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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Best Friends Play D&D

friends don't let friends levitate

I know I can get pretty crazy here on the blog, and sometimes a little more than a tad bit controversial in some of my positions on gaming, and in life.  My assumption is that if you’re still reading these posts I must be hitting either a nerve or a soft spot.  I’ll take either.  Our voices are often lost amid the din that is the internet, and you D&D/RPG folks are generally an attentive and positive audience, even those misguided souls who enjoy 4th ed.

I don’t think I’ve ever covered this topic before, but I wanted to go over what really is the most important thing that the hobby has brought into my life.  While gaming has been a wonderful creative outlet, a fun way to pass many, MANY hours of my leisure time, and a fantastic escape from the drudgery of an otherwise dull and uninteresting life, it has had one effect that is so important and influential that it will forever be a tremendous part of who I am as a person.

What I’m talking about here folks is how gaming has brought me some of the best friends I could have had, even if I were picking friends from a catalog.  I’m not sure if everyone’s experience mirrors my own, but from the time I started playing as a kid with my best friend Sean, to present day online with my ‘adult life’ best friend Dennis, to my good friend Deron...I can honestly say that the hobby has always managed to connect me with like-minded, open-minded, creative and generous souls who make the framework of my social world today.  These people are the foundation of my life, even if they don’t realize it.

It's likely that playing most types of games with other people can accomplish this sort of thing, regardless of the game.  Role Playing Games however are unique in that they create an environment and an opportunity for people to really open up to one another, albeit through their characters.  Whether a player rushes to the aid of another during a combat or is simply having some friendly banter at a table over beer and bread at the inn, you really do get to know folks in a unique manner through the sort of play only these games provide.

Beyond my inner circle of truly close friends, I have met and played with some of the most decent, nicest people.  Sometimes they weren’t all that rational or reasonable depending on what was happening in-game at the time, but in the end they were people well worth spending time with.  That’s not to say that I haven’t met my fair share of assholes.  Who knows, maybe I’m someone else's asshole...I wouldn’t discount that distinct possibility.

It’s amazing that even via the internet and social media I have managed to grow that circle.  While most of my gaming occurs online now as opposed to at the table IRL, I still manage to find and game with some of the coolest cats around.  Kelly and Caleb and the entire Thursday night B/X crew are super guys, and I wouldn’t think twice about hanging with any of them were we to connect in meatspace.  Drinks and tacos and pizza are on me guys...I’ll be happy to break from my carrot-based diet to chill for an evening of drinks, grub, and continued great conversation with any of you. I've gamed with a hundred super dudes this way..and yes, I'm talkin' about you too Rich!

That gaming ‘solar system’ even extends to people I don’t necessarily play with, but interact with over twitter or here on the blog or on the Goblin Stomper Facebook page.  I’ve had some of the best conversations and even arguments regarding our hobby on social media, and it’s been a blast.  How great is it when a bunch of creatives get together in any venue, and even better with social media since you can bail out when things get too crazy.  Sometimes the distance created by the digital space is a benefit.

In the end I think my hit-to-miss ratio is a pretty good one, with far more folks landing in my orbit who were of good nature and were fun to play with, eat with, laugh with, cheer with, and dungeon-crawl with.  If I knew you, or played with you, and we don’t talk much these days I’d like to take this opportunity to say hello, and to thank you.  You’ve made my life a better one.  I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing that this post finds you well, happy, healthy, and still playing if that’s your bent.

Maybe everyone should take a moment to reflect on the gaming-folk in their lives past and present.  Perhaps we should take a minute to consider that group of friends who, long ago, turned a Sunday afternoon wargaming session into something so much more.  Those people who we all know, who need no introduction or memorial, but who took the time to turn what was a good time with miniature armies into a infinitely deeper and more fulfilling passtime that connects those who play it in a more meaningful way than they could have possibly envisioned.  

Enjoy each other, and game on.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

One Reality, Many Fantasies...

I'm not currently up on my quantum theory, or have any deep understanding of what may be the multiverse, but I am sure of a few basic things.

When we game, regardless of the game we play, we have to do some things first.  We need to agree which game we are all going to play, so that we have common ground and a framework of rules by which to engage in our shared activity.  Let's just use AD&D1e as the ruleset here, and move forward.  Agreed?  Good.

So we are gonna play and then we decide who will be the DM, the rules keeper and if need be the rules changer, the arbiter, and the world creator and controller.  For this game we need him, maybe for others we don't, but we still would need to agree on how we are going to resolve conflict etc in our game.

The rest of us play.  We create our characters and inhabit those roles.  We join together (usually) and work towards some commonly agreed upon objective and then we set off on our adventure.  We encounter obstacles and either overcome them, or are defeated by them individually or as a group.  The game need not end either way, we agree that we can roll up new personas to inhabit in out fantasy game world, and we continue on.

The game never ends though.  I mean, it doesn't have to end.  The game world will evolve, and the DM will judge and create new rules as needed...rules we will all need to agree are fair and reasonable.  Hopefully we do.  If not, we always have the option to leave the game, but in my experience we usually come to a mutually beneficial agreement about most things in the game that keeps the machine running and everyone at the table and having a good time.

Sometimes, I think people are totally fucking crazy. (here we go folks, the roller coaster car just hit the top of the big hill, so prepare for the plunge)

Why is it that we can agree on some crazy, made up shit about a game we play where we pretend to be Wizards and Warriors, Elves or Dwarves but we cannot agree on simple shit in the 'real' world?  Better yet, why the hell can no one agree that we share a common reality in the first place?

What brought me here?  Well, Terminally Nerdy did it to me, though he didn't realize he was going to force my keyboard hand in this way.  No harm, no foul, I still like him just fine.  We don't need to agree on everything to have respect for one another, have a conversation, or debate the various aspects of our shared interest.

This is n't always the case with everyone I meet on Twitter, or other social media outlets.  In our current tribal state here in the good old US of A, the social and political climate as well as the relative anonymity of the internet has turned what likely were perfectly rational, reasonable people into automatons of ideology.  It's a shame that while we seem to be able to agree on what amounts to utter nonsense (aka, our games), we refuse to see the world through clear eyes and with a rational mind.

No one can create their own reality.  You can fashion your social network, you can choose what music to listen to or what movies to view, you can decide on the foods you like or don't.  The pizza, however, is still the pizza.  Slice it in squares, triangles, or just make it in little oblong disks but they are still the pizza.

This 'Safe Space' nonsense is fucking ridiculous.  You don't get to arbitrarily decide that some plot of land, building, or even room is a space where you will not be judged.  Sure, we can agree that public spaces are for everyone regardless of race, color, creed, or sexual orientation (which is it's own hell I won't take time with here, other than to say I don't care who you wanna fuck, but I do care if you ask me to call you some crazy pan-sexual identifier that has no meaning beyond making you feel special).  Judging other people is a completely natural, human response WHENEVER you meet someone.  How in the nine hells am I ever going to decide if I like you, or not, if I don't judge you?  How will I know if you pose a threat to me, may be a plague carrier, etc. if I don't first judge you?  I assume you are judging me, especially right NOW!  It's ok.  I'm fine with it.  Judge away.

There are no safe spaces where you won't be judged.

There is only this reality, and if we don't all start to agree on the operation and mechanics thereof, reality is gonna get a whole lot more dangerous for those seeking safe spaces.

I'm not angry folks, I'm worried.  It's deeply concerning to me that everyone needs to feel special all the time, and mostly I blame the internet.  Some would say that our new medium has exposed these problems, but I'm of the school of thought that it may have created them.  I love the internet, but all of this 'I'm Unique' 'I'm Special' 'Look at Me' social media behavior is definitely having an affect, and I don't think a good one.

Not everyone is welcome at every gaming table.  I have been welcomed at many, and cast out from a few.  You may be not welcome somewhere for some reason, maybe real, maybe imagined.  That's ok.  It's fine.  You won't melt if a few people don't like you for some reason that seems silly to you.  Just move on.  Those folks aren't worth arguing with, and they certainly aren't worth the time or effort it might take to make them see things differently.  We aren't talking civil rights here, we are talking the GAME TABLE at some dudes HOUSE.  People cannot be forced to like you, agree with you, or even have to tolerate you in their homes or in their private sessions even if they take place in a public space.

You don't know me.  You don't know my political affiliations or my religion, and if you think you do you're very wrong.

What you do know is that I play RPG's, mostly old or OSR ones, and that sometimes something or someone rubs me the wrong way.  I'm not going to call out the self-centered, safe-space, 'my reality isn't your reality' moron who got this rant rolling, but I will say this, as he may be reading it.

I would love to live in a world of peace, love, and harmony, but in the world I live in we have school shooters, and wolves and giant wild cats that kill for fun, and somehow we got President Trump.  I don't have to like it, but I have to live in that world.

And so do you.

Game on good people.  Game on.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Life is Cheap : The Friday After Report

“We have the Hobgoblin chief charmed, we have four of the Castellan’s best men, and we have a wand of paralysis!  By the gods, we’ve got those caves by the balls boys!”  hissed the mage as we pressed on through the halls where only a day or so before we had lost our elf friend The Seer and the half-blind mercenary woman whose name I’d already forgotten.

“Aye,” we all agreed, but in the pit of my stomach I knew that my companions were fooling themselves.  This wretched place had blood-stained walls and echoed the screams of a thousand, thousand victims. It had stood against many a company of Man and Elf and Dwarf before and had swallowed most whole, leaving behind only the foul, dark things which can feed the soul of chaos a steady diet of fresh lives.  This was a place of pain, and of lies.

We advanced to the very heart of the Hobgoblin stronghold, bolstered by our mastery of the lord of these green-skinned, pock-marked creatures who walked and talked as men, but who fought as wild animals, monsters of the creeping chaos and who fed on the very flesh of those who fell to sword, axe, and club.  It wasn’t long before we came to a shadow-covered room where three of the massive hunchbacks stood, armed and armored beyond any we had thus encountered.

“Theeshe are friendsh,” stuttered our captive, bound by sorcery and compelled to do our bidding.

The creatures glared, then growled. “We not like them!” they yelled across the room.  “You are weak to let them here, and we not like weakness either!”  They looked to one another for answers, and then seemed to quickly decide on a plan of action as they ran toward us, blood-stained weapons in hand.  

“YOU LIE!!!!!” they screamed.

I had little time to consider my arms, my friends, or my faith as I saw the heavy blade fall across my chest, my armor offering no resistance as rusty metal cleaved my chest in twain and my heart, which had once belonged to my lord and savior, burst forth like so much offal I slumped forward into eternal darkness.

Three games in and my character, the level one Fegio (Cleric of an Unnamed God) fell victim to the bloody abattoir known as the Caves of Chaos.  Some might be predisposed to sadness at such a turn.  I had enjoyed my time playing Fegio, short though it had been.  He seemed a stalwart fellow who, though he hadn’t yet proven his faith to his patron and so could wield no spells of that deity, was quick to face his enemies with mace in hand and his ever-present holy symbol of unknown shape or size in the other.

As always, our Thursday night B/X game renders out more like a DCC funnel than anything else.  If you weren’t weaned on this sort of gameplay I can easily understand why you might not enjoy it, but we are having so much damned fun it is hard to express here in words.  

You might also assume that there is no roleplaying, no’d be dead wrong.  Most of us have found a voice for our characters, even if they had a lifespan of only one session.  I think that might be the secret sauce, the line between boys and men in this hobby, that we can find those voices at the moment of inception even IF a curtain fall may be only moments away.  The need to build an elaborate backstory in order to really get the ‘feel’ for a character is not a necessity, it is a nicety, and one wasted on a game meant to be played hard & fast like B/X.

As a group we agree on one thing almost every session.  We are playing this game correctly, and we have no clue how in the hell we played it as kids and had our PC’s survive so frequently. I certainly remember playing when there was only two of us, one filling the DM’s role and one as player, and all of us having fun without moving through PC sheets like Grant through Richmond.  We weren’t playing wrong, we were just playing house-ruled and roll-fudged in order to keep the game running smoothly.  With this group we play the ball where it lies, often a hole in none.  It takes away ZERO of the fun factor.

Was I a bit disappointed?  Sure.  I, like all my pals in this game, thought that my guy was going to outlast the others who had fallen before.  That passed quickly.  I set off to build another PC with the aid of an online character generator (OMFG, did he just say what I thought he said?!?!?) and I picked up almost where I left off.  Easy. Peasy.

Welcome to the Grist Mill, where life is cheap and ale is cheaper.  

Happy Hunting and well met new friends and old, boon companions.

Game on.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

All Makers, No Takers

There’s this guy I know via twitter who goes by the moniker Terminally Nerdy, or @cbsa82.  He seems like a decent fellow, and his ‘thing’ is blogging and doing video reviews/discussions about gaming.  The channel isn’t focused on D&D or even Tabletop Role Playing Games at all and extends into video games or whatever he feels passionate about.  I’ve been a subscriber to the channel for a long time, but in all honesty I don’t tune in all that frequently.

He refers to himself as a reviewer and content creator (or maybe small creator or somesuch).  There is a small Patreon account he keeps running for his hardcore fans, and he posts content with some frequency.  I don’t think, not for one moment, that he is trying to get rich or even become a youtube ‘star’ (which I know is an actual thing these days, but my 48 year old brain rejects the notion that people really can be that thing, which seems gross and empty to me, but that is a whole nother rant).  I know that he loves D&D, and so I follow him on twitter and he follows me back.  We’ve had some fun conversations over the years and I absolutely think he’s a solid, stand up dude with nothing but a good heart, noble intentions, and that he wants to help others in the gaming community with his work.

Lately, I think he feels a bit stuck.  Mired.  Entangled.  He recently posted this somewhat mellow little diatribe on this site.  As always I read the link when I saw it in my feed because in all honesty, I like when he writes things more than I enjoy the videos.  That’s just me, one man’s humble opinion.  The gist of the rant is that small time creators get little push into a wider market as users who enjoy the work AND who may have influence over a wider audience do not help/assist the smaller guy in getting noticed.  I think that was it anyway.  There seems little point in breaking it out/down paragraph by paragraph when you can easily spend 5 minutes reading it yourself.

I sit in a different thought camp on this.  It seems to me that if WHAT you have created, or what you say in the public arena is worth the attention of a larger audience it will find that audience regardless of the actions of a few entities who may like what you do, but don’t say enough about it to impact your bottom line (readers, listeners, viewers, etc,).

As a content creator myself, I have only one goal: The idea in my head must be placed on paper (or pushed out on audio in the case of my photography podcast) because in doing so I am able to force my brainy-aching ideas into the real world giving them substance, and thus solidifying for me their reality whether they be art, or not.  Simply put, I birth each thing because I must, regardless of the outcome later.

For me, the creative process and final product are enough.  While I have made things that I put out for public consumption, (sometimes purchase, sometimes free) I do not feel any better or worse for those things having been consumed or not.  I make them for me, share them because that seems like the right thing to do, and if I receive any $ or accolades I accept them as readily as I accept derision or negativity (and I get far more of the latter).

I think what my friend Terminally Nerdy (@cbsa82 on twitter) needs to do is re-evaluate his process, rethink what he does, how he does it, and who its current audience really is.  He has numerous times expressed that he creates in order to help others, and on some level I believe this to be a part of the truth he is experiencing.  I also believe he is seeking some form of attention, or else why put your stuff out there?  This isn’t a criticism, but an observation, and a position I share about myself as well.

When I post to my blog, be it a new magic item, or a new monster, or some blast-from-the-past stuff I loved and that influenced me, or even a rant like this one I’m really reaching out to those I’ve connected with to share my creativity and thoughts and if i’m lucky, a few folks will ping me back and we talk about it a bit.  Maybe something I wrote influenced their game, was used as part of an adventure or story hook, or maybe they thought what I wrote or said was complete trash.

It really does not matter.  I felt the need to speak it publicly and I did so.  Now I move on.

Creativity, and what it renders, is a wonderful thing to share.  The expectation that the audience for what YOU enjoy or need to create will reach a wide audience is self-defeating.  Just keep making things.  Change what you don’t like about the things you make.  Evolve.

Step one was having the desire to create.  Step two was being brave enough to share it with everyone.  Step three…???

When I write a module, I draft, then edit.  Then re-draft, and edit again.  That is often followed by fresh eyes in the form of my buddy Deron, who fixes glaring errors and also hands me some good notes on content.  When I think it’s great I share it with the world.  Some folks like it, some don’t, but MOST people never even see it.  That’s fine.  I’m happy with the process and the end result.  I don’t need others to use it or love it.  It’s nice when they do but I don’t expect it.

My photography is the same but different.  I make a photo, post-process the photo, and then sometimes I share it on instagram @taoistpunk or on my flickr page.  I like feedback on my images, but I also feel that sharing the work makes it more real for me.  I’m still very much the student, and as I learn, create, and connect there is created a feedback loop that helps me grow.  

Why make photographs that no one ever sees?  I’m not trying to be discovered after my death, or even while I’m alive...I just hope that my images make someone think, or smile, or wonder in the same way that the work of other photographers (both amateur and professional) have influenced me and made my life richer.  We all see the world through different eyes.

Clay, I hope that you understand what I’m getting at here.  None of this was said to hurt you, or to shit on any other person who makes things and feels stuck, small, alone, or unnoticed.  You are entitled to how you feel as much as anyone else.  Don’t stop the work, but maybe it’s time to take a long, hard look at the work and decide if what you set out to do is being accomplished, and if it isn’t fulfilling your needs any more, then perhaps it’s time to turn that creativity in a new direction.

And for fuck’s sake let’s stop with calling ourselves Content Creators.  It’s so damn sterile.  If you create a thing, something from your heart and with passion, then you are an artist in EVERY sense of that word.

There is no safe space, especially not the mind.  Reshape your world your way.  Share it.  Maybe I am your only audience, and you are only mine. That’s fine.


Friday, January 12, 2018

It's Supposed to be Deadly

This morning I came across a 6 year old blog post from someone I don’t know, but decided to spend a moment reading it.  The link is here.  Let me summarize...The OD&D:B/X system of trap checking is a problem’s too dangerous.  At least, that was how I read it.  Maybe you interpret the post differently.

It seemed that the DM was looking for a better way to systemize trap checks in old school play, and THAT is fine.  House-ruling is an important and acceptable way in which to run your old school game.  It is, in fact, what gives rise to newer (and sometimes better) game systems.  I’m all for it.  I am NOT, however, in favor of ‘baby-proofing’ the dungeon.  Opening a door, walking through dark, unknown corridors, and attempting to open chests that obviously don’t belong to you are and should be dangerous as well as deadly pursuits.

Is there a better system for avoiding the traps in a dungeon?  Sure.  There are likely hundreds or thousands of ways better than just blindly following the percentile chart that Basic D&D gives us, but that’s not really the point of this post.

What I’m on about is the deadly pursuit of gold and glory.  Whatever else the OSR and it’s associated gameplay and rulesets are about, at the core I think lies danger.  If you and your party decide to take on the challenge of the wilds, of roaming predatory monsters, of dark caves, deadly traps and elaborate dungeons in the hope of becoming rich, famous, and powerful then there must be an equal opportunity for failure as for success at each step of that journey.  Without the feeling that every encounter could be the last for any given character, much of what made these games so much fun to play is lost.

I’m NOT talking about 5e here folks, although there are plenty of people who enjoy running that edition in an OSR style.  To my mind, this means making it more dangerous than the ruleset lays at your feet as well as perhaps simplifying a very elaborate system.  You only have to lay the two character sheets, 5e and B/X, next to one another to know that these similar games are not siblings, but cousins at best.

If you’ve read the linked blog post, you can see the seeds of dissatisfaction take root.  This is fine.  You’d like to give the thief, or any PC, a better chance to survive an encounter with a poison needle that when pricked leaves only two possible outcomes, save or die?  That’s fine.  Do that.  Remember though that in doing so you (the DM) have decided to both give AND take something from the players and the experience.  Sure, the characters will more frequently benefit, but in my eyes that comes at a cost to the player.  No player wants to lose a PC to the dungeon, but without that distinct possibility, every encounter becomes less exciting.

Last night during a B/X game we lost a good man.  Known to us only as The Seer, a level 1 Elf who had saved us often from total doom, was struck down by a hobgoblin warrior.  We had faced the save or die venom of giant bees, had overcome hoards of goblins, kobolds, and even an ogre but in the end it was a single blow from the rusty sword of a 1+1HD Hobgoblin that took our comrade down.  It came down to the dice (many of which he was in complete control of, including the party initiative) that cost him so dearly.  The thing is, it could have been any of us.

For a moment we lament, but then we all rejoice!  It was a hairy, dangerous battle that could not have been won except for the sacrifice of our valiant Elf companion.  We laughed!  We yelled!  The remains of the party (we lost our henchman and our Elf PC in a final, epic battle at evenings end) uttered a collective sigh.  Had that battle taken all of us, we would have felt the same exhilaration.  It was a well planned and executed attack by the DM, and one we should have known could be on our horizon.  It was fun.  Was it fair?  With at least 10+ combatants against 5, and on their home turf I fully expected there was a TPK possibility.  No flinching.  This is what I came for.  This is what Old School Roleplaying games are, for me and for the folks I play with.

Danger. Death. Disaster.  Without these hallmarks of the game something is lost, an intangible essence of those same feelings a 12 year old boy in Northeast Philly experienced in 1981 as he and his Cleric braved those same Caves of Chaos and returned to a certain fabled Keep on the Borderlands, bloody and emboldened.  

You save, or you die.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Creativity Feedback Loop

If this blog post had a subtitle it would be ‘The Cross Post Experiment’, because in a surprise move I’m posting this not only on this blog, but on my other blog.  Hmmmmm….wait.  I don’t know which blog you are reading this on, so I don’t know of which audience you may be a member.  We just got started, and I’m already confused.

In any event, I’ve managed to post/publish my 6th podcast episode.  If you’ve hear, or better yet subscribed, to my audio ramblings about photography then I thank you.  If you’ve listened to more than one, or if you have listened to them all, then I applaud you and your kindness.  I’m not sure they are worth listening to but I have found them productive to compose.  In the latest episode I talk a bit about my roleplaying, a bit about my photography, and some of the places at which these two creative outlets have recently intersected.  Thus the reason for this blog post and the two places where it appears.

Specifically, this post is about my own, very personal, sense of creativity.  Some or none of the podcast or this post may click for you.  I get that.  This is my own weird head-space and lucky for you I’m the only one that need inhabit it.  My two primary creative outlets are very different in many ways.  Photography has little to do with playing Dungeons & Dragons, and the reverse is true as well, but they do share some commonality in that both are forcing me to create something.  OK, not forcing.  Perhaps they cajole me into it...but whatever the case the result is the same.  I make a photo, and thus I have created.  I play or run a game, and thus I have created.

The same winding road goes to many places...

What I realized this week is that although at first they seem like standalone activities, internally they seem to come from the same, internal source. They feed one another, nourish one another, and also they seem to prod one another from any complacency.  In other words, I have one big pool of creativity, and both of my hobbies tap that well in order to manifest.  Once manifested, they seem to create a sort of feedback loop that refills that well. Initially I had thought that my newfound passion for photography was eeking out my lifelong relationship with Roleplaying Games like D&D. It wasn't. In fact, the opposite was happening with greater frequency.

 It was a bit of a revelation for me.

Perhaps you have already discovered this.

I think that were I a gifted artist (in the sense of drawing or illustration), those two hobbies would have been a natural fit and quite nicely complimented one another.  I see this in my social media friends who engage in both activities.  It’s a gift I don’t have, drawing, and I haven’t got the patience to try to learn.  I think as children we try all of the creative opportunities we are given, but when we discover no natural talent or passion for a particular type of creativity we simply move along to the next.  Perhaps it’s just me, and my laziness.  I know that I was always a bit jealous of my gaming friends who were talented artists and illustrators.  It seemed to me to be a great gift to bring those characters and their stories to life beyond the spoken or written word and into a picture.

My introduction to photography came rather recently in my life, and I don’t really know if I have any actual talent but I do have passion for the making of photographs and that is enough to keep me working at it most days.  Part of me realizes that if I want to create an image, this is going to be my medium.  It likely won’t allow me to produce an image of my latest D&D character, or a monster I have an idea for, or a magic item and such but I derive a great deal of satisfaction in having captured an image I find pleasing or interesting in some way.

Last week during an online game (using Roll20) there was a real feeling of excitement and fun.  The DM (Dungeon Master, for those on the photography blog) ran a great session, there was a bit of roleplay and a whole lot of dungeon crawling and when it was over it left me with a great sense of having participated in creative play.  It had gotten my inner-well flowing, and almost immediately I felt the desire to keep it going by working on some images I had made during last weeks snowstorm here in Philly.  The feedback loop was in effect and strong.  Is the ‘The Force’ all those Jedi keep rambling on about?

Some Gear
My friend Dennis is both an avid gamer and an amateur photographer.  I consider myself lucky to have a close friend with whom I can share both interests, even though we live in different parts of the country.  He’s had both hobbies for a long time, and we’ve never discussed this topic of a creative feedback loop but I would be interested to hear his thoughts, and yours as well.

My buddy and his camera.  Sadly we did not play D&D that trip...

If you are a Photographer, does your creative well spill over into other creative pursuits in your life?  If you are a D&D (etc.) enthusiast does your time with the game make its way into you other creative outlets?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Last Night I Roll20'd and it was a Blast!

The field on which we play our game(s) is ever-changing, and nowhere is change more of a constant factor for me than with my online roleplaying experience.  As a longtime user, and often preacher, of the virtues of Fantasy Grounds as my primary Virtual Tabletop (VTT) I am still open to playing in (if not running on) Roll20.

Last night I was most graciously invited to join a relatively new B/X campaign currently running   Keep on the Borderlands using Roll20.  Not only did I need to adjust my mindset for the very different VTT inside a chrome window, but with some previous voice-chat connectivity issues I was asked to pop onto a Discord server in order to play as well.  Damn!  I was used to (if not happy) with Skype, and I had been using and liking Teamspeak (though it’s got a somewhat complex UI for users not quite tech-comfy), and now I was being asked to grab yet another piece of voice-chat software.

It seems as though there are endless combinations and options for customizing one’s online roleplaying experience.  It’s a good thing.  Normally I would rail against the dying of some sort of light, dig my Fantasy Grounds heels in deep, grab on to Skype as a chat-anchor and tell everyone else how wrong the other ways of doing things are...but nope.

As long as the person running the game is sufficiently comfortable with all of the tools he/she has chosen AND the players gathered are savvy enough to overcome any technical newness, anything can work.  I submit fully that this is a possible outcome, and thankfully last night it was true.  

Our old school crawl through the Caves of Chaos was super fun. I’m not generally a recap-blog-post guy, but when we charmed the ogre Markus to crush our enemies, absorb the damage, and then at the end when he had only a single hit point left...we killed him just as quickly and surely as if his name was Fredo Corleone. I was ecstatic.  He had a bounty on his head, he was an ogre, and this was a B/X game.  There were no moral boundaries to cross or arguments about doing the right thing.  There’s gold and XP to be had back at the Keep and we aimed to nab it.  

Also, it was fun.  We roleplayed, we metagamed, and we had some good, clean, murderhobo fun.

Discord worked fine for us I think.  The interface was pretty easy, and any issues were local and hardware-based I think...not the result of bad software.  I would consider using it in lieu of Teamspeak.

Kelly (the DM) is very Roll20 savvy, and everything ran seamlessly.  My limited experience with the free-to-use software was enough to get me on-board and playing pretty quickly.  Yes, I am still a user and proponent of Fantasy Grounds.  Its UI and its ruleset-based approach makes building and running a long-term campaign/game much more pleasurable for me.  If I was running a ruleset it supported, that would be my go-to VTT.  If I wanted to run a game that wasn’t supported on Fantasy Grounds, I might try Roll20, but it still seems a bit cludgy to me.  

There are other options too.  Maybe you’ve tried Power VTT?  I haven’t, but I’m thinking of giving it a go.  The video on their homepage is enticing for someone looking to run a game for an unsupported ruleset.  There are games I’d like to run that will never be available on Fantasy Grounds (Talislanta anyone?).  I’m sure I could make an unsupported game work, but I’d rather just get the players the .pdf’s they need and play using a ruleset-agnostic VTT.  

I tried Maptools early on in my VTT history.  Fuck that noise.  Maybe it was too complex, or maybe i’m too dumb to learn it.  Did not like it.  Maybe you do.  Perhaps you can extol it’s many virtues and wondrous capabilities to me.  Maybe I missed something?  Was I too new to the VTT game to know better?

There are alot of ways to skin the VTT cat, and I think more are bound to crop up.  

I realize that there are alot of roleplaying purists who only want to to play in meatspace.  I get it. I too love gathering at the table for a session, an adventure, or a long-term campaign but the reality for many of us is that time and space are at a premium and we simply must learn to use the tools that are available in order to actively continue to enjoy the hobby.  While some elements are missing, and while there are no perfect VTT solutions, we do live at a time where we have pretty good options.

AD&D 1e Anyone?

I’m probably not going to run a Roll20 session anytime soon, but I’m down for a game.  Especially if we are gonna crawl OSR-style.  I’ll roll up an extra character, just in case, cause...well, ya know.