Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fun with Any Edition: D&D 3rd Edition

This is a continuation of a series I started as my sort of way of saying that I think the so-called "edition wars" are kind of pointless and stupid.  The premise is that, really, with a great group of friends and a good DM, you can have fun with pretty much any edition of D&D.  The act of getting together and sharing a gaming experience with your friends is so much more important than whether you use ascending or descending AC or whether all weapons should do 1d6 damage or not.

I've started with the most recent editions first, and am working my way backwards.  My earlier posts were on 4th Edition and 3.5 Edition

Picking one single 3.0 session to represent how you can have fun with that edition is easy for me - it's the very first session I ever played 3.0, in yet another game DM'd by my friend Cal.  Regular readers will notice that Cal has also been the DM for my posts on 4th Edition and 3.5 Edition.  This isn't to say that the other DM's I've played with recently, including my friends Brian and Sean, aren't worthy, not to mention my own turn as DM.  But, the thing is, Sean has so far only DM'd a "Call of Cthulhu" campaign, so that doesn't count for this series of posts.  And, I've actually only played 4th Edition once, so by default, Cal gets the honor as being the DM for that session.

The reason that I'm singling out my first session as a player in a 3rd Edition campaign to highlight how you can have fun with any edition is because it was this session that was responsible for my return to playing RPGs, my brief involvement as a writer of d20 material for publication, the start of me running my World of Samoth campaign (a dream of almost 15+ years that finally came to fruition), and ultimately, why I'm now blogging about gaming and geek stuff in general.

As I've mentioned before, I was working at an ad agency that he recently won the Wizards of the Coast account, right when 3rd Edition came out. We were responsible for all of their advertising, including D&D as well as Magic: The Gathering, their MLB card game, their novel line, and of course Pokemon.  My team, all young women in their early to late 20s, had no concept of what a role-playing game was, and my good friend Malinda asked me if I could teach her the game.  I hadn't run a game for more than 15 years at the time, but I had a ton of B/X, 1st Edition, and 2nd Edition materials I could use.  But, then the client sent us a care package that included a 3rd Edition Player's Handbook so we could familiarize ourselves with the game.

Around this same time, I had met a guy named Nick at my work who, I came to find out, had painted an army of Warhammer Skaven figures that was on display at the agency (that's a long story for another post).  Through Nick, I met a bunch of other guys that called themselves the "Boisespuds" (another long story), but that I just referred to as "my game group."  We would get together after work once every other week to play all of these weird strategy games I had never heard of, like "Settlers of Catan" and "Modern Art."  I'd been hanging out with them for only a short while, and they were slowly beginning to accept me as a "replacement" for a guy who had left their group.  As the new guy, I was always the lightning rod for jokes and jabs, but I took it in stride.

Anyway, one day at game night I heard Cal talking to the rest of the group about the new D&D books that had just come out, and it became readily apparent that they were going to start a campaign with him as the DM.  Cal was really excited about the new rules and mentioned a bunch of things that I didn't understand, like "feats" and "sneak attacks."  I was a little taken aback, because I just didn't think about people in my age group (I was in my late 20s at the time) playing D&D.  The last time I had actually rolled the dice in a game was a Warhammer Fantasy game my friend Brian refereed after my senior year of high school.  So, I didn't say anything to them.

Fast forward about 18 months, and Cal's campaign was in full swing, and I finally asked him if I could join his campaign. I wanted to learn the new rules as a player before I started to DM my own game for my team at work.  I had kept telling them that I would teach them to play, but I just had never gotten around to it.

Cal was very welcoming to have me join his game, which at that time must have had about eight or nine players in it.  It was a really mixed group, consisting of three couples (either married or long-time relationships), and then a few guys like Nick, Cal, and me who were in relationships but our significant others weren't interested.

I realize that's a lot of background to get to the first session that I played in, but it's important to understand how everything just came together: I was so totally stoked to be working on the advertising for the company that made a game I loved as a kid, I had met a cool new group of gamers who were slowly become true friends, I was going to get to play D&D again after a decade and a half hiatus, and I was soon going to be starting up my own campaign.  It was the perfect storm of geek-coolness, if that's not an oxymoron.

Part of why I liked that first session has to do with the campaign world that Cal built, but I'm going to save that for a different post.  It actually relates to something I was chatting about with fellow blogger Dylan a few days ago, so I'll save the surprises for him for another post.

But, suffice it to say, I had an awesome time and it kept me coming back every session.  The group was diverse - a female human paladin whose paladin mount that was actually smarter and stronger than half of the actual adventurers; a human rogue whose sole goal was to become the richest man in the world and whose player would somehow always "hide in shadows and move silently over to the back of the room to set up a sneak attack" but years later we found out that he was actually doing that to steal all of the good treasure and we didn't notice because we were in combat; a female dark elf ranger who was planning a coup against her mother who was the Queen of the dark elves; a male dwarf fighter/weaponsmith who was somehow pledged to protect the dark elf ranger and who was carrying one of the seven famed artifacts of the dwarves, but he was actually too weak to wield properly, so we had no idea of its full potential until much later; another human rogue who kept insisting over and over that he was a corsair and that was the reason he wasn't good at searching for traps; a human barbarian from a steppe area kind of like the Mongols; and a female elf fighter who specialized in the longbow to the exclusion of all other weapons.

You may be reading that and thinking, "Yeah, but you could've played that with any edition of the game."  That's exactly my point.  It's not about the edition you're playing.  It's about playing... period. 

So, what did I like about the actual rules of 3rd Edition?  Well, the thing is, it's really the first rules set of D&D that I felt was designed to I could create exactly the character I wanted to create.  What I mean by that is, when I was younger and reading 1st and 2nd Edition rules, I was always struck by the fact that certain races couldn't be certain classes.  Why couldn't I have a dwarf wizard?  There are a lot of dwarves in mythology that were known as magical craftsman (like Nilbelung dwarf Alberich in the Nilbelung saga that crafts the magic ring).  And why could you have a dwarf or elf cleric NPC, but not as a PC?  And why was the illusionist class closed to every race but gnomes and humans?  The entire thing made very little sense to me.  I also didn't like that if you wanted to play a fighter, for example, you could choose not to wear heavy armor, and be a "Conan-type", but you were really hurting yourself because the some of the fighter's only class abilities that really saw use in a game were his ability to wear any armor and use any weapons. And, the multi-classing rules and dual-classing rules didn't make sense to me, either.

Now, that's not intended as a slam against earlier editions of the game.  It's to to highlight some of the things that I liked about 3rd Edition.  I had a character concept that I wanted from the beginning, which was a dwarf "samurai-type" character, who was primarily a warrior, but had dabbled a bit in magic to increase his fighting capability.  As time went on, I changed him from a dwarf to a human to fit better into Cal's campaign world, but I was still really impressed that, if I had wanted to, I could have made a dwarf fighter/wizard and he could be good at both and rise to the same level as everybody else.

As I tightened up my character concept, I knew I wanted to play a lightly-armored Samurai who could tumble around during melee and move really fast.  I planned to only wear a chain shirt as my main form of armor protection to keep me mobile.  And then I found with, with the proper feats, being a lightly armored fighter could actually work.  I focused on being a dextrous, fast, mobile fighter type, and I never felt penalized by the fact that I hadn't chosen to wear full plate.

Third Edition D&D gets a lot of bad rap from people who claim that it has "too many options."  There are a ton of options, and I agree that, especially as a DM, they can be overwhelming if you try to keep tab of them all.  So my solution is... I don't.  I don't read all of the spell and feat descriptions until I need to when creating NPCs for my players to fight.  I've way cut down the amount of time it takes me to create NPC adversaries for my players because I've learned that all I really need to know is what level and class the NPC is, and I can do a lot of the math in my head. I don't need to assign his skill points.  I can just figure out during the actual game if that skill would have seemed reasonable for him to have, and then give him max ranks and add his ability bonus.  It's actually very easy to do this "on-the-fly."  The same is true for attack bonuses.  Spellcasters are a little trickier, but they've always been my weak spot so I don't think you can blame that on the edition.

Another complaint I hear about Third Edition is how it went too far to try to "balance" things.  I'm not really sure that that's a strong basis for a complaint, but what I will address is that 3rd Edition is really the first edition of D&D that I started to understand how it worked.  Making things so balanced, so-to-speak, and explaining how things worked (like all of the "design your own feats" or "design your own Prestige Classes" articles in Dragon) helped me immeasurably as a DM.  Sure, it was frustrating when my players knew more than I did about the game and could tell what level my bad guys were based on what feats or class abilities they used or how many attacks them made, and then could determine that I must somehow be "cheating" because they had too many hit points.  But, again, I don't think you can fault the system for this.  Haven't there been "rules lawyer" players like that since the game was invented?

In short, it all comes down to preference, which is something that most rational people know already.  But it's just so funny to me to see people make claims that certain things from 3.x-era D&D are just "wrong" - ascending AC, feats, attacks of opportunity, skills... the list goes on and on.  Hell, I probably have a list just as long about the things I think are "wrong" about 4th Edition... but at least I know that it's just my opinion and not some kind of absolute truth about the game.  Hopefully I can keep that perspective as I get older and more set in my ways.

Hanging: Home Office
Drinking: Dogfish Head "Midas Touch" ale - one of their ancient recipe brews that's made with barley, white muscat grapes, honey, and saffron.  It's... a little too sweet for me.  But, it was interesting to try it.
Listening: "Freddie Freeloader" by Miles Davis

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Checking In (Or, the Invasion of Work, Part 2)

This isn't a complaint, but my work is really busy again as I'm striving to get some new clients for my ad agency.  But, it's more just letting you all know why I haven't been posting since last Thursday.  I hope to have some time to post something either tomorrow or Thursday.

In the meantime, I'll also be updating the "Currently Watching" tab to reflect a few changes.  I finished both "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "Singin' in the Rain", as well as the end of "Game of Thrones" Season 1.  My wife added "Falling Skies" to our TiVo list, and so far it's a little slow but an interesting premise.  I have a theory on why the kids are "harnessed" but I'll share that later when I update the page.  I also watched "The Road", which I had never seen, and man is that one depressing movie.  Seems like it should be required viewing for anybody playing a post-apocalyptic game, though.  And I'm almost finished with "Battle of the Bulge", another classic that I'd never seen.

Oh, also... I hit 50 followers today!  That seems like a big milestone, even though, according to Trey over at "From the Sorcerer's Scroll", I'm still just a "Thinker" until I hit 80.  But really, thanks everyone!  Glad you're enjoying reading my ramblings!  And congrats also to long-time Daddy commenter and All Around Cool Cat Drance over at "Once More Unto the Breach", who also hit the 50 follower mark.  

Keep on gamin', geekin', and... something else that starts with "g."

Hanging: In the kitchen making vegetable lasagna for dinner
Drinking: A negroni with Tanqueray Rangpur
Listening: "Paid for Loving" by Love Jones

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Game World Inspirations: The D&D Known World

This is a continuation of my series of posts about inspirations for my campaign world, the World of Samoth.  Other posts in the series have discussed the role of Earth History, and also the World of Conan.  After the countries visited by Conan, probably no other fictional source had a greater bearing on what the World of Samoth was to become other than the "Known World" as first depicted in Module X1: Isle of Dread.  Note that I refuse to call it "Mystara" - I never liked that name, and it was one that was slapped onto the world years after I first learned of it.  To me, it will always be the Known World.

The Known World is sort of what I refer to as "Conan Light."  That is to say, it borrows from Robert E. Howard's technique of picking different points of interesting Earth history and cultures and intermingling them all into a massive, cohesive fantasy stew.  So, in the  Known World, you've got Scandinavian types up in the Soderfjord Jarldoms, and then just to the South of them, on the other side of big mountain range, you've got a desert and then the Emirate of Ylaruam, a super religious Arabic-flavored country, which is next to the Byzantine-like Empire of Thyatis.  There's also an Italian merchant republic called Darokin, the Mongol-like Ethengar Khanate, Mughal-era India-like Sind, areas for the Dwaves (Rockhome), Elves (Alfheiim), Halflings (the Five Shires), wizards (Alphatia)... the list goes on and on.  I love this kind of stuff - having fantasy countries based on different eras of human history, all co-existing simultaneously, if one of the main things I set out to do with my own campaign world.

When I say "Conan Light", what I mean is that the Known World just seems a little less... savage, than the world of Conan. There's a darkness to Hyboria that's partly due to the pulp-nature of the stories, and I miss that in the Known World.  There's something a little too "corporate" or "marketing-based" behind the Known World.  It's difficult to describe, but as you read it as originally described in the Isle of Dread, you can tell that it must have had to go through a few rounds of the corporate police before it was considered "safe for young adult consumption."

The Known World also suffers from not having an internal consistency that Conan's Hyboria has.  What I mean by that is, in Howard's Conan writings, we understand that we're reading a version of pre-recorded Earth history.  It's Earth before the sinking of Atlantis and the development of the modern nations as we know them now... but it is still Earth.  So, the cultures and countries have an internal consistency to them.  Zingara is roughly where we think  Spain would be.  Argos is roughly where we'd expect to find Greece.

The Known World, on the other hand, does not have this kind of internal consistency to it.  It was built from the ground up as a generic fantasy world for the D&D Basic/Expert game - a world that could be used as a backdrop for the adventures modules produced for that game line, and one that wouldn't be as "adult" and complex as Greyhawk.  But, its greatest strength - its basis on real Earth cultures - is also its greatest failing.  Because many of the countries in the Known World are based on Earth counterpart, there is a disconnect when we find, for example, a plain of horse-riding Mongol archetypes right next to a Germanic-type country ruled by faux-Teutonic Knights.

However, that's a minor quibble and one that I usually just overlooked, because I never actually used the Known World in any of my campaigns "as is."  I basically looked at the material as fodder for many of my proto-Samoth campaign worlds, especially when I wanted to include a culture based on one of the ones in the Known World.  It was so much easier to do that than it was to trek to the library and read through a long Encyclopedia entry on "Mongols of the Medieval Era" or whatever.

Although the Known World started out as just a few pages of description, listing just a few lines for each of more than a dozen nations, it vastly grew over time.  Many new modules added to the complexity of the world, such as the further development of Sind in the "Master of the Desert Nomads" series of modules, which James Maliszewski recently wrote about on his blog.  Oddly enough, this Indian equivalent was the only Asian culture that made its way into the Known World.  Like so many other campaign settings before and after it (Greyhawk, pre-Oriental Adventures Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance) there were no equivalents of China, Japan, Korea, et al.  I've never really been sure why that is, but that's a topic for another blog post.

Although nowadays, I can appreciate the somewhat sparse, DIY approach to the original Known World, there were two developments made to the world much later on that I enjoyed immensely. 

The first was the Gazetteer series, published in the late 80s and early 90s.  There was one Gazetteer for each country, and each provided a wealth of material regarding the history, politics, culture, economics, relations with other countries, naming practices, attitudes toward magic and religion, and all sorts of other interesting facts.  Once again, I never used these in my games directly, but used them for ideas for my own campaign world.  And, honestly, it's actually probably way too much detail, because the average DM or player is never going to use the majority of this information in their campaigns, but it did make the world seem so much more "alive" to me. 

The second was a long-running series by Bruce Heard in Dragon magazine called "The Voyage of the Princess Ark."  It ran, if memory serves, roughly around the 150s through the late 190s or early 200s of Dragon and detailed a sky-ship and her crew sailing across the continent and detailing the strange and exotic cultures they met on their travels.  It was what the kids today call mostly "fluff", with only scant game mechanics once in a while to detail a new monster, race, or magic item.  And even though I wasn't playing the Known World, I loved those articles.  They're so creative and full of ideas and inspiration far beyond what the Tolkien-clone AD&D game worlds were doing at the time.

And I think that's probably one of the Known World's best legacies.  As James over at Grognardia pointed out quite a while ago, the fact that the B/X D&D line was pretty much being ignored by the suits at TSR at the time meant that the game developers who took it under their wing could come up with really creative stuff that pushed the boundaries of what we typically think of when we think "fantasy."

My World of Samoth thanks them for that.

Anyone else here love the Known World as much as me?  What were your experiences?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blog Organization & New Pages: Currently Reading, Currently Watching

So, I'm taking the advice of All Around Cool Cat Drance over at Once More Unto the Breach and adding a few more pages on the site in order to try to make the front page less cluttered. 

In this new age of social media, people seem to like to use lists of what they're reading, watching, listening to, etc. in order to advertise what kind of person they are.  It's sort of taken the place of wearing an obscure band t-shirt back in the 80's or 90's as a way to say, "You want to know who I am?  Listen to this band.  They describe me as a person."

I always enjoy reading these kinds of lists because they help me discover new things that I might be interested in.  To that end, I've added a Currently Reading page, where I provide very short one or two sentence summaries of the books I'm currently reading, which includes novels, non-fiction, comics, and game books.  I've also added the cleverly titled Currently Watching page, detailing TV shows, DVDs, and online programs I'm watching.  I'll also add theatrical release movies from time-to-time.  Both of these pages will be updated as needed, and I'll try to mention on the blog when they change.

Another thing I've mentioned before is how my blog roll has gotten a little crazy, divided up in to a bunch of different categories: Geek News & Culture, RPG Blogs, Publishers, Authors, Comics, Science Fiction, Friends, Advertising... all of those, plus the list of the most popular blogs this week takes up a lot of space down the right side of the blog.  To that end, I'm considering making the following changes:

  1. Move all of the non-RPG blogs to a separate static page, like the Currently Reading or Currently Watching pages.  They'd still be organized by topic, but it gets them off of the front page to help make things a little less cluttered.  It seems to me that most people that visit my site are really coming from the OSR community, to the RPG blog roll is probably the most relevant.  
  2. I'm toying with also creating a "Currently Playing" static page, and moving that information off the front page.  Although you'd have to dig to find out the information rather than seeing it right up front, it's another way to try to clean up the front page a bit.  
  3. I'm probably going to shorten the "Most Popular Posts This Week" from 10 down to five, again, for clarity of reading.  
Those of you who read the blog regularly - what are your thoughts on the above changes?  I'm curious if you ever look at the links in the blog roll?  

Thanks in advance for your input!

Hanging: Home Office
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Some Day My Prince Will Come (Alternate Take)" by Miles Davis

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Popular Posts and Current Page Stats

I've posted on my stats before - after my first week of blogging in February 2011, and then again early April when I was shocked that my post on reviewing "Sucker Punch" got more page views that my posts on playing D&D the same weekend. 

Well, I was just looking at my stats today, and noticed a few more interesting things:

  1. For the first time since I started the blog, the "How It All Started" post (my second post, made on February 11th, wherein I talk about how I got into playing RPGs and geek culture in general) is no longer the most viewed post.  That honor now goes to "Really Cool Custom Action Figure Site" (posted on May 14th), with a total of 108 page views.  "How It All Started" is now second with 92 page views.
  2. A post that I just made yesterday, "Game Stores: Gemco and Other Chain & Department Stores" has skyrocketed to become the third most viewed post in the history of my blog.  My guess is that the dramatic increase in page views is partly just due to the fact that I have a lot more followers now than I did back when I made the other posts, but part of it also has to be the subject matter, because the only other semi-recent post that made the Top 10 was "Music & Monsters, or What Do Gamers Listen To?" from June 7th. 
  3. The Open Game License has been viewed 14 times.  Hopefully someone out there is using the NPCs I created for Mutant Future!  If so, drop me a line. I'd love to know about it.
  4. Almost all of my traffic comes from bloggers in the OSR.  In the Top 10 of all time are Tim Brannan, Risus Monkey, Jeff Rients, Hill Cantons, Rather Gamey, Daddy Grognard, Swords & Sanity, Grognardia, and SWKhakhan.
  5. While they didn't crack the Top 10, I would be remiss if I didn't also single out both Digital Orc and Once More Unto the Breach, who have driven quite a bit of traffic here.  Both are great blogs and their owners, Dylan and Drance, respectively, share a lot in common with me. 
  6. I surprisingly get quite a bit of traffic from Google.  In the top searches of all time are:
    1. "" (11 searches)
    2. "d&d snacks" (9 searches)
    3. "gamma world encounters" (7 searches)
    4. "daddy rolled a 1" (5 searches)
    5. "gamma world" (3 searches)
    6. "pathfinder roleplaying game: ultimate combat playtest roun" (3 searches)
    7. "best d&d snacks" (2 searches)
    8. "dungeons and dragons snacks" (2 searches)
    9. "i will say is that the book was" (2 searches)
      1. This one always kills me.  I don't get it!
    10. "picture of samurai soto" (2 searches)
  7. The Top 10 Countries of Origin of my readers are:
    1. United States
    2. United Kingdom
    3. Australia
    4. Canada
    5. Germany
    6. France
    7. Netherlands
    8. Iran
    9. Russia
    10. Spain
  8. Firefox is still the preferred brower (40%), but 29% of you are viewing the Daddy by using Internet Exploder.  Chrome and Safari round out the Top 4. No real shockers here.
  9. 76% of my readers are using Windows, and 11% are on a Mac.  Again, no real shockers here.
 So, to me this is all pretty interesting since I check my stats from time-to-time, mostly to find out which posts have been viewed the most so I know what kind of topics people are most interested in.  Although most of my posts are about playing RPGs, some of the more popular posts (in terms of page views) are actually about other things like toys, comics, and movies.  So, I'll continue to mix things up a little bit.

Also, I'd like to take a second to welcome all of my new followers - I've gotten about 16 new followers just in the past month or so, which is awesome.  Glad you're all enjoying my ramblings! 

What about all of you?  How do your page stats track with mine in terms of where your traffic comes from.  What are your most popular posts?  Mention them in the comments so I can check them out!

Hanging: Home Office
Drinking: Red Hook IPA
Listening: "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" by They Might Be Giants

Free RPG Day Recap

Over at ICv2, Scott Thorne wrote a short summary of how Free RPG Day went down at his store Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois. 

Overall, his impressions of how Free RPG Day affected his store are generally positive - he notes that he generated about three times as much store traffic, he tripled his average daily RPG sales, and his sales were up by 1/3 over last year's Free RPG Day sales.  That's all great news for a game store retailer. 

But, Scott also pointed out that he didn't really get a lot of new players that day for the demo sessions.  He mentioned that most of the players who showed up were already members of their D&D Encounters or Pathfinder Society games, and that the kids there to play Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic: The Gathering, completely ignored the Free RPG Day sales rack. 

I myself wasn't able to attend Free RPG Day this year because, as I noted, it was my wife's birthday.  I was also annoyed that my local game store, Game Empire, didn't participate. I even asked them about it two or three times on their Facebook page, and they ignored me.  I'm curious about those of you who did attend.  What were your experiences like?  What kind of stuff did you choose to pick up?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Game Stores: Gemco & Other Chain and Department Stores (Sandy, Utah)

So, by now, most of you who have been following my blog know that I first learned about RPGs while living in Sandy, Utah, after my dad was transferred there for his work.  I've mentioned that true game stores were few and far between, although we did have a weird combo of record store/head shop/alternative book store/game store in downtown Salt Lake City called Cosmic Aeroplane, and then a more true representation of an actual game and hobby store called Hammond's.  I visited both semi-frequently during my sentence time in Sandy. 

But, honestly, most of my gaming purchases back then came from chain stores, particularly places like Waldenbooks, Toys R Us, and most especially Gemco and Fred Meyer.  Rather than have a separate post about each one, I'm just going to lump them all together, because they all pretty much shared two things in common back then:

  1. They carried a very small collection of RPG products for sale, and pretty much without exception, these products were all published by TSR.  
  2. They didn't know what these products were or where to put them. 
I'm sure most of you reading this can relate to what I'm talking about here, and honestly, even though it's been more than 28 years since I entered the hobby, some things never change.  My old local Border's, which is sadly now closed, used to move their RPG collection about every four or five months because they didn't know where to house it.  The favorite section, where it usually seemed to keep ending up, was the Science-Fiction and Fantasy book section, where one part of the bookshelf would be given over to RPG stuff, including dice and miniature figures.  Then some store employee would see the dice and stuff and think, "Aha!  It's a game!" and move the collection over to sit next to the books like Chess for Dummies or one of the three million various strategy guides for PC and console video games.  I'm assuming sales must have gone down after awhile because people couldn't find what they were looking for, so the collection would move again to sit amongst all of the graphic novels and manga books.  Later, it would move again, back to the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Section, but this time intermingled with all of the tons of various Star Wars "Cross-Section" books by DK, because someone else noticed one of WotC's Star Wars RPG supplements.  Sometimes you could find RPG books in all four sections at once, because no one told the employees there was a new filing system. 

But, let's bet back to Sandy, Utah, and my younger self, struggling to indulge my collector's personality and trying to get my hands on as much gaming stuff as I could.  I had pretty much no hope of buying any of it, because I was "lucky" enough not to have an allowance as a kid.  My mom believed more in the idea of "we'll go shopping together, and if there's something you really want, we can talk about it."  Of course, in her mind, "something you really want" meant "clothes for school", which wasn't really something that I wanted because all I needed back in Junior High School were enough sets of clothes so that I could make it through the week looking exactly the same as everyone else so that I didn't stand out and get picked on or punched in the stomach.  Isn't that what everybody wears in Junior High School? 

What I really wanted as I got older were gaming books, but the thing was, these were much more expensive than the old $0.99 Star Wars Action Figures that my mom used to buy me on sale at Gemco.  Modules back then were around $5.50 or $6.00, and a boxed set or hardback was about $12.00 but it might as well have been $1,000.00 to hear my mom talk about it.

"It costs how much? I don't understand - I already bought you that game.  Why do you need it again?"

"But Mooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmm, it's this really cool game that has all of these different books and adventures and this one is a quest for a magic sword called Blackrazor which is the coolest sword ever and I heard about it because Steve's mom bought it for him and he let me glance at it but told me not to read it because he might DM it one day but I don't really like him so I really want my own copy so I can find out what Blackrazor does and then see if John and Jimmy and Russ will let me DM it for them.  Please!"

My mom had usually tuned out after the part where I said magic sword."  So, I had to try a different tactic, and that was usually agreeing to go shopping with my mom when she was going to Gemco, an activity that I usually tried to avoid.  For those of you unfamiliar, Gemco was a huge department store that had a combination of groceries and other department-store kind of stuff like a gardening center, toys, sheets, towels, curtains, kitchen appliances... basically, it was like a big Target.  In fact, most Gemco stores were converted to Target stores in the mid 1980s after Gemco went out of business.  The thing was, my mom usually went to Gemco to look at the sewing and needlepoint stuff, which drove me crazy.  But, I noticed pretty quickly that Gemco did have a relatively biggish size wire display rack that had some gaming stuff on it.  So, I would hang around it, knowing that I couldn't afford to buy anything, and wishing that the modules and boxed sets weren't shrink-wrapped so I could read what was inside.

Then one day, a "miracle" happened.  I accompanied my mom on one of her sewing trips to Gemco and saw that someone had busted open the shrink wrap on the Gamma World boxed set that was there.  I already had a Gamma World boxed set that I bought used from my friend for about $2.50.  But, I noticed that someone had removed the module and dice from the box, so all that was left was the rulebook and the map.  Being the helpful person that I was, I brought the game over to a store employee and explained to him that someone had opened it and absconded with some of the contents.  He thanked me, and I went to find my mom.  Later, I swung by the section again before leaving, and I noticed that the store had put a "Opened: 50% off" tag on the Gamma World box. 

Eureka!  Inspiration struck me, and I start to make my plans for the next visit to Gemco, which occurred the following week.  I noticed that they had a few boxed sets of Top Secret, which I was anxious to read since I'd heard some of my friends talking about it, but none of them had brought it around to school so I could check it out.  We got to the store, and I immediately made my way over to the game rack.

With sweat dripping down my face, I nervously approached the two Top Secret boxed sets.  I could feel my ears turning red and getting warm as I grabbed one of the boxes, and then glanced quickly over both shoulders to make sure no one was watching.  I pretended to intently read the copy on the back of  the box while I very slyly slid my thumbnail down one side of the box to make a clean cut in the shrink wrap.  I then spent the next fifteen minutes removing the shrink wrap as quietly as possible so that I could get the box open and remove the two d10s and the module that came with the game, TS001: Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle.  I hid the dice and module elsewhere on the rack, and also moved the other complete Top Secret boxed set off the rack and mixed it in with a bunch of board games. 

I then went up to a store employee, being careful to avoid finding the same guy I had found the week before, and explained that I really wanted to buy this game, but somebody had opened it and removed some of the contents, so it wasn't complete.

As expected, the guy asked me, "Isn't there another one that hasn't been opened?"

"No, Sir," I lied.  "I looked, but couldn't find one.  Can I just get this one for a discount?  It normally sells for $12.00 but one whole book and the dice are missing.  See the picture on the back that shows what's supposed to be in the box?"

He found a manager and was able to get me a special price of... you guessed it - 50% off.  I then had the task of selling my mom on the proposition.  I approached it as a very good bargain.  Rather than focus on what was missing, I focused on what I was getting. 

"Mom, I'm getting the complete game rules in a box for half-off!  It's only $6.00!  Usually the modules themselves cost that much, but this is the rulebook that I can use to write my own modules, and it comes in this box and it's 50% off!"

She relented and put it in her shopping cart.  My plan was to return to the store a few weeks later, "find" the missing module on the shelf, and ask my mom if she would buy it for me to complete my set.  However, my plan back-fired!  On our next trip to Gemco, which was a little less than two weeks later, I found that someone else had purchased the Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle module!  Either that, or Gemco had perhaps just pulled it off the shelf once they discovered that it wasn't meant to be sold individually.  Years later, I received Top Secret Module TS002: Operation: Rapidstrike as a gift, and that's the module that I keep in my old Top Secret box set on my shelf. 

To this day, I have never been able to obtain a copy of the original Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle to "complete" my old Top Secret boxed set. 

Edit: I realize that, like most of my game store memories, this is really more of a personal walk down memory lane that has very little to do with the actual store itself that I'm discussing.  But hopefully it paints a little bit of a picture about what trying to buy gaming supplies was like living in Utah in the 1980s. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Birthday To My Wife

My wife's chalkboard menu for the series finale of BSG
This is just a short personal note to wish my wife a very happy birthday today, even though I'll have to actually tell her that I posted this here because she doesn't follow my blog.  :)

How does this relate to "RPGs, Comics, Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Other Geek Stuff", as claimed in the title of my blog?  Well, the thing is... my wife's geek-quotient has gone up exponentially since I met her nearly 15 years ago. 

When we met, it was coming off of a rash of horrible bad dates for me.  I was getting a little fed up with the whole process.  So, when Jody (my future wife) asked me to tell her a little bit about myself, I just decided to go for broke and tell her exactly what I was like. I figured, better to get this stuff out of the way now, and be upfront, than have it pop up later over time and have her decide at that point that she hadn't signed up for this.  I was giving her a very easy out. 

"I'm a geek," I said.  "I watch Star Trek.  I read comics and paint miniature figures that I use in war games.  I played D&D growing up." [I wasn't in a current campaign at the time].

"Which Star Trek?" she said.

"Uh... what do you mean?"

"Which Star Trek?  Next Gen?"

"Uh, yeah.  Next Gen.  I like Next Gen."

"I love Next Gen!" she said. 

I was hooked, although I would later find out that her geek-cred pretty much started and stopped at Star Trek: TNG.  Or, so I thought. 

As the years went on, I decided to let Jody peak into the world of my geekdom by telling her about my years-in-the-making D&D homebrew campaign setting, which at the time was being turned into a septet of very terrible novels written by my friend Mike and me.  I remember the first time I took her to a game store and the look of fear in her eyes as she entered into the dank cellar of cheetos, black t-shirts, and man-funk.  We visited one of the most famous comic books stores on Melrose Avenue, conveniently located (for me) close to a place where Jody liked to shop for clothes and shoes and ponies and stickers and whatever it is that girls like to shop for. 

And, through it all, Jody was patient and even showed interested in some of my hobbies.  Then, a very strange thing happened.  I think that some of my geekiness rubbed off on her (insert obligatory "that's what she said" joke here). 

You see, Jody was always the one that my friends claimed gave the rest of them hope.  "If Martin can land a chick as cool as Jody, then there's hope for the rest of us!  Maybe we're not so geeky after all."  Life was good.

But then Jody turned.  I don't remember exactly when it started, but I do remember when I first realized it.  We were on a trip up North to the Bay Area-ish (I don't really think you can call Morgan Hill, which is South of San Jose, the "Bay Area", but that's an old argument that I'm not likely to win any time soon) to visit Jody's family for Thanksgiving, shortly after we were married.  I remember we were listening to Christmas music in the car to pass the time, and "Hark the Herald Angels" came on. 

"Do you hear them?  The angels?  They're harkening," Jody said, in a very excited, kid-like voice.  "They're... Harkonen.  You know, like House Harkonen?  From Dune?"

Now, even if you haven't read Dune, you just know that's gotta be a really deep pull.  I have card-carrying geek friends whose geek credentials are impeccable that couldn't have made a Dune reference like that in a million years. 

That's when I knew that I had married the perfect woman. 

Years went by, and we shared many geek moments together.  We watched Star Trek: Voyager through its last season, as well as Star Trek: Enterprise, Buffy, Angel... really, too many genre shows to count.  She even made me watch NBC's The Cape. When the BSG series finale aired, we had all of our friends over to dinner, and Jody decorated our kitchen chalkboard menu with a BSG theme. 

When I started my D&D campaign back in May of 2001, Jody was there with her half-elven rogue named Sebastian (who was actually a girl, but whose father made her dress up as a man to avoid being found by... "bad guys").  

And the comics... oh, don't get me started on the comics.  Jody decided to get into X-Men, which really lead her to an appreciation of all things Marvel, particularly the Avengers, in addition to X-Men.  We saw Spider-Man 2 at the Midnight showing on opening night.  Jody set up TiVo season passes for Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and Young Justice. We've seen every comic-book movie so far this year, including Green Lantern, last night.  At work, she got pegged to help out on an Acura tie-in with the Thor movie (Acura is the official car of S.H.I.E.L.D., and one of my wife's clients at her ad agency). She's known as "the comics expert" since she knows more about Marvel comics than pretty much anyone else at her agency.  

For her birthday, in addition to a few other gifts, I got her graphic novel collections of Thor (his original appearance in Journey into Mystery comics from the 1960s) and the classic X-Men: Dark Phoenix saga, which every self-respecting X-Men fan should put on their "to read immediately" list. 

What's my point to all this?  Really nothing other than to once again wish my wife a "Happy Birthday" and to take a moment to appreciate the fact that I'm lucky I ended up with someone who not only tolerates my hobbies and interests, but she shares them with me.  That's something that's pretty rare to come by. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Memories: Mighty Men & Monster Maker

When I was growing up, I was really into art, as I've mentioned before.  I loved drawing and sketching and I still actually have most of my old drawings all organized into a few portfolios.  One thing I remember drawing a lot were monsters, and heroes to fight them.  Back when I was about nine years old, when I was still living in Reno (well, technically, Sparks, a suburb of Reno.  They used to say "Reno is so close to Hell that you can see Sparks"), before I'd heard of D&D or Conan or John Carter or anything like that, I heard of "Mighty Men & Monster Maker", which was the most totally awesome gift that a nine year old boy who loved to draw could get for Christmas. 

So, if you had the misfortune of missing this most excellent of "toys", let me enlighten you - it was a sort of "tracing table" you could use to create a wide variety of monsters, superheroes, and "mutants."  It came with a whole bunch of templates for heads, torsos, and legs, made in plastic with raised images, that you slid into a frame. You could mix-and-match each of the three elements.  Then you put a piece of paper on top, pulled the frame down, and used a black wax crayon to rub over the paper so that the raised parts on the plastic templates formed an image on the paper.

The thing was, whoever designed this thing was an absolute genius.  They had things like serpent tails, wolfman legs and arms, zombie legs, vampire heads, alien heads, Frankenstein's Monster heads... it was totally awesome.  Once you had your design, you took the paper out and then colored it with colored pencils. They even had "texture" templates to create things like scales or hair patterns on your monster. 

I spent dozens and dozens of hours with this toy as a kid, designing all sorts of heroes and monsters.  I created hero "squads" that had similar uniforms, but in different colors, aliens and mutants and all sorts of things.  My sister, that same year, got a very similar toy called "Fashion Plates" that was for girls to create different fashion models.  The concept was very similar though.  So, every once in a while, I would borrow her toy and create a "damsel in distress" on the same page for one of my Mighty Men to rescue.  The next year, they came out with a smaller version that could be used to create a custom van (which was a HUGE deal back in the 70's) with different front, middle, and back sections, and I would use that to create special vans for my heroes that had the same color scheme as their uniforms. 

A few years later, after we had moved and I had been exposed to RPGs, I learned about Gamma World and started using my old trusty Mighty Men and Monster Maker to create mutants for my game.  It was super quick and easy - much faster than trying to draw something on your own.  By this time, though, I was about 12 or so, and had begun to see the limitations.  It would've been really cool if they had come out with additional templates that you could use with your original toy, but they didn't.  You only ever got the ones that came in the original box.  I think there were six heads, six torsos, and six legs.  As a kid that seemed like unlimited options, but a few years makes a ton of difference. 

My Mighty Men and Monster Maker very soon got packed away in the garage, and I'm not entirely sure where it is now, but there's a good chance it's in my parents' storage facility where they put everything when my dad got transferred back in the early 90's.  My parents keep saying that they're going to go open it up one day so we can go through our old stuff and keep what we want.  I think there are a lot of treasures from my youth in there, including all of my Lego's and an entire run of the original Kenner Star Wars figures.  But one thing I know I'd want to find immediately is my old Mighty Men and Monster Maker. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Other RPGs: Gamma World - Module GW2: Famine in Far-Go

I was recently re-reading the old Gamma World module GW: Famine in Fargo, mainly because I don't think I've actually looked at this module in probably 15 years at least.  Although I love Gamma World, I haven't actually played the game in over 23 years or so.  The last time I remember actually sitting down to play it was in my friend's cabin in Utah when he and his family took me on a weekend vacation to snowmobile and hang out.  I brought along my 2nd Edition Gamma World rulebook, a notebook of ideas, and two modules (Famine in Fargo, and the Rite of Passage adventure included in the 2nd Edition Adventure Book from the boxed set). 

We started our game late at night after a long day of snowmobiling and playing in the snow and stuff, so we were both really tired, and there was only one player - my friend, Mike, who honestly wasn't all that into role-playing. He wasn't part of our "game group" at school, but was a guy I had met a few years earlier and who had a ton of Legos so I used to go over to his house a lot to hang out.  My mom also got along with his mom really well, which meant that we were sort of "forced" to hang out a lot on weekend trips and stuff.  I remember when my mom said, "Michael's family invited you to spend the weekend at their cabin" I was really disappointed because, really, I didn't want to go.  This guy wasn't a close friend, and I didn't really know his family all that well.  And, they were really, super hard-core... religious.  We'll leave it at that.

So, I was told that I was going to hang out with them this weekend, and I brought my Gamma World stuff to make life tolerable for the next two and half days. 

We didn't get that far into Rite of Passage.  Mike was playing, if I remember correctly, a mutated buffalo-man that walked on two legs and had opposable thumbs and all that stuff.  It seems like most of the mutated animals we played back then all were basically animal-men hybrids, kind of like something out of the Island of Dr. Moreau.  You can see my picture of a Gamma World NPC I created back then that was based on a "panther" (yes, Cal, I know). 

This was one of my first times refereeing a game, and the first time for Gamma World specifically, and I was really excited because I totally dug the game.  I never really saw it as "silly" like some people did, which might also explain why I ended up choosing to play Rite of Passage instead of Famine in Fargo.  See, I had actually never read Famine in Fargo before I brought it with me.  I had just skimmed through it.  I chose it over Legion of Gold because Legion was written by Gary Gygax, and that was a signal to me that I wasn't experienced enough to referee it.  The fact that I hadn't even read Famine before thinking I might try to referee it "on the fly" is probably a good indication that I wasn't quite ready to run my own games. 

Anyway, as soon as I saw the pictures of all of the mutant chickens wearing military hats and wife-beater tank-tops... well, I was turned off.  I put it down and didn't really look at it again until a few days ago. 

I was really shocked by what I found.  While there are some really fun little "gems" inside, like finding a copy of The Best of DRAGON, Vol 53 sitting on a chair in one room, and "an old, thin, damaged plastifax book from the Ancients.  The cover of the book is torn and the only word that remains of the title is 'GAMMA.' "

So, those are funny and kind of "break the fourth wall", but they could be a neat little addition to an encounter to help break some tension.

However, what really turned me off was this part of the module, found on Page 9 in the section entitled "TAKEN PRISONER."

GM Note: While the entire group is asleep, after completing the ritual, a party of Badders discovers them and takes the characters prisoner to their underground lair
Um... what?  Really?  So, the characters as assumed to be dumb enough to not have posted guards while they slept?  And, they don't have any chance to wake up at all while being taken captive?  The way the module is written, there is absolutely no chance for the characters to have any impact on this "scene."  They are taken captive by the Badders and later expected to fight their way out.  The module doesn't really continue if you don't do this, although I guess you could in theory by-pass the entire scene and skip to the Automated Chicken Processing Factory.

However, the module is full of things like this.  Another quote from the module:
GM Note: Do not allow the players enter the Forest if it is afternoon or evening, as this violates the ritual. If any of them insist on going into the Forest other than in the morning then have a deadly foe (such as a large group of Hoops) waiting for them just inside the Forest entrance.  Hopefully this will let them know that they should wait for the morning to come before journeying into the woods.
 I really can't stand that kind of "adventure."  I hear people complain that the Dragonlance modules are railroads, and I totally agree with that assessment.  But, Famine in Fargo is just as guilty, in my opinion.  This is what happens when a referee lets his "story" get in the way of the players controlling the action.

I think James Maliszewski said it best in a post he wrote a long time ago (I can't find it on his blog now) - but the gist of it was something along the lines of "if the referee can tell you how the encounter is going to end before it happens", then that's not a role-playing game.  I can tell you from a player's perspective that nothing is more frustrating when playing an RPG than if you think your character's actions have no effect on the game being played.  What's the fun in that?

As a referee, if you're more concerned with "telling your story", then you should be writing a novel, not trying to run an RPG. 

I know that this topic has been covered ad infinitum by the OSR community over the years, but having just read this module, it brought it all back to me. 

Have any of you ever played in a railroaded-type game?  What was your experience like?  Have you ever run a game like that?

Friday, June 10, 2011

How The Way We Consume Media Has Changed How I Read RPGs

That's got to qualify as one of the world's longest blog-post titles.  But, I couldn't think of another more succinct way to write it.

I was thinking yesterday while driving my daughter home after her picking her up from daycare about how my media consumption habits have changed over the past half-decade or so.  We were listening to my iPod, specifically my "Top Rated" smart playlist, which I had on shuffle.  I've rated every one of my 9000+ songs on iTunes on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and then built a smart playlist which automatically adds any 4-star or 5-star rated songs to the list, regardless of genre.  Unless I'm in a particular mood to listen to a specific genre of music [I should interject that I'm an overly obsessive Virgo, so I've created my own genres in iTunes that get pretty specific, such as "Brazilian", "Swing", "Movie Scores", "Classic Rock", "Christmas Jazz Vocal"... you get the idea], then chances are I'm just listening to my Top Rated playlist. 

What this means is that I almost never listen to full albums any more.  I'm sure most of you are the same.  When is the last time you actually bought an entire album?  I still collect older albums, like classic jazz albums and stuff, but if there's a new song I like that I hear on Pandora or on, then most likely I'll just buy the individual track and let it go at that.  In the olden days, you'd have to buy the entire album just to get one song that you liked, but I'd often end up liking other songs on the album even better than the track for which I bought the album in the first place.  In our modern society with less free time than ever, though, I pretty much never give new artists a chance.  I buy the hit track and then move on.  And listening to a full album, straight through?  I try to force myself to do it once in a while, but it's a rare occurrence any more.

How is this related to RPGs, you ask?  Well, the thing is, I realized that I pretty much never read RPGs straight through any more.  I skim them and look for "what's different?", which is really another way of me asking myself, "Is there anything I can steal for my current game?" 

Al over at Beyond the Black Gate and Rob at Bat in the Attic started to address this a little in their own way earlier today.  They ask the question, "Do I need another form of D&D?", specifically related to them talking about their opinions on the darling topic of the OSR this week, Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG. 

I downloaded the free Beta playtest version and briefly looked through it, but I didn't really read it.  I already have a few systems I'm using (Pathfinder for my main game, and OSRIC if I get the urge to run that, as well as playing in a Savage Worlds game), so do I need another system?  No, I don't.  But, I can always use ideas for my current games. 

I'm intrigued by DCC's spellcaster check and the resulting tables showing how the check affects the power of the spells being cast.  I kind of like the idea of the Luck stat, and how it applies differently to thieves and halflings than it does to everyone else.  But, that's the thing... I've only actually read those two sections all the way through so far.  I haven't read the rest of the playtest version. 

I'm treating it like my "Top Rated Tracks" in iTunes, which is, I find, how I pretty much read any RPG book these days.  And, as I thought about it, I realized that I've pretty much done that since I started in the hobby.  Somebody taught me how to play D&D before I ever got the rulebooks, so when I finally did get my Moldvay Basic Set, and then later on my own copy of the 1st Edition Player's Handbook, I only read the sections that I thought I didn't already know about, as well as the sections that really interested me.

This means, for example, that I never really read the combat sections in the Player's Handbook or in the Basic Set, because I "already knew" how to run combat (based on what my friends had taught me, which I found out years later was wrong, or at least "incomplete").  Years later, when I acquired the OD&D White Box set, I didn't read the description of the character classes, because I'd "already read them" in my other books.  I also haven't read the spell descriptions for pretty much any iteration of the game, because reading page after page of them is, to me, really boring.  I've cursorily glanced over them, and only really read them in detail when designing a spellcaster as a player or as an NPC.  That means, of course, that my spellcasters are always woefully under-powered versus what they should be, but I'm okay with that.  It's the price I pay because I would rate the "Spell Section" of any RPG as maybe a 3-Star - Average, but not something that I want to read every time.

I also find that as I go back all these years later to look at my old games, I tend to just re-read the same sections over and over, because those are the sections that I loved as a kid, and the ones that got me so into the game.  That means, for example, that I'll always re-read the section at the back of Greyhawk: Supplement I on "Monster Tricks and Combinations" - that one page alone fired my imagination all those years ago, and continues to do so all these years later.  I always catch an entry that I'd forgotten about. But, I pretty much ignore the sections on adding Paladins and Thieves to the game.  I probably looked over them once, but I don't need to read those again. 

So, what's my point in all this?  It's really just that, in the end, I think I'm agreeing with Rob and Al.  I don't need another set of rules for a new game.  What I need are ideas - things that are new and different.  By that, I don't mean a new combat system or a new spell point system or whatever.  I know where to find those if I want them.  I want new ways to use my existing rules and tweak them to create the exact game that I want.  That's part of the reason why I like reading about new classes (because it stretches my imagination to try to figure out how I could incorporate it into my campaign, so it becomes part of the world-building process), and also new campaign settings (specifically, how they have tweaked the existing rules to fit a particular theme). 

So, based on the way I read RPGs, I think there are some things in DCC that I would love to use. Is that enough to make me shell out money for the book once it comes out?  I'm not so sure. 

What about you all?  Do you read your RPGs as a "greatest hits" album, only picking-and-choosing the parts that interest you, or do you actually sit down and read the entire thing straight through, cover-to-cover?  I have my guesses, but I'd love to hear what you say.

Two D&D Articles On the Internets Today

To be fair, there are probably more than two, but I saw these two articles pop up and they seemed relevant to share.

The first is Part 2 of Boing Boing's story about a dad teaching four 2nd-graders how to play Dungeons & Dragons.  Yeah, he's using 4th Edition rules, but it's still fun to read about bringing up the next generation of tabletop RPG'ers.  I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to play. 

The other article I saw was on GeekDad's blog over on - this time from author Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks. This particular article looks to be sort of a quick "intro" to his book, speaking as it does about how D&D provided an escape for him when he was growing up with a mom who had been hospitalized with a brain aneurism but returned home a completely different person that he and his siblings called "The Momster." I've always wanted to read his book, even moreso after having read this short post by him.  I think a lot of us can relate to how D&D was sort of the "glue" that kept us sane during our awkward pre-pubescent days. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

10 Fantastic Facts About Druids (Courtesy of Suduvu)

I just saw an article over on Suduvu entitled "10 Fantastic Facts About Druids."  It's a little tongue-in-cheek, basically mentioning that we don't know a lot and most of what we do "know" comes from more modern organizations claiming to have revived the ancient traditions (even though they didn't have the research available to really "revive" anything). 

It's interesting that Fact #8 is "The druid made its gaming premiere in Eldritch Wizardy, a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons. Originally published in 1976, the Druid has been a feature of D&D and many other fantasy games ever since."

For those of you who don't want to click over to the actual article, here's a quick list of the 10 facts.  Note that the actual article provides more content under each "fact" - I just copied the first sentence of each.

  1. Druids: A Trivial Matter: We don’t know all that much about the ancient druids and what we do know is limited to mentions of them in passing by Greek and Roman writers like Tacitus and Julius Caesar. 
  2. Try to understand, he’s a Magic Man: What we do know about druids – and this is admittedly not much – indicates that they practiced prophecy and divination.
  3.  Stonehenge: Built Druid-Tough…or not: English antiquarian and buddy of Sir Isaac Newton William Stukeley wrote a good deal about the druids, speculating that it was they who had built Stonehenge.
  4. Iolo-lay-hee-who? English pseudo-historian Edward Williams claimed to have collected much folklore describing the ancient practices of the druids, which he published under his nom de druid, Iolo Morganwg.
  5. That Old Time religion: Inspired by the work of Stukeley, Toland, Williams and others, various groups of people formed societies devoted to resurrecting the ancient druidic faiths. 
  6. It’s not all fun and games. Okay, well sometimes it is. The Reformed Druids of North America started as a joke, a protest against a mandatory religious service attendance policy at Minnesota’s Carleton College, but when it spread to other colleges, like UC Berkeley, it morphed into a real religious movement.  
  7. Set sail, Druids! The U.S.S Druid was a United States Navy vessel that patrolled European waters, including the Mediterranean Sea, during World War I, a fact certain to have amused the Romans.
  8. A tradition most ancient and…where’s the Cheetos? The druid made its gaming premiere in Eldritch Wizardy, a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons.  
  9. I noticed you weaving in yon chariot. Is that mead I smell? DRUID (Driving under the Influence of Drugs, Alcohol and Medicines) is an organization devoted to the study and prevention of intoxicated driving.
  10. Shannara-na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye: while the druids – ancient and otherwise – remain a topic of mystery and speculation in the real world, they continue to thrive in the world of fiction.

Star Trek: TNG Reboot?

An awesome, funny cartoon from, where random funny* Tweets are added into stock Peanuts artwork. I'm a huge Peanuts fan from back-in-the-day, and you might think that I'd find this offensive to the memory of Charles M. Schulz, but I actually think a lot of them are really funny.

Oh, and if you're thinking I brought you here under false-pretenses by the title of my blog post, I apologize.  But, hopefully you'll get some enjoyment out of the PeanuTweeter site.  I'm not going to post some random new magic-item or obscure house-rule that you'll probably never use as a "make-good."  :)

* No guarantees are made regarding the humor content of Tweets.  Daddy Rolled a 1 is not responsible if you do not laugh.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Science Fiction Novel Section at Barnes & Noble

Since I lost my main client, my schedule during the day is a little more free.  I'm still spending the vast majority of my time trying to track down new clients, but every once in a while I'll take advantage of not being tied to my desk.

Yesterday, I went out for a haircut, and then popped into my local Barnes & Noble in Old Town Pasadena, which is now my closest big chain bookstore since my local Border's closed.  Anyway, I wandered over to the game section, which was packed with 8,343 4th Edition books (I think the new Ultimate Player's Strategy Guide to the ShadowDreamHorrorFiendFellRealm II just came out), one copy each of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and the Pathfinder Bestiary, and one copy of Rogue Trader.  Next I checked out the comics section, which was dominated by Manga and a bunch of young teenage Asian girls all sitting in complete silence reading.  When I rounded the corner into the section, they all looked up at me in unison, and then slowly let their eyes drift back down to their little black-and-white comics.  It was... creepy. Like some kind of weird Children of the Corn sequel. 

So, I high-tailed it over to the Science Fiction section (which, of course, also includes Fantasy) and I thought I'd look over the "New Releases."  What I was struck by was the utter lack of diversification.  There were just tons of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K novels - I counted at least eight different titles, each of which took up multiple spaces on the shelves.  There were also a bunch of books by C.J. Cherryh, a few Star Wars and Star Trek novels, a posthumous Wheel of Time book by Robert Jordan and what's-his-name, and also the entirety of the "Game of Thrones" books - I guess they count at "new releases" since the show is now so popular on HBO.  Basically - if there was a new book as part of a long on-going series (so, really, any new fantasy/science-fiction book, it seems), then they used the "New Releases" section to showcase every book in the series.  Way up on the top shelf, I saw a lone Pathfinder Tales book. 

I know that the fantasy book world has been going this way for some time now, but it was just interesting to see it all in miniature - just book after book that is part of long ongoing series after ongoing series, and nothing really "original." 

Oh, they did also have a copy of a new edition of John Carter of Mars which was kind of cool.  I hope it introduces somebody new to that genre of fiction. 

Anyway, I didn't really have much of a point to this particular post - more just a random observation.  What have you all noticed at your local bookstore regarding their fantasy and science fiction section?  I have a feeling they're pretty much all the same. 

I should also offer full disclosure - despite my complaint about every fantasy book being part of a long ongoing series, I am currently reading the first book in the Black Company series.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Music & Monsters, or "What Do Gamers Listen To?"

A few months ago, the excellent Beyond the Black Gate blog did an interview with five OSR "luminaries" - James M. from Grognardia, James R. from LotFPWFRP, Thomas from Original Edition Fantasy, Zak of Playing D&D With Porn Stars, and Michael from Chicago Wiz's RPG Blog

One of the questions I thought was interesting was "You're off to a desert island – what’s the one album you’d bring and why?" 

With the exception of James M. who demurred by saying "No idea. I'm not a huge lover of music, popular or otherwise" (which, may I point out, is just weird - how can you not love music?!), the rest of the interviewees all picked Metal (or, "Hard Rock", in Michael's case) bands: Iron Maiden (James R.), Black Sabbath (Thomas), Eyehategod (Zak), and Lez Zeppelin (Michael).  And, even though James M. chose not to answer, he has mentioned several times on his blog that one of the people he learned to play D&D with was a "metal-head."  

Until I got into reading blogs from the OSR, I had never heard of so many self-proclaimed metal-heads playing D&D/RPGs.  

Where I grew up in the early 80s in Sandy, Utah (a suburb of Salt Lake City), the metal-heads didn't play D&D.  They wore the now ubiquitous gamer uniform of faded jeans, old tennis shoes, and black heavy metal concert t-shirts, and then had long hair.  But, they were not gamers.  This group of metal-heads (or, as we called them back then, "Hessians") only pretty much wanted to talk about music (our metal bands of choice were Iron Maiden, Saxon, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest from what I remember), horror movies (we had just watched "The Thing" and "Videodrome" on a friend's VCR), or girls.  That was pretty much it.  One thing that we didn't talk about was religion, which was a refreshing change of pace for a non-Mormon Junior High School kid like me growing up in Utah.  As I recall, non of my Hessian friends were Mormon, which is what I believe drew me to start hanging out with them in the first place - our common ground was that we were outsiders.  Later on this particular group started going to parties, doing vodka-shots around age 14, and a couple years after that, they got into drugs.  I stopped hanging out with this group right about this time.

Our "sworn enemies" at the time were what we called the "Preppies", or the New Wavers.  They wore pastel-colored short-sleeve Izod shirts, penny loafers or top-siders with no socks, and had short, neatly trimmed hair (almost all of it blonde).  They listened to the Thompson Twins and Duran Duran and later on, some ventured into Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but most of them found that music too risque.  They were also, almost to a man, Mormon.  

I really didn't fit into either group, but the Hessians were my friends (and my protectors, for awhile, when I used to get hassled by bullies for not "going to Church") until they got into drugs, which is when I decided that we really didn't have that much in common after all.

Right around that time, I met a "third group" at school.  It was a mixture of non-Mormons and what we called "Jack-Mormons" (meaning, they were Mormon by birth and tradition, but they didn't really practice the teachings or talk about it all the time).  The musical tastes were all over the map - some listened to the local "rock" station, KSRP-FM (I might be getting the call letters wrong, but I'm pretty sure that was it) that played an eclectic mix of stuff like Pink Floyd, Quiet Riot, the Police, and Hall & Oates, some listened to country (although we tried to pretend they didn't), and some listened to underground college radio stations that the rest of us had never heard of the played bands with names like the Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies.  Some were smart kids.  Some were art kids.  None were jocks although some of us played soccer after school in an AYSO league.  The clothes styles were all over the map - at the time, I distinctly remember wearing gray, black or brown corduroy pants with either long-sleeve button-up shirts and sweaters, or sometimes with short-sleeve graphic t-shirts.  I guess maybe we were nerds, but the group was such a mish-mosh that the nerd label really doesn't fit.  It was as a member of this group that I first heard of U2, INXS, Dire Straits, and Howard Jones.  I also got the confidence to ask girls out to school functions like the roller-skating party held during school hours for the kids who had achieved above a 3.5 GPA for that quarter.  I also learned to draw better, and got into sword & sorcery fantasy and classic science fiction.  So, like I said... a mixture of nerd and non-nerd, I guess.  

Anyway, based on my experiences, I found it interesting that it seems there is such a big correlation these days between metal music and RPGs.  What's your experience with music and gaming?  Are you all mostly metal-heads, as it seems is the norm, or do you have different tastes? 

Every once in a while, I've mentioned at the ends of my posts where I am, what I'm drinking, and what I'm listening to.  I'm going to try to make that a more regular habit.  These days, my listening tastes, in general tend to be more in the vein of jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker), electronica (I'm a big Thievery Corporation fan), classic rock (the Police, the Clash, Zep, the Stones), some old 80s stuff (like classic U2 and New Order), and the occasional "alternative" (if that's even a label any more) track.  

Hanging: Home Office
Drinking: Anchor Steam beer
Listening: "Bring on the Dancing Horses" by Echo & the Bunnymen

Monday, June 6, 2011

World of Samoth: Adventure Logs #17 - #23

I just posted seven more adventure logs for my World of Samoth game, #17 - #23.  These sessions date back to late 2002 and early 2003.  One of the interesting things I noticed was that our game actually started in May of 2001, but by March of 2003, we'd only had 23 sessions.  So, our plan of playing bi-monthly really turned into a monthly schedule on average.  This is a little misleading, though, because I know that during this time I got married in November of 2011 so we put the game on hiatus for a few months around that time, and we also took a long break during the holiday season of 2002.

A lot of really interesting things happened during these sessions, which is when the campaign really started to get into a groove and a larger story started to develop.  Here's a quick summary of each session:

  • 17th Session: The Company enter the city of Marlona in the country of Esoría, where they encounter a small goblin encampment/shanty town and fight a group of "rat-men" and are ambushed by two massive "worms" that appear out of thin air
  • 18th Session: The Company seek to find a paladin who has been kidnapped, and have their first encounter with the Illumination, an inquisition-like arm of the Ætonist faith.  This group of the Ilumination arrests the Prelate for failing to dispose of a nearby group of dwarven settlers (who are not Ætonists, and therefore subject to death).  They then announce that they will cross the border of the neighboring country, Courrisseux, to slaughter the dwarves.  This seemingly small act will have continent-wide implications in the coming months.
  • 19th Session: The Company fight some odd cultist types and a very strange and out-of-place aberration type nightmare creature composed entirely of mouths.  There is a lot of talk from the cultists about "she must be waiting for the gate to open."
  • 20th Session: Jeremi does research at the local library and finds reference to a place called the "Banevault", a repository of ancient evil artifacts, located someplace called "Sinjapur", which Jeremi has never heard of.  His research was prompted by his superior in the church, Cristobal Arino, who ordered Jeremi to find where the artifacts where hidden.  The Company also attend a party held in their honor, but are later ambushed by some assassins.
  • 21st Session: The Baron of the town, seeminly under supernatural control, outlaws the Ætonist faith.  The Company make moves to rescue him and enter into a battle with some kind of powerful fiendlike creature, the likes of which they have never encountered before. 
  • 22nd Session: The Company finally rescue the Baron, but are unable to help the poor town librarian, who is slaughtered by a finger of death spell cast by the powerful fiend.  The fiend seems unconcerned with the Company, for they are beneath his notice.  They feel helpless and unprepared for the wider world they are beginning to discover.  They also encounter the three pure-blood Jade Elves whom they had met once before, and learn that the powerful fiend was potential much more dangerous than they have guessed.
  • 23rd Session: Sebastian has a meeting with his father, Jeremi's superior in the church, now the Junior Illuminator of the Ætonist faith, actually transfers Jeremi to the Illumination, ultimately leading to consequences that none can now guess.  He orders Jeremi to travel to Verundhi (which Jeremi has since discovered is the modern name for ancient Sinjapur) to find the Banevault.  Jeremi also gains a cohort, the elf warrior Estacio, former prisoner of the Radillar family, who has taken the vows of the Ætonist faith.  They also have an encounter with the Radillar family and wonder when exactly they will be rid of this cruel dynasty.  
 A couple of notes about these sessions:
  • The adventures were mostly based on the awful WotC 3rd Edition adventure, The Speaker in Dreams by James Wyatt.  That adventure is just a total cluster-f*ck and I was too much of a novice for 3rd edition, and to DM'ing in general (I had mostly been a player up until this point in my life) to see it.  I was just searching for a city-based urban adventure that I could slot into my campaign as a "stop-gap" until I got to the next adventure, and I thought this one would fit.  I was really wrong.  In retrospect, I would've been better off just taking the map and ignoring the entire rest of the module.  It's got wererats, cultists, gibbering mouthers, mutant purple worms, mind flayers... it's just a mess.  
  • I had, by this time, purchased Monte Cook's massive epic Banewarrens adventure (it's really almost a mini-campaign setting) and decided months before to use it as part of my campaign world.  So, I started dropping hints, and used the device of Jeremi's Ætonist church to basically provide a reason for the group to seek it out.  I knew that I wanted the location of the Banewarrens to be on the other side of the world, because I wanted the group to deal with how to get there, and use the excursion as an opportunity for them to encounter other cultures in my world.  
  • The whole issue of the Illlumination really came to the forefront during these sessions, but the act of the small group of Illumination troops crossing over the border of the neighboring country to kill a group of "pagan" dwarves set off a months-long war that, as far as the characters know, may still be continuing (they are far away now, roughly halfway across the world).  It involves both church and government politics.  
  • Jeremi's character getting "transferred" to the Illumination was something that the player, Brian, didn't expect and was actually something that I only thought of doing right before the session started.  I thought it would make an interesting development to have a guy be forced to join a group that hunts down and executes non-believers and arcane magic-users, but the guy himself is secretly an arcane magic-user and associates with non-believers all the time.  Brian's character, Jeremi, had a very hard time with this, and still struggles with knowing that he's betraying his faith even as he uses the authority of the Illumination to gain access to places and acquire knowledge, equipment, and and resources that the average person could never get. 

World of Samoth: 6/5/2011 Session Recap

I got my group together to play my ongoing World of Samoth campaign today.  We past our 10-year mark of actual play time in the campaign last month.  As I mentioned before, this campaign started as a way to teach my ad agency co-workers how to play the game after we had won the WotC advertising account back in 2001.  My friend Malinda, who was on my team, encouraged me to start a game so she could learn what it was all about.  The concept of a game without a board or where nobody really wins kind of confused her a bit.  She created a character, Raphael Sangrecabo de la Divina Senda (aka "Rafe"), and played for many years until she got too busy with her two young children.

The game currently has four players, one of whom just joined the group today:

  • Jeremi Udall, a Priest ofÆton and member of the Illumination, who also has mysterious (and heretical) access to an arcane bloodline of sorcery that he keeps hidden from all but his most trusted companions
  • Sameer Palsbrundi, a scion of a nomadic tribe of desert goat-herders.  He is a powerful warrior who, coincidentally, also empowers his fighting skills through the use of sorcery.
  • "Sombra" (The Shade, aka Nicodemus Alphonso Caballotriste), a knight of the West who was accused of the crime of slaying his commander.  He fled to the East where he joined an esoteric religious brotherhood that combined the best teachings of all of the major world religions.  He returned to the West to clear his name and fell in with the Company.  He is constantly tracked by bounty hunters.
  • Shao Yue Chen, an engineer and monk from the exotic East who has been sent on a journey to gather information about the strange men of the West.  His allegiances and movies remain a mystery.

I'm currently in the process of posting all of the Company's adventure recaps on my main World of Samoth Website, but while I catch up on that project, I'll be posting short capsule summaries of their latest adventures here on the blog.

The 15th of Ebupell, D.E. 504

The members of the Company discussed their plans and ultimately decide to follow the advice of the fallen Jade Elf - seek out the closest headquarters of the Order of the Ishari Lier and see if they can translate the journal of Usoruhihn, their former comrade-in-arms who betrayed them and allowed himself to be corrupted by the forces of the arcane.

They have been told that the closest lodge of the Order is in the Free City of Ryn, roughly a thousand miles to the northwest.  Although land travel is possible and more direct, travel by ship would conceivably cut the time of the trip considerably.  Additionally, the thought of travel across the desert in the heat of late Spring does not appeal to them.

The smell of death, decay, and disease hangs above the ruined ziggurat city of Nur, and with one last look at the once-proud citadel of the goblins, they head toward the coast, using chariots that once belonged to the fierce goblin warriors.

Sameer opts to make a slight deter to the South to catch up with his tribe that he has not seen for nearly three years, and bring them news of Abeelah's death.  Her mother takes the news as well as could be expected, and Sameer wisely leaves part of the story out - that Abeelah had been corrupted by an evil force and turned into some type of pseudo-undead creature that he and his companions were forced to kill.

While meeting with his tribe, Sameer also speaks with his mother, a tribal wise-woman, and tells her of the disturbing information he and his adventuring companions have uncovered - news of a powerful, ancient "master" and his six "generals" who, it seems, have been unleashed upon the world.  His mother proclaims no knowledge of such information - the tribe, it seems, remains relatively isolated from the rest of the world.

After securing passage on a smuggler's ship in order to avoid unwanted attention, the Company prepare for the several day long voyage to what could perhaps be considered the great city in the known world - Ryn.

While the smuggler captain docks the ship in the harbor, the Company observe ships bearing flags from every known country in the world, as well as private merchant ships from the four corners, including several ships belonging to the powerful Radillar family from Esoría.  The entire city, once a capital of the ancient Dasidian empire hundreds of years ago, is a living monument to the pagan deities of old.  Huge structures of marble, stone, and concrete mark the sites of important battles, the tombs of long-dead emperors, or temples of forgotten gods.  On the highest hill in the city rises the imposing structure of the Severian Amphitheatre, more commonly known as the Coliseum.  Gladiator games, a practice once common throughout the old Dasidian Empire, but long ago outlawed in the West, are still practiced here by paid, professional gladiators. 

After disembarking, they make their way through the crowded docks and weaving their way through a flock of young Wanderer children, they end up at a tavern called Quintus' Quaffs.  Realizing that they have no idea where to look for the headquarters of the secretive Order of the Ishari Lier, the Company figures that a tavern near the docks where lots of visitors come through would be a good place to find information.  They start buying drinks for the patrons and discover that much of their coins have been stolen from them.  Jeremi suspects the group of Wanderer children who "accidentally" brushed by them on their way to the tavern, but the damage has been done.  

Sombra strikes up a conversation with a serene-looking Easterner named Shao, who is intrigued by Sombra's use of the Sonsian tongue instead of his native Church Oestian.  Coincidentally, Shao has also come to Ryn to find the Ishari Lier, and after meeting Sameer and Jeremi, Shao explains that he has made first contact with the Order and agrees to bring the Company to his meeting with the Ishari Lier, which is scheduled two days later.  

Seeing as how they will be in town for a few days, the Company decide to secure rooms at the same inn where Shao is staying, in a quiet part of town in the Academic District.  Jeremi decides to re-don his Illumination robes and head over to the local Ætonist temple, where he is greeted with a combination of fear, reverence, and thinly-veiled disgust by the local Jimalate, Polydamas.  Polydamas is clearly not a supporter of the Illumination and does not believe in its harsh methods.  Jeremi leaves shortly thereafter, not having learned anything new. 

The next day while on his way back to the inn for a late supper, a strange man at the end of the block calls out to Sombra as he is about to enter the Inn by shouting, "Nicodemus!"  Sombra pauses ever so briefly before continuing into the inn, but the break in his concentration is noticeable and the man simply says, "So, it is you."  Sombra enters the inn and draws his sword, ready to face-down the bounty hunter.  The rest of the Company prepare for battle, but nothing else happens, even after a full night of preparing to ambush whoever is after Sombra.  

On the third day, the Company head toward the location of the Order's headquarters unannounced, since Shao's letters to his contact have not been returned for the past two days.  The lodge house is reputed to be located on the second floor of a humble tailor's shop in the Merchant District, and indeed, the Company see the symbol of the Order, displayed discretely near the front door of the tailor's shop.  The tailor, an elderly man who clearly does not get much business, explains that "those odd boys" have rented out the second floor of his shop for the princely sum of 25 gold per month to use for their meetings.  He often sees the members going up to the second floor, and hears them stomping around for awhile, but then everything is strangely quiet for several hours before he hears them again and they descend the stairs to leave.  

The Company enter the lodge, which is an austere room full of nothing but a desk, chair, and bookcase with a small selection of uninteresting books.  Sameer directs the Company to search the room and Shao eventually finds a very cleverly hidden trap door at the far end of the room, above what would be the tailor's store room of bolts of cloth.  He opens the trap door and sees that it leads down into the backroom of the tailor shop, but it appears that the tailor does not frequent this back room often, if at all, given his lack of customers.  The company descend back down to the street level and once in the back-room of the tailor's shop search for, and find, yet another trap door in the floor.  Jeremi uses his staff to shed magical light and they descend into a long hallway that stretches off more than 120 feet into the darkness...  

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