Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I want it all, and I want it now!

Check out Freddie's awesome chainmail gauntlet!
(I'm guessing that everyone is getting my reference here.)

I guess this is an offshoot of my chronic Gamer ADD, and maybe a symptom of limited time to game (although I have to say, for a guy with a family and all, I have been able to game at least once a week for a few months now...which is more than some others can claim). But I feel like I want to run/play so many different games RIGHT NOW! I want to use all those cool systems out there and dabble in multiple genres (fantasy, science fiction, western, etc)! Blargh!

Just needed to vent...

Anyone else feeling this way? Is that a stupid question?

Anyway, tonight is Wednesday Night C&C at All Things Fun! GM Rich is picking up his Invincible Overlord game again, so I will slip back into a player seat this week. Looking forward to it, since there was no game last week. Game on!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hitting 50, Cyberpunk, and Technoir

Hey now, I've reached 50 followers! Nice! Not bad for a fat kid from South Jersey! ;-) Seriously though, it's pretty cool to feel like there are people that value one's words. I hope it's because my rekindled passion for the hobby is coming through in my posts. It really is important to me to give something of value back to our little community here, even if it is just the tale of my musings on the hobby and stories of my actual gaming experiences. Anyway, I'll spare you the Sally Field act...

Now on to my other topic for this post:

My other great love besides fantasy fiction is cyberpunk. I don't care what the genre fiction pundits have to say about the supposed death of cyberpunk as a science fiction subgenre. It will always be alive in me as a fan. Gibson's Neuromancer is one of the books I've reread the most in my life (about 10 times). As I get older, I get something new out of it every time. I don't care about how the passage of time and the progression of technology makes some aspects of the book outdated. There is such a possibility as alternate futures and divergent technological development, just like there are alternate pasts to be explored (see cyberpunk's "sister" genre, steampunk).

I've owned the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG for over a decade but never played it. Same with Shadowrun (but frankly I couldn't stand the combination of magic and technology). I played Rifts here and there, but that also put too much emphasis on magic. I've considered using the Shadowrun and Rifts systems/worlds and stripping out the magic, however.

It's been one of my holy gaming grails to do some cyberpunk gaming someday. I was tempted to run a Matrix movie game using the online free system based on the D6 System that's been on the web for years now. But again, this never came to pass, due to the myriad circumstances I've talked about in my testimonial.

I just heard that there's a new game called Technoir in development, and it looks interesting. There's a beta that's been released, and I'm trying to find the time to delve into it. There's also a fund that's raising money to publish the game.

So, maybe once I get a goodly bit of fantasy gaming under my belt to really cement my return to the hobby, I can move on over to exploring some cyperpunk gaming. See you in the matrix (not the one inhabited by Keanu Reeves, either)!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

DCC Typo and Basic D&D Attribute Checks

So I was looking over the Dungeon Crawl Classics beta rules again, and also rereading the DCC Free RPG Day Adventure Starter, when I noticed the typo shown above in the Adventure Starter. Yes, it says "Mentzner" when it should read "Mentzer." To their credit, this typo doesn't exist in the DCC beta rules. I just thought I'd point it out, especially in light of my recent declaration of Mentzer's D&D being my non-Advanced D&D version of choice.

Anyway, I've been looking at sources like DCC and other game systems, as well as the blogosphere of course, for ideas for  house rules pertaining to attribute checks. Now, before you all start commenting about how OD&D is about player skill and not character skill, and thus there is really no need for attribute checks, I only want a simple mechanic I can use in those instances where I feel that character skill would exceed player skill.

Plus, I've always felt that the D&D attributes should do something other than provide you with bonuses if you have a 13 or above. I've often thought that they were pretty useless, just sitting there, these numbers that don't really have any practical use. Unlike systems like Savage Worlds (where attributes are the dice you roll to perform tasks) or Dragon Age, where you roll 3d6 as in D&D but you only record the bonus the die roll result provides (so if you roll an 18 for your Strength, you have a bonus of 4 to add to Strength attribute checks...the bonus is what you record on your character sheet).

I've seen people espouse a xd6 check mechanic for D&D, and there's the d20 method. I was thinking of going with d20 and sometimes subtracting character level from the die roll if deemed appropriate.

So, my question to you is: what attribute check mechanic do you use for OD&D, if any, and please let me know the meat of your "system" and in what instances you use it. Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Facing Down the Beast

So, instead of bitching about gamer ADD like I've been prone to do in the past, I decided to man-up and do what I should have done before: take all the RPGs that have been plaguing my mind and literally spreading them all out in front of me. Like a lineup of the usual suspects. And I gave them a good hard look, and some thought, and I was determined to come to some conclusions. And I think I've finally regained mastery of my gaming domain.

First there's Castles & Crusades, my number one game. The Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote. The Little John to my Robin Hood. The Riker to my Picard. I started out my gaming career with AD&D 1E/2E, and C&C to me is a near-perfect reimagining of those editions of the game. I like what Troll Lord Games has done with the system by incorporating the SIEGE Engine mechanic, bringing some 3E into the mix. I don't have to do much in the way of house ruling to get it to where I need it to be at my table. I will never need to go back to AD&D, because C&C has become the ideal version of those editions, to me.

Now, as I've said before, until recently I never actually played any version of basic/original/non-Advanced D&D. I bought the Rules Cyclopedia when it came out in the early 90's, and also bought the "Black Box" version of D&D, but never actually played them. I missed out on the whole boxed set thing entirely when I was a kid. The LBBs and all that Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, etc. jive was something I would have appreciated back then, I think...but I missed it all. I was just never exposed to it.

But looking back now, and having dabbled in OD&D (especially via Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess), I have become more and more enamored of OD&D and its clones. But looking through Moldvay, Mentzer, the Rules Cyclopedia, clones like Labyrinth Lord and S&W and LotFP and all the rest, I think that I feel strongly about actually using the original Mentzer books rather than a clone. I just like the look of the game, the layout of the books, the style, the art (as a confessed Elmore nut). There's just something about it that calls to me.

So, when I get the chance to run some OD&D, I'm going to use Mentzer, with some house rules I'm mulling over to add a bit of spice to things. I'm taking inspiration for my house rules from many sources on the web and blogosphere, as well as from other games. This includes the beta version of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

Now, there are some other various games that have also been tempting me with their shininess. Games such as Barbarians of Lemuria, Dragon Age, and even that game based in Middle Earth called The One Ring that I just learned about YESTERDAY! Yes, gamer ADD has no mercy. Heck, I just really discovered a lot to like about Dragon Age less than a week ago, on Free RPG Day. All of these various other games I have lumped together as potential candidates, but I have used a bit of reality to temper my expectations. These miscellaneous games are nice and all, but I either don't own them, they haven't been published yet, or they would take time to learn that I just don't seem to have these days.

Above all, I'm totally dedicated to the Dragonlance game I am currently running, and have no intention of sacrificing it in order to jump into OD&D right now. And especially not for some new shiny game that would require a whole new cycle of reading rules, learning rules, teaching rules to others, etc. I've been waiting a looooong time to do a Dragonlance campaign,  and I have met a great group of gamers who make running the game a pleasure.

Wow, it feels good to get that all out! All it took was standing up to the beast!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Did you know about The One Ring?

Sorry I haven't posted for a few days, I've been tied up with work. My usual Wednesday night game didn't happen tonight, so I'm at home and tooling around the Internet, thinking about what to post since it's been too long since I last wrote something here. And as I was wandering around, I chanced upon The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild!

Did anyone out there know about this upcoming RPG?! Of course, I am intrigued to no end! One of my fantasies has been to run a campaign in Middle Earth, and apparently I'm not the only one with that hankering! I assumed I would use one of the various incarnations of D&D as the rules behind a Lord of the Rings game, and get some setting help from the MERP books I own and other resources. But this discovery of mine tonight seems to have changed the game, no pun intended!

Anyone have any intel on this? Is anyone as excited as I am? I need a prescription medication for Gamer ADD!

*UPDATE: Go here for more details!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Free RPG Day and Other Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gaming Father's Day to All!

Hey all! Sorry for the blogger silence for the last few days. But it was silent for a good reason: I was either gaming or preparing to game! Time well spent indeed! Anyway, I just wanted to write a quick post to wish all my fellow gaming fathers out there a Happy Father's Day! I hope it's a good one for you all!

I will post again later today to talk about my gaming experiences this week, both my usual Wednesday night game and what I did on Free RPG Day. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rewriting (Blog) History

Have you ever gone back over your old posts and decided that you needed to make some changes? I know that a lot of people go back and do updates to the bodies of posts. I've done small updates once or twice (literally).

What about going back to add some more labels/tags/keywords/ whatever you want to call them? I was reading old posts and I noticed that a lot of them (perhaps unfortunately) involve me talking about Gamer ADD. It's sort of scary how often I seem to be inflicted by that rough beast that slouches toward the gaming table to be born (apologies to Yeats). So I decided to go back and add "Gamer ADD" as a label for those (and future) posts.

So, what's your personal feeling/policy on editing old posts (with regard to text, labels, whatever)? I'm pretty comfortable with adding/removing/changing labels. I sort of obsess about labels. I should probably consider some advice on how to label posts effectively, if such training exists! But going back to edit swathes of text seems somehow a violation of what I was feeling at the time a post was written.

And how far back do you go? I added the "Gamer ADD" label to some fairly old posts!

Anyway, thoughts?

This T is for Jeff Rients

I think it's safe to assume that Jeff Rients of Jeff's Gameblog is obsessed with Mr. T. So Jeff, here's a little treasure I found on a street sign near my work in Southern New Jersey:

Mr. T is indeed everywhere!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Still Seeking Advice on Running a C&C Game on Free RPG Day

I just wanted to repost Saturday's request for advice from the blogosphere. Here is the original post. I am running a session of C&C on Free RPG Day this coming Saturday at All Things Fun. I'm treating it as a mini-con of sorts, and this is the first time ever that I'll be running a game for strangers who just walk into a game store. Any advice is welcome! Thanks.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Invoking St. Gygax and Seeking Advice

Thus spake Gygax: "I cannot stress too much the importance of having mystery in the world setting...what the fantasy game world setting must provide is the environment to enable the participant to regain that feeling of the marvelous and inexplicable. The milieu is the vast stage upon which will be played countless dramas, and a few comedies and tragedies as well. What awaits, who will triumph, how events will turn out must never be fully answered. To do so brings one to an end as surely as does the last page of a novel...the milieu will be never-ending, unfold gradually, and always have some new mystery to explore, some challenge to overcome."

I saw the above quote on Grendelwulf's blog recently, and it really lit the fires of inspiration in me. It made me eager to game, and it made me anxious to experience that sense of wonder Gary talks about in connection with gaming. In it I hear the echoes of Bilbo Baggins singing about how the road goes ever on...

I feel like I need some good mojo from St. Gygax soon, since I volunteered to run a Castles & Crusades session on Free RPG Day next Saturday. I'll be running the session at All Things Fun, of course. The owners, Ed and Dina Evans, really wanted C&C to be represented that day.

So on Free RPG Day, I want to foster the sense of wonder that is the hallmark of a good gaming session. And I want to do a good job and represent the game system well, as I have a lot of admiration for Troll Lord Games and their game (not to mention that I really like Ed and Dina and their store).

Am I putting to much pressure on myself? I think that's probably the case, since I know myself and I have a tendency to be my own worst critic.

I've decided that I want to treat Free RPG Day at All Things Fun like a miniature convention. I want to prepare a good session, and enable anyone who plays to get a good idea of the system as well as get a character together quickly, so that we can maximize actual playing time.

So, I'm asking you all for advice on how I can make the most of the session next Saturday. I've never run a game for strangers at an event like this, so this is going to be another milestone for me. I figured I would perhaps bring some pregenerated characters. That seemed to be the most sensible thing to do. But what else should I do to prepare, what should I expect, etc. Any input is much appreciated!

Why do we bother with all this blogging?

Over the past year, I've encountered two different kinds of bloggers that confuse me to no end. Let's call these two types the "elitist" and the "nihilist."

The Elitist

The elitist in the RPG blogoshere is the person who does not just give their opinion. If these types of bloggers just gave their opinions on things, they would be like the rest of us in the majority (or what I would like to consider to be the majority): gamers having civil discourse and tolerating the opinions of others, and ultimately engaging in lively conversation and calm debate.

The elitist expresses their opinion AND attacks the opinions of others, and/or attacks other people personally. I'm continually dumbfounded that some people have the gall to think that they are the ultimate arbiters of some sort of universal truth when it comes to gaming. They seem to think they know what the best game system is, or what the best way to game is, and declare those who don't think otherwise as being idiots.

But the elitist is perhaps more easily understood than the nihilist. The nihilist's motivations are much murkier. The elitist is perhaps most often motivated by pride or vanity. But the nihilist is a more perplexing creature.

The Nihilist

The nihilist is a blogger who expresses confusion at why other people have opinions. These types will go out of their way to declare whole topics of conversation as being pointless. They usually tend to chime in on any of the topic trends that periodically sweep the blogosphere (such as the recent arrival of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG on the scene, or the controversial Lamentations of the Flame Princess Grindhouse Edition). But when they chime in, it's to state that the whole discussion is totally without merit and they can't understand why people are talking about the subject at hand. And that's it.

Again, the elitist seems to be much more understandable. They're here to attempt to lord over a scrap of the Internet, they hold forth and make declarations from their ivory towers, and demand to be acknowledged as masters  of the subject matter.

But I guess the nihilist is so confusing to me because I wonder why they even bother to be a part of the blogosphere. Are they just trying to be sticks in the mud? This last thought is not satisfying to me, because there are at least bloggers like the minds behind Your Dungeon is Suck and Joeskythedungeonbrawler who are clearly putting on a persona and actually can be entertaining to read. They can actually be creative in their bashing and obviously put effort into their blogs. And their level of dedication to gaming is obvious (to me at least), so their apparent loathing for other gamers or certain game systems is really (to my understanding) rooted in a deep-seated love for the hobby.

The nihilist is really not that entertaining when they are poo-pooing topics, and they put no effort into their posts. And more often than not, they don't seem to really enjoy gaming.

Why do the nihilists stick around? If they are that confounded and are so unwilling to converse other than to say "this is stupid," they why don't they just stop reading/writing and do something else with their time? I guess I'm just so mindful of how I spend my limited free time that I guess I just couldn't fathom spending that time on something from which I derive no pleasure.

So why ARE we all doing this blogging thing? I believe it's because gamers are often people for whom gaming was/is a bit of solace. A safe harbor where imagination can soar and remove us temporarily from the pressures of life. They are those who appreciate the ancient tradition of storytelling. Or they just get a kick out of slaying and reaping kingly reward. Whatever the case may be, blogging allows our eclectic group of hobbyists to share thoughts, read other people's perspectives, seek advice, commiserate, celebrate, find kindred spirits, etcetera.

Anyone want to put forth any thoughts on these types, especially the nihilist? Am I just being naive? Are these types more often than not putting on facades and just playing roles? I guess that last possibility is somewhat ironic, eh?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

System, Style of Play, and Heroes

So, yeah, a LOT of bloggers have written about their thoughts on the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG beta since its release yesterday morning. Akrasia put together a small list of blogs besides his own that commented on DCC, but now the number of bloggers that have “reviewed” the beta rules has exploded! Yes, for good or ill, the DCC RPG has stirred up the blogosphere. Every blog from Grognardia to Your Dungeon is Suck has chimed in on the subject.

I still think that it’s sort of gimmicky, and an attempt to tap into the ever-growing OSR movement. I’m not faulting Goodman Games for the attempt. But I think they really turned on the spin machine. The beta version of the game seems, to me, to be trying too hard to be old school, whatever old school really is. Seriously, the definition of old school (not that I think there should be one) is a moving target. Does old school refer to games from a certain era? Is it a style of play? Is it rules light? Is it a combination of these things? I suppose the real answer is that old school gaming is whatever each gamer wants it to be. So trying to publish a "truly" old school game is like trying to hit a rapidly moving target. What Goodman Games has done is put forth its own version of an old school game. I know that it’s great for people to be passionate about what they do. But I think Goodman went a little too heavy on the hype, and it may be that they’ve sort of created a level of expectation that no game can live up to. Or I could be totally wrong.

Some have taken issue with DCC’s statement that player characters using the system are not heroes. Again, I think the company took hold of what it thought are the foundation stones of old school gaming and ran with those ideas. But they might have run too far. Are they saying that in old school gaming the PCs are not heroic? Does game system determine such a thing as whether or not a player can create/play a heroic character?

I’m a huge Joseph Campbell fan. I loved Hero with a Thousand Faces. After I read that book, I looked at the early versions of D&D as being about playing archetypes. The strict division of classes brings forth very archetypal roles: the warrior, the healer, the trickster, the magician…and also mythological beings such as dwarves, elves, etc. I’m not really sure off the top of my head the genesis behind the classes that Gygax and Arneson created for their original game (maybe someone can enlighten me!), but they do seem to tap into some ancient archetypes.

Sure, those early versions of D&D gave you most of your experience from treasure and killing things. But is that because the creators were still steeped in the more mechanical world of wargaming? Did they not really consider the roleplaying aspect in those early days? I guess what I’m saying is that they probably didn’t purposefully make D&D just about slaying and treasure. The game was a new offshoot of miniature gaming, which probably never really involved a lot of roleplaying.

So for Goodman Games to make it such a badge of honor, and declare characters as not being heroes, just seems a bit, well, short sighted. It seems wrong-headed.

All of this makes me think of some recent posts I read regarding system and style of play. I totally agree that the rules of particular game systems can indeed lend themselves to different styles of play. The early D&D games lend themselves to more hack and slash styles of play, perhaps, as well as a focus on gaining treasure. But as time went on, some gamers sought to add more “depth” to characters and their games. The later versions of the game began to focus on making characters more like individuals, rather than broad archetypes. The characters started to develop whole lives, with backgrounds that could become quite detailed. I think Pathfinder made 3rd Edition more "cinematic," so characters are still individuals but more like those you see in movies (i.e. larger than life). Now, 4E has pushed the characters into the realm of superheroes, who are powerful right from the start.

And this is ok, because change is natural. This is why I’m a believer in the recent “I’m with D&D” pseudo-movement (something of a reaction against Edition Wars). There’s no reason to deride those who play different editions, because different editions facilitate different styles of play.

Now, can you play a long campaign that’s heavy on plots and intrigue and interaction with NPCs using OD&D? Absolutely. Can you use 3.5 Edition to just do dungeon crawls? Sure! Therein lies the power of imagination and the individual tastes of gamers. So it is possible to overcome the influence of system on style of play.

So I believe that gamers just need to pick the system they're most comfortable with and have fun. I think each system has its obvious pros and cons. But they also have their own variation on the theme of heroes. Yes, that’s right, I said heroes. There are many different types of heroes. And they all need not be knights in shining armor. Some can be uncivilized or even self-serving. But does that mean that they cannot be heroes? And speaking of knights, don’t they need to gather up treasure too?

So again, to assume that old school roleplaying is not populated by at least some heroes is sort of strange. It makes Goodman Games seem somewhat out of touch with the real roots and motivations of the OSR.

To take my own admonition to “play and let play” to heart, I won’t fault anyone who falls in love with DCC and makes it their game of choice. I just think it was a poor choice on the part of Goodman Games to make it seem like they sought to create the “perfect” old school game that would tap into some conception of an OSR zeitgeist. Now, I know that the company never stated such a thing. But it sure seemed like they were trying really hard to make all of us think so.

NOTE: The DCC RPG's stance on heroes has sparked something of a "side" controversy, and other people besides me are giving their opinions on the matter. Things are getting more and more meta all the time ;-) Take a look here and here, for example.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Impressions of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

Yep, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the blogosphere.

Perhaps something of a caveat is in order before I get into my impressions on Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (hereafter referred to as DCC), the latest and arguably greatest roleplaying phenomenon to come down the proverbial pike since…take your pick: Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, Hackmaster Basic, OpenQuest, etcetera etcetera ad infinitum.

Here’s the caveat: I’m grumpy today. It’s in the 90’s here in good old Southern New Jersey. It’s not even summer. These temperatures are no doubt going to be the norm from now on thanks to climate change. I miss my nice full springtime. I dread the disappearance of the equinoxes. Another part of the caveat: perhaps the massive solar flare of yesterday has affected my mind.

Now the third and perhaps most pertinent part of the caveat: for good or ill, I usually don’t react well to hype. Whenever something seems to be super popular (or infamous), my gut reaction is to distrust said hype (again, whether the hype is positive or negative). But I’m trying to set that knee-jerk reaction aside, as well as my grumpiness, when I write about DCC in a moment. I am not going to do an in-depth review per se, but I wanted to give some impressions as I scan through it, in the spirit of sharing.

Let me open by saying that there certainly was a lot of blogosphere hype leading up to the game’s beta release today. I think we can all agree on that. That hype did ignite my knee-jerk negativity toward anything trendy. But even putting that aside, there still seems something a wee bit suspect about how much positive press DCC was getting seemingly sight unseen. To me, it sounded like a few DCC insiders were active in the blogosphere in order to lay some groundwork before the release. I guess that could be considered “astroturfing” (i.e. a false grass roots movement) to get the OSR crowd primed for the game.

Now all that said, I’m trying not to be so skeptical. I don’t really want to believe all that. But it’s still strange to me that there was so much of a positive buzz surrounding the game before the beta. I guess some of the big OSR movers and shakers could have gotten advance copies of the beta, given their influence in the blogosphere. Anyway, just something to think about…

Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, let me spend some time going over some impressions as I go through the beta.

First of all, the art. I know there’s been some negative and positive reactions to the art. Some see it as too plentiful and/or too “professional” for a game that claims to be “old school.” Personally, I like it. I never got the whole “old school must equal amateur art” thing. I think those who feel that way are just being overwhelmed by nostalgia. To me, the art is not too obtrusive, adding just the right amount of balance and breaking up the text nicely. I like the juxtaposition of the comic strip pieces and the more serious depictions of adventurers. The comics seem inspired by the old strips one might find in the old Dragon magazines. I really love the little touches of homage, like the drawing on page 17 that’s a recreation of the AD&D alignment drawing.

I’m not down with the Zocchi dice thing. If I actually play the game, I’ll be resorting to rolling the appropriate old fashioned, even-numbered dice and dividing as needed (if possible, as I believe there are some Zocchi dice that are not so easily divisible). Ultimately, my opinion is that this usage of "weird" dice is mostly just a gimmick, and that just doesn't sit well with me.

I like the “How is this game different” bit near the beginning. That was quite helpful. BUT it also sort of telegraphs the fact that the game is really for gamers, don’t you think? It makes it seem to me that there was never any real hope that the game will be discovered by newbies to the hobby. This might tap into one of the broader arguments in the OSR regarding whether or not the old-school gaming phenomenon will be able to pull in many new gamers (or if those who make up the OSR really want to have new blood brought in at all). On the other hand, perhaps Goodman Games is hoping the veterans will seek to introduce a new generation of gamers to the old-school style. That’s the possibility that makes me feel the happiest, and I hope that was the intention, since I’m one of those bleeding heart old school gamers who wants everyone to just get along when it comes to roleplaying (translation: screw the edition wars!).

Anyway, I’m glad that the game goes out of its way to proclaim that there are no attacks of opportunity. I HATE attacks of opportunity above all other latter-day D&D “additions.” This and some of the other declarations make it seem like the guys at Goodman Games are tapped into the OSR zeitgeist, if there is such a thing. All I know is, it made me smile. But that’s all because of personal preference.

I was intrigued by the mechanic that would allow wizards to NOT lose spells once they are cast. It’s like some semi-Vancian magic system, something that might appeal to gamers who are perennially turned off by the relative weakness of low-level magic users.

The game seems rather complicated in some areas, at least when it comes to the usual simplicity of old school games. For instance, I’ve tried to think about a quick and easy counterspell mechanic that can be used with Castles & Crusades. I’ve always dreamed of having mage duels in my games. It was cool to see the spell duel rules in DCC. I’m heartened to see someone feels the way I do. BUT their spell dueling system seems complicated to me. Lots of steps involved. Now, I may just be getting old and have limited free time, and that’s why I prefer very rules-light systems. So take all this with a grain of salt.

I know, I know, I’ve stumbled into the dangerous realm of “does old school mean rules light or not.” I don’t necessarily think that old school games need to be super-duper rules light, but they are at least lighter for the most part. Let’s not get into that whole mess right now.

As far as skill checks are concerned, I wasn’t impressed with what was shown in the beta rules. They’re just ported over from D&D 3.0/3.5 whole cloth. Blah. I’m not really upset by the use of skill checks. I just don’t see anything innovative about what DCC is doing here. Heck, my beloved Castles & Crusades uses skill checks, just a slightly different take on the mechanic. I just hope that they don’t go touting this aspect of the game as revolutionary.

This and other aspects of the game that I’m reading don’t strike me as terribly different from what has come before. And wasn’t DCC touted as being something innovative? To tell you the truth, it really seems like someone did a really professional job on a house-ruled, “Frankenstein’s monster” system that borrows a little bit of everything from the various fantasy RPGs that have existed over the last three or so decades.

So bottom line: I don’t feel a real urge to play this game once the full version comes out. I think there was a lot of hype about it being innovative, but that was mostly just advertising for lack of a better word. I don’t fault Goodman Games for trying to add another facet to the OSR diamond. I won’t even get all skeptical and cynical and claim that Goodman just did it to cash in on the OSR (unlike WotC, who I am convinced are trying to cash in on the OSR). I am sure that the Goodman folks are passionate and honest folk with good intentions. But while I can appreciate the homage to the origins of the hobby, and I think there are some ideas they put forth that are intriguing and fresh, there isn’t enough “new” when it comes to DCC to truly make it the game-changer (no pun intended) it was made out to be. It’s another potentially solid addition to the wondrous variety of games on the market. Now, depending on your stance on the whole topic of whether or not there can be too many games to choose from, this can be a good or bad thing. Me, I can sometimes swing back and forth, but most of the time I think the more the merrier.

Of course, this is all based on the beta rules. I might take a look at a copy of the full rules once they hit the street.

So there you have it. I’ve added my opinion to the growing cacophony. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on DCC if you’re so inclined.

UPDATE: I also forgot to mention that I'm also grumpy because I didn't get to go to my regular Wednesday Night C&C session! Grrr...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What I (Re)discovered When Looking at 1E and 2E AD&D

Just a quick note about my lack of recall regarding 1E and 2E AD&D and how I was shocked to relearn something about those two editions: I was flipping through PDFs of the 1E and 2E Player's Handbooks last night. I was looking at character classes and races. And I was shocked that I had forgotten that 1E is pretty restrictive when it comes to what classes the demihuman races can take. It's not much different from what was in OD&D, as far as I am concerned. Then I looked at the 2E PHB and saw it was much less restrictive.

During my return to gaming over the last couple years, I was under the impression that 1E and 2E were very similar when it came to allowed race/class combinations. My memory was obviously flawed! Despite my disdain for 2E (which is probably due mostly to the unsavory characters I was gaming with during my 2E era), I think I would much rather play that edition that 1E due to the difference in race/class restrictions. In its own way, 2E is closer to my current game of choice, Castles & Crusades, than 1E.

I feel pretty sheepish at the moment. Ah, what a journey of rediscovery I am on!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Question: Alignment in RPGs?

Hail one and all! So, as usual, I don't have the time to write at length about anything (and trust me, I have a lot of ideas and it's killing me). But I feel like my blog's getting more traffic these days, so I thought I'd just put up a question to pose to the readers on days when I can't write much. I've tried to ask a lot of questions on the blog over the last year, but didn't have much hope of getting answers until now. I've even thought about either reposting old questions or seeing if people would be willing to comment on old question posts. Everyone is welcome to check out my old posts with the "questions" tag.

Anyway, today's question is: what do you think about alignment in RPGs? Personally, it's one of those rules that I've sort of had players address on their character sheets (like encumbrance) but never really bothered to enforce or use very often during the course of play. And I don't see any practical application in the game, except when it comes to spells that repel/detect certain alignments.

So is alignment just supposed to be a mechanical device, or is it supposed to also serve as some sort of roleplaying guide/aspect? I guess the best answer would be that alignment, like any other rule in a game, is a suggestion only, and gamers are free to pick and choose what they want to use.

So what role, if any, does alignment play in your games?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

After the Dawning: Session 1

I can't write nearly as much as I'd like about this milestone, but I wanted to report that I ran the first session of my After the Dawning campaign last night. It takes place in the Dragonlance setting. The usual Wednesday Night C&C gang (of which I am happily a part) at All Things Fun! got down to business on the world of Krynn! Thanks once again to the group for letting me take on the GM's chair.

It may sound strange, but this was pretty much the first time I ever ran a table-top game for players other than my friends from childhood/high school. It sounds strange when I read it! Sure, I've run PBEM/play-by-chat games on and off since 2007, but that's of course much different than sitting face-to-face with new acquaintances.

I feel that I'm very fortunate to have found a group of like-minded gamers who are not only great gamers but great people. This experience has helped me get over the last shreds of my trepidation regarding extending my gaming realm beyond my long-time friends.

Regarding my statement of not being able to write much, I fear that will be a trend with regard to my writing on the blog in general, not to mention when it comes to recaps. I'd love to do detailed, well-written recaps, but that might not be in the cards (at least not for the near future). With limited free time, I need to prioritize my efforts. Prepping for game time and actually playing are my priorities. That means writing on the blog and keeping my campaign's Obsidian Portal page up to date are going to have to fall by the wayside.

That being said, I know that at least one of my players intends to do some recaps in the voice of his character, a certain not-so-humble Knight of Solamnia! If any of my other players would ever see fit to do the same, that would be wonderful (no pressure, though, seriously guys)!

Speaking of the knight, he had the best line of the session. When a goblin was taunting the group from afar and licked the blade of his rusty short sword, the knight yelled out "You'll get lockjaw!"

That's all I can write for now. MAYBE I can get some time coming up to write an addendum to this post in order to give at least a bit more detail about the session. I just didn't want too much time to pass before I wrote at least something about the session. Talk to you soon, and happy gaming!