Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Dangerous Thing

I've been thinking a lot since my last post (hence the title of this one). I won't bore you with the trip through my psyche. What I have arrived at, though, is a real desire to seriously look at other systems. I used to be fairly well-versed on a number of systems, even if I never played them. Since I've been a retro-cloner I've had less tolerance for new systems (new to me, that is). My current M.O. is to snarl my nose at anything that I can't have up and running in 3.9 minutes or less.

Gaming is my hobby, though. To my mind, my current attitude would be akin to a golfer who refuses to play on any course he is unfamiliar with and is more than a 3.9 minute drive from his house. Foolishness. So, I end up getting new things, but I only skim them.

Once upon a time (about a year ago), I posted about Runequest and the fact that I have always wanted to learn it and like it. To that end I purchased the pdf of Legend from Mongoose. I had it printed, and I have picked it up and put it down numerous times. Now, I've picked it up again, with a (hopefully) new and improved attitude.

I like a lot of what I know of the broadstrokes of the game. I have also always been in awe of Glorantha. So, wish me luck, I'll probably need all I can get.

By the by, I came up with my own cover. The minimal black cover is appealing, but I totally dig the older color Runequest cover. That cover, along with the original PHB cover, is one of the very best rpg covers. So, I fired up the GIMP and whipped up this mash-up cover.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some (Very Early) Thoughts on Dungeon World

I've been reading my printed pdf a bit, and studying forums, reviews, and blog posts. One of the biggest problems I am having is that I didn't take the plunge with this game sooner.

I really dig the core mechanic, from concept through implementation. I'm a big fan of the bell curve, so naturally a 2d6 resolution mechanic is right in my wheelhouse. I also really like the graduated results. Just in case you didn't know, to resolve an action roll 2d6 + relevant stat bonus. If the roll is 10+ you succeed as desired. A 7-9 means you succeed, but with some sort of complication. On a 6 or less, it is the GM's call. Maybe you succeed but with a cost of some sort, or maybe you suffer humiliating defeat. (This may sound arbitrary, but the rules hammer the notion of "the fiction". So, the GM's response to a 6- roll should be logically consistent with the scene as it is being played out.)

In the last campaign I played in we had a situation wherein this type of mechanic would have been useful. We were playing my friend's heavily houseruled AD&D 1e/2e mash-up. I consider my friend a completely awesome DM. He knows his world inside and out, being immediately ready with details like the best vintages from particular wine regions, through giving little clues buried in ancient dialects in lost writings. One of is "soft spots" his in strict interpretation of the dice. In this campaign, our first "encounter" was . . . frustrating.

There was a room which was obviously trapped. He didn't allow a detect trap type roll unless and until we described exactly what we were doing. Now, as a principle that is keeping with the finest old school tradition. But, there was a very specific method to this trap. We spent over an hour of that session mucking about with that trap.

I'm not busting on my friend. I would leap at the chance to play in one of his campaigns, any place, any time. I also know that his way is not the only way to DM situations like that. My only point is that a graduated mechanic, like that in DW, would have mitigated that situation and kept the game moving. When this type of mechanic is hard-wired into the rules, and everyone at the table knows it, the expectations change. When the expectations change, the dynamic changes, and thus the game itself changes.

I can see the other side of this argument. If we, as a group, had approached that room/trap with the expectation that we would get past it in one turn, even if it meant "something bad" happened, it would change how we approached it. However, it doesn't work that way. If you roll a 6-, as GM it is my option for how things progress. It is incumbent on me to exercise that option in keeping with the established fiction, though.

To return to the room for a moment: the room was large and filled with stone columns. The trap was that the columns would start falling before we could cross the room. My character (an 8th level fighter) had a column fall on him. He took quite a bit of damage, but, being a fighter, had the HP to cover it. So, he was described as being pinned, and had to be pulled out.

If this would have been DW, and we had rolled a 6- to defy the dangers of the trap, I would have been rolling up a new character. The fiction would demand it. A 2-ton granite column falls on you and it is time for your companions to salvage any of your gear that isn't flattened.

Of course, my friend could have narrated it that way. That's not the D&D way, though. That's not a criticism of D&D, just a contrast of two different games. D&D is about shaping the narration to fit the numbers, while DW is about using the fiction to inform the numbers. So, in the campaign, my guy took about 60% of his HP, obviously he was still alive since he still had HP. So, my friend had to narrate it that he was pinned under a chunk of granite. In DW the fiction states that 2 tons of granite falls on you and you're screwed. Period.

That may not sit well with some of you. Hell, when my ADD swings again, it may not sit well with me. However, on this rainy Sunday morning, it sits very well with me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'm a fighter guy. Nothing different there. One of the things I always hated about my old group was the wild disrespect they had for niche protection. Especially where combat rules were concerned. There was zero effort expended to make sure my fighters were consistently better at fighting. I can dig the thief backstabbing or a magic user with a Staff of Striking. Sure, my fighter won't mete out more damage than everyone else, every single round. But when it comes to laying down the hurt reliably, there should be no substitute for the fighter. I mean, it's right there in his name.

Now, for the "completely different" part . . .

I have noticed this game from afar for quite some time. It seemed far too narrativist for me, though. Even though I was seeing a lot, and I mean lot, of mad love for it, I couldn't get past the product description. There was a part of the blurb that said something to the effect that the players and GM collaborate on the world/setting when the campaign kicks off. Whoa! That kind of talk is like the Black Knight solemnly intoning "None shall pass".

That kind of talk rankles my referee nerves. One thing I despise about the narrativist movement is when it goes overboard with player agency. Said agency is a good thing, in moderation. In many cases, though, it goes too far, to the point that the referee is present to manage the players' entertainment. We're all there to have fun, and that includes the referee. I get it if the players don't want to play in a post-apoc dystopia, and the referee shouldn't be a dick about trying to force it. By the same token, maybe the referee doesn't want to run a game set in Candyland. Obviously, there is plenty of middle ground in which to meet, it's just that I've seen too many systems that think player agency should be Almighty.

Well, something happened (I can't say what happened because I don't know) that prompted me to give Dungeon World another look. I took up arms and approached the Black Knight, intent on passing and learning the secrets he was guarding.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I've Become Aware of a Disturbing Trend

I can be lazy. No, really, it's ok, I can admit my faults. I started my gaming life as a wargamer. Of course, that led directly to roleplaying. Now, with old school wargaming you played with heavy cardboard counters maneuvered around on a map. Prerequisite to this movement was the set-up. The counters had to be sorted and appropriately placed. In many cases this was very specific, based on which unit was historically present at a given location. For some games this could literally take hours (the Longest Day game, from Avalon Hill, is an excellent, and extreme, example).

Over time I discovered that I was playing less due to the tediousness of the set-up. I still wanted to play, or more specifically, I wanted the fun of playing. In other words, I wanted fond memories of a well-played game, but was increasingly put-off by setting up the game.

Fast-forward to this Weekend

This weekend I went bat-shit with [S.]ine [N.]omine. I already had Stars Without Number and several Mandate Archives. I nabbed the pdfs of Skyward Steel, Other Dust, Red Tide, An Echo Resounding, Darkness Visible, and Suns of Gold. I also picked up more recent Mandate Archives, along with Black Streams for Red Tide and Codex of the New Earth for Other Dust. It's been quite a haul. In case it isn't obvious, I've become quite a fan of Mr. Crawford's work.

How does this fit in with the title of the post, and the blurb about wargaming? Good question. Here is the answer in a nutshell:

I've been spending more time reading about the above titles rather than actually reading the titles.

An obvious side-effect to my employment with FedEx has been a sharp decline in my posting here. It has been a necessary, and lamentable, sacrifice. It is actually a by-product of the real sacrifice: a near-total lack of time to devote to gaming on any level. The weekend is the only time I have to squeeze in any time for anything game-related.

I guess we could safely file this post under "Whiny Little Bitch". If you've reached this point in reading this and feel like it has been a total waste of your time, you have my sincerest apologies. It's just been one of those things I needed to vocalize, in hopes that it will help me move past it.

Dang it! I forgot!

DrivethruRPG is having a sale thru March 15. 30% off selected items. All of the [S.]ine [N.]omine things I mentioned (that aren't already free) are included in the sale. If you kicked yourself for missing the Stars Without Number Bundle of Holding, now's your chance to do-over.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

False Start

So, I previously owned the 3rd edition of Ars Magica. I never played or GMed it, though. It was during my days with my "D&D or Death" group. I loved most of the ideas of the game. I honestly don't remember the system overly. I remember the covenants, troupe-style play, and of course, the magic system. Mythic Europe struck me as one of the coolest "settings" ever devised, and I still hold that opinion. From time to time I still google the game and look at various reviews and forum posts.

Recently I finally decided to go ahead and order a copy. It was one week ago today, in point of fact. The game is in its 5th edition, which based on all my research, is the best. Fans of Ars Magica don't indulge in edition wars, though. They almost universally like every edition of the game, although they acknowledge the 5th edition as the "best".

So, I bounced over to Amazon, searched for "Ars Magica 5th Edition" and came up with this:

I selected a Used Paperback (Like New condition), and waited. The projected delivery date was this past Thursday, which surprised me. I didn't select any sort of expedited shipping. Well, it didn't arrive on Thursday. I was tracking it online and knew it had found its way to Atlanta. I also knew Atlanta was locked in the grip of a rare southern snow storm, so I expected a delay. It arrived Saturday (yesterday).

When I opened the box, I saw this:

I was not amused. As I said earlier, fans of the system have plenty of good things to say about all the editions, but I want the latest, and generally considered best, edition available. Besides which, I have the free pdf of 4th edition which Atlas Games makes freely available on their website.

After some clicking and "research" into the Amazon page, I discovered that ALL of the paperback copies are 4th edition. That is not made overly clear, considering you get to them from the 5th edition page. On top of that, while far from identical, the cover bear the same "celtic snake" centerpiece. Well, to be honest, I think my own haste played more a part than a very modest similarity in cover art. My main point of confusion, though, was that I did not anticipate the 5th edition product page to take me to 4th edition buying options.

Anyway, I notified Amazon. I chatted with a representative about the problem last night. In the end, I was issued an RMA and return shipping label. I was told that the procedure is that I return the unwanted product and that upon receipt they will credit my debit card for the purchase plus shipping. It should take about three weeks total for the credit to be applied.

BUT . . . my representative went ahead and issued the credit request, rather than have me wait until they received the 4th edition copy. That was excellent customer service. I was very pleased. I've not had any problems with Amazon before this, so I had no experience with their customer service. I've not had any qualms about using Amazon, but this experience make me even more comfortable.

As soon as I finished with customer service, I went back to the product page and promptly ordered a hard cover copy of 5th edition. Guess what? It is due to arrive Thursday.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Great Kingdom Trailer

The Great Kingdom is a documentary chronicling the history of TSR and D&D. This is a trailer and it looks pretty damned good. As an added bonus, parts of the trailer feature "Ten Years Gone", one of my absolute favorite songs of all time. Vastly underappreciated by the masses, it is easily one of Led Zeppelin's best, and that is saying a lot.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ranging Far Afield

It occasionally happens that I become hyperfocused on OSR. My attention zeroes in on D&D and all of its direct descendants. The term is vague enough to encompass anything the person using it should desire. Does it refer to games with a particular progenitor? Uh-huh. Does it refer to a specific play-style? Sometimes. Can it refer to a specific period of time? Sure, why not.

Even in the face of bouts of being hyperfocused, it has never been my aim with this blog to limit myself to any narrow definition of OSR. This post is a direct result of looking beyond where I had previously focused my attentions.

Who remembers this? I can't recall exactly when I became aware of this. It wasn't in the form pictured here. It was an advert for Arms Law as a stand-alone product. It was billed as a drop-in replacement for the combat system of whatever RPG one happened to be playing. In all honesty, at that point in the hobby, it was aimed squarely at D&D. RQ and D&D were the only two with serious crunch and market presence, and RQ already had a crunchy percentile combat system. It promised a combat system that resolved all attacks in melee with no more than two rolls.

It achieved this by having the attack roll also indicate damage. The system's take on armor was quite interesting, and still very solid in its conception. Simply put, heavier armor actually makes you easier to strike, but much harder to critically injure. You'll take more "exhausting" damage as you get knocked around inside the armor, but your squishy bits are more protected.

The second roll (if required) was the critical roll. It was based on the type of damage a weapon caused (slashing, piercing, or krushing), and a letter value based on the severity of the hit. There were separate tables for the damage types.

This isn't really intended to be about Arms Law, despite the amount of time I've spent describing it.

I had a very serious flirtation with Rolemaster, the unification of all the "Laws" into a single system. During my first great break with D&D, I loved RM's supposed realism, its ability to model a wide variety of character concepts, and the "nerd" value of using such a chart and math intensive system. I had some friends that were into it, too, and we played some. Not much, nor regularly, as we lived a few hours apart. Eventually RM fell into my regular ADD rotation and would get some attention every few months. Even that waned once I lost all my old ICE products. I never really worried about replacing the materials due to my preferences moving toward "lighter" systems.

One of the things I always loved about RM was the house setting for it: Kulthea, the Shadow World. There are a number of concepts I still love in this setting. The geography for one. I mean, look at that map. It makes me want to be there. The peoples of the world are often times isolated and cut off from one another by powerful flows of magical energies, as well as forbidding geography. There are world-spanning organizations, such as the Navigators, who have learned to travel using these magical energy currents. There are the Loremasters, dedicated to recovering and recording knowledge from across the breadth of Kulthea.

If you've read much of my ramblings, you know it is a sad fact of my life that I don't have any second-hand stores that make a point of catering to gamers. There is one used book store in Huntsville that is of any real use to me. There are actually a fair number of used book stores, but all save the aforementioned one cater mainly to used romance paperbacks. I sporadically drop into the Booklegger because they do have a very small game section (populated primarily with World of Darkness titles). Hope springs eternal, and I did actually find a softback copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay there.

You can imagine where this is going, and you're (mostly) right. I found a copy of High Adventure Role Playing, HARP, in there for $10. It is the older ICE edition, not the newer one published by the Guild Companion. I don't have a clue what the differences are. I believe the GC edition has a slightly larger page count.

HARP is its own game. It borrows from RM, even to the point of using it as foundation. It is not a "lite" version. I guess in a way it is to RM what Castles & Crusades is to AD&D (HARP is in no way OGL, though). It is a streamlining and re-imagining, not a replacement nor is it some sort of quick-start.

I still haven't read it all the way through. It claims to be complete. It contains stats for over 40 creatures. It contains six individual spell lists for the spell using classes, but there are some spells that appear on more than one list. There is a very serviceable treasure section, including mundane treasures.

Characters are a combination of class/level and skill based. Skills are all-important, and any character has the ability to learn any skill. Class and level govern the development costs of individual skills and when development points are gained, respectively. Thus, it is easier for a fighter to learn weapon skills (lower development point cost) than for him to learn a spell. He can learn the spell, but it will greatly impact his development in his chosen profession.

The skill list isn't particularly burdensome. Skills are divided up into 10 categories, with between 3-9 skills per category. The categories are important as they inform the types of things a given class is naturally predisposed to.

There are nine classes, five have spell lists, and thus use magic in some capacity. The class descriptions are very brief and setting agnostic.

The usual races are present, along with a unique system for mixed-race characters.

Ok, so I didn't intend to go into this kind of depth with this post. I just wanted to ramble about another game from my past and a younger cousin of it I recently found. If anyone wants to know more about the game I'll be glad to share, but for now, I think I'm going to get back to reading.