Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mash-ups (aka, the Frankengame)

In this semi-well documented period of discontent I am suffering, a recurring theme has recurred. A common theme of a severe bout of ADD is that I fixate on something about a game or system I don't like. For example, I may start looking at Game X and be completely turned away by the fact that it calls for a d20 roll for initiative, when I am in a d6 mood. Stupid, I know, but this things are called irrational for a reason.

In a similar vein, I want the game to be self-contained, with everything I like (at least in principle) between its covers. For example, I have been re-examining Labyrinth Lord the last day or so. This, in turn, swept my attention to Dark Dungeons. One of my favorite parts of the RC, and thus DD, is the weapon mastery subsystem. So, I started thinking of bolting the system onto LL. Thus we approach the relevant conundrum.

In the best of times (meaning no ADD), I don't really like wholesale mash-ups. I read all the time about guys taking bits and pieces from here and there and combining them. I wish I was more of a mind to do that, but I'm not. For me, it seems like more trouble than it is worth, in the end. Especially as the referee. I have to remember that the system we're using at the table forks from the book. In the heat of a moment, I could miss the turn (depending on which bit and/or piece we're talking about).

Then, there's the issue with getting all the players up to speed on the changes. "We're playing LL, with the AEC, but I've added the weapon mastery from DD, so here's copies of the pertinent sections, along with the conversions necessary". Bleh.

By now, I'm sure you've realized this post is about as useless as tits on a boar hog. It's just a little gamer-therapy for yours truly. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Page Counts and Price Points

Now that I have accepted my Pathfinder mood, I am doing my usual routine. One of the things I like to do is look at reviews. Even if it is a game I already own, I scour reviews because a fresh perspective never hurts.

Two of the knocks against Pathfinder are the page count and the price point. For sake of reference the Pathfinder Core Rulebook is 576 pages and list on Amazon for $31.31 (new and free shipping). The core rulebook contains all the "rules", essentially a Player's Handbook and Gamemaster's Guide in a single volume. The page count has been deemed intimidating, the cost of entry described as prohibitive. I'll be the first to admit, I like rules that are lite, as well as light. I don't concern myself with my rulebook's ability to function as a bludgeoning weapon. Regardless of that sentiment, though, these two knocks are essentially unfair when Pathfinder is contrasted against its contemporaries.

If one were to purchase D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook and DM Guide from Amazon it would cost a total of $40 (plus almost $8 s/h). Those two volumes would weigh in at 640 pages. Oh, by the way, the price is for used copies.

For further comparison, I looked at 4th edition. The PHB and DMG were $25 combined (plus the $8 s/h) and cover 544 pages. Again, that is a used price.

I don't like to see games criticized inaccurately, even if they're games I don't like. If I'm going to pass up a game based on a review, I want it to be an honest review and assessment. In that light, I like to point out bullshit when I can, especially when it is a game I do like. If someone is going to pass on a game based on a review, I want it to at least be a factual review. I hate the thought of missing out on a great game because of somebody's hate-agenda.

Keeping It Real

Moderation is important. This is also true when it is applied to one's own traits. Myself, for example, I'm not overly moderated when it comes to seeing "the other side" of an issue or argument. I can empathize with both sides fairly evenly. What this leads to is indecision. Of specific import is that this can sometimes keep me from settling on a particular system to work with, thus fueling my ADD.

I have to look at things in an uncompromising light, though, and be real with myself about my actual gaming. To describe my gaming (actually sitting down with other gamers and playing) as "sporadic" would be generous. My wife plays, but doesn't like to put too much thought into it, and hates character generation. She would be much happier just being handed a pregen, but she is never happy with them. My teenage son likes playing, and we've made plans to play, but he's a teen. When you're a teen there is almost always something better to do. My teen daughter likes the idea of playing more than the act of playing. She wants all the cool stories with none of the in-between times.

A great deal of what motivates me to toward the OSR (apart from nostalgia and a genuine agreement with the rules-lite philosophy) is that it seems to be the most likely arena I could possibly get my family into. Character generation is simple, which makes my wife happy. It also doesn't cut into actual playing time, which, let's face it, doesn't need to be occupied with creating characters that may never get played again. It takes an act of congress to get us all together for a game once, let alone regularly. So, a session spent generating characters is just a waste of time.

Yet, the reality is that it has been about a year since I actually gamed. It was that Savage Worlds zombie game for my son and a friend. It's back there in the blog somewhere. Trying to tailor my gaming hobby-time around a potential game with my family that will likely never happen is an exercise in futility. I have talked myself out of a few game moods just because I convinced myself that it was a waste of time because I would never be able to get the family onboard with whatever game it was. Ironically though, they aren't getting onboard with any game, so I may as well be doing whatever the hell I want, anyway.

If it sounds like I'm frustrated with them, I'm not. I'm frustrated with myself for trying to see too many sides of an issue. I end up limiting my own options because I made the decision to keep gaming options open for folks that aren't going to be gaming anyway.

From now on, I am going to mess with whatever game I want to, because I want to. Who knows? Maybe this flirtation I am in with Pathfinder will become a rest-of-my-life obsession. Maybe if (and that's a big if) I can keep my focus, I can keep any rules set I settle on so transparent that I could get them to play it no matter how complicated it is to run. If I can be familiar enough with it to make it simple to play, I think I can reel them in.

There you have it. Another glimpse into the rabid mind of a life-long role player. It ain't always pretty.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Blasphemy from My Month of Madness

I'm not going to beat around the bush here. I finally succumbed and now have the Pathfinder Beginner Box. In a way, I feel like a sell-out punk, but this angst ridden month of unfocused gaming energy has lead me to some interesting thoughts.

First and foremost, this little hobby of ours should be motivated by fun, not some slavish dedication to a certain style of play or particular rules set. I know that is an obvious statement, and it has been said before, a lot.

One thing my mind has been coming back to, though, is a more true sense of what it was really like "back in the day". I lived through "old school" when it was the only school. We can look back on it with nostalgia and fondness, and we can have an appreciation for the simple and unfettered way we played back then (which I do). Yet, back in '76 and '77, we were always on the look out for more options. More classes, more races, more spells, more magic items, more monsters, more, more, MORE. We didn't see sparse spell descriptions as a feature. Shit like that frustrated us to no end. It was a real downer to stop the game because someone used a spell that we didn't have committed to memory, take the time to find the spell's description in whatever supplement or obscure fanzine article, only to discover that the description left a lot of blanks to be filled.

I could go on, but I don't want to come off as bashing old school. I love my memories of it, and I love making new memories with the OSR. I only bring up those recollections to comfort my own guilty conscious. For over a year now I have been lauding the ethereal lightness of OSR play styles and rules sets, yet here I've gone and strode boldly into the Pathfinder camp.

The facts of the matter are simple enough, though. If you can manage to pare down the feat lists, tame the population of prestige classes, make the Conditions manageable, and make the nightmare of Attacks of Opportunity return to the Hell from which it sprang, you will find a rather robust, simple, and straightforward engine purring away at the core of Pathfinder. I know, I know, I've waxed poetic about the charm of individual subsystems, and I do love the ambiance they bring. There was a line in the Beginner Box Hero's Guide that struck me, though:

"That simple roll is your doorway to limitless fantasy adventure!" Now, that is a bold statement, my friends. Yet, it made me take notice of a potential virtue of a unified mechanic, a virtue I had not allowed myself to consider.

One of the great desires of most role players is for the system to fade into the background, to "get out of the way" and let the adventure happen. As OSR devotees that is something we always seek in our lightweight rules sets. Well, I have to admit, if the list of modifiers is kept manageable, such a universal mechanic should be largely transparent in play.

Ok, so I've rambled on about paring this and managing that. Yet, no edition of 3.x, whether it comes from WotC or Paizo, is known for its restraint. The base system is bloated and has more bells and whistles, switches and dials than the space station. It is a fine example of rules-lawyer excess, and it seems that no one (outside of some OSR titles, that is) is really interested in trimming the fat and trying to reveal the sleek animal underneath.

Which is where the Beginner Box comes into it. I haven't finished reading it yet, but I have gotten far enough in to be impressed. There isn't a list of feats longer than the Atlanta phone book. Spell descriptions are old-school simple. Take, for example:

Here is the description of the same spell from Men & Magic:
Clairvoyance: Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize rather than
merely pick up thoughts.

And, finally, from the Pathfinder SRD:

School divination (scrying); Level bard 3, sorcerer/wizard 3, witch 3
Casting Time 10 minutes
Components V, S, F/DF (a small horn or a glass eye)
Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Effect magical sensor
Duration 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no

Clairaudience/clairvoyance creates an invisible magical sensor at a specific location that enables you to hear or see (your choice) almost as if you were there. You don't need line of sight or line of effect, but the locale must be known - a place familiar to you, or an obvious one. Once you have selected the locale, the sensor doesn't move, but you can rotate it in all directions to view the area as desired. Unlike other scrying spells, this spell does not allow magically or supernaturally enhanced senses to work through it. If the chosen locale is magically dark, you see nothing. If it is naturally pitch black, you can see in a 10-foot radius around the center of the spell's effect. Clairaudience/clairvoyance functions only on the plane of existence you are currently occupying.

As you can see, the Beginner Box definitely has a grasp of keeping things simple. It is my sincerest wish that this commitment to simplification holds out. I would love for this set to be something I could be comfortable using as a go-to rather than an introductory experience. I've been intrigued by the notion of E6 style play for some time, but I just don't have the familiarity with Pathfinder to make the necessary cuts and mods. If the essential engine that drives Beginner Box has the necessary cuts and mods, that would be a wondrous thing indeed. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One Month Later

If only my "one track moods" were as dedicated and persistent as my ADD, what a world that would be. Alas, this is not the case. The "in betweens" I've been afflicted with are still on me, I'm afraid. There's also the little issue of real life (you know, the place where gaming and all that goes with it is NOT of paramount importance). Ugh! What a way to end a summer. At least the Crimson Tide is back on the field.

Anyway, please accept my apologies for this non-post, I just wanted to say Hi and that I am still fairly useless as a gamer/blogger. At least until this doldrum passes. I do constantly pick things up, read them for a page or a couple of days, then put them right back down. I've even dabbled with Next. Blasphemy! There are some interesting ideas starting to come out of that. My initial reaction is that they are good ideas but that they don't necessarily need to be mechanical ideas.

Like Backgrounds. Some nifty ideas to personalize your character, and it's not the end of the world to provide some sort of bonus to something, but they got a little carried away. For example, the Soldier background. Fairly self-explanatory, right? If I were to use something similar, I might tell the player that it means whatever you think it might mean. You automatically keep your gear in good repair, you know how to make and strike a camp, you're used to long marches, and so on. In Next, though, it could mean those things. But whether it does or not, it definitely means you have three particular skills. Period. All soldiers have them.

In spite of the negative tone, I'm not bashing them. It's still in test, so hopefully they will instill some flexibility into the Backgrounds as the process grinds onward.

So, there it is. My first post in a month. Sorry you had to wait a month for this bit of drivel. Hopefully my attention will right itself soon.