Sunday, January 29, 2012

Convention One-Shots: The Hardest Part

So, in less than a week, I'm signed up to run two Feng Shui games in the space of twelve hours (two four-round slots with a break for me to actually play something in between).  I enjoy running convention games.  I'm good at it.  The players and I always seem to have a good time.

I've got the PCs statted up.  I've got the adventure generally plotted out.  It's a bit looser than I usually do for a convention, but since I'm running the same scenario twice, I'm kind of interested in seeing how the two groups approach the same plot, so it's not quite as on rails as my usual one-shots.

But I'll be damned if I can find the energy at the moment to actually do all of the other little things I really should be doing to prepare for the game.  Like scour the net for visuals, and make place cards for the players with their PC's name on it, and put together "Play Mats" that will help them keep track of resources during play.

Or actually stat out the opposition or write down the story beats that are in my head.  I know no one will ever accuse me of over-preparing for a game, but this feels worse than normal.

Hopefully, my Procrastinating Muse will kick in sometime in the next 48 hours so I can knock it all out.  In the meantime, I'm just quietly panicking.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What D&D Sounds Like

Over on RPGnet, a guy started a thread called AD&D is Metal.  Mostly, it was about how he ran AD&D and how it felt to him, but (as these things often do) the thread quickly turned to what music folks think of in the context of D&D.

For me, that's a bit of an odd question, at least in the early days.  In high school, I really wasn't into a particular style of music until my senior year, and by then, I'd kind of given up D&D for games like Traveller and Top Secret.  The only song that really makes me remember those early days is the rather less than good "Hold the Line" from Toto, which always reminds me of sitting in my room on New Year's Eve 1978, keying a dungeon.

By the time I got into hard rock and metal, I had moved on to games like RuneQuest and Stormbringer.  For that period, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, and Iron Maiden were the soundtracks of my life, but I still didn't really mix gaming and music.  At least, not directly. I certainly cribbed heavily from BOC for my Stormbringer games (f'rinstance, the holy symbol of Chardros the Reaper was their logo in my version of the Young Kingdoms).

By 1982 or so, I was heavily in Champions' embrace, and, apart from the "Superman" soundtrack, there wasn't a lot of music that screamed "superheroes" out there back in the day.

I "rediscovered" AD&D, so to speak, when I was working in a bookstore and got everything at 40% off.  Also, we carried Dragon, and that's when I started reading it regularly for the first time in years.  That got me back to thinking about AD&D, though I still didn't play it often.  But musically, it didn't sound like metal to me.  Nope, mid-80s AD&D sounded like this:

(In my version of Faerun, this is the national anthem of Myth Drannor)

I still wasn't using music in my games, but that show, and the album renewed my interest in things medieval fantasy in a big way, and I was obsessed with capturing the sense of "historical myth" it did so well in my games.

Even into 2nd Edition, I was far more likely to use medieval or renaissance music to inspire my games.  I didn't actually use it while playing, but I'd have it on in the background while noodling maps. The first time I really remember being faced with the idea of using music as a backdrop for my games was reading the boxed first edition of Cyberpunk.  It had a section on creating atmosphere and even included musical suggestions.  This was, to me, an entirely new idea and I went more than a little overboard with it.  I'm pretty sure that some of my game mix-tapes ran longer than the campaigns they were recorded for.

But the genie was out of the bottle, and music became one of my things.  Used sparingly, it worked pretty well.

Then, 3e/D20 came along.  And 3.5.  Right around the same time I discovered Power Metal, one of my true guilty pleasures. Almost entirely European in origin, it eschews the growly yarl of most mainstream metal, harkening back to the 80s, when lead singers actually, y'know, sang.  And the subject matter is pure fantasy geekgasm writ large.  I could go on, but it's easier to let some of this stuff speak for itself:

Yeah, that's Christopher Lee, wearing a crown and robes and narrating.  For reals.

This one's actually about Raistlin Majere, from "DragonLance." I am not making this up.

Though I do like SOME growly stuff.  If the subject matter's good and I can understand the words.

Fact is, I enjoy this particular genre so much, I made up a Pandora station entirely focused on it.  If it sounds like your thing, you should check it out. It's pretty much how both 3rd and 4th editions sound to me these days.  Pathfinder too.  Probably all subsequent versions of the game.

So what's D&D sound like to you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Totally Forgot I Had A Glyph

So, WizBro's announcement of "One Game To Bind Them All" got me nostalgic for the old stuff.  Which is kind of funny, because I really didn't play D&D all that much until third edition came out.  Seriously, I played it in high school, then graduated to "bigger and better things" (mostly RuneQuest/BRP games and Champions).  But even though I didn't play a lot of D&D between 1982 and 2001, I bought and read the hell out of it.  And planned games that generally never saw the light of day.  I read Dragon Magazine religiously and picked up Dungeon as soon as it went news-stand.

The reason for this was simple:  I worked in a bookstore and my employee discount was 40%.  And even if I didn't actually play the game, I enjoyed reading about it and thinking about it.

(Oddly enough, my mother does something similar with cookbooks.  She's a rather unambitious cook, but she collects and reads cookbooks the way plenty of folks devour romance novels.)

So, I've got lots of 1st and 2nd edition AD&D stuff.  Well worn copies, read through many times.

Anyway, I've been nostalgic, and last night, I went out to the garage and got my 2nd Edition stuff.  I opened the PHB and staring me in the face on the inside front cover was this:

One of the things I loved about the Forgotten Realms was how wizards had personal glyphs they used to mark their turf and possessions.  When I picked up the 2e books, rather than write my name inside the cover, I decided to draw a glyph of my own.  All in all, I think it looks pretty swanky.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I Guess We're All Supposed To Talk About 5th Ed.

And, since my wife is out of town and I don't have much else to blather about (other than a Feng Shui adventure that steadfastly refuses to write itself), a few thoughts on the new edition.

I played a lot of 3.5.  I've played a lot of Pathfinder and 4e.  All have their strengths, all have their weaknesses.  3.5 and Pathfinder are still, to me, recognizable descendents of D&D.  4e, much less so, although it's an engaging tactical game in its own right and I continue to have fun playing it.

But there are a few things I'd love to see in a new edition:

A retreat from the omnipresent tactical nature of the game.  As much as I enjoy shoving little toy monsters around a grid, I don't want it to be the be-all end-all of the game.  Many years ago, Robin Laws wrote "The map is not your friend" in what may be the most combat-happy RPG of all time (Feng Shui).  Truer words were never writ.

A break from the "Three Encounters And You're Done" adventure model.  Please, by the hoary ghosts of Gygax and Arneson please, get away from this.  Let's go back to being able to explore a dungeon of multiple rooms and encounters in a single game session.

No more Skill Challenges.  Hell, for D&D, I'd be happy with getting rid of skills entirely.  I never used them in earlier versions of the game, unless you count Thief's abilities.  While there are some problems with the scaling, there's a lot to be said for Castles & Crusades' SIEGE Engine, which neatly stripped skills out of d20 without breaking anything.

I want spellcasters to be spellcasters again.  I don't want Fighters and Spellcasters to basically do the same stuff, just with different names.  One thing I really admired about 3.5 was that with very little modification, you could turn it into a gritty, realistic low-fantasy/historical game.  There's just no way in hell 4e even pretends you can do that.

Make magic items magical again.  In 3.5, they became a required and expected part of character advancement.  In 4e, they became even more flavorless, if that was possible.  Let's put the magic back and make it meaningful.

Let's go back to viable small or large parties.  While 3.5 and 4e don't exactly require a group of 4-5 PCs, they are optimized for it.  And that actually kind of sucks if you've got too few or too many players.  Back in the days of 2e and earlier, this was much less of a concern.  Of course balance was also much less of a concern.

Mostly, I want that last one so that I don't have to try and recruit a bunch of folks when my son wants to play D&D with me.  If I can run viable games that don't require ridiculous amounts of mental gymnastics and hand-waving for just one or two players, I will happily play 5e and buy the hell out of stuff for it.

(And while you're at it, release the older stuff on PDF again.  It would be a tremendous act of goodwill for the folks who prefer the earlier editions. There's already huge amounts of this stuff floating around on the web that can be obtained illegally.  The way I see it, if even one person in ten downloading it paid for it, that's money in your coffers you're not seeing now.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Long Buried Treasure - Found!

This afternoon, my brother sent me a text, saying "Found these stuck to the wall of Mom's garage."  Attached was this picture:

"These," of course, would be my first edition Gamma World rulebook and a Top Secret GM's screen.  He said, it's not just the covers, but there's actual content left.  How they ended up where he found them is anyone's guess, (I'm guessing they ended up on a shelf with a bunch of magazines and then slipped behind it) but Mom is dropping them in the mail for me and I'm anxious to see what, if anything survived.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

She Just Wants Everyone To Be Happy, So She Can Be Rich

It's a new year, so why not celebrate with a new ICONS character?

Doktor Bliss
Erika Bläss

Prowess  2
Coordination  4
Strength  2
Intellect  8
Awareness  7
Willpower  6

Stamina  8


  Ability Increase Device  6 (Willpower) (Amulet)
  Emotion Control Device 6 (Pleasure) (Amulet)
  Invulnerability Device 5 (Amulet)

Motivation: "Doing well while doing good."
Catchphrase: "Don't be sad."


Enemy: All-American Girl
Weakness: Emotion Control Can Only Work On Humans and Near-Humans
Bad Luck

Erika Bläss overcame the tragedies of her childhood behind the Iron Curtain to become a successful psychiatrist in the United States.  But it wasn't enough.  She wasn't rich enough, her patients weren't happy enough.  Turning first to New Age quackery and then to full-on occultism, she pursued and acquired her means to both: The Amulet of Laeticia, the ancient Roman goddess of joy and delight.  Besides protecting her from all harm, it allows her to induce a state of sheer ecstatic bliss in all around her, rendering them incapable of interfering while she collects her "fee" from nearby jewelry cases, bank vaults, and the occasional high-end auto dealership.  After all, she deserves to be happy too.

Point Total  44

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Starting The Year Right

One of the annual highlights of Owlcon is the Master Maze D&D tournament.  My regular Sunday DM, Greg, is the proud owner of more Master Maze scenery and D&D minis than good sense.  Every year, he creates an event wherein two parties compete in parallel dungeons (not always identical, but always very close and equal challenges) before proceeding to a final round.  All using Master Maze stuff where every creature, every physical element, every piece of furniture is represented in miniature.

Since this is a competitive event, it's important that the encounters, characters, etc. be playtested.  That's when folks like me, who get to play with Greg all the time, come in.  Today a couple of us descended on his place, forsaking other New Years' Day rituals, in order to roll dice and slay monsters.  And for good measure, I brought my son along.  It was his first chance at playing a 10th level character (an archer ranger) and he wreaked havoc among the monsters we faced.

Dice were thrown, pizza was consumed, the multiverse remains safe.

Hell of a way to kick of 2012.