Sunday, August 30, 2009

If you could play D&D with anyone, real or imaginary, from any time in history, who would it be?

Assume you could get anyone from any time period, either real or imaginary, at your game table for one night of D&D. Who would you ask to play with? What classes would they play? What module/game would you run? What version of D&D  How do you think it would go?

The question came to me just now, so I have given it no thought whatsoever. I'm really looking forward to your comments though.

First thoughts--

We would do TOEE, Against the Giants, Vault of the Drow. AD&D Rules.

Captain Kirk would play a Fighter, of course, who kicks ass and gets laid a lot, eventually getting his own pirate ship at 9th level instead of a castle or keep.

Ben Franklin would play a Wizard/Thief, who would outsmart everything.

Fritz Leiber would be the DM.

More to come...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Video Games" compared to MMORPG's and their influences on our expectations for our PC's

I received one of those "Back in My Day" spam emails the other day, but unlike the rest, this one was written for guys my age, 39, who grew up in the 70's and 80's. I guess I' m officially old now, since I have one of those spams for my age group.

Anyhow, one of the sections read something like:

"And in our video games your "guy" was a little square on the screen, and you never won the game. Ever. The game just got faster and faster and harder and harder until you died. Just like in real life. Then you had to start all over again at the beginning."

Remembering all the paper route quarters lost into Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Centipede machines, I am forced to agree with the truth of that statement.

Picking up D&D in the early 80's after such experiences, when a character died, we chalked it up as part of the game. That's just how it worked. Re-roll a new guy. First level.

With MMORPG's today, you die, lose some xp, but you don't really ever die, as in everything you've done up to that point is lost forever. I can't help but think that affects the expectations of D&D players these days. Maybe that was partly behind shift in game styles in 3.x to put more power in the players hands.

Whaddaya think?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

GNS Theories and RPG's--What a Joke.

I just read about the RPG theories of GNS and all the other crap Ron Edwards is puking out at the Forge. What a useless waste.

It reminds me of corporate group think. It reminds me of marketing departments and people with studies and excel spreadsheets and their fictional projections. It reeks of justifications for clueless corporate behavior. It's just some crap you tell your boss when your project fails, or to justify a new one and keep your job a little longer:

"It was obviously too Gamist, not enough Narrativist. We've brought in a consultant, and in the next book, we will have a chapter to address the Narrativist approach and expand the user-base. We project that because of this profits will go up by 4.7%, and we will meet our fiscal goals for the year."

In the meantime, you polish up the resume and start sending it out, because you know you only bought yourself a little bit of time before the new project crashes and burns. But hey, you'll be gone by then, right?

Or even worse, you're clueless and came up the ranks by kissing ass, being a good corporate pawn, drinking the Kool-Aid, and you believe the bullshit you spew out and the consultants that feed it to you. You use it to justify yourself in the eyes of people who actually ARE good at something naturally, while you just plain ol' suck at it. But hey, you know the fancy bullshit lingo, so you're just as good at it as they are, right?

Game design and great DM'ing is an art, not a science. Much like public speaking, sales, creative writing, painting, or other activities which depend on a person's inherent natural gift for something, you can't train someone without those latent natural gifts to be really great at it. You either have it in you already, or you don't.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach (and make up useless theories about RPG's.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Regarding Mentzer, Ward, and Kask's new company, and the Grognardia comments

In case you missed it, the old timers are starting up a new company which is going to put out generic stat-less modules, with a booklet inside with the relevant statistics for most every older style game system out there, like C&C, LL, OSRIC, etc...including Pathfinder. They may even put out a new game system. They are obviously taking advantage of their names, reputations, and the current "Old School Renaissance", and based on their plans to hopefully raise $250,000 in startup cash, they seem to have a big vision of where to take the company.

Thinking this is a great thing, I was surprised by all the negativity towards it on Grognardia. Basically, it seems that James thinks because they aren't up to speed on, and a part of, the OSR, he's not sure what their contributions will amount to. I was kinda shocked at that. He also seems to think that since the OSR achieved so much on a shoestring budget, why the need for $250,000? When someone pointed out it might be used for marketing, he said "If so, it's going to be a waste. I just can't see anything they produce being sufficient mass market to justify blowing a lot of money on marketing, especially when nearly every potential buyer will know of their products' existence through word of mouth and/or reading about it online."

This kind of thinking is to me what will keep the OSR in the hands and on the gametables of existing hobbyists, and not grow the thing with new players. It shows a colossal lack of vision, and perhaps bitterness that someone else is playing in his sandbox and making a bigger better sandcastle without the need for him and his followers.

If you read further into the Dragonsfoot posts by Mentzer, he goes on to detail more of his plans and outline a vision, that while sketchy and obviously in its formative stages, is exciting. He actually has plans to market this thing for maximum exposure, for multiple systems, and make money by selling good quality creative stuff to as many people playing as many systems as he can.

What's wrong with that? Maybe if there were older style games on the shelves you might get new gamers coming to play. Jeez, imagine that, huh? Pathfinder is a great game, but it is written mainly for the existing 3.5 player base, and can be daunting for the newcomer. So far as I have seen, the OSR is mainly made up of a bunch of people who used to play older games, and now are playing them again---for whatever reason. My personal opinion is that a lot of the movement was initiated by Gygax's death, the fracturing of the D&D gamers with 4e, burnout on 3.5, and a good amount of nostalgia as well as a bit of empowerment in that people feel they can create their own game they want to play now, based on all their decades of experience. Said empowerment being reinforced by a lot of other people all doing and feeling the same thing. Those people were simply added to the ranks of people who never stopped playing older games, and voila, OSR.

When you consider that the OSR is a niche within a niche within a niche, the potential market for such games is small. When they are mostly given away for free, there's not much opportunity to make any real money at it if you just keep its exposure limited to "...nearly every potential buyer will know of their products' existence through word of mouth and/or reading about it online."

Just because it grew from a couple hundred people to a couple thousand people with no money in, and very little money being made, doesn't mean said growth is meaningful in any way commercially speaking. It's still just hobby level growth.

Now, however, we have a few guys who were around when the original hobby that started it all exploded commercially. They want to recreate that explosion, see if lightning can strike twice. Good for them I say. All the best. The are taking a different approach to the OSR than the existing members of the OSR are taking. They see a potential untapped market, beyond a few dozen bloggers and boards full of people who are basically playing some version of a game they played 20+ years ago. These old timers think that the Old School approach to publishing modules and perhaps a rule system, defined by them SPECIFICALLY as "rules-light, very dependent on DM quality, heavy on innovation & enjoyment" might have a viable market outside a couple hundred people. They think that with the right amount of money, mixed with the right amount of creativity and business savvy, it can work and new people can be brought into the OSR, perhaps people who've never played D&D in any way, shape, or form before. They are treating the OSR not as a hobby, but as a business opportunity and the players and potential new players as an untapped market. They have a vision of expansion. Imagine that. You might be able to actually walk into one of the few gaming stores left, open up a LL or S&W based module, and have people who recognize the game and want to play with you.

Why the resistance to such a vision? Why the need to have the expansion be founded in the existing OSR movement's charter and bylaws as propounded English Common Law style by a bunch of people's blogs and board posts? Is it resentment that the playground might be overrun by the 3 big kids coming to play and the friends they bring? Is it hubris? Is it like those guys who always say "I like such-and-such band, but only their EARLY stuff"? Is it resentment to someone co-opting the movement for commercial purposes? To being treated as a demographic? Sounds like perhaps all of the above.

James made some comments on the differences in systems he will be publishing for, stating "Similarly, the scattershot approach -- "addressing many different OGL-based game systems" -- is, if handled poorly, a recipe for disaster, especially since many of the games cited are very different from one another, both mechanically and esthetically (not to mention the fact that several of them aren't in fact "OGL-based" at all). Any definition of "Old School approach" that encompasses both Savage Worlds and Pathfinder is, I fear, so broad as to be meaningless."

Call me unsophisticated and not a true connoisseur of the OSR, but to me LL, S&W, BFRPG, D&D, C&C, OD&D, OSRIC AD&D, 2E, and all the rest of the old school games or old school style games are basically 95% the same damn thing. Then you have the 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder world, with detailed skills, feats, and tactical miniature/grid combat as the main point of differentiation from the other games listed. All of those games are still so similar that you can mostly convert on the fly from one to the other while running a module. I've done it. So have many of you.

Disclosing my lack of sophistication in other areas and applying it here, I admit I can't tell the difference between most beers or between most wines. It's all alcohol to me. It all tastes basically the same, gives me a buzz if I take it in sufficient quantities, and I generally have a good time when I have a buzz. Same with all the older versions and clones of D&D. There's not a dime's worth of meaningful difference between them, I enjoy playing them all equally, and always have a good time. I'd play Rob Kuntz's Dark Chateau module with any system out there and have a damn good time doing so, either as a player or a DM.

Isn't that what its all about? Isn't it more important to share those good times with more people than just a small self-congratulatory echo-chamber of niche people? With the decline over time in new players to PnP RPG's, isn't any attempt to get people to play games of any and all systems a good thing? Who gives a shit if its not done one someone's terms, or within the auspices of the charter and bylaws of the established OSR? Sounds like snobbery, hubris and resentment. It's too bad.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thanks to Paizo

It's a minor thing, that probably didn't get noticed that much, but one thing I'm very happy about is that for the $9.99 they give you 2 versions of the book: one is a full book pdf, and one version where you get a zip file with a pdf for each chapter. I never realized how old my laptop was getting until I tried to look at that 100 meg pdf file. It's a nice little thing that really only helped guys like me with older pc's, which is likely the minority thse days, but it is much appreciated. It shows a lot about how Paizo goes a bit above and beyond, every time.

Also, I've gotta say, I never cared about art in any rpg book, ever (except the Succubus in AD&D--but what 14 yr old geek didn't ?)

The art in PFRPG blows me away. Awesome.

Thursday: The long-awaited Pathfinder RPG is released, and I get a long-awaited big promotion at work.

Coincidence? I think not....

Synchronicity, baby!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Facebook, Twitter, Boards, Texting, Blogs, IM, Email, Social Networking Sites---WHY?

I just added a bunch of rpg-related people to follow on my rarely used Twitter account. (I am at http://twitter.com/joethelawyer for anyone interested). I just deleted a lot of those people from my Facebook account, since I decided that I didn't really want to know that much about the personal lives of strangers, when all I cared about was their RPG-related thoughts. I also deleted most of my family members from my Facebook account, and created a new Facebook account just for them, because I decided I didn't want most of my family knowing all the details of my personal life. This caused me to add yet another ID/Password to my multi-page MS Word document, which already contained such info for 6 email addresses and their related IM interfaces, as well as DOZENS of Blogs, Social Networking sites, Boards, and all the rest of the Internet mediums of communication I make use of.

What a pain in the ass! And for what?

Back in the old days, when people used to write letters to each other, they took some time and put some thought into them. Before regular postal services, it could take weeks or even months for a letter to arrive at its destination. A letter brought news of a foreign or exotic place, information on loved ones, updates on the political, business, or socio-economic scene, and often conveyed philosophic/religious, scientific, or specialized knowledge or ideas. They were often many many pages long, and wide-ranging, touching on most of the topics above. Often, the topics were tied together, and discussed as an integrated whole. Above all else, they were thoughtful, and gave a person's opinion on something backed by facts and observations, and long conversations with other people with actual knowledge on a subject. They often were composed over a period of many days. Copies were kept as a record, and as a personal reference point. Such letters were passed along as a family legacy.

To be known as a respected "Man of Letters" was a mark of distinction. It was understood that the letters would be passed around amongst other "Men of Letters", and commented on in letters to their correspondents. Such letters even helped form the basis of the founding principles of the Revolutionary War in America, by creating an intelligent discourse amongst the founding fathers, and setting up networks which helped when it came time to take decisive action.

Compare that to the following:

Typical Text: "OMG she's so hot!" (sent to a buddy standing next to him in a bar)

Typical Twitter: "I wish it would stop raining"

Typical Facebook/Myspace: "Damn summer cold. Up half the night. Still it could be worse. Going to watch the Yankee game tonight, fold some laundry, make the kids lunch, read a book, relax, and then maybe watch the next episode of True Blood. I can't wait to see what happens to Erik! I hope he doesn't end up with Sookie, because I like Bill for her. They make a great couple. So romantic."

or even worse: "Jimmy Adams invited you to be part of his Mob in Mafia Wars"

Typical Blog: "Random comments about something I read in someone else's blog or on a board, shooting my opinion out there with no thought behind it, because everyone's talking about it, and I want to make my voice heard so I seem important and on top of things and relevant to the discussion."

Typical Board: "4e sux!" "Pathfinder Sux!" "Old School Renaissance, blah blah blah" "What are the 5 best modules of all time?"

Typical Email: Subject: Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: "Send this email to 100 people you know and you will win the lottery! It Works!"

Typical Instant Message: "Hey whats up? What are you doing tonight? What show? Really? I'm DVR'ing it. Cool. TTLY..."

The rest of the day we are either working, or at home eating, out with friends, or passively entertaining ourselves until we go to bed by watching tv or going to a movie, reading escapist fiction, or playing computer games.

What's being said? What's being communicated? Are we thinking about anything before we hack out something on the keys? Do we take our time and contemplate anything anymore? Is the means of communication making us less able to communicate well? Does it hinder our ability to think complex thoughts and tie things together? Does it make us more susceptible to black and white "us versus them" type arguments? Less able to discern the truth? More reactionary? Are faster, more instant forms of communication better for us as a society?

Doesn't seem so.

Why do we feel the need to talk so damn much about nothing of consequence in such an impersonal way? Does anyone even listen or give a shit? Do you know? Do you care?

Something is being lost.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Parental PC Tech Support---Uggghh...

Phone rings---8 seconds after I wake up in the morning, and before my first pot of coffee...

Me: "Hello?"

Dad: "Hey Joe, you know the Enter key?"

Me: "Uh, not personally but yeah..."

Dad: "Mine is loose on the laptop. You know how to fix it?"

Me: (Sensing an all day excursion to the parent's house if I give the wrong answer) "No. In fact I had a loose key, it eventually just fell off."

Dad: "Oh. Well maybe I can take it to Best Buy under warranty. It was my fault. I spilled coffee on it."

Me: *Shakes head*

Dad: "And I shook it upside down hard to get all the coffee out."

Me: *Grimaces*

Dad: "Ever since then it's been loose."

Me: "Hmm. Go figure."

Dad: "Well maybe I'll just leave it as it. I don't use the enter key anyway."

Me: !?!?!?!?!? (Well, after I thought about it all he ever does is point and click web browsing, and you don't actually have to type anything to forward 300 spam emails a day to your entire family, so...)

And that's all before the morning (ok, afternoon) coffee....