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.
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