Monday, August 30, 2010

My All-Women Campaign Kicks Off

So! That game. First session went fairly well. One of the players was expectedly late, one was unexpectedly late, and another didn't show up as well, but we still made characters, came up with some starting backstories, and played enough for them to decide on and prepare for their initial expedition into the wild.

Currently the roster consists of:

Helene, Elf 1 -- Exiled from her people for reasons currently unknown.

Sister Amalia, Cleric 1 -- A native of the port city to the north, Kythrea, who left when her researches led her to the cult of the archangel Inara, Lady of Morning, one of the many such cults banned by the city's Sorcerer-Tyrant.

Skeltinath, Fighter 1 -- Another native of Kythrea, who abandoned the city's petty tyranny in favor of freedom! And also treasure.

Sun, Fighter 1 -- A mermaid princess who sold her voice to a sea-witch to become human, so she could avoid the responsibilities of mermaid princess-hood. She's since had a bit of a hard time in human lands, and is prone to starting fights with shady men in bars.

I printed out an extra copy of the character creation info (the first 30-something pages of the PDF) which helped quite a bit. Especially since the Lamentations of the Flame Princess book starts out with a handy, step-by-step explanation of what to do in character creation. I probably should have also printed out a couple extra copies of the equipment list, so that everyone could have had one to peruse. At some point I need to get around to making a list specifically for Stormwatch, or whatever town they spend the most time in, that includes some items from And a 10' Pole. But for now I'm too lazy for that.

They ended up deciding that they hadn't known each other before they arrived in Stormwatch, and all met in a tavern, the Unquiet Cat. I pointed out that, all being women travelling alone and looking for adventure, they actually all had a fairly good reason to seek out each other's company, and they seemed pretty happy with that as an explanation for why they ended up at the table together. I'd handed them each a few clues to some of the adventuring site's I'd outlined in my notes, and they chatted about that and eventually decided to go for the one that Sun had heard contained a huge, possibly cursed, ruby. Then they picked up some extra equipment for the expedition, and we're all set to start the next session off with some dungeon-delving.

They seemed a bit hesitant about how exactly to begin -- only Sun and Helene spontaneously shared the clues they had -- and I probably nudged them a bit too much in response because I wanted to get that section figured out and out of the way before we wrapped up for the night. In the future, I'm going to try to give them more time to work things out on their own, and give them time to dither a bit if that's what they need to do.

Sun also started a fight with a guy in the bar, which gave us the opportunity to demo the combat system. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to orchestrate a slightly more involved combat, with more of the group involved, and to particularly to get to the point of someone being "knocked out" so they could see how easy it is to get to zero hit points. But they'll figure it out fairly quickly once they get into the dungeon, and several of them do have enough old school D&D experience to know at least that combat is pretty deadly.

Next time: the mysterious ruin of Phra Chedi Nam, which may or may not contain a giant cursed ruby!

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 Gen Con Report Part 2

Here’s the second round of bullet points from Gen Con. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this time.
  • Talked about the disappointing Wizards booth in the podcast. I'll add that we saw the thing in the dealer hall, decided that couldn't possibly the entire Wizards presence, and went on a quest to find an official location where you could find the books, equivalent to the Paizo display. Nope. If you wanted to browse a 4e D&D book at Gen Con, you had to find one of the game or book store booths that was carrying a few copies.
  • I would have strangled the True Dungeon referee if it had been an actual tabletop game (too many "guess what I'm thinking!" puzzles) but the environmental dressing was cool enough that it was worth putting up with a bit of frustration. I was also able to get the two extra tickets I had available on account of scheduling lameness to new players at the last minute, so kudos to the True Dungeon staff for managing the waiting list system well enough to allow that. Coolest touch: the dragon was guarding a huge pile of actual True Dungeon tokens.
  • Roger the GS runs a mean game of (mostly) D&D. Another one where I was quieter than I could have been, but still managed to contribute despite that as the party mapper. This one is going to get its own post, since I have a lot of notes to write up from that game.
  • I completely forgot about the Dune boardgame. For serious.
  • The board game hall is one of the best parts about Gen Con, and another spot I'm going to spend more time in the next time I go. The frantic, grudge-based, not-entirely-serious style of playing Settlers of Catan advocated by the college students in the group (me, my brother, and one of my old players from high school) amused Trollsmyth, who was used to people who are actually focused on, you know, winning.
  • "Maraschino cherry, courtesy of Gen Con." I really don't know what the explanation for this was. Some guy came around handing them out. My brother and I both felt strongly that accepting would have broken every rule we've ever learned about food and strangers. Unfortunately, Trollsmyth did not prove our thesis by hallucinating.
  • Trollsmyth also got some free stuff that was actually cool. The Men In Black GM’s guide and the Hawkmoon Player’s Guide. I think.
  • We played Outdoor Survival! We all died! Seriously, this game is a lot of fun, and fascinatingly close to the Moldvay/Cook rules for wilderness exploration. You move on the hex map at a rate determined by your condition, with more difficult terrain taking more points of movement to enter, you get lost by occasionally having to roll a d6 to determine the direction you move on the hex map, and there’s an optional rule that lets you roll “random encounters” in addition to the basic hazards of starvation and dehydration. The basic version of the game generally ends when you get trapped in an area that costs more than your current move to get out of and then starve to death.
  • I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up a couple of pieces of Beth Trott art. Still need to get that framed so I can hang it up on my wall when I get back to school.
  • Oh, and Game Science dice. Which are awesome, and awaiting hand-inking.
  • I did really enjoy getting the opportunity to flip through some old game stuff from the 80s at some of the used bookstore type booths in the dealer hall. Felt kind of old because the books I started on are now only in the used section, stacked next to the AD&D hardbacks. Trollsmyth laughed at me.
  • The 2010 GMs Jam was surprisingly interesting. (If you missed it, RPG Circus has the video posted.) I’m usually not much into the whole “GMing advice” genre -- getting to focused on “advice” contributed to one of the worst games I ever ran back in high school -- but I went anyway so I could meet up with Zachary Houghton and other RPG bloggers, and was quite glad I did. The focus the session had on social issues was both telling and encouraging, since in my experience those tend to be more significant and more intractable than any matters of technique. The opportunity to hear about other people’s games and the kinds of problems they were having was fun, too. The early discussion was dominated by people with too many players, which made a number of the panelists very jealous. Overall the thing drove home just how lucky I am in my current gaming situation, with a DM who fits my own gaming preferences very well, and vice versa, and both of us with enough time to game 3+ times per week.
  • I want to go again, but I’m not absolutely, 100% it’ll happen next year. That depends on a number of factors, not least of which is where (and if!) I end up getting a job next year when I finish school. But it’s definitely something I’m going to do again, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

New Campaign!

Starting up a new one tonight. The system is Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The players are all women. One is completely new to roleplaying, another has hung out with roleplayers for a while and played a single session of Exalted, two were in my Traveller game but haven't done any roleplaying outside of that, and the last was in my Traveller game and now also plays in Trollsmyth's group game online.

Should be interesting.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2010 Gen Con Report Part 1

Gen Con was the best four days I've had in a long time. Maybe ever. Lots of reasons for that, some more blog-worthy than others. Since I got back I've been sorting through exactly how to handle it on the blog. Should I write a blow-by-blow account of what I did at the con? Write a few separate posts hitting some of the highlights? Attempt to capture the "Gen Con experience" in a narrative essay? Then I decided all of that would be too much dang work, so you get random bullet points. This is just the first batch, and mostly from Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The whole freaking city was full of gamers. Obvious, out, clearly-there-for-the-con geeks of all stripes noticeably outnumbered normal Indianapolis folk and other travelers until sometime Sunday afternoon. Go to a restaurant? Full of gamers. Walk down the street? Full of gamers. Get into an elevator? Full of gamers. It was very much as if Gen Con was its own small town within the larger city. Or as if my online, roleplaying-focused life had moved offline.
  • Being in charge of a trip, on my own, without parents, was wicked cool. This was the first time I've been responsible for anything this big and crazy, and that aspect was one of the best parts of the trip. I didn't always enjoy being the default decision maker, especially towards the end of the afternoon when I'd started to crash a bit, but the other members of my posse were able to mostly pick up the slack when necessary. I did love being able to build a trip around what I wanted to do from start to finish, and even more than that really enjoyed deciding to do something crazy and then making it happen. I'm used to being responsible for myself at college, but a lot of times that descends into the lowest energy state of the daily grind. Planning and executing Gen Con was active, not reactive, and that was very rewarding.
  • Hanging out with Trollsmyth was deeply weird, but also a lot of fun. I hadn't met any online friends in person before this, so simultaneously getting "I've known you for over a year" and "total stranger" signals was a new and exciting flavor of cognitive dissonance. Luckily, we had Gen Con, so it didn't take long for my social processing to catch up with -- Oh yeah! Trollsmyth is the guy I geek out about gaming stuff with.
  • The dealer hall is like the coolest game store in the world. Seeing a lot of RPG stuff I'd only read about online before was neat, and meeting the people responsible for some of it was extra-neat. There's also a lot of stuff besides RPGs at the dealer hall -- costume pieces, dice, game tables, and other things where the actual physical experience is the whole point of the thing.
  • Trollsmyth and I were both more or less mystified by the map/program. It took like an hour to really figure out how all the sub-maps fit together, and even then there was a lot of stuff on there that we simply didn't discover until our second day at the con. We'd be terrible adventurers. But the con is also very big, and very complicated, especially once you start trying to figure out where events are in the connected hotels.
  • Seminars are really cool. We ended up only making Girls Just Wanna Get Their Game On and GMs Jam 2010 this year, which were both great. Next year I'd like to do more, and I'll probably spend a little more time finding interesting looking ones before the con; I didn't have that many picked out this year to begin with, and we skipped a couple I had picked on account of hungry, or just other things I wanted to get done.
  • The Embassy Suites has its reputation as gamer central for a reason: tons of table space.
  • Dogs in the Vineyard is fun. Not going to replace old school D&D as my staple game any time soon, but getting a chance to play with Tim and some of his friends in person was great. Unfortunately Thursday was the day with my highest energy high (boy, was I wired that morning in Panera) and my corresponding lowest low later that evening, which hit right around the middle of that session, and it'd been entirely too long since I'd had a bit of actual table play, so I was much quieter than I could or should have been. Still, a good time.
  • Pict-o-phone is also fun. Tim had to take off after the Dogs game, but a couple of his friends stuck around and taught us this excellent thing. Basically it's a cross between the telephone game and Pictionary. Everyone has a stack of cards, writes a sentence on the first one, and hands the stack off to the next person. They have to draw that sentence on the next card, and then hand the stack off again, and the person who gets that stack has to write a new sentence based on the picture, without referencing the original sentence. A couple of rounds of this is a recipe for endless hilarity. Especially when someone thinks it's funny to write things like "For whom the bell tolls" and "A mighty fortress is our God" on his starting cards.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Listen to Trollsmyth and Oddysey Chat About Gen Con

Trollsmyth and I have been talking about fiddling with podcasting for a while now, and at Gen Con had a couple of conversations we thought would make an interesting starting point for such a thing. We ended up being too busy with con things to get all the technical details worked out while we were there, but Skype makes such things fairly easy at long distance. If you want our take on Pathfinder, D&D Essentials, the Paizo and WotC booths, the general con vibe, catgirls, and more, you can download the podcast at Mediafire. It's about half an hour long.

Links to stuff we mentioned:
Zak’s RPG Blog II
Roger’s awesome character sheets at Roles, Rules, and Rolls (Not “Rolls, Rules, and Rulings.” Sorry, Roger.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unjustified Player Grinching

JB's had an interesting post up recently about how every campaign has a "Robilar." One player who's a lot more into the game, plays more, makes every session, even goes off on solo adventures if the DM is up for it. Apparently this has been a feature of long-running campaigns since the earliest days of gaming, and came up back in his own early gaming as well.

It's certainly been the case in Doom & Tea Parties, though explicitly by design. The game that became the solo game came first, and when we added more players to the campaign we decided to split that off into its own game. The party in the group game picked up a rumor that turned out to be about something that happened in the solo game, but otherwise there hasn't been any contact between them. Which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. Does an end run around the messy issues of diva-ism that JB talks about in his post.

Still, the Robilar comparison isn't perfect. One of the things that tends to happen, it seems, in a game that where one character gets a lot more running time than they others, is that character gains a lot more power and wealth just through the extra attention.

But that solo game? The one that's been running for over ninety sessions now? More than twice the number that the group game's had? Guess what level that character is. Just GUESS.

I asked Trollsmyth this question a couple of days ago. He got it wrong!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Coolest Thing That Happened at GenCon

So it turns out that I'm an idiot. I was completely and utterly wrong about there being no old school vendor presence at GenCon. Over on RPG Blog 2 there are some pictures of Raggi's stuff at the IPR booth, and there was a whole mess of Swords & Wizardry and OSRIC material available at the Expeditious Retreat Press booth. It was awesome.

But being an idiot worked out pretty well for me, because it meant that we dropped by on the last day of the con, once I'd figured out how terribly wrong I was. (Thanks to everyone who commented on that post last week!) We met Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing, who was very impressed with how well-worn my copy of Swords & Wizardry was. We were flipping through OSRIC modules and A Magical Society: Silk Road when another gamer showed up and started asking Hershberger about Swords & Wizardry, and what old school modules he'd recommend running with it. A certain, oddly familiar gamer...

I was there when Erik Mona bought a copy of Swords & Wizardry! Which was extra-cool because Trollsmyth and I had spent a lot of our first day in the dealer hall chatting about how neat Paizo's booth was, what makes their business model so interesting, and how awesome it was that they were clearly there to sell product and support people gaming. Not only did their booth contain huge stacks of their rulebooks and an entire wall of adventures, they'd gotten some third party gaming accessories lined up as well. Everything you need to run a kick-ass game of Pathfinder right there.

Gamers gaming, man. Actual people playing the games they want to play. As geek-out worthy as that picture is, that's what's really worth getting exciting about.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stack Overflow RPG Q&A

I'll have the first bit of my GenCon report up later tonight, once I've gotten a chance to load up and go through my pictures. I have a number of points that I want to hit, so it may take most of the next week or so to get through it all. In the meantime, though, I'd like to point out that Role-playing Games is currently the second-hottest proposal on the StackExchange, an online Q&A system. Jeff Rients, Zach Houghton, Scott, and Rob Conley are all already there, so even if we can't beat out Linux & Unix to make it the hottest topic on the system I figure we can still thorough infest the thing with old schoolers. It won't move into the beta stage until we get enough people to commit to answering ten questions over three months, so if you haven't heard about it already I encourage you to check it out.

Friday, August 06, 2010

No Old School at GenCon?

I'll have a longer report (complete with rants!) when I get back, but one point so far at GenCon stands out enough that it's worth taking a break from pestering Trollsmyth to mention it -- there is a serious lack of old school presence at GenCon. As far as I can tell the only publisher connected with the retro-clone scene here is Troll Lord Games, though Rogue Games also has James Maliszewski's The Cursed Chateau. And it seems that the only old school or quasi old school bloggers here are Zack Houghton, me, Roger GS, and Trollsmyth. (Please let me know if I'm wrong. And e-mail me so we can hook up!)

Mostly it's an object lesson in just how "niche of a niche" we really are. And I know there are AD&D games running so there obviously are old school people here who aren't associated with the online scene. Still -- can't help feeling that there ought to be a bit more of a concerted presence next year.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

GenCon 2010 Side Quests

Wednesday night will find me in Indianapolis for the four days during which it is the greatest city in the world -- or so I am told, since this'll be my first ever GenCon. And in fact my first gaming con, ever. I've been thinking about doing "the GenCon thing" for a couple of years now, but this time I'm finally making it happen. I suspect I'm going to spend most of my time wandering around and hanging out, but as befits any good campaign, I have acquired a number of side quests.

Buy a set of GameScience dice.
It's been a while since I picked up a new set of dice, and I still don't have a set to go with Doom & Tea Parties (not surprising, since we don't use dice in that game, but still). GameScience seems the obvious choice, being the premier dice of the old school. Unfortunately, word on the street says I'm not going to get an opportunity to witness the famed Lou Zocchi pitch.

Attend some seminars.
Right now I'm signed up for "Girls Just Wanna Get Their Game On!" on Thursday at noon, "Game Design: Seven Steps to Writing Great Rules" on Thursday at one, and "Game Magic: Why It's Not" on Saturday at noon, but I'm sure I'll wander into some others as well. I'm deeply annoyed that I'll be missing the TARGA seminar -- a game of the Dune boardgame was running at the same time, and, well, Dune.

Poison Meet Trollsmyth
Why would I ever want to harm my beloved Dungeon Master?

Meet other blog folks.
Readers of this blog as well as writers of others. I'll have chocolate chip bacon cookies. Though maybe only on the first day of the con. (Don't worry. I'll tell you which ones not to eat.) I'm bringing my Swords & Wizardry book as a sort of "con yearbook" for people to sign, too.

Get Monte Cook to sign my 3e Dungeon Master's Guide.
I may have sworn the system itself off, but I'm still very fond of the book that taught spazzy thirteen-year-old Oddysey how to DM. And didn't do too bad a job of it, if I may say so.

Try a new game or two.
Perhaps weirdly, this isn't my absolute top priority, but Tim Jensen has been talking about running some dirty hippy indie games and that sounds like a fun time, given his games' historically high incidence of magic giraffes. I'm also assuming I'm going to end up in at least a couple unplanned games or demos or somesuch.

Pick up some art.
I've been informed that I need to actually decorate my room at college this year. The inexplicable diagram that somehow compares teaching styles to the "land of ogres" and the "land of elves" is no longer cutting it, it seems. Enter: fantasy art.