Friday, January 28, 2022

The Perpetual Game

Wow. So many things to write about at the moment. Sometimes that happens (in the life of a "blogger"): Your Cup Runneth Over. I think, perhaps, I'm going to write a bit about world building in the coming weeks. Not because I'm any good at it...but (perhaps), specifically, because I'm not.  Either that or...well, we'll see. 

However, right now I need to get to something I've been putting off.

Waaaay back in July, I read this post over on the Tao blog. At the time, I had a lot on my plate: family road trips, in-laws trapped in-country (due to COVID in their own), dead dogs, etc....all of which conspired to throw me off of the Deep Thought necessary to pen my thoughts on the epiphany that had bloomed in my mind.

Welp, if I'm going to talk at all about "world building" I need to start with this subject.

First: some (more) preamble:

When I was a kid, I had several glorious years of D&D gaming with a small group of friends (Scott, Matt, Jocelyn and...for a short time...Jason). For a period of five years or so, gaming occupied the bulk of our interactions together. Sure, we talked about other things: books we'd read, the (occasional) movie we'd seen, sometimes even the shit that would happen at school. But mostly it was D&D (or some other game). These were my best friends...the best I've ever had. I've had some good friends in the years since, but never a group as rock-solid, or as deeply connected as we were.

I worry sometimes that my own children, especially my son, don't have this same type of gang. In a way, they are too friendly, too loving, of their parents (while my friends and I loved our parents, we were mainly of the us versus them, youth versus geezer mentality). Parents shouldn't be a child's Best Friends...we are parents; kids need to be building tight relationships with their peers. I confessed my misgivings to my (now 11 year old) boy the other evening, while we were waiting to pick up our takeout pizza order, my fear that maybe I play with my kids too much, that they should be gaming with their own friends more

My son told me that he prefers gaming with me, because unlike his peers I take the game...especially Dungeons & Dragons...seriously. By which he means, I don't treat the game in a silly fashion. I give it weight; I give it importance

Our society, our culture instructs us from a young age in the things that we should consider important, indoctrinating us into a variety of recognizable and acceptable priorities. School and family when we're younger; perhaps church (for religious families). Finding a girlfriend/boyfriend, getting a car. Getting a job, a spouse, having kids, providing for one's family, developing a career...perhaps acquiring some sort of higher educational degree, building a business, leaving a legacy, etc. The usual list that most folks recognize as Life's Priorities.

Like most, I was taught the same set of values and priorities as any other American kid. But when you're a kid, MOST of these things are far off, waaaay in the future, more-or-less invisible to the short-sightedness of youth. My friends and I simply didn't worry about much of this. My "religious obligation" (my family was the most "devout" of any of us) took up approximately one hour per week (on Sundays), and school was so blessedly easy (we were all such bright young children) that the effort required was least, prior to high school. Mainly just remembering to hand in homework.

So...with no other obligations on the horizon (and the obtainable ones easily filled) we had plenty of time and energy for Dungeons & Dragons...and we invested heavily in the game. After all, IT wasn't going to end any time would simply go on-and-on, and we might as well build our world, our campaign as deep and as strong as we wanted.  As powerfully as our imagination and minds would allow us to do so, considering our ages and our collective life experiences (including the fiction we consumed). 

We did not tell "stories" with the game...and yet we'd (mostly) grown beyond exploring "dungeons" by the time we had adopted AD&D wholesale. We were using the entirety of rules (for Gygax's words were Law ad Holy Writ in those days), but we used them to describe a WORLD that we lived in. We didn't cut rules to make the game simpler or more streamlined...we added to them in order to model real world issues or challenges that weren't covered in the text. And the actual rules...from how to do two-weapon combat, use segments, weapon vs. armor type, psionics, etc....were memorized or quick-referenced for ease of use.

We spent immense amounts of time and energy on this...which is something you can/will do if you feel the game is going to go on and on ad infinitum. There was no end in sight. Our other "priorities," such as they were, had been satisfied. No one was telling these 13-15 year olds to 'get a job' or settle down and raise a family.

If you don't have that perspective - that the game is going to go on and on and on - you can't make that kind of investment. I see that now. It took me a long time to see that...a really, really long time. No one wants to invest in something that's going to go away. No one wants to invest in something that's not a priority. Not when you're All Grown Up and have so many other things demanding attention.

A family. A career. A doctoral thesis. A business. One has to be committed to these things...for the long make them work. You can't half-ass it and end up with anything worthwhile. Foundational building blocks of IMPORTANT STUFF need to be given their proper weight, their proper prioritization. You approach those things like its just a lark, no more important than a pick-up game of softball or something and...well, it won't go well. Your life won't go well.

D&D is not these things. It's not one of the Big Important Things. It's not a marriage. It's not a mortgage. It's not enlisting in the army and shipping your body overseas to perhaps die for your country. It's not valued and celebrated by society like all that stuff.

It just requires a similar commitment.

Which is, of course, crazy. Because people have been telling us...parents, friends, peers, lovers...people have been telling us for years that it's just a game. WE'VE been saying it ourselves. It's just a game. It's not curing cancer. It's not feeding the hungry. It's not finding a way to bridge the Great Divide that exists between the haves and have nots, the liberals and conservatives. It's not bringing about world peace. 

But we humans do a lot of things that have as little impact on humanity's problems as this game. We dedicate our lives to things. Playing the guitar, perhaps. Watercolor painting. Training dogs. Fishing. Golf. Kayaking. Coaching basketball. Stamp collecting. Singing in the church choir. Baking. Brewing beer. Photography. Marathon running. Chess. Writing mystery stories. Designing new languages.

Humans have invented a LOT of things over the years for people to invest their time, energy, and emotion. Things that people decided were worth taking seriously regardless of any "practical value" those activities had. With commitment, these things are more than just pastimes, more than just hobbies. Vocation is the closest word I can think of, though it has career-connotations that aren't appropriate for these things. Calling? Mission? It doesn't really matter...what matters is that our world is better for having these things in it, and better for having people willing to take their activities seriously, people willing to dedicate themselves to whatever craft or "calling" they've chosen to take on.

Dungeons & Dragons IS a game. But it's more than that...more than any other game ever created. However, to get the full benefit, the maximum potential, you have to be willing to commit to the game. Not only do you have to respect the game, you have to make a space in your life for it, a place of importance, not just "something you do" like pulling out a deck of cards on a Saturday night for a game of Rummy or Hearts. You can't keep looking at it as something that you'll eventually grow out of; you can't keep looking at it as something you should have grown out of, years ago.

If it's something you love, you don't grow out of it. You grow into it. And it grows with you.

As I said, it's taken me a long time to see this. I thought I could just treat it like a pick-up game, like any of the other games that line the shelves and closets of my home. In fact, I did treat it like that...for decades...even as I grew less and less satisfied with the results. I kept my original books...the same ones I'd once carried in a backpack on my bicycle when I was 12...through multiple relationships, multiple moves, multiple phases of my life, just chalking it up to nostalgia and a penchant for collecting. I wrote off the campaign of my youth as some long lost unicorn...that it was simply some lucky quirk of fate that had allowed me to find such marvelous players/companions that had given me the space to play deep, meaningful games. That all the failures since then have been due to NOT hitting that "lucky lottery" when it comes developing a game group.

Bull. Shit.

The ONLY thing that changed (with regard to my approach to RPGs) between the age of 14 and 46ish (or thereaboouts) was that I stopped making the game a priority. I started thinking of it as a game, just a game, something to play on occasion but certainly nothing to invest in or commit to. I had too many other, Real Life, Real World priorities that required my investment/time/attention: higher education, girls, jobs, debts, wife, kids, etc. D&D...playing it, writing about it...that's just a hobby. Something I may set down, one of these days, for a different hobby. Golf, perhaps. Playing the stock market. Bread baking.

No. It took a long time, but I get it now. There was magic in the days of my youth: I managed to find several kids, my age, who liked fantasy, wanted to play D&D, and who got along (most of the time). That was it. 

Finding adults, who enjoy fantasy, who want to play D&D, and who can get along like civilized folks...well, that's not too tall an order is it? Not in today's internet age.

No...that bit is the easy part. I haven't even needed the internet to find players over the last few years. The part that's really needed to change is my personal investment and commitment to the game. My understanding that this isn't just some hobby, some game I Axis & Allies or Blood Bowl or some downloaded phone app. Dungeons & Dragons is a calling; it's a passion. It's something I am dedicated to, much as I am dedicated to my wife and children. Sometimes I need a break from them, too...but my love for them and my investment in them endures. Same with D&D.

That's how I'm approaching the D&D game these days, anyway. My game is always "on," even if I'm not running it. My game is the world I run; my "campaign" is the record of the deeds of players that adventure in my world. I am my world's's Dungeon Master.

My game is perpetual. It IS me...and I am it. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

"Adventure" Design

Just in case any of my readers haven't heard, Alexis is running an adventure writing TEACHING contest with hundreds of American dollars (more than $1K) in cash prices. No, Alexis is not judging the entries...he is only putting up the money. Interested individuals who know how to use a video camera and want to participate should check out the link.

It's an interesting contest. How does one teach someone to write adventures? For that matter, how should one go about writing an adventure? Is it just a matter of having an idea and a word processor? 

Judging by the multitude of published adventures on DriveThruRPG, it would appear many individuals feel they already know how to write an an adventure (and, yeah, maybe they feel it IS only about having an idea and a computer for uploading data). 'Course, that's no guarantee of an adventure being any good.

Perhaps our understanding of What An Adventure Is is lacking these days. The Tom Moldvay-edited Basic (B/X) rules defines the term simply:
adventure -- Any session where a DM and players meet to play a D&D game.
[from the B/X Glossary, page B63]

...but I think the common use and understanding of the term comes from what was once called (and sometimes still called) adventure modules. These are also described in the B/X glossary, a bit more specifically:
module -- Completely designed and challenging adventures available from TSR Hobbies, Inc. that contain maps, keys, background information, NPCs, and other information for use by the DM to use in his or her campaign.
[also page B63]

While such terms are omitted from the DMG glossary, we find a similar definition in the (final) "catalogue" pages of the first edition PHB where it lists other TSR products:

Every AD&D module is a ready-to-play adventure setting, populated with appropriate monsters, treasures, tricks, and traps, and including maps, background information, and histories. Though each individual module is designed to stand on its own, several series are specially made to form a connected progression of adventures.
[from the PHB, page 127]

Also of note (same page) is:

Each of these modules is especially designed to instruct both the beginning player and Dungeon Master, how to construct and fill one's own dungeons and how to better play D&D for full enjoyment.
The only two "introductory modules" listed are B1: In Search of the Unknown and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, adventures specifically written/designed for the (introductory) Basic D&D game. T1: The Village of Hommlet (generally considered an introductory module) is NOT, being found in the previous (AD&D Module) section.

Leaving aside the self-referential advertising, these explanations of the term "module" all seem describe a singular scenario: a situational set of circumstances for the players to interact with in a given game session. Especially in the AD&D description:
...a ready-to-play adventure setting...
these modules are not billing themselves as the adventure itself. Which I find fascinating when coupled with the description (from the catalogue) of the Dungeon Masters Guide:

This hardbound masterwork contains all the invaluable charts and information necessary to be a Dungeon Master. It contains in addition, guidelines for developing the campaign and for running the AD&D game more smoothly.
Make careful note of that description: in no way, shape or form does it promise to teach DMs how to craft adventures...only how to develop campaigns and how to run the game more smoothly. Neither does the back cover (either of the 1E covers) say anything about writing/creating adventures...nor (so far as I can tell) does the body of the text describe what an "adventure" is supposed to mean in terms of the game.

All of which suggests to me that Moldvay's definition of "adventure" (any session where a DM and players meet to play a D&D game) was MORE than just Tom's was, in fact, based on an understanding of what the term meant to the creators/publishers of the game

"Adventures" are what the players (through their characters) were expected to have every time they came to the table. Whether big or small, meaningful, impactful, or none of the above...D&D was meant to be a game where every time you sat down you were experiencing fantasy "adventure." The information Gygax provides in the PHB for Successful Adventures (pages 107-109) would, contextually, seem to indicate that as well:
...assume that a game is scheduled tomorrow, and you are going to get ready for it well in advance so as to have as much actual playing time as possible -- no sense in spending precious adventuring minutes with the mundane preparations common to the game.

First get in touch with all those who will be included in the adventure, or if all are not available, at least talk to the better players so that you will be able to set an objective for the adventure. Whether the purpose is so simple as to discover a flight of stairs to the next lowest unexplored level or so difficult as to find and destroy an altar to an alien god, some firm objective should be established...
Take a look at that: Gygax is using the term adventure simply in place of the term "game session." Find out who is going to be participating in the [session]. Discuss objectives for the [session] before play. Do not waste precious minutes of the [session] time. Gygax makes it clear (earlier, on page 101) that "adventures" (again, read game sessions) can take place in dungeons, outdoor environments, or cities and towns, and he provides tips and advice for tackling ANY such setting...but as an overall preparation for a game of D&D.

NOT the preparation for a single, particular scenario.

The latter is what modules provided: scenarios that could be inserted (in modular fashion) into one's home campaign. Which is how we used to use them back in the day. Heck, it's still how I use them...I don't need no stinking World of Greyhawk.

So the idea of "adventure writing" or "adventure creation" is a bit of a misnomer. What is being created are scenarios...situations and opportunities that might (and probably should) appeal to a group of players who enjoy fantasy gaming. Adventuring is the act of playing D&D...not the act of tackling a particular scenario.

At least originally. Things change. Now adventures are more than opportunities...they are the expectation of play. A mystery is presented (that PCs are expected to solve). A dramatic story is presented (that PCs are expected to take part in). A formidable threat to the locals/kingdom/world is presented (that PCs are expected to side against and find a way to heroically defeat). When players show up for a game session, the DM has "an adventure" ready for the PCs to face because that's how we do D&D now.  

In my opinion, the game has been diminished because of this: playing this way is like playing an overly complex board-less board game. It's a deck-building game without decks. Far from establishing their own objectives, PCs are left to the objectives presented by the DM who acts (more-or-less) as a proxy stand-in for the "adventure designer." Kind of lame, if you ask me. Especially with the added attitude (sometimes expressed) that "THIS is what we're doing tonight...if you don't want to go on the prepared 'adventure,' then there won't be any game happening."

I've encountered this a player. Both in home games and in conventions. We have a it or go home. Which isn't how I run my games (generally. Hmm...I'm trying to remember exceptions). I've left a lot of half-finished modules strewn in my wake over the years: players abandon an adventure for one reason or another and move on to other things. And that's OKAY; it's okay that the players don't care terribly about FINISHING some scenario to completion...after all, D&D is NOT a video game (contained, limited, bounded by its medium).

This is why, when I re-purpose something like Dragons of Despair or Ravenloft, the first couple things I do are:
  1. Un-couple it from any restrictions that prevent PCs from leaving (like poison fog banks and infinite dragonman patrols), and
  2. Provide the PCs with real reasons for wanting to be there (like huge piles of delicious treasure). 
Because that's how D&D (I'm speaking specifically of Dungeons & Dragons, not other RPGs) is supposed to run. Playing the game IS the adventure. Adventure scenarios (whether in published modules or self-brewed) are opportunities of interest...and that's it. Players may have things they're MORE interested in than plumbing dungeons: finding a husband/wife, building a castle, creating a magic item, discovering a contact with the thieves' guild, whatever. LOTS of opportunities for "adventures" present themselves when you're not shackled to running the plot of a particular scenario. 


I'll probably circle back to this topic when I talk about "the perpetual game" (a post I've been meaning to write for months now. Sorry). In the meantime, hopefully I've given folks something to mentally chew on. If you're interested in describing your own techniques/procedures for adventure, "scenario creation"...and if you'd like to win some cold, hard, cash, I strongly suggest checking out the contest over at The Tao of D&D

Later, gators.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Sorcery I Like

Well, what do you know: a quiet moment around the old home front, for a change.

I'll be honest: I've (perhaps) had the opportunity to blog recently, just not the spirit. Just lots of things over-occupying my brain/attention. It gave me some peace to simply withdraw from the whole blog-o-sphere for a few days, rather than tread water with throwaway posts and comments. Not that this isn't (perhaps) a throwaway post, but there's enough quiet right now that I can sit and type-type-typity-type.

Mmm. With cup of hot coffee at hand.

Yesterday (or maybe the day before) I had the chance to read Clark Ashton Smith's second Xiccarph story, The Flower-Women (to give credit where credit's due, I only learned about Xiccarph after Maliszewski wrote about it a week or so ago). I like Smith's stuff, though I've read precious little of it (perhaps a dozen of his short stories). His work is reminiscent of other writers, though I recognize he was probably the influence on them, rather than the reverse. But his stuff is (usually) punchy and short, perhaps only slowed down by an expansive vocabulary that requires me to look up two-three words with every reading. 

[quick: who can tell me the definition of odalisque off the top of your head?]

I also like this bit about Smith's writing, aptly summed up by James in his (previously mentioned) post:
Smith is almost unique in the history of pulp fantasy for sympathizing with his evil sorcerers, or at least presenting their thoughts and perspectives sympathetically. It's what sets him apart from both Lovecraft, whose antagonists' motives are largely inscrutable, and Howard, whose dark magicians are never portrayed as anything but villains to be cut down.
I think it's fair to say that, for much of my life, I was one of those who tended to "root for the bad guy" both in story and film. Not always, but often enough. Many times over the years I found myself wishing the villain would triumph, the hero would be cut down (or disgraced), the evil plot would unfold according to its nefarious plan. However, this was certainly more the case when I was a kid...having (in later life) viewed films and such where evil did triumph, I confess that the result is generally unsatisfying.

[perhaps my initial rooting for bad was fueled by too much sympathy for Wile E. Coyote and Sylvester the Cat. My wife, to this day, HATES Tweety Bird, and I can't say it's difficult to understand why]


Anyway, black-hearted sorcerers have long been "my cup o tea;" I think it's fair to say that's part of my fandom of Moorcock's Elric stories, despite the general whininess of their protagonist (for me, his constant bitching-moaning is balanced out by his dark sense of humor and occasional bursts of action). But I like necromancers and black magicians of all sorts; when it comes to sorcerous characters, I become a BIG champion of the flawed, antihero type...a cardboard stereotype that I usually loathe in other genres (action films and supers comics, to name two).

I guess I just like my magic a little transgressive? I mean, sorcery transgresses the laws of reality, so shouldn't a sorcerer transgress cultural/societal norms (the laws of man)?

Eh. Not trying to get too deep here. The heart wants what the heart wants. The funny thing is this: with regard to Dungeons & Dragons, I have long said that my personal play style lines up far better with the fighter type than any other archetype. Even when playing another class (bards, clerics...even thieves) I tend to run my character like a fighter. Bold. Brazen. Hacky-slashy. My old DM famously precluded me from playing anything but a fighter in the last campaign she ran, because I 'always acted like a fighter anyway.' 

I've played a lot of too-loud "war priests" over the years.

Magic-user was the last class I was interested in much so that, with regard to D&D, I'd never run one as a PC until a Con game in 2019.

[okay, okay...I did play ONE wizard back in a SINGLE session of 3E/D20 years ago, but I gave him feats like "martial weapon proficiency" so that I could use swords, etc. Natch, I was doing Gandalf...and the DM quit the game in disgust when he saw I hadn't taken an "optimal build" for the character. One of the events that led to my disillusionment with that particular edition...]

HOWEVER, while I've generally stayed away from the magic-user class over the years, upon reflection (after reading The Flower-Women) I realized I actually had a hankering to play just such a character...a proper D&D (or, rather, AD&D) -style sorcerer. An old school magic-user. 

That character I played back in the 2019 convention? Probably the best time / most fun I've had as a player in a loooong time. And just to re-tell an old saw (for folks who don't want to read the old post):
  • We were using Holmes Basic rules, MINUS the wonky combat (no double attack daggers!).
  • PCs were rolled randomly at the table (3d6) in order; I took magic-user only because I didn't have the stats for anything else.
  • My one spell was protection from evil and it was expended in the first room of the dungeon.
  • I spent the majority of the three hour time slot with 1 hit point (due to being wounded) and no spells.
  • I was only slain by another party member at the end of the session for (reasons).
And it was still a great time. Despite my character's fragility and lack of "usefulness" (sleep spells, charm spells, combat ability, etc.) I was able to contribute and...many times...take the lead on our eight-man band of misfit adventurers. I used the character's multiple languages and negotiating ability, I used poles and oil and torches, I preceded others into trap doors and tight spaces (okay...probably a little foolhardiness there, but not much to lose in a con game), and I was able to help direct attacks...and throw the occasional dagger...such that we didn't lose a single party member over the course of the session. And that's with 1st level characters and zero healing magic.

I was the only magic-user in the party.

The challenge of playing such a character is/was fairly exhilarating. Trying to find ways to be useful (without getting killed) was far more challenging than other (D&D) games I'd played: games where I had lots of hit points and/or good armor and a feeling of invincibility (at least for the first hit or so). I can only imagine the fun that could be had with the increased effectiveness (more spells) and survivability of playing such a character in the Advanced version of the's not difficult to visualize the manifestation of an "imperious sorcerer" the likes of Maal Dweb. Gradually, of course.

The main difficulty, as always, is finding the right Dungeon Master. *sigh*

I've messed around over the years with a lot of different design tweaks for the D&D magic-user. Most of these have ended up being nothing but junk. What follows are my current "house rules" for the magic-user class in my home game (if not otherwise stated, rules are as per 1E PHB/DMG):
  • Magic-users begin the game with three 1st level spells, randomly determined (per the DMG). 
  • There is no read magic spell; magic-users can read magic-user spell scrolls automatically.
  • All spells known may be cast once per day; a particular spell may not be cast more than once per day (no multiple memorizations of a single spell).
  • New spells are added after training upon reaching a new level of experience; new spells are presumed in the cost for training. Preferred spells are chosen by player and then diced for based on Intelligence (per PHB). Spells from spell scrolls and spell books may not be added to the magic-user's repertoire of spells...a magic-user knows what he/she knows.
  • Spell books are part talisman, part grimoire, part journal/scientific notes. Study of the spell book is needed to regain spells. Spell books can be prohibitively expensive to replace; losing (stealing) one's spell book is akin to losing (stealing) one's power. Magic-users will endeavor to recover lost (stolen) spell books (and will punish thieves with great vengeance, if possible).
We've been using these rules for a while now (a couple years) and they work for us; i.e. there haven't been any complaints. I'm sure long-time AD&D players will recoil at the thought of NOT having the option of adding "extra" spells to their spell book; in practice, it's been a non-issue (and it's a lot more convenient to simply HAVE the spells available then to need to search them out). The bonus spells at 1st level provide additional effectiveness to the new character, and the randomness and single memorization clause ensures creative use of even the most "worthless" spell (all spells are precious commodities to be treasured by the first level magic-user). 

We have yet to see a thief reach 10th level (or any high level illusionists/rangers) so it's hard to say how their abilities to "read (magic-user) magic" will interact with these rules. As it's a bridge we've yet to cross, I'm content to leave the issue alone and continue with what works...for now.

As an aside: spell-casting dragons in my world know spells as a magic-user equal to their hit dice (a red with 10 HD, for example, would know spells as a 10th level magic-user). This makes dragons considerably more least the ones that can use magic (I've toyed with the idea of making ALL dragons speaking and magic-using, but I like the idea of there being more "vermin-esque" dragons who are ignorant...and mundane...threats to civilized folk). For me, in addition to dragons being more sorcerous, this helps justify the dragons' hoards, as magic-users pay them in coin and treasure to be trained in higher level spells (what "magic schools" there are being few and, often, strictly regulated).

All right, the coffee pot is empty and the brew in my mug is considerably cooler than when it was first poured (and the house is not nearly as quiet...the wife is wanting me to make lunch), so I'll sign off for now. Hope y'all are having a good January.
: )

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Two Steps Back

It's been a bummer of a last few days. 

I mean, there's the usual gripes (no need to detail) but on top of those the damn COVID variant has hit our town (as it has everywhere else), and our little school has been particularly hammered. On Thursday we got the news that we'd be going back to remote learning for the next couple weeks as a third of the staff...and near 20% of the student population...has had some sort of exposure, contact, or positive test result.


This has been particularly hard on the kids, as one might imagine. A lot of tears in my daughter's (2nd grade) class, a lot of red-faced anger and frustration in my son's (5th grade) class. Man, they hate remote learning even more (if possible) than the parents and teachers do. And, as folks can probably tell from the various news stories (and demonstrations/marches) going on, the adults hate school shut-downs A LOT.

But for my son, this is particularly rough news. His birthday is this month, and he was really looking forward to celebrating with his friends (which he didn't get to do last year). We were even planning on having kids over to our home...his "D&D club"...for a night of proper Dungeons & Dragons and pizza swilling. You know...the kind you like to do when you're 11 or 12 years old? That has now been postponed, at least till February.

Which sucks. Duh.'s just been such a downer around these parts, that I've been spending my time trying to find ways to entertain and cheer my family...keep spirits up, you know? Which means I haven't had the time/brainpower to blog that I'd like. And, of course, having the kids home during the day just makes blogging all the harder (especially when they need to source my laptop for class). 

In more positive news, my son had his first turn altar serving at (5pm) Mass yesterday. He really enjoyed the experience, and it was fun to watch him. My daughter was very excited to see her brother in the white alb, and she even applauded at the end of Mass (after he managed to snuff the last of the candles)...a trifle embarrassing for him, perhaps, but that's what little sisters are for. 


I'll take what positives I can. The Seahawks play their last game of the season today, and after the crap-sandwich season they've had, being done IS a positive. Weekends can be focused on gaming or soccer which still continues (knock on wood) and has re-started now that the holidays are over and the snow has finally melted. 

But. Damn. The 'Rona virus., man. I am so frustrated by...what...going on three years of this crap? Yeah, we're entering our third year of it. Such a weight, such a burden of stress on my family. Which places a burden of stress on me (masking and self-imposed isolation by itself troubles ME very little). It's...frustrating. And my family is in a far more fortunate position than other families.

OKAY. Time to pull my head out of my ass. I'm going to write-up a list of 50 or so blog topics and start pounding them out this week. Nothing cures the blues like work, and internet scribbling is my main "work" these days. Now that I've made note of my depression/frustration, I will attempt to refrain from dwelling on the subject over the rest of January, so as not to annoy/bum folks out.

Mmm...but I might write a little about "politics" in gaming.
; )

Thursday, January 6, 2022

What Treasure Is

The title of this post is meant to be read literally only as applies to the D&D game. I would hope we all agree that REAL treasure is the time spent with family, friends, and loved ones (as I am often reminded by the holidays).

[and speaking of "treasured time:" we DID manage to finish our Axis & Allies game...after THREE DAYS...with the Allied forces capitulating once the Krauts had taken all of the USSR save Moscow, and after Italy had invaded the central United States through Mexico. Folks may find me silly to crow about beating a kid two weeks shy of his 11th birthday; truth is, I'm proud of how well he plays. He's also pretty sharp (he beats me in chess about one game in three these days) and a fast learner. And I was playing from behind most of the game after Italy got pwned in the Mediterranean theater and after I stupidly chose to neglect Russia till Turn 4 (I'm so used to having Japan invade from the east, and had a difficult time adjusting to the needs of the game's European Only limitations). Still, I managed to take the UK...twice!...and while London was firmly in the hands of the Allies by the end of the war, the Americanos' need to bring overwhelming force to the North Sea ended up losing them all of Africa to a German "end around"...which gave Italy the space they needed to recover their naval forces. I seriously doubt Diego will make the same mistake again]

[of course, now he wants A&A Pacific for his birthday. Oh, boy]

Onto AD&D.

I am running the kids through Hommlet. Yes, T1...not the Temple of Elemental Evil mega-set (which I own and which is a disaster to parse). This is the first time I've run T1 using the original rules for which it was intended; my only other experience with the adventure was running it as a PBEM 3rd edition conversion (you can read the transcripts which I posted to my blog a few years back). 

It's bit of a rough go. Mainly due to their being so few party members. The adventure itself seems fine for a group of six/seven 1st level players. We have two. They ended up hiring four of the NPC adventurers hanging around the Inn of the Wanton Wench, three of whom were of the evil, "ambush-the-party-when-they're-weak" variety...with the inevitable results; i.e. Total Party Kill. HOWEVER...the kids want to make new characters and go back to Ye Old Moat House, and I have a few workarounds that I'm going to try implementing with our next go of it. That will all be detailed in a (later) post.

[for the curious: the players are still playing in the same campaign world, but I haven't taken the time to place Hommlet on the map. I'm thinking probably down around Tri-Cities...or near them...due to the proximity to the Columbia River. Probably Burne and Rufus should be agents of the Tri-City States, though my first thought was to make them vassals of the Red Empire - i.e. Spokane - far to the north]

Treasure in Hommlet...a rather important consideration in AD& quite good. Leaving aside what might be stolen from the village goodfolk, or looted from the bodies of evil henchmen, the moat house contains well over 30,000 g.p. of treasure, not even counting the sale value of magic items (which could push the total over 73K). Parties managing to find every scrap of loot AND retaining magic items (as opposed to selling them) can expect a haul of more than 41,000 experience points...enough for even a party of eight to climb to 3rd level...or higher! This is found in 17 of the 35 numbered areas, so roughly every other encounter will have something valuable for PCs to purloin. 

Certainly whets the appetites of new players. No wonder T1 is held in such high regard.

Of course, not all the treasure found is of the coin and gemstone variety. One locked door protects "30 shields, 12 suits of leather armor, and barrels of salted meat." Another hides "50 spears, 10 glaives, 6 guisarmes, 3 battleaxes" as well as "two crates holding 120 arrows and 200 crossbow bolts respectively." Along with hidden kegs of brandy and four score of "black capes" sewn with a "yellow eye of fire," these two rooms alone yield a rich hall of nearly 1,200 g.p. value (even counting the capes as a 5 s.p. traveling "cloak" from the PHB).

But JB, that stuff isn't treasure! It's just gear and supplies that can be used by ill-equipped parties or given to arm henchmen and mercenaries. Where's the REAL treasure...the coins and jewels and such? Okay, first off all money...are simply a medium of exchange. One uses coins as a portable way of acquiring goods and services. In the AD&D game they also serve an ADDITIONAL purpose of providing experience points to ambitious players. But all treasure serves that latter purpose...coins are simply going to be exchanged for provisions and supplies anyway.

Let's ask: what's the real objection here? That a sheaf of arrows doesn't glitter the same as a box of silver? Okay, fine. But leaving aside the practicality of an arrow (which can be used to kill a foe), do folks understand the cost-weight ratio is the same for an arrow as a silver coin coin? 

120 arrows = 240cns encumbrance = 12 g.p. value
240 silver = 240cns encumbrance = 12 g.p. value

And more valuable equipment has a greater weight-cost ratio:

30 shields = 150# = 300 g.p. value
1,500 s.p. = 150# = 75 g.p. value

10 glaives = 75# = 60 g.p. value
750 s.p. = 75# = 37.5 g.p. value

50 spears = 250# = 50 g.p. value
2,500 c.p. = 250# = 12.5 g.p. value

Now, sure, spears aren't worth their weight in silver (you'd rather find 250# of silver than 250# of spears), but how many times has a low-level party been perfectly happy with bagging a pile of 2,000 or 3,000 copper pieces after some fierce battle with giant rats? More than a few, I'd imagine, as starting adventurers can't afford (literally) to be picky about the loot being left around. But given the choice between retrieving six spears or a sack of 100 coppers, it's clear which "treasure" is worth more...not just for cash and x.p. but for practical value. 

The original D&D game (the LBBs) only offered only three types of coin to be found in a treasure: copper pieces, silver pieces, and gold pieces (electrum and platinum were offered as additional alternatives but their specific value was left undefined and in the hands of the referee). Rather than look at them as literal coins, I prefer to view them as valuables based on weight when building a treasure:

Copper = bulky items 
Silver = portable items
Gold = precious items

[when using electrum and platinum pieces, as in the AD&D game, this adds the categories of "semi-precious" and "very precious," respectively]

"Bulky" treasures weigh (approximately) 20# per 1 gold piece value. "Portable" treasures weigh about 2# per 1 gold piece value. "Precious" treasures are worth 10 gold pieces for every 1# of weight...again, as a rough approximation. 

Keeping this concept in mind, one can furnish and outfit one's adventure site with all manner of "treasures," rather than stashing coins in crevasses and under loose flagstones. A barracks or guardroom may have solid furniture (bulky treasure) rather than copper. A wizard's closet may have fine clothing (portable) or even expensive clothing (precious). An alchemist's lab may have glassware (portable), rare herbs (semi-precious), and an amazing collection of journals/notes (very precious). Even a torture chamber might have iron implements and strong shackles (bulky and/or portable) of value to someone.

This idea...that the coin values given in the Treasure Tables can be used in the something I hit on a few year back when writing Five Ancient Kingdoms (my Arabian Nights version of OD&D) and it's something I've been doing ever since. I've seen others that have since stumbled onto the same concept; however, the underpinnings of this has been present since Gygax published the DMG in '79 in which he gave the following example:
A pair of exceedingly large, powerful and ferocious ogres has taken up abode in a chamber at the base of a shaft...these creatures have accumulated over 2,000 g.p. in wealth, but it is obviously not a pair of 1,000 g.p. gems. Rather, they have gathered an assortment of goods whose combined combined value is well in excess of two thousand gold nobles (the coin of the realm)...there are many copper and silver coins in a locked iron chest. There are pewter vessels worth a fair number of silver pieces. An inlaid wooden coffer, worth 100 gold pieces alone, holds a finely wrought silver necklace worth an incredible 350 gold pieces. Food and other provisions scattered about amount to another hundred or so gold nobles value, and one of the ogres wears a badly tanned fur cape which will fetch 50 gold pieces nonetheless. Finally, there are several good helmets (used as drinking cups), a bardiche, and a two-handed sword (with silver wire wrapped about its hilt and a lapis lazuli pommel to make it three times its normal value) which completes the treasure. If the adventurers overcome the ogres, they must still recognize all of the items of value and transport them to the surface...the bold victors have quite a task before them.
[from page 92]

When the Monster Manual tells you that the individual orc has 2-12 electrum pieces...or that the individual dwarf has 10-40 gold pieces...this should be taken as the value of the creature's goods on its person. "I'm going to loot the dead goblin's morning star...the PHB lists the weapon's price at 5 g.p. so I should be able to get at least a couple gold!" No, the combined value of the corpse's possessions is 3-18 silver pieces. 

[that morning star? It's a twisted piece of wood studded with spikes, teeth, and jagged metal. The goblin's helmet? Too small for a human and has an incredible'll need to purchase some strong lye just to get rid of the odor, even if you can find a halfling willing to buy it as a "collector's item." The shield? Broken when you killed the guy. His rags? Good luck selling those]

It's not like the orcs use electrum as the basic currency of their culture (though that might be interesting if they did).

D&D can, of course, be played in the abstract, and these treasure hoards facilitate that. "You find 1,000 copper, 3,000 silver, and 1,500 gold in the den of the hydra." But while this is a great expediter of play (it is!) it's also one of the main complaints voiced when detractors talk about how "boring" old edition D&D is. "Man, half our party was killed by giant rats and all we got out of it was 2,000 copper pieces."

No. What you found was 10 (or 20 depending on edition) gold coins worth of valuable food stuffs (unspoiled grain perhaps) in four large (50#) sacks. Deliver that to an inn, baker, or tavern and you can create a valuable contact and perhaps a place for rumors of further adventure. 

See, this is the thing: D&D is more than a game...if you allow it to be. It can be a place where you and your players LIVE, engaging with the imaginary setting/environment. And there's no need to write up any hoity-toity story or Uber-Quest to do so. Just develop the rules of the game that are already in front of your nose...and allow yourself the luxury of basking in the fantasy realm.

Back when we were playing through UK2: The Sentinel, the kids managed to acquire a nicely skinned giant beaver pelt (as a reward for something or other) that was worth a fair chunk of change. They took the x.p. for the piece and then, having been a bit flush with cash at the time, hired a tailor to work the think into a rich/warm lining for their armor, boots, etc.  That was the players' decision, not mine. And not only did it work fine as a bit of ostentatious display (hey! we be 3rd level adventurers now!), it also acted to make their wealth even more portable. After all, had the situation arose, they could have traded a rich, beaver-lined cloak (or whatever) for some sort of deal/negotiation with neutral/hostile NPCs.

Anyway...if you're playing Dungeons & Dragons in (what I deem to be) the correct fashion, the treasure is going to matter. What it is, what it does, what it's worth, and what it costs the players to acquire...not just in terms of hit point/resource expenditure, but in terms of weight/encumbrance. Because if you want to live in your D&D world, you're going to have to deal with the burdens associated with living which are (generally) logistical burdens. Do I have enough food? Can I afford to buy food? Can I carry more food? What must I sacrifice to eat?

It's pretty hard to make the trek to Mordor on an empty stomach.

You can deal with these things in the abstract (the treasure from that hydra den weighs 550# in encumbrance and is worth 1,655 g.p.) or you can hand wave such issues completely, instead choosing to focus on the character backstories, formal plots, and PC-NPC interaction in an attempt to create a grandiose story. However, the former approach reduces the game to something little more than the Dungeon! boardgame, and the latter...well, that's really a different animal. I find neither of these approaches to be satisfying in the long term.

So make your treasure meaningful...both to you the DM (as a substance/thing of your campaign world) and to your players (ditto). Value and encumbrance are the starting points, and then use the systems in place as guidelines to flesh out the details. It's those details that will make your dungeon loot something to be "treasured."

Isn't that why we call it treasure?
; )

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A New Year Dawns

Happy 2022 to everyone! Yes, this is not technically my first post of the New Year, but it's the first one I'm doing in the light of day, so maybe that counts for something. 

[ugh...once again I am late in getting this up on the blog, as Saturday's events stole me away from the ol' laptop. Ah, well...pressing on]

As I was starting to write in yesterday's [note: Friday's] reflection post, 2021 wasn't a bad one for Yours Truly. I published a book. I wrote three adventures (nearly finished re-writing a couple more). Participated in a couple of challenge/contests. Ran my own challenge/contest (which should be leading to a new charity book, hopefully soon). Played quite a bit of AD&D. Found time to blog. Kept the family alive and COVID-free and went on a couple nice, long road trips.

I did lose one dog, but the other seems to be holding it together okay.

Last years resolutions were numbered at three: get healthier by losing some weight, publish a book, play more AD&D. Well, I got two of those things done (*sigh*) which is still a LOT better than my accomplishments in 2020 when I went 0-for-14. Such "success" undoubtably calls for celebration and even more ambitious goals for the new year. So, off the top of my head:
  • Publish Year of the Rat (in PDF if not print)
  • Publish Cry Dark Future (any way possible)
  • Publish ONE adventure (and have it reviewed)
  • Complete the draft of a NEW book
  • Run a live AD&D game for folks outside the fam (COVID permitting)
  • Get down to a weight that doesn't necessitate me buying new snow pants
That's, what, six? Surely I can accomplish six things over 12 months (one every other month), while still maintaining the "usual life" stuff (including blogging...I want to blog at least a couple-three times per week).

Looking over the archives, last year's blogging was pretty good. I had an especially good (I think) series going last September discussing my views on "fundamental D&D." Note, that's not fundamentalist D&D, but rather the foundational thoughts on what I consider to be essential truths about the Great Game. For those who missed them (or forgot about them), I provide a couple links for perusal:

Although, I think there's a lot of juice in most of those September posts. Oh, and here are a couple-three more on specific topics that help explain my stance on specific topics:

[that last one is a bit all over the place, but the second half is solid enough]

I put up these links because there's been a bit of stir recently over POV conflicts within the "OSR community" (I cringe a bit at that term). I have to say these dust-ups over different approaches to design stir me but little at this point. That being said, it feels to me like things are settling down just a bit...and that I see as very positive. We have tools for building and it's (generally) better to build our own villages and towns - places welcoming of visiting strangers (if a little peculiar/different) - than fortifications and entrenchments for waging war against each other.

[sorry for the weird analogy...we are entering our third day of A&A play and I have military operations on the mind]

My own "village on a hill" is one that I look forward to cultivating in 2022.

Mmm. I appear to have burned the coffee I was reheating on the stove...perils of a microwave being on the fritz. I'm going to leave off now and go make some fresh (though, knowing me, I'll certainly drink the burnt stuff, too), and leave folks to their own, hopefully enjoyable, days. 

However, I just want all my readers to know that I am sending up a fervent prayer that ALL of you are staying healthy, happy, and safe at the moment. That you have people in your lives that love you, and that you find some time for joy and laughter amid all the pain, stress, and uncertainty we deal with every day of our lives on this planet. And even more, I pray that we (me, included) can find ways to share our love, laughter, and creativity with others in a fashion that uplifts us all.

Best wishes to you and yours in this New Year.
: )

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Winding It Down (Up)

December 31st, and this will be my 116th post of the year...not quite as many as 2019, a bit more than 2020.  121 is probably what I should be shooting for (once every three days or so), but sometimes finding the time to blog is tricky.

The snow and ice continues to worries for my fam, though the wife is a bit stir-crazy (she's a runner and doesn't feel comfortable jogging on icy streets). When not out in the snow, the seven year old continues to work diligently on her 4,000 piece lego set; the boy and I are fighting our way through a second game of War in the European theater via Axis & Allies: Europe 1940. At the moment, it appears the Nazis (me) are crushing it, having established themselves as true naval power of the Atlantic (and consigning the rest of Europes ships to a watery grave); unfortunately, the damn Italians are faring hideously in their African campaign, and now the Russians are about to join the fight. If the Krauts are forced to fight the war on THREE fronts (west, east, and south)...well, it won't be good. I may just need to perform Operation: Sea Lion to stop Cairo from pumping out forces in the Mediterranean!

*sigh* Ugh! Italy! Those friggin' spaghetti-eaters are going to lose me this war!

[I played the Allies the first time through, and won handily. It helped that Diego made the mistake of "poking the bear" (attacking the USSR) in the first turn. While not a terrible idea (maybe) to strike early, his utter failure to take Paris resulted in the French resistance to drive back the Western front, even without Allied bombing. He conceded the game, the Axis reduced to just Berlin and Rome, before Los Americanos ever set foot on continental Europe]

Ah, man.

[16ish hours later]

The kids got up. The day called. The blog post died on the vine. I am heading to bed now, but I will try to start 2022 with a better post than this. Apologies.

Oh, and for what it's worth: the War continues. The UK has fallen. The Americans languish off the coast of their own continent, too afraid of the Axis war machine (a tremendous fleet) to take action. The Soviets are painfully difficult to deal with. I am soooo unused to this more limited theater of Japanese to split the Red Army's attention and sap their supplies? Are you kidding me? The Italians? That's it?! Just...worthless. 

The remains of the UK continues to hold Cairo. I need eight "victory cities" to win. I have five: Berlin, Rome, Warsaw, Paris, London. Leningrad should fall in the next turn. But I am no closer to the others. The Italians have failed and failed and failed in Africa, and the Jerries are splitting between their attention on two fronts. I am tired...tired of this war. Besides shopping, cleaning, cooking, celebrating the New Year it has been nothing but war...WAR I say. Is this damn game rigged? It seems impossible for the Axis to win against a competent general. And my son...I am proud to quite competent.

But I'm still better. More tomorrow. I must sleep.

Happy New Year.