white jade ring is etched with crude scribbles that, based on appearance alone, might be large lizards or small dinosaurs. Or birds. Can't rule out birds. Anyone who puts the ring will eventually discern that they were probably intended to be lizards: the wearer gains the ability to understand the speech of lizards, but birds remain unintelligible. Furthermore, there is a 50% chance to understand the speech of any given snake or turtle, a 25% chance to understand any given amphibian, and a 25% chance to understand any given dinosaur.

Once per day, the wearer can cast charm monster on any creature whom the ring allows him to communicate with.

The wearer also experiences one of the following effects while wearing the ring. The effect should be chosen at random, but an individual will always experience the same effect when wearing the ring. If the wearer removes the ring, the effect lasts for another 24 hours.

1. Ectothermic -- irresistibly drawn to sunlight and sources of warmth. Becomes lethargic in surroundings significantly cooler than comfortable room temperature.
2. Forked tongue
3. Yellow, slitted eyes
4. A patch of scales on the back of each hand
5. Clawed toes
6. Nothing visible

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Don't More Girls Play D&D?

Zak S asks why none of the guest stars on I Hit It With My Axe could get any boys to let them play when they were teenagers. (NSFW)

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the answer's in the gap between:

"When I was a teenager, I knew guys who were playing and I always wanted to try it, but they wouldn't let me play."


"Heh, that never happened with us. Sure, we were nerds but we weren't stupid...and we had hormones just like anyone else. If a young woman would have asked to play D&D or whatever we were playing we would have each been falling over one another to day "yes". We were not at all shy, and every one knew that we played...but no girls asked." (Mr. R, from the comments on that post)

One of my major social functions is to make it okay for the women around me I hang out with to be geeky, because there's always at least decent odds I'm the geekiest one in the room, male or female. Comic books, video games, and, yes, D&D, are all often seen as "boys stuff." Women are often interested, but aren't sure how to directly ask. And male nerds tend to be even more clueless than guys in general.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2010 ENnies

I just wanted to take a moment to echo LotFP and RPG Blog II in encouraging everyone to vote in the ENnies, especially since a number of old school outfits are up for Best Publisher. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my top choice there, for the inside look we've been getting on the creation his amazing boxed set, but Goblinoid Games, Mythmere Games, Bat in the Attic Games, and Pied Piper Publishing all absolutely deserve a shout-out.

And LotFP's The Grinding Gear is up against Paizo, Fantasy Flight, Green Ronin and Pelgrane Press in the Best Adventure Category. Worth a shot, though, eh?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Player/GM collaboration?

How much do you talk with the GM about the kind of game you want? Or to your players about the kind of game they want you to run? Do you prefer a "this is my game, take it or leave" approach from the GM, or do you build the whole premise collaboratively from the ground up? Or somewhere in between?

Does the way you handle this issue vary depending on whether you're playing or game-mastering? That is to say, do you prefer a collaborative approach when you're a player even if you're pretty much "take it or leave it" when you GM yourself? Or do you encourage player participation in the premise when you GM, even if you're happy to leave that work to your GM when you play?

Does it matter if you're putting together a brand new group or running for a group you've had for ages? When you're starting a new group, do you decide on the premise and then recruit players for that, or recruit players and then work on a premise together? When you're coming up with a new game for an old group, is it usually built on conversations you've with them over the course of the last game, or are you more likely to pitch them an idea of your own more-or-less cold?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does system matter?

Does system matter?

Is there one roleplaying system that you prefer to play above all others? Are there systems that you absolutely won't play? Do social considerations override those preferences? Would you rather play with the right people, or the right system? Or are the right people the ones playing the right system?

Would you rather play something familiar, or try something new? Are you still playing the first system you started gaming with? When you try a new system, would you rather that it be similar to one you know, or something crazy and different? Or are there certain features that you know and love, and others you don't mind if the system experiments with?

Would you rather play the perfect system, or one that's not quite perfect but you know inside and out? Are there systems that you originally hated, but fell in love with when you mastered them? What about the other way around? Any system that you used to love, but now don't remember well enough to use properly?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Inner Lives of Player Characters

Trollsmyth has a really excellent piece up today about personality inventories, or "stress-testing the character concept." This is something that I've seen a lot of in his games; the solo game in particular almost entirely revolves around exploring these kinds of changes and personal re-evaluations now, and they're becoming ever more important in the group sessions. I haven't seen so much of it outside of those campaigns, though. I had one player in high school who really got into this kind of thing, but for the most part our campaigns were too short for it to ever come up.

Thus, this kind of character change is intimately connected with another thing that sets Trollsmyth's campaigns apart from the ones I've played in before: I spend a lot of time outside the game thinking about my character. The exact amount varies from week to week and month to month, depending on what's going on in the game and what else is going on in my life, but it's a lot more than any game I've played in before. I'm used to having my mind a lot on the game I'm running, but as a player, that kind of outside-the-session involvement is a new experience.

It can take a lot of time to work through the problems that these kinds of transformations and pressures present to my characters. Particularly since I'm building the cultures that they come from at the same time, and often in response to what's going on in-game, so that her actions and experiences create interesting conflicts with her backstories. And while a lot of times these personality conflicts come up naturally in-game, often in ways that (delightfully!) I don't expect in my between-session musings, I also try -- sometimes without success -- to come up with ways to express the ideas while I've had away from the table (or the keyboard, as the case may be) while I'm at it.

I'm being vague here because this process of character examination and consideration is one of the big reasons I haven't been writing much here lately. When I'm thinking about a game as a DM, I'm thinking a lot about technique. Not only is a lot of it much easier to abstract away from the particulars of the game into the realm of process, it's -- well, it's a lot less personal. I get deeply involved with some of my NPCs on occasion, but even when I do, there's always more going on to a game than just the inner lives of the characters. And I can write about that.

When most of my mental game-time goes into one or two individuals over a long period of time, there's a lot less I can talk about. And a lot less that I want to talk about, particularly on the internet. There are a lot of reasons for that. Some of it, in fact, is actively secret--the character in the group game in particular is a bit of a schemer, and the rest of the group still doesn't know what she's up to, relationship and otherwise. I don't want to tip her hand to the other players early, before I've had the opportunity to set up the reveals. This isn't as big of an issue in the solo game, but there are at least a few things about that character that I don't plan to discuss with Trollsmyth outside of game until they come up within it.

Still. Blog posts or no, the way my characters have changed and the time that I spend considering and shaping that change is one of my favorite things about these games, and one major reason why I'm even more interested now than when the first one started a year and a half ago. Situations that encourage character change, and allow the opportunity to explore it, is now the bar for what I expect from a campaign. And it's one of the major things I'm going to have my eye on the next time I run my own game.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My Return to d20 Modern, and Why I Shouldn't Have

The old high school gang is kinda-sorta getting back together this summer for some gaming. I say "kinda-sorta" because right now the posse consists of me, one of the four members of my original crew, her husband(!), and one of the members of the group I played with my last year of high school. There's some possibility that my brother and another member of that senior-year group will join next week, though I'm not sure how much of one. This is mostly cool, since I haven't seen most of these people much lately and I could use the excuse to get out of the house. But it also means saying "hello" to another old friend I haven't seen in a while: d20 Modern.

I've all but sworn off 3rd Edition and anything related to it, and this game, I suspect, is going to be a series of all-too-immediate lessons on why I really should continue that policy. I don't mean to harsh on anyone's buzz here; I know lots of people have all kinds of fun playing d20 and its derivatives. I've been one of them, and someday I might be again. But man, do I ever doubt that right now.

d20 Modern encourages me to focus on aspects of gaming I don't enjoy focusing on. Case in point: I'm putting together a Tough hero who specializing in surviving helicopter crashes. (Because she causes them.) I consider the Concentration skill. This seems like something my character should have. Flying helicopters is tricky; she's probably going to do it while being shot at and taking damage. And yet, in the back of my mind, I know -- we never used Concentration checks back in the day. So do I take the thing that the system says I should have, or should I bet that the GM isn't going to call me on it if I don't take it, and spend those points on something I can almost guarantee will come up? Intimidation, for instance -- I know I'll be able to create that situation. Likewise, I picked up the feat Aircraft Operation, and I probably shouldn't have, because all it does is eliminate a penalty to flying helicopters (anything besides ordinary planes, basically) that I'm pretty sure won't come up anyway. If I don't mention it, the GM's definitely not going to remember that exception.

This kind of thing pulls me away from in-game contemplation of "What can my character do?" to the meta-game judgement of "How is my GM going to handle this one particular rule?" Not to mention all the time I spend just manipulating the rules themselves. Point-buy is a major culprit here; I'm sitting there calculating the relative values of the various ability scores, thinking about the cost of odd-numbered scores versus even-numbered ones and trying to remember which of my character's abilities reference which scores, rather than, y'know, the character, or what I want to be able to do in the game.

Maybe this is a character flaw. Maybe I'm just easily distractable. But it seems to me that a large point of the joy, such as it is, in a system like this is the meta-game. And at this point in my gaming life, I don't care about the meta-game. I don't want to spend a whole lot of time manipulating the rules. I want the GM to roll some dice and tell me what happens and then get on with the actual game.