Time Sink

Rather than decry D&D as evil in itself, a college roommate, who is now a missionary to Russia, said that the biggest problem with D&D (and all roleplaying games) is that they are a time sink.

It takes a lot of time to put together an adventure, and then a lot of time to get together and play a session. There are any number of activities and hobbies that are also time sinks, so it is not just roleplaying games.

One can spend too much time watching TV, or on the computer, or fixing the old car in the garage.

Back during the First Great Awakening, playing cards, and parlor games had a bad name. From my reading on it, it was a problem for the Christians to partake in those activities more because as a believer in the reality of Hell, any activity that was not directly related to saving souls was of the devil. I think the one thing those who thought that way were missing, is that we all need to step back and have periods of diversions from everyday life. Even Jesus took time away from his earthly ministry to get away from the crowds swarming to get a miracle or hear him preach.

(Yes, I am a Christian who likes D&D. I am not trying to convert anyone, just pointing out that we Christians can get too caught up in our agenda and lose sight of the world God created, and the people whom we are to serve. Here is another disclaimer – I was a pastor for ten years. I did not mention my like of D&D, as some could not handle it when I mentioned that I liked “The Simpsons”. After 3 years of seminary, one can theologize about anything.)

It does not matter what the activity is in which one is engaged. There is nothing evil with having fun and blowing off steam, in a responsible manner. (I know some of my fellow believers would call me a heretic for that statement. I am not sure what Bible translation they would use to back that up.)

The problem comes with lack of balance. If you are in a job that demands a lot of time aware from family, even if you can bring the work home, if you are not “present” with them in an engaging way, what message are you sending.

Striking the balance of being a good spouse and parent, while still having individual “me time” is tough and takes making priorities and tough choices. Does one choose to follow one or two TV shows for each night of the week, and spend a couple of hours on the computer each night, or find activities to do as a family?

Just asking some reflective questions, and proving my point to myself. I can do better.

Writing things out is something I picked up in college. Once I write until the pen stopped, and whatever was on my mind was laid out, I could set it aside and forget about it and get to sleep. I do not do that near as often, over twenty years later, but I should, as it is so unburdening.

This is not a tell all, or Oprah moment. While I am not perfect, I do make an effort to be engaged with my family. Like all fathers, I have my “Cat’s In The Cradle” moments, when the stresses of life consume my thoughts. I know that I am far from the worst father in the world, but also far from the best. I do have moments with my sons when I know they truly appreciate me. I know it will get better as they get older. As I often tell them, “Your parents get smarter the older you get.”

Time flies so fast. I find it hard to believe that I am in my mid-40s. It is already August! I know why so many men fail their families and chase after younger women, they cannot accept who and where they are, and are chasing after youth. While a younger women might be exciting, you lose the benefits of having a woman your own age, who can relate to your life experiences. I see that with my children when I make a cultural reference from my youth, they look at me with blank stares. It is hard enough to keep up with changing technology at work, let alone all the things on hundreds of channels and millions of web sites. Life is too short to drop the life you chose in the past, for a “newer and better” life. I could not keep up with the culture in my high school days when we only had 4 or 5 channels, and dozens of radio stations. I can tell you if certain songs are from the 80s, but I may not know the name of the song, and many times won’t know which group.

As the subheading of this blog says, “Ramblings of an Old Gamer”. This one was all over the map. A combination of stress, tiredness, and a cold coming on, plus the late hour. I want to keep going with a post a day for as long as I can, with some relevance to gaming. This post took an idea and found the quickest tangent I could fine, being nearly all stream of consciousness. I hope I made some sort of point here.

Now if I had a bunch of monsters to go kill, that would alleviate some stress!

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Trivial Pursuit

My wife won’t play Trivial Pursuit with me anymore since she can never beat me. If we ever played with a group, she would probably insist on being on my team. In college, I once played a game of Trivial Pursuit where I must have got every questions where the answer was Hamilton.

I can’t help but pick up random bits and facts. I see connections in things that no one else sees, and sometimes have a hard time articulating how I got there. My wife will roll her eyes when I mention something I was thinking, and she’ll ask me what made you think of that. My explanation of how I got from here to there reads like a story treatment for an episode of the old PBS show “Connections”.

In high school, my brother Robert, would make fun of my knowledge of esoterica, and after I mentioned something at the school lunch table we shared with out friends, he would pound the table and proclaim loudly, “Yet another entry in the ‘Book of Worthless Facts and Useless Information’!” I think I’ll use that for the title of my autobiography, or at least a chapter. 😉

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How Do You Pronounce Paladin?

When we first started playing AD&D and had the new character class of Paladin, we had never encountered that word, so we did not pronounce it correctly.

We said it “pAl – a – din”, like “Aladdin”. We said it the wrong way for a long time. I am not sure which of us found out the correct pronunciation.

We were too young to see the original “Have Gun Will Travel”, and it was never in re-runs when we were growing up. It might have been my mom who corrected us, because she remembered “Have Gun Will Travel.

I do not think there was any other terms that we mangled so badly. We were all well read, and had read “The Hobbit” and “LotR”, and many others, so words were something we knew.

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Magic Battle Standard

Robert, my brother, and I were at a game store that had a huge miniature  collection. I believe it was one of the times we made it to Kings Crown in Overland Park, KS, which was about an hour drive from home. I was 16 or 17, so about 1980-81 time frame.

They had a large terrain map, that as I recall was at least four 4×8 sheets of plywood. This was the central focus with the counter and displays around it. There were several “old guys” probably in the 30+ age bracket.

They regaled us of stories with their battles and talked of Magic Battle Standards. They gave their bearer and units that fought under them additional bonuses and protections. The more victories a unit won, the more powerful the standards became, until they were intelligent and could actively participate in the battle.

I wrote up some description for battle standards in my game, but no real stats yet. One thing I came up with was Greater and Lesser Standards. A Lesser Standard is magic, but does not grow in power, and has limits to how much of a unit it can protect. A Greater Standard, grows in power, etc. Using a variation on the rules for intelligent swords would be useful. I envisage them having alignments, so that will affect the kinds of things they can do. Perhaps even “holy” standards dedicated to a particular deity or pantheon. Another feature I came up with for Greater Standards is a bag of the same fabric attached to the pole. This bag will magic a soldier’s insignia to expand the protection of the standard to that individual. Only one insignia per day can be magicked when the standard is not in battle.

I have this vague recollection that these “old timers” mentioned planting the standard as a way for the unit to rally around the standard when the fight was going poorly.

I can see lots of choices for making such standards. I took the easy way out for now, and have the art of making them lost in antiquity, so I do not have to flesh this out in my game, until it becomes necessary. Since I have yet, to start this campaign, I have plenty of time.

Robert said he has his own rules for battle standards, but I have not yet gotten that information from him.

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Mapping Hack with Index Cards and a Siege

My main character, Griswald Stewart, has a small town at the center of his lands. Long story short, he is a duke who succeeded his father, but his father’s generation of the former rulers of the kingdom were kicked out. The line of false kings let these lands become overrun with orcs in the past 50 years. Griswald and his cousins re-took the kingdom, which is now in a civil war, but a giant earthquake affected most of the kingdom, and the areas of the former Stewart lands. Griswald took this opportunity to take back his patrimony, and managed to drive out the orcs. He then set up in the town abandoned by the orcs.

I used a sheet from a desk blotter that was a giant sheet of graph paper. Setting the scale to 40 feet squares, the entire town fits on the map. The town is roughly 1500 feet by 3000 feet. The grid is four squares to the inch. I lost that desk blotter in several moves. I have not had luck finding them locally at office supply stores. I do not recall which chain of office supply store I originally found it. Google is not helping. I must not have the right terminology to get the correct results.

A few years after he took the town, two of the largest orc tribes, The Blue Fang and The Vile Hand, have put aside their differences and decided to deal with “The Duke” or “The Wolf” (his personal shield device) as he is variously called, BEFORE he sets their sites on them. Griswald has wiped out several smaller orc tribes, and his success in that regard has come back to bite him.

Needless to say, there is a siege situation, and if you have ever seen the movie Zulu, you get the idea of how bad a spot he and the townspeople are in.

We needed to figure out ranges for weapons and spells, so we could get an accurate setting for ranges that were at an angle. I found that the blue lines on standard 3 x5 index cards are spaced at the same scale as 4 square to the inch graph paper. I was able to put together two cards by stapling them together to determine ranges weapons and spells. Of course the orcs are staying outside of these ranges until the orcs catapults can batter a hole in the wall.

It was interesting to see that insect plague has the greatest range of the spells that Griswald and his forces have at their disposal. That is perhaps the most powerful battle magic spell in AD&D for its range, area of effect, duration, and the effect it has on low level creatures. Its one turn (10 round) casting time give plenty of time for things to go wrong. It then takes 8 hours of rest and then the 15 min per level time to re-learn it, so it has a big cost associated with how often it can be use from a cleric’s memory, to offset the effect it can have on a battlefield.

The orcs have observed and taken note of the tales of Griswald, a half-elf Fighter/Cleric/Magic-User of 9th/9th/10th levels, and his henchmen, associates, and followers. They have arrayed themselves into smaller units of 20 to 30 that are spread far enough apart in a checkerboard formation, that a fireball will not affect more than a single group, or those on the edges of four groups (the  equivalent of one group). This is the price of fame for an adventurer, the bad guys learn from you the way you learn from them.

One thing Griswald did several times before a few survivors spread the word was to draw the warriors out of their stronghold with the bait of a small force taunting them. He would then  lob a few fireballs at them and take out the stragglers back in the fort. He knows better than to have his forces leave their fortifications, so they are bottled up until he can defeat or discourage the attackers, or last until help arrives.

It is not played out so I can’t tell you what happened yet.

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Memorable Events

There have been many memorable events in the various games I have played in over the years.

One that delights us to this day, is a situation where a high level party was fighting an orc tribe in their lair.

A dwarven fighter, Margus Greystone, entered a room with about 30 orcs in it. He turned around, closed the door and bolted it. This of course got the attention of the orcs. Margus had initiative and shocked the orcs by his behavior, so he had enough time to draw his weapon.

Randell, the player for Margus, then announced, “I hit the one on the left.” Margus is a right-handed dwarf and was about 9th level with a 18/xx style strength and maybe a magic weapon. The combination was that if he hit an orc of one hit die, it would die. So Margus continued to hit the orc on his left, which meant that he left his less well armored right side exposed, but of course, being a high level fighter, had plate mail, and the orcs had a hard time hitting him.

We all watched as the scene played out in a room full of orcs with a barred door blocked by a dwarven tank. It was after a few orcs fell, that the orcs realized that they were all going to die.

Several rounds later, Margus emerged from the room unscathed, but covered in orc blood.

This is my favorite example of hack and slash combined with roleplaying.

What favorite stories like this do you have from your gaming experience?

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Quest For The Dice of Destiny

Quest For The Dice of Destiny was supposed to involve these artifacts, The Dice of Destiny. The players never got to find these dice. My brother, Robert, was the DM

I do not know if it was because the players never lived up to the DM’s expectations, or if he was just ready for a different campaign.

The transition here was for the more well-rounded characters we had to travel by ocean to the area of the new campaign.

The situation ended with play frozen in time, as we never returned to finish the scenario we left off.

My character, Fasbold Torion, was a fighter with a charisma of 3. He had a henchman Flaessan Os, whom Fasbold had saved his life so many times, Flaessan was intensely loyal. In the ocean voyage, they had stopped at an island and found some sort of ruins and encountered a ghost. Both Fasbold and Flaessan were hit by the ghost and the game play stopped with Fasbold aged about 90 years, and Flaessan aged about 60 years.

Prior to the ocean voyage, Fasbold and the party were in the lair of an ettin and Fasbold had found a magic sword but not yet knew what it was. In combat the party was being slaughtered by the ettin. Fasbold managed to role a 20 and decapitated both heads of the ettin, and learned that he had a sword of sharpness. Fasbold sold the sword to make enough money to buy a share in the ship. If he had kept the sword, he might have kept the ghost from aging him and Flaessan.

During the ocean voyage at sea, prior to the island, they were attacked by sahuagin or some such, and the ship was boarded. Flaessan was about to be hit by one and Fasbold threw his dagger and hit it between the eyes for the kill, saving Flaessan one more time.

I still have the hand-drawn character sheets on notebook paper for Fasbold and Flaessan.

Robert and I often joke about Fasbold and Flaessan as old men reliving their adventures from their youth. This over 25 years ago! It is amazing the stories and fun one can reminisce over so many years later.

Robert’s next campaign, is his current campaign, he has run for over 20 years now. I do not know what he might call it. We all just refer to it as “The Fife” for the name of the country where all the action in his campaign started. The fun of this campaign is that each player has multiple characters in different places on the known map, and some are unlikely to ever meet in the game.

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My brother, Robert, is my favorite DM. He can improvise almost anything, and never seems to be surprised or disappointed with the actions a player has his character make. He has had what I would classify as four campaigns. The first campaign was the generic catch-all, different dungeons and modules.

His second campaign, was a desert campaign that centered around Abdul’s. Abdul’s was basically a giant shopping center for the adventurers. One could get anything at Abdul’s if you had the gold.

Abdul’s was inside  a giant mesa. If one looked up, they could see a Constellation class starship hanging from the ceiling.

I remember having to roleplay equipping our first level characters. I ran a thief, who foolishly asked for thieves picks and tools, and had to avoid the law.

Robert invented a couple of creatures, one was a mount called a quast. It was a fast-running desert creature that needed little water. It ran fast enough that a human rider could cross a large stretch of desert and not have to worry about dying of thirst. The other creature was a flying creature. I do not remember what he called it, but they came with a special saddle that had the commands on the saddle, and the word “avaunt” which meant to take flight.

One time two players had these new gizmos, basically Chinese repeating crossbows that could fire 10 bolts a round. They went to a cave and were trapped by a huge hoard of orcs, and rather than rely on our new weapons as Robert, the DM, thought we would. We instead drew our swords and died, a TPK becuase we did not rely on the tools the DM let us have.

Another incident we had in the desert was coming to an oasis and stumbling across a dimensional rift where a bunch of French Foreign Legionnaires were fighting desert tribesmen.

Abdul’s became a crutch for the players in this game and the DM had a great solution. Abdul had done something to offend some ghostly host that one night came and took away Abdul’s piece by piece, and we all watched it disappear. This was a transition to a new campaign Robert called “Quest For The Dice of Destiny”.

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Other RPGs

Yesterday, I wrote about science fiction RPGs: Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World. Traveller, and Scout – a home-brew RPG.

Today, I will touch on the others that my old group from high school played.

GangBusters was based on the gangsters and FBI of the Roaring 20s & 30s, a la Al Capone and Eliot Ness. I do not remember playing that more than a few times. This was a TSR product.

Top Secret was a TSR RPG based on James Bond, and other spy movies. This is one RPG that our group got into and we played quite a lot. I still have my hand-written character sheet on notebook paper from the 80’s. We just sort of drifted away from this game. I think after high school graduation and the separation of our gaming group, we no longer had the large base to take turns GMing so that one GM would not get totally burnt out preparing all the time. It is hard to prepare one game, let alone attempt to GM multiple games in multiple systems.

Boot Hill, also by TSR, is a western based game. We also played this one quite a lot. I actually owned this game and was working on a campaign and preparing to GM, when for some reason it never happened. I don ot recall what happened to my game materials.

Game cross-over. One of the problems our group encountered was that when one person was a player in one game and a GM in another, that person could be vengeful on the players when their turn came to be GM. We played one scenario in AD&D where two good-aligned characters killed the evil Drow character of the guy who was our GM for Boot Hill. He was very unhappy and swore to kill our characters in Boot Hill. He did kill our characters in Boot Hill, but at least he made it a memorable “Alamo” scenario, and while we did not appreciate the vengeance angle, at least he made it enjoyable.

Another similar scenario occurred when another DMs campaign had a player whose character was extremely evil and high level. My brother, Robert, and I had two new players in this campaign, and our stated goal was to get powerful enough to top this evil. So here we were 1st or 2nd level and this powerful 10th or higher level bad-guy is allowed to hear about these two new upstart PCs and tracked us down. We were no match for him, but my first level M-U used magic missle to blind one eye before he was struck down. This same evil character was played by the same evil character in the other D&D campaign that we slew, and who was the Boot Hill GM.

These problems with cross-over and what I would consider poor DMing to allow a high level evil character to even hear about the minor threat two low level characters posed, helped lead to the shrinking of our base of players. The DM did not have to tell this other player what we had stated our purpose was out of character.

Have you faced similar cross-game problems? How have you handled them to avoid hurt feelings?

I think it is one thing to have a party of NPCs be the nemesis of the player party, but it is troublesome to me on how to handle to player parties in the same campaign to interact in a way that brings enjoyment to both groups. If there are of opposites with one evil and the other good, I see it as a recipe for disaster and a sure-fire way to shatter a group. If I had to GM such a situation, I would try to discourage one player or group of players from trying to kill another, no matter the motive, or at least explain to them that it needed to be in the purview of the game and to be careful not to break friendships over it. As DM, perhaps put obstacles that prevent such incidents, unless there was a stated shared mindset that such activity was acceptable and that no hard feelings would result.

Roleplaying, like acting, touches on our real emotions and can soon lead to conflict, if one is not careful to make boundaries and limits. This is why people with untreated mental illnesses should not role play, as it can lead to problems. Such things lead to the bad name D&D had in the 80s, and was the source of the real problems of that gamer played by Tom Hanks in that TV movie in the 80s. It is meant to be a game that is fund, not the source of anger that dissolves friendships or drives borderline nut jobs over the edge. No disrespect intended to those with mental or emotional issues. If we are well-adjusted and approach it as a game that is meant to be fun, there should be few disappointments.

It is all too easy to become emotionally attached to our characters, and to feel loss or pain when that character has a setback in the game or dies.

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Metamorphosis Alpha & Gamma World

In our gaming group I GM’d for Metamorphosis Alpha. I am not sure whatever happened to our game materials. I remember a big map for the starship, and that the rulebook had tables for the characters to determine if they figured out how stuff they found worked.

I remember one session where I had the party find an airlock and a hangar bay, and in the hangar bay was a Cylon fighter. I grew up when the original BattleStar Gallactica series was new. We often “stole” ideas from TV and movies and books. I think I even had some token Cylons for them to fight. The players got to the ship and figured out how to fly it and flew around the exterior of the Warden.

We cracked up at some of the ridiculous things we through into the game and were able to do. We did not play more than a few sessions, but we cracked up and had a lot of fun.

I do recall, although it has been a long time, that the rules had a lot of similarity to Gamma World. I did a little Googling, and am right, MA was before GW and had an influence on the rules, which were based on D&D.

Gamma World was a game where we had a lot more sessions. I am not sure what happened to those materials over the years.

I see the Gamma World has been updated several times over the years, and that a company has licensed it from WoeC for the current incarnation.

I also found that Jim Wrad still controls MA and has a new version soon to be released. There are also MA materials on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. The first edition PDF is availabe, and there is a lot of information in the free 6 page preview PDF. It is amazing how well a single rulebook can encompass all one needs to know to play an RPG. I guess it helps if you have played one already, or have experienced players to show you the ropes.

I remember when the High School Science Fiction club was the focus of an article in our school paper. It had a hilarious typo in the list of games that we played, “Camel World” instead of Gamma World. Our group made a lot of references to mutant camels after that, and is an inside joke that still brings a chuckle to this day.

I am not having success finding a science fiction book that reads like an adventurer’s log of MA or GW. It was easy to tell how much that book influenced both MA and GW. It finally came to me and was able to Google it: “Hiero’s Journey” by Sterling E. Lanier. I have not read it since the 80’s.

One person in our group was fond of DMing modules from TSR, and one time we did play Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and encountered the ferocious Vegepygmies. That is about the only thing I remember from that module. I am not sure how much our DM stuck to the module, and how much he modified it. I did not have the cash to afford lots of modules, so I only purchased two for AD&D, Village of Hommelet and Ravenloft. I remember the ooh and ahh factor of the perspective maps in Raveloft. We never played those modules, but we loved the cool maps. I bought my copy of the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide this year, just for the information on how to do these maps.

We did do our own home-brew games. One was a space pirate combat game, that morphed to be a two planets in a solar system at war game. We did not play those more than a few times once we bought Imperium, and had a friend with the Star Treck game with ship to ship combat.

We did play Traveller a few times. It was unusual in that it relied solely on six-sided dice. The person who introduced us to it was not very skilled as a DM so his interest in the game did not translate well for the rest of us in the Science Fiction Club in high school.

We did come up with our own RPG, called Scout. Scouts were interstellar explorers who also were like a combination of marines and modern day Spartans. They were tough and could take you out hand-to-hand or with weapons. Although when we played we tended to focus on the use of weapons. We borrowed from other games to cover the situations that we needed. We played several sessions. My brother, Robert, was GM, and he wished that our characters would rely on martial arts before resorting to blasters and disintegration grenades. We just sort of stopped playing, but Robert started a couple of short stories, based on Scout, and his vision of what a scout was. We were all anxious for his next installment every few days. Robert is the kind of writer who can just sit down and write high quality stuff of the top of his head. Soon the bits of the story just stopped too.

I am sure we could probably resurrect Scout as either a module/add-on for another system, or update our home-brew rules. Robert may still have them, I will have to check. It would be fun to have our old materials as a PDF and used by other gamers around the world. Maybe even making a little money via RPGNow might be possible.

What games did you explore and play for awhile, but then settled on one game as “your game”? For me my game is AD&D.

Did you ever make up your own games? Board game or RPG?

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Ramblings of an Old Gamer