Tag Archives: Stories

Abdul’s

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”.

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.

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?

Software I Use For RPGs

I use a dual-boot Windows XP Home and Ubuntu Linux system. My computer is very old for a computer nerd, nearly 8 years old, but since I mostly use Linux, it runs a LOT faster than Windows and does not slow down with age. (This may be the year we get a new computer.)

My number one tool is the programmable text editor, NoteTab Pro. It is a Windows program, but runs just fine in Linux via Wine. I keep text files and outlines with lots of my information. I also have customized clips (NoteTab scripts) for generating random names. I used another tool to generate 1,000 names for each of a variety of cultures, real and fantasy. My clip then uses those lists to pick a random name. I have it try again until it picks a name I want. I also have clips to help me build NPCs, Kingdoms, etc. I keep adding to the capabilities of the Clip Library, but it still has too many rough edges to share. It is hard to find enough time to build the campaign — I get caught up in building the tools.

Next would be Open Office. I mainly use Calc, the Excel equivalent, to do what I need with spreadsheets. Open Office is available for Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac. It can save directly to PDF, which is handy if you have to use Windows. I saw two interesting articles on using spreadsheets for timelines, in this case Googledocs, and for maps (floorplans), just in the past week.

On Linux, one can print to a file, and choose pdf without having to set up another driver to do this like in Windows. The easy way to do this in Windows is with CutePDF. It is a free print driver that lets the user save a PDF of anything they can print, to the directory  of their choice.

For graphics it is Gimp, the free graphics editor, which is available for Windows and many other OSes. I have fiddled with my campaign map which I got on the computer using my camera on a tripod, since my scanner is broken. My camera is now out of commission. It is over 6 years old. I can get a 5 megapixel camera for a lot less than I paid for this one. (Sometime after summertime expenses for the family.)

For web browsing, I use Firefox. It too, is a program with native versions for many OSes. I like its tabbed interface, which I have used for over 11 years with NoteTab. I often end up with a few dozen tabs with the various topics I research. I like the ability to save a group of tabs together, so I can re-open all of them at once. It makes it easy to go on the side tracks of research, but not lose your original place. I also like the customizability of all the add-ons. NOTE: I switched to Chrome a few years ago, due to speed issues with Firefox. I was reluctant, but don’t miss it.

I have a couple of one-page wikis, such as ten foot wiki, that I am evaluating to help organize my information. Using such wikis online requires having them secured and backed up regularly to prevent malicious or accidental loss of information. The nice thing is that they can be used locally for the DM to keep all his notes in one place if he has a fast enough computer to handle it. The drawback is no power. The advantage of pen and paper is that you can play by candle light, or the light of a campfire, as my group did in high school, when we stayed at a friend’s house “in the country”. We would beat on each other with sticks for swords. We learned about padding our weapons from an SCA guy at the local Renaissance Festival, and had a few less bruises.

When I started with Basic D&D in 1978, computers were a novelty no one I knew could afford. The well-to-do families had the first Atari game systems. My high school had one Apple II, that we occasionally got to play a Star Trek game, there might have been a couple other games. And we had to write a ten line program to do square and cube roots. It was either my junior or senior year in the 1981-83 time frame that we finally got a TI 99-4A. In college, I was in the first group of freshmen that did not have to use punch cards. It was not until the mid 90s that I had a computer of my own that I was able to type up all my character and other information. I still do maps by hand. I suppose if I had a Wacom Tablet, that might meet my needs. The one thing about us “old-school” gamers is that we can spend a lot less money to have fun. If I had all the game systems and other fancy toys my boys have, I would never have gone outside as a kid. I certainly would never have been bored.

My brothers and others in our game group talked about having computers networked together so that each person only saw things from his character’s perspective, but the GM could see it all. We should have patented that idea, since WOW and others have done it. Oh well. Since those online games require a monthly infusion of cash, I have steered clear of them. RPGs are a big enough time sink if one is not careful. It is all too easy to lose track of the time when engrossed in a project on the computer.

The nice thing about using computers with gaming is that you can consolidate a lot of information in a small space and still read it, all without getting writer’s cramp. I am slowly consolidating all my information so that I only have one binder for my characters, and another for my campaign.

Now there are all kinds of programs for running RPGs online. It is hard not to have that face-to-face. I think I could do a game like that if I could do it with the group I used to play with all the time. If you know each other, such things would be easier. I do have online friendships with people around the world, but playing an RPG online seems quite difficult. I may give it a try sometime, since finding a local group has not yet born fruit. The one benefit is that you don’t have to worry about your wife not approving of the people coming to your house. My wife is not OK with the whole gaming thing, so I have not introduced my kids to it. I think after all our years of marriage, I have finally convinced her that it is not evil, in the sense of all the sensationalism of the 1980’s. The only kinds of games my wife likes are board games and card games.

Forgot The Clue

Another time I DM’d I had an adventure that started in town with a festival/carnival, and one of the major NPCs with the festival was actually the bad guy. The clue was the way he laughed. However, it was not until the party was in the dungeon that I realized that when I go to the note about using this laugh in the dungeon, I had not given them the clue in town.

In my inexperience, I gave it away by describing the laugh in exacting detail, as one they heard at the carnival, so it was a give away that ruined the fun of the players figuring it out.

There are just certain things you cannot forget in an adventure when you are a DM, especially when it is one that you designed yourself.

Gladiatorial Combat

Sometimes we would get tired, or our usual DM, my brother, did not want to run a game that weekend.

We all still wanted to play, so we would have a “what if …” scenario where one player would fight another to the death, so see who was toughest. None of it had any real effect on the campaign.

That was when we still were more towards the scale of “Monty Haul” with lots of magic items, etc.

My character, Kad Staglar, was a halfling fighter/thief with a girdle of storm giant strength a +2 longsword and a ring of regeneration. When we were in a dungeon, he would just run through the lower half of doors to open them.

Another player’s character had managed to beat everyone else. I believe he was an assassin or something with a poison weapon. My halfling was doing a lot of damage, but he went down. Just as Bret was sure he had won, my halfling got back on his feet and rejoined the fight. Bret soon remembered the ring, and when Kad went down again, Brett’s character removed the ring.

Has any other player group done that?

In college we had a group that had a competition that would have characters plopped down on an island. We had a million experience points and a certain amount of gold to prepare our characters. This was still 1e AD&D. The choice was either assassin for the quick kill potential, or fighter for the ability to take a hit, but there were a few who chose M-Us. I do not remember actually playing this out. I think my choice of assassin did not last as long as I’d hoped.

Total Chaos

Another time I was a DM, I had an adventure planned and had 6 or 7 players. I had the obligatory, “you meet in a bar…”

Rather than joining forces, each player went off in a different direction out of town. This so totally blew me away, that I had no clue how to handle it. I just rolled for random encounters hoping something would come up.

This was so totally unexpected that I doubt a group of players could so overwhelm me into a flabbergasted state again. What I should have done was come up with something totally unexpected to draw them back together.

The thought has crossed my mind that they all went in on this, just to mess with me. I tended to be a good target for that sort of thing in high school.

This is where plot hooks fail. If the players do not take the bait, you have to be ready with a plan. Not to force them into something, but encourage them to make choices that will allow the game to be fun for all. I guess with a big enough sandbox, one could let the players run around independently. Look at it like a dungeon on a huge scale, just like when a party gets separated, they each get their own opportunity to do their own thing.

As Moltke said, “No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy.” In the realm of RPGs no module or other adventure planned by the GM plays out as planned.”

What examples of total chaos have you experienced as a player or GM?

Sending a Bulette against a Second Level party.

Sending a Bulete against a Second Level party was one of my first experiences as a DM. I wanted to do something new and introduce a monster we had not encountered before. Back in those early days, we took turns being DM. Needless to say people did not want me to DM for a while after that.

What is funny in retrospect is that the party actually stood their ground and tried to fight the thing. I believe it was a TPK, but a do-over was called, and all those characters were available for the next session with a different DM.