Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The d20 Dark Ages "In/Outs" of 2013

Below is summary of my trends in gaming over the past year, based on my playing habits and spending. Overall, money spent on games went far down than in previous years. I sold a good chunk of my miniature collection and RPG books.

But, I got to try out some new games and enjoy some old favorites.

Still, I think 2013 was a good year. May 2014 be even better!

Tabletop RPGS
Out: D&D Next/5e. Whatever you want to call it, I'm not impressed.
Still Out: 4e, along with D&D Encounters.
3.5e: Out. 
Pathfinder: Out--I'm not anticipating joining a Pathfinder Group anytime soon.

In: AD&D 2e--I still read that stuff.
In: AD&D--the classics are still classic.
In: The BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia. All are compatible with various retroclones out there.
Out: The desire for more retroclones.

Dark Heresy: Out.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e: Out upon receipt of payment (I sold most of my collection).
Star Wars d6: In (Though the campaign I was in just sort of faded away).

OSR Blogs
In: d20 Dark Ages.
In: All of the OSR Blogs I follow to the left.
In: RPG Blogging Challenges--I've got one in mind for February.
Out: Grognardia.

Social Networking
Blogger: In (of course)
Messageboards: Out.
Facebook: In--but for my own private use.
Google+: Out... for now. Too much static.
Reddit: Looked but never tasted.
LinkedIn: Out.
Wordpress: Maybe IN for next year with my writing blog.
Yahoo Groups: Out. I think I'm still a part of one with an old email address. I think...
MySpace: Huh?

Crowd Funding
Kickstarters: Out... I've thought about getting in, but I'm sick of hearing about people getting ripped off.
HeroQuest 25th Anniversary Edition: In, then Out, then :(
Monte Cook's latest endeavor: Don't care. Out.

Gaming Companies
Out: Wizards of the Coast.
Out: Paizo.

Never in and will always be out: Dark Phoenix Publishing (thanks to Wil Hutton over at Aggregate Cognizance)

In: Rafael Chandler for Teratic Tome.
In: GM Games
TSR (New): In for Gygax Magazine.
TSR (Old): In--I still like their stuff.

Gaming Periodicals
In: Old Print Issues of Dragon.
In: Old Print Issues of Dungeon.
In: The Manor, by Tim Shorts.
(Sorry if I've overlooked some--there's lots of good stuff out there).

Campaign Settings
Forgotten Realms and the Sundering: Out. (Okay, they were never really in to begin with).
Greyhawk: Still In.
Planescape: Out upon receipt of payment (Yes, I sold my collection).
Ravenloft: In... I guess. 
Domikka, my homebrew Campaign Setting: In. Though I won't be running campaigns in it anytime soon.
In: Almost any GM's homebrew setting.

Miniature Companies
Reaper Miniatures: Still In.
Games Workshop: OUT OUT OUT.

Painting Miniatures
In: Reaper Metallic Miniatures.
In: Reaper Bones.
Out: Pre-painted miniatures.
Painting Miniatures: In, then out, then back In again at the last minute.
52 Weeks, 52 Miniatures: Back in again... for next year.
In: Priming and painting plastic miniatures on their sprues before assembling them.
In: Trying out The Army Painter primers.

Miniature Paints
Games Workshop/Citadel: Out--they're crap and put in lousy containers.
Still In: Reaper Paints.
In: The Army Painter Warpaints--so definitely in, especially their reds and Matte White.

Tabletop Wargames
Still In: Ancient and Medieval Wargaming, by Neil Thomas.
Still In: Napoleonics.
Still In: Warfare in the Age of Reason.
In: Some Civil War game I played over the summer that I can't remember the name of.
In: Impetus.
In: Warmaster
Out: Warhammer. 
(Yeah, that might sound odd, but I do like Warmaster far better than Warhammer, since they're both by Games Workshop. Warmaster isn't as fiddely and confusing. Also, the people I game with houseruled it for 15mm rather than 10mm. Also, GW doesn't support Warmaster anymore so I am content). 

Board games
Out: Wrath of Ashardalon
In... maybe: Dungeon Command
In: Ticket to Ride
In: Small World- Underground
Still in: Risk 2210:
Still in: Axis & Allies
HeroQuest (the original): Back In.
HeroQuest (25th Anniversary Edition): I wanted it to be In, but alas...

Gaming Stores
Mayhem Comics and Games: Out. (and not just because I don't live in the vicinity anymore)
Games PlusIn, if I ever make it up to Mt. Prospect, IL, again.

In: Reading books besides sci-fi/fantasy.
Still Out: Novels based on D&D campaign settings. 
Edition Wars: Out.
Big Bang Theory: Still In.
In: Downsizing gaming collection to a more manageable level.
Out: Using the money to buy more gaming stuff.

Still In: Personal hygiene.
Still Out: Gamers without personal hygiene.
In: Losing 20 lbs since the end of last summer! 
Still Out: Eating at McDonalds.

In: That redhead on the cover of Timothy Brannon's Eldritch Witchery.
Out: The "Page 4 Girl" in Rafael Chandler's Teratic Tome. (Along with the one on page 6, etc).
Out: Me, if my girlfriend finds out I've been looking at the redhead on the cover of Eldritch Witchery. 
In: Having a girlfriend who encourages me to participate in my hobby. ;)
In: Gamer guys who treat gamer girls with respect. 

In: The continued fragmentation of the hobby
Out: The hobby being dominated by less than a handful of companies (at least at my tabletop).
In: Trying and playing more games.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mini-Monday: A Paladin, from Reaper Miniatures

While I won't finish my goal of 52 painted miniatures this year, I've still ended the year with a bang. I'm quite proud of how the final figure for 2013 turned out. He's "Drexel Sparrowhawk, Paladin" from Reaper Miniatures.

I originally envisioned him to be a quick paint job--just slap a single coat then dip him in the Army Painter varnish. I'm glad that didn't happen. I'm glad I left my metallic paints at home the day I decided to paint him while killing time between games at Treefort. I'm also glad some of my old GW paints had finally dried up so I had to purchase new paints--these from The Army Painter.

Here's the list of paints I used, arranged in the order of coats--I used a Chaos Black (yes, not all of the old GW paints are gone yet) wash between the first and second coats.

Gun Metal--The Army Painter
Plate Mail--The Army Painter
I think I used

Leather Bits
Fur Brown--The Army Painter

Barbarian Flesh--The Army Painter
And then I mixed Barbarian Flesh with Reaper's Fair Skin for highlighting.

I had a difficult time with his hair. After a mistake or two--I remember using Blond Hair by reaper, followed by a dark wash, then a dry brushing of Blond Hair, followed by a dry bushing of Blond Highlight, by Reaper.

Matte White--by The Army Painter
Copper--by Reaper Miniatures--this also when on the armor trim elsewhere on the miniature.
Dragon Gold--by Reaper Miniatures--to highlight the copper on shield to make it stand out.

I finished up by black inking parts of the miniature, followed up with a Krylon Matte sealant.

I can't praise the Army Painter Warpaints enough. Most of the time they spread on evenly with one coat--even the white.

So, that's 12 completed miniatures for 2013. One per month. That's a far cry from the 69 completed in 2012.

Still, I've got a number of projects in the works for 2014 and 2013 ended on a high note with this paladin.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

In Retrospect: Staying in the Hobby (or is it a Lifestyle?)

From Garfield Minus Garfield
25 years.

That's a quarter of a century. My first game happened around the time Communism began to crumble. By the time I really started getting my first Greyhawk campaign going the first Gulf War had begun and ended.

Yes. I'm showing my age (ahem, "experience").

Lately, I've been asking myself: why do I continue down this path? What kind of psychological inertia propels me to look at gaming blogs, seek out new miniatures to paint, search for the latest cool rules set or supplement. What's wrong (or right) with me?

My girlfriend agrees with my self-diagnosis: I'm addicted.

She's noticed that when I don't game at least a couple times a month I get irritable. During long periods where I go without gaming I need to stay really busy so I don't notice--but even so, I'll long to sit at table with a few friends and roll some dice.

Gaming is what I know. Gaming is part of I what I do. 

Dungeons & Dragons ain't Satanic, but it can induce you into spending thousands of dollars on books, figures, and other paraphernalia. That's what I've been doing for the last 25 years (aside from school, jobs, and writing--I'd like to think I have a well-rounded life). There's certainly worse vices and addictions out there: alcoholism, drug abuse, all-you-can-eat buffets. Each vice allows a person to get away from reality for awhile.

The difference between these other vices and gaming, is that via gaming I feel re-charged afterward. My stress levels drop. I become more cheerful.

The only time this doesn't happen is after a bad session. After a bad session I do feel drained, feeling like I should have done something more productive. Fortunately, the good sessions have far outnumbered the bad. Which factors in to why I keep playing.

Freud once said that the genius-type is at "loggerheads" with reality. If that's the case, then I've met a lot of geniuses at the gaming table. I can tell you one thing: gamers are not average. From my experience, gamers do either really well at school or are the verge from flunking out. I've seen this in high school, in college. About 10 years ago the majority of my players were honors students at the local university--I, the DM, was the college drop out. 

I've met gamers of all kinds, many I kinda wonder what they're doing now--especially the ones where it seemed that gaming was all the ever did or talked about. One hated Magic: The Gathering so much he'd tear up uncommon and rare cards in front of exasperated Magic players. Another lost most of his teeth through stress over a divorce that left him living in a storage bin, but by-gum-by-golly he still had most of his D&D books and still came to every single session (what else was he going to do? He lived in a storage bin...)

When I first game to college I met a guy who'd only talk about two things: Battletech and Beanie Babies. You read that right. He would always try to veer the conversation to Battletech (and why D&D sucks). If he failed at that, he wanted to talk about the collectable values of Beanie Babies.

I've wanted to beat some of these people over the head with a shovel. All they can talk about is gaming. All they try to do is turn every social interaction into something involving their gamer lifestyle. They make both the best and the worst players: the best because they will show up to every session without question; the worst because they can't talk about (or do) anything else.

Gaming is no longer just a hobby for them, but a lifestyle that causes them to neglect other aspects of their lives (health and hygiene come mind). Their only redeeming quality is their loyalty to the game.

And yet here I am on a Saturday morning writing about my own gaming lifestyle... er hobby. I've logged in just over 300 posts on this blog in the last year. I consider that quite an accomplishment. Others would probably think its a waste of time. I've also been spending quite a bit of time visiting Treefort Games over the holidays--running games, playing games--because I've been spending the last week or almost completely alone (my family won't be celebrating Christmas until after the New Year). So I need to at least be around people.

Maybe I should have been doing something more "productive." The catch is, gaming is a means so I can be more productive in other aspects of my life.

That's why I'm addicted. That's why I've been playing for 25 years.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mini Monday: Half-Orc Fighter and Human Death Cleric

I haven't done one of these in a long while (not since June, yikes!) I've pretty much given up on the 52 weeks, 52 miniatures challenge for this year. Unless I somehow catch up in the next week or so, I doubt I'll make it.

Below are the Half-Orc Fighter and Human Death Cleric from the old Chainmail D&D Miniature line. I had these painted up way back in the day, but never really liked the way they turned out. So I stripped them in Pine Sol and painted them over.

A closer look at the half-orc. I used a combination of Army Painter and Reaper paints. 

Here's the Death Cleric. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to take pictures of miniatures. 

So that makes 11 out of 52. 

Somewhere along the way I just lost interest in painting. I just wasn't making the time to finish all of the projects I've started. Maybe I was just putting to much pressure on myself. It happens, I suppose.

The figures in the background are 12 Welsh bowmen for Saga. I figured a Saga warband would be fun to complete--a mid-level project to gain a sense of accomplishment while I continue work on my Hundred Years' War armies. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Wrath of Ashardalon and HeroQuest (Redux)

Yeah, I insisted on using some of my miniatures...
Last night I got the chance to try The Wrath of Ashardalon boardgame again--this time I had somebody willing to explain it to me. I ran another HeroQuest adventure, afterward this new acquaintence told me he really liked WotC's Adventure Game and Dungeon Command series. So I was more than willing to sit back and let somebody else take the helm running a game.

HeroQuest had turned into a disaster for the players. The barbarian and dwarf kept opening up doors and not attacking the monsters inside. They were specifically looking for Verag the Gargoyle to kill and then somehow escape. The problem was that the elf and the wizard ended up getting the short end of the stick--especially the elf.

Somebody drew a wandering monster in the very first room--and orc. The orc scored three hits on the elf. Later, another orc took out the poor elf.

The elf is dead. The barbarian unleashed orcs and goblins.
The dwarf stumbles upon a couple chaos warriors.
The Wizard hides.
The dwarf and barbarian kept opening doors, releasing more monsters. The dwarf made it to the chamber with the gargoyle. A healing potion staved off death for a round or two as he got surrounded by the gargoyle, two chaos warriors, and an orc. The barbarian came to the rescue. They killed the gargoyle, but died as the gargoyle's minions pilled on them.

The wizard barely escaped with his life, using a well timed Veil of Mist to get past a Chaos Warrior who had moved to guard the stairs. 3 out of 4 heroes, dead in the very first adventure. The players just didn't coordinate at all.

The dwarf opens the room of the gargoyle, while two chaos warriors
are coming up behind him.

In The Wrath of Ashardalon, however, it doesn't seem to matter much if the PCs coordinate. We played two games, in both it didn't seem to matter if we got split up. The chance of death seemed slim--the Dragonborn wizard almost got taken out in the first game, but a healing surge saved him. I played the cleric--in neither game did I have to use my healing powers.

But we all seemed to fall victim to random crap that just made the game last longer just for the heck of it, even though the crap really didn't damage us.

From what I can tell, the game works like this: If you don't explore off the edge of a dungeon tile, you get an encounter. But if you explore and put down another tile, half the time you get a monster and encounter anyway. And about half the time these trigger more monsters and encounters.

In the first game, I ended up controlling like 5 or 6 monsters at one time because I had triggered so many encounters and monsters that brought in new monsters--just because I ended my exploration phase at the edge of a tile.

When comparing HeroQuest and Wrath of Ashardalon, the turns in HeroQuest are much faster. There's far fewer cards. The monsters, admittedly, do have a disadvantage of defending only on black shields--but this helps the game move faster. It also isn't as random.

In Wrath of Ashardalon there's randomness just for the sake of randomness.

I really don't like games where you sit patiently, waiting for your turn, only to have things to go screwy for the sake of screwy but really have little long term affect on the game. 

The best instance of this is what happened happend with my cleric. I tried to position him to help out the fighter but at the end of his movement he drew the "Time Rift" encounter card. The cleric vanished from the tabletop only to reappear the next turn. Why? Just because. At first, I was a little worried because the fighter was surrounded by monsters. But it didn't matter. He took care of himself. My cleric  appeared at another spot the following turn and the game went on.

I've checked out other reviews, it seems that a lot of other people really The Wrath of Ashardalon. Maybe its poor form to criticise a board game that been out for a couple of years. If somebody offers to run it, and there's nothing else going on, I'll probably try it again. But it definitely won't find a home on my shelf.

Still, I'm glad I got to try it out and play something different.

The best part about trying new things is figuring out what you like and don't like.

I'll stick with HeroQuest or maybe Dungeon Command... or something OSR.

Friday, December 20, 2013

300th Post: In retrospect--getting into the hobby (a deeper look)

Have you ever thought about why you started gaming? Not just the surface reasons like "it's fun" or "my friends were playing it" and the like. But instead, do you recall what was going on in your life at the time you started playing?

Do you think these life events affected your decision to join the hobby?

When I started d20 Dark Ages back in September of 2012, I had know idea how far I was going to take it. I feel like its been languishing in recent months. I've had to take a couple steps back and re-examine some things in my life--gaming in particular.

d20 Dark Ages is a testament on how much I do care about playing gaming--especially Dungeons & Dragons. That's the game that started it all, why I eventually got into war gaming, painting up hundreds of figures. It's why I have a couple bookshelves worth of RPG books and magazines and over a dozen binders stuffed full of notes for various campaigns I've run.

I've been doing this for almost 25 years.

Recently I've been wondering if I shouldn't figure out a way to go back in time and tell my 10-year-old self how time consuming and expensive this hobby can be. "Listen young man, you'll end up as a thirty-something with hundreds of RPG books that you'll have to lug around every time you move."

I doubt he'd listen. He was a stubborn little brat and a smartass.

He was primed and ready to dive head first into D&D

He liked to read, but didn't like reading many of the fiction books teachers assigned to him. He grudgingly admitted to liking A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. He read most of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia after one of teachers read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to the class. But he would never say he did to the few friends he had. He really liked the Choose Your Own Adventure Books.

He also played a lot of video games. Final Fantasy was one of his favorites.

My 10-year-old self, as you may know from earlier posts, had gotten to watch his older brother run D&D--specifically AD&D--for his own group back in the day, since he was 6 or 7. Occasionally he'd sneak into his brother's room and take a peek at the hardbound books--the Monster Manual in particular. It was kinda scary, envisioning a world with monsters that were real.

The game Dungeons & Dragons seemed like a much darker place that what the old Saturday Morning cartoon portrayed--well, except for maybe what happens at the beginning of "The City on the Edge of Midnight." (I still keep my feet away from the edges of the bed!)

Yet in many ways D&D was also a brighter place, it offered my 10-year-old self a chance to escape from some of the monsters in the real world: Asthma. Not being good at sports. Two of his best friends moving away. He, himself, moving into low income housing on the edge of town where for awhile he wasn't sure the kids there were friends or bullies.

His 4th grade teacher was probably the worst of monsters; she wanted to put him in special ed for being socially awkward. Failing that, she arranged the seating in the room so he'd sit smack in the middle, away from the kids, but so all the other kids could stare and laugh at him. Whenever she'd tell the class to partner up on an assignment, he would sit in the middle, alone--and then she'd gripe at him for not finding a partner. (Oddly enough, she was the same teacher who introduced him to C. S. Lewis).

This punishment lasted for a least a month or two. But it only made my 10-year-old self, if I recall, more quiet, angry, and more susceptible to getting involved in "undesirable" activities like playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Okay, maybe "my 4th teacher was a bitch and that's why are started playing D&D" is a bit simplistic as to why I began gaming. There were a number of reason. Freud or Carl Jung would say I was at loggerheads with reality and had to develop a neurosis to deal with it. Playing D&D is a bit neurotic if you think about it: You're sitting around imagining your somebody else for a few hours at a time (is that  really your character or your idealized self?)

If that's really the case, then I'm glad I picked up playing D&D as a neurosis. My mom didn't have to worry about me going out at night doing stupid things with my friends.

Okay... except for maybe that one time...
There's also that whole thing where I grew up avoiding alcoholism and drug abuse. I spent my money D&D books in middle and high school. In college I spent my money on gaming books and miniatures. There were times when gaming did become an obsession. I'd get mad when a player couldn't make it to a game. In 7th grade, I remember getting upset because seven weeks had gone by and I hadn't run my campaign because of player cancelations. Oh no!

If gaming is neurotic, then I've had a lot fun in the last 25 years.

Do childhood events explain why I started in the first place? Maybe. If you look hard enough you can find reasons for anything you do. All you need is one.

Don't try to self-diagnose your own psychological problems. I'm just using neurosis as an example to help explain why I started gaming. The definition of neurosis is so broad that nearly everybody falls within its criteria, which is part of the reason its falling out of favor in the field of psychology. If, however, you do think your have serious psychological issues, please get professional help.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How big and widespread is the OSR?

I've been looking down the list of OSR blogs at Dyvers. Most seem to be the heavy hitters, both past and present. There's over 200 blogs on that list, by my last count--I have to admit my eyes crossed at one point. More keep getting added.

I think I've visited a large fraction of those blogs. A lot are on my blogger feed and more look familiar. I'm glad somebody put a list of OSR blogs together. That took a lot of work.

But it makes me wonder: how many other OSR blogs are out there that are generally unknown?

Because 200 blogs is a drop in the bucket. Because this doesn't even the OSR manifesting in other social media.

Which begs to question: how big is the OSR?

I have no idea. Does anybody?

Is it recruiting more players to Old School thoughts and ideas? I've done my part in the last year running Swords & Wizardry, but I haven't inspired anybody to become a referee (as far as I know) now that I'm no longer running games.

Referees/Dungeon Masters/Game Masters--whatever you want to call them--are really the key. If enough decide they don't want to run a certain game, that game is pretty much done.

I think that's what happened with 4e, but I'm not certain how much the OSR influenced 4e's slow decline--because a lot of people ditched 4e for Pathfinder.  It must have done something, given how WotC turned around and starting putting out 4e products that seem to appeal to the "typical" OSR demographic. And about this time last year they made pdfs for old products available again.

I'm not proposing that the OSR put on some kind of "recruit a GM day." My goal when running Swords & Wizardry was to have fun running a campaign that required little prep time for me as Referee. But it'd really like to play in an old school game in my area, instead of being the guy who runs it.

From what I've seen, Pathfinder in my area is pretty widespread. Whenever one GM bows out from running a campaign, another player steps up to run a game.

One second thought, maybe the OSR does need to recruit... just for the sake of having enough GMs around to run the games we enjoy.


Next post: the Big 300.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

HeroQuest! (The Original)

I broke out my old copy of HeroQuest at Treefort Games last night. I'd been thinking a lot about the game since its failed 25th Anniversary Kickstarter. I hadn't played in 4 or 5 years. And before that... who knows? My copy is old, but in descent shape. The only problem was that some of the pieces were not in the box--they'd been stored elsewhere for D&D use.

The barbarian and Chaos Warlock, for example, are painted up and located in a carrying case, instead of floating around in a box with the rest of the miniatures. Here they are on the left. The Barbarian was among the first miniatures I ever painted, 15+ years ago. 
I painted the Chaos Warlock about a year ago. I'd like to think my painting has improved.

I felt a little annoyed that I'd forgotten them along with some key things like the stairway and trap and secret door tiles in a little Tupperware container. D'oh. 

But we improvised and the game was fun anyway. Three players participated. They got through the first three quests in the Quest Book with only the dwarf dying. And, just like in OD&D, you just erased and replaced the name on top of the character sheet. Heroes only loose their equipment upon death if nobody else is the room. 

Here's a picture from the first Quest, "The Trial."  The heroes are coming out of the blue chamber (where the stair case is supposed to be). We replaced the Barbarian with Regdar from the old D&D 3e/3.5e miniatures line.  They are fighting their first orcs.  They prevailed and searched the room, found some minor treasures before the Dwarf sprung a wondering monster--the Dwarf always seemed to draw the wondering monster from the treasure deck. 

In my opinion, "The Trial" truly is one of the hardest adventures in the Quest Book. It seems like every time I've run it (or ran through it) the character get the snot beat out of them. While they are more powerful that many of the monsters, the attrition of wounds can get them. If an orc gets a lucky swing with three skulls and the hero doesn't roll any shields, that's 3 hits right there. Enough to reduce the wizard from 4 to 1 hit point. Or the barbarian from 8 to 5. Another couple hits like that and they're done. 

There's a room where two Chaos Warriors await. Heavily armed and armored, they are the second most powerful enemies in the game, after the Gargoyle. They really put a hurt on the heroes. 

But the group made it to the center of the board where the Verag, the "foul gargoyle" of the catacombs of Fellmarg's tomb awaited. Oddly enough the Gargoyle fell without too much of a fight. The Wizard or Elf wounded it with a summoned Genie, the Barbarian finished it off. (I used a "Death Knight" from the old DragonStrike board game to represent a Chaos Warrior. )
Then a funny thing happened: the orc in the lower left hand corner just wouldn't die--even after the Chaos Warrior fell and Verag was killed. The Wizard blasted it with a Ball of Flame--it made its "saving throws" and took no damage. Somebody tried Sleep--it again made it saving throws. The Elf attacked it and missed. Nobody else could get to it because it was in the corner. The wizard threw his 2 daggers he had found elsewhere in the dungeon--both missed. 

Finally, after about 3 turns, the elf finished the orc off. But the party was so beat up that they left the dungeon--they didn't want to explore the rest. The rulebook doesn't say the can't return--but they did complete their objective. Quest 2 and Quest 3 ("The Rescue of Sir Ragnar" and "The Lair of the Orc Warlord") went much more smoothly. With the gold they had accumulated they had started buying items from the Armory. 

Everybody had a good time. HeroQuest is such a "meat and potatoes" hack-in-slash fantasy board game. I know nostalgia is one of the reasons I like it so much. But at the same time, its an easy game to learn. You pretty much just sit down and play it.

I don't know if this is the start of a new HeroQuest "campaign," but it was just fun to play it again.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What is D&D®™©???

Is D&D really a game anymore? Or is it a brand?

Like so many people, I got this email for the D&D Next playtest.  
Happy Holidays!
As this monumental year comes to a close, we are continuing to refine the D&D® Next rules. Your feedback has proven instrumental in shaping the future of Dungeons & Dragons, and for that, we thank you.
We want to let you know that December 15th, 2013 is the last day to access the playtest materials online. After that date, they’ll no longer be available, so we encourage you to download the latest packet if you haven’t done so already.
Until the next edition of the D&D tabletop roleplaying game officially releases, you can continue to play D&D Next adventures at home and at stores participating in D&D Encounters™. Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle™ is available now for purchase on www.dndclassics.com, and coming early next year are two more D&D Next adventures. These Sundering-themed adventures include the supplementary rules material from the D&D Next Playtest necessary for play. Visit DungeonsandDragons.com for more information.
As always, thank you for your participation in the D&D Next playtest.

D&D Team

It got me to thinking: are we really playing game anymore or just participating in a brand with WotC's permission?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Countdown to the 300th post of d20 Dark Ages

Somehow this crept up on me. Heck, somehow I missed out on the anniversary of d20 Dark Ages back in September.

It's been an interesting year and 3 months, starting with moving half-way across the country to the Atlanta, Ga, area. This blog began on the back porch of an acquaintance's house I stayed at while looking for a place to live. It'd be about two weeks before I'd find a home.

I started d20 Dark Ages as way to have something to write every day. I made the decision to become a full time writer, working on this blog and various other projects. But as my savings started to dwindle a funk settled over me last summer, perhaps contributing to my deadliest campaign ever (the final PC death toll before I pulled the plug was around 40).

I sold my Warhammer stuff (because I realized how much I hated Warhammer)  and quite a few RPG books I could do without to sustain my efforts. This fall I started two part time jobs--with the hopes that one will go full time at the beginning of next year.

Lots of ups and downs.

Google+ had to go because it kept making my browser crash, but by doing so it messed up d20 Dark Ages folder on Picassa web albums. So that's why you get a minus symbol instead of a picture on many of my older posts. I don't really feel like going back and fixing all of them.

I plan on doing something special for the 300th post. Not sure what. A contest? A story excerpt? A free copy of Murder on the Hot Flats? A free miniature to one lucky person like I did for my 200th post?

I'll figure something out.

Thank you for reading d20 Dark Ages.

3 more posts to go until the big 300.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

D&D Cartoon Encyclopedia

Check out www.dungeonsdragonscartoon.com for lots of information on the old D&D cartoon from the early 1980s. Lots of information. Lots of still shots of scenery, monsters, characters that can be used to inspire some of your own games.

On the right is the alphabetical listing of people, places, and things that appeared in the cartoon series. The left-hand column features links to scripts, storyline transcripts, story boards, broadcast dates, etc. This includes information about many of the product lines that got spun off from the series: the sticker books, cartoon show booksCastle Venger for view-Master 3D, stories from the D&D Annuals, and even jigsaw puzzles. (I had no idea how much TSR continue to try and capitalize on the series after it went off the air).

I know some of this information comes from the DVD collection's bonus material, but some of it I haven't seen before, like this premise for an episode that didn't get aired, featuring Skylla the witch and her gargoyle henchman. Another is called The City of the Githyanki. I'm not sure where these come from.

Sure, the D&D Cartoon series was mixture of pop culture references and the game itself, but I still enjoy it.

I still sleep with my feet away from the edges of my bed because of the City at the Edge of Midnight, where the opening scene features a boy getting pulled into an alternate dimension from a monster under his bed!

Friday, December 6, 2013

We truly are in a Dark Age (Lamentations Over the HeroQuest Kickstarter)

Yeah, I'm one of the many people upset over the HeroQuest 25th Anniversary kickstarter getting shut down over an intellectual property dispute. Yes, I know I'm not 10 or 11 anymore, but man, I really liked the original HeroQuest boardgame. I wish I would have been smarter back in the day and begged my parents to buy multiple copies. The game is a classic. And my lone copy is pretty worse for wear--playable--but I rather not put it through anymore gaming.

Thus, I was looking forward to this Kickstarter--or at least being able to buy the game after the Kickstarter ending.

The original game was just fun, if a bit basic.

But back in the day I probably played more HeroQuest than D&D; HeroQuest took less time to set up. You picked one of the character types--barbarian, dwarf, elf, and wizard--and just played.

Everytime a gaming company releases a "D&D lite" kind of game, I ask: "Is it gonna be like HeroQuest? With some miniatures, some basic rules, and assorted bits?" The old D&D 3e/3.5 basic games came close. But where were the furnishings?

I don't own the Pathfinder Beginner Box, but it looks like it doesn't have miniatures, but pawns--boo!

I was really looking forward to the HeroQuest 25th Anniversary Edition, but alas, it seems not meant to be.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

AD&D 1e: a confusing game?

Yesterday, while trying out new games at my FLGS, I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintence. It started with me saying something like: "You know, I expected The Wrath of Ashardalon to be more like 4e. I've played 4e, I don't like it, but I understand the basic mechanics. But the wording rulebooks for the boardgame was just confusing. 4e is fairly straightforward.

He said something like: "You know what's confusing? AD&D First Edition."

I said: That's blasphemy! How dare you besmirch the holy words of the Great Gygax! I excommunicate you from ever joining the ranks of the OSR! Tremble before me and despair! 

Actually, I thought about it, shrugged my shoulders and could see his point.

The AD&D Player's Handbook only contained rules for the character classes, spells, and some advice. It doesn't even show you any methods of how to generate ability scores--that's in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Oh? You want secondary skills? Dungeon Master's Guide.

Combat Tables? The table for Turning Undead? Saving Throw charts? Dungeon Master's Guide. Unless you were adapting rules from Basic D&D, you needed the DMG to run combat.  

After the Player's Handbook debuted in June of 1978, Don Turnbull said gave it a 10 out of 10. He said, "whereas the original rules are ambiguous and muddled, the Handbook is a detailed and coherent game-system and very sophisticated." What?

Several years ago I did run a short-lived AD&D campaign. It was fun, but most of the players couldn't stand not having access to all of the rules. I tried using Thac0, but that confused some of them, so I just used the tables in DMG. But even then, for some reason, they subtracted their combat bonus from their "to hit" number.

"No," I said. "Don't do that. Because you don't know when you'll get a penalty. Just stick with the original numbers."

Each time somebody leveled up, it was kind of a chore, because I had the DMG and had to tell them their combat modifiers and new saving throws.

Eventually the campaign ended with a hilarious case of intra-party killing. (Which I might share some other time here on d20 Dark Ages).

After that experience I could see why old school players just used the Basic rules as starting point and cherry picked stuff from AD&D.

Yet in defense of AD&D: somehow it worked. 

People were still buying the AD&D Player's Handbook after Second Edition came out--leading to print runs through 1990.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Trying New Things: Wrath of Ashardalon, Dungeon Command, et al.

Today I went down to Treefort Games and participated in an afternoon of board game demonstrations. I showed up with an open mind, wanting to try new things. I got to play four games for the first time: The Wrath of Ashardalon, Dungeon Command, Small Word: Underworld, and Bang! (a card game).  So, what follows are mini-reviews of each.

From Wizards of the Coast
The Wrath of Ashardalon
The store owner wanted people to help demo boardgames. So I showed up early to learn the rules to The Wrath of Ashardalon. I was impressed with the number of "bits" that came with the board game. 

Almost too impressed, once I tried to figure out how all of these cards and critters work within the rules. They had a "solo" adventure. I studied the rules for about a half-hour, still couldn't figure out certain things like movement and actions in a turn. Read and studied for another 15 min, because I was supposed to eventually teach this some somebody else.

But I do have a general rule. I don't get the gist of a board game within a half-hour, I put it away. Maybe it'd have been better if I'd learned this with other players, but I only had myself. Once somebody offered to run Small World: Underground, I moved on. I'd hate to sink The Wrath of Ashardalon, since it seems a lot of people enjoy it, but its seems unnecessarily complicated. (You can blast me all of you want for that).

Smallworld: Underground
I enjoyed this game. We played the short two-player version so I could learn the rules.

The goal of the game isn't world domination, but to collect as much gold from your underground civilizations as possible. At the beginning of the game you chose a race (which costs gold) and then you use that race (mummies, gnomes, kraken, drow, etc,) to carved out an underdark civilization. The more territories you get the more gold. Races often get more gold depending on terrain time (Mushroom folk like the fungus coverns and so on).

At some point, you'll want this civilization to go in decline so you can start another one. You still get the gold and other resources from your old civilization. You have a certain amount of turns to collect as much gold as you can and try to stymie your opponents from doing the same.

This game was a lot of fun. It sort of spoofs fantasy/gaming culture, like having the One Ring as a artifact or the ghost of "Tomb Raider" hanging around. The game is produced by Days of Wonder.

BANG! The Spaghetti Western Card Game
I really didn't get to play this game long enough to have a postive or negative opinion of it: I didn't survive beyond my first turn.

You randomly draw a "character" and a "role" from a deck of cards. This determines your goals. You can be the sheriff, deputy, renegade, or outlaw. The sheriff has to kill the outlaws and renegade. Outlaws have to kill the sheriff and the deputy. The deputy has to make sure the sheriff survives. The renegade has to be the last one standing.

I was the renegade--the first to die. The only things I got to do was remove a card from somebody else's deck with on of my own card and then release a stick of dynamite around the table. Then I got shot twice by an outlaw, and finished off by the Sheriff.

So much for that. I'd like to try it again though.

Dungeon Command

From Wizards of the Coast

While the Wrath of Ashardalon caused me to furrow my brow in a vain effort to understand, Dungeon Command fairly straight forward and fun. It was a two player game, mixing miniatures from The Curse of Undeath and The Tyranny of Goblins. The miniatures themselves are fairly well done. I particularly liked the Lich Necromancer figure. I also liked the dungeon tiles.

Once thing that surprised me was how simple the rules played. They're sort of a mix between 4th Edition, the old 3.5e D&D Miniatures game, with a touch of Magic: The Gathering (you "tap" figures and cards--there's not a single die to roll. It's a steak and potatoes game that easy to learn.

Our only stumbling block was trying to figure out movement (can you double move like in regular D&D--or not. The language in the rulebook was a little ambiguous.)

Each player choses a commander--but the commander doesn't actually get a figure on the battlefield. But the commander does determine certain effects for your warband. You want to pay attention to your commander's morale and leadership ratings. Leadership allows you to bring in reinforcements. Morale is integral to the game--if you drop you zero morale because your minions die, you lose the game.

You get four phases on your turn: Refresh (untap your troops), Activate (have your troops take actions), Deploy (put new miniatures down--if you can), and Clean-up (resolve end-of-turn effects, etc).

I really enjoyed this game. I'm glad that I didn't dismiss it as some kind of 4e-lite game.

Even the price isn't too shabby: $39.99 per faction box, you get 12 figures and some dungeon tiles which are compatible with games like The Wrath of Ashardalon. 

The Moral: Try new things. That way you'll know what you like and don't like.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's your ideal RPG campaign you'd love to play in?

Say if the stars aligned just right and you got to join the perfect campaign, what would that campaign be like?

For me, this campaign would...
1. Have 4-6 players, friends and acquaintences.
2. Be tabletop, not onlline.
3. Have fairly straightforward objectives, with very little sitting around debating what to do next and wasting valuable game time. (While I like investigative adventures from time to time, they seem to bog down in debate--or the players just can't figure out a key clue).
4. Be low magic fantasy with little or no "generic" magic items.
5. Have a dash of horror, like Ravenloft or a bit of Call of Cthulu.
6. Have a dash of swords & sorcery, high adventure.
7. Give the PCs a chance to be heroic and fight small hordes of minions from time to time.
8. Feature villains who aren't stupid cookie-cutters--they've somehow read the "If I was an Evil Overlord" list. And they can gain more power if you don't foil their plans.
9. Have no children at the tabletop, or players who act like children, or have somebody place some stupid Jar-Jar Binks-like outlier character or NPC attempting to provide comedy relief. (I know to all of the parents out there the first part might be offensive since we're all getting older, but I'd help pay for a babysitter).
10. Rules-lite/OSR. (Pre-3e, AD&D 1e or 2e with Ascending AC, or a "clone" like S&W, but I'd really like to play DCC RPG).

So that's my top ten criteria. What's yours?

Monday, November 25, 2013

5e and Forgotten Realms

I've been somewhat keeping up on the latest news with 5e. It seems like the Forgotten Realms is going to be the default setting, given how much the Sundering has played major part in the "pre-5e adventures" like Murder in Baldur's Gate (is it true it's not a complete module, that you have to download NPC and monsters stats on WotC's website--oh say it ain't so).

While I don't wish to be a naysayer, I'm going to one anyway, because I feel that WotC marketing plan was to get the OSR to quiet down by offering many of the old modules and rulebooks again while they proceeded with play testing 5e and pitching the Realms. "Here, we've given you want you want, now go play in the corner."

The Edition Wars seem to have quieted down: for better for worse.

I'm not even sure how much reception 5e and Forgotten Realms are getting out there. The novels are probably selling fairly well.

I admit, my concern is purely selfish. Down the road I'm just hoping the OSR spreads so I can play in an old school game, instead of having the choices of 5e and Forgotten Realms, or Pathfinder.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Man I'm itching to play an Old School Game

Today I had some fun gaming at Treefort Games. We played a First Crusade scenario using the Impetus rules. It's not a bad set of rules, I just haven't played it more than a year. It seems like kinda hard to inflict damage on units (in both missile fire and melee, you need 6s or double 5s to hit and then the opponent gets a saving throw). But overall it worked out okay. I played the Muslims and we won after a lengthy game.

Then things broke down into RPGs and CCGs. I friend of mind ran his homebrew Babylon 5 RPG, there were a couple of Pathfinder groups. I just hung out and worked on various writing projects.

All in all Treefort attracts good people--its just they don't play what I'm interested in. I didn't really get into Babylon 5 when it was on TV, but I can see the appeal. As for Pathfinder, well, I'm thinking about playing it because it seems to be only game in town. 4e is pretty much gone. The Pathfinder Society has a lot of influence in the area. I guess it'd be better than nothing at all.

I need something to do to help get me out of the gaming doldrums I've been in. I just can't make the time to run a game anymore. I'd love to play one, something Old School. I wouldn't care if its a retroclone or AD&D 1e or 2e using Thac0. Though I'd prefer DCC RPG.

I spent part of the time perusing through the Dragon Magazine Archive on my computer. I can't help but be amazed at the creativity packed within those pages back in the day. Post 3e Dragon pretty much stopped being a magazine about the hobby, and more about introducing new rules, feats, classes, etc.

Once again I asked myself the question:

Why did gaming seem to get so complicated? Or am I just showing my age?

An acquaintance of mine, who was trying to get me to play Pathfinder tonight, couldn't help but buy the Combat Tracking Pad for the game. He kept looking it over before plunking down $19.99 for it. Whatever happen to just writing down on a piece of paper or at most a dry erase board?

Oh well, I'm sure I'll find something soon to feed my Old School hunger. Right now I'm going to get back to finish watching Ghostbusters. :D

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Axe of Morgosh -- Free Bad Adventure PDF from ENWorld

As you may know, I've been taking trips down memory lane on ENWorld recently. Morrus has thread-necromancied a couple of classics. I'd almost forgot about these, even though they're hilarious.

Examples from the Worst TSR Adventures Module(s) ever published: where the ENWorld community proceeds to bash The Forest Oracle, an AD&D 1e module written by Carl Smith. It got to the point where people were posting large blocks of the text--which sort of went against ENWorld's policy--so people started writing their own bad encounters. Which led to...

Let's Write a Bad Module. Wherein the ENWorld community came together and wrote a bad module: The Axe of Morgosh, filled with encounters that don't make sense, railroad the players, automatically failed saves, and contains back story that has no bearing on the adventure whatsoever.

ENWorlder Olgar Shiverstone compiled all of the entries into a single document and made it available for download for free here. EDIT: Apparently you have to be an ENWorld member to get the free product. Hmmm...

Why I am pushing this module? Certainly, there is some nostalgia involved. I still find each of those threads funny. Heck, I even own and have run The Forest Oracle, so I know how screwball many of the encounters are. TSR did put out some bad modules in its day.

But here's the real reason: I'm always looking for ideas--even bad ones. There's something truly liberating about throwing out all conventions and just throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it'll stick. The Axe of Morgosh features a Cryohydra in a volcanic cave and only The Axe of Morgosh itself can defeat it, but the item can only be found underneath a bed back in encounter #2.

Why is there a creature of ice and cold in a volcanic cave? Why can only the The Axe of Morgosh defeat it? Why the hell did somebody leave a potent magic item underneath a bed?

Yes, the scenario defies logic.

But let's throw logic out the window. Let's just have cool stuff happen. Let's just make the game our own. Instead of "A Cryohydra in a volcanic cave? That doesn't make sense! Bad DM!" let's have "A Cryohydra in a volcanic cave? What's going on here?"

The Forest Oracle itself was like this. Some stuff didn't make sense but I could see the author trying to have "cool stuff" happen. The problem was execution. The Axe of Morgosh is a spoof of a lot of those TSR modules that just railroaded the player-characters into situations just because "the story" called for it. The Forest Oracle could almost be played like a sandbox, but many of the encounters just override player choice. You can read about them on ENWorld link. Or you can purchase the module in pdf at DrivethruRPG.

I'll probably take another look at the The Forest Oracle and review it. I've found you can learn more about adventure design from mediocre or lousy adventures than good ones. The interesting thing about the The Forest Oracle is that it has a neat premise, but the execution isn't sound.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The World of Dante

World of Dante

Deborah Parker at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities has apparently spearheaded turning Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy into a multimedia project called  "The World of Dante."

Anybody who's a fan of The Divine Comedy needs to check this website out. Any DM who wants to run a game set in Hell or in Italy should also take a look.

First, you have the art gallery, featuring the works by Gustave Dore and others.

Third, here's the music--yes music--that Dante refers do in the Purgatorio and Paradiso.

Fourth, there's also a timeline of the events in Dante Aligheri's life.

There's also a number of other resources like search engine, stuff for teachers, and so on. 

But here's what really fantastic about this website: 

Each Canto features both the original Italian and English translations side-by side. There's also a menu on the right that cross references all of the people, monsters, deities, music, and other stuff related to that particular Canto. 

I can think of all kinds of uses for this at the gaming table (and, of course, scholarly research).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In Retrospect: Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News

If you haven't seen it already, EnWorld's put up a link last week to the old Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D Third Edition News Archive. I've been checking it out. It's brought back a lot of memories from that time--can you believe its been over 13 years since D&D 3e came out?

I remember when I first stumbled upon that site, I was like: "Yeah, right, like anybody from WotC was going to tell some random guy on Internet what 3e is going be like."

Well, it turns out WotC wasn't giving much information to Eric Noah, if you read those early posts, WotC was already blabbing about 3e elsewhere. Eric Noah was just smart enough to create a website to compile all of that information and suddenly a new online community of gamers was born.

I visited that site quite a bit. Like so many, I was nervous where D&D was headed. None of what Eric's posted really assuaged my fears. I didn't like the sound of "Attack of Opportunity." The idea of "Whirlwind Attack" brought to mind Xena spinning in circle with a couple swords doing that "aiyaiyai!" battlecry.

Then, of course, just as news of 3e started circulating, Hasbro stepped in and bought WotC, and then we learned that GenCon would Milwaukee.  Talk about interesting times.

Dragon Magazine, of course, gave updates--but Eric Noah's site related all kinds of interesting tidbits, like experience point charts, what a character sheet might look like, and even what Gary Gygax thinks about the upcoming edition (later on, however, his true opinion would be known). Here I first learned about "Adventure Paths," how WotC would focus on creating rulebooks instead of lots of adventures, and, of course, the Open Gaming License.

I'm not going to post a bunch of links, because just on page in the archive you can find month's worth of interesting tidbits.

Apparently, the reason Eric Noah handed over the reins to Morrus as because of time: he wanted his life back.  (Scroll down to August 18, 2001). Even so, Eric still hung around on En World for awhile. For years, the general policy for the message boards was not to say anything that might "upset Eric's grandmother."

I'm glad that EnWorld brought back these archives, apparently they went away after the website got hacked almost a year ago. Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News lasted for only two years, but it played an important roll in the big D&D revival brought on by 3e in those days.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Wicker Man (1973)

There's seeds of an adventure, or perhaps an entire campaign, within this movie. If you haven't seen the original 1973 version of The Wicker Man, then I suggest you do so. 


The Plot: a police sergeant is sent to the Scottish village of Summerisle in search of a missing girl. There he discovers that the island inhabitants have developed some rather... shall we say... unorthodox customs. As his investigations continue (with little help from the island's strange populace), he discovers that the missing girl is part of an elaborate rite. 

The movie is a part Gothic horror, part mystery, even part musical (believe it or not). It has a way of lulling a viewer into a false complacency. It's not hard to see why. You've got beauties like Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland in this film. Even a younger Christopher Lee has his sonorous and lordly voice. There's folk music all the way through it. 

So what can be taken from this film for an RPG game?
--Villagers participating in a carnivalesque rite were they don animal masks and pop up in windows and over low walls to spy on the PCs. 
--Children leaping over the fire in the center of a stone circle.
--A drinking song: "The Landlord's Daughter."
--A labyrinthine series of caverns on the cliff overlooking the sea. 
--The whole movie is an example of how different religions interact. The denizens of Summerisle aren't evil, but they need their ritual to be successful or dire things will continue to happen to the island. 

My only problem: PCs won't be a determined as the main character in the film. At some point, they will realize that the village is against them and perhaps leave. The villagers would really have no incentive to keep the PCs there (unless the PCs threaten to come back with reinforcements).

Perhaps a good hook would be a cleric character investigating the recent disappearance of one of his brethren? Sort of like a "sequel" to the movie.

Overall, The Wicker Man is one of my favorite movies. I'm sure modern audiences might find the movie a bit slow going. But there's a seduction going on here, and it takes time. This kind of seduction often missing in modern horror films (such as in the 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage). Believe me, the ending is worth the wait.

Travel Tip: Don't get mad if the villagers sing and dance while you die.
It's just their custom.

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