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Monday, September 19, 2016

Real vs. Virtual Fantasy Role Playing...wait...what?





Playing TTRPG's at the actual table is really great.  For some folks it's the only way to play.  The social interaction, snacks, rolling dice that make noise when they hit the table are just a few of the great reasons to enjoy playing live and in person.  I just quickly snapped the picture above during a session last week, and the spread in this shot is a pretty normal view from behind my GM screen.  I snack, I drink, I make notes, I roll dice, I use mechanical pencils...


We use minis, which I love.  I know alot of folks are not big fans, preferring instead to go 100% 'theater of the mind', a phrase I could have lived very happily without BTW.  We use em a bit for combat, just to get a feel for where the enemies are in relation to the PC's.  I'm not a collector or painter, but that's yet another reason to really like and possibly prefer playing at the table.

I love a live gaming session, but for many years it just wasn't in the cards for me.  Back in 2007-08 My son was small, I was busy with work and just couldn't find the time or space to host or go play in a regular game.  It's a commitment (except for 1-off sessions, which honestly don't appeal to me.  Part of the joy in this sort of game I derive from the ongoing sessions, from the campaign), and I was in no position to commit.

Along came Virtual Tabletops (VTT's) at about this time, and I started investigating.  My friend and gaming buddy of many years who lived many states away began this journey with me.  At first, we found a game that utilized Maptool, but the learning curve was high and the community was less that helpful or welcoming.  We managed to join a group, played a few sessions, and then after some brief discussion we bagged it.  This was not for us.

There weren't too many options at this point, so we flipped over to Fantasy Grounds and decided (after some research) to pull the trigger and each buy a Full License (at that time there was only Full or Player licensing...it is structured differently now).  Via the community we managed to find a few players to join us (amazingly, we have managed to stick together since then, though other players have come and gone), and soon we had a regular Sunday night group going.  We shot for a 3 hour session (more or less) and it was great!  We decided on the Castles & Crusades ruleset, it being the best option for us old school guys wanting to recapture that 1e feel.  The community was/is great, and while there was still a learning curve, it was a relatively quick learn.


Finally back to a regular gaming schedule, I settled in.  Honestly, I didn't even try to find a game IRL, because FG was meeting all of my gaming needs.

Fast forward to 2015. My life is a bit restructured (as lives often are) and I found myself with a bit of time, and a small amount of freedom in which I could possibly rejoin those folks at the table.  With the help of a Meetup.com group I secured some players, and we have a regular Labyrinth Lord game going.  Sunday is game day all around...I GM in the afternoon and am a player in an FG campaign in the evening.

Each manner of play has its positives and negatives.  With my IRL group, I get to see and feel the emotional state of the table.  Maybe that sounds weird, but there is definitely a table 'vibe' that cannot be recaptured over the internet using a VTT.  When things are going very well, or even better, horribly awry, it's palpable.  I had forgotten that feeling, and am glad it's back (and am grateful to the folks who play with me...they are a great group of folks).  Sure, I have to set up, have books, dice, etc ready, and wear clothes when folks come over to play.  

I don't need to wear clothes when I play Fantasy Grounds (though I usually do).  I don't have to look presentable at all.  There is no set up beyond firing up the computer and connecting.  Easy-Peasy.  All visual representations are handled by the software, and we happen to use Skype for voice, though many folks like Teamspeak, and others use Hangouts so they can see each other.  I can still snack, but I'm limited to what I have in the house vs. what folks might bring to share, but it's a small concession.  It can be difficult to find steady, reliable online players...that, if anything, has been my primary complaint.  My core group (myself and 2-3 other guys) have been mostly steady, but adding to the group has been all but impossible for long-term play.  That could be because of the ruleset, or maybe that we play FG and not roll20...not sure.

If you've been out of the gaming loop, or find yourself pressed for time, I'd definitely suggest a VTT.  Roll20 is getting alot of play these days, and Fantasy Grounds has great support, especially for D&D5e if that's your thing.  If you can get to a regular IRL game, awesome, but if not then don't be too quick to discount online play.

Ultimately, and to conclude, I think that it's all about the folks you play with.  The method or means of play is what it is, but people make the game.  





Thursday, September 15, 2016

Oh My, I Clicked Again....




I've got a problem I'm going to share with all of you.  I don't think it's rare or unusual but I think you may be able to relate.  The thing is, I like to buy things.  Not anything mind you, but specific things.  I got needs man, habits.  There are types of things I mainline when I can, and have to fight every day not to spend my money on them.  Hi, my name is Howard, and I like to shop online for things that make me happy for no apparent reason.

As a player of RPG's, I think the items I like to buy often are an extension of my gaming life.  Sometimes there is a direct correlation, and other times the things I like shopping for and buying are more versatile...and sometimes I buy things I never even use GASP!!!

SO, let's talk about the groups of things I enjoy spending my money on, or more importantly that I struggle to NOT spend my money on.


NOTEBOOKS

I have a serious notebook addiction.  The books above are in my collection, and so are any number of others.  I love the paper, the feel and the smell of it.  I really enjoy how the entire book feels in my hands.  The Midori Notebook on the left above is one of my favorites, and strangely I use it the least.  It's like a holy book I can't seem to write in, fearing I might despoil it.  For my IRL Labyrinth Lord game I've started using a graph-lined Moleskine to make notes, keep track of combats, items, XP...you know.  There's always record-keeping in-game, DM or player.  When I see a video review of a cool or unusual notebook I usually need to sit on my hands so I don't click the 'send me one' button that Amazon has so conveniently added everywhere in my life.


MECHANICAL PENCILS

Yup.  I love these things.  I can't draw worth a shit, but there is something so satisfying about how mechanical pens feel and how they function.  The Pentel Graphgear above is my favorite, but I also own a Rotring and a few cheapo's as well.  I've had a love for these pencils ever since elementary school, where I first encountered them at the School Supply Dispensary that popped up weekly.  No wooden #2 ever felt as good as the clickety-click of my mechanical pencils.Obviously these are great for mapping, making quick notes in one of my many notebooks such as tracking combat and adding the xp up.  For some reason I tend to use them mostly during and for gaming.  I don't write that much in my daily life, having switched my note-taking to the phone when I'm out and about. 


BAGS & BACKPACKS

This is a big one.  HUUUGGGEE!  I have been a bag-whore for so many years now I can't even remember when it started.  One day, just for laughs, I'm going to take pictures of all of my bags and backpacks and post them just to try and keep my habit in check.  The Backpack of Holding above was on sale earlier in the week at ThinkGeek and I had to sit on my hands (yup, that really is my method) in order to keep from buying it, and it was HARD.  I prefer backpacks, but I own my fair share (and then some) of messengers, slings, and other assorted units.  I have 2 or 3 Lowepro bags for my cameras (yup..I have a camera problem too, but it's very small in comparison to these...the bigguns).  I have bags that fit into other bags.  Working in the Pawnshop hasn't helped either, because when we get something in that has a nice bag, the bag is quickly separated from the item and I stash it.



DICE & DICE BAGS

I love dice...don't you?  The way they look, how they sound when they hit the table (and different surfaces are satisfying in different ways), and how they feel in my hands make them one of the things I always end up spending money on.  Not alot...there are some good dice sets for cheap on ebay, and I will often click on some when I'm just foolin' about if I like how they look.  Many times you can get 'em shipped for less than $3, which makes them a dangerous impulse-buy item, but heck...you only live once.  My dice bag problem is like the mutant bastard child of my dice problem and my bag problem.  These two folks hooked up one drunken night in the 1980's after a long weekend of gaming, pizza, weed, and Yes albums and now I find their kids all over my place.  I segregate the dice into bags... this is where I keep the losers, in case I need to roll low...here is the bag I use as a player since they all roll high....oh, and this is the bag for when I need some super-special rolls to happen.  When I get mad at a die or a set I move them from one bag to another as punishment.  Now you need to go in the bag with the purple, cracked Chessex dice...let me know when you're ready to apologize and make amends.


Through the years I've had many such problems.  I used to have a book problem, but my phone, ipad etc. have thinned that out heavily.  I still go to the bookstore, but only to peruse the new inventory and decide what I want to download.  I reserve physical book purchases for very special items.  

I still am a shoe whore, but these days money management keeps that heavily in check.  I never spent alot on sneakers, but other shoes and sandals are great.  Lately I have thinned this out and keep a pair of sneakers for everyday good weather, a pair of hiking/walking Merrells for hikes or during the bad seasons, and a pair of comfy slip in dress shoes in brown and black.

I love electronics, and gadgets, and watches and guns and knives and fountain pens...ok...maybe I have alot of problems, but they are all under control.  After well over 10 moves in my 47 years I've learned that lean living is good, and small purchases are best.  If I can't get it easily into my SUV, I'm probably going to leave it behind.  Several moves in my life I left behind alot of stuff...I'm not proud of it or happy about it, but the situation required a rapid bug-out with only essentials in tow.

My food problem translated into a cooking problem which by default made kitchen items a large problem.  A day shopping at the restaurant supply store is how I roll now, and even then I make a list before I go.

I love RPG's and the associated gear...like in the pic below:


Long ago (1994) I divested myself of my entire RPG collection dating back from about 1981, as I was setting off across country to start fresh.  It was a huge mistake.  I know I could spend endless days on ebay trying to rebuild it, but until I win the lottery or that rich uncle dies I'm just forging ahead and trying not to spend too much.  The method and the urge are there, believe me, but I simply cannot justify the financial expenditure on such an endeavor.  

OK...I'm glad I got that off of my chest.  Thanks for listening.  If you too have a similar problem, or a specific item/group of items you can't resist, leave a little comment below.  Share with the group.  Unburden your soul.  It will feel better once you put it out there, I swear.

Until next time...

Oh...PSSTTT...BTW...If you are feeling generous and evil at the same time, and want to buy me something...feel free.  My wishlist on Amazon is below...

https://amzn.com/w/9MAQI2EN0OLT





Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Hidden Treasure of Monsters



Hey John...this one's for you!

They kill alot of monsters, our players and their characters.  We cook up a dungeon, or a quest over land and sea, and they throw themselves at wave after wave of creatures that want to stop them, kill them, or eat them.  It's a dirty business, and even if the party manages to win through, there's only a chance that there will be treasure as a reward.  More often than not, that ogre who attacks from behind his favorite 'hiding boulder' did not bring his loot with him...and without a solid tracker or the time to manage it, the party may leave only with their lives and some XP.

Now...in my experience as a player and GM of many, many (too many) years I have noticed a certain pattern.  It seems fairly common that a player, even a relatively new player, who manages to slay a dragon...despite the immense pile of loot in the lair...will almost always try to grab some scales, some claws, some teeth from the now deteriorating corpse of the vanquished great lizard.  Interestingly enough, they don't seem to repeat this when they slaughter a bunch of goblins, or a few Drow, or an owlbear or umber hulk.  They kill the monster, look for some treasure, and then beat a path to the next monster, treasure, npc, or quest point.  I'm not saying that ALL players do this, but overall it seems to be the pattern...even my own.



However, if your world embraces alchemy, or magical components are needed by wizards, or even if you simply have men or women who make their living investigating the academic nature of abnormal taxonomy, then the players (whether they know it or not) are leaving the real money on the field of battle.

Enter the Butcher!

Butcher Class for Labyrinth Lord

Requirements: STR 14 INT 13
Prime Requisite: STR
Hit Dice: 1d8
Maximum Level: None
The Butcher is a classically trained fighter who has spent part of his education under the tutelage of an Arcanist Class with an interest or need for components or ingredients that can only be harvested from monsters.  These fighters are trained to identify  the most likely, important materials that could be harvested from any given monster or creature that is slain.  Also, best methods for preservation of said parts.

The Butcher must have a Patron, an individual of an Arcanist Class (commonly an Alchemist) who will continue to educate and train the Butcher in the methods required for the best possible outcome of parts-harvesting.  While any other class can hack off a paw, or pull some teeth, the Butcher is an expert at removing such items to keep them intact and most potent for magical purposes.

In addition to normal fighter weapons, there are several non-standard weapons that the Butcher may implement including:

Large Cleaver        1d8 damage
Large Fillet Knife 1d8+1 damage
The Deboner          1d10 damage



Once a monster or creature has been slain, the time required to Harvest parts is 1d10+2 turns for man-sized or smaller, 2d10+2 turns for horse sized, and 4d10+4 turns for anything larger...if time is of the essence, the Butcher cannot properly perform his function...and parts may be lost or ruined.


Butcher LEVEL PROGRESSION
Experience Level Hit Dice (1d8)
0                    1            1
2,035            2            2
4,065            3            3  
8,125            4            4
16,251          5            5
32,501         6             6
65,001          7            7                        (can cast PRESERVE 1x per Day)
120,001       8             8
240,001       9              9                       
(can cast PRESERVE 3x per Day)
360,001       10           +2 hp only *
480,001       11           +4 hp only *      
(can cast PRESERVE 5x per Day)
600,001       12           +6 hp only *
720,001       13           +8 hp only *
840,001       14           +10 hp only *
960,001       15           +12 hp only *
1,080,001    16           +14 hp only *
1,200,001    17           +16 hp only *
1,320,001    18           +18 hp only *
1,440,001    19           +20 hp only *
1,560,001    20           +22 hp only *
*Hit point modifiers from constitution are ignored.

  • AT Level 1 the Butcher can harvest external parts (claws, fur, teeth)
  • AT Level 3 the Butcher can preserve internal organs/components for up to 2 weeks of travel in normal conditions
  • AT Level 4 the Butcher will be able to identify the MOST VALUABLE portion of any creature to be harvested 
  • AT Level 5 the Butcher can drain fluids such as blood, poison, and even internal stored gasses for storage and travel
  • AT Level 7 the Butcher will have access to the SPELL: PRESERVE


Preserve
Level: 2 Magic-User
Duration: Special (until Dismissed)
Range: 1 item
This spell creates a field around a harvested object or food item that will keep said item as fresh as the moment of harvest.  The spell encases 1 object only.  The spell will dissipate if the caster wishes to end it, if the caster dies, or if a dispel magic is cast upon it.

VALUE OF PARTS

Monster Part Pricing for EXTERNAL PARTS (includes claws, fur, horns, teeth)

Roll d%      Part Value (gp)
01-15                   10
16-30                   25
31-45                   50
46-60                   75
61-75                  100
76-85                  250
86-90                  500
91-95                  750
96-00                1,000

Monster Part Pricing for INTERNAL PARTS (includes bones, blood, organs)

Roll d%      Part Value (gp)
01-20            1d4x10
21-30            2d4x10
31-40            1d4x100
41-50            2d4x100
51-60            2d6x100
61-00            3d6x100


The Value of More Specific or Highly Enchanted parts should be determined by the GM.  Examples might include:

Unicorn Horn
Basilisk Eye
Dragon Fire Mechanism

Essentially any very specialized part that is known to create a magical effect should be treated as a special case, and ruling on harvesting, preservation and value must be a special case.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Is Dungeons & Dragons a White Guy Club?



OK...a small warning before you continue reading.  I'm gonna go deep on this one.  It's a topic I've been thinking about for some time, and recently have had a few conversations with gaming friends regarding.  It's gonna be about race, in particular 'why I have never played D&D with a black guy', so I may cross a line I shouldn't (likely in a non-malicious, accidental way...but it could happen).  I may not say something how YOU would say it, so maybe you find that offensive.  Bottom line is, if you think you might be offended, maybe you just shouldn't read it.  I know I can't stop the hate-mail or whatever later on, but its on my mind and I wanna talk about it, and I don't think talking about it is a problem.  Some folks are looking for a problem, and I'm asking those folks nicely, just don't read.  I won't get into a fight with anyone about this, because while I'm curious enough to want to talk about it here, I'm not invested enough to go to war over it.  Caveat over...your call.

I have never played Dungeons & Dragons or any other table-top role-playing game with a black guy (or girl).  I have been playing for a long time (since 1981 or so), and in all my years of playing, and in all the places I have lived, I have never played with a black guy.  I don't think I've ever even seen a black guy playing...period.  A short while ago I saw this video...


I thought it was a fun video, and didn't give it much thought.  Then I started taking note of all of the things happening with women and RPG's.  I had occasionally played with a girl at the table, but often she was adjunct...you know...the girlfriend of a guy playing who didn't want to be left out.  She didn't really take it 'seriously', and by that I just mean she was playing only to be near her boyfriend, not coming to the table really looking to play and enjoy the game.  These days alot of women/girls seem to be playing, GMing, and enjoying the hobby in the same way I have done for all these years, and I'm glad.  It means that we get a whole batch of fresh players with, in all likelihood, a perspective and attitude towards the game that will be different and refreshing.  I don't think of myself as a feminist or anything like it, but 15 year  old me sure would have liked to play D&D with a girl, because then I would have something to talk about with a girl, and maybe I would have had an opportunity to ask her out on a date or something.  Lord knows I was scared to death of girls as a young teenager...but I certainly knew that I liked 'em!

Anyway, my young libido aside...recently I began to think about diversity in gaming as a general construct, and that led me to where I'm at right now...this place where, as I reflect back on my 'career' as a player of D&D and RPG's in general, that I have never played with a black guy.  I grew up in Philly, a very racially and culturally diverse city where white and black folks (and every other ethnicity) live and work and raise kids and go to school...you get the idea.  There was no lack of black folks here.  I went to school with plenty of black kids (even though they were bussed in back then), and I worked with black guys (who were older, and great mentors (especially when it came to lunch...I worked in Center City, and those guys knew where to get the best grub on the super cheap...my 10$ always bought me a big lunch and 5$ change)).  My point is, that while I was around plenty of black folks every day, not once did any of the black kids in my middle school or high school ever sidle up to me while I read the DMG at lunch and take an interest, or even show that they knew what the hell it was.  I never saw a single black person at the FLGS.  It seemed like a white-guy only affair.

Later I moved to Houston, another metropolitan city  (though arguably less so than Philadelphia), and again I encountered the same lack of diversity in gaming.  Never saw a black dude at the FLGS in Houston.  I posted and answered ads for players and DM's, and not one new person or group contained a black guy.  As I started to go to gaming conventions, same thing.  A sea of white, pimply faces.  Now, back then I really wasn't giving it much thought.  I just hung with my friends.  I had gaming friends (all white or Asian), and then just friends (white, black, Asian...whatever...just friends).  It never struck me as odd because I wasn't analyzing it, I was just living it.  It was the 90's by then...BTW.

During my conversation with my Sunday night FG group last weekend...I decided to bring it up.  Had anyone played D&D with a black guy?  NOPE.  Had anyone been to a Convention and saw a black dude?  Nope.  I though to myself geez...what the fuck is going on here?  It's like 30 years after I started playing and still, no black guys?  We went to the internet, looking for answers.  None to be had.  A few people look like they tried to get some things going, but nothing stuck.  There was no blog for the Society of Black TTRPG Guys.   No organization of black gamers.  Images from this years GenCon were devoid of black guys.  Did I search wrong?  Did I miss a picture?  Maybe.  Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but that still doesn't change the fact that I never played D&D with a black guy.

When I play Fantasy Grounds and we have a new game coming up, we post for new players.  Now granted, I can't really tell what race anyone is over Skype.  I still don't think I ever played a VTT with a black guy.  Maybe I did, and I just don't know it...but I doubt it.

I would love to hear from some black players/GM's.  It's a strange feeling, ya know?  Did we, RPG players as a group, somehow accidentally exclude black guys from our games, or did black guys excuse themselves from the 'table' for some reason?  Is this a hobby that just held no interest for the average or even the nerdy/geeky black guy?  Are things different now? Is it possible that I, being a fellow of a particular generation, won't ever play with a black guy because I tend to continue to play in my general age-bracket, and only younger gamers have this sort of diversity?  

Look...I'm not putting out a call to black gamers here.  I'm not looking to add a black guy to my game table just so I can say I have a black guy over to game...That seems overtly racist.  I guess I'm just wondering if there are black players of D&D, and do they have a perspective on the game or the hobby in general that I don't have access to, and if so, could they share it?

Also..Why don't we ever discuss this?  I see Diversity in gaming all over the place when it comes to gender, but nothing seems to be talked about with regard to race.  Are we all too scared to discuss it openly, and if we don't then how will it ever change?  For that matter, did it already change and I just missed it?

Holy crap.  Why am I even thinking about this?  I don't fucking know.  Sometimes I get a thought in my head and I can't shake it.  I don't think it makes me a bad person or unusual...

Ok..now you guys can tell me that I've been living under a rock.  Fire away.





One Good Monster is All You Need





I don't post much about actual game-play experiences, primarily because my regular IRL game is only twice a month.  As a grown up with big boy responsibilities, time is limited and so is my RPG playing unfortunately.  I certainly remember weekends as a kid where we entered the basement on Friday night and crawled out Sunday afternoon to return to our homes, weary from battle and sated on pizza, Pringles and coke for another week.

This past Sunday I had a good game.  Two new players arrived at the table, and I thought the intro's went smoothly and we got right down to the nitty gritty of dungeon-delving.  The pregame setup is shown above, a small but uncomfortable space.  Just as my time for play is limited, my time for prep is a similar situation, so I don't write much down but I do spend alot of my drive-time thinking about the direction I'd like to take the game.

This week I knew I wanted to make quick work of introductions and get the party crawling together, knowing full well that regardless of any role-playing at the top, it's the danger that pulls everyone together as a team.

The game started above, in the large town of Aver, currently under siege from below as a unknown quantity of Ratmen (yup..love me some Skaven) have started to ascend through the opening the party had been using for weeks to plunder the keep buried below the town.  The original party remaining consists of Slim, the elven thief, Rhodyn, the young human Fighter (with cavalier overtones), Dharmir the Fighter (with Barberous overtones), and finally Solus the elven wizard.  Overhearing that the ratmen had begun an assault the newcomers in the tavern...Riverthorn the Cleric of the god of Darkness and Fitzgerald the fighter of little skill and much fear decided that their help might be needed.

Town guards blocked the progress of the ratmen, but a more permanent solution was required.  Dharmir decided the best way to clear the hole and get back down to the keep was fire...but then, fire is usually the answer to most in-game problems...amiright?  A cask of oil was thrown into the chute and broken, then set ablaze.  The wretched aroma of burning fur and the dying screams of terror put the party in a great mood to go down and finish the job!

Without a play-by-play of the crawl (which would be pretty boring), I want to talk about the singular creature I chose to kill..ehem...I mean challenge the party.  Before most gaming sessions I spend some time with my nose in a few creature compendiums (and the actual creature compendium) in the hopes that I will find a worthy opponent for the party.  Many DM's throw so many monsters at the party it's like a combat buffet.  I'm not a fan of this style.  While there's a time and place for quantity, it's quality I'm after.  I want the players to talk about the battle after it finishes with a frightened and exhilarated look in their eyes...combat against monsters should be (IMHO) memorable.  After all, if someone (or someoneS) didn't die during the combat, they probably came close!

This time I drew from my absolute favorite tome, the Fiend Folio..the original...not some silly later incarnation or alternate book of 'fiends'...

...and the creature I chose was one I don't think I had ever played...the XILL!!!


A wicked, intelligent, and deadly opponent, the Xill is hunting not the party, but a single member for use as a host to carry its eggs and feed its young.  LE in alignemnt, the Xill is an Ethereal creature who visits the Prime plane in order to make more Xill...and why not?  Don't judge the Xill.  It needs love too.

It has a unique method, popping into the PM plane from its ethereal state grabbing a character from behind and subduing it and then quickly popping back off to the ethereal plane to lay its eggs inside the now unconscious victim.  Much like the spider wasp, it needs a moist, warm place to lay its eggs and its young need instant nourishment upon hatching.  Ain't nature grand!?

The Xill materialized and grabbed on to Riverthorn, the cleric caught by surprise!  The party had only a few rounds to act as the Xill began it's subdual assault.  Spells had little or no affect, as the Xill has extraordinary Magic Resistance.  Focused on its prey, it did not attempt to defend itself as the fighters tried to surround and strike the foul thing. It came down to the wire as the Xill knocked Riverthorn into submission and began to fade back to its lair, and if it managed to do so, there would be no following it. It was a combination of Rhodyn's sword strike and Slim's arrow that managed to pierce the AC of the Xill and render it harmless.

More happened that day, but it was the battle with the Xill that was the highlight as far as I'm concerned.  Sure...I could have thrown a hundred ratmen, a few dozen mushroom men, and some other bad guys at the party...but it only takes one monster with wicked intent (or one crazed monster with animal intelligence, or one mother monster protecting it's nest...you get the idea) to really set off the game session as something memorable.

I know, the mega-dungeon is making a comeback.  That's fine.  I get it.  There's nothing like 4-6 hours of crawling from one deadly encounter to the next, facing death at every turn and reaping the rich rewards of treasure hoards and monster parts (holy crap, my guys love to butcher a monster...this is a post all by itself), but for my money a well thought out combat with an unusual opponent in a setting that makes sense is far more entertaining.  After the 5th or 12th or 23rd battle in a mega-dungeon, do you even remember what the hell you were fighting?  How are you even carrying all of that copper?

It was a fun session.  I hope everyone had a good time (and I think they did), and planning for the next session has begun.  Next time there will be monsters too...but as usual, there will be one special creature...after all, the alchemist is hungry for parts and ingredients, and if there's one thing this party is good at, it's the harvest after the fall.





Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons has some big Gods...



D&D has some big Gods.  No Joke.  Lots of serious deities pouring energy into clerics across the land, often taking a heavy hand to the machinations of men (and women) and sometimes directing the play from high above.  In The Realms (the forgotten ones, you remember), they have had trials and travails, even sent down to inhabit the bodies of avatars at one point.  They Just always seemed massive to me...just a bit too big for their britches.

Back when I started playing the game (I believe it was the Bronze Age) I was eager to nab my copy of Deities & Demigods (the first ed.) and start getting my clerics connected to their higher power.  As a kid I usually gravitated towards the cleric.  He could fight and cast spells, heal up in a pinch, and was overall a very flexible class, but when I first started playing them, I was clueless when it came to the Gods.  I just used some amorphous concept of ‘god’ and ran with it.  It wasn’t until the release of that book that I started giving it some serious thought.


The best part (IMHO) about that source-book were not the larger than life deities, but the lesser ones, the in-betweeners, and even the demi-gods and heroes.  They seemed somehow more approachable, more likely to turn their attention towards an individual.



These days, when I create homebrew worlds, I take the ‘local gods’ approach to pantheon building.  Sure, I always throw in a set of BIGS.  Usually, I make it a small pantheon of Gods of Law and Gods of Chaos.  I’ve always liked this approach (it simply drips of Moorcock, and why not?) and it helps quickly explain and manage the larger, outer circle of god-like jobs such as universe creation, light and darkness, higher race building...all of the more serious aspects of gods.  Real attention to gods is something I like to do with the players who have chosen to follow a religion, or become clerics.  For these gods, I take the low road. We flesh out the deity together, and we grow the dictates, etc. as play occurs.


It’s easier if I just show you an example.  A few weeks ago a new player decided to join my game and she had chosen to play a cleric.  I asked her what sort of overall character concept she was considering, and after a few emails I had a good idea what sort of god her character would worship.  I then whipped up this:

Aeris & Zuris: The Twin Gods of Day & Night, Light & Darkness

In the earliest moments of the universe, soon after the firmament had dispersed and the space and cosmic dust had settled, the creator lit the stars and shone his myriad light upon the places he had wrought.  It was at this instant, in a time before time was marked, that the twin gods Aeris and Zuris awoke to begin their watch over the days and nights of a million, million worlds.

Of those that worship the day and the light, we shall not speak.  That is a discussion for another treatise.  Here we will pull back the cloak of darkness that enshrouds the night and reveal the mysteries of Zuris, and of his priesthood, the Brotherhood of the Ineffable Night.

The temples dedicated to the God Zuris are never touched by light of any source.  To do so is a great transgression, a blaspheme against the Lord of the Dark.  His places of worship are almost always found underground, and though the path to darkness may be lit, his inner sanctum is an inky-black space.  His priests have no need of any light, as they can see in darkness as twilight.  In turn, they lead the faithful to their proper places as the worship begins, and then back again when services are completed.  All prayers issued to the Zuris in light of any kind are less likely to be heard, and are almost never answered.  Only his truly faithful, his Clerics who spread his word and the darkness throughout Thayrun, are able to receive his blessings in the presence of his brother the light.

Spells cast in total darkness have a 25% chance to be doubly effective

Always in dark robes or tabards emblazoned with the symbol of the black sun, the clerics of Zuris elucidate the mysteries of the dark to those who are willing to listen.  He is not an evil god, nor are his teachings that of evil.  The darkness is simply his domain, and his love is for the creatures and constructs that thrive when the sun has retreated and his brother Aeris turns his face from the many worlds.  While he loves all of his supplicants with equal love, he has a fondness for the owl.  This bird, a fierce predator and symbol of wisdom, is said to hold dominion over all other creatures who inhabit his domain.

Owls are revered by the Brotherhood of Ineffable Darkness, and its image is often a symbol etched into buildings where the brothers will find safety and assistance when travelling on the road and in the wilds



There are many strictures that guide the faithful.  Prayers to the Lord of the Night are offered at the edge of twilight, as the last rays remove themselves and darkness enshrouds the world.  The Brotherhood of Ineffable Darkness allows its adherents to wield only the weapons of the night.  His Clerics may also use only the armor proscribed by the church.  Clerics are forbidden to hold, ignite, or otherwise use implements that product light.

Weapons : Dagger, Dirk, Cudgel, Mace, Morningstar (iron only), Flail, Dart

Armor : Any up to/including Scale, (all armor must be black)

Now, these gods are a bit high up on my god-ladder.  Every town and village that the party arrives at, I try and create smaller, local deities if part of the plan is to visit a temple or place of worship (sometimes just for fun).  Most of these gods are good aligned, although many are simply neutral (evil gods are fun to build, but that's a whole other post I think).  Most farming communities will worship a god or goddess of fertility.  In larger towns, craftsmen will often have a ‘house god’, for instance in the new module I’m writing, I’ve created a god/patron saint of Bakers.

How do I keep track?  Well, I keep a small black logbook of gods/goddesses I create, but outside of that, I don’t.  I don’t worry about it.  The people who inhabit these worlds (my worlds tend to be medieval/early renaissance European-style) are mostly uneducated peasants!  Why on earth do they need to think about all of the potential gods that some poor peasant 500 miles away may worship?  It’s silly.  I’ve seen folks on the net agonize over building a ‘proper pantheon’ for their new world...the one they have already spent immeasurable hours and days pouring over.  My way is simple, and it fits nicely with my organic approach to world-building.  There’s no reason to build it all first...the players will come if all you have is a village and a cave!

What’s my point here?  I don’t know.  I guess...don’t sweat the small things just because they seem like big things.  As long as you keep track of the things you’re building into your world, you’ll be fine.  Alot of new players/GM’s agonize over these things...and I know that I used to as well.  Over time you just learn to enjoy the entire process once you let go of the excessive preparation some GM’s might scare you with.

It doesn’t matter that you created Hutha of the Hearth to watch over village A, and down the road they worship Fogop of the Fifty Fingers at village B.  No one is right, and everyone is right.  Just have fun.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Girls Gone Rogue : Alpha Blue part deux




I'll say one thing for Venger Satanis, he's consistent!  I reviewed Alpha Blue a few weeks ago, and had been wondering what sort of follow-up VS had in mind.  Had I known that I would find the greatest sand-faring creature ever to bless a source-book in the Vagina Whale Sand Worm, I would have gravitated to this earlier.  Never before have (3?) things come together in so eloquent a manner.  Thank goodness there's an illustration so I don't have to leave it all up to my imagination, which could never handle processing a creature so distinct and unusual.  Kudoz to the artist.

Where to begin?  Girls Gone Rogue is not too distinct from Alpha Blue, using the same approach of campy, sci-fi trope humor to accentuate the sleazy, low-rent feel of the space-station turned whore-house.  VS has once again managed to take some of the best TV and Movie references of the 70's and 80's and drop them into a sea of a thousand tables.  Oh...don't you worry.  Uncle Venger made sure that this source-book was loaded with tables for everything from 'how does she look during orgasm?" (BTW...nice reference to Office Space there), to my favorite, the Female Attributes Table.  Now, I'm no feminist, but I find it curious that the male attribute table has 20 entries, and the female is a d100 roll!  So funny...entries like Pregnant, Abusive, and Never Wants Sex are just a few winners that top this chart!

That's nothing compared to the Turn-on table...which curiously crosses every line of good taste (of which I have none, so fret not) except does not list Poop!  Seriously, are there places even Venger will not tread?  Was Poop the line he would not cross?  Hmmmm....

Let's talk about art.  Some of it was rehashed from Alpha Blue, but that's cool, since some folks might buy either book and not the other (though IMHO, you should grab both, otherwise it just seems incomplete).  I decided that the image of the Sean Young-ish Replicant-ish chick beaver shot is my favorite new illustration from the lot, followed closely by the orgy scene with the Grell with penises where the hook/claws would normally be (that is some seriously crazy shit man...)

Venger has done a nice job rounding out the AB universe with some ship-to-ship combat rules, planetary type tables, and going a bit deeper on the Zedi (who are you kidding with that?  We all know you're under investigation from Lucas' legal team).  Possibly the nicest addition are the adventure scenarios towards the end.  If you weren't sure how to use these books, go right to those and pick a good time to be had by all, then roll up some PC's and start drinking...ehem..I mean playing.  There are references to some great, classic stuff...you won't find them all on the first pass.  It took two readings for me to find the transformers reference...nice one there.

Now, VS sent me a review copy, but he told me I could say anything I want about these books.  I'm just gonna go with the following statement:

If you are easily offended, this stuff isn't for you.  It's not for kids, old ladies, SJW's, or small woodland creatures.  If you are an irreverent, somewhat twisted character of a moral standing that is nearer to sitting, or laying down, then this might be a fun way for you and your buddies to pass an evening.  It's gonna derail.  Let it.  That's all part of the fun!  Hopefully my enjoyment of this book and its mate won't make you think less of me.




New Player at the Table! Well...New to Me...






I have a new player joining my Labyrinth Lord game this coming Sunday...maybe two, but definitely one.  It’s been a dry August for gaming in my world, with folks going on vacation, me going on vacation, and schedules in general just not connecting which left a dearth of role-playing in my life I intend to correct asap.

While i’m bummed that we had a player leave the game (he was awesome btw), it’s always nice to introduce someone new into the mix.  Back in the day (the 80’s is my back in the day btw) players came by way of personal introduction, assuming we didn’t already know each other from school or camp or wherever.  Bottom line is, we mostly knew who we were playing with, so personality clashes, while possible, were infrequent.  If I knew a kid and didn’t like him or we had bad blood already, it was unlikely I was gonna be ok with him sitting at my kitchen table...but again, that wasn’t something I had to deal with much.  For the most part, new adds were great.

These days we have many more ways to find players, and the internet is the 10,000 pound gorilla who often runs that end of things.  It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but the internet has a reality distortion field that often makes new players seem much better than they may actually be once the game starts.  It’s hard to suss out personality over the interwebs.

I’d like to say that craigslist, reddit, and a few other places on the interwebs have NOT been good sources for players.  Inasmuch as I use and often enjoy those sites, they don’t really work that well when I wanted to build a gaming group.  Even sites like Meetup.com, which is how I put together my current IRL group, has been sketchy.  In fact it is only one Meetup.com group out of many that has helped me build a table I’m happy with...I’m not going to pimp it here by name, but it’s a well managed group comprised primarily of older (over 35) gamers and alot of dedicated GM’s and Players who run steady games that are fun and consistent.  There were alot of other Meetup groups in the area, but this one was the ONLY group that provided me with the stability I needed to organize and run a regular game (ok Jon, I know you came from one of those other groups, but I just got really lucky with you...the other guys who showed up were a problem...and the rest of us knew it.  You, however, are a great player...and person).


So when I lost a player and reached back out to that well managed group the head Admin was super happy to help, and new player(s) happened.  It’s been a few weeks and via email our new player (Hey Nan!) has been wonderful with communication via email with regard to her character’s creation.  She plays with another of the guys at our table, so she had two solid references, one personal and one of the Meetup group.

So how do I prep for a new player/character?  We are many months into playing our game...things can get weird...ya know?  So I deviate from my normal game prep (which consists of making sure my dice bag is still full of dice, quickly organizing my pile of notes from the last game, think up at least one good combat (maybe make a note about it and generate monster HP), and check to ensure I have a few working pencils (I like mechanical pencils)) by creating a context by which the new PC will meet/greet the old PC’s. That's all. Nothing grand or dramatic. I think of an easy way to introduce the new guy to the old guys, usually via an NPC both know, or by a circumstance that will draw both of them together. Sometimes I don't even know what that will be until we are all at the table and we do a small recap (which, BTW, is something I think every GM should do. Recapping the last session or two helps everyone slide into the fresh session

I know that alot of folks (GM’s) spend a great deal of time preparing for a game, especially when they are new to the art but not always.  Even GM’s with many hours/years under their belts still spend a considerable amount of time, energy, and imagination to create the scenarios/campaign world that the players will face at game time.  I appreciate that, and on some level I understand it, but it is really not my style.

There are two kinds of writers the internet keeps telling me about, planners and pantsers.  I know this is bullshit, and that most writers find themselves somewhere on the spectrum but not at one extreme or the other.  Still, as a writer you lean one way or the other.  I’m heavy on the pantser side of the median as both a writer and as a GM, preferring to enjoy being ‘in the moment’ as much as my players do.  I want the game to (sometimes) be as surprising to me as it can be for them.  Sure, I have an overall game concept, and sometimes I drop a module into the mix to make the crawl a bit more organized and fun, but usually I am living in that other place where none of us know what might happen next.  It’s much more exciting for all of us, but it can get out of hand.  As a GM, you have to know yourself.  If you require plans be made, traps be laid, and treasure be hid then by all means write that shit down...but I would suggest that if you are a heavy planner, perhaps the next session you have all ready to go, push those notes to the side, close the rule-books, and just grab your dice.  Spin your tale not from that loose-leaf paper, but from your heart.  Look at the players as you stand, leaning over the edge of the table shifting from side to side as you weave your story...see how it goes.  You can always look down at the paper to remember that lich’s name, or the kingdom he’s usurped.  No one needs to know that you spent two weeks writing his backstory…

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I wanted to take a brief minute to talk about my good friend Deron.  Really I want to thank him.  Deron and I have been gaming for quite a while, mostly using Fantasy Grounds and playing Castles & Crusades.  When I wrote my first module for publication, I knew that I needed an aggressive, smart, and organized editor to whip it into shape.  Deron came to the rescue.  He turned Adventure Most Fowl into something I am very proud of.



A few days ago I (mostly) finished up the manuscript for a new module, and once again I knew I needed Deron’s touch to clean up the trail of dangling participles, and the paragraphs with far too many commas that I knew I had created.  Again, he was happy to slice and dice my words into a proper pot of stew that both looks and tastes great.

I don’t know if you are looking for someone to edit your work, but if you are, reach out to Deron.  You could do alot worse…  deron@hedgewriter.com




Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons 5e Just Ain't for me...




One interesting thing about my twitter feed...alot of folks are playing 5e.  New players are flocking to it (for reasons I can't fathom, but I'm always glad when new folks start playing D&D), and old players are turning on to it and calling it good, even great.  Sometimes they refer to it as 'the best yet'.
Several years ago I was running a PC with Windows XP.  It had been running with that OS for a very long time, and it was stable as hell.  It worked great, and Vista, riddled with issues and poor reviews, was certainly no reason to upgrade.  When Windows 7 hit the shelves, the tune turned quickly and the new OS was revered as the next best thing.  I'm a voracious skeptic, and had seen early-adopters eat their words and lose their dollars before, so I held off.  Reviews focused in their scopes, but they like it and the reviews were solid,  companies switched platforms and upgraded clients.  It seemed like the new OS was solid and stable, but still, I held off.  XP was still running on my desktop and there was no reason to switch.  It was stable and reliable, and those are factors I can always use more of in my life.  It took major software and hardware requirement changes for me to finally bite the bullet and upgrade.

Now, With Win8 and now Win10 in circulation, I'm still a Win7 guy.  It's stable and reliable, things in high demand in my world still.

What does this have to do with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition?  You see, I still play OSR Retro Clones meant to mimic the systems and play of Basic and AD&D1e.  I had heard all about the great new things in 5e, how much attention it was attracting, and that old gamers and new were flocking to it in droves.  I remember playing in a few 2e games.  Hated em.  Too much system.  It was the same with every other subsequent system...too much.  I didn't need it. "Crunchy".  It's a word I dislike, and a word that really doesn't feel good when I say it.  "Crunchy".  It's not a bag of chips, it's a game.

With all things rpg,  eventually there came a time where I gave in.  A time where I needed to have a look at the books, crack em open and peer inside and see what all the fuss was about.  I even broke down and joined a game so I could play through.  It was eye opening.  There's no denying that the new system has appeal, the chatter all around me proves it, and after spending some time in the 5e trenches, I certainly understand why.



They pulled alot of the 'crunch' out of the game, much of the combat mess that made 4e such a chore to play (yeah, I know some folks loved this tactical combat approach but I'm not one), and replaced it with a much smoother experience for both the player and the DM. Game-play is smoother all around, and new players to the entire genre of game can now much more easily understand what is happening technically, making the fun part of the game quicker and easier to access.  The books look spectacular, and the entire package is well presented.  As an experienced player I only had a few flubs before sliding into a comfortable place with my character and getting to the Role Playing, which is what I enjoy about the game.

Here's the thing.  It's not for me.  I mean, it's ok.  I can play if asked to join a game, and I might enjoy doing so with the right group, but there are still too many things I dislike about 5e, and so it will never be my first choice.  If all the OSR content went away, and the original and advanced versions of the game were swept into the annals of time, I think I would be done with the hobby.  "But why," you ask, "isn't 5e good enough to get you that gaming 'fix' you crave, you need?"

Nope.

There are issues I have that cannot be overcome.  I dislike the skill system.  I don't like healing surges or death saving throws.  I'm not a fan of how clerics are presented.  I think many of the classes and races are poorly built or don't even need to exist.

"Holy Shit!" you exclaim.  "Is that all?"

Nope.  Magic seems like a mess to me.  It's all over the place and crossing boundaries that don't need to exist.  Everyone talks about 'character builds', which is not a concept I'm buying into, instead preferring to create my character.  There are too many options for 'builds' that could and should be handled IMHO by the DM and Player as part of a background, which, btw, there doesn't need to be a goddamned table for, or a kit for, or features for.  The entire process of making a character in 5e is so... so organized, managed, and streamlined that it makes me wanna puke.  Who needs all that shit?  Where is the part where I imagine all that stuff and then write it all down.

Oh yeah...and a skill check for every action on a table listing skills?  It's a total waste of time and space.  Need an Arcana or History check?  That's what INT is for.  How about a Perception check.  Wisdom.  Can I break that door?  Strength.  Anyway, it's all bloat to me.

Whew...sorry.  I got a bit worked up there.  You weren't looking for a rant.  Sorry you found one.

I think my biggest issue is that once again, the game is replacing Rulings with rules, or worse yet, rolls.  That's my #1 complaint with 5e and the reason I'm not likely to adopt it.

Remain calm.  I'm not suggesting that you are playing a bad game, or an unplayable one.  It's fine.  Really.  It's just not for me.  It's out to capture a new audience, and that group of new gamers doesn't have the trappings of the old world.  These new folks are picking up a new game, a game new to them.  They don't come to the table with preconceived notions or biases.   Instead they come from a world that has been dominated by video games (which I enjoy as well), and cell phones, and computers.  I predate most of that stuff, and it definitely impacts what I think about role-playing games, and how I want to play them.



I'm not trying to shit on your fun.  Honestly.  I want you to enjoy this new game.  You see, for me, that's what it is.  It's a new game.  It's not the Dungeons & Dragons I played, and it's not played the same way.  That's fine.  I can handle the change, even if I'm not really willing to adopt it.  Not gonna lie, it's a little annoying all these folks chattering about something I'm not a fan of, but I'll live.

I think it's great that there is renewed interest in the hobby, and the 5e push has only bolstered the OSR movement, so it's all good.

In the meantime, if you feel like understanding some of the differences between the 'old' way and this new way of playing, you might want to check out the Old School Primer which you can get on LULU for free.  It's a quick read and worth your attention if you have any interest in gaming the 'old school' way.