Friday, December 31, 2010

A bit less ranty, the art of game mastering

I posted a rant the other day, and instead of posting a comment I'll make a post out of it. Wild ranting is more fun, but since I did have a point I will put it through a bit clearer. 

So, well, I was ranting and thus making the arguments walk that extra mile. But, I think I still have this idea about being a DM and being creative.

If you feel you have to stick to the book, and thus limit yourself to the extent that you feel stumped when not all your work is done for you, I think your style of game mastering could use some tweaking. In order to make a "canned" adventure work for you, you will not be able to just pick it up and run. If you could, computers could do it better.

Being a DM is, in its essence, to be creative and adaptive on the fly. Not even saving some time with a pre-designed module will change that. It's not easy, but it can be done. I keep fighting with it.

The high and low of 2010

At this time of year, some people make lists and remembers the year that went by. I'm no better, so here we go.

There are a few things which just rocks
That have been the highlights of 2010, no doubt.

Some of the less fun things is that my T&T petered out and I have not been playing any more really old school game since then. I have been thinking about putting out recruitment posters downtown, but with one regular weekly game I don't think I could defend being out gaming twice a week to my wife.

What have happened here at the blog? Well, this was the year when I happened to mention rape in a game context, and got surprised by hot a topic that was. I have blogged about dungeon design and density and pontificated about a middle ground between the rail road and the free for all sandbox. I hope some of it have been entertaining. Some things I have been very excited about this year were S&W whitebox and Dragons at Dawn.

Some low marks during the year have been Ronnie James Dio dying and the fact that some of my more ambitious projects have generated nothing. I guess the latter can be expanded upon a bit.

At the beginning of the year I had a few ideas about self publishing. Sadly I've seen work and real life take a much bigger stake on my creative energies and nothing much have been done. Also, a few of my best ideas have now been found to be already done, or in progress by far more creative people. But, being in the company of people like Zak Sabbath and Paul Jaquays isn't too disheartening. The project that still lingers on is my attempt to clone or rewrite the psionics rules from Supplement III of the world's most famous rpg. I still haven't given up on that one.

So what's up for next year? Well, I still have some hopes for those publishing plans and I'm thinking of doing some more thought out sessions this year. Hopefully I will also start a few regular features. Even though my blogging seem to ebb and flow I still have a lot of fun doing it.

Ending this year I will thus wish you all a happy new year! See you in the future!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A few DragonQuest adventures, a rant about the need for supplements

The question showed up on a DragonQuest list if the Judges Guild produced supplements were worth hunting down. For those who wonder, after the latest hubbub about the game, this what I replied:

I actually took them out and thumbed through them.

The one called Magebird Quest contains some deckplans for a couple of boats and an inn or two. Apart from that it seems to be only a small section of travel speeds by boat which might be of interest as far as rules and crunch go. I think I spotted a new monster as well.

The Starsilver Trek contains more specific crunch. It has a description of the Prospector skill and stats for magically irradiated creatures. Also, probably a new monster but I don't know the DQ monster list that well. The cover illustration is depicting a fight between dwarves and lizard men. What is there not to love? :)
 Now every completist out there knows there is a new skill to get!

Another supplement with characters, to be used as NPCs or whatnot, was summarized as follows (not by me this time):

I seem to recall that Heroes & Villains had a lot of "rules violations". That is characters ranked in weapons they didn't meet the requirements for and similar issues.
That made me thinking... (Rant ahead!)

Back when I was hanging out on the Necromancer Games forum, I remember how I was saddened, and annoyed, when people moaned about "rules violations". You see, NG had put out their first adventures when the SRD was not finalized, and they worked from a draft and the rules they had used from older editions. Naturally this meant that there was quite a few instances when the stats wasn't really "by the book" or maybe some game mechanic referred to some procedure which wasn't like that any more. I thought it meant you as the DM just had to be creative.

Then WotC put out the revised 3rd ed. Everyone was scrambling to "update" their stuff and for ages after that people kept asking Bill and Clarke to publish a revised edition of the flagship monster book Tome of Horrors. At this I more than once posted some urgings for people to be creative and just fix it on the fly or sit down and do it themselves. The steam had began to cool in the 3rd ed. engine by that time and I knew that no revised printing of ToH would come. You can maybe still find my post where I heckle and tease people for their lack of creativity and ask how they became DMs with that attitude.

If you want to call me arrogant and maybe even a bit rude I wont argue the point. But, it brings into focus the "problem" with Heroes & Villains mentioned above. How much will it bother you to have a supplement miss a few facts about a monster, or a NPC?

The reason we buy supplements is that we as DMs don't want or can do the work, and thus pay somebody to do it for us. Frankly, if you have the rules of a game you really never need to buy anything. Considering how many freely available games there are, you never need to buy anything! But we do, and for some pretty good reasons.

Is it then ok for those supplements to not be perfectly "legal"? As you can guess, I think it might be ok. For me it don't work as well when I write it all myself. I'm not a world builder, plotter, NPC designer and dungeon digger. I am duck tape, patching together things behind the screen, rolling dice and saying "yes". My last 7th Sea game showed this again to be true.

Now, I see the point that having bought something you expect it to be worth your money. But, being worth it for many seem to mean they get annoyed when it don't pass the legal review. Why do you even bother to get agitated? Spend that energy to design your own, right? I think, especially looking at those Judges Guild booklets in cheap newsprint, that today we have probably forgotten the level of amateurism that have ruled this hobby for most of its life. Today we expect professionalism, or at least glossy paper and colour on our maps. What's you money worth?

I still think that a DM worth his or her salt should be able to take something and combining it with some of that other stuff over there. Hey, isn't the platonic ideal the DM who writes everything by herself? I have met more than once who boast of that proficiency. Maybe it's not for everyone, but if I can patch half decent stuff back into playable games with player enthusiasm as glue, then I think anyone can do it! I'm not that special.

DragonQuest "retroclone"?

I guess quite a few of my readers have heard of DragonQuest. A certain blogger just these last few days posted about it, and I have gotten some interesting news about the game I decided to share. 

Just a few days ago James Sutton, managing director for RedBrick LLC announced to the DragonQuest community that he have have started to investigate the possibility to try to "retroclone" DragonQuest back into print. He have been in contact with Eric Goldberg, once the lead designer of the game, and he seemed to like the idea as well.

James post was a call for volunteers, and this heralds some interesting times for the game. I will be watching the developments with interest. Since WotC have shown their disinterest in the property by letting the trademark slide, this opens up possibilities.

Dragons at Dawn read through collected

A while ago I started a series of post about Dragons at Dawn, an attempt to recreate the rules used by Dave Arneson in the first years of the first fantasy campaign.

Here are the whole collection on one easy to access page.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

If you haven't read through it all, I can summarize my impressions as very positive. This is 30 years over due, and very interesting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The point of dice

I'm doing some prep work for my new game, and one thing I'm reading is Burning Wheel. In this amazing game Luke Crane writes something really cool about dice, and I'm going to quote it in full. Consider this:

"Why roll at all? Why not just agree on what's happening? We're all fair-minded adults, right? Well, social agreement is a fantastic ideal, but it is subject to bullying, blustering, intimidation, manipulation, cajoling, persuasion and lying: all things that are separate from the characters -- part of a social dynamic that is apart from the game. By relying on the dice, everyone is on a level playing field. Burning Wheel is a game, not acting class. The versus tests get everyone playing the game, and besides, your characters only advance if you roll the dice!"

There are multiple things here that I really dig. The quest for a game that works, even if people are not acting live fair-minded adults can take you down many different paths, but having a system is a must. Note also that BW is a game, and I think it should be emphasized. While you can go in a mental spin about how roleplaying is a new art form of interactive storytelling, it shines when it's grounded. A game. A game which can be played on multiple levels, at the same time be what different people want out of it. Finally, by grounding that in the rules, preferably the advancement rules, you have a vehicle carrying the kind of game play you want. There's nothing like it.

Roll the dice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part V

In this installment we will look at magic and some general ideas on campaign building in Dragons at Dawn.

The first thing you notice is that mages can cast spontaneous spells. Not only can they do that, the things they can lob around at will is lightning strikes and fireballs! As in other parts of D@D, there are more than one system, shadowing the development in the Blackmoor campaign.

A few things are consistent in all systems, like that are the fact that magic and technology or at least alchemy are tightly intertwined. All spells are based on physical components. I also like the idea of having to roll a save to cast, which reminds me of how Rolemaster handles things like casting spells above your capability and suchlike. Magic should be capricious, I think. It makes it more "arcane", kind of.

Much have been said about magic swords through the ages. In these rules they all have some intelligence. It feels like Arneson liked his Stormbringer. It will probably feel very different from regular D&D to have ray guns, intelligent swords, singing elves and a Sleep spell which you might literally throw in the face of your opponents.

Otherwise can be seen his inspiration from Tolkien, since in the expanded games elves may sing their magic. This system, like Arneson's original idea for magic, uses spell points. Personally I'm not that fond of spell points, since it's just another fiddly thing to keep track of. I do feel for the designer who likes to transcend the hard limits of a slot based system, though.

Like so many times we can see how this is a game from the school of hard knocks. No flowchart to help you design "balanced" spells or magic items. It's wild and wooly. From what I've read of Tekumel, that other campaign where Dave Arneson played, the idea of technology indistinguishable from magic was prevalent there as well. 

Campaign Rules
There are a few intriguing parts of D@D for campaign and adventure building. The first are the role random events must have played in Blackmoor. Having both a set of index cards with divination and seer consultation results, and also a set of index cards with strategic evens in the campaign. Picking randomly from those during the campaign time frame is an interesting way to add to classical rumours and that dreaded "story campaign" where events are plotted out in advance. Have your cake and east it too. I like this way of steering the events in a campaign, since it will probably be just as much fun for the GM as the players to pick a card and see what great events are a foot this month in the campaign.

The other thing I want to mention is Arnesons way of using points to populate his dungeons. Sometimes you might hear critics of D&D3 talk like having Challenge Ratings somehow destroyed the game. Nothing stops you from ignoring the idea of the "balanced encounter" just because you have the means to calculate something like an encounter difficulty depending on the strength of your party, you know! Apparently Dave thought that way, for he seemed to have used the idea of quickly stating a dungeon by deciding on how many points of opposition there were, and then later deploy those points as actual hit dice of enemies. I like this idea.

All in all, this rule set really makes me want to sit down and roll up a character. The combat rules are interesting, and the idea of saving rolls for resolving general challenges talks to my Trollish heart. Sometimes they lay out of the book isn't great, and I think it would have benefited from a more tight structure with a short discussion of the sources and Arneson's ideas together with the presentation of a specific set of rules. Now there are great snippets spread around, but some rules are presented with less reflection on what came before and I can't help wonder how much of that section was invented whole cloth by Dan Boggs? I like what I see, I just had wanted to know. The only read problem with this book is that it's 30 years over due! Just imagine if this had been done while Dave could have seen it and given feedback. But, who knows. Maybe he would just have shrugged and told us to invent some on our own, since he didn't remember. Great games makes you co-creator and entice you to house rule and add to it. This is such a game.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Me, with a part of my collection. In my hands the most gonzo of games. I will definitely roll up a character and see what it can do. I have actually played this game before, and it was the most fun I've had next to WHFRP and Stormbringer back the the crazy days of youth.

Many thanks to a certain knight!

Admit you are tired of your old RPG...

Maybe it's time to switch to Synnibarr?
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