Sunday, October 27, 2013

RPG diary - Playing with kids. First session

My son and daughter are 5 and 7 years old, and I've been wanting to start playing RPG's with them for some time. It gives us something to do together that's fun for all of us, and at the same time it gives me a chance to introduce them to the hobby that has meant so much to me through the years. Playing with young kids is quite different from playing with adults, and I'm going to use this blog to think out loud about how things are going, perhaps in the end reahing a good format for this kind of game.
I use the rules from Corey's game presented in the first issue of Gygax mag. It's a simple system were better skill is represented with bigger dice, and the die rolls in combat are reduced. It was designed for even younger children, so I may up the complexity somewhat. I don't have any miniatures, so we use toy figurines of roughly 1:10 scale from Schleich and Papo. We also have a cool wooden castle to go with it.
First session was a simple story where the characters set out to free the fairy princess who was being held captive in the tower of the evil sorceress Abraxas (improvised name, sorry :D ), and it ended badly with a TPK. I figured it was better to let them die on their first go because of bad decisions (they went for the frontal assault approach and did not help eachother when needed), than to have to deal with a bad gaming culture where the players are thoughtless and rash. Nobody started crying, so it went fine. So, I guess my first advice is: don't be afraid to kill off your childrens characters.
Other than that, they are very eager to contribute with their own ideas, so flexibility is important. My daughter wanted to play a unicorn who was a fighter, but had something called "world magic", and so I had to make room for that, even though the system divides sharply between fighters and magic-users. In the end, her world magic became an ability that could be charged using a strange glittering toy of some sort that her character kept in her home, and could only be used once for each charging. It could not be used offensively, but could open locked doors and the like.
One problem I had was that the children seemed to get bored while waiting their turn. I'm unsure wether to do anything about this and if so, what. It may not be such a bad thing that they are bored for short periods of time as long as they are mostly having fun. This is also something children need to learn, that nothing's fun all the time. I will be considering it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tongue Biter - a Dungeon Parasite

This is, unpleasantly enough, based on an actual marine parasite that attacks fish. I just modified it to fit land based creatures.

The Tongue Biter lives in cracks in the stone and other small spaces in underground environments. After it is born, it can live for about a week before it dies of hunger. Before this time, it has to find a host to live off. When it does, it creeps into this sleeping creature's mouth, injects a powerful anesthetic into it's tongue, which bodypart it then devours. After having eaten the whole tongue (this takes about six hours), it hooks on to the stump, eventually grafting itself on, in essence becoming part of the hosts body.
Once latched on, it starts sucking the blood of it's victim for nourishment, and starts to produce young. These young crawl out of the hosts mouth at an amount of 1d20 twice a month. The Tongue Biter is very hard to get rid of, as it connects itself to the hosts nervous system after about 24 hours, and at that time, any pain felt by the parasite is felt by the host as if it was part of it's own body. It requires no attack rolls to kill, but may require other rolls to tolerate the pain, at the DM's discretion. Once off, the spell Regenerate is required to grow back the victim's tongue.
While the Tongue Biter lives within an adventurer's tonuge, it does no actual damage, but causes a number of inconveniences, the chief of which is an inability to speak. While the he will be able to eat, the character can not experience any sense of taste, which may carry some implications. For example, depression and loss of weight may plague the adventurer, common side effects losing one's sense of taste. In other unfortunate side effects of not having a tongue will apply as the DM sees fit.

Inspirational photo

I took this picture in the Norwegian highlands a month or so ago. The rocky soil and the cold climate combine to make the trees short and bent, giving them an almost ghostly appearance.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Dungeon Song - RESTORED

Well. That's cool. I haven't seen this movie, but I guess I'm gonna. Insane stuff.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hope for the future

I seem to read many places premonitions of doom for the RPG hobby. How can this old-fasioned game, which requires a player to read heavy tomes of complicated rules, actually meet other people physically (mostly) and do a lot of work actually inventing a great part of the game as you play, compete with all the modern entertainment options presented to young people today? How can it compete with computer games, that gives you hours and hours of free (in terms of effort) entertainment, tells you stories and even lets you participate in them, accompanied by evocative music and visuals. How can it compete with 3D home cinema, internet pornography and all that's all over us like sacks of grain on a farmers truck at harvest?
I don't know if I can tell you excactly how, but I can tell you that it can. Working as a teacher at a school that's my country's rough equivalent of junior high school, I recently got the opportunity to see proof of this with my own eyes. Each year, the school I work at dissolves all regular schedules and dedicates two days to having fun and getting to know each other. Teachers that are interested in som form of activiy set up groups that students can apply to, an are then divided amongst. Some go fishing, some play football (soccer), some make homemade soaps and some set up carpentry workshops, whatever some teacher knows how to do and think students might be interested in.
As an experiment, I set up Dungeons & Dragons as one of the options, not really thinking anyone would be interested. In the explaining text, which had to be short, I decided on focusing on comparing D&D to a computer game, stressing the greater freedom of choice inherent in the latter. As it turned out this worked out really well! Now, I won't say I got scores of applicants to my group, but a fair amount of youngsters became enticed by what I had written. Actually, not only enticed - I would say enthused. Really curious and worked up over this STRANGE NEW GAME they were exposed to, and no less so after having actually tried it. At least two of those kids came out of there with plans of buying an RPG and starting a gaming group of their own.
I guess my point in all this is to say that what all of us oldies found fascinating about roleplaying games when we were kids is really equally fascinating to the kids of today, even with the computer games and 3D CGI movies and whatnot. Though those other things may be more inviting and tempting on the surface, they can't really compete with the totally free use of the imagination offered by RPGs. So, no matter how outdated we might feel, there's hope for the future, and you can in fact show your beloved hobby to your children or other youths you may know without the fear of being laughed in the face. And this fact, I think, also olbligates you to do so!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Player types

I'm reading an enormous amount of RPG material these days, to the point of obsession to be honest, and this is one of the reasons I've started writing this blog. With all the stuff that's going in, I feel a great need to also get something out.
Anyway.... one thing that's bothering me right at this moment is one aspect of the discussions and blog posts that seem to dominate posts on all sides of the debates. I'm talking about categorizing players into types. They're munchkins or butt-kickers or whatever, and it seems to imply players as static, uncangeable objects.
Now, I'm going to assume everyone using these terms already understand that most players have some of all or at least several of these player tapes within them, but that is not my point. I keep seeing stuff like "My players are like this or that, so I should do this", and "How to handle this or that player type" and the like.
What all of this seems to miss is the fact that players are actual humans, and that humans are in fact susceptible to change. It isn't set in stone that as a certain individual prefers a certain way of playing he or she will keep playing that way forever, or that he or she can't learn to enjoy other ways of playing. This has to be part of the GM's mission, in my opinion. As the GM, you are the one who is running the game, which in turn means you get to set certain premises for how that game is to be run.
Of course, I see the danger in this. I don't propose despotism from the GM seat. It's not really about getting what you want, it's about teaching people to appreciate things they have so far been unable to appreciate. There may be people that are entirely stubborn and would refuse to do anything but what they themselves want, but in all honesty such people would be kicked off my gaming table. If roleplaying is about having fun, then this should count for the GM as well, not just the players.
In my experience, though, RPGers are generally intelligent people, and intelligent people are genereally more open to new things than most others. So, to sum up, what I'm saying is that influencing players and guiding them towards the style you like best isn't a bad thing. It's a thing that will be beneficial to all involved. It would enable you to run the kind of game you most want to play, and as a result perhaps even run a better game, and it would broaden the horizons of the players, giving them more ways to enjoy themselves than they already had.

The Mystic Pull of the Old School - Part 3: The road ahead

I think one of the main points of the previous two posts in this series was to make a point about old school play and to what it owes it attraction. I've seen it accused of being mainly nostalgic in nature and not having anything of interest to offer modern players. Even stalwart old shoolers are sometimes apologetic of the style and admit to some degree that nostalgia may indeed be part of it.
As you've probably guessed, I disagree. Having come later to the hobby, and mainly having played story-oriented games most of my life, nostalgia is out of the question on my part. What I have been trying to demonstrate, particularly in part 2, is that there is indeed something in the early days of the game that holds a different sort of quality from what we see nowadays.
That being said, I don't think I will ever be a hard core old schooler myself. It's just that the entire phenomenon holds such an ensnaring attraction, and giving in to that attraction has opened a lot of new doors in my mind. When I am done with the PF-campaign I am currently running, I will most certainly start a Labyrinth Lord campaign, but my focus will be on developing some systems to allow the most compelling aspects of old school play to be combined with a more narrative approach. This is not as straightforward as it may seem, but I have some ideas on how to do it, and I am looking forward to trying them out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Modern fantasy and the Tolkien heritage

Tolkien has had a profound impact on the way we percieve fantasy settings, and through them, our intuitive understanding of mythology and folklore. One of the most notable differences between pre- and post-Tolkien fantasy is the tendency to give certain mythical creatures physical forms.
For example, the Kobold, Gnome and Goblin are all different words for the same creature, the creature known in my native language as "nisse", and which is known by different names in other European languages, at least in the Germanic and Celtic cultural areas. This creature also shares a lot of qualities with the norse dwarfs, and may be decended from them.
More notably, however, than the tendency to use different names for the same creature as names for different creatures (a practice most common in RPGs, as there is a constant demand for new monsters in such settings), is the tendency to give these creatures physical form. In folklore, all those creatures listed above where spirits, able to take physical form, but not really being native to that form. I think the idea of Dwarves, Goblins and Elves as predominately physical creatures stems from the way they are portrayed in Tolkiens litterature.
At least I can't think of any fantasy stories prior to Tolkien portraying them in such a way. The protagonists are mainly human, and antagonists are usually other humans or more or less mindless monsters.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The mystic pull of the old school. Part 2: The conclusion

In Part 1, I talked about the first part of the road towards old school gaming. In this part I'll explore the reasons why I ended up where I am now, getting ready to launch a Labyrinth Lord game set in a Megadungeon, and my views on what makes the old school releases so much more enticing than the newer D&D products.
First of all, what really sparked my interest in old school gaming was a couple of familiar concepts. Reading the Quick primer for old school gaming, I realised that certain concepts of old school gaming wa similar to what I had been doing in narrativist games, especially the way to run combats, keeping it loose and simple, leaving a lot up to improvisation and the DM and players creativity. So, an open system and improvising, ideas that I thought were new, were actually the oldest of ideas. Stuff that I had thought I should abandon when playing dungeon style games.
Also, there was a sort of atmosphere to the descriptions of dungeons, how to create them and how to run them on several different blogs and such on the net, that I really found appealing. It felt to me like plunging into an Endless expanse of darkness, thus the name of my blog.
I think those things were the prime reasons why my mind began gradually turning around, reevaluating som of the mechanics that I had been used to seeing as illogical or "unrealistic", and understanding their place in the game, spawning thoughts on the advantages of focusing on player skill rather than character skill and so on.
But there is more to this than just different ways of playing, different systems and mechanics. This is not just about rational ways of doing things. There is more, something deeper, lurking behind those facades of mere physical expressions and rules. There is a deep fissure between the old and the new that cannot be explained or argued for through arguments pertaining to what way is better than another.
Reading, for the first time (!), "The temple of elemental evil" by Gary Gygax, the nature of this devide becomes clear to me. Those old books, from the original and 1e era, they are works of art, while the newer products are just that: products. The newer material is better in many ways - the rules are more logical and unified overall, everything works well together, everything is perfectly balanced, everyting is well explained, well written, clear, easy to understand and the books are well organised. Everything is POLISHED to a crystal shine that makes it attractive and ensnaring on the surface.
The older books and releases lack much of this, I won't go into it, I think everyone understands what I'm talking about. What they do have, is the individual expression of single individuals visions of what the thing should be! Gygax writes his books in his own style, with the kind of material he likes, and organises stuff in the way he thinks they should be organised. It's hard for one man to attain perfection. Perhaps impossible. Gygax certainly did not make perfect books, but they are books teeming with atmosphere, life, mystery. They are true artistic expressions, and as such touches us deeper in our souls than the newer books made by professional teams under strict supervision of marketing experts and strategists ever can. The old material seems otherworldly and strong, because they possess SPIRITUAL DEPTH, instead of a polished surface.
The temple of elemental evil is a work of genious. Its modern day counterparts are works of impeccable craftsmanship. There's a big difference.
In part 3 I will talk about my thoughts and plans for the future, as I'm a restless soul and cannot stay with one thing for long without getting bored.

The mystic pull of the old school. Part 1: The path

What first led me to try out Pathfinder really was an attraction to old school gaming, but having come to late into the hobby to ever experience the first edition of d&d, my idea of what was actually the old school style was sketchy. The gaming group I joined with had already developed (for lack of a better word) towards a style that was increasingly story oriented. As a result, everything pertaining to classic roleplaying has remained a mystery for me to this day.
But that style of gaming, the dungeon exploration, the treasure and the levelling up, does have some sort of mystic pull, and so after years of playing a more narrative oriented style, I suddenly felt the need to investigate and try out something else.
Having never actually played much D&D at all - our group switched from one game system to another, never really getting truly comfortable with any of them, though I personally came close with Over the Edge - the logical choice for me was to go for the 3rd edition, thinking that everyting D&D would be D&D. Also, as someone with experience from modern game systems, the unified mechanic appealed to me.
Anyway, the switch to PF sparked a new interest in the hobby for me, and I started searching the web, reading blogs and articles on websites dedicated to gaming, trying to get advice on how to run a completely different kind of game than I was used to. In this search, the three letters OSR seemed to turn up more and more often, and seemed to be assosiated with ideas that I found increasingly appealing as time went by.
I gradually realised that what I was doing with PF basically was just continuing to play the way I had always done, but with a new system (a really complicated one), thus not really trying something new at all. The ideas of classic gaming seemed to bore their way into my subconscious and work a change at the very core of my ideas about roleplaying.
This was a very gradual process, for at first i didn't like many of the old school concepts. Killing off PCs, illogical system mechanics (more on that in part 2) and the like.
In part two I will be looking at what won me over.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why I don't like Pathfinder

First of all, the most obvious reason, it's too complicated. The rules are so detailed there's no time for roleplaying. The combats last for way too long, and the system is restrictive and a hindrance to creativity. All of this has been stated many times before other places, so I won't go into it in detail. I guess it's a matter of taste, but for me, this gets old real fast.
But more importantly, there's something wrong with the whole feel of the game. Everything, from the way things are presented, to the names, and the artwork. I've seen the artwork hailed several places, but cannot, for the life of me understand why! Sure, the craftmanship is impeccable, but the style looks like something out of a childrens book. Absolutely atrocious!
Also, the implied setting of the book is terrible. It does not have the excellent history of D&D to draw upon, and what those guys have been able to come up with themselves is just not interesting. The names, as I mentioned before, seem like random sequences of characters. Everything is just somehow devoid of atmosphere and personality. Seems like it was made just because they needed to put something in there, not for any kind of creative joy or anything.
I know I don't have to use that setting in my game, and I don't, but still, just the feel of opening the books is uninspiring and tame. It's like playing on a cheap guitar. It's got to go!

Hello World

First post, and its going to be pointless. This blog is about all things RPG, fantasy and SF. It will also be about all kinds of other stuff, basically. So, to start off:

I'm currently running a Pathfinder campaign, but I'm quickly realising I don't like PF, and the plan is to start my next campaign with Labyrinth Lord. More on the whys of this later. For now, just the basic facts.