Monday, August 21, 2017

Now THAT's F---ing D&D

All right, this is a TV post. And it's going to be about that damn Game of Thrones show. And, yes, it's going to have *SPOILERS* If that matters to you, you've been warned.

[yes, I'm still watching The Defenders on Netflix, and I have a LOT to say about it. Unfortunately, I keep falling asleep while watching it, mainly because I'm doing it late at night after looong days of heavy manual labor. I'm tempted to post a picture of the home project, but it probably won't do justice to how labor intensive it is. POINT IS: I'll get to The Defenders. Just probably not in a timely matter]

There's a lot of "good TV" on HBO these days, by which I mean "quality entertainment." It comes in a variety of forms. I enjoy Veep because I've worked in government and while it may seem (to the private sector) like House of Cards ("hello, conspiracy theorists") there's a lot of it that's just absurdist dumb-fuckery and political aggrandizing (which Veep pokes fun at). There's Ballers, which is similar to the crack that was Sex in the City, except for football fans; most of it depicts fairly awful people, but Dwayne Johnson may have the most powerful charisma of anyone living in America today...he's just so damn watchable, everything he touches turns to gold (he's like Tom Cruise in that way). There's John Oliver's watered-down version of The Daily Show (and I haven't watched much Daily Show for about a decade now for, well, *reasons*) which is great because, with the state of the news, once a week is about the extent of which I can stomach a close examination of what's going on in my nation. And then there's Insecure, the creation of writer/director/actor Issa Rae, an incredibly talented individual. Her show is one of the best things on television at the's like the newest iteration of awesome comedy (like what Arrested Development was, except that it's on HBO instead of FOX, so it won't be f'd over and preempted for the lowest common denominator).

[I'm sure some would crucify me for saying this, BUT even though I'm a white dude in Seattle, there's a lot in Insecure I can relate to. Except, of course, being black in America (and dealing with all that means). Fact of the matter is, Rae is smashing many "accepted stereotypes," both within the drama of her show (and its portrait of black lives) and in Hollywood itself (what can be accomplished by an individual who is outside the regular norms). Plus, she's funny as hell...Issa Rae is a 21st century friggin' Lucille Ball]

But whatever...yes, yes, there's mucho good TV shows on the "boob-tube" these days; plenty of shows that are ready to suck your precious, precious time and interest and keep you from doing something constructive with you lives. Most of you already know that...I won't insult your intelligence or anything. But can I just say a few words about Game of Thrones? Please?

How frigging awesome is this show?

Sure. There are a lot of neat things in it. Fantasy tropes. Special effects. Good acting. Big battle scenes. Drama. Violence. T&A. Pick your fancy, Tolkien geeks. Martin's stuff is a lot better than Robert Jordan (or so I gather...I haven't actually read Jordan, but my brother gave me a scathing review of The Eye of the World, and I value his opinion)...but we already knew that. That's not what I wanted to gush about. Certainly, not about George R. R. Martin.

For those who don't know, the GoT television series was originally based on Martin's multi-book saga; now, however, it has surpassed the novels he's written, and the show's creators are writing episodes based on his "notes" and using their own continuity (they started going "off-book" early on, due to the constraints inherent in the television media). They...the creators...have taken those notes and run with it, outdoing themselves again and again, both in terms of spectacle and drama. It's wonderful to watch...and even more so because it's soooo "D&D."

Last week's episode..."oh, we're going on a quest"...was about as D&D as it gets. But THIS week, we actually got to see the "quest:" a bunch of frigging miscreants trudging across a snowy wasteland, snarking at each other, really doing something epic'ly stupid, plus guys getting mauled by an undead cave bear...all that is frigging D&D. Old school D&D...the oldest, really.

Sandor Clegane ("the Hound") reminds me of so many D&D players characters I have known. So, so many.

And Melodrama. Most of us (including me) use the term fast and loose, rather than its original, theatrical definition. Just high drama inspiring high emotion. Oh boy. This is melodrama. Peter Dinklage (damn the camera loves that guy...his charisma is on par with the Rock) entreating, begging the Dragon Queen not to fly off to the rescue? So good.

And Daenerys herself. Again, I've known (in game) platinum haired demigoddesses like her...not dragon riders, no, but characters just as magnificent in their power, trying to do the right thing, torn between their heart and their "duty." And, no, never with anything so serious as a kingdom or continent at stake...nothing so bad as a zombie apocalypse on the horizon. But when you're playing The Game...when you're really playing it create those stakes in your mind. In the shared imagination of the players.

Let me say this: in last week's episode, when the principal characters are standing around the table in the war room coming up with some incredibly half-assed plan to go north and hijack a fucking wight? THAT is D&D, my friends. That is the kind of bullshit ideas players are always coming up with. This week? Getting trapped on an f'ing island of ice, surrounded by a multitude of undead? THAT is the kind of predicament PCs are always getting their sorry asses into, trying to follow some half-assed bullshit plan. It is soooo D&D, because (just like real life) we often fuck ourselves into some stupid problem that we shouldn't have. All the frigging time.

I love it.

I love watching it. It's fun. These days, it's not all T&A and lingering camera shots (as in earlier seasons). It reminds me of some of my best D&D sessions (both as a player and a DM). Half-assed and melodramatic. Inciting the zombies to attack by throwing stones. Ordering your hirelings around. Watching the cleric die and wondering who's going to raise you now (since the dead cleric obviously can't raise himself). Negotiating who gets the magic sword, and justifying the decision with in-game fluff.

If this were D&D,
I'd be a dwarf.
I love it. It pokes my "D&D nostalgia" buttons as hard as anything does. Not that I haven't been on the edge of tears lately anyway. The kids have been gone for more than a week. I've been doing a lot of heavy labor around the house. I'm stressed the fam will come back and the work won't be done, plus the school year's starting up soon and I have that to think about. I'm half-shattered at the moment...the escapism of Game of Thrones is something incredibly valuable to me at this particular moment. Damn, it's good...if only for reasons that appeal to me. And right now, that's just fine and dandy.

[I also want to say this: cool as Jon Snow is (and who doesn't think he's cool?) I've never run a character like him (PC or NPC). While I admire the brooding, Saturnian dude with twenty pounds of honor in a ten pound bag, that was never my shtick. I was usually the one-eyed guy who'd been resurrected six or seven times. And usually blondish in hair color]

So many D&Disms (this week's episode is playing on my TV for the second time while I type this). I find myself trying to pick out alignments for the various characters. Jon is obviously Lawful Good. Arya Stark is pretty clearly Neutral Evil. Cannot get a read on Sansa to save my life at the moment. Daenerys is Neutral Good. makes me want to pull out the old DMG and read Gygax's descriptions and fit them to all the characters. That would actually be fun (for me anyway).

Maybe tomorrow.
: )

Sunday, August 20, 2017

RPGaDay 2017 #20

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

In PDF? The internet. For a singular particular source? Of course, I prefer books in print (even out-of-print books) and rather than using eBay or Amazon, I prefer to shop in person. Now that I don't make it out to Missoula as often as in my childhood, the best place to pick up  old books is my local game shop...same one I wrote about in my Day 10 post.

Huh. That one was pretty easy. Perhaps I should write about something else.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #19

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[well, well, well...finally, FINALLY caught up; you can find Day 9 here, and Day 18 here. Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday; I had a looong day of hauling rock. And it appears the rock-hauling will be going on at least two more days (unless by some miracle I finish tomorrow). Hopefully, I'll get some writing in, despite my poor, demolished fingers!]

Which RPG features the best writing?

Huh. Depends on what you mean.

If we're talking the clearest writing, easily communicating how the RPG is to be played, it's objectives of play, etc. then we have several candidates for "winner," including Tom Modvay's edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the "B" in "B/X") which was able to teach this blog author (i.e. "me") how to play an RPG from pretty much start to finish. A lot of indie games (especially those of the "story" variety) have pretty solid instructions (I like Ben Lehman's Polaris quite a bit).

However, if you're talking about "stylistically" or "fun" or even "which has the best fiction" or "humor," I'll have to hem and haw a lot, as there're quite a few to choose from. Fourth edition Ars Magica is pretty darn good...certainly, it's my favorite edition of that particular game. Mike Pondsmith's Castle Falkenstein is pretty darn good. I'm a big fan of Ron Edwards's Sorcerer game (and the three supplements he wrote to accompany the game), though I realize he's not everyone's cup o' tea.

Ken Hites's Wild Talents has some great stuff. So does Over the Edge (by Jonathan Tweet and Robin Laws) though a lot of the setting material is fairly derivative. John Wick's Orkworld is a helluva' good read, too. But the best writing, the most interesting may be Maelstrom by Christian Aldridge. The game is clear and concise, the fiction is interesting without being overdone, and the setting is the best parts of fantasy...the kind of Neverending Story shit you loved as a child. With crab men and flying pirate ships and clockwork cities where people engage in duels of honor in dark alleys and amnesiac travelers from other dimensions. I love Maelstrom (and its Story Engine system is the best I've found for PBEM games).

Yeah, there's a lot of good writing out there (a lot of poor and mediocre writing, as well), but I'll give Maelstrom the nod on this one.

Friday, August 18, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #18

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

And this one's super easy: Dungeons & Dragons.

If you ask me for a specific edition, I'd probably have to say "B/X." This wasn't always the cast...I played AD&D (first edition) for years, even after the publication of 2nd edition (though my D&D play was pretty spotty in the 90s, and I even went through a stint playing only BECMI/RC).

However, since starting this blog in, more than eight years's been B/X more often than any other edition. And that gives B/X the advantage over AD&D.

'Nuff said.

In Other News...

It's shortly after midnight (12:05am, my time) and though I spent the day lifting and carrying 1000 pounds of paving stones (and 300 pounds of sand) I am watching The Defenders on Netflix. Yes, addiction to superhero shows is a bit of a sickness, I admit it. But it's not like I have a lot to do tomorrow (besides move the other 6000 pounds of paving stones).

Sure beats watching the news.

Step off, haters...I've been waiting four months for this.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #17

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

This is a tough one.

Over the years I've gone from "RPG player" to "RPG designer," I have collected an incredible number of games...more than I could ever play in a lifetime. At least, in any meaningful way. Heck, "RPG collector" might be a better term for my gaming life and, sad as that is, I'm willing to wear it until such time as that changes.

[by the way, I've just had a loooong day of hauling 50 pound paving stones and 60 pound bags of sand and I am on my second pint, so my typing...and my train of thought...might be a little shaky. Sorry about that]

Even in my youth, once I found a way to acquire some spending money, I purchased a lot of games (usually at a used bookstore). But every game I would play. Take it out for a "test drive," you know? Back in the day, I had lots of friends clamoring to game and I had lots of free time (ah, sweet youth...cherish your free time while you can, kids!), so it wasn't an issue to try every game. One session or a dozen, who cares? It gave us as much enjoyment as going to the movies (if not more) for roughly the same price.

But the older I've gotten, the fewer gaming friends seem to be around, and my free time has dwindled to a trickle due to my other responsibilities. Yes, I could make it a priority of my life. I don't have to be the president of the parents club and the first grade soccer coach and the dutiful son who visits his mother and the dutiful brother who tries to comfort an ailing brother and the dutiful husband and father and homeowner moving three f'ing tons of rock to build a patio. Hell, I could get rid of the beagles and not worry about feeding and walking and caring for them (the younger is prone to ear infections). I don't think it's possible to exercise less than I already do, or write less than I already do or...well, you get the point. We all have our priorities and while I'd like gaming to be one of mine, I can't seem to fit it in as often as would seem to be appropriate for a dude who's devoted so many internet words to the subject.


ANYway, even so, it wasn't till the last ten years or so that I really started collecting games with little, if any, intention to play. Some are appropriate for research, some represent pieces of history, some are pretty to look at, some I've purchased based on reviews thinking I'd play them (but for some reason found them wanting) and some I fully intend to play one of these day, when I have the chance, and the right group of people.  But, sad to say, there are a LOT of unplayed games that sit on my shelf.

To find the oldest, however, required me to really scratch my head and dig deep. I was having a hard time considering if Werewolf: the Apocalypse counted...certainly, I've never run a saga in that game, though I've been asked to before (back in college...the game fell through before the first session due to some man-woman stuff), but parts of that game was incorporated into other Vampire games, and I'm sure I've used it to make at least one or two characters. Then there's another game from 1992 called Dreampark (based on the Larry Nivens novel) from R. Talsorian. I actually really dug that as a potential "universal" RPG system (in a simpler fashion than GURPS)...but I think I might have run a game for my brother at some point.

And anyway, I have an older game that I'm sure I haven't played: Guardians by James Perhan from Starchilde Publications. This game was published in 1988, though I believe I picked up my copy circa 1990 (and possibly from a used bookstore). Guardians has a simple system, some nice interior art, and some fairly cool fluff. Plus I loved the "flourish" skill that allowed a character to execute cool moves without tripping over his/her cape (and failing a flourish roll could have embarrassing, if not dangerous, consequences).

It's pretty crappy. Sorry.
However, Guardians lost all credibility with me when I read the sample adventure it contained. It didn't bother me that it was hokey, with an evil dentist and his robotic, drill-armed henchman. No, it was when I was researching the bad guys' powers (in anticipation of running the game) and realized the robot's suite of invulnerability powers made it completely impervious to anything the pre-gens (or anyone else) could throw at it. A bad oversight of game design, and one bad enough that I chucked the whole book without ever running a game.

But I didn't chuck it into the trash, just a dusty corner of the shelf. I found it a while back when I was reading Age of Ravens History of Superhero RPGs posts and realized he'd left it off the list. It's still a shitty game with decent artwork, and for some reason I've allowed it to stick's pretty thin, after all (doesn't take up that much shelf space).

I'm about 99% sure it's the game I've owned the longest without once having played it. Going on 27+ years.

[holy mole! Only one more day of double-posting to do! You can read my Day 8 post by going to this link. Tomorrow I'll do Day 9 and then I'll be all caught up]

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #16

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

In general, I prefer to use most games "as is." Rules As Written. RAW. Even "back in the day," when we played AD&D as our game of choice, we tried to incorporate every rule in the game (speed factor, weapon speed, segments, spell components, chance to hit helmet, encumbrance, weapon vs. armor type, etc.). We got so proficient at it, that it take all that much time...though certainly rules might be forgotten and "fall through the cracks" in the heat of the moment. We were so damn pleased when the Unearthed Arcana was released and provided a simplified unarmed combat system that worked so much easier than the pummeling/grappling rules found in the DMG.

I've never been a fan of modifying rules. Even with all the mods and tweaks found in the multitude of posts on this blog, more often than not when actually playing a game of B/X I fall back on my default RAW assumptions (or I try out a "house rule" for a session before reverting to RAW). Most of my wildest deviations from B/X are really new I've created using a B/X base as a "chassis" to build upon. Whether I'm talking about space vikings or The Goblin Wars or some sort of space/Jedi game, I'm building a game to fill a need that isn't met by another game or system.

I have lots of reasons for preferring to run games as they're written:

  • It's easier to run a game when you abide by an accepted set of rules. Having a rule book as the ultimate "authority" settles a lot of disagreements.
  • I've come to find over the years, that a lot of designers had very specific ideas about their RPG concept, and failing to utilize the rules they've provided can drift the game into something different from what the designer intended.
  • Some might consider me otherwise, but I don't really think of myself as a "tinkerer" by nature. I like to deconstruct rules, try to figure out how/why they're in there, but I'm not one of those guys who opens the box (or book) and immediately sets about modifying things to taste. Maybe I'm lazy that way.
  • But I'm also prideful and arrogant. I consider myself pretty sharp, and I enjoy mastering a new set of rules, finding ways to make them work in interesting ways for my own benefit. That's not to say I'm interested in min-maxing things...working for "my own benefit" often means using the rules creatively to manifest my own vision. Like using 3rd Edition D&D to model Gandalf from The Hobbit (the novel), even though such a character isn't necessarily an "optimal build" for that particular game.

It is unfortunate (in my mind) that many folks can't or won't take the time to learn and run games as they're written. One of my many frustrations with 3rd Edition D&D was that no one besides myself seemed willing or able to play the game "by the book." I famously remember one DM who wanted to run a "high level" campaign and had us all create 15th level characters. During our first round of combat, he literally threw up his hands and said, "I give up," because the damn thing was too complex for HIM to run and manage with all the fiddly bits and rules that come from such massive stat blocks.

[and by "give up" I mean he ended the game and campaign right then and there]

And he was but one of many folks I encountered who failed, failed, failed as a 3rd edition DM...and not even the worst of them.

My copy is actually pink, not sepia.
But I digress. I suppose the word to emphasize in the question is "enjoy." Well, I enjoy running most, if not all games, as is. But if you mean "Which games do I most enjoy," I think I'd say Ken St. Andre's Stormbringer (1st edition) has provided me a ton of enjoyment, as is, straight out of the box, without any modification or changes whatsoever. It almost perfectly captures Michael Moorcock's world, as well as its themes and dark humor (you still have to inject your own tragedy, should you care for that kind of thing), and player characters are almost certainly doomed...but the ones that survive, even for a little while, always feel like they've really accomplished something. Which is cool and fun and enjoyable...if a little masochistic.
; )

[folks interested in my Day 7 post, should check out this link; only two more back-dated posts]