Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A blessed 2012 Samhain to you!

I hope all my fellow gamers out there in bloggerland have a great one, especially those hit by that bitch Sandy. May you all find a way to celebrate in some way.
NOTE: If anyone out there has found all of the RPGNow freebies this year, please share the secret of their locations, if you would be so kind!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dispatch from Disaster Area New Jersey

Hey all. I'm checking in from Southern New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and I have to say that my family and I are pretty fortunate. We never lost power, saw no flooding. We did, however, have a dead tree in our backyard topple onto and crush a part of our fence:

I woke up this morning to the sound of a chain saw...a chain saw that was very close to my house. My neighbor was already cutting limbs off of this thing. And of course, here's what I had to say to the hurricane:
However, we made out a lot better than many other folks across the state. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost much, much more than us. When I see images like the following, I can't believe what I'm seeing:
That image, of what amounts to the entire track system of a roller coaster swept out into the ocean, is just a small tasted of the devastation that was inflicted upon the coast of my state. This puts my little tree problem into much-needed perspective. Again, my family and I are very fortunate, and we feel great sadness for those who are much less fortunate.
To all my fellow gamers in New Jersey and surrounding states, I hope you are safe and sound. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

TBBYANR: Dicechucker

Tim over at The Other Side posted recently about "The Best Blog You Are Not Reading" (TBBYANR), which is apparently a series of posts that he has featured on his blog. He likes to profile blogs with 40 or less readers to give them some "air time" and get the word out about them.
Tim has asked that others take up the cause, so I'm doing my part to help!
So, I would like to tell you about DICECHUCKER! This blog is authored by Joel Rojas, and he seems to be a fine fellow! While just a few posts into his OSR blogging career, he's diving right into the subject matter. How, you ask? Well, he decided to run the good old S1: Tomb of Horrors! That's the spirit!

So, I recommend that you do like I do, and keep a keen eye on what unfolds at Dicechucker!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Michael Curtis coming to my neck of the proverbial woods...

That's right, folks! Michael Curtis, of Stonehell Dungeon and Dungeon Alphabet fame, is coming to the awesome All Things Fun! store on Sunday, November 4th! Go here (Michael's blog) and here (the All Things Fun! event page) for more details.

I have to say I'm really excited for a number of reasons. Of course I'm probably preaching to the choir here, and I'm sure you know who he is already. But anyway, Michael is a prominent figure in the old-school gaming scene because of the body of work he's produced. It looks like he'll be running a game session to take players through one of his latest creations, the DCC RPG module "Emirikol Was Framed!"

I can't wait to meet one of the people behind the old-school movement, and maybe have time to chat about the OSR, his upcoming projects, etc. And I also cannot wait to finally play DCC RPG! You know what this means?! I GET TO USE THOSE FUNKY ZOCCHI DICE I BOUGHT! Nice!

This should really be a fun time. Ok, I'll stop with the gushing now. If you can make it, I would love to meet anyone who's been reading my blog. Thanks to the incredible proprietors of All Things Fun!, Ed and Dina Evans, for setting up this event! It should be a great time! I'm planning on taking some photos and blogging about the event afterwards.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On the Near Horizon: Barebones Fantasy RPG and Heroes & Other Worlds

Anyone heard about this yet? Yep, another game system coming down the pike to join the ever-swelling ranks of RPGs from which to choose. At least there wasn't a friggin' Kickstarter for the thing, thank the gods.

I'm definitely more interested in getting a look at Barebones Fantasy RPG than I am with Delving Deeper. Ho hum, Delving Deeper is even closer to OD&D rules than Swords & Wizardry. Oh boy!

Oh, and have you heard of Heroes & Other Worlds RPG? If not, check that out as well. Should be interesting, too. Again, no friggin' Kickstarter, can I get an amen to that?

Friday, October 19, 2012

So What's With the Basic D&D Classes?

OK, I've found some time to blog today, the eve of my birthday! Seems appropriate that I should have this little bit of luxury today, eh? Anyway, some thoughts occurred to me last night and I wanted to put this out there for the gaming blogosphere think tank, to get some comments back (I hope). I'm looking for people more steeped in D&D's creation lore than I am.

So, it seems the common wisdom regarding the Classic/Basic D&D classes is that there was no attempt to give them balance. Is this something that was confirmed by Gygax/Arneson? This whole thing seems counter-intuitive to me. It appears that, when looking at the classes, a party should really have a mix of classes, including the demi-humans. I mean, sure, you have the human classes that all serve distinct purposes. But I have to think that the demi-humans were in there for a reason other than to give people more fantasical character choices.

The inclusion of demi-humans, to me, takes away from the argument that Gygax wanted a human-centric game. I'm not as familiar with all the ins-and-outs of the demi-human classes, but I think they generally have better saves (especially the halfling), right? And the elves are the ur-version of the fighter-magic user combination in the D&D system, correct? Sort of the first occurance of dual-classing in the game, right? And sure there's the ability to see in the dark, being better at finding hidden doors, etc.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think the game's creators wanted players to see ALL the Basic classes as viable options, and therefore all the classes can play integral roles in a party. Some blog posts I've read over the last couple of years seem to poo-poo the demi-human classes as being bastardized versions of the human classes (with the exception of the cleric, which doesn't have a demi-human counterpart) that were shoehorned in so that the game would have more "fantasy" to it. I find it hard to believe that Gygax/Arneson would put the demi-human options into the game if they weren't intended to be of equal value during play. I think seeing the non-human classes as being second fiddle to the human classes is wrong-headed.

Now, I could be totally wrong. Maybe there's a Gygax interview out there where he explicitly states that the demi-humans were sort of bolted onto the game at first (in OD&D/the LBBs?) and then became solidified as the system was edited/revised.

So, there's my bit of rambling for the day. Sometimes I shock myself with how little I know about D&D lore. Any insight is appreciated. If there's a good blog post that someone's already written about this, please let me know. Don't want you all to have to reinvent the wheel to answer my questions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blogus Interruptus

I'm beat, folks. The orcs have stormed the walls. As depicted above, the giant got a good shot on me with the old club. The giant's name? Life. T'is the season for me to get outflanked by, well, everything. It always seems to happen around my birthday (coming up this weekend). I've got a lot of iron in the old forge fire these days, and I've finally reached the breaking point. The anvil has cracked, and I'm searching for a new one. Until I find a new one, things will have to be sacrificed. The first victim, unfortunately, is the blog.

I will post when I can, folks. I can promise no more. I hope you'll stick around. Once the current assault on my free time abates and the smoke clears, I am planning on returning to a more regular posting schedule. I know there's a couple of trolls currently wandering the gaming blogosphere who are giving people grief for not posting as much as they used to. They can piss off. Real life trumps all, if you're a sane adult.

I have to prioritize even more these days. Since I started this blog, I've promised myself that actual gaming would always trump blogging about gaming. With my limited time getting even more, er, limited, I'm transferring all remaining time to the table-top. My prayer is that things won't get even more limited, and therefore cause me to suspend even my gaming activities.

I give you my promise that the blogging fire is still strong, but time is not a luxury right now. So, I'll be focusing on rolling the sacred polyhedrals. Again, if time permits, I'll be posting here and there for the rest of the year. Once things alleviate, I'll pick up the pace. In the meantime, I hope you'll stick around for what is sure to come.

Until then, happy gaming!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The System Mastery Grail

I want to "master" a system. A roleplaying system, to be precise.

I read a certain post over at The RPG Corner a while back, and it's been on my mind ever since.

What do I personally mean when I talk about mastering a system? For me, the ultimate type of system mastery would be memorization of nearly all the core rules of a system. I have a strong desire to be an "encyclopedia" of a system, or should I say a living "core rulebook."

Now, this isn't because my ideal game system would have a rule for every situation, or that I think all players and GMs should strive to memorize a system. Memorization is NOT a prerequisite for good roleplaying. This is just a particular quirk of mine, I suppose. I have always been most comfortable at the table-top when I could rattle off rules without having to refer to a book or a referee screen.

Right now, I feel like I have a different, "lesser" type of system mastery when it comes to Castles & Crusades. I may not have every character class ability or racial ability memorized, for example, but I have a solid grasp of the core mechanics for ability checks, saving throws, combat, and the like. And this, to me, is perfectly fine and is more than enough for me to run a good game.

BUT I would REALLY love it if I could muster up the time and brain power these days in order to memorize character class abilities, racial abilities, poison creation rules, etc.

I am currently not what I would consider a "living core rulebook" for any system. Perhaps in my teenage years I was a near-master of AD&D or the Palladium RPG system. But this is just not possible for me at this point in my life, at least not when it comes to games like Castles & Crusades.

But of course, in typical "me" style, that darn system mastery urge won't go away.

So I've been looking at Basic D&D (B/X to be precise) as my most likely candidate for system mastery. I think the rules are short enough for me to have a good shot at memorizing most of them. And more importantly, it's D&D and I've got years of using that system under my belt.

But it seems that system mastery may come at a price: most likely, mastering a system takes all of one's mental and temporal gaming resources (or at least, this will be the case for ME). So forget about becoming similarly erudite in any other system. Unless you have unlimited free time (that's not me), have an eidetic memory (my memory is still pretty good, but not photographic by a long shot), or some combination of the two.

Now, combine all this with my sometime-desire to run games in genres other than fantasy, such as cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, Cthulhu mythos, etc. This makes me think it would behoove me to master a more "universal" game system that lends itself more readily to different genres of play. Yes, yes, you can of course remove the fantasy from the D&D engine if you tried, but that's just more work for which I don't have time.

The only universal game system with which I have current experience is Savage Worlds. I suppose the Palladium system is universal, but I've got a "been there, done that" relationship with Palladium from my teen years and I really have no interest in picking it back up. I've never played GURPS, but I've dabbled in the rule books and was never really drawn to it.

So would the solution for me be to dedicate myself to mastering a simple-enough universal system, so when I get the genre "switch itch" I wouldn't have to change game systems as well? That is appealing, not having to learn a new system all the time, as well as not having to ask players to learn new systems.

Anyway, here are some questions for you:

1. What would you define as system mastery?

2. How important is system mastery to you?

3. Is there a system (or systems) that you can confidently say you have mastered, or that you would like to master?

A final thought: all of this makes me wonder if the system mastery desire is part of the reason many OSR gamers, especially GMs, seek to create their own versions of the old D&D systems. A system that you tweak yourself may, by extension, become one that you know very well.

Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you all out there!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Film Review: Game of the Year

I watched the mockumentary entitled "Game of the Year," and I have to say that overall it was not bad. I guess that's not necessarily a ringing endorsement. While the film had its moments, I felt there was something missing. I'll try to elaborate on this feeling by the end of this review.

Ok, initial impressions included "it's cool that someone made a film we can add to the small pantheon of D&D/RPG-related movies." I also thought "it's awesome that the DVD cover is a play off of the old D&D module covers."

Then I started watching. The film's premise is that there's an RPG reality show called Game of the Year. It's sort of a Survivor for roleplayers, right down to a slogan of "Strength, Wisdom, Dexterity" replacing "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast." I thought the whole concept was pretty clever and funny. Roleplaying groups selected for the show compete to win the privilege of running a game company for a year. I have to say it I found myself wishing there really was such a reality show. It would be the only reality show I would watch, as I normally hate the genre.

It occurred to me, however, that the criteria for selecting a winning team for Game of the Year are never clearly defined in the film. What are the contest's judges looking for? How well a group plays together? That seems really subjective. Do they want the most messed up, drama-filled group, or the most cohesive? This omission of contest details was baffling.

As the film went on, I found myself thinking "I wish they would have played some of the characters straight, rather than reaching for comedic moments based on gamer stereotypes." Especially the GM character, Richard, who sometimes came off as that cliched "goofy and bumbling nerd" type. And what's with the clothespins holding stuff onto his screen? Lame. I can't take this guy seriously!

Overall, I felt that there was some excessive stereotyping with regard to most of the characters. Now, I expected the film to offer up a bit of education for those not familiar with gamer archetypes. But I couldn't help but feel that the character's behaviors came across as a bit heavy handed. Again, this was especially evident with the character of Richard, who I saw as the central character/linchpin for the whole story.

There were definite moments where I said to myself "I wouldn't pick this team to win a reality TV show." I have to admit that I found them sort of annoying. Maybe it wasn't just the characters themselves, but something about the tone of the film. The characters seemed, I don't know...sort of desperate all the time.

Which leads me to my biggest question: who is the intended audience of the film?

Was it just a love letter to gamers? I don't think the creators wanted it to cater just to roleplayers. Perhaps they wanted to make it a hybrid, with nods and inside jokes/references for gamers but also accessible to non-gamers?

But if non-gamers are to be part of the audience, then I think the movie served to reinforce bad stereotypes instead of showing that gamers really are normal folks. I think the film makers were attempting to tread a fine line between respect for gamers/the roleplaying hobby and lampooning gamers/the hobby, and they didn't really succeed.

The "linchpin" Richard says at the film's end that (I'm paraphrasing) "people think gamers are normal and solid and stable, but in reality we have problems just like everyone else." I am not so sure outsiders to the hobby think that gamers are normal and stable, with their act together and priorities straight. On the contrary, I think that the wider world has bought into the view of gamers as nerdy losers who shirk adult responsibility (i.e. "still live in their parent's basement") and who can be a bit unstable (i.e. "always living in a fantasy world of elves and goblins"). If the film was supposed to argue against these viewpoints, I think it missed that opportunity.

All of this made me wonder if the film makers really had a good idea of what gaming is all about, be it shared storytelling, expressing creativity and imagination, escaping from reality, having a good time with friends, or even getting in some good old hack and slash. There were moments where I, as a gamer, wondered at the decisions made by the creators, and thought that perhaps the creators weren't themselves gamers. This just seems like a film that should have been made by gamers. If the creators are in fact roleplayers, then their creation missed the mark, IMHO, when it comes to a fully-accurate depiction of roleplayers as more than just the stereotype.

I think the film is worthy of a gamer's time, for its nods to the hobby. But I am wary of putting this forward as a good film to introduce non-gamers to the realities of the hobby and being a roleplayer. The film is just too vague and, frankly, "bipolar" about the subject matter that I fear non-gamers would come away from it even more confused about what roleplaying is really like. Or worse yet, those who may be cynical toward the hobby may find their cynicism amplified.

What I would really love to see, someday, is a film that is an actual documentary showing how there are gamers out there like me: a regular guy with a real life, a person who has a typical adult life (and all accompanying responsibilities and duties) and finds time to roleplay. If there's such a film out there already, please let me know! Because, sure, there are the fatbeards and catpissmen that non-gamers would mock as typical RPG nerds. But when will someone portray the RPG hobby as being peopled by a diverse cross-section of lifestyles?

More Thoughts on Game of the Year (Spoiler Alert!)

The following are some other thoughts that came up while I was watching the film (WARNING - what follows may be considered spoilers):

Ew, someone said "five foot step" during a game session. The old schooler in me cringed.

Is is just me, or were they using a strange mix of books from different D&D editions and other game systems at the table? That's weird to me, but I guess it wouldn't phase a FLAILSNAILS player. Seriously, there was a moment when I saw someone using a Conan RPG screen with D&D 3rd Edition books on the table. What's that about? This is one of the things that made me wonder about the gaming pedigree of the film makers and who the film was geared toward. Wouldn't real gamers watching the film notice such a thing and question why a hodgepodge of different game system materials were used all at once?

I thought the portrayal of the married couple's troubles was a bit over the top. They were way too angry over a game, IMHO.

The camera work in the film is a bit too much on the choppy side. I know that shaky camera style is supposed to be new norm, but it can be done wrong.

Wow, am I jealous of this group's game collection! You have to see it to believe it. Shelves upon shelves of game books, board games, etc. A thing of beauty...

I think they definitely nailed the awkwardness that arises when you are in a new roleplaying group. The scenes where players were trying to find new gaming groups to join were spot on.

It was a funny idea for the players to put their hands on their heads to indicate when they were speaking out of character.

I thought the love triangle aspect was a bit hackneyed. The way that several male characters were smitten with the female character Jennifer seemed like a rehash of the old "gaming nerds are desperate to get girlfriends" cliche.

The Gary Elmore (heh heh, his name is like Larry Elmore) character was funny, with his over-the-top, confrontational, frustrated novelist style of DMing.

So, the character of the "cool" roleplayer that doesn't want his girlfriend to know he's a gamer goes to a con? That might tip her off, eh?

The deleted scene where they play Axis and Allies is great. The Asian guy who is always asked to play Japan? Even though he is actually Philippino? Good stuff.

The deleted scenes were some of the best stuff on the disc, actually. The trip to the Miniature Market store was a highlight. The special features in general were great, such as the short film called "The Game."