Monday, July 25, 2022

Pre-August Notes

Monday morning: time for a new post.

Time. Ugh, that word. One of the most precious, most frustratingly small resources in my (real) world. 

My kids are going to be rolling out around noon today to go to a water park of some sort. Normally, that would be an invitation for me to do at least some heavy-ish blogging (in addition to the normal house maintenance). But I really, really want to be a little more responsible about some writing obligations I have, and get to things that need to be gotten to. Projects with deadlines (fixed, implied, and assumed) that have been neglected for the fun of world building and campaign crunching.

Fact is, as soon as the PCs get through their latest excursion/expedition...a short one and, possibly, extremely lethal...I plan on putting my campaign on temporary hiatus, just so I'm not using my free (writing) time to fill out the Olympic Peninsula and redesign elf culture.

[I'll probably blog about the elves and some point in the near future...they are fascinating little (er, tall-ish) guys in my world. Port Townsend is a cross between Gondolin and Melnibone with a HEAVY Spaniard influence. Grays Harbor is now named for the "gray elves" who are still conspicuously absent from the county...Abderdeen is as lawless a human settlement as you'd expect to find west of the Cascades (just like real life!), but the elves of Jackson county provide a bulwark between those perennial pirate-types and the more civilized "Sounder" towns]

*ahem* However, just because I will be back-burnering my campaign...probably till September...doesn't mean I won't be playing D&D. The boy will be handling the reins of Dungeon Master for the next four or five weeks as he develops his own AD&D campaign, ostensibly set in my world albeit somewhat east of the Rockies: he's using Montana and his map. A little more open, a little more wild, a little more "adventure."

Besides, he's starting small: he's adapting B2: The Keep on the Borderlands to AD&D (not much of a stretch...the mods are very small) and sticking the Caves of Chaos where the Lewis & Clark Caverns are. I guess that would put the Keep in Whitehall, Montana (about 14 miles away)?'s about the right size (Cardwell is probably too small). 

So far, sessions have been catch-as-catch-can (busy lives) but I've sat in on a couple and they've been fine. He is still RAW AD&D rules for the most part, including alignment (my character is "Neutral"), and my PC (a magic-user named Bartleby) has already hit 2nd level. Probably, I should have chosen to run a cleric (the group could certainly use one)...but the lack of magical power in the party, coupled with the challenge of playing a 1st level MU with only one spell, proved too hard to resist. It's been fun; also, I just acquired a familiar (a hawk), and thanks to my CON 16 my little mage has something like 16 or 17 hit points, plus a winged attack pet.

That's good stuff.

Another soccer tournament this weekend, and lots of practices in preparation; I'll get to blogging as I can, but it should be light and brief in nature. If it isn't, it means I'm procrastinating from the things I should be doing.

[by the way...I realize I haven't been adding labels to my most recent posts. That has to do with posting them in a rush. I will go back and fix that in the Very Near Future]

Cheers, folks!
: )

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Ravenspire "Epilogue"

We play the game to see what happens. 

There's this phrase that gets tossed around a lot in sports: "on paper." On paper, Team A should demolish Team B. On paper, one team has better players/coaches than the other. On paper, this match-up looks to be pretty even. On paper, the Mariners are about an 82 win ball club. Etc.

"Paper" doesn't play the game. "Advanced analytics" and "stats" and "rankings" don't play the game. Perhaps they help set betting lines for sports books (Vegas is pretty good at making money off gamblers), but the games still need to be played. And sometimes teams defy expectations (good or bad)...sometimes in big ways. Sometimes a team like the M's (who I wrote off months ago when they were ten games under .500 and had five teams between them and the last wild card spot) goes on a 22-3 tear, reeling off 14 straight wins, and finds themselves in the driver's seat for a playoff berth heading into the All-Star break. Sometimes a great team like the Sounders lose their best striker (Raul Ruidiaz) and find themselves unable to generate any kind of offense at all without their key piece of the puzzle.

We play the game to see what happens. Because games are entertaining. Being surprised by that unknown is entertaining. My daughter's soccer team won the championship trophy for the gold division in her age bracket in last week's four-day tournament...the final (played Sunday) ended in a 0-0 tie and went down to penalty kicks. The final result was 1 goal made in PKs to 0, with our goalie having to save the final goal. The parents on the sideline were positively shaking by the end of the hands were numb and tingling, my brain light-headed. And I was just a spectator...the players themselves were elated.

We do not play D&D to "tell stories" least, I don't play (or run) D&D to tell stories. We play D&D to experience adventure. To have monumental successes and tragic failures. The stories are what get told after the fact about the experiences we have. We play to see what happens...and to be entertained and (hopefully) moved by fantastic events that would otherwise never occur in our lives. Fighting vampires? I hope not!

The PCs spent some time getting themselves organized: waiting for the paralyzed Sir Patrick to revive, stripping the bodies of Misha and Ireena of useful equipment (mainly magic items), getting Potter up on his feet. It took them about 40 minutes (4 turns) to get set to go, and their stout henchman was just shouldering Misha's bulging backpack of treasure when a friendly voice quietly called out to them from the darkness: Revlin the Ranger!

[Kieran isn't playing with us, but he asked that we take his character along on our adventures as an NPC. Revlin had been left behind in what was deemed to be a "safe" chamber after he'd been reduced to less than 0 hit points. Unfortunately, Strasha came along and drained him from level 3 to level 1, the shock (i.e. hit point loss) finishing him. Salamander's wishes had revived him and restored his hit points AND sanity (as a heal spell), though not his level, and I decided the NPC had spent the last couple hours wandering the dungeon level, tracking the party with his ranger abilities as best he could by torchlight. Just wrapping up loose ends]

After greetings, explanations, and assorted backslapping, Revlin took back his chainmail +1 and Potter donned Misha's chainmail +2 and the party was ready to vacate the premises...when Helga, Strasha's maidservant appeared.

[in the earlier fight, Helga had been the only half-vampire that had survived...well, to have not been reduced to gaseous form...and while her hit points HAD been reduced to 1, plenty of time had passed to allow her full regeneration]

Helga wanted to negotiate with the players: they had slain her mistress, but she would lead them out of the dungeon and allow them to leave the castle unharmed...with the treasure they acquired...if they ceased their ransacking of the castle. So long as they agreed to never return, she would agree not to take revenge upon the party, nor seek to hunt them. 

What about Strasha's crypt? they asked. Surely there are more "goodies" to be found in her actual lair. "This castle was my Lady's 'lair,' and you have already looted her treasury." 

What about the other vampires we fought...Strasha's 'husbands?' Will they honor our agreement? "I will take care of need not worry that they will trouble you."

What will become of you? "I will become the new Countess Clallam of Ravenspire. I am the only 'heir' remaining to Lady Strasha, after all." Will you promise to leave the townsfolk in peace? "I will rule them as I must. Their lives were not terrible under the reign of is YOU who have intruded here."

They took the deal. 

The party were shown the way out of the castle, found Sal's horse missing (probably taken by orcs servants who left the castle an hour before sundown) and made their way on foot back to Port Angeles proper. Weary, wounded, and over-burdened by treasure, they were within sight of the town when the wandering monster check came up a "1". They heard the howling of wolves: a pack of 10 worgs appeared from the woods some 50 yards away. Deciding to make a run for it, we used the standard evasion rules found in the DMG which gave them a coin flip's chance of reaching the safety of the town lights.

The dice again came up in their favor. The worgs turned away to hunt elsewhere and they beat at the door of the inn till Old Joe was roused from bed to open the door. He forced them to wait outside as he brandished a wooden cross at bedraggled bunch then, satisfied, allowed them shelter. "Hey, we already paid for rooms for a week, remember?" You can't be too careful around here.

Lots of other 'role-playing bits" occurred, but I'll skip that and get to the pertinent stuff:

Even before counting treasure, Potter managed to level up to three with the death of Strasha and surviving the fight with the ghouls/shadows (Diego said, "hey, what did she do to defeat the vampire?!" Well, she was responsible for dispelling most of the half-vamps earlier with the sunblade, she knocked out all of Strasha's mirror images in the first fight, took damage from ghouls that would have otherwise been coming to other party members... "Okay, okay.") Since her hit point roll (a whopping 10 on the d10 plus one point for her CON 15) took her from -9 to +2, I allowed her to return to full adventuring capability without waiting the week of rest.

[this is a particular "house rule" of mine that's been in effect for a while. The instructions on page 82 of the DMG states characters brought to 0 or lower are required to recover for a week, even if brought back to a positive hit point total by cure spells or healing potions, and I abide by that rule. However, it states specifically that a heal spell will allow return to full activity, which for me sets some precedent for a raise to allow my campaign, I give this benefit to characters that manage to level up]

[no, I no longer follow the training rules of AD&D. See my previous list. I have other things for PCs to spend money on]

Once I had a chance to calculate what all was in their backpacks, it turned out to be a pretty good haul (that bag of holding is a godsend). Monetary treasure that could be easily fenced, exchanged or retained came out to 22,804 x.p. worth (based on gold piece value). Monetary treasure that needs to be taken to a larger city than Port Angeles (rare books, really expensive pieces of jewelry) totaled another 15,150 x.p. Magical treasures that the party have used or decided to retain rather than sell (most items) brought in another 12,350 x.p. not including items like Ireena's broadsword +2 or Misha's chainmail +2 (these are items the surviving PCs wanted to keep, but which don't award experience).  With all that glorious experience being awarded, Salamander was able to go to level 6, and Potter and Carnen both to level 5. 

[NPCs Revlin and Patrick did not level, but they also earned lesser shares of treasure IN ADDITION to earning half x.p. as non-player characters]

Considering the amount of energy draining that occurred during their raid on Castle Ravenspire, this still meant each party member ended one level higher than when we started. Not a bad result, despite losing the cleric.

That still left a few unresolved items of treasure. The libram of ineffable evil, the crystal ball (with clairaudience) and the unidentified wand (of illumination) are all items the party has no ability to use...and yet, there are no buyers to be found in Port Angeles for these items, either. The village priest (who agreed to detect magic and heal the party's wounds in exchange for the silver icon of Ravenspire...which will be used to protect the church)...suggested they might find buyers for such items in the Dreaming CityPort Townsend. The sorcerous denizens of the elven citadel are known to truck with demons, practice black magic and pay exorbitant sums for such items...a book like the libram could probably fetch 40,000 gold pieces or more amongst such folk. The party immediately decided a new journey was in order.

[they also decided it was best to get out of town before the local orc community discovered who had butchered their brethren acting as guards and servants at the castle]

Diego asked: but what will be our next adventure, Pops? You don't think traveling through a forbidding wilderness to an elven city of sorcerers to sell a cursed magic tome for huge piles of cash isn't adventure? Oh, right. 

I informed the players that Port Townsend is four days journey overland to an isolated portion of the (Olympic) peninsula. OR they could purchase a small coastal sailing ship, outfit it, and sail there within a day. The latter would be pricey, but they could also purchase a load of timber, say 30 tons (at 100 g.p. per ton)'s well known that the elves will pay 2-4 times that amount for good cedar wood, rather than log it themselves.  In a town like Port Angeles, such arrangements can be made in a matter of days (or faster, if the PCs are willing to spend more from their bulging coffers). 

The players immediately jumped at the latter choice. "You better not wreck our ride this time!" Well, we'll see what the dice say.
; )

Perhaps now my gentle reader will understand why the word "Epilogue" in my post's title has quotation marks around's really NOT an epilogue, because my players haven't come to the end of their story. Not yet. In fact, they're still young adventurers, just starting to reach what I'd call "mid-level"...there is plenty left for them to do in their careers, even knowing that (as demi- and semi-humans) they will eventually hit a maximum level. They've had success, they've had set-backs, and they've certainly created stories worth telling people about their "adventures." But they're not playing the game for the story...they're playing the game for the experience. And so far they're enjoying it mightily.

Enjoy your day, folks.

Monday, July 18, 2022


[if you haven't watched the Ms. Marvel series yet, you're missing out; I might post my thoughts on it later, but it's the best Marvel thing I've seen since Falcon-Winter Soldier, and we ALL know that I am extremely biased when it comes to all things Captain America. It's far more believable than a 21st century Spider-Man (I'm not talking about super powers, I'm talking about a teenager living in NYC) and it didn't make me hate Millennials for a change. Quite the opposite, in fact]

I keep looking around the internet for good 1E material to read, and it is a struggle. There are a couple-few posters on various "old school" forums that are good (i.e. they have experience with the system AND can write intelligently about it in an organized, digestible fashion) but few blogs with sizable content to plumb. SO...just in case there are people like me out there, I'll continue to create some.

When last I left off my tales, the party had just been brought back to life and full health by a couple wishes that came courtesy of an amazing draw from a deck of many things. many notes here to discuss regarding how to run such a magic item and its effects (the DMG gives adequate description of what it does but not how, you know? It is the magic item equivalent of a funhouse dungeon). However, decks of many things are the stuff of legendary D&D war stories, so raining on the parade of kids given their first exposure to such a memorable experience is NOT what I wanted to do. A quick gloss went like this:
  • Revived characters were left pretty in the same state of disarray where they lay, rather than being zapped into an armed formation in good order. Note, the wishes did not bring back lost levels, waken Maceo's character from the sleep spell, cure Kieran's character's insanity, nor remove the confusion from the NPC fighter. And separated party members (the party was split into three different areas of the castle) were still separate.
  • Diego understood that bringing back the dead AND healing the party were two separate wishes and he was happy to roll with that. Easy come, easy experience points and levels.
  • Speaking of which: the 10K bonus x.p. from drawing the Jester card put him immediately back to his previous level, and I was fine with that. I would NOT have allowed him to earn more than one free level above what he had already earned (for example, if a non-drained 1st level character had drawn the Jester, I would have only allowed progression to 2nd level), but the magic of the deck was simply acting like a hyper-restoration spell. I'm cool with that. There's only one Jester in the deck anyway.
  • Regarding the Knight: again, how to rule this guy? Should the party come across him in the next town they come to? Should he appear the next time the party advertises for henchmen? As a magic effect, I decided to simply allow him to appear, ready for service, although clad as ANY henchman would be (i.e. with no initial equipment). We'll get to "Sir Patrick" in a moment.
Okay, so I made a surprise roll for Countess Strasha as the party leaped to their feet, with a result of her being partially surprised (I said this was probably due to the knight suddenly appearing out of thin air). Given a free action to end the vampire, every party member promptly missed their attack roll. Salamander shouted to his new henchman to "get" the vampire, and he was able to grapple her with a bearhug(!) that she was unable to break(!!). However, in the next round she won initiative and turned into mist before the party could stake her.

Now given a moment of reprieve, Misha the cleric suggested they go back and recover their other party members (at least the sleeping Carnen and the enchanted Ireena). Potter agreed and went with her but Salamander, inexplicably decided to go off on his own...with his new henchman. I'm really not sure what this was about (I don't usually ask players their reasons for doing things during the game, instead just adjudicating what happens, and I didn't have the normal chance to debrief at the end of the session...I'll question him later). Whatever. He and Patrick opened a couple random crypts, first getting a crossbow bolt trap (but finding a nice jade bracelet), then unleashing three shadows (that I had put in place of "giant spiders" who would have long starved to death locked in a tomb). The shadows were pretty hungry as well for living essence and Sal and his buddy were immediately set upon. "My short sword [that Sal gave Patrick] doesn't seem to function, my lord!" "Aaiieee! Too bad I have no armor!" (as the shadows drained the fighter's strength).

Elsewhere in the catacombs, Misha and Potter had reunited with Carnen and Ireena and all were awake, healed, and un-confused. Somewhere in the distance they heard the echoes of battle and the high-pitched screams of distress...

They decided to look for them. The crypt area is pretty labyrinthine, but the PCs were not too far separated. A half-elf's listening chance in 2 in 20: Potter rolled a "1" and so I stated she could distinguish the direction of the battle sounds well enough to track down Salamander. Running up on about the 3rd or 4th round of combat, Misha (now 2nd level) rolled an "18" for her turning roll and sent the shadows packing...good thing, because they'd been pretty beefy (21 hit points apiece).

[the chances of getting those rolls were not good...but, then, neither was the chance of drawing three excellent cards from the deck of many things. Luck, both good and bad, are a part of the D&D game and the ability to weather those results is part of what defines an experienced player. It is also the stuff from which future "war stories" are often spun. Again, I will say that 'fudging' the vagaries of fortune in an RPG like D&D are doing a disservice to themselves and others]

Now regrouped, the party decided it would be best to stick together. Patrick was given the magic battle axe Ireena had been carrying (she already had a magic broadsword strapped to her waist), and they proceeded to explore the catacombs, eventually discovering a barred gate leading to an isolated crypt area: the tomb of Sergei von Zarovich.

[if I ever decide to publish my version of Ravenloft,  I will (of course) have to change all these names to something more palatable. The harbor of Port Angeles was originally named by Francisco de Eliza y Reventa, claiming the region for Spain, and I would probably go with something more Spanish in flavor based on the town's actual history. Maybe. This IS "fantasy land" after all...humans have only been here for a century or three; the "indigenous peoples" of my PNW are all orcs and elves (with subterranean dwarves and goblins being found underground). I have bugbears instead of Sasquatch. Maybe Spanish explorers don't fit...but they fit at least as well as the "von Zaroviches"]

Sergei's tomb is an obvious bit of goodness and peaceful repose in the dungeon. In the adventure module, the coffin lid "opens easily to the touch of any lawful good character." As I've now written upteen times, I don't use alignment in my game, but as far as "lawful goodness" goes, the PCs (especially the assassins) definitely fail to qualify. Instead, I had the thing open to a cleric of the Church (Misha fit the bill), and thus, after multiple (failed) attempts to force the  coffin, the party was finally able to desecrate and loot Sergei's corpse of its plate mail +2

Oh, D&D!
; )

Of course, Strasha had not been idle while the party picked through her relatives remains. Being the lord and master of the castle and its undead inhabitants, she rounded up the three wayward shadows and had them lay in wait outside the crypt of her brother. She then opened a different crypt in which she'd imprisoned eight ravenous ghouls (yet another adjustment: the original module had 15 stone sarcophagi in a 10'x10' vault, each containing a wight. No) and sent them to join the shadows. Then she unleashed both groups on the party, casting hold portal on the gate to the tomb to prevent any escape.

We rolled percentile dice to see how much of the magic plate mail Sir Patrick had been able to don: 100%. Okay, the fight was on!

And it was brutal. Misha's turning attempt failed, and the party, spread around the chamber, was charged by the ghouls and shadows based on the defensive positions they'd taken (no surprise). We don't use a battle map for our games, but for visualizing purposes, we set up Lego minis (my kids have a lot of these), with dice to represent the monsters (lots of these, too...and dice can be turned to represent how many hit points remain to an opponent). Patrick and Ireena were both able to down a ghoul before being felled by paralysis; Potter decided to wind her magic horn (recovered from N1 and never before used) only to discover it was a horn of bubbles. She was blinded, and then paralyzed (no ghoul immunity for half-elves!).

Misha and Carnen were having difficulty fighting the shadows. Carnen's only magic weapon being a +1 hand axe (that he is not proficient in) made it a tough fight for the young assassin. Neither he nor Misha were particularly crippled by the strength-draining attacks of the shadows (neither had a strength bonus to begin with), but they still took damage from the 3+3 hit die creatures. Misha's lack of hit points ( 2nd level, she had a total of 9) proved her undoing, and she was brought to -3 by the monsters. Meanwhile, ghouls continued to feast on their fallen victims, doing automatic damage every round.

Only Salamander was having much success...the ghouls were unable to paralyze him (thanks to his elvish blood), and having been restored in level and HPs he was in fine fighting trim...he was also able to use his magic longsword to good effect, while a shield (instead of his usual off-hand dagger) gave him an excellent armor class. "Can we break their morale?" Nope...they're undead. He moved to dispatch the ghoul raking at Patrick, then intercepted Carnen's shadow as the younger elf moved to aid Potter.

Eventually, it was down to the two elves versus three shadows: Carnen using the sunblade (only fumbling it away once) with hand axe in his off-hand and Salamander with sword +2 and shield. Potter had been stabilized at -8 hit points, Ireena was dead, Patrick was alive but paralyzed, and Misha the cleric was dead-dead-dead at -10. The three shadows were dispatched, but Sal's strength had been reduced to a paltry 15 and Carnen's to an 11. For hit points, Salamander had 12 remaining while Carnen had been reduced all the way down to one (1) hit point.

Standing by the coffin of the vampire's dead brother, the elves called out the Countess to come down and fight them. 

"Certainly. You've both earned death for your desecration of my home."

As the powerful and (rightly) arrogant noble stepped down the stairs into the tomb, confident in her ability to dispatch the two wounded adventurers, eager to personally rip them apart in payment for the trouble they'd caused and the minions they'd slain, Salamander pulled a small vial from his belt pouch: a potion of invisibility! He quickly drained half and pressed the bottle into Carnen's hand, who followed suit.

Strasha cast wall of fire to cover the only exit from the tomb.

The two assassins had a short amount of time to act, and they weren't getting out of the crypt without a fight. Knowing that any attack would dispel the invisibility, they decided to go for broke: Carnen attacked with the sunblade and hand axe, while Salamander attempted to stake the vampire. Both would receive their backstab attack bonus (+4) but Salamander would suffer his non-proficiency penalty (-2) and due to diminished strength (from the shadows) no other attack bonus would be given. 

"Can I use two in each hand?" No...the creature only has one heart, after all. However, any successful attack would succeed in staking the vampire. The vamp's low armor class (1) speaks to the difficulty of striking the creature's heart as much as its speed and proficiency at avoiding damage.

Carnen's attacks with both weapons missed wildly. Strasha shrieked in triumph as the elf became visible. As a 5th level assassin, Salamander required a 16 to hit (including all adjustments). He rolled an 18 and drove his stake deep into Strasha's beating heart.

"Quick cut off her head!" "With pleasure!" replied the other assassin...and did. They then stuffed her severed skull with holy wafers (taken from the local church and listed clearly on the character sheet) and watched while her body rotted into dust.

More later.

Friday, July 15, 2022


I am too exhausted (after yesterday) and too pressed for time (the soccer begins about one hour), to write my own blog post today, so instead I'll direct my readers' attention to this great post over at The Tao of D&D. It's absolutely amazing...definitely worth a few moments of your time...and, well, amazing.

[haha...that last sentence is a joke for Alexis]
; )

It's a riff off my own recent post about teaching D&D to others (and how that's done), and Alexis ably points out some of the issues that crop up when you start skipping down that path. Check it out.

Happy Friday, folks!

Thursday, July 14, 2022

"Get Out Of Jail Free" Cards

I have a VERY busy day today...the girl child has a weekend tournament starting today (did I not mention she has now joined the same premier soccer club as the boy?) with TWO games in Woodinville. Meanwhile, my wife is going into the office and the boy has his own practice, so I three hours before I need to wake the kids, get them organized, breakfasted, packed and ready (with solid snacks for later in the day), to drop D at her place of employment (she has a window at 1pm) before zipping S over to the east side. Hopefully, I can pick up some cheap(er) wine (between games) at St. Michelle.

Last night was another late one, but I was in charge of the midnight wrangling and decided to go to bed afterwards. Not that it helped: the old beagle was up at the crack of sunrise getting me up. Tried to go back to dice. Now I'm waiting for the coffee to brew while she snoozes on the floor. Man, she is a loud snorer!

Here's how things went down in our game (I'll give the abbreviated, bullet-point version):
  • A session earlier, the party (bags laden with treasure, desperate to find the countess, running out of time as far as sunset coming) had encountered the mad butler, Belview wandering in the downstairs passages. Belview (think "malnourished Mr. Carson on crack") is pretty much as written in original Ravenloft adventure. Salamander (Diego) wanted to take the guy hostage at sword-point and make him give up the location of the countess; Potter (Sofia) wanted to follow him around, pretend like they were guests at the castle, and see if they couldn't bluff their way through things (and not just brutalize the poor NPC). Potter won out but, sadly, was forced to swiftly/mercilessly one-shot the butler when he came at her with a hatchet in the kitchen. Diego was livid, now they would get NO information out of the guy! However, Misha had a scroll with the speak with dead spell, and the party decided to call up Belview's shade for interrogation. Misha informed them they could ask FOUR questions; for your enjoyment:
Where is the countess? 'She her cold, stone bed..."
Where is that?! 'In the crypts, in her tomb, in the darkness...surrounded by the dead..."
Where are the crypts? 'Beneath the chapel, of course...the stairs that lead down, down, down..."
How can we pass the masonry wall that blocks the stairs? 'Perhaps a pick axe, master...'
Is there any other way into the crypts?!  (*silence*)
  • The players had quite good maps of the upper levels and had found the chapel and the stairs (with its barrier wall) early in their exploration (within the first hour or so of arriving). Being stymied at this point they proceeded to explore the larders and dungeon, looking for another way in, but not finding it, eventually ending the session with their confrontation with the flesh golem (as told)
  • Picking up the new session: the party continued their exploration, thinking they were on the right track...and then discovering they had simply returned to already explored rooms via different passages. Sofia suggested they go find a large drill to get through the masonry wall. Diego did not appreciate her snark. Then they remembered the party had not one but TWO potions of gaseous form (found in their last adventure)...could we divide their contents amongst the party members and bypass the wall? Only one way to find out...
  • [I had already determined (randomly) how many turns it would take before the vampires would find the PCs. In addition, I decided that any wandering monster results would ALSO indicate discovery by the hunters]
  • The plan worked, every adventurer drinking off a third of a potion, giving just enough time (and then some) to pass the crack in the wall. On the other side, finding themselves in the labyrinthine crypts, they waited for each party member to coalesce and reform. In the distance, they heard a long-wailing scream (Revlin the Ranger...left behind in the iron statue room with zero hit points...had just been discovered). 
  • Ignoring the side passages, the party carefully proceeded through the main thoroughfare of the crypts, eventually coming to the stairs leading downward to a teleportation curtain. This stymied them though they tried several different ways to circumvent its effects (in the original module, the barrier prevents all but lawful good characters from passing...since I don't use alignment in my campaign, I'd already decided a character must strongly present a cross...or other "holy symbol" cross the thing; this the players did not try). While still pondering the curtain, the players were discovered by Paris and Sacha (half-vamps) and the first "big battle" occurred.
  • Except that it wasn't all that big: the characters had already found (and were wielding) the sunblade and Potter quickly disposed of the vamps in two melee rounds (dispersed to mist). Salamander was reduced to 4th level, but otherwise the party was fine.
  • More searching of the landing (for secret doors) as the party looked for a way past the curtain when the wandering monster result indicated to other vampires showed up: Strasha, her maid Helga, and Duke Davich. Terse words were exchanged. The countess began casting a spell (hold person); the party threw a dagger and disrupted it. The party charged; the vampires changed into mist. 
  • More discussion amongst the party members what to do; more things were tried. In the distance, a terrible baying noise echoed through the catacombs: the hell hounds had been released! The party prepared themselves (again) as the pony-sized beasts exploded out of the darkness! Combat was joined!
  • A little singed, the party quickly gained the upper hand...however, the demon dogs provided cover for the vampires. First, Carnen (Maceo's assassin) was felled by a sleep spell. Then the party was struck by confusion: Ireena the fighter (an NPC liberated from the castle dungeons) was left standing dumbfounded, while Salamander wandered off into the darkness. Duke Davish attacked...and was quickly vanquished by Potter and the sunblade. The countess and her maid again changed to mist as the party prepared to counterattack. 
  • Potter and Misha (now reduced to 3rd level) abandoned the sleeping Carnen and catatonic Ireena to track down Salamander. They found him a few minutes later, scratching at the door to another crypt. Rousing him from the spell they decided, perhaps, that his madness had been fortuitous and that they should indeed try to open the crypt where they'd found him. However, Potter's great strength was not enough to pry the thing open, and their labors were interrupted yet again by words of magic: they turned to find themselves now confronting THREE Strashas and her maid. Misha attempted to use her cross to turn the vampires...and failed. "Drop that thing and bow to me," intoned the countess as she sought to charm the cleric. However, Misha's saving throws remained good and three remaining party members rushed to engage the creatures. 
  • The battle did not go well for the party: Misha was reduced to -1 hit points (and 2nd level) by Helga. Salamander was able to dispel one of Strasha's mirror images and reduce Helga to one hit point, but was himself drained again (to 3rd level), with three hit points remaining. Potter managed to strike for maximum damage (24 points!)...but again, this only dispelled the second of the vampire's illusions. Strasha then ripped the throat out of the fighter, dropping him to 2nd level and -7 hit points. The sunblade clattered upon the stones. 
  • The countess turned on the lone assassin: "I would not gift you with immortality." She simply kicked him. The damage roll was minimal: 1 point. With Strasha's strength bonus (+4), that dropped him to -2. "You will suffer long in my dungeons. Fetch manacles, Helga."
So ended our adventure for the night.

Except then it didn't...

As per usual we (briefly) debriefed the session, discussing what had worked, what hadn't, who was left alive (Carnen, Ireena, and Sal) and what would happen to them (starvation in a small cell and then zombiefication to replace fallen "soldiers"). The kids were not terribly unhappy about the results (they weren't happy either, but they certainly weren't crying and whining about the session being "unfair"), instead wondering at the power of the vampire countess, appreciating their own ingenuity in getting as far as they did, talking about what they could have done differently...or better.

"Pity we never got to draw from that magic card deck..."

Since it was almost midnight, and we were all a bit loopy (I was three IPAs in...), and because they were being such good sports about what was (effectively) a TPK, I decided to allow the party one more chance. After all, Sal was the one carrying the deck of many things, and he hadn't actually been killed outright (being only reduced to incapacitation) I ruled that he could just (barely) work the cards out of his belt pouch and make a final shot to escape. 

[truth be told, I wanted to see what would happen. Been years since I've seen a deck of many things in play]

Diego elected to draw four. After shuffling many times and making him cut the deck, here's what he pulled (in order):
  1. The Jester (red joker): 10,000 x.p. 
  2. The Moon (queen of diamonds): 3 wishes (randomly rolled on a d4)
  3. The Balance (deuce of spades): change alignment or be permanently destroyed
  4. The Knight (jack of hearts): gain a 4th level fighter henchman
An absolutely phenomenal draw! Since I don't use alignment, I ruled he'd have to give up being an assassin and become a straight thief instead (as, in a "normal" game, assassins are required to be "evil" in alignment and the balance would have forced him to change to "good"). He immediately used his first wish to negate the effect ("I wish I hadn't drawn that card!"). He then used his second wish to "completely heal the entire party."

And that's where I called the evening.
; )

Okay, time to get to work. More later.

[EDIT: It should be noted...perhaps...that Diego's intention, with regards to his last wish, was to bring all the dead party members (like Potter) back to life AND heal all their hit points, restoring them to full fighting strength. In effect, this is two wishes, not one, thus blowing the entirety of the wishes granted...something I will inform him of this morning (as I said, I was a bit loopy at the end of the night). Nicely, this should curtail the 3rd wish he and his sister were discussing as they headed off to bed last night: something-something about wishing for all vampires to be destroyed or something...]

Wednesday, July 13, 2022


In Seattle, it's 12:41am. My kids are still being wrangled into bed upstairs. Summer nights in a home full of nocturnal animals (the beagle snores loudly, roughly ten feet from where I sit). 

In the Port Angeles of my campaign world, in Castle Ravenspire (my version of "Ravenloft") it is, per my turn counter notes, 9:30pm. The sun set approximately 15 minutes ago, and the vampires are (more or less) fully awake. 

The players, however, have little idea regarding this...they are in a windowless chamber, standing over the body of a flesh golem that the managed to completely surprise and backstab to death (yes, I added a flesh golem. If one is going to go "full Hollywood" you might as well have a Frankenstein monster; the werewolf in the dungeon was already killed...though Sofia's PC was infected with lycanthropy. She'll discover that in a few weeks). The four party members remaining in the group have a grand total of 40 hit points remaining, an average of 10 each. They have no more healing spells, no more healing potions. 

Quite frankly, they seem doomed for destruction. True, they have a deck of many things in their possession, but they haven't quite decided whether or not to draw from it. A wish would really come in handy about now...but none of them know the potential of the deck (my players have never experienced this magic item), only that its magic can only be used once. They're holding onto it as a last resort.

There are a total of five vampires in Ravenspire: the countess and her four (half-vamp) thralls. One thing I now realize: I have almost zero idea what these creatures do upon rising. Certainly they have to hunt and feed (I suppose...D&D vampires are somewhat different from the traditional Bram Stoker nosfearatu), but night is the ACTIVE time of these creatures...and Strasha and her brood do have a domain to run.

Per the MM, a vampire moves 12" or 18" flying (though I infer from the text this latter is limited to bat form). The PHB tells us that movement is five times that over a "known" route, and the castle is certainly familiar territory to its inhabitants. On foot, it would take Strasha all of 10 minutes to traverse the distance from her crypt to the throne room, via the chapel...but would she go through the chapel with its silver icon of goodness? By taking the form of a bat, the countess could fly up the 380' shaft of Hightower peak, down Northtower to the Hall of Honor, and from there enter her throne room with some passing through the servant's hall?


The any nobleman...should have a regular, nightly agenda. No need for servants to dress her...or is there? Perhaps. She does have a bedchamber (currently filled with a living human thrall...well, now a dead human thrall after the adventurers got to her), and a dressing suite and bath. From there (where she could reach via the Hightower shaft) she can descend the Southtower stair, check in with her accountant (also currently dead), before entering her throne room. That seems more reasonable. 

Helga (the half-vamp in the servant's hall) is, of course, Strasha's immortal lady-in-waiting, so it will be her duty (upon rising) to head up the servant stairs to the "Rooms of Weeping" to await her mistress. After aiding the countess in the usual routine, it will be Helga's job to clean and tidy Strasha's apartments, allowing the countess as much symbolic "life" as she can muster. 

The three other half-vamps in the crypts...Duke Davis, Sacha, and Lord Paris...are perhaps "boy toys" of the countess. Upon rising, they are probably left to hunt at their leisure (while the countess attends to the business of her domain), until called by their lady. I'd guess it's safe to assume they'd also be flying up the central shaft of Hightower, as it is the easiest egress from the long as one can fly.

Well, then...good enough. Strasha will shortly be discovering the murdered corpse of Gertruda (who Helga has certainly just come across). She will then call her paramours back to her while sweeping her apartments. Hurrying to her treasure chamber, she will find its contents ransacked, her giant spiders dead, and her crystal ball stolen. 

Will she assume the interlopers have absconded with her wealth (as they probably should have)? Or will she instead sweep the castle with her undead minions looking for further signs of intrusion? Off hand, I'd assume the latter...after all, she IS a genius, and it shouldn't take long if the vamps run a coordinated search pattern...plenty of time to mount nightmares and release the hell hounds to track thieves fleeing back to town.

No, it shouldn't take long for the vampires to discover the adventurers...not with the trail of blood and larceny they've left in their wake. It's just a matter of time...a handful of turns...before the party is discovered and the entire clan is summoned to descend on them. 

This may end very badly.
; )

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Learning To Fish

Is it really that hard to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons?

Trying to (re-)learn how to play Pinochle is/was difficult. Did that last week…or valiantly attempted to from (various) sources. I used to love Pinochle, but hadn’t played it in 30-odd years; discovered (via the internet) that the way we scored the thing in my youth (best as I can recall) was a variation of the ACTUAL rules of play. 

Are the rules of D&D as poorly explained as the instructional cards in the Pinochle deck I purchased last Thursday? 

[by the way: shout out to Krampus Kave in Leavenworth, Washington; one of the nicest, well-stocked, best organized game stores I’ve been in. Great, great place…kids and I ended up dropping a pile of cash in there for various items. Hell, I even bought a sweet set of rainbow dice. Awesome]

Yesterday, my kids had a “beach” outing (down at Golden Gardens) with another fam. This was Maceo (classmate of my boy), his younger brother Winston (“Winnie”), and the boys’ mom. Maceo, as I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, has joined our D&D campaign on at least two or three occasions, most recently right before we left on our little road trip/vacation. As we wrapped up THAT particular session, we gave Mace a copy of Labyrinth Lord to read so that he could get a good handle on the “basic” D&D rules (with AD&D books to follow, I suppose). There was some talk that Mace might “practice” running games for Winnie, though the kid doubted very much his sibling would be into it (“He only likes playing VIDEO games; he doesn’t even like Axis & Allies!”). 

So, I was a little surprised when they arrived to pick up my kids that Winston, his mom’s hand firmly in tow, shyly asked me if *I* would teach him how to play Dungeons & Dragons. Seems Winnie wants to play after all…but his brother is having difficulty “figuring out” how to run the game.

[just for reference: Maceo is 11 and going into 6th grade next year; Winston is 9 or 10 and will be going into 4th grade]

I feel like I've had this kind of encounter a lot over the years...pretty much ever since I got back into D&D. My "nephews" (kids of me and my wife's friends) loved playing D&D with us, but despite giving them the LL/B/X books back in 2009 they complained they couldn't "figure out" how to play it "right." Last time I saw Spencer (the younger "nephew;" now in his 20s and a college grad)...he still expressed interest in wanting to play, said he'd even tried doing some 5E stuff with some folks but hadn't really gotten into it. Then, of course, there are the parents who've come to me (Kieran's, Maceo's, Max & Sonia's) saying they TRIED to learn how to play for their kids' sake (usually using some sort of 5E "starter set") but "couldn't make it work." Even my brother's old pal Brandon (who played in a short-lived high school campaign of mine) couldn't figure out how to run the 5E game for his middle school kids. 

The common thread here, applying across editions of D&D, is people try to learn the game from the instructional text (i.e. the rule books) and CAN'T. Those who want to pursue the hobby (or who want their kids to pursue the hobby) then find an existing, active group to join who can teach them (or their kids or both) how to play the game.


Mmm. As I ponder this, several immediate thoughts come to mind, but they're not very constructive (decrying the fall of civilization and our ability to learn complex tasks, for example). Instead, how about we look at this point-by-point as a "problem" to be "worked" in a practical fashion.
  1. Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a game worth playing and worth promulgating in our society for a variety of reasons unrelated to making money.
  2. D&D is a learnable game. I learned it myself, as a kid, by reading the B/X books to establish a foundational base before adding to it with the Advanced books.
  3. Not everyone learns stuff like I do. Many people benefit from having teachers/mentors.
  4. It is impractical for me to teach everyone in the world. Other teachers are needed.
  5. Who teaches the teachers? It feels this particular moment in time...there is a LOT of "bad" D&D being played right now.
Ooo. That last statement is sure to ruffle feathers. I'll get back to it in a moment...just please feel free to add "in my (mostly) subjective, personal opinion" to the end of the sentence.

Before that, however, I need to point out: there are PLENTY of people who understand how to PLAY D&D. Lots and lots of people understand "armor class" and "hit points" and "saving throws," etc. Lots of people VERY EASILY grasp the concept of playing an imaginary, adventuring character in an imaginary, fantasy game world. The basic premise of the game...and the nuts-and-bolts of interacting with the game world (rolling to attack/damage, spending gold coins for equipment, searching for traps, etc.)...are things that ANYone can pick up and learn in approximately 5-10 minutes. That is, I've never seen anyone fail to grasp the basics: I've taught drunken hoboes at a bar (my hobo brother's buddy) and kids as young as seven years oldPlaying D&D is NOT rocket science.

[playing D&D well, however, is a matter of native skill and with any game]

Running the game, though...learning to Dungeon Master...THAT's the bit that everyone seems to have a hard time with. 

Isn't it? Maybe I'm making assumptions, but it sure feels like there are a lot of videos and blogs devoted to teaching people how to run D&D games...much more so than, say, how to play D&D games. Yeah, maybe I am making assumptions and I'm missing all the podcasts that explain "beginning fighters should spend the bulk of their money on the best weapons and armor they can afford," or "sleep is a really good spell for 1st level magic-users in most editions of the game." Probably.

Look, this is not my first go around at approaching the topic. I've ranted about the company not providing adequate instruction in how to run games, the contempt in which they hold their own consumer base. I've written that (most, if not all) DMs could benefit from some coaching...just as everyone can. I've postulated that perhaps some sort of apprenticeship program might be needed just to teach folks the ropes...but I didn't personally do anything about this. Heck, I even considered writing some sort of DM "teaching manual" (briefly) but got distracted with the set-up of my own campaign world.

And I'd guess that there are more than a few folks in (more-or-less) the same shoes as myself who've walked down a similar path: bitched-and-moaned about the "state of gaming," complained someone should "do something," considered (briefly) doing something yourself, before (finally) deciding you'd rather just work on your own game/world/campaign. After all, it's not MY responsibility to teach folks how to run a game, and it's certainly not my JOB (i.e. the way I earn a living). There are plenty of folks out there who have monetized their blogs and videos and podcasts, offering "DMing advice." Me? I'm getting ready to take down my rather dusty "Patreon" page; one less thing to worry about.

[hmm...just discovered I haven't been receiving notifications from Patreon and I've earned...and LOST!...some followers in the last few months. Okay, maybe the thing just needs some adjustment]

Still, I feel some sense Urgency? Purpose?...when I consider the idea of kids (or anyone!) wanting to play this Great Game, this Thing, and being left to flounder, unaided. Or unaided in a useful fashion. 

Which brings me back to the "bad D&D" thing. I'm going to walk that back a fact, forget that I said "there's a lot of bad D&D being played right now." There's a lot of D&D being played right now...full stop. 

Is it possible to judge the quality of those games?

That's really a topic for a whole 'nother blog post. My unanalyzed, immediate opinion is that, yes, one can develop an objective criteria for judging quality of game play...but that's going to take a bit of time and reflection.

Meanwhile: my kids are up and today's D&D day. Later, folks.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Jeffro's D&D

This is a post about the style of play being promulgated by the #BrOSR.

I first became aware of Jeffro Johnson and his particular method of D&D play about a year ago (circa July 2021).  Read through his blog, picked up his Appendix N book, had a little friendly back-and-forth with fellow BrO BDubs (on his blog). Meant to write a post or two about the whole thing MONTHS ago, but, well, time got away from me.

But then a couple days ago, I had the chance to watch Aaron the Pedantic's video interview of Jeffro and James Streissand and I found that I had a few thoughts to share, regarding this...rather interesting...version of old school D&D play.
  • RE Appendix N and retracing roots: I haven't finished Jeffro's book (it sits on my nightstand along with several others), but I've read large sections of it and skimmed others. In addition to providing general overviews of the Appendix N books I haven't read, there are some good insights into certain books impact on the D&D game. There are also (at times) some minor diatribes and obnoxiousness that I find grating, and some "points" that I find a bit wide of the mark. Still, just as I find the main value of the DMG to be in its insight into Gygax's mind (that is, his approach to the game...which one may or may not disagree with), I think going back and reviewing this literature can give one an understanding of how that mind (and, thus, the game) was formed. It's a starting point from which to evolve and build.
[hmm...I'm probably not explaining that right, and will receive a lot of complaints from all sides. However, that's not the point of this post. I guess I'd just say: I find it useful to understand the origins of things in order to contextualize certain ideas, even if those ideas were larger (and later) influenced more by the context of how they functioned as a matter of play. Understanding that context can determine how imperative or intrinsic they are to the overall concept/paradigm. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that these things are sacrosanct...and this point also applies to the next bullet]
  • RE the Value of playing AD&D RAW: I have almost zero quibbles with Jeffro's reasons for playing AD&D "by the book." I think the points he makes regarding this (in his interview with Aaron) are pretty spot-on. As I wrote myself (a couple weeks back): the more I play, the more I simply default to the book instruction. Even his explanations of why to use, for example, player grading with regard to training time makes sense: it encourages a particular style/method of play. THAT being said: I'll reiterate that I find SOME of these rules to be A) crutches that are unneeded when proper world building is applied, and B) detrimental to player autonomy that (again) are unnecessary in a richly developed world. Factional play based on alignment, for example, is a limiting and rather elementary approach to determining motivation. It's possible to have a deeper world than that (especially given an adult mindset). I think some of these things, played long enough, can naturally melt away. Still, similar to having an understanding of Appendix N, it's good to have an understanding of the original rules (hopefully based on actual play) BEFORE discarding/replacing them.
  • RE running your campaign with 1:1 time keeping ("JeffroGaxian Time Keeping"): First, I'll state the obvious: it is clear that Jeffro is running a wonderfully fun, kick-ass campaign that players are enjoying. He's excited, they're excited, everyone's feeling happy and fulfilled. That's wonderful...keep on keeping on, Bros. Now the less obvious: I think Jeffro is pretty clearly incorrect to state this is the fashion D&D is intended to be played in, or was played in during the 70s. He's made some gross misinterpretations of the AD&D text (and other, early wargaming sources) which are easily cleared up by checking them against the original text of OD&D (from which the bulk of AD&D rules are derived). The section on TIME is the last main portion of LBB3 (before the Afterword, pages 35&36) and states:
As the campaign goes into full swing it is probable that there will be various groups going every which way and all at different time periods. It is suggested that a record of each player be kept, the referee checking off each week as it is spent. Reconcile the passage of time thus:

Dungeon expedition = 1 week
Wilderness adventure = 1 move = 1 day
1 week of actual time = 1 week of game time

The time for dungeon adventures considers only preparations and a typical, one day descent into the pits.

The time for Wilderness expeditions would include days of rest and recuperation.

Actual time would not be counted off for players "out" on a Wilderness adventure, but it would for those sequestered in their dens, hidey-holes, keeps, castles, etc., as well as for those in the throes of some expedition in the underworld.

TIME in the D&D (and AD&D) game is, as has been pointed out by those from The Old Days is meant to be elastic.   When Frank Mentzer states he was in "training jail" for a couple weeks and had to play a different character in Gygax's campaign, I wouldn't see that as a literal need to wait two (real world) weeks for playing a particular character; rather, that's two (or three or four) game weeks that need to be waited out...weeks that could be passed in a hand wave of time during, for example, travel from one town to the next. To the player, of course, it would still seem like a penalty...if the rest of the group was getting to delve some dungeon during the time (in game weeks) that the character was out doing "down-time" activity. But the impetus here is on keeping careful records of character action within the campaign (in order to order/structure where folks are and account for any anomalies/ those outlined in the DMG). 
Using 1:1 time in ALL matters, makes the careful tracking of time UN-necessary; "Let's see it's July 8th and it you want to rest for two weeks and then train for three? Okay, we'll see that PC again on August 11th." Certainly that's easier than tracking individuals by day (as I interpret the DMG outlining as the correct procedure), and especially easier if your campaign has a large number of characters. But that's what we did back in the day, taking the HARDER road...and without the advantage of computer spreadsheets. It's what I still do (albeit with spreadsheets)...but fortunately the number of characters in our campaign is small (six at the moment) and they're still in the EARLY stages of their careers (thus adventuring together).
With regard to the "best to use 1 actual day = 1 game day when no play is happening" quote on DMG page 37, I've always interpreted "no play" as nothing going on: PCs aren't on adventures, they're not traveling, they're not doing anything "game related" (like training, spell research, hiring experts, etc.). The party's out of the dungeon, back at the village tavern, and our group doesn't meet/play for a couple weeks or a month...okay, then, a couple weeks (or a month) have passed in the campaign. But time spent on game stuff is game time and game time is elastic. Without elastic time, I would argue that Jeffro & Co. is neglecting a LARGE part of the AD&D game, namely the deeper delves that are possible (expeditions into the Underdark, massive castle/tomb structures, journeys to other planes of existence...or other planets/dimensions). I'm not saying what they're doing ain't fun...I'm just saying there's more fun to be had.

  • RE "Patron Play" (giving PCs high level NPCs to run):  When I started reading about Jeffro's experiments with (what he calls) "Patron Play," I didn't really grok what he was doing or how. After hearing him discuss it on the aforementioned video, I now have a better grasp of what he's talking about: basically, he's shortcutting what would be a normal part of the long-term (organically grown) AD&D campaign. On page 7 of the PHB, Gygax writes:

Players will add characters to their initial adventurer as the milieu expands so that each might actually have several characters, each involved in some separate and distinct adventure form, busily engaged in the game at the same moment of "Game Time". This allows participation by many players in games that are substantially different from game to game as dungeon, metropolitan, and outdoor settings are rotated from playing to playing. And perhaps a war between players will be going on (with battles actually fought out on the tabletop with miniature figures) one night, while on the next, characters of these two contending players are helping each other to survive somewhere in a wilderness.

What occurs organically in play...and what I experienced in the multi-year campaigns of my that player characters that achieve great success (i.e. achieve high level, build strongholds, acquire followers) become the faction leaders and 'patrons' of the campaign setting. This does not mean they are retired from play...far from it! Generally they become the movers-and-shakers, hatching their own plots, pursuing their own schemes/goals, raising their own armies of conquests...and, at the same time, starting new, young characters who would be adventuring in small delves, or acting as agents of these powerful scions of the realm. Most players in our old campaign had multiple characters: Jocelyn had half-a-dozen, Matt had five, Scott had (at least) five. One or two PCs of each player were powerful figures with all the trappings and ambitions of such...the rest were minor characters, started because someone wanted to play a Drow or illusionist or whatever. Minor players (i.e. players who didn't play regularly, like Crystal, Jason, and Rob) would only have one character, but some of these were still high enough level to be factions of their own (like Jason's thief guildmaster) or had dedicated henchmen (like Crystal's fighter, Tangina). 

While the presence of these power brokers didn't preclude "normal" adventuring (my co-DM and I still ran modules, including Tsojcanth, Ravenloft, and the Demonweb Pits), much of the campaign action was driven by these high level characters, their agendas and their rivalries. My own character...a high level bard with no stronghold...often acted a wandering monkey wrench / force of destruction (something like Elric in the Young Kingdoms, perhaps...but with more dying and resurrection)...and there were many times when some characters would stumble across the evidence of another (player) character's passing army or the remains of a crucified rival, or one group would plan to assassinate another character at his wedding. Things were happening all the time, at multiple levels/layers, all while being (semi-)coordinated between two teen Dungeon Masters. It IS a fun way to play...but it is also prone to a lot of inter-player conflict and PVP issues which, at this particular time (and for many reasons), I'm disinclined to allow in my campaign. 

Then again, my players haven't yet reached the "mover/shaker" levels of experience...that critical mass of self-sustaining campaigning, that I was trying to explain the other day. Jeffro doesn't have this issue: instead, he's distributed high level non-player characters of his setting amongst his players. Which way to get to the same place. I don't mind this approach (terribly), but right now I'm trying to train up young players in the art of AD&D. Different level ranges have different "feels" to them: a 5th level character doesn't sweat the same encounter as a 1st level character, and a 10th level character looks at 5th level challenge much the same.  Likewise, the goals and objectives of play change at the various tiers of play: a first level character isn't going to get as much out of the knocking over the Sultan's treasure vault, while such a score is EXACTLY what a 9th level fighter could use to fund her army and add a curtain wall to her stronghold. 12th level magic-users aren't (usually) going to find coveted 6th level spell scrolls lying around hobgoblin lairs.

Dungeons & Dragons absolutely works...and rocks!...on multiple levels of play simultaneously, just as Jeffro describes.  And it is a style of play that probably seems very foreign and alien sounding to folks who grew up with D&D post-DragonLance era (with a story centered on one small group of heroes), or the computer RPG era (limited by its medium to a single party), or post-WotC era D&D (where each "campaign" represents a single story arc to be played out prior to players creating new characters for the "next campaign"). My own D&D play started years prior to those eras and, over time, evolved into something very much like what Jeffro (or Arneson, in The First Fantasy Campaign) describes. However, done "organically" (i.e. without just handing our various NPC faction leaders as "patrons"), this evolution takes years of sustained, committed play to develop. Maybe that sounds like a long time...but remember that D&D is a game that can last your whole life; it's okay to put in the time to do it. In fact, I personally believe it makes for a richer campaign, as the participants have a greater depth of care and commitment to something they've grown and developed themselves.

All right, that's all my thoughts on what Jeffro and the BrOSR is doing as far as their game goes. As far as some of their other stuff (cultivating a particular brand of hostility), I won't say much more than I think it's detrimental...both to the hobby and to what they're trying to promote. But...well, that's all I'll say.

I am now officially back from vacation (pulled into the driveway last night). It was very enjoyable and restful, but I'm glad to be home.

: )

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

My Experience Is Not Yours

Happy 5th of July to everyone; hope no one was seriously injured in yesterday's festivities. Currently, I am writing from a darkened hotel room in Spokane, Washington (the very heart of the Red Empire in my campaign setting). We've been on the road since the 30th; yesterday, I was at Muse Comics in Missoula, Montana getting information about MisCon. By tonight, I should be in everyone's favorite German theme park, Leavenworth...presumably eating shnitzel and quaffing great quantities of beer (bier?).

[I should note that we passed through Coeur D'Alene, Idaho and my kids were super excited to see the lake and recount their adventures...including their ship being herded through a warp gate by purple lightning. No such atmospheric phenomena was observed from the windows of our car, however...only weekenders in their powered pleasure vessels]

Hanging out / chatting with my 93 year old grandmother the last few well as touring towns that have changed significantly since my youth...I've been reminded again how little of my life, especially with regard to gaming, bears any resemblance to others' lives. Including the folks who read this blog or to whom I'd like to "evangelize" about this D&D game. The other day, I posted a (fairly abbreviated) timeline of my gaming history, with specific focus on Dungeons & Dragons and the various editions I played, ran, and experienced; there's certainly more I could have added to the timeline (if I'd had a few more hours...or spare). But while it might be of interest to various folks hoping to glean some idea of poor old JB's muddled mind, it's probably not terribly helpful to people. Because they can't live my life, or experience my experiences, and thus can't develop in the same way as Yours Truly.

We live in a different world from the one that existed five years ago, let alone fifteen, twenty-five, or thirty-five years prior. In the United States, huge societal changes have taken place. A lot of those changes are "for the better," but many of them have been of more dubious value...and even some of the positive shifts have had unfortunately negative side effects.

[by the way...the whole Roe V. Wade overturning? What a fucking disaster! What a fucking sham of "justice." Short political rant moment: my family (including my older relatives) are Roman Catholic and WE didn't want to see RvW over-turned...what the hell is up with midwest Catholics wanting to get all up in other peoples' business? Remember that bit about God giving people free will to choose stuff? Allowing states to make laws taking away choice (or, rather, forcing people into making worse choices because of fewer options) is bad, bad news. But, fine, you got your Pro-Life bullshit agenda passed...does that mean you're going to start voting Democrat now, instead of the hateful, pro-Gun, pro-War, pro-Capital Punishment, pro-Business, pro-fucking-Trump-esque-hate mongering Republican party? That is, are you now going to start voting blue instead of siding with basically EVERYTHING CHRIST STOOD AGAINST? Huh? Let's see you put your Christian values where your mouths are]

[by the way: I shouldn't bark at midwest Catholics when I've personally known plenty of Seattle-born Catholics (male and female) who voted Republican specifically because of their "pro-Life" values. Fine. Agenda passed. Now switch sides and show you aren't just hypocritical assholes]

*sigh* I know. I'm not winning any fans. Back to D&D:

I gave my son a long (like hour long), off-the-cuff lecture on D&D the other day. I wish I'd recorded was pretty good (my measure of a "good lecture" is when my 11 year old will voluntarily hang out with Pops, folding laundry, while listening with rapt attention, rather than wandering off or whining about wanting to do something "fun"). Anyway, I didn't record it and I wish I had because I was rolling, and the gist of it went something like this:
Kid: you, at age 11, have only begun to scratch the surface of this hobby. You have started to experience the "obsession" of can't get enough, you want to play all the time, you get frustrated when you can't. I know...I understand. I've been there...LOTS of people have been there. 

But YOU have a great advantage. YOU have a parent that understands. When I was a kid, parents did NOT understand. My parents certainly didn't. For good reason: there had never been a game like D&D. Games like chess, card games, classic board games like Monopoly...those games had been around for decades or centuries. For multiple generations of people in our society. When I was a kid, D&D was first published in my lifetime...I was born in 1973, the game was first available in 1976, and not available in an easily accessible (i.e. learnable) form till 1981. And when it first became available, in that easy-to-learn, easy-to-access form [B/X]...where was it sold?

In toy stores. To parents of children. For their children. Children like me. 

If a game marketed to children is sold in a toy store, what are parents to think? Should they not assume that this is a child's game, something to provide momentary diversion and entertainment but, eventually, to be set aside as all toys and games are once a child grows beyond it? Why would they think otherwise? What would lead parents to believe that here was something that could be utilized by a person for their entire life, providing decades of entertainment and endless mental stimulation...through youth, adulthood, and (presumably) even into old age?

How could they POSSIBLY understand that...when no such game existed for them as a child. When they had no such experience with any game that came in a box (with dice). It's not like D&D was marketed as a game to last you your entire life. 

But it does. It can be played in fair weather and in foul, in sickness or in health. It exercises both the imagination and the mind, encourages cooperation and communication, provides powerful experiences in physical safety, and develops learning, knowledge, creativity, and problem solving. 

Your whole life.

Kid: your mom doesn't get it...not all of it, anyway. And that's mainly because she's in the same boat that MY parents were. There was no D&D in Mexico when she was growing up. She sees it as an interesting game (and a weird obsession of your father) but only that. And games serve their purpose (entertainment), but D&D is too long and too complicated to learn for it to be worth her time when she has little time for games. Games are more for kids than for adults; adults have better things to do than play games.

Video games are not the same thing as D&D...and yet many of today's video games (particularly those of the "adventure" variety) have their roots in D&D. Many were developed from ideas of how to shortcut the "inefficiencies" of the game: how to play an escapist fantasy without players; how to play when you had no DM; how to calculate numbers without rolling dice and doing he math; how to experience worlds without using your own efforts. Video games have superficial similarities to D&D...but they are not D&D, they remain limited by their very medium, and they provide little lasting value. They are, indeed, momentary diversions, entertaining time wasters, and (in the end) just games. By their very nature, they are isolating, requiring us to interact with a machine (even when gaming with others). The intention of video the intention of most to increase convenience. The unfortunate side effect (as with a lot of other technological wonders) is to instill alienation and detachment...further separating humans from each other, rather than bringing them closer together.

D&D is a powerful tool for stimulating and expanding the human mind. And the human mind is the most powerful, knowable thing in our present reality. Everywhere we go, most everything we see and experience started as an idea in the mind of a human: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the films we watch, the music we hear, the buildings that shelter us, the pets we care for,  the vehicles we drive, the institutions and communities and religions...ALL of these things began as ideas in the mind of one or more humans. And then those ideas became concrete reality for us to interact with. The sports and games we play are not found in nature...they were invented. By people, for people. First imagined, then willed into creation.

Little Gods are we, cast in the image of our Creator.

D&D is not just "a game for smart children." It is a device that develops the human mind, the most versatile and powerful possession every human owns. And because of that, D&D has value beyond entertainment, and is worthy of respect...despite being a game even children have the capacity to learn. Just because it is grasped by the average 10 year old doesn't mean it is a game exclusively for 10 year olds. There is a difference between Little League and the Majors, after all.

All right, there was quite a bit more to the conversation than this...a lot of it had to do with the differences between players of different ages (Diego was frustrated that his 8 year old sister doesn't have the same development as his 11 year old self) and reasons for encouraging inclusion and cooperation and the pitfalls of "solo" play (i.e. play between one DM and one player, NOT literal one player solo play, which can be used for teaching, though it has many of the same issuesI associate with video games). But it's 10am right now, and the family's up, and if I don't start wrangling them they're just going to start watching Pawn Stars or something on the hotel TV. Time to get some breakfast!

Have a good week, folks.