Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Female Gamers Go Back a Ways

[Since this has something to do with RPGs and something to do with miniatures gaming, I'm cross-posting it to both my gaming blogs.]

I've been slowly making my way through Jon Peterson's magnificent Playing at the World, a deep and scholarly (yet readable) account of the origins of role-playing games that goes all the way back to 18th-century chess variants and the emergence of genre literature and then traces things up through to the publication of the original boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a gaming nerd's dream, frankly.

One thing I've been taking away from my readings so far (I'm about halfway through) is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back during the whole "Consultancygate" brouhaha in July, for example, I just happened to be reading a section that touched on some of the infighting in the nascent gaming community following the publication of D&D, wherein two camps emerged, divided between the old guard wargamers and the more counterculture-inspired RPGers, both of whom claimed the other was "doing it wrong" and that they themselves had the moral high ground. It was certainly illustrative of the fact that the gaming community has always been subject to passionate debates on perceptions of who or what should and shouldn't be allowed in the hobby.

More recently, of course, there's been a much more widely-reported controversy surrounding the acceptance (or lack thereof) of women in the larger video-gaming community. I'm not a video gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years I've witnessed similar prejudices being expressed in the RPG hobby as well. Once again, Playing at the World has provided an interesting and timely point-of-view.

In my latest reading, the book is discussing a game called Fletcher Pratt's Naval War Game. Published in 1943, the game was developed from soirees Pratt (a pulp fiction writer) would hold at his Manhattan apartment (and later, when attendance got up to around 50 people, at a nearby hall) in which attendees would engage in a wargame featuring model ships, played out using the floor as the game space.

The game was significant to the later evolution of RPGs because it influenced the development of mechanics like Armor Class and Hit Points. But it was also significant for being the first time female gamers got a mention in a published wargame, previously perceived as the exclusive domain of men. Quoted from the rulebook itself:
"[Once Pratt's group had embraced the system] the sweethearts-and-wives influence became manifest. One of the latter appeared as a spectator of what was originally intended to be a purely stag game. In the midst of the ensuing red-hot engagement she was discovered flat on her stomach, aiming the guns of a cruiser and muttering something like, 'I'll get the so-and-so this time.' From that date on there was no checking the rising tide of feminism. Today there are nearly as many players of one sex as of the other; and one of the feminine delegation has been praised by a naval officer as the most competent tactician of the group."

Playing at the World goes on to feature an illustration from the book in which "a skirted woman, alongside her male counterparts, is shown kneeling on the floor, angling a cardboard arrow to fire at her target."

It also discusses how this inclusion represented an evolution from H.G. Wells' Little Wars (1911), the first wargame marketed to casual gamers; although the book subtitles itself as a "game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games and books", Wells also complains within the pages of his rules of being interrupted "by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors" who "regarded the [game] with the empty disdain of their sex for all imaginative things."

In my 25-plus years of tabletop gaming, I've gamed with at least as many women as men. My current weekly face-to-face group is comprised of a majority of women, and has been all-woman (save for yours truly) at times in the past. I've also gamed with women who were flat-out denied the opportunity to join other groups because of their gender.

I've written about this before, but I just want to reiterate that, of the women I've gamed with, some have sucked at math and others have loved crunch; some have been totally story-oriented and others have been violent and bloodthirsty. In other words, they've been just like all the male gamers I've played with.

I wanted to post this little piece of history simply because it shows that women's interest in the tradition of gaming from which RPGs, wargaming, and video games grew out of goes back a long ways. If this sort of history was better-known...well, we'd still probably have lots of stupid trolls out there spewing misogyny in-person and online, but knowing about stuff like this puts their ridiculous appeals to the "tradition" of an all-male hobby in an even weaker light, I think.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hey, There's A New Edition of D&D Out - So Of Course I'm Running ACKS...

I run two weekly games. One is currently slogging its way through the Great Pendragon Campaign. The other found itself, a couple weeks back, "in between campaigns" after a couple false starts (first RIFTS and then a Savage Worlds space opera campaign that ended in a TPK).

The fact of the matter is that we had given the new D&D Starter Set a spin and quite liked it, but none of us quite wanted to pull the trigger on starting a 5e campaign until the full set of core books has been rolled out. So I figured I'd offer to run a little short campaign arc of something else to fill the gap until November rolls around.

I guess we were all in a fantasy mood still from all that D&D talk, because we ended up settling on the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System. This came as a real surprise to me, as I didn't even own ACKS at the time of discussion. I was only aware of it by reputation. But we were talking about the old 2e Birthright setting, and one of my players in particular expressed a fondness for that setting's attempt at bringing domain-level play back into the game, and I mentioned ACKS and that was that.

Here's the thing, though: I am now seriously in love with this system.

It's really inspired me to just jump in and start designing my own sandbox. Of course, I'm stealing liberally from a bunch of different sources, from GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol to Vornheim to bits of the Wilderlands to Ralph Bakshi's Wizards to a variety of Appendix N authors (Vance and Burroughs in particular), all in the service of creating a sort of science-fantasy mishmash that's maybe a bit reminiscent of JRPGs like Phantasy Star.

And after I'm done setting up this sandbox, I want to take a crack at adapting the old AD&D HR1 Vikings supplement into an ACKS historical fantasy sandbox. The combination of the system's toolkit approach and support for world-building has proven an unexpectedly heady brew for me, such that I'm going to be focusing all my FRPG efforts for the short-term in that direction.

In the meantime, we're still planning on playing 5e starting sometime this winter. One of the other folks in my group is going to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen, so I get to get some actual time in as a player after running ACKS for a couple months. Win-win!

Incidentally, here is the precis for my current setting, if you're curious...

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Solo GPC Patreon is live!

After much cogitating, I've taken a small step into the world of crowdfunding with the launch of my Solo GPC Patreon campaign.

If you're unfamiliar with how Patreon works, it's essentially a way to crowdfund ongoing creative work. Each backer pledges a certain amount of money per "unit" - in my case, any time I post a Solo GPC report. The cool thing about Patreon is that you can set a monthly limit, so it's easy to budget how much you want to contribute.

I explain more on the Patreon page linked above, but briefly: I'm going with Patreon because I feel like it's a great way to incentivize getting my Solo GPC series finished up, plus I can use the money to help produce a slick and professional free PDF of the complete chronicle once it's done.

As I mention in my Patreon video, each Solo GPC post averages about 7,000 words a piece. At the $5.00 pledge level, that comes out to about 14 cents a word, which is a pretty good deal, and a fair writing rate to boot. I'm anticipating getting out about two posts a month.

So if you want to see more Solo GPC posts on this blog and fund the creation of a quality gaming artifact, please consider funding the campaign.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's Going On

I'm going to take a page from the Wine and Savages blog and write a bit about what I'm up to these days. It's been a bit quiet here, but all for good causes.

Like +Sean Bircher, I too find myself rather up to my eyeballs in gaming-related work. Which is quite wonderful in and of itself. The tricky part comes with working a full-time job as well, particularly at this time of year. (Can I get an "amen" from all my fellow readers who dread the turn of the fiscal year for all the extra work it brings?) Here's how things are shaking out at the moment:

  • Part of the reason for my more relaxed blogging pace through most of the summer was the fact that my writing energies were otherwise engaged after I connected with Pendragon author Greg Stafford, answering a call for help with proofreading and formatting the Guide to his long-awaited Pendragon Atlas. That proofreading (which I started doing back in the winter) gradually turned into actual outright editing, so you'll be seeing Yours Truly on the credits page of the Atlas when it eventually drops. I'm looking forward to working with Greg on future projects as well, but nothing's set down in stone just yet. Keep an eye on this space for announcements, whenever that might be. 
  • As Sean mentioned, he and I, along with my podcasting co-host +David Schimpff, are batting around ideas on how to expand Sean's Miyamoto Academy Combatters setting seed into a full-fledged Savage Worlds setting. Sean and Schimpff have been doing yeoman's work on that so far, but I'm getting ready to jump back in as well.
  • This bit of news is perhaps better suited for The Minis Corner, but I'm going to be contributing articles to the Warlord Games website, starting with a short piece on Operation Goodwood that should be popping up in the not-too-distant (and will get linked on my other blog when it does appear).
  • I'm also working on developing a series of online pick-a-path game books with fellow author, gamer, and good friend +Alex Christy. This past weekend, we finally nailed down the mechanics of the system and a rough outline of the first book. Alex is a wiz at Flash programming, so he'll be handling the programming end of things, and we'll both contribute to the writing. I'm hoping to have something presentable done and posted by this time next year, but I've never written something like this before, so we'll see how long it takes!
  • Later this week (most likely tomorrow) I'll be launching a Patreon campaign on this blog for my remaining Solo GPC posts. More details forthcoming on that, but I'm hoping that the campaign will both provide the needed boost to get the series finished off and raise enough money for me to bring in a collaborator and produce a really professional-looking (but still totally free) PDF omnibus of all the posts.
  • As if that weren't enough, I've got a couple other potential RPG-related book projects in the works that are too early in the development phase to really talk about, but still have me doing background reading and note-jotting when and where I can fit in the time.
Wow, looking back at that list, that's a lot of stuff going on! Oh yeah, I also have to make time to actually game, don't I...?

  • With my weekly face-to-face tabletop group, I'm currently in the midst of running The Great Pendragon campaign - no small undertaking, as you can see from the Obsidian Portal! Next up in the docket? Oh, just a little larf called Horror on the Orient Express, no biggie. Oh wait, yes it is.
  • I'm also carrying on with my weekly Hangout game with my old friends/gaming group in California. We're sort of in between things right now, but I have every intention of running a D&D 5e game come the fall, and in the meantime I'll be running a mini-campaign or two - TBD tonight, actually.
  • Much like Mr. Bircher, part of the way I make time to spend with my lovely wife in between all this other business is through "duet" gaming (like the Solo GPC!), and we're getting ready to start something up in that regard. It won't be weekly, nor will I be regularly chronicling it online (how could I with all this other crap going on?), but it does constitute yet another campaign to set up and run. But these are the kinds of problems you want to have, amirite?
And yes, maintaining some semblance of a marital relationship in general is also quite high on the ol' priority list, should that even need to be said. (I'm reminded of S. John Ross's sig: "Husband. Cook. Writer. In that order.")

With all this stuff on my plate, I've been forced to drop a few commitments here and there. Sadly, I'm going to have to bow out of podcast hosting for one thing. I had thought that cutting things back to a monthly appearance would work out, but even that's proven a bridge too far. Just too many things taking up my mental energy and focus. My co-eponymous co-host has found an excellent replacement in the form of Susan Steward, and I'll continue to contribute with managing the Google Plus community and helping out with managing the feed, but for now I must turn my attentions elsewhere. I'm hoping to return at some point, but I have no idea when that might be.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thoughts on D&D 5e (and the Starter Set) After Running a Session

I participated in a couple playtest sessions of "D&D Next" back when it first went public. The mechanics were intriguing, but then I realized I had neither the time nor inclination to actually put up with the playtesting process (not for D&D, at least). So I set the impending Fifth Edition aside and figured I'd check back when it actually came out. I wished it the best.

When the Starter Set went up for pre-order, I figured, "Why the hell not?" Fifteen bucks and I'd have a good idea of the core elements of 5e. Then Wizards announced the free Basic D&D PDF. Hmmm, intriguing.

My Starter Set arrived and I read through the contents. I got together with my Wednesday online group and they made characters using the Basic D&D rules. Scheduling conflicts prevented us from meeting again until last night, when I ran the introductory chapter of the "Lost Mines of Phandelver" module included in the Starter Set.

I've read that the designers took the classic "Night's Dark Terror" module as a point of inspiration for "Lost Mines", and I can definitely see that, especially after having just run "Terror" in my 2e campaign earlier this year. Like "Terror", the adventure's got a central plot spine, but lots of little mini-quests and side adventures as well. (There are even some echoes of locations and plot elements from "Terror" in "Lost Mines" - nothing overt, but recognizable.) It's a "semi-sandbox," which is really cool to have in a product intended for folks just coming into the hobby.

It's also a very, very vanilla adventure. This is not an objective criticism, of course. Vanilla's a perennially popular flavor because it's safe and it's classic. I would not hesitate to buy or recommend the Starter Set to a friend or associated rugrat interested in D&D.

It's actually a testament to 5e's mechanics that we all had a blast playing despite the relatively uninteresting setting/set-up. I think we're all a bit sick of vanilla D&D at this point after wrapping our classic Realms campaign, but the mechanics made for a really fun game nonetheless.

We were all a bit concerned going in about the amped-up healing rules, kewl powers, and whatnot, but then we nearly had a TPK during the initial encounter with four goblins. The fight was resolved when the dwarf fighter, down to 1 hit point and using his Inspiration to gain Advantage, scored a critical hit on the final goblin to great cheers from everyone. This was followed by a nail-biting sequence of "Death Saves" for the PC that had been knocked down to negative HP - two successes, then two failures, then a success!

We all found the system to flow very nicely. Having just wrapped a 2e campaign, I felt like combat compared favorably in terms of balance between speed and crunchiness. As we figured we would, we all loved the Advantage/Disadvantage system, and it made ruling on the fly quite easy. The use of attributes as a basis for ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws reminded me strongly of Castles & Crusades - definitely a good thing. We're also enjoying all the little touches of how the rules interact, which is always a positive sign when you're first getting to know a system.

Initially, the idea was that we were going to play through the whole of the "Lost Mines" adventure, but after last night we really don't feel the need to. We've gotten enough of a feel for the system to know that we're into it, but the vanilla setting's really doing nothing for us, so I'm going to wait until I have all the core books in hand (particularly the DMG, with its advice on rules-hacking and world-building) to put together a non-vanilla campaign. Maybe a mashup of the new edition of City State of the Invincible Overlord and noisms' forthcoming Yoon-Suin? Or maybe my perennial setting-in-search-of-a-satisfactory-system Uresia will finally find a home? Regardless, it'll be a 5e winter this year.

In the meantime, I'll be running a Savage Worlds campaign in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy...because how could I not?
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