Thursday, December 3, 2020

Battling For Hearts & Minds

This will be (has to be!) a quick post because time is short this morning. 

A while back, my son (who has been attending classes remotely since September) mentioned something about playing Dungeons & Dragons to his class during one of their daily Zoom meetings, and was surprised to find out his teacher also plays D&D (I was not surprised as I recall her telling the class the first week of school that her favorite literary genre was "fantasy" and that her favorite books were those ones by J.K. Rowling). 

Anyway, when classes again started up this week (post-Thanksgiving break), it was Diego's turn to "share" (what my school would have called "Show And Tell" back in the day), and so he decided to show his class the D&D game he'd spent his vacation playing. He walked them through a brief overview of how the game is played, showed them books, explained differences between B/X and AD&D, and talked about role-playing games in general. Most of his 4th grade class, of course, drew solid blanks on all this...they spend the vast majority of their time playing Minecraft and Roblox or other kid-friendly video games that entertain you while melting your brain. 

[I should admit that my wife recently relented (when I wasn't around) and downloaded Minecraft on her phone and an iPad. She has come to regret this, as now the kids are gluing their eyeballs to the screens whenever they are allowed (and sometimes even when they're not). Fortunately, me upping the D&D play around the house has, especially for the boy, helped curb the addiction (Sofia's desire to "minecraft" is much less anyway). But, man, those things are insidious!]

But that doesn't mean they didn't perk up and become interested in this "role-playing thing." One kid said she had tried RPGs but hadn't liked them, but "this D&D game" made her want to give it another shot (don't know what she played before). Another girl was inspired to write her own RPG (after part of Diego's presentation included his own "RPG" he wrote - a mecha game that uses LEGO). Several kids expressed hope that they could play D&D with Diego once they were all able to get back to in-person classes.

Their teacher was (as one might guess) pretty enthusiastic and aided Diego in explaining some of the differences between tabletop RPGs and other board games...a fairly tough slog (I listened from the other room without participating); neither teacher nor student really had the vocabulary to properly express the ideas, but I think the other kids got "the gist." After that, I had to go pick up my daughter (who gets to spend a half day in actual school). 

Later, the boy told me his teacher said she'd spent her Thanksgiving playing D&D, too. He asked her which edition she played: fifth edition. He also told me she'd "outed herself," accidentally disclosing her age: 29. A little quick math in Ye Old Noggin allowed me a few speculations:

  • She would have been born in 1991; this is after the advent of 2nd edition AD&D (though, of course, babies don't usually play D&D).
  • She would have been about 9 years old (my son's age) when 3rd edition was released.
  • She would have been about 17 (high school senior) when 4th edition was released.
  • She would have been about 23ish (grad school?) when 5th edition was released.

[Washington State requires an M.I.T. to teach elementary school but there are several good programs...including my alma mater...where you can get it done in one year]

So while I suppose it's possible his teacher is familiar with the editions of D&D that I'm raising my children on, I think it's more likely her inclinations, assumptions, and concepts with regard to D&D play are based on latter day versions of the game; things like: story-driven plot arcs, assumption of inherent morality, combat-based (and/or fiat based) reward systems, low mortality/consequence challenge, and an emphasis on character build over (in-play) player ingenuity and cooperation. 

In other words, a style of Dungeons & Dragons that I'm not a big fan of.

So what? Why does it matter? Diego, unfortunately, has already inherited much of my bias (I'm such a terrible parent) and exhibits only disdain for modern innovations ("Death saves?! Are you kidding me?") so I'm not really worried about him being "led astray."

'Handle with care?' It's
not like the thing will
burn your hand...
[I say that with tongue-in-cheek: I've instructed him not to disparage other folks' preferred games, to not knock things till you've tried them, and to look critically at both the positive and negative aspects of systems...that there are reasons game design has evolved the way it has. If he were to begin playing 5E or Pathfinder or something, I would assume he is making an informed choice in doing so, not simply going with the herd. We ironed out the whole concept of "fads" years back with fidget spinners (most of his classmates had them; he did not)...he has as good a handle as one could hope from a nine year old when it comes to decision making based on expected consequences]

BUT...*sigh*. Diego does get lonely sometimes. Not that he doesn't have friends...he is very social and gregarious and is liked and respected by his classmates and teammates. But he doesn't have peers who are really on the same page. He has moments where he complains mightily about not having kids his age that relate to him with regard to his likes and interests...despite still being good friends. 

And here he has a chance to get them into his world! Share his blossoming enthusiasm for this strange hobby! And even get encouragement and a stamp of approval from an authority figure (the teacher) that could lead to peers actually entering his world (for a change) instead of only participating in their world...

I would hate for clashing biases to make the experience a miserable one for my kid.

I know, I know: such a stupid thing to worry about these days, what with everything else going on in the world. Parents have stupid things they worry about when it comes to their kids. I'm fairly certain my kids will end up as functional, if flawed, adults (the vast majority of us do), regardless of the journey life throws at them. Still, it is, I think, natural that parents would like that journey to be as happy as possible

Anyway. Just wanted to get that off my chest.

[aaaand...turns out my time was TOO short as I'm posting this on Thursday instead of Wednesday. Sorry about that]

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Punching Through The Sentinel

A couple weeks ago, I decided to start running AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, i.e. "first edition") again. My players are my children, ages 9 and 6. They, of course, are far too young to really parse out the rules, but since I'm the Dungeon Master I can simply ask them what they want to do and then tell them what dice to roll. Isn't that how everyone plays D&D these days?

So far, the players have been remarkably fortunate: neither has lost a character, despite occasional missteps. They've also made remarkable progress as far as advancement: the elven fighter just reached 4th level, and the halfling fighter/thief is 2nd/3rd (and only a couple hundred x.p. short of leveling up). They do remain rather "cash poor" and their cache of magic items (a single +1 dagger and a suit of leather armor +1) is rather light, but they are otherwise doing all right. Heck, they've even acquired a pair of henchmen (a half-elf fighter and an elven magic-user); hopefully, they'll last longer than the last two they had.

[both were gored to death by perytons]

My DMG has been getting a workout this week...my fingers have seen more flipping-and-turning then any time in the last twenty years (I suspect it was more back in my 3E days, but I can't say for sure). I've used the poison rules, the unarmed combat rules, hirelings and henchmen, training and advancement, character expenses, animal pelts, item saving throws, overland movement (mounted and non-), morale and loyalty, x.p. for magic items, two weapon fighting, cost for NPC spell use, negative hit points...and probably a couple other things I'm forgetting at the moment. However, it's been a LOT more than my B/X and OD&D games of recent years...enough so that I've found myself prepping (i.e. reading and researching) my DMG many mornings, trying to stay "ahead of the curve" for the coming exploits of the day (we're still on vacation over here).

It's been glorious

Part of this I'll credit to the adventure module I'm using: UK2 The Sentinel (by Graeme Morris) is pretty good, really showcasing a lot of the bits and pieces from the AD&D game that sometimes gets glossed over. Illusionist magic, ingestive poisons, humanoid shamans, disease, wilderness movement through multiple terrain types, and a profound lack of ready-made NPC hirelings...all these things have forced me to re-familiarize myself with stuff I haven't thought about in years. And I admit I've quite missed the potential for this level of detail.

Uh-oh.
But the other part has just been trying to find ways to make sure my inexperienced players are getting an even break. For a low-level adventure, The Sentinel has many difficult parts...especially considering the number of encounters requiring magical weapons. Those perytons are pretty much unavoidable, and they are vicious, vicious creatures...their +2 attack bonus means they hit like a troll, and they average 10 damage per attack. Morris seems to be assuming that most parties will have a several magic weapons by the time they reach the encounter (unavoidable, as said, because of its location); the module's "suggested character roster" includes four permanent magic weapons, a quiver of magic arrows, and a wand of magic missiles. My players didn't have a single magic item prior to starting the adventure, despite being 2nd level. 

Still, they've somehow managed to muddle through.

[*24 hours later*]

A half day of gaming later, and the kids are STILL alive, though they did lose another henchperson. Actually, they're quite well: the halfling has advanced to level 3rd / 4th (or will have once she completes her training) the party has acquired a second magic weapon (a hand axe +1) and the henchwoman magic-user secured TWO new spell books.

Money remains an issue. Total party wealth is just under 2,700 gold pieces, much of which is tied up in high priced gems and jewelry. This is a problem because the territory of Berghoff (the module's mini-sandbox) consists of a half dozen small villages, most with less than 500 inhabitants) doesn't have the kind of infrastructure to change treasure for currency. Of course, there's little to buy in these towns anyway and (or more pressing concern to the players) little manpower of "adventuring" variety to be hired. That supply has been nearly exhausted...the elf (my son's character) is making the 100 mile roundtrip journey to the farthest northern town ("Hallbridges") in hopes of finding more mercenaries. Rough.

It's just interesting (amusing?) because I can vividly recall conversations with players back when I was running a B/X campaign about how "useless" treasure was because there was "nothing to buy." Huh. Well, even in a town that boasts little in the way of shops or goods, there's always something to spend money on. Sofia's character hasn't gotten around to buying a cart yet, but it's only a matter of time (she's purchased one in every game we've played prior - Holmes, B/X, and OD&D - so there's no reason to think she won't eventually get around to it). And the hiring and equipping of henchmen has turned into nearly as big a cash sink as training costs.

Which is great! Because it keeps the party hungry and on the move

That being said, it's pushing me to fill out more of my "campaign world." The kids have gotten to a point where they need larger population centers (which I don't have). They've been unable to find the thief an actual trainer in these little villages (doubling the halfling's training time) and now they're asking where they can find a cleric capable of raising the dead. I have no answers for these queries. But I will...eventually...and I'm looking forward to seeing where the AD&D process takes me.

Problem's been, it's been hard to get a "breather" just to plan that far ahead. But (as of today) "vacation" has ended and the kids are back in school (much as they can be) and I should have time to fill in some of these gaps. Maybe even put together some cheat sheets to help me with run the game without all the page flipping...a few playing aids would go a long way to improving the game's delivery. 

But we're enjoying ourselves. I'm enjoying myself. I'm not worrying about the fiddly-ness or weirdness of the rules; I'm just trying to run them. And so far, challenging or not, the game has been a pleasure to run.  I forgot just how much I like this edition. 

All right, that's it for now. Kid needs my laptop.

[by the way, the title of this post comes from the fact that we've now been required to use the infamous unarmed combat rules from the AD&D DMG on multiple occasions...and it's worked! That is to say, excess fiddle aside, it doesn't derail the game, and it's fairly fun (watching the halfling throw herself against the legs of a half-orc and bounce off was darn amusing). In my youth, I used the much simplified unarmed rules found in the Unearthed Arcana, but that was mostly because they were easier to parse; since I'm older, wiser, and definitely not inclined to open the UA these days, the DMG version seems just fine]

***posted Tuesday due to unforeseen computer delays***

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Giving Thanks

 I'll try not to be glib...though (I suppose) my capacity for "glibness" these days is much diminished.

Mm. Staring out the window, wondering what words to use to type my feelings of the moment, I find myself at a loss. I'll try, though.

Today is Thanksgiving here in the United States...probably my favorite holiday of the year for many, many reasons. And I am so thankful, so so thankful, for so many selfish reasons. Thankful for my family and all they give me. Thankful we can afford to eat, unlike so many people in this country right now. Thankful that...as of yet...my life has been spared of Covid tragedy. No small thing.

Mexico is in bad shape at the moment. Only the United States, Brazil, and India have had more recorded deaths. But India's population (1.3 billion) means its overall death rate per capita is one-eighth the rate of these other "top" countries and Brazil's governmental response has been not just indifferent but downright nihilistic.

[I don't think I need to mention the issues in the United States when a large percentage of the population refuses to believe in reality]

But Mexico is in a bad, bad way with death rates per capita equal to (or exceeding) Brazil. And it's government is trying to get a handle on things and just doesn't have the capacity to do so. And for many Mexicans "trust in one's government" is an alien concept after generations of corruption and exploitation at that government's hands.

Why do I care about Mexico? Other than the fact that it has many and huge interconnections with its neighbor to the north (i.e. the United States) and its tragedies will have a dramatic impact on my country both socially and economically? Well, mainly because my wife is from Mexico and the entirety of her blood relations continue to live there along with most everyone she grew up with. It is the home of half (well more than half) my children's relatives. It is a country I've grown to know and love and respect over the last 22 years...a country whose people and history and culture and traditions are far deeper and richer than most Americans give them credit for. 

There are a lot of people dying there right now. My wife has already lost friends to the virus. It is only a matter of time before she...we...start lost family to it. 

Today, I am thankful that hasn't yet happened. I know that there are many, many people who wish they could say the same. I realize that I have been fortunate and that my luck will probably run out before this pandemic has finished running its course, but today...on this Thanksgiving...I can be truly sincere in giving thanks for the blessings I've had till now. 

If you're one of the folks reading this post...well, it means you still have life left in your body. But for some of you...some of you who have been touched by tragedy in this last year...that may feel like no great thing worth celebrating. The Thanksgiving holiday may even feel like a slap in the face: being told to feast and celebrate when jobs and incomes are lost and when loved ones lie ill...or dead. I am sorry, truly sorry. I feel bad...I feel bad that I cannot share and shoulder more of your pain. Not because I want to suffer...no one wants to suffer...but because I want to ease the stress and burden you feel. 

I feel guilty for being thankful for the blessings I have.

Maybe I should be glib...maybe I should try to be light-hearted. But I'm just not feeling it at the moment. It's 10am, Seattle time, and the family should be waking up soon. Today will be a busy day at my house, so I probably won't have more time to write that silly, light-hearted post my readers so richly deserve. And I apologize for that. I'll try to do better in days to come.

Please know that I am thankful for all of you who are reading this. Without people reading, I probably (probably) wouldn't have carried on as long as I have. And I am praying for you...for all of you...and for the world as well. For your health and your safety and your sanity and for that of the people whose lives you touch and that touch yours. I hope and pray that all of us can find blessings in our lives for which we can be thankful (selfishly or not). 

My love to you all.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

"You can be a GNOME?"

 Ah, AD&D...still king after all these years.

My kids are only now just starting to discover the majesty and mystery of that tome we call The Players Handbook. At first, they were only really using the ability score and equipment tables...now, they're starting to dive in.

As I suspected, their first excitement simply came from the fact that we were playing Dungeons & Dragons again...the boy made an elven fighter, the girl made a halfling ("kender") fighter/thief. Both were approaching the game much as one might a game of B/X or OD&D (their previous forays into D&D), though of course there was some confusion ("What's ring armor?" "What's a bastard sword?" etc.). They were both happy to purchase guard dogs.

Everything else they've taken in stride. I don't think they've noticed, for instance, that armor class goes to 10, or that weapons do different damage versus large creatures.They prefer to shoot arrows into things anyway. They appreciate the extra hit points, of course, but those are always a precious resource and never in large enough supply.

But playing D&D has once again fired both kids' desire (though my son's especially) to run the game. And Diego drafted a dungeon to run AD&D for myself and his sister. And he was tres shocked when I brought a ranger to the table. "What the heck is that?" Maybe you should read up on the new sub-classes and races in the book, I suggested. And, oh boy, did he...now he's trying to get his sister to roll up an assassin or an illusionist, while he himself created a ranger of his own...though his has a bow (unlike mine).

[I am so tired of the ranger archer trope]

I am glad their imagination has been sparked; my own has had a jumpstart as well. However, I will whine that the old complaint still lingers: it's frustrating that one has to wait and wade through novice challenges without being able to get to the higher level content (i.e. "the good stuff"). When last we left off (last night) the party was just attacked by a handful of fire beetles, who appear to be getting the upper hand (AC 4 is especially rough for low-level PCs to hit). It may soon be time to create new player characters...too bad, as they just spent the gold and time to train up to 2nd level.

[ah, AD&D]

For the curious, I will list the particularities of the game I'm currently running:

  • Rule books being used include: the PHB, DMG, MM, and Fiend Folio. The MM2 and DDG might be used in the future but have not, as of yet, been necessary. No Unearthed Arcana or later rules.
  • Ability scores are rolled 4D6, arranged to taste, and character must have at least two "15" scores to be considered viable.
  • Demihumans who single class may add +2 to their maximum applicable level when otherwise limited.
  • First level hit points are maximum to begin; "1s" are rerolled when leveling. 
  • Training costs are in silver pieces instead of gold. Training time is determined randomly (roll 1d4), doubled without a trainer/mentor.
  • Psionics have not yet been added to the game.
  • To this point, I have simply been using 2d6 (B/X) reaction rolls when necessary, rather than the more complex system provided in the DMG. This might change once I've had a chance to put together a cheat sheet, but it seems unnecessary for a more complex system, considering that none of the PCs have any kind of reaction adjustment (average charisma scores).
  • We are not using alignment at the moment; there are no alignment languages and players have not chosen alignment for their characters. Right now, the entire issue of alignment seems an inconvenience; i.e. an obstruction to play. Not only is it difficult to explain, its mechanics are obscure. The players are basically "good" (and are playing their characters as such) and until it matters for some reason, I am simply using alignment (with regard to NPCs, magic items, etc.) as rough guidelines for motivation. 

And that's about it. Um...yep. Everything else is being used as written. I'm only going to worry about changing things if/when we run into a "snag" in play. 

Regarding the campaign setting: as I wrote the other day I am taking it extremely slow with regard to putting things together. The world definitely has a "post-apocalyptic" vibe to it, though in the way of Bakshi's Wizards rather than Dragonlance/Krynn.  Orcs, for example, are simply mutants. They are not a particularly "fecund species;" instead, mutants (caused by bad magic/radiation/something) are found amongst most species. A "half-orc" is the mutant offspring of a genetic human; tainted areas of the wilderness might give rise to a higher percentage of "half-orcs" in the population. Orcs proper are bestial descendants of such creatures being driven into the wilderness, forced to band together in tribal communities, further mucking up their own blood lines. Such creatures have an antagonistic relationship with the races that have spurned them.

[goblin kind, on the other hand, are an actual, non-mutant species. They're enmity towards dwarves are based on rivalry born of competing subterranean species; their hostility towards humans and elves come from these latter groups being allies with dwarves. Kobolds, in my game, are simply "small goblins," (like gnomes are "small dwarves") not dog-headed gremlins]

Typical orcish horde.

I've often, in recent years, considered orcs to be something akin to the sword & sorcery trope of "beastmen," creatures that, AD&D, would normally be modeled by the mongrelman creature found in I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City and later (published officially) in the Monster Manual II. The justification for this comes directly from my reading of the Tom Moldvay's (B/X) description of the orc:

"Orcs are ugly human-like creatures who look like a combination of animal and man."

...the first time ANY physical description of orcs (outside of coloration) is given in any of the D&D books. To me, it conjures a bit of an Isle of Dr. Moreau vibe, and I'm happy to run with that...especially the idea of such mutant creatures setting down their own laws and traditions in an attempt to build some semblance of "society."

But, again, I'm digressing. And I have errands to run. The Seahawks are playing tonight (we'll see how THAT goes...), and since the MLS playoffs don't start (for Seattle) till Tuesday, that means my weekend should be very freed up for Dungeons & Dragons. Rainy days in November are good for gamers!

: )

Monday, November 16, 2020

Bloodletting

Quick Note: The Complete B/X Adventurer will be back in stock this week...the new print run should be ready by Thursday. Had some issues with my printer misplacing the files for the book, but they've got 'em now. The button on the side of the blog has been updated.

Second Note: Wow, Seahawks. Just terrible

Russell Wilson was awful yesterday (and the last three weeks). But the Jamal Adams trade is looking worse and worse as the season goes on. Despite making the occasional spectacular play, the defense is even more terrible when he's on the field...and that is saying something. Giving up three draft picks (including two first rounders!) plus Bradley McDougall (an adequate cover safety) just to get a guy who can make flashes before giving up big pass plays and passing on opportunities to tackle? Garbage

Here's his Blood Bowl profile:

#33 Goblin: MA 7 ST 2 AG 3 AV 8  Skills: Dodge, Stunty, Right Stuff, Dauntless, Durable*, Leader, Pass Rush*, Strip Ball

* These are new skills pertinent to my NAFL version of the rules (yet unpublished...sorry about that!). Durable allows casualty type to be rerolled (kind of like a personal apothecary); it may not be used in conjunction with an apothecary. Pass rush allows a player to pass block (move three spaces when an opponent announces a pass) even when engaged (in an opponent's tackle zone) but only downfield (i.e. towards the quarterback). 

Such a player IS an asset to the team...he's fast and can take on players that are bigger than himself (there's a reason Adams isn't a linebacker, despite wanting to play like one). But it's not enough. Not when you have 2nd and 3rd string lineorcs playing cornerback and free safety and you're playing against an offense competent enough to respond to the blitz. Just...rough.

And for the record...can I just say I really dislike the Rams? And have since the days of Marc Bulger?

Finally:

Played some Dungeons & Dragons this weekend, specifically the Advanced (1st edition) version of the game. It's...been a while. And I'm taking it slow...not only because of my own rust, but because I'm teaching the game to my children. 

Cool monster.
No, I'm NOT running a Dragonlance campaign...although my daughter continues to insist her halfling is a kender and wears shoes. Which is fine. And I might steal some DL dungeons, just to throw in the game...Xak Tsaroth is fine as a lair for a black dragon, for example. But I see how other folks...folks much smarter than me...have thrown up their hands at trying to remake the setting.

And honestly...who has the time? 

Well, perhaps someone does, but I am (at this point) unwilling to do so; I'd rather just play. 

So, I'm not (remaking DL, that is)Instead, I'm settling back into AD&D. Very, very slowly. Right now, that means using (or repurposing) pre-written adventures. There really isn't much out there for 1st level characters, but a short scenario from issue #1 of Flipping & Turning (I'll have to talk at length about Grogtalk some time) was sufficient to start the ball rolling. We are now on the two part Alderweg series (UK2 and UK3), though I'm modifying it somewhat (mainly adjusting Fiend Folio monsters. Why the heck do we need xvarts? They're just goblins (if blue). And ogrillons aren't anything more than strong orcs, really...), and I'm just hodge-podging the world together in an eclectic fashion. That's good enough for now, while I get my feet back under me.

[hmm...just by the way, Xak Tsaroth IS kind of a crumby dungeon. And the map is very hard to read on a PDF. Skullcap, however (from DL3) is pretty groovy, and that's an adventure I have in hardcopy. Perhaps I'll change out the shadow dragon for a black. I really do like black dragons]

All right, that's all. Hope everyone's doing well. Later.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Welcome to Bartertown!

 Let's talk about Krynn's steel-based economy.

Yes, I wrote (briefly) about this before...I've had more time to ponder it and more information with which to synthesize its sheer ridiculousness. 

First, we can talk about steel itself. Oh, boy...lots there. Krynn seems to have  a technology level at least equal to the late middle ages of Earth (plate armored knights means 14th to 15th century, yeah?). Humans on our planet started working steel from a couple thousand years before that. Why? Because they were fairly ingenious and the materials they needed (iron and timber) were plentiful. 5% of the Earth's crust is made of iron...that's a LOT. And it doesn't take huge amounts of heat to extract it...just heat in the proper amounts with the proper technique. 

[rather than spend a bunch of time writing a thesis on That Which I Am Unqualified To Explain, I will simply direct you to Bret Devereaux's excellent essays on the subject]

Even if the world of Krynn is exceptionally "iron poor," as has been suggested some places, the creation of a currency based on steel makes little sense. After all, steel wasn't a unit of currency before the Cataclysm; if it was such a rare and precious commodity on Krynn, why wasn't iron used as legal tender previously? 

And let's talk about these "steel pieces;" who's minting them anyway? And to what purpose? Do folks trade them to the local blacksmith? Again, the purpose of money is for a portable unit of exchange (instead of trying to buy a helmet with a bag of grain)...steel is a commodity, to be forged and shaped. And my understanding is that blacksmiths prefer to work in billets; why would one want to go through the trouble of forging the coins into something useful?

But, again...who is striking these coins and where? Old, used, and even rusty metal can be reforged...presumably there's lots of metal scraps left over from the pre-Cataclysm days. Maybe the Cataclysm just turned everyone stupid? Maybe that's it...here's a passage from DL3: Dragons of Hope:

"Here, the flat plain shows scars of the Dwarfgate War. The blasted heath is punctuated by the rusting hulks of ancient, broken war machines. The wind howls across the plain. 
"Rusted, broken swords, shields, and armor litter the plain, obscured by sand and drifting snows. The great iron war machines stand draped in ice, a monument of destruction."
There is nothing of value here. 

Um, no...there's plenty of value there.  And the place should have already been picked clean by now: the Dwarfgate War occurred approximately 250 years before the events of the adventure module...plenty of metal (i.e. steel), broken or otherwise, worth looting. And considering the Dwarfgate War was a post-Cataclysm event (i.e. after the rise of steel as the currency of choice) an un-looted battlefield represents an obscene amount of wealth just to be left lying around (and keep in mind that the DL setting awards X.P. for the recovery of steel based on its "gpw," i.e. gold piece weight). We're all leveling up!

[and just for the record, failing to loot a battlefield is pretty strange...there were survivors (on both sides!) after all]

The idea that Krynn is some sort of metal poor world (like MZB's Darkover) simply doesn't make sense, and neither does the idea of minting "steel pieces." It's a poetic concept (and, again, I see the implied allegory here: Krynn moving from a "golden age" to an age of war), but it's nonsense.

That doesn't mean, however, that you can't have the bottom fall out of the gold market.

Krynn is a post-apocalyptic world. The Cataclysm messed it up but good.  And if you live in a large urban area like, say, Xak Tsaroth or Tarsis and suddenly have your food supply wiped out by enormously dramatic environmental catastrophe, then it doesn't matter how much gold you have. You can't buy bread when there's no bread to buy.

And here I can see the total (or near total) devaluation of the gold piece. Monetization of an economy exists to fill a need, that need being an easy exchange of goods between large groups of suppliers and demanders (yes, I'm over-simplifying). When civil society breaks down, though, and the population exists on the edge of survival, monetization is no longer necessary. You can't eat gold. And again, as an allegory, steel does become a form of currency: the pointy, sword-shaped type pointed at the farmer whose meager grain supply he hoped would feed him through the winter. Steel...war and murder...becomes the new method for "facilitating an exchange of goods" in a post-apocalyptic world.

But once everyone's armed up (and the weakest have gone about the business of dying) you can move back to barter. And here "steel" (as a matter of currency) might be a stand-in term for "goods" or "useful items." The closer the timeline is to the catastrophic event, the more reliant one is on straight trading of goods and services (as opposed to money of any sort)...because you really don't know when the iron mines and Pax Tharkas are going to get up and running again, and you could really use a helmet and a sword for the next time those bandits try raiding the village granary. Winter is coming!

I'm reminded of various bits of post-apocalyptic fiction here. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (of course) with Tina Turner's Bartertown, but also The Blood of Heroes (Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen) with its ritualized banditry in the form of jugging. Their money tended to be bits of scrap metal, too, but it was pretty obvious from the landscape that no one was going to be opening any iron mines in the near future. Krynn doesn't have to deal with that type of radioactive wasteland.

Additionally, Krynn is pretty far removed from its Cataclysm (by the time of the novels anyway). It's 350 years later. People are living in treetop villages, surrounded by fields of rich farmland (farmland later burned and destroyed by invading dragon armies...what's up with THAT? How is the army going to eat?!). Nation states are forming up, diplomatic relations forming between new cities like Solace, Gateway, Haven, and the plainsmen (plainsfolk?). Trade is taking place! Half-elves are wearing feathers! All that jazz.

And there are plenty of places where life is going on much as it did before the Cataclysm. The dwarves of Thorbardin are unchanged. Qualinesti is still a city of towering, crystalline (elven) spires that have stood since before the "fiery mounted" impacted with Istar. Palanthas is mostly unchanged, as is the insular culture of the Solamnic knights (though the same can't be said for their prestige and standing within the Krynnish community). The kender didn't sink into the ocean (much to the rest of Krynn's chagrin). The tinker gnomes remain on the same island they have for thousands of years. 

While Krynn has suffered an unnatural disaster of impressive scale, it is a world well on its way to recovery. The people have adapted to the new landscape, hard as that may have been. And other than the invasion of an evil goddess-backed army led by dragon riders and soldiers that explode or turn into acid when you kill them...well, life would seem pretty close to idyllic.

Which is why I keep thinking I need to change the setting to something closer to the apocalypse...something like 100 years after the Cataclysm

I was thinking that I'd call this little project, "B/X Dragonlance;" now, I'd just settle for "reasonable Dragonlance."

All right, that's enough for tonight. It's my birthday and the family is trying to fete me and whatnot. Makes it really tough to write blog posts (I started writing this morning). Ugh...all right, all right...I've got to go. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

So Much Wrong (Krynn)

I am really having a hard time figuring out where to start.

"It's all about the economy." Isn't that what people say? Perhaps not with regard to world building (in a fantasy RPG)...but maybe they should. Still: what part of the economy do you want to start with? The people? The geography? The resources? The monetization (or lack thereof)? The nations of the known world?

Maybe I should start with the good. 

No wait...even that's going to elicit complaints. Ah, well.

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The maps are "okay." I can work with some (most?) of them. It's a shame they're so poorly inconsistent from product to product (DL2: Dragons of Flame gives a scale of one hex equals two kilometers...what, is that supposed to be someone's idea of a joke?). But aside from issues of scale and nonsensical placements of some terrain (for example: steppe and grasslands being keyed differently on the world map ...despite being pretty much the same thing...and then locating the steppe along temperate coastlines, negating the main distinction between the terms). But the "dungeons" are somewhat better, at least as pre-drawn adventure sites. Which is something.

Aaaaaand...that's about it. 

I mean, with regard to the world building of Krynn. The Dragonlance story...the characterizations, the concept, the premise...those things are fine. Good enough, really (and better in novel form than in the scripted adventure modules). But other than place names, Cataclysmic wreckage, and invading dragon armies...well, I think I'm going to end up junking most of it. Or rewriting substantial bits, especially regarding the setting history...the legends can stay the same, just being chalked up to "unreliable narrators" and unsubstantiated rumor.

[hmm...though it's unfortunate that the presence of Astinus the Chronicler kind of nixes this idea, seeing as he's portrayed as both immortal and infallible with regard to his histories. *sigh* Something else I'll have to consider. On the other hand, most PCs won't have access to Astinus's archives. But (hmm, again) then why does he exist? Ugh]

There are certainly some people who will wonder why I'm bothering to continue with this reclamation project. Is it just that I dig on Qualinesti elves and "barbaric plainsmen" fighting against masked dragon riders? Um, no...problems abound with all those things (especially the "mounted dragonlance" itself which, while a cool idea, seems pretty damn impractical for aerial combat). Neither is it nostalgia...well, certainly it's not ALL nostalgia.

Thing is, folks, I'm not all that great at originating new ideas. I'm just not. I'm okay with taking someone else's idea and "refining" it...but I need some initial creative spark to work with. I'm afraid, I just don't find my own ideas very inspiring.

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And Dragonlance is something I'm familiar with...something I read and collected back in the day, something I enjoyed and supported (i.e. spent money on). So, I guess, that means that I care about it on some level...even as I feel no hesitation to be critical of it. In recent years, my wife has accused me (at times) of being a mean person. Okay, maybe...certainly I can see the way I express myself might hurt feelings. On the other hand, do the makers of Dragonlance really give a rip what I have to say? 

[though I recognize that's probably not a valid justification for being incendiary]

Suffice is to say: there's a world here to tinker with. It's a challenge, it's fun, and it is (once stripped of its railroad story plot) very much "D&D." 

NOW, having gone through all that, I did give my kids a brief rundown of the World of Krynn as a setting in which I want to run a bit. They were very excited (though it might be they just want to play Dungeons & Dragons)...and I didn't even tell them about dragons or Huma or "steel coins" or anything. All I told them was about the Cataclysm, some of its aftermath (including clerics gone missing), and their characters' hometown (Solace, which I plan on discussing in my next post). I told them about kender instead of halflings, and about elves having the potential to be single-classed, and the lack of orcs. The setting has juice...and that's even without some of the good stuff (knightly orders and the Tower of High Sorcery, for instance). There's cool stuff here. 

I think I'll be running it with some form of advanced B/X.