Sunday, July 4, 2010

D&D and Roadside Picnic - an Epiphany

I'm splitting this off from my personal LiveJournal, so I'm going to post some duplicate entries here that were originally posted there. Here's the one I'm proudest of:

A successful D&D adventurer should have an outlook like that of the Stalkers in Roadside Picnic. This is what I aspire to in my games from now on.

The Zone, as the Strugatskys present it, is a place of terror and wonder. There is danger at literally every step. It is a place where an individual can find everything they want - maybe. If they are both exceptionally skilled and exceptionally lucky.

The bones of those who tried and failed litter the Zone. The echoes of the past, and the monstrosities of the present. There are wonders, there are unexplained mysteries, and there are horrors unimaginable. It is the Zone, full of terror and mystery, a crucible. It is not unlike The Dungeon.

And so those who thrive, in either place, require the same sort of paranoia, method, discipline, and nerve that the stalkers have. Their objective - wealth in a place of grave danger, where most who venture die - is the same. There are some who would use the treasures found to benefit others, and some who would use it for lucre.

Those who enter the Zone do it because, like Red and Buzzard, they don't fit into society, they are the loners, the wild ones. Or like Kirill and Arthur, because they have a cause which necessitates great risk. It's not a safe business where one does it just to make wealth. Death is nigh, and life is cheap.

"I understand what you've done here, Q, but I think the lesson could've been learned without the loss of 18 members of my crew."
"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed.
It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it's not for the timid."

-Q, "Q Who", ST: tNG

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rules-Heavy Games

Randall, over at RetroRoleplaying, just made a post titled THE House Rule for Rules Heavy Games? where he mentions a house rule which some 3.5e players have adopted - that when taking an action, the player has to have the rules for the given action immediately at hand, or else they will get skipped in initiative until they can find the rule.

Randall is somewhat aghast by this, as well he should be. It seems terrible to me as well - I have a sad memory of giving a friend playing in one of my early AD&D2e games 30 seconds to find a given rule, or else I would make something up on the spot; he flipped so quickly through my copy of the PHB that he ripped a page nearly in half.

I can't say that I never have to ask a player to check the rules on something - I am not that well acquainted with the precise rules of most of the cleric/wizard spells beyond "cure light wounds" and "magic missile." But other than those and checking a monster statblock in the MM if I'm running a random encounter and didn't have time to prep generic stats, I am generally not minded to open up the book and search for the rules.

I remember in my 4e game a year ago, play stopped for 15 minutes during an encounter because everyone was frantically looking up the rules for whether Power X was able to affect Target Y in an approved fashion. I say this with all affection and respect to my 4e group (they are an awesome bunch and our DM came up with some really interesting and creative ideas) but fuck that noise. To my mind, there are a few options for a GM in such a situation who's seeking to make the game fun and flowing: either make a ruling and have it supersede the rules, or make a ruling and check the book later (the Warhammer solution).

Way I figure...if you think that the rule is really important, then in all likelihood you know it or should know it well enough to fudge it. If it's not all that important, then just make a ruling, go with whatever is coolest or most entertaining, and forge on. I suppose you can look it up if you really, really want to. But you're damn well going to do it afterwards.

In an earlier post of Randall's, he offers this distinction between old-school and new-school gaming:

Let's say there are two major styles of role playing games. From a player point-of-view, the first (and older) style says "Here is the situation. Pretend you are there as your character, what do you want to do?" This style has been superseded over the years with a style that says "Here is the situation. Based on your character's stats, abilities, skills, etc. as listed on his character sheet and your knowledge of the (often many and detailed) rules of the game, what is the best way to use the game mechanics to solve the situation?" Old school play strongly favors the first style and frowns on too much of the second. If your game tends more to the first than to the second, it's leaning "old school." If your game tends more to the second than the first, it's leaning "new school".
I don't say that this is a definitive distinction between the two styles of play, between new-school and old-school gaming. But I think that having to stop and check the rules for 15 minutes (no exaggeration on the time) is a result of the tyranny of the mechanics.

There is a quote attributed to Dave Arneson, which is something to the effect of "The real secret we can't tell DMs is that they don't need any of this," referring to the various DMGs and so forth. I credit PARANOIA with teaching me this - the flow of the game, the story, is maximized when the rules contribute to, rather than define, the setting.

Cast off your chains and be free! You have nothing to lose but your SRDs!

...or something.

Who Is This Guy Anyway? What's This Site For?

So, just who are you anyway?

I'm a relatively young gamer who was introduced to D&D through the Endless Quest gamebooks that TSR put out way back in the day. While my friends and I played versions of D&D throughout elementary and middle school, my first structured, dice-rolling, gameplay began in 1999, when my parents bought me the D&D Basic Set's
19th incarnation, according to The Acaeum. Looked something like this:

(Photo credit The Acaeum)

Now, in retrospect, it isn't a terribly good boxed set - definitely not as compared to some of the earlier ones. Players are given pregenerated characters with no way of making their own, the adventures provided are nothing particularly compelling...but at the time, it was magic.

I soon picked up the 2nd Edition PHB and DMG...just in time for D&D 3e to get released in 2000.

D&D 3e/3.5e is generally the lingua franca game for my generation of gamers. It's only by odd circumstance that I didn't start there, and I'm rather grateful. Now, at the time I was very very righteously angry at D&D 3e - it changed everything and the game was just fine the way it was and double swords were stupid anyway. If I wanted to change to 3e, I'd have to change the entire bookshelf of old AD&D material I had managed to acquire. Who the hell played a dwarven mage or a halfling paladin?

I was also in eighth grade at the time. You're allowed to be whiny and silly in the eighth grade. Thankfully, I managed to grow out of my pique as I grew older; the release of cool d20 products (Babylon 5! The Black Company!) managed to get me to take another look at 3.5e, and I was finally able to try and engage the system on its own merits.

As I mentioned, AD&D 2e was what I started with, but through the delights of used book stores, I started to pick up some 1st edition D&D (and older) materials. They were pretty much directly compatible with 2nd Edition materials, so it made no difference to me; it was all the same game.

Around 2004, I discovered the excellent game PARANOIA. I became a moderator on the primary PARANOIA fansite, Paranoia-live, just in time for the new edition by Mongoose Publishing to come out. Between 2004 and 2008, most of my gaming focused on PARANOIA rather than any version of D&D.

Over the past few years, I've returned to AD&D and similar old-school games. I discovered that there's a very strong old-school gaming community (sometimes called the OSR, or Old-School Renaissance), and that there were some awesome ideas and concepts being bruited about.

I took some of these old-school ideas and worked them into a campaign world I started designing in the summer of 2009, called Legacy of the Bieth. (You can see the abortive Obsidian Portal website I made for the campaign here; this might get updated later.) I'm continuing to develop the campaign, as well as come up with cool and interesting ideas, here.

I hope that you might find these interesting!