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