Saturday, April 25, 2009

On Change, Old School, New School, Same School, and High School.

I saw a guy I went to high school with today. We were in line at the supermarket, and I recognized him. Though it’s been 20 years, it wasn’t too hard. He looked and dressed the same as back then. Sweatpants, unlaced construction boots, long hair to his shoulders, and a black leather vest over a concert t-shirt. He even wore his hair the same, though it was more gray than black now.

It made me think of my Al Bundy theory. Al Bundy, from Married with Children, never did anything greater in life than play high school football. He sat on his couch, hand down his pants, and reminisced about the good old days. Life after that was all downhill to him.

I think that’s the case to one degree or another with everyone. I can always tell the age of most women in the town I now live in by looking at their hairstyle. Whatever age they thought they were the hottest-looking, determines their hairstyle for the rest of their lives. They keep it the same. Likewise for the guys, which is why we have a bunch of late-30’s early-40’s aged guys with mullets walking around town. There are a lot of women the same age with the over-hairsprayed feathered-back big hair, which, as Andrew Dice Clay described, from behind looks like a peacock’s ass.

People try to keep up with the fashions and trends to some degree or another, but after a while they just give up. I think it usually occurs at the point where they think their best years are behind them, and they just don’t want to try anymore. The joy and thrill of living life, to some extent, is gone or going away. Like that John Cougar (pre-Mellencamp) song Jack and Diane. From what I’ve seen, it usually happens when someone gets married and has kids, and settles into a regular job which he hopes gives him a steady dependable income. Fashion, hairstyles, tastes in music, hobbies and interests generally stay the same after that. Different things give them a joy or a thrill, like watching their baby’s first steps, or seeing their kid hit a home run in little league. Most people are too busy dealing with work, family, kids, dance recitals, soccer games and little league to give a damn about the latest in fashionable footwear. Besides, with their ever-expanding waistlines, it’s kinda hard to see the shoes anyhow.

Being a single guy with no kids, who had sort of a nomadic lifestyle, and now finding myself back in the town I lived in longest as a kid, I especially see it. Having worked a corporate gig in Manhattan, lived all over the tri-state metro area, and having lived Colorado for a while to “find myself,” I have a different perspective than most people I grew up with. Most of them never left the town they were born in.

My town is an old factory town, but the good factory jobs have gone. What was once a blue collar working class town, is now a place where people get by with a few crappy jobs to make ends meet. The foreclosure rate is very high out here. Most everyone I went to high school with never went to college, got married in their early 20’s at the very latest, had a few kids and at least one divorce.

I remember asking a co-worker in Manhattan, who lived in the city, why it was that everyone our age, about 32 at the time, who lived and/or worked in NYC seemed to be single, while everyone I went to high school with seemed to be on their second marriage and fourth dead end job? She thought it was because there was way too much to do, see, and experience in NY to settle down and start having kids. People were still too busy living and enjoying all that life had to offer to want to slow down and settle down with someone in the suburbs. And they had the money to afford either option.

Last year, to help a guy out, I had a roommate who was 21 years old. It was quite the experience, walking into the house at age 38 to a party like from my college years, seeing my kitchen table turned into beer pong central, and the living room turned into a Guitar Hero tournament center. While it was nice to revisit the college years for a while, it’s not exactly where I want to spend all my time. (I admit to missing the 21 yr. old girls in bikini’s in the pool though.)

Likewise for the freespending NYC years. Long past are the days of figuring “Hey, I missed the last train out of Grand Central, so I may as well hit an all night bar, then grab breakfast before catching the 6 am train back home to shower and change, then head back to work.” Truthfully, my body can’t take that anymore.

I even find that my iPod is filled with songs from various periods of my life---the Goth resurgence days of the mid-late-90’s, the New Wave of the grade school years, the Heavy Metal from high school, the Grunge from the college years, but not “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa. Not to sound too much like my father here, but I just cant see what kids today see in the crap they call music. I can’t seem to identify with it.

It seems I’ve hit that age where I’m settling in, in some aspects of my life. Call it getting old or giving up, but whatever it is, I don’t get the same thrill or joy out of the things I used to. That settling down is coming maybe 15-20 years after most people I went to school with, but it’s finally hitting. Along with gray hair.

On the other hand, I’m starting a new adventure in the fall. I’m opening up my own law practice, which is pretty exciting. I’m still doing other new and interesting things in other ways, and getting a thrill out of life. Just not in the ways that I used to. There are some things I just refuse to change anymore. In some departments of life, the change to the newest thing doesn’t interest me. Like the changing music scene, I can’t identify with it.

I think that’s why I am sticking with a d20 based 3.x rpg. We use 3.0 now, and are using Pathfinder when it comes out. I just don’t see the need to change my rpg. I don’t want to take the time to learn a whole new system. The guys I play with feel the same way. The latest and greatest doesn't thrill me anymore just because it is the latest and the greatest. My enjoyment of the game these days come not from the best build, classes combos, weapons, magic and spells. It comes from just having a beer and hanging out and "Imagining Together." Plus, it seems to me from what I’ve seen of 4.0, it is based on certain elements I don’t identify with, both game-wise and culture-wise.

My books growing up were Feist, Eddings, and Dragonlance. Not Manga. The computer games were Pac-Man and Asteroids, and later Doom 2, not World of Warcraft. The cartoons were the Superfriends and Scooby-Doo, not Bleach. After school we went out and played in the yard, or with kids from around the neighborhood in their yards, or in the street. We made up our own games with what we had at hand. We had to come inside when the streetlights turned on. There wasn’t a structured after school organized activity every night, requiring us to be shuttled all over the place by our parents. We didn’t sit in front of the TV or play video games all day and veg-out as like I see kids do today. If we did, our parents would yell at us and kick us out of the house, where we’d find other kicked-out kids, and start playing a game---made up purely from our own imaginations and what we found in the shed. Which I think is the reason I get a thrill out of playing WAR in the back yard with my 4 and 5 yr. old nephews, as we plan and carry out a water pistol assault on their parents and grandparents at the picnic table.

Sometimes nostalgia is a good thing. Sometimes, revisiting what used to give us joy and thrills, can still recreate those great feelings from childhood. The carefree years, where we weren’t limited by anything, bound by no rules other than bedtime, dinnertime, and “Don’t hit your brother!”, and still got a thrill out of the purely imaginative unknown.

I can’t tell you why 4e doesn’t grab me any better than I have in this rambling post. If you understand what I just said, then you know why I’m sticking with 3.x. You might even understand why I get a thrill when I make up a campaign with an old school AD&D/swords-and-sorcery feel to it. If you can’t figure out what I’m talking about, then just chalk it up to an old guy who’s losing it, and joining the ranks of the Grognards.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Future great DM's

With the reliance on rules that's been beaten into players and DM's since 3.x, and with the decline in reading in general along with the rise of the MMORPG, are we crippling future DM's?

I mean, even if we can get a DM to know and understand that the rules are advisory only, and he can do what he wants, is his background and experience in strict rules reliance going to be a hindrance to being able to freewheel it and go with his imagination? This hindrance would potentially apply to both adventure design, as well as to handling individual situations.

Not only that, but look at the environments OD&D came out of, as compared to today, historically speaking. D&D was created just after Woodstock and the hippies, where it was do you own thing, to hell with rules and authority, and "Screw the man!", where kids even in high school would blow off school to go protest stuff.

Kids today now have their lockers searched at the whim of the principal, and don't seem to give a shit. As opposed to just getting home from school and going outside and playing, using their imaginations and making up games with the neighborhood kids, they have "structured activities," from morning to night. Their lives are, to me, a structured nightmare. But its what they are used to. Hell, in my high school in the mid-80's, the kids had a smoking area outside we could go have a cigarette. Half of them smoked a joint, and the teachers knew, but never did anything about it.

The other problem is the BANE that is "Political Correctness," where certain behavior is frowned on by everyone under a certain age, because they feel they must, and not because of a personal belief. Even worse, for many, political correctness has actually become the personal belief system of what's right and wrong.

With all that going on, with all the "un-learning" that needs to happen with Gen-Y, GEn-Z or whatever they are up to now, it almost seems an uphill battle to get younger DM's who can really be good enough to get more people their age into the game and carry the hobby forward.

Tales from Megaconglomeration, Inc.’s Smallest Division. Chapter 2

Chapter 2. The 2pm Meeting

The pre-meeting meeting was already going strong in the Rec Room, a full hour before the real meeting.

“You mean he threw out the entire product line? Everything we’ve published since the takeover?” asked Jim from Creative. Jim was a worrier, and beads of sweat were already forming on his forehead.

“Yup. And the fucker threw it all in the recycle bin for white paper. We have the interns going through the garbage now. We’ll put the books down here on the shelves later,” said Heather from Facilities. Heather was furiously twirling the chain normally attacked to her wallet. Never a good sign. Her co-workers knew to give her a wide berth when she’s in that kind of mood.

“Yeah, and poor Molly did something to her shoulder lugging that thing down the hall. And she lost her health insurance with the last round of cutbacks and layoffs,” said Patrick from R&D.

Several others groaned in understanding. No doctor’s visit for Molly.

“What do we know about this guy, anyhow?” said Jason. Jason wasn’t “from” anywhere. He just started hanging around the office during high school. That was 11 years ago. Somehow, over the years, he managed to get a swipey card and an email account, as well as a cubicle.

“Standard MBA type guy,” said Will from IT. All eyes turned to the office’s top “get the dirt” guy. Will fancied himself as some sort of CIA analyst. Always reading spy novels, and generally looking secretive. “Though he likely has less of a clue than the last one, because he’s a Yalie.”

More groans from around the room. Most of the top guys at Mega were Ivy Leaguers, so they knew what they were in for.

“Well, at least we can bring back Buzzword Bingo!” said Stephen, from the Reception Desk, the office’s eternal optimist.

“He’s worked with various product lines in Megaconglomeration,” continued Will. “From old lady diapers, anal thermometers, hemorrhoidal creams to foot fungal powders, he has been around for a while.”

“Why him, though?” asked Jim, sweat building on the tip of his nose. Three people were watching it intently, waiting for it to drop.

“Well,” said Will, “my sources tell me that his boss was going on vacation, and forgot that he needed to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. So he decided on the 4th of July to make some calls. He got out his corporate directory, and looked for everyone who was at least a Director or Assistant VP. He called over 150 people, but since it was the 4th of July, no one was in the office. Since he was going alphabetically, it took a while to get to Small. My sources tell me that Small was in the office stealing plastic cups for his own personal picnic.”

Heather growled and swirled the chain faster.

“Anyhow,” said will, taking another step away from Heather, “he heard his phone ring and answered it. Because he was the only one who answered it, he got the job.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Jason. “Has he ever even rolled a 20-sider?”

“Unknown,” answered Will.

“Well, said Heather, “I found these, the good luck dice left to him as a gift, in the shredder garbage pail!”

Gasps were heard all around the room.

Solving the High Level Game Issues in 3.x

What if we just combine in a modular fashion the various versions of different systems and make up our own game? I realized today that essentially with our house rules, that’s all we really did. We houseruled 3.0 back to as close to AD&D as we could do, within the d20 rules, and kept the Feats and Skills from 3.0. We didn’t consciously houserule it that way. I guess our sensibilities and gaming preferences just lead us that way. Also, I had been on the boards for a while before we hit high levels with our characters, and decided that in order to avoid a lot of the common high level problems, we ought to do some pre-emptive houseruling.

My question, what if we went all out and did this for real? Let’s say our group took the base AD&D rules, flat out. Then added the skills and feats from 3.x/Pathfinder, except for the ones that obviously wouldn’t work, like magic item creation, things that deal with attacks of opportunity, feats that give bonuses to saves would have to be changed, etc.

First, would such a system work? It brings back the old school flavor, and gives the classes some differentiation from each other, which is one thing my players say they like about 3.x---that fighters aren’t all the same. Heck, we can even use the d20 mechanic for combat and AC if need be, but it’s not a biggie because we were all fine with THACO.

My first thought is that this eliminates most of the problems associated with the high level game that people talk about.

• No more of the big 6 magic items, and no need for them, because the monsters aren’t scaled that way against you. The arms race is over. There is a definite limit to AC, and HP don’t get ridiculous.

• You’d use the old MM’s from AD&D for monsters, with their simpler stat blocks. Also the monsters aren’t classed, so monster and NPC generation is a breeze again, finally.

• No more long combats because attacks of opportunity don’t exist, and there are far less iterative attacks.

• Due to feats, fighters get a bump up as compared to magic users.

• Magic is rare in the game, due to the lack of magic item creation feats---you are back to the old rules of hunting down the cobweb of a phase spider, dropping 50000 gp and then likely failing the check to make the item.

• This brings back the need to adventure in order to acquire magic, which lends itself to an old school feel game where the players adventure for killin’ and lootin’, rather than to “save the world” kinda crap.

• The spells are generally simpler in description and thus allow the players more creative use of them, making for a more fun game.

Does this work to solve the high level problem? What are the drawbacks?

As a side note, It seems that this approach could be used for all types of games. You like the OD&D rules, but want the spells from Pathfinder? Go for it. Once you break a game down to its component parts, you can pick and choose between them at will to get a game that suits your style of play.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tales from Megaconglomeration, Inc.’s smallest division. Chapter 1

Chapter 1. The New Boss

Richard Small entered his new offices for the first time. Looking around like the Master of the Universe he knew he was, surveying the magnificent ten by fifteen space (with its own paper shredder), he said aloud “Finally, I’ve made it.”

Just then one of his new servants---damn, team members, gotta remember that, team members---cleared her throat behind him. “Excuse me Mr. Small. Is it a good time?”

“Sure uh, uh, …”

“Molly, Sir. I’m your new assistant. We met yesterday. And also the day before. I just wanted to let you know that if there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know. My extension is highlighted on your phone, and my cubicle is just down the hall.”

“Thank you Holly,” he said, looking her up and own critically. No wonder he didn’t remember her. Couldn’t they have given him a better looking secretary? She had to be less than 5 feet tall, and 90 pounds soaking wet. No T&A to speak of. Well, as long as she can get coffee and pick up his dry cleaning, who cares what she looked like. Besides, there was that goth-looking chick in advertising, blue and red hair, now she would…

“No problem sir,” she said, interrupting his fantas…er…train of thought. “Just let me know what you need and I’ll be happy to help out. Will you require anything special for your first staff meting at two?”

Shit. He forgot about that. Well, he figured it couldn’t hurt to get to know something about the product he will be marketing. “No Polly. Just let me know where the room is, and I’ll be there.”

“Will do, sir. I’ll come and get you at 1:55.”

“Very well,” he said, as he turned his back to her and entered his palatial office, her footsteps fading into the distance.

He sat down behind his new desk, in the big high-backed leather chair, put his hands behind his head and leaned back. Like that scene from Scarface he always loved. If only he had a cigar, it would be perfect, he thought. Well, that and Michelle Pfeifer.

Much like a dog takes to a tree, he decided to make the office his. First things first. The MAJOR AWARDS. He always capitalized the words in his head. They deserved to be. They were, well, MAJOR.

Looking around he saw bookshelves which would be perfect to showcase his achievements. After all, he was the marketing genius who turned around several product lines, gaining in some cases one half of one percent more market share. That’s why they made him CEO of this failing division, whose name he kept forgetting. He just remembered it had something to do with sex. Shit, a marketer who couldn’t sell sex should be shot and left for dead, thought Small. He looked forward to great achievements in Megaconglomeration’s sex division.

Whoever the old CEO was, he was damn sloppy, thought Small. He left a tons of books on the bookshelf. Damn inconsiderate.

Small went into the hall and yelled “Holly!”

“Coming, sir!”

“Holly,” he said as she entered. “Can you get me that big blue garbage pail I saw near the bathroom?”

“You mean the recycle pail? The one for white paper only?”

“I guess. Just bring it in here and leave it just outside the door. You can come pick it up in 10 minutes.”

“Yes sir,” she said as she walked away.

Small began opening his boxes of MAJOR AWARDS and laying them out on the desk. All his achievements will soon be out for these envious underlings to see, he thought. They are bound to be impressed.

His fantasies of adulation were interrupted once again by Polly’s dragging the blue pail to the door. Good, it was about 5 feet tall and there was still room left in it.

“Thanks Holly,” he said turning his back to her

“No problem, sir,” she said while breathing heavily. He smiled to himself, thinking how she was already worked up for him. She must have seen him bending over to pick up the box. That usually does it. He didn’t spend 2 hours a day in the gym for nothing. Buns of steel, baby!

He opened the garbage pail and began clearing off HIS bookshelves. Hundreds of books and magazines were dumped into the pail. God, what a mess. No wonder the last CEO was a failure. It looks like he spent his whole day reading some sort of hardcover comic book series.

Having cleared away the last guy’s distractions, he shut the office door. He always liked a bit of privacy when handling his MAJOR AWARDS. It was an intimate moment for him. Almost like touching the real world manifestation of his massive raw talent and abilities. The fruits of the exertion of his indomitable will and understanding of human nature on the world. Much like the Greek Gods, Small Shrugged, and these awards are the result.

He always liked to arrange them autobiographically. It helped (him) when he told war stories about his branding achievements to have them laid out sequentially.

First, of course, the award he received from turning around Undi-Dry. Some made fun of him for getting an MBA from Yale and then taking a position at Megaconglomeration’s diapers for old people division, but he showed them. His achievements there were legendary. In one fell swoop, he did a massive rebranding of the company, and increased their marketshare .017%.

They mocked him when he told them that the sum total of the rebranding would be changing the name of the brand from Undidry to Undi-Dry, but his work obviously paid off. It’s easier for old people to read 2 smaller words than one big word, he thought, so why not use a hyphen? He lovingly held the reward for that brilliant bit of insight in his hands. A bronzed pair of Undi-Dry undergarments. The one-millionth pair produced. Just the thought of it brought a tear to his eye.

His thoughts were once again interrupted by Polly, as he heard her grunting and groaning while pulling the blue pail down the hallway. He soon heard more voices, and figured she must have asked for help. Off to a bad start, he thought, shirking her responsibilities on his first day here. Not a way to make a good first impression.

After placing his other awards on the shelves, he turned to his desk. Well, at least the guy cleaned the desk out well enough. There were only 2 things in there. One was a thick document titled “Detailed Overview of the Role Playing Game Industry and Swords and Monster’s Place in the Industry. Contains Competitive Analysis, Market Conditions, and MOST IMPORTANTLY an Understanding of our Customers Needs and Desires. APPENDIX: History of the RPG Hobby, and S&M’s Leadership Role and Responsibilities.”

Small shrugged, and stuck it in the paper shredder. It obviously applied to some other company. Though the S&M part tugged at his memory for a second.

The other item in the drawer was a velvet bag with six funny looking dice in it. Not understanding why the old CEO would leave so many of his kids’ toys behind, he chucked that in the garbage as well.

The monuments to his greatness in place, and the office cleared of all vestiges of the former CEO’s kids’ toys, he booted up the laptop and checked the score of the Mariners game.

NEXT: The 2 pm Meeting

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Actual Interview of the WOTC CEO

It occurred to me that since the answers to the questions posted really made no sense, almost as if the questions were to a different set of questions, that maybe there was some crossing of emails or something. I looked into it and found the questions that were actually posed, and matched them up to his answers. It makes a bit more sense now.

1.Please tell us if you decided to pull the pdf’s because you wanted to crush competition to 4e because sales sucked or because of general incompetence? Please state the BS reason you will give to your loyal customers.

The decision was made for both reasons. The piracy of our products was increasing at an alarming rate, and we felt that it could have a negative impact not only to Wizards of the Coast, but to the hobby industry as a whole.

2.It’s well known that the more pirated copies are downloaded, the more hardcopies are ultimately sold. I understand that the piracy of this book was not as great as the piracy of the core books, which you of course arranged by leaking them to the public early, in order to increase sales of the hardcopies. Ideally, you want a ratio of 100:1 for good sales of hardcopy books. When did the lack of good levels of piracy of PHB2 become a concern?

The piracy became a substantial concern when we saw thousands of copies of our recently released Player’s Handbook 2 being downloaded illegally within hours of its release. We cannot share sales figures, but I can tell you that we conservatively estimate the ratio of illicit downloads to legally purchased copies was 10:1.

3.Since the pdf download ratio was not as high as you would have liked to increase hardcover sales, what plans do you have to use other mediums which are more conducive to piracy?

We do not have any plans to resume the sale of PDFs, but are actively exploring other options for the digital distribution of our content – including older editions. We understand that digital content is important to our customers.

4.Although its miniscule, so miniscule as to be ridiculous---since it requires that your customers actually believe what you say, isn’t there a risk that your actions will actually intimidate the pirates into slowing down their activities, thus hurting your hardcover sales?

While we understand that our actions will not eliminate piracy all together, we don’t want to make it easy to acquire illegally, either. We need to have a strong retail base in order to support (and grow) the hobby industry. We hope to deter future offenders – or at least slow down their path to obtaining illegal products.

5.I know its your opinion that the customers get what they paid for. Since most of them pay nothing for pdf’s, due to the pirated download ratio which you secretly encourage to increase book sales, is that why you had no concerns about your customers feelings when you screwed over Paizo and RPGNow?

It wasn’t our intention to have customers feel as though they weren’t receiving what they paid for. Our understanding is that both Paizo Publishing and OneBookShelf are working with their customers to make sure they receive what they paid for.

6.After the community of fans and gamers finally merged together for the first time since your dumbass actions over the past years splintered them apart, and most of them now hate you, would you do anything different?

I don’t know that I would try to re-do anything. The truth is that the world is changing quickly, and as a business we need to be flexible enough to adapt to that changing environment. We have and always will continue to find the best ways to be responsive to our community of fans and gamers.

7.Tell us the web of BS you will throw out there regarding the sagging sales of the 4e product line?

We are very happy with how 4th Edition is performing. We have reprinted the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook three times, and PH2 is headed back for it’s second printing already. Ultimately our goal is to keep the hobby industry strong, and our strategy for that is to continue to create great 4th Edition products that will entice our fans to keep playing D&D. In turn, that will grow the hobby industry.

8.Tell us about the greatest money sink now at WOTC which will never prove profitable, and will necessitate the ultimate sale of WOTC’s D&D division to Paizo or White Wolf?

Electronic media will continue to play an even greater role in our D&D business as the months and years go on. Continuing to improve the D&D Insider experience for our customers and fans is one of our top priorities.

Along with the rest of the publishing industry, Wizards is also looking into new means of digital distribution. For our novels, we have recently introduced titles to Kindle and to Sony’s E-Reader and will continue to add titles to those offerings over the coming months.

9. What actions did you take to ensure that no one would be ultimately held responsible for this disastrous pdf decision?

The D&D brand is critical to Wizards of the Coast’s success, and decisions such as this are not entered into lightly. We are all very hands-on, and decisions are vetted through all levels of the organization.

My response to WOTC's response...

Greg Leeds responded to some very good questions from ENWorld members with some of the most useless answers ever.

My response:

Completely juvenile, but somehow very satisfying...

Seriously, look at this guy's background.

He worked marketing presumably luggage, diapers, toys, and now D&D. How can we have expected anything other than nonsensical corporate-speak from a corporate drone of his caliber and amazing qualifications?

How my resources interact with the characters personalities, and their motivations.

The odd thing about the new campaign is that it will be almost entirely city-based. The characters do not want to adventure in the classic sense. They want to sing, get laid, get rich, and get drunk. If there's a fight, so be it, but they wont ever seek out a fight. That's their personalities as they have described it to me.

As players they want some action, of course, but the characters will not. Dungeoneering will be rare. They will be city folk. Think of a lifelong NY City rich park avenue Manhattanite going to live in the woods for a week, and that's how they will view a wilderness adventure.

I am using the sourcebooks as described s resources, gleaning random things from them. But mostly, the adventures will be city-based. More along the lines of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser's Lankhmar city-based adventures. While I have the need for the occasional dungeon or wilderness adventure, it will not be the primary focus.

The city by its nature as a huge open dungeon where you can go anywhere you want at a whim, requires me to have more toys in my sandbox than an average wilderness of dungeon adventure would.

Remember, the 3 PC's are bards. They are in a band. A band with a decidedly "Metal" look and feel. They wear studded leather armor when performing, etc.

I shouldn't have much trouble getting to do some risky fights or dungeon crawls once in a while. After all, If Mordenkainen, Robilar, the Grey Mouser and Conan come out of Castle Zagyg with a book describing a magic item like "Dirk Diggler's Ring of Enlarged Appendage" hidden somewhere on level 4, if they play true to the characters they have described to me, it ought to get them into the dungeon.

At higher levels, I would imagine the penultimate quest would be to find the three most powerful magic items ever made for bards:

Ringo's Drums of the Throbbing Beat
Sinatra's Amulet of the Seductive Crooner
and of course...
Tenacious D's Pick of Orgasmic Ecstasy

They will desire these items as a means to increase their chances to pick up women, which is what all heavy metal band guys want anyhow.

Once they get the women, they will of course have to roll their Performance:Sex checks to see how they perform. A roll of 1 means they either can't rise to the occasion, or the performance ends after 3 seconds.

Afterwards, of course, they will have to roll a Fortitude Save vs. Venerial Disease, which a surprisingly high percentage of the population of women in Freeport have. At least the women they manage to seduce, that is. I have a particularly insidious list of types of VD to choose from.

The penultimate bard instruments will also help them perform against their Nemesis Band: The Block brothers, who are a bunch of Kids, relatively speaking, named Jordan, Jonathan, Joey, Donny and Danny. They will somehow always get the best gigs, and the best women, and thus be a level or so higher than my players' band at all times.

If while they are performing a concert in a bar the floor erupts underneath them, and a worm ridden by Fafhrd blasts into the room, with his sword buried in its back and him holding on for dear life, well, I guess they'll have to fight, huh? And then deal with that big hole leading straight into level 5 of Castle Zagyg that now exists.

Lots of ideas are percolating.

Article by "Matt Finch", creator of S&W. Posts as Mythmere.

This is an excellent essay on how to make the 3.x games more old-school in feel. I highly recommend it.

Article by "Matt Finch", creator of S&W. Posts as Mythmere.
************************************************** *****
Essay Time!
I'm going to focus here on what "parts" of Old School play can be imported into the 3e rule system, and argue that 1e and 3e have lots of similarities (skipping an aberrational development circa the 2e period). I'll also argue that there's a limit to the 3e DM's ability to create an entirely old school game without being unfair to the players, but that there's a lot of capability to get close with the 3e system.

1) Definition of "Old School:" "Old school" is a term so broad as to be almost useless. It needs to be broken down into a couple of components. To my mind, these are: (a) presentation in the rulebooks, meaning art and writing style -- the least important component (b) relationship between the character, the player, and the Game World (c) nature of challenges (d) correspondence between rules and purpose.

2) Relationship between the character, player, and Game World. This is the biggest and most important distinction between the three eras of 1e, 2e, and 3e. In early 1e, and more so in Original D&D, the character was a playing piece at the beginning of the campaign. Characters had no backstory and adventured in a world that's unbelievably deadly by 2e standards and contained more chances for sudden death than 3e. I wouldn't say that the 3e framework (looking at encounter tables, modules, etc) is a whole lot safer than the 1e framework, although it is somewhat safer. The real distinction is that 1e had many threats which could just "kill" a character. Lethal poisons, save-or-die traps, diseases that PROBABLY would kill the character at levels before cure disease is readily available, etc. It's the volatility of the chance of death which distinguishes the risk level of 1e from that of 3e. This might seem arbitrary, but keep in mind that 1e characters weren't expected to take on their "life" until they had achievements. You carved out your history rather than growing into a backstory.

History of the Development of this "Character as Pawn" concept. 1e and 3e are somewhat similar in their approach to the idea that a character earns his history and doesn't start with much of one. I'm pointing to the way the rulebooks describe the "flavor" of the games. Obviously the DM affects this CONSIDERABLY. In 3e, there's a lot more work involved in creating the "pawn," because character creation is an area of the game where player skill is required. The 1e "pawn" was far less complex and far more disposable in the player's mind even than in 3e. You didn't really expect your first character to make it to second level on the first shot. After third level, you're getting attached to the character and you have a REAL sense of pride that he's survived. Between 1e and 3e, however, there was a decade of a different theory of the game. It started in the late 1e period, but blossomed with 2e (and was rife in the 2e rulebooks). This theory will sound alien to most 3e players, but the idea was that the character was NOT SUPPOSED TO DIE UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Indeed, in Dragonlance modules, the "plot" could be derailed by the death of characters who played a role in the story. The focus was on roleplaying far over and above the live-or-die focus of 1e and 3e. Worlds needed to be rich in detail, for exploring these fascinating places tended to replace the brutal us-against-them attitude of 1e/3e, whose players expect combat at any moment. DMs who started gaming in the 2e period often have traces of this conventional sidom embedded in their methods; the idea was promulgated in Dragon, in the rulebooks, and everywhere. This generation of DMs was taught heavy-duty roleplaying and player-backstory rather than "carve out your destiny from nothing in a world that operates without your help or interaction." You could call the 2e method old-school or the 1e/3e method old school -- depends when you started playing, in my experience with DM conversations.

3) Nature of Challenges. As mentioned before, 1e contained no abilities that just turned on and functioned (like spot checks or intimidate checks). You had to describe what you looked at, touched, etc. Traps and clues were geared toward this method. 3e thus puts little emphasis on thinking through non-combat challenges. The 3e focus is more on combat tactics (much richer than 1e) and on parsing out the overall situation. This is an area where it would be very hard for a 3e game to simulate 1e without screwing the players. Your rogue player has to spend part of his initial resources on a limited number of chosen skills. If you de-emphasize spot checks, you are skewing a major part of the system in 3e. It can be done, but the 3e system is so integrated that changing one area tends to have unexpected results elsewhere.

Another point about challenges. In old-school play, it is a matter of player skill to choose what level of risk/reward they'll attempt. The best example is the dungeon level. Want to shoot for the moon and go down to level three when you're still first level, hoping for the big score? Go for it. This is also the case in 3e, although the written rules tend to create less variation in the levels of risk. In 1e, you could find some way-bad risks on that second level. In 3e you've got a pretty good idea of the risks if the DM does it by the book. Less chance of a total "we had no chance" encounter. The 3e rules need virtually no tweaking to get this part of the old school feel. Just put in a few lower and higher EL encounters within any given EL area.

In general, 1e players expected to face some risks that could just blow them away. Running away was an important part of planning. Know where you can use dungeon terrain to slow pursuers. Remember where you killed some of the orcs, and head back there with your next characters to fight the smaller number for the big treasure, getting your last character's scale mail as a bonus part of the treasure. 3e works like this, but less so. 3e players might even object to finding killer monsters because it's not balanced. The way to old-school your 3e game is to (as mentioned) vary the danger within a particular EL area, and explain to the players that reconnaissance has just become really important.

4) Relationship between rules and purpose. A 3e game can be made much more old school, but the rules themselves (spot checks, etc) can't be too de-emphasized without messing up the skill involved in character generation. Risk levels can be done easily, search checks can be made to depend on describing exactly what you do, etc.

5) Other stuff. Older editions were very archetypal. Your mage was obviously a mage and just didn't cross-train to give himself optimal respond-to-anything skills. He couldn't. He had to work with what he had, as a big factor in player skill. Good or bad is your decision, but there's a lot to be said for having constraints on your character generation. This part has a hugely different feel between 1e and 3e. Your skill in responding to threats outside your archetype skills was focused on changing your environment, not developing your character sheet. That vulnerable wizard hires some spearmen to surround him closely. Hirelings are a problem in simulating old school, btw. Putting ten spearmen into a 3e combat slows things down a lot. The more abstract 1e system allows much larger combats without adding much slowdown. I think a really good 3e DM could handle simulating this part of old school, but you'd need lightning speed resolution to keep mass combats moving quickly enough.

1) Restrict classes to the ones in the core books and eliminate the prestige classes.

2) Don't allow purchase of magic items

3) De-emphasize the experience gained for combat and offset it with experience for getting gold. Why? Because giving xp only for killing stuff means you don't win by eluding combat in a creative way. The reward system for players, the incentives, become broader and promote a wider range of "solutions" to things.

4) CONSIDER giving out xp bonuses for use of thieving skills, great combat tactics, etc. This in and of itself is NOT AT ALL like 1e, and in the hands of an average DM will backfire badly. What it achieves, though, is the result that characters level at different times, not all together. Sometimes one character gets to be the star, sometimes another. This is so big a risk for so small an old-school effect that I don't recommend it. However, that "I'm the star until you level up" was a cool part of 1e gaming.

5) Suck up their cash (they'll have extra since they can't buy magic items) with training costs, cost of riotous living, etc. 1e created a system in which you lived really high for a while, then faced abject poverty until you went out again. It felt adventurous - you've sort of got to see that in operation, I admit.

6) Cut down the number of cleric spells available. You might even forbid trading out your spells for cure spells ... I kind of like that development, though. Maybe limit it to one spell that can be traded out...I don't know. Something to keep the cleric's firepower in check. Cut out the offensive cleric spells.

7) Don't allow wizards to buy spells except for outrageous cash (suck up the cash). Wizards should have fairly limited repertoires and be forced to use them creatively rather than always having the exactly right spell for the occasion available.

Cool Look at Wilderlands of High Fantasy as the campaign if you don't want to make your own. I've seen it, it's very sword-and-sorcery.

9) Make them explore hex by hex to find places, making a map as they go.

10) Require dungeon mapping, and make them tell you right-turn, left-turn, etc. to get out of the dungeon. Make this worthwhile with teleports and lots of things that can misdirect. This heightens the sense of exploring. Yes, it slows things down.

11) Remember that there are doors that they just can't open, things they just can't identify, magic beyond the whisper of a pattern represented by the text. MOST of magic is beyond human kind.

12) slow down level advancement a bit, so that there are more combats and experiences between levels. They'll feel like they earned it and have more accomplishments under their belts by the time they reach high levels. In the current system, you can be a baron after a much smaller series of challenges than in old-school gaming. It heightens the sense of accomplishment.

13) Screw realism, screw ecology, screw explanations, screw economies, screw physics. The explanation is out there for why an ogre is wandering the city without molesting anyone until he sees the party. The explanation isn't what the game's about. Killing an ogre in a cool city brawl is what the game's about. If they ask why, tell them to figure it out. They may try. Their line of inquiriy will give you good ideas.

14) Keep everything local. Avoid planet-spanning evil and planet-spanning organizations of do-gooders. Avoid making magic into a substitute for technology. Great wizards might occasionally communicate through crystal balls and such, but it has no effect on the world. They don't hire themselves out to barons for use as a telephone. Since they're not part of a worldwide force for good, they don't even pick up the wiz-o-phone for their own purposes. Eberron is thus sort of the opposite of old school, and Forgotten Realms is pretty close. If you use the Realms, take out the Harpers.

15) Don't put the characters in constant or reliable contact with super-NPCs like Elminster or Bigby. Don't set up a situation where that NPC might ever, ever, ever, pull the character's bacon out of the fire. It's not a game of saving bacon; it's a game of keeping your bacon ... um ... raw, I guess. That analogy went to hell fast. I would eliminate Elminster from the Realms. Even Bigby only has local power -- some troops, a dragon, etc.

Finally, some sword and sorcery tips about the game world's flavor. You've already changed it significantly by not allowing purchase of magic items, potions, scrolls. Quadruple the cost in gold of creating these, too. Don't put your characters in the business of being manufacturers - it's an adventure game, for cryin' out loud.

Use place names from Arabia, Turkey, and Greece, mixed with a few totally inapposite European names like "Hrothgar" or "Lord Melchik." Use tons of traps and don't give experience for beating them. I said keep things local - and people have no idea what's within 10 miles of their villages. Oh - forget about a G rating. There are prostitutes and slaves, and the good characters shouldn't be incentivized by their alignments to attack "legal" slavers. Galley slaves and slave markets somehow add a lot to the atmosphere; plus, it lets you capture the characters if they'd otherwise die, if you want to give them that loophole once in a while.

What I'm doing to make the Pathfinder game more Old School in feel

I'll let you know how it goes. What it really comes down to is that I believe my group is sticking with Pathfinder rather than going "rules-lite" for 2 main reasons:

1. They like the cool character options it gives them in terms of abilities, skills and feats, which helps them to play a character that is not "boring", and who is different than other characters they meet. In other words, not all 3rd level fighters are identical.

2. My reputation as a killer DM who railroaded them around.

The first reason I can deal with. It just gives me as DM a different set of variables to handle. As long as the number crunch doesn't get out of hand, I should be able to handle it.

The second reason is just something I have to work on. What I've been doing to prep for the new campaign is get together a lot of resources which lend themselves naturally to an old school feel game. I am trying to populate my sandbox base, which is the Freeport setting, with as many different elements as I can. The more bits and pieces I can put in the sandbox for them to play and interact with, the more freewheeling and flexible I can be. It's going to be a RP heavy campaign, and the characters will not leave Freeport much, if at all, so the adventures need to be brought to the city.

For setting specific stuff I am using:

Pirates Guide to Freeport.
Wilderlands of High Fantasy.
Conn RPG
Hackmaster's Robilar's City of Brass
C&C's Castle Zagyg material plus WG13- Joe Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage
Green Ronin's Black Company

For stuff to steal bits and pieces pieces from, like NPC's, bars/taverns/buildings or dungeon rooms I am using:

World's Largest Dungeon

For flavor I am using stuff like:

Book of Erotic Fantasy
Tournaments, Fairs and Taverns
Book of Taverns
Complete Guide to Alcohol
Quintessential Temptress
Taverner's Trusty Tome
Encyclopedia Arcane: Nymphology
Complete Guide to Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

What I plan on doing is having many different options available to the characters all the time. At all times I want to be spinning many threads of a story through the scenes the characters are interacting in. This will allow them to do one or more of many things at all times, giving them the power to make their own destiny. These include:

1. The basic bar scene---including brawls, gambling, drinking and women
2. A dungeon crawl (using the Castle Zagyg boxed set, plus WG13, above)
3. Underworld/crime themes and storylines
4. Political (going to be mostly at higher levels)
5. Weird random stuff, as befits a city in close proximity to Zagyg's newly opened for exploration castle and dungeons.
6. Wars and rumors of wars.
7. Pirate related stuff--Freeport is great for both this and the underworld themes
8. Planar stuff---I envision this place as sort of a nexus of portals, like Sigil but to a lesser degree. Many extraplanar visitiors, either living openly or in disguise.
9. All my favorite characters from old school literature will be there, as well as some of the original Greyhawk characters. Fafhrd will be having a beer with with Mordenkainen and Elric in a bar, discussing whether they want to team up and hit Zagyg's ruins. They will all be low level, commensurate with the PC's own at any given time. This part I am especially looking forward to.
10. Random acts of senseless violence, often not related to the characters, but which affects them.
11. Dark lovecraftian evil, mixed with an old old history of the region. Cthulu in style.

As long as I have a big enough sandbox, I can handle any choice the players make. I'll just have a notebook of common resources, like shops, businesses, npc's, etc., so that I can always pull something out of my hat. I will also have a broad outline of what will be transpiring in the world under each of the 11 themes I listed above, so that the characters can jump into whatever situation they choose and begin to interact with and shape that aspect of the game.

There will be no overarching themes of "save the world", and no high level characters acting as Elminster did, nor any organizations like the Harpers. They characters are on their own, the world is a very dangerous place, and there is no one to look out for you. You live and die by your decisions.

MAgic will be odd, dangerous unique and rare. Less +1 swords, more Wand of Wonders.

Like I said, I can handle the aspect of Pathfinder having characters with abilities skills and feats. That level of differentiation is fine. The only hard part is going to be how that level of crunch interferes with the freewheeling DM style needed for the game. In other words, to the extent that it takes away from DM fiat and creativity and makes the players into rules lawyers.

I think the key to it is to handle skills in a different way. For example, Search would be changed so that the characters have to describe what they are doing specifically, and then roll the search check to see if they find it. They would say "I look for a hidden bottom to a chest" and roll a search check to see if they see one. That combines both the old and new styles of game, which forces the players to be skillful, as opposed to relying solely on numbers on a character sheet to determine their success. Player skill will be more important than character sheet skill bonuses.

Lkewise, I will be doing away with "social" skills like diplomacy, bluff, intimidate, etc. How the player acts it out will determine its success. If the players insist on having the skills in the game, they will be just one component of the equation, not the determining component.

This exerpt from the Swords and Wizardry book (the "clone" of OD&D, for lack of a better word) is something that I will use to guide my actions as DM:

"SWORDS & WIZARDRY is a free-form roleplaying
game, meaning that there aren’t very many rules. The
Referee is responsible for handling situations that
aren’t covered by the rules, making fair evaluations of
what the characters do and deciding what happens
as a result. This is not a game in which the players are
“against” the Referee, even though the Referee is re-
sponsible for creating tricky traps, dangerous situa-
tions, and running the monsters and other foes the
PCs will encounter during the game. In fact, the play-
ers and the Referee cooperate with each other to cre-
ate a fantasy epic, with the Referee creating the set-
ting and the players developing the story of the he-
roes. If they aren’t skillful and smart, the epic might be
very short. But it’s not the Referee’s job to defeat the
players—it’s his job to provide interesting (and dan-
gerous) challenges, and then guide the story fairly."

To the extent I can do this, with a game like our houseruled version of Pathfinder, which has a more detailed rule system than OD&D, and still run a game with an OD&D feel to it, I will be sucessful in my efforts.

Thoughts on the Old School movement

I’ve been getting into OD&D lately. By that I mean reading the older rule sets, as well as the new “clone” rules—OSRIC, Swords and Wizardry, etc. I’ve also been spending a lot of time reading old school- oriented forums and blogs. I think I’ve caught the flavor of what it means to run an old school style campaign.

My old school immersion begins as our 3.0 campaign comes to an end, and a new campaign is about to commence—a campaign which is going to have a swords and sorcery feel. Meaning, no heroic quests for the greater good, and no save the world crap. Just a bunch of bards in a band who want to kick ass, get rich, and get laid, not necessarily in that order. I thought to myself, finally I can get into the style of game I’ve wanted to do for 10 years. Since it was more old school in feel, and I’m DM’ing, I decided to go back to the game’s roots, pre-second-edition, and see what I could use as inspiration to help me re-create that feel, even though we are using Pathfinder rules (another story, not for this thread).

By way of brief background, I began playing D&D in 1984 at age 14 with the red Basic boxed set. We moved to AD&D soon after. The people I first played with, and learned from, had as their model the slaughter and plunder players vs. the killer DM. So of course, not knowing anything else, that’s the style I played with my group. I didn’t know any other way. We never did the OD&D game, nor had the old school feel in our games. We were rules based, and I became a stellar rules lawyer player. (Funny how now I’m a lawyer in RL.)

Most of the books I read back then were like Dragonlance or Ray Feist’s books, which are basically D&D stories novelized. I never read the older Swords and Sorcery style books which inspired Gygax until much later in life. Vance, Leiber, Moorcock, Howard were authors whose books I grew to love in my late 20’s and early 30’s. I credit D&D for getting me to read more history, and some military history, especially biographies, but I was never into military wargames.

I don’t think there is any way I could have done OD&D back in 1984, or even 1994. I doubt I could have done it in 2000, at age 30. I didn’t have the depth and breadth of knowledge, skill, and experience in life that would have made it anything other than a confused hack-and-slash mess. The players would have hated me. Much like my AD&D games were like at age 14-18.

Now, as I approach the older style of game as an adult, almost 40 years old, I know I can handle the looser rules, and be sharper on my feet. What I make up on the fly would be consistent, have a real historical background, would be interesting, and would be a game which gave the players lots of challenges and fun, without railroading them into a certain story which I wanted to tell.

I just finished reading an article which Gygax wrote in Dragon #26 which made me think about OD&D and AD&D, as well as the history of the game and my playing of it, in a whole different way. In it, Gygax talks in depth about the history of the game, where it came from, and where it was headed with AD&D. He says:

“Where D&D is a very loose, open framework
around which highly imaginative Dungeon Masters can construct what
amounts to a set of rules and game of their own choosing, AD&D is a
much tighter and more structured game system. The target audience to
which we thought D&D would appeal was principally the same as that of
historical wargames in general and military miniatures in particular.
D&D was hurriedly compiled, assuming that readers would be familiar
with medieval and ancient history, wargaming, military miniatures, etc.
It was aimed at males. Within a few months it became apparent to us that
our basic assumptions might be a bit off target. In another year it became
abundantly clear to us that we were so far off as to be laughable.”

He later says:

“Because D&D allowed such freedom, because the work itself said
so, because the initial batch of DMs were so imaginative and creative,
because the rules were incomplete, vague and often ambiguous, D&D
has turned into a non-game. That is, there is so much variation between
the way the game is played from region to region, state to state, area to
area, and even from group to group within a metropolitan district, there
is no continuity and little agreement as to just what the game is and how
best to play it. Without destroying the imagination and individual creati-
vity which go into a campaign, AD&D rectifies the shortcomings of
D&D. There are few grey areas in AD&D, and there will be no question
in the mind of participants as to what the game is and is all about. There
is form and structure to AD&D, and any variation of these integral
portions of the game will obviously make it something else. The work
addresses itself to a broad audience of hundreds of thousands of
people—wargamers, game hobbyists, science fiction and fantasy fans,
those who have never read fantasy fiction or played strategy games,
young and old, male and female.”

He then goes on to talk about the advantages of a clear and consistent ruleset, mostly stressing portability of characters, items and rules assumptions from one game to another, as well as the benefits for tournaments and organized play.

This further solidifies my opinion that I could never have played OD&D as it was meant to be played until now. Only now, at age 38, do I attempt it with any confidence of success. That confidence comes from having played D&D for the past 25 years, with all the various rulesets, and after having read widely on many subjects related to D&D, and many not related in the slightest. Most importantly, I think I have a certain amount of life’s experiences under my belt to be able to DM an old school campaign that will actually be enjoyable for adult players. Something with life, with realism, and with depth, which I could never have done at age 14.

I think OD&D for a 14 yr. old will eventually always turn into hack and slash. It has to. It’s a rare kid who has the knowledge ad experience to make it anything but. The natural outcome of that is more rules, welcomed by players to protect themselves against killer dm’s. I believe the more heavily ruled the system is, the less trust the players have in the DM. And I think that was rightly so back then, due to most DMs’ and players’ age, experience, knowledge, and level of depth they could bring to bear on their creative efforts back then. Likewise, since there weren’t many people with the background and depth of experience which those early older wargamer DM’s had, those whom Gygax was praising above, it was hard to make OD&D work for the masses, being mostly a young person’s game. Hence, AD&D’s rules and the evolution of a rules-heavy game all the way through to Pathfinder.

I don’t play 4e, don’t know much about it other than what I gleaned from these boards, and a quick reading of the books, so I feel I have no right to apply any of my comments to that game system. However, from what I’ve heard, 4e puts more power/control back into the hands of the DM. I think this appeals to veteran players because we’re all maturing. There is a certain amount of respect and trust that gamers have for each other when we’ve been playing for 25 years, that just wasn’t present when we began the hobby. It’s part of the same evolution which brought me to a point of playing a houseruled Pathfinder with as much of an OD&D feel as possible.

Plus, we're all older now, many of us have spouses and families, and bigger issues to worry about than who we can screw over or beat in a D&D game. Aftr a long week, I for one just want to kick back, drink beer, roll dice, and have a good time. I don't have the time to invest reading D&D books be a rules lawyer anymore. I'm too busy being one in real life.

Without getting all zen-like, I am really amazed that the evolution of my gaming experience has put me back at the beginning, where it all started. A place I could never have been when I began. I had a teacher who used to tell us “Never let school get in the way of your education.” Applying that to D&D, “Never let the rules get in the way of having fun playing D&D.” That to me is a key part of the essence of the old school feel. That’s what I am going to strive for in the new campaign.

EDIT: There's an old school smell in the air these days, isn't there? With Monte Cook doing his mega dungeon thing, with Erik Mona doing Planet Stories, with the growing membership in old school boards and the popularity of sites like Grognardia, it seems there's something going on. I think the edition change gave many an opportunity to look up, look around, and decide what sort of game they were really looking for. And play it.

XP for the bards

As for XP, I am thinking of awarding it for several categories, since it won’t be a fighting based game.

1.How well they make their performance checks for each song.

2.Proper song arrangement.

3.Cool new song lyrics.

4.If the players themselves sing a few verses of the songs (likely requires a lot of beer).

5.Fighting, of course.

6.Successful theft .

7.Getting laid (some sort of dice roll required to score), extra XP if it’s a nobleman’s daughter or some such target.

8.Roleplaying the characters well.

9.Living the lifestyle of a modern rock and roll band.

10.Gold, magic or other treasure gained.

11.Battle of the bands victories