Sunday, April 17, 2011

Improvisation and the One-Page Dungeon

Greg Stafford notes that fully 50% of the work of game mastering lies in making it up, improvising to meet the needs and desires of your players as expressed by their characters.

For the longest time improvisation scared me, and whether it was wandering monster encounters, filling out worlds generated by random Traveller tables, or just the unexpected misstep or random weirdness by a player character, my solution was to prepare, prepare, prepare. I had until recently note card after note card for random encounters for one of my 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms campaigns, certain that by generating encounters ahead of time I need never ‘hand wave.’

Handwaving was our derogatory term for ‘making it up’ and it was often considered a cardinal sin among my fellows whom I gamed with. The idea that somehow what we were doing was not real was the fear that lay behind our objections, for after all making real the unseen was one of the cardinal virtues of RPGs; to deny that seemed both egotistical (to think that we could get away with it without our players noticing) and futile (in the sense that we were somehow betraying some fundamental premise of what we were trying to accomplish).

So you might imagine my surprise when I found myself improvising more and more. Either when I had not prepared sufficiently or, more and more often, when my players went in a direction I had not anticipated. Even more surprising was how satisfying these sorts of sessions could be, how much more alive and spontaneous they seemed, compared to sessions where we relied on tons of rules and lengthy procedures, or when I had to force the players down some pre-determined railroad path.

I have described before how my latest attempt at a sandbox style game went, and how there were simply too many choices for the players to adequately deal with. Yet the part of that game that went well was when I got to improvise with the tools I had on hand, allowing my imagination and subconscious to help unfold the story as we went along, without the players noticing.

Alfred Bates Lord, in his scholarly work Epic Singers and the Oral Tradition, describes how improvisation actually worked for story tellers in the past. Rather than have a perfectly memorized work to recite, what the singer actually possessed were fragments and pieces, along with a general outline or plot. Pieces like phrases such as ‘wily Odysseus’ or ‘the wine-dark sea.’ The singer would takes these bits and use them in the telling of a tale using the plot to determine what needed to be said when.

So the individual elements of Old School are the stat block, the map (dungeon, town, encounter area, relationship map, whatever) and a plot, which determines when these need to be used. The dungeon, or site-based adventure, if you prefer, offers the most elementary of plots: you go there, and encounter something.

Other random tables, such as those produced by Matt Finch and Zak S, can be immensely helpful, as long as they are used in moderation. Use the charts most generally useful to your campaign; bring others to the fore as you need them.

And this brings me to the one-page dungeon. Originated by Dave Bowman, this is the idea of having a dungeon map and key on one page, the idea being that this forces an economy of expression on the game master, allowing a large idea time to expand and bloom during play, rather than during the writing and prep stage. If all you have is the key, a map and some stat blocks, you then get to implement more during play, which is the important part of all this, after all.

I submitted an entry to the current one page dungeon contest, but even if I don’t win, the experience was very rewarding. I plan to use this format as much as possible in the future, and you will see some of the fruit of that work in posts to come on this blog.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your Comments and the Old School

As a way of introducing the OSR to some of my friends, I recommended to them Matt Finch’s excellent “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming”, available here.

Matt Finch has been involved with a great many of the more important old school games. He was an editor for Castles and Crusades, co-wrote OSRIC, the 1st Edition retro-clone, wrote all the Swords & Wizardry editions, which are various versions (some with the supplements, some with not) of Original Dungeons and Dragons.

The “Quick primer” is, just as the name suggests, a short (though expanded from its original length, I believe) essay which talks not about the difference in rules for retro-clones, but the difference in play-style. This is condensed into the four ‘Zen’ moments, or paradigms that explicate old school play.

They are:

Rulings, not rules.

Player skill, not character abilities.

Heroic, not super-heroic.

Forget game balance.

I encourage you to download the “Primer” and read it yourself, I won’t recapitulate more here.

One of my gaming buddies, Afredo, wrote some of the following comments on my Facebook page have reading the “Primer.”

I have to disagree with you on less is more. Less is less. More is more. What you do with it is all that counts.

I have to say, after playing in several high level campaigns, that my experience doesn’t bear this out. After my players reached about level 8, I was easily forgetting elements of stat blocks, strategies, taking advantage of using spells correctly every single fight. If I have so much I can’t properly use it all, would it not be better for me to use a set of rules that has less baggage, so that I could use what I have properly?

I can easily anticipate the objection that while this was fine for me, the GM, it’s not that great for the players. But I have yet to experience a PC with a back story or character so weird that we could not have used a simpler set of rules along with some house ruling to get exactly what they had in 3.0/3.5, and with a lot less guff and power bloat.

In addition, as a GM, I am much more interested in seeing a properly played classic fantasy archetype than I am seeing a build fomented by some weird splat-book. A 3.5 dragon shaman may seem great, without the rules exploits built into the thing, no one would actually want to play one.

Zen moment 2: if your character's abilities are limited by your skill at playing, you are restricted from playing out of character. Less is definitely less.

I would rather encourage a shy or less skilled role player to come out of their shell than I would to give them lots of cool toys. It may be true that you would have a harder time playing someone who is somehow more cool than you, personally, because you don’t have a lot of feats and weird abilities to back you up, but from my perspective, having the players feel cool and competent is less about rules as much as it is about campaign tone. I like having player characters who are cool bad-asses, but I know that is more about how the NPCs treat them than it is about how many feats and prestige class abilities they have stacked.

You've changed the game so that a different type of player has the power focus then said it's okay to be imbalanced but the issue is the same as with PC builds.

I presume you mean that I have moved the focus of player power from those players who can come up with superior builds to players who role play well and are clever. Well, yes I have and I am totally OK about that.

If I understand the second part of your comment, you are saying that that the imbalance in a game world is just as much as a flaw as it is if PCs are imbalanced because their builds are too strong.

That’s not exactly the game balance that Finch is talking about. If I understand the “Primer” correctly, Finch is simply saying that the PCs may encounter forces that are too powerful for them and have to withdraw or run away. That’s a world of difference from the PC having such exploited builds that the 3.0/3.5 challenge system becomes effectively useless. If I have to judge XP handed out and threat levels on the fly, based on my gut instinct, because the character builds have broken the way challenge levels work, then why am I playing the more complicated game?

I do firmly believe that my players can have individual and interesting characters in OD&D just as much as in 3.0/3.5, all it takes is some willingness on my part to meet them half way.

Next: Improvisation and the One Page Dungeon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The OSR, Part II

In many ways, the history of the OSR movement is bound up in the games they have helped create.

When 3.0 debuted, one of the first publishers was Necromancer Games, whose PR tagline was “Third Edition rules, First edition feel.” which is an effective a description as any I can think of. It was at this point that there was a publisher who sought to satisfy those who might have been dissatisfied with the play experience of that which came before.

It was several more years before that dissatisfaction blossomed into Castles & Crusades, which uses a rules-light version of 3rd edition in an attempt to recapture something that was felt to have been lost. Hackmaster is effectively 1st edition with additional rules, but Kenzer & Co’s RPG was more an attempt to recreate the fictional game of Hackmaster then it was to re-capture a particular essence of previous era of game play.

OSRIC was the first true retro-clone, or simulacrum. It set out to be a strategy more than a game, an attempt to use the OGL to create a game that could be used as a way to promote the new publication of 1st edition modules. Labyrinth Lord, which sought to emulate B/X, and Swords & Wizardry, which sought to emulate the original three volume box set of D&D soon followed.

More retro-clones, variations, modules, and supplements have appeared since, each taking a slightly different approach, either in marketing, theme or rules. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example, takes the B/X rules and applies the principles of horror to create a Weird (in the sense of the old Weird Tales magazine) Fantasy RPG.

There is a sense, in this explosion of enthusiasm and material, of a common purpose: a renewal of something that has been lost, a return to a time where play was paramount over rules, and most of all a style of play that was less frenetic, more leisurely, and much less complicated by matters of rules interpretation.

There are certainly different ways of expressing this ‘common’ purpose within the OSR movement; in particular James Malezewski has reminded all of us that old school does not have an exact equivalency with rules-light.

But I do think that there is a concern with ‘play over rules’ that marks this movement, and it is this reversal of priorities where the OSR movement shines brightest. Facilitating a sense of free play and improvisation is a common denominator that the OSR movement has with its sister sub-genre, the ‘indie games’ movement.

Like the OSR, the indie games movement promotes rules light texts. Like the OSR, the IGM is focused on play, rather than endless splat books, vast tomes of background material, and a consistent revenue streams. Most indie games are a single book, with any expansion designed to take the original idea in a totally new direction. The IGM doesn’t have too many modules, but OSR modules, especially with the explosion in the one page dungeon, is more about a text to base improvisation around, rather than a module in the old sense of the word. (Witness Fiasco, however, as an indie RPG with lots and lots of ‘modules.’)

As this is more of general sketch or introduction than a true history or analysis, and I am leaving out quite a bit. Many of the topics here demand expansion. But I do want to give some general context for some of the succeeding posts I will be writing, especially for those who have never been exposed to the OSR before.

Tomorrow: Your comments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The OSR, Part I

There has always been a disconnect between the manufacturers of Dungeons & Dragons and the people who regularly play the game.

The reasons for this disconnect are simple, and have to do with the enormous popularity of the D&D, and the subsequent interest in cashing in on that popularity.

This is not unnatural or in any way unexpected, but rather a natural outgrowth of the culture we live in. When Gygax and co. realized that the war game campaign supplement they had was selling and selling and just wouldn’t stop, the most natural thing in the world was to reorganize Tactical Studies Rules into TSR. One was a hobby, while the other was to become business, and potentially big business.

Since that point in time, it must be understood that nearly every design (and redesign) decision made about D&D was informed by a capitalist, money-making motive.

And again, there is nothing wrong with that, if the purpose is simultaneously to create a better beast. Thus, there is a residual fondness for 1st Edition and Basic/Expert D&D that later editions don’t match, both are which were seen as more genuine attempts to create that better beast than later iterations of the game.

The exact mix of ‘good intent’ and greed can be calculated differently by different people, rendering some editions more pure than others. But the impression that the ‘best’ editions of D&D are OD&D, 1st Edition and B/X-BECMI remains a palpable one.

The truest answer may be that any edition of D&D, and by extension any RPG, is best if you and your group enjoy it. But, as I like to remind people, one person’s version of fun is another person’s piss pot.

In my mind, 1st edition held many of the flaws that plagued later editions; too many rules, not well explained, and the organizational flaws that made the Pentagon a model of efficiency. It was at least as compromised as nearly every other edition, as its main impetus in design seems to have been to re-create the game without Dave Arneson as co-designer.

Yet the dream persists of the one, true edition, which would wipe away the flaws of the newer iterations of the game.

This does not explain the motivation of the actual authors and writers of the Old School Renaissance movement, but it may explain why the OSR has become so successful.

Perhaps the most important point to make about the OSR writers (and I will refer to them in that manner) is that they are a collection of individuals, rather than a monolithic party of hard-liners. There is no one true way among them. If they agree upon anything, it is the belief that those who played the original game had a play style – a manner of playing the game – that was rendered increasingly obsolete by each further iteration of D&D. This is most apparent in the Thief and trap paradigm, where the presence of the thief obliterated the need for a play style that centered on the exploration of dungeons, and had in no small part to do with the discovery of traps. The original paradigm – which had no thieves as a character class – required that traps be circumvented by clever and careful play, which had the players describing what their characters were doing, rather than the later ubiquitous, “I search for traps. (rolls dice) Success! Was there a trap?”

This is not the only difference in play style between the original versions of the game and more current iterations, but it is instructive of divide that took place as further versions of the game not only provided new rules, but also implicitly demanded new ways of playing, in keeping with the designer’s belief about the ‘proper’ way of playing the game, whatever that might have been in the minds of the designers.

As more and more iterations of D&D piled up, the amount of players who stopped playing, dissatisfied with whatever current iteration was being marketed to them, also increased. The OSR writers, bloggers and designers include self-described fossil gamers who haven’t touched a RPG, much less D&D, since 1st Edition, to those who left 3.5 or Pathfinder last week.


Next: More OSR

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A History of My Complaints, and More Lessons

But before I go on to the OSR, let’s take a look at the lessons learned from the last blog:

Lesson #6 – Too many rules is too many rules.

I like rules, and reading rules, as much as the next gamer, maybe more. But playing and reading are two different things. By and large, most toolkit games (like Rolemaster or GURPS) don’t even intend for you to use all the rules. Believe me, I tried, much to the regret of my players. While not a toolkit game, D&D has Lots and Lots of Rulez, and for the most part you are expected to play with them all. This trend starts out with 1st Edition, which had many rules we all ignored (like segments and weapon vs. armor modifiers) and get more pronounced with every succeeding edition. I am reasonably sure that the three core books for 4th edition had no optional rules, while 3/3.5 had a few, and 2nd had a few more.

Maybe some of you young studs can handle all that rule-mongering, but at this point in my life, I want less, not more. That means a game where there are fewer rules, not a game where I ignore most of the rules.

Lesson #7 – The GM should be the final arbiter of the rules.

Every ruleset I know plays lip-service to this idea, but if you have three hardbacks full of rules, it doesn’t make much sense to ignore several pounds of books you just bought. The very presence of the rules means that you are going to be looking up stuff some of the time. Again, only by limiting the rules can I feel free enough to be that final ‘decider’.

Lesson #8 – The less rules options characters have, the better off your campaign will be.

Look at that statement again. Less is more. Really. Still don’t believe me? Character options, once thought to be one of the holy grails of gaming, are now just another sacred cow. It does seem to make sense that the more options you give people, the happier they will be. The problem is that most players don’t know where to stop. There is a whole class of people who will endlessly tinker with their builds, trying to find the fastest way to kill, the best way to deal combat damage, the best way to cast two spells a round, etc. There are whole games dedicated to this sort of principle, like Champions/HERO System, and those sorts of games rapidly become more focused on the builds, and not the character within the context of the campaign.

I don’t know about you, but I want my players to become fascinated with the play of the campaign, not the next level-up or how their guy is cooler than the guy of the player next to them.

I am all for having characters that seem individual, but that has to come in the context of the campaign, not what monstrosity the newest builder book allows me to Frankenstein up.

Lesson #8 – Freedom only works if your players are prepared to use it.

When I tried to run my first modern sandbox game, my players rebelled. Too much freedom meant they didn’t know what to do next. Digestible information is key, here. If I give my players the 50 page bound Player’s Guide to Doyle’s Kool Kampaign, their eyes will glaze over. I now intend to give them a background in a paragraph, and a fair amount of rumors each (3?) at the beginning of the campaign. I also have an idea how to get them to give their characters structure, but that's for a future blog. If you are reading this three years after I wrote it, look for the Milestone blog entry.

Lesson #9 – Stat blocks should be able to be generated on the fly.

Seriously, in any game, but especially in a sandbox game, you need to be able to generate content on the fly, ideally without your players noticing. I once thought Complete Preparation was a key to a well run game, and there is still plenty that you can do to prepare generic resources: names, stat blocks, one page adventures, etc. But planning a scenario in such detail that you could publish the thing is too much to do every week. Stat blocks that are more than a line are too much every week.

Believe me, I am not a proponent of ‘handwaving’. The key here is that effective improvisation isn’t about lack of preparation, it’s about using the content you carry around with you in your head, and well as some minimal stat blocks, maps and notes to their fullest possible potential. If your rulebook has three gazillion options, stat block bloat ensues. Another reason for having very few rules.

Lesson #10 – This is a game. You should be happy and looking forward to playing the next session of your campaign. If that’s not the case, something is wrong, and you should fix it.

I don’t know about you, but I am people-pleaser. I get off on creating an emotional and visceral reaction in my players, whether that is laughter, horror, sadness, or passion. That’s my definition of fun. And if they weren’t having fun, I told myself that I was doing something wrong. There’s still a lot of truth in that, but the reality is that some people will never be pleased. Everyone (including you) can have an off night, but if someone, including you, is not having fun, sometimes the answer isn’t the game, or how you run it, but the fact that they will never have fun in your campaign. There doesn’t have to be blame about this, and it doesn’t even have to be their fault. That’s just the way it is, and if you are the GM, then they need to find a game where they can have fun.

In many ways, that’s always been the hardest lesson for me to learn, and the one I have to re-learn every few years.

Now here’s the biggie. Drum roll, please.

Lesson #11 – The success of a campaign has very little to do with the quality of play of the campaign. A successful campaign is one where you show up every week, and there are players there, waiting to play.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, until you remember that players only show up if they are having a good time. Most of my longer running campaigns lasted until I ended them – not because people said they were bored. As the clichĂ© goes, half of life is showing up.

Next: The OSR. Really.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A History of My Campaigns, Part II

Within a couple of years of D&D 3.0 coming out, I decided that I really wanted to run it. So I gathered some friends, and told them the campaign would end at level 20. Then I took them through a 2nd edition mega-adventure (Night Below), with some add-ons. I figured that having a structured system like 3.0 would allow me to better provide challenges for PCs, and I would be able to use the challenge level system to provide an even playing field for the characters. I allowed any OGL resource to be used, pending my approval. I also specified that I would be using the Rules As Written (RAW).

By the time the campaign was over, certain players, who could readily absorb and manipulate the system, had characters for whom I could not provide a sufficient challenge (again). Other players, who didn’t care or didn’t bother to tinker with their builds, were waaaay behind on the power curve. So the inherent flexibility that the system provided proved to be more troublesome than the benefits of customized characters. In addition, the amount of time I spent on builds was growing exponentially with the power of the opposition. Since I played RAW, I didn’t cheat, guess or fudge, I used what I prepped, and if the players walked all over the opposition, so be it. I used the EL and Challenge level system religiously. By the same token, if they were outmatched, then someone died. This ‘all or nothing’ result also grew as the characters progressed, because using these detailed, high level stat blocks in play required that I have the system down, and be proficient using the rules in a way I was frankly unprepared for. There were many times that I made mistakes, or was simply unaware how much the correct use of spells and abilities contributed to being an effective threat.

I was aware of this principle since 2nd Edition days – I still vividly remember being told in a tournament playtest that the characters had been scaled back in level, and provided with very simple (yet powerful) magic items, because time and again players lost when playing high-level characters, yet were able to win with lower level characters against the same high level foes.

You can see this principle in action on the RPG message boards. Go to RPG.net and listen to the high essence Exalted tactics, or to Enworld or the Paizo boards for discussions of high level characters. If you eyes don’t glaze over, it means you are probably young and sharp, or you are an engineer or some other science based professional. Which didn’t help me, the perpetual English major, at all.

The campaign ended, and I felt like I had succeeded in some of the goals I set for myself, and failed in others. I still hadn’t been able to properly provide consistent regular challenges to players. There was still too much discrepancy in power between the adept student of the rules and the casual player. In sticking to a scripted high level mega-campaign, I had not pleased some of the players, who grew tired of the endless combat slog of Night Below. New problems had also appeared. I spent way too much time on stat blocks. I was not proficient enough in the rules set to make it do what I wanted it to do.

Let me explain that last bit some more. During the late eighties and nineties I helped run Call of Cthulhu tournaments both locally and at GenCon. With the exception of a few disasters, I was fairly good at running Call of Cthulhu. To use some fairly sexist imagery, I could slap around the BRP system, make it my bitch, and get it to do what I wanted it to. The system, at its basic level, allowed me to accomplish what I needed to happen with very little work, and I knew when I could ignore the rules and when I had to stick to them (without the players noticing, usually).

Since everyone and their brother liked d20, the majority of my players wanted to continue play D&D. I had hopes that 3.5 would alleviate some of the problems I was experiencing, and I was eager to try my hand at a sandbox campaign. I had owned in the past the original Wilderlands campaign produced by Judges Guild and had recently purchased the revision from Necromancer Games. So I started another D&D campaign.

My players hated it.

There was too much freedom for them. They weren’t used to finding the adventure, and it was taking too long to gain levels, because they spent a lot game time travelling and exploring, especially compared to my previous campaign. Unspoken, but fairly clear to me, was that they were getting used to that level bump in power, like a MMORPG, and slower advancement was keeping them from getting their fix.

So after several sessions, I put that aside, but my players liked my GMing enough to want me run more D&D, so I did my best to accommodate them. There was a large, 20-level adventure path put out by Paizo in their pre-Pathfinder days, called Age of Worms. It name-checked enough old school Greyhawk stuff to make me want to play it. So I charged ahead into a 3.5 game, and mandated certain requirements: No 3rd party material, only WotC builder books. At that time, there were maybe three or four of those (the Complete series) and I could keep up with the rest of it, right?

Before long, I found myself in exactly the same situation as before, builder books and expansions proliferated, until they were too heavy for me to carry in a single large bag. Characters with an absurd amount of options, prestige classes and templates emerged, some of which were so powerful they ended combat before the fighters could land a blow. Rule interpretations provoked arguments, and since we were playing RAW, some (few, really) players thought they could argue and bluster their way out of nearly any situation, if only they could determine a precedent in their favor.

Stat block complexity multiplied, and hours could be spent on a minor NPC, trying to tweak them to be able to present a proper challenge or even just get a handle on what the stats could be used for during play.

I was miserable.

It wasn’t all bad, and I had a lot of good times with/because of the people I played with, but I dreaded all the rules related stuff I had to deal with. I made one, maybe more, rules related mistakes every time I played and I hated that. I’m in the climactic battle of the second to last scenario, and I am mostly relieved that it’s nearly over.

I tried Pathfinder, and have played in lots of other d20-based games. Pathfinder certainly cleans certain things up, I’ll give you that, but my complaints are too systemic (ahem). I thought D&D and I were basically through.

Then I found the OSR.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A History of My Campaigns, Part I

So, I think that in order for you to understand where I am coming from, you need to know a little about my gaming background. That means you need to know about a history of betrayal, regret, abortive beginnings and catastrophic endings. You need to know about my campaigns.

So like most gamers I started as a player. That lasted several years and included some abortive attempts to run a game, usually with laughable results. One notable exception was Traveller, which was successful mainly because of some Talking In Funny Voices, an essential skill for any GM.

Lesson #1 – Talking In Funny Voices is a good skill to have.

As the old group I played with broke up, my remaining fellow players and I had to share the burden of GMing, as the ‘good’ GMs of group were older, and had moved away or left for college. Thus my friends and I were forced to take up more of the burden. This resulted in more and more character creation sessions, and more aborted campaigns. None of us knew what it really took to run a consistent campaign.

It wasn’t until the last two years of high school that I was able to run a ‘successful’ campaign, using the Runequest II rules and set in Glorantha. I have successful in brackets because even though the campaign went on for more than a year, there were plenty of fits and starts in the game. I let one rather pushy player play a giant (you could play monsters in RQ) and the other players complained, eventually fracturing my player base. I stopped the game because eventually no one wanted to play besides the player with the giant and his cronies.

Lesson #2 – Some players always want more power than is good for the campaign.

More time passes, along with some moves of my own, and some more aborted campaigns. There were some successful notes here and there, like the Call of Cthulhu campaign that I played with players who were all much older than me. It worked, and I found that I could do creepy really well. That campaign ended because I moved for a year to another city. By the time 2nd Edition had come out, I had experience under my belt running Call of Cthulhu and other games at Tournaments, and I had more success running year-long games with AD&D2 and Pendragon. In part, my campaigns seemed to work better when I had more discretion about who to play with. As a teenager, you had to take whoever came along, especially if they were ensconced in whatever group or clique you felt the need to belong to. Now I had a car, and I could exercise a lot more control over whom I played with.

Lesson #3 – Play with people you like, and who like you.

In particular, that Pendragon game worked well because I found myself playing to the strengths of my players rather than trying to lead them to areas I found more interesting. I ended that game because I wanted to restart the campaign arc from the beginning.

Lesson #4 – Play to the level of the people you are playing with.

So all throughout the nineties I played many other games, tried to start many other campaigns, some with limited success, some with no success. I had long term campaigns (more than a year) with WFRP 2nd Edition, Runequest III, Traveller: The New Era, Mage The Ascension, Nephilim, and Rolemaster. But generally speaking, none of these games came to a satisfactory conclusion – I was never really able to end a game well. It wasn’t until 2000, after 3.0 of D&D came out, that I realized my error. In many of those games in the previous ten years, I felt the campaigns were untenable because the players were too powerful under the system I was using at the time. That is, there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to adequately challenge the players after a certain point. They were always, by the time I felt the need to end the games, maxed in terms of what the system allowed the players to become. With no challenge, I felt like running scenarios were pointless, if the players were able to walk over any opposition I could throw at them.


Lesson #5 – In a long term campaign, slow advancement is the best advancement.

Next - More lessons!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

So what is this all about again...?

I'm glad you asked.

So, here's the thing: I started playing role playing games in 1980, more or less.

It was Junior High School, and I had already learned three important lessons:

1 – Kids hate fat kids.

2 – Kids hate faggots.

3 – I was both.

I was desperate, genuinely desperate to get some manner of human contact. I didn’t leave my room, unless I could help it, where I read some basic fantasy and SF – Tom Swift, Jr. Ursula K Le Guin, some Moorcock and Howard. Add to that comics (when I could get them) and a whole bunch of scholastic and library books of all types. But reading is as solitary as masturbation, and while I did both a lot, I was still desperate for more, even if I couldn’t bring myself to admit it. My room seemed much, much safer than the rest of the world.

Then I went over to the house of some friends of my parents, and this guy, who was like three years (OMG, three years!) older than me was there, and lying on the floor drawing something.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a castle for my thief!”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, it’s part of my Dungeons and Dragons game. Wanna come and play?”

I think you know the rest.

All of a sudden, I had friends. Wellll, maybe not Stand by Me kind of friends, but people who called me and asked me to come and play, people who didn’t constantly torment and ridicule me. People who kinda valued me. I was part of a group. I wasn’t a complete loser. Well, OK, maybe that part was bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

So here I am. It’s thirty-one years later. And, once again, I am about to play D&D with a group of friends. But not just any ol’ RPG. No, I am about to start on the granddaddy of them all, Original Dungeons and Dragons. With my wife (I’m bi, before you get all confused. That counted as ‘Faggot’ in 1980.), her friends, and some new friends. So this is my blog to document my return to Dungeons and Dragons, and the Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement (more on that next time).

There is going to be a real mix on this blog between my ‘real’ life (whatever that is) and the gaming stuff. If that makes you uncomfortable, no problema, amigo, go your own way. There are plenty of OSR blogs out there that are chock full of gaming content. But I am not your average gamer, your average husband, your average GM. I think about lots of stuff besides gaming, even when I am gaming. So a lot of that will wind up here. If you do stay to check me out, you’ll get to see a lot about me and my friends, maybe more than you wanted. But, I do hope that I will never be boring, and that you’ll want to continue reading. See you tomorrow.