Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Out of the Sewer (LAST DAY!)

Just a reminder that today is the last official day of my "Out of the Sewer" adventure contest. Get me your submission by midnight, Pacific Time, if you want to be considered for one of the "glittering prizes."

I'm working on my own entry for the contest today...just wanted to make sure the contest was "doable." It's been tough (I'm a  busy guy and November's a busy month), but I think I'll make it. I hope. If I find it impossible to complete myself (knowing that I'm pretty anal retentive and a procrastinator to boot), then I might consider extending the deadline. Might. But right now I'm not considering anything except the writing I have to do to finish my own adventure. 

Anyway. That's all I have time to blog at the moment. Just wanted to remind folks.
: ) 

Good luck to all the contestants!

***EDIT: All right, I just finished the final touches on my own adventure and it is AFTER midnight...specifically it is 12:10am on December 1st. As such, I will accept ANY submissions received today (12/1) as official contest entries...though I might ding you a point for tardiness (my own adventure is ineligible for prizes, duh). ***

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Play-Testing The Insanity

So...we finally, FINALLY had a chance to restart the AD&D campaign Monday night.

Sad to admit, but it's been close to six months...just insane the amount of time that's slid by since our last delve. Oh, we've played Dungeons & Dragons since then...I've run games for my kids and their friends (Blizzard Pass as a one-off just a couple weeks back); AD&D even. But we needed to get back to actual play in our (my) game world, not just development.

When last we'd left off, the team had used a staff of summoning to conjure a pack of shriekers, whose shrill screaming upon finding themselves in the afternoon sun managed to drive away the lizard folk they'd been fighting. They then continued their scouring of ancient paths, looking for the sunken city hidden somewhere in the swamp. 

And they found it...or at least the remains of the last surface plaza, complete with a single standing building, a temple of ancient design, its dome cracked from long centuries of neglect, it's massive doors scratched and scarred and bereft of the gold leaf that once covered their frames. 

Enter the temple they did, and choosing NOT to despoil the statue of the goddess they found therein (though tempted by the rod of blue crystal held tightly in its hands) they found a long stairway descending down-down-down into the bowels of the earth. Down to the temple crypts, where they hoped (and expected) to find some sort of treasure, ripe for the plucking. 

Father Barod ("Beanpole") led the way with his hooded lantern. 

Here's the "box text" from DL1 for the Hall of Ancestors:
Dim light shines up through the floor. A vast hall stretches to the east. The ceiling, heavily reinforced, stands solidly above, but below, the floor has fallen away in several places. Hot mists, carrying the odor of decay, rise through the holes in the floor.
Beanpole, the party's 3rd level cleric decided to go check out the gaping hole that cut across the floor of the chamber. 'I'm going to go peek over the edge and see what's down there.' Will Big Jim (the trusted retainer they've had since Bendan Fazier) go with you? 'Yeah, he's staying by my side.'

I did a double-take as I looked at my notes for the chamber:
  • There is a 65% chance that any weight greater than 50# within 5’ of a hole will cause the floor beneath it to collapse. The fall to the cavern floor below is 700'.
What? I checked the original text in DL1. Here's what it says:
Any dwarf can tell that the floor is unsafe. The holes open to a 700' drop straight into the lower ruins of the city. Anyone who weighs more than 500 gpw [gold piece weight] and comes within 5' of a hole's edge runs a 65% chance that the floor below him will collapse.

Even if a hero makes it to the edge of a hole, all he sees is a foul mist gathered below.
That's all the text says. And for the most part, my restocking/rewriting of DL1 was focused far more on monster and treasure selection than on environmental hazards. Strange, perhaps that such a deadly trap isn't better telegraphed...especially for a DragonLance adventure (where the "heroes" are expected to succeed). But then it IS telegraphed because "any dwarf can tell that the floor is unsafe" and anyone playing DL1 should have Flint Fireforge (4th level dwarf fighter) as a prominent member of the party. Unfortunately, there are no dwarves in my players' party.

This is a good example of why play-testing is so important. Looking at the encounter area on paper, it doesn't seem terrible (probably one of the reasons I didn't bother adjusting it). Standard chance of springing a trap in OD&D or B/X is 2-in-6 (33% chance)...with something as "obvious" as this hazard, is a double chance (4-in-6, 66%) so unfair? Especially considering that a cautious party might use a 10' pole to probe the floor, or rope up together, or use the lightest party member for exploration?

But even so, some sort of Get Out of Jail Free card could be provided besides "have a dwarf in the party." I wrote before about including "Flinty" as a findable NPC in the adventure, and he IS there, albeit in the lower cavern levels. A better idea might be to have the dwarf stashed in the swamp outside the temple. This gives the PCs a potential benny for taking the non-psychotic approach to dealing with NPCs (find a helpful set of eyes for subterranean hazards); players eager to deal out death to everything on two-legs will thus be justly penalized for their lack of imagination.

Ah, well. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

Beanpole weighs scarcely more than 50# soaking wet, but he is dressed in plate and carries 20ish pounds or so of extra gear. I informed the player that the floor creaked mightily as he stretched out his lantern over the edge of the hole and asked him to roll the percentile dice; unfortunately, he rolled a 34. The floor collapsed with a groan taking the cleric with it.

I rolled for Big Jim...though, topping 300# of gear and muscle, this probably should have been automatic. As the Fates were obviously on the same wavelength as myself, the dice came up low and Jim followed his employer into the drop.

The nice thing about having Google at your fingertips: you can quickly find out how long it actually takes to fall 700'. 6.59 seconds it turns out, equivalent to a bit more than one segment. Diego scanned through his spell list for something that might save him...unfortunately, nothing. We did allow him the opportunity to pray for divine intervention on the way down (see page 112 of the DMG), but the gods were apparently satisfied at the doom he'd chosen for himself. 

Sonia, my daughter's character, was quick with a spell of her own; she sent a message to her brother: "you're going to die." Diego was not amused, but Sofia laughed mightily.  Until they discovered that all the torches, oil, etc. had been carried by Beanpole and Big Jim and now the party was left in the subterranean hall without a light source. 

*sigh* Hindsight. 

ANYway...I'll skip the rest of the evening's escapades except to say that no one else died and they DID escape the temple crypt and have now discovered a new PC (Frederick, a gnomish illusionist/thief) that was skulking in the swamp, hiding from lizard men and otyughs. It feels good to get back to playing D&D, and I am immensely hopeful we'll get to play more in the next couple/few days. I'm not sure the players want to continue exploring the Sunken City (their resources are quickly dwindling and they've yet to find anything resembling treasure...well, except for that blue crystal staff embedded in the statue of the goddess). If they don't decide to continue, they will have to deal with matter of 3,000 gold owed to Duke Van-Uz (the Duke could employ two 5th level assassins for 900 g.p. and would still be less out of pocket than the 1,500 he originally gave to bankroll the party). But they might be better served finding a smaller dungeon, closer to civilization. And I'm currently working on a ratty little thing that might do the trick.
; )

However, that'll (probably) have to wait till after Thanksgiving. Lots to do the next couple days.

More later. Hope everyone has a happy holiday! Best wishes to you all!

Friday, November 19, 2021

Different Strokes

The other day, I was looking for video reviews of old adventure modules (something to listen to while doing housework) and stumbled across an old Goodman Games video in which four of their prominent designers, listed their Top 10 D&D modules (TSR era) of all time. 

As such videos go it was...eh. Par for the usual (as in, no mind-blowing opinions/info got dropped). And, yet, I was fascinated enough to go back and re-watch the thing and make up a spread sheet charting everyone's individual list. Because what was interesting was just how surprisingly crappy their favorite picks were and their justifications for including specific adventures.

That's "crappy" in my opinion...but my opinion is one of an adventure designer. And these guys are adventure designers...like long-time ones with more book credits under their belts than I will ever have. That is what caused me to sit up and take notice. You know, if three out of four designers list Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh as one of their Top Ten faves, then, hey, maybe there's something to take a look at there. On the other hand, when they blather on about Ravenloft being one of the greatest of all time with regard to design, it makes me question their abilities at all.

So I rewatched the thing and dived deeper. Some of the dudes had picks I agreed with. Some (clearly) did not. But what I came to realize, as I watched this video was that their lists were largely based on something more than "design." They were influenced by nostalgia, reputation, size/scope and...more than anything else...fond memories they've had of times actually running/playing these particular adventures. The guy who picked Ravenloft as his number one claims to have run it 5 or 6 times (even taking the same players through it more than once). The guy who listed the Desert of Desolation series as his favorite has run the entire thing more than once and had a blast doing so. 

The fact that they have fond memories of playing/running Ghost Tower of Inverness or Palace of the Silver Princess or whatever...because that's what they had the opportunity to play/run as a youth...should not be a knock against their opinions, any more than it should be a knock against MY lofty opinions of Forbidden City or Tomb of Horrors or whatever. The fact is, it's tough for MOST of us to be critical against the things we hold in esteem due to rose-colored glasses of the past.

And as my son likes to point out: different folks have different tastes. 

[of course he only points that out when it excuses his enjoyment of a song like Pitbull's "Fireball," which I am absolutely convinced is THE WORST SONG I'VE EVER HEARD. I don't know that it's the worst song ever written (that "honor" may go to some other Pitbull song), but it is hands down the absolute most awful piece of trash masquerading as "song-writing" that has ever tortured my ears. Worse than "Party in the USA." Worse than "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt." Worse than "You Remind Me Of My Jeep." Worse than Crazy Town's "Butterfly." I would almost...almost...be willing to put it second to that stupid "Good Is The New Bad" song I had the misfortune to hear on Disney radio the other day (that one even makes Diego cringe), but then I hear Pitbull's opening "lyrics" and want to punch my face through a wall of glass. 

Yet everyone else in my family dig that stupid-stupid song. Even my wife (who claims to not like Pitbull). There's no accounting for tastes. I consider "The Hotel California" one of the best songs of all time, and some people hate the Eagles. But I would rather listed to Ice-T singing "Evil Dick" (from his Body Count days) than Fireball. F**k that garbage. I won't say I hope Pitbull dies a gruesome death...but if he were to spontaneously combust some day and all his gazillions of dollars be donated to some worthy charity, well, I can't deny I'd be more than content]


Now, as I wrote in my last post, all RPGs provide rules for participants to explore an imaginary environment, but they are distinguished from each other by HOW they execute this exploration. And it is in the execution of these "HOWs" that we can best judge them.

And, yes, because of the limitlessness of the (RPG) medium, it is possible to contort mechanics into doing all sorts of things that the design doesn't support. Back in the day, we transported a couple of our high level AD&D characters to the Marvel Superhero version of earth, converting all their stats and abilities to standard FASERIP scores. That was some bunch crazy (and I don't recommend it)...but for us, it worked and we had half-elf weather goddesses and psionic-slinging bards brushing up against mutants, cyborgs, and aliens...for a while anyway.

BUT, as I wrote about recently, different RPG groups have different priorities of play, similar to what Ron Edwards once termed "creative agendas," a term from the (now more-or-less obsolete) GNS theory postulated on the Forge. Dungeons & Dragons (the old pre-1983 version about which I'm concerned) pushed a particular priority of play and conceptually executed it rather well:
  • the premise contained a joint objective (everyone wants treasure)
  • deadly challenges force engagement (pay attention or die)
  • asymmetry forced players to cooperate (different classes bring different skills to the table)
  • simple mechanics increase accessibility (roll dice, look at chart)
  • kitchen sink setting provides many possibilities for exploration (the length and breadth of pulp fantasy fiction)
For those who wonder why it is that D&D has remained "king" of the market for so long, one really only has to look at the excellent way in which the game executes its objectives. It's not that people LOVE "pseudo-medieval fantasy" ...some people want to retch at the idea of "high fantasy." It's the fashion in which the system functions and interacts that makes it the master of the RPG realm. 

The ONLY game that really comes close is Shadowrun. It has a joint purpose (players need to complete missions...for money). It has high pressure (i.e. deadly) stakes. It has SOME asymmetry...magic and cybertechnology don't mix well, and both are (generally) useful for completing missions. Plus the priority system of chargen ensures PC types have different strengths. But its setting...being both near future and far more defined...is far less mysterious (less avenues of exploration). And EVERYone has the ability to use firearms (the great equalizer) making many teams feel a bit "same-y." Also, the premise (PCs being beholden to missions given by Mr. Johnson) makes the game the equivalent of "quest-giver-at-the-tavern" Every Single Time...a rinse-n-repeat that gets old with no endgame in sight.

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons.

And that's the BEST of other RPGs...most fall down in even more ways. Asymmetry is the usual one; while most of the challenging RPGs do well forcing cooperation between PCs (safety in numbers!) none have quite the distinction...nor emphasis...between different PC types, even in games that have "classes" (including Marvel's "power types," Rifts' "O.C.C.s," Vampire's "clans," etc.). It's not like the VtM group is saying, "man, we really need a nosferatu to round out our coterie!" 

Here's the thing, though: that ain't a priority of play for MANY players of RPGs. Being challenged is a priority of play supported (and enhanced) by the design of Dungeons & Dragons, but some people aren't looking for that. Some people just want to explore a particular genre/setting

Westerns, outer space, superheroes, Lovecraftian exploration, Cold War spies, post-apocalypse, secret vampire society, zombie survival, steampunk time travelers, whatever...there are RPGs written to provide rules for just about any "imaginary environment" one might want to experience. You read it in a fiction novel, you saw it in a movie, you had a weird dream...wherever the strange inspiration came from you think it would be "cool" to live in that particular setting for a while. And that kind of play appeals to some folks: a shared daydream, if you will. 

Most RPGs fall into the category of facilitating this style of play. Most. 

D&D isn't about genre/setting satisfaction: there are better games that explore "pseudo-medieval" (Chivalry & Sorcery, Pendragon, Ars Magica, etc.)...better games, even, that explore struggles between law and chaos (Stormbringer, Warhammer) in a "realistic" fashion. D&D, as originally written, is wholly unconcerned with realism and almost unconcerned with genre emulation...save for the tropes of adventure fiction. 

The idea of genre emulation or setting exploration has a vast appeal. It's super cool! I get drawn into it myself! My shelves are filled with RPGs for settings/genres that are wicked-awesome. Zombie cowboys (Deadlands), pulp adventure (Hollow Earth Expedition), time traveling zeppelins (Airship Pirates), etc. In my experience all these games tend to be extremely short-lived, no matter how heavy-handed the GM (and it generally takes a heavy-handed GM to get the game even beyond the chargen stage). None have any long-term duration. And yet some people desire nothing more from their RPG than the type of exploration afforded by these genre-specific RPGs, happily jumping from one to another. One day ElfQuest; the next day Star Trek.

Different strokes for different folks.

There are other priorities of play found in those who regularly play RPGs...two more really. I don't really want to discuss either one of them, however, as I have nothing positive to say about them (different tastes, fine); likewise, of the two "unmentionables," one is only designed for incidentally. But neither is conducive to long-term play except in the most toxic and/or insular fashion. And these days, I am all about the long-term play. 

What I am now wondering...and what I have sometimes wondered in the past: is it possible to design an RPG that functions conceptually as well or better than D&D. AND...a "flip-side" thought...is it possible to write a genre/setting-specific RPG that generates the same type of "perpetual game experience" that D&D does. 

Considering it right now, I actually think the latter has already been done, at least in one genre. Heavily developed Traveller or games like Ashen Stars or Bulldogs...RPGs in which the PCs represent the crew of a single ship provide a reason for players to cooperate and "adventure" together, unfettered from the needs of being challenged in a D&D-type fashion...so long as the table is cool with that type of play. Lots of "imaginary environment" to explore in space; shared/joint concern (maintaining the ship); need for cooperation among the PCs...although the asymmetry isn't quite there. And with good reason: if each PC is responsible for one aspect of "ship survival" (engineer, pilot, etc.) and any PC gets killed, the entire ship goes down. The perils of operating in a hostile environment (same would hold true in submarine-type RPG).

Genre exploration is most usually executed with scripted stories...and while that's functional for that priority of play, it cuts out the beating heart of D&D, destroying what makes D&D great. And, yet, that is what many MANY individuals equate with fun, authentic D&D play...so much so that some DMs simply cannot run a game of Dungeons & Dragons without some sort of storyline/plot. Sad (to me), because the game as written takes care of player motivation, leaving nothing for the DM but to construct a world that is sound...an imaginary environment worthy of exploration. 

Why must you force story down the players' throats? What are you trying to prove? What has destroyed your trust in your players?

Different tastes. 

All right, that's enough for today. I want to take the dog for a walk before I pick up the kids from school. Next week they have the week off, so posting will (probably) be light. Have a happy one, folks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Not A Board Game

Staring out at my dining and living room areas, I see a lot of board games that have been played in the last week or so: Axis & Allies, Life, Clue, Cranium, Monopoly, Chess. This is a bit unusual for the fam, but we've had a lack of external obligations and a heaping pile of rain...plus, I've just wanted the kids to do something besides fire up some sort of portable screen device. I'm a curmudgeon that way. 

Board games are not Dungeons & Dragons. I've seen a lot of "board game" posts and discussions around the blogs the last couple-three days...various angles, no one particular thread or thought...and I thought I might take a moment to belabor the point for a moment. Just because. 

Because I think it's important. 

Because, these days we often draw a line between "tabletop games" and "computer games" and while D&D is often (or potentially) played at/on a table, it's not the same thing as a tabletop game. Role-playing games of the "table-top" variety are NOT the same thing as common board or parlor games. 

I think we forget that. We talk about "un-plugging" from our phones or Switches or consoles (or whatever) to play an analog game and we lump RPGs in the same category as backgammon. They aren't the same...they're not even close. Sure, B/X was purchased in a box. So, too, are fancy cigars. 

Not. The. Same. Thing.

Consequently (and this is my point...as much as I ever have one), it's hardly any use judging RPGs by the same standards as other games. Yes, they have rules. Yes, they are played for enjoyment. The same could be said of a musical instrument. A saxophone is not the same as Chinese Checkers. Neither is an RPG.

RPGs need to be examined by their own standard. How well do they do the "RPG thing?" It's the only standard by which it makes sense to examine and analyze them. 

[*sigh* I don't know why I bother writing this since I'm sure it will either elicit cries of "duh" or deliberate and hard-headed denial. I suppose I just want to record my thoughts of the moment]

People choose to play RPGs for a variety of reasons. People choose to play golf or baseball for a variety of reasons. Pleasure, challenge, camaraderie, stimulation (mental, emotional, whatever), escapism. The "whys" of play is less concerning, less interesting to me at this moment than the hows and whats: What is an RPG? How does its design facilitate play? 

And of the hundreds or so RPGs I have owned, read, and/or played over the years, there is one RPG that stands head-and-shoulders over the entirety of the others with the way in which its HOW delivers on the promise of its WHAT. 

RPGs provide rules for participants to explore an imaginary environment. There's the WHAT.

That's "all" they do (yeah, it's a bit of a large "all"). But it's certainly different from what a board or computer game provides, namely a fixed structure of finite possibility. There may be exploration that takes place in a computer/board game, but it is always...ALWAYS...a limited potentiality.

RPGs are not structurally limited. Their environs...the imaginary realm in which games are played...are limitless. The rules provide procedure and (some) structure, but the potential for infinite possibility exists in every single RPG, even a game as constrained by procedure as, say, My Life With Master or Dogs in the Vineyard

The game of chess has a finite number of possible moves or combinations of play, just as does Tic-Tac Toe. Unlike the latter, those possible combinations number so many as to be...for practical purposes...uncountable. But given enough time (or enough computer memory) one could map out every possible sequence of plays given a board with a limited number of spaces and a limited number of pieces. 

That's not possible with an RPG.

SO...now that I've defined the "what," we can look at the "how" and for the vast majority of RPGs, we can observe that designers tend to include some sort of conflict or "drama" to help drive the game or (at least) instill action in the game's participants.

Recognize that such conflict isn't necessary to the play of most RPGs (depending on how structurally tight their rules/procedures are). What if I said my fighter wanted to give up the mercenary work and start a farm? What if I decided I wanted to find a local village woman to woo and start a family with? What if the only "role-playing" interaction I wanted was with my neighboring villagers, discussing their issues and petty soap operas?

If the Dungeon Master and other players are on board with this type of game, nothing precludes the campaign from following this road. Maybe the magic-user wishes to start a school for the village children. Maybe the cleric wants to help the local pastor put a new roof on the church. Maybe the party thief decides he's done with his life of crime and decides to be the town sheriff, using his abilities to do "detective work," while being pleasant and sociable and atoning for his past pickpocketing and housebreaking. 

Certainly, the rules provided in the PHB and DMG support (and encourage) a different style of play from this, but nothing prevents the group from going this route. Nothing stops the Dungeon Master from having an alien spaceship land in the village green one day, either...perhaps with friendly extraterrestrials that wish the village to board their ship and travel to a distant star to build a new colony or help terraform a planet that's atmosphere is conducive to humans (but not the e.b.s). 

Endless possibilities with RPGs. Because the only (stated) objectives of play are "have fun" and "don't die" ...and the latter objective is secondary due to players' capability of creating replacement characters as necessary.

All that being said, the design of an RPG (the "HOW") is what provides the basis of comparison between different RPGs effectiveness of delivering an RPG experience. And in reviewing various RPGs and their designs, I cannot find a design more satisfying than that of Dungeons & Dragons. The premise of the game and the asymmetry of available player options combine to create a unique cooperative experience with modulated levels of adrenaline/stress/satisfaction that is a function of both GM creativity and players' own comfort level with regard to risk-reward.

It is (to me) unfortunate that later iterations of the D&D game have sought to limit and depress these elements.

But most RPGs aren't nearly so pointed or well-designed (at least in concept...all editions of D&D fall down at times in execution of the concept). And, yes, I write that knowing full well that the soundness of D&D's design is due as much to "happy accident" as to any real design chops. Regardless, of the RPGs that I've had the pleasure of playing over the years, there is really only one that comes to delivering, conceptually, as well as (and in as like fashion as) Dungeons & Dragons does. And I'm kind of surprised by the answer:


All the more surprising, because A) I didn't come to that conclusion before just now (when, while coming to this point of my writing, I stopped to review a mental list of all the RPGs I've owned, read, and played over the years), and B) I've been doing some....mmm..."stuff" with Cry Dark Future the last couple days.

[more on that later]

Okay, enough blathering. I've said my piece. Hopefully I'll have a thing or two to say on campaigns and treasure in the next few days. Hasta pronto.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

It's My Birthday

Happy birthday to me.

I'm a little...pensive today. Not quite melancholy. I'm just thinking a bit.

48 years is a while. A lot of solar returns. A lot of personal history.

I want to take a day or three. I need to recharge a little. And I want some reflection time.

I'll be back in a few.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

"Rat City"

White Center also garnered a new nickname during the war: Rat City. The possible origins of this name are diverse. The local wartime military establishment was called the Reserve Army Training Center or the Recruitment and Training Center, depending on who tells the story. Often the military would designate an area out-of-bounds for servicemen, and these areas were designated Restricted Alcohol Territory. Some people recall that the youth at the Southgate Skate Center were known as rink rats. Whatever the source, the name Rat City was coined and stuck, and many in White Center hang on to the moniker with pride. Rodents had nothing to do with it.

Great food, mild weather and a prime waterfront location have long guaranteed Seattle a spot among America’s top cities. Unfortunately, that appeal also extends to some less desirable neighbors, so much so that the Seattle-Tacoma region placed ninth on a 2017 ranking of America’s top 50 rodent-infested towns; specifically, rats. “Rats have been a problem forever in Seattle,” says Jeff Weier, technical director for Sprague Pest Solutions, a Tacoma-based company that proudly notes “90 years of kicking pests in the tail.” 

Weier saw rats when he moved here in the ’80s, but lately, it seems the problem has grown. “I’m not sure exactly why,” he says, though he speculates that development plays a role. “There used to be open fields and lots everywhere and they’re all being filled in with homes,” he says. In other words, rodents that once lived here have essentially been displaced. “And, of course, when we build in their environment, we invite them in, basically.

I am my own worst enemy. I throw down a challenge to folks and then I spend the next week researching rats (various species, including the "giant" Sumatran rat found in the Monster Manual...spoiler: not that giant...as well as real prehistoric monsters): gestation habits, food consumption, average nest size, etc. as I work on creating my own "adventure" for the event. After all, it's not fair to toss a gauntlet you're unwilling to pick up yourself. Need to make sure the thing is possible, right?

Normal rat skull on
the right; coryphomis 
skull on the left.
But why do I say "worst enemy?" Because what I should be doing is working on either A) my own campaign world (specifically the region my players are exploring), or B) one of the (multiple) adventure rewrites I'm already embroiled in, or C) finishing up one of my other book projects already in the hopper. Ah, how the mind wanders...yesterday I spent a good chunk of hours using google translate to painstakingly decipher a map written in German (yes, this was also rat-related). *sigh

Ah well. At least my enemy is one that I can somewhat control...that's a good thing, even if it's (at times) a frustrating one. 

White Center is a neighborhood of Seattle, somewhat located within the locale of the area known as "West Seattle" (just south of West Seattle proper). One thing people from other parts of the world might not understand is just how "broken up" the city is by various bodies of water (large lakes and the Sound). These days, of course, it's all joined together by a variety of spans and bridges, including multiple interstate highways, but that wasn't the case a century ago. The first West Seattle bridge wasn't constructed until 1924, for example, and folks who find it a bitch to get there these days (as I do) would have needed a boat or ferry to cross the water prior to that (unless you wanted to drive a hella' long way). West Seattle is still "Seattle" but it has its own population and idiosyncrasies...and its own reputation (generally a rather snobbish one given the price of the real estate). 

White Center, AKA "Rat City" also has a reputation, and not a very flattering one. Part of this has its history in being "rough and tumble" (in the neighborhood's early days, it was outside of Seattle law enforcement jurisdiction and so had a substantial criminal element). Part of it has to do with the lower income of the neighborhood's residents (compared to other parts of Seattle, property values in White Center have been low). Part of it is due in no small part to the diverse, non-white population of the area...because of the low property values, people of color and foreign immigrants from around the world have settled the area in droves, and the neighborhood's demographics reflect that (as do all the usual racist stereotypes). Of course, in recent years White Center has become yet another fast-growing, affluence-rising neighborhood of Seattle...in ten years it'll look just as gentrified and boutique as Capitol Hill or the Central District or anywhere else in this town (if it doesn't already...like I said, it's a bitch to get over to West Seattle for folks that live on this side, and I haven't been there in years). The pride some folks take in being from "Rat City" probably just comes off as bewildering to the new "tech money" that's started taking over the area.

[man, I am turning into such a crusty old-timer!]

ANYway...White Center's land area puts it on a scale comparable to a small medieval town (the walled variety...see why I need the German translations?) which...because this is D&D...makes it a good fit for my campaign and the adventure I'm writing. White Center's nickname is, of course, the inspiration that drew me to the neighborhood in the first place (duh...rat-themed, right?). Right now, I'm looking at an area with about 30 keyed areas, and (possibly) several "sub-levels" all contained in a walled village about 7 miles distant from Sea-Town proper. I'm pretty confident I can get it done by the end of the month...assuming I can pen some passable maps.

I do, however, feel some slight trepidation or nervousness at the prospect. This adventure represents my first foray into King County (the county in which lies Seattle)...an area of my campaign setting that I have, to date, avoided detailing. Heck, other than my Ravenloft-inspired vampire castle in Port Angeles, I haven't even ventured west of the Cascades...and neither have my players. Not only is there PLENTY to do in Eastern Washington (we haven't even gotten to the Red Empire of Spokane), I want to keep the greater Seattle area (and the east-siders of Hell View, er, Bellevue) a mysterious entity of rumor and speculation. Which is, I understand, ridiculous...any city that large should have multiple KNOWN facts (along with preposterous rumors) readily available to the local yokels in all parts of the region. But...well, I've been blessed with PCs who are more focused on the immediate adventures at hand, allowing me to safely backburner any nailing down of Seattle's "factuality" (is that a word?).

All right, that's enough for now. Hope folks are having a happy Tuesday. If you ARE writing a ratty adventure, best of luck to you...you still have 21 days (that's three weeks!); I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with.
; )

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Window Box

[if you haven't checked out my new adventure design contestplease see this post]

A window box.

Today, I'm going to pen some thoughts on Alexis Smolensk's latest series of posts, titled The Other D&D

Alexis is a tricky subject...many times I've brought him up on Ye Old Blog only to be met with crickets (*chirp*chirp*...there they are now!).  Today, I'm feeling less narcissistic than usual, so I don't find the prospect all that discouraging.

Why does Alexis, that crazy Canuck, produce such antipathy? His pretentiousness? His smug arrogance? His willingness to badmouth the sainted founders of our hobby? His contempt for most bloggers and vloggers on the internet?

I don't know. I don't really care. I don't know Alexis. I've had written dialogues with him, I've spoken to him over the Skype once or twice. But I don't know him at all...accept that I know he's more than just a shouting head. He's a LOT of things besides being a blogger...just as all bloggers are. We don't know much about each other except what we reveal, and there's little means of verifying the veracity of those "revelations." For all anyone knows, my real name is Peter Adkison and I've been writing this blog to troll Wizards of the Coast since I left the place; all my books have been published under a pseudonym.

[okay, that's really not true; I am NOT Peter Adkison!]

And so, since I (we) have no way of knowing these folks behind the blog (anymore than we have any knowledge of a television star, book author, pro athlete, etc.), the only thing I (we) can judge is the the writing on the blog. What is being written. Not even the how of it so much...because style is so unimportant and distracting and may simply be color/flavor/illusion...how the writing comes across is so unimportant except insofar as does the writing effectively communicate the ideas and concepts?

Alexis's manner of writing may turn off some people. I'm far less concerned with that than with what it is he's trying to communicate.

The Other D&D is a set of posts meant to illustrate Alexis's mindset and approach to running the Dungeons & Dragons game. It is a large topic, covering everything from construction of setting and NPCs to picking players for the table to establishing scenarios and "stories" to the method in which he manages PCs. The series is neither simple, nor concise. But then, neither is the subject being discussed...nothing less than a method and approach to D&D that will enable one to have a meaningful, satisfying campaign capable of lasting you for decades.

It would appear overwhelming, especially given the scale of Alexis's own campaign world: the breadth and depth, the time and effort put into it, the decades of making, the years of thinking and tweaking and writing and wiki-building. Etc. 

It appears overwhelming. But it's not...not really. 

Have I ever blogged about gardening? Probably not. I am a shit gardener. Terrible. And yet I've known many "master gardeners," some even of my own family, especially on my mother's side. My father loved gardening, but he was terrible at it. Every year of my youth he would diligently prep and plant a garden bed in our backyard, intending to grow all sorts of vegetables...every year we'd have little more than weeds. My mother is much better...but she was never a hardcore gardener before I moved out, so I never observed her in action. 

The thing about people who grow things...who garden or farm...and who do it well is the results can look both amazing and overwhelming. For the novice or black-thumbed type (like myself), it is as mysterious seeing a field of lush, hand-planted vegetation as seeing a fully constructed aircraft carrier...an amazing and completely incomprehensible act of human creation. 

And yet it's not. Aircraft carriers are built by humans (a lot of them, working together, somewhere) and amazingly beautiful gardens are even simpler creations, requiring only time and effort and the right application of knowledge. This last spring, my wife decided she would finally, finally start a small garden box. Not quite a window box...it didn't hang off the window...but the same scale. She and the children planted lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers and green beans and strawberries...I abstained, having long ago decided that the art of growing is a mystery I would never unravel.

It was a very dry, very hot summer. My children were diligent with watering and babying the box, and chasing the squirrels away (when they caught them) and...Wonder of Wonders!...we had vegetables all season long. We made salads using our own lettuce, our own tomatoes. We picked (and ate) our own strawberries. The cucumbers stubbornly refused to bloom and the green beans wilted in the heat, but we had vegetables...more than we could eat (and we eat a LOT of tomatoes in our household). The growing season is over for the year now, but the family is excited about the prospect of NEXT spring, about getting a second or third box, about becoming MORE ambitious with the planting, the growing, the gardening.

Looking at the work Alexis has done is like looking on the field of a master gardener who has been tending his land for 40 years. He's not asking you to do what he's done in a single season. He's just trying to help you see that you can plant a window box, instead of buying all your produce from the supermarket. And eating food you've grown yourself gives so much more satisfaction (both in the growing and the eating) then you'll find in something that traveled many miles in a crate via refrigerated truck...plus it has more nutritional value.

I would like (in a series of posts) to describe some of my own thoughts I've had as I've explored Alexis's methods in my own gaming. I don't think there'll be nearly as many as he has: maybe four or five. But I really want to put some thought into them, which means they might not be especially quick in coming. My apologies in advance for that. 

Though in all honesty I don't feel TOO bad. After all, you can just read the Tao while you're waiting.
; )

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Out of the Sewer (CONTEST!)

Mmm...I'm feeling a bit inspired.

2020 was the Year of the Rat, and I only wish I'd had this idea back then when everyone was hunkered in place. Unfortunately, I'm self-absorbed and slow to come up with original ideas. SO, riffing off someone else's idea, I'm going to do my own adventure design contest, largely inspired by Bryce's review of yet another boring, rat-themed adventure.

Rats are awful. I mean real life rats. Yes, I know some folks love their pet rats. I find the creatures horrid. I once had to dispose of a monster one (killed in a trap) and the thing was just nauseating. Neutral with evil tendencies, says the original Monster Manual, and I'm inclined to agree. I don't think any D&D player EVER had any misgivings about slaying as many rats (and ratlike creatures) as their DMs threw at them. Getting TPK'd by giant rats (as I've watched happen multiple times in running The Keep on the Borderlands) must be one of the most ignominious ways of seeing a campaign end.

Time to rehabilitate the rat. No, not as a good guy, but as an adventure trope. Rats are awful and should be slain (duh, just said that). But let's see if we can't build an interesting scenario around the overused creature. HERE ARE THE CONTEST RULES:
  • Send me your rat-themed adventure. It should be an original creation of yours and NOT something you've previously published.
  • The adventure should be written for a particular system of D&D or appropriate retro-clone. The system should be pre-1999 (no 3E or later editions). The system should be stated. 
  • The adventure should be written for a particular level range. This should also be stated (for example, "for AD&D characters of level 5th - 7th," etc.).
  • Adventures should feature a mapped "dungeon" (adventure site) for exploration that has a MINIMUM of 12 keyed areas. 
  • All submissions must be received before December 1st, Seattle time; entries should be emailed to me at bxblackrazor AT gmail DOT com.
That's it.

Entries will be judged for creativity, originality, and usability. Assuming I get enough contest submissions, the top five to eight will be compiled into a single book to be sold under the title YEAR OF THE RAT. This will probably be an ebook that will be sold on DriveThruRPG, and I will arrange for profits to go to some charity, probably World Central Kitchen's Covid-19 Food Relief. The number of entries included in the book will depend on the length of the winning submissions. 

You will retain ownership of your adventures and are free to publish them yourselves. However, by submitting them to the contest, you are granting me permission to use them in book (again, with all profits going to charity).

Unlike my Fat Frog Challenge, this time I will be offering a prize to the TOP TWO entries: a print copy of one of my books (winner's choice of either my B/X Companion or The Complete B/X Adventurer). I am also currently getting a price quote on a (softcover) print run of my newest book Comes Chaos and that will also be a third option, assuming it's available. 

Some notes on playing to the judge (me): submissions probably shouldn't exceed 20 pages, and no more than 2-3 pages of maps. I tend to hate skill/ability checks and non-weapon proficiencies. I prefer pre-2E design sensibilities but I am allowing 2nd edition adventures as a bone for the "younger" participants; if you're doing 2E, better make it great!  And remember that TREASURE is an important aspect of adventure design, and should be appropriate for the party levels for which you're writing. 

All right, get to work. Have fun. Hopefully something cool will come out of this. Any questions folks have may be emailed to me or submitted in the comments section of this post.

Thanks for playing!
: )

Pizza Party

It's Wednesday...time to blog something.

The school soccer season is officially over...actually ended the weekend before last, but we had our post-season "pizza party" last night (outdoors, in a covered pavilion, in the rain). It was great and everyone had a wonderful time (funny, since I was the one that "organized" the thing...and I'm pretty terrible when it comes to party planning). 

I'm not a big believer in participation trophies, but I did buy medallions for all the kids (with their names, their school, and the year) to commemorate the season. This was a hard season, but an important one...it was our first time playing a team sport as a school in the "time of Covid," after not having ANYTHING last year. It was rough and emotional and stressful (for the kids!), but they soldiered through and no one quit and everyone got at least a little better on the pitch and they all had a good time. 

And no one got sick. Masks helped.

We lost every game, but we were never shut out (my kid is a goal-scoring machine) and we just played better and better with every game. Still hopeless, of course (half our team was composed of 4th graders, several of whom had never played soccer before this season)...but we were at least becoming competitive. Our last game we went 11 on 11 (full sized field) and only lost 5-3. Everyone wants to come back next year. 

Everyone wants me to coach again. We'll see.

[I do enjoy the coaching thing, but it takes a lot of effort to coordinate four separate team activities for two kids simultaneously; and it's possible I might be working (a regular job) by next year]

Anyway. That's done. Sofia's school season will be done after this coming weekend, and THAT will lower the household stress level to manageable proportions, right before the holidays. Serious D&D action appears to be just around the corner...need to get back to my Dragons of Insanity project.

Around the blog-o-sphere, I've been reading some good things lately. "Good" because they give ME interesting ideas and inspiration. For example, this review over at tenfootpole: I have absolutely zero desire to actually buy or run this adventure, but it makes me want to try my hand at writing something "rat related," something I don't recall ever having done in the past. Hell, maybe I'll run some sort of contest, similar to the Fat Frog Challenge...remember that? I mean, it's only been a decade plus since the last time I did that (jeez). I wonder if I have any kind of glittering prizes to offer for such a thing; hmmm....

Other good stuff: Well, this review of Underground, gave me insight into one of the best premises I've heard for a supers RPG. A review of Under the Waterless Sea reminded me that I have to get around to finishing my own submarine adventure module one of these days (it has the rather unoriginal working title "Sea Castle") because there just aren't enough watery challenges on the market. Alexis has been working on a great series of which I think this post and this one are the best and most useful (though I'd recommend reading all his "Other D&D" posts). Oh, and GusL beat me to the punch with his recent post on treasure, though I still plan on writing up my own thoughts on the topic because (if I can find a way to communicate effectively) it gets to the heart of why treasure is such a vital component of the D&D game.

["adventure"is another, and I think there are some things to take to heart from this old Gygax interview]

So, there...even though I'm not offering much of anything in this post (other than a look into my family's activity levels), I'm giving my readers some reading material to peruse. Hopefully, I'll have some deeper blog material in the next day or two.