My blog's evilness ==

This site is certified 38% EVIL by the Gematriculator

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Seems like the thing to do...

So, of course, I have restarted running a game. It is pretty haywire at this point - fortunately, only two players (who are also close friends) and I am trying to engage them in systemic decisions while we play - to the extent that they want to do that while we establish some mechanics. They even let me demand random character generation for social-class, race and profession!

The first character has decided not to reveal his name as of yet. He is outcaste mutant dwarf with chitinous skin. I call him "The Clubber". He has a yet undefined rival.

The second character is an upper-class halfling acolyte (read: agent of a diety - not a paladin in the champion/leader/holy warrior sense, but not a vested priest either). When I asked what deity he served, he gave me Dispater. Cool. He also ended up being superstitious and getting a HUGE amount of wealth (3000 gp worth of gems) from random-roll background options. As of now, the player calls him Allen.

I wanted to generate characters quickly, but I also wanted the beginnings of a skill system in place at the outset, so I made a table of 8 'skill categories' and assigned skill points to these categories based on (randomly-determined in this case) social-class, race, and profession, then we defined some of the skills in these families.

Didn't take long at all.

But mechanically, the game is haywire. I'm using my homebrew T&T (more stats for a little finer SR granularity) but a 'to-hit' roll and AAC. Attack rolls are made with 2d10. I used Rolemaster's most recent Character Law for background options,for a few spells the Halfling knew, and a starting point on skills.

They started the game in an isolated, marsh vale - in an economy based largely on the exotic local flora. I had pictured this area as a 'silver economy', at best. I got really uptight about the wealth that had been determined for the Halfling, so I made one of the gems a plot-hook (must be returned to an abandoned temple underground - reverse AD&D PHB cover) - trying to rein in the potential for economic destabilization. It was heavy-handed - in retrospect, I shouldn't have done that, but he still had no problem buying ANYTHING he wanted.

He ended up equipping The Clubber also, which was good, because the dwarf had nothing but a few coppers and some smelly charnel rags. He's intensely anti-social (this so called Clubber). We decided that some segment of the Cult of Dispater deals with burial - so this insectoid(!) dwarf, cast out from the nearby highland castle Absen, wanders south into marsh vale and lurks around the graves. The Cult sends them into the (terrestrial) underworld to restore this valuable gemstone to an abandoned temple.

I have a 100 mile area hexmapped - a lot of mountains with smallish valleys and vales. The setting borrows a few details from Aldiss' Halyconia trilogy - if you haven't read at least Halyconia Spring, do so ASAP. The world freezes and thaws, and there are large underworld settlements (read: megadungeons) to house the population when the surface is too cold or too hot, though that knowledge is only really maintained by organizations and persistent institutions. There is a humanoid race that waxes in the long winters of the world (the ancipitals), and a race that thrives in the warmer period (the humans (which, in this case, includes halflings, dwarves, elves, etc)).

As the Halfling was of high social class, he has available to him an anciptal slave/bodyguard. He decided not to take advantage of this 'resource'.

This post is long, so I'll briefly post-mortem session 1:
1. THEY ROLLED GREAT! I was witness to a stunning series of statistical oddites - they rolled CRAZY!
2. It bugs them to actually look for secret doors, and they are shitty mappers.
3. They are pretty heavily wounded and holed-up in a room behind a secret door (that I openly railroaded them to search for in the first place! Hope they're somewhat grateful...).

Empire of Amityville Mike

Over on Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, there's an inspirational reading cited which is among my favorites - Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen.

I picked up this book when I was thirteen or fourteen, totally on a whim, and it really snapped me out of my Tolkien fixation (Moorcock was a few years off - probably the final nail in that particular coffin). It is still one of my favorites - one I go back to every few years. I liked the Books of Swords too - in fact one of my earliest attempts to create a game from scratch was based on the Twelve Swords - and even appreciated some of the books of Lost Swords.

Saberhagen's treatment of demons and wizardry here is one of my favorite takes - the messenger that restores the crippled Chup, who came to him with the sound of the wind blowing through dry leaves (if I remember correctly...) - the malicious bastard in the depths of the Blue Temple - I could go on and on. Great stuff. The wizard called Wood, and one of my absolute favorite characters/figures in fiction: the Emperor of the Swords books. What a foil!

I've looked at Saberhagen's web page, but found little elucidation or further exploration of that 'setting'. I am sure that his writing has influenced all of the fantasy gaming that I have run.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Post Halcyon

I am old enough to warrant a two-part introduction! A dubious honor...

I fell out of gaming for many years. I'd keep reading, but playing just never happened. Then a friend introduced me to the Magic card game, and I liked it and played it, and it pushed some of the same buttons, but it is no RPG.

Skipping ahead many years of the real world: D&D 3e was released. I went to the local game shop and played a few times. I liked Monte Cook's work in Rolemaster, and was curious to see what his input would produce. Not bad, in my opinion, but not for me. The other players were min-maxing,
arguing that their particular combination of feats allowed them to run roughshod over the DM's rulings and it looked like the books backed them up. It turned me off, and I retreated again to the real world.

A couple of years ago I decided I was going to run a Rolemaster campaign with a couple of friends. It was to be the first game I had tried to run in ~15 years,

We had three sessions. We drowned in rules and gave up.

Now, reading the fantastic blogs that proliferate, I have realized that rules-lite is my play style. I'll use Rolemaster materials for development, ideas, building, etc (still want to graft the crit tables in somehow...) - but keeping table/book bloat to a minimum is important to me.

This said, I've been inspired by all these Grogs and Gamethinkers to start running again. It's ending up a variant on Tunnels and Trolls. Have two players (who are stil friends with me after the Rolemaster debacle - what loyalty!) and we're hacking the details as the need arises. I'll start posting the details as they develop.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Halcyon I

My name is Greg Backus. I am totally in awe of the old-school revival - so surprised and happy to see what is going on. I've been lurking for a while and reading these great blogs, finding so many kindred spirits - articulate ones no less.

I started playing Melee/Wizard and (blue book)D&D when I was young (let's say 9). My older brother and his buddies would play and I would hang out and watch - mostly because my mom made him. He was genuinely a gamer and he enjoyed getting me involved too. We'd play boardgames (Milton Bradley's Midway was the shit!) and have arena battles in the Fantasy Trip. And then - In Search of the Unknown (monocolor). Greggo of the Mountains came to life. I had no idea what to do!

I Loved It!

This period probably lasted about a year. My brother (older than me by 9 years) experienced a religious conversion and ceased all gameplay. Ouch. Even burned the books in the backyard and prayed...These were the dark days of Mazes and Monsters, of conservative backlashes against freed imaginations. I was miserable at first, but soon found I could go out to the woods and fight my friends with sticks. That was fun too...but in down time, I started making games myself and checking out whatever D&D materials I could find at the library and such.

So, flash forward a few years. There was a Hallmark Card/Book shop in the dwindling mall near my house. WOW! RPG books! I'd go over after school and pore through the books until the middle aged attendants would tell me I had to leave.

One day, I decided I was going to steal a book because I couldn't buy any of them. I can't really condone theft, but this is a history, and it is something that I did then. I'll claim desperation. Honestly, though, it was something of a prediliction of mine when I was young - maybe this is an argument against the inclusion of the thief in AD&D...It was my second theft (my first, a pack of Close Encounter of the Third Kind cards was a disaster. A sucessful theft, but I couldn't wait to open the pack, so my mom noticed me in the back seat of the car and made me go back into the grocery store, return them and apologize...)

This time...SUCCESS!
Tunnels & Trolls, 5th Edition! What a haul!

What was this book doing in Hallmark? Maybe it was a franchise thing, I dunno. Different days...even with the Satanic Scare a recent event...

So, T&T became MY game. I ran my friends through free-form adventures, they developed the characters that they wanted. We'd end up playing several different games: the Dungeon boardgame, Gamma World, Toon, AD&D, Paranoia, Chill, Diplomacy, Axis & Allies, Twilight 2000, Call of Cthulhu - how about Fringeworthy! - but the main campaign was in a vague world governed remotely by Ken St. Andre. The system was so rules-light that we just did whatever we wanted to.

The next big step came with Rolemaster and MERP. It was a system a friend introduced to me, and he ran the beast too. The anthithesis of T&T? I think the argument can be made. I don't remember having fun with the game in play, I think it was more that the level of detail was so fascinating.
It's too much, in my opinion - but it certainly broadened my young perspective. I started collecting the Companions and keeping up with the game more as an academic pursuit than a play vehicle, though I did run a few adventures.

Gradually my group disbanded. The pressures and distractions of late adolescence (read: girls, music, beer and weed). I kept my books and would still think about gaming, but there were other things going on. Every once in a while I'd run some friends through one-shot AD&D adventures, but it never amounted to much. The gaming dwindled and eventually died.

I even sold my HUGE Rolemaster collection, my OD&D matierals, oh man - I don't want to catalogue the loss. It bums me out to this very day.

At least I didn't burn them...