Friday, February 28, 2014

[Rifts:2112] Thinking Out Loud About a Shakedown and Rebuild

On December 21, 2008, I made my first post of what would eventually turn out to be my Rifts:2112 project. At the time, I'd been running a RAW Rifts game, and its internal setting inconsistencies, coupled with continuing frustrations with that particular iteration of the Palladium system, led me to decide to put things on pause and retool a bit.

So here we are, over five years later, and that pause button is still pressed. This is largely because, like picking at a loose flap of wallpaper, the more I pulled, the more came off, and the more I wanted to keep pulling. Pretty soon, I was engaging in fairly wholesale world-building, a still-ongoing process.

Then there were system conversion issues. Which system to use? How much to try to convert the spirit of the setting, and how much to try and maintain some level of fidelity? And how much material to include? (At this point, I think Rifts has to occupy some fairly high level in the pantheon of setting bloat.)

Early on, I decided to limit myself to just a handful of books, all of which were published in the early years of the line's run. But I still found myself with a mountain of gear, monsters, and setting information, only a small percentage of which actually resonated with or inspired me. As I've worked on my 2112 notes since, I've found myself coming back, again and again, to just a few core elements of the world. I've found myself discarding increasingly larger and larger chunks of the setting, and drastically re-imagining even those elements that I do keep.

Over at Dungeonskull Mountain, Blizack has been doing his own series of posts on Rifts of late. Like me, there's a lot about the setting that bugs him. But rather than trying to turn the setting into something it's not, he's looking instead for a way to make the setting a bit more his own, and have it make a bit more sense internally, while, if anything, turning up the saturation on the colors that make up the core Rifts experience. Bradford Walker is doing similar yeoman's work over at Stabilizing Rifts. Both of these blogs have actually increased my own interest in playing Rifts more or less by-the-book, incidentally. But I also love what I've worked up through my 2112 posts.

So at this point, I'm seriously considering just taking "Rifts" out of the equation entirely. There will still be broad, thematically similar elements, of course. In essence, it would be a sort of fantasy heartbreaker version of Rifts. The actual IP elements would get their serial numbers filed off, but the core elements that I like so much would be retained.

So I was thinking along these lines and I realized that the major stumbling block is that once you remove the actual Rifts IP, what does that leave you with?

Allow me to digress for a moment. My understanding is that much of what we consider to be core setting elements of Rifts had their genesis in the work of the game's artists. I may be mistaken on this, but as far as I know Keith Parkinson's iconic cover inspired the Splugorth slaver and not the other way around. Kevin Long's famous color illustration of two 'borgs stalking through pre-rifts ruins was later ret-conned into a line of official Triax 'borgs. And so forth.

So why not take a page from that process, I thought to myself. I've already done that to a certain extent with art collected from around the web that's not necessarily related to the Rifts setting. But what about stuff like weapons, armor, and gear - the bread and butter of most Rifts gamers' experience? Well, I reasoned, there are tons and tons of cool sci-fi/post-apocalyptic miniatures available right now. Even though I don't use miniatures for my RPG gaming, there's nothing to prevent me from taking visual inspiration from those figures. I started looking around and found some cool stuff out there. Let's take a tour...

The Coalition proved to be pretty easy, actually. There are quite a few quasi-Dead Boy miniatures out there to choose from. In the end, I liked the sci-fi Nazi vibe of DreamForge's Eisenkern Stormtroopers:

From this figure alone, I've already got a suit of environmental body armor and some sort of nifty assault weapon (clearly modeled on an MG42) to stat up.

Very nice. How about power armor? West Wind's Secrets of the Third Reich line offers some excellent choices that continue the sci-fi Nazi vibe:

Again, these are being used strictly visual inspiration, so I'm not necessarily going to name that first suit of power armor a Wolverine, but it does seem like the sort of suit of protective power armor my cod-Coalition might put in the field. And that Drop Trooper might just make a fine substitute for the SAMAS and/or Sky Cycle.

The same minis line even provides a nice stand-in for a UAR-1 Enforcer-type mech:

Thanks to Bronze Age Miniatures and Copplestone Castings, I even found some nice stand-ins for Dog Boys and Skelebots, respectively:

Again, it's a matter of taking Rifts as a jumping-off point but statting things up in my system of choice (see below) based more on the visuals of the miniatures themselves. The weapons on those suits of power armor and mechs - what are their names? How much damage do they do? Same goes for the carbine that the "Dog Boy" is carrying or the rifles in the hands of the "skelebots" and so forth.

Nonetheless, these selection track pretty closely to their Rifts inspirations. How about something a little further afield? Well, in my last 2112 post, I speculated about moving the fantasy-steampunk vibe that I'd developed for the New German Republic over to Tolkeen by way of Privateer Press's Warmachine line. (In many ways, that speculation was the germ of this new direction, actually.)

Checking out the Warmachine minis, I settled on the "Convergence of Cyyriss" figures for "Tolkeen's" mechs and power armor, and a combination of suitable figures to represent that nation's mix of fantasy races:

Every one of those figures is loaded with weapons, armor, and gear to stat up, to say nothing of implied cultural and personal backgrounds, all of which can be developed as I see fit.

Northern Gun and the Manistique Imperium have always been one of my favorite elements of Rifts North America, an independent and relatively neutral antidote to the Coalition's depressing Orwellianism and a reliable source of weapons and gear for PCs. So I definitely wanted to include an analog in my still-nascent setting. Once again, West Wind comes through in the vehicle department, allowing me to indulge my love for spider-legged mecha, which can be a signature element of the Northern Gun-analog's mech designs:

For "typical" Northern Gun troops, Pig Iron Productions provides some excellent sculpts in the form of their Kolony Militia figures:

Although, this being northern Michigan, I'd want to do a head swap for the winter cap variants:

I could definitely see taking those Kolony Militia rifles and developing them as the AK-47 of the 2112 world.

On a related note, there's a roaring trade of third-party makers of "futuristic" weaponry in 28mm. Folks like Anvil Industry and their "Amoury" line become a sort of equivalent of a typical Rifts catalog of new and shiny weapons, but this time allowing me to pick and choose as I like without feeling beholden to any sort of pre-existing canon.

One of the earliest points of departure for me in my modding of Rifts was a desire to make the setting more overtly post-apocalyptic. Thanks in part to Blizack's posts, I've since come back around on that point of view, acknowledging that Rifts, despite its own billing, is avowedly not a post-apocalyptic setting except in the broadest sense. (It's a bit like running a game set in the Carolingian Empire and insisting on calling it a "post-Rome" game.) All the more reason to strike out on my own IP-free path, as I quite like having some overt post-apoc in my science-fantasy kitchen sink, thanks. Once again, Pig Iron comes through, as do Copplestone Castings and Lead Adventure, all of which provide some truly excellent generic post-apocalyptic types for the small city-states and the nuclear ruins and points in between the points of light:

Another setting element I definitely want to port over/file serial numbers off of is the idea of advanced technology being peddled by interdimensional traders. To that end, Infinity serves up options in spades:

A nice "terrain hopping" suit of power armor, eh?

Oh man, I can't wait to stat up each and every one of those suckers. You may also note that pretty much every one of those humanoid figures would make an excellent candidate for a PC or NPC. That's another thing I really like about this concept: with a kitchen sink setting inspired by Rifts, you can make use of a whole myriad of inspirational figures, from Infinity to Reaper to...whatever, really, not just in the service of world-building but also in the service of character creation. And you'll note I haven't even really touched on monsters, because that's such a diverse topic in and of itself. Definitely fodder for another post along these lines.

I think the next step, then, is to start working up a precis on the setting, synthesizing the non-IP elements and inspirational visuals of past Rifts:2112 posts with some of the new directional thoughts. I also want to settle on a system. I've sort of ping-ponged back and forth between BRP and Savage Worlds in the past, but I think with this new direction (and the possibility of actually buying some of these minis, bank account willing), Savage Worlds might be the way to go, especially now that their long-awaited Science Fiction Companion is out.

Much to think about here...

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Eight

What is the single most important lesson you've learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?

For this, the final question of the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop, I'm going to have to start by quoting +S. John Ross at length. Please bear with me:
It makes me pause and ponder ... when someone posts a comment or topic which they clearly believe relates to RPGs in general, but which is meaningless outside D&D or its immediate derivatives. I respect that gaming style, and the importance of it, but when D&D folk innocently assume that all other games are basically D&D with a different skin, I find myself thinking "This must be what it's like listening to Americans, if you're not American."
So in the spirit of that sentiment, I am going to consider that question literally.

The most important thing I've learned from playing D&D? Always loot the bodies and check for hidden treasure behind loose bricks and floorboards or under mattresses. Seriously. You're missing out on lots of coin and magic items if you don't. Apply that as a metaphor to your life in whichever way you think works best.

And on that vaguely anti-D&D note, we bid farewell to one blog hop and move on to another, starting tomorrow: March Madness!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Seven

If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

Every once in a while you run across someone who claims they have "no regrets" about the past. I've never really bought that.

Having said that, at this point looking back, I can't really say I have any regrets about how I got into gaming. It was frustrating as hell, with a lot of little things adding up to it taking literally years before I started a regular group - and even then it only being me and one other person for another couple years - but I forged a lifelong friendship with that person. And I learned a hell of a lot about gaming in the course of having to rely on myself to make it happen.

I guess the only real regret I have is that, throughout high school, I slavishly stuck to a schedule of one game a week, even though I probably could've been getting in a lot more sessions (lord knows I had the time!). But then again, it's not like the quality of the gaming was really that fantastic. Fun, absolutely. But not as all-around satisfying as the gaming I'm experiencing today. It's a bit like looking back on adolescence and wishing I'd eaten more hot dogs.

So in the end? No regrets!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Six

Do you still game with the people who introduced you to the hobby?

As I've often groused about too many times before, I was a tabletop gaming autodidact, and much to my chagrin at that. Nevertheless, as I wrote about yesterday, I do still game with the first people I introduced to the hobby, at least.

In fact, this question has me thinking about all the people that I've introduced to the hobby. My own experiences with having to learn the ropes on my own have, I think, motivated me to be a mentor for as many folks as I can, just because I know how bewildering the hobby can be to the uninitiated. It's completely selfish too, as the more people I bring into the hobby, the more people I can game with!

I'm not a total missionary, of course. If I were, I'd probably be running open-invite games at the local game store or library - and I have considered doing that at times. But in the end, I like gaming with friends, with people I know, however tangentially. (I do run the local tabletop gaming Meetup group, for what that's worth.)

At the end of the day, there's nothing like bringing a new gamer into the hobby and watching their excitement as they discover the manifold possibilities that this little pastime offers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Five

Longest running campaign/gaming group you've been in.

This is kind of an oddly-phrased question, because it conflates two very different things: a campaign, and a gaming group. Am I meant to have the same answer for both? Some groups do, I think. Not me.

And for the campaign portion of the question: are we talking longest-running in terms of years, or in terms of sessions? I suppose that's a rhetorical question, as I have the same answer for both: the Solo GPC campaign I played with my wife, which ran for nearly four years (albeit with significant gaps between sessions at times) and probably around 100 individual sessions. Nothing else I've played has even come close, although I'm hoping that my current run-through of the GPC with my Sunday group will eventually do so, if all goes according to plan.

Speaking of significant gaps, my answer to the group portion of the question is similarly qualified. As I've stated before, I started gaming in earnest right at the start of my freshman year in high school (way back in 1992) with my friend Alex. Gradually, through the course of high school and then college, we added a player here, a player there, but during that time we faithfully kept up a weekly schedule. That finally ended in 2000, and we didn't get a chance to game together again until 2003. Then there was another break. Then we were back on, via play-by-chat. Then off. Then back on again... You get the idea.

Thanks to Google Hangouts, we've been able to get back to a weekly gaming schedule pretty much uninterrupted for the last two years, and it's the closest we've come to having that old tabletop experience since physical distance obliged us to start gaming online. The wonders of technology! So, let's see, that's: 1992-2000, 2003-2004, 2005-2009, 2012-present...16 years total! The group has carried on despite, at times, being spread out over three time zones. (We're down to a lean single time-zone difference currently.) Having gone through adolescence and young adulthood, we've had our share of friend-drama and fallings-out, but I personally think we're currently experiencing some of the most enjoyable gaming we've ever done.

Monday, February 24, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Four

First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

For a long time, I didn't really have a good personal example of a "D&D movie" in my mind. Oh sure, there were movies that were vaguely inspirational in a sort of evocative way - flicks like the Arnie Conan movies (much more faithful to D&D than to REH), Excalibur, Willow, The Dark Crystal - but nothing that felt like how D&D feels.

Then a couple years ago I went and saw Your Highness.

NSFW clip? You bet your ass!

I know this movie was universally panned and totally bombed at the box office, but it quickly shot to the top of my favorite movies I saw that year, and remains a perennial favorite around mi casa. The reason is simple: much like when I first encountered the Knights of the Dinner Table comics, watching Your Highness felt like someone had distilled dozens of my own D&D campaigns from years past and blended them up into a movie. More than any of the myriad of those indie "gamer-centric" flicks that feature cut-scenes of actors playing the PCs in an ongoing campaign, Your Highness, particularly in the small and incidental details and character notes, more faithfully represented all the action, stupid jokes, crude references, and bizarre non-sequiters that characterize a properly rollicking D&D campaign. Watching it never fails to evoke in me a desire to Quest once again. (Or at least go on a Mini-quest...)

How Should I Proceed With the Gray Box Project?

As I wrote about yesterday, the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop has proven a bit of a distraction from other posts, but I'm getting ready to jump back into my close-reading of the original Forgotten Realms boxed set (the so-called Gray Box).

The next post in the series will be the finale of my three-part reading of the "Religion in the Realms" section of the Cyclopedia. After that, the A to Z entries of the Cyclopedia start properly. The little break occasioned by the blog hop challenge has given me time to reflect, and to realize that I'm at a crossroads with the series, here. The way I see it, there are two possible directions to take with the order and content of my remaining posts in the series.

The first direction would be what I initially set out to do, which is start on the first page of the Cyclopedia and go straight through the entries as they come up, then move on to the DM's Sourcebook of the Realms and do that book in order. In effect, I'm analyzing the contents of the Gray Box from a relatively objective standpoint, seeing what's in there and (more importantly) what's not.

However, since (re-)starting the project, I've also begun running my own campaign set in the Gray Box-era Realms. This has necessitated some focused reading ahead on my part that's quite apart from the blog series as a whole, and I'm now seeing that I could combine the two efforts by highlighting the sections I've been reading out-of-order. Rather than going A to Z and page 1 to 100, there would be a fair amount of hopping around based on the needs of my campaign first and foremost. For example, rather that posting about "Adventuring Parties" (the first entry in the Cyclopedia proper), I'd probably post about "Cormyr" (since that's where I'm running the campaign), and then maybe even skip over to the DM's Sourcebook to look at the entry on overland movement and encounters (since I read up on that before the first session). Certain parts of the books would not be covered until much later than they would with the A to Z model, but on the other hand, I'd be effectively demonstrating how one uses a boxed game world to make one's own campaign, which I know is something a couple readers have expressed interest in since I started this series.

And so: I have created a poll, the first poll in the RPG Corner's nearly five-year history! Use the poll widget over on the right there, or leave me a comment on this post, and I'll take everyone's opinions into consideration before making my decision on how to proceed in a week's time.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Three

First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

The period of my life in which I was enjoying D&D the most also happened to be the period of my life in which I was going through my Zeppelin Phase, so that band as a whole tends to be connected with the game in my mind. In a similar vein, my discovery of the OSR coincided nicely with my discovery of The Sword; although I have a nostalgic connection between D&D and Zeppelin, I have to say that The Sword, writing explicitly fantasy-themed lyrics, nowadays forms a much more direct and literal connection with the game for me.

In particular, this track off their debut album never fails to make me want to sit down and start drawing dungeons...

Lament the passing of the auroch
And the slaying of the ancient wyrm
Would you dare meet the gaze of the basilisk
Or face the flames as the phoenix burns?

Just When I Thought I Was Out

Participating in the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop has been a lot of fun. It's the first time I've done a blogging challenge here at The RPG Corner, and it's really revitalized my interest in blogging more regularly. Plus, who doesn't like to bloviate about themselves for 28 days straight?

Having said all that, I was looking forward to the end of the challenge, as it's gotten in the way of other posts I want to write. I'm itching to get back to my Gray Box Project posts, for example, and I've got a passel of posts sitting in my Drafts folder, half-finished, on a variety of other topics.

I say I was looking forward (as in past tense), as it now (as in future tense) looks like I'm going to be a sucker and participate in yet another month-long blogging challenge as soon as this one ends. The new challenge comes via the Tomb of Tendankhamen blog, which mixes fantastic content with headache-inducing graphics in a way rarely seen in this day and age.

Seriously, though, I'm actually much more interested in this upcoming challenge, as it explicitly deals with non-D&D RPGs, which are much more my cup of tea and pretty much always have been. If you've been reading along with the current Blog Hop posts, you might have noted that most of my stories are rooted in games played 20-plus years in the past. That's because the halcyon days of D&D are long behind me (despite the fact that I'm currently running an AD&D 2e campaign); hopefully next month's challenge will provide an opportunity to write about some gaming funtimes that are little more au currant (in terms of my interests, if not necessarily in terms of publication date...).

And if it's any consolation, I have no plans to participate in the April A-Z blogging challenge. Also, I'm hoping to get some of the aforementioned posts up on the blog sooner rather than later. Stay tuned...

Dragons of Britain #2 Available!

If you're a fan of the Pendragon RPG or Arthurian matters in general, hopefully you're already aware of the Dragons of Britain quarterly fanzine. Issue One was loaded with a variety of goodness relating both to Arthurian mythology and the "Age of Arthur" - historical sub-Roman Britain.

Like Issue One before it, Issue Two is free to download. This time, it includes an article by Yours Truly on a subject near and dear to my heart: The Great Pendragon Campaign. You'll also find adventures, random tables, NPCs, and suggestions for music and background reading.

Check it out!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-Two

First D&D-based novel you ever read (Dragonlance Trilogy, Realms novels, etc.)

This one's easy, as I've never really been able to make a go of game fiction. I'm not even a big fan of the short interludes in World of Darkness books. I tried to read the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy once, and I think I got about 50 pages in and that was it. (And I'm not even necessarily as virulently anti-Dragonlance as some.) I think the closest I came was reading a short story anthology of Ravenloft-related fiction once.

I'm no literary snob, and I've read my share of trash fiction and enjoyed it. I think what it comes down to is, at the end of the day, if I'm spending imaginary time in D&D-space, I'd rather be taking an active role in telling the story.

Friday, February 21, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty-One

First time you sold some of your D&D books--for whatever reason.

I'm not a collector by any means. In fact, with only a few exceptions, I take a fairly mercenary view towards my gaming ephemera. "What's useful to me now? What can I clear off the shelves?"

My eBay profile tells me I've been a member since December 12, 1999. I couldn't say for certain, but I don't think it took me very long after joining to start selling parts of my gaming collection. I sold my Warhammer Fantasy Battle Empire army that I'd been building since my freshman year in high school because we were "done with Games Workshop." I sold GURPS Old West as part of a general clearing-out and was shocked when it got bid up to 80 bucks. And I'm pretty sure I sold my first D&D books within a year of signing up for that eBay account, because that's when 3rd edition came out.

I had probably about 2-3 shelf-feet of 2e books, and they all went save for HR1 Vikings (which I still have), because 3e was going to be the savior of D&D. With the exception of about a half-dozen books, I don't have any of my old stuff. And with maybe one or two exceptions, I am untroubled by this. I like having a hobby that can help pay for itself. Interests wax and wane, and I'd rather not lug around a bunch of books that I have no interest in using because "one day I might need them."

I recently re-acquired the AD&D 2e Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monstrous Manual, paying about 30 bucks for the lot. I haven't run any 2e campaigns in almost 15 years. Was it worth the 30 dollars I just paid to not have had to carry those core books through five moves, or have found the shelf space to store them all that time? To me it is.

Recently, I've been doing things a little differently. In order to help encourage people in my circle of gamer friends to run more things, I've started giving books away if it seemed like something they'd be able to do something with a lot sooner than me. That feels nice, too. And I can always borrow the books back if I really need them...

One final note: the banner image at the top of this blog is a photograph of one section of my gaming shelves, taken maybe a year or two ago. If I were to take that same shot today, at least three of those books would no longer be there - one got sold, and the other two are on-loan to friends. I wonder what that section will look like in another year?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blog Pimpin' for My Co-Host

As some of you may be aware, I do a bi-weekly podcast about, of all things, tabletop gaming. Well sir, it just so happens that my esteemed co-host has been doing a bit of blogging himself lately (under the label of "Crit This"), and I figured I'd be remiss if I didn't put a link up here for the curious.

Go it. You know you want to.

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Twenty

Day 20: First non-D&D RPG you played.

That would be Rifts.

Way back on Day Two I mentioned that, when me and my buddy Alex started gaming together, we transitioned to Rifts just one week after we played our first AD&D session. Pretty much from the get-go, Rifts took the place of "the world's most popular role-playing game" in our esteem. As much as D&D shepherded me into the hobby, Rifts is what got me to stay.

And yes, I threw a Splugorth Slaver up against Alex's PC in the first session. How could I not? The damn thing was on the cover of the main rulebook! Alex wisely ran for his life and managed to flee, but not before nearly being incinerated by the Slaver's barrage of attacks. The drama that hung on Alex's dodge roll as he desperately threw himself over a cliffside to get, I can still remember that, 22 years later.

There had been talk before that afternoon of doing alternating AD&D and Rifts sessions, but by the end of the day, we had become unapologetic Palladium fanboys and went full-bore with that Rifts campaign for quite some time.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Nineteen

First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you.

In the early 2000s, shortly after graduating college, I stopped gaming regularly due to a variety of factors coming together at once. I was no longer in touch with the group I'd been gaming with since the early 90s, but I still very much wanted to game. Therefore, in late 2002, I turned to...the Internet.

This was back in the days of Web 1.0, when the idea of social networking was just starting to gain traction. There was a website called Access Denied (which apparently was still operating until...holy crap, just a week ago!?) At any rate, all of my gaming up until that point had been done with people that I'd gotten to know at least as an acquaintance or friend-of-a-friend prior to their sitting down at the table. This was my first experience trawling for gamers in the wider world. I was well aware of the potential for disaster, but I chose to try and focus on the positives instead. Using Access Denied, I concocted a short-list of about 20 gamers in my local area and started sending emails.

One of my first and most enthusiastic responses came from someone who lived maybe about 10 minutes away from me. Even better, he was into a lot of the games I was, including GURPS. His emails seemed well-written, and everything seemed pretty much on the up and up. Let's call him "P."

In the end, I got a pool of about six gamers out of my email barrage, and we agreed to meet up at the local game store to discuss getting a campaign going. It was then, meeting "P." in the flesh, that the red flags started going off. Nothing I could really put my finger on; just general mannerisms. A strange way of interacting with people. In short, he was a hardcore nerd. And not the sort of lovably eccentric sort, either. Like, seriously lacking in basic human skills.

Still, as I said, nothing terrible about the guy, and he got invited in to the campaign. I only ended up running two sessions with that group. The different personalities were just too disparate for my taste, and I was more uncomfortable than I'd anticipated with the idea of gaming with strangers, especially in such a large group (there were at least six other players...maybe upwards of eight by the second session?), especially coming from a scene where I considered a four-player group to be a ridiculous luxury.

To be honest, that group was kind of a panoply of annoying gamer stereotypes, from the Know-It-All to the Weird Quiet Guy to the Creepy Gamer. "P." occupied the latter category in spades, seriously weirding everyone out with his strange mannerisms and behavior. Again, I can't recall anything specific other than some bizarre in-character behavior, but everyone at the table was clearly losing patience with his antics.

I stayed in touch a bit with the group after I bowed out, and I know that they ended up kicking out "P." They used a Yahoo group to coordinate meetings, and he posted a few angry messages after they booted him. He also continued to try and call me for a few weeks after he left the group, leaving rambling voice mails inviting me out for drinks.

Amazingly, I ran into him at a convenience store months later, and miles away from our respective houses. He was manically walking around the store, talking on his cell phone and waving around an opened box of condoms. I was with my girlfriend at the time, and he got off the phone when he saw me, then preceded to tell us how he was getting together a band of "the best unsigned musicians in L.A." He was going to be the singer, and actually sang a few bars of "Ziggy Stardust" for us, right there in Aisle 8 in the nearly-deserted store.

"P." was nothing compared to some of the freak shows profiled in the infamous "Creepiest Gamer" threads on, but he very quickly disabused me of any notions of a mutual interest in gaming overcoming personal differences. It was certainly a lesson in no gaming being better than bad gaming, and it was probably a big factor in my at-the-time decreasing interest in attending gaming cons. And it would be another decade before I'd attempt to use the Internet to put a group together - much more successfully that time, thankfully.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Eighteen

Day 18: First gaming convention you ever attended.

This one's easy, as I have yet to attend a gaming convention. I certainly wanted to go to one as a teen - it seemed a logical step in my development as a hobbyist - and we didn't lack for any in L.A. There were, I believe, three fairly sizable conventions every year. But even though they were technically being held "in" L.A., they were still located over an hour away (the joys of living in a sprawling metroplex!), plus there were those pesky entry fees and other logistical issues that were just too much for my pre-job, pre-driver's license adolescent mind to contemplate.

As I got older, I cooled on the idea of conventions, especially after I went to a couple comic conventions. There just wasn't a whole lot there that appealed to me any longer. Nowadays, I'm sort of fascinated by the gamers who primarily game at conventions. This seems to be especially prevalent in the U.K., but I could be wrong about that. It's strictly an anecdotal opinion. It strikes me as being clearly of the same hobby I'm involved in, yet somehow completely different. Sub-cultures, man.

And I've once again warmed to the idea of at least experiencing a convention. I would've loved to have gone to NecronomiCon last year, and I'm hoping I'll be in a good position to attend when it returns to Providence in 2015. In the meantime, conventions in my current state of residence are rather thin on the ground, but there are a couple comic-gaming-sci-fi-fantasy type affairs held every year (and again, about an hour away from me, though this time owing to not living in a metroplex...). Maybe I'll make it out to one this year.

Monday, February 17, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Seventeen

First time you heard that D&D was somehow "evil."

Growing up in the 80s, it was pretty much impossible to not be aware of the somewhat sinister reputation enjoyed by Dungeons & Dragons. Hell, it was a big part of the game's appeal to most kids, I'd say, including myself. You had the double-whammy that D&D was Satanic, and that it led to insanity and/or suicide. (Imagine if the mainstream media had picked up on Call of Cthulhu!)

So I can't say when I was first aware of the game's evil reputation any more than I can recall when I was first made aware of the game itself. They went hand in hand back then.

I do recall vividly, however, that when I told my parents I wanted to "get into" D&D, my mom's jaw visibly clenched with anxiety. I actually laughed and promised her on the spot I wasn't going to kill myself.

At the time I had two sets of brothers for best friends, so I thought I'd be good to go for forming a game group, but then one of the sets moved away that summer, and the other set demurred from playing. This came as a surprise, as they had shown great interest in the back-issues of Dragon magazine I'd been purchasing. When I pressed them for a reason, they admitted it was because their mom, a pretty devout Baptist, wouldn't approve.

I never got that impression from her, though. I have to wonder if the kids were just assuming she wouldn't approve, based on the game's reputation?

A New Pendragon Venture Under Way!

As I continue to roll out my Solo GPC updates at their usual unforgivably glacial pace, as of this weekend I've also launched a new run-through of the Great Pendragon Campaign. This time it's with a proper group, and, rather than doing write-ups (because I'm not that nuts), this is getting recorded and posted as an actual play.

I'm pretty excited, as I'll be able to apply all the lessons I learned with the Solo GPC run-through. Plus, my wife Desiree will be joining me as a sort of co-GM, an adversary, if you will.

Character creation and the introductory scenario were last night, and can be found here. Subscribe to the feed if you want to keep up with the latest posts. The already rather extensive campaign wiki can be found here. We're meeting weekly and plan to go for at least the first half of the campaign timeline before even contemplating a break. Who knows, maybe we'll play the thing all the way through with no break? The campaign of a thousand hours begins with a single session...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Sixteen

Do you remember your first edition war? Did you win?

In the days before the Internet, I was blissfully unaware of the concept of edition wars. Certainly I understood that there might be strongly-held preferences between players of different systems, but the idea of people drawing lines in the sand over slightly different versions of the same game was alien to me.

This was not due to any sort of egalitarian equanimity on my part, however. Rather, being a youngster, I simply assumed that the latest version of something was automatically an improvement over what had preceded it.

I got online my senior year of high school, and very soon found out that there were people - in 1996 - who were still playing first edition AD&D! My mind was blown. Whatever my own reservations with 2e at the time may have been (and by that point they were legion), I still assumed that that edition was an improvement of first edition. I'd never read the 1e core books, but I'd picked up some supplements here and there and had divined enough about 1e to understand some of the major changes that had been made. Things like THAC0, specialty priests, spheres and schools of magic, better layout and organization - these were all good things, right?

(For the record, I'd still that, yes, they were.)

It was only later on that I began to understand the tonal shift that had occurred between 1e and 2e, and why a significant minority of people had felt it unnecessary or even counter-productive to shift editions. Of course, nowadays, I truck almost exclusively with "obsolete" editions of D&D - I've become precisely the person that once vexed me so. I don't know if that counts as "winning" the edition war or not, but I'm happy with where I'm at.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Fifteen

What was the first edition of D&D you didn't enjoy? Why?

The first edition of D&D I didn't enjoy was also the first edition I ever actually played. Yeah, I've had a complicated relationship with D&D, what can I say?

Even though my introduction to D&D came via the Mentzer Basic/Expert sets, I never actually played them. This was in part because I realized that every other gamer I knew at my school played AD&D, which I perceived at the time as a wholly separate game (thanks in no small part to TSR's own marketing efforts, I might add). So I went with the crowd and bought my own AD&D hardbacks, the better to increase the odds of finding a group to play with. (The irony, naturally, was that I had to start my own group anyway.)

So this was very soon after second edition AD&D had come out, and the arc of my adolescent gaming mapped nicely to the evolution (or perhaps de-evolution) of that edition. Second edition in its initial form and through the first couple years of its development was a perfectly fine game as old school D&D systems go. Indeed, I've just switched my Gray Box Forgotten Realms campaign from 1e-based over to pure 2e rules.

But by the time the Player's Option books came out, and the core books were re-released (a time some have dubbed AD&D 2.5), I was sick to death of the Frankenstein's monster that the game had become. The system seemed creaky and outdated, made worse by the huge pile of supplements I owned that boasted dozens of new classes, kits, spells, and optional rules. I recall the disgust I felt towards the system when I realized that I had, among my many supplements, no fewer than three different Shaman classes, each of which seemed to have been developed in isolation from the other, and none of which seemed particularly well balanced or playtested.

What I didn't realize at the time was that TSR (or T$R as many Internet wags dubbed it back then), that mighty monolith of the gaming industry, was on the verge of collapse. I still remember when my Dragon magazines suddenly stopped arriving in the mail with no notice. It was odd.

And I welcomed the news that Wizards of the Coast had bought the company out, that they were planning a new edition. The reality of how that played out is the topic for another post, but looking back, I realize now that 2e marked my high-water mark for buying supplements for a game. Ever since, I've tended to favor a minimal approach to splatbooks and supplements, and I think this can be traced back to choking on the glut of such material that I experienced during the latter days of 2e.

Friday, February 14, 2014

[D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop] Day Fourteen

Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D? Does he or she still play?

Readers of this blog will already be familiar with the fact that my wife Desiree is a regular participant in my gaming endeavors. I didn't meet her via gaming, though. It was the way most adult couples meet - via work; in our case, mutual co-worker friends set us up.

When I was a dateless teenager, I had nursed fantasies of having a gamer-significant other, but Desiree was the first who actually showed an interest in my hobby. Why she stuck around with gaming is a bit of a mystery to me. Her first-ever session (a BESM d20 game) saw the implosion of the campaign, and I then ran a Call of Cthulhu one-shot with just her (inaugurating our solo gaming) that was a bit...insensitively intense? I didn't run as much CoC back then, so I didn't quite understand how to pace the emotional roller coaster as well, and we were still getting to know each other.

At any rate, it's all been smiles and sunshine from that point out. We gamed together via chat clients when we went through a long-distance phase of our relationship, and we've continued to do both group and one-on-one gaming ever since. This year is 10 years since we met. Here's to another 10, 20, 30 years of gaming happiness with my sweetie.

(I suppose I should post-script this by saying that the one RPG that Des absolutely can't stand is actually D&D. So if the second part of that question is meant to read as "play D&D," then the answer is an emphatic no!)
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