Monday, January 30, 2012

On the rich variety of Old School play

The important thing to take from this section isn’t the four styles [Power-Gaming, Wargaming, Story-Telling, Role-Playing] or their labels (as there are other systems for describing this with their own labels), but the idea that there were many different styles of “old school” play back in the “old school” days – not just the single style stressed in some “old school” blogs, forums, and web sites. Don’t let those sites make you believe that you aren’t playing old school right if your campaign isn’t strongly in the wargaming camp. Most successful campaigns back in “old school” days were a mixture of all four major styles – and a heaping helping of minor styles.
The above quote was taken from an excellent post on the Retro Roleplaying blog. Taking Matt Finch's justifiably well-known "Old School Primer" as its starting point, the post rightly points out that a variety of play styles appeared in the hobby as soon as it grew beyond its wargaming roots.

If there's one sin the OSR community has been largely guilty of, it's in its emphasis on player skill, high character mortality, and hex-and-dungeon-crawl-driven play - what the Retro Roleplaying article calls the Wargaming approach. I understand that this emphasis rightly grew from (a) an attempt to go back to the earliest roots of the hobby (when the Wargaming style was all there was) and (b) a reaction against the excesses of railroady "adventure paths" that have come to dominate the hobby, but it's still nice to see someone acknowledge that the roots of "story games" and character-driven roleplaying are nearly as old (and just as "legit") as save or die poison traps and character funnels.

Pic unrelated.

Friday, January 27, 2012

[Solo GPC] 526: A Squire's Life

For this first installment in the new phase of the campaign, I decided to cheat a little bit. There's a little introductory scenario that comes in the back of the Pendragon core rulebook; I think everyone who's played Pendragon is familiar with it. I've run it before (although not for Des) and she's run it for me (twice, in fact!). Yet, because the GPC starts out (way back in 485) with a different intro scenario, the adventure had so far not featured in this particular campaign. I felt this was a shame, as it's such an iconic Pendragon experience. I asked Des if she'd mind playing through the adventure since she'd only experienced it from a GM's perspective. She had no problem with this, and so we faded in on the Vale of the White Horse on a breezy early summer morn...

The arms of Baron Uffington

[Solo GPC] Loholt, Squire of the White Horse

We're a couple sessions into the new year of Pendragon gaming with Des's new character, Loholt. As mentioned before, with Meleri's premature retirement we decided to roll with the changes and bring in Arthur's illegitimate son (via Meleri) while he's still a squire. The first two years of Loholt's squireship have been full of fun teenage drama and unexpected twists and he's well on the path to knighthood. Here are his stats (after two years of play) at the beginning of what will hopefully prove an illustrious career befitting the son of a king and queen!

Personal Data
Age: 16
Son Number: 1
Homeland: Carlion
Culture: Roman
Religion: Roman Christian
Liege Lord: Earl Robert of Salisbury
Current Class: Squire
Current Home: Uffington

SIZ 12
DEX 16
STR 10
CON 12
APP 15

Damage 4d6
Healing Rate 3
Move Rate 2
Distinctive Features: Red Hair; Piercing Gaze
Hit Points 24
Unconscious 6

Family Characteristic: Keen on Status

Personality Traits
Chaste/Lustful 17/3; Energetic/Lazy 10/10; Forgiving/Vengeful 14/6; Generous/Selfish 10/10; Honest/Deceitful 8/12; Just/Arbitrary 10/10; Merciful/Cruel 15/5; Modest/Proud 12/8; Pious/Worldly 8/12; Prudent/Reckless 10/10; Temperate/Indulgent 14/6; Trusting/Suspicious 8/12; Valorous/Cowardly 16/4

Chivalry Bonus: NO
Religion Bonus: NO

Loyalty (Lord) 11
Love (Family) 10
Hospitality 5
Honor 18
Hate (Pellinore's Murderer) 8
Amor (Orlande) 36

Skills: Awareness (7); Chirurgery (5); Dancing (2); Faerie Lore (1); Falconry (2); Flirting (3); Gaming (2); Heraldry (7); Hunting (5); Law (14); Orate (8); Play: Harp (1); Read: Latin (4); Recognize (2); Religion: Roman Christian (2); Romance (4); Singing (1); Stewardship (2); Swimming (2); Tourney (2)

Combat Skills: Battle (7); Siege (5); Horsemanship (12); Sword (5); Lance (9); Spear (2); Dagger (5)

Equipment: Chainmail armor (10 points); Shield (6 points); Sword; Spear (5); Charger (White Star); Rouncey (2); Sumpter; Arm Ring of Chastity

Since Loholt spent the majority of his childhood in residence at Carlion with Meleri, Des decided he identified more with the culture of that city (Roman) than of his "homeland" Salisbury (Cymric). Romans are much more court-oriented (their special skill of Law encompasses Courtesy, Intrigue, and Folk Lore), but this is well-timed as we're gearing up to head into the Romance period. And speaking of Romance - check out that Amor passion! The love story will begin to unfold with the first session update (Year 526), so you'll just have to wait for the details. Also of note in Loholt's passions are his abysmally low Hospitality (I guess he's got a lot to learn about being a proper host) and his lack of the family Hate (Saxons) passion - he's trying to move past old prejudices in this new world. Loholt's family gift turned out to be an Arm Ring of Chastity; perhaps it was given him by King Alain so Loholt might avoid some of the pitfalls of lust that tripped up his mother and grandfather?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pardon Me While I Geek the Eff Out

I've written before of my deep and abiding love for the Lone Wolf gamebooks and the game world presented therein, Magnamund. Aside from my natural nostalgic inclinations, the setting itself is a damn fine example of Silver Age fantasy world-building and one my longest-held unrealized gaming goals is to run a campaign set in Magnamund simply because I think it'd be a great place to adventure. All other elements aside, the books are still a good read, even a quarter-century later, and I return to them for linguistic and aesthetic inspiration at least once every couple years.

As a result, I try to stay plugged in with the Lone Wolf fan community online, perusing message boards and so forth. On my latest trawl a couple months ago, I learned of a new project being undertaken by Lone Wolf author Joe Dever in partnership with an Italian fantasy illustrator, Francesco Mattioli: a poster-sized map of the world of Magnamund!

To say I was excited by this news would be an understatement, but when I received the actual map in the mail yesterday I went into full-on geek mode. I'm not normally one to fan-boy out, but this thing had me "squeeing" as if Joss Whedon himself had come down from on high, killed George Lucas, and appointed all 11 Doctors as new rulers of the world.

The map comes folded in a sturdy slip case with an absolutely gorgeous cover illustration.

It's a full-size poster map; the colors are rich and the paper is glossy and of heavy stock.

This is called "the definitive map of Magnamund," and I can well believe it - every island is named, every landmark noted, every settlement shown.

So this is when I absolutely turned into a drooling Fanboy Spawn; a personally-inscribed signature from Joe Dever himself! My inner 10-year-old's head exploded with joy.

The signature aside, what I really love about this map is how it absolutely nails the visual aesthetic of the gamebooks. The last 10 years have seen the world of Lone Wolf getting a lot of support from Mongoose Publishing (the original books being re-released, two RPGs being put out), but my reaction has been decidedly mixed and this has been founded largely on the art direction of the Mongoose books. No matter what artist they used, they seemed completely, almost willfully, incapable of doing anything but make Magnamund look like Generic Fantasy World #815 (and some of those artists were absolutely terrible on a technical level to boot, only adding insult to the injury). What Mattioli has done with this map is demonstrate that there are still people out there who understand part of the appeal (a big part) of Magnamund lies in the visual aesthetic developed by Gary Chalk and Brian Williams. Seeing Magnamund transformed into some kind of WETA Workshop reject was an ongoing source of quiet distress for me, and I'm simply overjoyed to finally see a product that recalls the past glories of the game books. Here's to way more where that came from!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

[Solo GPC] A Winter Interlude

Photo by Antony Spencer

This is an account of what turned out to be Meleri's last session as a full-time PC. I had an adventure prepared for this year as usual, but what turned out happening was an all-roleplaying session that took the form of a conversation between Meleri and Morgan over the winter of 525-26. If you recall, we left off with Meleri journeying to the castle of Morgan le Fay as the rest of the country prepared to go to war with the Roman Empire. Morgan had made an intriguing offer, luring Meleri away from Sarum where she was to spend the duration of the war in the company of her rival, Countess Katherine.

"I can offer you all you desire," said Morgan, a twinkle in her eye. "Lamorak can at last be yours, wholly and unreservedly."

"How?" Meleri asked, uncertain.

"I shall make you Queen of Norgales," said Morgan. "Pellinore is dead. His land has no ruler. As Queen you will rule over Lamorak and he will serve you. You cannot rely on your beauty alone to keep him; it will not hold forever. Even now I see lines gather like crow's feet about your eyes.

"You will never be old in the eyes of those who love you. And if they refuse to love you, I can teach you the subtle arts of persuasion that will make them your slaves. Come with me to my hall; you are better than the provincial dolts who people this court. Spend the winter as my guest and think over the offer."

And so the pros and cons were weighed. Morgan had dangled Lamorak before Meleri (how Morgan knew of their affair, Meleri did not know - but she was not surprised at the knowledge). Regardless, Meleri was skeptical that her being made queen would bring Lamorak to her. In fact, if she knew the chivalrous knight at all, she felt that he would see her differently once she became his liege lord.

On the other hand, there was the promise of power, and that was considerable. The power of a queen. The power of an enchantress. The power to never age, to never lose her looks or her influence.

What of Ontzlake? What of him? He was down in Portchester, preparing to embark for the Continent, not knowing when he'd return - or if. He had been a good husband to her, but she had never felt any particularly strong ties to him...

And so it was decided. Meleri would take up Morgan's offer and become Queen of Norgales and learn the sorcerous arts.

And with that, Meleri entered the realm of NPCs. There are no canonical rules for magic in Fifth Edition, and with good reason. I've run Pendragon with magician characters before, and it really does change the tone, tenor, and focus of the game before. On top of that, once a character achieves a certain level of temporal power (and ruling a country would certainly qualify in this regard), the rules recommend retirement. Again, I've run campaigns with characters at the level of Earls and Duchesses, and I much prefer lower power scales.

So we're going really low for our next chapter in the unfolding saga. The year 526 just happens to be the year that Meleri's eldest son Loholt, who has been serving as a page at the court of the Baron of Uffington, becomes a squire. And so we're shifting back to the world of knights and starting at the earliest possible age. The next full update will be the first installment in the life of Loholt the Squire and his teenage misadventures in a land emptied of knights gone off to war. It should be fun to see how he fares, and as with Meleri's adventures it gives us an opportunity to explore another of the less-ventured corners of the setting.

As for Meleri, she will make cameo appearances from time to time, I'm sure. There might even be occasion for Des to run her once or twice. The price she owes to Morgan for her boon will also become apparent over time. But for now the focus shifts onto a young squire in the Vale of the White Horse...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How I'm Rolling My Three-Sided Dice From Now On

I'm listening to the Bradford Players' actual play podcast of Tatters of the King right now and I just picked up the coolest little trick for rolling a d3:

Roll your d6. If it comes up a 1, 2, or 3, take the face value. If it comes up a 4, 5, or 6, take the obverse value. So a 6 would read as a 1, a 5 as a 2, and a 4 as a 3.

I don't know why this appeals to me so much, other than the fact that I remember being fascinated as a youngster when I discovered the obverse values of a die always tallied to 7. This is also a great trick for the math impaired who don't enjoy taking a couple seconds to confirm that, yes, 2.5 rounds to 3 or what have you. (I've known a few of these folks in my time at the gaming table.)

This trick may be as old as the hills, but it's the first I've ever heard of it. Of course the system only works if you have standard dice; I have a vintage d6 in my collection, for instance, that does not have the regular obverse values. So be sure to double-check those dice before trying out this system!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Solo GPC: Two Years On

Two years ago today, inspired by ChicagoWiz's late, lamented blog posts about solo D&D sessions with his wife, I outlined my own ambitious plans to tackle the Great Pendragon Campaign with my wife as solo PC. Although 2011 saw a less packed schedule than 2010, the grand old campaign is still rolling along. This year saw the death of Des's first character, Sir Herringdale, after an epic 30-year career span and the arc of Herringdale's daughter, Lady Meleri.

The Meleri adventures were always intended as a bit of an experiment; how would I fare as a GM, presenting adventures that did not center around combat (indeed, that rarely featured combat at all) and focused more on inter-personal relationships, social climbing and status, and other such "out of genre" activities?

Looking back, I'd have to say that I struggled. RPGs tend to take two elements as a given: combat and the supernatural. Running a campaign that featured very little of either was definitely a challenge, all the more so for doing it with a single player. Still, all in all the Meleri arc was a success and we definitely added some memorable moments and stories to the unfolding canon.

It might have been partly due to the challenge inherent in the departure from the normal Pendragon game  structure that slowed me down, but this year's reduced schedule (advancing the timeline a mere 10 years compared to 2010's 30) was also down to several real life interruptions and (more significantly) the happy development of finally getting together a solid, reliable face-to-face gaming group. There's only so much gaming time to go around, and the priority largely went to the group.

Having said that, my main gaming resolution for 2012 is to finish the GPC. We're exactly halfway through, chronologically speaking. With 40 game years to go, this is doable with weekly sessions; we even have 12 weeks worth of wiggle room to account for skipped weeks or multi-session years (of which there are bound to be at least a couple).

As it happens, we'll be starting off the new year with a new character. I'll save the details for the next session report, but here's a teaser in the form of a Christmas gift I gave to Des; like last year, I painted up a miniature of her character, this time in the form of Lady Meleri. Her fate and the reason for the entry of a brand new character at this point can be gleaned from the caption on the base...

Miniature from the excellent Thunderbolt Mountain "Arthurians" range
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