Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random musings rantings and ramblings about what it takes to be a decent GM

Ok after reading a few old posts on the local forum and thinking of some conversations I've had lately about DMing in general ... thought I'd share some of my long winded opinions on this (based entirely on good ideas I've stolen from smarter people). This is in large part a re-post of something I posted to the local gaming group forums and was in a thread asking for GM advice.

DM Style

I know that the hallmark of indie games and many old school games is low GM prep ... however I have to say that the super obvious first and most crucial element of being a good GM is communication and a very close second is preparation. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare ... so crucial in an RPG ... you are the conduit as a GM by which the game occurs and flows. One can have the finest players in the land ... yet if the GM is constantly unprepared ... they will only achieve a small fraction of the fun and adventure they might otherwise achieve. That is if they don't just quit out of boredom. That said ... each GM is totally different and requires variable amounts of prep. I really am surprised at how little prep most GMs I know actually do. I'd say at least 50% haven't even really mastered the rules of the games they are GMing to a level that is beyond all of their players. Many freely admit they usually just "wing" it ... and as smug as they are about that ... in most cases it shows (and not in a good way). 

To me there are two major archetypes of GMs (yet every GM is unique and I admit this is just a simplification for discussion purposes).  The "Improviser" and the "Planner."

I've played with the "Improviser" Sage-Storyteller who has the uncanny ability to roll with things and does a good job of eliciting input from their players, these folks show up with a couple index cards and its "go time!" Fine if you are that kind of DM and have such skills cool ... but I've seen people that are amazing at this ...  and the old pros can hold it together no matter what ... but when your cutting your teeth on this style of GMing all you need is to have one bad session and the game can collapse (which I've personally witnessed as a player recently ... and many other times over the years). So even those people need to do a little thinking and planning and some "what if" scenarios in their head. I think the best  custom world campaign I've played in with a GM like this was one where the GM had a fairly concrete world fleshed out and used that to balance the party actions. By this I mean they had maybe 3 to 5 pages of notes on their world, 3 or 4 pretty good maps with their own notes on specific areas. These reference materials grew as the campaign went on.

Then there is probably the hardest GM/DM style to pull off and that is the drunken monk fighting style ... no no .. kidding ... it is the "Planner." I have to say as far back middle school I recall playing in a friends older brothers game and this guy was an insane planner. Of course he was an unemployed high school kid with no life at the time ... so what else did he have to do. He had contingency upon contingency he had meticulous notes about everything. He literally must have had a couple hundred pages about his homemade world, he had dozens of maps, he would diabolically prepare for our game each week and have all sorts of scenarios worked out of what he thought the party would do. He was damn good at DMing  for being so young and his games were some of the most fun I've ever had with any RPG to date (and I've been blessed to have some rockingly good GM/DMs over the intervening 20 years). But ... realistically who can do this. If you really are a super dedicated GM/DM you can be the "Planner" ... but I've seen people who start out this way and have their game going good, yet they can't improvise to save their life and once the party does something unanticipated they either fall into "railroad" mode or they simply fold under pressure and their game jumps the shark hard.

I think the bottom line on style is that most good GMs are prepared and can do heavy improvisation if the party goes right when they anticipated left. I think most solid GMs are good at blending other material into their own ... or they are confident enough to run a module ... not needing to act all  tough and bad assed about their "own" setting and not only that run the thing well and actually improve it.

I recall a game that was balanced, fun, really suspenseful and the GM showed up one night and wasn't fully prepared for what the party did and his game jumped the shark. One of the key members in our group got so mad he stood up, angrily tossed his books in his bags and said "I'm done, this game is over for me" and just left. This guy was one of the most mellow, low key, funny guys you'd ever meet. We all felt that way, the entire party. I don't know what the answer is for sure, I'm sure many of you have more experience running games than I and more insight into such things but I think the answer is ... be flexible, learn to be an improviser but perhaps try to be as prepared as you can. Oh sure we all have a busy week at work, or real life stuff happen, RPGs are not more important than life after all, so you can't have a perfect session every time. Just be self critical in a good way, learn from your mistakes, TAKE NOTES and listen to your party. I've really become a fan of party feedback, even doing a questionnaire once in awhile and that might sound lame but try it I've been surprised at how much more candid people are when the have a bit more time to think and don't have to say things in front of other people. Questionnaires aside I  also think if you as a DM foster an environment where players don't feel bad about just being honest about your game, in front of you and the whole party, you'll get some great feedback as well. Again how you get your feedback is as stylistic  as how one GMs but you get my point. You just have to be open to it, don't take the criticism personally, learn from it, incorporate it, but also be strong enough to respectfully listen and really evaluate that. If players simply tell you how to run your game every week it can go to far ... I feel a GM needs the respect of their players and when players are constantly correcting the GM and doing the old Backseat GMing ... it  is not a good sign. Either that player has issues or your game is heading for the rocks.  So of course as with all things there needs to be a balance, but good player feedback, no matter how you get it, is invaluable so long as you the DM/GM take it to heart.

Timing is everything!

I mean the first is hard to do if you don't have practice running your game and in a home game its doubtful your going to have a main group and a test group. So what I think this means for a home game is ... get your pacing down. Think about how you want your session to run, do you want people dicking around in town for 3 hours in a 4 hour session? Do you want your random encounter combats to run for 3 hours in a 4 hour game? Learn your parties playing style quickly and use it as a tool to help you keep the game moving at the pace you the GM determine is necessary to get the things done you want to. This isn't being a "railroader" GM this is being a good time manager and that is one of your key responsibilities as a GM.

Teen Wolf Syndrome

Ok the next part about balance ... player to player balance that is. I personally feel that you don't need players to be balanced against one an other (unless you anticipate hardcore party vs. party combat/conflict ... then you damn well better pay attention to balance) in terms of ability/damage/etc. yet balancing out who the spotlight is on is always a good idea. So if one guy is level 4 and another level 2 ... it doesn't have to be the end of the world. That said ... having someone who is doing four times the amount of damage of the  entire party, with an armor class that is unhitable by anything save a lesser god ... traveling with four sages who have no combat abilities at all. Unless that is somehow the complete mechanic of your game, your players all are ok with it and enjoy it and you've very clearly discussed it with them in advance ... you need to rectify that situation. In my experience as a player the easiest way for a strong imbalance to occur is for the GM to allow someone to either create a character that is outside the rules of the game "Ok Mike go ahead and roll up a frost giant PC ... I think it should be ok" or you have a strong "Monty Hall" game going where people are getting too much powerful loot to early on. You can get a character or two geared up well beyond their level. 
If one person is head and shoulders above the rest as I've said before I'm fond of the term "Teen Wolf character." Its like the old campy 80s flick about the kid who is a werewolf who goes out for the basketball team and becomes basically a Michael Jordan in his NBA prime on a high school basketball team. He runs around scoring 120 points by himself, while the rest of the team stands around and barely breaks a sweat. Eventually they get irritated and don't really care if they are winning, it just isn't fun and they begin to kinda not like playing. That is what happens with RPGs ... if one guy is busting everything's ass and everyone else is just a spectator, oh ya sure maybe you speak goblin so once every 5 adventures you contribute, or maybe you make a perception check and help out ... but you do nothing in combat ... you stand there and watch Mighty Mage reduce everything to ash before you can even blink. The players are going to get bored and the game will likely fizzle out before its time.

This same thing can happen if a GM puts an NPC in the party and decides that they want to be a GM-PC ... don't ever forget that the spotlight should always be on the PCs ... period. If you want to have uber-mc-badass NPC-PC show the party up week after week ... at best your essentially railroading the party and at the worst your really stealing the fun from the players. 

Don't fall in love with outrageous results! Or, in other words, "Aren't critical fumbles high-lair-ee-ous?!!"

I whole heartedly agree with this notion that you can have way too much zany, random, insanity  all in the name of "realism" or added fun. I think this is one of the most easy GM pitfalls. I've played in games where random encounters were off the charts and overwhelmed a good game. I've played in games where the critical hits were so brutal player mortality was 2 players a session no matter what. I've played in games where the descriptions of fumbles and criticals were so off the wall they really undermined the flow of the game and ultimately were a distraction There are entire systems out there that make hay out of this (Hackmaster for one) ... and if one desires it ... perhaps actually run a system that's been designed around it.

I love a balanced way to handle critical failures and critical effects but adding some spice is never a bad thing as long as its done in a balanced way. I think many systems sort of are too vanilla and blah and can use a little spice in this area ... but  I'm just saying you can also make your game "jump the shark" by going to far.

Many people don't realize or understand that a party split can really derail the fun and get players disengaged. Once that happens it can lead to sideline BSing, and then the whole mood of the evening can be ruined. It really takes a very focused GM who pays close attention to whats going on and has the ability to cut back and forth between the split up groups. I've played with DMs in the past that can do this masterfully, but this is not a natural skill for anyone, it just takes experience.

No one likes the RPG Railroad!:

"Storytelling is a vital part of being a good GM. But when the story telling takes over, you don't have a game anymore. You have an audience listening to your creative work of fiction." This my friends is what is commonly referred to as "railroading" ... there is a GM/DM at  Strategicon who is famous for it  ... I won't name names (he runs GURPS alot is all I'll say). A nice guy, knows the rules, I'll go so far as to say he is very prepared for his games usually. I played a miniatures game with him years and years ago called Gutshot! and it was awesome. He was hilarious and good times were had. Then a year or two later I played in one of his GURPS games with a few friends who were attending the con with me ... I'm not going to go into detail, but it was one of the most horrible games I've ever played in. He simply railroaded us, our rolls meant nothing most of the time, our actions meant nothing, he just railroaded us through his storyline ... and it sucked and we felt violated. If your making decisions FOR the party ... your engaging in railroading. I think every GM has to do it on occasion to speed things up or get things back on "track" ... but its a slippery slope and before you know it your the conductor on the RPG Railroad.


One of my best friends fits into the categories very often. He is the quintessential rules lawyer, he is a hardcore power gamer, he abuses his "character back story" as an excuse to do pretty much whatever he wants. He is an awesome guy, I really view him as a brother, I could BS with the guy for hours on end. Some games are pretty fun with him ... but get the guy in a game of D&D and forget about it ... you will not have fun ... you will end up wanting to burn your books and commit a murder suicide on the guy. What can a DM do though if the "tool" is one of your best friends? At the end of the day folks ... either boot the tool ... or call the game and start over without the Mr. or Mrs. Tool. If you try to keep going your going to burn out yourself and your players and possibly ruin your gaming group.

Mr. Miyagi, Yoda, and Einstein could have teamed up and probably not come up with such a profound passage:

"GMs are often overly obsessed with control at a convention game. Remember, even if a player starts busting your world, as long as it doesn't derail the adventure or upstage the other characters, roll with it! If the players are enjoying it, roll with it! You don't have to borrow trouble and worry about how some precedent is going to ruin your campaign several sessions down the line because after this adventure, you're done. If they leave the game world a smoking husk afterward, that's fine. Because there is no tomorrow!! Free yourself to embrace the fun while still challenging your players."  This quote comes from. Its a good piece that encapsulates some of the aspects of prepping for a one shot/con game ... holds merit for a full campaign as far as I'm concerned.  
The power of YES!
I'm going to be bold here and say that large quote above applies to home campaign games people. I think that as the GM/DM if you can figure out how to do what that passage says, in your campaign ... and not let things get broken ... you have found the pathway to enlightened RPGing. You see it is all about fun, its about a group effort to have a hilarious, suspenseful, rip roaring good time. It is not about sitting down to test who is the best at rules minutia, who rolls the most criticals, or whose character does the most damage. It is not about the GM/DM being right all the time. Yes yes ... we know your god GM ... be an evil vengful god that doesn't occasionally toss your followers a bone and they are likely to go elsewhere. To me honestly I think this is why many people prefer some of the indie systems and old school systems to some of the newer games and more rules heavy systems out there ... its easier to say yes to players and easier to engage them by allowing them to add their own creativity to the game. 

I think in an ideal situation the party-DM dynamic is pretty good in terms of players doing cool things and coming up with fun, sometimes zany (but in a good way) ideas and just being allowed to go with it. Hopefully the party will actually help the DM police things in terms of balance, etc. and actively police themselves . I think if that is occurring in a game its one of the best signs that the players are taking ownership of the game.  To me that is one of the best signs that they are enjoying the game and really a high compliment to the GMs skills. I think a very strong DM could do the same thing alone ven in a party with a couple boarderline powergamers as long as they pay close attention to whats going on and keep good notes and have the ability to bend powerful things back at the party if need be.
I think this is related to giving players freedom to do cool things ... though it might not seem like it. It is the interruption of the mood of the game by allowing the players to see behind the curtain too much and by giving them too much input.  For many systems there really should be a GM/Party DMZ where the roles are clear. Colorful player input is awesome and should be encouraged but players re-writing the game on the fly should be discouraged (again some DM-less systems out there thrive on this ... I'm talking standard systems).  Another thing that bother me in most situations: GMs who are too obvious about making things up on the fly "Oh its erm ... I guess I'll call it ... Smithville" ... why would you do that as a GM. Yet I have experienced that to varying degrees in nearly every game I've played in, and yes I've done that in games I've run as well.  Sometimes its unavoidable but I would say that even if your going to make something up on the fly try to conceal the fact that you didn't have it planned if you can. I feel that even little things like this add up and you end up losing players attention to the game as a result. Lets face it we are trying to immerse ourselves in an alternate reality to one extent or another ... and lack of detail gets in the way of that. Now this doesn't mean you have to have full on campaign maps with every minor hamlet named with a detailed history ... good god of course not. I'm talking more about how the GM presents that places name to the party, how they introduce NPCs, etc. I feel if you can find ways to make it feel authentic, like you had it planned all along or like its right out of the module, you'll keep your players more into the "mood" so to speak. This applies to all aspects of the game really, the more smoothly you can deliver good amount of detail, without boring your players, the more they'll get into the game.

Things I forgot in the first draft of this crazy DM manifesto of mine (I'm sure I'll add more later):

Wrong guy running the game:

Ok I've played in several games where the wrong person was actually running the game. You get situations where a new person wants to try their hand at GMing and that is cool, always happy to add people willing and capable of GMing to the ranks. A developmental game where everyone knows that so an so is going to run their maiden game, and that is basically the intent of it ... a developmental game for a new GM. But often as is the case ... you meet other gamers randomly and just fall into a game with near strangers. Many times in these cases what occurs is you have some seasoned players, maybe even experienced GMs ... as players in a new GMs game. Now this doesn't instantly mean disaster, heck I'd wager that is how a pretty fair percentage of GMs break into running games. If things are done properly having an experienced group of PCs with a new or somewhat new GM can really be a good thing for everyone. It can focus the players who want to help the new GM ... you get a sort of big brother mentality (in a good way) going and players do a good job of policing themselves, helping the GM in tactful, polite and appropriate ways. It can lay the foundation for a solid RPG group really. Unfortunately though another outcome is the veteran players can simply ride roughshod over the rookie GM and burn the game down. GMing isn't rocket science, nor is it bomb diffusion ... but it has so many variables and nuances to it ... until you've done it (and done it well) you just don't appreciate the intangible difficulty. Along those lines, GMing for an awesome helpful friendly group of friends who enjoy laid back fun ... is vastly different from GMing a game full of power gaming, inconsiderate tools ... obviously the difficulty of actually succeeding with the later group verges on the impossible. Anyway my point is if you end up in a game group where one person is an old pro, good at GMing and they like doing it ... and another person is a new GM and they are really nervous and only running a game because they thought that was the only way they'd get to RPG ... what the heck ... don't be too proud to talk it out and switch places.

No matter what the case though know your limits as a GM and if you happen to be something of a novice GM ... don't be afraid to pull aside the experienced players one on one and chat with them. Pick their brains about what they think a good game is, enlist them as an ally ... this will help you in the long run. Also don't let your players push you around. As the GM you are indeed the supreme, unchallengeable god in your game ... to me the golden rule of all  standard style RPGs whether or not its printed ... is the GM is infallible if the choose to be. The rules are just a suggestion that can be bent and broken at will ... and you the GM are the ultimate authority on what is legal and what isn't ... when something can be done and when it can't. When I run a game I make that clear at the beginning, yet I also make it clear that I'm not going to be inflexible and I will listen to any and all of my players concerns ... but I ask that once I've heard said concerns and rendered an opinion ... that is that ... GMs word is the highest law of the land. 

GM Prerogative: Now witness the power of a fully armed and operational battle station!

I ask my players to feel free to be honest to point out misinterpretations of the rules, etc. but I also ask them not to get upset when I tell them ... yes I understand what the rule is in the book ... but in this case ... in my game ... it doesn't apply. That said you have to be exceedingly careful when doing this as it can cost you huge credibility with your players, it can lead to railroading and imbalance and all sorts of nasty unintended consequences. I like to think of it as a measure of last resort. I'm not talking here about modifying rules in general. That is another matter for another, deep discussion .. for another day.  I'm talking about a situation in real time in the game where you have changed a monster ability, altered how an ability works for a specific NPC, etc. and a player calls you on it ... and you say "I know its different than what the rules say ... and I intended that." When you make a move along those lines, you have to anticipate that someone might catch you ... and if so ... be prepared to deal with it. This to me is alot more about knowing your group and knowing how they react to things. In some groups A) they just wouldn't notice and/or B) if they did they wouldn't care ... yet other groups something like that might cause an explosive melt down. Anyway my long winded point here is be careful and just because you can do things ... that doesn't always mean you should.

And another thing ....

In an RPG your usually going to be playing for more than one session. That being the case you are essentially asking the players to form a cooperative endeavor with you that is not unlike a business arrangement  or a contract if you will. You are making certain commitments to the players and your hoping they will do the same for you. I have really been surprised over the years at the number of games I've played in that were off the cuff and there were no initial character creation/orientation sessions where the players and GM discussed their expectations, wants and goals for the game. Would you start a business with someone like that? Would you organize a serious club or group of any kind without at least a little discussion? Most people wouldn't. Yet at least in my experience its pretty common to just fire up a game, roll up chrs and ... go. That isn't good in my opinion.

I think every game other than a one shot (and heck even there I don't think a 5 minute discussion to this effect would hurt) should include an around the table discussion. Where each player is given the floor to tell the group what they want out of the game and where the GM can go over the ground rules, cite his expectations of the players, talk about what he/she wants as a GM (yes you can want things too ... its OK ... though the players are the stars of the show you are the director/producer/theater manager/etc.). As far as actually character creation and revealing character back stories, etc. as a group before the game starts is really an individual group/system/GM thing and that doesn't matter as much in my mind. But a group buy-in session where everyone gets to listen to each other and reinforce that your all in it together ...and what things you all want out of the game are made plain ... is essential. The one thing I never try to forget as a player and GM is whatever the RPG endeavor it will sink or sail on the basis of your collective cohesion ... something so obvious but exceedingly difficult for many to always keep in mind ... those who do have a better chance of success. Fight the good fight and keep your head up ... good gaming is out there and if you hang in there you'll find it!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jawas Gone Wild!!

Well this weekend has brought about a very unexpected turn of events ... our 3.5 group lost a couple members due to changing work schedules (Saturday no longer an option for them) ... and rather than not game on that day we decided to bring in a few new players and fire up a Saga Edition Star Wars game! I haven't played in a Star Wars game since the 3.0 version. So we rolled up characters and I was surprised you could play as a JAWA!! Well at that point I was all in!

Thus far the party includes a hero droid (revived by the exiled Jawas in the party) and a yet to be determined character. I'm looking forward to the game for however long it lasts ... I'm sure it will be hilarious. A little departure from D&D will be nice too ... as I've had two ongoing D&D games running since last fall ... so a little break from that will be nice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mazes and Minotaurs

This might be way old news for many of you out there ... BUT ... I feel it is timely to mention this game with CLASH OF THE TITANS just around the corner.  Also when I myself checked the page I was very surprised to see that good ole M&M is still being  very well supported by its creator who is still putting out new material for it. A few years back I had a chance to play this game with a master old school DM. It was one of the best RPGs campaigns I've ever played in.

The premise for the game is very simple, its a what if ... what if the inspiration for original D&D wasn't Conan and Sword and Sorcery fantasy ... but rather classic Greek mythology.  The game is extremely close in play style and rules mechanics to classic 1st/2nd edition D&D with some really awesome twists and additions (like smooth small squad based combat rules, streamlined naval combat, etc.).  The best thing about the game is it is ENTIRELY FREE.

The creator of the game to sum him up quickly ... an avant-guarde French punk rocker type with a knack for game design (from what I've heard of him ... never met him nor did I find extensive biographical info on him ... this is just what I've heard from fellow gamers). At any rate he was inspired by this article to write a game as though D&D had in fact been based on Greek mythology. What he came up with is in my opinion a very pure, old school game that is sleek and elegant ... but most importantly captures a level of authenticity in terms of being faithful to the old school style game and to the genre of Greek mythology (without being dry and boring). You get a very classic Hollywood style Greek Mythology  feeling game. That said however the game can be slavishly faithful to history if the DM and party would like its just a matter of what the DM wants to have in their story ... or it can be cinematic, heroic and over the top.

Again with Clash of the Titans just around the corner it seems like this title might be worth checking out for anyone out there who hasn't seen it ... if nothing else people ... download the stuff ... its free from the game designer himself (who has vowed never to make a penny from it) with his express consent and encouragement to do so ... he made it for us to enjoy. Here is a more detailed review.

Dreaming the Impossible Dream ...

Decisions decisons decisons ... a choice of three ... hrmmm ... 4 ... 5?

Ok ... I think what I'm going to talk about here might be A) offensive and B) impossible ... but here goes. Is this a quest for a holy grail that doesn't exist? A system that nicely blends the old classic fantasy hack and slash RPG with the new?

I have everything I could ever want in terms of RPG source materials, old settings, etc. I have a veritable bookshelf filled with 1st, 2nd (a massive amount of 2nd ed actually), White Wolf, Rifts, Heavy Gear and on and on. What I'm really hoping to add to my gaming library is a classic style fantasy RPG system that can provide some continuity to 2nd edition D&D. First I won't run 2nd edition D&D ... I believe I am like 3 or 4 books short of a complete collection of 2nd ed D&D.

Its obscene how much stuff I still own. I really have a huge nostalgic feeling for 2nd ed ... but I know the rules are very broken and my player base would not enjoy Thaco, negative AC, etc. I know that is ultra anathema to say to most old school fans ... but those things are just annoying. They get in the way of the game ... if you've played those systems for 20 years its second nature. If you've played 3.x and 4E only and then get tossed into the Thaco, negative AC style games ... its shocking and mildly frustrating ... is the math that hard .. of course not its elementary school level stuff ... yet it just turns some players off and that is the last thing I want.

The worst aspect of old style fantasy RPGs in terms of my current players reactions would also be extremely weak starting characters. When the party has to fear common beasts of the forest ... that is going to be an issue for my current players. 4 hitpoint mages who cast a single spell and stand at the back missing with their sling or darts.  On this point I don't need to hear about strategy for dealing with that ... it can be done I'm not disputing that ... but I know with certainty that it is going to piss off my players and make them really not want to play ... they are used to somewhat robust starting characters without having to cheat and start at lvl 5 or something. I know this and don't care what people have to say about that aspect of my dilemma ... I simply would like a system where starting characters aren't as weak as a house cat or your average 80 year old homeless guy.  The more I look at the classic games I'm slowly resigning myself to the reality that in the near term I'll probably only ever be playing 4E or Savage Worlds modified to run old school style fantasy games. My true preference is a FATE based system ... but that is another matter ... and FATE doesn't do what I'm wanting to do with a classic feeling fantasy game. I'd also never be able to do it with 3.X or 4E (and I like 4E for tabletop videogame style hack and slash but it doesn't have the old school feel and I don't want to get into version wars debate here) clearly as those games have a very different pace and feel to them. I keep hoping to find a modified classic fantasy RPG that feels authentic but is cleaner and more modern in design in terms of being familiar to players who have primarily experienced D20 style RPGs.  In addition to a hybrid between the classic and the new I'd love to be able to utilize some classic D&D content ... perhaps even an entire 2nd edition setting (Birthright ... and before anyone knocks it ... I like it and have immense nostalgia for it) without insane custom conversion issues. 

Right now I've looked briefly at a few systems, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry and Osric (though I guess technically its not a "rule set") ... and all three of those systems are simply cleaned up 1st/2nd ed D&D. I've also strongly considered Tunnels and Trolls ... but I have issue with the balance of the game and really don't care for how magic works in the game ... its actually too simple and streamlined. I'm a huge fan of that system for beer and pretzel style one shots ... but wouldn't use it for a long campaign.   Dragon Age, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry ... are all systems I'd consider if someone could show me the light with any of them. Also the boxed set is so appealing to me ... they just conjure up such strong memory of my first exposure to D&D ... its really hard for me not to just rush out and buy them all just for the sake of owning them. As for Dragon Age specifically I was supposed to get a demo in at the last con I attended but we ran late on the first day and didn't make it in time. So I've heard very little about the system other than just the very basics. Spellcraft and Swordplay is another system I've heard a little about here and there. Any other systems out there that I'm missing?

So is this just a lost cause or what?

D&D Plus Porn = Bad? In what universe! Not mine!!!

Ok I'm way late to this topic and I'm not doing it because I think I'm anyone in the geek-blog-o-sphere cares about my opinion. I do this blog to vent, and enjoy catharsis about games and basically to place-hold thoughts, put down ideas for friends to view at their leisure, etc. if anyone else out there cares enough to read any of my crazy gonzo ... awesome.

 Anyway apparently there is a blog called Playing D&D With Pornstars and apparently the proprietor of said Blog has done a cool video blog/webisode of a D&D game at the escapist. That in and of itself would be cool ... anything that promotes tabletop gaming is great in my book. Apparently though (as the name of the blog denotes) this guy happens to have some really cool friends from the porn industry (what a lucky bastard I say) who are playing in his game ... INCLUDING SASHA GREY and other notable porn actresses. Apparently this has caused some negative commentary by geeks ... what??? Huh??? I'm in shock ... how??

Perversion aside ... how is this bad? A) its free publicity in the geek realms for tabletop gaming B) There are plenty of connections between segments of the gaming industry and erotica already ... and has been since the early days. So whats the problem?

I applaud Zak's blog in all its forms and the escapist for doing this and everyone involved. Kudos to them all! I've also signed up as a follower of Zak's blog as its a damn good one as far as I'm concerned ... porn stars or no porn stars. Also as a warning if your a moral christian who is into judgment you might not want to read my blog. I'm a very happy atheist who reviles all organized religion and all right wing bigotry and censorship! You've been warned :)

Monday, March 22, 2010


Ok ... a sleep deprived inspiration ...  I'm going to run a one shot old school game based on a very classic film that I haven't seen for a very long time ...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Phantom Menace Review

I'm sure many of you have seen this stuff ... but I just had to share it again. The gaming group has been talking about firing up a Star Wars game again and for whatever reason it just brought this review to mind ... hilarious stuff.  Here it is: HILARIOUS PHANTOM MENACE REVIEW.

Are MMOs potentially as social as table top games?

Alright I've been hearing people out there on this series of tubes claim that MMOs can be as social as face to face gaming. I feel compelled to discuss this and generally take an offensive urination on this assertion.  People do say that one can be "just as sociable" as one can with face to face games ... via WoW ... you hear it as justification by MMO players all the time. Having played, raided, PVP'd, power-lvl'd, yada yada for years (again before I came to my senses) in various MMOs from Ultima Online to World of Warcraft to Lord of the Rings Online to Warhammer Online (hell I have even played Second Life for a few weeks). 

In my experience  I can unequivocally say that is a very big exaggeration. For example in WoW you can interact with players via a very poor in game voice chat system or by using a third party application like ventrilo, skype, etc. which most people do. Most reasonably sized guilds have a ventrilo server with an open channel or two for chat. But that is it ... the "social" people get is like a chat room on the internet, sometimes with a voice chat option. How is in any sense of reality ... that as social as ANY real face to face game. That is normal human social interaction. A chat room is NOT normal human interaction ... its the worst kind of bubble to live in and I hate it. There have been some detailed full on scholarly studies that have come to similar conclusions (Sherry Turkle and Richard Bartle have both conducted some groundbreaking research on this stuff) regarding social interaction in MMOs ... if your interested just do a google search.

Lets talk face to face gaming ... I know this entire post is simply stating the obvious (as most of my posts ... lol). but seriously it seems that in this case for many people playing MMOs hardcore ... this isn't that obvious. In face to face gaming of any kind you have to do what we humans are best at, what we humans need more than anything ... be social. There are many anti-social folks out there though ... many people who are shy, embarrassed, nervous of meeting other people and for those reasons alone live a lonely life where they are essentially pretending to be social via the internet. I'm not saying all WoW players do that ... again I played MMOs and I'm many things ... but anti-social is not one of them. I'm a loud, boisterous person who has to have group interaction to survive ... and in addition to having an active non-gaming related social life since 2000 I've had a continuous face to face gaming group of some kind (with about a six month exception due to a move). My current gaming includes 3 weekly RPG games (mostly different groups comprised of about 12 to 15 players) and various board game nights, etc. I've started a gaming club (Wasatch Gamers Club) so I can find even more local gamers and help our local community. Really I wish people who are in the "anti-social" category realized how easy it is to just get out there and find people to game/hike/collect rocks/discuss 11th century wine making/*insert activity of ones choice here* ... with.

I mean you have to clean yourself up a bit right, get in your car (or for you lucky Europeans ... take some cool mode of mass transit) drive to the gaming location. Go in talk to other humans in a face to face fashion ... perhaps even eat dinner with the group. The benefit of this is you get normal human face to face interaction ... over time you form friendships with the people you game with and then you don't just have to game with them. Oh sure there are risks ... for example I tend to host ... I've had a few bad game group members over the years. I've had a loaded gun dropped on my garage floor by a drunk game group member who apparently had it tucked in the back of his pants. I've had someone leave the little airline bottles of booze in my front room only to discover them the next day (I have small children .. had one of them got ahold of it ... it could have been bad), I've had a minor theft or two occur.  I've even had someone toking away in my bathroom (I am not against the use of cannabis per say .. heck I think it should be legal ... BUT ... I don't use it and would want someone to ask before firing it up in my house).

So ya ... I've hosted gaming for ten years running and I've had well over 300 people cycle through my gaming groups at times I've had 20 people over on Friday and Saturday evenings ... a group doing an RPG in one room ... mini games in the rec room and a board game at the kitchen table.  I'm not citing this stuff as a brag ... many non-gamer friends and family members think its kind of crazy ... I mention it as reference to A) my experience with forming social gaming groups and B) to demonstrate how easy it is (hell if I can do it anyone can). I think the fun and awesomeness I've gotten out of it has so far outweighed any bad. Many of the people I've met along the way have become life long friends whom have truly become family. Most of the game group members remain more acquaintances than friends ... but that is totally ok with me. You play a board game or do some RPGing with someone a couple times a month ... you don't have to like them or have things in common with them and yet you can still have fun. There are so many cool and wonderful experiences I've had thanks to face to face gaming ... that I will always remember. I can't say the same thing about MMOs ... I've done things in MMOs ... achieved very difficult things within the games themselves ... but I really am not proud of that and really feel like that was a waste of time. Its sort of embarrassing really to even admit that I did play MMOs so extensively.

Now does this mean I will never play another MMO as long as I live? Or that anyone who does play MMOs is an idiot or a deviant of some kind? NO and NO. That genre of game is here to stay and clearly is a large part of the future of video games and virtual interaction. I will undoubtedly take the plunge again at some point in the future ... but what I will not do is ever let my own  life in general (including gaming)... suffer as a result of playing any type of video game. If everyone who played MMOs would make that same vow and stick to it ... the world of reality ... would be a better place.

Down with MMOs and up with FACE TO FACE games of all kindsViva La RevoluciĆ³n!!

Friday, March 19, 2010


World of Warcrack ... erm Warcraft. What do people feel about it?? I know that following up a "can't we all just get along .. to each their own" gaming rant with a BUT THIS GAME IS EVIL ... post would be hypocritical in the extreme. No one ever said I wasn't a hypocrite ... but really people ... aren't we all. I feel that gaming is indeed under assault more than ever. I think face to face gaming has both more opportunity now than maybe it ever has (as the internet facilitates finding fellow gamers) and more challenge. In my own life at least and in the two gaming communities I've been a part of over the past 10 years (I've also dabbled in So. Cal ... have many friends down there and attend Strategicon/Orccon/Gateway) it seems that WoW has had quite a negative impact. I myself played off and on over the past 5+ years of the game. I have 5 lvl 80s and have experienced most aspects of the game from high end raiding to high end PVP and spent an extraordinary amount of time grinding levels, forming guilds, yada yada. It was indeed fun and it was nice when I had little screaming infants waking me up at 2 AM ... I could sit there doing something in the game while I fed them and rocked them back to sleep.

But I'm seeing some very sad impacts on face to face gaming (again from my own personal perspective). I've had many players in gaming groups and clubs just literally drop off the face of the planet ... only to find out that they didn't have a horrible car accident, they didn't move, didn't get a job as an oil rig worker ... no no ... they were horribly crack hooked on WoW. Some of these folks have come to their senses (as I feel I did) and others have not. I'm just curious if others out there have had similar experiences and how people feel in general about WoW and even MMOs in general. Clearly they are the future of a big segment of video games ... do others feel they pose a threat to face to face gaming??

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WARNING WARNING ... anti Hermit-nard rant!!

I want to introduce a term to the gaming vernacular ... don't forget you heard it here first! 
Hermit-Nard- Definition: Based on Grognard. A hermit-nard is someone who becomes stuck on an out of print game system and endlessly proclaims it as superior to all future game systems and any other form of game. They are irrational, dense, stupid and stubborn and have been known to suffer from delusions of being correct.
Grognard, which   is French for "grumbler".[1] It is not necessarily pejorative and is sometimes used as a compliment. Historically it meant a soldier in Napoleon's army, particularly a member of the Old Guard.[2] "Grognard" came to mean a veteran wargamer in the early 1970s.[3] It was first used by John Young, at that time an employee of SPI, and subsequently popularised by Strategy & Tactics magazine.
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Ok ... lately I've been reading many "classic" D&D game blogs and comments regarding posts on those blogs and I'm somewhat dismayed. I'm really honestly upset and displeased at how many grumpy old jerk gamers there are out there who just don't get it. They apparently have their nerd-beard gaming groups that have been gaming together for 30+ years and are basically gaming hermits who are entirely out of touch with gaming. (Also there are many dyed in the wool Grognards out there who DO get it and I'm following their blogs and really enjoy hearing what they have to say).

Do people realize that face to face gaming is under assault?? More than ever! Video games from the dreaded World of Warcrack to console gaming to other forms of PC gaming are siphoning off players and interest ... away from face to face gaming in all of its forms. SO being stupidly critical of gaming companies that are doing whatever they can to stay afloat in these tough times (not to mention these tough economic times) is just dumb. I got fired up about a post on one of these blogs from one of these gamer hermits living in a Gary Gygax world that never existed ... refusing to see reason and refusing to use logic. Its worse than the crazy right wing Palin fans or the Tea Party fools ... bah!! So this is a reply to those types of anti-4E people out there and those people who think old D&D is superior. Old D&D was great in its time and its fun to be nostalgic about those old games and even play them sometimes ... but they are not better. They do not do a better job of delivering RPG fun than many, many other newer systems INCLUDING 4E.

First I agree that classic D&D from White Box to 2nd edition are just that "classics" and those games deserve some reverence and nostalgia. Does 3.0 and 3.5 ... no ... not now ... maybe in 5 or 10 years time and besides Pathfinder is still being supported so there is an outlet for people who actually like 3.5 and think its worth playing (more power to you ... I don't but if it floats your boat have fun).  My own gaming groups have all come to the conclusion collectively that if you have a good group and GM/DM ... you don't even need rules. You can just sit and collectively weave an interactive story. One could sit cross legged in a circle with other players ... passing the water pipe ... incense burning in the background ... seeking RPG nirvana. Yet with our busy lives, variable quality of players and GM/DMs that rarely happens. What you often end up with is a DM who doesn't have enough time to give you nirvana and players who are either nubs, or are unemployed and stressed out or going through a divorce or just jerks ... and people don't bring 100% of what they can to the table. So you need rules and systems that  in spite of all that facilitate reasonably fun gameplay and weave cool and interesting authentic feeling storylines that the group enjoys. That is what an RPG should do.

Talk to game designers and people who aren't afraid to try other systems and really get into the nuts and bolts of game design elements. Guys like John Wick, Monte Cooke, Jared Sorensen, etc. etc. Any of them will tell you there is a world of RPGing out there and I'm not talking about 4E. Games like Spirit of the Century, Dogs in the Vineyard, Savage Worlds, Houses of the Blooded, Sorcerer, In a Wicked Age, Burning Wheel, Mouseguard, etc. that are new and fresh and cool. Don't get me wrong I've been playing D&D since around 1984ish and before people jump around with oh well I actually inspired Gary Gygax to create D&D ... I don't care!  I didn't make that statement as a brag ... I'm sure many of you are older and more Grognardian than I am ... just saying I've been playing for more than a few years and I haven't been afraid to jump right in on new types of games. I see that there is a segment of the "classic" D&D fans out there who are  acting like cranky old farts who don't care about the continuation or growth of the hobby of role playing. They choose to bury their heads in the sand and rant and rave about anything new. To me that is as distrubing as the people who won't pry their nearly cold dead fingers off of WoW.

New products with new approaches bring in new players ... period. I don't like WoW it is a drain on the gaming community in general ... I have to admit I've played hardcore though in the past. I play 4E but I also play 3.5 and occasionally 2nd and even 1st Ed D&D. 4E has an appeal for new players ... I'm 35 ... been there done that with every version of D&D since 1st (Basic, 2nd, 3.0., 3.5). I own a small used bookstores worth of stuff from TSR to White Wolf to Hogshead (GW), etc. etc. and have a nostalgia for the classic stuff. Yet I am not a hater of new products that bring new younger players into the hobby. I want to be playing RPGs when I'm 80 and I like playing with a diverse group ... I agree WoW is evil but I think its really stupid to say 4E is as bad as WoW. Its idiotic in fact. 4E is a pen and paper face to face RPGing ... PERIOD. Once you get people to love pen and paper RPGs and get it into their blood ... you have a new RPG fan. Many of them will inevitably seek out other RPGs and learn about the history of D&D and maybe one day they'll turn in up one of your 1st ed games. How can an 18 year old who doesn't have a parent or relative who raised them on D&D be expected to automatically find some old out of print game and immediately declare it superior??? You think they are going to take some cranky old guys word for it?? I doubt it. This rational is like being a fan of classic cars from the 50s or 60s and being angry at any new car ... your justified in your belief in your own mind ... but your very unrealistic. 4E is here to stay and its been popular, its bringing new players to the game and providing existing D&D fans with continued entertainment via a PEN AND PAPER RPG ... therefor .. love it or hate it ... you need to learn to deal with it and accept that it will not go away. I think that many of the people out there bashing and hating would be better served in seeking the best revenge and that is to lead by example. Talk about the old games and what is good about them, don't tear down, don't hate, don't rant. Keep what you love alive. I like reading blogs that do that ... I'm not a fan of the endless D&D vs. 4E ranting ... its pointless.

There was a time when I loved GURPS and RIFTS and Shadowrun and 3.5 D&D. I loved big robust simulator games that "could do anything" ... and had a complex detailed rule for every occasion. Back when I was in my early 20s ... wasn't married ... didn't have kids ... and had a gaming group that wanted and could handle games like that. Now that I'm 35, married, 4 kids, big mortgage, car payments, stressful work, yada yada ... I find myself wanting fun, light, low DM prep, low player prep (i.e. you don't need an IQ of 160 and committed study time to learn the rules), etc. So I now find myself having most fun with Savage Worlds and some of the FATE system mod ups. Yet I still play D&D in whatever form I can get a group together in. Finding people who want to play 1st edition D&D on a continual basis in my area has been a non-starter ... new players don't like Thaco, they don't get negative AC ... and old modules have a sometimes kooky, crazy ecology that one has to appreciate in order to get.  I own everything I'd ever need to run said game ... also for 2nd and basic if there was a desire ... yet I never have any takers. So I play what I can get and I have played and currently am playing 4E. I find that most of the critics who refuse to play 4E and thus have no idea what they are talking about. Most of the 4E haters draw their criticisms mainly from their reading of other grumpy, smug people who also haven't really played. Its easy to tear down systems ... every version has its flaws. Is 4E the best D&D ever? No. Is it so bad its unplayable. No. Is it WoW on paper. It can be ... but then again its all in how the DM runs their game. Is it enjoyable and does it provide great hack and slash type RPGing. Yes ... again if run properly. Is it the death of all life on earth? No. I'd argue that it is bringing new players to RPGing and therefor it isn't all bad. Am I selling all my other RPG stuff and going all in on 4E? No. I still own all my classic stuff and hope to get all that out from time to time too. I also actually like Savage Worlds and Spirit of the Century tremendously (even more than any version of D&D ... GASP ...) and try to play those whenever I can.

I anticipate that there will be a 5E sometime in the next five or so years and people will hate it too ... and others will love it ... and new people will try it. I will be playing RPGs then I hope and I'll probably try 5E too. What I will then do is take the 5E players (like I have with 4E) and get them to try stuff like Savage Worlds ... then maybe do a one shot of Tunnels and Trolls ... then run one of the cleaned up versions of 1st ed D&D.

My current gaming groups have players in them from a player who is nearly 70 to 18 and 19 year olds. I have four kids that I do modified RPGing with basically I give them 3 stats, Smarts, Strength and Personality and run fairytale type adventures more akin to choose your own adventure books than D&D. There are actually systems out there tailor made for young players that I have looked into but haven't picked up yet.

To me the bottom line is players and DMs can flame and swear and rant about the "evil" companies that are making money from gaming (OMG how dare they!!) ... and as someone whose personal politics are something along the lines of Socialist-Anarchist ... I hear ya! Power to the people!! Yet ... as a greedy gamer who likes new shiny stuff and who likes to have lots of different people to game with ... I support companies like WotC in their continued efforts to attract new players to role playing games. I'm also a mini game fan (GW mainly) and a board game fan. Game companies like Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight Games and Privateer Press are engaging in many of the same practices that WotC are and that is bad and good. To me any efforts to pry people away from WoW ... to ANY type of face to face gaming ... is good and I will do what I can to support such efforts. This same argument can be applied to the GW games ... you hear the same stuff with 4E 40K fans vs. 5th ed. etc. etc. and its the same situation ... ANYTHING that keeps new players coming to the hobbies we know and love should be applauded and supported ... if you really like older games ... fine get a group together and do that on the side ... but don't smack new people over the head and drive them away from the hobby!!
Besides people your never going to find large numbers of non-European gamer girls who are going to play 1st edition D&D!! FFS!!! If you want the % of female gamers to increase you have to have new systems that cater more to their interests!!