Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gaming Inspiration in the News: Medieval Lead Coffin?

Nope, nothing about this is creepy at all. Not one bit. Where's the crowbar?
You know how they found Richard III's remains not too long ago, right? Well, apparently, they discovered another stone coffin at the site, and found a lead coffin inside that outer coffin.
The following stuck out for me:
"None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before," archaeologist Mathew Morris, the Grey Friars site director, said in a statement. "We will now need to work out how to open it safely, as we don't want to damage the contents when we are opening the lid."
OK, is it just me, or does anyone else out there read that and automatically think: "DO NOT open that lead coffin!! Guys, if none of the experts have ever seen a lead coffin from the Middle Ages before, doesn't that suggest that there's something ODD about the whole thing? Sure, let's crack that sucker open post-haste! Great idea, that.
This got me to thinking about how to use this during a campaign. Perhaps the use of lead was vital to keeping SOMETHING contained. Perhaps opening that coffin would release that SOMETHING to plague the world once more. Not the most original idea in the realms of fantasy fiction or fantasy gaming, I suppose, but usually a perennial favorite (and one that, if done sparingly, doesn't get old).

Monday, July 29, 2013

My responses to Random Wizard's "Top Ten Troll Questions for Your Game"

I'm more than a little behind on this particular OSR meme (what else is new?), but here goes:

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
Depends on my mood. Lately I've been more into the race-as-class thing. I've been running Labyrinth Lord, which is the first time in my life that I've done the race-as-class thing. But when I was a kid, I started with, and stuck with, AD&D and thus the separation of race and class.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?
Depends on the setting, and how demi-human soullessness would fit into the setting. For instance, if dwarves were, perhaps, made from stone and had the spark of life but not the traditional sort of soul, that might, you know, be cool!

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?
Eh, these days, I'd have to say that ascending is my way of choice. Come to think of it, by extension, I like a good unified mechanic where all the rolls need to be high. Just easier for my aging brain to grok/implement at the table.

(4). Demi-human level limits?
No, I keep them going up. BUT, they of course have a bigger load of XP that they need to earn for those levels. I use the alternate demi-human leveling option from Swords & Wizardry.

(5). Should thief be a class?
Yes. I love the thief, I'm not afraid to admit it, I don't care who knows! ;-) Seriously, though, I am a believe that every character class can be a bit of a rogue, but thieves specialize in roguishness.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?
Again, depends on the system. I'm a lover of Castles & Crusades, and their unified SIEGE Engine mechanic is a sort of catch-all for a skill system. But it doesn't have lists of actual, codified skills. If it makes sense for a character to have a skill, depending on class and background and other factors, then I allow them to have that "skill." I've also read through the Dragon Age RPG extensively of late, and that game has a fairly simple skill system (i.e. having a skill-called a "focus" in the game-allows you to at +2 to an attribute-based skill roll).

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?
Hmm, I guess. If they survive to high levels.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?
Uh, I don't even use alignment, let along alignment languages. No thanks to both!

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?
XP for gold and all other treasure, as well as for killing monsters, completing "missions," roleplaying, etc. It's all in the mix.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?
The best system is the one that is loved and enjoyed by each individual roleplayer. Vive la difference!

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
I hate to repeat myself, but...it depends on the needs of the system!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

End-of-Week Elmore (7/26/13)

Another crazy work week over, folks. Crazy at least for me. I hope your mileage was better than mine this week. Whew. ANYway, I haven't roleplayed for two weeks straight and I miss it something awful! So, nothing like a glimpse of some of Uncle Larry's artwork to give one some inspiration, eh?! Well, I have to run, kids, so that's all from me for now. I'm hoping to have time to FINALLY write up some session recaps as well as some other posts I've been planning. Until then, have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Player's Responsibilities in the GM-Player Relationship

I know this may seem to be an already well-trod topic in the RPG blogosphere, but I feel compelled to add my own thoughts into the mixture. Prepare to be amazed! ;-)
So, the straw that broke the back of my silence on the subject of the GM-player relationship was a post over at Raven Crowking's Nest. It seems he recently had players object to some rulings he made during a game session
I got to thinking: you know, much is made of the many responsibilities of the GM. But what about the responsibilities of the player? For the most part, I mostly see bloggers simply stating that players "should not be dicks." That's it? I beg to differ.
Of course, when it comes GMing, there is much more besides "avoiding dickishness" that GMs must do. We all know that it is incumbent upon the GM to neither favor or disfavor the players. The GM needs to be, as much as possible, unbiased. He should not favor the players or favor his precious campaign. He should be the force in the fictional universe of the campaign that takes the player's actions and uses them to create effects/consequences that affect the game world.

Heavy is the head that runs the campaign, as the GM must put in prep work between sessions AND be all the senses for the players as they experience the game world AND portray every NPC and monster in the game AND be flexible in the face of player decisions AND not stifle "player agency" AND on and on and on.
With all the duties that a GM must attend to, the last thing he/she needs is players who think all they need to do is "show up."
Sorry. Nope. Wrong. I'm not one to tell people that they're "doing it wrong" when it comes to roleplaying. But if you come to a game session as a player and think all you need to do sit back and be entertained, you ARE doing it wrong.
Look, I'm not one to say that every gaming group needs to have a hardcopy "social contract" that they must adhere to before a campaign starts. But I think it's common sense for people to have enough awareness that, when you agree to roleplay together, you should cut everyone at the table some slack. If you're sitting at a GM's table, whether you know it or not you've made an unspoken statement: "I am trusting you, GM, to do your best to run a good game. That means I'm not going to sit here and assume that you're trying to 'screw me over' when it comes to events in the game."

Who is the GM not trying to "screw over"? The player. A GM might indeed screw over a player's CHARACTER by, you know, inflicting severe harm or even killing them. But a good GM will make it worth your while even while they're killing your character. So, if you don't trust your GM enough to believe that they have your best interest in mind when it comes to running a good game, then who's fault is that?

It's YOUR fault, as a player, if you distrust your GM even though he/she has not given you any concrete reason not to trust them. It's different if the GM is being a dick.
Let me put it another way: everyone at the table is responsible for the health of the campaign. Not just the GM.
A player should not be passive. A player should take an active role in being engaged with a game session. Of course, this includes responding to the GM's eternal question, "What do you do?" But it's more than just reacting to what the GM throws at you. Besides running your character, you as the player should also be an active force giving the GM some respect.
What are the traits of a good player? What are the responsibilities of a good player, beyond bringing their character to life?
A good player knows that it's not their job to exploit "weaknesses" displayed by a GM during any given session. To clarify, this includes giving them your patience and understanding when they, inevitably, stumble a bit now and then. For example, don't get on the GM's case if he/she forgot that your character no longer had that cursed dagger.
A good player knows that they shouldn't be questioning a GM's rulings, descriptions, or interpretations of the rules in a confrontational manner during a session.
A good player will try to be politely persuasive with the GM, gently probing for possible courses of action, testing to see what they can get the GM to agree to when it comes to the game world.
If a player trusts a GM enough to devote precious roleplaying time to said GM's campaign, then the player should fulfill the promise of that trust by helping to nurture the health of the campaign. Part of this is taking time to care about the welfare of your GM. The GM has a lot going on. Give them a break. 
If a player does not like how the GM operates, then that player should consider finding another campaign. It doesn't matter who is at fault. It's just time to move on.

OK, to recap: if players have a GM worth their trust, they should be willing to accept that the GM is the final arbiter of the rules. This means they should be able to trust their GM to interpret the rules in an unbiased way. Now, some GMs no doubt are guilty of breaking said trust and make all sorts of outlandish rulings that impinge on their players' ability to flex their agency. However, I'd wager there are a goodly number of players who don't truly understand that they need to give the GM the benefit of the doubt, or the unspoken social contract between GM and players becomes broken. Good players don't come to the table thinking they have no responsibility to keep the game flowing, to keep things civil between themselves and the GM, and to foster mutual trust and respect.

There's always talk of "killer GMs" but what about "killer players." What do killer players kill? Campaigns!

Friday, July 19, 2013

End-of-Week Elmore (7/19/13)

I've been thinking about alien worlds of late. At least, worlds more alien than your typical, default D&D setting based in a Medieval Earth analogue. I'm sort of feeling burnt out on the whole elf/dwarf/halfling thing of late.
Cat people, as depicted above by Uncle Larry, are an oft-used "alien race" trope, of course. Heck, look at that Legends of Chima show that recently premiered on Cartoon Network. I've been thinking that some alternate race options might be a nice change of pace...
But not for my current campaign, of course, which is strictly the old fashioned race-as-class selections of Basic D&D. We're talking the future here, folks! ;-)
And I'm not just looking at new races to spice things up. There has to be a suitably "alien" setting to go with them.
Anyway, can't write much at the moment. I'm working up a longer post about the "lure of the alien." Stay tuned (oh, and of course there's other posts I've been working on for a while now, so there's THOSE to finish up as well. Sheesh, real life getting in the way again!).
Until we meet again, have a great weekend!

Friday, July 12, 2013

End-of-Week Elmore (7/12/13)

"That's it! I'm done! I'm going vegetarian!"

Well met, folks! Not much time to write today. Getting ready for another work trip next week. I am working on a combined recap post for sessions 4 and 5 of my Labyrinth Lord campaign, as well as a couple of posts regarding the GM-player relationship. Until then, have a great weekend, and happy gaming!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Importance of Setting

What is the importance of setting for you, fellow gamer?
I'm not talking about whether you prefer a home-brewed setting, a published setting, or a hybrid of both that you create. I'm talking about the importance of setting to your immersion in a campaign.
For me, my connection/appreciation/enjoyment of a setting is vital to my connection/appreciation/enjoyment of a campaign.
I would be immensely happy to create my own home-brew world that incorporates what I love from my many sources of inspiration (novels, films, non-fiction/documentaries, etc). But alas, my current lifestyle does not afford me the time I need to create such a world to my own standards. If I can't do it "right" (i.e. in a way that lives up to my expectations of what a world should include, with the level of detail I want), I don't want to do it at all. Which is a shame, because I have ideas that I would like to flesh out into a campaign world. I am confident that such a self-crafted world would easily keep me inspired from week to week when game night comes around.
So, for some time now I've been exploring numerous campaign settings, seeking those that hit the right roleplaying buttons for me. I've run a goodly number of sessions in the Forgotten Realms, so I've gotten the most mileage out of that setting. I tried a few sessions in Greyhawk, but didn't find myself so taken with the setting after a relatively short amount of time. The Dragon Age setting has been of some interest to me of late. And I've found some things to like about the Dawnforge world, as well as the Midnight setting. Oh, and then there's the worlds of Golarion and, more recently, Midgard for the Pathfinder system (though I am confident I could easily use those settings while running Castles & Crusades).
All I know is, I'm feeling eager to stop the "setting merry-go-round" in my head and once again find a campaign world that makes me happy, keeps me coming back for more, and is ultimately worthy of my precious free time.

So, what settings, home-brew or otherwise, inspire you and keep your passion for the game alive?

Monday, July 8, 2013

(Belated) End-of-Week Elmore (7/5/13)

Um...no thanks.
Hi, kids. Sorry I missed posting my EoWE last Friday. Fourth of July, and all that jazz. Blame the founding fathers. Anyway, I'm sure nobody was devastated by the delay.
Sooooo...there's some stuff on my mind...where to start? Let me just get into it:
I'm getting more and more frustrated with myself, when it comes to roleplaying. I'm getting tired of the little pestering voice inside my head that continually insists that I must stick to D&D and all its incarnations. I'm getting sick and tired, folks.
I mean, forget Gamer ADD. I think I have a serious case of Gamer OCD. I'm not kidding.
OK, time for some self-brainstorming:
  • I think I need a break from high fantasy (the illo above screams high fantasy to me...and is giving me the shakes from the overload!)
  • Despite the little D&D voice inside, I'm getting tired of (what I consider to be) the clunky-ness of D&D's mechanics. This even extends to the Troll Lord Games flavor of D&D (i.e. Castles & Crusades), which is arguably a more streamlined version of the rules (with a unified, "roll-high" mechanic).
  • I need to keep chanting some sort of mantra regarding how I shouldn't be fixated on needing the old-school art to inspire me. I just need to streamline that statement into a non-awkward mantra!
  • Seriously, I'm really feeling dumb when it comes to my obsession with art and roleplaying.  
  • I need to stop letting all the fiction I read (especially fantasy fiction) influence what I want to do with games I am running/want to run. I mean, I can get ideas from what I read, but I shouldn't feel like "I need to run a game in this novel's world!" I have a tendency to do that...a tendency that extends back from my present all the way to my first days of roleplaying as a teenager.
All of the above, to me, are tell-tale signs that my nostalgia is shifting over to the "bad" kind. The kind that is stunting my enjoyment of roleplaying.
I am primarily a GM by nature. I am most comfortable and happy when running games. But I think it's time that I give myself over to my yearnings to run something other than D&D or any of its clones.
That's why I was so intrigued when, during a recent conversation with the proprietor of my FLGS, the topic of Dragon Age RPG came up. I've talked on this blog about my strong interest in Dragon Age. Well, my recent conversation involved the possibility of running some Dragon Age in order to drum up interest in the system. Color me intrigued, to say the least...
Man, I really want Green Ronin to put out a non-setting-specific version of their AGE System. I really like the system. It hits some good mechanics spots for me, it seems. Reading them, I feel like they would be fairly easy for me to adjudicate. I think this is all a function of my current life situation. For me, D&D requires more mental jujitsu to adjudicate things on the fly. C&C is much easier than traditional D&D and clones like Labyrinth Lord when it comes to rulings. But, Dragon Age appears to make things even easier to rule when players do what they do best: throw you curveballs. I want a system that allows me to look forward to those curveballs, rather than worry about how I'm going to handle them. I think Dragon Age will help me love the curveballs again.
Anyway...this is all not to say that I'm washing my hands of D&D-type games forever. Perish the thought. BUT, I do think I need to take a break from them.
OK, time to go meditate...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Beyond the Westwall: Session 3 (6/26/13)

We had a more-than-packed house for session 3, as we were joined by a blast from the past! Our fellow gamer Wes has made his triumphant return to Wednesday night RPG action at All Things Fun! So, he took control of Gerard the fighter, bringing the current party total to five (including Pam's thief Vela, Bill's halfling Bogo, Josh's cleric Jarith, and Mark's elf Umitsu).
The party gathered again in the common room of the Wailing Banshee inn (including a shaken Umitsu, fresh from her psychic battle against...a tiny tentacled brain). Not long after they came together, a young boy ran in from the street, screaming about a "monster." The party investigated and saw a white figure shambling through the frozen mud of the street. Upon closer investigation, they saw that it wasn't a monster but rather a frost-covered young man. The group quickly ushered the young man into the Wailing Banshee, where they wrapped him in a blanket and gave him warm wine to drink.

The young man turned out to be Thomas, one of the three people who had been missing for nearly two weeks. As the party tried to communicate with him, Thomas slipped in and out of a catatonic stupor, and occasionally whispered the words "white watch." When he had moments of lucidity, the youth tried to relate the tale of where he had been for the previous days. All he could remember was going to sleep one night, and then waking up to find himself wandering in a snow-shrouded forest. Then, he remembered being "taken" by a strange force, after which he had only memories of darkness and terror until waking up just outside of town.

The group pondered what Thomas had told them, and surmised that he might have been lured by some sort of dark magic into the Lanisdown Forest, not far to the north of Westguard. The also considered paying a visit to Martha, the elderly woman who had also disappeared and then reappeared in town. Martha was reportedly still in a coma-like state.

Vela the thief considered asking Westguard's very small network of rogues for information. While the town is not large enough to support a true thieve's guild, there is a mysterious "crime lord" that has gathered a loose confederation of thieves and muscle, most of whom have "day jobs" in the small community. Vela is, thus far, not a member of this network. She made contact with someone, but when she was told that the price of information would be a "favor" that could be requested of her at any time, she decided to pass on the offer.

The group then decided to try and track down a sage, with the hope that they could learn more about where Thomas was held. They remembered once again the rumors of an ancient Bright Empire torture dungeon somewhere in the area, and wondered if there was a connection. However, the Lord Protector of Westguard, Tormund, is very hostile toward sages. He considers them troublesome sources of information that propagate rumors concerning ruins that contain lost treasure. Thus, many "adventurous fools" have met their demise when they've gone out into the countryside to seek riches. And, in general, Tormund believes that an educated population is prone to disobedience. So, as the leader of a frontier town surrounded by harsh wilderness, the last thing Tormund needs is dissidents questioning his method of rule.

Because of the Lord Protector's stance on sages, the handful in Westguard are secretive and hard to find. There is only one, a sage named Anton, who open advertises his services. Suffice to say that he is an object of harassment by Tormund's men. The group experienced this first-hand when they made their way to Anton's shop in the town's market square. As they knocked on the door to the sage's shop, they noticed two town guards watching them from across the square. Finally, Anton called through the barred door, telling the group to go away. Then, the guards confronted the party and told them to be on their way.

On their way back to the Wailing Banshee, the group heard an urgent whisper from a nearby alley. It was Anton, who had decided to follow them in secret and ask them what they wanted from him. The party discovered quickly that the sage was more than a bit pompous. When they told him of the sketchy details from Thomas, he mocked them. It was only when they mentioned the Bright Empire tomb and the mysterious cylinder they had found that Anton agreed to speak with them further at the inn...as long as they also agreed to buy him dinner.

While the rest of the group plied the arrogant sage with food and drink in an attempt to get information out of him, Vela and the fighter Gerard decided to sneak back to Anton's shop and break in, so that they could dig through whatever scrolls and tomes he might possess. Vela tried to unlock a window at the rear of the shop, but only succeeded to break the glass. The thief decided to go ahead with her mission and crawled through the window into Anton's bedchamber. But before she could do much searching, she heard a deep voice call out from beyond the bedroom door. She quickly crawled out of the window before someone entered the room. Vela and Gerard caught a glimpse of a huge figure enter the room and investigate briefly.

Gerard decided to go to the front door and knock, in order to distract whoever was inside the shop so that Vela could continue her investigations. This is how the fighter came face to face with Robar, Anton's brother. The sage's massive sibling towered over Gerard, and the two soon began a very confused conversation (Gerard has an Intelligence of 8, and player Wes decided he was a bit slow on the uptake most of the time).

In the meantime, Vela climbed back into the back bedroom and continued her search. All her efforts yielded was the fact that the majority of the books in Anton's bedroom discussed either the bizarre, decadent, and sometimes perverse exploits of ancient emperors or the properties of various fungi, especially mushrooms. She decided to chance sneaking into the main part of the shop, and was chagrined to discover that Anton did not have a very extensive collection of tomes. She signaled to Gerard that it was time to leave. The fighter gratefully broke off his repartee with the dim-witted Robar, and the pair made haste back to the inn.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group was having no real luck in dealing with Anton. In fact, the sage was about to leave the inn in a huff when the party mentioned that Thomas had muttered the words "white watch." Anton spun back to the group and began to relate the legend of a lost Bright Empire outpost called White Watch. It was supposed to be somewhere north of Lanisdown Forest, in the foothills of the Westwall. Anton himself had made the journey to that location, but had not been able to find the ruins of the outpost. After relating this information, the sage expressed doubt that the group could succeed in finding White Watch and left the inn. The party, of course, thought differently. They resolved to leave the next morning.

The following day, the party was traveling north through the forest. The Lanisdown Forest had long ago been "tamed," and is home to small outposts of loggers who supply timber to Westguard. However, the group came across a scene of carnage in the woods. The found bloodstains in the snow, and saw hastily abandoned saws and other tools. As they investigated, the party heard loud, inhuman shouts echoing through the still forest. Bogo the halfling used his wilderness stealth to investigate, and saw three ettins stomping through the forest toward his friends. He rushed back to warn them, and the party decided to set an ambush.

The party set up a crude trap involving rope and two long two-man saws, took positions along the road, and waited. Soon, they saw the ettins stride into view. Each of the two-headed giants was wearing the skin of a human tied around their necks, the boneless flesh flapping against their chests like grisly aprons. Lucky for the adventurers, the first ettin didn't notice their trap. The creature fell directly onto the saw blades, which tore into its belly. The second ettin stared in disbelief at its brother writhed in agony and blood spread out across the icy dirt road. The third ettin, however, was more wary than the others, and prepared to do battle.

At this point, we ran out of time for the night and had to end the session. The battle with the ettins continues in the next session...