Monday, February 28, 2011

Game World Inspirations: The World of Conan

Very early on in my gaming career, I discovered Robert E. Howard’s Conan character, through my friend John in Junior High School.  This is the same friend who taught me how to draw and also exposed me to D&D.  He let me borrow a bunch of beat-up old Conan paperback novels of his, many of which were in such bad shape that he had put a rubber band around the book to hold the pages in place. 

I devoured these stories and discovered that they had much more depth than I had originally assumed based on their somewhat lurid pulp fiction covers.  There are many other blogs out there that wax poetical about Conan, so I won’t go into too much more detail.  One part of the novels that I loved, however, was Conan’s constant travels.  The Conan stories almost read like a travelogue of Hyboria, Conan’s world.  As a thief, soldier of fortune, pirate, treasure hunter, and more, Conan really got around (and not just with women, although he was pretty adept at that, too).  But he must have traveled more than anyone else in his time because I’m pretty sure he visited every country in existence at least once during his life. 

At the time I was getting into D&D and pulp stories, I was also rediscovering my love of comics, which I’d stopped reading in the late 70’s after I grew tired of Marvel’s Star Wars comics.  But, around 1984 or so, comics seized my imagination again, partly due to TSR’s Marvel Superheroes RPG, which was released right around this time.  I felt like, in order to play that game, I needed to be more current with my comics knowledge.  So, I started grabbing issues of all of the Marvel greats.  Imagine my surprise to discover, right alongside the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Avengers, a comic called Conan the Barbarian

This was probably around issue #157 or so.  I collected the comic for a few years, and around 1986 I was thrilled to see another Conan comic book on the newsstand: The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe.  This comic was basically like an encyclopedia for the Conan stories, covering every country from the books and comics, as well as armor and weapons, the gods, and key personalities.  The descriptions of the various countries were really what captured my attention. 

James Maliszewski describes it best in his blog post here, but basically Conan’s world of Hyboria is like a mash-up of all the cool places and times from history, all existing together.  It’s really a cool concept.  As James says, “Not only does this mean that your high chivalric knight can go exploring the Tomb of the Lost Pharaoh, it also means that his companions can be a Viking skald, a Mongol raider, and a priestess of Aphrodite.” 

If you read my “Inspirations” post about History, then you know that this concept is right up my alley.  Hyboria, as envisioned by Conan creator Robert E. Howard, had a huge influence on the way that I started creating worlds.  I loved, and still do love, the idea of having an ancient Egyptian culture co-existing with the cultures of medieval Europe, Byzantine Greece, ancient China, and feudal Japan.  It’s like combing through the history books, finding the eras that interest you the most, and then plugging them into a world to see what would happen. 

There are lots of campaign worlds out there that do similar things, but I often find that they stray too far from the “source material” in an effort to be original and creative.  And, there’s really nothing wrong with that – there’s a place for those types of games, too.  But, for me, I try to stay pretty close to the Hyborian pulp model of taking the culture basically “as is” and then just adding in a few elements of magic, some otherworldly bad guys, a sprinkling of secret societies of evil priests or sorcerers, and some anachronistic technology like telescopes or printing presses just to keep things interesting. 

For my World of Samoth game, this is how I started building my campaign world.  I used names that were easily identifiable with the real world cultures upon which my countries were based, so that it would be easier for my players to instantly grasp the “feel” of each area.   I had planned to try for a low-magic world, similar to the Conan stories, but that original plan changed over time, partly because I found that it was extremely difficult to try to run a low-magic game using the D&D 3.x edition rules as written. 

But, I think much of the flavor of the original Hyrobia inspiration is still evident.  Granted, the world of Conan is not the only influence on the World of Samoth, but it is a pretty major one. 

In a related story, I just found out that one of my gamer buddies, a friend of one of my DM’s, whom I haven’t seen in a few years, is actually one of the screenwriters for the upcoming Conan movie.  I’m excited for him, but also excited for us fans of Conan, because I know that he’s a great writer.  Hopefully the “suits” don’t get involved and change it too much.  I hope to be able to see him at an upcoming game day in a few weeks and learn a little more from him then.

Post Number Nineteen. Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nineteen.

I just realized that last Friday's post was number nineteen (nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nineteen). 

Players in my World of Samoth game will get that reference immediately.  Every time one of my players gets a "19" on one of their rolls (whether for attack rolls, saves, skill checks, etc.), they are required to say "I got a Nineteen.  Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-Nineteen."  To those who forget, I shoot back with, "So, you got an 18 then."  And we stick by that rule.  People have failed their attacks, saves, or skill checks before by exactly one point because they forgot our "Rule of 19." 

Yep, it's silly and juvenile.  But, at the end of the day, RPGs should not be too serious.

For those of you who don't get the reference, just fire up your favorite trusty internet search engine and search for an mp3 of "Paul Hardcastle 19."  You'll be glad you did.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Game Stores: Cosmic Aeroplane (Salt Lake City)

Image is
©1985 Steven R. "Steve" Jerman
Visit his site here
Steel Pulse Record Store Appearance. Cosmic Aeroplane
I've been thinking a lot lately about all of the game stores, past and present, that I've visited over the years to get my gaming fix.  I think the news about Border's stores filing for Chapter 11 hit me kind of hard, since the big two-story store in Pasadena was one of my old favorite late night hang-outs (before they changed the hours to close at 10pm instead of 11pm).  When I heard about Border's, it made me think of how much it would suck if I didn't also have a local game store to visit.  Luckily for me, I have a pretty decent store within walking distance of my house, Game Empire

So, this post will serve as the first of a series of "salutes" to game stores I've known over the years. First up: Cosmic Aeroplane in downtown Salt Lake City.

As I've mentioned before, my gaming experience started in Salt Lake City (Sandy, UT, to be proper) when a bunch of my friends taught me the basics of the game and also introduced me to pulp fantasy and science fiction of all kinds.  Back then, most of TSR's (the company that made Dungeons & Dragons at the time) big name products like the D&D Basic Set and the core AD&D hardbacks were available at department stores like Gemco, and at some bookstore and toy store chains as well.  But, I quickly learned that some of the other products I read about in the catalog included in my Basic Set, or in the ads in The Dragon magazine, were not available in these bigger chain stores.

Of course, this was also back before Al Gore invented the Internet, so you couldn't just hop on your Commodore 64 and order up a bunch of stuff.  So, I did what everybody else did back then - pulled out my parents' trusty copy of the Yellow Pages and looked up "hobby shops."  I found two that seemed promising, and if memory serves, they both mentioned they sold D&D products. 

So one Saturday I begged my mom to drive into "the city", which was about a 20 minute drive but for some reason back then it seemed like a major ordeal.  She agreed and 20 minutes later I entered the dark, smoky cavern of the Cosmic Aeroplane.

Now, those of you who grew up in Salt Lake or who visited the Cosmic Aeroplane know that, at its core, it was really more of a combination record shop / head shop / hippie hangout.  But they also sold a lot of alternative press books, t-shirts and other clothes, and in the basement, some RPG stuff.  It was at Cosmic Aeroplane that I first saw support material for Gamma World (rather than just the boxed set of the 2nd Edition rules).  And, my primary purpose in going was to look at their game inventory.  I couldn't have cared less that this was one of the only stores in Salt Lake City with a decent British punk and new wave record collection, and I had no idea what a "head shop" even was back then, so in my heart, Cosmic Aeroplane will always be a game store.

I remember that I didn't have much money and I was sort of paralyzed, and yet sadly somewhat underwhelmed, by the game selection at Cosmic Aeroplane.  I had thought the entire store was going to be dedicated to games, but instead they were relegated to the basement, while the cooler stuff was upstairs.  I ended up purchasing a set of Gamma World character sheets, which I really didn't need, but I kind of liked the artwork on the cover.  To this day, I've never actually ever used any of the character sheets.  They're all still neatly attached.

While looking for a photo of the shop for this post, I read an archived article from the Deseret News newspaper in Salt Lake City that the Cosmic Aeroplane closed back in 1991.  Apparently even by the time I went there in the mid-1980s, it was already on the downward slide from its former glory days.  But to me, the Cosmic Aeroplane kind of set the stage for what a game store is to me: dark, weird, disorganized, and populated by people who actually could have been models for the mutants on the cover of the Gamma World character sheets book. 

I really wouldn't want it any other way. 

The Evolution of D&D Snacks

This Sunday I'm getting together with one of my groups to play my World of Samoth campaign.  I used to host the game at my house, because as the DM, I hate lugging all of my stuff around.


Back-in-the-Day ™ when we got together to play D&D, we did so with the requisite heavily caffeinated drinks, "Nacho Cheez" flavored orange day-glo chips, and pizza.  I hate to say that we were the stereotypical gamer geeks, but the fact is, we were playing D&D in our friend's mom's basement.  Granted, we were still in Junior High School, so that's not as bad as saying that we were doing so in our 30's.  But, still, it paints quite the picture.  Anyone observing us from a distance and not knowing who we were what exactly we were doing could pretty much guess where we fell in the social status at our school.  

The thing is, back then, I didn't get that we were just eating the same kind of food that almost every kid our age was eating.  I didn't eat like this at home, so I associated these types of foods specifically with playing D&D.  It was just part of the culture, like wearing faded black heavy-metal concert t-shirts from concerts that we'd never been to, or talking about our characters as though they were real people.  

Fast forward some 20+ years, and the state of the snacks at our D&D sessions has changed dramatically.  Catch us on any of our typical Saturday or Sunday afternoon sessions, and you'll see a table arrayed with cherry tomatoes, grapes, carrots, pita chips and hummus, homemade salsa, various artisanal cheeses, and any number of different micro-brews.  If we're really lucky, the wife of one of our friends will make this really awesome homemade oatmeal chocolate chip bread (HINT HINT).  If not, another guy in our group makes cookies, which consists of heating up Nestle Toll House pre-made cookie dough in the oven (not that there's anything wrong with that). 

If you find us on any of our all-day "one-shot" games, you'll typically see a BYO lunch followed by copious amounts of Guinness, Anchor Steam, or any other number of good beers.  That is then followed by a homemade dinner, which could be simple yet very tasty grilled burgers with dozens of assorted toppings (carmelized onions, blue cheese, bacon, heirloom tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, etc.) and the most awesome mac-n-cheese ever, or maybe spaghetti and meat sauce, or a vegetable lasagna with roasted asparagus, Swiss chard, and fennel.  All of this would be served with the best wines you've ever had.  If you don't know anything about wine, then just skip this next part.  If you do know something about wine - we once had a Saxum syrah while gaming.  Just let that sink in for a second.  We played Saxum & Sorcerers.  

I'm really looking forward to this Sunday's game.  Not only do I get to spend time with my best friends and continue running through my campaign world, but I also get to enjoy some tasty (and relatively healthy) snacks and drinks, and relax and forget about work and life and everything else that might be bothering me.

That is, all until a few weeks from now, when I get to stay up late and eat pizza again at my Friday night AD&D game.  The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

If only homes in California had basements. 

What are your snacks like?  Have they changed over the years?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ralph Bakshi's Wizards


I rented Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards from Netflix last week to see if it was anything like I remembered it as a kid.  The first thing that came to mind after watching the movie was, “Um… What the Hell?!”

Apparently I really didn’t remember much about this movie at all.  I remember seeing bits and pieces of it, not in the theater, but at a friend’s house on VHS.  It was probably part of an all night D&D session, which we did rather often back in Junior High School, just like most long-time gamers that I know.  So, there’s a very good chance that the movie just ended up being on in the background and I didn’t pay much attention. 

I do remember, however, that the movie poster had a huge affect on me.  I saw that image of Necron 99 (aka “Peace”) riding that weird bird-lizard thing and it just looked so… “Gamma World” to me.  That’s the thing with Wizards – I didn’t actually ever hear of the movie or see the artwork until after I’d starting playing RPGs and been exposed to Gamma World.

I loved Gamma World when I was a kid – it was my second favorite game after D&D and it was actually the first game that I refereed, before I’d taken a stab at trying to DM a D&D game, which seemed so much more “serious” and difficult.  So, in a way, you could say that my first experiences at “world building” were really more post-apocalyptic and mutant-flavored than they were pure fantasy.  I have very fond memories of some of my Gamma World campaign worlds that I’ll be posting about in the future.  And I remember that a lot of them involved the idea of humanoid-looking robots carrying assault rifles and riding weird bird-lizard things.  They seemed a natural fit in the crazy milieu that made up Gamma World. 

So, I was really excited to watch the movie last week when the DVD arrived in the mail, after having searched for it in vain on-demand (it turns out that none of Bakshi’s works are available on-demand, at least that I could find).

Sadly after having watched the movie, I was sorely disappointed.  This was clearly a case of nostalgia getting in the way and causing me to think this movie was something different than it really is.  While it is post-apocalyptic, and there are mutants and radioactive wastelands, and even a healthy dose of magic (which I personally like from time-to-time in some post-apocalyptic settings), it just wasn’t like I thought it was.  I listened to the commentary and I know that Bakshi was going for a more kid-friendly fairy-tale quality, but I think the movie fails on that level.  It’s much too dark to be a kid film, but it’s much too silly to be a good film for adults.  I don’t mind silly movies, but in this case it just doesn’t work. 

Ultimately, it seems that the artwork for the movie poster alone was much more responsible for inspiring me and my trips through the Gamma World than the rest of the movie. 

I wonder how often this type of situation has happened to me in the past, but I just haven’t thought about it?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cal & D: Professional Review

It turns out that Wil also blogged about our last game of Cal & D over on his site.  While we cover much of the same ground, he did remember a bunch of stuff I forgot.  Plus, Wil is just an awesome writer and you should be reading his blog.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Design Decisions: Races

I just posted information on another race for my World of Samoth campaign, the Dwarves.  Now you're probably reading that and immediately the image of the classic D&D (or, let's call it Tolkiensian) Dwarf jumped into your mind, and you might be wondering what else I needed to say about these beard-growing, axe-wielding, plate armor-wearing short-and-stubby warriors.

Well, in a word, I hope "plenty."

Long ago when I started working on my revision of the races for my World of Samoth campaign, I decided I wanted to change things up a bit.  In my first version, I didn't call any of the classic races by their familiar names, but created new names from the races' own languages.  My plan was to only refer to them by these names during play.  As time when on, however, I found that those classic fantasy names are helpful.  Even though "my" dwarves are different, by calling them dwarves, I can at least get people started thinking about them in a certain way, and then start tearing down the traditional fantasy tropes and rebuild them according to how I wanted things in my world.  It's much easier than saying, "You can play a Human or a Shagir" and not having anybody have any idea what a Shagir is.

So, I decided that since my campaign world is dominated by humans (like most fantasy campaign worlds), I wanted to play that angle up.  So, the humans in Samoth, generally, act in a a superior position to all of the other intelligent races.  This has gone on for a long time, dating back to the humans basically "re-named" the other races upon first encountering them, millennia ago, and naming them after the creatures from their fairy tales and stories.  So, dwarves in Samoth are called dwarves simply because the humans thought that they looked like the dwarves from their stories.

This immediately sets a tone and lets you know as a player where the races stand in relation to one another.  Humans are the dominant race, and they know it.  It doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon.

This decision had a series of escalating consequences attached to it.  One of the main ones was that, with humans being the dominant intelligent race who treated themselves as superior to the other races, that would mean that, over time, the humans, as they looked to expand their influence, had most likely taken over the traditional lands of these other races.  That would mean that there are very few, if any, "dwarf lands" or "elf kingdoms" left in Samoth.

And of course, this means that those races would slowly, over time, lose their culture and identity and start to incorporate human values and customs into their daily lives, whether immediately by force, or just slowly over time by virtue of living among and with humans for so long.

As I started to think about this, I really liked where this idea was heading.  I was opening up my races to be much more varied than the way that they are traditional viewed in fantasy literature and RPGs.  I could have elves who chose to assimilate themselves with human culture, and dwarves who chose to fight what was considered a losing battle to retain their independence and traditional ways.  Traditional D&D foes, like orcs and goblins, might be assimilated as well and could be played as player character races, or they might be choosing to hold onto what was left of their own culture against the overwhelming tide of humanity, and in this case, they might have more in common with the other races who chose to do the same.  So, I could say good-bye to the stereotypical "all dwarves hate orcs, and vice-versa."

I also liked the idea of having all kinds of different elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins, based on how well they integrated within human society, and also where they integrated with them.  Traditionally in fantasy RPGs, a dwarf is a dwarf, no matter where he lives.  They are all gruff and stoic and stubborn and hate evil humanoids.  Now I had the opportunity to let the players dictate how their dwarf character acted based on whether or not he lived among humans or railed against them, and also where in the campaign world he lived.  There would be no Dwarf Empire, so every dwarf the players encounter had the potential to be very different from the others.  They could, and would, be as varied as humanity.

There were many other decisions that arose from my first thought about having the humans "name" the other intelligent races, such as the prevalence of half-races in my campaign world, given how the races all live and work amongst each other.

It's fun to look back at how one little idea can have "world-shaping" implications.

How have you handled the races in your own campaign worlds?  Do you use them "as is" from the rulebooks, or do you modify them, or even create your own?

Monday, February 21, 2011

What I'm Reading: History of the World in 6 Glasses

I just finished reading a book that my buddy Loren gave me for Christmas called The History of the World in 6 Glasses.  It basically charts the course of human civilization by discussing six important drinks: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Coffee, Tea, and Cola. I mention the book in my blog because, as I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of studying history and using that knowledge to influence my gaming. 

I'm not going to give the book a formal review - you can go to Amazon or wherever you prefer for that.  What I will say is that the book was full of really fun and interesting surprises regarding how these six drinks affected so many things, such as the superiority of the British Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries or the spread of American-style "democracy" in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Of particular interest to me and my current campaign world building was the chapter on coffee and how European coffee houses were basically the 17th century version of the Internet.  Coffee was one of the first mass consumed drinks that actually made people more alert and focused versus dulling their senses.  Coffee houses became places for intellectual conversations about science, philosophy, business, and politics.  It reminded me of the way that we role-playing gamers tend to use the omnipresent D&D tavern for the same purpose in our games.  But, as I start thinking about my next campaign, I've already decided that I'm going to be advancing the timeline a little, so that my world will have a 17th century feel to it.  I think that replacing the standard D&D taverns with coffee houses will help to immediately announce my planned aesthetic clearly and easily to the players. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cal & D: 2nd Edition

Yesterday's game of Cal & D brought many of the same experiences as our first session: beer drinking; discussions of music, movies, and books; and acting like 12 year-olds.  Oh, yeah, and we actually gamed, too.

Session 2 of our adventure through the Mud Sorcerer's Tomb also coincided with a new edition of the game, Cal & D: 2nd Edition.  Although you may think that "2E" meant that we were all of a sudden overwhelmed with three hundred campaign settings and Steve's and my characters were replaced because gnomes were no longer part of the core rules, you'd be wrong.  The evolution of the rules in this case meant a couple of things:

1) The players actually rolled dice this time.  I'm really not one of those types of gamers who feel like you're not playing if you don't open your dice bag, but a lot of people do feel that way.  It was decided that it would be more "true" RPG experience if the players rolled some dice.  Our die rolls yesterday consisted of the basic ones you'd think: attack rolls, damage rolls, saving throws, and some miscellaneous skill checks.  None of us are really certain what skills our characters have, but that's part of the beauty of system.  We just describe what we're trying to do, and then we roll a D20, to which the DM adds a modifier based on our description and also how likely it is that our character might be good at that particular action.

2) We also experienced "exploding dice", ala Savage Worlds.  (I also understand a similar system was used in Rolemaster, but I can't quite be sure, having never played that system).  Basically, if you roll the highest number possible on a given die, then you get to roll again and add the result.  So, if you roll a d8 for damage and are lucky enough to roll an "8", then you roll again.  Sadly, I don't think any of us actually did this yesterday.  Our die rolls mostly consisted of getting either a "4" or a "7" on a d20.  This happened to my friend Steve about 3,826 times. 

3) Do not touch Wil's dice bag.  I'm pretty sure this is now codified in the 2nd Edition rulebook.

4) If you drop someone in combat and do not immediately follow with a clever pun, then you didn't actually drop your opponent.  I'm not entirely sure if this is a universal rule, or one that was just directed at my character, Glinbiddle Hodgemalkin, gnome paladin of Garl Glittergold.  I'm patterned off of the Travelocity Gnome, and make comments throughout the game about not needing to worry about the potentially bad consequences of exploring scary areas of the dungeon, because our trip is "guaranteed" and all I need to do is make a quick call to get Clan Travelocity to help us make things right.  Yesterday I succeeded in tripping an annis hag with my gnomish hook hammer (because, really, what other weapon would I be using?), but failed to follow my awesome attack with the requisite "Have a nice trip!" pun.  I was even challenged by the group, who helpfully shouted a countdown directly in my face ("FIVE!  FOUR!  THREE!...") and I was laughing so hard I couldn't come up with the most simple of puns.  So, the annis hag, it turned out, immediately got back on her feet and attacked me.

Those are the major rules differences in Cal & D: 2E.  We were happy with the changes, for the most part, although I'm sure a schism will start and whole message boards will be founded on the basis of wanting to hold true to the essence of "OC&D" and going into why C&D: 2E is "teh suck." 

Personally, I'm waiting for the Cal & D Rules Cycalpedia.

And, you can bet that I'll be practicing my puns in anticipation of our third session.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Week of Stats

I started this blog back on Friday, 2/11, and since it's now been a little over a week, I thought it'd be interesting to share some stats.

  • There has been a total of 111 pageviews, not including my own.
  • The most popular post so far has been "How Did It All Start?" (the second post), with 25 pageviews.  Next comes "Why a Blog?" (the first post) with nine pageviews, and then "Game World Inspirations: History" with nine pageviews. All of the remaining posts have three or fewer pageviews.
  • There have been three referring URLs: Hotmail, Google, and funnybaseflashgames.co.tv, which bills itself as "a cool place where bloggers play games."
  • Out of the 111 pageviews, 106 of them have come from the USA.  Interestingly, there have been three from Canada, one from Malaysia, and one from South Africa.
  • 70% of readers prefer to use Firefox as their browser, followed by 10% for Safari, 9% chrome, 9% Internet Exploder, and <1% Mobile.
  • 82% of readers are using the Windows Operating System, 10% use Linux, 3% Mac, 1% other Unix systems, and <1% iPad.  If you're thinking that doesn't add up to 100%, you're right, but I don't know where to find the missing 3%.
  • To date, we have one follower (thanks, Jeff!)

So what does all of this mean?  Well, nothing much, other than I think I need to do a better job of promoting the blog to get some more readers and hopefully generate some more comments. 

It's also nice to know that gaming and geek culture is alive and well in Malaysia and South Africa. 

Cal & D: The Return

Tomorrow is going to be the second session of the game that my friends and I have begun to refer to as "Cal & D."  It all started back at Christmas time when our friend asked if we'd be interested in playing a "one-shot."  That's always an interesting question because over the past few years, we've come to learn that "one-shot" really means one of two things:

1) An all-day game during which we drink beer, followed by wine, eat some really tasty food, chat about our lives, families, and work, and then get down to the business of playing through a published adventure, but never come close to finishing because we spent so much time drinking, talking, and eating.  In this scenario, we never revisit the adventure.  I like to call this a "half-shot" although really it would more properly be called a "one-twelfth shot" or so, that's that's usually how far we get.

2) An all-day game during which we drink beer, followed by wine, eat some really tasty food, chat about our lives, families, and work, and then get down to business of playing through a published adventure, but never come close to finishing because we spent so much time drinking, talking, and eating.  Then we promise to get together "one more time" to "finish" the adventure, but that stretches into a third, fourth, and even fifth session as we try to focus on playing versus just hanging out.  My friend Cal has dubbed this the "72-shot."

Both are, obviously, a lot of fun.  I really like the idea of the one-shot (or whatever you want to call it) because it's very freeing, as both a DM and as a player.  As a DM, you don't have to worry as much about big huge campaign arcs or being prepared to develop large sections of a campaign world, because the entire gaming experience is based on just that one adventure.  As a player, it's often a chance to play a character type that you'd like to try for just a few sessions but not one that you'd like to commit to in a long term campaign.  And for both, it's just a chance to have some fun and do things differently than you might in a more "serious" campaign.

That's one of the things that I like about Cal & D.  Cal is doing a sort of mash-up of systems, combining elements of Pathfinder (with Trailblazer), D&D 4th Edition, and Savage Worlds.  As a DM, I pretty much stick to Pathfinder (although I am also running a 1st Edition AD&D one-shot), so it's fun to get exposed to some of the rules of these other systems, particularly Savage Worlds with which I am completely unfamiliar.

Another thing that's fun is that Cal is kind of modifying the rules as we go along to find out what works best.  After the last session, he sent an email out to the players asking us what worked and what didn't and for our suggestions.  What followed was a three week long email GeekFest discussing what we loved and hated about all of the systems we've played over the years.  We even got into discussing some really dark stuff like Rolemaster, and (shudder) the hand-to-hand combat system from Top Secret.  It was a ton of fun.

I highly recommend playing some one-shots now and then.  They're great for getting that "gaming spark" back, and you might just discover a new system or at least a few new rules that you want to adopt for your main game.

What kinds of experiences have you had playing one-shots over the years?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Article on D&D History on WotC Website


Over on the Wizards of the Coast’s D&D website, game designer Mike Mearls has posted the first of a weekly article he’s going to write about various topics from D&D’s history.  Although I have some mixed feelings about Mike Mearls, I am looking forward to his weekly articles because I really enjoy reading about the history of D&D.  Reading about the influences behind the game and the decisions that the early founders of the hobby made when creating this hobby of ours is one of things that got me interested in starting my own blog.

The basic gist of this first post of Mike’s is that, deep down, despite which edition of the game we prefer, “there are far more things that tie us together than tear us apart.”  He specifically points out the argument behind ascending versus descending AC, which I find hilarious because a couple of years ago, it’s something that was discussed constantly on James Maliszewski’s blog.  For just one example, read some of the comments in this post.  That’s only one of many posts in which James’ readers tend to argue back and forth over the merits of descending versus ascending AC, or vice-versa.  Some of these arguments are led by James himself, who is an avowed hater of ascending AC. 

I think Mike has hit onto something, though.  Really, if some of these people spent less time arguing about minutiae like weapon speed factors, skill systems, race-as-class, and ascending AC, they would have more time to actually play the game.  It’s another constant theme I see among the so-called OSR (Old School Renaissance) – complaining that they don’t have time to play or prep for their games because they’re too busy with “ real life.”  Apparently “real life” to these people means combing through dozens of blogs espousing the virtues of the Three Little Brown Books over any other form of D&D and writing long-winded comments on each post, most of which involve lamentations of not having enough time to play. 

So, just stop it.  There is always going to be a geek-need to champion one’s preferred version of a game (or an incarnation of a super hero, or computer operating system, or…, well, you get the idea).  That’s just part of Geek DNA.  And I do it myself.  But, I do actually make time to still play the game (and read the comics and… well, again, you get the idea).  But, I do try to stop short of making fun of the people who prefer other versions that I don’t like.  I occasionally do fall into that trap, but as I get older I am usually able to stop myself.  Like Mike says, when you boil it down, I probably do have quite a bit in common with someone who prefers 1st Edition AD&D, even though that’s not my cup of tea.

I will point out, though, that, despite what Mike says in his post, 3rd Edition is not just for number-crunching losers, and 4th Edition is a lame tabletop MMO.  J
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