Friday, August 31, 2012

Hitting the Century Mark

Hey, I reached 100 followers today! I'm still at "Maven" level, but it feels damned good to have 100 people on my "Minion" list...and a bit scary! Why scary? Well, because I hope that I provide some interesting content for those 100 followers, as well as anyone else who might read my blog but is not a follower. I try not to worry too much about impressing anyone. I just write when I feel inspired, that's all. I enjoy being a part of the RPG community we have here, and hope that I contribute something of value, be it interesting conversation topics or just being a kindred spirit.

Anyway, thanks to all my followers! I appreciate you keeping tabs on me! It's great to have you on board, and please don't hesitate to let me know if I'm boring you to tears. ;-)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

OSR Apocalypse? Again? *facepalm*

Here we go again. Why do human beings insist on being obsessed with the demise of things?

I know I'm a bit behind on commenting on the latest round of "OSR is dead" doomsaying. I just shake my head at the whole nonsense. If it's not "OSR is doomed!" talk, it's "Roleplaying in general is doomed!" jibberjabber. People, let's stop worrying and start playing.

To those of you who realize that the OSR is actually CHANGING instead of simply DYING, hats off to you rational folk. Thanks for bringing an appreciation of the concept of balance to the discussion. Again, it seems some people are spending too much time on gaming theory (or in this case gaming eschatology) rather than on actually gaming.

I'm not even going to bother linking to any of the myriad of recent posts on this non-topic. Come on, folks. The movement will continue to evolve, as any human activity should. For we humans are nothing if not adaptable.

Do things ever truly die? Most often, things metamorphose into something else. That something else may be so unrecognizable to us that we think something has died...and yet it lives on in some other way. There will be those who recognize the changes and see that which has changed for what it is: a new version of the old. The OSR in 2011 was different from the OSR when it first began, and the 2012 OSR is different from what it was last year. If you no longer consider the current version of the movement to be the OSR, that's your own perception. Someone else is living in their own OSR utopia right now, guaranteed.

The OSR is just adapting and shifting. Will the forthcoming "electronic format" reissue of prior D&D rule sets by WotC cause the *gasp* death of the OSR? No. But it will cause change. And what's so bad about that?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What about the Consequences?

I'm just riffing here, so bear with me. This post may be a bit on the short side, but I hope to get my point across despite my need for brevity. Mostly, I want to get the crowd's thoughts on what I'm thinking about at the moment.

It occurred to me: there's lots of talk about the vaunted sandbox campaign and its virtues. I'm a believer in giving players lots of plot hooks to follow and freedom of choice, etc. I do believe in the idea of the sandbox and all the "player agency" goodness that is supposed to come with it.

But as far as I can see, there's not a lot of talk on the RPG blogosphere about the consequences of player actions. There's a lot of talk about letting players do what they want, but I haven't read much in the way of follow-through when it comes to the repercussions of player actions. Of course, I don't have my eye on every single RPG blog, and at least one of the most respected RPG blogs out there has included mention of consequences with regard to player actions (UPDATE: -C over at Hack & Slash actually posted about consequences as a result of my post).

Now, granted, any GM worth his/her salt should rightly see player actions as a chance to create resultant plot twists. But I dare to surmise that there are many sandbox games that occur in a consequence-free vacuum. That is, players wreak havoc in town, wilderness, and dungeon and the only thing they might face as a result is trouble with the city guard (and once those guards are "dealt with" by running away from them, bribing them, or even killing them, the problem is usually over).

If players cast a charm on a city official and convince him to grant them a pile of gold from the city coffers, he'll probably be pretty pissed when the charm wears off...not to mention that any of the official's underlings present during said "charm-and-grab" will be fully aware of what's going on. The players should expect to be hunted by the authorities, complete with wanted posters going up around town and a bounty on their heads. This is especially true depending on the ruler of the city in question. If said ruler is a hard-ass, players should think twice about pulling off flamboyant and highly-visible hijinks, lest they draw unwanted attention.

This is just one example of what form in-game consequences can take. Skilled players will take advantage of positive consequences of their actions and will adapt and work to overcome the negative consequences. Of course, the style of play for a specific campaign or group of gamers may call for purposeful disregard for consequences. I'm talking about what I might call the more "default" mode of roleplaying, where some aspect of cause and effect is considered an unspoken agreement.

So, my questions to you are:

What do you think of player agency/sandbox play and consequences?

Do you have any examples of such cause and effect in your own gaming experiences?

Have you ever roleplayed where you found yourself in a consequence-free environment?

Have I missed other blogs that talk about consequences stemming from player agency/sandbox play?

Monday, August 20, 2012

You're no hero...yet. But you're already a veteran.

A couple concepts that seem to be held sacred by many in the OSR include:

1. Low-level PCs are inexperienced bumpkins.

2. PCs are not heroes.

The perpetuation of these supposed "Old School RPG truisms" is getting old. I've been stewing about this for a long time. Let me finally chime in on the matter. This isn't going to be a huge diatribe. I suppose I just need to vent, and get my two cents out there, for all that they're worth.

Low-level PCs are Inexperience Bumpkins

Certain windy old pundits will tell you that low-level PCs are just up-jumped peasants. This idea has even taken concrete form in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, with its 0-level characters. I don't care if this is how someone likes to play, but I take issue with those that hold this up as some sort of "gold standard" of old-school play.

I would argue that low-level PCs in D&D-related games, especially 1st-level PCs, have already been through some trials that push them beyond the pale of normal folk. I believe that this was the intention behind every iteration of D&D, back to the LBBs.

Look at the B/X level titles. Take, for example, the fact that in B/X the first level fighter is called a "veteran." OK, veteran implies he's seen some combat, right? Even level titles like acolyte, medium, and apprentice (cleric, magic -user, and thief respectively) don't necessarily indicate the lowest possible level of those professions. To be accepted into a religious order or a guild, doesn't one usually have to be somewhat accomplished in their chosen profession to be chosen in the first place?

So when a player portrays a 1st-level character as one jaded by harsh experience, that's just as valid as a player who wants their 1st-level character to be a wide-eyed innocent.

These low-level PCs may be inexperienced in terms of game mechanics, but that shouldn't have to equate to players acting out characters as totally inexperienced within their chosen professions/ classes.

PCs are Not Heroes

The windy old pundits will also tell you that PCs are not heroes. I think what most OSR folks mean is that PCs are not SUPERheroes, as portrayed mechanically in later iterations of D&D (especially 4E).

What is a hero, really? An evil person can be a hero to individuals of the same persuasion, no? Look at the DCC RPG. For each alignment, a cleric turns whatever is "unholy" to his/her alignment.

And the moniker of "hero" is more often than not foisted onto a person without their agreement/consent. Indeed, a true hero is someone who denies the fact of said heroism. This denial can come from true humility or one's refusal to be labeled by a society with which they take issue.

I find it interesting that there are still those that will try to tell you the game is just about being "looters." If you read the forward to Moldvay Basic, he holds up the (albeit cliched) example of the adventurer (dare I say hero?) slaying a dragon and saving a maiden. Does that sound like someone who thinks a game is just about killing things and taking their stuff?

But playing a stereotypical hero shouldn't be the default way to play any more than being a glorified tomb robber. Play what you want to play, and let the DM sort it out!

Again, you can play your character any way you want. If you want your old-school character to be a traditional lawful hero, go for it. If you want to be a brooding anti-hero, do it. If you want to be an amoral sort, do it. But just don't let someone tell you that you can't be a hero. Be whatever you define as being a hero.


Look, if there are those that want new characters to be those unheroic peasants at low levels, I say play on. Just don't hold that up to the rest of us as the "one true way." That's utter garbage.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The D&D Love/Hate Goes On...

I love D&D. And I hate it.

Ok, hate is really too strong a word. I guess what I'm feeling is a lot of mixed emotions, plus a big dash of my old foe Gamer ADD stalking me from the dark depths of my subconscious.

I'm really a D&D man, above all. Of course, like many, it was my first RPG. I've played other RPGs and have really like other systems, but something calls me back to D&D. I know that there's a lot of nostalgia in this whole mix, but I don't want it to become the bad sort of nostalgia that makes me lose sight of my current gaming potential. D&D will always have pride of place in my gamer's heart.

I really am tempted to play games like Savage Worlds, Dragon Age RPG, and Barbarians of Lemuria. These games have no mechanical relationship to D&D, and that is very appealing. Why? Because I've played the hell out of D&D-like games, so I've spent a lot of time with variations of D&D mechanics. And familiarity breeds contempt, my friends. This familiarity, I think, gives me an uncontrollable urge to tinker and tinker and tinker with those old D&D mechanics.

I'm getting tired of the tinkering. I just don't know if I can play D&D rules as written ever least, the rules as they exist in the out-of-print editions. Granted, I've done a decent job of keeping my D&D house rules limited, but I seem to be constantly fine tuning even those few house rules. I don't like tormenting players with new house rule sheets every couple weeks.

BUT...the thought of not playing D&D is simultaneously intriguing and saddening. As if it would be a "betrayal" on my part. At least when it comes to me running a game. I've played Savage Worlds recently and that's a fun system. But to spend, say, a year running a non-D&D game? It seems out of reach for me.

I think a lot of this is, of course, related to the fact that I have limited time as an adult. I want to experience as much gaming as possible with my limited time, and this causes a problem when I start feeling like I want to play every game I am interested in. So, with limited time, there's a feeling that I need to be sure I'm playing/running a game worthy of my precious time.

On a side note, I would really love to PLAY in a D&D-like game again. I haven't done so since last summer, when GM Rich was running us through City State of the Invincible Overlord using C&C rules. I've  been playing in my friend Bill's Savage Worlds game, and it's really cool. But I would really like to play a D&D character again.

All this brings me to D&D 5th Edition/Next. I can't help it, but I have a lot of desire for the next D&D edition to do really well. I have all the playtest stuff and I really want to run it, and I am feeling like I want to give my feedback. Call it some latent desire to be a game designer, whatever. But I want D&D to live on. I'm trying to be positive and believe that Wizards of the Coast can make good on promises of tapping back into the roots of the game. Heck, at Gen Con today they apparently said they're going to make the old editions available (in what format remains to be seen).

I've read the 5E playtest rules a bit, and I like a lot of what I see. I've had issues with Vancian magic again of late, and the tweaks to Vancian magic in D&D Next are interesting to me. Yes, I understand the concept of "a player playing a magic-user needs to be more than just dependant on spells per day." But there's room for change in the old rules we know and love. And I know I'm not alone when it comes to old school gamers. Old school gaming is not just about a set of mechanics. It's about a creative, open-ended style of play, an attitude of problem solving, fun and immersion in shared imagination and adventure.

I don't think the OSR needs to be so opposed to the current iteration of in-print D&D. I think that we have a chance to have our voices heard and try to help cement the old school mentality in a modern product. Other modern games like Dragon Age RPG claim such a pedigree. If that upstart RPG can claim that, then D&D can as well.

Ok, I've rambled enough for now. More thoughts to come, of course...

Thinking about Gen Con 2012 and D&D

I'm reading on several other blogs about Gen Con, and I wonder if I should make more of an effort to get there someday. Perhaps next year. This is a tough time of year for me, with both of my kid's birthday's falling around mid-August. But perhaps next year I can get to Gen Con...I just need to remember to work for that opportunity. Plan in advance, which is something I fail to do more often than not.

At any rate, as I dream about what it must be like, I notice that the keynote presentation tonight (8/16/12) concerns (*fanfare* da da da daaaaa!) The Future of Dungeons & Dragons! Apparently you can go here tonight at 7 PM EDT to access live streaming of the presentation. I think I'm going to "tune in."

I've downloaded both playtest packets but have only skimmed them, and certainly have not run any games using the playtest rules, due to lack of time to do that and run my regular campaigns. But I am still hopeful for good things for the future of the game and the brand name.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Old Game Books are Never Old...

I woke up this morning and looked out my window at the sleepy world waking up, and these thoughts floated through my mind (as readers may know, I've got a cartoonish, Garfield-esque bad attitude about Mondays, so it's no surprise that I would need some inspiration on the dawning of such a day):

Old game books are never old. They are eternally beginning. The promise of adventure is eternal. No matter how old that book may be.

When you read the introduction to Moldvay's Basic or peruse Pathfinder's thick book of core rules, the adventure begins.

When you crack open a module like B2 Keep on the Borderlands or the latest 4E module, the adventure begins.

When you flip through the pages of an old Dragon Magazine or read the latest issue of Kobold Quarterly or an OSR 'zine, the adventure begins.

When you do these things, the adventure begins. Either for the first time, or once again for those who have experienced said book in the past and wish to revisit familiar realms.

This is just part of the magic of gaming: time has no meaning for these wonderful tomes we use to create adventures that are "products of your imagination." They were published decades ago or within the last few months, but it doesn't matter. The adventure never gets old.

The adventure is eternally beginning. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Vacation and Roleplaying

Vacation roleplaying with newbs in a rural Pennsylvania cabin? Priceless.

I've been on a short vacation since last Friday (just got back to work this Tuesday...yes, mourn for me). And for about a week before that I was gearing up for said vacation. So posting has of course been absent for over a week, but it was worth it. I know people say this all the time, but I really needed the recharge of that vacation. Part of the reason it was a great time was the fact that I had no Internet access. The web is a huge time suck for me, especially when it comes to gaming stuff (including, of course, reading and writing blog posts).

I brought my copies of B/X with me, as well as Jonathan Becker's B/X Companion, so that I could read up on them again. I've recently posted about how I would prefer to play original Basic D&D rather than use retroclones, and I decided I wanted to do some re-reading of B/X (and the new stuff from JB, including the Complete B/X Adventurer, which I just got in the mail!).

It wasn't even a consideration in my mind that I would be doing any roleplaying that weekend. My wife is understanding of my hobby and even takes an occasional interest and asks how a session went, but she has expressed no interest at all in actually roleplaying. It's just not her thing. And I'm okay with that.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when SHE brought up the idea of roleplaying this weekend. I was sitting on a sunny afternoon reading through Moldvay's Basic Set, minding my own business, when the impossible happened! Now, if my wife is not a roleplayer, the other two folks in the cabin (friends of hers from college and owners of the cabin) are even further removed from the hobby. But my wife persisted, and I was shocked, but found myself willing to run a short session and teach some total newbs the ropes of the game!

Quicky character, character SLIPS.

So, I pulled some stats from a copy of the B1 module I had on hand, whipped up some quick characters after asking the players what they wanted to be, and we got down to it.

I outlined the class options, and my wife chose to be an elf, which she named Sally. Her female friend chose to be a thief she named Bob (and by the way, Bob was a woman). The husband of Bob the thief wanted to play a wizard, who he called Willy. So, the party created, I started them at the mouth of a dark tunnel. Their characters had heard rumors of treasure in the depths, but also of great danger to those who would venture below.

The players seemed to instinctually discuss marching order, something I've seen experienced gamers forget about all too often. They soon came upon some goblins. Willy wanted to talk, while Sally the elf wanted to smash them with her flail (my wife insisted on having a "ball on a chain" and rolled her eyes when I pointed at myself and told her she already had one in real life).

Anyway, they killed a couple goblins but one fled deeper into the tunnels. The party pressed on, intent on riches. They came to a large cavern where there were more goblins waiting, having been warned of the coming of adventurers by the goblin that had gotten away from the first combat. The party dove into the fight, and the goblins surrendered after a few of their comrades fell. The party decided to take the goblins as prisoners and tied them together with some rope. The goblins promised to lead them to treasure.

The party found a chamber filled with pools of lava, on the far end of which was a pile of treasure. They sent the thief, the character with the highest Dexterity, to cross the lava and get some booty. She came back with the goods, and the group was happy! The goblins urged them to go down another passage to find more goodies, and the part obliged. They opened a door to find a huge creature hunched over a fresh humanoid corpse, eating away. The creature noticed them, and stretched up to reveal a ten-foot-tall minotaur!

The beast attacked and the part was forced to fight. It was a fairly desperate battle, with the wizard and the thief getting low on hit points and my wife being plagued by some bad dice rolls. However, they eventually killed the creature, and decided it was high time to leave the caves. That's where we decided to end the session, as we needed to get ready for dinner.

We had a fun time, very light hearted and we laughed a lot. I told them that that's the point of the whole thing: have fun and try not to take things too seriously. I clarified that there can be serious moments in a session, but things usually also get pretty funny. For super newbs (people who barely know that roleplaying exists let alone have any interest in the hobby), my wife's friends were pretty open to the whole experience.

I give big props to my wife for suggesting we play in the first place! It's definitely outside her comfort zone. But she loves me and wanted to surprise me, and said she "thought it would make me happy." She was right on that count! I'm a lucky man indeed!

The session taught me some things: I could stand to be more easy-going and light-hearted about my gaming. I mean, I'm not super serious during sessions, but I could be less tense about pleasing players. If they're into the game, things will naturally fall into place and people will have fun. And since I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, I decided to let loose and let my winging-it instincts run free. Granted, they were newbs and the cliched scenario I came up with was pretty generic stuff. But I took my audience into consideration.

I also moved things along quite fast, moving things along when things seemed to be getting a bit bogged down. As players, the group was less cautious and thought out than most RPG veterans. But that "recklessness" on the players' part was refreshing. I knew I had to keep them from getting bored more easily than RPG vets, and remembered that I had to be sure to include scenarios that required each character's class abilities, so everyone would feel useful.

This experience also reaffirmed my ever-growing love for Basic D&D. We got going in no time, and it was fairly easy to show them that roleplaying is sort of like "a board game without a board, and with more imagination thrown in."

Anyway, it was an all-around good time! Any gaming is good gaming in my book, and surprise gaming is a rare treat!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gone Vacationing

Chillin' like a halfling...

Hello all. Lest you think I've become a monster's meal in some dread dungeon, I wanted to write a quick post to let you know all's well. I've been on vacation for a few days, and hope to return to significant blogging soon. I want to blog about my Castles & Crusades Greyhawk campaign's second session, and perhaps write a few reviews (regarding a film or two, as well as some gaming products). Until then, happy gaming to you all!