Friday, December 31, 2010

[Solo GPC] The Great Pendragon Campaign: One Year On

I'd be remiss in letting this New Year's Eve pass without mentioning that it was one year ago today that Des and I sat down to play our first session of our single-player experiment in running the Great Pendragon Campaign. The weekend before Christmas we finished up the three-part adventure of The Grey Knight, bringing a close to campaign year 515 - exactly 30 game years from where we started out. As regular readers know, Des has defied the odds and is still playing her original character, Sir Herringdale (although Herringdale's retirement looms ever closer with every passing year).

Allowing for multi-session years like the last one, we've played somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 sessions over the past year, averaging a session every 10 days or so. Not bad at all, and a good pace to have the whole campaign in the bag by this time next winter or shortly thereafter.

I've had a real blast running the GPC so far and am very much looking forward to at least another year of it. I've had just as much fun chronicling the campaign on this blog and every positive word of support and encouragement has brought real joy to us - thanks so much!

Des's birthday was on the 29th and for one of my presents to her I painted up a little diorama of Sir Herringdale and his redoubtable squire Baldrick (along with Herringdale's charger, Smuggy IV) on a mid-winter's journey in the most recent campaign year. The miniatures are from Valdemar (who do an outstanding range of true 25mm medieval miniatures); when I came across the pair on the company website, I immediately thought of old Herringdale off on yet another errand in the winter of his years.

Des was very touched by the gift, particularly in light of Herringdale's impending departure from the main narrative.

Who knows where we'll be this time next year and what commemorative miniature I'll be painting up? Thanks in advance to everyone who indulges in reading my long-winded campaign updates - I know such things aren't to everyone's taste, but this thing's taken on a life of its own!

(Speaking of which, Parts II and III of the Grey Knight recap are due up in the next few days and we'll be returning to our semi-regular schedule once the Christmas-birthday-New Year's week is behind us. Happy 2011, all!)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Xmas Gaming Frenzy

I've never done this much gaming over a holiday weekend. Most of it has come in the form of boardgaming, specifically Settlers of Catan. Des and I made the mistake of turning my family onto the game and we have created monsters. Thursday it was Settlers with my aunt and uncle, Friday night was a mega six-person game with my aunt, uncle, and parents, and Saturday was Settlers with my parents. Today, following up on my recent resolution to resurrect my "other" hobby, I played my first miniatures game in well over a year-and-a-half (my Undead versus Des's Amazons) and had an absolute blast. (Pictures and battle report coming sometime this week, hopefully.)

All the same, I'm a little "diced out" right now. Time to take a couple days to relax and focus on non-gaming stuff before jumping back into the Pendragon campaign (of which I'm two session reports behind - sorry!) and (hopefully) more minis games. Of course, painting minis and writing blog posts counts as "non-gaming stuff" in my mind, so it's not like I'm talking about that radical of a departure...

(Oh, and speaking of minis games, I've come up with an exciting miniatures-related project for 2011. Details to follow sometime soon after the New Year. For now, let's just say I've decided to drink the Kool-Aid, as it were.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Music! (You Could, Uh, Play It During Your Next Session...Yeah, That's It...)

(Okay, so this isn't gaming-related in the least but I'm in a giving mood...)

Yessir, every year right around this time something very special happens, something that all good boys and girls look forward to with all their hearts. I refer, of course, to the debut of my annual holiday mix. This year marks the fifth such mix! How the years fly by...


(Click on the pic to download the ZIP file; within you'll find the tracks along with TXT, M3U, and XML versions of the playlist, also duplicated below. The download is good for 7 days or 100 transfers--if you're having trouble getting the file, leave a comment and I'll fix it.)

Happy holidays!

1. Father Christmas - The Kinks
2. Santa Claus - The D4
3. Christmas Griping - REM
4. Fat Daddy - Fat Daddy
5. I'm Walking Backwards For Xmas - The Goons
6. For Christ's Sake '98 (Live) - IQ
7. Last Christmas Girl - Stratocruiser
8. Little Mary Christmas - Roger Christian
9. Sleigh Ride - Los Straitjackets
10. Space Christmas - Shonen Knife
11. Transylvanian Xmas - Mojo Nixon
12. Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant - Siouxsie & the Banshees
13. I Wish You A Merry Christmas - Big Dee Irwin & Little Eva
14. Another Lonely Christmas - Prince
15. The Christmas Song - The Raveonettes
16. Santa Claus Is A Black Man - Akim & The Teddy Vann Production Company
17. Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
18. One Christmas Catalogue - Captain Sensible
19. Nine Inch Noels - Lore Sjoberg
20. Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child's Prayer) - Little Cindy
21. Holiday Road - The Aquabats
22. Everywhere It's Christmas! - The Beatles

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Percolating Projects

As we approach the turning of another calendar I find myself (as is usual around this time) both in a reflective mood while simultaneously looking ahead to what is to come in the encroaching year. Here's a bit of a sneak peek at what I'll probably be posting about as 2011 gets under way...

  • As always, the Pendragon actual play reports will continue unabated in their usual manner. As I pointed out in my last update, we're 30 game years in at this point. Since some of those years have taken two or three actual sessions to play out, that means we're somewhere in the mid- to upper-thirties as far as sessions played. This is already easily the longest face-to-face campaign I've ever been a part of, and we've still got another 45 or so game years to go, which means at least another year of game play! I never thought I'd look at posts about "epic" campaigns that lasted a whole 29 sessions as child's play, but thanks to The Great Pendragon Campaign I do. (To clarify, though, on the whole I'd say I still prefer campaigns that reach an end point after 20 to 30 sessions, but the GPC is its own animal.)
  • Aside from Pendragon, my thoughts turn more and more towards my long-neglected "other" gaming hobby of miniatures wargaming. Back in high school I used to play miniatures games about as much as I played RPGs. From college onwards that ratio has been steadily dropping. One sign of the atrophying of my miniatures hobby is in the fact that my first blog here on Blogger was actually devoted to miniatures gaming (The Miniatures Corner)...and that last year I merged it into this blog. I've continued to follow miniatures gaming as a hobby, and to paint miniatures both for fun and profit, but the actual playing of the games has dropped off precipitously even compared to the much-reduced standards of the 2000s. My gaming resolution for 2011 is to rectify this shameful lack and do more miniatures gaming, so expect to see more miniatures-related posts (picture posts and battle reports, mainly) as the weeks and months progress. I doubt I'll ever see my miniatures gaming reach the same levels of frequency as during my heady high school days, but hopefully I can manage a game every month or two from here on out.
  • I'll also hopefully have a chance to blog a bit about gaming from the player's perspective in 2011. I had the good fortune of meeting a fellow gamer through my work and, after chatting about our respective interests and inspirations, it looks like we'll be doing some gaming together in the coming year. At the moment, that looks to take the form of a Day After Ragnarok campaign powered by the FATE system. As a newcomer to both, I'm really stoked to explore the setting and the system alike, and it'll be great to be a player in a campaign (as opposed to the occasional one-shot) again (I honestly can't remember the last time I was a player in a campaign...1999?). It'll also be interesting to be playing alongside my significant other rather than running games for her. We'll see what kind of a team we make!
  • Also, I don't know if this will provide any blog fodder, but I thought I'd mention that my "frivolous purchase" of the first quarter of 2011 may just well be Mythus. This may come as a surprise to long-time (and I do mean long-time) readers of this blog, as way back in 2008 I wrote about how Mythus was my first fantasy heartbreaker. Maybe I'm about to learn the same lesson twice, but I'm actually considering picking up the system again. This is due in part to the fact that since writing that post I've been advised by some folks I rather respect that the game is worth another look. Nostalgia probably plays a small role as well, as I originally received Mythus as a Christmas present and since it's around that time of year again... On the other hand, I've never really felt the itch any other holiday season in years past, so who knows? Sometimes you just have to follow your muse, especially if you can score a good deal on eBay...
  • Lastly, just as the GPC actual play series was my extended blogging project for 2010, I'm giving some thought to starting a new series for 2011. No promises yet, but if I do start something it will definitely be building off this post. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Gamer Warstory from the Era of Open World Play

There's been a bit of chatter on the ol' 'Sphere recently regarding the "good old days" of shared game worlds: the phenomenon in which gamers would take their characters hopping around from one game world/campaign to another. It was before my time, personally, but I came into the hobby at a point when it was still possible to catch older hobbyists reminiscing about those sorts of social networks and the campaigns spawned from that fertile ground.

Since it's been awhile since I've posted a Roger E. Moore Dragon Magazine editorial anyway, I thought I'd share one such story here. (It's also, as the essay itself points out, an excellent example of how romance can play a role in driving campaign action.) From Dragon #161 (September 1990):

Once upon a time in a campaign far, far away, there were two adventurers named Black Bart and Ursula. Black Bart was a dark-haired fighter from an AD&D® game world, with a sneaky grin and a magical sword for every day of the week. Ursula was a good-natured barbarian with flame-red hair from the GAMMA WORLD® game, an expert with pistols and grenades. The details of how the two met are murky, but the important thing was that they did meet - and unexpectedly fell in love.

Romance is not a commonly discussed topic with regard to role-playing games. The article "Romance and Adventure!" in this issue is the only one I recall on the subject, aside from notes in an article by William Armintrout on TSR's old METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA game, which appeared in The Space Gamer magazine. If romance appears in an adventure at all, it is as a minor subplot (one example takes place in the WG8 Fate of Istus AD&D module, on page 52).

I have a feeling that, in average game play, a full-blown fairy-tale romance with daring deeds and the works is most likely when only one of the two characters is a player character, the other being an NPC. Once in a while you get the same effect between characters run by two people who are already romantically involved in real life (I've seen it happen), but that's rarer.

Ursula was the NPC of the couple mentioned above, but Black Bart never seemed to notice. They were seen everywhere together, happily bashing monsters and braving every quest that came their way. The peak of their careers came when they piloted their own cargo lifter during the great Damnation Alley coast-to-coast run across the ruins of North America, about which volumes could be said but my editorial isn't long enough. Black Bart and Ursula were a bright spot in every game adventure, right up to the moment when Ursula died.

The end came very suddenly. A chaotic-evil fighter played by another player became irked with the rest of the party one evening and attacked everyone at once. This was particularly bad since everyone in the group, including the attacker, was as heavily armed as liberal DMs and transuniversal-campaign travel will allow. Guns roared, + 5 swords lashed out, and 20-HD fireballs erupted across the campsite in a savage, no-quarter battle.

Ursula caught the chaotic-evil fighter's main attack. She doubled over, nearly dead after the first melee round, and dropped her weapons. The fighter moved to finish her off and cut up the rest of the group, failing until the last moment to notice that Ursula had tugged the pin out of a torc grenade and was clutching it to her chest. The resulting explosion completely disintegrated everything for almost 50' around: the evil fighter, Ursula, their equipment, the dirt and rock under their feet, everything. The party was saved. Of the two combatants, nothing remained.

Black Bart wasn't the same after that. He became moody, which is a nice way of saying that he took out his frustration on every unfortunate monster that came within sighting distance. Something had to be done, so when it came my turn to be the DM, I brought Ursula back to life. But there was a price tag.

It seems that Ursula had been under surveillance by a mad scientist in another universe, and he'd fallen for her even if she was an unsophisticated barbarian. When she was attacked, the mad scientist worked the controls of his time-space machine and popped her out of harm's way in the last fraction of a second before the torc grenade blew up (but he thoughtfully left the grenade behind for the fighter). Ursula became a prisoner in the scientist's citadel, a mile-high needlelike tower in the wastelands of a world known as Barsoom.

Black Bart began to have dreams in which he saw Ursula calling out to him for rescue. Immediately seizing the chance to find his true love, Black Bart learned of Ursula's location during visits with high-level sages and wizards, and he gathered his allies for an assault. Warriors from lands of fantasy and science-fiction rallied to his cause, and the adventurers were soon neck deep in combat with banths, pirates, Green Martians with radium rifles, and worse.

Black Bart was relentless. When his crew reached the deserted city where the mad scientist lived, he ignored all the monsters that attacked the group, marching steadily on for the tower and killing everything that got in his way. In the final battle at the top of the spire, Black Bart fought the scientist in single combat and threw his headless body from the balcony. The subsequent escape from the tower (whose base was triggered to blow up if the scientist was slain) made up the final chapter of the adventure, and Ursula and Black Bart were together again.

I haven't the faintest idea of what happened to those two characters after that. I would hope that they are happily hacking their way through the multiverse even now. The memories of that adventure would last for years, and we remembered too the cause for which it was fought.

Cheers to you, Black Bart and Ursula, wherever you are.

I love as much of what goes unsaid as what's stated explicitly. Who were the other members of the party, I wonder? Sounds like it was quite a motley crew. Also interesting is the high incidence of direct lifts from pulp settings - Damnation Alley, "a world known as Barsoom" - going on.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Maybe it's because I'm the son of an artist, but I'm a very visual person. Despite being considered "booksmart" for most of my life (to say nothing of the fact that I've made a career in books and the written word in some form or another since graduating college), I'd much rather sit down with a nice portfolio than a good novel.

Accordingly, I make a habit of stashing away cool pictures I find on the Net, magpie-like. It gets to the point where I have far more than I know what to do with. Going through an old Downloads folder saved from a long-dead hard drive last night, I stumbled across a rich vein of inspirational pictures. Many have little or nothing to do with any current or feasibly near-future gaming plans (or...much of anything, really), so I present them here instead for the edification of my gentle readers. Do with them as you please...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

[Solo GPC] 515: The Grey Knight (Part I)

I've been looking forward to this year for a while now. The year 515 marks the 30-year anniversary from the start of the game. I can't believe Sir Herringdale is in his 50s! Being the evil GM I am, I have no intention of letting up on the poor bastard for this anniversary year. Accordingly, the adventure slated for this year is a real doozy, and it could lead in any of a multitude of directions and have some serious repercussions for our redoubtable knight. Then again, he might just sail through it with nary a scratch. As a GM, I love being as surprised as the players by the twists and turns of a campaign. Granted, that doesn't happen as often when you're sitting on the chart-side of the proverbial screen, but that does tend to make those surprise moments all the sweeter. I have a feeling this year's adventure has a lot of potential in that regard, thus my relish.

[Check it out: I learned about jump breaks!]

Pendragon Back in Print!

I just got an email from DriveThruRPG announcing their new print-on-demand service. Among the titles being offered is the current ("5.1") edition of King Arthur Pendragon, up til this point only available as a PDF. The price is quite reasonable, offering a choice of softcover or hardback for $30 or $40, respectively. Also available: The Great Pendragon Campaign! Woot!

Merlin just got his MAGIC!

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Defense of 2e (Kind Of)

I don't think it's any matter of controversy to assert that AD&D 2nd edition (or, in the vulgar tongue, "2e") is the red-headed stepchild of the D&D community. Too much of a symbol of post-Gygax "T$R" to some, a symbol of 90s splatbook bloat, the edition that nearly killed D&D, too mechanically similar to 1e to merit its own retro-clone, too clunky to draw in the new generations, and so on. To a large extent, I agree with all these assessments. For some time, I have debated running a 2e campaign as a sort of exercise in getting back in touch with my gaming roots - having started in 1990, I just missed the 1e era - but I have my doubts. By the time 3e rolled around, I welcomed it with open arms; I loathed the Frankensteinian system that AD&D had grown to become, like most gamers of the day. I have the feeling that if I somehow managed to get past the planning stages, a 2e game would soon collapse under the weight of "Oh right, I forgot how lame that was"-moments.

And yet...

There are undeniably some things that 2e got right. That phrase will almost universally elicit a response along the lines of, "Yes, the settings were awesome!" And that's quite true. But I think 2e deserves a fresh reappraisal across the board. The much-maligned kits, for example, held a nugget of a good idea. It just simply wasn't executed very well. If I ever get around to running my hypothetical 2e campaign, I'll certainly include a very pared-down list of kits.

What sparked this blog post, though, is another aspect of 2e that I'd rather forgotten about and one that I don't often see discussed: the format of the Monstrous Compendium entries. Specifically, it was seeing this entry over on one of the few 2e-centered blogs out there, THAC0 Forever. For those who don't know, the entry is written in the format of 2e-era monster entries, sub-divided into four sections: an intro, a Combat section, a section discussing the creature's Habitat/Society, and an Ecology section.

I've seen this format criticized (shocking!) by some, who have called it a further sign of the bloat that afflicted D&D products of this era. But I have to say, seeing a monster written up in that format made me smile. Having a monster entry be more than hard numbers and a couple paragraphs on appearance and combat tactics had an immeasurable effect on how I approached my D&D gameplay from the get-go. It implicitly communicated a strong message of Gygaxian naturalism. Personally, I never had to read articles on dungeon ecology or building a believable fantasy world. I got the message loud and clear just by paging through the Monstrous Compendium. From Day One, my AD&D games were focused on role-playing as much as dungeon delving.

In fact, it wasn't until the advent of the OSR and its focus on getting back to the roots of D&D that I ventured into running more dungeon/exploration-centered campaigns. Seeing the old 2e monster format was just another reminder for me of my own D&D roots, which may have been quite different from the roots espoused by certain parties in the OSR but, for me at least, were far more arresting and "of the essence" of what D&D means to me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

[Solo GPC] 514: Royal Wedding (Part II)

Some time passed between our previous session and this one, so when we sat down to find out what became of Sir Herringdale on his quest it was with more than a hint of apprehension. I had cleverly structured things so that neither of us knew whether Herringdale survived the quest...and the opponent I had in mind meant that I for one was hoping the outcome would remain in doubt even during the session itself. With that in mind, we picked up our dice and proceeded, trading grim looks of understanding...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

[Solo GPC] 514: Royal Wedding (Part I)

It's been entirely too long since the last campaign update, and I do apologize for that. Suffice to say the usual excuses apply: real life, blah, blah, etc. So let's just gather around this bounty of Pendragon goodness and feast our turkey-sodden (here in the U.S. at least) eyes upon the events that befell Sir Herringdale and his kin in the Year of Our Lord, 514.

By mutual agreement, this was to be the year that Des debuted Herringdale's daughter, Lady Meleri, as her backup PC until such time as Herringdale takes his final bow (voluntarily or otherwise...).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Interesting timing that my copy of Traveller: The Classic Books should arrive the same day that The Sword's new classic-sci-fi-themed music video debuts...

In all seriousness, this is actually the first time I'll have any edition of Traveller in my possession. I'm looking forward to diving in and seeing what all the hype and nostalgia is about. Along with supers, classic sci-fi is the one genre I've never really played or run and that I'd very much like to at some point in the future. When I do, I'll be sure to refer back to the above video for inspiration.

(And if you're wondering what happened to the Pendragon updates, I'm working on the next one and may even have it up for your Turkey Day reading pleasure. The management appreciates your patience and cooperation during this unplanned interruption.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crass Commercialism

I don't normally advertise my eBay auctions here, but I know there are a lot of folks in this corner of the Blogosphere who would like to get their hands on a table copy of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and I've just offered one at a more than fair price (just clearing space on my shelves):

Do I have a bidder?

And in the vein of Destination Unknown, have a free, tangentially-related video:

Friday, November 5, 2010

RPG Alternate Histories

No, I'm not talking about alternate histories as settings for RPG campaigns. Grognardia's post yesterday got me thinking about a little thought exercise that popped into my head several years ago: what would RPGs look like if they had developed earlier than the 1970s and in doing so gained more distance from the advent of video games?

James M. proposes in his post that RPGs might just be a sort of transitional entertainment medium to video games in the same way that the Walkman gave way to the iPod. As is pointed out in the comments, this is a somewhat weak analogy, as tabletop RPG gaming didn't necessarily lead to video games so much as influence their development. It has long been my opinion, however, that traditional RPGs suffered an inequitable trade-off in the bargain, losing much of its creative and fan base to the video game market they helped foster and influence. In effect, the RPG hobby simply suffered from a case of poor timing - coming just a few years before the Atari revolution began ushering video games in as America's premier form of home entertainment - and I've often wondered what would have become of the hobby if RPGs had had a few more decades of "lead-in time" before the advent of video games.

Of course, to imagine RPGs being developed in, say, the 1950s or even the 1930s is to ignore the very specific factors that led to the development of the medium in the 1970s, with the pulp fantasy paperback revolution and the burgeoning wargaming hobby of the 1960s being the two biggest factors. However, it's not impossible to imagine RPGs developing earlier. Wargaming's been around in some form or another since the 19th century, after all. I read somewhere that the concept of Hit Points (or Armor Class...I can't recall precisely) was lifted from Fletcher Pratt's Naval War Game of the 1940s. The wargaming hobby community started to form in the 50s, making the development of RPGs as we know them theoretically possible from that point forward. It's even conceivable to imagine RPGs taking shape in the 30s in the wake of the first pulp fantasy renaissance (and publication of The Hobbit rather than Lord of the Rings).

Of course, this does give rise to an interesting thought experiment. The iconography and mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons and other first-generation RPGs was very much a product of its time that, despite mutations and permutations, continues to exert a strong influence to this day. What if RPGs had developed in the 30s, 40s, or 50s? I think it's safe to say that our picture of what an Elf looks like would be drastically different...

For that matter, RPGs might not have even developed out of the wargaming community; even if they had, popular wargames of the time weren't nearly as sophisticated as they would later become. The first popular miniatures game, Little Wars, didn't even use dice but rather spring-loaded cannons!

Castle Falkenstein engaged in a bit of this thought experiment, imagining RPGs developing during the Victorian Era and featuring cards rather than dice as the randomizer (only cads and bounders play at dice!) and featuring character journals rather than mere sheets. It's interesting to speculate on how RPGs would have developed given an extra century before the advent of computer games provided some sort of alternative for those interested in participatory fantasy escapism...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sure, why not?

I'm hoping to post my next Pendragon session report by this time next week. In the meantime, how 'bout some juicy filler courtesy of the latest blogger meme: "15 Games in 15 Minutes" - name the first 15 games that you can think of that have meant the most to you in no more than 15 minutes.

1. BECMI-era D&D
2. GURPS ("classic" 3rd edition-era)
3. Fantasy Warriors
4. Space Marine
5. Warhammer Fantasy Battle (4th edition)
6. Sid Meier's Civilization
7. Castle Falkenstein
8. Rifts
9. Ninjas & Superspies
10. Call of Cthulhu (5th edition)
11. King Arthur Pendragon
12. Cyberpunk
13. The Dragonlance Board Game
14. AD&D Second Edition
15. Mutant Chronicles

A couple games on that list I've either never played or have played a handful of times. Nevertheless, I include them because they served as major inspirations for me at the time, firing my imagination and increasing my love of gaming as a hobby.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Holloway Halloween

Browsing my PDF collection of Dragon magazines, I came across an article from the mid-90s that featured a trio of great Jim Holloway illustrations. I've said it before, but I think Jim Holloway is one of the great underrated "old school" artists. Whether going for serious or comedic effect, his subjects are always infused with a wonderful sort of identifiable humanity and character.

What I particularly like about this collection is difficult to put into words. I guess I'd sum it up as verisimilitude. First, I like the precise rendering of the Mythos beasties; it lends a certain reality and "heft" (for lack of a better word) to their alien presence. Second, I like that Holloway has rendered the human subjects clearly as residents of the game's default 1920s setting. It appeals to my inner history nerd, what can I say. I particularly like the first picture, set among the prosaic surroundings of an urban alleyway.

Fever-dream, hallucinogenic representations of the Mythos are all well and good, but sometimes I like a little concrete representation.

Friday, October 8, 2010

'Tis the Season!

Like with many gamers, Halloween, rather than Christmas, is my favorite holiday/season. The time of year is so evocative. No matter what else is going on I usually try to make some room for horror gaming. This actually goes way back to the first year I was regularly gaming, back as a freshman in high school.

I had received Call of Cthulhu as a birthday present the year before, and my diminutive, nascent gaming group (all two of us!) was itching to try it out. So, on the game day closest to Halloween, we inaugurated the First Annual Call-of-Cthulhu-a-thon. The idea was for each of us to take it in turn to run a horror game over the course of a single evening (since to a 14-year-old more is always better). Interestingly, although I did use Cthulhu to run my game, I opted for a vampire-centric scenario, inspired by an article in a back-issue of Dragon magazine I had in my collection. And my buddy Alex, for reasons unknown, opted to run a GURPS Horror scenario. As he only had a couple months of gaming experience under his belt (and zero experience with running GURPS!), I seem to recall the scenario consisted mostly of moving through a graveyard as various creatures selected on the fly from the GURPS Horror bestiary literally jumped out from behind tombstones to threaten my PC.

Needless to say, subsequent Call-of-Cthulhu-a-thons have been somewhat more sophisticated. The idea of cramming as many games into a single evening was eventually dropped as sanity prevailed. I wish I could say that the tradition goes back in an unbroken chain to 1992, but that's sadly not the case. There have been gaps, years in which I wasn't gaming and nothing happened, or else I was in the midst of an ongoing campaign and didn't feel like taking a break to do a special one-shot (although I'd usually try to inject a little Halloween-y themes into the session nearest the holiday). Then there was the one year we were really into miniatures gaming and we did a Halloween-themed Warhammer game instead (goblins versus undead).

I had plans to run a game last year, but things fell through at the last minute. This year the CoC-a-thon is on like Zombie Donkey Kong, though! It'll probably be a proper Cthulhu session, although I haven't ruled out All Flesh Must Be Eaten or maybe a straight BRP horror game.

So do any of my gentle readers share similar annual horror gaming traditions? If so, what are your plans this year?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

[Solo GPC] Lady Meleri of Broughton

Over the weekend Des sat down and rolled up her new back-up character, Herringdale's daughter Meleri. Although we anticipate (leaving aside the ever-present threat of death and dismemberment) that Herringdale will continue to feature as the primary character in the campaign for at least the next four years or so, we're going to start integrating Meleri into the narrative with an eye towards her becoming the main character as we move into the Conquest Period.

Ever since Des decided to leave Meleri in the care of Morgan le Fay for her stint as a lady-in-waiting, we've had the idea that she'd be a bit of a black sheep in the family. The character concept was cemented when Des saw this Alan Lee sketch:

The shields hanging from the tree brought to Des's mind the phrase "knight collector", which has become the central concept for Meleri. Pendragon fans familiar with the old Fourth Edition rulebook will perhaps remember Lady Medule from the Salisbury write-up therein. Meleri is to be patterned on this, the "county weirdo" who is simultaneously enticing and dangerous and whom most people just steer clear of.

This also has provided the solution for the conundrum of how to run a Lady-centric campaign in the GPC. Although I'll be emphasizing social and courtly encounters much more, it can't be denied that there will be times when it's necessary to go looking for danger. Des plans on having Meleri collect two or three loyal knights who travel everywhere with her. She will have control over these knights in a manner similar to henchmen in D&D or to the Troupe-style play of Ars Magica. The fact that the knights remain NPCs makes them somewhat more disposable too, which is a side effect I quite like, as I picture Meleri as being almost Machiavellian in her pragmatism.

Although she is not an enchantress, I did allow for some influence from her tutelage under Morgan; for the Lady's Gift portion of the character generation, I bypassed the normal random roll and simply ruled that Meleri would start with two random potions. Des is already coming up with ideas on how to use these potions on hapless knights and enemies...

Lady Meleri of Broughton

Personal Data
Age: 23
Daughter Number: 2
Homeland: Salisbury
Culture: Cymric
Religion: Pagan
Liege Lord: Earl Robert of Salisbury
Current Class: Steward
Current Home: Broughton Manor

SIZ 13
DEX 12
CON 12
APP 17

Damage 3d6
Healing Rate 2
Move Rate 2
Hit Points 25
Unconscious 6
Distinctive Features: flaming red hair; tall; captivating voice

Personality Traits
Chaste/Lustful 10/10; Energetic/Lazy 14/6; Forgiving/Vengeful 10/10; Generous/Selfish 10/10; Honest/Deceitful 10/10; Just/Arbitrary 11/9; Merciful/Cruel 11/9; Modest/Proud 4/16; Pious/Worldly 8/12; Prudent/Reckless 14/6; Temperate/Indulgent 9/11; Trusting/Suspicious 4/16; Valorous/Cowardly 2/18

Gentlewoman's Bonus: NO
Religion Bonus: NO

Loyalty (Lord) 17
Love (Family) 9
Hospitality 15
Honor 16
Hate (Saxons) 18
Concern (Commoners) 8
Loyalty (Pendragon) 5

Skills: Awareness (15); Chirurgery (11); Compose (1); Courtesy (8); Dancing (5); Distaff (12); Faerie Lore (3); Falconry (2); Fashion (2); First Aid (10); Flirting (12); Folklore (7); Gaming (3); Heraldry (10); Hunting (2); Intrigue (13); Orate (2); Play: Recorder (10); Read: Latin (1); Recognize (5); Religion: Pagan (10); Singing (5); Swimming (1)

Combat Skills: Battle (4); Siege (13); Horsemanship (8); Dagger (10)

Equipment: Personal Sewing Supplies; Decent Wardrobe; Simple Jewelry; Toilet Articles; Chest; Ivory Horn Drink (+2D6 to Lazy, used up on a 1-7 on d20); Devil's Own Venom (3 damage per day until a successful Chirurgery roll is made; used up on a 1-15 on d20)

Des is planning on using the Devil's Own Venom to secretly poison potential followers, then using Chirurgery to nurse them back to health, thereby earning their eternal gratitude. I think this is great and am considering forgoing the Used Up roll when it's used for this purpose, since I trust Des not to abuse it.

Meleri's low Love (Family) along with her family characteristic of Know the Commoners (inherited from Elaine, of course!) led to us to envision Meleri as a sort of medieval anarchist working to bring the nobility down from within. This certainly fits with the influence Morgan would have had over her. Should be interesting to see how that works out in play. Also worth noting is the fact that, although she tries to distance herself from Herringdale, she did inherit his extreme hatred of Saxons. Probably won't come up too often post-Badon Hill, but it's an interesting character aspect.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Accentuating the Art of GMing

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the fine and subtle art of GMing, something I haven't done in a while. When I was first getting into gaming and running games as a teenager, I gave a lot of thought to this, of course. Books like The Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide and Creative Campaigning were my bread and butter. I'd analyze movies from a GMing perspective, paying attention to pacing and characterization of the "NPCs" in the story. When out for a scenic drive or on vacation, I'd do my best to memorize and encapsulate the sights I was seeing for later regurgitation in games.

Eventually I guess I got to a point where I felt like I didn't need to do this anymore. I had developed my own style, my own habits. I could GM in my sleep.

But now I'm coming back around to the idea of GMing as a lifelong learning opportunity. One of my favorite new blogs recently posted about this subject, wondering if the "art of GMing" is a thing of the past. I can't really comment one way or the other; I've always been a bit of an insular gamer, and really don't have enough experience with other peoples' styles to make an informed opinion. But the post reinforced some thoughts I'd already been having regarding immersion and the GM's role in facilitating it.

So, like the gym rat who creates a list of exercises to target certain muscle groups, I have decided that I'm going to target certain areas of my GMing style that I feel have gone to seed or could simply use a bit of sharpening up.

As a teenager I used to be pretty good at mimicry. I can still bust out a few decent impressions (my Kermit the Frog is so accurate it gives people the willies, and my Sean Connery is second to none), but I'm talking more about the ability to do regional accents, like this kid:

When Des and I play Pendragon, we speak with our American accents. But I would love to be able to throw in a Welsh lilt or a bit of Yorkshire dialect to distinguish characters from outside Logres. And being able to do a range of accents similar to those demonstrated in the video above would mean I'd never lack for running a modern-day or 20th-century game (or character).

Time to visit the library and look into accent technique books for actors, I guess.

The Sensory Experience
The ability to describe surroundings using all five senses is the mark of a mindful and capable GM. I try my best to remember to do this, but sometimes it's all too easy to default to "pleasant summer day" and leave it at that. Risus Monkey just posted a fantastic technique for jogging the GM's descriptive mind during gameplay. Essentially a descriptive rubric, the chart both organizes one's thoughts before the game and helps remind one of the sensory atmosphere one is trying to evoke during actual play, when it's all too easy to forget and fall back on old standards. I can't wait to try this out during my next Pendragon session.

This is one I've only relatively recently started thinking about, and it's the arena where I'm most anxious to up my game. I'm fine with describing how NPCs look: hair color, eye color, build, demeanor, and so forth. But I'm woefully inadequate when it comes to describing how they dress. And clothes do make the man, after all.

I have to credit Des with bringing this to my attention. "What's he wearing?" is a common question at our game table, and initially I found myself scrambling to come up with a satisfactory response ("Uh...clothes?"). I'm a bit more apt to be able to answer the question nowadays, but I've still got a long way to go in the arena of coming up with not only ways to envision an NPC's outfit, but also describe it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

[Solo GPC] 513: Terrabil Swift Sword

Astute readers will have noticed that the campaign has been on pause the last couple weeks. I find that long-term campaigns sometimes need these "breathing periods" - brief pauses in which the campaign (to say nothing of the GM and players) catch their collective breath, as it were. I've also been busier than usual in real life thanks to an unexpected but very exciting career transition opportunity that's come up. But we've got our next session scheduled for this week, so regular updates should resume until they don't.

I'm particularly sorry to keep y'all waiting for this one since this was a bit of a short session. The shortness was owing to the fact that I know the next couple years should be pretty jam-packed; I like to pace the years of my Pendragon campaigns, separating the bigger, more epic years with either more low-key events or more straightforward activities. This year fell into the latter category; it was pretty much by the book with very little embellishment on my part. This was partly intentional, but it was also one of those nights where I struggled with engaging with the simple act of GMing, inevitable in any long term campaign (and certainly a factor in precipitating the ensuing breathing period). Nevertheless, Des had a great time, and during play we once again found ourselves sweating it over whether Herringdale would live to see the next Winter Phase...

Friday, September 17, 2010

[Solo GPC] 512: Three Feasts

This year was one of those years, like 492, in which events vital to the mythical story arc played out before Herringdale's astonished eyes. It wasn't quite as rail-roady as the year of high treason though, and there were even opportunities for Herringdale to directly participate in some of the ongoing events. Certainly, the hall of Du Plain castle will now have a part in the legend...and they're still trying to get the blood stains off the floor of the hall...

A World Without Monster...Books

Monsters have been on my mind lately.

 Art by Yours Truly, Age 4

In reading over the reviews for the new Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG, I was struck by the fact that the game does not contain any monster stats. Now, this is not terribly surprising if one has even a passing familiarity with James Raggi and his philosophies, but it still seemed to me to be an especially bold move. And it definitely got my brain working. Is it really that much of a "bad thing" as some reviewers have said?

One of the things that I've often seen cited as a failing of the Rifts rule books, both old and new, is that they too don't contain monster stats. But I'm now starting to think that this is a feature rather than a bug.

When you think about, even D&D doesn't technically include monsters in its actual core rulebooks. All you really need to play is the Players Handbook and the DM's Guide, after all.

If there must be statted monsters, let there be few. That's one of the attractions of Pendragon for me. The bestiary in the back contains an even dozen "Fabulous Beasts" - and that's really all you'd ever need, even for a full, multi-generational campaign. This is because most of the action in that game centers around interactions between fellow human beings (and stats are provided for several variations therein as well). Why would you ever need more than a dozen monsters?

I'm coming to realize that the more monsters one throws into a campaign, the more emphasis is put on combat meat grinders. Naturally it's boring to fight, say, giants and lions all the damn time. So have most of the combats be with other "PC races" and throw in the occasional beastie for variety.

The old Rifts Main Book had a "random demon generator" in the back. For my future Rifts games, I'm thinking of taking a page from another Raggi product, the Random Esoteric Creature Generator (etc.), and making most of my "monsters" randomly-generated one-off creations. I'll assemble a list of known creatures taken from my canonical sources (the Main Book, Sourcebook I, World Books 1 & 2, and Mercenaries), most of which will be playable races. I might throw in a few selections from D-Bees of North America (again, the emphasis is on intelligent, playable races) and beyond that if I need another monster or "demon" or what have you, it's all randomness!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Keep's a Keeper

A while back I posted about my search for a good RPG database program. I thought I'd update on what I found and how it's working out.

I was a little surprised by the dearth of good RPG database programs currently available, to be honest. Judging from the comments I got to my initial post, it seems that most people turn to wikis for their database management these days. Well, call me an old stick in the mud, but I don't want to have to code - no matter how minor said coding might be - on top of organizing a database. That's just me. Plus, I usually don't have the sort of players who can be bothered to check wikis or contribute or what-have-you. They're more of the "roll the damn dice" school, while I'm more of the "obsessive archivist and tinkerer" breed. Which, I suppose, is why I'm the GM and they're the players. What I'm trying to get at is that the point of having a publicly-shared database is sort of lost with me and my usual players.

At any rate, after searching around and looking at demos and so forth, I settled on two programs that would face off against each other in a winner-take-all Thunderdome-esque showdown.

 Art by Matthew Elliot

In one corner, we have DM Secretary. Pros: it's freeware; it looks purty and has a nice interface; it has a great calendar app - something that was lacking from pretty much every other program I looked at, which really surprised me - plus all the other features I was looking for. Cons: it's for Fourth Edition (and it could also work for d20/Pathfinder). This was a con for me since I was running Castles & Crusades at the time, plus I like to run a bunch of other systems and was looking for something that could handle any campaign I'd choose to throw at it. It's lack of customizability led me to look into shelling out some ducats for...

The Keep from NBOS software.  I've had some experience with NBOS before; I used their generally excellent Screen Monkey program to run the latter half of my online 2006-2008 Pendragon campaign. The biggest con with this company is that they charge way too much for their programs. I mean, 35 bucks for Screen Monkey!? Fantasy Grounds II is only 5 bucks more, and it comes with all these fancy bells and whistles like interactive, 3-D dice and such.

But what can I say? Despite the lack of graphical whiz-bang wow factor, NBOS got me again. With Screen Monkey I shelled out the dough because of the way the program worked; specifically, only the GM needs the program and everyone else simply dials in to the game through their web browser. We'd been having lots of trouble with updates and network crashes with OpenRPG, and Screen Monkey provided a most welcome respite from that.

In the case of The Keep, the money has again proven itself well-spent. This is because the program walks the fine line between the total flexibility of a wiki and the plug-n-play interface of a good database program of something like DM Secretary. With The Keep, I've been able to organize all my notes, NPCs, books, maps, and adventures, all in one location. One thing I really like about the program is that you can embed PDFs into the database tree. This makes flipping back and forth between your notes and your PDFs an absolute breeze. Plus there's an extremely versatile dice roller.

Although I'm not running my C&C game anymore, I've started running my Pendragon games with The Keep open on a laptop off to the side. Previously I was using a three-ring binder to organize all my notes, but I found that I have a tendency to forget what exactly is in the binder, particularly at crucial moments. With The Keep, all your files are listed in tree-form so it's easy to see what you have to work with at a glance.

Two things The Keep lacks that DM Secretary has in spades are a calendar function (which is much less crucial now that I'm not running a D&D-esque game) and an easy to use PC record sheet. The program interacts with NBOS's freeware Character Sheet Designer, but that's just a blank template that still requires you to actually build a character sheet before you can start plugging in data. Not something I've had the time or inclination for doing.

On the other hand, The Keep also interfaces with another extremely handy piece of NBOS freeware called Inspiration Pad Pro. This program allows you to put together your own random tables and the coding is so ridiculously simple even I don't mind doing it.

So overall, I've found The Keep to be the perfect solution to organizing my campaigns (both present and future - more on the latter in a forthcoming post) and I've now officially become one of those GMs that has a laptop at the gaming table. So be it. I tried the analog method, I really did...

(Incidentally, one of the criteria from my original post - the search for a Mac-compatible program - failed utterly across the board. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since I can now also run the stunningly excellent Domesday program alongside The Keep when I'm running Pendragon. Domesday has proven invaluable in coming up with NPCs, names, hunts, and so forth on the fly.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

[Solo GPC] 511: Ghosts of the Past

After the sweeping, epic events (not to mention epic length!) of 510, I wanted to dial things down a bit for 511. Bring events to a more personal level, that sort of thing. Here's how it all played out...

We had left off with Herringdale and a host of other worthies wintering over at Carlion. As the winter wore on, the cold and dark nights were whiled away with long, serious discussions, instigated and led by Arthur, on the nature of knighthood. What made a man a knight as opposed to a simple armored thug riding a horse? How were knights differentiated from the common stock? Did knights share a certain commonality of beliefs that united them?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Treasure Type B-X

A couple weeks ago I received the complimentary copy of JB's B/X Companion that was my reward for contributing art to the book. Due to an obvious conflict of interest, I won't provide a full review, but I'll just say this: the Companion finally induced me to take the plunge and pick up the 1981 Moldvay/Cook iteration of Basic-Expert (B-X) D&D.

I was motivated in part by the latent completest in me, the part of my brain that said, "Well, you've got the third volume in the series, you might as well get volumes 1 and 2 and put them all in the same box." But flipping through the Companion, I was also motivated by a desire to match up that volume's excellent contents to the rulebooks that I've heard and read so much about in the past few years, ever since plugging in to the Old School blogging community. As a professed admirer of the 1983 Mentzer set, I was curious to see how the Moldvay/Cook set stacked up.

After a couple of days trawling eBay, I found a nice deal. While not quite the bargain hunter's paradise it once was, it's nice to know that eBay's still good for a score now and then. In this case I found not only the Basic and Expert rule books, but also the original modules (Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread) plus Palace of the Silver Princess AND a folio of character sheets all contained in the original Basic Set box. All for 15 bucks. Not bad!

(Incidentally, I love the riot of colors presented by all those covers together.)

At any rate, I waited for the package to arrive, figuring it would be fairly anti-climactic when it did. I'm on hiatus from D&D at the moment and really have no immediate or even intermediate plans to run it (although when I do I'll likely be using Basic D&D, having OD'd on the myriad of houserules, options, and world-building details of my C&C Wilderlands campaign). Imagine my surprise, then, when the package finally arrived and I found myself opening not so much a collection of second-hand books but rather a time capsule.

See, I bought the lot from what looked like a second-hand book dealer. Having worked in a used book store myself, I assumed that the books would be relatively "clean." That is, there would probably be some cover or edge wear, but the books themselves would be more-or-less unused. What I found instead was straight out of someone's well-used game closet. To be precise, Brendan Moriarty's closet, if the name carefully scribed in the inside cover of the Basic rulebook is any indication.

Young Brendan (I say "young" based off handwriting alone, so I'll grant that I may be wrong here) was apparently quite the dedicated Dungeon Master. He made full use of his books, from keying the sample dungeon in the Basic rulebook... making full use of the suggested space to "Draw Your Own Floor Plan" in Keep on the Borderlands...

 The heart and soul of the time capsule, however, is the character record sheet folio. Every single sheet in the folio is filled out by Brendan's redoubtable crew, which comprised no fewer than seven players. Including - gasp! - two girls! Unfortunately, there are no dates on the sheets, so it's impossible to tell when this group was active, but I think it's safe to say it was sometime in the early 80s.

As someone with a degree in History, this kind of stuff is my bread and butter. Constructing a narrative based on fragmentary documentary evidence - whoo-boy, I'm in for the evening! So let's see what we've got...

First, some players clearly played more often than others, or at least played certain characters more often. The highest level character is at 9th level, a fighter named Mr. J. There are two level 6 characters, a level 5, and a level 8 (a magic-user, a dwarf, an elf, and a "theif," respectively). The rest are all first level. The higher level character sheets are obviously well-used and have been subject to lots of changes and erasures, so I'm inclined to think the characters leveled up the old-fashioned way, rather than starting at a higher level from the get-go.

The ability scores, on the other hand, betray obvious signs of alternate methods of generating the numbers; 18s abound on every sheet (an average of two per character). Scores under 10 are vanishingly rare. The single exception is the poor sucker who obviously used the "3d6 in order" method to roll up his 1st-level character (maybe he was a stickler for doing it "by the book"?). He came up with a Strength of 4 and his highest ability, Wisdom, is an intimidating 12. Ouch.

Looking over the sheets I can see evidence of previous characters being erased so the sheet can be re-used. Like the scribbling in the Keep on the Borderlands graph paper, it's an interesting reminder of the days before easy access to photocopiers, to say nothing of home printers and scanners. Another cool detail is that some of the sheets have been three-hole punched for keeping in binders.

Like most groups, some people were more inclined to show their character sheets an appropriate amount of love. Here are my personal favorites from the folio:

"Vicki H." and her Chaotic 1st-level thief "Chochomo." That's a pretty tough-looking customer, Vicki!

(Incidentally, of the girls' character sheets, only one had an Elf named Silver Leaf, and even that had been erased and written over, replaced by a nameless "magics-user.")

The infamous Mr. J, 9th-level fighter. According to the back of the character sheet, he had a talking sword that did 2d6 damage as well as a cloak and boots of elvenkind, along with a diamond ring worth 500 gp. But clearly the best part of this sheet is the character sketch. Check out this action:

Pretty boss, dude.

For all I know, this little time capsule represents "that one summer we were really into D&D" and none of the kids who so assiduously kept track of their hit points, rations, and talking swords ever played again. Years later, when Brendan was cleaning his stuff out of his parents' game closet, he ran across the old D&D box. Maybe he took some time to page through it, smiling at the memories. But then he sold it to a Florida second-hand book dealer, who then put it up on eBay for 15 bucks.

And now it's mine. I promise I'll take good care of it, gang. And maybe it'll get some use and the dusty corridors of the Silver Princess's palace and the slime-coated passageways of the Caves of Chaos will again be lit by the torches of brave adventurers, proud successors to the legacy of Chochomo, Mr. J, Silver Leaf, and the rest...

Friday, September 10, 2010

[Solo GPC] 510: ...and Of Boy Kings (Part III)

With this third and final installment, the year 510 officially takes the crown as the most epic-length year so far in our campaign. Three full sessions! About 15 hours of game play! Not that I was surprised; this was obviously going to be an epic year based solely on events laid out in the GPC itself. As it turned out, Herringdale found plenty of moments to personally shine, as well.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

[Solo GPC] 510: ...and Of Boy Kings (Part II)

 Picking up where we left off, then...

Having been crowned King of Logres to widespread jubilation and acclaim, Arthur was swept off in a grand procession bound for Carlion. This just so happened to be Herringdale's destination too. Arthur was going because the Supreme Collegium was reconvening in the ancient city to elect a High King. Herringdale was going because his daughter, Heledd, was due to marry King Alain of Escavalon. Don't you love it when character motivations line up with campaign events so neatly?

Monday, September 6, 2010

A World Map of Gamers

My already-infrequent C&C Wilderlands campaign is now officially on hiatus. I'm just too burned out on running D&D right now. If/when I don the DM's hat again, I'll most likely be keeping things extremely basic, in concept as well as in rules. That leaves my ongoing single-player Pendragon campaign as my only going concern at the moment. This is fine by Des, as Pendragon is her all-time favorite set of rules. In effect, she's become a "single system" gamer, but instead of, say, D&D or whatever, she's over the moon for Pendragon.

This led to a discussion this morning in which she picked my brain for my thoughts on how gamers break down in terms of system allegiance. How many people are like her, she wondered.

"Very few," I replied.

Since we're both visual thinkers, we began a thought exercise. How would the gamer population be represented on a map of the world, going strictly off of land mass. Immediately, I placed D&D 4e in Asia and the rest sort of fell into place from there...

Obligatory Flame-Retardant Internet Disclaimer: This is all purely subjective, of course. I have no market research to back any of this up. It's based more on my perceptions of the gaming community based on reading blogs and message boards and from seeing what's on the shelf at game stores and book stores, plus my own skewed view of the hobby. For all I know, you could switch the Indie Gamers and the White Wolf Gamers. In the end, it's pretty much impossible to get a truly accurate view of how the RPG community is spending its time. This is just how I perceive it.

(Clicken to embiggen...)

Remember, this analogy is based on equating land mass, not population, with popularity.  And by popularity, I mean: "This is what you're gaming four out of five sessions."

The "Old World" as it were is the realm of single-system D&D players (which is also metaphorically very fitting, I think). Fourth Edition occupies the greatest landmass, but d20/3e/Pathfinder also owns a significant chunk of real estate. The Old School Renaissance is a small but significant corner of the realm, and let's not forget the folks who just never stopped playing the old editions, be they 1e, 2e, or whatever.

After some thought, I plunked White Wolfers over in North America. This may be out of date, I'm not sure. But judging from the fact that, in any given Borders or Barnes & Noble, you'll see at least a dozen volumes of White Wolf games along with the many tomes of 4e and Pathfinder material, I'm guessing White Wolf still maintains a fairly hefty chunk of the market, and most people who are into the World of Darkness or Exalted seem to me to be like their D&D cousins - single-system gamers.

Australia gets the indie gamers. These are the folks who, though they may play a wide variety of RPGs, tend to play "indie" games primarily - Burning Wheel, FATE, Dogs in the Vineyard, and whatever flavor-of-the-month is currently generating buzz over at

That leaves South America for everyone else (and for my purposes here I've lumped in the Caribbean isles - I think single-system Pendragon players would represent, say, an island somewhere in the Lesser Antilles). These are the folks who, like Des, are single system gamers devoted to obscure or niche non-indie titles (Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, HERO, Palladium) or else the true "hobby gamers" (like how I was back in high school and college): the folks who compulsively buy and play games from a wide variety of genres, companies, and design philosophies to the point where there's no clear majority held by any one game or system.

Oh, and LARPing is down there in Antarctica. May it remain forever so.

Update: Cyclopeatron presents some hard numbers based on sales figures.

Monday, August 30, 2010

[Solo GPC] 510: ...and Of Boy Kings (Part I)

Here we are at last; if you're familiar with the contents of the Great Pendragon Campaign, you know what's coming this year. The trick in running it is to weave the events in the PCs' lives into the grander narrative. In effect, one of the most oft-told stories in the Western lexicon becomes background scenery for the exploits of the campaign's main characters. This could be said of the GPC in general, but it's especially true for this year.

Even a campaign limiting itself purely to the events scripted in the book would find 510 to be an extraordinarily action-packed year. As this year also marked several important watershed moments for Herringdale personally, it's turned into a truly epic year - one we're still making our way through, actually. Obviously, then, this will be the first of another several-part installment.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

[Solo GPC] 509: Of Countesses and Earls...

[Partly by design, partly by accident, this turned to be a real action-packed year. It actually spanned two full sessions, so be warned that it's even lengthier than usual...]

This year witnessed Sir Herringdale come into his own as a political mover and shaker in Salisbury and beyond. Some of his attempts at power brokerage met with wild success; others proved much more vexing... The year started off, however, with strange portents of things to come.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thoughts on Pendragon's Battle System

So as I mentioned in my last campaign update, I've reached some conclusions about how I'm going to handle mass combat in Pendragon. At least for the duration of this particular campaign.

First, a little history for those unfamiliar with the system. To the best of my knowledge, Pendragon has always had a mass battle system for handling conflicts for anything on a scale larger than a skirmish of a couple dozen combatants or so. Up to and including the latest edition, the mass battle system has comprised a chapter in the back of the rulebook constituting a little system-within-a-system that, although it builds upon the core mechanics, is kind of its own thing.

That "thing," unfortunately, was somewhat clunky and unwieldy and fairly deprotagonizing for PCs. My first extended Pendragon campaign started shortly before the advent of the Conquest Period, so we ended up playing through the entirety of the Roman War; trust me whe I say we all got our fill of the old battle system and its faults.

Last year, in what would prove to be the last home-published Pendragon supplement before the line's purchase/resuscitation by Nocturnal, Greg Stafford produced the twin volumes entitled Book of Battle and Book of Armies. The BoB presented a new battle system that was both streamlined and richer in detail than the old, one that attempted to (and succeeded in) making the battle system more engaging for players and adding tactical elements to the process of participating in battle, as well as defining many of the subsidiary battle events that were hand-waved or left up to GM fiat in the older system.

Needless to say, I was pretty jazzed about this release. Finally, Pendragon would have a decent battle system! And you know what? Having run nearly a dozen battles with the new system, I stand by that assessment. However, I've also come to the conclusion that the new system is not working in this particular campaign. Sometime in the future I intend to run the GPC for a group, and I will trot out the Book of Battles again and see how it goes over, but for now I'm retiring the system.

The first reason is that one of the BoB's greatest strengths, its increased focus on tactical decision-making, is so not Des's style. To use Robin Laws's terminology, she is simply not a Tactician-type player in the least, and not much of a Power Gamer either. I've addressed Des's attitudes towards tactical play and number crunching as it applies to D&D in a previous post, and the same hang-ups apply to Pendragon gameplay. In fact, as Sir Herringdale has risen in power and come into command of his own body of troops, she's become increasingly disconnected from the battle system and the decision-making it requires of unit commanders.

The other factor in my decision was that in a single-player game the new system actually puts extra work in the GM's hands. This is because the BoB, in its admirable attempt to make the battle system more player-focused, is designed with the assumption that at least three player-characters will be participating in the battle. This forms a rather critical element of the new system, actually, so in a single-player game I'm obliged to run two GMPCs to obtain a quorum, on top of my usual workload. Which is higher than normal since, as I mentioned, Des is fairly disconnected from the battle process so I've taken up the slack with the paperwork, which the system assumes will be shared among a group of at least four players (three PCs and a GM).

So clearly we need a new approach, and I've settled on a compromise between old and new. The key was remembering that an old 4th edition supplement had a nifty, streamlined version of the old battle system, complete with a handy flowchart. After scratching my chin a bit, I remembered that it was in the back of the excellent Beyond the Wall supplement, and voila:

I really like this tweaked version of the old system. For one thing, it gives the Army Commander a roll every round, and a fairly essential roll at that (figuring overall casualties for the round!), finally giving Arthur some measure of influence over battle outcomes, for example. Yet it retains something I liked about the old system: it focuses on the characters' individual experience and their fortune from round to round. Plus: no paperwork. It's just a series of dice rolls. Also, players can use Battle rolls to affect the Foe Table result (and if they Fumble they might get a worse opponent than originally rolled, heh) regardless of whether they're a unit commander. So there's a lot to like there.

However, I am not abandoning the new system altogether. There's lots to like about it, after all. I'll be taking the Opportunity and Surprise tables, for one thing (I think they can fit in nicely with Step 4; if a player is a unit commander and rolls a crit or fumble, respectively, in that Step, the tables come out). I will also be using the deliciously excellent Foe Tables from the Book of Armies, you'd better believe it. And probably a couple other elements cherry-picked here and there (the rules for being disengaged in the rear area, for example, are great).

As we head into the Boy King period, which kicks off with a regular ol' Battle Fest of Epic Proportions and eventually culminates in the Götterdämmerung of Badon Hill, I'm looking forward to seeing how this new compromise system works out. Hopefully it'll mean less work for me, and more engagement/enjoyment for my player. I'll post an update once we have a couple battles under our belts.

As for the BoB system, as I mentioned above, I've far from written it off entirely. I'd be quite interested to see how it played out with a group of three or more players, particularly if we had a tactician or two in our midst.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

[Solo GPC] 508: The Battle of Netley Marsh

Man, the Anarchy Phase sucks. Just when everything looks to be going along as planned--BOOM! Disaster strikes! I honestly felt bad having to run the events outlined in this year after last year's relative triumphs. Ah well, the element of drama and all that, right?

(Also, after this year's battle, I reached some conclusions on how I'm going to run battles in Pendragon for the foreseeable future, but I'll elucidate on that in a separate post.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

[Solo GPC] 507: Daggers at Broughton

Although the Great Pendragon Campaign and the many Pendragon adventure collections available in PDF form provide reams and reams of material - more than one could ever hope to squeeze into even two or three campaign arcs - I've found in my experience of running the game that the best sessions inevitably arise from the home-crafted scenarios, the ones that play off of character history and development. This year's session was one such as that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

[Solo GPC] Sir Herringdale du Plain, Marshall of Salisbury

Twenty-plus years into the campaign, I thought I'd post Sir Herringdale's updated character sheet as a companion piece to the character sheet I posted around the start of the campaign. Here we have our hero having just surpassed 12,000 Glory, putting him 4,000 points from hitting "Extraordinary" fame. Already known throughout Britain as an exemplar of knighthood on par with Sir Brastias and Duke Ulfius, Herringdale's fame will have spread overseas by the time he hits 16,000...

Sir Herringdale du Plain, Marshall of Salisbury, also called "the Merciful", "Giantslayer", and "Saxon's Scourge"

Personal Data
Age: 43
Son Number: 1
Homeland: Salisbury
Culture: Cymric
Religion: Roman Christian
Liege Lord: King Nanteleod of Escavalon
Current Class: Marshall
Current Home: Du Plain Castle

SIZ 17
DEX 11
STR 15
CON 20
APP 11

Damage 5d6
Healing Rate 5
Move Rate 4
Distinctive Features: piercing gaze; facial scar
Hit Points 38
Unconscious 9

Personality Traits
Chaste/Lustful 10/10*; Energetic/Lazy 14/6; Forgiving/Vengeful 13/7; Generous/Selfish 13/7; Honest/Deceitful 12/8; Just/Arbitrary 8/12; Merciful/Cruel 18/2; Modest/Proud 13/7; Pious/Worldly 10/10; Prudent/Reckless 9/11; Temperate/Indulgent 10/10; Trusting/Suspicious 10/10; Valorous/Cowardly 18/2

*Directed Trait: Lustful (Men) +5

Chivalry Bonus: YES
Religion Bonus: NO

Loyalty (Lord) 16
Love (Family) 15
Hospitality 18
Honor 16
Hate (Picts) 8
Hate (Saxons) 24
Concern (Commoners) 9
Hate (Elaine) 12

Skills: Awareness (18); Courtesy (12); Dancing (2); Falconry (17); First Aid (17); Flirting (8); Folklore (3); Gaming (5); Heraldry (15); Hunting (16); Intrigue (18); Orate (9); Play Harp (3); Recognize (13); Religion: Christian (3); Singing (6); Stewardship (6); Swimming (2)

Combat Skills: Battle (16); Siege (2); Horsemanship (17); Sword (20); Spear Expertise (15); Dagger (5); Mace (5)

Equipment: Chainmail armor (10 points); Shield (6 points); Sword; Spear (2); Charger; Rouncey (2): Sumpter; Palfrey (2); War Pony; Tropies of War (Yale Horn, Saxon Army Banner, Tusk Helmet [split]); Golden Torc

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