Friday, July 31, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - the end?

Last night we had the final session for the campaign. At least it will be the last session with these players, and in Kingston ON. I ran it like I have done it since the start, with a Megadungeon and a sandbox attitude where the players decide what they want to do and the world develops according to their interests. When I have felt unsure I have tried to follow Vincent Baker's advice and "say yes or roll the dice" seem to work just fine. I think the experiment have been a success, and I feel it closed on a chord with power and harmony.

The construction kept going on, and a college, housing and entertainment of various kinds are now available outside the dungeon. I didn't feel I could do as much with that potential with such a limited time, but I still liked the possibilities of adventure that could provide. Maybe they will stay and will become a part of the setting for when I find a new group.

The delving was a bit short, since we all were a bit unfocused. But, we had some glorious fights with gigantic spiders and they managed to poison a delver. I was kind and didn't kill anyone with the venomous bite. The best use of a magic item was definitely the Redecorating Wand, which so far had not found much use. Now, with cobwebs all over the place it found its use and it transformed the corridors into nicely decorated tunnels with drapes of spider silk. Pretty. In the dying moments of the session I short circuited some laborious tunnel crawling and described the vista of the Lost Underground City which they found according to the map they had purchased. Since they had quested for the goblin city and the crystal forest for so long I gave them a glimpse. End with a hint of more and they might keep dreaming. At least that was my hope. In the end everyone got a diploma as a superior delver and thanks for showing up and making it fun. It felt like a cool way to send off the campaign. Someone did this with their Mage chronicle (was it ChattyDM? I can't find anything on his blog archive!) and it seemed nice.

So, as I said the format for the game seems to have worked pretty well. I'm not that fond of the Kremm Resistance rules, and I'm beginning to think that ablative armor like in 4th ed might add a nice dimension of resource management. I'll probably also do some testing with the experience for gold rule next time. Tunnels & Trolls is a fun system, and I think the progress of the characters in the campaign made it feel like an accomplishment, but not so slow as to make it feel like you was at a stand still. What will be my next big RPG project? Time will tell, but I have had suggestions for a WH40k rpg. We'll see.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Combat and Tactics, the abstract way

Today I had some time to trawl through a bunch of interesting looking blog posts I had been saving. I found this little gem over here, which is pure gold! Go and take a look!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wolds of Fantasy Part II - Kingdoms of Kalamar

I have already written about Greyhawk, and concluded that it didn't do much for me. When I first heard of Kingdoms of Kalamar, it was a review on Interestingly enough that review felt it was a good effort, but that it was kind of bland. Sound familiar? I, on the other hand, thought it sounded like my kind of world.

What is Kingdoms of Kalamar (KoK) then? Well, it is a world which stand out as being intended to "make sense". The geography is thought out, with waterways and caravan routes by the big cities, water currents and trade routes and tectonics which looks real. It kind of reminds me of Harn. But, where Harn never worked for me, KoK did.

KoK feels a lot like a less higher powered world than, say, Forgotten Realms. There's NPCs that rule nations and city states, and there are guild masters and court magicians. But, it's not that common for them to be much higher than early "name level". I find that just to my taste. I also really like the political history, which will give you a lot of ideas for conflicts and drama. What made me a convert, though, was the idea of a big set of gods who are described in a general way and also described with different names for different cultures. No more "gods of the dwarves". I liked that. Also, they have no stats.

Now, it is kind of ironic that I feel Greyhawk is kind of bland, for KoK is actually very vanilla itself. It's plain solid medieval fantasy with all the trappings. The one "oddity" it has is that hobgoblins are civilized and have a sophisticated culture. Otherwise it strikes me as just what I think Greyhawk is. It's just a lot more real to me! I'm not a sucker for realism, but it feels more like a believable world than e.g. Greyhawk does. The strange thing is of course that it's not uncommon for people to encounter KoK and thing it looks to dull and non fantastic enough. I wonder what would have happened had KoK been the thing that defined D&D, and not Greyhawk? For those gamers who claims to like the Folio and the bare bones quality, maybe the Judge Guild Wilderlands is a better match, but for the vanilla fantasy mould I know no better than Kingdoms of Kalamar.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How many game books do you buy?

I remember that the excellent site Pen & Paper once had a poll about how many game books you owned. It was interesting, since I remember it having had more than 2000 gamers answering that poll! It's not enough to be a good coverage of all of gamerhood, but it did show some trends about the gamers that hang out on the web.

There were multiple categories, and most of them in the lower range, naturally. Those of us who own stupid amounts were lumped together as "more than 1000", "500-1000", "200-500" if I remember correctly. The lower ranges were far more fine grained. What surprised me was how many that fell in the category of roughly 25 game books. For me that sounds a lot like having one favourite game line, or maybe two. A lot of people also had less than 10. I think those people who claim you only need one rule book and some imagination might be onto something. The next big bump were the collectors, and I was in the higher end of that range, 200-500.

Apart from all the pictures that gives us about the size of most game libraries, it gives me an interesting comparison. I just counted the amount of game books I have in my library now, since having moved and left most of what I counted in the former poll in storage. That way I could easy see how much I have accrued over the last 24 months, and maybe also compare that to the time the rest of the collection have grown. After some math I found that I buy roughly 6 books a month, or closer to 7 if I include magazines. Should I be lucky that I will have ten years or so to find storage space until I reach the "more than 1000" range, or should I be scared that it took only 24 months to surpass the size of most of the collections in that poll, again?

Ennie Awards 2009

I just voted in the category for free rpg's. I think you should vote too. I suggest a game that begins with 'Sw' and ends with 'dry'.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Worlds of Fantasy Part I - Greyhawk

I never understood why some people have such a high regard for Greyhawk. Did I just come to it from the wrong angle, or is it not for me?

I no longer remember when I first heard of Greyhawk, but I know I've heard it was "that world Gygax invented in the dawn of the hobby". I knew nothing of Blackmoor or Braunstein then. The first memory I have of it is of an blurb in a catalog from a mail order game store. That product was From the Ashes, and I also remember seeing The City of Skulls. As you can tell, I came to Grehawk fairly late. It didn't seem all that interesting, though. There was a crowd of settings published for 2nd ed AD&D at this time, and they all seemed more interesting than the, to me, bland looking Greyhawk.

A few years down the line, when I first encountered the nebulous subject of "old school", I bought a bunch of the old adventures from eBay and Noble Knight to run an old school campaign with the then new 3rd ed D&D. Now I read some of the short snippets of background in these modules, and it seemed less interesting than ever. I still don't see how it could make anyone care much for Greyhawk. I actually borrowed a couple of later books from a friend, after having heard of the folio and realized it was out of print. Both of these products gave me the impression that you probably had to have been there from the beginning. They referred to wars, rulers and countries, but nothing hooked me. It still seemed, bland.

I have now later been exposed to more of Greyhawk, and still feel it is very bland. It has absolutely nothing that sets it apart, except that it was Gary's campaign world. Sure, not all fantasy campaigns needs three suns and purple elves, but still. I'm beginning to think that the reason so many fans of D&D have a soft spot for Greyhawk is that when they were exposed to it, it was about the only thing out there. Also, the fact that the AD&D tournament modules were a common experience for many players made Greyhawk a common ground of the D&D experience. Greyhawk was D&D, basically.

Maybe someone will now comment and say that Greyhawk is wonderful and the Folio is the best thing that ever happened to gaming. For me it was always just "a fantasy world" and even when I tried it wouldn't come alive. Considering I already from a earlier age knew of Dragonlance from the excellent computer games from SSI, I think Greyhawk is a good example of marketing failure. Considering what happened to TSR as Gygax left I guess it was inevitable.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - zombie overkill and the founding of Las Vegas

Last night's game in the Dungeon of Voorand Campaign is sadly enough going to be the penultimate session. One more Thursday, and then I will pack up my stuff and leave Kingston. I feels a bit numbing to having to end this very enjoyable run, but at least we ends while having fun and still pumped up about everything cool we all want to do in the game.

More than once my dear players have realized that there are more to find even at places they thought had "cleared out", or just left for more challenging levels. I once got to hear that the dungeon felt big and like there was a lot still to explore. I loved that I had managed to capture that part of the Megadungeon concept.

Last night they decided to poke around some dark corners of level one. Naturally, not everything was like when they last were there, and they found a secret little "sublevel" that I had hidden. Not even this time did they explore everything, but they did find a ogre guarding a statue decorated with magical items like a helmet, belt, sword and other trinkets. Since they broke down the door and made a lot of noise, they woke the guardian up. They later found that others had taken his offer of using a bribe, and had plundered the statue somewhat. They did away with the guardian by a very dirty manoeuvrer, and grabbed themselves some magic. Now they have realized that all permanent items come with drawbacks, so it will be fun to see if that makes them vary.

As I have been telling before, we have had an explosion of building lately. We have had a tavern built by a PC outside the dungeon, and today a school for special education (firstly outdoorsmanship) and a casino was built. As you might have surmised from the subject, they are on their way to build Las Vegas out in the wilderness by the foot of the mountain. I think inventive players are the best gift a GM can get. Just imagine the possibilities for conflict, or ways to use this to have them pour out their hard earned money!

In a information gathering pause, shopping around for workers for their projects, they also bought a treasure map! I love these items. They are a good way to give small nudges to players, or to pace the game, or to siphon off some funds, or lead the into traps, or... you get the picture. They decided they wanted to see the Lost City, and the Crystal Forest and managed to find a delver who had been there and draw them a map. The best part of that was that when they entered level three on their way to the edge of their new map, they went in another direction and got themselves into trouble! If I say barracks full of zombies, what do you say? One dead PC later, and they retreated. I thought I said they saw a room full of tripple bunks from which stiff legged creatures shambled. Sometimes having the best armour in the game will make you to brave. Learn when to run.

It was a fun night, and even though we had a death we still play with stables so nobody is running out of clones yet. Next week will be the last, and from experience I think that my players will make it a good finale without me making it any special. We just play games and have fun. Fight on!

The Tyranny of the DM and the Tyranny of the Player

We have been discussing the way the rules can help and hinder players and game masters acting like jerks over at Zach's place, RPG Blog II. Zach is, as you might know, one of the voices of The RPG Circus. They had ChattyDM over for a talk at their show, and he claimed that the reign of the tyrannical DM was now over. Since I have little time to listen to podcasts I wont try to put words in the mouth of Chatty, but the way the discussion went on Zach's blog made me chip in with my own two cents.

Now, I don't think the tyranny of anything have ended. In the latest edition of D&D I would even like to claim that the Tyranny of the Player have reared its ugly head. Now we have a game where every character class plays very much like the other, and where everything you can do is written down as a Power. While it don't have to be that way, just like the former editions of the game didn't have to bring on the tyranny of the DM, it has opened the door for something which I consider just as bad as the Tyranny of the DM.

When you have a game system which is open for interpretation, and where different characters have different game mechanics, you might have to add common sense. You might also have to add some on the spot rulings. More often than not you might also have to play the social game and be graceful enough to admit that your character is not as powerful as the others at all occasions. Basically, it means that in order for the game to work smoothly you will have to have a bit of trust. That trust has to work both ways across the screen. Preferably it also extends in between the players. If you know that the game is not a zero sum game of "balance", you will have to trust that the other people around the table is not out to ruin your game. I could also mention the word "fun", but we all know old schoolers hate fun.

Also, have you considered that maybe some of those stories you have heard told about how someone totally was screwed over by his DM might actually been what that player deserved? Mike Mornard tells us it happened in the Greyhawk campaign, and I'm wondering if not that has been the reason more than once. That's not bad DM-ing. It's bad Playing, and they need just as much empowerment as lousy DM's need. 'nuff said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A New Box of Tunnels and Trolls goodies!

James Shipman from Outlaw Press have said that we can look forward to a new boxed set of T&T stuff this GenCon! Fiery Dragon Publishing is putting out this box, and the contents is of yet unknown. James have been providing FDP with material from his own Outlaw Press, so he knows they will use some stuff he has published, but not what they have chosen.

Why FDP have any mention of this on their web, or try to pump up any interest at all is anyones guess. I've been running T&T demos and other events and to my questions about potential convetion/demo support they have not even bothered to answer. So, make what you will of it. Outlaw Press publishes premium T&T goodness, though, so the content of the secret box have a good chance of being great.

Buy a rulebook from Flying Buffalo while you wait for the new box. Rick is a nice guy, supports conventions and the rules he sells are great!

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm not a believer in James Mishler, the prophet

I guess a lot of you have read the discussions in the blogosphere lately where "experts" of all kind explain why the hobby industry is doomed, or not. It started when James Mishler laid down his version of things. Naturally people started arguing. This first post, percolated in my mind a bit before I decided what to make of it. Then he replied to some selected individuals and the points they brought up. Now it started to get interesting, since some of the people who replied are pretty thick in the middle of the actual production of games themselves. Now I just read his final word on the matter, and I'm not all that impressed.

Frankly, anyone who waves around words like Great Depression like James does need to chill. His knowledge of how to produce a RPG, and the steps needed and their relative costs, is probably ok. But, an expert on global economy he is not. His view of the greater economic trends is extremely limited, based entirely on the US and frankly something a publisher of books, magazines and games should keep away from. You think you know something about publishing games, being on the inside of the hobby for many years? I think you are right! You think that makes you an expert on macroeconomic problems? I don't think so.

So, would that damn the man? No, probably not. But, the fact that his analysis is really limited and he is obviously talking about things he isn't an expert on (unless he has unmentioned experience in politics and running a big company) makes you wonder how much he is off the mark.

Do I mean that everything James say is false? No, the sad fact is that most of what he say is probably correct. But, a while ago Joseph Goodman posted his analysis of how well D&D4 is selling, and is basically boiled down to "I know more than you since I have data to prove it, but I'm not making that data public". It's a situation most often reacted to by "Put up or shut up". Rightly, people were annoyed by his attitude. Now look at the attitude of James Mishler. He calls Gareth Skarka for "King of Snarks". Dude, who is being snarky now? If you want to be believed, scale back on the hyperbole.

Are roleplaying games to cheap? Well, considering how many hours of entertainment you get from a core rulebook they surely are. Since that is not a very convincing economic argument, how about this one. If the pay for the most well paid contributor to a game book is paid less than it takes to make a living, nobody is going to make a living out of writing game books. That's all there is to the whole debate. Now, you have to decide if you think it makes sense for people to expect to make a living out of writing for games.

How about pdf's then? Well, I've written already about the total cost of a pdf buy. I still stand by those conclusions that it makes little sense to buy a pdf for the prices you pay today if you have to foot the bill for printing yourself and get a less attractive product. You say that is intentional to make me buy the hardcopy book? I think the idea is flawed. Erik Mona and John Wick will soon have had core books out there for a deep discount. Time will tell how that pans out.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Heard of The Hovel?

Another fine trollish blog have started publishing again. It's yet another of the Trollgod's minions. Check it out!

Morale rules for T&T

In his post on Grognardia yesterday, James wrote about the morale rules he uses in Dwimmermount. I made me remember fondly the simple and effective rules that grace the Basic/Expert D&D. Just like I said in my comment on Grognardia, I consider morale rules to be a very sensible rule that makes us remember that we don't need to resort to murder and mayhem. Playing scoundrels out for gold and glory it actually makes very little sense. I have a soft spot for the design whch can be called "rules for effect".

My beloved T&T, in its 7th ed., actually don't have any moral rules. Many times lately I've found thinks lacking in this edition which was in the 5th ed. If there are any morale rules in 5th ed., I can't confirm it, since my copy is in storage. So I was thinking that maybe they wouldn't be so hard to make up.

Now things became more complex. I think it would be neat to only use d6, and base it on a SR like almost everything else in T&T. If it makes sense to consider morale when the own force have been reduced to half, the leader killed or maybe excessive amount of hits, we have a set of numbers that decrease. Also, when fighting a monster's MR will decrease. All these numbers decrease. It feels like they have to be considered, somehow.

The morale rating, what would that be? I'd like to base it upon something existing, so the system can be used with everything that's been published before. MR, level and Combat Adds are the components we have to use, apart from the stats of course. Level is usually not a very interesting number in T&T. Compared to D&D, it means little. MR and CA are both involved in combat, so maybe that would be something to base morale rules upon.

My first idea was to use the same mechanic you use for calculate dice of attack from MR, 1 + MR/10. Take that many dice and if any of them is a 6, you make your morale check and keep fighting. That mechanic has the problem that it's hard to figure out a way to account for lax troops and crack troops with bad and good morale, respectively.

My second idea was to roll a SR of some kind. Then we hit upon the trouble of determining the level of difficulty. Base it on level? Base on MR? Both have the nonsensical effect of making bigger monsters fail more often. I'd rather not bring in a subtraction, even though 10 - level might be a suggestion. That would of course have the problem that you'd have to scale 10 to the capabilities of the monster.

If you have any ideas how to sort this out, feel free to suggest them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How many generic rules do you need? One?

Yesterday I was looking at the Open RPG forum over at, and found poll about generic systems. The question of course was, which of the generic ones you use.

I found this interesting, since among the 60 or so rule systems that I own, I find a few of the ones mentioned in the poll. Here's the list of the systems in the poll.

  1. BRP*
  2. GURPS*
  3. HERO
  4. Savage Worlds*
  5. Unisystem
  6. FATE*
  7. HeroQuest
  8. PDQ
  9. d6 system*
  10. d20 system*

The systems I own is marked with a star.

Considering the fact that generic systems is supposed to be able to be used for any setting, why would you need more than one? Surely it would be cheapest to buy one and then use that for all your gaming needs, since it can be used for anything. Right?

Maybe I should ask myself why I own so many of these? I know I prefer some of them for different reasons, and to be frank I don't think I would enjoy using any one of all these systems for all my campaigns. I've heard of that kind of behaviour many times, but it don't seem to be my way. All those systems come with an agenda, and some kind of implied style of play. Since I don't own all of them I can't tell you what it is, but I'm certain it's true for all. Just compare GURPS and the D6 system vehicular combat rules. Two campaigns using these two will be very different, even if both are generic and universal.

So, why bother with generic systems if having style/setting/rules as a unit seem to make so much sense? I'm not sure, really. For me as an obsessive collector I don't need much to get a new system, but if forced to explain myself I'll be sheepishly out of words. I kind of hope I'm not alone at this...

I hate AC, I really do

For those who have been reading gaming blogs today I guess you know that there's a stirring of the teacup again. Again the storm is all about AC. Misery. :(

Once again some peoples manage to come across as idiots for all to see, and far fewer show themselves to be decent blokes who just play games. Ugh.

Thank all the gods for Tunnels & Trolls, and no Armor Class!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Show the love of traps and puzzles! Green Devil Face needs your submissions!

I read James Raggi's post Monday post and was sad to hear that he felt he had too few submissions to put out another issue.

Come on people! All of you OSR guys and gals who run a game, have you never thought of a piece of trouble for your players?! Submit it.

I sent Jim Raggi three pieces of my own, and you don't want him to be force to publish all of my junk just because you guys didn't give him better stuff to choose from, do you? James Maliszewski have posted a few times about what he thinks the hobby needs. I think it needs to get more people involved.

Submit to GDF. It's a fanzine, it's about puzzles and traps and the editor has long hair. Simple enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kevin Speaks!

I just came back from reading RPG Blog II and the big interview with Kevin Siembieda Zach have posted over there. Check it out! Kevin's comments about game balance might interest some. I think his attitude is both invigorating and tiring, since a Palladium game book very often reads like WWF commentators on speed. He must be doing something right, though, and Rifts is nifty. And nuts. Totally nuts.

Plot cupons? How about Whimsy Cards?

Long ago I remember seeing a game supplement like no other. It was created by a company called Lion Rampart, which also created Ars Magica. Me and my friends had that gorgeous game and since we had created many characters to it and felt it had potential, we perked up at the promise of more of Lion goodness. For some reason none of us ever bought it, but I have many times wondered how my later gaming habits might have turned out if we had.

For those of you who don't know what Whimsy Cards is, they can be summarized as small cards the players get to wield and play during a session to influence the game world. It's not possible to suddenly say that they sky is purple, but the cards could be used to introduce twists and turns to the game, like a sudden appearance of reinforcements. Whose reinforcements? That'll be decided in play either by the player who played the card, or by the DM who has to take it into account when narrates what happens next. West End Games once published a game called Torg, which you might heard of. It included a set of cards, not unlike the Whimsy Cards, called the Drama Deck. Like the whimsy cards, they could be used to change the gameplay. Just recently I got hold of the boxed set of Torg, and I plan on actually try it out and see how it works.

Some of you, my readers, might of course have heard of the idea of giving the player narrative power. After all, it's one of they identifying mark of many of the new school indie games. But, even for those of you who might not feel very comfortable or interested in those games, I think the idea of Whimsy Cards is an interesting option. It will keep the game on a firm and familiar footing while at the same time inject some uncertainty into the game even for the DM. Also, having to play cards to get narrative power or other kinds of influence will be a way to pace it and see how much of that new spice you'll like in your game. I'd love to hear how some classic gaming goes with that kind of thing added in. One of these days I'll try it myself.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Free RPG Day Impressions - Dragon Warriors

I have seen Dragon Warriors mentioned, and it seemed to be one of those quirks of history, so I was surprised when I heard it would come back in print. I grabbed the freebie of DW and dived in.

The booklet contains rules for combat, generating characters for two classes, a short introduction to the world, a few monsters and s short adventure. Since it is a game from the past, you kind of expect it to be a old school system and it delivers. The characters have stats, and classes which give you starting values in certain basic skills. Having a value for Attack and one for Defend reminded me of the old Fighting Fantasy game books, also from the UK. Subtracting the targets Defence from your attack and roll a d20 to hit. Nice and simple. Different classes are inherently better at attacking or defending in combat. Also, you have some basic skills Stealth, Perception and Evasion. The classes then also have class based abilities, like Track or Berserk. It's classic old school weirdness that they haven't unified those two classes of Skills. All in all it looks easy enough to understand, and no more odd than some other classics. They have managed to include a roll to penetrate armor, but increase the amount of dice rolled, since damage is set by weapon. I kind of like that solution. I don't know if it works that way in the full game, but here I see an interesting opportunity to include weapon vs armor type effects in a fairly smooth way. Sadly we don't get any hints on how magic works, more than that there are a Magic Attack basic ability for some classes.

There is one thing which I found interesting in the system. Using the Evasion skill you can apparently dodge attacks, and other kind of calamities. There are no other system for saves, which for me is a big plus. They snap the suspenders of disbelief way to easy. Now, not only is this a understandable system for saves, but it uses 2d10 instead of d20. That could be considered a wart on the rest of the system, but note that this will give another kind of probability distribution than a flat d20 spread. I kind of like the implications of that.

The short intro to the world is intriguing. It looks a bit like a gritty, but fantastic, world somewhat inspired by our world. It is no Forgotten Realms kind of super magic to be sure. Maybe it feels a little bit too medieval for my taste. I can't stand Chivalry and Sorcery kind of medieval fantasy, for example.

Lastly, there's a short adventure. I have seen far worse, many times, so this little excursion to the land of Legend gave me warm and fuzzy feelings. It's nothing special, just a clear-out-a-location-from-monsters kind of adventure. But, it shows off the setting and system well.

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - giant frogs!

Last Thursday we had our latest session of my Tunnels & Trolls megadungeon campaign. I am a few days late with the write-up. Sorry about that.

I have now notified my players that I will wrap up this campaign, but since this is a campaign of the "sandbox" style, I can just go on playing without having to bother to much with wrapping up of "story lines". That is a relief.

We chatted a bit about what the players wanted to check out now. They have found entrances and stairs to multiple levels and sublevels. How it fits together is still pretty much unclear, but apart from a short pilgrimage by our half-dragon to the majestic wyrm guarding a treasure on a rock in a lava sea they decided to focus on tying up loose ends on the fairly well explored level two.

The maps came up on the table and then they started to chart the places they had missed or left for later. They moved around a bit, mapped and became confused and gleefully kicked in the doors that had been stuck (my little piece of old school nonsense). One of the rooms that occupied the characters and their resources was a classic "Green Devil Face" where they spent some time figuring out what triggered the trap and how to possibly evade it. Much fun was had with electricity. Don't try it at home!

Having gotten through the trapped room they finally found my jungle. I shall spend a few sentences explaining where that one came from. As some of you might know, Gary and Rob put in many "sub realms" and other dimensional pockets in the halls of Castle Greyhawk. I know that WG6 Isle of the Ape was a homage to King Kong, and also somehow a part of the Castle. That sure is one weird castle. But, if they could, then can I. Naturally, being a fan of Blackmoor I couldn't help including some giant frogs. All added and stirred gently became a sub realm which can be entered on level two of the Dungeon of Voorand, a gigantic cave filled with dense jungle which is magically kept lit and rainy. My poor players suddenly found their characters fighting random encounters in a jungle, underground. I was happy when I managed to roll up a gigantic frog and a werewolf. The first one was slaughtered, with love and the other one with magic. I decided to be generous and allow not only silver weapons (none available at this delve), but also magic. I think the ability in T&T to power up your spells saved the day. Only one of the characters now have to be chained up in the cellar come the full moon.

Outside the dungeon there's now a fully stocked tavern, built and manned by hyenakin. Food and drink should be available for anyone coming in or out the dungeon thirsty and hungry. Should that not be enough, one of the magic trinkets found in the dungeon can be seen outside. It was a small red bouncing rubber ball, but enchanted to double in size each time it bounce. It's now as large as the tavern, and fastened with chains and is a popular tourist attraction. Could I have planned this myself? Lucky me I have players with imagination. Sometimes I think they have to much of that, though. They have had their own "gazebo moment", and refuse to trust the tavern inside the dungeon. Well, now there's competition and it should benefit all.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The value of immersion - CoC At the Mountains of Madness

I have mentioned before that I am playing At the Mountains of Madness right now. This is the first time I have actually played CoC in one of Chaosiums big campaigns at home. Almost all my other experiences have been con games and one-shots. As everyone probably know, CoC is a game where mood is important. Our Keeper have managed to get us fairly involved by using a few steps which have been very effective, in their simpleness. First of all we start by moving to a different place in the room. We move the whole table, so we have a tangible clue that it's time to move our minds into a new place. Secondly we have had ambient sounds for the ship engines at sea, the storms at sea and the windswept plains of Antarctica. When we hit upon a storm at sea, with the noise of the engine and the wind loud in our ears it was impossible not to be there. I've read about this effect before, but now I have felt it. Effective and very simple.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What are Ken Rolston up to these days? Making huge computer games!

I just read an article on Gamasutra about the history of "CRPG"s. That alphabet soup is what you call roleplaying gaming when they show up on a computer. Most of them don't allow much roleplaying, but that's just to be expected.

The article goes though all the big classics in the genre and even classifies them based on their ancestry. Interesting idea. Among the other data collected on the games they also note down who designed what. I already knew Ken St. Andre designed Wastelands, but now I also know what Ken Rolston does these days. He designed Morrowind and Oblivion! Those who remember Ken's role in the Gloranthan Renaissance at Avalon Hill probably have fond memories of his work.

I still remember when Daggerfall was new, and all of us played it like obsessed. The game was huge, and you could basically live your life in that big world. We also found out that you sometimes had gotten a bad rep in a town, and had to move to another one, post haste. I loved that. How I wish Ken could be designing a Gloranthan computer game. That would get me into computer gaming again!

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, or at least D&D

One of my friends likes to tease me these days when I mention D&D. Back in the days when we spent hours and hours in our FLGS chatting about games and pontificating upon the merits or flaws of different games, I had some strong opinions about D&D. Some of these I now get to hear again, directed as questions and friendly sarcasms. I think I probably deserve it.

Even though I spent a lot of money on source books and adventures for AD&D, I never played the game, but I did have a grasp of the game mechanics. I had played the AD&D computer games from SSI, so I knew how things worked. Whatever you thought of D&D, it made sense to know a bit of it considering the amount of stuff you could then pick up and salvage for other games. The diversity of things like Al Qadim, Planescape and Birthright amazed me, and I bemoaned the fact it was written for this system which I despised. Back then I usually called AD&D a "bad combat system, masquerading as a roleplaying game". In a way I still see the flaws, but some developments made me change my general attitude toward D&D

A few years back someone at WotC wrote a very immodest piece on the history of the game. It all boiled down to the fact that D&D had tried to become a generic fantasy system and until 3rd ed came around it just made the game gain weight until it was too heavy to dance to all the different tunes played. Anyone who read Planescape probably remembers all the hairsplittingly complex changes to the magic system to account for the relations between caster and differently aligned planes. All the settings seemed to have similar changes and you could tell the game was a square peg being pushed into a round hole.

Now, when 3rd edition was published we had a very different beast. With a very expressive system of skills, feats and prestige classes you could tool the game to match your setting. It was designed to do it. Because of that I still think third edition is the "best" D&D published so far. It could do whatever you wanted it to. Needless to say the author of that history piece congratulated himself and WotC for their accomplishments, which felt a bit much.

Since WotC decided to publish their new edition very cheaply I picked it up, "for reference", and was charmed. Not too long after that I had started my first D&D campaign and my friends could quote my old digs to me and wonder why I was playing a "bad combat system, masquerading as a roleplaying game"? Maybe a valid question.

I don't think that the best edition for getting a classic "D&D experience" actually has to be the third edition. Having read a bit more about the history of the game, and understood how it once was a game of pulp adventure and sword and sorcery, I now have come around and prefer the so called B/X and BECMI editions of the game. This have been a journey I've been on a few years. Now I am in the midst of the Old School Renaissance, championing Tunnels & Trolls and happily buying games like Swords & Wizardry. One thing I understand now which I didn't when I was making fun of AD&D, is that the game I saw was trying to do something it was never originally intended to do. Not so surprising if it looked like a failure.

Then we have the next step in my evolution, when I learned to love the idea of dungeons. Maybe I'll post about that at a later date.

The First Fantasy Campaign returns, for D&D4

I just heard that Blackmoor is now being sold for 4th ed. You can check it out here.

Since I don't play 4th ed. I haven't bought it, and can't tell if it's any good. Let's hope someone new to roleplaying get it and is curious enough to find out what it is all about, and the history of the place.

Uther, Once And Always!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Moral and ethics in roleplaying - alignment causes brain damage

Today I'm going to join the rest of the blogosphere and talk about morality, ethics and good and evil. Compared to the mainline D&D faithful I'm a heretic, so don your asbestos suit! This might be considered by some as a rant or a flame. Here we go!

For as long as I've known about Dungeons & Dragons I've known about alignment. At day one I thought it was one of the must stupid things in a very stupid game. These days I've changed my attitude a bit, become older and knows a lot more about how a game system support a style or play or not. But, I still hate alignment. It causes brain damage.

I have heard, as have probably everyone who have played D&D, the phrase “You can't do that, you're lawful!” This is just plain ridiculous. How come everyone but me knows what my character feels, thinks and wants?

There are many problems with this phenomenon. First off is the problem that it limits player creativity and enjoyment. One of the great strengths of face to face roleplaying is that it totally open ended. Playing a computer game or a family board game you can only do what the designer thought of. In a RPG you should be able to explore and stretch your legs. It's the biggest strengths that roleplaying games have.

A second problem is that it causes rigidity of thought, and turns mental powerhouses into vegetables. It causes brain damage. Since there are rules for what can't be done, there's no room for common sense. Suddenly you have sensible human beings who might be loving, caring friends and parents in their normal existence but now have become bloodthirsty murderers and amoral robots. Find a tribe of orcs, with females and kids? Suddenly one of the brain dead will say that they must be killed, “because they are evil” or “because they are chaotic”! I have seen it happen and every time I see it, it disgusts me.

So, if someone say that the Rules say it is right to kill sentient beings because they are Evil, what does that say about those who act upon that command? From my point of view it tells me that those who argues that RPGs should be banned because they teach the kids satanism could very well have a solid cause for banning, if they argued that they taught intolerance. Just the kind of intolerance that makes you want ban stuff, incidentally. I'd say it's perfectly fine to play a game where the player characters are, say, hired by the secret police in a totalitarian state in our world. What is cause for concern is what the players do with the responsibility. Having alignment to fall back to absolve the player from morals, and cause an "I only followed orders” mentality. I'd say it's flat out dangerous behaviour.

Now, maybe you object that it's just guidelines for roleplaying, and a starting point to ground the actions of your character. If it is “just a help”, why are there rules for punishing someone who acts out of line? If a rulebook tells me what is right and wrong in life I object (even if I agree!!), since I don't like to have someone elses morals forced down my throat, thank you very much! An observation from experience also tells me that those who claim it's just guidelines probably will be the ones shouting and arguing when someone acts against alignment later on in the session. Bad players are one objection to that observation, but I claim it's the aforementioned brain damage, since they seem to be just fine players as long as the "A" word is not mentioned.

If that wasn't enough there are more things which makes me rage about alignment. How does it work with spells like Known Alignment? Game mechanics have broken down the wall between player and character and suddenly the world knows about the rules of AD&D! The same thing applies to the concept of Evil or Good artifacts of detection spells. The only way to make that work out is for Good and Evil to be relative to the individual. If a cleric of a sun god encounters a warhammer sanctified to the good of darkness it will probably feel evil.

Since some people feel very strongly that moral relativism is more dangerous than HIV, I'd like to add that there's nothing saying that acts and ideals in the game has to be floating free in a sea of post-modernism just because of what I just said. You as a player probably have a set of moral values, an idea of right and wrong. Use those ideas in your game! It's not as if the game will degenerate into an unruly mess just becuase you don't have the crutch of alignment rules. A game about moral issues, where the choices made by the players come from their own convictions, have a much higher chance of being moving and engaging for real. Take a game like Dogs in the Vineyard. In that game your character have the power to define doctrine, and to meter out justice on the spot. You can overturn it all. But, when I've played it, it has every time been a question of us as players asking ourselves how far we really feel comfortable taking that power! Playing a game like that teaches understanding, not intolerance. Probably it will also give you some idea about what evil actually is.

That was a bit long, and rantish. But, I feel quite strongly about this. Alignment is not just a badly designed rule, it has social consequences that I feel are worth fighting. Feel free to disagree, but read what I wrote one more time and try to get what it is I'm trying to say.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - going off the deep end

Today I had something happen that I had thought would happen in one of the first sessions. Having read about megadungeons, I put in a chute down to the deepmost level of my whole dungeon. I put it on level one. I kind of expected the players to find it and be spooked fairly early, but they just avoided it! It looked like a big well where the orcs on level one cast their refuse, but I literally said "they throw down everything they don't want or eat there". I thought that would make someone think they might want what they didn't. That way they never got hold of that magic weapon I put in there for them to be able to fight in incorporeal undead. They managed without, go figure. Today they found it, finally.

For that deep level of the dungeon, I decided to steal an idea from Dave Arneson. That's a good source for stealing ideas! You can read of some of the early adventures in Blackmoor here. So, at the bottom of the dungeon there should be a dragon, right? I placed one down there, and it was sitting on a hoard of treasure in a sea of lava. Inhospitable, to say the least.

For those of my readers who have read the old rule books of D&D, might know that there are maps to be found as treasure. Since I started playing fantasy RPGs I don't think I've seen any, or at least very few, of those. I decided to toss one of those in a scroll case today. It will be fun to see what they do with that. Bring a saxophone to good players and they'll find a use for it. Talking about music instruments, we did have a new player today, who picked "Jazz Trombone" as his Talent. That shows the right attitude, I think. On the spot I invented the Annual Khazan Jazz Festival. Now we had a reason to party, and a nice setting for some fooling around and interpersonal action. Not every fantasy setting has its own Jazz Festival, I'm sure.

Good players also makes me want to highlight something else that happened tonight. When the players decided to go down the well to the roots of the volcano and the sea of lava, they did at all times make sure they had a clear line of retreat. Always make sure to have a line of retreat. Good old classic Gygax delving wisdom from the PHB.

Now the tavern our delving entrepreneur has built is almost finished. Whatever happens, hungry and tired delvers will have a way to get food and drink just outside the dungeon. Heartwarming, isn't it?

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