Interwebs Treasures #2

Nerd Poker: a podcast by comedian Brian Posehn and other funny people who play D&D do exactly that – play D&D – and you listen to it. And it is fun, and funny. I listened to the most recent couple of episodes, and today I’m starting on episode .
bpdandd

 

Google Sketch-Up of the classic AD&D module setting, the Tomb of Horrors. This is where my highest level character got killed – turned into pink dust. To compare, here is a very nice reproduction the original map from the Dungeon Module, from Mad Irishman Productions.

sup_tomb

 

Back in the 1980s, radio preachers/huckster/entertainer Bob Larson took on all manner of spiritual malady. Heavy Metal, Goth Culture, Yoga, and yes…D&D. Every day was a fantastic journey into strangeness. He compiled all his notions into to a book he sold on-the-air. Sorry – he didn’t sell it. It was a gift for people who contributed to his forever-almost-out-of-money-and-off-the-air ministry. The book was called “Bob Larson’s Book of Spiritual Warfare. Here is a link to the section on D&D. Awesomeness.

What 1st Edition D&D Got Right

I’m kind of thinking “out loud” in this post, so please just bear with me…

Like a lot of gamers my age (perhaps most of them), AD&D was my introduction to RPGs. My friends had been playing for about a year before I got interested. It has always been hard to break through the mental barrier my skateboarding addiction has created, so I was a slow adapter to the RPG cult.

There were, of course, things we didn’t like about the system. Mostly the combat system. As teenage boys, I think we wanted greater detail in the combat. There were a lot of competing systems that we tried. The Fantasy Trip (soon to become GURPS), the Hero System, the RuneQuest system, etc, etc. All were really better combat systems. Much better.

But when I think back on it, it seems like what we gained in combat realism, we lost in over the top heroics.

And that’s where D&D got it right. All that stuff about gaining experience levels, hit points, becoming harder and harder to kill. All that contributed to that great “Conan swam across the Eastern Sea with an ox under one arm, came out, cooked and ate the ox, and then single-handedly defeated an army of ghouls” feeling.

The system didn’t work (nor was it intended to work) well for unarmed combat, armies, or combat purists who wanted specific fighting moves. To me it was kind of a middle of the road system. It offered some detail, but not enough to get bogged down.

Some players just don’t want to get so wrapped up in game mechanics, and are willing to give the GM a little more latitude to flesh things out on the fly. They are into the story and the roleplaying, and don’t want to spend 2 hours on one fight.

Now, all these years later, I also think the Experience Point/Levels system was a good thing for D&D. Most other RPGs don’t really have levels. They let you add points to your character and improve your characteristics and skills, which is great and I tended to gravitate toward those systems. But there was some real utility to knowing the difference between a 1st level fighter and 10th level fighter. In retrospect, I don’t see it so much as a “dumbed down” system, but rather one that is conducive to a particular kind of role playing, meeting particular needs.

So why do I think the more realistic systems lost the super heroics of D&D? Simple. In most of those, there is still a chance that a very minor pest (kobold, etc), could score a lucky hit and just KILL a player character dead. That is realistic, but for a lot of gamers it isn’t fun.

I haven’t had a chance to delve back into the 2nd Edition rules, yet, but I seem to remember from the game I ran in the mid 1990s that those rules had improved the combat system a bit. I’ll have to check them out this week, but it seems like they offered a little bit more realism/options during combat without turning the game into simply a game of combat simulation.

I suppose this is all just today that what I thought sucked (AD&D) as I gained experience as a gamer did not, in fact, suck, but was actually pretty damned good for a particular kind of game.

Qwirkle

qwirkleI learned of Qwirkle on Tabletop, a web series about table top games, starring Wil Wheaton and others. First let me just say – really fun series. I’ve watched a few, and dug it.

Qwirkle is a pretty simple game to play, but there’s lots of room for strategy. I thought it would be nice to take on vacation and play with my niece and nephews. It’s a smart game, but doesn’t require a lot of experience-based knowledge, so kids can play pretty effectively with adults. There’s an element of chance, as in Scrabble, as you are dependent on which tiles you draw from the bag. Unlike Scrabble, you don’t need to have a large vocabulary. I thought his game would be especially fun with my oldest nephew, who at 13 is quite smart but has pretty heavy dyslexia. Kid has an awesome vocabulary, but can’t spell to save his life. (Not a big deal, in my opinion. Who really remembers history’s greatest spellers?).

I’m not going to go over all the rules – you can check out the website and the video from Tabletop. This is a pattern creating game, using tiles with colored shapes. The idea is to create lines of either similar shapes or color, getting a point for each tile in a line (including tiles in lines you are just adding to), and an extra six points if you create a line of 6 (called a Qwirkle). Actually, there’s not a lot more rules than that. Just few. So you can “learn” to play in about 45 seconds.

It took about 40 minutes to play – perfect for a short and fun diversion from adults drinking alcohol and listening to bad pop country music.

I suggest you check this game out.

Gaming space, players, etc.

When I was at Madness Games & Comics buying the 1st Edition D&D reprints yesterday, I asked about the gaming tables. Apparently, barring schedule events, they are first come/first serve. Pretty great. Nice big tables. Might be a good place to play, and also maybe join a once a week or month gaming group? Kinda hoping so.

Apparently they have a “come and try the new games” kind of thing on Wednesday nights, which conflicts with my Aikido practice, so that is out. But I’ll have to investigate further.

My friend Dave, who works at Half Price Books, brought me pretty good copies of the 2nd Edition Players Handbook and DMG yesterday. Much appreciated. Should be able to locate the “Monstrous Manual” too. As I remember it (haven’t had a chance to delve back into those books yet), 2nd Edition actually had some nice improvements to the rules. I can always add back in the demons, devils, and other introductions to the Dark Arts.

Today’s Purchases

OK, I took the plunge. Sort of. I purchased the still available reprints of the original 1st Edition AD&D books.  They actually have the reprints of the 2nd Edition stuff too, but I have a friend who is giving me two of those three books. I’m going to probably encourage my nephew to start with the new 5th Edition rules, if they seem good when they come out. What I have seen looks pretty good. I’ll send him copies of Editions 1 and 2 also. I reckon I will get the 5th Edition stuff too, just so I can understand what he’s talking about.

DandD1stEd

I was actually kind of surprised that I couldn’t find any old 1st Editions books at the two Half-Price Books stores I visited. Will have to keep my eyes peeled.

Regarding the difference between 1st and 2nd Edition; I had not noticed that in 2nd Edition they “cleaned up” all the stuff about devils and demons. That kind of bums me out, but I guess they were tired of dealing with the people’s concerns about the occult. At least they left magic and other deities in the game, eh?

If I end up running a game, there are some modifications I’ll make to the 1st Edition rules. Nothing drastic. Just “house rules” kind of stuff.

The game I ran with the 2nd Edition rules in the early 1990s was fun, and I found those books and rules easy to use, but I really wonder if given the still huge popularity of 1st Edition among old-time gamers and the upcoming and potentially very good 5th if the 2nd Edition stuff will be forgotten. It’s probably a function of my age, but I still consider these 1st Edition rules to be the “real” D&D.

Anyway, these reprints seem to be of pretty good quality. One great thing about those original books was their relative indestructibility. If you took care of them at all they lasted a hell of a long time. You  got a lot for your money there, for sure.

I sure that I’ll be working on a campaign setting soon. I am compulsive that way. I was thinking about it last night, trying to come up with an interesting idea. I started a list of potential settings and whatnot. Will keep working on that this month and see if anything gets traction. I had this idea of a campaign “on” a gas giant plant, with all the action taking place on magically floating cities and continents. You could kill stuff by throwing it off the edge. Hmmmmm….

Interwebs Treasures #1

  • I saw this last week on Wil Wheaton’s blog. Kind of a cool short documentary. Here There Be Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Strange how timing works out. Just as I notice that my nephew is playing Minecraft in a very D&D way and decide to introduce him to the Dark Arts, it seems that D&D is turning 40, releasing a new edition of the game (which looks to be getting the system back on track after some idiots messed it up), and the new rules are (sort of) released for free online. As a result, there have been some really cool articles about D&D out there this week. Here is one — about writers who’ve been influenced by the game.
  • The New Yorker also had a great article – Dungeons & Dragons Saved My Life.
  • It seems that toxic lead miniatures are not available anymore. Well, that stinks. And the current metal minis are pretty expensive. But come to think of it, lead minis were not cheap either. Anyway, looks like Reaper makes some good miniatures. I will be checking them out, as I really like to paint. Not super interested in plastic minis, but who knows? Maybe they are cool. I’m just really used to painting metal.

Recollections of a Traveller

As I think back over my early days of gaming and GMing, the memories are flooding back. When I started in 1979, there weren’t hundreds of RPGs. Most of the time my friends and I played D&D, but one guy had the game Traveller, so we played that too. Eventually we all bought the game.

Traveller was great because it was about space, and was really flexible. The basic set came in a box and had 3 little black books of rules. They sold a lot of supplements. I don’t think there was a single illustration in the core set. Something about the books made you feel smart.

The game mechanics had rules for spaceship combat, interstellar commerce, and other cool stuff, but at 15 we mostly just blew stuff up. Get in the spaceship, go to a planet, get drunk, find a weapons dealer, buy some plasma rifles, and start killing. When the Law got on our asses we’d hop in our ship, the Hellfire, and take off, usually destroying more people and ships on the way out of the system. Mass murder and mayhem on a glorious scale.

It helped that our GM 1)just wanted his friends to be happy and 2)didn’t seem to have actually read any of the rules beyond character generation. His answer to any question of skill was “roll three dice”. We had no idea what we were rolling for, and neither most likely did he, but we all had fun and that’s all that mattered. Clearly, we never got bogged down in game mechanics…heh heh.

Our GM got into gaming really early. Every Wednesday night he went to this huge gaming meetup at Richland Junior College, here in Dallas. He was friends with lots of older gamers. One of them was a computer programmer. He gave our GM this gigantic hex map, with planets dotting it. Each planet had a number, and there was a computer printout on which the characteristics of each planet were given — randomly generated by a program this guy had written. Pretty cool. We were in awe.

As we got older, and better game systems were released, we tended to gravitate toward the new stuff. Hero Games’ Champions was a prime example. Flexible, great combat system, etc. Game Designer’s Workshop, the authors of Traveller, have continued to release new editions of the game, but we never played them. We stuck to the original when we wanted hot space action. There was something really cool about that little box, with the 3 original books, and maybe having a couple of the supplemental books and a bunch of dice crammed in there. It was stripped down roleplaying. It was all on you and the GM.

Traveller_books

Dice

dice (1)Got my nephew some dice and a dice bag. Stoked that he is interested n D&D. Got me some new dice too. Yay!
I’m very happy that my nephew is interested in exploring RPGs. I realize he is from the video gaming generation, so his interest may be short-lived, but I think it is good for him to at least learn about the oldschool way of doing things.
I am acquiring the 2nd Edition D&D rules to send him too, as well as new copies for me so I can help him out (as well as play myself).
I must admit that I regret getting rid of all my gaming stuff, but man, over the last 25 years it would have been a drag having all that with me, at least when I’m not using it.  Still, I wish I still had my old dice.