Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rogue's Gallery: A Sandbox Party (MGT)

So, I wanted to see what I could come up with for a party who would chase the adventure in the Aaltonen Subsector.  I made a random birth chart, rolled the starting planets and went to town.

I didn't buy equipment yet, but here they are, otherwise completed.

Ali MustafaStr 10 (+1), Dex 9 (+1), End 7 (0), Int 6 (0), Edu 10 (+1), Soc 4 (-1)

Athletics (Strength)-2, Battle Dress 0, Computer-0, Deception-1, Explosives-1, Gun Combat (Energy Rifle)-3, Gunner (Turret)-1, Heavy Weapons (Launchers)-0, Leadership-1, Life Science (Biology)-0, Melee (Blade)-2, Persuade-2, Social Science (History)-0, Stealth-1, Streetwise-1, Survival-0, Tactics (Military)-0

Cr102,000, TAS Membership, Enemy (Head of the Ibrahim Branch of The Syndicate)

A well-educated but poor child from Ibrahim, Ali looked to the stars, enlisting in the Imperial Marines.  A fierce combatant, he was on the front lines of multiple planetary assaults, which eventually cost him his career after he was medically discharged after a particularly harrowing ordeal.  Back home, as a result of his “taint of outsiders,” he found the only place he was wanted was the underworld, and even there only grudgingly.  He never enjoyed his job, often showing mercy to those he felt did not deserve the fate they were receiving, including a down-on-his-luck former scout named McKay Mulroney.  When ordered to murder Vesna Begovic, a beautiful psion from Aaltonen, Ali decided he had had enough.  Instead, he warned Vesna and they escaped off planet.

White AgbohStr 4 (-1), Dex 9 (+1), End 4 (-1), Int 7 (0), Edu 12 (+2), Soc 7 (0)

Admin-0, Advocate-2, Animals-0, Athletics (Coordination)-1, Broker-1, Carouse-0, Comms-1, Computer-0, Deception-1, Drive (Wheeled)-0, Gun COmbat (Energy Pistol)-1, Leadership-1, Life Sciences (Biology)-1, Persuade-0, Steward-0, Streetwise-0, Trade-0, Vacc Suit-0

Cr32,000, Ship Shares (2), Contact (A Hiver Trade Representative)

Originally planning on becoming a Broken in his family’s Mwaban export business, White found that he really had no aptitude for it and family connections counted for nothing.  He left the export firm and instead became a lawyer, which he showed considerably more ability for.  One thing he did show a knack for was office gossip, and he parlayed some damaging information into some money and a promotion.  Of course, this did not endear him to management.  When times got tough for the firm, he was one of the first let go.  At 34 years of age, he was at a bit of an existential crisis.  He wandered the subsector, working odd jobs, notable with Harrison Holt, a Free Trader, and Vesna Begovic, a psion.  He also spent considerable amount of time working with an enclave of Hivers.  These experiences gave him a new philosophy on life, one grounded in cooperation and new experiences.

Cline NewbillStr 6 (0), Dex 7 (0), End 7 (0), Int 11 (+1), Edu 6 (0), Soc 6 (0)

Computers-0, Gun Combat (Energy Pistol)-2, Gunner (Turrets)-1, Mechanic-3, Medic-1, Melee (Unarmed)-1, Pilot (Spacecraft)-1, Seafarer-0, Steward-1, Vacc Suit-2, Zero-G 1

Cr56,000, Ship Shares (2), TAS Membership, Enemy (Ex-Naval Criminal), Enemy (Ex-Naval Criminal)
Retired Master Chief; Cr12,000/year

Cline hated being confined to the tunnels of Viitala.  As soon as he was old enough, he joined the Imperial Navy, where he had a distinguished career.  As a Master-at-Arms, he was the scourge of shipborne criminals, and his ships were renowned throughout the sector as some of the cleanest.  Cline served on a diplomatic mission as an Admiral’s aide, which he considers the high point of his career.  As an Able Spacehand, he attended EVA Training with Harrison Holt and much later in his career, helped McKay Mulroney in a bar fight.

Vesna BegovicStr 9 (+1), Dex 8 (0), End 7 (0), Int 5 (-1), Edu 10 (+1), Soc 8 (0), Psi 10 (+1)

Admin-0, Animals-0, Awareness-2, Broker-2, Clairvoyance-3, Comms-0, Drive (Wheeled)-0, Life Science (Psionology)-1, Medic-2, Persuade-3, Sensors-1, Stealth-1, Steward-0, Telepathy-0, Trade-0, Vacc Suit-0

Cr62,000, Ship Shares (2), Contact (Imperial Customs Office), Contact (Aaltonen Commerce Department), Contact (Mattilian Trade Bureau), Contact (Jokelainen Business Council), Ally (Psionic Mentor), TL13 Wafer Jack
Retired Psionic Acolyte; Cr 10,000/year

Vesna was prepared to spend the rest of her life as a broker with the Aaltonen Commerce Department until she was recruited by the Psionic Institute and found to have considerable psionic ability.  She then developed her psionic powers, primarily within the business world, earning a strong reputation as a fair dealer.  She had worked with White Agboh on several occasions.  Vesna’s talents were always in demand and in some cases, not appreciated.  After she cost the Ibrahim Syndicate’s leadership some money in a deal, she was marked for death.  Only with Ali Mustafa’s help was she able to escape the planet alive.

McKay MulroneyStr 8 (0), Dex 7 (0), End 10 (+1), Int 8 (0), Edu 12 (+2), Soc 7 (0)

Animals-0, Astrogation-0, Athletics (Endurance)-1, Comms-0, Diplomat-1, Drive (Tracked)-0, Gun Combat (Energy Pistol)-0, Jack-of-all-Trades-1, Life Science (Biology)-1, Mechanic-0, Medic-0, Melee (Unarmed)-1, Persuade-1, Pilot (Spacecraft)-1, Recon-1, Sensors-1, Stealth-1, Streetwise-1, Survival-0, Vacc Suit-1

Cr60,000, Ship Share (1), Weapon, Contact (K’Kree), Contact (Aslan), Ally (Imperial Naval Intelligence), Rival (An Up and Coming Hotshot Scout)

McKay heard his King talk about the glorious empire the Takkulans had in ancient times and wanted to see it for himself.  Denied entry into the Navy, he was drafted into the Scout Service. It turned out that McKay loved the Scouts.  He spent a lot of time on the fringe of space and became a subject matter expert on different alien races from all different edges of the Imperium. His insight was very valuable to Imperial Intelligence and his star was rising.  Eventually he had to peak.  Filled with hubris, McKay failed to follow proper protocols when contacting a new race, inadvertently starting a small flare-up of hostilities.  A younger scout came in and cooled things down, to McKay’s dismay.  He was soon asked to leave the Service.  He wandered around the subsector in a bitter haze, getting into bar fights, requiring the aid of Cline Newbill and even earned the anger of the Syndicate.  Only Ali Mustafa’s intervention spared his life.  He still harbors considerable resentment at his current status.

Harrison HoltStr 8 (0), Dex 8 (0), End (0), Int 14 (+2), Edu 11 (+1), Soc 7 (0)

Admin-0, Advocate-1, Computer-1, Drive (Tracked)-0, Engineer (Electronics)-1, Gun Combat (Energy Pistol)-1, Gunner (Turrets)-0, Jack-of-all-Trades-1, Mechanic-4, Persuade-1, Physical Science (Physics)-0, Pilot (Spacecraft)-1, Sensors-1, Stealth-1, Streetwise-0, Survival-0, Trade-1, Vacc Suit-1, Zero-G-1


Harrison left the crowded confines of Kemppinen to join the Imperial Navy.  A fairly accomplished Mechanical Engineer, Harrison was able to take EVA training with CLine Newbill among his other duties and training.  A moment of inattentiveness caused a deadly accident, which drummed Harrison out of the Navy as well as giving him a guilt complex he still holds to this day.  He worked on a number of Free Traders, which helped him become one of the most accomplished mechanics in the subsector, but did nothing to assuage his guilt.  In one of the trade missions, he met White Agboh, whose zen-like attitude helped a little bit.  Still, every day Harrison thinks about the 85 engineers whose deaths he was responsible for.

Traveller Sandbox: A Patron

What follows is one of the patron encounters I've written for my sandbox.  It's the first one, so only 149 more to go!

Gul Muhammad, Tribal Guard (Kuusisto)
Players’ Information
While conducting some trade with one of the tribes, a guard clearly attempts to gain the intention of one of the characters.  The guard identifies himself as Gul Muhammad, aand he has a proposition for the characters.  He will reward them handsomely if they can get his sister off-world.  His family has arranged her marriage to “a savage.”  In order to spare his sister’s honor, he needs to get her off-world fast.  As it would be obvious who arranged it, he would need to come as well.
Referee’s InformationPerceptive characters will realize that Gul is being observed by many of the other guards.  Any of the players who appear to be conspiring with Gul will also be placed under scrutiny.
  1. Gul is on the level.  His sister is betrothed to the head of the tribe’s sadistic brother, who has a history of abusive behavior (even by Kuusisto standards) towards his wives, many of which do not survive through their first anniversary.
  2. Gul really does not approve of his sister’s marriage, even though she is in love with her betrothed, who is actually a decent, upstanding member of the tribe.  Neither Gul’s sister nor her betrothed will take kindly to the abduction.
  3. The players are not rescuing Gul’s sister.  Gul has been having an illicit affair with the Tribal Chief’s favored wife.  They believe they may have been discovered and the off-worlders provide their best chance for survival.
  4. As above, but it’s the Chief’s daughter, who is promised to one of the Chief’s champions.
  5. As above, but the daughter does not want to go with Gul.
  6. No one wants to go off-world.  This was an elaborate test by the tribe to see if the characters respect their traditions and beliefs.
I look to some of you grognards to give me some feedback!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Traveller Sandbox: A Sample of Worlds...

Work continues on the Sandbox I'm making for Traveller.  Unfortunately, thanks to FFE and Mongoose's rather strict policies governing fair use, I won't be able to distribute the finished product, even for free, as it is set in the Original Traveller Universe and NOT in the Foreven Sector.

I'm not pleased with this, because I think I'm on to some interesting storylines which others would be able to benefit from.  Still, the rules are the rules, and I'll just have a pretty awesome sandbox for players if I can convince them to play Traveller when I move back to PA in November.

If someone can provide insight that will give me a chance to share my creation with the world, please let me know.  I've debated putting it in context of MegaTraveller, which then puts it into the non-commercial Fair Use Policy of FFE, but I'm not sure if MT counts as OTU as far as Mongoose's policies go.  Of course, that means I need to buy the MT CD from FFE.  It's not like I haven't already bought a ton of the reprint CDs as it is.

Anyway, here are a few of the worlds in my sandbox.  In future TS posts, you can expect to see one of two of my subsector-wide plotlines and maybe about a dozen of my Patron Encounters.  That'll be about it, I fear.

Aaltonen (0406) A5466AB-A (Ag, Ga, Ni) - Scout Base, TAS, Imperial Consulate
Population: 6,000,000
Other Faction:  Significant Impersonal Bureaucracy

The seat of the Subsector Governor and self-styled Emperor Axus Mulon, Aaltonen is largely left to the system’s self-serving and inefficient bureaucracy while Axus focuses on expanding his empire.  As both a political and trade nexus, people from all over the subsector and beyond are present, but kept in a very small area near the starport.  Movement within Aaltonen is strictly controlled by methods of authorization and paperwork which even natives have difficulty understanding.

Ahmadi (0503) B432487-8 (Ni, Po) - Scout Base, TAS
Population: 60,000
Other Factions: Obscure Anarchists, Fringe Corporation

The company that founded Ahmadi has long since faded into obscurity, leaving behind a bureaucratic machine which is well meaning, if not always the most competent government.  This has led to two rival factions who have not gained too much traction as life is relatively comfortable--those who believe the colony should sell out to a megacorporation (Volkmarr GmbH and Koehl AG are both seeking to “invest”) and those who believe in complete anarchy and self-rule.

Bjorkberg (0405) B543564-9 (Ni Po) - TAS
Population: 600,000
Other factions: Minor Representative Democracy, Significant Self-Perpetuating Oligarchy

Bjorkberg is firmly under the thumb of the Aaltonenite Empire, and as it is not one of the wealthier possessions, its citizens are among the least-respected in the Empire.  This resentment has driven members of the population to chafe under the Aaltonenites, the majority of those dissenting returning to the ancient faiths of their people.  The leaders of the faith, long used to the rigid caste system allowing them free reign look to use the Bjorkberger sense of tradition to mobilize against Aaltonen.  A small, but growing, minority have realized that civilizations do not need castes and seek to bring democracy to Bjorkberg.

Bohui (0301) B653164-A (Lo, Po) - Naval Base
Population: 50

This miserable planet is home to three things:  A star port, an Imperial naval base and an Imperial maximum security prison.  Natives are typically the children of the employees of the prison or naval brats.  Native Bohuians are an incredibly honest and honorable people, who despise liars and criminals.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Traveller Sandbox: The Aaltonen Sector

I've been using Rob Conley's How to make a Traveller Sandbox to build a... Traveller Sandbox.  I'm actually getting a bit excited for it.  Last night, I finished Steps 1-9 and I already have a bunch of ideas for the Aaltonen Subsector.

The Aaltonen Subsector
I've got a paragraph on about 2/3-3/4 of the systems, and that really started to bring the subsector to life.  Two multi-system governments came out of the profiles--the sinister Aaltonenite Empire and the pampered and degenerate Mattilan Nation.  Both are controlled by charismatic dictators, Governor Axus Mulon of Aaltonen and Ilpo Yunis of Mattila.  While the economy of the subsector flows into the Aaltonen empire, so does the resentment.  Many Imperial nobles wonder how the Governor can slowly expand his personal domain throughout the sector without interference from the Empire.  In particular the rich planets Viitala and Jokelainen watch Aaltonen with considerable apprehension.

More to follow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What I'm Working On These Days

Now that I'm diving deep into the world of OSR, I'm realizing that I might serve the community better building a good sandbox to play in and develop material for that sandbox.

My thought:

Instead of a series of sixteen short adventures, I'd (as a consumer) prefer numerous locations that both fit into an existing world and also stand alone.

I've got some materials en route to me in Afghanistan, and once I have some sketchbooks and graph paper, I'll start going whole hog on a OSR sandbox.

In the meantime, I'm using Rob Conley's Traveller Sandbox Guidelines to whip up an interesting sector for Traveller.  I've often wanted to get some people to play Traveller so it'll be nice to have some material in the event I can find players.

We'll see.  When I get to a point where I can write it up, I'll post the sector.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We're Not Worthy: Gamma World Metalocalypse

I read Cyclopeatron's account of a Gamma World game he ran, and my 'ead esplode.

I want to party with this guy.

I bow down to you, sir.  Rock the fuck on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You're Doing It Wrong: Re-learning 1st Edition

I'm loving this old-school renaissance I seem to be having over the last two weeks.  However, in the process of relearning 1st Edition, I'm realizing how many things I did wrong as an adolescent.

I'm working on the first installment of the Against the Dark Lord series of OSRIC modules and the progress is slow, largely because statting 1st edition is a world apart from 4th edition.  Thanks to David Prata's ADDICT reference (available on the Knights & Knaves website), I've realized that I was doing it all wrong.

The original initiative rules as written were COMPLETELY foreign to me.  I had always played with a d10 modified by the reaction roll from your Dexterity modifying it.  A d6 roll?  Minimal modifiers?  All actions taking place at once?

Damn.  All these years.  I was doing it wrong.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dungeon Shopping Network: The Macrame Vest of Ur-Quall

As I take a pause from the first installment of the Dark Lord series to rethink how I stat low-level OSR encounters (doing a quick run-though resulted in a TPK--it's been a while), I'll shift gears to an open call for artifacts on Jeff's Gameblog.

Many ages ago, when life was much less civilized, there was a magic user of mediocre ability and dubious social skill named Ur-Quall.  Hated by his fellow tribesmen, but kept around for his magic, Ur-Quall's longing for acceptance transcended his mortal form.  When Ur-Quall was finally felled by a well-aimed rock to the head (history has not been able to determine if it was a rival tribe or his own), that longing proved so powerful it outlasted Ur-Quall's pitiful existence.  The vest that Ur-Quall always wore (it was a gift from his beloved mother) has proved to polarize opinions of its wearer (which is more than Ur-Quall ever got) as well provide a few minor effects.

The wearer of the vest is considered to have a permanent friends in effect at all times.  The effect is equivalent to the spell being cast by a 9th level Magic User.  The DM should keep a note of the effect on NPCs, as that effect is not different if they come under the vest's power again.  (For example, Jalil is wearing the vest and walks into the smithy of Vel-John.  Vel-John will make his save to see if Jalil's Charisma is raised or lowered and by how much.  This effect will continue every time Jalil wears the vest around Vel-John)

Once the vest is put on, only the death of the wearer or a dispel magic cast by a 9th-level Magic User or higher can allow the vest to be removed.

2xI _____  ______


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Toolbox: Putting Level Caps Into Practice

Okay, last night, I whipped up five OSRIC characters.  As you can see from my previous post, one of them was literally unplayable.  That still blows my mind.

Anyway, I made my characters for the campaign.  Straight 3d6s in order.  I focused heavily on demi-humans, since the point of this exercise was to base a campaign off of level caps.  I won't go into the weeds of it, but here was the party I ended up with:

Stor Valans, Male Human Magic-User
Ral Goldenleaf, Male Elf Cleric
Potter Neel, Male Halfling Fighter/Thief
Teris Jan, Female Half-Elf Thief
Gelda Spearbreaker, Female Half-Orc Fighter

This party actually doesn't have much in the way of level caps.  Ral tops off at 7, Gelda at 10.  Potter's fighter levels will stop at 4, but the sky is the limit with the rest of them.  Since he can progress in thief levels, we'll plan for the campaign to end around the 7th or 8th level.

It's been an awful long time since I wrote anything for an Old School Rules set, so it will be a bit before I have more detail.  My first thought are sixteen "episodes" which I hope will fit into a night of play each.  There will be much tweaking as I go on, for sure.

Before we fill in the details, the general structure will look like four episodes taking the players through Levels 1 and 2.  Some light foreshadowing, but generally light plot to give the players time to feel out the characters and the personalities.  I want the last four episodes to be the dramatic conclusion, so maybe the dungeoncrawl into the villain's lair comprising levels 7 & 8.  The middle--buildup.

The dilemma for me has been what to make the big bad guy.  I looked through the monster lists, but then realized that the answer was in a different project I was working on.  One of the things I noticed in the earlier D&D works is that there was a mechanism built into the Orcs akin to the "Animosity Roll" from Warhammer.  The caveat in the 1e Monster Manual is that a powerful leader can keep these different tribes together.  So, if I'm going old school, I'm going OLD SCHOOL.  The villain will be a powerful (well, given the party, like 11th level) magic-user who will have an army of humanoids and undead at his disposal.

I'll work into all of the PCs backstories either a personal loss or a spiritual motivation that predisposes them against the wizard.  While it won't come into play immediately, by the time they are 3rd Level and the plot buildup begins, those motivations will be tweaked and the plot will move forward.

With this as a base, you'll see blogs in the future in the "Against the Dark Lord" category.  Those will be this virtual OSRIC campaign.  Too many potential players read this, so while the details might not be practiced, future players of mine can certainly learn the theory of how I plan campaigns.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rogue's Gallery: Even More Pathetic than Monahan (OSRIC)

I have been playing D&D for 26 years.  I have never had this happen before.

I made an unplayable character.

No really.  He is unplayable.

A dwarf with the following stats:
Str 13, Dex 8, Con 17, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 3

He cannot be part of any character class under the OSRIC rules as written.

I win.

The Toolbox: Using OSR Level Caps to Help Write a Campaign

When I was talking with a friend on Facebook about Monaghan, the lovable loser from my previous post, I was thinking about some of the other aspects of OSR character creation.  In particular, I was thinking about level caps.  Assuming Monaghan doesn't suffer a horrible fate, he has unlimited potential as a thief.  If is Wisdom was one point higher, he would have been a fighter with a maximum level of 6.

I know a lot of people think level caps suck.  As I understand it, they were put in place to balance out the exceptional abilities non-human characters get at first level.  Makes sense, but how many campaigns really get that far, anyway?  From my experience, most OSR campaigns died out between levels 5 and 10.  Epic campaigns are generally the exceptions, not the rule.

Why not embrace the level cap and the general short life a campaign and plan for both to end around the same time?  Upon generating the characters, look at the limits of your non-humans.  Write a campaign that will naturally end a bit after that level cap is reached and before the other players outstrip the capped one.

Putting my money where my mouth is, here is what I will present to you.  I will, using OSRIC, create five brutal characters.  Brutal being how the die rolls treat them, not what they will be able to do to the monsters.  With these five characters, I will take the roles and the limits and plop them down in my all time favorite Old School world--Greyhawk.

With that, I will write the beginnings of a campaign.  Stay tuned.

Rogue's Gallery: Monahan Grutain (OSRIC)

Okay, so there was a blog about rolling back to a previous edition of game rules if you are feeling a little overwhelmed by splatbooks.  I decided to take 5 Stone Games up on their challenge.  The only modern OSR set I have on my laptop is OSRIC, and I didn't feel like investigating others to see if they were available for download.  That's for another day.

I rolled up a strict character--3d6 in order of abilities.  No tweaking the bell curve with 4d6 drop 1 or placing the stats where I wanted them.  WOW.  I forgot how harsh that could be.  Thanks the a 6 Wisdom requirement, my character with a 15 Strength could not qualify for fighter.  In fact, the only class and non-human race I qualified for was Half-Elf Thief.  Looking at the stats, I've got a reasonably likable fool with a penchant for getting sick, even though he is built like a brick shithouse.  I named him after a guy who plays LFR in Colorado Springs that no one really likes, because I see this guy being not too loved by the local underground community.  He's a little dim and has the worst decision-making skills out there.  On top of that, he's not terribly good at thievery.  I reckon he'd be adventuring by default, having been encouraged to leave the local guild community.  Since he's got a decent (which is to say average) Charisma, I'm thinking they pity him more than hate him and just made him leave town.

NOT at all heroic.  Wow. I made a pathetic character.  Maybe that's what will make him heroic.  In SPITE of his mental shortcomings, he manages to become a hero and show those around him the true meaning of friendship and love.  Yes, I made the D&D equivalent of Forrest Gump.


Here are the idiot's stats:

Monahan Grutain
Male Half-Elf Thief Level 1 Age 29
Str 15, Dex 9, Con 7, Int 8, Wis 5, Cha 10

Armor Class 8
Hit Points 6
Alignment True Neutral

Attribute Effects
+20 Encumbrance, 2 in 6 Minor Strength Tests, 7% Major Strength Tests, 60% Survive Resurrection, 55% Survive System Shock, 1 Additional Language, -1 Mental Saving Throw Bonus, 4 Henchmen Maximum

Racial Abilities:
30% resistance to sleep and charm spells, Detect secret doors 2 in 6, concealed doors 3 in 6 when searching, Detect concealed doors 1 in 6 when passing within 10’, Infravision 60’, Movement Rate 120 ft.

Thief Abilities:
Backstab (+4 to hit, double rolled damage (modifiers unchanged)), Climb Walls 80%, Find Traps 10%, Hear Noise 10%, Hide in Shadows 15%, Move Quietly 0%, Open Locks 20%, Pick Pockets 30%, Read Languages 1%

Languages: Common, Thieves’ Cant

Weapon Proficiencies: 2

Saving Throws:
Aimed Magic Items 14, Breath Weapons 16, Death, Paralysis, Poison 13, Petrification, Polymorph 12, Spells 15

20 hits AC 1 through -4

Thieves’ Tools
Leather Armor
Long Sword
Damage 1d8 (s/m) 1d12 (l), encumbrance 7

Friday, August 20, 2010

You're Doing It Wrong: Tomhammer Fantasy Roleplay

I met this guy, Tom, when I was going through an interrogation course at Fort Huachuca, AZ.  I was seeing what was out there at the FLGS and I ran into him.  He was recruiting for a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign.  I remembered seeing WFRP at the Encounter in the late 1980s and thought it looked so cool and so advanced compared to D&D.  The hefty price tag was too much for me and eventually the only Warhammer Fantasy I knew was the travails of my inept Dark Elf army.

Tom became a social friend as well as a gaming one.  Because of certain things he pulled hanging out and gaming, I'm not sorry I'll likely never see the guy ever again.  I'll leave the social parts out, but he is a textbook example of a GM you don't want to play for.

"Tomhammer" became a codename for Tom's self-serving interpretations of the rules.  Tom had vision.  And when the players and die rolls were going his way, he was a pretty good GM.  Unfortunately, he was big on house rules that favored HIM.  He'd grow visibly frustrated when we retooled our characters to exploit HIS exploitations.  Instead of the "attaboy" a good GM gives his players when they come up with an inventive solution, he would, every time and in order:

  1. Stare at the gaming table for approximately 30 seconds.  If anyone said anything to them, they got the pointer finger ("WAIT!") as he stared in silence.
  2. Say "No." and attempt to wing a rules interpretation, look one up feverishly, or attempt to find some excuse to make it not happen.  He was really bad at improv, so it never worked out in his favor.
  3. Pout.  Excessively.  Not very attractive for an Army guy in his late 30s.
Now, you may think "Why didn't you just stop playing with him?"  Well, several reasons.  One, this was Sierra Vista, Arizona.  NOT exactly a mecca for gaming.  Two, I loved the game, but he owned the books.  It's not like I could pick up the first edition of WFRP at the FLGS and be done with him.

The game ended when we players finished our respective courses (the other two guys were there for EW maintenance) and went our separate ways.  I'd run into Tom again in language school after a deployment to Afghanistan, and I'd even play and hang out with him.  That lasted about three months.  Every now and then I'd hear ABOUT him from someone who was stationed with him (Human Intelligence is a small world).  I can't hate the man too much, since he did turn me on to Warhammer, new edition excluded, is still my favorite grimy low-fantasy RPG.

What did I learn from this?
  1. House rules need to be for mutual enhancement of the game and not as a kneejerk reaction to someone not getting their way
  2. It's not just your vision, it's also your players vision.
I'm guessing most of the people who would be reading my blog already get these concepts, but if you don't, take them to heart.  Tomhammer was nowhere near as much fun as Warhammer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

GM's Delimma: When the Publisher Screws Your Campaign

My earliest memories of table top role playing in a developed campaign world involved The World of Greyhawk, in particular the Kingdom of Celene.  In our game in the mid-1980s, Celene was more open than canon probably allowed.  The 1983 boxed edition of The World of Greyhawk describes the kingdom as a Rivendalian society that does not welcome strangers, but will still cooperate with the other nations around them for the greater good.

1992's From the Ashes, the reboot of the Greyhawk setting for 2nd Edition, turns the now Monarchy of Celene (perhaps in the years between the settings the Queen felt the term Kingdom was not gender-equitable enough.  Friggin' liberal elves.) has grown increasingly isolationist, allowing the humanoid hordes of the nearby Pomarj wage war against the Kingd...Monarchy's former allies in the Ulek states.  A fifth column has come out to secretly aid the Uleks, but are not yet in direct opposition to the Queen.

2000's 3rd Edition reboot D&D Gazetteer returns the title of the land to Kingdom (even though it's still Queen Yolande running it. Friggin' wishy-washy elves) and has them completely shut off from the outside without even a mention of the fifth column.

I don't have any kind of visibility on what WOTC did with it during the Living Greyhawk era.  A lot of that information seems to have died with the campaign itself.  (If anyone can help me out there, I'd love it)  Celene is not one of more developed areas of the World of Greyhawk, and you can see how it had evolved in the twenty years of D&D.  You can imagine how much the places of interest have changed.

I'm thinking because it was the Greyhawk that captured my attention 25 years ago, the original boxed set is still the Greyhawk that I love.  The whole Greyhawk Wars storyline lacked something in my mind.  I didn't like what TSR and WOTC did to my Greyhawk.  James over at Grognardia has been talking about this a lot lately, everything from Archie comics to the Traveller universe.  I started thinking about how many games get invalidated by updates.  White Wolf only gave the inhabitants of Chicago a whopping two years before they rewrote Chicago by Night to reflect the events of Under a Blood Red Moon.  Each edition of D&D spawns a dramatic rewrite of the Forgotten Realms (for certain) and then either the deletion or dramatic modification of the other settings.  My beloved Greyhawk?  Pieces of it were absorbed into canon, meaning the setting as a whole is pretty much dead to WOTC.

It's all understandable.  For a business to continue growth, they either need to add players or somehow get the existing players to buy more books.  The concept of One Rulebook to Rule Them All is fine if you have a day job and are running the business out of your home, but you can't make a living publishing role playing games unless you have a ton of product turnover and a large fan base.  So you need to keep publishing.  There was a time when all a player needed was a Player's Handbook and all a DM needed was a Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual.  Then came Monster Manual II.  The Fiend Folio Unearthed Arcana. The Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guides.  And this was the relatively tame 1st Edition of D&D.  Settings are no different.  Authors want to make their mark on the game, so they want to cause an event that will be remembered.  Hell, look at how often it happens in comics.

What are fans of a setting, be they DM or Player to do?  Well, when you're playing StuffQuest, it's not really a big deal.  Just modify the stats according to the newest splatbook.  When you are a Role Playing Artiste?  It gets trickier. 

Ultimately, if you have a vision for a game, and believe in it, you will follow it.  You will tweak the rules for a game (or find a better one) to achieve your ends.  If the publisher puts something out that contradicts your vision, IGNORE IT! I've been out of the D&D 4e Loop for a few months now, but last time I checked, they never had a very satisfying range of options for Necromancy.  If I wanted to run a game with heavy undead and necromancy as the focus of villainy, I'd use 3rd Edition or Warhammer Fantasy.  It just works better.

Commerce and Art will always be at odds.  It's the way things are.  The publishers need to make money and rebooting franchises is a proven way of doing so.  If you want your world to ignore the events the publisher's metaplot throws at you?  Ignore it.  If your players don't like it, that's a topic for another blog.

I Can't Quit You!: an On Again/Off Again Love Affair with Dungeons & Dragons

Prologue: Bob Johansen's Blue Box (1983-84)
I don't remember the exact day that I found Bob Johansen's copy of the old Blue Box edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  It was some time when my father was stationed in Korea in 1983-84.  Bob worked with my dad at Osan AFB and his wife would babysit me.  I'm not sure what it was about the game, I know I didn't understand the vast majority of the concepts at the moment, but it hooked me.  Maybe it was because I had gotten a copy of The Hobbit for my 8th birthday (to which my aunt countered with the entire Chronicles of Narnia), maybe it was because I was always a pretty imaginative kid (you have to be when you move around so much and don't have a steady group of friends), I don't know.  Every time I'd be over at Bob's, I'd bust open his boxed set and try to wrap my brain around this game.  Well, until Bob moved the box.  I guess he didn't appreciate an eight year old rifling through his stuff.

Chapter One: The Only Game In Town (1984-1987)
We were staying in a hotel in Stroudsburg, PA on April 20th, 1984.  It was my birthday and we were up visiting my grandparents in nearby Delaware Water Gap.  I opened one of my presents and it was the Red Box edition of Dungeons & Dragons--Basic Rules: Set 1.  All of those bits and pieces I had trouble understanding made sense now, thanks to the simpler and gradual way the game was presented in that edition.  I don't even think I bothered to name my fighter that you make when you take on your first dungeons found in the Player's Guide.  I took him to a cave where a goblin stood, guarding a chest in a 10x10 room, ready to be killed with one blow.  He met Aleena, the friendly cleric and first ally who would die horribly at the hand of Bargle, the first villain I ever encountered in the game.  I was hooked.

I quickly moved on to making my own character, an elf with the highly original name of Legolas.  Initially my parents looked to play with me, but as they realized the game wasn't really to their tastes, they moved on to leave me to my obsession.  My friends in Fort Meade, MD were quickly recruited to the cause.  I've completely lost touch with all of them and I often wonder if any of them still play.

At some point, my gang was recruited by some older guy who offered to DM (Don't worry, my parents checked him out, he was legit-he was a friend of a friend's parents).  It introduced me to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule set.  I made a cleric, her name was Aleena, continuing my highly imaginative character naming process.  She eventually made her way to about 4th level before the game fell to the wayside.  To this day, I still don't remember the DM's name.  I think I only ever referred to him as DM.

Playing at DM's house opened my eyes to two things--The AD&D system, which offered a wealth of choices beyond what I had experienced, and the World of Greyhawk, still my gold standard for a fantasy role playing setting.  It would be a few years before I'd end up with a copy of the original Greyhawk boxed set, although I was able to find the "big three" AD&D rulebooks.

Chapter Two: New Books, New Ideas, New Games (1987-1992) 
My dad got out of the Air Force in 1987 and we moved back to Stroudsburg, PA.  This was a great thing for a young gamer, because Stroudsburg was home to The Encounter, my first Friendly Local Gaming Store.   I walked in, saw walls of comic books and shelves of role playing games.  To a kid who only knew Toy Stores and AAFES Shoppettes as avenues for these items, it was Nirvana.  Every cent I could spare went to not just D&D books, but OTHER GAMES!  Heroes Unlimited and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the first distractions I had from D&D, but I was still loyal.

In early high school, I ran a D&D 2nd Edition game.  The basis of the game was the Ruins of Adventure module based upon the classic Pool of Radiance computer RPG.  When we completed that, I ran the party through the legendary I6: Ravenloft.  Not long after that, my group grew apart.  I got involved in Track & Field, some of them got in legal trouble, and some just went separate ways.

I played in a group in the middle of high school, where I had an elven fighter/magic-user named Aquilon Numari.  I think I got him up to about 6th level before the game fell to the wayside.  Also falling by the wayside was Dungeons and Dragons.  By the early nineties, games like Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, and (I am embarrassed to say) Vampire: The Masquerade overtook D&D among my friends and I.  It would be a LONG time before I'd play D&D again.

Chapter Three: A New Look and the Boredom of War (2000-2004)
Well, the bulk of the nineties had me giving most of my money to Chaosium, White Wolf, and Palladium.  A dear, late, friend John, leaked to me the playtest edition of the new D&D 3rd Edition.  It blew my mind.  The new D&D took all of the things I had liked about other systems (particularly skills) and merged them with the consistency and (relative) balance of D&D.  I never found a regular group to play with in Pennsylvania, but I would occasionally run a game for my little brother, who was a teenager by the 2000s.

It wasn't until, of all things, the first wave of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, that I would find regular gaming.  In that first year, there wasn't a whole lot going on in the way of entertainment.  We didn't have AFN or Internet in the abundance we have it now.  Nowhere near as many people had personal laptops.  It was a situation perfect for roleplaying.  I ran a pretty light-hearted and crunchy campaign for my teammates, which opened the door for a full-blown Living Greyhawk campaign throughout the bulk of 2004.

As enthusiastic about D&D as I was, when I moved to Arizona, I found Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying and my D&D books started to gather dust once again.

Chapter Four: Desperation and Genuine Enjoyment (2008-present)
I was done with D&D.  Wanted no part of it.  Warhammer 2nd Edition was perfect for my needs.  Even when I saw my brother's copies of D&D4e, I was skeptical.  It looked like a video game.  Not impressed.

I had been trying unsuccessfully to find games in Colorado Springs.  I saw that the COS RPG Meetup Group had a very robust Living Forgotten Realms game going on.  I decided to try it, if anything, just to play SOMETHING.  A few games in, I was hooked.  I was amazed by the balance, the speed, the tactics involved.  The splatbookiness of it all kind of bugged me, but the ability to counter that with a relatively affordable D&D Insider membership made up for it.

D&D 4th Edition isn't the only game I ever want to play these days, but I do enjoy it.  I've come to terms with the strengths and weaknesses of it all.  I'll still be looking to run and play other games, but I love having D&D 4e as an option. 

Epilogue: In Hindsight
I wonder sometimes if I'd still be as interested in D&D if I found a different box in Bob Johansen's house.  I know I wouldn't have suddenly become a jock or a band kid if I didn't.  I was on my way to geekdom, come hell or high water.  I wonder if I would have found D&D regardless or if I would have found one of the other games out there (RuneQuest, Traveller, etc...) and had those become my love affair.  The two games I have truly loved throughout my gaming life have been D&D and Call of Cthulhu.  I never stopped with Call of Cthulhu, but that's because it never changed on me the way D&D did.  D&D changed to stay relevant as the industry leader in role playing games, and that probably explains why I've had a much more tempestuous relationship with it.  26 years later, I'm still playing it.  That says a lot.