Thursday, October 30, 2014

Attention all ye potential 5e App Developers

Dungeonscape has gone down as Wizards of the Coast terminated their licensing agreement. I got in both Web and Android beta. The app for a beta sucked. It wasn't buggy but rather so bare of content and utility it was like wow this has a long way to go.  With the work that Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, and all the unofficial aides on Enworld had done, there is no real excuse for the state of affairs for Dungeonscape. All they had done was a basic character sheet with a lot (but not all) of the PHB data behind. But all you could is fill it out. No printing or exporting was there yet.

My day job is developing vertical market applications for the metal cutting industry. Specifically for cutting table designed to cut flat pieces of metal with various tools. Just this week I wrapped a project that involved cutting 1/4 inch stainless steel with nothing more than water and crushed gemstones (garnet). I been doing this since the mid 80s and full time since 89. So I know something about what it takes to develop an application.

One thing I do when our company develops a new machine is look at how other companies handle the new cutting process in software. I lay them out and assess their pros and cons.

The folks behind Dungeonscape did not this. It was obvious from their user interface as it was something I never seen before in a RPG application. Not even the ones that are currently found on Google Play or the Apple App Store.

Folk, if you are doing a RPG application do everybody a favor and look at what out there. If you think they suck, politely say so and explain at least why you think your "novel" idea is so much better.

For me the gold standard of system specific RPG applications is the Crawler Companion for the Dungeon Crawl Classics. It is both a utility and a reference. One neat trick that should be standard for all RPG utility is the choice to let the app roll for you or for you to do the rolling with real dice and look up the result using the number you rolled. This feature is really outstanding and turns what could have been an intrusion at the table to a useful tool no matter what your stance is on computers.

Other really useful application I found (in no particular order) are

Fantasy Grounds
The Keep
Inspiration Pad Pro
Campaign Cartographer
DM Genie

Currently the three I use the most often are The Keep, Inspiration Pad Pro, and Roll20. There is a ton more out there but I haven't had the opportunity to use them yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

From the other side of the Screen

+Tim Shorts commented on his three favorite campaigns. I was involved in all three/four for of them.

3. Arthurian Mixed with the Crusades
In the early 90s Tim started what I call in my mind fits like a glove campaigns. In one of these campaign he would make a character for you to play. What took this to the next level is that he is really good at guessing not only what people would be interested in playing but what they are capable of playing. Note this campaign was played using GURPS 3rd Edition

In this campaign I played Sir Claudius Hawk a charismatic Roman knight. Which was ironic because in real life I am not a smooth operator by any means. But this character I quickly got a handle on and playing him was a lot of fun.

What made Hawk memorable is that during the first half of the campaign, I was undoubtedly the "good guy". I made friends easily and the things I did were the right things for the right reasons. This frustrated my friend Dave to no end. He played a Knight Templar, his character was harsh, fanatical, dictatorial, and unpopular. And his plans almost never worked and mine nearly always did. The only reason Dave's Templar didn't buy the farm in the first few sessions because his ally and fellow Templar, played by his wife, Robin, was highly competent and was able to mitigate the worse of his failures.

The midpoint of the campaign was shaping up to be a confrontation between myself and a leading Templar Vander Gothridge, Yeah now you know that Tim's publishing company's name from one of his favorite NPCs. It built over multiple sessions and then ... well ... Sir Hawk made a very bad decision. A very bad decision indeed. I decided that situation warranted the assassination of  Gothridge. I set it up all up, it went to hell, and the assassination attempt failed. And funny thing is that neither did myself or allies were caught or suffered any immediate or long term consequences.

Except for one tiny important little detail. That it totally violated my Code of Honor and everything that I was fighting for.  And because this was Arthur stuff and not Game of Thrones stuff this meant Hawk gained some major bad karma.

And to make this even more memorable is that Tim, as the referee, didn't do a damn thing. From that moment on Sir Hawk life was a struggle, my plans kept falling apart, my dice rolls started to suck, Dave's Templar's plan started to succeed. In the end it worked out as Hawk was truly repentant of his actions. However the last half of the game was very challenging to say the list.

2. Torrin the Red Hand 
I played Ambrose, the priest of Mitra. This was also a GURPS 3rd edition campaign.  None of the stuff I want to try out with the character  was doable because the campaign was revealed to be a survivalist campaign in a demon haunted world in the first session. Once I wrapped my head around the unexpected direction, I had fun poking around the world. I was basically support for Torrin the Red Hand.

2. Slice Handler
I didn't come into this campaign until the very end when I was invited to make a character to accompany Tim's character Slice Handler. This was one of the last ADnD 1st edition campaigns the three of us, Tim, Dwayne and myself, were involved with in the late 80s. At that time Dwayne had a habit of using X5 Temple of Death as the climatic adventure of his campaign. Tim had experienced this several times before and failed to conquered the module. This was my first time. I made a high level magic-user, probably named Thil the Cowled to accompany Slice-Handler.

I don't remember much of the adventure except for the very last encounter. We just defeated the big bad guys when on top of the alter was a major artifact of evil. I think the Hand and Eye of Vecna. Up to that point I was rarely a player. I was one of the guys always refereeing stuff. When I played I generally cooperated with everybody.

Except this time, I thought to myself, I am done with being mister nice guy. I am going to go dark side. So I took possession of the artifact and claimed as my own. Commanding Slice Handler and our hireling to bow to me as their new lord and master. Well Slice Handler was having none of that. And the battle that ensued was epic. Of course Tim infamous d20 'Whimpy' managed to hurt Thil  badly, but my spell hurt him worse especially when he could not roll a saving rolls worth anything.

And then he was done, out of everything and anything. And I had still had spells. I literally cackled after my turn roleplayed something like "Slice, don't bother bowing to me, nothing I am just going to kill you."

I can still see Tim slumping down his chair as despair took hold. Not only he was going to die from my character, yet against Dwayne's Temple of Death bested him. Then I swear his face lite up like a 100 watt light bulb. He stabbed at his sheet and I have this! Dwayne I have this! And Tim shoved his sheet over. Dwayne looked it over and smiled "Yes you do. I remember that and still hanging off your ear."

Now I was trying to figure what the hell was going on when Tim said. "I rip my dagger earring off of my ear and throw it at Thil." Apparently it was a earring in the shape of the dagger that when thrown turned into a full sized dagger. Of course he rolls a natural 20 got to use the critical hit chart he was using. It didn't matter as his normal damage was more than enough to down Thil.

I was irked but not overly so. It was a well played battle and I got to see one of Tim's characters finally beat the Temple of Death.

1. Dragon Rises
This took place in the early 90s using GURPS 3rd Edition. We were all few years beyond college with jobs, spare time, and no family yet. All three of us and our group were hitting our stride as gamers. This was the time period when Tim, Dwayne, and a friend named Wes (I wasn't involved) played a eight man game of Illuminati and fooled the other five players into believing they were chance met strangers. It was well into the late game with two players knocked when one of the remaining three realized that Tim, Dwayne, and Wes were actually old gaming buddies and that they been working together the whole game. They tried to band together but it was too late.

The Dragon Rises campaign was one of the first GURPS campaign where I put everything I been trying to do with sandbox together. It wasn't perfect by any means but just about everything I do now was put into play during the campaign.

It was quite lengthy too in three distinct phases. The first phase centered around Dwayne's character Captain William Endril and his ship. Tim character was Draco-lindus and was the leader of the various mercenary hireling. Pure and simple Endril was a slave raider out of City-State. He would take the ship out, I used Harn's Pilot Almanac for the rules. One memorable incident was that during a slave raid Tim's character's Draco-lindus got beaned by a frying pan wielded by viking housewife.

This raid ended in a bad mistake on my part. Dwayne is a master at game rules and I was having trouble keeping up with his plans. In short they were all succeeding. So in a fit of frustration, I blue bolted him by sending a demon after his ship. There was a in-game explanation in the form of a viking sorcerer they pissed off in-game legitimately but it was just an excuse for an arbitrary decision.

The fair decision would have been for the sorcerer to attack but do in a way that conserves his resources. An attack of lesser demons. When that fails then he would escalated. This would have better because while Endril's raids were hitting hard all he knew that they would be is a bunch of ordinary and lucky raiders. Only after an attack that should have wiped them out didn't would he expended all his resources to bring the big guns. And this would have the benefit of giving the players a chance to respond to the fact now they pissed off somebody with magical powers.

But even with my poor judgment I wasn't going be a total dick and go after the characters The target was the ship. So while there was little they could keep the demon from tearing the ship apart, they group was strong enough to beat the creature off after they shipwrecked. To say that Dwayne took it well is an understatement. The campaign ended with Endril going mad and dragging the pieces of his boat back onto shore to try to rebuild it.  Or so I thought.

A couple of weeks later Tim and I were talking and he told me he wanted to play Draco-lindus again. He really liked the character. Due to everybody schedule at the time it would be just a solo campaign for Tim. This portion of the campaign started at the beach at the site of the shipwreck. Most of the crew and troops survived along with two mages that Endril hired. The group had to cross 100 miles of hostile Viking territory before they could reach the frontier of the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

What followed was an epic worthy of the March of the Ten Thousand. It led to Draco-lindus being betrayed by the two mages but ulimately he was able to reach City-State with a dozen or so survivors out of a force of a 100 or so.  The session after Tim showed up with names for every one of them. The rest of this phase saw Draco-lindus maintain his mercenary company and get involved in the politics of City-State. What ended it was not a hiatus but the return of Dwayne as William Endril.

When Draco-lindus formed his company he hired some new recruits. One of them was a person known as Greymantle. Greymantle worse a mask to conceal his feature. Draco was skeptical but decided to give him a break. Greymantle proved himself and became a trusted member of the group.

Except later it turned out that he was a she. Not just any lady, Greymantle was the adopted daughter of a powerful Duke of City-State. For a time this proved not to be an issue, but then things came to a head. In a move I didn't expect, Draco-lindus decided to kidnap her adopted father while the two were in a parley. Draco-lindus then used the Duke as a hostage in order to gain passage out of City-State territory into civil war torn Viridstan. Also complicating matter was the fact that Draco and Greymantle were falling in love.

It was during the whole Duke as hostage mess that Dwayne returned to the campaign. So along with Draco's mercenary company, Endril also went into exile.

The final phase of the campaign was pretty epic. It involved helping out Robin Hood err Michael Green. Winning a barony, time travelling, travelling to the evil god Set's home plain to free King Arthur err Prince Artos becoming silver dragon riders, and along the way getting married. It ended with Draco-lindus conquering a kingdom in cooperation with the Invincible Overlord of City-State and become a Duke. Oh and Greymantle's father forgave Draco for the whole hostage thing.

Endril prospered as well. While nominally Draco's right hand man. He estabilshed a new port opening up a new trade route from City-State to Viridstan along with a secret spy network to rival the Overlord's Black Lotus, He won the heart of a elf maiden, and became the wealthiest man in City-State. Oh yes he replaced his ship too, on the Overlord's dime. Dwayne made sure that happened as part of the treaty that made Draco a Duke under the Overlord.

So now you heard what happened on the other side of the screen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The one where I go to Con on the Cob

Late last summer, most of the Monday Night Group ( +Tim Shorts , +Daniel McEntee+Ken H , +Chris C. ) decide to head out a convention in eastern Ohio called Con on the Cob.  I went there last year with Dan but just for Saturday. I had fun and it was nice to see a healthy mix of OSR gaming so I resolved to go for the full weekend.

My past experience with gaming convention is that they are more fun when I run some games. While hotels, have beds, sofas and chairs there is usually only so much you can do with a single activity during the day. Whether it is playing a game, or shopping. I find a mix of activities makes for a better experience. I signed up to run three events, Scourge of the Demon Wolf for 5e, a playtest of Night's Bride Coven for ODnD/Majestic Wilderlands, and the initial playtest of Outpost on the Orclands also for ODnD/MW.

Because I was refereeing, I brought my gaming room errr stuff. Yeah I could run with a lot less but I like to put on a spectacle along with a good game. In theory I could get it down to my tool chest and a portable luggage stroller but the thing is that I have to sort out what I need first. I have everything already packed nice and it just easier to haul it all than to open it all up sort out what I need and later sort it back in.

Thursday the 16th
Unlike Tim and Ken, I could not take work off for Thursday. It was a two hour drive plus a stop for dinner. I went with Dan and we got there around 7:45 pm. I knew I would be tried so did not bother sign up for any games. Instead I briefly hit the gaming room and met +Roy Snyder who was running the a RPG booth featuring Goodman Games and classic RPG material (ADnD, Champions, etc). We talked shop and hopefully it will lead to my stuff appearing at a few more conventions.

Friday the 17th
The hotel, the Clarion in Hudson OH, has a outstanding breakfast buffet. I ate with the Monday Night Crew and did some looking around in the dealers area until our first game.

DCC RPG: Frozen in Time

This was run by +Eric Daum, an 0 level funnel adventure where we were all members of a stone age tribe living in a Pleistocene world of glaciers and mammoths. I had a cordmaker, weaver, gather, and a hunter. The hunter, Unak,  was probably the groups best fighter at 6 hit points and armed with a spear. Unfortunately he only had a 9 strength. However the most memorable character was Leo Jenks the cordmaker. He was really enthusiastic about everything and continually rushed ahead of everybody. He actually survived relatively intact until eating the wrong mushroom turned him into a Hodar. Unak helped the party by successfully parley with a wounded yeti. Something that proved useful later when Leo Jenks needed to be carried after the mushroom incident.

Eric did an excellent job refereeing. The look on his face midway through the game when he "got" what I was doing with Leo Jenks. Much hilarity then ensued.

Scourge on the Demon Wolf, the 5th edition
If wizards going to put a third party license and if I want to be ready to put a quality adventure, the time to start is now. So I decided to convert Scourge over to 5th edition and give it a shot. The group was excellent consisting of a good mix of gamers. Two ladies, two RPG, novices, some 5e novices. I had them make characters on the spot.

My 5e character creation support material wasn't up to the same standards as Majestic Wilderlands so it took longer than I liked. But the good news I think it can be just as fast as ODnD/Majestic Wilderlands once I have everything made. The biggest improvement will be having all the core classes in this format. I did it for the cleric folks who took that class were able to complete their characters in less time. Also because I had two RPG novices I got some insight one what needs to be explained in the cheat sheets.

The game itself was highly interested because the group took a path through the adventure that haven't been taken before. The typical route through Scourge is

  • Baron gives an assignment
  • The party travels to Kenslas finds the dead tinker.
  • The party may or may not figure out where the bandits are. And that they are using Wolf Costumes.
  • Head to the Village of Kensla.
  • Pieces together what happens and tries to stop the villager from lynching the beggars.
  • Finds the demon summoning circle
  • Heads to the Golden House and talk to the mages.
  • See the guilty apprentice flee and the final confrontation ensues.
This time Kensla didn't factor into it at all. Instead what happened was.
  • Baron gives an assignment
  • The party travels to Kenslas finds the dead tinker.
  • The party figured out where the bandits are and took them out.
  • Found the Wolf Costumes.
  • Finds out that the Bandit fence their goods to the Beggars.
  • Hauled the surviving bandits and the costume back to the Baron.
  • Baron is pleased sends them out to confiscate the Beggar's good and run them off.
  • The party confront the Beggars and expertly tightens the screws on them.
  • The leader of the Beggars decides to come clean and explains the death of his son caused by real Demon Wolf.
  • The party heads out into the Wilderness
  • Finds the demon summoning circle
  • Heads to the Golden House and talk to the mages.
  • See the guilty apprentice flee and the final confrontation ensues.

 I had the fence hook in from the beginning but until this group nobody ever followed up on it. Good thing too otherwise they would have joined the first huntsman in the stock when the killing continued.

My side of the table in the aftermath of the last encounter.

Night's Bride Coven (ODnD/Majestic Wilderlands)
Total bust, which was a bummer as this adventure was the reason I hauled all my Dwarven Forge to the Con. Otherwise I would just packed a box of selected pieces. But it was probably a good thing because I was able to play ...

One thing that +Tim Shorts is good at is running atmospheric adventures. And he makes pregens he tailors them to the players so that it is a snap to roleplay. What makes it more impressive is that he does this with multiple genres and without giving us stereotypes. This time I got Mark Steele a Meadville Police Detective.

The adventure centered around a haunted house in Saegertown. Tracking down leads and figuring clues so that the other world doesn't leak through any more than it has. One thing Tim does it is make props that looks like they are ripped from actual sources. There was Meadville Tribune article that if I didn't know any better was a real article. And he works local legends into the adventure to be the point that google search has the details on what we were encountering in the adventure.

Unfortunately the game was cut short due to me starting to nod off. It was a long day and I needed to sleep.

Saturday the 18th
Another good breakfast with the crew and we were off to the races. I made the bulk of my purchases at this time. I scored another set of Dwarven Forges Medieval building extra to complement the Medieval building sets I already got. I picked up a monochrome D2 Shrine of the Kuo Toa. I am slowing acquiring all the monochromes modules. Plus three 2nd/3rd edition Champions modules Enemies II, and Enemies the International Files.

DCC RPG, Tower out of Time

This was a good adventure run by Roy Synder. I opted to play a human wizard and of course he had to come with a 5 personality. So I racked my brain to find yet another way of playing a low charisma character that was different then all the others ones I played. I settled on using a loud nasaly voice similar to the bishop in Princess Bride, and expecting people to understand precisely what I am talking about while not supply all the details. I guess I succeeded as Ken really wanted to use his character to kill mine.

The adventure itself was interesting and revolved around some type of organic time capsule with dinosaurs and ape men. I had a big moment at the climatic battle when I color sprayed the big bad guy (and many members of the party). I took some of Dan's Halfling luck, a lot of my own luck, and spell burned all my physical attribute down to 9 and roll a 27 or so. Basically ignited the equivalent of the flash from an atomic bomb. A stray ape man took me down as I rushed in and tried to save Ken's Dwarf. You think his character would have been more grateful.

Outpost on the Orclands (ODnD/Majestic Wilderlands)
This is was my first playtest of a new advetnure I am working on. Where Night Bride's Covern is a traditional dungeon crawl. Outpost is patterned on Scourge of the Demon Wolf. I setup a situation, throw the players into the middle of it and watch the fun begin. Of course the first time I do one of these I have no clue what they will focus on so I had to play a lot of it by ear.

The situation in this case is that the party started hanging out at the court of the local baron looking for a job. A noble's court was the equivalent to a medieval job fair among other things. Well the Baron got a request to send some guards over to the bishop. The party caught his eye and was sent over there. Once at the Bishop they were each paid 100d (sp) to go to Woodford Abbey and fetch the quarterly tithe owed to the Bishop. Woodford was the site of a popular pilgrimage site to St Caelam the Dragonrider. Housing a relic, St Caelam's sword thrust in the middle of a dragon skull.

The adventure featured star-crossed lovers, malevolent faeries, a corrupt abbot, a wrathful knight, a peasant revolt, diabolic warlocks, and of course a whole lot of orcs.

The party did well and really did a good job roleplaying. It was fun to see the goals of the Paladin of Mitra and the chaotic fighter versus those of the Dwarven Cleric of Veritas and the human magic-user, versus of the gnome warrior who was in it for the money.

As for the adventure, now the initial run through is done, I have a baseline on which to flesh out the details. I also have a better grip on how the complications I introduced interact with each other. I also got to use the Dwarven Forge stuff for the final battle with the Orcs along with the new Dwarven Forge medieval buildings. Finally I got to show off the painted yurts that Tim strong armed me into buying at origins.

It was midnight when I was done and Dan had the outstanding suggestion of taking everything to the car rather than hauling it back upstairs.

The final climatic battle against the orcs. Show both the dungeon Dwarven Forge and the some of the Medieval Building set.

Sunday the 19th
I lounged around while Dan learned the new Shadowrun Card game. I also picked up one final DnD 5e miniature booster box and got a Green Hag. I was hoping for one more so I can have a set of three.

On the way back Dan I stopped to eat. We were definitely feeling the effects of the weekend even tho it was early Sunday afternoon. I helped Dan with a game of Settlers of Catan on my iPad which he ultimately won against three computer opponents.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Current assessment of 5e combat.

I am still writing up my con report. But here are some thought on 5e combat.

I played 5e about two dozen times with four different groups with one of them very large in size (8 to 10 players per session).

My opinion is that there is no single combination of abilities or characters that provides an "I win" in D&D 5e. Sufficient numbers will provide a challenge every time.

I ran running Phandelver for two different groups, one a five man party and the other the 10 man large group. Doubling the Phandelver number wasn't sufficient. It wasn't until I increase the number to four to five times the original value did the encounter have the same outcomes as the five man party.

My takeaway that the teamwork rules 5e. Multiple character working together effectively have a huge multiplier effect. Then again they do in real life as well. That it works for monsters as well as PCs. Even if the characters are carbon copies of each other. The interim encounter guidelines leads me to think that Wizards know this as well. I think they need to play with the number but overall the interrim encounter guidelines have the right idea.

There are some character ability combination that are highly effective against some types of monsters. For example life clerics versus undead.

Preparation and planning are force multipliers exactly in the same way they are in real life. My last two sessions of the Phandelver campaigns illustrate this. In the next to last session, the party had a plan, stuck to it and hit Castle Cragmaw. They aborted the attack after killing a quarter of the goblins and hobgoblins. They didn't suffer much in the way of damage but were very cautious. Also the Cragmaws were largely unprepared scattered about in the module setup.

In the last session, the party did not have as good of a plan. They had one and stuck to it but it wasn't the right one for attacked the now prepared Cragmaws. So they got strung out in the center of the castle being attacked by the remaining Cragmaws.

Despite a little higher in level, and facing a weaker foe (most of the Cragmaws killed in the previous session were hobgoblins) the party had a rougher time.

For the larger group what did them in was a horde of orcs at Wyvern Tor and exhausting all their area of effect spells. The orcs due to their bonus move were able to disperse. Plus they got strung out along the perimeter around the cave entrance. When the orcs managed down one party member it opened a hole and allowed the orc to attempt to defeat the party in detail. In the end out of 10 only two were standing with two permanently dead. This even after a failed morale check took out a quarter of the remaining orcs.

In my opinion 5e rewards tactics in the same way as 4e but without all the detail and fussiness of 4e. That the decreased number of abilities has effectively minimized broken rules combination.

That for groups that don't care about tactics all they have to do is maintain superior numbers in combat to come out ahead. Mainly through by carefully picking the time when to start a fight.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why you can't game the OSR

There is been a lot of conversation about what the OSR is, how to define, people "trying" to take over,etc. I been offering my own opinion about the OSR for a long time in the hopes of getting people to realize that if they want to they can do their own thing with classic DnD and other old school games.

This article has crystallized a thought I long held about the OSR.

You can't game it.

In the article Paul Graham talks about his experience with computer technology startups. On thing that leaped out at me was this piece of advice.
t's not surprising that after being trained for their whole lives to play such games, young founders' first impulse on starting a startup is to try to figure out the tricks for winning at this new game. Since fundraising appears to be the measure of success for startups (another classic noob mistake), they always want to know what the tricks are for convincing investors. We tell them the best way to convince investors is to make a startup that's actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so. Then they want to know what the tricks are for growing fast. And we have to tell them the best way to do that is simply to make something people want.
The OSR from day one was about making something that people want. At first it was focus on making stuff people wanted for classic DnD. As number of people joining in grew that broadened to to a focus on Old School in general.

So anytime somebody or some group tries to define or take over the OSR the cold hard fact is that unless they play, promote, or publishing something that the people in the OSR want, they will be ignored.

Of course what makes Paul Graham different than any other person writing an article? He was one of the first to make to make a fortune off of the internet in the 1990s. He was part of a company who made Viaweb one of the first software program that allowed people to create Internet stores easily. Viaweb was sold to Yahoo for several million dollars. Then he became part of a group of investors who started Y Combinator to help people with technology startups along with writing about his experience. I been reading his stuff for a couple of years now and my impression that he is a smart guy who knows his stuff who continues to have successes.

While the OSR never needed a Y Combinator, I felt it does need guys like Paul Graham to encourage and help people with their own projects and I resolved to be one of those guys.

What I tell people when they want to publish or promote for the OSR that there are two known paths of success in addition to doing good work.

  • You write for one of the classic editions of DnD or something very similar
  • You write something that you think would be interesting to fans of classic editions of DnD and put a lot of work into promoting and selling it to the rest of the OSR.
The first reflect how the OSR started among the fans of classic DnD and that classic DnD still is the core of the whole thing. The second reflect that OSR gamers are not one-dimensional caricatures and have other interested. That the most common interest is in other old school games.

Both have successful examples. Examples of the first include OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, and a wealth of adventures, like Barrowmaze, written specifically for an older edition of DnD. Examples of the second include Dungeon Crawl Classic, Lamentation of the Flame Princess, Arrows of Indra, and my own Majestic Wilderlands.

They are successful because people wanted them. Classic DnD continues to be played and promoted because people want to play a game they have a lot of fun at. That the closest you will ever get to a definition of the OSR,  It also why I say the OSR is defined by those who DO.

Also realize that because of the OSR's origins on the internet, the Open Game License, along with existence of multiple classic DnD communities from the beginning means it is insanely diverse. These factors in conjunction has ensured that there are no gatekeepers or artificial barriers for a gamer needs to leap in order to do his own thing.  

You will notice I talked a lot about classic DnD. No doubt that there will be people getting upset at the fact I am seemly giving old school little credit or acknowledgement. That I am claiming that the OSR is only about classic DnD thus reinforcing the notion that the clonemanics are continuing to attempt to capture the OSR for their own devious purposes.

The OSR is indeed mostly about classic DnD for the simple reason that classic DnD has the largest fan base of any old school. It dwarfs other old school games by at least an order of magnitude. The only way an old school movement can not be about classic DnD if it excludes it.

Conversely a movement starting out at being focused on classic DnD will expand to include other old school games in the absence of gatekeepers. Gamers are not one dimensional caricatures and like any other human being are capable of being interested in more than one thing. 

Thanks to the factors I stated previously the OSR never had gatekeepers. So naturally that led to the situation today where you have an OSR centered on classic DnD along with a wealth of other old school games under the OSR label.

And this whole glorious mess is why any attempt to game the OSR is doomed to failure. Either you play, promote, or publishing something that OSR gamers are interested in, or you are ignored. No amount of punditry, or sermonizing is going to grant a shortcut to success in the OSR.

If you are reading and have an idea for classic DnD or old school in general I strongly encourage you to do your thing and share it with rest of us.

Fight On!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My favorite map

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge challenged all map makeers to show their favorite map. I actually have two.

The first is the Isle of the Blest of  the City State of the Sea Kings.

The original incarnation of Judges Guild produce modules under the Wilderness series. Each book took an area of the Wilderlands and extensively detailed it. Mines of Custalon and Spies of Lightelf were first two books. One of the details was the use of the Judges Guild Hexagon Mapping system to flesh out the interior of the various 5 mile hexes that book focused one.

For example

The Isle of Blest map for City State of the Sea King.was going to be a poster map making each hex over 1 inch. I figured with all that room why not draw it like the Wilderness series but update it with color. What made even more doable is that the Wilderness series maps were pseudo contour denoting slope. Similar to old style hachure maps. Full contour maps are finicky to create and do right by hand over the scale of something as large as the Isle of the Blest. Another challenge I wanted to overcome is better use of color on my maps.

The successful completion of this project not only led to the satisfaction of coming up with a new style, in color no less, but also to the license from Judges Guild that allowed to publish the Majestic Wilderlands and Scourge of the Demon Wolf. Finally it led me to be invited to help with the project to come up with new official maps for the original Wilderlands.

My other favorite maps is actually a work in progress.

Looks pretty complete? But it is actually a section of a much larger map that I been working off and on for the past couple of years. The map to the main campaign area of the Majestic Wilderlands.

I like the Nomar map because it represent the current pinnacle of the work I been doing ever since I made the Wilderlands my main campaign.

Starting with this

To This

To this

Then to the Nomar map above.

Finally this map gets an honorable mention. This was going to be the foundation map for the Majestic Realms. The Majestic Wilderlands with all Judges Guild IP stripped out but then I got the license which was not only cool of them but made it a lot easier to write the supplement. Instead of the City-State of the Invincible Overlord I had the City State of Eastgate (the name coming from Tim). Instead of Thunderhold, I had Hammerguard Keep named after the best dwarven PC ever to play in any of my campaigns, Zephrus Hammerguard.

I plan on still using this sometime as part of the loose setting behind Points of Light and Blackmarsh.

So there you have my favorite map err maps.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Boy Scouts and Dungeons & Dragons

As told in my last post, I spent the weekend with my son at a Webelos Scout event. As I was dozing off Sunday, I started to remember the importance of scouting was to me in regards to Dungeons & Dragons.

I was in scouts in the late 70s and early 80s. I started Boy Scout just when I started gaming and the two paralleled each other as I moved through Junior High School and then Senior High School. I lived in a small (15,000) town in the middle of rural northwest PA. Just big enough to have one or two of most things including game stores.

At the time of joining Boy Scout I was heavily into playing Avalon Hill and SPI wargames with a friend, John. He was very good and I rarely beat him. He was scary smart when it came to those games. Along the way one of us picked up the Holmes Basic Set and tried it out. Immediately we saw it was a different type of game. Despite just the two of us there there was little of the competition that characterized our wargame sessions.

My Boy Scout Troop was very active in organizing campout and other event. Including events held in the middle of winter. For the most part these winter event were held on sites with heated cabins. One site was on the shores of Lake Erie and the troop traditionally reserved a cabin perched right next to the cliff that formed the shore in that area.

Sunset came early in those events and this meant that there was a long stretch of free time in the evening. During the winter after John and I discovered Dungeons & Dragons this time become filled up with sessions of Dungeons of Dragons. A group of mostly older boys would take over a table and sit down and play a session. I remember it spread like wildfire, and there was a stretch where nearly every cabin had a session of D&D going. Not everybody played but it was by far the most popular activity.

I remember getting my first look at the Monster Manual at one of those sessions. And probably got a look at a PHB as well. Which probably why John and I split the $10 cost get one for ourselves.

In later years I started playing and running sessions myself. The one that stick out the most in my mind was probably around 1980 or 81. We where at the Lake Erie camp in the cabin by the shoreline cliff. Since it was communal sleep area we couldn't turn on the light as it would disturb those sleeping. So we played by the light of the fireplace with the sound of ice grinding and snapping in the background. A good time was had by all.

My other major memory was when I got to attend the 1983 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill. I remember learning that there was D&D being played. Luckily I stashed some of my books and dice and so I went over to check it out.

Everybody was playing on the gradual slope of a grassy hill on blankets and tarps. There were dozens of groups scattered across the slope. It was like a mini game convention, I don't remember and specifics other than I chatted about D&D with kids from all across the United States and learning about how people played in different region. I remember walking away thinking "Man there are a lot of ways to play D&D."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Update on the 5e Update

Failed my save versus Webelos Scounts Weekend and going to bed. I will try to have the update tomorrow.
The event also included a failed save versus inclement weather and leaky tents.

However but for the kids I believe I rolled a natural 20 for fun and interesting weekend. Interesting to hear some of the old standbys like Duck, Duck, Goose mixed with newer things like Slenderman, zombie chase, and widespread use of the iPhone/Android devices. For some reason the kids got a kick out of getting videos of themselves in the dark.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chess is a game, Dungeons & Dragons is an experience.

This post is a counterpoint to John Wick's Chess is not an RPG: the illusion of game balance.

Every since I became involved in tabletop roleplaying in 1978, there have been debates over story, game, roleplaying, and realism. As many of you know I am a long time fan of GURPS, yet in past years I been heavily involved in publishing and playing classic D&D. Now I am refereeing a D&D 5e campaign.

When I run fantasy, I use my Majestic Wilderlands setting. It started with the first edition of ADnD, moved on to Harnmaster, Fantasy Hero, ADnd 2nd, a lot of GURPS, DnD 3.X, DnD 4e, ODnD and now DnD 5e. Yet the despite the varying rules I was successful in maintaining the feel of the setting not by house ruling all of the above but by focusing on what I call the roleplaying. The fuzzy side of RPGs that many call fluff. In each system NPCs acted the same way they did in previous campaigns using different systems, the same with broader events.

All of this lead me to conclude that rules are not important in the way many think they are. If rules are not that important. What is? If rules are not important why tabletop roleplaying a game?

After I started blogging, I came more aware of the larger community of RPG hobbyists. Their likes, dislikes, and opinions. I learned a lot. As consequence of my own experience and reading a lot of other people's experience. My opinion shifted that there is a core rule behind all tabletop RPGs. One that is obscured in the What is Roleplaying? section most rulebooks have, or not written down at all.

The rule?

This s a game where player act as individual characters interacting with a setting where their actions are adjudicated by a human referee.

It is my option this is the foundation on which every single RPG every made has been built on. The rest is details. Which details are used i.e. the rules most consider to be a RPG, depends on the needs of the campaign and preferences of the individual particpating

But my opinion on the fundemental rule of RPGs doesn't address why. It only talks about the how it played. You have a character, you interact with a setting, the referee tells you want happens.

What the point of it all?

Then a couple of months ago it hit me.

It about the experience. That the hook and the draw, the ability of RPGs to allow people to pretend to be in another time and place doing interesting things. RPGs make this exciting because the adjudication process makes the outcome uncertain. With uncertain outcomes events can spiral in random directions. And that interesting and fun to many.

Tabletop RPGs are games used to create experiences. It is only afterward that the stories come when you attempt to entertain or describe to other what you experienced.

The rules supply part of the details of the experience. The rest is in the setting and plans that the referee creates for his NPCs.

Accordingly the rules should focus on what the experience is to be about. Some type of experiences it doesn't matter there is a difference between a tin cup, a thumb 5.56 mm AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm pistol. In others it matters a great deal.

The only hard and fast is understanding what you are trying to accomplish and know what your groups is interested in. The two will tell the referee what kind and amount of rules he will need for his campaign. Often there are several good options in which case the ones use should be the one that resonates the best with the referee and his group.

Last what is roleplaying? My opinion that ONLY requirement is you act as if you are really there as your character. You do not need to do funny voice (but by all means do the voices if you have fun with it). You don't have to adopt a different personality (but if that your thing go for it). You don't need an elaborate backstory (ditto). But you do need to imagine if you were standing right there in that situation and act accordingly. The rest will follow from that simple maxim.

I have players that could not act to save their life. But they still managed to enjoy the complexities of the Majestic Wilderlands because I focused on putting them in the moment. I told the most uncomfortable to imagine yourself there and act accordingly. And it works. The funny voice guy, the great actor, the combat fiend, and the guy just playing himself in plate armor can enjoy the same campaign.

Finally John Wick criticizes campaign that focus on combat. Saying (I am paraphrasing this) that they are little more than wargames focused on individual characters.  Sorry to offend John's sensibilities but combat is roleplaying as well. The players are acting as they there as their characters using a detailed set of rules to resolve their actions. For those groups what they want to experience most often is a lot of beating things up and taking their stuff. Maybe it is not his type of roleplaying but it is roleplaying.

The genius of Dave Arneson's and Gary Gygax's work is that is so darn flexible. The basic structure of the game they created can encompasses the exploration of a monster filled dungeon maze, the high drama of Arthurian Britain, life in a medieval village, along with the blood and sand of the arenas of ancient Rome. It can encompass the barebones mechanics of Mircolite 20, to the complexity of GURPS with all the options on.

Focus on making the best experience possible. Pick the rules that suit that and people involved.