Thursday, May 31, 2012

Z is for Zone

Zone as in being "in the zone."

So, my last post in the A to Z Challenge...although, I've left the true "rules" of the Challenge far behind, since you're supposed to wrap this up in April. But, like I said in earlier posts, I'm doing things my way, so screw it.

Depressingly, someone left a comment on one of my A to Z posts that basically said they generally ignore A to Z posts. Which did in fact leave me somewhat depressed, and sometimes made me wonder why I was even bothering.

Indeed, during my Challenge posting this month, I've had less hits for my posts/blog in general than I've had in a long time. Traffic was way down. So, all of this is making me wonder why people do this Challenge. Or maybe I'm just avoiding some truth about myself. That truth, much to my fear, may be that I've really got nothing to say of value to potential readers! Ok, I'm trying to stay positive, but it does make one wonder. I am not a hugely prolific blogger, as you know, and I'm not so sure of the value of my posts, but I'm trying to believe I have something to contribute.

ANYway, all such dark thoughts aside, you may be wondering about this "zone" I'm in. Well, I have a great new Labyrinth Lord campaign going with some cool players. There's some buzz going on in the FLGS where I run my game, with the ever-present potential of having newbs join the fun. Yes, I may have to leave the campaign blog I created somewhat stagnant, but having a good campaign trumps all, you know? My focus needs to be on the campaign, nuff said.

The other part of my "zone" mentality is my regular life beyond gaming. I need to step up and take more initiative with my work, my family, my house (which is in need of some repairs!), and my health (both mental and physical). Tomorrow is June 1st, my starting date for making some new strides in all aspects of my life.

So, wish me luck in the days ahead as I recommit to making my gaming life and my real life even better. Thanks for reading, whoever may be!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Y is for Youth

Yes, perhaps I will stray into the territory of "bad" nostalgia for this post. The type of nostalgia that limits my present life and casts it into shadow instead of flavoring it with sweetness and rejuvenating my passion.

In the first part of my personal testimonial regarding my roleplaying career, I talked about a "golden age" in my gaming life as a teenager. No doubt the majority of gamers have tales of being young and without a heavy burden of responsibility. This lack of responsibilities made it easy to spend copious amounts of time on roleplaying. Marathon sessions that lasted all day and night, whole weekends devoted to reading rulebooks and playing games...I don't think I need to go on, I'm sure you can relate.

I yearn for my youth once again. I know this is probably not an unfamiliar feeling for many of you out there. I was doing alright for a while and not feeling that ache, but all things come and go, eh?

I'm definitely feeling the crunch of adulthood these days. I know, that's a tired old song on this blog, right? But I fear that my blogging aspirations are going to be put to a serious test in the days to come. In particular, I started a blog for my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, Thunder Rift Sagas. However, I'm realizing that I probably won't be able to update that blog as much as I would like, especially when it comes to writing session recaps and adding posts detailing locations and NPCs. I'm not looking forward to that blog stagnating, but I fear it can't be helped.

The majority of my free time is going to have to be spent on work for my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, so I can keep track of occurances in sessions, create scenarios and plot hooks, keep my campaign world as "alive" and "lived in" as possible, etc. This is, and should be, my priority. Actually running/playing in games is my true goal for returning to gaming...not to be a blogger regarding gaming. So in that sense, I am fulfilling my roleplaying goals. And I should be happy about that, and I am.

So I just need to resign myself to the reality of making sacrifices, in order to focus on actually gaming.

Some other thoughts/feelings I'm having:

1) Of late there's also been an urge in me to run a game that is not D&D or closely related to D&D, especially when it comes to mechanics. Here's the short list of candidates:

- Dragon Age RPG
- The One Ring RPG
- Technoir (a cyberpunk RPG)
- Savage Worlds (with potential genres such as cyberpunk or Star Wars)

2) Another part of me would like to be a player more often. One of my Labyrinth Lord players, Bill, runs Savage Worlds on nights when I am not running my campaign. And it's really cool, especially since he's running us through the Solomon Kane setting. But I would also like to play in a D&D-like game now and then, either Castles & Crusades or Labyrinth Lord.

Anyway, just needed to vent. Please let me know if you can relate, and talk to me about your own experiences with conflicts between your "real" life and gaming life.

Friday, May 25, 2012

X is for Xenomorph

I'm sure I'm not alone in the blogosphere when it comes to my anticipation for the upcoming film Prometheus. Sure, the movie might not feature the classic beastie commonly called the Xenomorph from the Alien movies, but it is still part of the universe/mythology of the Alien series.

What does this have to do with gaming, you ask? Well, can't most of the D&D monsters be considered xenomorphs of some kind? Those monsters can be considered "alien" when compared to the standard PC races, right? Especially what came to be known as aberrations in 3rd Edition, such as beholders, aboleths, and the like. Heck, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks had actual aliens in it, correct?

This also reminds me of a great-looking cover for a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG module:

Is that creature awesome and terrifying or what? I've had my doubts about DCC RPG in the past, but from what others have said and from my own glimpses of the final product, it has definitely grown on me. I can see the dedication that Goodman Games put into the game. My main issue all along has been the hype machine that Goodman had going with this game the entire time during development, compared to the humble and classy creation process of the equally-cool Adventurer Conqueror King system. I'm still not completely comfortable with the Zocchi dice thing, but that's just me.

But the existence of such a lovingly-tailored old school-style game makes me feel good about the hobby! I think it's a good bet that I'll add a hard copy of DCC to my collection sometime in the near future.

ANYway, my point with the DCC module cover is, that creature is a true xenomorph of the gaming world, my friends. Why settle for the same old orcs when you can throw THAT thing at your players? As time goes on in my renewed roleplaying career, I feel an urge to use less familiar, or entirely home-made, creatures in my games. I'm curious: what non-standard monsters have you used/encountered in your games?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

W is for Wonder

The feeling of descending into the dark entrance to a dungeon. Seeing a dragon swoop down from the sky toward your party. Surviving through countless adventures to become a paragon of sword or spell (or both). All of this, and so much more, delivers a sense of wonder to many D&D players.

But for some, the wonder may be over. I feel for those people.

Look, I'm not superhuman when it comes to my emotions. There are many days when I don't feel the wonder. It's buried under the stresses of daily adult life. Sometimes you have to work to find a place of peace, and let yourself be open to wonder.

And when it finds you again, there's nothing quite like it.

I've read a lot of doubt, scorn, and pre-judgment directed toward D&D Next/5E. It really is baffling to me how so many people have been making judgments on a game they haven't even seen/read/played. Even if you do a word-by-word analysis of every piece of writing that Mike Mearls has released up to now, does that really give anyone a full idea of what this new edition is actually like?

I'm sorry, but nothing can replace having the rules (even playtest rules) actually in your hands. I'll reserve judgment until then. Right now I'm waiting for an email to come my way and get my copy of the playtest rules. And I'm maintaining my open mind, my positive hopes, and my cautious optimism.

I just don't get why so many people seem so negative about the hobby, or any product being released for it. I guess I'm not a true grognard!

I guess I'm in the minority in our corner of the blogosphere. I dunno, I feel so excited, so lucky, to be involved with the hobby again. I've been back for a couple years and I'm so jazzed because I get to play again, I get to explore a bunch of new products that come out all the time (both OSR and otherwise). I've helped proofread a recently-released RPG. And now I'm going to be involved with two playtests coming up (D&D Next and a game being developed by a creator in the OSR firmament).

All told, this is another part of the wonder for me. This is stuff I dreamed about as a kid, especially when it comes to the proofreading and playtesting. It taps into my younger self's desire to actually "work" for a game company. I won't get paid for what I do, but I will be able to say I helped out with the growth of the hobby. And that sounds great to me. I feel really lucky to have an active gaming life right now, and I'm wondering if a lot of others are taking things for granted.

Let's face it: with a hobby that often seems under threat of disappearing due to lack of interest (or so the doomsayers announce every now and then), why would any of us seek to quickly disparage any game company or their products? Why not strive to be positive? If the hobby is in danger of becoming extinct, then shouldn't any roleplaying be considered good roleplaying? I don't think we have the luxury of being so negative or closed-minded about new releases like D&D Next.

Do I blindly believe in the purity of Wizards of the Coast's goals/motivations for D&D Next? No. But am I going to dismiss it sight-unseen? No. And nor, in my opinion, should anyone who considers themselves a gamer. I very willing to bet that a lot of the nay-sayers will be signing up for the 5E playtest.

Those are my thoughts at the moment. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

V is for Variations

Does anyone out there still use D&D monsters by the book? I mean, are there still GMs that just use the stats as listed in a D&D clone's monster section without any changes?
In this age of cheap PDFs that players can obtain all too easily, most players will have their own copies of game books. This is a significant change from the early days of the hobby, correct? Back in the day, it was really only necessary for the GM to own the books. Now, more often than not at least one player has a copy of the rules. Add to that the fact that long-time players can recognize creatures from when they played the game years ago, and you have some pretty knowledgeable players.

I know what you're thinking: this all ties into the "player vs. character knowledge" argument. But how often are players going to say "my character wouldn't know what a basilisk is, so I'm going to walk right up to that giant lizard thing and stare it down"?

No matter how good a player may be, he or she is definitely going to make their plans on how to "conquer" a creature based on what they know, and not what their character knows.

The answer? Well, as you've no doubt read on many a gaming blog, you need to create variations of old monsters that bring something new to the beasties. A monster that has different abilities than the by-the-book version is a nice surprise!

So, what sort of variations of classic monsters have you encountered/inflicted on your players?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

U is for Unknown

As in the famous B1: In Search of the Unknown module, through which my Labyrinth Lord group is exploring.

In a recent Grognardia post, James Maliszewski wrote:

 I think the word "new" gets overused, mostly by the jaded. By that I mean that the cry for "the new" is often a function of what one has experienced. Sure, for many gamers who've been playing for three decades, "goblin raiders" or "excursions into the underdeep" may be old hat, but not everyone has been playing for that long. For a lot of younger and/or less experienced folks, The Keep on the Borderlands or The Village of Hommlet is new. And, for us older and more experienced players, seeing a new spin on these old adventures can be just as fun.

I definitely agree. As someone who's been playing for over two decades but never played Basic D&D, modules like B1 have been a subject of mystery for me. I've never explored them, nor has my group of players, so we get to experience these classic, oft-referenced works for the first time, decades after their release.

I feel truly blessed with near-limitless resources, because I have the old modules to use as well as the plethora of new published game materials that are coming out all the time. And though I never really used modules in my youth, the busy "adult-me" (with my limited free time) is grateful for modules and such to use as inspiration.

I for one am glad to be a part of a grand tradition of gaming, as I help to bring new life to a sinister dungeon delve of yore.

Monday, May 21, 2012

T is for Torture

I've read some blog posts in the last couple months that brought up the topic of torture in roleplaying. Erik over at Tenkar's Tavern posted about it, and it got me wondering about how often this really gets used in campaigns.

My steady gaming group is not really given to torture per se, but they have definitely gotten into a good number of interrogation situations. Mostly they handle the roleplaying of said questioning very well, and I've ruled that they eventually get the information they seek through intimidation rather than having to resort to inflicting torture. Not necessarily because I want to avoid a torture situation (well actually I do like to avoid it if possible because, well, it's sort of disturbing), but because the players were doing so well using threats instead of hurting captives.

There was one session during my C&C campaign, however, where a captive was ALMOST tortured (a particularly strong-willed chaotic wood elf, if I recall). A rogue character was driving climbing pitons through the elf's boot, narrowly missing toes. But the player decided to break off the threat of spiked toes in favor of challenging the recalcitrant elf to a duel of fisticuffs. I don't recall things being too traumatic for the group, although the players of the more good-aligned characters acted out their characters' objection to the tactics of the rogue.

My group, therefore, doesn't seem very sadistic. But they do make liberal use of fire during in the old "lamp oil as molotov cocktail" tactic that's probably as old as the game itself! So they're upholding a grand tradition of burning foes alive ;-)

Anyway, what place has torture had in your gaming experiences?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

S is for Sandbox

What is a sandbox? For me, it's being able to have a world that's developed enough that when the PCs choose to go somewhere, I have a combination of prepared material and improvisation to pull from. So, if I've developed the framework for, say, and elven tree city in a nearby forest, and that's where they choose to go, it's developed enough that it has some flavor of the real, some personality and background. But along the way, I use random tables and/or perhaps a small pre-made scenario I've created that the players can either ignore or interact with.

So, you can't just have this open world with locations and have no plot hooks, right? So what if there's a necromancer's tower? If the GM hasn't thought about what that necromancer is doing at least a little bit, then there's no life there, you with me? Sure, you can wing it, but that can only take you so far. Maybe, just maybe, you want to have something besides "invade necromancer's tower, fight his minions, kill the big bad, and get the loot." Perhaps the characters come across a bunch of imprisoned would-be victims that the necromancer has stored in a dungeon of his tower. What if the necromancer has a loving wife and children that the group encounters? That adds a new dimension to the entire quest, doesn't it?

So what are the causes of railroading which is the opposite of the sandbox?

Perhaps the slippery slope into railroading is dependant on a myriad of factors, as is the case with most things in life. I know that, as a family man in my 30's, my potential for falling into the railroading habit may stem from lack of time to prep for a game. If I don't have time to develop new plot hooks (to me, giving players a lot of plot hooks has to go hand-in-hand with the sandbox).

So, what is your definition of a sandbox? Oh, and here is an interesting Age of Ravens blog post I read about railroading that I wanted to share. Take a look when you get a moment.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

R is for Resources

I'll just say it: I think I hate resource management. Seriously.

(Before I go any further, I want to tell any of my current players reading this that I'm not making an attack on them, because they have all made an effort to keep track of stuff. But I'm worrying about any "newbs" that might join the game in the future, as I'm running an "open" game at a FLGS and I want to encourage new players to join.)

I know, this is another instance where yours truly is being blasphemous when it comes to Old School Roleplaying doctrine (dogma)? I definitely think this is a failing on my part, a failing of my unmathematical mind. I can't say that age is an issue, because even as a kid I didn't want to bother with resource management.

But now that I'm running a Labyrinth Lord game, I want to delve into resource management because it is part of the old school style of gaming, and I want to really immerse myself and my players in that style. To try it out, give it a fair shake. But I'm not sure how long I'm going to last!

How do you make sure players use up their torches, lantern oil, arrows/crossbow bolts/sling pellets, rations, and other consumables, without having to keep track of all that yourself/"babysit" players to make sure they keep track properly?

Heck, I am even starting to get upset at the whole concept of magic-using classes, for the fact that players sometimes don't keep track of spells used in a day.

How do you keep track of it all as a GM? Do you even keep track as a GM, and if so, why not? Do you depend on players to keep track? And if so, how do you know they aren't slacking on that tracking (either though cheating or unconscious neglect)?

An extension to all this is how much I hate keeping track of encumbrance. I just usually "eyeball" encumbrance so that things in my games don't become totally "Monty Haul" (but MY definition of Monty Haul refers to characters unrestricted by encumbrance who carry way too much equipment, not the fact that I give magic items away like candy, which I don't). I usually let players get to a common sense point where I feel forced to say "okay guys, the dwarf hireling can't have a chest strapped to his back, ok?"

Another potential extension of this is time keeping. I see this as another "resource" to manage, one that should actually rest on the GM's shoulders (unlike the consumables mentioned above). But what's an easy way to do that?

I think all of the above are reasons why I like to run "story-based" or "heroic" games that don't bother with resource management. In the epic sagas of the real world from ancient days, how often do you see heroes agonizing over gear, right?

What I keep thinking about is this: I think you can have old-school-style play without having ALL the supposed trappings of the style. I think if you have a sandbox game with lots of player agency, rulings and not rules, etc. but skip the resource management, I think you still have an old school game.

Anyway, I would love to hear from you because ANY ADVICE IS WELCOME!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Q is for Quest

Does it seem to you that the word "quest" is a dirty one in the minds of some OSR folks? I've read blog posts over the last year or so that have poo-pooed the quest (but don't ask me to point out specific posts where I've read this...I know I should probably be backing up my statements with facts, but there you go). I wonder if these folks connect quests to the cardinal sins of railroading and the dreaded "story-based" campaign.

I'm here to tell you that the quest need not be a dirty word! It's all in how you approach the definition of the word, as well as the execution in a campaign. In a roleplaying game, every quest need not be a matter of life and death for the whole of existence.

Now, I would agree with you if you were interpreting the word to mean the hackneyed hooks where a merry band of adventurers must rescue a princess, find a magical artifact that will defeat a "dark lord," etc.

Why not consider even a standard dungeon crawl as a quest, even if said crawl is purely for the player's financial gain? Why does a quest need to be a noble pursuit? I know there's a traditional connotation that a quest is motivated by some pure ideal or intent, but I'm here to tell you that it need not be so!

To me, just using the word "quest" can spice up game night. Quest evokes more mood, rather than calling the players' efforts "missions" or some such.

So, what do you think? What place do quests have in your campaign? What do you consider the word to mean in the context of your games?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Shouting into the Void?

It's time for some self pity. I know, self pity is so rare on my blog, right? ;-)

So my last four posts have had minimal hits and no comments. I've been more active than usual due to my attempt at doing the A to Z Challenge for the first time. I know, I'm still doing the challenge and it's May (technically you have to do it all in one month, April), but does that really make a difference? Are you all mad at me for bleeding over into May?!

Last July, I was in a posting slump and lamented my inability to post due to heavy pressure from adult responsibility. I considered myself a "voice from the void." Over the last month I've been on what I would consider, for me, a posting "binge." I wanted to test myself and got into the A to Z Challenge for the first time.

But despite my recent increased effort to post more often, my hits have gone down. And before you start telling me that "you need to read and comment on other blogs and join other blogs to get more readers," I've been doing a lot of that lately.

In the last couple days I've even added two more followers, bringing my total to 90. So I'm scratching my head here.

I know the blogosphere is a fickle b*tch, but come on!

Ok, I know I sound like a whiner, but I miss hearing from people, both the long-time followers and the new people who just pop in and out sometimes.

I guess we're all just busy at the moment. Or, the sad-sack part of me wonders, is it something more? Is it perhaps people are just not into my blog anymore? If so, that's my fault, for not putting up substantive posts. At least, that's a possibility.

So here I am, shouting into the void. Is there anybody out there? I believe many others have felt this way. Did ChicagoWiz feel this before he left the community? Tim over at The Other Side blog has posted about the demise of some of our fellows.

Sorry for the melodrama. I don't mean to seem like I'm begging for attention. It just gets lonely out here sometimes!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

P is for Preparation

(I know this is sort of a duplication of my E post, but I didn't get much of a response to that one. Thought I'd try a different letter and see what happens...)
Ah, the dreaded question regarding how much prep time a GM should spend between game sessions. Ok, perhaps it's not that dreaded. Or is it? There's been lots of discussion across the blogosphere about this, and I've seen many pundits espouse various "equations" and magic formulas on the subject.

Anyway, I would say that I spend about an average of one solid, concerted hour of prep for every three-hour game session I run. This prep time is spent cleaning up notes from the last session, devising new hooks / potential plot threads / "quests" / whatever you want to call them (both from the results of player actions in the prior session and new ones that I want to formalize), creating NPCs as needed, etc.

BUT, there's a lot of uncalculated time I spend daydreaming about game night, jotting down ideas at random times, skimming quickly through my various game materials for inspiration when the mood strikes, etc. I do this often on most days, and I really don't know how much of this "informal" prep work I am doing.

Getting back to my formal prep time, I sometimes wonder if the time I spend is enough. I'm not sure if it's just some mild self-doubt, but I sometimes have the feeling that I'm not prepared as I should be. I can't quite put my finger on the source of this feeling. I do have limited time to work on campaigns due to my life circumstances. I think my feeling stems from sometimes getting frustrated with the small amount of time I have to prep.

I think if I had more time, I'd be able to better flesh out some more details of my setting, or develop more detailed personalities for NPCs, etc. Perhaps this feeling stems from my background in AD&D and games that involved more character development. I just want to invest my campaigns with more than just the generic medieval fantasy tropes. I want to do more than key dungeon hexes and develop adventure hooks. I'm missing the ability to spend lots of time to develop a world that feels "lived in."

I guess I can ask my players if they feel the campaign world has some "life" to it, eh? They'd be the best source to answer that, of course.

Ok, rambling over.

So, if you care to answer, here's the question(s) for all you GMs out there: how much prep time do you spend before a particular game session? What does this prep time entail? And how much time do you think "informal" prep factors into your daily life? Do you ever get frustrated with the process, and why?

Monday, May 7, 2012

O is for Overture

As in the beginning or prelude of something. As in, the first night of my Labyrinth Lord campaign was a great one! 

I had three players, one who I've been gaming with for over a year, one for a couple months, and one for the second time ever. So it was an interesting mix of players. I hope to have more players join up, especially the wife of one of the players. There was also a fellow who came up to our table at the end of the session who was pretty animated when he asked what we were playing, but he didn't express direct desire to join the game. But the potential is there.

So, here's a shot of my pre-game set up, with character sheets and spare copies of the original Labyrinth Lord rules ready for the players. And of course there's the awesome official LL referree screen!

And here's a look behind the screen, where you can see my copy of the revised LL rules and of course my GM's binder, chock full of all sorts of goodies for use by yours truly. And there's my pile o' dice (a humble number of polyhedrals, I know) and a container of water for when my throat gets parched from all that GMing.

So we spent a good hour talking about/rolling up characters, going over the "social contract" for the game, a discussion of the LL system and my house rules, and introducing the group to the campaign's setting. After that, I set the party loose on the world. It was a humble start, with the players getting their bearings, getting used to some aspects of the rules that were unfamiliar, and all that first-session stuff that you encounter. But I expect things to pick up once we get a few more sessions under our belts.

Oh, and I'm running them through the old B1: In Search of the Unknown D&D module (with some modifications)! If my players read this, just remember: it's only hurting you if you try to read through this module (though the thing is out of print ;-).

So, that's all for now. Can't wait for this Wednesday night for our second session!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

N is for Night

As in game night! For me, that's tonight! Been roleplaying fairly consistently on Wednesday nights for over a year now at the awesome FLGS called All Things Fun in scenic West Berlin, NJ. Tonight begins my new Labyrinth Lord campaign called Thunder Rift Sagas, and I can't wait to get those dice rolling! Hey out there in RPG Bloggerland, if you can spare me some good gaming vibes tonight, it would be much appreciated! I believe I am pretty prepared and I have eagerness and positivity on my side as well! So what could go wrong, right? ;-) Anyway, I'll report on this kick-off night as soon as I can following the event. Until then, I've got some more pre-game meditation to do! Happy gaming, one and all!