So, You’re an Adventurer (or What Makes You so Special?)

A while back, D. over at Fleur du mal linked to Rick Stump’s post Monsters of the Id on his site Don’t Split the Party.  Rick’s post begins with a digression about how many people never read the entirety of the rules set and uses an example of how he guest DMed and brought low a party of 3rd to 5th level PCs with a standard patrol encounter.  This, along with D.’s post on High Men – a subset of humanity in his game world, set me to thinking about how “heroes” became “heroes” in Rhillmoran.

I admit that until I read Rick’s post I had not read all the random encounters section on the 1E DMG and was not aware that 5 in 20 encounters in Inhabited Outdoor Areas were with patrols of fighters or rangers on horseback led by a 6th to 8th level Commander, seconded by a 4th to 5th level Lieutenant, or that these patrols included a 2nd to 3rd level Sergeant, 3 to 4 1st level men-at-arms, and 13 to 24 soldiers (See page 182, Dungeon Masters Guide © 1979).  Also, there will be either a 6th or 7th cleric or a 5th to 8th level magic user with the patrol.  This got me to reexamining other Random Encounter Matrices.  The City/Town Encounters section (pages 190-192, 194) of the DMG showed me that City Guard and City Watch encounters included fighters, clerics, and magic users and that a randomly encountered cleric could be 11th level and have 5 attendant clerics of 4th level with him or her.  Clearly, the PCs weren’t the only members of society to have adventuring classes. (2016.04.29)

In Greyhawk Adventures by James M. Ward © 1988, there is a section on beginning your campaign with 0 (zero) level characters (pages 117-126).  Using this option, nobodies can work their way up to somebodies of importance.  This is, clearly, a take on the idea that it is not one’s social class or bloodline that makes one a hero; it is one’s actions and choices that makes one a hero.  This seems so at odds with 4E and its emphasis on Epic Destinies and minions.  I seem to recall a passage about 4E fighters that said even a veteran of multiple wars would only be a 1st or 2nd level fighter (I can’t find a reference for that passage at this time).  In 1E, adventurers are defined by what they do, not by what they can do.  In 4E, adventurers are defined by what they can do; they are inherently different than the hoi polloi of the rest of creation.  What changed and why and what does it say about how I am going to develop NPCs and societies on Iolta and Thrain? (2016.04.29)

Clearly in 1E, the PCs weren’t the only people with adventuring classes, but they were the main ones going out and “adventuring.”  I don’t really know what was going on in 2E, since I treated everything as if I was still running 1E.  3E made a distinction between PC classes and NPC classes and 4E PCs were a separate breed entirely.  Ever since the implementation of the CR system, there has been a growing distinction between the PCs and everyone else.  I don’t know if that distinction still applies in 5E or not.  I still haven’t picked up the 5E DMG, so I don’t know what it says, but my reading of the DnD Next Playtest rules, the Players Handbook and the Monster Manual, I suspect that the distinction is extremely lessened, if not completely removed.  If that is not the case in D&D Official Settings, it is Rhillmoran.

For many years, I had players that assumed that every orc encounter was with an orc that had class levels.  Why because I believed that if a PC could do, so could an NPC.  The reverse is also true anything an NPC can do, a PC can learn to do, as well.  If the super evil wizard boss can cast 25 hit die fireballs, then the PC wizards who take her down can learn how she could do such magical feats.  If the PCs don’t want to make a pact with Mephistopheles, then they don’t get cast 25 hit die fireballs.

Having adventuring classes among the clearly non-adventuring populace says all sorts of things about how D&D societies work, but I am going to ignore those things for now.  What I want to focus on is why the PCs are adventurers in the first place.  Why do people with very little in common gather together in commando style groups and set out to loot ruins and do daring do?

They’re misfits, also known as Red Nose Reindeer Syndrome.  Adventurers are people who do not fit into the rest of society.  They have something in their personalities that make them outsiders in their own communities and/or even families.

They are laggards, also known as I want to Win the Lottery Syndrome.  The PCs are folks who are looking for the big score.  They will go out of their way and do more work than necessary, just get out of work.  They enter each dungeon with the hope that they will escape with a dragon’s hoard and never have to work again.

They are thrill seekers, also known as Adventurer Syndrome.  Everyday life is boring.  There are only so many cliffs one can use to base jump before base jumping gets stale.  Dungeons provide so many more thrills.  One can face horrible monsters, deadly traps, and grueling self-torture.  It’s awesome!

They are heroes, also known as They are Heroes Syndrome.  The PCs are adventurers because they are the ones who stand up and do when things need doing.  They may clothe it in terms of mercenary greed or proving one’s self or fulfilling destiny, but the PCs go into the dungeons, slay the dragons, and rescue the princes because they are the ones that will do it; they are heroes.  When the call to action has been sounded and others cannot or will not, the PCs rise and do or die trying.  The queen may be a 15th level fighter.  She may stand with her generals and soldiers and defend the city gates, she isn’t an adventurer. She isn’t going to sneak into the orc encampment and assassinate the orc cambion warlord leading the Horde.  The PCs will, because they are heroes.  It is what they do.

Game On!

 

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To Mod or Not to Mod (or Why Gregory is Bad at Running Modules)

The Games Librarian recently posted about a Game Master’s desire to revisit places in his or her games in which his or her Players invested their time and effort. This was in response to Admiral Ironbombs’ post about Player vs. Character Buy-in when running Adventure Paths or Modules. Both are good reads and I encourage you to check them out.  Mike Mearls of WotC talks about the new Starter Set for 5E and the emphasis they are putting on the included adventure in his Legend and Lore Column. Together, they really got me thinking about how I build and run Ryllmorrin and why I don’t use more Modules.

I have owned or borrowed an untold number of Adventure Modules, since I started gaming. I even ran a few of them.  Any decent Game Master will tell you that unless you are running a One Shot Game, adapt the Module you are running for your campaign.  I did that.  I used NPCs in my game to fit the roles presented in the Modules.  I used my cities and villages in place of the settings in the Adventures.  I did my best to fold them into the World of Rilmorn and make the Modules seem to be part of it.  Yet, I never seemed successful in running an Adventure that I didn’t design. Things always go wrong and I have to throw out the Adventure Module and improvise.  I think I know why I run modules so poorly and I’ll try to explain why over the next few paragraph.

When I began GMing, I possessed the Basic D&D blue book by Dr. Eric Holmes (just the book, not the rest of the boxed set), a borrowed Dungeon Masters Guide, a Monster Manual and the module B1 – In Search of the Unknown.  With that, I began building my campaign.  I did not have a lot of examples to use in my design process, so I made it up as I went along.

I’ve talked about my first games and Mythgold the Underground City of Wizards. When I first ran it, Mythgold was not a complete map. I would fill in the areas I thought I needed, leave the rest blank, and fill in more before the next session. I do not remember when my players decided to go off the map section I had completed and head into the unknown, but I’d bet it was fairly early on. I had to jump through some hoops to keep the game going.

When my players went off map, I would describe what the person making the map would need to know to continue the map (because making the map was a BIG part of D&D in the early days) and while they drew in the map section I had just described, I would pretend to check my notes and fill in what I had just described. Every time from that point on, when my players decided to talk among themselves, I’d draw a bit more on my map and make notes as to what was therein. I did everything I could to keep up the illusion that I had everything planned out and that my players couldn’t catch me off guard. I guess I did/do the same thing when I run Modules/Adventures.

I know I run a very sandbox-style of game and that may predicate my aversion to running Canned Adventures. I, also, have had a number of players, who want to “make the plot train jump the tracks.” They are the players that when presented with a plot hook of “Save the Princess and You’ll be Gifted with Titles and Lands by the King,” say “Why should we do that? We are adventurers and can claim lands and keeps from the monsters we defeat in the wilderness, so what else will you give us? Make it good or we might go help the kidnapper.” So, when these Players know there is a Module being run, they try to break out of the rails from the word “Go!” These are two things that make running Modules difficult for me.

Another thing that makes running Canned Adventures and Adventure paths difficult for me is the fact that sometimes I think what the Module says is supposed to happen is stupid or unfair. My latest complaint of this nature is with the 4E Adventure Revenge of the Giants.

 

SPOILER BEGINS (Highlight to see Spoiler)

On pages 154-155 of Revenge of the Giants, the Adventure sets up the ultimate fight between the drow priestess Lolestra, as she attempts to free the primordial Piranoth, and the Heroes.  There is way for the PCs to defeat Lolestra before she releases the primordial.  Here’s where I get upset, if the PCs defeat Lolestra, then her goddess Lolth steps in and frees the primordial, so the PCs then have to defeat the Primodial, too.

SPOILER ENDS

That is unfair. If the Players come up with a way to circumvent the Big Boss Fight, then they should be awarded the Experience Points for that fight for thinking outside the box or getting lucky and doing all the things they needed to do right to prevent the fight from happening.

In addition to “Rail Buster” Players, I’ve also had really good “Lateral Thinker” Players (sometimes, they are the same Player). I like it when my Players come up with ideas outside the box and I know good GMs always go beyond the Adventure Path or Module and let the unexpected idea work, because it is the good GMing thing to do. But what does a GM do, when the Players take such an idea to a logical conclusion? Admiral Ironbombs describes this exact scenario in his post. I understand why he did what he did, but when I encounter this problem, I leave the Path.  When I’m running a Module and my Players get caught up in a subplot or tangent, I rum with it. I use as much of the material in the Adventure as possible and fill in the gaps as I go. I guess the final answer, as to why I run Canned Adventures so poorly, is I’m more interested in what my players are doing, than I am in what the Adventure Path or Module is doing.

Tony Powers over at Epic Heroes is gearing up to run the Pathfinder Adventure Path Skulls and Shackles.  Here is his post about prep. (2014.07.21)

The GM Behind the Screen also has a post about players Riding Off The Rails. (2014.09.10)

 

Until next time, Game On!

Edition Wars (or OH, NO! Here We Go Again)

I’ve seen various people post about the announcement of 5E – Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition release dates.  Some are jaded and feel that it has all been done before.  Others are offering a depressed, but optimistic, hope that it will be good.  Various forums have people shouting for their favorite edition or bemoaning the idea that Wizards of the Coast are trying to get more money out of them.  I was going to keep quiet about the whole deal and do my best to ignore it.  I can’t.

Having played D&D starting with the Holmesian Blue Book version of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and played through each and every version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to date, including the playtest version DnD Next, I have an opinion on this subject.  I’m tired of the fighting.  That’s my opinion.

Edition Wars did not begin with 3E.  They began with Basic and Advanced.  There was enough demand for Basic Dungeons and Dragons that TSR built an entire product line around the Known World (what would become known as Mystara).  This happened right alongside Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  People would meet up in game stores, at conventions, and, later, on online bulletin board systems to deride and attack the other side for selling out or being poor gamers.  This is not new.

The wars did not end with one’s preferred version of D&D.  People would fight over Role Playing vs. Roll Playing.  (Sound familiar?)  Munchkins were vilified by True Role Players.  Monty Haul Games were ridiculed as low brow, beer and pretzel games by those who believed themselves more sophisticated.  Gary Gygax even took umbrage against those who didn’t play Real Dungeons and Dragons (I talk about that article in this post).  It is all the same story: “Do it my way or hit the highway.”

It gets even uglier, when one considers other games by other companies.  “How could you play Runequest; it’s a D&D rip off?”  “Call of Cthulhu is just superior to any other RPG because it uses percentile dice and has a literary foundation.”  “How can you play Rolemaster?  It’s all tables.”  Go ahead pick a game and I’d feel comfortable betting that I can find a website that has proponents that feel that all other games are stupid.  I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Grognards have always existed.  They were even present at the release of 2E.  A long time ago, I was given a small, typewritten, piece of paper that humorously and ironically described the transition from 1E to 2E.  It talked about the shift from Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms.  It joked about the sudden change of paladins to cavaliers.  There were other sly observations about how the “new” D&D universe worked, but it ended with the very unkind idea that only stupid people would want Gary Gygax back in charge of D&D and that good, smart people would kill anyone who tried.  When it dawned on me that that type of thinking was fanaticism and the same ignorance espoused by those who didn’t want to change from their beloved edition to whatever new was coming out, I got rid of it.  I do not want to be one of those that promotes hate, even in what is meant to be a joke.  There will always be those who fear or hate change.  It is sad, but true.

To those who bemoan the fact that WotC is trying to make more money, I’ve only this to say, “Of course, they are; Wizards of the Coast is a business and if they don’t make money, they have to quit being a business!”  This is no different than Pazio selling Pathfinder or Monte Cook selling Numenera.  It is their job to make stuff for gamers to buy.  If you don’t want to support the people whose jobs it is to design, write, and publish games, game modules, and gaming supplements, then don’t buy the stuff they put out and quit trying to make those people that do buy their products feel bad for buying what they want to buy.

I doubt it happen, but I do wish the gaming community at large would grow up.  A new edition does not diminish your personal games in any way.  People playing with different styles of game play are not better or lesser than you and you do not need to “convert them to the true path of gaming.”  Maybe the newest edition on the block isn’t all that new in its concepts or game play.  Maybe it is a ploy to get people to buy more stuff.  Maybe it is better than anything that has gone before it.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want it, don’t get it.  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.  Unless gaming is a virus and one needs to be inoculated to prevent the spread of disease, let it go and enjoy what you have.

DMing with Charisma posted a response to this post and I really like it.

I found A Brief History of the Edition Wars by Admiral Ironbombs on his site Logic is my Virgin Sacrifice to Reality.  Please check it out.

 

Until we meet again, Game On!

Davion

I do not use the game conceit of Ravenloft: Realm of Terror.  I do not find the idea of characters trapped in a mystical prison for the truly evil to be a campaign that I want to run or play.  Even if I don’t use the Ravenloft “world,” I still find lots of great material in the Ravenloft setting.  Taking parts of the source material and using them as set pieces can provide a sense of unease and terror within a campaign that is unexpected and filled with fun.

In my Tasque Elzeny campaign, I didn’t just use the source material as an adventure location.  I used it as the home base and setting of the campaign.  Unlike the original module I6: Ravenloft and the Ravenloft box set, the PCs were never trapped in the setting.  No darklord was ever trapped by Dark Powers in Barovia or Mordentshire.  Castle Ravenloft was to be an adventure site and maybe a home base for the PCs, if they reclaimed their “ancestral home.”  Most everything I took from the Ravenloft and Gothic Earth material was “sense data.”  It was information and fluff to evoke a Hammer Film vibe…a Vincent Price air…a Boris Karloff ambience.  Now, how would things be different, if I took the source material and kept as close to the game conceit as possible?

In the D&D 2E hardback Domains of Dread, there is a section on pocket domains, “…domains located within other domains.”  I am considering taking some pocket domains and combining them into a setting for a new campaign.  Three pocket domains stand out as pieces of this setting: Aggarath (from The Forgotten Terror”), the “House of Lament,” and “Davion” (both from Domains of Dread).

Aggarath appears in The Forgotten Terror – the sequel to Castle Spulzeer, a Forgotten Realms adventure module.  Aggarath is both a Domain of Dread and the pommel jewel of the dagger Aggarath.  Persons killed with Aggarath, find themselves trapped inside the domain Aggarath.  Aggarath is the prison realm of Chardath, the last of a depraved family.  Thanks to his poor rearing and an overly developed sense of revenge, Chardath allied himself to a lich and murdered his sister; now he dwells trapped in a dodecahedron-domain, wherein his memories and his fears are made manifest.  People slain by Aggarath have a chance to escape this domain.  They must gather 3 enchanted rubies and a silver key to open the portal out of Aggarath.  Aggarath reminds me of movies from the 1970s where a character is trapped in someone’s psychedelic nightmares and rushes around trying to escape.

The domain named the House of Lament is a strange one.  The House is both the domain and the demilord of the domain.  It began its existence as a bandit lord’s castle.  The bandit lord stole the daughter of another lord and entombed her in a tower wall of his castle to appease the gods and make his castle impervious to attack.  The woman’s horrific death wakened something that drove bandits mad or killed them.  The castle fell into ruins, except for the tower where the woman had been entombed.  Sometime later, a merchant added a new house to the still standing tower.  In time, the Spirit of the Tower or the deranged spirit of the woman killed the man and his family.  Now, anyone who stays too long in House of Lament is trapped, driven mad, and killed.  It is an Amityville Horror house.

Davion, the name of both the domain and its demilord, is my favorite Domain of Dread.  A wizard, desiring ever more power, accidently wished three adventurers into his body.  The combined power of these four being was such that they could actually control reality around them.  Depending upon which psyche was dominant at the time, their shared body and their surroundings changed to fit his or her reality.  Only Davion knew true situation and only Davion could use the powers and information of the others.  It drove him mad and to acts of great brutality to keep his new power.  Eventually, he is drawn into the Mists and given a domain.  The domain shifts appearance, as the each psyche takes control of the body.  Augustus the Mage lives in an orderly village filled to meet the needs of any wizard.  Boromar the Warrior transforms the area into a frontier town on a cold, clear day.  Narana the Priestess worships at a large temple in the center of a small town caressed with warm spring breezes.  Ruins of an earthquake aftermath fill the area, when Davion is master of his own body.  The personalities fade and surface without notice or warning, so the village and surrounding area are ever-changing world of madness.  The locals never seem to notice the changes, but it could easily mess with both Players and PCs senses of reality.

Now, what I may do is place Aggarath on Davion’s person and it is the only thing that will not change when the body shifts psyches.  The House of Lament will be in the center of town and while the tower will remain the same, the house attached to it will become a temple, a school, or a long house as the psyche of the demilord changes.  It would still have dark rumors spread about it, but the deaths caused by the house would be fewer and less obvious.  Finally, the town of Davion will be set on an isolated coast far from civilization.

In this setting, the PCs are among the few that notice the way their world changes.  They have heard rumors of madness and death about the House of Lament.  The area in which Davion is located will be geologically unstable; earthquakes are relatively common.  While the PCs know that there are five (yes, 5) different people who share the same body space, most of the villagers are only aware of one, whichever one is dominate at that time.  All of this knowledge would put the PCs at odds with the most of the village.  The PCs get to see the workings of the setting, but may not be able to do anything about it.

I’d make the Players create multiclass characters.  Magic items and otherwise mundane equipment may have shapeshifting properties.  Davion would be the big or maybe hidden villain for some, if not most, of the campaign.  He would be trying to absorb the PCs to increase his power.

What do you, Dear Readers, think?

Game On!

DM’s Rant: A Response

This post is a direct response to my friend Matt’s request that I comment on his post DM’s Rant. I originally was going to post in his comment section, but my train of thought derailed and I was spilling verbage onto his site. I removed the debris and started over. Here’s the result after the cleanup effort.

First things First, Matt, I agree with your premise that the Game Master should not be bound to the book. The Game Master should of course use the rule to run a fair and honest campaign, but there are so many more things to a good game than adherence to the rules.

Now, onto the part of my post where I point out (not always with the best of tact, but with the best of intentions) the errors I see in your self-admitted passionate rant.

To begin, Matt you appear to be contradicting yourself in the middle of your argument. In your fourth paragraph you hold forth with this:

I’m reading this thing and I’m scratching my head, thinking, why is this guy awarding XP based solely on how much treasure the players find or how much of a body count they rack up? Because the book told him to? Is this the kind of gamer we have now? Slaves to the Almighty Rule Book? In the seminal guide to D&D, the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, Mr. Gygax says over and over again, “All of this is optional. Do what you want.” He says it in many different ways, usually with some much prettier language – some would say overly obscure, and I tend to agree in most places, but this is clear as blue skies.
All. Of. This. Is. Optional. Do. What. You. Want. When it says “all”, it means all

Then in your seventeenth paragraph you say:

This notion that this rule and that rule doesn’t work and this and that doesn’t fit is so much lazy bullshit.

If I have taken this out of context, please forgive me and correct me, I think you are off on this. If everything is optional, then any rules one finds cumbersome or annoying can be tossed as needed or desired. I believe that anything that doesn’t work for your personal Table should be dropped. If a rule is too cumbersome, trim it down or cut it out. I did this with weapon speed, wandering monsters, one minute combat rounds, etc. Also, Gary Gygax may have changed his mind later in life, but early in TSR’s run, he held a play my way or you are not playing D&D attitude. I’ve quoted part of an essay from Dragon 63, here, which makes this very clear. Also, I went back and reread the preface to the First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide and Mr. Gygax seems to be very intense on uniformity of rules across the board. If you are not playing with the rules as written, then your game will collapse or be so esoteric that no one outside of your limited community will want to play it. I feel that he was a rules guy and he would expect the GMs and the Players to use the Rules at their Table.

Now, let’s get to the meat of your rant, Matt. You are frustrated by GMs who can’t go Outside the Box of Rules. I’m with you on this. You focus on the idea of how Experience Points (XP) are awarded in your rant. Here is my take on it.

Every game has rules. Be they, pretend games from our childhood: “House” or “Cowboys and Indians” or complex games from our board games heyday: “Axis and Allies” or “Diplomacy,” games have rules. We are taught to play by the rules. When we don’t play by the rules, we are called cheaters.

1E D&D told us that the rules said Experience comes from Killing Monsters, Collecting Gold, and Having Magic Items. So, we played that way. Gygax even used a jeweled man as a lure to get PCs into a dungeon, because of all the XP that automaton offered. The progression tables in 1E expected PCs to get gold and count it toward their XP advancement. There was no XP for overcoming traps or parleying with NPCs. 1E was a game about Slaying and Looting; a dragon was the best target for any group of PCs…It offered Monster XP, Gold XP, and Magic Item XP. Players looked at every encounter as a potential combat.

By the time 3E hit the scene, we had Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, and other games focused on story and player options beyond the standard D&D formula. While the rules for awarding XP changed to shift away from Gold XP and Magic Item XP, not everyone wanted to let go of the way they learned to play years before. It is similar to growing up playing Original Rock/Paper/Scissors and learning that in 2nd Ed. R/P/S Rock beats Paper, Paper beats Scissors, and Scissors beats Rock. It is in the rules and it is perfectly legal, but it is not what you grew up with and it flies in the face of what you believe is core to YOUR game. This, I believe, is what is at the heart of the Edition Wars and nearly every Grognard Complaint.

Matt, it appears that you want a game wherein the PCs are rewarded for experiences that they have. Thus to you XPs mean “real experience;” RPGs are not really about the “real” (The Games Librarian has a good post on this), they are about the “simulation of the real.” The rule set of a game really doesn’t define the laws of that particular universe. The rule set gives Players and GMs the tools to simulate those laws.

Jason Holmgren (Designer of Ironclaw) told me that rule sets determine the style of play for a game. I think he’s right. In 1E, the rules lead to a game with wild, unexplained magic and every encounter was expected to turn into a combat encounter. In 3E, magic was a regulated, understandable force with crafting classes taught at the Co-Op. Gone were the days, when Players had to take the Great Weapons of Power from their fallen foes; they could now craft the uber-weapon they wanted from their “Experience” and components bought at the local mage shop. The style of play had changed and some liked the change and others did not, but they played the game anyway. This is not to say that people didn’t Play Outside the Rule Box. Rule sets determine the style of play, but they can’t chain players or GMs to that style.

Monte Cook (my Go-To Guy when it comes to game design) has written about simulation in role playing game design and about how rule set can affect game play. I think both of these posts reflect on the topic of your rant and offer better explanations than I can devise. It is the application of these two ideas that I believe embodies your rant.

Matt, we agree on the most important piece of your rant. This a game and it should be fun. Thanks for asking my opinion.

Game On!

Mea Culpa (or What do I Want in my Game)

On 4 April 2014, I post an entry about why I felt Dice Fudging was bad. It started a heated and acrimonious debate. I feel bad that my post was the sulfur and bat guano that started this fireball. Since that blog post went up the following things have happened:

All of this has led me to reexamine my game and how I run it. I asked myself several questions. Have I ever fudged dice? YES. Did fudging dice ever improve a particular encounter? YES. Did fudging Dice ever worsen an encounter? YES. Was there ever a time that I wished I had fudged dice? YES   Did my players ever know that I fudged dice? PROBABLY. Did my Players ever suspect that I fudged dive? YES. Did that knowledge or suspicion have an effect on my game? YES. Was the effect positive or negative? NEGATIVE.

I lost the trust of my players. They couldn’t never be certain that a lucky series of rolls was just a lucky series of rolls and not a grudge attack? Did Hil get randomly shot at by the drow sniper or was I still mad at him, because he got a wild hair and murdered an NPC on which I had worked too hard. Did the ettin really miss hitting James or did I fudge on his behalf because he is my best friend? Did I randomly roll on the 1E DMG magic items tables and get a +5 Holy Avenger for Christina or did I give it to her because she is my wife? They may have believed that it actually happened the way I said it rolled, but there was always a shadow of doubt.

I am not perfect. I try very hard to be completely fair to my Players, but life gets in the way. Some days, I get mad at a Player. Some days, I feel bad about hurting a particular Player. Some days, I want the background on which I worked so hard to shine. Not always; not even most of the time; but SOMETIMES, I fall down. My Players are smart, educated, empathetic people and they SUSPECT that I fall. Do your Players SUSPECT you of fudging your die rolls? If they do, you may not have their trust in the game. They play your game because they have fun, but they may not believe that you are fair.

Having admitted that I fudge dice and not always for the right reason, I now ask myself, “Gregory, why did you roll the die in the first place? What was the purpose of that die roll that I now want to fudge?”

I am not a slave to my dice nor to the Rules As Written (RAW). I discarded the rolling for Wandering Monsters back in First Edition (1E) AD&D, just as I discarded weapon speed and the one minute combat round. I choose when or if to roll a die to get a randomly determined result. I choose what table to roll against. I choose what monsters the PCs encounter.

What if, when I roll the die, it comes up an undesirable result? Why roll the die, if I am not going to use the result? Am I trying to give the illusion of fairness? Am I trying to shift the blame of my choices to Random Chance? Am I just trying to give my Players the facade of free will; pretending that I am not railroading them along the path of my desire to fulfill the Story Arc that have, so cleverly, devised? The answer to the question of why I rolled the die is this: I rolled the die to place a random element into the game, so that my Players and I could react to the result and create the next element in our shared Story.

I was trying to expound upon 3 reasons why I felt that fudging dice led to a less awesome game. If fudging dice improves the awesome in your game, then fudge. Do whatever makes your game better. I will.

Game On!

Blogs of Valor (or People With Whom I Agree)

Yesterday, I posted about Why One Should Not Fudge Dice in their Games.  That post has introduced me to two new bloggers Matt Harris and The Games Librarian.  They, both, have recently posted about DMs in the 21st century and Setting the World before Breaking it.  Both of these posts describe things that good Game Masters should think about in running their games.

Once again, I am going to direct you all to Monte Cook.  He boils down my entire post from yesterday into a single paragraph (the sixth one) in a larger post.

There is no single style of gaming, nor should there be.  I do not agree with everything in this post, but it covers the topic well.  Just as in the days of 1E, when people took sides on the Hack and Slash, Monty Haul, or Thinking Man’s Dungeon, people are still dividing themselves into camps and shouting, “My way is better!”  After D&D came out, Runequest, Arduin, and Rolemaster all followed.  Proponents of all those games touted their superiority to dumb, old D&D.  2E followed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and grognards (me among them) came out against changes in “their” game.  3E, 4E, and DnD Next have all brought forces into the Edition Wars.  It’s time to live and let live, gamers.  Enjoy what you enjoy and let others do the same.  We do not have to do what others do, nor do they have to do what we do.  (Lord have mercy, I sound like I’m discussing Gay Marriage)  I do not have to be wrong for you to be right.

Blogs of Valor are really Sunshine Awards.  (2014.06.14)

Sorry, if I soap boxed; Game On!

Thoughts on the Loss of an Artist

Yesterday, I learned about the death of David Trampier or “D.A.T,” as he signed much of his work.  Before Elmore and Parkinson, before Lockwood and Reynolds, there was Sutherland and Trampier.  David Trampiers’s work in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons still sings to me.  In black and white, he drew the imaginations of many gamers and was a well-liked cartoonist for his comic, Wormy.  He painted the scene on the first ever Dungeon Master’s Screen (I still own 3 copies).  Trampier,Sutherland, and Otus are the ones who gave vision to many of my encounters and in my minds eye, it is their work that I first see when I think of traditional D&D monsters.  Trampier’s winged, black panther, Solomoriah, may have been the first of its kind and his ability to fly between the spheres is an image that has haunted my daydreams for years.  His art remains, but the artist is now gone.

It appears that Mr Trampier had a troubled life.  I and others have wondered about what caused him to separate himself from the gaming community; he had a lot of gaming credits to his name, when he withdrew from public life.  I never knew the man, but   his death at 59 bothers me greatly.

David Trampier was 22 or 23, when he and his brother-in-law, Tom Wham had illustrations published in the Monster Manual in 1977.  I was 12 or 13 and wouldn’t hear of D&D for another 3 years.  He wrote and illustrated a wonderful comic.  He seemed to have a great career.  His last published work of which I know is the Wormy comic installment in Dragon 132 in April 1988.  What happened in those 11 years that made him leave his public life and his art?  Where did the artist that gave me the rakshasa go?  Did he have a good life?  Did he regret his choice to leave?  Was he happy?  Who mourns him?  What do I do now?

What do I do?  I share my feelings about David Trampier with the world.  I game on and use his illustrations to enliven the imaginations of new players and old.  I continue to enjoy the great D&D artists that followed him.  I live my life to its fullest potential, create, and share.  After life is for living and living well, may I never forget that and do my best to do just that.

Kevin Gisi has a great You Tube response to mourning celebrities.  He is speaking about Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but I feel much the same about Dave Trampier.

Until next time, Game On!

Traveling Through the Fire Which Burns All Things

Greg Bilsland does it. Chris Perkins does it. I do it and I bet others do it, too. We all use time travel in our D&D games. I’ve dropped time gates and chronosarians into games. I lifted “time-tripping” locations like the “Caves of History” from Egg of the Phoenix and the castle of the Darklord Tristan ApBlanc from Castles Forlorn to great effect in my games. I even ran a limited time travel campaign. It has been fun.

I really don’t know when I first began to drop time travel into my games. Bob Brown helped me design a number of rooms in Castle Timeless. Dragon #65 gave me a great article on time lords. Ken Crosby and I had many discussions about time, time travel, and the relationship between space and time; we both agreed “Time is not the 4th dimension.” All of these events have very specific images to which I connect and while I am sure that they are listed in objective chronological order, I am not sure which one marks the true entrance of time travel into Rilmorn.

Maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe time travel hasn’t begun in Rilmorn. What if the first time traveler hasn’t been born? What if all of the time travel and time travel related information that I have gathered on my game world is all post-cursors to an event yet to happen?

I am sure that I have forgotten some of the time travel that has happened in my games, because I have used it so much. Even if I have, I do have some great memories of time travel events in my games.

I credited Ken Crosby as playing the first chronosarian (time lord from Dragon #65), but Shaefer, his kularin (winged hominid) character, was an illusionist, not a chronosarian. Shaefer enjoyed using time manipulation magic items. He was the first PC in my games to find the Time Glass. Shaefer was delighted to find the time gate in his kingdom of the High Reaches and happily led the rest of the party into the future. He researched the summoning of time elementals and proved the existence of thought elementals. He summoned one of each and placed them as opponents in the Eternal Chess Game. The elementals named Frayin and Theron still exist (even after the Great Cataclysm). They are now bound together in a magical sphere floating above Moon Tower in Spellguard. They are still playing their chess game, they’ve just got new pieces. I hope Ken would be pleased.

James Burkett played the first chronosarian PC in my games. He ran Galen Ringold. I put a series of “time” adventures in this campaign to engage Galen in the story. James had to miss a number of games due to his work schedule and every time he wasn’t there, it seemed like another party member caused a temporal disaster. Amira rewrote the entirety of the players’ history, starting with their first adventure and created a cross-time duplicate of Galen. Shev broke a temporal artifact and duplicated the party; Galen’s duplicate remained, while the other duplicates were absorbed into the originals or returned to their reality. As the number of Galenns increased, the more desperate Galen Ringold became to restore the “Original Timeline.” Galen, ultimately, left the party, formed the Council of Galens, and embarked upon a plan to use the collected life energy of the world to turn back time to stop Amira. He became a supervillain who may or may not have caused the Great Cataclysm that destroyed all life on the planet. Thanks, James.

Long before Doctor Who did it, I had a Time War. Many years ago, I stole the name Castle Timeless from Roger Zelazny’s book, The Changing Land and created a time-themed dungeon. Nimsûl, Guardian of Time, was my NPC which acted as the catalyst to send adventurers to Castle Timeless. I ran multiple groups through Castle Timeless. Ronnie Cooley, a person I knew from my Hattiesburg/USM days, shared with me his time-themed campaign, The Center of Time. He showed me the character sheet of Linden, Mistress of Time, the PC that took over the Center of Time from the mad Master of Time, which his PCs were tasked to slay. Suddenly, I saw a conflict between the two temporal realities. Linden desired Castle Timeless and the title of Chronarch. Galen’s attempt to restore history may have been the opening Linden needed to strike. It may have been the event that allowed Linden to discover the existence of Castle Timeless. It may have been the final blow that brought about the Fall of the Castle. We may never know, but Castle Timeless in now a broken ruin and Linden rules “All of Time.” The Great War is done. (2014.10.02)

Present Games:
Tasque Elzeny is, now, traversing Castle Timeless to find the Key to Time, so they can get home, after being displaced in the ancient past.

Surana (Christina’s dragonborn ranger) has taken up a quest to restore Castle Timeless. Right now E3 is traveling from the ruins of Castle Timeless to the Centre of Time to discover what they can. We’ll see what happens.

If all goes to plan, I’ll, soon, introduce the Weir of Kandalon, from Chronomancer, into Rilmorn’s history. I hope it will soon take a place of prominence alongside the Talisman of Senroth and the Clock of Ages.

Until Next…Time?
Game On!

Game Masters Part 2

Last post, I talked about many of the Game Masters that I have interacted with over the years.  James Burkett reminded me that I forgot a few GMs from my past.  I’d like to correct that oversight.

  • Charles Chen – Another friend from Emory days, Charles ran an amazing Shadowrun game.  It was full of magic, angst, and betrayal.  The characters James and I played always seemed to be at odds with each other in Charles games.  I recall many sessions that ended in lots of explosions, usually set by runners against other members of our own crew.
  • Brandon Mokofisi – Brandon and I met when were both working at DragonScroll.com (He is now doing lead vocals in Urban Tattoo; Check them Out.).  Brandon runs the best tactical game of anyone I know.  He can optimize any class to its maximum usefulness.  His games require quick thinking, strong combat skills, and a strategic mind set.
  • Heather Miller – Heather comes from the same gaming group, as Derek Johnson, Ray Boone, and Ronnie Cooley.  She liked to run Call of Cuthuhu games with lots of puzzles.  For her the game seemed to be a vehicle to introduce new and more involved puzzles.  Heather’s games required an analytical mind and willingness to think outside the box.
  • Ronnie Cooley – Ronnie, Heather, Ray, Derek, Sam, Kris, Marilyn, and I played several different games together, but I remember Ronnie running Cyberpunk.  Ronnie’s Cyberpunk game was a mix of combat and role playing, with an emphasis on combat.  It was fun, but in the end, I was killed by my own party for reasons still unknown.
  • Michael McMillan – Michael is Davy McMillian’s cousin and he ran many AD&D games for me and his brother Barry.  He had a wild imagination.  I remember encountering an iron golem with the mind of an ancient wizard trapped within.  I had to deal with magical shrines that would improve one abilities and grant wishes, if I did the right things and would bestow curses, if I did the wrong things.  It was in Michael’s game that Gregor O’Dragon gained his friend and companion, the dragon Zuth.

Thank you all for many great games,

Game on!