Wednesday, November 16, 2011

B/X has arrived!

Just opened the mail today to find that the Basic booklet had arrived completing the set! Cid is also apparently interested in them as well, and in the background one might be able to pick out Vornheim, Tome of Magic and The Dungeon Alphabet!

(This post also doubles to show off my gaming table!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

As Much for My Reference as Yours

Ship Name - The Quickling
Ship Type - Extreme Clipper

Length - 180 feet
Bow - 30 feet
Draft - 20 feet
Cargohold - 700 tons below deck
Crew Required - 30

Jobs on the ship and what they entail:

Owner - Owns the ship, probably Llewain or the whole party
Captain - Runs the ship for the owner, Llewain
First Mate - In charge of the deck crew, probably Esra
Second Mate - Answers to the first mate, chief navigator, Sabine I'd assume
Carpenter - Also a shipwright, can build and repair ships/rudders/masts/etc, Albert
Sailmaker - Mends and fabricates sails as needed, Jacques
Steward - In charge of provisioning/cooking for the crew, ????
Purser - Pays the crew, Esra
Boatswain/Bosun - In charge of ship's rigging, anchors, ropes, and boats, I recommend filling this role with someone trustworthy!
And the rest - Everyone else, Asha, Sylvia, Xenocrates, Slasher, Glorya, Denar, +20 sailors

Give me a heads up if I missed anything! I wanted to catalog all of this for my own reference, and it's easier to type things out when brainstorming for me, probably because it's so easy to erase!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Balancing Spellcasters and Everything Else

From The Strategic Review: Vol 2, Issue 2 April 1976:

The logic behind it all was drawn from game balance as much as from anything else.

Fighters have their strength, weapons, and armor to aid them in their competition.
Magic-users must rely upon their spells, as they have virtually no weaponry or armor to protect them.
Clerics combine some of the advantages of the other two classes.
The new class, thieves, have the basic advantage of stealthful actions with some additions in order for them to successfully operate on a plane with other character types.

If magic is unrestrained in the campaign,  D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player characters. It is the opinion of this writer that the most desirable game is one in which the various character types are able to compete with each other as relative equals, for that will maintain freshness in the campaign (providing that advancement is slow and there is always some new goal to strive for).

Magic is great. Magic is powerful. But it should be kept great and powerful in relation to its game environment. That means all the magic-users who have been coasting along with special dispensations from the dungeonmaster may soon have to get out there and root with the rest of the players or lie down and die.

Love him or hate him, Gary Gygax had a way with words. Of particular note to me, is the fact that he defends the game system so vehemently(in fact, the larger article was a defense on the "Vancian" magic system) and lays the blame on the wizard stealing the show at the feet of the campaign and the dungeon master.

I'd honestly have to say I agree with him, for the most part. Any game I've ran where the Magic-User/Wizard stole the show is usually one where I'm not placing enough challenges for the fighter/thief/cleric/etc to overcome. It's interesting to keep in mind, not just for D&D reasons, but for running any tabletop game! If your "roles" are The Scientist, The Track and Field Athlete, and the Ace Shooter, then you'll want to balance your game to include a variety of scientific, athletic and shooting challenges so the players will have the opportunity to shine. Maybe it's completely symptomatic of me starting with D&D(or fuck, everyone starting with D&D if you want to get technical, it's ancient), but I think every tabletop game can be distilled into character "interests" or "roles" that should totally come up regularly to keep the players engaged!

Otherwise you end up with the steady stream of hack and slash challenges with the diplomat just waiting for his or her opportunity to shine for 5 sessions... 6 sessions... 9 sessions! Definitely, no fun for the player that does not see their character "that way." I think it's interesting that 4th edition decided to "fix" this problem by giving everyone something to do every round in a combat scenario, but the downside is that I feel like it leads to GMs who will only run combat, because it's the obvious choice for something where everyone can shine!

Which is fine, if everyone knows that they're supposed to be mercenary warriors or members of a combat squadron, but can be an issue if the game is presented as being more open ended than that, and players show up with second story burglars who avoid confrontation, and deductive investigators who are great at solving mysteries and who don't have the bartitsu mastery of Sherlock Holmes!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Robot Bird with a Panel in His Chest that Contains Two Mechanical Arms

So I never did get around to running the introductory module that came with Gamma World, and I have to admit that it barely bothered me because character creation was so damn amazing. Looking over it again, I can see that it's apparently 7 combat encounters, a really loose hook and virtually nothing else. In fact, this line from the text is rather woeful!

After the adventurers enter the steading and make their way to the installation of the Ancients beneath it, the encounters between poster maps are not physically connected. They pass through dozens of interconnected chambers, descend stone or metal stairs, and occasionally find straight connecting passages. These corridors, tunnels, and chambers aren’t shown on the battle maps.

Let me repeat the important part again: "They pass through dozens of interconnected chambers, descend stone or metal stairs, and occasionally find straight connecting passages."

I know this is Gamma World, but anyone who's read it will see that it's clearly designed by the same people and pretty much has the exact same tone as 4e. And regardless of how my group has played 4th edition D&D(which I think we've had some awesome games with), WotC expects a great deal of abstraction of the events between combats!

So, I say to them this, I'm sorry Wizards of the Coast, but even though it will lead to me being completely confused if I ever attend another D&D encounters or Living Forgotten Realms game, I enjoy your games and prefer to actually play out those "dozens of interconnected chambers," even if it means that I might not be able to pack more than 2 or 3 combats into a single 4 hour session!

...and the group might even come up with a plan to bypass or talk their way out of those combats!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Obligatory TRPBTNTWA Post

Enough people answered these questions( that it's become a sort of meme, so I figured I'd join in!

Book binding. (I can't be the only person who bemoans the way new rulebooks tend to fall apart like a sheaf of dry leaves after about 5 seconds of use).

I haven't noticed new rulebooks being any more or less fragile than old ones, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm hardly an aficionado of such things. All my tabletop books are falling apart in some way or other!

"Doing a voice". How many people "do voices"? Should they? How do you get better at "doing a voice" if that's your thing?
I do voices when I feel like it, but find that it's far more important to use figures or speech and interesting syntax if you want the NPC to be noteworthy. Whether you curse or not, use contractions or not, and what turns of phrase come up in conversation are going to be way more memorable and help tell the story of the character, I feel! Although, if you give the Castle Chef a REALLY bad french accent, the players might come up with their own stories, like that the chef is actually Orcus in disguise!

Breaks. How often do you have breaks within sessions?
I've never had scheduled breaks during sessions, and typically only run 4-5 hour long sessions. On the other hand, I run a very loose table where out of character tangents can go on for longer than some people would like. If I ran a tighter table, I think scheduled breaks would be an absolute must! After all, you're seeing some of these people only once a week with any regularity.

Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions?
Not very. Over the years, I've found that as amazing as much as I love florid descriptions and prose in literature, in-game, it will generally lead to glazed-over eyes and blank stares. On top of this, generally while you're still describing the exquisitely sculpted bas-relief in bronze-gilt marble, your players are probably interrupting to ask if they can pull the lever you mentioned in the first four sentences! Less is more, but you have to be careful not to forget dressings that might be important to party plans like windows, double doors, tables, torches, etc.

Where do you strike the balance between "doing what your character would do" and "acting like a dickhead"?
Usually when there's a bunch of frowns on the other player's faces and they're not saying anything in-character, someone is being a dick head. It's important for players to be able to talk out what they're comfortable with at the table, because every group will be different. I have my own feelings on what I don't want to see in the game, but sometimes I'm willing to stretch them if the players all want something really badly!

PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?
I've let it happen in the past, and I've also forbidden it entirely(your weapon passes through the other player character as if they aren't there) and usually tried to gauge it by what players say to each other and to me during/before/after games. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work, so I've come to the conclusion that it's probably best to only allow it when everyone that it could affect(probably the entire table) agrees that it's okay. There's something to be said for letting everyone at the table decide on uncomfortable things like that. The same rule would also apply well to uncomfortable subjects such as ultra violence, sexual situations, and fetishy stuff. It's best to keep anything out of the game that isn't unanimously agreed to be all right!

How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player?
I generally describe it as an improv game where you make up a personality and act out what the persona will do in a world of the gamemaster's creation. I've never had problems getting random strangers to join for at least a single game, so I think this must not sound too nerdy to random strangers, haha! A lot of one-session players have derailed the action when they get "drunk with freedom" and this usually leads to extended bathing scenes, jumping through windows/into the ocean and hitting on people in the bar as a different gendered character than the player. Not that there's anything wrong with this!

Alchohol at the table?
Beer and weak stuff(wine coolers/hard lemonades/etc) are fine. You'd have to work pretty hard to get wasted in 4 hours on that stuff!

What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are
there some limits?

Typically, their character is off screen handling some "personal business" and when they return they can make up what happened.(Pie eating competition/went on a date/had to take care of a baby/etc) I've been thinking lately of adopting an approach more in line with the 1st edition DMG, though, where in-game days pass one for one with out of game days whenever nothing dramatic is happening. I think this would allow more believability when a character is "off screen" In special cases, I'll NPC the character, but that's just for latecomers. If a character died while the player was busy(especially if they were sick or something), it'd be really depressing for them! Better just to let them be hand-waved away until the player can show up next time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What IS a Healing Surge?

This post: really got me thinking about the subject of 4th edition's Healing Surges. I was fortunate enough to run two games with Clerics in them, so I never truly had to answer this question. It's easy enough to say "The cleric uses your healing surges outside of battle to cast heal magic on you." I, more or less, hand-waved the entire concept of Second Winds to be an abstraction referring to Morale and Ignoring Pain(for a great example of this, check out the Batmaninatrix's fourth animated short.)

I'm currently running AD&D as I originally ran it when I was younger, a hodgepodge of 1st edition feel and 2nd edition clarity with the crunchier bits removed for ease of play. Yet, I enjoy the tactical combat boardgamey elements of 4th edition for their own sake, in much the same way that I enjoy Stratego and Dominion. Still, even if I decide to run the game for its tactical combat system, I couldn't bring myself to run a game calling itself Dungeons & Dragons without immersive roleplaying and stories that build off of the character's decisions and actions. In order to truly do this, I need to do two things first and foremost. One: Ditch the woefully short and simple equipment list in favor of something more elaborate(easy enough, I only need pull out any older edition's equipment list and give THAT to the players.) and Two: Determine what a healing surge means.

Something I greatly enjoyed about that blog post, was the suggestion that healing surges could be used to determine wounds, and that a second wind might represent some dirty field first aid. Similarly, the "spend as many healing surges as you want during a short rest" could represent more intensive first aid even. One thing's for certain, if I run another 4th edition game, players will not get all their healing surges back at the end of every day!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Middle School Monster Use

I was perusing the AD&D Monster Manual and realized some of the monsters I remember from my middle school games were missing! Lo and beholder, I found them in the Monster Manual II. While many of the monsters in this book are just downright ridiculous, I did love it for such features as Quasi-elementals, Sirines, Alu-Demons, and of course, Glasya. This evil looking lady got quite a bit of use in my 'first campaign ever' which expanded out from the Yellow Box Starter Set town of Freedale in the Forgotten Realms. Being a neophyte DM at such a tender young age, it was not uncommon for overpowered beings to drop in on the party in a flash of light and just start messing with them(Personally, I blame Star Trek: The Next Generation, haha!) Aside from the obvious Elminster, who was played pretty much exactly like Q, we also saw much of Glasya, the Princess of Hell in these games. She fell in love with the party's Werewolf Assassin played by Jonathan and he did everything in his power to make her stop pursuing him, especially after Mammon and Asmodeus made it very clear that they didn't approve of the relationship!

I imagine this kind of zaniness is pretty common for DMs when they first start out, and I know many who never stop, haha! I remember talking to a friend's father once and he described a wizard who regularly popped in and turned members of the party into toadstools, or the session he ran where everyone was crawling through a dungeon starving, days from the surface, and they found strange mushrooms that looked edible. I think it's easy to figure out where THAT went! It's a wonder with such silly old DMs teaching me the game that my games aren't even sillier than they already are... which is still pretty silly!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

AD&D DMG Cover-to-Cover

I'm reading the AD&D DMG from cover to cover again. I love the Gygaxian prose, and this read-through, I'm really noticing the bluntness a bit more! From what I know of Gary Gygax, I assume most of these statements are tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, I think they offer great insight into the type of DM he was at the time!

From the Preface:
As this book is the exclusive precinct of the DM, you must view any non-DM players possessing it as something less than worthy of honorable death. Peeping players there will undoubtedly be, but they are simply lessening their own enjoyment of the game by taking away some of the sense of wonder that otherwise arises from a game which has rules hidden from the participants. It is in your interests, and in theirs, to discourage possession of this book by players. If any of your participants do read herein, it is suggested that you assess them a heavy fee for consulting "sages" and other sources of information not normally attainable by the inhabitants of your milieu. If they express knowledge which could only be garnered by consulting these pages, a magic item or two can be taken as payment---Insufficient, but perhaps it will tend to discourage such actions.

We already get acquainted with 'milieu', a word that is used countless times throughout the book, but I've always adored this particular "old school" sentiment of the DM as the possessor of the rules. I've seen well thought out arguments favoring both sides of this debate, and generally agree that the game goes faster when players understand the rules and notice that people have more fun when they know what their options translate to in-game. The biggest danger, however, is that the players might feel need to tell the DM when he remembers a rule improperly or worse, suggest that the DM is doing something the game system "won't allow him to," as if such a thing could exist in ANY roleplaying game! I generally try to keep my players from doing that at the table, with the notable exception of spell descriptions. I'm always mixing those up and misremembering those because they get pretty exhaustive, especially when you consider all the extra spells added in by modules, magazines and supplement books. I'm totally fine with the players keeping track of and reminding me of the rules of spells(and powers in 4E!) On the other hand, if I make up a spell or power for the situation, I would be very distressed if a player tried to tell me that such a spell didn't exist and I couldn't use it, haha! On the occasion where I run for new players, it's always exciting to see them just 'say what they want to do', and let me handle the rest as the DM. Some players never lose this 'magic', but for the ones who do, the game ceases to be a simulation and becomes an abstract numbers game that at best can only be enjoyed for its own sake.

Gygax on monsters as player characters:
Having established the why of the humanocentric basis of the game, you will certainly see the impossibility of any lasting success for a monster player character. The environment for adventuring will be built around humans and demi-humans for the most part. Similarly, the majority of participants in the campaign will be human. So unless the player desires a character which will lurk alone somewhere and be hunted by adventurers, there are only a few options open to him or her...The considered opinion of this writer is that such characters are not beneficial to the game and should be excluded. Note that the exclusion is best handled by restriction and not refusal. Enumeration of the limits and drawbacks which are attendant upon the monster character will always be sufficient to steer the intelligent player away from the monster approach, for in most cases it was only thought of as a likely manner of game domination.

While I dislike the comparison of "intelligent players" with power gamers seeking game domination, I've DMed enough to understand exactly what he's talking about! Further down, he gets really harsh, however!

The less intelligent players who demand to play monster characters regardless of obvious consequences will soon remove themselves from play in any event, for their own ineptness will serve to have players or monsters or traps finish them off.

Jason and I started playing AD&D with these books, for the most part. I imagine we must have never read this section, since it pretty much denounces Jason as an inept player who will quit in frustration when he realizes he's terrible at the game due to lack of intellect... which I wouldn't necessarily say is the truth although I do think he chooses monster PCs for all the wrong reasons! That might put Jason more in the category or the player seeking 'game domination', but I don't believe that's the case either. Gygax does talk about letting an 'experimental player' play one for a short while to satisfy curiosity before relegating it to NPC status. I think that's probably the best way to handle such things, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between an experimental player and a power gamer at first glance, and I always have erred on the side of caution by just refusing the option. However, after reading this, I think I'll try the 'restriction' path in the future. I've definitely learned over the years that a player willing to play with some pretty harsh restrictions is usually someone who has a great character concept, and restrictions can always be lessened or removed later as the monster's natural advantages become less noticeable compared to higher level characters if I so desired!

Gygax on the placement of magic items:
...the placement of magic items is a serious matter. Thoughtless placement of powerful magic items has been the ruination of many a campaign. Not only does this cheapen what should be rare and precious, it gives player characters undeserved advancement and empowers them to become virtual rulers of all they survey. This is in part the fault of the writer, who deeply regrets not taking the time and space in D&D to stress repeatedly the importance of moderation...The sad fact is, however, that this was not done, so many campaigns are little more than a joke, something that better DMs jape and ridicule--rightly so on the surface--become of the foolishness of player characters with astronomically high levels of experience and no real playing skill...The rules of the game do not provide anything for such play--no reasonable opponents, no rewards, nothing! The creative DM can, of course, develop a game which extrapolates from the original to allow such play, but this is a monumental task to accomplish with even passable results, and those attempts I have seen have been uniformly dismal.

Yes to this. Yes, yes, YES. I definitely read this when I was younger, and it has greatly influenced my opinions on the matter! I feel a certain kinship with Gary Gygax here, since even in 1978 and earlier, he was talking to people, much the same way I talk to people in game stores, who spoke of ludicrously overpowered games with players that never learned how to actually play the game. In 2005, I ran a pick-up game for some people at MCC, and they brought characters they already had from another game. One of them was(this is 3rd edition mind you), a level 21 fighter. He had two ridiculously crazy swords of immense magical power that could end any enemy that he wished, but his only protective item was a +1 chain shirt. His armor class, if I recall, was 18 total. If you compare that to the enemies appropriately challenging to a level 21 character, his survivability was best categorized as "Not for long." He was a pretty exaggerated example of overpowered items and fast levels on a character played by someone for whom "level one" was probably either something never allowed to him, or something he willfully declined the opportunity to play. I mostly felt bad for him when he was essentially insta-killed in the first round of combat by a challenge that should have been appropriate for a party with an average level of 16. On the other hand, the arcane trickster with a combined level of 14, won the day, but I'm not here to discuss the virtues of 3.5 as an edition and how overpowered spellcasters can be in it! As for his final point there, it reminds me of speaking with my friend and former-player-turned-DM-of-his-own-group Matt. He described running games with massive amounts of treasure, super fast leveling and would go into great detail about how the party had killed most of the gods and were trying to set themselves up as deities of the setting, but they had to deal with the oldest most powerful gods first. I think that what he was playing could not be called D&D anymore, and truly embodied "a game which extrapolates from the original" in every way.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Arms and Equipment Guide!

It ARRIVED. I opened the mail box and found it rolled up inside to fit in the box!

This book is even more amazing than I imagined from reading all of its text at since it comes with TONS of pictures. Pretty much a picture for every item in the core book. It explains at the beginning that it's meant to be a supplementary material that explains what every core book item is for all those DMs that aren't masters of all things historical and thus might not know what the difference between banded mail and splint mail.

It's also handy for finally explaining what a "crampon" is, even though players will never stop making the jokes, haha!

It has a slightly expanded items list too, and goes into much greater detail on the different types of medieval clothing available, plus pictures and descriptions which makes me very happy. Also I'm not certain why Goodwill listed the item as "functional." I was expecting to get something with a ripped off cover and coffee stains all over it, but it's actually in excellent condition. Far better condition than anything I've bought from bookmans or my own 10+ year old collection!

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Introduction to the Game

Since I decided to make a blog where I discuss D&D(and maybe other stuff), I figured it'd be best to start with my introduction to the game! When I was in middle school, I frequented a game shop called The Game Depot that was about 15 minutes away from my house. I frequently saw this big rectangular yellow box sitting on a shelf where I couldn't reach it. (Seen Here)

Child-me was very excited by this bright yellow box with the picture of a dragon seemingly reaching out to the viewer and I was determined to purchase it! It was 20 or 25 bucks, I can't quite recall, but such a sum was a king's ransom for my younger self, and it took me some time to accumulate the sum. Eventually, I was able to purchase the giant box and took it home excitedly, but when I got home, I gathered two of my friends and my sister to play with me. I figured that I might as well DM the game, since I had bought the set. I wasn't entirely sure how the DM was different from the players just yet, but I read the boxes and ran our small group through "The Tomb of Demara", a really easy to run module that I've used quite a few times over the years to introduce new players to the game. My sister grew bored with the game, and didn't make it out of the starting town and to the tomb-proper, but 2 people seemed more than enough to handle things. We butchered the rules, but had a great time of it, and afterwards, one of the guys and I decided to further pursue D&D as a hobby.

We told his mom of our intentions and she introduced us to some of her friends from the SCA who played AD&D. Fortunately for us, one of her friends was interested in running a game for us! She brought over these strange books with red demons on the covers that were at least as intriguing as the big yellow box, and we proceeded to make characters from the "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" books. I made a Grey Elf Fighter/Magic-User, and regrettably, I don't remember what my friend was playing. I wasn't entirely sure why her books called the class a Magic User and my books called it a Wizard, but I didn't think much of it. While we only got a session or two, it went a long way towards showing us how the game was ACTUALLY played. In fact, the DM herself was particularly into immersion and roleplaying rather than standard dungeon crawling, and she was easily the biggest influence on my own style of DMing to this day!

I still had my Starter Set rules, which were ridiculously amazing compared to some of the later boxed starter sets(I've collected the 3rd and 4th ones since.) Whereas the later boxed sets can take you to level 2, the "yellow box" went up to level 5, and was full of monsters and treasure not in the 3 sample modules. In addition, the product also came with the TSR#9465 Forgotten Realms Book of Lairs, which I could never figure out how to use as a kid. It was mostly just a page or two of description per adventure, sometimes with these "terrifying" hex grid maps that I had no idea how to represent or explain to the players. Instead, I ran made up adventures that tended to involve very little combat and lots of exploration and talking around the city that was presented in the starter set. My friend would run some for me, and I would run some for him, and we'd learn more about what we were doing. I tended to prefer DMing, so over time, I would DM more frequently than anyone else, and eventually we reached a point where I was generally doing it exclusively.

Eventually, at some point I bought the DM's Screen of the time, which had a vast amount of information not covered in the Starter Set. Then, that Christmas, our first DM gifted her AD&D 1st edition books to my friend. By then, our group's numbers had grown to include two more people from school, and some guy in the neighborhood's little brother off and on. It was safe to say that we were hooked!