Sunday, June 19, 2011

Free RPG Day and Other Stuff

A peek behind my screen on Free RPG Day!
(note to my players: look away right now!)

It was a pretty busy gaming week for me. The Wednesday Night C&C group met once again at All Things Fun. I ran the second session of my Dragonlance campaign, and it was a great time (with our Solamnic Knight again providing much amusement). This week was different, however, in the fact that we had two new players join us, for a total of six! One is named Glenn, who was very enthusiastic to be getting into some old school gaming (for him that means doing more roleplaying than rollplaying). He had come to the store that night to get into D&D 4E Encounters or whatever they call it. But the store's owner Ed and I talked him into converting to Castles & Crusades! Score one for the old school! We were also joined by a fellow named Josh, who seemed to be curious about C&C but I'm not sure if he'll really be willing to stick with it (he seemed to be torn between C&C and D&D 4E).

Anyway, suddenly having six players was a bit of an adjustment for me. I think I did a fair job of adapting. I have to admit that I am most comfortable with four players. At least, that's the group size I've had for most of my life when I was running a game. So I think I could get used to running games for more players as time goes on and I shake off more of the rust from my GM skills. Looking back, it was cool to have the challenge thrust upon me unexpectedly. The group said that I did a good job with the game, so I am trusting them to tell me the truth! ;-) A part of me still feels strongly that the sweet spot for roleplaying is five players tops. Any more than that and I think that the roleplaying has to be reduced in favor of more combat/hack & slash. I am very sensitive toward keeping players from waiting around too long, and in my experience any more than five players and things start to get slow. Or maybe that's just something lacking in my GM skills. Who knows? I'm also pretty tired right now so I'm surely not doing this subject much justice.

As an aside, Wednesday nights are of course D&D Encounters nights. And there are several games of D&D running at the game store around us. We are surrounded on those nights by larger groups of rather loud gamers. It sometimes makes it hard for this old man to hear, and generally makes me grumpy. Again, I'm old. Just neededto vent that.

Anyway, as I posted last week, I agreed to run a C&C game at All Things Fun on Free RPG Day. I was pretty eager and a bit nervous to do so,  because I was interested in helping to spread the good word of C&C/old school gaming (clarification: old school gaming means the following to me: lots of roleplaying character/NPC interactions; trying to resolve a good portion of non-combat through roleplaying rather than rolling dice; a rules light system that doesn't involve a lot of feats, skills, combat manouvers, etc.; a good balance of roleplaying/puzzle solving/combat; and a good dose of humor when appropriate). I wanted to do a good job representing C&C and old school gaming.

When Saturday arrived, I headed out to All Things Fun and set up shop. Glenn, our newest addition, showed up early as well. So while I did my final prep he and I chatted about gaming, life, etc. Then two of the Wednesday Night C&C regulars (Bill and Pam) showed up as well. It was good to have the three of them there as support. So the game session was slated to start at 2 PM. As the moment drew close, I waited expectantly for some newbies. And waited. And waited some more. It was about quarter after 2 PM when I decided to start the session and just throw any late arrivals into the mix as they joined in.

Well, the session went three hours, and no newbs. I was pretty disappointed in that fact. Of course there were a lot of players for the D&D games going on around us. I guess there's no beating the name recognition of D&D, right? Ah well, we had a good time regardless!

As for the free stuff, I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed by most of what I saw. I distinctly remember feeling like Free RPG Day 2010 found me agonizing over what freebies to choose. This year I had no such feeling. I picked up the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure starter and the Dragon Age quickstart guide, and was not drawn to anything else.

Just like everyone else lately, I've given my first impressions of DCC. I have to say that, upon reflection, I may have come across as being harsh in my thoughts, and those thoughts were based on a beta test rules set. But I have to reiterate that my judgement wasn't really toward the viability of the system. It seems like a very solid set of rules that is playable, light, flexible, and ultimately fun. It does, therefore, seem "old  school" in nature. I just feel like there was a ton of hype leading up to the beta release about the game being some revolution in old school gaming. And that's what I really had an issue with. That and the fact that the hype also seemed to portray the game as having significant innovations that would set it apart. And while there are some interesting mechanics, it still seems like a heavily house ruled D&D.

I feel like there's a growing trend toward the term "old school gaming" becoming hijacked. It seems like more and more gaming systems are coming down the proverbial pike that are claiming to be old school. And I'm beginning to wonder if that label is being applied more and more as a marketing spin rather than an actual badge of honor or pride.

That's where I come to Dragon Age. I found the words "old school" on back of the quickstart guide, and I rolled my eyes. Here we go again. But as I flipped through the rules, I found myself liking what I saw. Here was a game that didn't seem like D&D. There was something interesting in a game that just uses the d6. The artwork grabbed me, and the rules had some things I really enjoyed. Now, I've written a lot on this blog about my Gamer ADD, but this seemed somehow different. I might need to write a whole separate post about this Dragon Age thing...

This interest in Dragon Age made me think about what I may be craving. There seems to be a part of me that wants a system that's not based on the bones of D&D. There's a part of me that's always been interested in finding an old school system that's not a variation of D&D. That's why I've always been intrigued by Rolemaster, Hackmaster, Tunnels & Trolls, Dragon Warriors, and the like. D&D was so central to my entrance into gaming that systems not based on its DNA are fascinating to me. 

So I find myself torn between my love and reverence for old D&D and an interest in exploring games that have an old school mentality but are based on entirely different systems. For me, I enjoy C&C because of its D&D roots and what the game does with those roots. C&C has a combination of aspects that make it a system of choice for me. Playing C&C and exploring the old D&D games gives me a comforting connection to a strong gaming tradition. However, there's something to be said for branching out and exploring new territory.

Anyway, that's enough of my blathering for now. Hope everyone's having a great day, and I'll talk to you soon.

P.S. On my way home from Free RPG Day, I stopped at a small comic book store that I had forgotten existed. My fellow gamer Bill told me that they have a lot of old D&D stuff there for sale, so I had to stop in. While I was there I scored a very pristine copy of the 1E D&D Monster Manual (the printing with the dragon and the pegasi on the cover). Nice!


  1. Sorry you didn't get any newbs at your C&C game, but at the end of the day, as long as you and your players had fun, that's all that matters!

    Maybe you could make it a somewhat regular "event" - like a once-a-month thing. Eventually you'd get some newbies, I'm sure. If the game store you go to has a Facebook page, you could post an invite on there.

    You could also try, which is what my FLGS uses to get events together. My wife has also used it to great extent when she started her "Pasadena Baby Bump" group when she was pregnant a few years ago, in order to meet other local women who were going through the same issues she was having.

    Oh, and, a belated "Happy Father's Day" to you!

  2. Thanks for running another great session. It was a bit disappointing about the lack of newbies, but I think our group has persistence and enthusiasm in its favor. I also think that those that passed up your session for the larger groups and big brands missed out. You had some great moments CK'ing.

    For my wife and I, the time flew by even though we'd had a rough week and were exhausted. You did an excellent job building suspense in how you developed the part of the session where we were exploring the caverns. I was genuinely nervous as we opened each door and explored each new chamber. During the last and only battle of the session, I was convinced at several points that we were not going to survive, although we did. Now looking back, even when we clearly held the upper hand about 2/3 though the battle, I was contemplating escape and recovery options. It takes some skill to keep your players curious and on their toes like that even without the crowds and noise!

  3. Thanks Martin for the comment and especially the advice, as usual! And Bill, thanks for checking in and for the pep talk! I'm glad you enjoyed yourself!