22 April 2022

Health Update - Holy Crap.

 Well, yesterday was 4/20, and the only thing 420 about me was my blood sugar.  OK, it wasn't 420, but it was between 200 and 280.  I've never been good at blogging regularly, as the spotty nature of this blog will show, but this year I've had issues with focus, and extreme fatigue, and now I know why.

  When I was diagnosed diabetic, my doctor basically said "Well, you're diabetic.  Avoid carbs." That was it.  No diabetes education, no instructions on how to take my glucose, no instructions TO take my glucose.  Nothing.  So I did what I was told, watched my carbs, took my Metformin, and took my Ozympic.  Eventually, we got my A1c down from the initial 13 (!!!) to 7.2, almost where we wanted it.  But by this point I was really frustrated.  For my A1c to be 13, I would have had to have been diabetic for a while.  I had mentioned things to my doc that in hindsight, now that I know my condition, should have been big red flags.  My office mate and co-author Bobby even called it because of all the tea and water I drank while we were in office.  So, I changed doctors, and got a CGM (constant glucose monitor) and learned about my condition.

  The CGM was wildly inaccurate for me.  But we got my A1c down to 5.5 and later 6.5, and it seemed my diabetes was well-controlled.  Due to my frustration with my inaccurate CGM, I did something stupid and stopped taking my glucose.  I figured with my A1c between 5.5 and 6.5, I was in the zone.  Well, I didn't account for the effect of getting off my weekly Ozympic shot.  Then I got so involved with taking care of all those things in life we take care of, I missed a 3-month checkup.  I started to feel really tired, all the time.  I lost my ability to focus, I could barely complete my work, barely work on my game design, barely get all those parent and adult things done that were necessary to keep the household running.  It got so bad I couldn't make it through a day without taking a nap, or at the very least nodding off here at my desk.

  My A1c had jumped back to the double-digits.  It's no wonder I had no focus, no energy.  So my new doc, wonderful as she is, prescribed me a new CGM, one that we have verified against finger sticks and put me back on Ozympic.  I got a CT scan to make sure my high triglycerides and blood sugar haven't messed with my heart.  I'm back on a strict diet, not that I was eating tons of carbs before, and drinking water and decaf tea.  The thing that has been frustrating, is that my first time around I wasn't taking my glucose, so I had no idea it would take weeks to get my blood sugar back under control.  I kinda thought a couple of days of water and salads and my glucose would be back in the pocket.  Na├»ve, I know, but... 

 Anyway, that's where I've been.  But I'm really missing being involved in games and gaming.  I'm going see if I can't crank out an article or two to get back into the groove.

02 February 2022

My D&D - Classy

 So, here is the part that gets ridiculous.  Classes.  There are so many neat classes beyond the classic seven in BX, and they come from many different sources.  OSE Advanced adds the AD&D classes, like Paladin, Ranger, etc.  Rules Cyclopedia lets me add the missing Monk with the Mystic class.  The Class Compendium by Barrel Rider Games has some classes well worth looking into - like the Commander, the Undead Slayer, and the Metaphysician.  But how many is too many?

The Baseline

  • Cleric
  • Fighter
  • Magic-User
  • Thief
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Halfling
So, we start with the classic seven from B/X.  I love race as class, but I also love race-class combinations.  So what's a DM to do?  Use both.  OSE Advanced suggests allowing both side-by-side if you can't decide.  So, one player can be the archetypical Elf, splitting arcane magic and fighting, or be an Elven Fighter, or Elven Magic-User, having the benefits of the full class and Elf race, but not the dual classes or the crippling XP requirements.  So, with that in mind, we'll look at the OSE Advanced class listing and add it to the list.
  • Acrobat
  • Assassin
  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Drow (but possibly Shadow Elf?)
  • Druid
  • Duergar
  • Gnome
  • Half-Elf
  • Half-Orc
  • Illusionist
  • Knight
  • Magic-User
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Svirfleblin
OK, so, maybe I won't import ALL of them.  The "dark" versions of various races aren't something I'm interested in having as a PC in my Mystara games.  Shadow Elves are an interesting conundrum.  They aren't coded "evil" as much as "different."  They are the lost clans, not necessarily Anti-Elves, though they do have some very different experiences and are connected to some things that would be spoilers to include here, in case my future players are reading.  So, no Drow, but maybe Shadow Elf PCs, once they have been introduced.

From The Rules Cyclopedia

OSE Advanced already handles the "prestige classes" of D&D, as far as the Druid, Paladin, and arguably Knight.  So all that remains to take from the RC is the Mystic, to fill the gap left by the omission of the Monk from OSE.  The Mystic will have to be adjusted so that the class ends at 14th Level to match the rest of the human classes, as it goes to 16 in RC.

From the Gazetteers

There is some cool stuff in the GAZ series, and since my D&D is rooted in Mystara, I want to accommodate some of the flavor classes.  

  • Dervish - A desert Cleric of Ylaruam.  Appears in GAZ2.
  • Wizard stuff from Glantri, in GAZ3?  Maybe?
  • Elven Wizard from Alfheim froM GAZ5.  Is this already covered by Class/Race split?  We'll have to look.
  • Dwarf-Cleric from GAZ6.  Same as above, might be covered by Race/Class, as I recall the Dwarf Cleric has some restrictions.  Of course, given the Cleric bonuses/penalties from Wrath of the Immortals, it might get even more muddy.
  • Master from GAZ8.  Kind of a Halfling prestige class.  Will it still work with the removal of the whole concept of "Reach Level X in Class Y, change to Class Z?"
  • Merchant Prince from GAZ 9.  I love the idea of a Class that isn't for killing monsters and taking treasure.
  • Monster classes from GAZ10, plus the Wokan and Shaman classes.  Again, we'll have to figure out how to merge all the stuff into one clean D&D Voltron, or just accept lots of exception-based rules.  
  • Merchant from GAZ11. Compare to GAZ 9, see how they look side-by side.
  • Shadow Elf and Shadow Elf Shaman from GAZ13- but only if the campaign "goes there."
  • Shamani from GAZ 14.  I like the idea of the Atruaghin Clans, but it's not the strongest of the series, and I'd want to make clear that, like all the pseudo-European pastiches, the Clans are not meant to represent historical First Nations cultures, just inspired by them.
  • Rake and Forester from Dawn of the Emperors.  Rake being a non-Theify Rogue, and the Forester being a human trained by Elves, so has the Fighter/Magic-User thing going on.  But- is this just a Ranger?  Is it a dual class?  Do I even want to allow dual classes or split classes?  OSE Advanced optionally allows them.  Will that be too much crunch?

From the Class Compendium

  OK, so we already have a metric shitload of classes- and only one of them is not already a part of Mystara, the Mystic, but then again, thanks to Voyage of the Princess Ark maybe it is Mystara canon.  Class Compendium is written for use with Labyrinth Lord as well, so the classes do go above the 14 level cap in some cases.  So there will be some tinkering and conversion involved.  Also- some of the classes I'm just not feeling, either because I don't really like the concepts, or I don't like the concepts in my version of Mystara.  In the Class Compendium, James M. Spahn provides some really cool stuff.  And not just classes, equipment, spells, a take on weapon mastery, and a take on firearms.  But what we're looking at here is classes.  Spahn organizes his classes by themes, and I'll look at each and note if I think it will work in my Mystara game.

  Arcane Allies

  • Alienist.  This is an arcane class that goes slowly insane as it grows in knowledge and power.  Very appropriate to some settings, but not, I think, for Mystara.  At least, not the way in which I would run it.  So, interesting, but no.
  • Familiar.  HELL YES.  This is a fun idea, the ability for a player to be the familiar for another player's spellcaster.  Caps at 8th Level like a Halfling, but has some neat ideas, and would be a fun roleplay opportunity.
  • Thopian Gnome.  Nah.  Again, I kinda dislike the "dark" versions of PC races, I'm just not feeling it.
  • Wild Wizard.  Maybe.  I kinda like the idea of undisciplined magic, and there's plenty of room for it.  Say, a barely trained magically active individual from somewhere like Thyatis where arcane magic is de-emphasized, or maybe some crazy new style of magic being invented by a Glantrian researcher.

Doughty Dwarves

  • Raging Slayer.  Maybe- is this different enough from just doing a Dwarf Barbarian?  There's some cool specific abilities here.
  • Rune-Smith. Definitely.  In Mystara, Dwarves are unable to use arcane magic as a form of protection granted them by the Immortal Kagyar.  But they do smith magic weapons and the like.  This class allows a PC to do such things.  There are rules in Dwarves of Rockhome, so I have to read both and compare them.
  • Warchanter.  Maybe- is this different enough from a Dwarf Bard?  Again, some good Dwarf flavor here.

Enchanting Elves

  • Dark Elf.  Negative, for reasons already stated.
  • Greensinger.  Maybe.  See Warchanter, above.  This is an Elf Bard.  More reading necessary.
  • Half-Elf.  Negative, already handled by OSE Advanced.
  • Sylvan Elf. Maybe. And Elf that uses Druid spells and has a couple of different abilities.  This might be a really cool way to show Clan differences.  Need to look at Alfheim and Karameikos and see if this fits.

Heroic Halflings

  • Burglar.  Again, possibly redundant by Halfling Thief, but will read it over further.
  • Feast Master. THIS is a damn cool idea.  A Halfling that can impart bonuses to their allies by cooking and brewing.  Very flavorful. Pun intended.
  • Huckster.  An interesting idea, sort of Professor Harold Hill crossed with a Ferengi and given Halfling form.  A fast-talking charismatic merchant style Halfling.  I think I like this one.  Strong maybe.
  • Lucky Fool. Maybe.  Just what it sounds like- a character that is more lucky than skilled.  Could be fun. Maybe.
  • Tavern Singer.  Halfling Bard?  I do like the drinking-related abilities.

Holy Rollers

  • Angel.  Great class, doesn't fit the setting.
  • Friar.  Could be a great class to represent the non-fighting Clerical orders.
  • Inquisitor.  I can see this sort of character belonging to some of the Immortal's faiths.
  • Undead Slayer.  Yes.  Hell yes.  Why?  Because my Mystara is the origin of Barovia, it was somewhere in the mountains of northwestern Karameikos.  Also- I love Castlevania.

In Shining Armor

  • Commander. Absolutely.  I loved the Warlord in 4e, and the 5e Fighters with Mastery Dice, whether through subclass or Feat.  This kind of warrior needs to exist the way my Mystara runs.
  • Dragon Slayer.  Strong maybe.  If I've got an Undead Slayer, maybe I should have a Dragon Slayer.
  • Knight. Already handled in OSE Advanced.

Martial Masters

  • Barbarian.  Already handled in OSE Advanced.
  • Berserker.  Already covered in some other classes.
  • Gladiator.  Maybe.  Need to look at Thyatis and Dawn of the Emperors.
  • Samurai.  Soft Maybe?  I love me some Samurai, but I need to re-read the Princess Ark stuff that includes the Japanese-inspired culture.  I seem to recall it was Rakastas.
  • Sword Master.  This would be awesome for Darokin and a couple other places.  I like the idea of a finesse-based Fighter.  The Mastery Points are a cool idea.  What do we say to the God of Death?

Monstrous Marauders

  • Dragon. Probably not.  Just not sure it fits.  Maybe if a specific storyline is being used?
  • Goblin.  Covered in Orcs of Thar.
  • Half-Ogre.  Mmmm... more or less covered in Orcs of Thar.
  • Half-Orc. Already covered by OSE Advanced.
  • Treant.  Kinda like Dragon, for me.  I'll allow it, but only if the story calls for it.

Second Star to the  Right

  • The Fairy and Lost Boy are there to emulate the Peter Pan stories.  Not really in keeping with Mystara.
  • The Pirate is a possibility, I'll need to take another look at the seagoing Gazetteers to see if this is covered better by, say, Ierendi or Minrothad.

Traveling Trouble Makers

  • Acrobat. Covered by OSE Advanced.
  • Explorer.   Sure. I like the concept behind this one.
  • Fortune Teller.  Maybe?  I don't want to step in the current row over Vistani, but if I am linking the Traldar people to the ancient Vistani/Barovians, this might work.
  • Wanderer.  This could be an interesting class.  Maybe.

Unhallowed Heroes

  • Cultist.  No, not in this setting.  They exist, but not as PCs.
  • Damphir. Maybe.  If I'm doing a Ravenloft tie-in, or a story about the Vampire of Korizegy Keep, I might allow this one.
  • Death Knight.  See Cultist.  They exist, but not as PCs.
  • Eidolon.  Again, they exist, but not as PCs.

Urban Adventurers

  • Bandit.  This might be an interesting class, especially in places like Darokin, where the roads are fat with trade.  Maybe.
  • Bard.  Covered by OSE Advanced.
  • Bounty Hunter.  Hmmm.  I like the abilities the author has given this class.  Strong maybe.
  • Watchman.  Possibilities here, especially with the Rumor Mill ability.

Virtuous Victorians

  • Automation.  Probably not- unless I decide to allow it in adventures involving Blackmoor or cultures touched by it.  Or the Gnomes- but I really never use the Gnomes much.  I find quite a bit of their stuff sort of silly.
  • Investigator.  Could exist in highly urbanized areas.  I can see this class being very useful for The Veiled Society.
  • Metaphysician.  This is the Van Helsing class.  I love it, and I'll include it in any Ravenloft-heavy Mystaran campaigns.
  • Shootist.  This is the one Victorian class I can't see reskinning.  I'm not sure I want to do anything with firearms in my Mystara.

Final Thoughts

That's a LOT more classes than I'd initially wanted.  Even editing out the doubles, the classes that don't fit, and the ones that I just don't care for personally, that's still a ton of classes.  Maybe I'll just go back to OSE Advanced only.  Or OSE Advanced and the GAZ series.  Or just OSE and the GAZ series.  But I do like so many of the Advanced and Class Compendium classes, and I can see them as fun options for PCs that offer some interesting opportunities for the DM.  I'll cogitate, re-read some material, and start cribbing out the versions of the classes that aren't already in OSE or OSE Advanced that I want to use.

01 February 2022

My D&D - The Medium's Staff

 

The Medium's Staff

An Attempt To Help Out The Poor 1st Level Magic-User

Here's an idea I've been playing with that I may or may not actually use.  I want to write it down to see if anyone else thinks it's kind of cool.

The idea behind The Medium's Staff is that it improves the utility of the low-level Magic-User, but does not provide such utility as to change game balance past the low levels.

So, the Medium's Staff is a magic item often crafted by an apprentice and their mentor as the apprentice nears the end of their long training period.  It is a sign of the esteem of their mentor to be coached through and assisted with the enchantment of one of these staves, and it is intended to see the apprentice through the early years of adventuring on their own.  Any Magic-User who apprenticed in a civilized land like Karameikos, or especially Glantri, has a good chance of having one of these upon reaching 1st Level.

The staff is permanently enchanted, and will radiate magic to a Detect Magic spell, but in order to have an actual effect the Magic-User must empower the staff daily by expending their highest-level spell slot available.  Doing so empowers the staff to use the following powers:
  • The staff becomes a weapon in which the Magic-User is considered to be proficient, doing 1d4+INT Bonus damage, but striking as a silver, not magic, weapon with no To-Hit bonus.
  • The staff can cast a number of 1st Level spells per day equal to the Magic-User's INT bonus.
  • The staff can be "programmed" with a number of 1st Level spells equal to the Magic-User's INT bonus that may be cast as long as the staff or Magic-User has any spell slots remaining for the day.  These spells may be ones the Magic-User knows, or ones programmed into the staff by their mentor.
So, obviously the staff isn't very useful to Magic-Users of average Intelligence.  But for those with an INT of 16 or higher, it's a great trade- sacrifice the single spell slot of a starting Magic-User for 2 or 3 spells cast through the staff.  But upon reaching 3rd Level, the Magic-User would have to sacrifice their 2nd Level slot for 1st Level spells.  Upon reaching 5th Level, they must sacrifice a 3rd Level slot, and so forth.  Thus, the staff is GREAT at low levels, but less and less effective at higher levels.

This might be exactly what a starting Magic-User needs to get through those first couple of levels.

My D&D - A Game Design Thought Experiment

 Jeez.  Over half a year since my last post.  Thanks, pandemic depression.  I was bad before the plague, but not this bad.  But hey, I'm here, I'm writing, so here we go.

My D&D

  So, I've been playing for 36 years this year.  I've played every published edition of D&D, plus more retroclones than I can shake a stick at.  So many talented folks are publishing their favorite versions of D&D, or not-D&D clones that reflect their own loves and preferences.  Jeff Talanian and Hyperborea pop to mind, along with all the great stuff from Bloat Games, all the wicked Swords & Wizardry stuff, and a universe of other stuff.  I am fond of my good friend James Spahn's work, and there's so much coming out that's based on the old school D&D engine but covering other genres- like the Night Owl Workshop games, Mark Hunt's BX stuff including Gangbusters BX, there's too much to mention one game at a time.

  At one point in my life, I'd have immediately said the 1983 BECMI game was my go-to D&D.  Hand me a Rules Cyclopedia and I'm good to go.  But over the years I've realized I don't want or need 36 levels.  It's just excessive.  I know it was a directive from on high that Frank Mentzer had to deal with, but I feel that the assumed 14th Level cap of B/X is just about perfect given that the Demihuman level limits are 8, 10, and 12.  What's my current ideal D&D then?  Let's talk about it.

Standards and Assumptions

  My D&D would have the solid base of Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials Advanced Edition.  OSE is an incredibly well-done restatement of the 1981 Moldvay-Cook-Marsh edition of D&D, often known as BX, for Basic and Expert.  This version of D&D is almost identical to the BECMI edition that followed it with a few minor differences, the most notable of which is an expansion from 14th Level to 36th Level, and the addition of Immortal rules.  OSE Advanced Edition leaves the core rules more or less at the BX level, but adds the option of race/class split, and additional classes like Ranger, Paladin, etc.

  OK, so we're starting with OSE Advanced.  What do I want to tinker with?
  • Adapt the rules and table from The Black Hack to avoid instant death at zero HP. Yes, in the Old Days, we ran through characters like my son runs through sports drinks.  It was a major accomplishment to live to see levels above 1.  3d6 straight down, baby.  But- it's 2022, and we've learned that story and character means a lot to the modern player.  Even a player like myself, who cut their teeth on the Old Ways of Our People.  I don't want characters to be as hard to kill as 5e, but harder to kill than BX would be advantageous.
  • Add Equipment from BECMI. Add scale mail, banded mail, bastard swords, etc.
  • Take a hard look at the Magic-User.  I like Cantrips in 5e, but so many things that were 1st Level Spells became Cantrips to port them over whole cloth would require a lot of rewrites.  Rather, I  want to see about giving Magic-Users some class abilities to mimic things like the Prestidigitation or Thaumaturgy Cantrips, or maybe a small damage roll-to-hit at-will magic attack.
  • Take a look at the Fighter.  I'm interested in giving the bog standard Fighter some flavor abilities.  Several old school rules sets from TSR and clones give Fighters additional attacks versus 1HD creatures.  Carrion Crawler issue 1 has a list of possible Fighter abilities.  I think I'll do something similar, if not identical.
  • Use the Mystara Setting.  This includes the Immortals, and the bonuses to Cleric abilities listed in Wrath of the Immortals.  Use some cool stuff from the GAZ series.  This includes the skills/proficiencies/etc. that are available to add some depth to the PCs.  Also, the rolls for social level and background, if applicable.
  • Adapt Immortal Rules- Adapt the paths to Immortality to the 14-level paradigm.
What else will I do?  Not sure.  But here's where I'm going to start.  Let's see where it goes.

09 June 2021

Chainmail: My First Engagement

  Last week I attended North Texas RPG Con, and it was a much-needed breath of freedom and return to gaming in person.  NT is a big family, and we all revel in the love of old-school games.  This year I got to play three games for the first time that I had never before tried: Champions 4th Edition, Gamma World 1st Edition, and Chainmail.  I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of these games, but I felt like I needed to write my feelings on Chainmail as it is a foundational piece of the original 1974 D&D rules.

  Thanks to the debacle that was RPG Labs and the ill-fated video series I was involved with, I have played 1974 D&D using the Chainmail combat tables.  It was extremely illuminating to my understanding of where many of our terms and mechanics come from.  But I'd yet to actually throw down some miniatures and play out a battle using Chainmail.  Our referee was Paul Stormberg, who deftly explained the basics and gave us the choice of three armies - Europeans, Mongols, and... I can't remember because they didn't get chosen.  My was teamed with James and his daughter Neve, who we quickly named our General.  We grabbed the Mongol army.  Our opponents, the Europeans, were Robin, David, and Scott.

  Each team had 100 points with which to build our forces.  We chose two units of five archer figurines, a unit of five horse archers (an option not available to our European enemies), a unit of five medium cavalry, and a unit of heavy infantry.

Our opponents had two units not available to us: a pair of knights, much higher quality fighters than our infantry, and a 10-figure unit of crossbowmen.  These gave us beaucoup trouble, as you'll see here in a moment.  After unit selection  came terrain.  Paul had us draw four random terrain features from a deck for each side of the map, and drew the indicated features onto the battlemat with a wet-erase.  We ended up with a battlefield that had two hills facing one another on the eastern end, relatively flat terrain through the middle, and a hill opposing a marsh on the western end.  Center-right on our side was a ditch Paul ruled we could use to conceal troops- but they could only exit into the center of the map, northward.

General Neve listened to her advisors, and decided to conceal our horse archers in the arroyo, our medium horse behind the hill, and our archers just beneath the summit so they could deploy to the northern face of the hill and take advantage of the range bonus they would get from elevation.  Once we deployed (or didn't, as none of our troops were visible) the European team deployed.  The odd thing is, we were able to deploy hidden units, yet we were somehow the attacker...  Anyway...

The Europeans send their medium horse off to their right flank, but brought the bulk of their force face-to-face with our army holding the hill.  Their infantry charged, and we cut them to pieces with concentrated arrow fire.  That was the best result we got for the entire engagement, for it was at this juncture our opponents realized their crossbowmen outranged our archers by several inches.  They moved up and starting showering us with arrows.

At this point, we revealed our horse units, and charged with our infantry.  The idea was that the crossbowmen would have to split fire or choose one or the other threat to deal with.  They countercharged with their heavy horse, and our medium horse met them after some archery shenanigans.  Our infantry was reduced to two figures, who then refused to fail a morale check and fought to the death.  Our horse archers did respectable damage with their bows, but got in too close and were engaged in  melee by the European medium horse.  The force mismatch in both cavalry battles meant our cav didn't last too long.  Victory: Europeans.  But General Neve's forces did quite a bit of damage before accepting defeat.

So, now that I've played Chainmail, how do I feel about it?

This game is definitely an artifact of it's time.  There are many charts and tables, and different mechanics for different troop types and engagements.  This makes it difficult to get a hang of the game for a first-timer.  I imagine if I played it more often, I'd get the hang of it.  Sometimes the results were static, and sometimes random.  That was interesting, and made me want to look closer at the troop versus troop tables to see if there were combinations that offered a guaranteed disadvantage.  Medium Horse versus Heavy was brutal, as was Light Horse versus Medium.  Archery was suitably brutal, and the crossbows trading the ability to fire twice in a turn (once as a reaction and once on their fire phase) for range was certainly a compelling choice.

I found the amount of movement cavalry had to sacrifice to change direction extremely restrictive.  1/4 move for up to 45 degrees, 1/2 move for 46 to 90, and all movement for 180 degrees.  This seemed overly restrictive given the ranges of our cavalry on both sides, and had a major effect on the employment of the cavalry by the combatants.

So... would I play it again?  Sure.  Especially if I was playing with others who are exploring it for the historical context.  If I am going to play a miniatures game for its own sake, this would probably not be my first choice of rules set.  But it was enjoyable, and informed my feel for what people were playing as our hobby dawned.






13 April 2021

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes...

 Nothing remains quite the same.

  As I write this entry, I'm sitting in my game room.  Or, what was once my game room.  Over the last year this space has transformed into a home office, schoolhouse, and dumping ground for everything else in the house on its way to or from storage, or Home Depot or Ikea.  The Pandemic has done a number on this room, and I feel like my soul resembles this room quite a bit.  In the same way that Strahd von Zarovich is the land, I feel the state of the One-Eyed Ogre, as we call the game room, mirrors my mental and spiritual health.

  I, too, am cluttered.  I, too, and pulled in so many directions.  I'm serving as an educational paraprofessional to both kids- one of which is ADHD, the other in the throes of puberty and pre-teen angst, and both dyslexic.  I'm trying to keep my actual job duties rolling, which requires doing my work on evenings and weekends most weeks since my days are filled with keeping the kids awake (Zane) and on task (both, but especially Kaylee.)  We're doing some necessary remodeling after our 40-year-old guest shower tub cracked right through the bottom, and that project has experienced some mission creep.  We're just fortunate we have a friend who is a Master Plumber and he knew a great tile person.  On top of that, we're trying to refi the house to take advantage of the ridiculously low interest rates, and pull out some equity to refit the rest of the house, since moving in the Austin housing market is priced for people who make a lot more money than I do, or people willing to live a lot farther out than I am.  Add to that the insane amount of social and political turmoil that has wormed its way into the tabletop community just as it has every other facet of American life... 

So what does this have to do with gaming?  Quite a bit, on a personal level.  I find that I lack the capacity for the way I gamed before all of this set in.  And by all of it, I don't just mean the pandemic, I mean all the politics, all the associated stresses, me sitting here instead of my office on campus, all of it.

Before all of this, I'd run any game for any group.  As a founding member of the Royal Dragoon Guards, way back when we were the Caladan Highland Dragoons, I have run big games for big groups for 25 years now.  As the main GM all that time, it has been my duty to entertain the masses, and for the most part I loved it.  I still look back at those unwieldy games where we had 15, 20 players or more in massive MechWarrior RPG campaigns that had Battletech battles that took up an entire activity center floor at our apartment complex.  Our campaigns felt like the early novels, and we were like the Kell Hounds or the Gray Death Legion.  It was glorious.  Many Arby's 5-for-5s and Taco Bell 59/79/99 menu items died to bring us those days.

As we got older, our games got less ambitious, with the first RDG campaign under that name having only 17 players.  Then we broke into smaller groups, and branched out into games aside from MechWarrior.  This drew in more players, and somewhere along the line I ended up being the backstop GM.  Other GMs had a solid stable of players for their games, and I ran the games for whoever was left.  Which was more often than non a revolving door of casual players, who may or may not consistently attend.  This also meant it was very difficult to do things that weren't one-shots or at most West Marches-style games.  It started to erode my morale a bit, but I have always been a "The Show Must Go On" kind of GM, so we kept it going.

Everything shutting down had some unexpected effects.  With our technology, we should have been able to just transition to Zoom or Discord and keep rolling, and we tried that.  But the lack of in-person contact made meetings feel off somehow.  Individual groups kept gaming, but as a whole our group fractured a bit.  Pandemic fatigue set in, and it was hard to get enthusiasm for anything.  We offered several online options, and very few of them were put to use with any enthusiasm.  When we got to election time in January, the group decided to call 2020 a do-over and just let the 2020-2021 staff roll into 2021-22.

I tried running a 5e campaign.  It died.  I tried running a couple of other games, they never took off.  I got a Star Trek Adventures game going recently, and that's showing some promise as the pandemic thaws.  But for months, I was without a regular game, and in some cases even one-shots or anything, and I started to think about my role as the Game Master by default over the last 25 years.

I realized I'm tired.  I'm frustrated.  And the kind of gaming I was doing right before the pandemic happened wasn't really satisfying me then.  What I need is to get back to what drew me into gaming in the first place.  I need to get back to playing for the love of the game, with good friends, and an ongoing story.  Crafting a tale together that we will recount over drinks for years to come.

And it doesn't have to be anything fancy.  A scrappy group of mercenary MechWarriors, a bog-standard BX Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  Maybe a Traveller game with elements of Firefly and Cowboy Bebop.

Or maybe fancy would be cool.  Run Dragonlance, the original campaign.  Or Beyond The Mountains of Madness for Call of Cthulhu.  

Dig up old favorites, like Marvel Superheroes, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers.

New hotness like Against the Darkmaster, Dune, or Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

There's always Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics.

But the bottom line is, no matter what I run, or play, I want to make sure of a few things.  The players have to be onboard with the genre and tone of the campaign.  I am so sick of dealing with players that create characters completely unsuitable for the game being pitched.  If a game isn't your cup of tea, play in or run a different game.  If the GM and five out of six players want to do The Hunt for Red October, don't do Down Persicope.  Run your own Down Periscope game, and make it the funniest, most irreverent game ever.

Gaming is a group activity, and it's time I ran games I want to run again, rather than selecting my game and players based on entertaining the maximum number of people with the lowest common denominator game.  That's part of the job as president of a big gaming club.  I know that, and I've done it for many years.  But for me, myself, I've got to get back to what I love about games and gaming.  I've got to pitch games I want to run, and run them for the players who are interested in that game, genre, and tone.  And if one or two individuals aren't interested, that's fine.  There will be other games, other GMs, and other players.  I have been of the mindset that I need to cater to the masses in the name of keeping the club as entertained as possible.  And I think that is still a worthy goal- but it should be a goal that is shared with other Game Masters and not on the shoulders of any one person.

And at this point, coming out the far side of a year-plus without sitting at a table and rolling dice?  It almost feels like rebuilding from scratch anyway.  So, maybe the silver lining of this dark cloud is that we rethink the way we do our games as an organization, and do them more like regular campaigns. 


01 March 2021

Back to Basics - Old School Essentials

 

As my chronicle of experience with roleplaying records, I began gaming with the 1983 D&D Basic and Expert sets in 1986.  It was only later I got a copy of the 1981 versions of those sets, and for, oh, decades, when I played "Basic" D&D I was playing a version of BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortals) D&D.  The original boxed sets, the Rules Cyclopedia, or the Black Boxed Set from 1991.  It wasn't until I started to really look into the history of the game for its own sake that I began to look closely at the 1981 Tom Moldvay Basic and the 1977 Holmes Basic books as more than curiosities, as they'd predated my involvement with the hobby.

As a younger gamer, I enjoyed ever more complicated games.  Basic D&D took me to Advanced D&D, Palladium Fantasy, Rolemaster, and GURPS.  Palladium had a different fighting style for each fighting class (this was before the RIFTS-ification of their 2nd edition), Rolemaster had those amazing critical tables, and GURPS combat rounds were second by second, with an allegedly "realistic" approach.  I ate it up.  Loved every minute of it.  On the not-fantasy side, I loved crunch in other games.  I built many ships for Star Trek and Traveller, designed BattleMechs and Car Wars cars, and even tinkered together my own set of rules for the old Wheeled Warriors toys to give stats to all the interchangeable gear included with the toys.

At the pinnacle of this love of crunch in my rules, I had a spreadsheet for tracking maintenance hours for a BattleMech company, down to assigning individual techs to individual 'Mechs and prioritizing certain repairs.  I had a set of parts compatibility rules for BattleMech parts - need a knee for your Wasp?  Well, that Stinger knee is nearly identical, but the Locust knee will need a lot of modification.  I had a spreadsheet to calculate the prices of parts and ammo depending on location within the Inner Sphere - it took the table from MW 1e and expanded the variables to include Traveller-type planet classifications.  I even used The Robotech Reference Guide to engineer GURPS stats for Robotech weapons by mathing out explosive yield to mega-joules of energy and cross referencing that with GURPS existing stats for sci-fi weapons, and their rules for damage based on TNT.

I look back now, and I'm proud of about half of it, and horrified that I wasted time on the other half.  This brings me to where I am now in my head.

There is still a big part of me that wants to know if the players are carrying enough rations, water, arrows, etc. for their journey.  I played enough Oregon Trail as a kid and did enough backpacking in Scouts to feel like being prepared is an integral part of any adventure.  I like the need to plan an expedition, to give the situation some thought.  At the same time, though, my gaming time is extremely limited in comparison to my younger years.  Gotta get the bang for the buck, time-to-fun-ratio wise.

Enter my growing love affair with BX and derivatives thereof.  The Basic/Expert rules set is cleaner (arguably) than Holmes, is the bones upon which the BECMI edition was based, but only goes to Level 14 for humans, rather than the 36 of BECMI.  This has many effects, not the least of which is a less punishing (but still frustrating) Thief skill progression, less disparity between the Demihuman class level limits vs. humans, and less of a massive gulf between starting characters and max-levels.  Remember, Level 3 is more or less a fully trained professional if you take the level titles into account, like Priest, and level 4 is Hero according to the Fighter progression.

The more I read the editions before mine, the more I grew to respect their place in the D&D lineage, and understand more about the hobby as it was, and as it is now.  Now that I've played the original 1974 rules with Chainmail, and Holmes, and Moldvay, I find that there are things I enjoy quite a bit about all of them, but especially Moldvay's BX.  This has been cloned quite a bit - Labyrinth Lord, B/X RPG, and more.  But the version that has stolen my heart is Old School Essentials.

Now, I won't turn my nose up at the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as my "Desert Island" all-in-one-volume book.  But I find that I rarely use levels above 9 or 10, if that high, and that while I love The War Machine rules for mass battles, I don't use the weapons expertise rules as written in BECMI as they are sometimes quite overpowering to the campaign, especially at high levels.  This is where the current single-volume version of Old School Essentials comes in.  OSE takes the form of a smaller-than-standard book, A5 or Digest size, clocking in at 296 pages.  It's got some color plates, and sewn-in cloth bookmarks.  Swanky.

Why choose OSE over other implementations of BX, or BX itself?  Well, it's a one-volume hardcover that takes those rules and restates them with 100% fidelity where possible, and when there were contradictions between the Basic and Expert rulebooks, or between two entries in the same rulebook, a decision or correction was made.  The end result is an eminently easier volume in which to find things, with a full index and straightforward organization.  There is also a player's version of the rules, with the DM-specific information excluded.

This book gives me a solid foundation for a simple D&D game that lacks the arcane complexity other versions of D&D, even other vintage versions, include.  AD&D is something I also love, and OSE scratches that itch as well with their Advanced Fantasy books.  These take the BX core and add concepts from AD&D to it.  So, this isn't OSRIC, it's not a rules-faithful AD&D clone, it's a rules-faithful BX clone with AD&D concepts.  And that's... pretty cool, actually.  Like, if you want full-on AD&D, you can go with AD&D or OSRIC.  But if you want something where you can remember all the Ability Score modifiers in your head, go OSE with the Advanced Fantasy books.

There is a big part of me that wants to go back to the simplicity of a straightforward fantasy campaign like the ones we played in the 80s.  Like the pure joy we see in the Stranger Things crew or Michael's friends in E.T. gathered around a table and rolling dice.  I am those kids - I remember many carefree evenings and afternoons with close friends, tossing dice and slaying foul creatures.  Before I had to worry about bills, or pandemics, or diabetes.  Hell, all we worried about back then was nuclear annihilation.  No big.

I'd love to sit down with a band of chosen family, roll up characters, and save the world Old School.  I think the BX iteration of D&D strikes a pretty clean balance between enough rules to do stuff, and not so many rules as to get in the way.  I still love my BECMI, but 36 levels is just excessive in practice.  I say that, and still want to run a game where the players ascend to immortality.  Maybe I can make that happen at BX levels...  Hmmm...

Anyway, Old School Essentials hits a sweet spot with me.  A nice, well-organized hardcover that can supplement my Lulu one-volume prints of Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert.  Thumbs up from me.