Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One bad roll....

An unfortunate roll on the urban encounters table lead to the party being tricked by a rakshasa and following him around on a merry chase as he impersonated, murdered, and replaced an NPC ally.  I tried to warn them with some dialogue hints (and a brief, pre-murder encounter with the real NPC) but they weren't biting.When he sprang his trap, I thought it was curtains for the party... they had no way to harm him with weapons or magic. Luckily, Georges, our resident spoony bard, had haste prepared, and the party was able to flee from the monster.

Oh, did I mention that old school monks, who cannot be hasted, still have an obscene movement rate? I can see why that feature of the class might cause some concern amongst those I have seen criticize the monk, but I am far from turned off to the class at this point.

My question is this... when you see the imminent doom of the player characters coming, but they clearly do not, how many of you follow through and how many try to throw the players a bone and give them the chance to save themselves? I was actually prepared to let the dice fall where they would, even though I am rather attached to the current locale of the campaign and the events occurring in and around it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Thought for Online B/X

I have been playing B/X with but one player, our own Timeshadows. While Flynn seem ready to hop on board, that still leaves me with a little dilemma I have been considering...

B/X is rather deadly, and when you are playing with only one or two players (plus assorted retainers), you risk stalling the game out on a fatality. In my AD&D game, by contrast, there have always been four to six players... if someone dies, there is a large party to move on.

To that end, I'm considering using a modified version of the Death and Dismemberment table that seems to float around this corner of the Internet on a regular basis. The concept is similar to how damage works in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st and 2nd editions. (I have no idea about the 3rd edition, nor any desire to find out; if I want to spend $100 on a fucking board game, I'll buy Descent: Journeys in the Dark and one of it's expansion packs, thanks.)

To break it down for the uninitiated: hit points mean jack until you drop below 0; then every hit sends you rolling on a table to see what horrible thing happens to you. In Warhammer, it's generally pretty grim... broken bones, blinded by blood in your eyes, and lots of dismemberment and bleeding to death and crushed skulls. Throw up the horns. The OSR version is a lot softer, with most of the results being knock downs, knockeouts, etc... generally people only assign real, actual death on snake eyes.

My table will probably have a higher chance of being killed or mortally wounded, but it will at least give my B/X game a little less lethality, which I think is important with a smaller party.

....of course, only player characters will get to roll; all monsters and retainers will continue to buy the farm when dropped below 0 hp, with those who are knocked to exactly zero having a round or two in which to be healed before buying the farm.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Online B/X Continues

A few notes about today's game:

1. I keep forgetting that treasure is the way to go in older editions of D&D... a medusa is worth 175 xp. Yes, that means a party of five is going to get 35 xp each for a monster that has not one, but two save-or-die attacks.

...however, that Treasure Type F that she's guarding could potentially level your party, if you can find a way to haul it all back to the surface.

2. Skype is kind of fickle. It held out pretty well today, with only one instance where we had to disconnect and restart the call.

3. Now that I own B/X, many of the blog titles around here make a lot more sense, particularly Ode to Black Dougal and "It's Okay, Gary Sent Us." (The latter I had just assumed was a reference to old school play in general, not a specific reference to the Red Book.)

4. While I will no longer have weekdays off until summer time, (and hopefully then I will be teaching summer school) I hope to continue my B/X game in some capacity, and to add some players who couldn't play during the days.

While spring break is nearly over, I do get to game at least once more... Sunday evening Deadlands continues.

House Ruling, All Crazy-Like

...okay, not really, but as it turns out, I do have a few house rules for my online  B/X game:

1. Player characters do not start off knowing their alignment tongue.This is mainly because I haven't decided if I want to "repurpose" the concept for use in my campaign... on one hand, I think that a shadowy tongue used by the forces of Chaos is kind of a cool idea. On the other hand, I think it's silly for anyone of the appropriate alignment to just "know" the alignment tongue, magically forgetting it if they change alignments. We'll see. For now, ignored.

2. Max hit points at first level. Normal hit points are rolled every following level until name level. Fighters and dwarves can re-roll 1's on their new hit dice.

I'm considering doing something with the fighter's attack progression... yes, they progress faster in terms of level, but clerics and thieves tend to level faster, resulting in a potential negation of the thing that fighters are supposed to be best at. I might allow them to drop their to-hit numbers by one every other level instead of every three.... so their number to hit AC 0 is 19 at levels 1-20, 18 at 3-4, etc. I'm on the fence about this one.

...interestingly enough, in Raggi's Weird Fantasy rules, fighters are the only class that ever improve in combat ability; clerics, thieves, and magic-users are all frozen at their first level attack tables. (Actually, I think he calls thieves "specialists," but you get the idea.) I'm not sure I'd go to that extreme, but it is certainly something to consider. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My first online game experience

So, a few thoughts on today's game...

1. Skype is kind of spotty, but it wasn't the worst experience I've ever had; that award goes to Google Voice Chat, which often unexpectedly stops working and emits a brain-shatteringly loud blast of static.I daresay the Skype worked marginally better than it has for the the remote player in my regular Tuesday night campaign. I still have yet to try a Skype conference with more than two other people, so who knows...

2. I rolled all the dice. That was actually Timeshadows' idea, but I didn't mind and it worked out pretty well.

3. I tend to draw somewhat irregular dungeons, so sometimes I wonder if I am adequately describing them with respect to size and direction of corridors. If anything, some kind of application that would allow me to share maps relatively easily would be nice, or perhaps share maps with one other player. (Someone unlucky enough to get voted as designated mapper.) It's not a huge problem, at least, my player didn't seem to think so... and have always had a thing about describing irregularly shaped dungeons (caverns, etc.), even at a traditional "around the table" type game.

4. B/X is ideal for online gaming because of it's simplicity;  it doesn't take long to look up a chart or rule when you don't have a lot of book to flip through.

All in all, it was a pretty good experience, and we're actually on deck to play again tomorrow. This gets me thinking all kinds of ambitious, and unlikely, thoughts about "getting the band back together" from distant eras of my gaming past. (Many of my former gaming groups have scattered to the four winds, but are still in varying degrees of contact with one another.)

Now, if only I could convert some of my MMO playing friends over from the dark side...

I am playing D&D...

....right now! Online  B/X game with Timeshadows. (One player has strep throat, the other couldn't play until evening) Those who want to play... I would definitely try this again, so fear not if you didn't make today's session.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Staying the Course

In the wake of the recent marathon of nastiness, lots of quality blogs are closing up shop or going on indefinite hiatus, some due to the nastiness, others for various personal reasons.

Save Vs. Poison ain't one of 'em.

I don't pretend to have a wide readership, nor do I think every entry is stuffed with insight and wit. However, I'm going to keep blogging on.

I hope that those who have quit will return someday, and relatively soon. For the meantime, as long as I still love tabletop games, unlucky adventurers will continue to save vs. poison.

Want to Play?

Earlier today, I was looking for people to play some simple B/X D&D sometime this week, perhaps tomorrow or Thursday. (I have this week off and I'm starting to go a little stir crazy.) Our own Timeshadows, of The Grand Tapestry (link is in my blogroll) suggested that I perhaps run the session online.

I've never done this before. I have mentioned, numerous times, that one of the players in my AD&D campaign plays via Skype (or Google Voice Chat sometimes, when we can get the damned thing to work for more than two consecutive minutes...) and that has worked out well so far. (The dice rolls are on the honor system, though... no fancy widgets here.)  I have never conducted a whole group session online. Perhaps I should give it a shot this week, should I be able to find two to four interested bodies.

It would have to be via Skype, and unless I can find a quick die roll widget, the rolls would have to be on the honor system. (I'm not putting down cash for something like Fantasy Grounds, since I don't even know if this is something I'd try more than once.)

Any of you Blogarians interested? Send me an email: mcwieg [ampersand] gmail [period] com.

I assure you that I am just as devastatingly witty and charming "in person" as I am on the blog. Honest.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Campaign Stage 3 GO

Today I finally got around to launching the new leg of my campaign. (Last week we played The Grinding Gear as a one shot, though we did not finish it.) This week, we returned to the original fantasy world, though in the more northerly kingdom of Amdoro, in the prosperous trade city of Balvara.

I am pleased to say that the dungeon they are headed towards was named and conceptualized with the help of Mythmere's Adventure Design Workbook, a delightful little book full of random tables meant to get your gears turning. (It is also apparently the first volume in a series)

Oh, and I'm using a monster from the Fiend Folio. I know that book doesn't get a lot of love around these parts, but I think it can be a useful repository of unusual encounters. I can't say which monster (or...monsters?!), as at least three of my players read this blog, and a fourth has in the past. You will find out soon enough, my dearies.

One of my players says he enjoys the new intrigue and setting I've built. I'm already looking forward to next week.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obsidian Portal and Reminiscence

I do not miss 4E, and I find it highly unlikely that I will ever play it again. However, reviewing my old campaign at Obsidian Portal, I find that I'm sorry that I didn't at least get to conclude the game on a satisfactory note. I'm very pleased with the things I came up with for the campaign. Even now, former members of the group speak fondly about the campaign itself, even though they were among the most vocal opponents of the system. I was burned out on 3.5, so I had no desire to convert, and by the time it had occurred to me to explore the older editions (which was in January of 2009), the group had already scattered to the four winds and the momentum seemed eternally lost.

Perhaps one day I'll bring that campaign back, using an old edition, or perhaps Savage Worlds, or maybe even one of the many fantasy games I've got on my shelf.

While removing my stuff from Obsidian Portal, I was struck with the vague notion that I should learn how to use it better and perhaps give it a whirl for my current campaign (or one I may run in the near future.) Any Portal users out there care to tell me if it's worth the time to learn it?

Shadowrun 4E

A quick post about two things I immediately dislike about Shadowrun 4:

1. Replacement of fake Shadowrun swear words with real world swear words. I don't want to see the word "fuck" in my Shadowrun book, not because I'm a offended (which I'm not), but because part of the color and flavor of Shadowrun is the fake cuss words like frak and drek. I'm also pretty sure they ditched chummer, though I can't be certain...I might have missed that. It strikes me as an attempt to be unnecessarily "edgy," which annoys me more than Joy Division lyrics in a chapter heading.

2. The Qualities system, which was introduced in SR3 as an optional rule, is now non-optional, so I get to deal with a bunch of optimizational bullshit. Does anyone ever take Ambidextrous in a game for any reason other than using two guns? (Sure they do... some of them want to use two swords!) A character's ability to be a magician, and what type of magician he will be, are built into the Qualities system, offering no easy way to excise it.

I will continue to dissect SR4. There are some things I like, and I will post about them as well.

Oh, one right off the bat: the core game now acknowledges a future in which wireless internet exists. :P

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Red n' Blue

If you've been reading along, you may recall that last summer I happened across the Moldvay Basic red and Expert blue books and passed on them. (Though I did score a copy of Keep on the Borderlands) Today I came across them again for two bucks a pop, and figured what the hell.... so now I have added them to my collection. The LGS also had used copies of the player and DM book for Mentzer basic, but I already have the Cyclopedia. I guess trips to the LGS aren't always a waste of time.

I have the entirety of next week off due to my school district being on spring break; perhaps this will give me the chance to catch up on rpg reading in general. I would also like to finish my group's run through The Grinding Gear, and, given my recent acquisitions, see if anyone has days off to have a Basic D&D marathon or something like that.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I don't like PDFs.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm 28. I've had access to the internet since I was in 7th grade in the early 1990's. While I do remember the time before the internet, I have been using it for more than half my life.

I hate PDFs.Rather, I hate e-books. I don't like trying to read a book on my computer screen. I like to hold the book in my hands. I like to buy books off bookshelves. I like to lug around bags that are heavy with books. I like worn covers. I like manual adjustments to gaming charts done in pencil.I like physical shelves with physical books on them.

While I'm sure you're rolling your eyes at my sentimental attitude right now, I do have issues with PDFs from a practical perspective. I don't own a laptop. I'm not sure anyone in my group owns a laptop, except for Kurt, and he plays remotely from Kentucky, so his laptop would be of no use in this instance. Without a laptop, there is no easy, quick way for me to reference a book on PDF. When my campaign had moved to the alternate world of Tarraxian, I used materials from Mutant Future, but I found that not being able to have a physical book on the table was a huge hassle. Ditto that with OSRIC, which I often ran to when the AD&D DMG wasn't yielding a quick or well-organized answer to a question that came up during play. I need my material at the table, within arm's reach. I'm not willing to drop $250+ on a widget that allows me to do so. (Think of how many books I could buy with that!)
I cannot easily loan an e-book or PDF to a friend.
I don't want all my eggs in one basket, a la Kindle. (Actually, they aren't really in your basket, they are on Amazon's farm, and you can put the eggs in your basket when you want to- oh, you get the point... let's not continue this tortured metaphor.)

I did once enjoy a PDF so much that I printed the book, bound it with a clip, and had it on my shelf. This is not a solution I was pleased with and would not do this again, though I might be willing to print off a particular page that contained a character class, map, etc. Still, this is, in my opinion, a jury-rig style solution at best.

I don't like the idea that publishers are moving away from traditional printing. I don't like the notion that we are moving toward e-readers. I hope I never see the day when books are antiques and you go to the public library or the e-book store and download something onto a widget, which is where you keep all your other books.

Call it fuddy-duddyism, or eccentricity, or simply an unwillingness to embrace change... I'll own up to it.

I know that paper books aren't going to vanish overnight, and perhaps they won't vanish entirely... but even POD won't be the same for me; POD means less bookstores.

I don't think my opinions are unreasonable, and I do see the merits of PDFs... I just don't see them as a replacement for books, and I certainly find them less attractive for gaming (or general reading) purposes than the "old school" dead tree counterpart.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Which We Play The Grinding Gear

My regular group did not run the regular campaign this week, but we did decide to game anyway, and we did play The Grinding Gear.

Three and a half hours in, one of three PCs is dead, the party is nearly out of oil, and I think the surviving adventurers are on the cusp of giving up, cursing the name of St. McIver.

Perhaps a more detailed, spoilery post will follow.

Oh, and two out of three players were the ones who I ran through Death Frost Doom back in December.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Deck of Encounters 2

I love the Deck of Encounters 2. I've loved the DoE2 since I was a lad of fourteen or so. I'm not sure what happened to my original set, but sometime in college I took great pains to acquire a new copy via Ebay. I still have the cards, though they rest loose leaf in a small basket, the original box having been destroyed long ago. I'm fairly sure I'm missing some encounter cards as well.

The encounters are a pretty varied lot in terms of level, combat vs. non-combat, terrain, and so forth. I usually tried to sort them by terrain and level group. There were some encounters I loved so much that they appear in virtually every campaign I ever run at least once. (None of them in my current AD&D game so far... must remedy that.) If I had only one complaint, it would be that quite a few of them reference material from the Complete Handbook series, though it's easy enough to run the encounters without it. (Their mention strikes me as more of a product placement than anything else.)

Oddly enough, I have never owned the first Deck of Encounters.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This isn't a video game.

I like my gaming to be it's own thing. While the current buzz about design principles is interesting, it comes from MMO Town. In that regard, I'm also trying keep my gaming from becoming improv theatre, or a "TV Show" with a "Director" and a novel in which the author cannot control the protagonists. (Alexis, who is himself a published author, posted once about how the process of writing and GMing are quite different.)

That being said, it seems to me that gaming often tries to emulate something else, some other form of media, some other experience. I think the most common example is the licensed RPG: it looks to deliver a pretty specific gaming experience, and often the rules are designed to bend the flow of the game to resemble the source material.

Some of the most miserable campaigns I've ever run or been in have been licensed rpgs, and the misery comes from one of two sources:

1. The game does not adequately resemble the source material, or
2. Players who do not like the source material join the game, and are then frustrated/disappointed when it doesn't run like a "regular" roleplaying game.

Books and TV shows are written ahead of time, whereas the flow of the roleplaying game is a unique mix of prep and improv created by the players. Characters die in TV shows when the actor quits or the writers make it so. Roleplaying games almost universally run on some random determiner of fate. Unless some mechanic is in place that allows a player to "force" a given result, (Drama Points or Fate Chips or whatever) dramatic rolls generally do not happen "when needed," even if a dramatic success on the part of a character would be called for in a movie or tv script, or in the plot line of a novel.

I suppose my point is that, in my experience, gaming is the most fun when you play it for what it is rather than try to emulate something else. I'm not ribbing on licensed games, but I am saying that TV Show X: The RPG will always be an rpg and never your own private version of the tv show. Your game will never flow exactly like some other form of media. Gaming was meant to be it's own thing, methinks.

Now quit doing it wrong and embrace my One True Way, poltroon!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A big ol' pile of meh.

I went to a gaming store today, one that is not in my neighborhood...actually, it was the place where I played in an all too brief and somewhat ill-fated game of Swords & Wizardry early last year.

I really, really must stop going to gaming stores.

The first thing I pass is the big display of Player's Handbook 3. I had the briefest urge to crack one open out of sheer, morbid curiosity, but I quickly squelched that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Campaign, Stage 3

We didn't really get to play much this week... it was one of those "set up" sessions that can sometimes be a necessary evil in the campaign. We have returned to the original fantasy world and set up the characters, starting city, etc. We'll be ready to rock next week.

I have decided to allow the AD&D monk into my game, but the class is on a probation of sorts; if I decide the class is too wonky or causes too many headaches, the character will be converted into a fighter specialized in monk weapons or some similar solution. However, I am to give the old school monk a good, honest try. (I have no experience with the monk class in any pre-d20 incarnation.) The party consists of a monk, a cleric, an assassin, a bard, and a thief... the party definitely has a new focus, since everyone but the cleric is capable of using thief skills in some capacity. The bard is my own re-written version of the class, as  posted in December.

I'm excited to further develop a different region of the original campaign world. I've added a very slight Middle Eastern flavor to it, but I would still call this region "Western" for the most part. It will be a welcome change from some of the gonzo factor we've played through for the past several months.

Another change is that I am moving from total sandbox to semi-sandbox, partially at the suggestion of one of my players, who recognizes that I no longer have as much free time as I did just a few months ago. (Though I shall have an abundance come May!) I will throw out a few hooks rather than rely entirely on player volition to drive the campaign, though I won't use any "invisible walls"... if I have to improvise more than I did previously, so be it.

Oh, two final changes to the game... firstly, I have finally rendered alignment officially vestigial to mortals. The only creatures in my game who are truly aligned are creatures from other planes of existence (The Nine Hells, Seven Heavens, Pandemonium, etc.) and powerful characters who have sworn allegiance to aligned powers. (The higher the level, the stronger they radiate when detection spells are employed)
The second change is that I have dumped the skill system I tacked on from the old version of Hackmaster. Aside from one character who took First Aid, nobody ever used their skills and I found they added nothing to the game. I am simply assuming that characters have "invisible" skills implied by their class; the cleric knows theology, demons, undead, and medicine, while the monk knows how to repair clothes and has a little knowledge of herbalism, etc.

All in all, I am looking forward to next week's game session. Huzzah!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Superhero RPGs

I was watching one of the more recent animated Justice League movies tonight. Whenever I watched animated DC stuff, I always get the urge to play Champions 4th edition, even though I don't particularly like the system. Champions 4th was the first, and presently only, superhero games I've ever played....and boy, did we play the hell out of it in junior high and high school. I rarely ran the game, preferring mostly to play it, but I recall the system made me fairly miserable and character creation was mostly an arms race. Still, we did have fun with it for the most part....and the parts that weren't fun still make damn funny stories.

The truth is, I have never been satisfied with a superhero role-playing system, though I must admit I have had relatively limited experience with them. Besides Champions 4th and HERO 5th, I tried to design a supers game using FUDGE, though I never finished it. I own the revised version of Mutants & Masterminds, though I could never really get into it. I have the PDF of Necessarily Evil (a super setting for Savage Worlds) but I seem to put off reading PDFs for months or years at a time. Oh, I almost forgot... I have a boxed set of the DC Heroes game from WEG that I picked up at a 50% off sale two summers ago.

I have heard of a number of other superhero systems, but truth be told, I've sort of given up on looking for a decent system. I think that superhero gaming is one of those problematic genres that just don't "game well" (another genre I don't think games well is mecha, but that is another post for another day.)

I suppose one of the problems facing superhero games is the sheer disparity of power levels between heroes, often in the same universe: Jubilee can shoot pretty sparks that seem to be capable of little more than stunning foes, while Magneto seems to pretty much have any capability that can be loosely tied to the concepts of magnetism. The Green Arrow is a skilled archer and martial artist, but Superman can withstand tank shells and hang out in space without protective gear. Meanwhile, Aquaman talks to fish.

I think my desire to have a supers system I'm satisfied with stems from my need to have a "go-to" rpg for every genre. Once again, I recall the maxim that there is a fine line between hobby and mental illness.

Friday, March 5, 2010

There's Something in the Air....

This is my impression of about half the blog entries I've read this week:

You suck, your campaign sucks, your gaming ideology sucks, your system of choice sucks, your blog sucks, and your mom sucks. (Especially your mom.)

Looks a little something like this, in my mind...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reading an RPG Book In Public: Been There, Done That

I do not observe Read an RPG Book in Public Week, because I've been doing that since I was about 14 years old. I have read RPG books in school lunchrooms and libraries, at the student union in college, in bus stops and while riding buses, at Jimmy John's during lunch breaks.... I see no reason to go out of my way to do it now.

I must say, however, that reading these books in public has never lead to anything good or productive in my life. The "uninitiated" do not ask what I'm reading and then take interest. If anyone speaks to me at all, it is the rare fellow gamer encountered randomly, and these encounters have been awkward at best and traumatizing at worst. You know a conversation is going south when the gamer you just me immediately segues into a story about their personal knife/sword collection and their expulsion from public school for carrying weapons, or when they talk about their latent psychic powers and offer to do an "energy reading." You find yourself tempted to jump on the next bus even if you don't know where it goes...

More Obsessive Collecting

After a trip to the used bookstore this evening, I find myself in possession of Shadowrun 4th edition and Ars Magica 3rd edition. I haven't really had the opportunity to play SR4 and I have been quite curious about it. (I joined a group but had to give it up before the campaign started due to my sudden scarcity of free time) Ars Magica, like my recently acquired copy of Unknown Armies, is a game I always wanted to try based on reputation. It is most unsettling to see the old WotC label and think about how things used to be.

Had I more cash presently, I'd have also purched the 3rd edition of Legend of the Five Rings and the two core books to Castles & Crusades. I very nearly did buy C&C, but that itch is currently being scratched by my current OSRIC/AD&D1 game.

I really need to stick to that planned half hour of gaming-related reading every night... those books are really stacking up.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Again? Really?

Some dude with the handle of faustusnotes posted his thoughts on old school mentality, and some other dude posted his thoughts about faustusnotes' thoughts, and everyone's panties are in a collective twist because they compared the psychology of the old school to something that is implied to be less mature than guys who have plots in their games and blah blah blah now too many of the blogs I follow are posting their own angry responses when I just want to read about their campaigns or new spells or what not. Sometimes I wish the internet would burn down.

Come on, guys.... who really cares? I don't care what other people play. RIFTS. 4th Ed. Amber fucking Diceless. Whatever.In the end, we're all sitting around a table pretending to be elves or cyborgs or vampires or some other crap; if someone implies that the way they pretend to be an elf is more mature than the way you're pretending to be an elf... I mean, come on.

I think the only reasonable way to settle this is with a dancing/musical knife fight similar to the one featured in the music video to "Beat It."

Monday, March 1, 2010

No orcs?!

I just realized something...

during last week's session, the magic-user's last spell before shuffling off his first mortal coil was Monster Summoning I. I randomly determined that orcs were the creatures summoned.

It was the first and only appearance of orcs in this campaign. Given that the party has spent most of the campaign trapped on an alternate plane of existence, this should not really be that surprising, but during their stint on the more tradition fantasy world from whence they came, they encountered not one single orc.