Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The begining is a very delicate time...

So, my novel is a bust, for now. That's all I'm going to say about it, besides that trying to write a book in 30 days is an insane venture.

Anyway, I was thinking today about how I got into the hobby of roleplaying games in the first place. As a young lad, I played countless hours of Wizardry 7, a computer RPG in which you control a group of adventurers and had always been enamored with romantic notions about the middle ages and armored knights on horseback. My family had taken a trip to Las Vegas once and we had attended a medieval dinner show which only fueled my obsession.
By the time I hit middle school, I was introduced to Tolkien by my history teacher and was thoroughly indoctrinated in the lore of the The Lord of the Rings. I also began playing Magic: The Gathering and MUD's, the great grandaddy of today's MMO's.

Probably sometime in the seventh or eighth grade, my then patrol leader in Boy Scouts asked me if I would like to play Dungeons and Dragons. Being a good southern baptist boy, I knew that D&D equaled SATAN and was reluctant to play. My patrol leader, who became my first DM, explained to me that D&D was basically the computer games I had already been playing, just without the computer. One night, during a scout meeting, I rolled my first character.

I can still remember the instance when I knew that D&D was something special. It was possible for my character to know how to speak Elven, and I elected to learn the language.
"Why?" my DM asked. "Well, the rules say I can," was my reply. "No," said my DM, "Why does your character know how to speak Elven?" I was floored. Full-on deer-in-the-headlights mind blown stupor.

D&D was the first and perhaps only game I have ever played where the rules and mechanics of the game are secondary to the game itself. It was not important that I was allowed to start the game speaking Elven, what was important was that my character had at some point taken the time to learn to speak a foreign language. This was infinitely more significant that the fact that he could, indeed, speak it.

I've come to understand that my experience with D&D is not typical. More often than not, it appears, the RP in RPG is an afterthought.

My early RPG days were fraught with misadventure and misinterpretation. For one thing, our group didn't grasp the rules on how to roll hit points, so that by level 5 my thief had 125 HP.
I also took Tolkien's books as canon, never mind the fact that we were not in middle earth. But to some extent, so did our DM and pretty soon I had a sword that glowed whenever the Uruk Hai were about. Those were glorious days, before I really knew how THAC0 worked and I just seemed to get magically better at stabbing things.

If anybody reads this, leave a comment and tell me how you got started. I'm genuinely interested.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I'm trying to write a novel this month. I don't expect to finish, but I'm going to give it the old college try.

Consequently, don't expect many posts. (Not that you get many to begin with)

Blah! Anyway, Sunday was game night and I hosted.

The players made contact with a special NPC and were sent on a Scooby Doo style adventure to a supposedly haunted tower.

The layout and traps and enemies in the tower came completely off the top of my head, which I think worked pretty good for both me, and the players.

I'm a little lost on what direction I want the adventure to take, I'd like it to culminate in earth-shattering events, but at the moment, I'm at a loss on how to get there. I need to go on a hunt for a muse.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The DM's treadmill

It's been weeks since my last post because, frankly, life has been kicking me square in the testicles. Repeatedly, and without mercy.

But that's not what this blog is about! It's about escaping from your life of testicle injury! And throughout my trials and tribulations, I've still been rolling the bones and forgetting myself for a few hours a week.

In the game in which I am a player, which I am now calling the New Gods campaign, our characters are becoming (what else?) new gods. In the real world, this is to test a new mechanic of the DM's homebrew system, but it's made interesting by the fact that within the game, our characters belonged to an atheistic society.

In the game I'm running, the players are off on some half-cocked vague adventure. We've had two sessions so far, and for the first one, I was barely awake and not at all prepared.
In the second session, I had actually prepared a small dungeon, and even populated it with new monsters from my own imagination. The dungeon also contained a +2 knife, which in my game world, is an extremely rare and powerful magical item. The kind of knife a king would wear. The party made a more or less bee-line for the intended target of the adventure, and after locating it, buggered off, leaving about 90% of the dungeon unspoiled. What was intended as a three hour dungeon was done with in about fifteen minutes, and I proceeded to wing it.
Winging it is a time honored tradition among DM's, and in my experience, can sometimes lead to the best adventures. Certainly some of my proudest moments have come from running games off the top of my head.
Unfortunately, in the current campaign, I had yet to "take off the training wheels".
When I run a game, for the first couple of levels, I like to give the party a pretty firm hand. I overtly and obviously hand them the first adventure to help introduce them to the setting and allow them to introduce their players to me. By the end of it, everyone should have a pretty firm grasp of the flavor of the adventure and their companions. After that introductory bit, I tend to let the character decide where they want to go from there.
The big problem of this approach is when the characters do something that takes the story off the rails early and you're forced to deal with things you aren't even vaguely prepared for.

My PC's escaped the sewer dungeon, plowed through a mountain of my bullshit, and are now on their way to something more interesting, that may or may not have a bearing on the fate of the world. As per usual.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Anxious for the weekend

It's only Wednesday, but I'm chomping at the bit for the weekend to begin.
Saturday, I'll be playing in a homebrew quest and Sunday will be the first session of our new AD&D game, for which, I have written nothing.
The group is composed of mostly fighters, with a thief and a mage, though one character is considering creating a fighter/mage/thief.
At least two of the characters are attached to large organizations, so, I can always give them a mandate from a higher-up to gather some droogs and go explore location X, for it is spooky.
Eventually, I'm going to have this current group return to the castle of the previous group, which has been overrun by baddies.

As I get older, I find that I have less and less time for gaming. Or rather, between the group, we can only find a two to three hour block once a week to game. This may be adequate for some, but when I started playing, we would set aside at least six hours for a session. Some of our marathon sessions went well into the double digits.
Very rarely, I can get with a group of guys on a weekend and literally play all night. It's a great feeling to start a session when the sun is going down, and end the session by eating breakfast together before you go home and pass out.
And as a player, when you're in character for that long, you really can get into your part and into the story. One of the most memorable sessions my early group had ran almost 16 hours. In the end, almost everyone was dead, and I hate psionists forever.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Wheel has turned

Last night was game night and between stretches of Portal 2, some decisions were made in our group.

One of our players is out of the game for the foreseeable future and, not all the players were really interested in continuing our Traveller game. The players decided to scrap both the existing DnD game and the Traveller adventure and roll-up new characters to start fresh.

I had some great ideas for where I wanted to take Traveller, and vague grand plans about the DnD campaign. But the DM juices are already flowing in anticipation of the new adventure, and I must admit that I'm getting somewhat excited.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dice in the other hand

In addition to being a DM once a week, I'm now going to be a player in a bi-weekly campaign run by a good friend of mine who was my first DM and introduced me to the hobby.

The system we're using is one of his own design which he hopes to publish one day. It's called Grit, I think, and strives to be a simulation more than a game. That said, it's surprisingly rules-lite and runs very quickly. It's also level-less and class-less, and pretty damn lethal. It is definitely not a game for hack'n'slashers, as every bit of combat holds the potential for death.

Especially for my character. The short of it is, I'm playing a sheltered nancy-boy aristocrat. He spent his early years studying dance before his father forced him into studying something worthwhile. Being highly intelligent and intuitive, he began to study the nature of death, and was eventually inducted into the ranks of the Necromancers. So we have an effeminate, tender-hearted Necromancer who is a dancer at heart. The stats that govern healthfulness and hardiness were my dump stats, and I'm pretty sure that a pillow fight would spell certain doom for him.

We've only played one session, but I'm having fun with him. He's woefully ill-equipped to handle anything that isn't a quiet study or laboratory, socially inept, and frightened by his own quiet obsession with the dark arts. And so far, his only companion is an Amazon of a woman tasked with his protection.

He also tends to cry a lot.

Especially now that he's lost in some trackless wilderness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sticks and stones and high calibre bullets

So I've been sick with some type of deadly death disease. After two days of trying to manly man my way through the illness, a kindly sawbones saw fit to prescribe me with all manner of high powered dope and now I'm right as rain.

Any way, there was no roleplaying from the usual group this week, the week before that, however, bones were rolled.

Our Traveller adventure went on to Encounter #2, which saw the party on another fetch quest to some backwater system. The plan was to sneak into a fairly heavily guarded corporate base to steal the McGuffin, quietly as possible.

Thanks to the group's computer wizardry and combat prowess, the heist went off mostly without a hitch. Though, the entire team got ID'd in the process, and one of the ex-marines got shot up pretty good.

The group also learned the literal value of space fuel.

On the subject of wounds: I've only DM'd medieval fantasy style games before, and high calibre bullet wounds were understandably not a part of that. I know enough about wounds in general to understand that a gunshot wound is far more punishing and generally nasty that a sword wound. This fact seems to be lost on my heavily wounded player who keeps running around as if he was fine because, well, he's got a few HP left. I think I'll start him bleeding to death, and his armor is probably ruined as well.

Ship needs a doctor.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I've been sick... hopefully I'll post proper this week.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Today is the Birthday of two great heroes of yore, but if you're nerdy enough to wade through the plethora of other (better) rpg-nerd blogs, you probably know where I'm going with this.

Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are both impossibly old today!

I was never much of a Frodo man, meself. If I had to pick a character from LotR, it would be Sam, for reasons I may get into in a later post.

But Bilbo Baggins! Has there ever been a better protagonist for a fantasy novel? When you read The Hobbit for the first time in middle school, as I did, you become Bilbo. Bilbo lives the insulated world of the Shire, quite comfortably, until a wizard shows up and scratches graffiti on his door.

We should all be so lucky.

Though Bilbo is something of a coward and a tenderfoot, he has that spark inside him that let's him pull through in a pinch. Though he was shaken at leaving his home without a handkerchief, he somehow found the courage to sneak into a dragons lair, treat with the dragon, and steal some treasure.
We want to be Bilbo when we're 12 years old! Hoping against hope that some grand adventure will sweep us up. We want to be tested, and to be found extraordinary. We pray that underneath our ordinary-ness, there's a little spark of dragonfire. When I first started roleplaying, I wanted to be Bilbo Baggins. I wanted a sword that glowed when orcs were about.

Interestingly enough, I don't believe I've ever played as a hobbit halfling.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No levels means no low-level encounters.

Sunday saw us finishing out the little crap adventure I had written out for Traveller.

The biggest bug I need to work out appears to be my own thinking. I'm so used to starting characters being weaklings that I didn't put as much thought into the principal adversaries in the starting adventure as I should have. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start near-ish the beginning.

When we started rolling out Traveller characters, I gave the rules a cursory read, decided I knew how everything worked, and got down to business. The end result is characters with too much money and ultimate bad-ass equipment. That, however, is only a minor hiccup, really. The big problem is that I'm still thinking of new characters as low-level characters, and thereby, comparatively weak characters. This is most certainly not the case.

I went with an old stand-by adventure of mine for new characters; under whatever flimsy pretense I can concoct, I send them into an area infested with zombie/zombie analogues with orders to retrieve something. Usually, I make the zombies able to be destroyed either by a single blow to the head or by enough damage to the body. Welp, the heavily armed commando unit that constitutes the party cut through them like a Sherman tank through rice paper. Even if the zombies actually closed to melee range, the characters were armored to the point that the bites of a few ghouls amounted to hamster farts. Even the big "boss" zombie I stuck in at the last moment was nothing. And he had decent armor. And 50 hit points. When the player caught sight of him, they nonchalantly flipped their guns to full-auto and rained Hell upon his poorly conceived head. It was to the point where combat just delayed the game slightly. I just started skipping it.

A lesson learned: When your main antagonist is about as threatening as Rob Thomas in a diabetic coma, a lot of drama goes out of the game.

I did give the characters an interesting choice. They could destroy a uncontaminated sample of the zombie-causing virus, or sell it to the highest bidder.

They sold it.

I smell a warcrime!

I'm going to look at some modules, I think, and send the party against some other people with armor and guns.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Space Opera-tions

Our party was short again on Sunday. Boo. Rather than contrive some contrivance for our AD&D game, we switched gears and tried out hand at Travellers.

Travellers is a role playing game set in the far future, in a universe with aliens, lasers, and faster-than-light travel and easily molds itself to a myriad of sci-fi tropes.
I first heard about Travellers from reading Grognardia, my rpg blog of choice. After reading a bit about it, I promptly pirated it and all its related materials and was so impressed that I actually purchased a hard copy of the core rule book. Despite the odd bit of Britspeake, it's a solid rule book.

Throughout the week, the interested players rolled up characters and on Sunday, we sat down to play. With both DM and players being green as grass, problems were popping up right and left. I should've been taking notes so that I could correct them in later play sessions, but for the most part, I think the players had a good time, even if one of the marines was firing anti-tank weaponry willy-nilly at soft targets in a pressurized environment.

I'm certain there are some problems with the way we rolled characters, and I'm not certain we've figured out exactly how combat should be done, but I think we're well on our way to glorious space adventure.

And now for the portion of the blog where I wax poetic about role playing theory ad nauseum.

While rolling our Traveller's characters, one of my players ended up with a character who through sabotage and misadventure and a few land mine related incidents had a dexterity score of 1. That's as bad as it gets, so long as you still have limbs. The player was visibly disheartened, and at the urging of the other players, abandoned the character and rolled up a new one.
I don't ever force players to play characters they don't want to. And during character creation, I usually allow a single re-roll, but I'm always saddened to see a player scrap a character because of a stat.
Even in this extreme example of a character having the lowest possible score for a statistic, I think it's a challenge.
So your legs are all blown to shit. So what? This is the by-God future. You find a way to deal with it and keep going. Having legs torn to shreds makes your character that much more interesting, especially to play, because you have to think.
In terms of game mechanics, every set of stairs is an obstacle. You as a player have to find a way to deal with these things, and yes, it can be a pain in the ass, but it injects a bit of tension to almost every situation when your character's very mobility is a cause for concern.
In terms of role playing, you've won the damn lottery! The loss of most of the use of your legs is a huge event in your life, how did you deal with it? Do you have post-traumatic stress? Napoleon syndrome? Are you determined to live as normal a life as possible, legs be damned? Think of every TV special you've ever seen about someone who suffered some type of accident and has to live on being at least partially disabled. That's your back story! The other dude was a marine for 12 years and then got kicked out for humping the general's wife, but you have some real drama in your past. Live it up.

Nobody remembers generic space marine #3, everyone will remember the dude on crutches who saved everyone's ass.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I apologize for the time between posts, work and life in general have been riding me. That said,

Total. Party. Wipe.

This past Sunday saw the party-minus-the-cleric swept back into Ravenloft. The last adventure in RL seem a little too trite for me, so I decided to opt for a side quest that was a bit mysterious, with a nice big battle in it towards the end.

The heavily armed party managed to scare some townfolk, then go to the shadiest bar in town, and when asked to leave, get in a fight with and murder both the bouncers and proprietor. After some more asking around, they got right into the business of the Big Battle at the End. They faced eight armored clerics, who were pretty stout, and two unarmored tenth-level fighters.

The party stood their ground and were beaten to death, one by one.

This leaves me in kind of a sticky situation. I try not ever to advance the main plot of the quest unless all the main characters are present. With all put the absent character reduced to a pulpy mass on the Demiplane of Dread, I really hope the cleric is there for Sunday's game.

I noticed something that never fails to disappoint me during Sunday's game. It seems that in non-combat situations, if there is not some obvious and specific way to over come something, my players get frustrated and unmotivated.
If an NPC seems distrustful of them, or is not immediately forthcoming with information or aide, the standard response seems to be "Fuck that guy, let's burn his house down!"
I think this sentiment comes from, strange as it seems, noble aspirations. In the minds of the players, they are the heroes, the good guys. This should be present in the minds of everyone they meet, they reason. Every NPC should be immediately trusting and forthcoming with all aide and information to them. And why not? They're the good guys, after all. Anyone who doesn't aide them must obviously be some kind of villain. In the player's eyes, they are the highest moral authority and woe to those who would condemn their actions.
The truth is, they're a heavily armed group of seasoned mercenaries. Though they may be truly good people who fight for what's right, it's only natural for the small farmer to treat them with fear and distrust when they show up unannounced on his doorstep.
After all, if a squad of special ops soldiers bristling with arms and armor showed up on your doorstep and started asking questions, odds are, you'd be just a tiny bit wary around them.
In my philosophy of gaming, player characters are just people. The only thing that separates them from the farmer is a little training and a lot of experience.

*insert ham-fisted segue*

 Immediately previous to my introduction to the hobby, a dude by the name of Uncle Figgy wrote several guides about being a player and/or dungeonmaster/gamemaster. Three of these guides can be read here. A quick google search will get you the pdf's for downloading.
As burgeoning roleplayers, my first group and I took these as gospel. Giving these a quick look-over may give you a peek into my psyche and the core of my gaming philosophy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gothic! Horror!

For the first time in Gods know when, I showed up early to my weekly AD&D game, only to find that one of our players had let it be known that he was not showing up with naught but a cryptic text message.

I can only assume that he has been kidnapped by ninjas, or some other unavoidable and terrible fate befell him.

But these things happen. Anyone who's played a pen and paper RPG more than twice knows that it is a miracle if all the players show up for three sessions in a row.

So what is the rest of the party to do?

Enter Ravenloft: The Book of Crypts.

Despite not actually containing any scenarios involving crypts, the Book of Crypts is an excellent little book for situations like last night. Most all the adventures contained therein can be completed in one or two sessions. Also, because all the adventures take place on the Demi-plane of Dread (well known for it's player snatching abilities), the players can go to sleep one night and wake to find themselves in Ravenloft, or simply be walking down a forest trail when the Mist rolls in. After the adventure is completed, the players can be just as easily transported back.
My players completed one of the shorter adventures in the book in under three hours, and seemed to enjoy doing so. Ravenloft adventures tend to be less combat driven and more "uncover the dark secret". I think it was a great change of pace compared to the endless waves of bugbears and evil priests that infest the Temple.
I've even got a plausible explanation for the quick trip to "the 'loft" as well, involving a discovery the cleric made in the crypts below the player's keep.
A discovery that I hope will speed their progress through the Temple. There are some great moments in the Temple, but it's been dragging on for months now. The endless combat in the Temple is not epic enough to be high fantasy, and not quick enough to be pulp fantasy. It's almost the same as if the player just went to a mine, and instead of swinging swords, swung pickaxes. They spend a lot of time underground under dangerous conditions, and return with wealth. Repeat.

I can't help but wonder if the drudgery I'm experiencing is my failing as a DM. Older modules like the TOEE don't hold your hand as far as story. It's more, "Here's a place, get on with it." Ravenloft is much the opposite, it's more, "Now this happens! Roll to see if you freak out and poop yourself!"
It's the difference between a sandbox and a choose-your-own-adventure book. I think both have their merits, and I enjoy both, but I think sandbox style gaming might require more from the DM, and perhaps I'm not delivering. The games I've run in the past have basically been, "I've constructed this narrative, here's a hook to get you involved." My past games have been very story driven. So much so that I handed out levels as they were needed and ignored experience points completely.

...which in part is why I think hell is a place where I'm surrounded by players who constantly ask "Do I level?" as if it was the most important thing in the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On character creation and party formation

Character creation is that essential and oft times maligned part of RPG's where I find that the designs of the DM and players tend to run perpendicular.
As a DM, I've learned to never start planning an adventure until all the characters have been rolled up and finalized and to be present at the creation of all the characters.
I've come to believe that as a DM, it's part of my responsibility to craft an adventure with my player's characters in mind. While I never tailor create an adventure to the characters, I try to create scenarios where no one feels useless, and everyone can feel important. The idea is for your players to have a good time, and more often than not, happy players mean a happy DM.

My two biggest gripes as a DM about character creation are min/maxing and the question, "What does the party need?"
Min/maxing is the bane of role playing. When you pour all your energy into making sure your character is the strongest, most powerful creation possible, you're missing the point of creating a character, and perhaps, the game. You should strive to create a character that you enjoy playing, not the one with the best stats. How powerful your character is has little to do with how enjoyable the character is to play.
My second biggest grip during character creation is when a player asks, "What does the party need?"
The party needs your character! Whatever class or race you choose should be up to you and you alone. There are no healers in the party? So what? If you don't want to play a healer, then please don't. It is way more important to the over-all enjoyability of the game that each player really like playing his or her character. The game is not about being the most effective "squad", it's about pretending to be someone else with your friends who are doing the same.
When you come at a game like D&D the same way you come at a video game, you rob yourself of the fullness of the experience. If you're a clever player and you have a decent DM, you have almost unlimited freedom to create whatever characters and scenarios you want. A party of nothing but fighters can almost certainly overcome any situation thrown at them.
Ingenuity, skill, and grit can overcome any obstacle, regardless of what classes make up your party.

...and if all else fails, gold works too.

A player should never feel obligated to choose a certain type of character based on what everyone else is playing. I recommend that each player get with the DM and roll up their characters separate from the other players and by all means keep it secret. That first session when everyone meets each other should be nothing, if not memorable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Meepo, by any other name

Alas, poor Meepo, I murdered him well.

One of my first, if not my first, Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition campaigns (in which I was a player) was a module. I was playing a lusty spearman, rash and ready to fight. The first monster we encountered was a lone kobold, shivering beneath a blanket at the entrance to some caves, or perhaps it was  a ruin of some sort, I don't recall which. Spoiling for combat, I speared the poor creature, and threw him over my shoulder like a farmer pitching hay.
The first half of the dungeon was more of this. Room after room of kobolds felt the taste of my spear, until we finally encountered the shamanic leader of the creatures. She just happened to speak common and informed us that these particular kobolds were peaceful, but had been fighting a war with the goblins who occupied the ruins farther in.
She also gave us the name of that first kobold, who I unceremoniously annihilated, Meepo. Meepo also spoke common, and had I not snuffed him with extreme prejudice, would have informed us of the plight of his people, and pleaded for our help against the goblin horde.
Stricken with guilt, I swore to the kobold leader that I would set right the wrongs I had perpetrated. As our party had decimated the kobold's forces, we vowed that we would expunge the goblins from their midst.

So we killed them all. Every goblin. The men, the women, and children. Some were slaughtered in their beds. When we came upon the goblin warrens, I found it easier to just set the whole place ablaze rather than have to go searching through its myriad of tunnels.

Our vow fulfilled, we left. On that day, my lawful good warrior learned three lessons. Two wrongs do not make a right, honor is a harsh mistress, and, if possible, speak to your enemy before you shove your spear through his chest. Still, my warrior carried the guilt of his actions for the rest of his days.

Almost every adventure should leave scars on your characters, most physical, some mental. Talk to a veteran of any war and they'll tell you about the pride and glory of combat, but they may also tell you about the horror and insanity of conflict.

Even if your current adventure is not a war, there will likely be bloodshed. And while the leader of the opposing force may be a megalomaniac, odds are, most of his troops are not. Be they bandits, drow, orcs, goblins, or anything else sentient, I believe it is the duty of a good DM to make sure that the players realize that they are not only killing enemies, they are also killing husbands, sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers.
There always two sides to every story. Too often in RPG's are we only presented with the heroes tale and never stop to ponder the fate of his enemies.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saltwater Madness

This past Sunday was the due date for my player's homework. I had assigned them all a little writing project: basic background on their character. The results were pretty awesome, and the players responded positively. In addition to making the players think about their characters, it also made me think about them, and I now know them better than just "gnome rogue, gnome cleric, human dude, elf shubalub, etch".

There was one snag, however. The Temple of Elemental Evil is set in the world of Greyhawk. My players, however, are not playing in Greyhawk. I apparently did not make this clear to them. Therefore, all their histories make references to Greyhawk locals, political systems, and people. There be some retconning in the future.
I think I'm going to have to take some time and write up a little primer to my campaign world, along with a map, and pass it out to my players. Something I should have done at the start.

My newest player decided he wanted to switch characters, and had a warrior already rolled up, so I hit his old one with a DM's Fireball and promptly inserted his new one. It was about as inelegant as it gets, and I really should have had something more interesting befall that character, but I wanted to work the new one into the game as quickly as possible and wasn't feeling particularly clever.

I'm happy to report that the rule of "what comes out of your mouth comes out of your character's mouth" worked splendidly. It kept the game waaaay more focused and got the characters, not the players, actually talking to each other, to my great delight. Made the game a thousand more times enjoyable, to me at least.

Anyway, game report time. The group is currently on the second level of the TOEE, having recently ransacked the Air Temple and blundered into the Water Temple. They killed two priests, rescued a kidnapped warrior, caught the head priest unawares (and promptly murdered him), had a bit of a row with an inter-dimensional, telepathic acid pond creature, and then there was the Trident incident.
Among the recently murdered head priests possessions are 1. Cloak of the Manta Ray - which polymorphs the wearer into a manta ray upon entering seawater and 2. Trident of Yearning - a cursed weapon that gives it's bearer an uncontrollable urge to submerse himself in water, also the wielder of the trident cannot bear the thought of not holding the trident. Only a water breathing spell while submerged or a wish spell will break the curse.
During the looting process, the hobbit bard immediately seized the trident, and then sprinted screaming for the altar basin in the front of the temple that contained seawater. When the party caught up with him, they found him happily drowning. After several smackings, wackings, bodyslams, and finally the cleric spell Command: Sleep, the gnomish cleric finally wrenched the trident away from him, only to fall victim to the cursed trident's effects himself and promptly jump in the altar basin. Luckily for him, he was wearing the Cloak of the Manta Ray. As manta rays have no hands, he let go of the trident, and as the cloak grants water breathing, as per a manta ray, the curse was broken.

Shortly thereafter, the party made its way back to the surface via a newly discovered short cut, and called it a night.

One of my new favorite things is filling out the details of the party's keep. I've been making NPC's for the party's servants, and as the need has arisen, the party has sent out servants to bring back specialized persons to fulfill roles in the day to day running of the castle. The current Master of the keep is an ex-pirate named Leonard whom they saved from captivity in the Temple. Besides random household servants, they have a master steward named Gangles, who I imagine resembles Marty Feldman, and a "town crier" who is a random child.

They also have three potential master-at-arms candidates, an accountant, and a sage on the way. Pretty soon, they'll have a proper castle town.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shambling Cosmic Horror

Tomorrow is H.P. Lovecraft's birthday, were he alive today, he would be impossibly old.

To confess, I've never been a huge fan of his works, indeed I could only choke down about half of At The Mountains of Madness. I wish I had discovered his work earlier in life, when I was more apt to slog through thicker language.

However, I really enjoy the mythology, lore, and mystique that surrounds his body of work.

I've been looking over the 5th edition of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu game today, something I've always been curious about, but never played. The rules seem a bit obtuse to my eyes, and if I were to play a game, I'd like to do it with an experienced group of players, or at least an experienced "Keeper". I think one of my players, who is a fine DM in his own right, owns a copy of the D20 system version of the game and that might make for a welcome distraction after we finish our current D&D adventure.
Despite my disdain for the D20 system, which I might get into at a later date, I'm more than happy to be a player in it. To quote Heat, "For me, the action is the juice." Rules be damned.
So long as I'm enjoying myself, it really doesn't matter to me what the rules are. I'm in it for the action, which is not to say combat. What I mean to say is that I enjoy pretending to be someone else in a fictitious scenario with my friends who are also pretending to be someone else. Pure escapism, that's the ticket. Exploring fantastic scenarios, be they based on medieval Europe, an imagined future, or a version of the 1920's where mind-shattering horrors are released from the not-space between dimensions in a perverse mockery of live birth, is a welcome and healthy distraction from the very real horrors of mundane existence; something I think that Lovecraft understood, and approved of.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Borrowing (stealing, pick pockets 85%) ideas

I'm a huge fan of James Maliszewski's Grognardia. It's a blog ostensibly about old school pen and paper RPGs. And while I've never played any form of D&D older than AD&D, but reading Jame's blog sometimes makes me wanna give it a shot.

Anyway, recently James attended an old school convention and in addition to running two games of his own campaign setting, he also played some AD&D. I'll now quote directly from James' blog:

Before we began, Ed had two rules for us. First was a purely practical one: don't split the party. Second: anything that came out of our mouths came out of our character's mouths, unless it was something obviously rule-related, like "I rolled 15." These rules were fine by me, even the second one, which had the effect of both limiting unnecessary chatter and ensuring that everyone involved made at least a minimal effort to roleplay. I've never seen the need to adopt anything like Ed's second rule and my experiences refereeing Dwimmermount at OSRCon only confirmed me in that opinion, but I don't begrudge him the rule. I'm sure it's one that arose after many years of running con adventures.
 In theory, I'm a great fan of both rules, the second more so than the first.
There's a tendency with players not used to heavy roleplaying (and even some veterans, I myself am guilty of this, to my eternal shame) to utter the words, "My character says X" Where X is dialogue best actually spoken by the player while "in character".
As a player, part of the fun should be acting like someone else and as a player, you cheat yourself every time you treat dialogue as a mechanic instead of a special part of the game. As a game, pen and paper RPG's are one of the few games involving dialogue where you don't have choices made for you.
Take for example the Mass Effect series (of which I am a HUGE fan). It's a dramatic space opera wherein you assume the role of a space marine badass. I'd say that about half the game consists of dialogue between characters, but at most you have six dialogue options.


In D&D, when the local barback asks you about your adventures, you have unlimited options. When you respond to his question with, "I tell the barback of my adventures." The barback's standard reply will likely be based on his feeling towards adventure and adventurers. However, should you roleplay out the retelling of your latest foray into the kobold tunnels, you can make yours  sympathetic tale, or boast loud and long of your heroic deeds, give an honest account, tell a bold-faced lie, or be coy, or whatever else you can think of.

Not only does in-character dialogue provide a way for you to take control of a situation, but it also makes the game more fun and enjoyable for everyone. Some of my most memorable moments in gaming have been interaction between players and NPCs that didn't involve a single dice roll, but simple dialogue.

The next session I DM, I'll be offering my players a 10% experience bonus if they keep strictly in character.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And so here we are...

This.... this is, I suppose, my blog.

Well, then, the next question I guess you would have is, "Who are you?"

At the time of this writing, I'm a 26 year old Oklahoma boy who has spent the last ten years playing pen and paper roleplaying games.
Principally, my game of choice is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition. It's the game I started playing back in 1998 or 1999, and it's the game I've most loved. I've also played Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and a slue of other D20 system games. I've dabbled in Vampires of the Masquerade, Rifts, Traveller, Weird West, and a couple of homebrew systems.

I'm currently DMing an ADnD game and sending my players through The Temple of Elemental Evil. I'd say that they're a little more than halfway through at this point. I'll use their exploits in the Temple as blog fodder for when I'm not ranting about my views on roleplaying and roleplaying games in general.

I've found that The TOEE is a poor setting to foster roleplaying, at least with this group. I fear that our game sessions have become "what's behind this door? oh, good, more monsters". In a group a seasoned roleplayers, I could see the scenario being much different. The temple is very much a stressful situation, and could inspire a varied range of emotional responses in the characters. I think it's a shame that my players are using their characters more as a collection of bonuses and combat statistics to try and best each room. They seem relatively uninterested in the story behind the dungeon, and I am now actively exploring ways to speed the adventure along.

I'm not without fault though, I didn't supervise character creation, and so some characters have been superbly min/maxed. For instance, I have a human ranger, raised by humans, traveling with humans, whose species enemies are, you guessed it, humans. I know the player made the choice simply because he figured he'd be facing a lot of humans in combat.

I'm not saying that a human that hates humans shouldn't be allowed, but there should be more reason behind it than a combat bonus. The reason he hates a particular species should come first, the bonus is just that, a bonus - icing on the cake.

Pursuant to trying to inject some life and pathos into my campaign, I've assigned my players homework. I asked them for the full names of their characters, and all their characters extended family. I wanted to know their back stories and what their characters were doing for a full year before they started adventuring. I also wanted an explanation for each skill, proficiency (both weapon and non-weapon), language, and ability they possessed.

My goal is to urge them into thinking about why they have this skill or that bonus, not just know they have it. The "why" is the most important thing, I think. It's what sets games like DnD apart from games like Monopoly.

When I rolled my first character, I decided that I wanted him to know how to speak elven as well as the common tongue.
"Why?" My DM asked me. I faltered. I was allowed to know elven, the rules said so. "Yes, by why?" my DM asked me. The question wasn't "Why would you want your character to know elven?" but "Why does your character know elven?"
As in real life, new languages don't spring unbidden into one's head. I had to add a paragraph to my character's history about how he traveled to elvish lands, which is far more interesting than "I know elven because this book says it's OK for me to know elven."