Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shutting down

I am leaving the gaming community. Perhaps permanently. The reasons are personal. I was going to delete this blog but I decided to leave it online. Maybe gamers will garner some wisdom from what I have written.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kindle DX rule book

I returned home yesterday to find that I received my new Kindle DX from I had been looking forward to getting my hands on a large-sized PDF reading device ever since I first heard about the Plastic Logic Reader. That particular brand won't be on the market for another year. Meanwhile, we have the Kindle DX.

The Kindle DX is not to be confused with the Kindle, which has a much smaller screen. The DX has a large screen that is suitable for double columns and charts.

The display technology is remarkable. It is not a bright LED screen that you can't read in sunlight. It's like a giant digital watch screen that needs an outside light to be read. Unfortunately, "turning pages" seems slow in comparison to doing the same thing with Adobe Reader on your computer. However, I imagine that this issue will be addressed in future versions of the Kindle.

It displays in greyscale only. But that's fine since most rule books are in black-and-white. The words are more important than the pretty pictures.

You can easily hook your DX up to a computer with a USB cable. Your computer treats it like a removable external hard drive. You can load it up with PDF files (4 GB capacity, I believe) and you're good to go. Switching out PDF files is a breeze.

This is the future of game rule books. PDF files are nice but it is awkward to use a desktop or laptop computer at the game table. This device is no larger than a typical hardback game rule book. As a matter of fact, it's thinner than many rule books. Best of all, you can load it with thousands of pages.

All game publishers should publish Kindle versions of their rule books. The caveat is that they must put more effort into it than just simply saving the rule book in PDF format. Anything less is unacceptable and defeats the purpose of putting it in electronic format. The document should be filled with links to particular pages on the table of contents. Not only that, the document should be filled with cross-reference links. Instead of having "(see Chapter 4, EQUIPMENT, for more information)," place an actual link to that page.

This new medium for text information is fantastic. But those who write material for it must do it in a manner that takes advantage of its power. Simply scanning book pages directly to PDF format would only result in a marginally useful document on a Kindle. But if rule books are assembled in PDF format with links, it makes all the difference in the world.

I only got my Kindle DX yesterday. In the next week I will experiment with creating cross-referenced PDF documents in Adobe InDesign CS4. This will eventually lead to development of my own house rule book for my current 0e/1e D&D game.


I just found out that it is not possible to do anything useful with PDF files on the Kindle DX. Hyperlinking for cross-referencing is not possible. PDF table of contents doesn't work. It only reads the PDF and nothing more. This thing is USELESS to me. I will try to return it or sell it on eBay.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How I play in the sandbox (campaign)

Today I got a PM through a gamer forum that I frequent. In it, a fellow gamer asked me about sandbox campaign game play. There has been much talk about sandbox campaigns on various old school blogs. But I'm not sure that has been a lot of explicit detail about exactly how these sandbox campaigns develop. I learn best by example. So I tried to to answer with examples from my current experiment with old school gaming, Blue Dancer. My PM reply turned into a very long message. And so to make it worth my while, I've edited a version for this blog.

My fellow gamer wrote:

I wanted to ask you something about "sandbox" style campaigns. Do you still have events going on in the background that may or may not influence the PC's? What about the PC's influencing those events?

Where I am going with this is that I too often run into the pitfalls of the story arc. It sounds great at first, but the PC's don't get that one clue they should have, or they don't kill the guy they should have, or maybe they killed somebody they SHOULDN'T have.
In answer to the question, I do not have events going on in the background that may or may not affect the PCs. At least, not at first. And maybe not the way one would expect. Instead, I have factions of monsters and NPCs that are set in place within the campaign world that are poised to react to the PCs if they are encountered. From there, stories might spontaneously generate themselves through the improvisation of both the PCs and the DM.

For example, I've started a 1e campaign with some folks I met through KnoxGamers. I have Castle Xeva, a tent pole mega-dungeon, outlined but I've only mapped out a couple of levels. At the beginning, I told the players that one of them acquired a map to a secret entrance. We had the obligatory tavern scene. They were expecting various adventure hooks but I gave them none. The way was paved to the entrance of the dungeon. I had random lists of various types of names that I could fish from to assign to NPCs. On the way to the dungeon, I rolled a random encounter in the woods. Goblins! They laid ambush. I was surprised that they took one goblin prisoner and questioned him. I had absolutely positively nothing prepared. I improvised. The goblin said he was part of a patrol sent out from the castle dungeon (where the party was going). While the PCs were arguing about whether or not to slay the goblin, a treant snatched the goblin and ran off into the woods. This gave me ideas about where the goblin came from, what the treant was up to, and what might happen in the future.

When they got to the castle's dungeon, I still hadn't filled all the rooms with details, monsters, and traps. I had noted some of the monsters near the entrance. When the players traveled beyond what I noted, I randomly picked out appropriately powerful monsters and improvised. Their tentative explorations have given me ideas about how to flesh out the dungeon further. The PCs have been discussing their theories about how the various monster factions within the dungeon are interacting based upon my sparse (and sometimes improvised) hints. Privately, I've been taking note and preparing for future adventures.

I've repeatedly explained to the PCs that I would not be easy on them. I would not look the other way at bad dice rolls. Thus they burst into a goblin training room without listening at the door and two of their characters went down. They rest barely managed to escape and regroup. Were the players upset? Absolutely not. They all had a good laugh and were ready to roll up new characters. But, since the players were taken prisoner and not permanently destroyed, I told them to hang on until the next session. You see, I had some vague ideas about how the PCs could find their way out of this mess.

In their previous encounter with goblins, one of the players asked if they bore a common symbol on their armor or shields. Perhaps this would indicated what tribe they were from or what organization they represented. That caught me off guard and so I said they did not wear any sort of symbol. But that gave me ideas for the future. When they encountered goblins in the dungeon, I said that they all had white symbols on their armor.

The following week, I introduced an NPC thief, a character I had used last year in this same campaign world but with a different group. With her help, the PCs escaped. The NPC thief promised that she could repay them by introducing the party to a powerful magic-user that she knew in the nearby capital city. (Yet another character I used in a previous campaign.)

When the PCs left the dungeon, they encountered an elf and a treant holding a tied-up goblin. The elf explained that he was a ranger from a nearby faerie city in the woods to the north-east (the name of which I randomly chose from a list right there at the table while we were playing). The treant, of course, was the one they had encountered before entering the dungeon. The elf explained that the goblin was not from the castle dungeon but was actually from a tribe that had occupied a nearby abandoned manor house somewhere to the west. This explained the goblin's lack of identifying symbol. The PCs decided to go check it out next time. This has somewhat eased up on my session prep because I plan to use an existing published module. That's why they called them modules, after all. So you could modularly insert them into any campaign world.

At the beginning of the campaign, all I had prepared were some spare dungeon notes and some general ideas about the surrounding wilderness. There were no adventure hooks other than the map to the secret dungeon entrance. Now that they are returning to town for the first time, they have at least three or four choices of where they could take their adventures. My main castle mega-dungeon is, of course, the central focus of my campaign and allows for endless adventure possibilities. But there are other places that they can now explore.

What matters is that the PCs are given an adventure that proceeds at an interesting pace. And at their own pace. What matters is that they have monsters to slay, traps to avoid, treasure to find, and NPCs with whom to interact. What matters is that each player can be given challenges appropriate to their PCs' classes. Their ultimate goal is to reach higher levels so that they may attract henchmen, build strongholds, create temples, start guilds, or whatever the players want to do. Each class has an endgame that is specified in the earliest editions of D&D but were abandoned in later editions. PCs need to be able to carve out their niche in the untamed chaotic wilderness between the "points of light" that are the waning remnants of lawful civilization. How they do it is up to them. It's up to the DM to provide realistic obstacles to whatever the players want to do. But a DM planning out every last level and room of a dungeon that the PCs might not completely explore is folly.

Along with rule books full of monsters to fight, spells to cast, treasure to loot, and magic items to wield, all of these parameters allow the DM to easily improvise a "story" right there on the spot as they are playing the game. Based on what happens in previous sessions, further story developments can be improvised. As more information about the game world is accumulated, the easier it is to improvise new story developments.

When I started my recent campaign, I had no idea that they would encounter some goblins in the woods. But this inspired the use of the module with the goblin-infested manor house that the PCs can explore. The treant encounter, which I had vaguely planned before the start of the campaign, inspired a possible future plot development and a "mission" that the PCs can complete. The elf encounter, which I had also vaguely planned before the start of the campaign, might allow potential allies for the PCs. The thief that helped their escape created a powerful connection in the nearby city. But I hadn't planned this connection at any time before the PCs were captured by the goblins. And the big bad guy? He/she/it is within the castle ruins and has yet to notice the PCs. I'm not even sure about the agenda of all the factions yet. Whatever it is, it's up to the players (and the DM) to figure it out. There is always a possibility that the players will figure out the bad guy's nefarious plot before the DM!

With sandbox campaigns, there is no railroading. The possibility of the PCs doing or saying the wrong thing is irrelevant. Excessive game world design is pointless. It's good to have some extremely general details worked out about what's nearby the first dungeon that the players explore. But there is no point in planning out agendas and rolling up NPCs until you know that the players are going to have anything to do with them in any significant way. Over time, NPCs flesh themselves out. Plots play themselves out in an improvisational manner. The so-called "plot" of the campaign could very well result in Total Party Kill. So be it! It is a game, after all. Adventure paths with story arcs are what I call "gaming entertainment" and are not actually games in the true sense of the word. The players can roll up new characters. And when they do, the DM already has the campaign world fleshed out even more than when the group first started out. It gets easier and the pace of the game moves faster than before because both the DM and the players are already familiar with the established stories of previous game sessions. I had already played a campaign with another group within this game world and so I have several characters that I can call upon as NPCs. Back when I still thought campaigns needed story arcs, I had even developed a rough outline of a world-shaking event for this campaign world. Will that story develop in this campaign? Only if it seems relevant to the actions of the PCs. I could care less if they pursue that plot hook.

My gamer friend also asked me:

Anyway, I was just wondering more about this free form stuff. Are you running anything like this during the 3 River Con? If so, I would be very interested in playing or, if you are already full, just observing.
As for running a sandbox campaign at 3 River Con, I don't think that will happen. The very nature of a sandbox campaign is that it's a multi-session thing that snowballs over time. Gygax and all the rest of the old schoolers carefully prepared adventures in advance for their convention games. These were known as tournaments and even had their own scoring system.

It's been theorized that Gygax's 1st edition AD&D was actually a formalized version of the original edition in order to be used for tournament play. (James M. over at Grognardia mentioned this but I can't find the specific post at the moment.) Many of the tournament games from way back when were eventually published as some of the famous modules that we know today. This probably encouraged gamers everywhere to emulate the style of carefully pre-planned modules and eventually encouraged the development of adventure paths with story arcs. I don't think there was ever a formal presentation or "how-to" guide for playing RPGs like they did back in the early days. Lately, folks like me have been re-examining what playing D&D is really all about. I've been wondering about this for the last couple of years. To my delight, I've found through the magic of the internet that there are many other people who are of a like mind. Thus, we seem to be having an "old school renaissance."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fight On! in hardcover!

Fans of old school D&D should invest in this limited-edition gem! It's a compilation of the first four issues of Fight On! magazine. I have all of them and I can tell you that it's just what the DM ordered. Lots of old school inspiration for the dedicated hobbyist gamer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

For now, I'm done with 4e

I really wanted to embrace 4e and run with it. I loved the ideas presented at the 2007 GenCon announcement. I listened to the podcast discussions about the thought that went into the changes in the rules. I read articles about it and bought the preview books. I eagerly anticipated its release.

During the same period of time, between the beginning of 2007 when I ended my 3.5e campaign with Keep on the Borderlands and when I dissolved my local D&D MeetUp group in June, I was re-examining what playing D&D was really all about. Since that time, I've been paying attention to the so-called "old school renaissance" that has been developing relatively recently.

Up until recently, I even had a theory that it's possible to play 4e in an old school style. Much as I'd like to think otherwise, I don't think that this is really possible. Although one can stick to dungeon crawling in a sandbox setting, the 4e rule structure is so radically different that it's not practical.

I've seen several other blogs state their various criticisms of 4e. There's no need for me to restate all of them here. But I can mention a few.

4e revolves around combat. And the combat takes too long. The characters and monsters have too many hit points. The powers system is a cookie cutter for homoginized characters. Yes, it's nice that there is balance. But this forces all the characters to be defined by how well they do in combat. Sometimes less is better. I realized that this was the case when my game group played a first-level encounter with a dozen goblins. The combat took much less time than a similar encounter in 4e.

I think I am completely done with the idea of using skills in Dungeons & Dragons. All it does is complicate game play. And not only does it define what a character does, it also defines what the character can't do. Secondary professions are unimportant to hero-adventurers. Minor tasks that have been defined in terms of skill difficulty in later additions can be resolved more easily with rules presented in earlier editions. Or the DM can just improvise, which is what they usually did back in the day. And even with 3.5e or 4e, the DM ends of making up scads of house rules anyway. So what's the point in spending all that time with character sheets that are as complicated as tax forms? Basically, who cares? The point of the game is adventure, not statistics.

I don't like how actual role-playing at the game table has been replaced with skill challenges. I also have a similar criticism of 3.5e.

I don't like how 1st level 4e characters kick ass in essentially the same manner as 30th level characters. Sure, their powers are different. But in terms of game mechanics, it's all the same at any level but with different levels of damage.

The end game that was defined in early editions is gone. Instead of aspiring towards running a fiefdom, guild, or temple, 4e is a game of apotheosis. You start out as a abnormally powerful hero and then work your way up to godhood. Although the game mechanics have been relatively simplified in comparison to 3.5e, suping up character statistics has been institutionalized and is irrevocably essential. Whatever happened to henchmen? Loyalty checks? All down the tubes because the 4e game is all about the power and glory of the PC.

I suppose I could rant further. But I think you get the picture. I will play 4e, if given the opportunity. I'd like to see it succeed. Perhaps a 4.5e will be released that will restructure the rules. But I doubt it. It's the fundamental style of 4e that kind of turn me off.

Nevertheless, there are a few things about 4e that I like. The cosmology, for instance. I like some of the new monsters. The dragonborn and teiflings are nice ideas. But these and other nifty bells and whistles aren't enough to convince me to put in the effort towards running a 4e campaign.

Who knows? Maybe I'll change my opinion. But for now, I'm having much more fun playing it old school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blue Dancer session #6

Yes, it's been a month since the last campaign update. There hasn't been much to report other than that the dungeon crawl has been proceeding at a slow to moderate pace. But the pace is picking up as we become more familiar with 1e rules and discuss the establishment of house rules. Nevertheless, I think we are succeeding in our attempt to return to the old school roots of D&D.

During the second session, the PCs entered the valley of the faerie and followed the overgrown road to Castle Xeva. On they way, they had an encounter with some goblins and a mysterious treant. In the third session, they reached the location of the castle. A high stone bridge spanned a crevice above a wide river next to a huge waterfall. On the other side, upon a tall rock formation, rests the castle. Cautiously, they crossed the bridge and find the secret trail up to the collapsed wall beneath a curtain tower that opens to a corner of the underground dungeon.

I did my best to describe this first room of the dungeon as safe place to set up a "base camp." This became more apparent when they discovered that much of the corridors and rooms immeadiately beyond this first room had only non-intelligent monsters. Some of the rooms seemed to be neglected, forgotten, or at least didn't see much traffic.

The first creatures they encountered were a bunch of giant centipedes inhabiting a forgotten latrine. After squishing these horrors, the players were confronted with a monster that challenged them. One of the PCs, Cedric the cleric of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, correctly guessed what was going on. The first clue was the unusual cleanliness of the corridor. The second was the floating skeleton coming down the corridor. Undead! And a weird, powerful undead. Not some run-of-the-mill skeleton warrior. This threw everyone else off. It took a while for them to figure out that it was just a gelatinous cube. The point is that I didn't just say, "A gelatinous cube is approaching." I tried to describe it in indirect terms and I successfully added some flavor and mystery. The PC playing Himo Liadon, the elven fighter, commented that he immensely enjoyed being challenged by an old school monster that he never thought much about. He was impressed by the fact that I had placed this monster in the dungeon and had it fulfilling its intended purpose: dungeon cleaning. I explained that I was trying to achieve what James Maliszewski termed as Gygaxian Naturalism. I'd like to have the dungeon monsters to have some sort of reason for their placement.

At the beginning of the fourth game session, the players slayed the gelatinous cube with flasks of burning oil. (Unfortunately, Cedric couldn't make it for this session.) The PCs cautiously explored further. After Milo Tosscobble, the thief, disarmed and unlocked a door trapped with a chopping blade, they found a cobweb-filled corridor and a dark figure shooting a hand crossbow at them! The elf goes down, the bolt tipped with sleep poison. The mysterious enemy disappears behind a door. Before the thief could unlock it, he was long gone. They try to follow his trail but they waste further time trying to sneak past a sleeping gryphon.

The fifth session was at a new location, in the basement of player running Hibob, the magic-user. Here there was more space and a larger table. And his huge collection of WotC plastic minatures was amazing. But me and my 1e monsters! The first monster I asked him to pull out didn't exist in 3rd edition. Unfortunately, two players were missing this time around, Cedric and Himo. Exploring another room, they found a pool of black water feeding tree roots hanging from the ceiling. Beyond the draped roots they encountered whipweeds that were a good challenge.

The sixth session, which took place last night, was the most exciting session we've had so far. But before we began, we went over some house rules. (I'll address these in a separate blog post.) All five of the players were present and we we all felt much more comfortable with the rules. After the PCs had their night's rest, I peppered their night with semi-random texture. During the first watch, Himo the elf spotted a dragon-like creature flying from the castle to the mountains to the east. Right before dawn, Royor, the half-orc fighter, spotted the gryphon flying off for its morning hunt. Milo, playing the perfect thief, wanted to go back and steal the eggs! But the others wanted to explore other dungeon rooms. Thus they burst into a goblin training room and a glorious battle ensued. Things were going badly for the goblins at first. But then then Milo went chasing after a goblin spear-chucker. This brought the attention of more goblin spear-chuckers and things went south for our heroes.

As I explained to my players during several previous sessions, I would not be going easy on them. I do not have any sort of long-term plot in the works for this campaign. I have no adventure path. There is just the players and the dungeon. If they die, they die. It's the nature of the old school game. Thus it came to pass that Royor and Hibob went down. Cedric made the rational decision to take Hibob's wand and make a hasty retreat with Himo. Milo, when he went after the goblin earlier, had become separated. But the thief managed to escape and, with succuessful climb rolls, managed to work his way around the cliffs and back to the dungeon entrance. I explained to Royor and Hibob that they awake in a dungeon cell guarded by golblins.

Gloom and doom! But we all had a good laugh. The adventure has taken a turn that no one expected, least of all myself. This has sparked yet more ideas about the future of the campaign. And everyone is very much looking forward to next week's session.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Blue Dancer campaign begins!

Actually, it begins again. But this time, I'm focusing on a megadungeon.

In the last several months, I've been reading various old school blogs. One of the key elements that I think were lacking in all my previous campaign starts was a so-called tent pole megadungeon. I knew that Greyhawk and Blackmoor started with a large dungeon. But I suppose that I hadn't considered such dungeons essential until recently.

For the last several years, I had been tremendously interested in the imminent release of Castle Zagyg, Gary Gygax's legendary dungeon. In anticipation of it's release, I obtained a copy of WGR1 Ruins of Greyhawk and a copy of the Free City of Greyhawk boxed set. Impatient for the release of Castle Zagyg, I purchased the Yggsburg hardback and examined the region surrounding the castle dungeon. Finally, Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works was released. As I examined the module, I wondered if I could do better? Now I'm trying to put that to the test.

I had never gamed with any of the players before. But our common interest was playing 1e (OSRIC) in the old school style. Our first session was mostly spent getting to know each other, rolling up characters, and re-familiarizing ourselves with the rules. Of primary importance to me was knowing what the players expected out of playing D&D. The real learning experience for me was the second session, which took place last night, when I could learn more about how the players wished to conducted the game.

This time around, I made very minimal world building notes before I started the first actual session of game play. Excessive world building can cause infant campaign death syndrome. The best way to prepare for a sandbox campaign is to make a map of the local country side, place a few monsters here and there, note some important NPCs, briefly detail the "home base" town of the adventure, and prepare the first dungeon.

But although I knew the essentials of starting a sandbox campaign, I spent almost no time working on anything other than the megadungeon itself and the map how to get there. Because of previous attempts at starting this campaign, I had already worked out some general details about the campaign world. With this group, I was starting it again at a new locale. I knew the name of the home base town, Walton, but I wrote up absolutely no detail about it other than the name of the tavern and who owned it. I knew that there was a chain of forts linked together, Hadrian's Wall-style, on the nearby frontier border but I drew up no floor plans or details of any NPCs. I knew that beyond the wall was a valley that was a part of the Feywild that was permanently affixed to the Prime Material Plane but I detailed nothing other than a random monster encounter table. And although I had focused most of my attention on Castle Xeva, the megadungeon sitting in the middle of this magical valley, I had only drawn up one or two complete levels and I had only sketchy notes about the inhabitants.

One might think I was horribly unprepared for DMing a new campaign. Especially in the last decade, it seemed standard practice to work out all of the details of a campaign world before it actually begins. But it seems to me that tremendous preparation yeilds little in the way of anticipated results. Unless you're trying to railroad the players. And my ability to anticipate the actions of players I had never gamed with before was nearly zero. So what was the point of rolling up stats for the captain of the town guard? The players might not interact with that NPC at all. What if the players make a bee-line to the megadungeon and purposefully skip any nifty side adventures? This time around, I really did not want to put any work into anything that had less than a good chance of being used.

So I prepared a list of randomly-generated names of people, places, and things. I typed up one-page briefings of the campaign world and the history of Castle Xeva for the players. The campaign details I gave them were very general and allowed for tremendous latitude. Before I start filling in details of this campaign world, I want to see how the PCs behave. Indeed, I learned much during the first session of game play.

Luckily, this crew of players turned out to be excellent, experienced gamers. All of them had played various editions of D&D before. Although few had actually played 1e, this wasn't a problem. To my delight, the players had plenty of ideas that gave me fodder for future encounters. They all knew the cliches of D&D adventures. It turns out that I could have thrown a few adventure hooks at them because they were expecting them. But since I was laying out a clear path straight to the megadungeon, I didn't put such distractions before them.

Perhaps players have been conditioned to expect plot hooks. I intentionally started with just one. This band of heroes are all friends for whatever reason they want to work out amongst themselves. The half-orc fighter and halfling thief won in a game of chance a map to a secret entrance to Castle Xeva. With the help of the cleric and magic-user, the party obtained official permission to travel beyond the wall. They were there in the town of Walton to equip for an expedition to this legendary dungeon. All PC inquires about local threats and kidnapped merchant daughters turned up nil.

Was this lack of side adventure hooks a mistake? Maybe. But I have every intention of providing new adventure hooks later on in the campaign. But not now. I tried my best to make this clear to the players. They seek gold, fame, and fortune. And gold. When/if they come back from the dungeon, they'll gain a bit of noteriety. But right now, they are just 1st level nobodies.

The first encounter was randomly generated. A group of four goblins were out on patrol on the trail leading to the castle. After the ambush and capture, the PCs questioned the goblins. Uh, oh! I didn't expect that. I figured that the PCs would probably just slay them and take their stuff. The players wanted information! So I made it up on the spot. The goblins, of course, were based in the castle. Their chief brought them there from the mountains to the north. And, along with other tribes of demi-humans, they work for a group of humans that seem to be calling the shots. But these lowly goblin chumps knew little else. While the PCs argued about what to do with the surviving golbin prisoner, an unnoticed treant standing behind them snatched up the golbin and ran off into the forest. Why did that happen? Did the treant rescue the goblin? Or was something else going on? Did I make up all of this on the spur of the moment? Some parts yes, some parts no. But I won't be specific because my players will more than likely read this blog. The point is that I had some general ideas about wilderness surrounding the megadungeon and I'm letting random events shape the course of things to come.

Not all of the encounters that happen in this campaign will be random. But it's been my experience that random events can precipitate new directions. This one little random encounter has set a chain of events into motion. Not only has it given me ideas, it has given my players some ideas as well. One player thought it might be good to take the goblin shortbow and arrows and use them to kill members of rival demi-human tribes within Castle Xeva in order to precipate fueds. Brilliant! I had no idea that they would think of something like this. Maybe it will work! Go for it!

Another interesting PC-inspired development was that our cleric decided that he was a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Sure! Why not? I expected the player to pick from the defined set of deities from the rule books. I could have set up a big campaign story arc involving the scheming of gods that used their priests as pawns. Or maybe a world-shaking divine threat needed to be thwarted. All such long-term story planning would have been shot to hell because the cleric PC decided to take on a joke god. So I'll probably address the campaign gods in a more humorous manner for the time being. And lots of pasta jokes.

Our first session of game play ended with the goblin encounter. No doubt next week they will enter the dungeon proper. And already the plot thickens like a good tomato sauce.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm gaming again!

Support your local gaming forum! That's how I got the chance to continue my D&D campaign. And this time I get to do it old school style! It just goes to show that with some patience and courage, you can eventually find a good gaming group. And with luck, this new group will endure for a good while.

I met some of the guys in my group through a tiny gaming convention sponsored by, a gaming forum in Knoxville, TN. In 2007, I had used that forum to start a small gaming group. Once we played through a module, the group dissolved. After that, I was uncertain as to whether or not I'd ever find a game group in my area again. I tried and the group I organized was successful at first but it eventually fell apart due to lack of regular attendance. But I always paid attention to the goings-on at And it appears it has finally paid off.

I think that the "old school renaissance" significantly contributed to the formation of this group. I noticed someone on the KnoxGamers forum expressed interest in playing 1e D&D. I posted in that thread, stating that I was interested, too. A few others chimed in and we discussed it off and on for the last couple of months. We finally got to meet each other face-to-face at the little convention that the forum organized. It turns out that some of us had been reading the same old school-oriented blogs. That was encouraging for everyone and it has resulted in my DM'ing an AD&D campaign for the first time in decades.

At first, there was talk of using the Swords & Wizardry rules. I was in favor of the idea. But after some review and discussion, a few of the players noted that those rules seemed too simple. I pointed out that S&W, like the original D&D rules from 1975, was designed to be extremely open-ended for house rules. However, we decided that any house ruling we would make would end up looking like AD&D anyway. I'm still curious about Labyrinth Lord, which is based on the Moldavy rules, and I've ordered a copy from Lulu. (I'm getting the hardcover with the alternate design.) But we decided that we will use OSRIC as a base and the original AD&D rule books as further reference.

I really wish that OSRIC was available in print. I would gladly pay for a relatively expensive hardcover book. PDF files are swell. But nothing beats having a rule book in hand.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

DnDI Subscription Cancellation

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Magic is MAGIC

For too long have I endured conventional D&D magic over-rationalized in terms of real-world physics. My attitude comes from years of gaming with a particular group that viewed wizards as too powerful. They even implemented a house rule that crippled wizards with an extra skill roll with every spell cast.

James over at Grognardia wrote an interesting post about the implementation of pulp fantasy styled magic in D&D. His idea, as I understand it, is to require a greater level of D&D spell component detail in order to make it resemble the magic as presented in pulp fantasy literature. I'm not so sure that is a good idea.

Magic is MAGIC. It doesn't make any rational sense. That is its nature. If magic is quantified, I believe it leads to game worlds such as Eberron where mechanical devices are powered by magical means. Yes, it is interesting to explore these ideas and it can make for fun gaming. But it departs from medieval fantasy and into the realm of science-fiction.

James is not at all suggesting that elemental-powered steam engines should be a part of the game. He is merely suggesting that magic could have a more "realistic" flair if it were rationalized in terms of increased spell component requirements. I don't think that is necessary. And I'm not convinced that such a change would give D&D any more of a "pulpier magic" feel to it. I say that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Take for example the bag of holding. Much theorizing about the nature of this ubiquitous device has been made over the years. Questions have been presented about whether it can hold material in terms of volume or mass. How sharp do objects have to be before it can accidentally rip it open? Can it hold water or do liquids seap through the material of the bag into some other extra-dimensional space? If sharp things can poke it, what's to stop leakage? If it's absolutely water-tight but can be pierced, what is the nature of the bag's lining? Even if an object weighs less than the bag's carrying capacity, can it be stuffed in the opening?

And then there is Hermione Granger's bag of holding. If you've read all of the Harry Potter books, you know what I'm talking about. If you've only seen the movies, let me explain. At a certain point in the saga of Harry Potter, he and his friends go camping. They carry with them a tent and all the other various types of camping gear. Harry and his friends are wizards that use spells and magical devices. They take with them a tent that is much larger on the inside than it is on the outside. It's like a tent with a permanent Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion spell. Inside the tent is a small apartment with beds and a kitchen. In order to pack up their camping gear and take it with them, Hermione fashioned a small purse into what D&D gamers will instantly recognize as a bag of holding. Her version has an enormous carrying capacity. And she is able to stuff a bulky tent, a large oil painting, people, and God knows what else into this tiny little purse.

If I was a player in my old group and tried to create a bag of holding just like Hermione's it wouldn't have been allowed. It would be able to carry far more than a bag that size would normally allow. It would be able to care sharp things! It would be able to carry things that were much bigger than the opening of the tiny little purse. And clearly it would be able to hold other extra-dimensional magic devices without ripping a hole in space-time. Perhaps my game group would have allowed such a relatively powerful device if it cost much more than a regular bag of holding. But even then there would be severe strictures because of the tendancy of that game group to over-rationalize the physics of magic.

Rationalizing magic is pointless. It is something that occurs in fantasy literature. Since it is something that can only exist in the imagination, it can do anything. Quantifying or rationalizing it leads to a maze of rule judgements that leads to splat books that players think they need in order to enjoy the game.

Thinking of new and interesting ways of implementing magic should be the reward of a powerful imagination. If the power of imagination is directed towards how magic should be limited, I think that is contrary to the goal of having fun. Leave the hard physics and rationalizations to the fighters and weapons based upon the realities of the medeval history of warfare. If you, as a player, can think of a brilliant way of escaping from a dragon's lair with a hilarious combination of rope trick, a bucket of whipped cream, and fan dance, then have at it! If the wizard at the table comes up with imaginative solutions to problems using spells in a way that's not defined in any rule book, give it a chance. Don't worry about it setting precedents. It's magic! Spells defined in the RAW is how magic works in tried-and-true ways. But who's to say it can't be improvised? Who's to say magic can't do this that or the other? The DM and the rules lawyer, that's who.

In my own games, I dispense with the accounting of spell components altogether. I just assume that wizards always carry around spell component materials and spend their spare time collecting them. I assume that they have to periodically buy a new spell component pouch between forrays into the dungeon.

Powerful spells with expensive and rare components can make for interesting quests. But having to constantly worry about them for the most mundane spells is, in my humble opinion, a waste of time and counter to the spirit of free imagination. It starts the gamer down a road from which it is difficult to return.