Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Paean to the Hobby

This can be a tough hobby to love sometimes.

Comic books and computer games have both largely shed their old stigmas, even acquiring a certain patina of "geek chic," but tabletop gaming is still something as often spoken of in whispers as not. Then there's the social element of the hobby; having to rely on others for your fun can and often does lead to terrific levels of frustration.

But goddamnit do I love gaming.

The same social element that can lead to such frustration can also expose you to some really interesting people. In the course of running games, I've mused about what roast pheasant tastes like - and received an answer. I've had someone describe what it feels like to be struck by a lightning bolt - based on personal experience. I've talked history, cosmology, anthropology, religion, literature...a college catalog-worth of topics, really. I've gamed with people from the U.K., New Zealand, and all over America, people with heritages ranging from the Arctic circle to the equator.

And even in its more solitary moments, gaming has enriched my life. If you're gonna run a campaign set in the real world or a world approximating our own (i.e. 99.99% of the campaigns that have ever been or ever will be run), in order to be an effective GM you have to familiarize yourself with a variety of subjects. You have to be a bit of an historian, a bit of an actor, a bit of an accountant.

(When I started doing my taxes as a young man I was not the least bit intimidated; filling out those forms and doing the column arithmetic wasn't far off from some systems I'd run during high school, after all!)

Throughout high school, college, and my adult life people have always assumed me to be well-read. I suppose that, compared against the general populace, I am. But the fact of the matter is that I'm actually a bit of a slow reader; I can't blaze through a book in two days, like many people I've known. And I usually try to read too many books at once, guaranteeing that I finish few of them.

No, what others have mistaken for erudition is actually down almost entirely to my two-decade-long devotion to the gaming hobby. Gaming has improved my vocabulary (I learned "obfuscate" thanks to Vampire: The Masquerade, "attribute" thanks to D&D), taught me about history, military theory, world culture, magic and superstition, religion, Jazz Age slang (and taught myself HTML in order to put together my first website to share said knowledge), and on and on. Thanks to my miniatures hobby I've learned to wield a paintbrush with some small level of skill and am comfortable with basic carpentry and craftsmanship. As both player and GM I've been challenged to think in non-linear, creative fashions.

I could go on, but you get the point. For all the frustrations that can come with gaming, my life has been enriched in countless ways, both personally and professionally, by the hobby. And sometimes it just needs to be said: I love gaming!

I don't know what I'd do without it...

The GM Prepares

There are few sights more satisfying and pregnant with anticipation than an envelope stuffed with handouts, ready for tomorrow's Call of Cthulhu session.


Whether it's a sandboxy hexcrawl or a more scenario-driven series of linked adventures, campaign preparation is, to my mind, one of the central responsibilities of good Game Mastering. There's always room for winging it, but there's simply no substitute for good preparation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quasi-Legal Geekery

Earlier today Martin R. Thomas of Daddy Rolled A 1 posted about his sweaty brush with desperation-driven gaming larceny as a young teen. It's a great story of a would-be perfect crime--and almost pulling it off.

It reminded me of my own quasi-legal gaming purchasing experience, which came in the form of a used book store that was across the street from the game store I used to frequent in high school. The guys who ran the game store were total Comic Book Store Guys, perpetually giving me the stink-eye and heaving heavy sighs if I dared ask for a bag to put my purchases in. And they never had sales or markdowns, cheap bastids.

At any rate, my Dad used to browse the book store while I was in the game store and I'd meet him there after I was done. Sometimes he'd still be browsing, so I'd tour the aisles and see if anything jumped out at me. I noticed pretty early on that the used book store had a shelf of RPG-related material tucked away in a little side aisle, so I'd always give it a perfunctory glance whenever I was there. Usually there was nothing there to interest me. Old 1e hardbacks? BORRRING! (Fear not, good readers; I did eventually get wise and purchased my first-ever copy of the 1e DMG from the used book store.) But then, somewhere around my junior year of high school, something magical started happening.

I walked into the book store after doing my usual tour of the game store and checked the RPG shelf. Lo and behold, the shelf was half full of brand new 2e hardbacks, all slick and glossy, bindings not even cracked. They were on sale at about half the cover price.

Those in my group who didn't have their own copies of the PHB and DMG quickly acquired same from the used book store. It didn't take much to figure out what was going on: someone was lifting new books from the game store, walking across the street, and reselling their stolen goods to the used book store. Did this bother me or my friends? Not in the slightest. To our adolescent minds, the game store guys had it coming after years of truly abysmal customer service. Even today, over 15 years later, I still see some karmic justice in that whole scenario.

As for myself, I can't say for certain whether I actually bought any of the ill-gotten used AD&D books. I certainly didn't need the core books at the time. But I certainly never felt compelled to walk across the street and tip off the game store owners. They were really that bad. The racket continued operating for the better part of a year, but eventually the trickle of new "used" books dried up; either the thief got caught or the game store got wise. They didn't hear about it from me, that's all I know.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Announcing PopeRape: The Role-Playing Game

As much as I've tried to ignore the latest shrug-inducing "controversy"* sweeping through this corner of the Blogosphere, I can't help but have learned a valuable marketing lesson. I am therefore announcing the forthcoming publication of PopeRape: The Role-Playing Game.

I'll be honest; the system is basically just a home-brew concoction of my favorite elements from Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds, and Mutant Chronicles. It's a straight-ahead fantasy heartbreaker with little to no innovative or interesting elements. But since I've learned that when people are offended by something, rather than ignoring it and focusing on things they actually like and are enthusiastic about they'll instead spill gallons of virtual ink generating free publicity for the very product they profess to decry, I'm giving the game an uber-controversial title and will be liberally illustrating the book with pictures of various popes throughout history being violently sodomized by amoral adventurers. The most violent depiction will, of course, be reserved for Pope Joan, history's sole female pope. Through this, I hope to drive sales into the tens of thousands.

Expect an Open Beta release to be timed with whenever this latest brouhaha begins to wind down so that your blog rolls can once again be choked of with a kudzu-like eruption of opinionated posts on a subject 99.999% of the population couldn't care less about.

*Of which that link, more or less chosen at random, is but one of many examples.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Heresy; or, When Systems Collide

Something's been increasingly sticking in my craw lately. A heretical idea that refuses to die.

Why can't I run one system while the players play another?

I first ran across this idea in a long-forgotten blog or message board post. Someone talked about how they ran 3.5e for their players, but used Moldvay B/X behind the screen. In other words, the players got the use of all the feats and powers and whatever various other arcane complexities their hearts desired, while the DM jammed econo behind the screen, worrying only about basic hit dice, Armor Class, and monster-specific special abilities. Aside from adjusting AC from descending to ascending, there was very little the DM needed to do.

There's a peculiar philosophy in gaming that says that the GM has to be playing by the same rules as the players. On a certain level, this makes sense. I mean, no one wants to game with a GM who is making shit up as he goes along. But as long as the GM is operating within his own framework of rules, who says they have to be the same as the rules the players use? I mean, no one expects a DM to award experience points to his NPCs and keep track of their levels, for example.

I've heard it said that it's not unusual for even game designers to not use their own rules as written. But I've been thinking bigger. Why not use two completely different systems?

The example that got me to write this post comes courtesy of an old post on Risus Monkey in which he talks about using Risus as a shorthand for GURPS NPCs. One of the things that drove me away from GURPS, as much as I admire the changes implemented in Fourth Edition, was the d20-esque stat blocks, with their line after line of different abilities, exceptions, and special powers. As Christian aptly puts it in a comment to this post (which features a fine example of the sort of stat block I'm talking about), GURPS character creation is almost a mini-game unto itself. Now, that would be highly desirable to me as a player. But as a GM? A shorthand system for creating NPCs is a godsend.

But why not take it a step further? With a Rosetta Stone like the one Risus Monkey posted, I could easily run a Risus game while my players played GURPS. Any interactions between the two systems could be quickly solved using the Rosetta Stone. Obviously this would work best (or at all) with a complex system and a simple system, or two simple systems. But that's the only reason I'd do this anyway; my priorities as GM these days are simplicity and speed, both for prep and for running a game. BRP and Savage Worlds meet those needs well enough, but there's just something about more complex systems like 3.5/Pathfinder or GURPS that I think are super fun for the players, and I hate to deprive my players of that opportunity should they choose to so indulge.

At any rate, these are all just random thoughts at this point. I don't anticipate a chance to put my heresy into practice any time in the foreseeable future. How about you all? Has anyone tried running one system while their group played another?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Announcing The Order of the d30 Concordance (Beta)!

Sure to cause as much of a stir as a certain other recently released Beta version, here at long last is The Order of the d30 Concordance--in Beta flavor!

Click the d30 to unlock the magic.
(This is my first time uploading something to Google Sites, so please let me know if there are any difficulties accessing or downloading the file.)

Featuring contributions from a wide range of illustrious and wildly inventive bloggers, this Beta version is lean and mean, 100% pure content, and free from any implications of expected play styles or philosophies on the uses of shields.

And yes, it's a Beta version, so please hit me up at the email address shown at left under the "About Me" section if you have any sort of feedback, constructive criticism, or fresh contributions. A snazzier, sleaker, and (dare I say?) sexier version will be released some time in the near future (counted in Palladium time, unfortunately).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Virtual Busking

Believe it or not, this post has
nothing to do with Dungeon Crawl
Classics
!
Well, despite having weathered the Great Recession pretty well up to this point, and despite the President's reassurances, I became another statistic earlier this week. Or rather, I didn't, since my job was technically a freelance position, so I won't be filing for unemployment and therefore won't show up in any official numbers. But getting laid off from a freelance position hurts the wallet just as much (if not moreso) than losing a salaried position ('specially when your employer lowers the boom without notice or severance), so I've decided to swallow my pride and set up a little Paypal donation button over to the right there.

I've got a couple prospects in the fire, and have picked up some short-term projects that'll go some way towards alleviating the hurt, but in this economy I'm not terribly enthusiastic about finding something steadier in anything like a timely fashion. So if you've enjoyed parts or all of the content of this blog in the past I'd appreciate whatever you can share as it will go towards my ongoing efforts of not to getting my nuts crushed in the gears of capitalism.

On the upside, suddenly finding myself with more time on my hands is going to afford me the time I need to get back into the swing of my usual semi-regular posting. So you can look forward to a resumption of my Forgotten Realms project, more Pendragon session reports, and the usual various and sundry musings, albeit perhaps now delivered in a garbled, hobo-esque ranting style.

At any rate, I'll leave you for now with this bit of wisdom from the old master...
"I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."
"So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
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