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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When it All Falls Apart




I’m gonna discuss something that, while it’s not specific to online gaming (such as Fantasy Grounds or Roll20), I’d wager it’s far more common in that milieu than at the table IRL.

Recently a large contingent of our gaming group fell out.  There was no argument over rules, no disagreement about the distribution of virtual wealth, or discrepancy regarding the allocation of XP.  As seems to happen at some regular interval, there was a self-culling.  It always happens the same way (or seems to).

First, one player decides to bail.  A very pleasant email is sent to the group notifying the rest of us of his/her intent.  That is usually followed by a short period of mourning, and then well-wishing email replies are sent.  That would be fine if it were the end, but it’s not.  Soon after, as other players have time to cogitate upon the change, one or two others decide that it would be a good idea to leave the game as well.  Another few emails are exchanged, well wishes sent, and farewells fare well.  No one is really pissed off over anything tangible here, but those who remain begin to huddle.  They plan.

The group email is reformatted to include only the survivors.  A new conversation begins.



Usually in these situations, there is a core.  The group has a few players who have been gaming together (in this examination that means it was over long distance) for some substantial period of time.  These folks consider themselves friends, and perhaps they are, either IRL or simply online.  Friends don’t need to have shared meatspace in order to feel a bond, or so I believe.  Others may disagree, but they would be wrong.

In any event, the first thing that happens is that the core reaffirms its solidarity.  “We’re gonna keep playing, right”, says one.
“Absolutely!”, the others confirm in unison.  
“Now we have some flexibility.  Maybe we should change rulesets, play something new?”, asks one.
“Sure,” the others agree.  
“Who wants to run this time?  I’m a bit burned out, but will keep going if no one else wants to have a go,” says the DM of the now crippled game.
“I can run,” says one.
“So can I,” chimes in the other.”  
Plans are laid.  Email threads are exchanged.  Decisions are decided upon.  Gaming continues in short order, the new campaign of 1 DM and 2 players has begun.

Characters are rolled, a few games happen, and then sometime shortly thereafter someone usually volunteers to locate a few new players, some fresh flesh and blood for the adventure mill.  For online games, it’s as simple as posting across some social media, or checking the online forums for the Virtual Tabletop you happen to use.  Most have a LFG, or Looking for Game section where you can advertise and recruit a few new players.


In my experience, this ‘turnover’ seems to occur every year or so.  It’s rare that adding any player to the core group results in a new permanent bond.  Folks come and go, some depart having left a lasting impression and others pass without a trace.  I find it both wonderful and mystifying, and mostly somewhat dissatisfying and a bit sad.  Each time I’m reminded that there are things that the internet cannot do, and building a long-term, lasting, cohesive bond of friendship is not its strong suit.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, in fact it has for me, but not in the same way that time spent in the company of others IRL manages to accomplish (and on a more consistent basis).

As always, I year for those long-gone but not forgotten days of my youth, where we were friends at school, friends on the playground, at the mall, at the movies...and always at the game table.  No one quietly slipped away behind a curtain of email, and certainly no one dropped off the face of the earth without a trace.  We didn’t need to find new players.  We knew exactly how many pizzas to order, and that Mike wouldn’t eat pizza ‘cause he was some sort of freak who didn’t like pizza.  

Man I miss pizza.  And Mike.




Friday, November 24, 2017

Trying to Get the Green Guy's Mojo Back


It's been nearly a month since my last blog post...
The weather has changed, it's cold out here in the wilderness...lonely and frightening.

I miss my friends, my boon companions who through good times and bad, from the deepest and darkest dungeon to my epic rise in power and fame, have rallied to my flag and to my side to do battle with my enemies, or help me celebrate my glories!

It is with a heavy heart and troubled brow that I begin to wonder, where has the Goblin Stomper gone?  What has become of that grim soul who only wished to remind those around him that just because something has many editions does not mean that the original lacks merit?

[the curtain opens on a lone goblin, huddled in a dark cave behind a small campfire over which a scrawny rat turns on a makeshift spit, long, dark shadows cast against the rough wall behind him]

Have I been conspicuous by my absence?  Probably not.  Likely you’re too busy to notice that I haven’t been around much.  It’s my first blog post in a while, and I’ve been quiet (though not silent) on my twitter feed & facebook page.  Are there reasons?  Of course...there are always reasons. Rumors of my death are mere exaggerations by those who would prefer me gone and buried, never to be heard from again.




Mostly I haven’t been gaming much, live or online.  This certainly has a direct relationship to how often or how deeply I am thinking about the subject at hand.  I’m also not really working on any related projects right now, though one or two have been started and are shelved for the moment as I assess their usefulness as well as my interest level in continuing them.  I find that the less I game, the less I think about gaming...which has both good and bad results.

On the bad side, I often feel like I’m neglecting friends with whom gaming is my #1 level of interaction.  While gaming isn’t the basis for our entire relationship, it may be the reason we gather IRL or online.  I miss them.  Perhaps it’s this longing that is in part responsible for my post today.

Also checked off on the ‘bad’ side of this self- absorbed self-examination is that my social media presence drops off, and though we are merely acquaintances in the digital realm that does not absolve me or my conscience of feeling a bit negligent.

On the ‘good’ side of the table, not giving mental energy to my gaming ‘self’ has given me a bit more time to focus on new things that have become important.  My weight, for example, is slowly creeping steadily to lower numbers, finding me now living most days in Onederland (for those who don’t know, Onederland is a mystical world that fat folks desire to live in where one’s weight sits below the 200 pound mark).  I’ve added some gym time to my schedule 2-4 days a week in order to make use of some of my new-found energy.  I had been paying the ‘fat tax’ to Planet Fitness for almost a year now without ever stepping foot in a location, so it was time to get my money out of that purple and yellow monster who eats 10$ from my digital wallet every month.

this is my scale.  if you look closely, you can see my bare naked feet...


Another ‘tick mark’ on the good side has been the attention I’ve been giving to my photography.  While that may not hold any interest to you, dear reader of this so-called OSR RPG gaming blog, I’m finding a sense of purpose, a feeling of contentment, and a low-spark of excitement in finding a new thing to help me create.  For me, and right now, that seems to be making photos.  In all honesty, I’d like to find a way to integrate my new interest with my old love so that I can engage in both things simultaneously.  Maybe a photo shoot of gamers at the table, waiting for those magic moments of victory or defeat and capturing them in interesting ways?  

Finding photography has also led to renewed interest in podcasting for me, which I dipped into many years ago (2005) right before my son was born (I needed something to take my mind off of the pregnancy and impending birth, cause that that shit is scary AF!).  It seems like there are plenty of ‘experts’ creating podcasts and YouTube videos, but very little content is being created by noobs to the hobby (which may also be true for gaming, come to think of it).  So I decided to throw my 2 cents into the ring and started a podcast over at my other blog, Hypohoto.  I’m not sure what direction it will go, it will take me, or the longevity of such a project but I thought it might be fun to find out if anyone wants to listen to, or interact with, a relative newcomer to a very old creative pursuit.  

I think this guy is listening to my podcast right now, actually...


So, what will become of the Goblin Stomper?  That’s the question that plagues me this Black Friday.  Has the Goblin abandoned the clan?  Is he no more for the OSR?  Will there be silence where before there was banter both insightful and wise as well as horribly disappointing and full of piss and vinegar?!?

I think there’s a simple solution to finding this green-skinned bastard’s gaming mojo again, and that’s to get back to gaming.  The weather has turned cold, and that means that indoor time is going to give way to outdoor time.  There has been a recent divergence of players from the core group, and it looks like it’s time for me to jump back in and bring together a new team of ne’er-do-wells to wreak havoc on some poor, unsuspecting town that needs help battling an unseen and malignant foe.  



...and if we do it my way, it will be playing AD&D 1e, the undisputed KING of Rulesets!

You can take that 5e stuff and start a campfire with it.  

(hmmm...I’m starting to feel better already!)

Game on Friends!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Love Me Some Multi-classing





I love multi-classing.  Seriously, I adore it.  After all, Gandalf could swing a sword quite effectively, the Grey Mouser knew a fair bit of magic, and let’s not forget that Conan was a great thief as well as a mighty warrior.  The list goes on...Elric, Silk, Solomon Kane were all multi-classed characters in some way, shape, or form and there are too many more to count.  If you are at all like me, your introduction to these figures coincided with your early gaming experiences, and it seems only natural that you would want to emulate these folks in your game as a player or as a DM.

With skill and abilities, bonuses and attributes, there are many ways to skin this particular cat.  Many folks who played 1e, myself included, house ruled the hell out of multi-classing/dual-classing when we were running a game.  In most cases it had to be done in order to maintain some sense of order, balance, or logic with regard to the individual PC and the party. Rules surrounding multi-classing spark alot of discussion, and even more arguments.  I don’t think I’ve ever met two people who see it, understand it, or play it in the same exact way.


To be fair, it seems like an afterthought when you read the 1e PHB.  It’s not really our fault that much of it (like many things in those books) was left to our own invention and imagination.  This is fine.  With a game like D&D you cannot possibly conceive of every rule to cover every circumstance, but merely do your best to create a sturdy framework on which rules and in-game issues can be resolved by the DM as these things crop up.

Multi-classing gets alot of DM attention and customization.

One of my favorite (and I think the best) set of guidelines for multiclassing a PC comes from Castles & Crusades.  If you are an OSR enthusiast, then you’re likely no stranger to the game even if you haven’t played or run a session.  C&C was available as a ruleset on Fantasy Grounds many moons ago (2008 I believe) when I started using a VTT to play.  Due to the obvious licensing issues, early versions of D&D/AD&D weren’t really playable on that system, and C&C came closest to recreating 1e for the group I was running.  After a short time, I really learned to adopt the game as the rightful heir and successor to 1e.  One of the nice things was that I could reference old source materials like Keep on the Borderlands or Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and run them pretty much as written as long as I flipped AC to ascending.

Yes, I know it had ascending AC.  It had some differences, many of which I thought were pretty darn positive and overall enhance/smoothed play as opposed to ruining it.  This isn’t a C&C review, but if you’re interested there is a really great in-depth review of the system over on RPGmusings which you should definitely check out.

What I REALLY liked about C&C as a player (and DM) was one of it’s multi-classing option, Class & a Half.  Rather than try and sum it up, I’m going to post it below so you can read it in it’s entirety.  A few things will become quickly apparent after reading.

  1. Your PC will not suffer the traditional level lag felt by 1e multi-classing.  Characters who M-C still require more XP to do so, but the cost is lower and so staying on-par with the rest of the party isn’t too difficult.  
  2. 1st level is still 1st level.  With level 0 in your second class, you are on the same playing field as the others in the group...precarious ground indeed!
  3. This method looks ALOT like the house-ruled multi-classing many of us pulled together after all the confusion and opaqueness provided in the 1e texts.

As a player I have two go-to multi-class characters.  I will often play a Cleric/Magic-user who worships a god/goddess of magic (obviously).  This is usually a popular character among the other players who don’t like playing spell-slingers for one reason or another.



My other go-to is the Thief/Magic-user, who allows me to fulfill my Grey Mouser-ness.  He may not fight on the front lines, but he is more often than not the reason that the party stays intact and alive, even if they don’t always know or acknowledge it.

What do you think of multi-classing?  How do you mod it?  More importantly, what are your favorite Multi-classes to run?



CLASS AND A HALF

The Class and a Half system allows the player to choose one class for
his character, and supplement it with some of the abilities of another.
The player picks two classes; one will be designated the principal
class, and will essentially be the character’s “real” class. The other
will be designated the supporting class. For example, a character
combining fighter and wizard classes could choose to be either a
fighter who knows a few spells, or he could choose to be a wizard
with some training in armor and weapons. Character will advance
in the supporting class, and perform skill checks of that class, at half
the rate of the principal class. A first level character would have the
abilities of the supporting class at level zero.























Experience points needed for level advancement are determined by
adding the XP of the principal class to one half the XP of the supporting
class. Hit die is determined by averaging the dice of the two classes,
rounding in the direction of the principal class, or see the table below.















The concept of the Class and a Half is that the character is
considered a single, enhanced class. Traditional multi-class systems
(usually the only way to gain the abilities of two classes) generally
advance the character equally (and irrevocably) in the two classes,
at a heavy cost of XP and a thinning of the hit points. In many cases,
the character cannot combine the abilities of the two classes. All in
all, very discouraging. Who wants to play a fighter-wizard who has to
take his armor off every time he casts a spell?
This system allows a more lenient manner of combining these abilities,
in the spirit of creating new class concepts that, hopefully, are appealing
without being too powerful.

QuiCk rules:
1. Rule One: The Castle Keeper is the ultimate arbiter of which
classes can be combined and how they are combined. The Castle
Keeper can (and should) amend the rules to fit their needs and their
restrictions trump any rules presented here.
2. Primary Attribute: The character only needs the prime attribute of
his principal class.
3. BtH: The character uses the best to hit bonus, and best weapon
proficiency list.
4. Armor: There are some armor restrictions. They are as follows:
The character may only use a shield if allowed by the principal class.
Wizard or illusionist supported by an armor proficient class may cast
spells while armored, however, any spells which allow a save are granted a
bonus to the save equal to the base AC bonus of the spell-caster’s armor.
This principle also applies to druids who wear metal armor.
Wizard or illusionist supporting an armor proficient class cannot cast
spells which directly cause damage, or allow a save, while wearing armor.
This principal applies to druids wearing metal armor.
Monk aligned with an armor proficient class may use his unarmed attack
ability, iron fists and stunning attack while armored, but not unarmored
defense, and he receives a penalty to his attack equal to one half the base
AC bonus of the armor. Monk supported by an armor proficient class
may also use iron body, feign death and iron mind. All other abilities are
prohibited while armored. (Use this scratch test: if the monk can do it
while tied up, he can do it armored).
Rogue or assassin plus a class proficient in heavier armor may wear armor
with up to a base +3 to AC without penalty to class abilities affected by
armor. Penalties are determined by value over +3.
Barbarians may not use primeval instincts while wearing armor usually
prohibited by the class.
Rangers may not use scale or move silently while wearing armor usually
prohibited by the class.
5. Class Abilities: The class and a half’s supporting class abilities are
gained, or not gained, as follows:
Rogue, assassin, cleric, wizard, and illusionist gain all abilities.
Fighter supporting gains weapon specialization, but he must specialize
in a weapon allowed by the principal class. He does not gain combat
dominance or extra attack.
Ranger supporting gains all abilities except combat marauder and favored enemy.
Barbarian supporting gains combat sense, deer-stalker, and primeval
instincts, but no other abilities.
Monk supporting gains hand-to-hand combat (including secondary
attacks at high level), stunning attack, and iron fists, but no other abilities.
Druid supporting gains all abilities except totem shape (unless a ranger or
barbarian), nor does he know the secret druidic language.
Knight supporting only gains horsemanship abilities, but is not bound by
any Virtues or Codes.
Paladin may only be taken as a principal class.
Bard supporting does not gain fascinate or exhort greatness.
6. Class Combinations must follow the following restrictions:
Fighter, ranger, cleric, bard, and monk may align with any other class.
Rogue and assassin may not support knight or paladin.
Barbarian may not support knight, or align with wizard or illusionist.
Wizard, illusionist, or druid can only support knight or paladin if the
character is an elf or half-elf of elven lineage.
Other class combinations may require some justification, and some are
less than practical. For example, using a fighter to support knight or
paladin. The gain is not worth the cost in experience.

Monday, October 16, 2017

How Deep do You Go?

"RalfHuels (photographer), Anja Arenz, Chris Kunz, Dossmo, Niamh, Paolo Tratzky, Svenja Schoenmackers / CC BY-SA 4.0



Last night was the first time I’d played for some time.  Life, work, family, and my newfound passion for photography have really cut deeply into my game time, and when it was time to play I was juiced!  It had been gnawing at me for a while now, the fact that other things had injected themselves into game time.  Once again it was time to shine, to slip into the skin of my alter ego and play pretend with those guys who get it, get me.


This game that I’ve been popping in and out of as time allowed has been a very different experience for me on a number of levels.  Firstly, I was playing 5e.  My good friend IRL and online had decided to switch gears and give running a pregen’d 5e campaign a go, so we were going to give Storm King’s Thunder a go.  I wasn’t all that excited about moving on from C&C, which we had been playing for many years regardless of who was running.  It was the allure of a completely available set of tools in Fantasy Grounds that was the allure for him, reducing the prep time to simply reviewing the material and then running.


For me, switching gears to this system vs. more OSR systems was problematic.  I have issues with 5e as both a system and a mindset, but I’m not going to relive that here.  If you want to read about my thoughts on this, you can check them out here.  Suffice it to say that for the sake of friendship I’m willing to move into an uncomfortable place and try something that seems distasteful.  Am I now in love with 5e?  Nope.  I’d still rather play the games I played back in the 80’s.  What I do like is the group, the people, my friends.  So I play.


I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to play the same couple of races most frequently.  I do half-elf and dwarf.  Those are my go-to’s.  Perhaps there are aspects of my psyche that feel a connection that’s closest to what these two races can portray.  Have I played a halfling, gnome, a human, or a half-orc?  Sure.  I like to stretch my role playing legs a bit now and again.  Elf?  Once in a blue, yeah.  What hasn’t been all that interesting for me (outside of a one-off experiment) was playing a more extreme/monster-style race.  Not a fan of the Dragonborn.  Don’t like the Tiefling.  Forget it.  Not. For. Me.  It can be fun to play a bunch of trolls, or a dragon in human form, or something very far from center, but I have found that beyond the short side-trip of a game it’s too hard to maintain over time and keep it fun and interesting.  The basic races help ground the play, give it a cohesive and connected place to return to regardless of how weird, strange, freaky, or LSD-trippy the rest of the game world becomes.


Until this game.


After some discussion with the DM, I had been swayed to move very far outside my wheelhouse and play a Malison, an offshoot Yuan-ti with the upper body of a snake and below the pecs, a man.  A snake minotaur.  A creature who was not going to have an easy time buying fresh food at the market or haggling for some armor.


Now, I’m not sure how you play.  Everyone goes at it a bit differently, but I’m a big proponent of filling the shoes of my PC in every way I can.  For instance, when I play a dwarf I usually will give them a vocal affectation, something gruff or grumbly.  I play my dwarves dour, sour, and full of power.  I draw from the dwarves of my favorite literary sources, a certain archetype that I find appealing because I get it.  I get a race who feels their honor deep to the bone.  There is an understanding that many things can be tolerated as long as there is gold in my purse and the promise of more.  Living underground creates a certain disposition that draws me in, and when I’m playing a dwarf, for those few hours I’m a dwarf.  I play deep.

This Malison character was a mystery to me.  There’s not literary reference for me to use with a PC that’s half snake, half man.  How do Yuan-ti live?  What motivates them?  I had no clue.  What I did know was two things.  One, when he talked, he had to hiss.  Snakes hiss.  Two, he was an outcast.  This was not a member of Yuan-ti society, and quite honestly I don’t think he has a clue about them or their culture.  He was raised (for the most part) by an outsider, a normal.  This grounded him enough that he could interact with the group and not deviate too far from their motivations and behaviors.  I would play him neutral with good tendencies.  He would be a bit aloof, since snakes are primarily solitary hunters.  His class would be fighter, but his race dictated a leaning towards the mystical so I would use Eldritch Knight as his martial Archetype.  The challenge here was to get inside this guys head, through his scaly dry skull and play him unlike any character I had played before.  He was a nice guy, but creepy.


During the game I hissed.  Alot.  Every time I saw an opportunity to extend my s’s, I took it.


Not everyone I play with, or have played with, cares about the portrayal of their character in a deep or meaningful way.  To many players, the PC is a collection of stats, a game piece on the board.  This is fine.  It’s certainly a valid way to play the game.  Other folks put a bit of themselves into each character, and any or no level of personal investment if fine as well. There’s no wrong way to play unless what you are doing ends up being so disruptive that in the end, nothing gets accomplished (which happens).


If you ARE a person for whom the PC is a game piece, I would urge you to give a moment of your time and invest a bit of your creative energy to role playing your character a bit.  Maybe write up a quick background.  Perhaps just decide on his/her motivation.  Maybe drop in an odd affect, a limp, a tick, a bad habit.  It becomes easier with time and it has an infectiousness that spreads quickly to those around you.


If you go a little deeper, you might find your enjoyment of the game is increased exponentially.  Most folks can’t stay ‘in character’ the entire game.  Some people can but I can’t.  There are moments I’m the player, and moments I’m the character.  I don’t see a problem with this.


How deep do you go?