Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interest in my first Pathfinder Session

Hi all,

There have been a goodly number of people telling me they are interested in knowing more about my recent Pathfinder session, the first I've ever played. The session report I wrote about it can be found HERE. I hope everyone doesn't find it underwhelming!

That's all for now, folks. Please write me comments on the session report.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Slow Blog Days

I'm currently in a Sargasso Sea of busy-ness this week, between work, family, and other real life stuff. On the gaming side of my existence, I'm also using my spare time to work on my Pathfinder character (read my session report on my first Pathfinder game for the reasons why I'm desperate to tighten up my character!)

Also taking up my free time is reading some fiction as well as all the blogging I've been trying to do, all the blogs I've been reading, and all the RPGs I've been reading. Something has to give, and unfortunately the blog seems to be getting the short shrift.

In the meantime, I wanted to ask everyone again for some more advice on getting rid of some gaming stuff. My blog-based "yard sale" hasn't generated much interest (though it seems like someone who I have contacted via Craigslist might want to buy all the video games I listed).

Seriously, any thoughts? Anyone interested in anything? ;-)

That's all for now. I hope to blog something of more substance again soon. I have a huge list of more involved topics that I want to write about, and I want to do them justice. Hopefully I'll have the time soon to do so...

Stay tuned, and as always, happy gaming!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Conan Rakes in the Gold Pieces!

I know I'm a bit late to the party with this, but just in case you hadn't heard, a painting of Conan by the recently late, always great Frank Frazetta sold for $1.5 million! I find it thrilling that a piece of fantasy artwork could garner that sort of cash! Good job, Frank. You're sorely missed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blog-based Yard Sale!

Ok, since I asked in a prior post for opinions on using one's blog to attempt to sell some stuff, and those that did respond seemed to think it wasn't a horrible thing to do, I have decided to forge ahead and do this here post with a list of things I'd like to sell.

I still feel a bit weird doing this, goes:

I have a bunch of roleplaying games, board/card games, and PC games that I want to get rid of ASAP! All games are in great condition, with just minor shelf wear, and come with all original components unless otherwise noted. The PC games are gently used, some of them barely played. These all come with boxes, manuals, and the discs are pristine!

I am selling all games for just $10 each (or less if noted next to the name of the item)! Many of these items are pretty rare (I think), so selling them at this price is a steal (I think)!

If you want to buy some things in "bulk," contact me and we'll work on a reduced-price deal for multiple items!

I am looking to sell rather than trade, since one of the reasons for this sale is to de-clutter my house. But if you really want to propose a trade, let me know. I might be interested in some fantasy RPG stuff.

In general, let me know if you have any questions. And yes, I know that there's such things as eBay and Craigslist, but these days eBay is too much of a hassle for me, and Craigslist never gives me the results I am looking for. And I figured this portion of the blogosphere has more of the target market for these items. But if anyone has some advice on how to sell gaming stuff successfully, I'm all ears!

And please, if you don't mind, feel free to spread the word! Tell your friends!

Here's the list of games:


- Forbidden Lore box set for Ravenloft campaign setting (includes everything but fortune telling dice and cards that originally came with the set)


- Wraith: The Oblivion core rule book

- Charnel Houses of Europe (Wraith: The Oblivion sourcebook) = $5

- Mage: The Ascension core rule book

- Guide to the Technocracy for Mage: The Ascension

- Werewolf: The Apocalypse core rule book


- Shadowrun 3rd Edition core rule book

- In Nomine core rule book

- Continuum core rule book


- Risk 2210 board game

- Risk and Castle Risk combination board game

- Samurai Swords board game

- Thieves Guild fantasy board game

- Dungeoneer Card Game: Tomb of the Lich Lord (if you buy this, I will give you extra cards for the game for free!)


- Panzer General II (includes huge strategy guide)

- Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun (with Firestorm Expansion)

- Warcraft III

- Galactic Civilizations

- Galactic Civilizations: Altarian Prophecy

- Spinter Cell

- Fallout 1 and 2 (both games in one package)

- And a rare game called Alien Logic, based on the Skyrealms of Jorune roleplaying game

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pathfinder Session: 7/25/10

So, I sat at my first table-top game in many many years on Saturday. I'm a new player in a group playing the Pathfinder Council of Thieves Adventure Path.

We played for about five hours, from about 1 PM to 6 PM. I haven't roleplayed at a table-top game in the early-to-late afternoon time period on a Saturday for about a decade! It's weird, and sort of depressing, each time something like that occurs to me.

For starters, it's a good group of people that I met! They accepted me very readily to the table for the most part. Of course there was some awkwardness, but that's to be expected in any kind of first-time human interaction, right? Most of them, I think, are around my age (30s). We didn't do too much sharing of our personal information, but I think more of that will happen as time goes on. There was a total of seven of us, six players and the GM. That's a bit of a bigger group than I have ever gamed with. My gaming groups in the past usually consisted of a GM and four players (though we often had only three players).

I never really played a game using the D&D 3.0-3.5 rules, even though I bought the three core books for that edition a few years after they came out (mostly out of curiosity). Now, Pathfinder is considered "3.75" because it sort of continues on with the 3.5 rules, with some tweaks. I find the rules a bit overwhelming, and I know I would never want to run a game using them. But I am willing to learn enough to be a player in such a game.

But it's going to take some time to become a bit more familiar with the rules. There's definitely a lot more going on than I like. I think there's too many esoteric rules during combat, for instance (I think this is where I have my biggest problem with 3.5/Pathfinder). Stuff like attacks of opportunity, Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense, etc. Don't ask me to explain any of this least not yet. But my gut reaction is that things seem needlessly complicated. Again, if I were to run a game, I would never go near this stuff. Give me old D&D combat any day!

Everyone seemed very willing to be patient with my lack of understanding of the mechanics. They were willing to guide me and give me suggestions for the most part. But my inexperience with the rules definitely detracted from my effectiveness in the one big combat we had during the game (in which I was reduced to negative hit points and barely saved from death by the party cleric).

Plus, due to the general busy-ness of life recently (on the part of myself and the GM), and the fact that I don't own the Pathfinder core rule book, my character Arvandos was only partially complete on my character sheet. I was missing many of my stats, and only had a partial list of equipment. In addition, my character started at 8th level, so I was also overwhelmed with all of the skills, spells, and feats that he has. I don't know quite yet what they all do, and I don't know when and how to use them!

I think my roleplaying skills were not as rusty as I thought they would be. My character is a sorcerer named Arvandos who has an infernal bloodline (sorcerers basically derive their power from a bloodline in Pathfinder, and these bloodlines include infernal, abyssal, celestial, etc). One of the group plays a dwarven cleric, and he plays his character as something of a lawful good zealot! I've decided that my character aspires to be Chaotic Good, so he and I sort of bumped heads. I tried to play Arvandos as something of a witty, handsome rogue (Charisma of 18!) and I seemed to manage to charm the group with my repartee...except for the dwarf, who only got more and more frustrated with my verbal fencing. But I guess we eventually got over most of our squabbling, since he's the cleric that saved me from dying!

The GM had us meet in a tavern (go figure!) where the group was looking to hook up with some more help in their endeavors. They definitely were looking for an arcane caster to add to the group. Their last sorcerer was turned into a vampire, they informed me. Hey, well, sign me up!

Of course, I joined them, and we went on our merry way about the city of Westcrown (the setting for Council of Thieves), seeking to...well, I'm not quite sure what we were seeking to accomplish! I have to admit, the plotline that I have jumped into is pretty complicated, and I don't know the world of Golarion (the default setting for Pathfinder) very well, and that goes double for the city of Westcrown. There's really a lot going on. All in all, the GM seems to be content with throwing me into the mix with minimal guidance, and I think I'm OK with that for the most part!

All I know is, toward the end of the session the group was trying to get into a certain well-guarded location that was protected by a large "force field." We bought a scroll with a teleport spell with the intention of using it to teleport through the force field. And of course, being the only arcane spellcaster, it was up to me to use the damned thing. I cast the spell, and due to the nature of the barrier we were trying to bypass, I had to role percentage dice in order to determine if we wound up where we want to be. I rolled too high, and the scroll teleported us to HELL! Needless to say, I really heard it after that!

In the end, I'm really just happy to be gaming at all, so at the moment I'm willing to put up with complex mechanics, a convoluted plot that the rest of the party is already well into, etc. I had fun, I like the people I met, and I am definitely willing to go back and see how things progress.

The group lent me one of their copies of the massive core rulebook, and I'm determined to have my character whipped into tip-top shape before the next session. On top of that, I'll be studying the mechanics and the setting as much as I can to improve there as well.

Sorry if this post is really long and redundant. I wrote this up pretty quickly (I started writing this post on Sunday but I'm finishing it up on a typical busy Monday at work), so I am sure I missed a lot of detail. Let me know if any of you out there have any specific questions. I'll also take hints and advice if anyone is willing to offer!

P.S. The sessions are every other week between 12 PM and 6 PM, and that should be fine even for a "30-something husband/father of two with mortgage" kind of guy like me ;-)

P.P.S. Just for giggles, I asked everyone if they knew about the OSR and retro-clones and the like...and they stared at me like I had two heads! No one had any idea what I was talking about! Only a couple of them knew what Castles & Crusades was. We on the blogosphere spend so much time talking about the OSR that sometimes we start to think everyone in the RPG world knows about the "movement." But it seems we are mistaken...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Status Report: 7/23/10

"Me as Player" Status: Well, tomorrow is the big day! I'm going to my first session of the Pathfinder campaign (Council of Thieves Adventure Path) in which I was invited to play! I'm almost done my sorcerer Arvandos (he's 8th level...which is where the campaign's existing PC's are at...I have to say I'm a bit intimidated by starting out at such a high level, in a system that I'm not quite familiar with, after years of not playing in a table-top game...but sometimes the best way to get into something is to jump right in, eh?).

I'm also trying to cram for the occasion, learning as much as I can about the Pathfinder setting so that I can at least inject some "local flavor" into my character's portrayal. I don't want him to seem like a "generic" character by not making any references to the setting's history, locales, gods, etc.

I'm nervous and excited. I'll be meeting most of the people at the table for the first time. It should be quite an experience no matter how it shakes out! Wish me luck!

"Me as Gamemaster" Status: I'm waiting for my copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess to arrive (it will probably be a few more weeks). In the meantime, I am trying to take it easy on myself, so I am leisurely looking over gamemastery advice on the Web. I am also slowly looking through old Dragon Magazine issues (for nostalgia's sake as well as campaign ideas and advice). I've put my reading of the Castles & Crusades PHB on hold for the time being.

Once I get LotFP I will read that in its entirety. Then I will read Castles & Crusades (Troll Lord Games is working on a Castle Keeper's Guide but there's no word at the moment of when it will hit the streets). I actually have a copy of the D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide, and I think I will read that as well (shocked, anyone?). I've also got a copy of Keep on the Borderlands coming, so I will peruse that as well. Then I'll take another look through my other RPGs on my shelf to see if there's any other stuff I might want to read.

All in all, I am taking my sweet time and not stressing out about a campaign. I'll get to it when I'm ready. I'm just studying up and enjoying the process.

The Many Deaths of Fingolfin

I'm sure many of you have read The Silmarillion (if you haven't and want to avoid spoilers, you might not want to read any further). One of my favorite parts of that book was when the elf king Fingolfin challenged the evil Morgoth, most powerful of the Valar, to single combat. It always struck me as such a powerful part of The Silmarillion, where a lone elf king dared to challenge a god. Fingolfin knew he was doomed, but he went ahead with the battle anyway. Morgoth of course slays Fingolfin, but not before the elf holds his own in the fight, and gives the god a wound that never heals. Awesome stuff.

Apparently, judging by how many times the scene has been the subject of artistic depictions, it's also high on the list of many other readers as well.

The following is the battle as depicted by long-time Middle Earth artist Ted Nasmith:

The next image, probably my favorite depiction, is the work of John Howe, another artist that has done a lot of work focused on Middle Earth:

There's many many other depictions to be found on the Web, located here (this link seems a bit buggy, try hitting refresh if this page comes up with an error), here, here, here, here, here (Morgoth seems a bit too gigantic in this one), here, here, here...and these are just a few of the many that I found through a Google search for "Fingolfin"! Try it out and see what I mean.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A State of RPG Anomie?

In my senior year of high school I took a Sociology class. One of my favorite concepts from that class that stuck with me over the years was "anomie." A simplistic definition of anomie is lawlessness, but it really doesn't quite describe the concept very well. The term is defined by Websters as "social instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values; also : personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals."

More often that not anomie is not a general "anarchy" that permeates the entirety of a society, but rather its an uncertainty of how to behave focused on a specific aspect of a society. My Sociology teacher made certain to point out that anomie can occur within a society that has too few or TOO MANY rules pertaining to a given aspect, such as sexuality, ethnic relations, etc.

I always found the thought of people being uncertain how to behave due to the existence of too many rules to be the more fascinating scenario. Tangentially, I'm definitely a big believer in the concept of too many rules being the cause of the very behaviors that those rules were meant to curtail.

What does all of this have to do with roleplaying, you ask? Well, I was reading this post at Jeff's Gameblog today, and I started wondering if there are too many RPGs out there...specifically fantasy RPGs, whether they are related to D&D mechanically or not.

Question: Could the ever-growing plethora of retro-clones and other D&D-esgue games freeze players in their tracks, unable to actually run/play games because they don't know what system to use?

Now, I am definitely a supporter of variety, diversity, freedom of speech, etc. But seriously, does anyone else ever sit back and wonder if there's just too much of a good thing? I'm going to sound like an old guy here, but I remember a time when D&D was pretty much the only game in town. Sure there were other game systems out there, but they all paled before the grandfather of RPGs. You gave deference to D&D as pretty much the go-to game, but could dabble in burgeoning systems (in the ancient days when I was a kid) like Palladium, etc. Or maybe all of this is a biased perception based on my personal experience.

All I know is, when the 1990s came along, D&D was well into the 2nd Edition, and TSR was releasing a sh*tstorm of material. As was Palladium. And I think we can agree that no where near all of that stuff was good. Come on, some of it was sheer crap! But you could only determine that by poring over tome after tome after tome. And let's not forget all the other game companies with their own systems making a push to stand as equals (or superiors) to D&D, flooding the market with their own RPGs. We drowned in it all, many gamers burning out on the glut of material!

I've been thinking that "RPG anomie" can vary greatly from person to person depending on a whole host of factors, such as amount of time available for gaming, the amount of house ruling a person wants to have to do, etc. These factors are just the tip of the iceberg, however.

But getting back to Jeff. He seems to be having the same problem I've been struggling with since the beginning of the year. As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, early this year I made my personal discovery of the OSR and retro-clones. And looking back I certainly did slip into a state of anomie! I didn't know what to play! There seemed to be so many options. And I'm what I consider at veteran gamer, but even I wasn't immune to the shock. This relates back to the debates I've seen on the blogosphere about the OSR's ability (or lack thereof) to bring new (young?) players into roleplaying. With so many choices, a returning vet or a fresh-faced newbie may sit in a coma-like state, unsure of what to choose. There's the chance that this may cause them to not even bother to move ahead into the gaming world.

I spent months vacillating between potential game systems, from Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and Basic Fantasy to Microlite74, Hackmaster, RuneQuest, Rolemaster, Dragon Warriors, Dungeonslayers, and on and on and on! When I would tentatively decide on one, I went into a vicious circle of failed house rule attempts.

Finally I checked out Castles & Crusades and liked what I saw, and decided that it had the rules set that appealed to me the most. A big factor was the fact that I was happy with most of the rules as published, so I could do minimal house ruling. I'd rather spend the time preparing and running adventures rather than house ruling.

But then Finnish firebrand and rising RPG auteur James Raggi waved the Lamentations of the Flame Princess carrot in front of me, and like the good donkey I am I bought his boxed set! Now I'm second guessing whether or not I'll be using C&C in the near future!

Here's something else to consider: combine lots of game system options floating around the Web (including all the variations on the D&D rules thanks to retroclones) with a bunch of gregarious players, and you may find that your gaming circle has become a democracy, where players begin putting out their opinions on just what rules set the group should be using! It's good to want to please the players, but is this a recipe for disaster? Do I spell potential mutinies in the future? Could disagreements between GMs and players over what system to play cause the break up of gaming groups everywhere?! Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, MASS HYSTERIA!

OK, I think I need to wrap up this post. Seriously, everyone, I would really like your thoughts on this. What are the effects of so many RPGs being available? Do you see any potential problems, or do you think otherwise?

Regarding Modules

Just like miniatures, I never once used a module during any part of my gaming career. This was somewhat economic when I was younger, being a kid with not a lot of spare money.

But I was also dubious of the concept of modules because I never was a big believer in the concept of "RPG as commodity." I have always thought that you should only need a few core books in order to play a game, and that a company should never push you into buying more stuff (especially by withholding game mechanics and the like from core books in order to release them in subsequent books).

On top of that, since I've mostly been a GM and not a player, I always felt that the onus was on me to create worlds and adventures. I didn't want to leave that up to others. And I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, so I could always pull from those sources for inspiration, rather than a published adventure.

But now I think I should have gotten into modules more, since it would have been another way for me to flex some of my creative writing skills. I've dabbled with the idea of publishing adventures and such over the years. Many are the times during my life that I wish I would have gotten into game design as a career. Ah, but enough of regrets...

These days, I am considering modules now as a busy adult/parent in his mid-30's. The more I make plans to start a campaign in the near future (cross fingers!), the more I realize that I will probably need to break my fast when it comes to modules. I simply don't have the time to build all of my worlds and adventures from scratch. I can't sit around for an entire weekend creating this stuff like when I was a kid. I am going to need all the help I can get! I will probably wind up doing some split (most likely not 50/50) between pregenerated stuff and my own creations.

So, the inevitable question: what do you think of modules? What place do they hold in your gaming circles? How important (or unimportant) are they for you?

P.S. I just bought my first module ever on the cheap from eBay: the old Keep on the Borderlands. I've heard of it and the other legendary early modules over the years (Tomb of Horrors, Queen of the Demonweb Pits, etc.), and I will finally actually get one of them in my hands and read the damned thing! This better be good, considering the years of hype!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pathfinder Giveaway @ Troll in the Corner

Hi all. Just thought I'd share the following:

Troll in the Corner is having a random drawing to give away some Pathfinder stuff! Go here for details!

You know that I've done my work in order to get as many entries as possible! I would love to win the big prize, considering I am about to start playing in a Pathfinder campaign!

Happy gaming!

More on Minis: Washer Miniatures

As a followup to my post about the use of miniatures with RPGs, Jamie over at A Fistful of Coppers made me aware of "washer miniatures." He showed me a link to a post about this cheaper alternative to traditional minis.

I find this to be a really interesting alternative to traditional metal/plastic/paper minis! The only thing is, the article only mentions the use of images cut out of Magic: The Gathering cards as a means of putting images on the washers. I believe that one could manage to generate some correctly-sized images using images taken from the Web manipulated using Photoshop. Granted, that might be a bit more time consuming. But it's still possible.

What does everyone think of this?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Regarding the Use of Miniatures

I must admit that I have never used miniatures when roleplaying. Not once have I used them over the entire course of my sporadic gaming career. I know that others have deeply explored the history of minis in connection with D&D, so I won't go there.

Question: What are your thoughts about the use of minis? Do you use them at all? Can you give or take them? Or are they indispensable for your games?

As I have been ramping up my personal gaming renaissance, I have started to consider using minis. Part of it is the growing desire to simply collect them. I feel like I have to fight this urge, because I do not need to buy any more stuff to clutter up my "man-lair" in my basement.

Another part of me is thinking perhaps they would be useful in games that I intend to run. Now, all of this is contingent on the form of my future campaigns. I am starting to think that I might want to explore play-by-chat gaming (I'll explore this in an upcoming post when I have more time), at least for the meantime. In this instance, minis would be pretty much superfluous.

If I were to run a table-top game and decided to go with using minis, my plan might be to use the few plastic and metal minis I own and supplement them with PAPER minis, also known as figure flats.

There are Internet resources for getting these figure flats for free as well as places you can buy them (there's a site for something called Precis Intermedia that offered paper minis called Disposable Heroes, but the site does not seem to be working at the moment).

It's interesting to talk about the paper minis because I was recently digging through the small amount of actual TSR material I have in my possession, and I found the remains of the D&D "black box" I bought around the time it came out. I still have the rulebook, the DM's screen with the pocket that holds the famous "flash cards," and the paper stand-up "counters" (i.e. miniatures) that came with the game.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Me versus Monday

I hate Mondays. I know, that's such a lame statement. Who among us LOVES Mondays, you may ask?

Not since my teenage years have I hated Mondays this much. I guess I needed to say that in order to clarify. Recently I have been hating Mondays as much as when they brought an end to my carefree weekends of my youth. Perhaps this has to do with my struggles to return to the gaming ways of my younger self...

So the image above, by the great Daniel R. Horne, does two things for me. One, it depicts how I feel on Mondays: I'm the poor bastid behind the shield, and the behemoth with the hammer is Monday. The unfortunate slob laying in the snow is one of Monday's other victims. Two, it simultaneously inspires me to game!

FYI, if you don't already know: the beastie above is the dreaded demon lord Kostchtchie as depicted by Horne (who by the way did my favorite Dragon Magazine cover).

Just thought I'd share. Carry on...

On Being a Con "Virgin"

I've never been to a gaming convention. Ever.

I've definitely never been to the fabled Gen Con, which is once again coming up.

In flipping through my old Dragon Magazines recently, I see all the old ads and lists of Cons. There just never seemed to be any good Cons near me in either New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Delaware. Or maybe I wasn't looking in the right places. Who knows?

I was always ambivalent about Cons as well, so maybe I just didn't put enough effort into trying to find them and attend. Maybe I was just too introverted back in the day.

Does this reduce my gaming "cred"? Am I really missing out on something good?

Question: What do you think of Cons? Are they something that every gamer should try to attend at some point? Does it depend on the Con?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Who are you, Matt Finch?

It's late, I'm tired as hell, and yet I can't tear myself away from the gaming world this weekend.

I've been wondering just who the legendary Matt Finch is! I've listened to a podcast interview with him, his Swords & Wizardry game was the first retro-clone I encountered, he had a hand in the creation of OSRIC, he's listed in the acknowledgements of Labyrinth Lord, and his name is in the editorial credits in my Castles & Crusades Player's Handbook. It's like wherever there's old school D&D gaming, he's there! I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I just feel like I want to know more about him, simply because I see his name all over the place! I've done searches on the Web and checked out the Mythmere Games page but I can't seem to find any info on him, and he doesn't seem to have a blog.

Do I sound like a stalker?

Anyway, just wondering if Mr. Finch has a presence anywhere on the Web. Does anyone know where he can be found? At the very least, I'd like to give him a virtual handshake!

Alright, enough stupidity for one day...good night, and good gaming!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Game with A Thousand Faces

I have to admit, for a while this year I was sort of stressing out about the fact that I don't quite have a handle on the vagaries of the development of D&D. Or maybe it's clearer to say that I don't really have the mental power anymore to commit the D&D "family tree" to memory. Or maybe I don't have the time. Or the interest. I am sure if I really put my mind to it, I could get it more orderly in my head.

Many of my fellow RPG bloggers, especially James Maliszewski at Grognardia, make it seem so easy. They seem to be D&D scholars/geneologists! Mr. Maliszewski is especially regarded as something of an expert. He and others have written detailed, in-depth reviews/analyses of the various versions of D&D. But then again, James and his scholarly brethren seem to have been continuously gaming for many years and/or are either currently creating/publishing D&D-compatible materials. Things I certainly have not been doing.

But as it turns out, I really don't have to become a scholar of the game. For one thing, there are plenty of resources on the Web that one can refer to if one needs to delve into the twisting path of the oldest role-playing game's development. And for another thing...I really don't need to know all of this stuff in order to enjoy the game! So, I convinced myself to stop worrying about it!

So, in the interest of trying to compile a nifty list for my own reference (and perhaps the reference of others), here's some links I think are handy in keeping track of things:

D&D History: D&D History

Tome of Treasures
TSR Archive

D&D's Early Years by Erik Mona and an accompanying Riposte

The following are links to charts that try to map D&D's evolution:

Adventures in Gaming

Jeff's Gameblog



Old is New Again

Attack of the Retro-Clones

Video Overview at WittySparks (this last link is pretty comprehensive, touching on more games than the other three links above)

There you have it, folks. Now, on to worrying about actually gaming, rather than about the game itself!

Friday, July 16, 2010

To Pimp or Not to Pimp?

Over at Swords & Dorkery, there's a recent post that made me wonder about what is the etiquette in the blogosphere pertaining to the following:
  • Using a blog to trade RPG materials (as in the Swords & Dorkery post I mention above)
  • Asking for donations on a blog
  • Using a blog to buy/sell RPG materials

The final bullet in my list is what I'm most interested in. Here's the deal: I have a lot of gaming stuff at home—RPGs, board games, even computer games—that I am thinking I would like to try and sell.

So here's my question: would it be considered poor form if I posted items I would like to sell on my blog?

Personally, I don't see why it would be a bad thing. I mean, there's lots and lots of blogs that ask for donations...just because! At least with trying to sell something, the person handing over the cash gets something out of it.

I would really like your opinions on this. And in the meantime...anyone interested in seeing what I have to sell? ;-)

Off Topic: Something I Thought Was Cool!

I was just tooling around the Web and somehow stumbled across the image above. Thought it was a cool cover for a comic book. Never read this series but I might look it up (not that I have the time or money to get into a comic's been a while). That Kirkman name sounds familiar...I think he's somehow involved with that Walking Dead comic book series that many people have been raving about.

I called this post "off topic," but I have to say, this image made me sort of nostalgic for the days when I was playing Paladium's Heroes Unlimited. Note to self: Calm personal gaming renaissance at a time...

Status Report: 7/16/10

Now that I've told my life story as it pertains to gaming, I thought it might be good to start thinking about my current status, with regard to where I am in the gaming flux in which I find myself.

"Me as Player" Status: As I stated in the third part of my testimonial, I reached out through the Internets and came across a friend of a friend who is, in all appearances, a gamemastering superman! Seriously, this fellow runs three games, and plays in several others. He's gaming several times a week! I am very, VERY jealous. Anyway, I had a sit-down with him within the last week in order to see if I was a good fit for one of his games, a Pathfinder game using the Council of Thieves adventure path, and I think we hit it off very well. So, the next step is character creation. We talked about possibilities (I think I'm leaning toward a sorceror) and determined the next step would be another meeting (probably over phone, actually) in order to create my character.

As a player, Pathfinder wasn't my first choice of games to get into. I never really played 3rd Edition/3.5; I just collected the core rule books. But at this point I am just eager to get into a group with good people and start building up my roleplaying chops again, as well as grow a network of potential players, so that when I do start a campaign, I might have a good pool of people to mine.

Pathfinder might be a bit more complex of a game system than I like, but I think I'll be fine as a player. On the other hand, I definitely know that I would have NO interest in running a Pathfinder game. I couldn't handle it, with regard to rules.

At any rate, there's a game session on July 24th, and that might be my first session! Can't wait! I'm nervous and excited. I feel like a little schoolgirl.

"Me as Gamemaster" Status: Check out my post from last night. It pretty much sums up where I'm at with gamemastering at the moment. In summary: I know my gamemastering skills are rusty as heck, so I am holding off on starting a campaign of my own indefinitely. Realistically, I probably won't start a campaign until 2011, but you never know. It sort of depends on how things go with the Pathfinder game I am trying to get into. I pretty much can't run a game and play in one at the same time. That's just the reality of my life right now. So, I figure I'll play in a game, see how long that lasts, and let that help shake off some of the rust. Then, when it comes time to move on from that game, I'll turn my attention to gamemastering.

In the meantime, I am still very relieved that the furious months I spent this year vacillating between potential game systems, specifically the retro-clones (Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, etc.) and went into a vicious circle of failed house rule attempts. Then I checked out Castles & Crusades and liked what I saw, determined that it had the rules set that appealed to me the most, and started buying. I'm still reading the C&C PHB at this point, but I'd like to give a review here before too long.

But again, along came James Raggi and his cursedly enchanting product! Now I'm second guessing myself, and I haven't even gotten my boxed set from him yet! I can be so fickle any rate, I'll try to keep reading my C&C while I wait for LotFP to arrive.

That's it for now! As always, happy gaming!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Siren Song of the Lamenting Princess

I always was a sucker for redheads. Especially grim-faced, sword-wielding, demon-slaying redheads. Heck, I married one.

So, I am one of the growing number of hapless souls to have become ensorcelled by a little game called Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (aka LotFP). I am sure you know all about it by now, if you are anywhere in the gaming blogosphere. If not, I won't go into the whole history of the game's development, just go here and see for yourself.

Suffice to say I felt compelled to order a copy of this game. Until recently, I hadn't purchased any gaming books in quite a long time. But about a month ago I picked up Troll Lord Games' Castles & Crusades Player's Handbook, and not long after that I got C&C's Monsters & Treasure. I've said elsewhere in this blog that I settled on C&C because, after having delved into retro-clones like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and others, I felt that I had to do too much house ruling of those games to get to the rule set I wanted. Upon studying C&C, I discovered that I liked its rule set (i.e. therefore I will only need to do minimal house ruling) and tentatively decided to make it my game of choice for any campaigns I may want to run in the near future. I could now use my precious free time to prepare a campaign rather than struggle to create house rules.

Then I came across LotFP. The game is the brainchild of one James Raggi, a somewhat irrascible Finnish fellow that has become, some might say, quite notorious. He's unapologetically outspoken about his opinions on what the old school renaissance (OSR) is and is not. He's been the source of not a little bit of controversy, especially in recent weeks. Go here for just one example.

Mr. Raggi is brash, indeed. But that's part of his appeal. His gung-ho style can be infectious. And while I don't claim to agree with all of his opinions (for instance, I could care less about a clearly defined OSR), there's much to be said for such a strong-willed, determined gamer who says he wants to develop his own contribution to the OSR and then actually follows through with it.

Ultimately, he won me over. I have to say, he's thrown a monkey wrench into my gears with his game! I was just fine with my Castles & Crusades until you came along, Mr. Raggi! Now you've gone and made me all uncertain about what set of rules I'll be using for my games!

James has, in all seriousness, created what I believe is a solid product. I look forward to getting my copy. Once I do, I'll post a review.

With that, I'll stop my ramblings for another day and get the heck to bed...

I, Gamer: Epilogue

In re-reading my testimonial, it is really glaring how, when I was a kid, I didn’t get any real exposure to the original versions of D&D (i.e. Classic D&D, the versions behind much of the old-school renaissance) before I picked up with 1st Edition AD&D.

Many of the blogs I read are written by guys who started gaming in the 70’s or early 80’s, so they started with OD&D/Classic (aka Basic) D&D. I started in the late 80’s, so my first exposure was to AD&D. I had just a vague impression that something had come before the game I was playing, but no real interest in “going backwards.”

However, I did eventually pick up the Rules Cyclopedia, but that was more out of curiosity and a desire to add the book to my collection (it was advertised/talked up big time in Dragon magazine of course, and I guess the hype worked on me). I never really had any intention of playing it, however.

And for good or ill, my personal Dungeons & Dragons “fate” was to begin my gaming career not long before the appearance of 2nd Edition. I tend to associate 2nd Edition with the decline of my first era of D&D gaming during my teenage years. It may just be my least favorite version of D&D...or maybe not. No, come to think of it, my least favorite version would have to be 4th Edition. More power to those who like 4E, but it's not for me. Like many, I was intrigued with the arrival of 2nd Edition’s numerous (perhaps TOO numerous) settings like Spelljammer, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Planescape, and the rest. But I never really found these settings interesting enough to actually use them.

Yeah, 2nd Edition never really felt right. I never truly got comfortable with it, due to what I considered its unnecessary complexity, the move from the Monster Manual to the Monstrous Compendium, and what I considered to be some of the “lower-quality” artwork (I never was a fan of artist Tom Baxa, or at least the art he produced for 2E AD&D and especially the Dragon magazine of that era).

Anyway, this is all just more navel-gazing on my part, so I’ll stop rambling for now. Some of the stuff in this post will be fodder for other posts, for sure. Until then, game on!

I, Gamer: A Testimonial in Three Parts (3)

PART THE THIRD: How Drance Got His Game Back
(Ages 25 to the Present)
So, we arrive at my last post in my gaming testimonial. By the end of the second post in the series, I was a young adult in the post-9/11 years, and the terror attacks were a major catalyst in the cessation of most of my gaming activities. By the time I turned 25 I was also heading into a period of personal upheaval with regard to friendships, family relations, and especially my dealings with significant others that would come and go. This era in my life would last for years to come. I won’t go into the details of my baggage, of course. I’m sure you get the idea.

I say MOST of my gaming activities ceased, but I was actually still gaming in various ways. It was just face-to-face, table-top gaming that had totally ceased to exist in my life. And that was a significant source of sadness for me, a malaise that would wax and wane (but never truly leave me) as the years went by.

The primary way in which I got my game on after college was through RPG video games. These, of course, are a good way to get the RPG experience without the need to get together with anyone else. You can have adventures all by yourself. And there were some great games, especially the D&D games like the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale series, and later Neverwinter Nights. But these games are a double-edged sword. It’s a great way to get that dose of adventuring you need, but it’s not really roleplaying in the pure sense. There’s no human interaction, and eventually it becomes a hollow experience. I know that some may argue that MMORPGs like Everquest and World of Warcraft combine video gaming with a “virtual” human touch, but I never saw the appeal of MMORPGs (I’ve heard a lot of horror stories, most focused around veteran players swindling “noobs”). Call me old-fashioned, or maybe just old.

And as I touched on briefly in my second post, I also got into board games and card games that—in greater or lesser ways—emulated some of the experience of roleplaying. Or I would try to inject some type of roleplaying into a game, with varying degrees of success. These games included the Game of Thrones board game from Fantasy Flight Games, Shadows Over Camelot by Days of Wonder, and a game I discovered called “Thieves Guild.” These did a bit to sate that roleplaying desire, but were never really that fulfilling.

Fantasy Flight Games in particular has a good number of board games and card games that seek to emulate the roleplaying experience (like Runebound and Descent) but the cost for these games is, more often than not, very high. Trust me, these games can be very tempting, because for the most part they are very well done with regard to mechanics, presentation, artwork, etc. But I wasn’t about to try to buy all these different games in order to emulate what I used to be able to do with just a couple of books, a few friends, and our imaginations.

It wasn’t until the late Fall/early Winter of 2006 that the urge to roleplay became overwhelming again. But what was I to do? I decided to search the Web for an outlet.

That’s when I came across play-by-email gaming (PBEM). It was a eureka moment, and I set to work almost immediately to get in on the action. It was this decision that truly set me on the path back to the table-top.

I had of course, over the years, seen advertisements in places like Dragon magazine for play-by-mail games from companies like Flying Buffalo. But these never appealed to me in the slightest. The potential time delay between actions/rounds seemed hideous, to say the least. Call me a fiend for instant gratification if you must, but I really would need more immediacy for my gaming experience.

But play-by-email seemed to me the perfect way to ease myself back into roleplaying. It might not be instantaneous, but it would be a heck of a lot faster than play-by-snail mail. I could conduct PBEM games at a leisurely pace, which appealed to me because I knew I would be extremely rusty as a GM and would not yet be able to handle the much faster/instantaneous pace of a table-top game. And technically the “game session” would never end, because the emails from players could arrive at any time of day, seven days a week. There would be no need to get players together in one place at the same time. I didn’t need to stick to my circle of old friends anymore. And the Internet was a good buffer between me and the strangers I would be soliciting to play in my games.

All of this appealed to me…for the time being.

So in January of 2007 I became a DM again for the first time in ages. The campaign was called Wanderers of Faerûn (WoF), and obviously it was set in the Forgotten Realms, my favorite official campaign world. I decided to set the game up as a Yahoo group.

What might be surprising is that for the campaign’s rule set I used a modified version of the Amber Diceless RPG rules. I may have been ready to run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but I wasn’t quite ready to actually use a Dungeons & Dragons rule set!

I advertised the game on the Yahoo group called RPG Player Sanctuary and found a great group of players from across the country. I also managed to get a couple old friends to join the game, both of whom were a part of my earliest D&D experiences. This included my old friend Pat, who originally introduced me to the game. This fact in particular made it seem as if things had come full circle in my gaming life.

The WoF campaign went on for over a year, and I can’t describe to you how great it felt to be back in the DM saddle. The game had some great moments, and my six players all did a fantastic job of making our shared adventures thrilling. And my personal roleplaying itch was well and truly scratched.

But by the beginning of 2008 I could already tell things were slipping into oblivion. Certain players were posting less and less. Those who did post were sometimes resorting to one to two sentence posts. Finally, I decided to call it quits in March 2008, and WoF breathed its last.

I tried to start another game in May of that year, using some of the players from WoF, but that second attempt was far less successful, sputtering along for nine months (and we averaged less than 10 posts per month). I realized I was done with PBEM, and this was disheartening. I had put all my hopes into that particular basket, and I was back where I started again: no immediate roleplaying prospects.

Life events swept me up again for the rest of the year. My daughter had been born in 2006, and she hit the feared second year of human life right about the time my son was born in 2008. For the next year and a half, during my free time, I would sometimes flip through my game books and dream of roleplaying. From mid-2008 right up to the present also saw a severe diminishment in my board and card gaming endeavors as well, due to increasing schedule conflicts among my circle of friends. And I hadn’t played a computer RPG in years. I was in danger of slipping into a new period of gaming deprivation…

Which leads me to the dawn of 2010.

The reason my PBEM game used an Amber Diceless rules set was because I wanted a “rules light” game. But towards the end of the PBEM campaign I felt the diceless system was TOO light. I wanted just a bit more crunch to my rules.

Wizards of the Coast had recently released 4th Edition, but I had no interest in the game for many reasons. Taking a look at the rule books, I just didn’t like the feel of the new rules. I also didn’t like the art for the most part, as shallow as that might be. In addition, it wasn’t economically feasible for me to buy the new edition’s books. I had a ton of other gaming stuff at my disposal already. And irrational as it may seem, I was sort of angry at Wizards of the Coast, who seemed more and more interested in the bottom line (especially since they were bought out by Hasbro) than in the legacy of D&D. They had changed their website, requiring users to pay to access information that had been free during the 3.0-3.5 years. I also had bad feelings towards WotC and Paizo for killing my beloved Dragon magazine.

So, I looked at my game book collection for inspiration. I had the three core books of D&D 3.5, which I had bought years before on a lark, during a time when I had gotten curious about what D&D was like in the 21st century. And it was too much crunch.

Sometime in 2008 I had scored a major find on the Web: a PDF of pretty much all the 2nd Edition books (for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it). So I looked into that, but again, it all seemed overwhelming.

Within the last year or so I had also remembered that my buddy Pat had some of our group’s old D&D stuff. Most of that old material had disappeared over the years, but I remembered that he had our copy of the Rules Cyclopedia (which we had bought but never played). I paid him a visit and picked up the Cyclopedia and whatever other random old D&D materials he had. But for some reason I even found myself overwhelmed by the Cyclopedia. Perhaps it was the small type and the sheer volume of stuff it covered, but even this “simpler” version of D&D seemed beyond me.

I started to get frustrated with myself. What the heck was I looking for?

In despair I turned back to the Web, and that’s when I found the old-school renaissance. I started reading blogs about the subject. And I learned that people were resurrecting the old rules and republishing them in new packages. And most of these "new-old" games, these so-called "retro-clones," were available for FREE. I was instantly intrigued.

So started a personal quest to find the right rules for my return to the GM’s chair! I began to refresh my memory about Original/Basic D&D (which I never really played, having gotten my start with AD&D 1st Edition and moving on to 2nd Edition) and delved into the retro-clones. I really seemed to focus on Swords & Wizardry, but after a time it seemed TOO simple. It took me a while to really get back into the mindset of old-school D&D, where there weren’t rules for everything and there were no feats, skills, and the other stuff that had been added into the game since 2nd Edition (reading Matt Finch’s Old School Primer helped out a lot).

So I began attempting to house-rule Swords & Wizardry into my own “perfect” rule set. And I spent a lot of time on this. I made several attempts, and got fairly far each time. But I discovered that I didn't have the time to really do such an effort justice, with all the adult responsibilities of my life. I just didn't have the time I would need, like I did when I was in my teens (and even most of my 20s for that matter). It was a tough fact to confront, but then I realized that I could just search through all the great games people were resurrecting/ producing and settle on one that most closely fit what I wanted in a game. And believe me, I studied them all: Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy, even Microlite74 and its ilk.

It turns out that I would settled on a little game called Castles & Crusades for the game I want to run. I know that it's not really a retro-clone (I think). But I feel like, for what I want to do as a dungeon master/game master/referee/castle keeper/whatever, it's the “D&D-esque” game that will allow me to do the least amount of house ruling as possible. So I can focus on game prep and actual gaming. I feel like C&C is "rules light" enough (or I can make it so) and yet has some aspects of more recent versions of D&D (3.0-3.5) that makes it unique. The rumor that it had the involvement/blessing of Mr. Gygax himself is a bonus.

At any rate, I am just happy to have finally settled on a game!

At the same time, I put out a call on the Web (through good old RPG Player Sanctuary) about my desire to meet up with new gamers, since all my old gaming pals had scattered to the four winds. That’s right, I finally overcame my trepidation about playing table-top D&D with strangers. I was at last ready to break away from my association of D&D with just gaming with old friends. Anyway, I was contacted by a guy who I had spoken to briefly in the last year or so with regard to PBEM. He asked if I was interested in joining one of his Pathfinder games, and I've pretty much agreed to do so. And I am very excited about the opportunity. Now, would I ever want to run a Pathfinder game? Probably not. As a GM I know that I want to run something like the older editions of D&D. But damn it, I am itching to get back into the gaming scene, and therefore I have leapt at the chance to join a gaming group. Even if it means I will be playing a more recent edition. Which is more than fine by me.

So there you have it! Writing this testimonial has really been a good experience for me. I’ve been able to finally reflect on my own personal gaming history, and it’s been more of a revelation that I first imagined it would be. Sorry for being so damned verbose, and I hope this doesn't seem too incoherent.

And of course, to those of you who read this, please feel free to share tales of your own gaming histories.

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to read the Epilogue!

P.S. My newfound determination to find new people to game with may even extend to board and card games. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poppa's Got a Brand New Header!

So I decided to use my somewhat limited (but ever increasing) Photoshop "skills" to create a fancy header for the blog. I was getting jealous of all the other blogs I read, with their pretty headers. Take a look at the fruits of my labor and let me know what do you think (if you care)?

I got a fever...

...and the only GAMING!

I gotta tell ya, I am in a much better mood today! Perhaps it's because I am gathering all sorts of gaming materials around myself. I'm greedily sucking up free PDFs for a menagerie of games, I broke out my old Dragon magazines last night, I'm pulling all my gaming books off my shelves, I grabbed a copy of Keep on the Borderlands from eBay on the cheap...yeah, I'm going insane. Suffice to say I am getting more excited all the time with my personal gaming renaissance. Here's hoping it doesn't run out of steam!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Remembrance of Dragon Magazine

I'm feeling maudlin today, and I thought about the old Dragon magazine for some reason.

Actually, I know the reason. I'm gearing up to reorganize my basement, a portion of which is my office. I keep all my books, including my gaming stuff, down there. And I have a goodly number of old Dragon magazine issues sitting on the shelves. I've been looking forward to picking up some of those old issues and rereading them, specifically in order to mine potential campaign ideas from them. And the thought of me going back to old Dragon issues and making them useful again, so many years after their publication, is very thrilling to me.

I know the magazine still exists, technically. And it makes me feel good to know the torch is still alight. But it's now focused on 4th Edition, and I don't have any interest in 4th Edition. I know that many will say that even 4th Edition materials could be "converted" for use in other editions, and that's a valid point. But I guess I'm also not interested in the new Dragon magazine because it just isn't the same Dragon that I once loved. And of course that's all just rooted in personal bias and nostalgia.

When it was announced in 2007 that Dungeon and Dragon magazines would no longer be published as print magazines, I was very upset, even though I hadn't bought an issue in many years. I made sure to pick up a copy of the final Dragon issue.

So, let me ask you: Do you have fond memories of Dragon (or even Dungeon) magazine that you want to share? And do you have a favorite issue (or issues) that you remember fondly?

P.S. I never really got into Dungeon magazine. Nor was I a big believer in modules. I always saw it as my duty as DM/GM to create my own stories. I think I'll explore this in a future post...

P.P.S. In digging around for old Dragon cover images, I found this great post at a blog called The RPG Corner. Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Regarding the "Edition Wars"

I didn't really want to get into my thoughts on what is often called the "Edition Wars" across the D&D blogosphere just yet, but a recent post (or rather posts, of which these are but two of many) I read has sort of pushed my feelings to the fore. I felt like I needed to repeat here a longer version of what I have posted on other blogs:

I just don't get all the vitriol being bandied about within the fantasy RPG hobby, specifically with regard to Dungeons & Dragons. There are so many people at each other's virtual throats over what is "pure" D&D and other such nonsense. There's fighting over whether or not 4th edition is truly D&D. There are those who feel like the Old School Renaissance has "improved" upon the works on which they are based. There are staunch supporters for every edition of the game, and many of them are not satisfied with just gaming. No, these individuals, for some reason, have taken it upon themselves to champion their favored edition (or retro-clone of said edition) to the point that they attack other editions and/or the people that play them. And I have to say that I am frankly confused as fuck about the whole business. If you have a favorite version of the game, just play it. Period. What's the point in attacking other versions/gamers for what they choose to play?

The point of this blog is that I've been out of the hobby for a while and have decided to get back into it after a long hiatus. I've spent the better part of this year researching and reading all about Original D&D (which I never really played, having gotten my start with AD&D 1st Edition and moving on to 2nd Edition) and delving into the retro-clones. I spent some time trying to start house-ruling different retro-clones (mostly Swords & Wizardry) with the intention of starting a campaign sometime in the hopefully near future. But I discovered that I didn't have the time to really do such an effort justice, with all the adult responsibilities of my life. I just didn't have the time I would need, like I did when I was in my teens (and even most of my 20s for that matter). It was a tough fact to confront, but then I realized that I could just search through all the great games people have been resurrecting/producing and settle on one that most closely fit what I wanted in a game.

I have settled on Castles & Crusades for the game I think I want to run. I know that it's not really a retro-clone (I think). But I feel like, for what I want to do as a dungeon master/game master/referee/castle keeper/whatever, it's the D&D-esque game that will allow me to do the least amount of house ruling as possible. So I can focus on game prep and actual gaming. I feel like C&C is "rules light" enough (or I can make it so) and yet has some aspects of more recent versions of D&D (3.0-3.5) that makes it unique. Believe me, I was happy to finally settle on a game.

At the same time, I put out a call on the web about my desire to meet up with new gamers, since all my old gaming pals have scattered to the four winds. And I was contacted by a guy who I had spoken to briefly not too long ago with regard to play-by-email gaming. He asked if I was interested in joining one of his Pathfinder games, and I've pretty much agreed to do so. And I am pretty excited about the opportunity. Now, would I ever want to run a Pathfinder game? Probably not. As a GM I know that I want to run something like the older editions of D&D. But damn it, I am itching to get back into the gaming scene, and therefore I have leapt at the chance to get back to the tabletop. Even if it means I will be playing a more recent edition. Which is more than fine by me.

You know why? Because in the end, it's all D&D, no matter what name it goes by!

I hate to repeat myself, but I just don't get all the fighting. It's really making me very depressed. Shouldn't we all just be glad at the fact that Dungeons & Dragons is being played at all, that it's survived (and thrived) this long? And isn't it great that people are playing so many different versions of it, be it from the old TSR books, the new WotC books, or the stuff being produced in the retro-clones? Who cares what you play, as long as you are playing and having fun? Isn't that what it's all about?

I'm about to wax philosophical: why does everything humanity puts its hands to turn into this type of petty bickering? Do I have to bring up the "it's just a game" argument as well? Seriously, everybody shut the fuck up and JUST PLAY! Revel in the wondrous variety that has come from that old Gygax-Arneson Ur-game. We should be unutterably happy for those two late gentlemen, because their creation has given so so many people happiness, and D&D has gone forth and multiplied into so many great games, and has inspired so many. No one is doing it "better" than anyone else, no one version of the game is more "pure" than another. All the shouting voices of the naysayers and haters sound like the braying of the stereotypical nerds that people outside the RPG world believe we are. We need to stop arguing over obscure minutia. Here's a revelation for you: No one cares!

So for the love of the game, give it a rest, already! 'Nuff said.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I, Gamer: A Testimonial in Three Parts (2)

PART THE SECOND: Long Game’s Journey into Night (Ages 19 to 25)

So, you’re back! I guess the prospect of reading some guy’s sob story didn’t scare you off? Good! Sorry it’s taken me a few days to post this second part. I know all my readers were waiting with bated breath ;-). Let’s proceed, shall we?

To briefly recap my first post in the series, ages 13 through 19 were the years of my original foray into Dungeons and Dragons. A scant two years (13-15) were entirely dedicated to 1st edition AD&D, and I loved every minute of it. From 15 to 19 I began to play other RPGs (and moved on to 2nd edition D&D), and slowly became disillusioned with Dungeons and Dragons. We return to the story during my 19th year:

So, I began my college career in 1994, and for a short while roleplaying of any kind was on the back burner. I did indeed enjoy myself in college, academically and socially. It was a great time all around. I won’t bore you with the non-gaming details.

I was still in my first year of college when the roleplaying itch returned. How did I scratch that itch, you ask? Well, over the course of the next four years there were two primary ways:

Amber Diceless Roleplaying: If you haven’t read Roger Zelazny’s Amber books, you are doing yourself a great disservice. I heartily recommend that you check them out! For my own part, I had never heard of them until a strange little game called Amber Diceless Roleplaying (ADRPG) came along. A roleplaying game that was DICELESS?! Who could fathom such a thing? It took a man named Erick Wujcik (who had also done work for Palladium Books) to come up with the idea, and he became to me a new Gary Gygax. Both men created games that I came to love and associate with good times in my life.

The Wujcik diceless concept seemed to me the epitome of elegance, something that could strip away all the heavy mechanics many other games sported, and only pure cooperative storytelling would be left behind! It would take a skilled GM and players to handle the “high art” of the Amber game. It was me and two other old friends who primarily explored Amber, and we did so with relish. I felt like some of the magic of my original gaming experiences had returned, from a source totally separate from D&D.

So, yes, I became something of a roleplaying snob. Amber became to me the “grown-up” version of roleplaying. D&D was for kids! I pretty much vowed that I would never play anything else but the ADRPG. Silly man…

Looking back, it was just important that we were having fun. And we did a good job of striking the delicate balance between GM/player connection/trust that is so necessary to ADRPG. If you haven’t played the game, it’s hard to describe…at least for me (I may not be smart enough anymore to explain it properly!). Suffice to say that it’s sort of rules-light and yet somehow “heavy” at the same time, if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s rules-light but cooperation-heavy. I’ve always felt that Amber would be nigh-impossible to play with anyone but close friends. But I’ve been known to be wrong more than once. It would be interesting to hear what other people who have played Amber think (hopefully someone will read this blog and respond! ;-)

Live Action Roleplaying (LARPing): Another type of what I—at the time—considered “roleplaying for grown-ups” was LARPing, which was a relatively new phenomenon back then. Yes, some of you are shuddering. But my decision to LARP was really born out of my surge of social interaction. And part of it was the novelty of getting up from the table and still roleplaying. I was involved in acting on stage during high school and on into college, so LARPing seemed a natural extension of that. I got into a good group of people who were LARPing Vampire: The Masquerade (I’m pretty sure White Wolf almost single-handedly created LARPing…or I may be wrong. Maybe someone can clarify the history for me. Maybe the people who do war reenactments were the first to LARP in a primitive way, and I am sure the people at the Society for Creative Anachronism and Markland have something to say about their role in all of this). All in all, I had some good times LARPing, but after a while it seemed to all become more about who was dating who and other real-world social intrigues rather than the gaming aspect. So I eventually moved away from that scene.

Actually, when I come to think of it, there was a pseudo-third way in which I got a roleplaying fix: board and card games. From my late teens until just a few years ago, myself and a handful of friends played a lot of these types of games, such as Risk (and later A Game of Thrones and Munchkin, but I wouldn’t get into these until years after college) and other (sometimes more obscure) games. Personally, I liked to interject some histrionics and at least a skeleton of a storyline when playing those types of games. But that can only take you so far.

And to some extent reading fantasy novels was another indirect outlet for the gaming itch (and still is to this day). As I read, I would think about how great a novel’s setting would be as a game world, or what a character’s stats would be, or how one would resolve an intricately described combat.

Some of you might be asking: What about computer-based RPGs? Well, when I was a kid in the 1980s and early 1990s it all came down to economics. We were able to afford Nintendo, so I did play a lot of Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior, and Shadowgate was a personal favorite. However, I missed out on all those great Ultima, D&D “gold box” games from SSI, and other such computer games because my family couldn’t afford a computer. The only exposure I got to these types of games was through the father of a friend, who played such games fanatically. This guy eventually built himself a replica of a medieval fantasy tavern as a gaming room, which he stocked with those replica swords and miniature suits of armor you can buy from catalogs. And the heart of this really cool room was his precious computer and a huge bookshelf of games. I would watch him play for hours sometimes, amazed at the graphics, but of course there wasn’t much opportunity for me to actually play. It wasn’t until after my mid-20s that I consistently had a computer of my own with which to game. I’ll talk more about me and computer RPGs in the final post in this series.

During my college years, there were times now and then that I did indeed think about table-top Dungeons and Dragons, remembering with fondness the golden years. By then D&D was already becoming inextricably bound with my memories of my youth, and I couldn’t separate one from the other. Indeed, these table-top thoughts and the accompanying nostalgia have never truly left me. They persist to this day.

By the time of my graduation from college, I had long before gotten out of LARPing, and my Amber table-top games were few and far between. Most gaming endeavors were drowned in my transition from college to “productive” member of society’s labor force. It was the late 90's, and the (then) dreaded millennium creeping up fast. I was filled with great expectations for the new century. I read scores of fantasy novels, and kept on dreaming…

But dreams can be so easily dashed by reality. I was 25 when September 11th happened, and my hopes for the new millennium were darkened by the billowing clouds of smoke rising from American soil. Suffice to say, RPGing wasn’t just on the back burner anymore. It seemed to be banished forever, a relic of my lost youth and innocence, never to be seen again. It seemed that there would be no more innocence anywhere ever again. For a while I looked on all my pastimes as frivolous, wondering if (especially after the terrorist attacks) I should assume some stereotypical form of adulthood and give up daydreaming about gaming.

I entered a personal gaming Dark Age for a time, where only fantasy novels sustained me. I was certain that nothing would ever be the same again. It turns out I was both correct and incorrect…

To Be Concluded in Part Three!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hilarity: Conan the Musical

Has anyone seen this yet?

Somewhere, Robert E. Howard weeps...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

So many blogs... little...time? Attention span? Whatever...

Seriously, though...I've been exploring the blogs I like to read most often (see the "Scroll of Honor" in the sidebar), and I've been clicking on the lists of blogs that those people follow...and it was pretty much Alice in Wonderland time after that! I mean, how deep does the gaming blog rabbit hole go, man?! I guess it's just the old man in me that's shocked at the sheer seeming endlessness of the blogosphere...actually, just this specific part of the blogosphere! These are just the ramblings of a dude born in the 70s and whose first exposure to a web browser was good old Mosaic.

Carry on...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Definition of Epic?

I was just over at Black Gate, a great blog for the magazine of the same name that you should definitely be reading (both the blog and the magazine). I read a post about Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series that shocked me. I can't believe that monster is almost finished! The last book in the series, The Crippled God, will be published early in 2011. I remember reading this review at SFSite years ago—OVER A DECADE AGO!—about a book you couldn't get in the US that was supposedly something totally new in the realm of fantasy fiction. And according to that long-ago review, Erikson had been working on Gardens of the Moon, the first book, for six years! So that takes us way back into the olden days of the early 1990s, folks! Unbelievable!

Anyway, it seems like two people at Tor are going to be re-reading the ENTIRE Malazan series and blogging their efforts (similar to what another person has been doing for the Wheel of Time series). Good luck and god speed to those intrepid souls! I've read Gardens of the Moon, and have the next four books in the series sitting on my bookshelf. I'm so intimidated by those bricks, they sit there and mock me, daring me to read their thousands of pages!

Whether or not you like Erikson's work, it has to be admitted that his books are truly a monumental achievement of epic fantasy literature. When stood up against the books of would-be fantasy masters Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, and the late Robert Jordan, I think many will agree that Erikson comes out on top for sheer scope of vision and the simple daring of attempting such a massive effort. Brooks may have published more books, and the books of Jordan and especially Goodkind may be just as thick as Erikson's, but I don't think they can match the magnitude of the Malazan series.

I have to admit that I'm very divided about Erikson's series. I have to admire him for his tenacity, and the fact that he has delivered on a promise to write ten books in his main series (there are several offshoot books written by Erikson and collaborator Ian Cameron Esslemont). He's nearly finished, making the authors of other (incomplete) series that are supposed to be "epic" fantasy look somewhat pitiful. This "crazy" Canadian guy (apologies to James at Grognardia ;-) has (somewhat) quietly taken the epic crown. BUT, when I consider trying to read his books, with their huge page counts and multitudes of characters and plotlines, I get a little wobbly in the knees. I picture myself as an old man finishing the last book and falling over dead. Sorry, I can be melodramatic (how strange for a roleplayer ;-).

Anyway, that's enough of my jibber jabber for now. In the meantime, I'd love for anyone and everyone to chime in about their thoughts on the Malazan series.

Artists: Larry Elmore

I've already mentioned here that Dragonlance is among those works that are at the root of my love of fantasy fiction (yes, yes, many eyes are still rolling at that fact, no doubt). Therefore, it's only logical that I love the artwork of Larry Elmore, whose work graced many Dragonlance novel covers and other published materials. Just looking at any of his art always fills me with a yearning to return to the gaming table.

I pose this question to you who may be reading: what artist or artists inspire you, fuel your yen to game?