Monday, June 5, 2017

My Current 5e Game

The Edition Wars Continue
5e aint old school. Let's just get that right out of the way up front. Yes, yes, with all the proper caveats and clarifications. I'm using my own definitions and my own rubric, so there you go. But, the point is I've played it for almost two years now, and my current campaign for over a year straight. I've run several 3rd party commercial modules and a home brewed campaign thus far. I run it straight out of the three core books, nothing new and fancy. Hell, the rules as they are, are plenty fancy enough for me, and I'm still trying to get them all straight. I get them wrong now and then, using old school stand bys when I have to punt and don;t want to look something up, but my players have started calling me on it, so, there you go again.

Anywho, it's not been bad. And comparatively, it plays about like 2e did compared with AD&D and is a far cry better than either 3rd or 4th so ... there you go a third time. We've had fun, but then I had "fun" in 4e, it's just that nothing since AD&D has hit my sweet spot. And as I have been learning lately not even AD&D quite did that--to really get to that I'm going to have to write my own game I think, but that's a tale for another campfire. Today's post is a reflection on my thoughts about 5e and my old school sensibilities.

I am of course behind the times on such a topic. Ubiquitous Rat, Raging Owlbear and others were talking about this two years ago or more, but things are relevant when you need them to be and not a minute sooner. I have been wanting to drop 5e since about the playtest. But, no matter what, I seem to end up playing the current edition and all my carefully worded philosophy go to hell and back again. The reasons for this are manifold, however, today I want to focus on just one: my players like 5e.

And do you really need anything else? I mean the birthdates of my current crop of players is: 1993, 1999, 2000, 2002, & 2006. We've got a old guy :-) in there who was born in '81, but he is having trouble getting his schedule together to play regularly.  My point, however, is that I've only got one regular player who was even born when TSR still existed, and his first edition ever played has been 5e. They are loving it, and that's awesome. I really think that is why I end up playing current editions so much, because my situation and, it seems more and more, that my lot in the gaming world is about introducing new players to the game.

Now, that being said, many might opine that it would be a hell of a lot easier to do so with a low demand entry level game like BFRPG or C&C and we have used C&C, but I always take a calculated jump and choose the current edition because it is linked to D&D. What I mean by that is that WoTC holds the current D&D IP and the host of content that goes a long with that. And because I am so damned partial to that game I want people new to gaming to be connected to that IP, that brand if you will. As we do so, we begin to share a huge common vocabulary that includes names like Elminster, and Rary, and Leomund, and Greyhawk and Flanaess and Faerun and Acererack, and rust monsters and mind flayers on and on. I suppose I could do it without the connection to the copyright holders, but in such a ready made package online and off it is hard to do all that work without help. Plus, anywhere they go they are immediately hooked up into the most popular and widespread community that exists in tabletop roleplaying games. Yes, it's sad, but I am a victim of marketing and advertising even if I realize it and hate it.

But does that even really matter? Does it matter that my players can immerse themselves in D&D stuff all week long between games online? That they can be assured of a constantly flowing stream of new, easy to find product? Even if I at times curse that product? Hell, of course it matters. It matters even if I am lamenting the fact all along, pining for the good old days and cursing these damned new fangled contraptions that pass for games these days. It's a new world grandpa, time to buy some new dice. Hey! You know what? Frack you and the Cylon Raider you rode in on! I am damned proud of my old school history and my old school leanings, so you can take your shiny new dice and shove them where the Drow party all night like the remains of bad bean burritos!

Is there some means of reconciliation to this emotional impasse? Can I be happy, or at least happi"er" playing 5e and my players learn a bit of what the old school has to offer? Maybe there is.

I actually had plans to shift our game to a Classic edition D&D game of house rules that I'm currently working on and shelve 5e for awhile. But our last game made me start reconsidering my plans. I mean they really do love 5e, and I have always felt guilty about forcing people to play what they consider an inferior game. And let's face it, compared to what they have been playing OS games will be harder, deadlier, the art is more minimalist, it will be slower to level up and the rules will throw them for a loop. I will have a hard time seeing that they are going to claim my preferred play edition "better" or superior to the slick new game that is 5e. Maybe there's a way I can change, and the rest of the players don't have to. They won't have to much anyway.

Taking Ubiquitous Rat as a guide, I'll soon be publishing a list of recommended 5e house rules to trick it out old school. I'll admit right up front, it will be a lot easier to do than it ever was in 3rd or Pathfinder, and a heck of a lot easier than 4e (though admittedly 4th Core did move in that direction). We are due to finish our current campaign soon, and the players are wanting to start fresh with first level characters, so I've got some time to prepare, and the new campaign will be ideal to start an old school 5e campaign. I, for one, am excited. More excited about 5e than I have been in a awhile. More next time on these house rules.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sharing Goodness

I know there are some who don;t like when a blogger simply reblog's someone else's blog entry, or posts a link to some other blog. However, I'm having a tough time writing entries the past few weeks, and have been pouring most of my energy into game writing. But I do still get around the blogosphere, and there are still some high quality old school bloggers out there, aking astute observations, sharing cool stuff and keeping the old school flame alive.

Today, I wanted to second a post from BreeYark on old school story telling through dungeon-crawls. Check it out, you won't be displeased.

Another great post I came across was Joseph Bloch's over at Greyhawk Grognard--one of my favorite AD&D old schoolers. He opined on the classic megadungeon topic. Though I think he might be over minimizing the definition some (I love the mythic underworld concept--but I do think this was something that was less than spelled out in the old days) but I can't say I disagree with him on the idea that endless is key. Also, very, very, good stuff.

And lastly, for today anyway, Ars Ludi's West Marches campaign, to which Greyhawk Grog referred in the above post (so now I'm linking to a link to which I previously linked ...) is a great reference, idea and source of inspiration for a sandboxy sort of old school style campaign. Admittedly it's not a dungeon per se, but a center that could lead to many dungeons. It also rings the bell for Expert style Wilderness adventures that were very old school as well. Be sure and follow the links to other West Marches entries he writes--great stuff.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Speaking of Keeping Clean

So my daughter has checked out the Junior High School Pathfinder club which made me quite pleased. Not only because I love the fact that my daughter is out there looking for gaming opportunities on her own, but also because the gaming club is a sort of legacy of my time at the Junior High where I started the RPG club and ran it for six years. I think we introduced a good 80 or more students to the wonder that is gaming.

So she went in and checked it out, went back rolled up a character, but then the Drama Club took over as she loves acting on stage and play practice ran at the same time as the gaming club. At least that's what she said ... she also made the observation that "Well, dad some of those guys were kind of gross."

"Gross?" I questioned, "What do you mean gross?" My overly protective fatherly alarm bells beginning to sound.

"I mean some of them were okay, but some of those guys kind of smell, like they need a bath."

Ouch ... I thought back to my days running the gaming club. My fellow teachers would occasionally stop by and watch our games, where as many as twenty active adolescent gamers gathered around my center table, most of them teenage boys. And unfortunately they were there after a full day of school, and we gamed for a good two hours a day most days. Let's just say I got more than one complaint about the lingering odure that permeated my classroom for days after our gaming sessions.

Of course I tried to defend my gaming compatriots with the hollow--we are not all like that! I don't stink! I never did! ... At least I thought I didn't. "That's an unfair stereotype!!" I cried. "Not all gamers are unwashed geeks!" Of all the nerve!

Then again, I did recall that we are probably one of the few hobbies that actually made a product designed to entice us to bath. You've heard of soap on rope, well what about dice IN a soap.
Still offered today at Store Envy. Not sure whether to be offended or delighted. But I know what I'm asking for in my stocking next year :-)

My sincere apologies good sir!

So, some may have been off put (put off?) by my last entry. Say they, "How lobbest thy insults towards us who critique the games sans creative credentials, when with the same breath decry the criticism of those who have never been trained to so criticize?" Well, fairly said, fairly said.

My last rant was stirred up to fuego by an online tirade against a retro clone/variant by an untutored critic. In fact the whole thing got rather personal, and I dared not refer to the incident directly for fear of poisoning an already toxic pond. Can that even be done?

As any good fan base is wont to do, we step on each others toes from time to time. My point, made in total absence of context, was that until you have actually gone to the trouble of creating a game and overcome the many steps, hoops, obstacles and mountain of resistance that entails, don't be too quick to trash another's efforts.

I probably should have just said that. Yeah, probably.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mastering the Game

There is an old tale of a Jewish Rabbi who talks about the fact that there is never a wrong or a right but always a middle. It's not right or wrong, it's somewhere in between. The idea of course is that truth rarely lies at extremes, but usually as some sort of compromise between the two.

I've been doing a lot of reading across the blogosphere about the very same issues I have been writing about lately and have come to a few conclusions.

There is no one true game. I never meant to imply there was one, only to explore what D&D is and was and is becoming.

There are as many ways to game as there are gamers. I've reached out to several gamers that I thought I knew pretty well, and even though we gamed together in the same games, our memories and experiences were all still somewhat different.

It takes quite a bit of self awareness and distinction to be able to know how you game, let alone try to classify how others do. This can be problematic when trying to find the type of game and gaming group that makes you happy.

Oddly, through this process I've made a few realizations, and am somewhat surprised at myself.

In a world filled with so many gaming choices, the idea of making a game is more appealing than ever. However, doing this for the wrong reasons may be more problematic than helpful for me or others.

As Gaiseric said over on dark Heritage blog, "I appreciated the elegance of B/X over OD&D, so of all of the older versions of the game out there, that's the one I'm most likely to be willing to revisit. But even then, it wasn't really what I wanted when I could see the potential in the hobby. I spent many a year on a probably somewhat quixotic quest for the Holy Grail game that did exactly what I wanted in exactly the way I wanted it—only to find it in middle age and to discover that nobody else will appreciate it as much as I do, and at best, my fellow gamers see it as merely one more option that caters to me especially and is just another game to them. Yet another Fantasy Heartbreaker, if you will." Seeking for the Holy Grail of gaming can not only be a lonely road it can ultimately leave you out in the cold forever more and people will be peeling the grail from your cold dead fingers, wondering why you ever died for this anyway.

Creating a game beyond a clone, in my opinion, has several worthy purposes to it:

One, you are in a situation where you need to publish material and need a game system within which to do it. James Raggi did this with LotFP. Though he arguably could have done the same with S&W.

Two, the game you want is not even remotely like anything out there and you really need to put it out there for people to even get the idea. I put De Profundis in this category, simply because I can't think of any others right off the top of my head--but I'm sure there are others. Monte Cook's Numenera is arguably another, but also arguably not.

Three, your doing it as the next level in your mastery of the game.

It would be hard to find other valid reasons for doing so. Publishing your house rules for a game could be included in the list, but house rules generally apply to a certain campaign setting and are best released in that format--as a campaign of a given game. You could also add I want to pubnlish materal for X, Y, or Z Game, but the copyright won;t let me. Well, that's what the OGL and clones are for. And in that case you're really doing number one, creating a game that is like a clone, but not quite so you can publish your material.

But it's the last one I want to talk about in today's post.

Every gamer I know has tons of notes, adventures, campaigns, and yes even games half written or completely so tucked away in notebooks, file cabinets and digital folders just sleeping. I would dare say for every official supplement published there are a hundred or more that are not.And by an large I think we would all agree it's a good idea that they continue slumbering away in their cold and dusty homes. The market is flooded enough already with every Tom, Dick and Harry's version of the best game ever, a cool variation, another kick a** supplement or what have you for easy consumption. A good portion of them are even free for nothing more than a click and some file space. Drive Thru RPG, RPG Now and others are popping up all the time, offering scads and scads of new material all the time. Is this a good thing?

Well, I don't know. You may be surprised to hear me say that, but I'm not sure it's good for the hobby and I'm not sure it's bad. Really I'm not. What I am somewhat satisfied with is that there is at least an opportunity at professionalism. What do I mean by that?

Recently I finished my masters degree. It was the first time I had to write something to the standard of professional acceptability required by the academic community. It had to be critiques, edited, re-edited, reviewed, analyzed and critiqued again. I spent almost two years to complete it. Granted it took a year to do my research, but my point is, it was not a quick process. And the experience gave me several things, not the least of which was a newfound respect for academic writing. Because even once you have it to a level of acceptability from the academic establishment at your college, you then release it into the academic world generally with your name attached to it. All the world can now view it with all its warts and blemishes, despite how much time you spent scrubbing them away. I also realized how important and critical honesty and transparency is.

All that being said, it does not qualify me to write a game. I'm not even sure it qualifies me to critique a game from anything more than an amateur status. So what does all this have to do with gaming? Well, the huge open source market that now saturates the gaming community may be good for gamers and gaming for more reasons than I had previously realized. If I am so ready to get up and shout about what a game is or isn't--what the hell do I know about it? I can cast stones or throw flowers at WoTC or Gary Gygax or other gamers and game designers all I want, but really, what the hell do I know?

Do I really know anything more than what I like and what works for me and my gaming group? I don't think so. And I don't care who you are, you simply cannot play all the games out there. Certainly not enough to really know the games as a player or referee to the level that you can adequately critique them all. Now, I know, I know, movie critics don't have to create movies, and literary critics don't often write novels. But I do have a degree in English Language and Literature and my intro to literary criticism always explained to me that critiquing a written work should always come from some stance or other. You should be using some framework or rubric by which you are choosing to criticize a novel, and not just spout off in relation to what your gut says and an ability turn a phrase. So, what really qualifies a person to critique a game?

Well, this is where Mastery of the Game comes in. Being able to truly understand gaming and what gaming is is no clear path to gaming enlightenment. Mastery of a Game in the sense of being so aware and clear on what a game is, what it was intended to do and what it can and can't achieve is a monumental task that few, I think, are able to assail it. However, what I do think is that you should get out some pen and paper and just try to write a game some time. Write a game some time that is either

1) Completely different from any other game out there = Amber Diceless

2) A completely new spin on a game, genre or approach out there = DCC RPG

3) A unique enough expression of a type of game that you can call it yours = Crypts & Things

and then maybe you'll appreciate what actually goes into writing a game. And I don't mean just your 3e house rules, or the way your group plays Shadowrun or something like that. I mean a game you could slap a shiny cover on and sell without violating copyright if not the world's sensibilities. Something you not only wrote but playtested. In fact not just once, or ten but hundreds of times. As a friend of mine recently said, playtested the hell out of it. And revised and refined until it was a well oiled machine. Or at least until you couldn't hear its squeaks and rattles anymore.

I've begun to realize that putting the blood, sweat and tears into writing a game of your own will let you master the idea of gaming in a way few other things will. Of course it goes without saying doing the same thing in adventures, campaigns and other supplements will give you a good idea as well of a particular rules system. 5e has done this in somewhat the way 3e did and is pushing it in an unprecedented manner. You have huge PR and marketing just by writing for DMs Guild right now. Which brings me to my last point.

If you really want to know what its like and if your creation is even able to pass general muster, put it out there. Make it free if you want, but you might as well and take the extra step now and raise it to a decent production level. Try and find some art that you feel captures its essence, and do a decent job with layout. Once you feel like you've got it there, put it out there. It is surprisingly easy to do so on RPG Now, Lulu, or any others that turn your crank. Make a face book page for it, or a website and be open to having discussions with people about it. This is a brutal process, very humbling, and I know this simply by watching those I admire for doing this very thing.

If you can do this, and survive and still game, I don't even care if you never play your game again--chances are you've come to appreciate other peoples games a lot more--you will have taken a significant step towards actually Mastering the Game. For having passed the equivalent of gaming's academic community. And then I will take what you say about games and gaming with more than a grain of salt. If you notice, very few game designers have a lot negative to say about other people's games. I suppose this could be self interest, but I think it's because they know what it takes to do so, and are a lot less quick to shoot holes in someone else's house. That and they are too damn busy creating an gaming to take the time or give a damn.