Thursday, June 28, 2012

WotC & Words: Underountain!

(my Photoshop edit in traditional proofreader red)

Either they forgot the "m" or it's some strange dwarf pronunciation:
"We're off ta Under'ountain, laddies!"

So while I was playing in my pal Bill's Savage World of Solomon Kane game last night, I chanced to look over at an advertisement for Dungeons & Dragons Lair Assault sitting on the table.

I'm a word nerd. I make my living writing/editing. I am proud of my ability to spot grammar mistakes. Part of the trick is remembering that letters are just shapes. When the shapes look wrong to me, that usually means there's a typo.

And lo, I came across "Underountain"! I want to rub it in a bit, now: Ha ha, WotC! The biggest damn word on the ad and you missed that "m"? Awesome.

Ok, childishness over. Incidentally, I caught a boo-boo committed by Goodman Games almost exactly a year ago (and what a boo-boo! Misspelling the name of one of the important figures in the hobby? For shame!)

I know, I'm way too proud of myself about catching these. I'm sulking of late, and I'll do anything to make myself feel better. Now, back to self pity...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More OSR Blasphemies

I've been mulling things over when it comes to my gaming desires...which have of course evolved over the course of the last year and three months since I made a definitive return to table-top roleplaying.

I'm taking some time to step away from the GM's chair, how long I'm not yet sure. However long it takes to clear my real life of the crapstorm I'm under, and also to alleviate some RPG burnout from overloading myself with all things roleplaying.

I've been thinking: maybe pure old-school play is just not for me. Resource management? I've been good at depleting PC's ration stores during my gaming career (a day passes, everyone ticks off a day's rations). But keeping track of those torches and lantern oil flasks? Gimme a break. I'm not really into being a "bean counter."

I've never used encumbrance, really. The closest thing was the truly simple Lamentations of the Flame Princess system. Otherwise, it's all common sense ("No, you can't strap that chest to the dwarf hireling's back! Well, you could, but he would be extremely hindered in movement and combat...not to mention pissed off.")

Oh, and I think I'm getting tired of by-the-book experience points.

All of the above go for the two D&D-like games I've played over the last year or so: Castles & Crusades and Labyrinth Lord. I love both games, and for me they stand high above the vast selection of other retro-clones and D&D derivatives.

Yes, I can ignore those rules I don't like or create house rules to replace them. And I've done so, to my satisfaction and those of my players (at least it seems that way).

At this time in my life, I think that the statements above are endemic of my current situation: with only one session a week, and some of those skipped due to responsibilities, I don't want to be bogged down by what I consider superfluous.

Take experience points. It can take a long time for PCs to level up if you're going by the book. Not that my players are power gamers, but it would be nice to have a chance to have them experience higher-level play.

I think I favor the drama of the unfolding adventure to bean counting. There's a balance to be struck, and I'm trying to find the sweet spot.

All I know is, my style of play is indeed informed by what the OSR holds up as the gold standard for old-school gaming. But it's not the mechanics of the games I care about. It's the "attitude," the spirit, fostered by the editions of the game the OSR favors.

I shall babble no more today on this matter!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Obsession and Real Life Strike Back

I'm not the kind of person to do things at any percentage less than 100%. This approach often leads me to the Dark Wood of Burnout. If I watch a Clint Eastwood western, I usually spend the next few weeks obsessed with all things cowboy. If I see something related to Star Wars (like my son's Millennium Falcon playset) then of course I get a burning desire to dive into a galaxy far, far away.

Oh yes, that's where the burnout comes into play. I'm also sure that burnout is somehow connected to my greatest nemesis: Gamer ADD. But I've conducted what I think is a pretty successful war against that dreaded affliction, having run a coherent Castles & Crusades campaign over the last year, and now I'm running a Labyrinth Lord campaign on which I've been very focused.

When it comes to my return to table-top roleplaying, a venture that I've been succeeding at for about a year and three months, I've definitely been plowing ahead full speed. Both as a player and, much moreso, as a GM. I've always found myself more often in the GM's seat, and I'm quite happy about that arrangement.

However, I firmly believe that GM's make the best really good players, because they know what it's like to be the puppet master behind the screen. So I do find myself from time to time yearning to be a player.

OK, I'm rambling (surprise, surprise).

So, what's my point in this post? Well, I have to admit to myself that I'm feeling a bit burnt. Not the sort of burnt that makes me want to walk away from the table-top. Perish the thought! I'm having way too much fun on a (mostly) weekly basis with some cool people at the shining beacon of All Things Fun (the best little FLGS in South Jersey).

The burnout I'm feeling is due to my penchant for thinking about gaming all day long, every day. Literally. I know I can't be alone in this obsession. I spend so much time every day dreaming of gaming, thinking up plots and hooks, reading gaming materials, etc. At this point in my revived gaming life, I'm feeling like my mind has become a cacophony of gaming thoughts.

There's such thing as too much of a good thing, folks. I have gathered up so much gaming stimuli in my brain, and I'm stirring it up every day to see what shakes loose.

The other source of burnout is "real life." I've got issues with my house and subsequent financial consequences. I've got a wife who I want to spend quality time with, and growing kids who are engaging in more and more extra-curricular activities (such as a pool membership for the summer, and those kids are half fish). I've got a pretty demanding job with an even more demanding boss. And there's other issues in my extended family that I won't go into, and they're taking an emotional toll.

On top of all this, there's all the books I want to read and other personal activities (hiking, exercise in general) that I have been eschewing in favor of all things gaming.

So what's a guy with limited free time to do? The first step is admitting that I need a break. I need to take a step back and collect my thoughts, take a breath.

On a practical level, I'm going to need to talk to my gaming group to let them know where my head is at the moment. I definitely think I am going to have to step away from the GM's chair for a bit. As I've said many times before, they're a great bunch of folks who I know will be supportive. And there are a few of them who are ready/willing/able to run games in which I can be a player.

This self revelation does not equal a cessation of my gaming life. This does not in any way spell the end of my return to roleplaying (or blogging, though my posting has already slowed a bit). I've only just returned "unto the breach." But a soldier needs a respite from the front lines now and then.

Thanks for reading, folks. And as always, happy gaming!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Adventure Fantasy Game?

Anyone know about Adventure Fantasy Game? Again, looks like I was under some rock, because it's a new RPG offering by tsojcanth at the Lost Pages blog.

I purchased the PDF at the very reasonable price, and I've skimmed through it. So far, some intriguing stuff! It looks like the system is a divergence from D&D mechanics, which appeals to me due to my recent desire to explore other systems. And it's a tight system at 64 pages (which of course seems like an homage to the old-school D&D books, but I'd rather have this sort of D&D echo than a rehash of the old rule set).

I definitely recommend taking a look for yourself, and I can't wait to delve deeper into the game so I can post more about it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Confession: I'm liking DCC RPG more and more...

One of my measuring sticks for RPGs is not having to house rule them too much.

Upon reading into the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, I find that, for me, it fits that "minimize house rules" bill for the most part.

I really am a "rules as written" guy deep down, I think. Games like Castles & Crusades and Labyrinth Lord only compel me to make minimal house rules. I currently have about one page of house rules for C&C (my preferred version of AD&D) and two pages for Labyrinth Lord (my preferred version of Basic D&D). The level of house ruling that I've done for those systems is ok by me. But any more than a couple pages and I'm not comfortable anymore.

However...from what I've read so far of DCC RPG (granted, I am not anywhere near reading the entire thing just yet), it might just become my preferred version of D&D, basic or advanced or otherwise.

Anyone who's read this blog knows that that's a huge confession from me and a big change of heart, due to the posts I written attacking Goodman Game's hype machine. But I'm man enough to admit that I was spouting off without seeing the final product. Now that I've seen it, does the game live up to the hype? For the most part yes, as far as I can tell. That doesn't mean that I like it when people mega-hype a product in a vainglorious manner. But I can understand someone trying to sell their product.

Anyway, I really like the gonzo nature of DCC RPG. I'm liking the twist on D&D spellcasting. I'm liking the "modernization" of the decades-old rule set. Heck, the game has even made me like alignment, which I've never really used in my gaming life. Because DCC makes alignment serve a purpose, makes it relevant.

All of this makes me think about gamer-me, and what I really want from my roleplaying and my roleplaying games. I'm not sure I was ever fully a member of the OSR. Many sacred cows of the movement I can do without, such as strict adherence to D&D's conception/version of Vancian magic (as I discussed in this post). I suppose this may be due to my gaming history and when I entered the hobby (around 1988).

When it comes to my interest in old school, it's not about maintaining adherence to a particular rules set's rules as written. Rather, old school for me means a style of play that includes rulings not rules, a focus on actually roleplaying, encouraging player creativity, and the other less tangible aspects of old school play.

Anyway, that's enough of my blather for now. Happy gaming, all!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

OSR Blasphemies: Saying No to Old-Fashioned Vancian Magic

I suppose I'm about to commit a mortal OSR sin by stating that I'm not really into Vancian magic anymore. At least, I'm not into Vancian magic "rules as written" as portrayed in most editions of D&D (except 4th Edition with its at-will powers, I suppose).

I just don't like the "fire and forget" thing anymore. I know, you're going to call me a D&D Nancy-boy and tell me I can't hang. You're going to tell me that I'm missing the point of D&D, especially OD&D/Basic D&D, where resource management is king, and where limited spells per day at low levels means players have to flex their creative muscles in order to survive.

But to hell with all that. I don't care. My current self wants something new. My old self might have been OK with it. Back in the day, I remember a lot of player decisions to camp for the rest of the day/night so the casters could recharge ("Ok, speed up time, Mr. GM! Is it morning yet? What, what do you mean there was random encounter while we were asleep?!"). It was crazy how many days would pass in a single session because the magic users and clerics needed to rememorize spells.

Hey, here's my cure for the "15 minute work day": no more old-fashioned Vancian magic.

Gimme the Adventurer Conqueror King system for casting spells with its "spell repertoire," for the love of God. Or even better than that, gimme the system from Myth & Magic!

In my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, I'm borrowing from the Myth & Magic system (what I think is supposed to be a sorta-clone of 2E D&D). The following is an OPTIONAL rule from Myth & Magic (so no, kids, you are not forced to use it if you want good old fashioned Vancian action):

Spell Rememorization [Optional]: Once a memorized spell is cast and a slot opens up, the wizard may attempt to fill the slot if he has his spellbook and ample time to study. An Intelligence check is rolled against an Exceptional (TC 20) task. Success indicates a new memorized spell. Failure removes the chance to fill that spell slot until the next day. The wizard is required to have absolute silence while he studies for a continuous, uninterrupted 10 minutes per spell level. Any interruption, whether it be from loud noises or physical harm, removes the chance to rememorize the spell slot.

In place of the d20 INT check, I have my LL players roll under the INT score (modified by the level of the spell to be rememorized; so a wizard with INT of 17 rememorizing a 2nd level spell would have to roll under a 15).

Oh, or even better than Myth & Magic is the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG system, right? Well, not sure it's better, but just different... different in a much more risky spell casting sense. But I like that riskiness! It adds some spice to things, eh?! Bottom line: you don't automatically lose the spell for the rest of the day. Sounds good to me, risk or no risk.

As much as I ragged on DCC in the past, I think it's system is the most attractive to me right now.

I guess the "second generation" retroclones (I don't want to argue about whether or not DCC RPG is a retroclone or not, please) fit into the style of play that I want these days. I guess I'm not an OSR purist after all. And that's not because I've been brainwashed by playing modern-era D&D, which I haven't done at all, ever! Hell, I've only returned to roleplaying within the last couple years and I've been playing C&C, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and now Labyrinth Lord!

I guess what I have been doing is reading other games, and fondly wishing for something more than old Vancian magic. Damn that reading nonsense! Dad always told me it would get me into trouble.

I want my casters to have the flexibility of spell casting more often in a day, and I don't care who disagrees! 'Nuff said.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What I Need

I need to roleplay.

I need to slay my foes with steel and spell.

I need to snatch rich reward from the jaws of defeat.

I need to laugh in the face of death.

I need respite from oppressive reality.

I need to quaff some ale as my player character might do
after a long quest.

I need to stop trying to understand why I got another blog follower today, in the midst of a month in which I've made the
fewest posts of the year so far.

I need inspiration such as that gained from gazing upon art such as the image attached to this post.

I need to go back to work, so that I can get the hell out of here today.

That is what I need.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Inspiration: Summer Slump Already?

I looked at my blog and realized that I hadn't posted in a week. Crap. The summer doldrums are already upon me, it seems. The temps are already hitting the near-90's in my neck of the woods. Awesome. And my central AC unit is dead. Double-plus good. I'm feeling burnt at work and overwhelmed with house stuff. You know where this is going: I've had little time for anything related to roleplaying, besides flipping through some RPG books here and there. I'm really wondering if summer is going to be a good time for me to do any frequent gaming. I just need to play things by ear from week to week, I guess. Luckily my group is all good with that.

But the gamer inside of me is chomping at the bit for good roleplaying action at all times! I'm afraid that the roleplaying beast within will start gnawing at my innards, and whispering to me that the gaming in which I'm involved is not "good enough," whatever the hell that means. I guess it means that the beast within won't tolerate it if I become a lazy or lackluster GM. If my sessions are below my personal expectations of what a good session should be, I fear I will get even more depressed.

But my players so far seem to still be engrossed in my efforts, and that's the best sign of all, right? I guess I need to stop focusing so much on my own enjoyment factor and remind myself that the players are there to have fun as well. Not that I've ever lost sight of that, but I do have a tendency for self pity.

Blah blah, enough babble for now. I'm going to stare at that awesome image above and remember the goodness that is roleplaying. And I'm going to count my lucky stars again, because there's lots of people out there who want to game but don't have the resources to do so.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: The New Death and Others by James Hutchings

The New Death and Others is a collection of stories and poems by James Hutchings at the Teleleli blog. It's quite an eclectic mix of genres and written in a range of lengths, from extremely short vignettes to longer stories and everything in between.

I found Mr. Hutchings' decision to combine all of these genres and formats in one package somewhat jarring at first. I wasn't sure how to approach this collection. On one hand, it could be seen as a bold way to throw off convention and disregard order, to throw off the shackles that would normally dictate that genres be divided up in an orderly fashion. Another part of me wondered if this approach isn't already the norm in this age of self-publishing, a way for someone to showcase their range of creative abilities, interests, and strengths in one fell swoop.

But then again, it could be argued that Mr. Hutchings has put all of his proverbial eggs in one basket. He might have been better served by splitting up the pieces into more focused, separate publications.

Then I found myself wondering if he collected these together because all of the pieces were meditations on the same theme. I was wondering if Death wasn't supposed to be this theme, given the title of the collection and the appearance of death as a subject or a personified being in some of the pieces.

In all, I found that I enjoyed the fact that the collection made me ponder all of the above. That has to say something, doesn't it?

"Well," you ask, "that's well and good to get all "meta" about a piece of work, but what about the writing itself?"

In general, I found that I enjoyed a good portion of what Mr. Hutchings had to offer. There seemed to be much meditation on aspects of humanity (more often than not given concrete form), godhood, and yes, death.

Some of the more pithy items presented, such as the short opening piece "The God of the Poor," could be seen as throw aways, or as interludes. I think "The God of the Poor" is more the latter. Indeed, the majority of the short (some ony a few sentences) offerings in the collection were pithy in a good way, and I saw most of them as nice breaks from the longer works therein. Someone makes a love connection with a personified human trait in "A Date With Destiny" (Hutchings returns to the use of such personification with "The Doom That Was Laid Upon Fame" later in the collection).

The tales seem to be mostly in the realm of fantasy or horror, but with traces of other elements mixed in. You have the dramatic fantasy of "How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name" and the campy horror of "The End" (where it seems like monsters like to go camping and tell scary human stories). There's the dreamlike bizarreness of "The Enemy Within" that made me think of those brief and strange extremely-short stories that Lovecraft wrote such as "Polaris." There's the snarky irony of "Everlasting Fire" that follows the doomed romance of Lilly, a demonic office worker in Hell.

Speaking of Lovecraft as I mentioned above, it seems that Mr. Hutchings is definitely a fan of said author. He includes a poem based on Lovecraft's Beneath the Pyramids. And stories like "The Scholar and the Moon" definitely show the influence of that old man from Providence, but not in a bad way. Oh, and there's also a nod to Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany amongst the offerings.

The poetry was less to my liking, but I did find some pieces that entertained. "If My Life Was Filmed" is a quicky snarky ditty. My biggest issue with the poetry is that I wish there was less rhyming. But when it comes to sharp-tongued works like "Unprotected" (that one made me go "ouch") Mr. Hutchings can be forgiven the preponderance of rhyme.

I'd have to say that some of my favorite selections included the very engaging tale called simply "Todd," "The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist," "The Producer," the parable called "The Bird and the Two Trees," "The Death of the Artist," and the eponymous "The New Death" (yeah, in reflecting on how much an anthropomorphic Death pops up in the collection, I'd say I'm sensing a theme here).

In all, I'd suggest you do yourself a favor and check out The New Death and Others. It's definitely worth your time to take a read and have Mr. Hutchings bend your mind this way and that with his words. You may not be thrown into the stratosphere by what you read, but you'll definitely find yourself musing deeply upon a darker side of things. For me, that's worth the coin that is my precious free time.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I can't fight this feeling anymore...

I've spoken out against the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG on several occasions on this blog. My basis for my objections was my reading of the playtest rules.

As much as I didn't seem to like DCC when I first encountered it, the more I read about it these days (like all the reviews linked on Goodman's DCC page) the more I want to own it.

This might have been a case of "methinks the gamer doth protest too much" all along.

A man is allowed to change his mind.

I still have some issues, but I guess they're trivial when it comes right down to it. For instance:
  • The statement "Adventure as 1974 intended you to" is pretty dumb. A year doesn't intend anything for you. It's an abstract concept, not a person. It would have been more accurate to say "Adventure like it's 1974."
  • Ok, if DCC is supposed to adhere more closely to D&D's Appendix N roots, then what's with the elves, dwarves, and halflings? Granted, you can ignore these classes in a campaign if you want to run, say, a game set in Hyboria, but still...
  • I'm still not thrilled about the Zocchi dice thing. If I ever do play the game, I'll probably be using alternative methods for getting Zocchi results from the familiar polyhedrals I've been using for decades. I guess I'm just an old dog that can't learn new dice tricks.
Once again, these are nitpicks, not major problems. But Mr. Goodman himself still seems very self-congratulatory (like in this interview). I agree to a point with his sentiment that he created the game for himself, but I don't know...he just comes off as very full of himself. But whatever, you can't judge a man in his entirety based off of some words you read on the Internet. So I'm trying to calm down my judgmental stance here. Hey, he's nothing if not confident, and can I really fault him for that?

And I thought they handled the playtest very well.

I guess I've gotten over the seeming vanity of Mr. Goodman and the hype machine that surrounded the game. I told myself months ago that I would ultimately wait to see the finished product before giving my final verdict on the game.

Perhaps I've been too hasty all along?

Looks like I need to get the damned thing and wrap up my conflicted feelings for DCC, Mr. Goodman, and the company that bears his name. Stay tuned. I may yet become another convert.

UPDATE: Also, I just found this other interview with Joseph Goodman, and this one makes him seem much more human and down-to-earth.