Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Arrg! This Game!

Every fucking time I think I understand how AD&D combat works, I learn something new.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Random AD&D Crap

DEX helps saving throws
Never noticed this before, but it's right there on page 11 of the PHB. I always wondered why Thieves had crappy saves, but now it makes sense. Against magical attacks like fireballs, they will typically have very good saves due to generally better-than-average DEX scores. Against mind altering effects, their saves will generally be mediocre due to lower WIS ("generally"). Essentially, the saving throw tables take into account archetypical attributes and assume their modification due to ability scores. Once again USING ALL THE RULES makes sense. But, once again, the fucking rules are spread out across multiple books, sometimes in places easily glossed over and forgotten. Taken with a retrospective look, 2nd edition AD&D should have been collating all the rules into an easier-to-understand form, not completely suck all the flavor out and rewrite crap. Corollary, Unearthed Arcana didn't help.

AD&D originally had five alignments
Yep. It's right there in the Monster Manual. This is a natural outgrowth of the Law-Neutrality-Chaos scale I talked about before, and explored (apparently) in the Holmes Revision of D&D. Between the publication of the MM and the PHB, it looks like someone decided it naturally followed that alignments such as Chaotic Neutral and Neutral Good were valid choices and thus included. Again, this makes sense due to alignments such as Chaotic good (neutral tendencies) in the case of brass dragons. Brass dragons are Neutral Good, but due to the five alignment system, shoehorned into Chaotic Good. Or something. Sylphs are Neutral (which looks to be a running theme with woodland creatures), but with a parenthetical "good". Going back to the post I made about alignment, Neutral is in fact "neutral to monsters-vs-humans". The good descriptor for sylphs just means they're aren't inimical to anyone, but don't concern themselves with the Law-Chaos war. Or something. There are obviously many different interpretations to be made here, but to be perfectly honest, the five alignment way works better than the dual axis system introduced in the PHB. It also makes me wonder if the MM was in fact meant to be a solitary release. Probably not. But it does demonstrate (again) that there were rules changes during the  publishing of AD&D. It also means AD&D was supposed to be a revision to D&D, not a new game. Sorry, Arneson...this brings up another question: what was the real point of B/X and the Mentzer sets? To fuck Arneson over as many have pondered? Just using what I've seen in the printed text, that's the only conclusion one can reach. AD&D is really D&D 2nd edition, B/X is D&D-light. Or something.

DungeonMorph Dice

So, I got them today after waiting what feels like forever. Seriously, nearly 7 months? Anyway, these things are huge, the largest dice I own, barring the d30 I never use. I suppose the real question: are they worth it? Since I bought them sight unseen, I had nothing to go by but the conceptualization (which sounds awesome) and some mock-ups (which looked cool). Now that I have the things in my hand...no. I wouldn't buy these, not for $20. They're mostly a novelty item, to be perfectly honest, as I really don't see any practical application. Sure you can roll them and come up with some random dungeons, but you still have to graph that shit out anyway so might as well just come up with it randomly out of your own skull. For $10 I'd probably buy a bunch more sets, along with the other types, and truly create some random dungeons. At $20, though, they seem overpriced.

Anyway, more dice I'll never use. I have a bunch of dice from Flying Buffalo that are similar, but a lot cheaper. I've never used these, either, but they're cool to have and didn't cost that much. My suggestion to Inkwell Ideas is to find a way to dramatically lower cost, and size (they honestly are huge) before marketing these things as a regular product.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

More Cleric Spells

Cure Serious Wounds
Why bring up another healing spell? Well, clerics can't cast this until 7th level, and it only heals 2d8+1 damage. So much for clerics being walking infirmaries. The average fighter with a decent CON (+2) will have 56 hit points at 7th level. If a 7th level Cleric with 18 WIS memorizes the maximum number of healing spells, he will be able to cast 5 CLW and 2 CSW. These spells will cure an average of 34 total hit points, hardly enough to keep the fighter going if they get into a major scrap. Strangely enough, druids can cast more healing spells at 6th level than a 7th level cleric. Quite honestly clerics aren't that great for healing parties of adventurers. By extension, this means potions of healing and staves of curing will be extremely useful to high level parties. Coupled with how difficult it is to cast spells during melee, it also means fighters will want to have a couple healing potions on their person at all times.

Hold Person
This spell is fucking incredible, no exaggeration. If the target fails its save, this results in being held for at least 7 rounds (why the description even bothers to list levels 1 and 2 is beyond me), which might as well be death. Further, 3 targets can be affected, or less with a decrease in saving throw. Say an evil priest with a few orc minions meets a party of adventurers. He has a pretty good chance of holding one or two of the fighters, smashing their brains in as the orcs rush the less combat savvy party members. If you're using cavaliers from Unearthed Arcana (on the fence about UA...), paladins are an evil priest's worst nightmare. They already are just using the PHB rules, but all that added crap makes them essentially invulnerable.

To reiterate a point made in my last post, clerics aren't healers. Yes, they can cast heal spells, but quite honestly, paladins and druids are just as effective, which means not really effective at all. Clerics are in fact fighters who can cast a lot of very useful spells that keep a party adventuring. If we look at hit points from a logistical viewpoint, the main strength of a cleric is managing resources. They can create food and water, light, cure poison, detect items and creatures and increase fighting ability, all things that enable a party to stay in the dungeon longer before returning to town. Thus the most important reason to have a cleric in the party is the ability to get more treasure and more experience, leveling up more quickly. If we treat AD&D as a game (wow, imagine that), this is a huge incentive for someone to play a cleric character.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

AD&D Spell Deconstruction OR Never Assume Anything

This will be the first in a series of posts dealing specifically with some AD&D spells that, for whatever reason, I never fully understood. Perhaps it was simply a lack of reading comprehension on my part, but most likely because I never actually read the fucking things completely. There is a lot of information contained within each spell description; glossing over misses some key components.

Spell Components
Speaking of components (or writing of them...whatever), did/does anyone use spell components? I realize some of this is mainly for flavor, but if you want to be a hardass DM and limit spell casting just use the spells as written. For instance, a lot of cleric spells require holy water. That's not too hard to get, but it is expensive. Each vial is 25 gp, so a starting character probably has at most one vial unless they forego armor and/or weapons. Bless, Protection From Evil and Purify Food & Drink all require holy water to cast, which means 1st level clerics aren't going to be using those spells much, or not at least until they find some treasure. By extension, it also means the first few hundred gold the cleric finds will be donated to his church in exchange for holy water. Want to limit characters running around with lots of money? Start with spell components. Further, spells require risk to cast if using components; take the magic-user spell Scare, for example. Material components for this spell are bone fragments from an undead monster, which essentially means MUs must risk their hide adventuring to acquire the means to cast it. Or they can buy skeleton bones in town, right? Even if you as DM allow there to be an alchemy shop or something similar, no alchemist worth a crap will sell those bones cheaply. Suppose the alchemist had to pay a few fighters and a cleric to delve into a tomb and kill a few skeletons for their bones. What's the markup like? 100 gp for skeleton bone pieces seems reasonable. Either way, the MU is paying with personal risk or out of his pocket book. You can hand-wave a lot of this and just tell the spell caster, "Okay, you need to spend 300 gp this month for components" and leave it at that. Not as nitpicky but at least you're hitting them where it hurts most. Players who complain should be forced to track every component for every spell and explain in detail where they got those components. That'll shut them up.

And now on to the spells...or at least one to start.

Cure Light Wounds
I've read that Heal is a ridiculous spell. Well, not so much Heal, but its reverse Harm which leaves a creature with only 1d4 hit points left. No saving throw. Kill Demogorgon in one round! Read CLW closely: creatures that require special weapon properties to hit (iron, silver, magic) are unaffected. This applies to all healing spells and their reverse. Further, these spells are completely useless against undead, incorporeal creatures (air elementals?) and nearly anything from another plane. That certainly balances them out, doesn't it? Another thing to consider is that casting a CLW during melee is nearly impossible unless the target is motionless i.e. unconscious. The cleric cannot move more than 10' during the casting, any successful attack ruins the spell and a roll-to-hit must be made. That's a lot of crap to worry about. Cause Light Wounds really seems like a last resort for a desperate fool, or possibly a sneaky way for an evil cleric to kill someone. Sure, I'll heal you! In any event, clerics will be casting nearly all their spells before or after melee; that's why they can wear heavy armor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

AD&D Combat

This is a followup to yesterday's post about character creation and probably one of the most straightforward I've ever done. When I decided to spell out AD&D combat as-written in the rulebooks, I figured it was a lost cause. Oddly enough, the DMG is very specific about how combat is run and tries to cover most circumstances within the rules. Page 61 gives an outline of how to run combat, which is a pretty helpful starting point as long as you actually read the sections that follow in detail. So, here we go...


1) Determine surprise

This isn't as difficult as it sounds, even though it takes about five readings to understand. Roll a d6 for each side, 1 or 2 means that side is surprised. There is a chart on pg. 62 that can be extrapolated to cover just about any surprise conditions. Each segment of surprise allows a full round of combat actions for the unsurprised party. However, DEX adjusts this and does not allow melee nor missile attacks (from what I can determine) to affect certain individuals. A thief with a 17 DEX (+2 reaction) would only be a viable target if there were 3 segments of surprise. All those spell casting times rated in segments make more sense now: Magic Missile and Sleep can be cast during 1 segment of surprise. Supposing there were 2 segments of surprise and a MU cast Fireball; the spell would occur on segment 1 of the first combat round, regardless of initiative. Considering some of the rules about interrupting spell casting during melee, it's not a bad idea to start casting a lengthy spell during surprise. This does mean that high level wizards who surprise parties can royally fuck them up beyond belief. This is counteracted by being pathetic during regular melee, and pretty much a liability when facing high level fighters unless they have some sort of magic item. I knew there was a reason for all those staves and wands...

2) Determine distance

Again on pg. 62 there is extensive detail on how to determine distance. Unless charging, it takes 1 segment to move 1" (10'), so melee is generally impossible unless surprise occurs within 10' initially. Moving during surprise segments is a valid action, so if 2" separate the combatants, using 2 segments of surprise to close the gap is a good idea. In retrospect, I always thought surprise was ridiculously overpowered, but really, using the distance rules it's really not that bad. Essentially you catch a monster with its pants down 30' away, you run up to it before it has a chance to figure out what's going on. If it bumbles around a corner, smack the hell out of it before it can react, etc. Anyway, this is vitally important because if the distance is far enough, the first melee round will be combatants moving into position, giving spell casters an opportunity to do some damage. If it's close, the wizard better pull out a wand or staff.

3) Determine initiative

There is a document called ADDICT which essentially does the same thing this post tries to do, but much more complexly. I believe it comes to the same conclusions, but goddamn the section on initiative is hard to comprehend. Basically, a d6 is rolled per side. Higher roll goes first, ties result in simultaneous actions. High level fighters with multiple attacks go before everyone else, no matter what the initiative says, their attacks staggered as necessary. If firing a missile, the reaction bonus is added to personal initiative roll. This last part resulted in an epiphany: DEX doesn't help bows hit. It helps them fire sooner during a round. Given later information in the DMG about bows created to utilize STR bonus, it makes perfect sense. STR is the only ability that helps attacks hit. Period. Anyone complaining about fighters not being very good needs to use all the rules...

4) Determine actions

This is actually detailed fairly well; specific actions occur before others.


  1. Run away
  2. Parley
  3. Wait
  4. Fire missiles, use magic devices, cast spells, turn undead
  5. Move or charge
  6. Set weapons against charge
  7. Melee
  8. Grapple
Now comes all the fun stuff...specifically spell casting during melee. Page 65. Reading through this section, you are an idiot if you cast a spell during a general melee unless you have some beefy fighters for protection. No movement, no DEX bonus to AC, can be interrupted with a successful attack. If on the losing side of initiative, an attack will always occur before the spell goes off. This also means high level fighters get to attack before any spell can be started. Ouch. Tied initiative, compare weapon speed to casting time in segments. I KNEW WEAPON SPEED WAS THERE FOR A REASON! If initiative is won, the initiative rolls subtracted from weapon speed to determine segment of attack and compared to casting time. This means if a MU won initiative and is casting Sleep (1 segment), he can be interrupted by a punch, but that's about it. Daggers can disrupt a Fireball, however, even if initiative is lost. During tied initiative, weapon speed is further used to see which side attacks first. This only occurs when weapons are used; against natural (monster) attacks, simultaneous attacks mean both take effect. Further, multiple attacks are possible if the weapon speed is more than twice as much (or 5 total), 1 additional attack is possible. 10 or greater, 2 attacks before and 1 simultaneous attack. Certainly a reason to use a dagger in melee, right?

More fun stuff: picking a specific target in melee is generally not possible. The DMG recommends randomly determining targets. Breaking away from melee results in a free attack with no DEX bonus, shield bonus and at +4. Vicious. Getting really drunk is beneficial for villagers against high-powered opponents. They get a +3 to hit points which easily outweighs their -5 to attack; if you have to roll a 20 to hit, what's the difference? Speaking of 20s, the to-hit chart implies a natural 20 is required to hit certain ACs, and a natural 20 with bonus required to strike extremely low ACs. Further, a 1 isn't an automatic miss. In fact, high level fighters with magic items and great strength pretty much hit everything, every time. For example, a 17th level fighter with an 18/00 STR and a +5 weapon will hit AC -5 or below without even rolling. Any roll of 6 or higher will hit AC -10, or literally 75% of the time. High level paladins fucking up demons beyond belief is very plausible...

After going through this, I decided to re-read ADDICT in detail. To be perfectly honest, it IS exactly how AD&D combat is performed, but holy shit, good luck doing it that way. Strangely, there aren't any contradictory rules if you take the system as a total as opposed to piecemeal. I don't think I'm ever going to run combat this way, but it gives me a good reason to consider weapon speed factors. Quite frankly, I always hate the way spell casters dominate melee, casting spells that determine the outcome of every fight. Using the AD&D combat system, they'll rely greatly on magic items and use spells rarely during fights and instead focus on more utility magic. That's pretty awesome.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Trying To Figure Out AD&D Character Creation

So I keep making posts about AD&D, and pretty much decided to run a game relatively soon. Of course, this means I have to re-read all the rules for about the millionth time; seems like every time I do, I notice more crap (just as a note, more to myself than anyone else, I'll explain my reasons for going with AD&D vs. something else in a followup post). By crap I mean exactly that: endless contradictory rules. There's literally no way to rectify half of the stuff contained within the PHB and DMG with itself and create any sort of meaningful game. If you tried to use every rule there wouldn't really be a game and instead an exercise in self-hate. I won't even address Initiative here...that's a topic best left for my doctoral dissertation.  Perhaps my wargaming background leads me to expect rules delineated with numerical headings, with countless references. That's probably false as Powers & Perils is one of the crappiest games I own and uses such a system. Still, it would be nice if you could just generate a fucking character without having to refer to pages contained in multiple books, referenced nowhere except in the section itself. Am I exaggerating? Here is how to create an AD&D character to the best of my understanding at this point. Oddly enough, having played the game for over 20 years I've never actually used this system because I sort of hand-waved it or used generators such as Dungeon Master's Assistant (which is STILL one of the best computer-based rpg utilities ever coded). My Labyrinth Lord character generator has a lot of AD&D stuff in it, now that I think about it, but it's obviously much less complex. I digress...

1) Generate ability scores using one of the methods described in the DMG
Why aren't these in the fucking PHB? Okay, okay, I get it: selecting one is entirely the province of the dungeonmaster. Quite honestly, I'm cool with that. This does mean the DM actually has to outline his campaign ahead of time instead of assuming some sort of baseline rules-set. Again, that's fine.

2) Pick character race and adjust ability scores
If you roll a 7 for INT, you cannot be an elf. If you decide to be a half-orc your 18 CHA will need to be lowered to 12. Actually, it would be a 16 due to the -2 penalty, then lowered to 12 as that is the racial maximum. Strangely, there are no bonuses listed for ability scores over 18, even though it is very possible to have a 19 through various means. Refer to Deities and Demigods!

3) Select character class
If you want to play a paladin but don't have a 17 CHA, tough shit. Fuck all that UA die rolling crap; if you're going to do that why not simply assign ability scores? It'd certainly be easier. Selecting multiple classes is easy enough if you flip to that section.

4) Determine age
Yes, you must roll the age of the character per the DMG. That's fine, but again, why the hell isn't this in the PHB?

5) Adjust ability scores for aging
This is oft overlooked, but pretty much the easiest way to get higher scores. It's not possible to roll up a middle aged magic-user or cleric, which kinda sucks.

6) Roll for secondary skills
Not necessarily required, but as it's on the same page in the DMG, might as well do it now.

7) Determine psionic ability
It's in there and therefore a valid rule. Right?

8) Alignment
This is either simple (druids for instance), or confusing (thieves). If you read the alignment requirements in the thief description a couple times, it makes sense, but why not simply list all the possibilities? Not Gygax!

9) Roll hit points
Easy enough, I guess.

10) Select languages
I'm not really sure if you're supposed to do this in-play for extra languages granted by INT or before play starts as the section is somewhat ambiguous. I suppose it would be more fun to do it during the game, but that can be somewhat annoying.

11) Roll for starting money and buy equipment
Easy enough.

12) Pick weapon proficiencies
Now wait a minute; shouldn't this be before buying equipment? Yes, it should, but it's right after the equipment list so whatever.

13) Ask DM for starting spells
Yeah, you don't get to pick these unless the DM rolls a 0. However, you do get to start with 4 spells, which is nice (3 for illusionists).

14) Determine if keen-eared
Hidden away on page 60 of the DMG...this comes after everything else because it is determined during play, specifically the first time the character attempts to hear a noise. Seriously, Gygax? You surely expect me to have a photographic memory, don't you?

Stuff specifically left out includes THAC0, turning undead and saving throws. While I don't necessarily agree that players shouldn't have access to this information (it certainly makes it much more a pain in the ass), there's something to be said for the DM keeping this stuff private to create an air of mystery. Or something. Personally, I do all this last anyway.

Overall not that bad, but still somewhat annoying. Combat, on the other hand...I'll post something about that later.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Case For One Axis Alignment

Law-Neutrality-Chaos

What's wrong with this? Within the confines of D&D, it makes sense. Law is associated with people and society, chaos is monsters and sorcerers and elder gods and crap like that. Law is organized, chaos seeks to destroy everything. Do we really need a Good-Evil axis as well? Using a Real World view within a game is doomed to failure. How many times do people have arguments about whether or not it's evil to kill orcs? Baby orcs? Are orcs inherently evil, incapable of performing good acts? That's an ethical question and quite honestly not much fun for a game, at least for me. But it's also irrelevant if we ditch the Good-Evil axis and focus on upon Law-Chaos. Orcs are chaotic and seek to bring down civilization. Killing orcs makes perfect sense, there's no need to worry about such actions being good nor evil. It also means there's no need to define rival human nations as good or evil, either. Yeah, they fight each other and disagree on everything, but they'll always join up to destroy orc settlements that threaten their lands. Further instead of pigeonholing PCs into a specific, required behavior, we allow them act more "realistically". This does of course mean chaotic PCs are actually on the side of the monsters; or maybe they're just crazy. Being chaotic doesn't mean you support a particular group. It's entirely possible within the game to be chaotic and truly enjoy society, yet bring upon its downfall. Thieves thrive only within lawful environments, but are directly at odds with law. I suppose they're chaotic, but less extreme than orcs. And no one would be that upset if you killed a bunch of thieves who were threatening the city, would they?

So...suppose we dump Good-Evil from AD&D. Now what? Nothing changes, really. The problem with paladins and assassins working within the same party go away as they're probably both lawful anyway. Yes, assassins kill people for money, but if they're using their talents to kill orcs, why would a paladin care? Really, getting rid of the ethical component of alignment makes the game much more gamey, back to its roots in wargaming as opposed to a thin excuse to use funny voices and engage in amateur theatre. It turns back into an Us-vs-Them boardgame, people vs. monsters. It's also much more human-centric. Elves and dwarves and hobbits, yes they like humans, but they're still "different", and thus not trusted. Humans are primary with demi-human races taking a backseat. And honestly, that resembles what I want out of a swords and sorcery rpg...evil human sorcerers and strange monsters working together to bring about the downfall of humanity, a motley group of heroes banded together to thwart the threat. All that other tripe like half-dragons and gay teleporting elves can stay firmly within the realm of "modern gaming".

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Organic High-Level Characters

I was reading through some of the magic items in my DMG as I was contemplating Yet Another AD&D Campaign (tm). This is a biannual event that brings me much delight initially but usually fails to materialize on some level . Anyway, I noticed that no game I'd ever been a part of included most of these items. Nearly every game has a Bag of Holding or Ring of Invisibility at some point, but no Robes of the Arch Magi nor Drums of Panic. And that's a real shame because some of this stuff is pretty interesting and would generate a lot of amusement value. I do remember running a game wherein the ranger found a Ring of Delusion and thought he could fly. That added all sorts of family entertainment. I suppose most of this stuff would destroy a low-level game, so that's probably why I've never seen it or used it.

This led me along the path of wondering about high level characters and if people ever really did/do play campaigns long enough to cast 9th level spells or become the Grand Druid. I've certainly been a part of games that had these features, but usually they started at a high level initially. This is only related to AD&D specifically for some reason. One summer when I was in high school we played D&D all the way through 36th level before the characters became immortal, but I've never had an AD&D character who experienced the same thing. My 15th level assassin started at 10th level, which kinda sucks because playing out all the lower level murdering would have made for a better back story.

Anyway, browsing through The Rogues Gallery, I noticed the stats for some of the original D&D characters like Bigby and Erac's Cousin. Obviously these characters progressed organically, meaning they gained power and ability in-game. And you can tell looking at their stats and equipment. Further, most of them are around 12-15th level max, a far cry from the 20th level characters I've played in "high level" games, all 18 stats and crazy amounts of magic items. Browsing through some of my old character sheets, it's apparent which ones were started at 1st level and which were written up at a higher level.

I suppose the question here is if it's possible to simulate an organic character development process in order to create some high level characters that aren't patently cookie-cutter. I've used the tables in the DMG before, but haven't really been satisfied with the results; they resemble whatever I'd come up with off the top of my head. When I say cookie-cutter, I mean characters who have +3 swords and +2 platemail and rings of protection. My high level D&D fighter used a +4 club and some +5 chainmail because that was the best stuff he ever found. Apparently, looking at the sheet, he also had a +2 club. No idea where all these clubs came from. That character owned a large dominion at one point, gained during the course of play. I suppose I could create a high level fighter who looks similar, but that land...I remember him smashing a lot of orc skulls to clear it out.

A lot of gamers write extensive backgrounds for their characters, and I've never been a fan of such. In fact, I think it's annoying. But if I'm making a high level character, there has to be some existing background to justify the character's current state. Unlike my fighter above, the character never actually did anything within the game. Surely the character can be treated like an NPC prior to being played as a PC, an existing history referred to when necessary. But again, it's not the same thing. Even a system like Central Casting isn't satisfactory. Playing is a much richer experience vs. writing up something or rolling on tables, and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to duplicate the actual play to create a character that "feels" right. What's the solution?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rule Zero 4 Lyfe

I just cannot help myself...I keep reading Dragonsfoot, even though it usually annoys the hell out of me. Perhaps it's because there are some good ideas to be found amongst the idiocy; more likely, I am simply a masochist who enjoys becoming constantly irate. In either case, this thread dealing with "ending multi-classing" got me thinking, specifically about Rule Zero. Rule Zero, of course, is the primary unwritten rule in rpgs: the dungeon master is always right. Some people really hate this idea, but I don't think you can truly play the game without having some final authority. You start a game, any game, with specific rules in place. If something happens that isn't covered in the rules, the DM has to make a ruling. If a rule creates a stupid result, the DM must have the authority to overturn that result to ensure the game continues.

Anyway, there are two posts in that thread that bother me. Relevant quote #1: "...Gary suggested we all do that in his manuals." I don't disagree with the first part of the quote, which essentially says to change the rules to whatever you want, but this portion annoys me. Not to be a total dick (which I am, anyway), but seriously, what the fuck do I care about Gygax? Appeal to Authority [Gygax] is a bullshit fallacy people use when they have no real reason to support their argument. I don't really care what Gygax said as he is irrelevant to the game I'm running. Rule Zero basically nullifies anything anyone has ever said about any game I'm going DM. I appreciate that he was wise enough to understand this point, but I also am beginning to understand why he grew tired of answering rules questions in the later part of his life. The DM is the absolute final authority for his game, no one else.

The second post is even more problematic: "Tell the players to roll up new characters." Why? If you read the first post, it's obvious the players aren't familiar with AD&D, and instead coming from a 3rd edition mindset. It's not necessarily the fault of the DM (he may not understand AD&D that well himself), and truly the players could be taking advantage of the system, but you know what...fuck it. The DM can simply say, "Okay, you fucked up but we can retcon the characters." Perhaps consolidate XP or something. Anything is possible, there's no need to roll up new characters. Again, rolling up new characters might be the end result, but the implication of this post is that the AD&D rules are immutable and the DM has no real authority to just hand-wave some stuff to get the game back on track. That's dumb as fuck. Rule Zero. The DM can do whatever he wants, ESPECIALLY when there might be some need to ensure everyone has a good time. I'd go so far as to say that a DM who adheres to the rules to the detriment of everyone's fun is pretty awful. This isn't to say DMs can't kill characters or have to give out tons of treasure or whatever, but if there is a dispute like this that could easily be resolved through a thoughtful ruling and one way results in fun and the other a bunch of pissed off players, it's obvious to me which one is best.

Once again, I feel like I'm ranting in response to people whose mindset is adherence to some sacred cow called The Rules. Less complex games can get by with rigid rules, but a game like D&D must allow the DM to do whatever needs to be done. If you're playing D&D with a DM you don't trust, find another game. Corollary, if your players are troublesome jackasses, find new players. Players should let the DM make rulings per Rule Zero and the DM should definitely take player input on those rulings seriously.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Redefinition of Roleplaying

So, I watched this D&D movie thing a couple days ago and thought a lot about what the term "roleplaying" actually means within the context of gaming. Just within the confines of the sorta-documentary format short film it's obvious that roleplaying has changed scope through the years.

Initially it was fantasy wargaming, or whatever the hell you want to call it. A boardgame much like the numerous other games that existed, but within the confines of a specific genre, namely swords and sorcery. I know that there's much dispute behind the original intent of D&D, but after doing "research" for my finely produced clone (release date indeterminate), it's fairly obvious taking a role did not mean bad amateur acting. As time progressed, rpgs moved into the realm of pseudo-performance art, LARPs and all sorts of other crap that seem to undermine the original intent. I suppose these are legitimate expressions of playing a game, but to be perfectly honest I wish they weren't associated with rpgs. This is probably the same way grognards felt about being associated with all the D&D upstarts, and most likely why a new term was invented. Unfortunately, the new playing styles aren't dissociated with the older ones, and instead passed off as "better", by a lot of people. The OSR movement (whatever you want to call it) essentially is the rediscovery of the original rpg gaming style, but really, it IS the rpg gaming style. In toto. If anything, the newer games aren't rpgs, they're something else. Instead of redefining the term roleplaying game, another word needs to be used.

I reread what I just wrote and decided it's nearly impossible to decide where to draw the lines on what games to include/exclude from the conversation. A game like Amber, while extremely dissimilar from D&D, at least mechanically, is still what I'd call an rpg. Burning Wheel, I don't feel the same way. There are others who'd disagree completely. The main consideration, I think, is intent. The intent of D&D is to create a character who gains power and survives within the confines of a gaming world. My Life With Master seems to be an exercise in creating a story. In the first case, the game itself is played, and the story is whatever we talk about when it's over. In the second case, the game is played under the assumption that the characters are part of an interactive novel, creating the story as they proceed. Surely a D&D game can have similar elements, as any system can be used for storytelling. But the primary goal is to see how long the characters can live before their demise (or retirement), the finality of the game. Perhaps they have more immediate goals, as is the case of a one-shot or specific adventure, but if they live, they won. The storytelling games don't have the same intent, instead focused on how good the story is. It's a collaborative effort between the gamemaster and players.

So, should we separate rpgs into genres, or simply redefine more modernized rpgs with a different name? Storytelling games, stgs? One of the main issues I see with more enlightened gamers is the absurd notion that computer rpgs aren't roleplaying. When I was a kid, Bard's Tale was very much an rpg in every sense of the word. Now it is seen as a poor excuse for computerized D&D, and valueless as a true rpg. Bard's Tale isn't an stg, but it's an rpg for sure. Perhaps a simple split and renaming would help for cases like this. My main problem isn't the appropriation of the term rpg by storytelling systems (they're natural outgrowths so have every right to use it), but instead the conceit that storytelling is the evolution in rpgs and thus better. I guess I really wouldn't care if there were a new phrase as long as the storyteller people would step the fuck off and stop acting superior. If you're having fun, you're succeeding at playing a game. Magic might be a "better" card game than poker, using their logic, but poker is much more fun. I don't see poker players defending their game from Magic players, so why do any of the OSR guys feel like they need to promote D&D-like games in a similar manner? The focus on differences, instead of the inherent enjoyment a particular game provides, is in fact the problem. So either rename the new crap or accept it as a similar, yet different, form of rpg and leave it at that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: BLUDGEONS & FLAGONS TO BE PUBLISHED!

It is with great joy I announce that work has begun on BLUDGEONS & FLAGONS, a recreation of the Original Rules (tm) that are even MORE original. I started this project several days ago after reading the comments on some of my previous blog entries. It became apparent to me that I was "missing the point" of the Original Rules (tm), so I began examining the Original Rules (tm) at great length. After much thought I  decided to distill down everything that made those rules great and make them even greater. Supreme, if you will. BLUDGEONS & FLAGONS will be the most primal expression of the Original Rules (tm) ever published, and provide the truest roleplaying experience possible. Unquestionably these rules will change the hobby forever.

The creative process does not exist in a vacuum, but in this case it did. I worked on these rules alone for countless hours, editing and collating literally billions of ideas into this new format. There is one individual who offered a bit of help, but his incoherent babbling was lost amongst the insanely great ideas I formulated out of my own head. I have included his name in the credits as a matter of civility, but take no heed for I am the originator of these rules and final authority rests on me.

As a teaser of great things to come, I am making the first six pages of BLUDGEONS & FLAGONS available to download and read FOR FREE! TODAY! Once you see these rules you will plead with me to preorder the published copy. Your gaming life has been made much brighter today, by me, for I provide the FUTURE IN FANTASY WARGAMING!




Monday, November 14, 2011

Misplaced Retro-Love

So, in light of some comments made previously on my blog about the original version of D&D (and a discussion I had with some friends on Saturday), I decided to go over all my older D&D books and figure out what I liked about each version, and for what reasons. I fully intended to outline specific rules, quirks, styles, etc., that appealed to me for each version. What I really discovered, though, was the Original D&D (OD&D) books sucked major ass. Presentation-wise, writing, content, pretty much just horrid pieces of crap. I honestly have no idea how OD&D became so insanely popular given this fact, but I do realize the many reasons Gygax et al made a serious push to support the game through rules clarifications and eventually Holmes' edited D&D and AD&D. It also became evident why many other rpgs came into being so quickly. I've read interviews with Ken St. Andre and he directly stated that Tunnels and Trolls came about because he couldn't decipher D&D. Plenty of other games cropped up soon thereafter, each essentially a response to the crappiness of D&D. My guess is this is why Gygax pushed so hard to get the Monster Manual out the door, because he knew the original game was popular simply because it was the first, not for any other reason. It had name recognition, not quality, and a professionally written and edited version was necessary lest another company take over in popularity.

My question, then, is why do so many people have weird justifications to defend a pile of crap? I'm not saying they shouldn't LIKE OD&D, nor ignore the nostalgia they feel for the game, but it sucks. It's historically significant and should be treated that way, but there sheer reverence I see for OD&D is fucked up. There's nothing wrong with liking something you know is low quality, at all. I truly enjoy Miller High Life, I admit it. It is my second favorite beer, even though I know it's awful. I'd never say it's a quality beer, however. The point here is "recreating the OD&D experience" seems pretty stupid to me. Why would I want to recreate a hot mess of inanity? Couldn't I simply play AD&D, removing all the parts that overcomplicate the game? Like I said, I've read OD&D and the supplements; AD&D took all that crap and made it readable. If you think otherwise, you're fooling yourself. I understand a game like Labyrinth Lord: it exists as a vehicle for people who want to play B/X but need something in-print. I suppose I'm at a loss to understand a game like Swords & Wizardry, though, because OD&D was terrible shit to begin with so why anyone would want to play it is beyond me. B/X came about because no one could decipher OD&D without having already played it, if that even makes any sense. I remember when I got the Redbox...laugh all you want, the examples of play seriously helped a lot. You cannot read OD&D and have the faintest clue of how to play whatsoever. Is there any need to duplicate this stupidity?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Places In My Mind

Chris keeps posting stuff about specific places being the inspiration for stories, gaming, etc. I wish he'd stop because it really makes me want to play a lot more rpgs; I'm getting frustrated. To the point that I started to contemplate becoming a psychology professor and starting a course where the main project is creation of an extensive D&D campaign I get to play in. I figure with 20-25 students, there would be four good groups which means four games a week. Perhaps Dr. Barker has it all figured out. Can anyone find justification for a philosophy professor to play D&D? I can't come up with anything, but I'm working on it.

The whole point of this post was to specifically talk about a place I envision each and every time I want to play a fantasy rpg. The problem is, I have no idea where it came from. It's not a real place (I'm pretty sure of that); I think it was inspired by some artwork I saw when I was in grade school. But, again, I can't be sure as I've looked through every Dragon magazine, every D&D module and rulebook, every single collection of fantasy art I could find and haven't seen it again. The image is so vivid I maintain I saw it somewhere, but who knows...years of alcohol abuse could have fooled my brain.

That said, my ideal campaign world for fantasy rpgs, and D&D specifically, is always sort of gloomy. Even though spring eventually comes, for whatever reason the PCs never see it. Overcast skies, cold but not freezing. The sun never shines through the clouds. At night, no one goes outside. There is one town, dimly lit at all times, maybe ten buildings with the proverbial inn at the middle. Adventurers need only look beyond the line of trees in the distance to see an ominous landscape. It starts with a dead forest, a barrier to broken terrain that glows softly in the dark. Closer examination reveals ruins; a maze uncovered after destruction of a massive keep, possibly obliterated by dragon fire. Goblins hide within the shadows, spying on those who would enter their realm. For whatever reason, they never venture beyond the dead forest which serves as a barrier between civilization and a time forgotten. Exploring the ruins can result in great fortune but imminent death awaits. The villagers eke out a minimal existence in their town, but bold parties travel forth, never to be heard from again. There is a road that leads to the next town, but no one ever uses it. The adventurers themselves might have come that way to reach the town but their knowledge of the lands beyond is lost; the current environs cloud all memory, only fortune and fame on their minds.

Essentially, my ideal environment is nothing more than a dungeon and a town; everything else is irrelevant. To me, at least, this seems to be the essence of Old School rpgs. A massive board without fixed squares, but still confined to a specific space the pieces cannot leave. Is there any real need for a whole world in which to put this board? What justification is necessary beyond "the place exists to facilitate adventuring"? Sandbox gaming now assumes the PCs can go wherever they want, the DM responsible for a world for them to explore at their whim. Sandbox gaming when I was younger was just what I described: you have this dungeon and that's it. Clean it out and go to town to sell your crap.

I'm not saying the simpler way of creating a game world is better, but it's certainly not worse. When I first started playing D&D, we created a new campaign nearly every couple weeks. Someone else would have a dungeon they wanted to run, we'd make new characters and attempt to tackle it. After either TPK or success, another kid would be the DM with his own dungeon. After dismissing this style of play as "unrealistic" over the course of several years, I've finally come to terms with the fact that it's not. It's no more unrealistic than creating a fantasy world out of whole cloth, complete with detailed rules for flora, fauna, how magic works, scientific theory, whatever. It's a game, nothing else, and as long as the DM arbitrates the game in a fair manner there's no need to "justify" anything.

In all honesty, I think a game like Magic Realm is a better rpg than anything I've seen in ten years. I'm sort of getting annoyed with the idea that roleplaying means funny voices and playing "in-character". Certainly it can mean that, but that's not the only valid interpretation. The older I get the more I long for the days in the cafeteria, traipsing through yet another killer dungeon in an attempt to beat my friend's new best attempt to kill us all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making stuff up is apparently bad

Yep

Seriously, dude, get a fucking grip. I fully understand that different styles of play appeal to different people, but directly calling people who wing it (and make stuff up in what you call an illogical manner) idiots is just asking to be called a douchebag. I would have posted this in the comments, but I'm sure it would have been deleted instantly.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Delving Deeper?

So I had heard about the Delving Deeper over on the Goblinoid Games forums some time ago and it piqued my interest. From what I could tell, it was supposed to be a more direct clone of Original D&D, the old boxed set I never got a chance to play when I was a kid. I like Original Edition Characters for Labyrinth Lord, but would prefer some sort of consolidated rulebook. Swords & Wizardry Whitebox is better in presentation, but the unified save and ascending armor class annoy me. I was looking forward to Delving Deeper to correct these issues and provide a better crusty-old school gaming experience. Then I saw some sample pages on the blog and came to a realization: I already have all this crap. Ten times over I have all of this. That's not to say I think DD will be a waste of money (I'm certainly going to buy it), but I don't think it's going to really DO anything for me other than sit on a shelf. What ideas will this game provide that I don't already have in some other book? I complained a while back about retro-clones becoming too prolific and diluting their own usefulness; how many iterations of a Sleep spell or stats for Ghouls do you need? DD is going to have that stuff, just like every other edition of D&D in existence. Is there a compelling reason to play it?

For once I'll end with an open-ended question as opposed to answering it myself...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bloggers: No One Cares

There are two types of bloggers (there are two types of everything, depending on who is doing the classification, but just humor me):

1) Those who write to share their ideas, to foster legitimate discussion and encourage critical feedback

2) Assholes who want a captive audience that agrees with them, lest they delete negative comments

I am firmly in the first camp, even though I'm also an asshole. When I write stuff, I like to think whoever reads it gets some use out of it. If they think it sucks, I'd like them to say so in ye olde comments section of that particular post. Except for deleting spam, I'd never moderate anything. Idiots are easy enough to spot, and sometimes negative criticisms are accurate.

Some people, however, are completely incapable of dealing with criticism. When I read their blogs, it's obvious they have an axe to grind, and want nothing contrary said about their stupid opinions. And stupid opinions they are. Pretentious, stupid comments made as a matter-of-fact, shrouded in some sort of superior ability to discern the chaff from excellence. Nine times out of ten, they make disparaging, no, outright scurrilous, remarks about things, and nearly always their opinion differs from the masses. I think the common term for this is now "douchebag hipster", people who dislike what's popular simply because it's popular. I'm not an expert on aesthetics, having only had a couple graduate classes on the subject, but I am a dedicated student of classical philosophy and understand that many times things are appealing to a large group because they are objectively appealing. At least in whatever sense objectivity can be used to describe pleasing things.

For example, football is an extremely popular American sport (gridiron football for anyone dumb enough to think I'm talking about soccer). In fact, it is the most popular sport in the US and regularly leads television ratings in every single category. Game Seven of the World Series beat Sunday Night Football this year, but not by much. Anyway, football is watched by millions of people. Some of the Type-2 bloggers listed above, well, they hate football. They'll make posts about how much football sucks, how they think it's a stupid game, how dumb people must be for watching it. I'm never one to say anyone has to like watching football (you're missing out!), but the notion that hundreds of millions of people are idiots because they enjoy a game the blogger in question finds boring...that's just pretentious bullshit.

The comments thing, even worse. Post a comment that disputes their post, deleted! Or attacked then deleted. Why even have a fucking blog? Oh yeah, I almost forgot: to post crap for people to read and agree with. If you want to post useful information, why does it have to be laced with pseudo-tirades and come with some sort of condition, refraining from criticism? I get it, you're putting this shit out there for free, but look: if you put it on a blog, it is now open to public debate. If you don't like that, post it to a private blog or message board no one can see. I really don't understand the issue here, but yes I do...Type-2s are narcissistic. That's the only thing that makes any sense.

But really, to everyone blogging (especially me), the real conclusion is that NO ONE CARES. No one in the meaningful sense of the phrase. So what, a thousand people read your shit. That's statistically insignificant. Frank Mentzer told me the Red Box sold twelve million copies. Twelve fucking million. Most well-known authors don't sell that many books in toto in their lifetimes, much less one title. When he says shit, people do care because he's relevant. But bloggers...unless you're cranking out rpg titles with the same quality as the Red Box and selling millions, no one cares. No one gives a fuck, sorry. Pretending you only produce quality stuff that should be accepted and cherished, devoid of critique, that's why you're insignificant. Being criticized is the only way you will ever get better. And none of you are any good, obviously, or you'd leave the basement, cranking out blog posts, and start publishing legitimately. With a few exceptions. To all the guys who have actually published stuff and have sold it for dollars, well, kudos good sirs. At least you have the balls to put your work out there and have it deconstructed and analyzed in the most meaningful way possible. If anyone spends a buck on your product, you have succeeded. Say what you want about James Raggi (for instance), but when I read his blog I get the sense that he sincerely cares that people like his stuff. He seems to take criticism seriously and tries to improve. That's probably why he's making money off this hobby.

To reiterate: no one cares. If you want someone to care then start listening to the negativity. Take it seriously and try to improve your work. Or don't and be a pretentious dick who thinks everyone else is an idiot. Friends? Who needs 'em.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The One Ring: A Short Critique

As already stated here, I didn't have much hope for The One Ring, yet another Middle-Earth based rpg published after the demise of ICE. I've made a few posts on this here blog about the few sessions of MERP I've run recently; I like the system, it's Middle-Earth and it's deadly and dark. After re-reading LotR yet again for the 50th time last month, I can honestly say MERP does a really good job of capturing the utter futility inherent in the environment. Heroes are born, not made, which is probably why a lot of people dislike adventuring in Tolkien's world...unless the DM goes out of his way to make the PCs important, they aren't and never will be. Published worlds are at a disadvantage because of this fact. Any published world, I think, suffers from this problem. Even Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, initially "homebrew" settings (I'll really never understand why this term is used disparagingly when compared to published settings as unless the setting has a literary base, they all share the same origins) have developed into comprehensive worlds filled with characters, history, locations and gods. It's hard for a PC to fit into these without either altering the world or just dealing with being a peon. So, to reiterate, I don't think Middle-Earth is any different in this regard, when compared to ANY published world. Perhaps the background pushes the action more due to the history being very detailed, but people will bitch just as much about changing Aragorn as they will Elminster (probably more).

SO ALL THAT SAID, what about The One Ring? First of all, the presentation is nice. Very nice. The slipcover contains two books (Adventurer's Book, Loremaster's Book), two maps (both of NW Middle-Earth, one with a hex grid superimposed over top) and some dice. The dice aren't that special, although there is a 12-sider with the Eye of Sauron and a a glyph for Gandalf. It's essentially a d10 that allows for what boils down to special successes and failures (you can figure out which is which). Overall, the appearance of the game is top-notch and the production value is fantastic. The books feature mostly drab colors that evoke the proper feeling expected of the environment. The artwork reminded me of the new Dragon Warriors rpg (out-of-print already, yeesh), which isn't surprising as it was the same artist. Enough of this, you get the point: presentation is an A+.

What about the actual game? Well, I haven't played it yet, but honestly I don't think I ever will. The system reminds me somewhat of Tri-Stat with a bunch of skills thrown in. I feel much like I did when first reading 4th Edition D&D, that I couldn't figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing with this game. There are a lot of mechanical systems in place setup to "force" a character into a certain way of play. I don't like that sort of stuff, others might, but to me background systems in rpgs is overrated. We already know how Tolkien's dwarves act, there's no need for mechanics to encourage the stereotypes. The skill resolution system is nothing new, a basic die-pool that requires the included dice. Except there are a lot more factors involved, like being Weary or spending Hope, all new names for old concepts. It's obvious that the naming conventions used are specifically to, again, encourage the proper tone in the game. I can appreciate that but it doesn't do much for me. Blah blah blah, I don't like it. It's not a terrible system, but it's not ground-breaking, either. I find no compelling reason to use this game over something like the Star Wars d6 conversion I did a couple months ago. Die-pool systems are good, die-pool systems that require special dice are annoying. There are a lot of reasons to like it, but all those don't add up to a good game, in my opinion.

Oddly enough, I think The One Ring is worth the money because reading the rules provides plenty of ideas on how to run a Middle-Earth game, but I wouldn't run a game using those rules. My suggestion is to buy the game, read it, use the maps and concepts, but dump all the extraneous crap that tries to turn a game into an exercise in literary analysis. And I suppose that's exactly why I dislike the game given my approach to rpgs. I don't want to recreate Tolkien, or anything at all, I merely want to kill orcs and find treasure. Games that try to accurately recreate stories already told are doomed to fail unless they alter some aspect to encourage PC importance. Trying to achieve both (remain faithful to the source yet have PCs in the forefront of the action) almost always result in a failed attempt for both. The One Ring is like plenty of other games that came before: a valiant effort that falls short. This is through no fault of the writer, I think, but instead a fault of the incongruous nature of using published works as rpgs settings.

To sum up, buy The One Ring, but don't pay full retail. Amazon has it for $38, the maps alone are worth $15 - $20, and the concepts within are valuable. As a game, I dislike it. But I'm also a crotchety wargamer, so those with more delicate sensibilities might find it just what they need.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Halloween video

Happy Halloween!


This year I'm going as Billy (basically just put on a blue headband and jean jacket) for Halloween, so I thought this was appropriate. Where's my bat?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Plot Is Overrated

Last night after class, I watched a bunch of interview clips of Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach talking about their time working with Sergio Leone on The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. This was prompted by the question: what is your favorite movie? GBU is probably mine, which is why I ended up staying way too late watching it after seeing all the clips, but it still took some time to pin down. I began by making a list of all the movies I love to watch, the ones that influenced me unlike any other. My listed turned out to be thirteen films:

Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back
Seven Samurai
Raides of the Lost Ark
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
For a Few Dollars More
Big Trouble in Little China
Rocky
Rocky II
Ghostbusters
It's a Wonderful Life
Terminator 2
Smokey and the Bandit

Not quite the list most people would come up with, right? Especially Smokey and the Bandit; I almost felt embarrassed that I enjoy that movie so much because it has an almost non-existent plot. That's when I realized that almost all these movies, some of them considered to be the greatest films ever, have thin plots. I also noticed that Jedi wasn't on the list, nor Fist Full of Dollars. I like both those movies quite a bit, but in the case of Dollars, even though it's essentially Yojimbo (and thus a more detailed story), it's just not as appealing. I think this goes back to the simplistic plots of the later films.

To fully explain myself, take the plot for Smokey and the Bandit: Two guys bootleg some Coors and evade a sheriff. I could make several movies using this plot, and I'm sure they'd be terrible if that's all I had to go by, yet for whatever reason, the actual movie is funny as hell. The lack of intricate plot makes it much easier to get involved and to be entertained. A major literary device employed is in media res; we don't see Bandit and Snowman in their early careers smuggling goods or evading cops, instead we start right off with the action. All the background information is important, but only alluded to when it drives the film forward. In fact, every single film I listed above has a thin plot and starts off using in media res, except for It's a Wonderful Life, which sort of does anyway as the whole first half of the film is a flashback. Star Wars literally beings with a battle in space, the princess already having stolen the plans, evading capture. The plot to that movie looks like it should be: Rebels battle an oppressive Empire for freedom. But that's just the backdrop...it's really something more like a princess gets captured trying to help some rebels and is rescued by a farm boy and a smuggler.

Even though the plots to these movies are simple, the implementation of those plots is what makes them great. The characters are what create the story; the story does not exist independently from them. Too many times I have seen films with characters that weren't an essential part of the story, and those films almost always suck. If you take Han Solo out of the trilogy and replace him with a similar but slightly different character, you've destroyed the film (cf. Han shot first). Similarly, Hannibal Lecter is a classic film villain, necessary for Silence of the Lambs to be thrilling. Replacing him with a less intelligent character, or one who wasn't as quite as diabolical would make that movie really long and boring. To reiterate, characters make the story, the plot simply exists to give them a reason to act.

How does this relate to rpgs? I've seen a lot of adventures or campaigns wherein the DM attempted to come up with a good plot in order to tell a great story. This is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive. The plot to any adventure should be succinct; if it cannot be written in one short sentence, you've done too much. Further, in media res really is the best way to start any game. I've seen a lot of games start off with waaaaaay too much crap like "Okay so you've never met these characters before, do some roleplaying and see if you want to join up". This is followed by several SESSIONS of "getting to know" the other PCs. Stupid. Do it the Seven Samurai way: would you like to join us on this adventure? Yes? Okay, let's go. That's it. The primary characters already have reason to adventure and they drag in the others along the way. There doesn't have to be any reason for the characters to get involved beyond their curiosity. Or greed or whatever. Simple reasons work best, because in the end, they're the heroes and actions define heroism, not initial intent. Story should be something that develops naturally from the interaction of the characters and the plot. I do realize that railroading players is sometimes necessary to encourage action, but use the literary term plot hook and suddenly it doesn't seem so nefarious. Real life is full of plot hooks that cause people to act when they'd rather be drinking beer and watching football just like literature if full of plot hooks that engage the main characters.

If you think I'm being too simplistic, here's another example: Hamlet tries to discover who murdered his father, the king, and avenge his death. If the play were an rpg, Hamlet would show up in town wanting to kick back and drink ale, but the DM would say, hey, your father was murdered. That'd be the end of it. A simple plot hook. The resulting story would be a product of Hamlet being utterly incapable of making any sort of decision (classic PC behavior) and using divination magic to discover the truth, completely ignoring the obvious.

Complex plots are the province of amateur writers as they cover up thin characters. Good writers don't need anything fancy because they know their characters can stand alone, independent of the plot or story. Just like Indiana Jones is a great character outside of the movies, so too should the PCs be in any rpg campaign. By doing less as a DM, the PCs have more room to grow and shine, which results in much better stories. Plot is, indeed, overrated. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Neo-Luddism and the case against online gaming

Last week, I played in Chris' inaugural Stormbringer Domain Hack Game Thing under the guise of an inept beggar named Johan, Sheik of the Sighing Steppes. Inept in the sense that his stats were rather poor, in all ways, compared the rest of the group, but for whatever reason was able to strike the killing blow against a giant tiger-beast and escape militant apes due to a high aptitude in the arts of subterfuge. Overall, I had fun, even though I ran out of whiskey far too soon. However, a couple problems arose that caused my anti-technology rash to flare up, resulting in some contemplative analysis on my part to discern why exactly I hate online gaming. In this case, I specifically mean using the internet as a medium to facilitate tabletop gaming, whether it be Skype, Google+, GotoMeeting, whatever.

Obviously, there are very good reasons to use something like Google+. Most everyone I know has a family, job, life; all the crap none of us worried about when we were in college. Wednesday night gaming at 1AM is a thing of the past, scheduling is important. The need to go no further than a computer makes it much easier to arrange times, and not having to drive somewhere means better attendance. Accessibility is probably the reason most people do not game as much once they get older, it surely isn't for lack of interest. Online gaming makes it easy for larger groups of people to get together as there is less room for excuses (kids? I can see their crib from the desk). Okay, I get all that, but something is still lacking...

Dice

I know this sounds stupid, but the tangible effect of dice at the table cannot be understated. It's what makes a game a game as opposed to an exercise in amateur theatre. Online die rollers just don't cut it. Die-rolling moments always create suspense in rpgs and wargames, moving them to an electronic format removes some of the fun of rolling dice. Plus, knowing what I do about computers, there's no such thing as a truly random number generator unless you use something like random.org. Not that dice are truly random, either, but at least I can SEE what's going on. The black box approach isn't that appealing. Included with dice are minis, physical maps and other random props that always seem to creep into games. Chris was able to display his nice hex map on the screen, but to be perfectly honest, I prefer his hand-drawn stuff. I'm sure he could scan that stuff in, but nothing like the real thing. Being able to hold a document provides sensory information far beyond the simple visuals.

"Technical difficulties"

My laptop decided to crash right during the most important part of the game and I was unable to bring it to a working state before finally deciding to call it a night and go to bed. That really sucked. Unless you have a seizure or an aneurism during a table top session, you're not going to miss any of the action. This goes hand-in-hand with actual face time at the table, the ability to interject and make jokes. Communication is still not instantaneous enough through these technical mediums to allow a true exchange to take place. It's nothing like a CB, but often times I felt like the 1/2 second delay was enough to cause issues. Typically, half the time of any gaming session I'm a part of is spent fooling around, but the conferencing technology allows far less of that. That's unfortunate as the social aspect is just as important as the game itself. It not, then just play Ultima or something.

There are many other reasons I dislike online gaming, but in the effort to demonstrate my point I've decided to leave this incomplete as I need to go outside and get some sun. The glow of my monitor doesn't provide the sort of tan I'd like.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I have No Hands, and I Must Type

Props if you get the reference; if you don't, let's just say I identify completely with literary characters who are essentially helpless to affect their doomed existence. In this case, I'm talking about the "blogosphere", specifically the collection of rpg blogs out there. I'm not popular, have few readers, and frequently produce nothing but poorly edited rants expressing my displeasure with guys actually writing stuff. Sure, some of it is crap, but they're doing SOMETHING. I feel akin to a movie critic: it's easy to rip on Transformers 3 and call Michael Bay a hack, but he's banging supermodels on top of a ruby mattress with a diamond comforter. I don't think anyone is getting supermodels by writing OSR stuff, but at least they're getting someone to read their stuff just like millions of people are watching Transformers. So why should I even bother? No one is reading this, and they probably wouldn't care anyway.

The last post I wrote essentially called most of the OSR product available today worthless tripe. That was a bit of an exaggeration although I certainly do feel that way. To be perfectly honest, I think a lot of people feel that way, yet are worried about offending someone. Most blogs either ignore possible conflict or peripherally reference it in such a way as to seemingly create discussion, all while avoiding disparaging remarks. Some people have to be diplomatic, I get it, but that's doing nothing for the hobby. At all. Attacking the product isn't attacking the author, and honestly there isn't enough critical analysis done on most of these products.

I bought Swords & Wizardry Complete and was completely dissatisfied with it. Matt Finch seems like a nice enough guy, but I think this book sucks. I liked the Core Rules, so it was even more disappointing that Complete failed to impress me. Yet, reading various blogs and webpages and message boards, it would appear I'm alone in my assessment of the game. Am I actually an outlier (possible), or are most people unwilling to bad-mouth a product simply because they don't want to offend the author?

I could care less if people hate me or my opinions. Further, I'm not one to pay money for something and not complain if I feel like I got ripped off. If I don't like something, I'll say it. This has nothing to do with how I feel about someone personally, in any way. Here's the real problem, as I see it: if authors are never challenged, how can they produce better work? When I played sports, the coach would say yes, you are doing it correctly or, no, you suck, do it better. When playing music, if the audience is entertained it means I'm doing a good job and if they hate it, well, time to practice more. Ignoring negative remarks about your work is asinine; assuming those remarks are validated with evidence of course. If I say something sucks but give no reasons, that's worthless. If I provide a critical analysis, but you still ignore me, you're an idiot. By no means am I elevating myself to some sort of King of Critics, but I've read a lot of fucking books, especially rpgs, and know what constitutes good writing and rules.

Again, this will probably be lost in the shuffle of countless blogs, but at least I'm trying to give an honest assessment of problems I see. Professional life and personal life shouldn't mix, so nothing I say here is a personal attack. I do realize that most of this stuff is hobbyist, and rarely comment on the freebies, but if you're charging for products then you have entered the realm of professional publishing so be prepared to be ripped upon by yours truly, the blogger who has no readers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Enough with the retro-clones already

In the beginning, I thought it was a great idea: use the OGL/SRD to create some clones of various out-of-print editions of D&D. We got Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry out of it, and all of them do something valuable while remaining reasonably priced (i.e. free). On the heels of success come other games like Swords & Wizardry Complete, Dark Dungeons, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and others. Prices begin to increase. Still, the clones keep coming, along with oodles of crappy adventures. Some of the stuff is really good, worth buying (Stonehell Dungeon). But let's face it: these are just house rules in published format. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but quite frankly, I could give a fuck. There are only so many times I can see someone else's take on barbarians or monks or fireballs. It's really all the same shit Gygax et al cranked out in 1974, revised for modern sensibilities. By that I mean rewritten to remove all the substance, all the style, contained within those old tomes. I realize the clones have to differ from D&D due to legal reasons, but reading some of this stuff you'd think these guys invented roleplaying games. Some of the best games ever produced were essentially D&D house rules, but they never pretended to be written in a vacuum. Chivalry & Sorcery for instance explicitly states that it was written with the intention of getting out of the dungeon and engaging in long-term play, something D&D was ill-equipped to handle. C&S never acts like D&D didn't exist; it references it continuously and offers suggestions on how to improve. Runequest does a lot of things differently, including spell points and skills, but character generation is still 3D6 for a bunch of attributes that line up with the common six. Essentially the entire history of roleplaying game design is people taking D&D, modularizing it, dropping the portions they disliked and adding new stuff. GURPS doesn't look much like D&D, but if you look at its lineage (Melee/Wizard->Fantasy Trip->GURPS) it's easy to see how it came into being. Alternative tactical combat system for D&D becomes a fantasy rpg which is further developed into a pure skills-based system. But all these games have their own style, their own way of doing things, and the better ones introduced innovative ways to accomplish goals within the game.

This is exactly why I'm getting sick of the clones: it's like they're not even trying. Labyrinth Lord is my favorite version of D&D because it's essentially just a cleaned up version of B/X. It doesn't pretend to be anything else. Reading through Swords & Wizardry Complete...fuck. Was this game really necessary? Thanks for making me pay $20 to read your crappy house rules, I appreciate it. I'm not even sure what these guys are doing anymore. Are you trying to recreate a copy of D&D so you can play it, make it available to everyone who can't get an OOP copy? Or are you attempting to pass off yet another shoddy interpretation of D&D as a legitimate artistic endeavor? If it's the first one, we have enough good, free games that do this just fine. If it's the second one, why not innovate? If you give me a game with six stats and hit points and THAC0 and dwarves and elves and thieves, hey, guess what, it's just another fucking copy of D&D. Why not expend your effort on stupid adventures no one will ever use instead? In case you're wondering, this product is what spurned my rant. I honestly haven't read it, and it could be well written, but $5 for yet another necromancer class? Hell, I wrote one up in around 20 minutes and put it up on this very blog. Should I have charged people a dollar to read it? Yeah, I get it, you came up with a bunch of new spells and XP charts. Wow. Lemme guess: some of those spells are variations on Animate Dead, right? I'm seriously not trying to be disparaging here, but Jesus Christ, that sort of shit is what's being produced and SOLD now? I'm not about to spend five bucks on something like this. Ever. Any DM worth his salt can simply take a Magic-User, give him the Turn Undead ability and call it a day. Seriously, what value is being added to the hobby by this sort of crap?

I mentioned Stonehell Dunegon: hey, a product that is actually useful. Sometimes it's cool to have a bigass dungeon someone else worked on at your disposal. Even some of the not-so-great adventures I've seen provide good ideas to a lazy DM. But further rules-variations can suck a dick. If you want to write up some rules, make them unique and innovative or put the PDF on your blog for free. There's absolutely zero reason to pay anyone for D&D rules variants when Holmes Basic can be distilled into literally two pages.

Political Correctness wreaks havoc on my ability to read crap

In the past few years, the push to make the English language "gender neutral" (whatever the fuck that means) has created a lot of stupid nonsense words. Words like congressperson and spokesperson...I don't understand what was wrong with congressman or spokesman. "Congressman Michelle Bachmann is running for President." Is that phrase meaningless because she's female? The word "man" encapsulates males and females. And it's succinct, unlike the stilted and stupid-sounding "-person" terms. If you want to say congresswoman, fine, but be consistent. I've seen congressperson applied to men but congresswoman applied to women. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but that's either plain idiotic and inconsistent or there's some agenda being pushed. The only agenda I have is to uphold the rules of English, which says the masculine voice applies in all cases unless the object is known to be feminine. This is because English, unlike some other languages, has no neuter voice. Well, actually it does, but the words are exactly the same as the masculine voice. That's how I learned it in grade school and it made sense to me then, especially when I took French and Latin in subsequent years. Baguettes are female and fromage is male so your cheese sandwich is fornicating. Injecting some stupid PC sensibility into French would make all those sex jokes irrelevant, which would be a real travesty.

Okay, the point of this: he or she. Holy fuck. I was reading Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying the other night and literally every single sentence has the "he or she" construct at least four or five times. It's unwieldy and sucks to read. Fine, you don't want to appear sexist and use this stupid phrase to be inclusive of women. Even though you're not sexist if you simply say "he". At all. I guess this is like calling someone racist because they called you niggardly. Sir, kindly get a fucking dictionary. When did perception overtake the proper use of language? Arrg. One RPG I read used he when referring to PCs and she when talking about the GM. Can't remember which, but it worked pretty well because the sentences were unambiguous. But then again, the book was referencing a specific person whose sex was known. Using "she" when the sex of the object is unknown is bad grammar, too. What about when the aliens invade? Will we have to start using "he, she or it"? Perhaps they have five sexes. "He, she, it, v'sdgtty or asdjkhasdjkh". DON'T WANT TO OFFEND THOSE EGG RECEIVERS!

If you disagree with me, well, fuck you, because I'm right and that's all there is to it. Readability is paramount when writing anything, and the whole idea that masculine grammatical constructs somehow exclude women is idiotic. Buy an English grammar book.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A few reasons I like MERP

So the second game of the Middle Earth game was completed yesterday, and a few things stood out that made me appreciate the MERP rules.

1) Experience points are pretty much outside the GM's control. Characters get points for a wide variety of things, and all of them are specifically outlined. 1 XP per mile traveled, XP for hits given, etc. Makes it a lot easier to run the game without having to worry about awards.

2) Crits add excitement to the game. Yes, my goblins were killed rather quickly, and in an alarming manner, by a bunch of pugnacious dwarves, but the fact that one PC lost a hand more than made up for it. He also received 500 XP for the loss, apparently because he knows not to rush into battle without support. Crits also make for some hilarious results.

3) 0-level characters are explicitly outlined in the rules. And they're not worthless. PCs start at level 1, which requires 10k XP. 0-level characters, thus, are made exactly like PCs, but only gain adolescent skill ranks to start. This does mean dwarves are the most militant race in existence, as they are all capable warriors before they ever gain any experience. Hobbits, in turn, are natural thieves.

4) Low, almost non-existent, magic is great. I'm not a fan of magic rich environments (Forgotten Realms pretty much nauseates me), so MERP, even with its spell lists and spell-casters, is cool. Further, the manner in which items gain power (per the setting) makes for interesting results. The hand-severing dagger is now "magical", given the deed accomplished in battle. Not really sure how many of the players care to use a goblin dagger of Beorning-slaying, but they now have one.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adventure Creation Kit

I was a huge fan of the Adventure Construction Set many years ago, and created some really awful games for my Apple //c. Generally I'd start out strong, then let the computer auto-generate the rest as I was more interested in playing than coming up with scenarios. My buddy had Garry Kitchen's Game Maker, and I was envious of him as I had no access to a C=64 at home. Later, I got Unlimited Adventures for my Mac and had about the same results: a lot of play, little work on scenarios. Unfortunate, too, because UA could duplicate the Gold Box games easily and at one point I wanted to create and Isle of Dread game but gave up to focus on girls (yeah yeah, I know...) At any rate, Adventure Creation Kit allows one to easily duplicate Ultima-style games in the same manner as these previous titles. I had never heard of it until this morning, but I'm going to install it later and make a game. Or at least attempt to make a game and give up to watch football.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shire: The Roleplaying Game

The MERP game got off the ground on Saturday, and seemed to go pretty well. Around an hour was spent making characters, which is insanely long compared to Labyrinth Lord, but in actual play everything went smoothly. The players decided to be a Dwarf Scout, Dwarf Ranger, Dwarf Warrior and Beorning Animist. One of the players decided not to show up, but that's okay; I think he was going to make a push to be Saurman and that wouldn't fly. I'm thinking of rolling up a character for him, possibly a female Elf Bard. Don't front, Chris.

Anyway, it was brought up during the game that a party of mostly Dwarves works just fine: Dwarves are inherently pugnacious, like treasure and go on adventures. This led to a further comment about Hobbits being annoyingly boring, and how a game consisting of all Hobbits would rapidly devolve into inanity. If in fact a Shire rpg were produced, allowing nothing but Hobbits, with the Shire as the primary setting, it would be the antithesis of every hack-n-slash rpg out there. I decided to create a short sample table of possible adventure hooks to give you an idea of how atrocious such a game would be.

Roll a d6
  1. Daffodil Brablebuck has lost her kitten! Mayor Whitfurrows offers a reward of three pints at the Green Dragon Inn to anyone able to locate the animal.
  2. You awake one morning and notice your favorite vest is missing two buttons; they must be found or replaced before cousin Bippee Gamgee arrives for dinner.
  3. There's a sewing contest at noon but you're out of red thread!
  4. Gophers are tearing up your garden but you're already late to the pub. A real quandary...
  5. Lena Nobottle insists she can blow better smoke rings. Time to break out the pipeweed and show her a thing or two.
  6. Eating contest between Adagrim Bracegirdle and Ted Tunnelly. Who will win?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A REVELATION

Well, not really, but it solidifies something I had previously waffled on recently: football or gaming? I suppose all of us have multiple hobbies, and some of them get more face time than others. The interest level in my primary hobbies comes in waves, and right now playing rpgs is seriously waning, almost to the point of apathy about the whole thing. I've been trying to get a new game started and made some progress, but to be perfectly honest, I don't think I actually like playing as much as I thought. I do enjoy collecting rpg books and paraphernalia, coming up with campaign ideas, typing up character generation guidelines and figuring out alternative rules. But the playing part...it certainly can't compete with college football. Not in the least. I attended the inaugural game of the new UTSA football program at the Alamodome yesterday mostly because it was cheap and because it was college football. I'm not in any mood to make the drive up to College Station, fight hordes of people and endless traffic to see the Aggies beat the hell outta SMU today; perhaps I might go to the Texas game on Thanksgiving (possibly the last one..?) but none of the other games are compelling. Idaho? KU? No thank you, I'll watch them on television. This isn't to say I don't enjoy the event as a whole. When I lived on campus, or only a few blocks away, game day was special, and it consumed my weekends. I reveled in the build up, the game, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band kicking ass at halftime, the post-game beatdowns of the Yell Leaders and copious adult beverages on Northgate later in the night. Still, there's something to be said for being in the air conditioning, endless alcohol within reach and the utter lack of self-censorship when it comes to profanity laden tirades regarding an idiotic play or sub-par effort. Watching football is tiring and it is work, at least if you do it properly. And it looks like rpgs will just have to take a backseat this season. I really don't want to invest countless hours playing a game that most likely won't provide me with 1/10th the enjoyment I'll get out of watching 6 or 7 games every Saturday. I suppose I could just play on Sundays, but the NFL looks compelling this year. I wonder if there's a football rpg...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Preliminary thoughts on psychopaths

So, my game at the Minicon was a total failure. Absolute. The original premise, the reverse dungeon, had potential, but I wanted to try an experiment...I gave the players characters from the old D&D cartoon playing out a finale for the show. I watched all the cartoons a few days prior to the event (and lemme tell you something: what the fuck was I thinking as a kid?) in order to ripoff encounters. Yeah, so, they were supposed to meet some bullywugs, werebear, evil sorceress (no idea if that's remotely correct) and a couple other things, culminating in a final showdown with Venger and Tiamat. Needless to say, within 5 minutes Chris in the role of mild-mannered Presto was committing murder and carving swastikas in foreheads. I had figured something like this might happen, but not so quickly and surely not by Chris. The downward spiral was much faster than I anticipated and within 30 total minutes the game had devolved into an exercise in futility. I really didn't want to even bother completing it, but I tarried on under the guise of amusement. Honestly, I was a little annoyed at such blatant displays of outright antipathy directed at yours truly; I had tried to set the tone with (what I thought) were clever cutout minis, cool character sheets complete with pictures and some mood music. Alas, I failed in all ways possible. Perhaps it's because the players, all of whom I know personally and consider my friends, know I am not a very serious-minded individual. They know I prefer farce and tongue-in-cheek approaches to gaming. Hell, everything. I'll satirize anything. When Chris decided to proceed with an utterly psychopathic action, who was I to intervene? I thought it was funny, but also I thought it was somewhat disruptive. However, as a DM, I'll never ever tell a player they can't do something. Ever. If they want to perform an action, no issues with me, just don't complain about the repercussions. Corollary, I shouldn't complain about the repercussions, either. And I didn't. But I did not like where the game started going and there was no real way to stop it; I don't think stopping it would have mattered, anyway, as it was only a 3 hour session that would have zero long lasting effects on a campaign or whatever. So, I got over it real quick, chalked it up to an abject failure on my part, and moved on. Game was finished with only around 1/4 of the encounters I had planned, mostly because we spent nearly the whole time making jokes. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, I think, but I'll never know as even if they are assholes, my friends are still polite in a lot of ways and probably wouldn't tell me the game sucked even if I asked directly. No matter, I wasn't bothered. Until...during Chris' game, some random dude said he wanted Chris to run the D&D cartoon game. Well, okay, that was certainly a nice statement. If he's reading this: fuck you. You didn't see the devolution from my honest, semi-serious premise into a train wreck. That did bother me some, and I'm not a sensitive gent.

After this fiasco, I'm wondering if I should even bother trying to run something in the future. I like to put a lot of effort into the games I run, but if they're all going to turn out like this I might as well hang it up and just play Wizardry or something. I did appreciate the endless, free supply of Jameson provided by Jason. Booze cures all ills, or so my Irish liver once told me.

Right after posting this, I realized it's probably the most gayass emo crap I could possibly write and considered deleting it, but decided to simply add this disclaimer: I know this is emo as fuck.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Middle-Earth RPGs: System Matters

With the upcoming release of The One Ring, I thought I'd make a few comments about Middle Earth-based rpgs, and licensed rpg settings in general. First, I haven't actually seen the game (I did pre-order it though), but from the comments and excerpts I've read in various places I'm pretty sure I won't like it. Oh, I'm hopeful it'll be a good game, but the design doesn't fit well with how I envision playing in Middle Earth should be done. A while back, on this very blog, I made a post about how to recreate the fellowship in D&D. Oddly enough, D&D would work just fine for LotR if you're not actually interested in playing a wizard or casting any spells. Unfortunately the game lends itself to a certain style of play and it's hard to break out of that mindset. I ran a Castles & Crusades game set in Middle Earth not too long ago, and while it wasn't an outright failure the system didn't help much. Actually, I blame a few of the players for overt powergaming; I think the system was working just fine. But, again, the fact that there are certain assumptions made within the system makes it difficult to emulate specific genres or settings without a lot of tinkering. I've heard "system doesn't matter", but from my experience, it matters quite a bit.

I played a lot of MERP when I was in high school. We ended up tacking on the full-blown Rolemaster rules because that's Just What You Did. I think there's a natural progression to complication in gaming...maybe I'll write another blog post about that sometime. Anyway, MERP was fun, it was gritty, it was deadly and it was Tolkien. The last point was reason enough to play it constantly. It had Hobbits and stats for Gandalf, who was I to dispute that it wasn't the absolute authority on roleplaying within the confines of Middle Earth? In all honesty, MERP was objectively an excellent game, and the supplements are still some of the best the rpg industry ever produced. The 2nd edition stripped out some of the flavor, and I never played it much after it was released. ICE ended up losing the license due to a multitude of reasons, almost went out of business, and thus no more Middle Earth gaming for a while.

With the release of the movies, Decipher came out with The Lord of the Rings RPG (super creative name, I know, but as the license was derived from the movies it may have been contractual). I own the main book, and was never impressed with it. Way too much movie art, with a feel definitely derivative of the movies. No knock on the films (I think they're pretty good), but they do not capture the essence of LotR and anything based upon them would also fail in this regard. MERP was an honest attempt to distill Tolkien into rpg terms, LOTRRPG felt half-assed.

There are probably countless attempts by individuals to create an independent Middle Earth rpg...some of the ones I'm aware of include Realm Guard, Hither Lands, Legends of Middle Earth, Ea RPG and a Heroquest conversion. None of these does anything for me, to be honest, because they all seem to be based on previous gaming systems instead of a system crafted specifically for Middle Earth. I thought at length about what I'd want to use if I ever ran another game set in Middle Earth (if I do run a game anytime soon it'll probably be exactly this), and came up with a few ideas. I considered Fudge, using a variation of High Fantasy Fudge I wrote myself a couple years ago. I re-read it, it seems pretty good, but I don't really like how Fudge combat works so while it's a possibility the combat rules might need to be reworked. I like the MERP/Rolemaster combat system quite a bit, but it's extremely heavy and perhaps not ideal for me anymore, mostly due to being lazy. I saw some stuff for using GURPS, which is a good idea as Thaumatology and Powers can duplicate much of the feel required for the game; unfortunately I'm not so sure I want to use a point-buy system. If someone wants to play a hobbit, they're going to feel gyped if they only get 100 points while an elf has 500+. This brings up a major issue: characters in LotR have zero semblance of balance between them. To fully emulate the books, either the players are going to have to deal with that or all play rangers and elves. Bilbo and the dwarves were fairly even, so sticking with The Hobbit and a low-powered game could work, but I like the darker tone and the more expansive game world. Basic Roleplaying is a definitive possibility, as it has a fatalistic combat system, is quick to run and is easily adaptable for a wide variety of magic systems. Probably at the top of the list right now. A thought came to me to use d6 Star Wars, with skills edited to fit the setting. This idea had promise, but...

The 1st edition WEG d6 Star Wars game is by far one of the best licensed games ever produced, specifically because the system was designed for the setting. Further, d6 is actually an excellent mechanic for skill-based games in general. I think this fact is oft overlooked: system defines genre. Okay, that's really not true, but it certainly has a lot to do with it. I'm sure you could run a Star Trek game using a modified Toon RPG, but it would probably suck. Chivalry & Sorcery is awful for high powered D&D-style gaming because of the implied setting. This is probably why I like GURPS systematically, but dislike it as an actual game. The complete removal of setting leaves it feeling flat. In reality, GURPS is a great fantasy rpg, but this is is most likely due to its roots in The Fantasy Trip. The same can be said for HERO: good for supers gaming, leaves much to be desired for other types. Back to d6, I think it would work. The force powers can be removed and turned into nebulous magic-types; maybe instead of Control there is an attribute called Healing that allows some sort of ability to cure disease. Character templates are great: someone wants to play a Ranger, you hand him a template and say assign some dice to whatever skills you want. Done. Someone has already done a lot of the work, too. No idea how well it plays, but it looks good. Unfortunately, I really don't know if this would be better than an already existing Middle Earth game. Why not just play MERP and be done with it? It's not perfect, but the rules are codified and easy enough to use. It isn't in print, though, which makes it difficult for other people to get the rules. Irritating.

After all that, I'm REALLY hoping The One Ring is a good game worth playing. As I already stated, I'm lazy when it comes to rpgs anymore; I just want to play them, not spend hours preparing. Coming up with templates for a d6 game or figuring out a magic system using GURPS, yeah I could do it, but why bother if the new game works? I'm not sure how to end this so I'll just close with a cool picture that's more evocative of what I want in my Middle Earth RPG than anything I can express in words.