I love you, Dragonlance. And like I've said before, I don't care who knows. Every year at this time, when I wax nostalgic about my relationship with heroic fantasy literature and roleplaying, I return to my love for Dragonlance.
Yes, were the old modules the epitome of railroading? Sure, I'll capitulate on that point. Were the original novels somewhat corny, and many of the subsequent novels of dubious quality? Perhaps.
Is my opinion colored by the fact that I encountered Dragonlance novels in a grade school bookshelf before I ever read a word written by Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, Vance, or any of the other Appendix N luminaries? Yes, I'm sure that accident of my personal history features prominently in my stance as a Dragonlance fanatic.
I still don't care what you say. I love Dragonlance. And I want to convince you to love it a little bit too.
When it comes to the novels and stories, I believe they were more subtle than they seem on the surface. If you look deeper, you'll find some grey among all that black and white. Sure, there's lots of archetypal good and evil material in the Dragonlance canon. But what about the "grey areas" like the love Tanis had for the evil Kitiara? Or the inner turmoil of the flawed and broken Raistlin as he struggled with the shadows and light in his soul?
From a roleplaying perspective, when have gamers ever been truly restricted by published modules? Sure, beginning players might be duped into railroading when using ANY module. But once you have some sessions under your belt, you realize that you can, and should, stray away from the published material. It should not be taken as ironclad plot.
Gaming in any published world doesn't mean you have to follow the storylines. Call it alternate history or whatever, but in the end you are free to take that world in any direction, as you and your fellow gamers go on your own adventures with your own characters. This concept, however, for some strange reason, seems to elude far too many gamers. The mind boggles...
In thinking back over my gaming career, I came to think about the types of players that annoyed me over the years. Of course there's the Rules Lawyer. We've all encountered that particular beast, haven't we? Then there's the player type I call the "Anywhere but Where the GM Believes" player. Have you ever had a player who, when you checked in with them, they would tell you they weren't actually in that location? This is more than splitting the party. It's the situation where a player keeps correcting you as to their character's location. The player never seems to be specific enough about their character's movements, no matter how many times you ask them to be more specific. Example #1:
GM: "Okay, the party enters the cavern-"
Bruno the Dwarf's Player: "No, I'm not in the cavern."
GM: "But I asked the whole party if you were all going into the cavern and you didn't say you weren't going in with everyone else, so..."
Bruno the Dwarf's Player: "No, I'm not in there. I stayed in the tunnel."
GM: "Ooookay..." [followed by annoying situation where you have to jump between the rest of the party and whatever Bruno's player wants to do]
GM: "Your group has been in the tavern for about a half hour, when-"
Bruno's Player: "I never entered the tavern."
GM: "You never told me you didn't enter the tavern with the rest of the party..."
Bruno's Player: "Well, I'm outside..." You get the idea. Have you ever had a player like this? If so, do you think they were purposely trying to mess with you, or just not paying attention, or some other reason they did this sort of thing?
While perusing my old unpublished posts, I came across some musings that arose from reading a post over at the venerable Beyond the Black Gate. This particular post was entitled "What is a Character?"
One key line in that post reads: "Their backgrounds aren't something I wrote down on a piece of looseleaf paper before rolling up the character - their backgrounds are what happened from 1st level to 10th level, or even higher."
I couldn't agree more.
I think this is part of what old OSR grognards are getting at when they rail against the "storyteller" type of RPGs. Yes, we don't like being railroaded in slavery to a GMs story for their campaign. And yes, we as players don't want to play the part of "frustrated novelist" by writing up a huge backstory for our characters.
There was a time back in my youth that my friends and I did slave away on deep, complicated backstories before/while rolling up characters. But after a time, this became onerous indeed. And restrictive. In RPGs, characters really don't become three-dimensional beings until they're LIVED, so to speak. Or should I say, PLAYED? Really, it's both. For a character to come to life, it MUST be played.
A cursory character background outline can, and often will, inform what a GM throws at a character, and a good GM will weave some of that cursory player-created background into a campaign. But also, as one play's a character, ideas will occur to the player that can be incorporated into the background, i.e. the character's past.
Simultaneously, as suggested in the Beyond the Black Gate post, the player is creating the story, the LEGEND as it were, of their character as they progress through levels.
Backstory doesn't have to be dreamed up whole-cloth before playing a character. Yes, you can come up with an outline for what your character was up to before a campaign starts. But the real meat of a character comes from the exploits that evolve through play. Those experiences are always going to be more tangible, more meaningful, than the story you make up for a character's background. Because you LIVED it!
What do you think? Agree, disagree? How do you use background/backstory in your roleplaying?
Ah, here we are, folks. Wrapped in the holidays, basking in the afterglow of all the gift giving and receiving. If you're like me, at this time of year, it seems one can briefly revisit the wonder and magic of being a kid. This is made easier if you have kids of your own.
My kids are getting older but they're still of an age where I can see the spark in their eyes of genuine youthful wonder. They help me tap into the deep part of me that is still a kid in some respects. This is especially true when it comes to roleplaying. I've introduced my kids to roleplaying of course. No self-respecting grognard would do otherwise, no? My daughter has a touch of my interest in fantasy and sci fi but roleplaying might not be her cup of team. My son however has expressed interest in playing and even running his own campaigns. Ah, my breast swelleth with pride!
I'm spending some time going through my collection of games with my son, and generally reminiscing about campaigns past. I'm also, as usual, ruminating on the possibility of resurrecting a regular game sometime in the new year. One can hope and dream, eh?
Over the next few days leading up to the new year, I'm going to be posting some nostalgia-inducing Elmore images along with some musings about the hobby and my personal experience with it, and hoping that you wonderful people will also share some tales of your own adventures.
May the blessings of the holidays be with you all! Happy gaming!
Incidentally, it's my birthday today, my preciousessss! The same day as the late, great Tom Petty, Snoop Dogg, and Viggo Mortensen! I know the meaning of life, the universe, and everything now, because I'm 42. So long, and thanks for all the fish!
Hope you are all having an incredible October! It's been a busy start to my next trip around the sun, but it's well worth all the activity! I am grateful for my wonderful, full, rich life! I wish the same for all of you, my fellow gaming fiends! Roll on, fight on, game on!
I would like to have posted about my joy that today is the autumnal equinox...but it doesn't feel like fall at all here, in the shadow of Philadelphia! More like a friggin' summer day. At least the leaves are falling. Hopefully the east coast won't become an arid wasteland like the one depicted in today's Elmore illo! Probably not, thanks to climate change-induced hurricanes that are probably heading our way someday!
Okay, enough gloom and doom from me! I'm still reading through the Elfquest oeuvre, will probably take me through the Fall and into Winter to do so, given everything else I have going on. But I still have that heartbreaker on my mind, have no doubt!
Happy gaming to one and all out there! Hope you get to roll some dice this weekend!
Mostly because I'm in the very nascent stages, which means I'm going back and reading the series. At the very least, the first few volumes.
So, I'm in the "boring" research phase. Well, boring for YOU, dear reader. For me, I'm sure I'll have a grand old time reliving the adventures of Cutter and his pack!
One thing I can say is I never cared what other people thought about a man reading Elfquest. People tend to glance at Wendy Pini's art and immediately call it "girl stuff."
Fie on that, I say, ye narrow-minded folk! I would tell those of such a shallow opinion to read this, the intro to volume 1 of the Complete Elfquest. To summarize, it talks about the depth of Elfquest, and how it means many different things to many different people.
Can EQ be seen as or taken to be just "girly escapist fantasy"? Sure...IF THAT'S HOW A READER WANTS TO TAKE IT! Others, like myself, can take it as a monumental feat of creativity, not just in terms of its amazing and robust visual artistry, but also the rich world that the Pinis created.
Rant over. In the coming days, I'll check in with my "amateur game designer" musings. I'm keeping a particular eye out for the aspects of the different races. On the surface, there are elves (which in D&D terms roughly equate to "wood" and "high" elves at a very cursory level), trolls (superficial analogs to orcs), and humans (more primitive than the medieval types usually found in D&D).
Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself! If anyone else out there is reading, or has recently read, the EQ series, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Welcome, September! Welcome, 'Ber months! My favorite time of year!
And with your cooler winds comes the autumnal madness I feel every year. Forget the fact that the equinox isn't technically until the 22nd. I don't care for technicalities.
Yes, the madness settles in...so what better way to give in to that madness than to publicly declare my desire to house rule classic/basic D&D into an Elfquest heartbreaker?
What's that you say, little elfin voices in my head? That's a great idea I have?! Thank you for your validation!
Seriously though, I know what the reader may be asking: "Anthony, you never created the Planet of the Ape heartbreaker you raved about over two years ago."
Don't bother me with details! I'll get to that one eventually, I'm sure...
"Ah, Anthony," you chortle, "you go with your bad Quixotic self! Let me get some popcorn, because whether or not you crash and burn on this latest windmill tilt, I want to watch!"
ANYway, THIS time I'm for real! This time, I declare that I will follow through with this latest lunacy. So what that I'm busier than ever? So what that my blog has lain almost fallow for the last year or so, with only Elmore art posts to share with the world??
SO WHAT?!?! I will make this project come to life! I swear it to the Saints Gygax and Arneson!
Welcome to unofficial Fall, folks. It's going to be interesting, at the very least. Keep an eye on this space, people. Stay tuned, there's more madness to come...
Yeah, this is a late Sunday edition of my EoW post (usually on Fridays). But it's worth it, because I ordered two copies of a little retroclone heartbreaker called *inhales deeply* White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game.
Yeah, that's a mouthful!
Anyone who has watched/read my blog for a while knows I've cut way down on gaming and game blogging over the last couple years. This has mainly been due to my kids getting older and the accompanying increase in their extracurriculars, as well as the slow-and-steady implementation of plans to make a career change.
But damn, gaming is a part of my soul, man! I can't stay away! I have to dip back into the RPG well now and then, or I go MAD!
So, this past week I dipped back in...and caught wind of White Box: FMAG!
Now, I've acquired a lot of gaming goodness lately that I've been meaning to blog about: the 4th printing Kickstarter delivery (long delayed) of Dungeon Crawl Classics AS WELL AS the huge Kickstarter delivery (very long delayed) of the Conan board game that raised millions of dollars.
But thanks to my gamer ADD, White Box has gained pride-of-place (for now) in my fevered gamer's mind! I went online, did a quick bit of digging, and found out the game is currently on sale AT COST.
WHAT? Oh yeah! For about $10 I got two copies off Amazon! The image at the top of the post shows two of the three possible covers, with art by OSR darling Stefan Poag and a gent named Eric Lofgren.
As other OSR bloggers have pointed out, WB:FMAG contains sort of a "greatest hits" mishmash of aspects from other clones and puts them into a well-organized, tight layout. A welcome thing for this particular part-time gamer who doesn't have time to whip up his own heartbreaker, or to be a scholar of the intricacies of how the original clones and DIY gaming blogs have created subsequent waves of new clones...
(Note that Tenkar's Tavern called WB:FMAG an "excellent houserules/rewrite of Swords & Wizardry White Box," and who am I to argue with Erik?)
So, I read on the blog of WB:FMAG creator Charlie Mason that the current version of his game (which is Mr. Mason's riff on Swords & Wizardry) is only available until February 22nd. A new version is coming out this year, and will apparently be a complete overhaul. This includes a new name for the game.
I'm not sure why even the name is changing, but I'm sure there's good reason (perhaps legal?).
At any rate, I think it was well worth it to get under the wire before this current version goes away.
I've had an ambivalent relationship with original D&D and its clones. It has some appeal, but I've always preferred the Basic D&D versions of Moldvay and Mentzer.
And yet...there's a part of me that still plans on someday running a good old, gritty campaign using some variant of OD&D! When that happens, I have White Box as part of my arsenal! I really dig this little compact package that Mr. Mason has pulled together! Well done, sir! You have a fan in me!
I know, I know...I said in my first post of 2017 that I didn't want to finish blogging about my two sessions of RPG action with the neighborhood newbs...but I started a post and dammit, I want to publish it! Specifically, I want to post it because of my inane...observations. And because I have no time to blog here usually, so wasting my precious words is a crime to my sensibilities. See below for the fragment I wrote up before despair overtook me and my will to write on...
Let's return to the recap of my newbie players and their first RPG session, shall we?
So, a gang of goblins (probably the same that attacked the priests of Libra) came running out of the excavated barrow and attacked the party. The group made decently short work of the creatures, but player Laura (aka Noo the cleric of Leo) had the presence of mind to consider capturing one of the goblins in order to interrogate it.
Now, this brings me to an interesting observation: these folks, being newbs, have actually displayed a lot of aspects of more experienced players. Specifically, from the very first battle, they decided it would be a good idea to have a captive to interrogate.
And, if it came down to it, they wouldn't balk at a bit of torture to get information.
Now, does this say something about human nature? Granted, we're talking about an imaginary torture situation of a non-human creature, so there's really no need to be disturbed by the players decision. But I find it really interesting that no matter who I've gamed with, no matter the experience level of the players, they usually see the need to get captives and glean information, and consider torture a necessary evil. Again, human nature? Or is there too much torture on the TV and Internet to learn from? Too much waterboarding and Gitmo Bay news footage to teach them what to do? Oh my god, I'm Tipper Gore!
Anyway, they did indeed capture a goblin and started to interrogate, and of course threatened it with torture. The goblin told them it was a part of a tribe that moved into tunnels below the barrowlands. When the archaeology team ventured into their tunnels, the goblins reacted, attacking the humans and capturing them.
The goblin offered to take them to the captives in exchange for its freedom. They decided to take a chance and believe that the goblin was sufficiently cowed to guide them truthfully and accurately.
That's all folks! Little did I know at the time of the writings above that the newbs would also resort to the good old lamp oil Molotov cocktail tactic in the dungeons they entered! It was instinctual, I tell you! They just came up with it out of nowhere! No prompting from me at all! Am I way too excited about this? Let me know, please!
So there's a store called House of Fun in my little South Jersey burg, and it's a collectibles store mostly known for having vintage toys.
I went in there the other day with my son because he's developed an obsession with Aliens and Predators. Specifically, Aliens Versus Predators. Now, I haven't let him watch any Aliens or Predator films yet except for a TV edit of Alien, given how young he is at the moment.
He gained knowledge of Aliens and Predators from a friend who picked up a toy from House of Fun. So, the boy had to get his hands on a similar Alien-type toy using his Christmas cash.
Yeah, boys will be boys, right? I'm just glad he's into a classic creature that his old dad likes, too. The old stuff still has some appeal!
ANYway, as the boy was agonizing over what Alien toy to choose, I wandered around the treasure trove playland of the store.
And I came upon a bookcase:
Yes, indeedy. Suffice to say I plunged into this bookshelf with abandon, going through every item, extending our visit waaay beyond what the boy wanted, unfortunately for him.
Sorry kid, your dad is an inveterate old-head nerd, and finding stuff like this is a wonderland!
Want some more? Take a look:
I felt like I needed to pick up these 1st Edition AD&D screens...but I didn't...mostly because I think the owner of the store is going to try and sell them at a pretty penny. He seems to go by what they cost on Ebay...and these suckers are pricey! I might go back and ask though, just in case.
I'm not playing AD&D 1st Edition and not planning to do so any time soon...but when has that ever stopped me?
Never heard of Feudal...it's a game from the 60's, so that's probably why (I'm not from the 60's)
Boot Hill boxed set...contents seemed pretty incomplete.
There was a ton of stuff but I just took some shots of my highlights. There were a lot of D&D modules, MERP modules, and Ravenloft stuff as well.
And there was a copy of the Elfquest RPG, sans box.
I bought that.
I've always had a thing for Elfquest. I've always thought that someone should do a Basic D&D conversion of Elfquest.
Yes, I'm still insane and a nerd. What else is new?
Anyway, gotta run for now, but just wanted to share!
Well, like an undead sorcerer-king, I'm rising from the dead and awakening to a new year...
How can I sum up the last bit of 2016 in terms of gaming?
Two words: unruly newbs.
Yeah, the newb campaign I started back in October...well, it fell apart.
Not really surprised by that development, actually. But what did surprise me is how quickly they seemed to become antsy about the pace at which the game was progressing.
Chalk it up to the accelerating pace of our society, maybe, but as of the second session most of the players were complaining about how slow the game seemed. I told them this was how table top roleplaying went, and it was being made even slower because two of the players were going full-on tactical planning and second-guessing over every decision point in the game.
Try as I might to encourage the players to not worry so much over every decision, things did slow down a lot.
By the end of the second session, it was clear from the "temperature" of the players' attitudes that the "magic" of roleplaying was wearing a bit thin.
Sheesh, guess it wasn't high-speed enough for them.
I was very patient with them, but have to admit to a bit of frustration. The group became somewhat combative and suspicious of my methods. I chalk that up to my attempts to be sinister and inscrutable. They took the bait, and were unnerved by it.
Mission accomplished, as far as I'm concerned. However, my players were all adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, and unused to encountering a sly and wily DM. I don't think they liked it. For people who don't have experience with the good old fashioned DM-player relationship, it can be off-putting, I suppose.
Ah well, it was an experiment. And not all experiments are successful, right?
So, not sure if we'll be roleplaying again any time soon. C'est la vie.
In the meantime, I'm sorta bummed about things falling apart, so much so that I can't muster the energy or interest to finish my recap of what went down.
I know, you're devastated by the news...
There might be some roleplaying in my future with some veteran gamers this year. I might be putting myself back into the DM's chair again.
Stay tuned. Until then, happy 2017 and happy gaming!